30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
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 Baume, Mr Brown, Mr Fry and Mr Moore.
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 Braithwaite and Mr Hodges.
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.
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 organisations 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 programme 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 Haslem and Mr Sainsbury.
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 andis 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 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 inhabitants of the Western Suburbs of Adelaide (DURD Metropolitan Region Number 2) are hopelessly disadvantaged in their lack of access to library and information services as there is only one (1) Public Library in the whole Region.
That this situation results in a ratio of only 0.07 books per head of population.
That the Region is thereby5½ times worse off than the rest of Adelaide.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government institute a programme of funding library and information services within the Region and that this funding programme be based directly on need and no other consideration, with libraries being funded on a priority basis, similar to disadvantaged schools.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hurford.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral a question. Yesterday he said in answer to the honourable member for Bonython that he would be surprised if the staff of the New South Wales Supreme Court had been instructed to refuse to provide copies of the decree in a certain divorce case. Has he since noted that a spokesman for the New South Wales Attorney-General confirmed that information had been withheld from the general public on the case in question and asserted that the State Government had the power to refuse information to people who did not have a specific interest in the case? I ask: Can he further clarify the rights of the public to receive certificates of decrees absolute as appears to be the plain intention of the Matrimonial Causes Act passed by this Parliament?
-I thank the honourable member for his question. Section 73 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, as honourable members will be aware, provides:
Where a decree nisi has become absolute, any person is entitled on application to the Registrar or other proper officer of the court by which the decree was made and on payment of the appropriate fee, to receive a certificate signed by the Registrar or other proper officer that the decree nisi has become absolute.
In other words, any person is entitled to receive it. The honourable member asks me what the present position is. That provision is brought forward into section 56 of the Family Law Act. Honourable members will recall that from their study of this legislation last year in this place. Section 56 of the Act provides:
Where a decree nisi has become absolute, any person is entitled, on application to the Registrar of the court by which the decree was made, to receive a certificate signed by the Registrar that the decree nisi has become absolute.
In broad terms, any person may go to the court and seek that copy. The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth is not in control of the courts which exercise Federal jurisdiction nor of their registries. I can apprehend only that if there is any truth in the story to which the honourable member referred the authorities in New South Wales are troubled by the fact that people are trying to intrude into the privacy of other people. The section was put there, I assume, to enable the parties to the marriage to get a certificate that the decree nisi has become absolute so it can be proved, for instance, for re-marriage or for any proceedings subsequently. One can imagine that, if there is any truth in the story, people administering justice in New South Wales might feel that those who are seeking to intrude into the privacy of others should, to some degree, be asked to state the reasons why they want the information.
Honourable members will recall that in the family law debate one of the things about which we were basically concerned was the privacy of divorce proceedings. The only reason that divorce proceedings should become in any way public is if some question of public interest arises. One can assume in relation to a matter such as this- again I am speculating- that if there is any truth in the story authorities in New South Wales simply are reacting to the view that there should be complete privacy in relation to divorce proceedings unless the parties themselves are seeking the information.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, by assuring the House that I have no vested interest in its outcome. Will the Minister inform the House whether any consideration has been given to the implementation of a single fathers benefit?
– I commend the honourable member for his immaculate behaviour and for declaring his pecuniary interest. As honourable members would know, at present there is no specific benefit that provides assistance to supporting fathers similar to the supporting mothers benefit. However, supporting fathers may be eligible for special benefit under section 124 of the Social Services Act. Such payments are regarded as a short term measure. The Minister for Social Security has announced that the whole income security system is presently under examination by the Income Security Review Committee. In that review the problems of supporting single fathers will certainly be given the closest consideration. I thank the honourable member for his question and for his interest in this important matter.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral a question supplementary to that which I just asked him. The honourable gentleman, I am sure, will realise that my earlier question was based almost word for word on a report in today’s Melbourne Age. I therefore ask him: Is it a fact, as the same article states, that the Federal Government has told the New South Wales Attorney-General’s Department that it does not have the power to withhold information about divorce decisions? Is it also a fact, as the article states, that officials in the Attorney-General’s Department have told their New South Wales counterparts that they should not have withheld information in the case named?
-I do not know whether it is the fact. I will have inquiries made, and I will inform the House.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister say whether he intends to take part in the forthcoming elections in New South Wales?
– I have had some discussions with the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Eric Willis, in relation to this matter. Some arrangements have been made already. Within the limits of the time available, I certainly will be participating. I will be at the opening of the election campaign by Sir Eric Willis, as will my colleague the Treasurer and, I would hope, other members of the coalition. There is warm support between the State branch of the Liberal Party and the Federal branch so far as the 2 governments are concerned. I suppose it would be possible to regret that that same warm support does not seem to exist between Mr Wran and the Leader of the Opposition. We can understand Mr Wran’s view when he says that there seems to have been ‘a bit of lead weight in our saddle bags’ recently as a result of certain activities of the Leader of the Opposition and some of those who sometimes sit behind him.
– What does he mean?
– I am grateful for the honourable gentleman’s interjection, because it is a slightly ambiguous phrase. It may be more appropriately directed to somebody who could have been younger. Mr Wran said: ‘The welcome mat is not out for Federal politicians:
That includes Mr Whitlam’. It must have been welcome news for the home town boy to know that he is not welcome in his own capital city! I suppose we can understand the reasons why Mr Wran is putting forward these points of view. It must be great fun to be in a political party whose State division is curiously determined to say that it has nothing to do with its Federal division! It obviously means that there are two separate parties. I have been thinking about whether it would be a good idea to offer the Leader of the Opposition a trip overseas for the next 2 months. That would then help Mr Wran. But I am not really sure that I feel so generous towards Mr Wran. I think that the Leader of the Opposition ought to be required to stay in Australia, at least for the period of the election campaign, so that he can participate, even if indirectly, in the defeat of Mr Wran.
– We will be quoting this back to you.
-From those benches, for the next 20 years. It is also possible to understand why the Leader of the Opposition could feel happier about staying away from his old home town. Some of his more recent visits in that area have given him the blues and left him very heavily in debt. As we know, he had strange meetings with strange foreigners who got into this country by strange devices and in odd ways- under assumed names. There was the social breakfast that was not going to be a talking about money, and then money was just in the background. Anyway, that breakfast left the Leader of the Opposition’s Party heavily in debt. I thank the honourable gentleman for asking the question. We in the Government Parties look forward to working very closely with Sir Eric Willis and his coalition Government after the elections, as we will be doing up to the elections. We will be implementing our federalism policies. We will be working in a spirit of co-operation in the interests of the citizens of New South Wales and Australia in a way that certainly would not be possible with Mr Wran, even though Mr Wran does not seem to want to be very close to the Leader of the Opposition. May I offer the Leader of the Opposition my sympathy in this particular circumstance.
-Mr Speaker, I ask that the right honourable gentleman table the 2 pages of the script from which he was reading. I gather that it was not confidential.
– I ask the right honourable gentleman whether he read from the paper.
– I read from nothing. I had some notes, Mr Speaker.
-There is no requirement to table the paper.
– There were 2 pages, both of which the right honourable gentleman was constantly checking and reading from, and I ask that they be tabled.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition called for the tabling of the paper. I asked the right honourable gentleman whether he read from it. The right honourable gentleman said that he had notes and that he was looking at the notes. He is therefore not required to table the document.
-I direct a question to the Minister for the Capital Territory. I refer to a recent statement issued by the Minister in conjunction with Sir John Fuller. The Minister will be aware that, despite the acceptance by the New South Wales Government of the recommendations of the Holmwood report on the matter of the extension of the Australian Capital Territory border, there is still great uncertainty among land holders in those regions of New South Wales close to the Australian Capital Territory border. Is the Minister able to give a categorical assurance that there will be no extension of the Australian Capital Territory border into New South Wales? In addition to clearing the air on the border question, does the Minister have any further information on the strategy plan proposals for the joint development of the overtheborder region?
-In our discussions with the New South Wales Government we are not advocating the shifting of the border between the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. Our concern has been to ensure that the real work of planning for development should proceed immediately in a constructive fashion in discussions between Federal, State and local governments. For that reason we are drawing up a strategy plan which will be on display, we hope, within 6 months. It will give people, such as those mentioned by the honourable member, certainty about the use and future development of their land, because for some time now that use and development have been frozen. People have been put in a hopeless situation of uncertainty about the future and it is our intention not to be caught up with symbolic issues but to do the real work of co-operative planning for future development.
-My question, which is directed to the Prime Minister, concerns the ministerial statements delivered in both Houses yesterday announcing that the home loan tax deduction scheme would be very seriously restricted and reduced. I draw the attention of the right honourable gentleman to the housing policy of the Liberal and National Country Parties authorised last November by Tony Eggleton, Liberal Party Federal Secretariat, which, under the heading ‘Retain Existing Programs ‘, stated:
A Liberal and National Country Party Government will continue to support such programs as:
The Tax Deductibility of Mortgage Interest.
I also recall that at a Press conference in Brisbane on 5 December he stated: . . . the interest subsidies scheme continues . . .
I therefore ask the Prime Minister why he has so soon dishonoured yet another election policy pledge?
-The honourable gentleman is singularly unable to understand what has happened and what have been the decisions of the Government in relation to these matters. The interest subsidy scheme is continuing. It is being applied for the first S years of repayments, which is a most important element because that is when the burden is likely to be heaviest on people buying their own homes. There is a very real degree of generosity in the homes savings grant scheme which was announced yesterday by the Minister concerned. The 2 schemes taken together will, we believe, do a great deal to assist people not only in repaying the debts that they have incurred as a result of buying their own homes but also in enabling them to find the initial deposit so that they can in fact buy their own homes.
Under the policies of the previous Administration home ownership became out of the reach of a great many people; it became out of the reach of people who once might have supported the honourable gentleman and his Party but who did not do so after they saw what had happened to home building costs and all the other things during 3 years of hard Labor. The homes savings grant scheme and the interest subsidy scheme need to be seen in conjunction with each other. The policies that were enunciated in the policy speech have been taken further in the homes savings grant scheme which was announced yesterday and will apply earlier than would otherwise have been the case. I believe that these 2 measures taken together represent the most progressive and far-reaching assistance, not only to young couples, but also to single people and people of any age, in buying their own homes that this country has ever seen.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates to the question just asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I preface my question by saying that the Prime Minister would be aware that there is concern about the slowing down in the private and public sectors of the home building industry. The increase in expenditure of 27 per cent in real terms in the private sector of the home building industry, which occurred in the last 6 months of the Labor Government, now has flattened out due to the Fraser Government’s policy.
– Order! The honourable member will not present argument in the course of asking his question. I ask him not to include argumentative material in his preface.
– I was just giving the indicators which now make it appear that there will be a 7 per cent decrease in expenditure in real terms in the second half of this financial year. Will the announced policy of the Government’s homes savings grants scheme still further defer the recovery of the home building industry?
– Would the honourable member please repeat the last part of his question?
– Having given the earlier information, does the Prime Minister understand that?
- Mr Speaker, it is very hard to hear the honourable member. I do not say that it is his fault; there may be some problem with the microphones. I would be grateful if he could repeat the question.
-That is true. It is April Fool’s Day and I do not want the House to make a fool of itself. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will repeat that part of his question which specifically states what he wishes to know from the Prime Minister. I ask honourable members to remain silent while the question is asked.
-I pointed out that in the last 6 months of the Labor Government there was a 27 per cent increase in expenditure in the private sector of the home building industry. Now, due to the Fraser Government’s policy, there has been a flattening out, and we believe there are indicators that there will be 7 per cent decrease in spending in the second half of this financial year in real constant terms. Will the announced policies of the Government relating to the homes savings grants scheme further defer the recovery of the home building industry?
-The conclusion drawn by the honourable member is false. The homes savings grants scheme has been extended. If the honourable member had looked at the statement made by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development he would realise that instead of applying from the end of 3 years, as it was interpreted before the last election, it applies earlier. It certainly will not defer the purchase or building of homes. It will be a great encouragement to people in the pursuit of home ownership, an objective that our parties have pursued always and which the Labor Party, since the days of Mr Dedman, has always sought to destroy.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. It refers to the profit or surplus of the Australian Telecommunications Commission which was reported to be $160m in a full year. Why is this body not authorised or compelled to use the loan market, as do many semi-governmental bodies, to provide money for capital works? Why should today’s users have to meet increased charges to provide for future capital works and services? Why should people in outlying areas be required to pay prohibitive amounts for the installation of a basic essential, the telephone, which will be used for many years to come?
-I am glad that the honourable member for Forrest gave 2 choices of words, either a profit or a surplus. I think the word ‘surplus’ is much more acceptable in terms of the financing of the Telecommunications Commission. I understand that the surplus this year is to be about $ 160m. Let us accept, firstly, that that roughly is 4 per cent on the investment of over $4,000m. The House would be aware that the Telecommunications Commission will need $850m for capital expenditure next year. Half of that amount has to be found internally and $160m is less than 20 per cent- I think it is about 18 per cent- of the requirement. The rest of the money has to be found by way of depreciation allowances, superannuation and long service funds and so on. The borrowings from the Treasury for the balance do not have to be repaid and interest is charged at the long term bond rate. If we have outside borrowings obviously the loans will have to be repaid and the interest rate will be higher. Therefore with higher interest rates there would obviously be higher charges. The notion that present users should not have to pay for privileges and facilities that people into the future will use is not a novel one. But after all, if we are going to talk about telecommunications we ought to talk about roads, bridges and schools. In the field of telecommunications I think the argument is less than acceptable because technology will require such updating that there will be a greater change and updating of facilities than there will be in all the other areas.
-Will the Prime Minister explain the inconsistencies of the Government’s policy of trying to stimulate consumer spending on the one hand and on the other encouraging the deferment of spending by the introduction of the home savings grant scheme?
– The honourable gentleman at least shows a degree of persistence and I suppose that is an admirable quality. The homes savings grant scheme of course is not one for the deferment of purchases of homes but it is a necessity obviously under a scheme of that kind to indicate arrangements by which people can save funds to attract the matching payments and support from the Commonwealth. I suppose that the honourable gentleman is rather unhappy at the prospect that young home buyers in particular will be provided with this kind of support from the Commonwealth when he knows quite well that it was as a result of his recommendation that this kind of support was being phased out by the previous Administration. If his Administration had not made that decision and if he had not made that recommendation the homes savings grant scheme would have flowed on as an active support for home buyers right throughout the period. The honourable gentleman ought to look into his own past to see where he comes out in relation to that particular matter.
Our policies are consistent and coherent. We will certainly support the home building industry and the purchase of homes by people who wish to own their own homes. It was a Minister in the previous Administration who got on his feet and said that in Australia at that time it was just not possible to expect people to be able to buy a 10- or 1 1 -square house; that they had to put up with a S- or 6-square house and that had to be good enough. That shows the extent to which the economic policies of the previous Administration had diminished the standards in Australia. I do not think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that but rather a former honourable member who lost his seat at the last election, a former Minister for Housing.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development aware that under the direction of the former Federal Labor Government 70 per cent of welfare houses built by the States and funded by the Commonwealth were available on only a rental basis? Will this policy be continued by the present Government? Is it possible for existing tenants now to purchase the homes that they are renting?
– I am aware that under the 1973-74 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement which was introduced by the former Labor Government no more than 30 per cent of the family dwellings built after 1 January 1974 may be sold. The exception to this is that Tasmania was given 3 years to adjust its rate of sales down to 30 per cent. Tasmania has traditionally sold a large proportion of its dwellings. There is no restriction on the sale of houses built in previous years. Variation of the terms of the Housing Agreement is a matter of Government policy and for negotiation with the States. It is a matter for each State housing authority to decide which tenants may purchase homes they are renting.
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I require that the documents from which the Minister was reading be tabled for the information of the House.
– Was the Minister reading?
– I was referring to notes.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Standing Orders are quite clear that if a Minister quotes from a document, unless he declares that document to be confidential it must be tabled. On what basis is it determined what are notes and what is a document? Any piece of paper brought into this House and quoted from has always been deemed to be a document. The Minister has a clear out by saying that it is confidential if he wishes, but I think that for the Chair or the House to have to determine what is a document and what are notes is quite outside the Standing Orders.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw the attention of the House to standing order 321, which states:
A document relating to public affairs quoted from by a Minister or an Assistant Minister, unless stated to be of a confidential nature . . . shall … be laid on the Table.
You will also be aware, Mr Speaker, that under standing order 1, when we are looking at the definitions or practices not in the Standing Orders, the rules of the House of Commons shall apply. If we look at the extract from May’s Parliamentary Practice, 18th edition, we will see that these conclusions arise from the discussion on page 421: The critical point is that you must distinguish between public and private documents. Certain documents are ascertained or defined as being private. Classified documents need not be tabled. Intra-departmental or interdepartmental minutes or notes or a ministerial minute need not be tabled. Sir, you will see that most of the documents that have been the subject of discussion here this morning are strictly private and being private, there is no ground on which there can be compulsion to table.
– On the point of order, Mr Speaker. Any of the documents mentioned by the right honourable gentleman are automatically declared by the Minister to be confidential. That is clearly covered by the Standing Orders of this House.
- Mr Speaker, I rise to support the contention that the document should be tabled. It is true that under standing order 32 1 a document relating to public affairs quoted from by a Minister shall, if required by any member, be laid on the table. Any questions which are put to Ministers must relate to public affairs; standing order 142 so states. One would concede that there are some matters which are raised in questions which would not seem to have very close relation to public affairs. Nevertheless, if a question is asked and is allowed, one assumes that it does relate to public affairs. In those circumstances any document quoted from by a Minister in answering such a question must relate to public affairs. You cannot say: ‘The question relates to public affairs; the document quoted from by a Minister in answering the question does not relate to public affairs’. They both relate to public affairs, or neither does. In those circumstances I put it that the documents quoted from, be they departmental submissions or mere notes or memoranda, are alike documents. If they are quoted from there is an obligation to table.
– I am ready to rule on the matter. The Standing Orders provide that if a Minister quotes from a document, unless it is confidential, he can be called upon to table it. The practice I have adopted is to ask the Minister whether he has read from the document, for he cannot quote from it unless he reads from it. I put the question first: ‘Has the Minister read from the document?’ If he says no, he did not, I accept his word for it If he says yes, he did read from the document, I then put the question to him: ‘Is it a confidential document?’ If he says that it is, he is not required to table it. If it is not a confidential document, and he has read from it, he would be required to table it. In this particular instance there was a request by the honourable member for Shortland calling upon the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to table the document. I put the question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs: ‘Did you read from the document?’ The Minister said he was referring to notes. That is the end of the matter. I will not require the tabling of the document.
- Mr Speaker, on the point of order -
– I have ruled on the point of order.
- Sir, I submit that there is -
-Order! Does the honourable member have a point of order? If the honourable member is canvassing my decision I will require him to be seated.
- Sir, I am supporting your decision.
- Mr Speaker, there is only one point upon which I seek clarification. You say that you ask a Minister whether he has read from a document and that you then accept his answer. It is a matter of observation for all of us- every member and yourself, too, with respect- to see whether a Minister is reading a document. This becomes relevant because I think that every day the first or second question asked from the Government side of the Prime Minister obviously is prepared by the Prime Minister. He refers to lengthy documents -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not intrude into his request for clarification comment on the manner in which the Prime Minister answers questions. If the honourable gentleman wishes to raise a point of clarification he should proceed to it. I will then attempt to clarify the matter he raises.
- Mr Speaker, it was clear that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs was looking at a document. He gave every appearance of reading from a document; that is, in the terms of the relevant standing order, of quoting from a document.
-Order! I will not allow the honourable gentleman to comment on what the Minister did. If the Leader of the Opposition wants clarification from me he should put his question, and I will do my best to clarify the matter he raises.
- Sir, the matter I put to you is this: You should not accept a Minister’s declaration that he is not reading from a document where it has been plain for all of us to see that he has been reading from a document.
- Mr Speaker -
– Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will please resume his seat while I deal with the point made by the Leader of the Opposition. Quite clearly, a Speaker cannot take a decision as to the actions of a Minister. The Speaker must ask the Minister what he has done. I asked that of the Minister. The Minister replied. If the observations of other honourable members are contrary to what the Minister has said, it is for honourable members themselves to proceed in whatever way they wish, if they choose to do so. For my own part, if I ask any member of this House whether he said something or behaved in a certain way I will accept what that honourable member says. If other honourable members are in disagreement, the member’s reputation will be determined accordingly by the House. But I am not going to look into a person’s mind.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. Did the Prime Minister take note of the advice proffered by the honourable member for Denison in the House last Wednesday night when he said that the time for criticism of the previous Administration had run out and that it was a very negative approach for the present Government to rely on criticising what was done between 1972 and 1975? When is the Prime Minister going to stop blaming the previous Government and other authorities for the country’s problems and to start accepting the responsibility for his own Government’s lack of initiative, impetus and imagination? For example, will he—
-Order! There will be no ‘for examples’.
– I apologise, Mr Speaker.
– I have been very lenient in respect of this question. I want from the honourable gentleman the magical words seeking information.
-Speaking to your point, Mr Speaker, the right honourable gentleman has the responsibility of explaining to die nation what he is about.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will ask his question or I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
– Will the Prime Minister explain how he equates his vision of an Australia where private enterprise makes its own decisions unfettered by Government interference with his recent attack on General Motors for making arrangements belatedly to give wage justice to some of its employees? Why does he not object when the price of Holdens goes up in view of the fact that he objects when wages go up?
-The honourable gentleman has obviously failed to notice over the last three or four months- and I suppose that is not surprising- the very marked number of initiatives that the Government has taken to repair the grave and grievous damage of the previous Administration. The monetary and fiscal policies announced and explained in clear and concise terms by my colleague the Treasurer, and the policies announced only this week in relation to the motor industry and home buying, are very significant advances. The policies being developed by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations also indicate a very significant advance over those developed by previous Ministers in that kind of portfolio.
The honourable gentleman ought to understand that this Administration does accept responsibility for affairs in Australia. The previous Prime Minister was a master at blaming other people for his mistakes. I see two still sitting behind him whom he blamed quite unjustly for mistakes that were his own. The honourable gentlemen know that full well, and I doubt very much whether either would deny it. The former Prime Minister continued to blame events overseas and all the rest of it. In marked contrast, this Administration has set about working in consultation and partnership with the people of Australia to build a greater and better society, and that we will certainly do.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that expensive restricted drugs have been obtained by the passing of fraudulent national health prescriptions to chemists in Queensland? If so, have the offenders been apprehended and were many people involved in the racket? Can the Minister advise of the steps being taken to block the loophole in the system and will the unsuspecting pharmacists be compensated for the drugs supplied?
– Yes, I am aware of the fraudulent behaviour of certain people in Brisbane in handling falsified prescriptions to chemists. Secondly, once this information came into the hands of my Department I asked the Attorney-General’s Department to make inquiries and the matter was placed in the hands of the Commonwealth Police. As a consequence of those investigations, 3 people have been apprehended and remanded to a hearing on 2 June. I have also made inquiries to see whether it is possible to block the loopholes to which the honourable member for Petrie has referred, but I find that it is almost impossible to achieve that objective. Under the terms of the National Health Act, it will not be possible to compensate the chemists who have been the victims of this fraudulent behaviour. I should make it clear to the honourable member and to all chemists that it is the responsibility of pharmacists to ascertain whether or not prescriptions are fraudulent. There is a great degree of responsibility on their shoulders. However, I am still investigating the matter. I am very concerned about it and I regret that a number of chemists have suffered quite a lot of financial loss as a consequence of what has happened in Brisbane.
-The honourable member will remember leading and introducing to me a delegation from that area on the issues that he has raised. As a result of the representations of that delegation I undertook to make certain investigations and let him know the results in due course. Those investigations are still proceeding. The honourable member will know that the principal reason why Cobar is in such a difficult situation is the decline in metal prices, particularly copper prices. I am not aware of the date of release of the IAC report to which the honourable member has referred. I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, and endeavour to get the information for him.
– 1 rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. A few moments ago, while the Minister for Immigration was talking to you and while the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations was answering a question, a member of the Opposition called out the words: ‘Tell the truth.’ I believe you did not hear those words, Sir, because you were engaged in conversation, but I respectfully submit that that remark was a reflection on the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and ought to be withdrawn.
-The point of order is a valid one. Had I heard the comment I would have called for it to be withdrawn.
– I never said it was a lie; I said it was not the truth.
– Was the comment made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh?
– Yes. I said it was not the truth. The Minister may not have known that it was not the truth; therefore he was not accused of being a liar. I just said: ‘What you are saying is not the truth’.
-What the honourable member says is correct- if those were the words he used- and I accept his explanation.
-What arrangements has the Minister for Health made to guarantee the supply of insulin to people requiring it, following the fire which destroyed the insulin manufacturing equipment at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne? Can the Minister give to the House and the people who use insulin a definite assurance that they need have no worries about future supplies?
– I received word yesterday that considerable damage had been done to the portion of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories that produces insulin. Considerable damage was done to some of the equipment in that part of the Laboratories but the pancreas glands that are used for the manufacture of insulin were not damaged, nor was the supply of insulin at the Laboratories. I have made inquiries and have been informed by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories that there is no occasion for concern among diabetics and those who have a need for a continuing supply of insulin. Adequate buffer stocks are available at all stages throughout the Commonwealth. I give the assurance that although damage was done at the CSL to the insulin manufacturing plant there is no occasion for alarm. I thank the honourable member for his question and concern.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. In view of the growing community concern about the future of Medibank, aggravated by persistent rumours of gross abuse and thus rapidly increasing wasteful expenditure, can the Minister indicate whether statistics are available from Medibank to ascertain whether there has been a sharp increase in medical services rendered? If so, how much of an increase has there been in first visits by patients to doctors -in other words, patient initiated increases in services? How much of an increase has occurred in repeat visits by patients on doctors’ recommendations or referral by general practitioners to other doctors for further medical investigation or treatment- in other words, doctor initiated increases in services? Will the Medibank Review Committee provide answers to the fundamental question of whether there has been a real increase in medical services, and whether that increase represents a genuine need or a Medibank rip-off and if so by whom, patients or doctors?
– The honourable member for Maribyrnong raises the question, I think, because of allegations of misuse and abuse of medical services provided under Medibank. Clearly there has been a number of frauds and a small number of cases has been detected. Investigations are now reaching an advanced stage and prosecutions will be launched wherever investigations reveal such action is warranted.
– Doctors or patients?
– In either case. The statistical evidence that has now been derived from Medibank computer will undoubtedly enable the Health Insurance Commission to monitor claims and also to monitor services for which doctors are claiming. I am in no position at this stage to be able to provide the statistical answer sought by the honourable member, but in the very near future we will be able to provide the statistics that he is seeking.
I would like to announce to the House that I have this day established a working committee of inquiry under Dr Sax to inquire into the whole area of pathology where there have been accusations of misuse and over-use. I will ask this committee to report on what short-term changes are needed- and I would want that report by 30 April- and also to report on a second aspect, that is, what changes are needed in the long term. I will be announcing later this day the membership of that committee. It will have on it members of the Australian Medical Association and also members of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia.
– What about the consumers?
– I think we have to ensure that the professional people themselves are exercising disciplines within their own organisation. No bureaucracy or no government can succeed in overcoming these difficulties without the complete co-operation of the medical profession and those involved in the extension of medical services themselves. To overlook that fact would mean, I think, that we would fail to achieve the result that the honourable member for Maribyrnong is looking for.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries. Due to the limited number available at this time reference copies of this report have been placed in the Bills and Papers Office and the Parliamentary Library. Printed copies of the report will be available for normal distribution towards the end of this month.
– I wish to inform the House of nominations of senators and members to be members of the following Joint Committees:
Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System Senators Sir Magnus Cormack, Rae and Tehan have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senators Gietzelt, McAuliffe and Mulvihill have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Mr Cadman, Mr Peter Johnson, Mr Ian Robinson and Mr Yates have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Dr Jenkins, Mr Morris and Mr Young have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence
Senators Sir Magnus Cormack, Durack, Scott and Sim have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senators Bishop, Sibraa and Wheeldon have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Mr Brown, Mr Garland, Mr Hamer, Mr Neil, Mr Ian Robinson, Mr Shipton, Mr Short and Mr Sullivan have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Armitage, Mr Beazley, Mr Bryant, Mr Fry, Mr Jacobi and Dr Klugman have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory Senators Archer and Knight have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senators Georges and Ryan have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Mr Bungey, Mr Haslem, Mr Mackenzie and Mr Sainsbury have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Crean and Mr Fry have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent
Senators Drake-Brockman, Young and Missen have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senators Mcintosh, Melzer and O ‘Byrne have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Garland and Mr Lloyd have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Keith Johnson, Mr Keating and Mr Scholes have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
I also inform the House of nominations of members to be members of the following committees of the House of Representatives:
Standing Committee on Road Safety
Mr Falconer, Mr Goodluck, Mr Katter, Mr Ruddock and Mr Short have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Cohen, Mr Charles Jones and Mr Les McMahon have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation Mr Baillieu, Mr Fisher, Mr Hodges, Mr Simon and Mr Wilson have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Dr Cass, Dr Jenkins and Mr Young have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties
Mr Cadman, Mr Falconer, Mr Hyde, Mr McVeigh and Mr Shipton have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Beazley, Mr Innes and Dr Klugman have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs
Mr Calder, Mr Drummond, Mr McLean, Mr Ruddock and Mr Wentworth have been nominated by the Prime Minister and Mr Bryant, Mr Les Johnson and Mr Wallis have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
– by leave- This Government has already announced that it intends to review the Trade Practices Act and its operation. I have stated to this House in recent weeks that this review is a matter of high priority in my portfolio and that I intended to make details of the review known as soon as possible. I can now inform this House of the establishment of a committee to undertake this review, and the committee’s terms of reference. The committee is to be composed as follows: Mr T. B. Swanson, formerly Deputy Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Ltd, Chairman; Mr J. A. Davidson, Managing Director, The Commonwealth Industrial Gases Ltd; Professor A. Kerr, Professor of Economics, Murdoch University, Perth- until recently Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Council of Western Australia; Mr H. Schrieber- solicitor, Sydney, member of the firm of Stephen, Jaques and Stephen; and Mr A. G. Hartnell, Senior Assistant Secretary, Restictive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Branch, Department of Business and Consumer Affairs.
Honourable members will recognise the great talent and wealth of experience in this Committee. The Government is grateful that these members have accepted this appointment. Mr Swanson, as Chairman, brings to the deliberations of the Committee his wide business background and experience. He has no current association with companies that may be involved in matters before the Trade Practices Commission. Additionally, Mr J. V. McKeown, First Assistant Commissioner in the Trade Practices Commission, has been appointed by the Government as a consultant to the Committee to assist it in its deliberations.
Mr Speaker, the terms of reference of this Committee are quite lengthy; so I seek the leave of the House to have them incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. ( The terms of reference read as follows)-
Committee is asked to give close attention to the sections dealing with exclusive dealing, price discrimination and mergers, and particularly:
The Government does not believe that business regulation is an end in itself. The purpose of trade practices legislation is to give effect to the broad economic philosophy and objectives of the Government. One such objective of this Government is to ensure that restrictions on business activity are the minimum necessary to promote adequate competition and conditions of fair trading.
The Government has deliberately imposed a tight timetable on this Committee. The Committee is to report by 30 June 1 976. It is the intention of the Government that any amendments to the Act which may flow from the recommendations of the Committee will be introduced into Parliament later this year.
Finally, this Committee will not be able to report effectively without assistance from all those persons in Australia who have experienced or considered the operation of this Act. I am separately requesting the Committee to consult with both employer and employee organisations and with relevant Commonwealth and State departments. I now invite any person who wishes to make a submission to the Committee to do so.
Written submissions should be directed to the Secretary, Trade Practices Act Review Committee, Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, Trade Group Offices, Barton, Australian Capital Territory.
-by leave-The opposition regards the Trade Practices Act as being of paramount importance to the protection of consumers and proper business conduct. I give notice on behalf of the opposition that we are not going to sit idly by and watch the Trade Practices Act being dismantled either by direct Government intervention or by the more subtle means or hiding behind the recommendations of a review committee. The Trade Practices Act is in existence as a result of Australian Labor Party policy, enunciated over many years, and because of the inadequacies of the old restrictive Trade Practices Act.
Last week in the House I questioned the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Howard, as to the make up of the Trade Practices Act . review committee he has just announced. My concern then, as it is now, is that consumer representation has been left out in the cold. The Chairman of the Committee has been associated with a company that has been embroiled in several investigations of the Trade Practices Commission, involving massive price discrimination designed to destroy competition by selling goods below cost. The honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) might be able to inform the Minister of some of the details. Another member of the Committee is a partner of the Minister’s brother in a huge Sydney law firm which acts for many business organisations which have, from the inception of the Trade Practices Act, been opposed to it.
I would have liked to see elected representatives from consumer organisations serving on the Review Committee. The corporate affiliations of both businessmen on the Committee are with groups heavily owned and influenced overseas. All die operations of this Review Committee should be made public. There has been no public demand for this Committee from consumers or from small businesses. The Committee has been established as the result of secret promises given in smoke-filled rooms over port and cigars to the select captains of industry during the last election campaign. It is vitally important then that the submissions to the Committee should be available for public inspection and discussion.
The Minister mis-states the purpose of the legislation. The Trade Practices Act was never designed or intended ‘to give effect to the broad economic philosophy and objectives of the Government’- or of any other Government. Competition is the main objective of the Act. The Act is designed to strengthen the competitiveness of private enterprise for the benefit of the public as ultimate consumers. The Minister gives no reason for singling out price discrimination and mergers as 2 particular areas for the attention of the Committee.
The Minister indulges in the inane rhetoric of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), or at least of his speech writers, about business regulations not being an end in itself. Of course it is not. It never has been. The Trade Practices Act makes that clear and anyone vaguely familiar with the workings of the Trade Practices Commission ought to know that it is not the way the Commission views its task either. The Minister talks of restrictions on business activity. Restrictions on business activity that should concern the community are those imposed by monopoly business organisations or corporations acting unfairly in the market place. The scheme of the trade practices legislation is to impose restrictions only on such unfair activities and to create a freer and fairer market place for business activity -for the ultimate benefit of consumers.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
States Grants (Universities) Bill 1976. States Grants (Universities) Amendment Bill 1976. States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill 1976. States Grants (Advanced Education) Amendment Bill 1976.
States Grants (Technical and Further Education) Amendment BUI 1976.
That grievances be noted.
– It is now almost 4 months since the present Government was elected to office. In that short period of time it has earned a reputation as the Government that has broken more promises in a shorter space of time than any Government in Australia’s history. Nowhere has this been more obvious than over the failure of the Government to make a decision about the future of the Old Sydney Town project at Somersby near Gosford. Since 13 December a cloud has hung over the future of this magnificent project that is crippling its development and shattering the morale of its staff and all those who are involved in and concerned about its survival. The reason for the doubts and uncertainties can be traced back to just prior to the election. An article appeared in the Sydney Sun on 3 December 1975 headlined ‘Threat to Sydney Town-The Labor Party’s Fill, says Senator’. It stated:
Liberal-Country Party Senator Peter Rae says the Old Sydney Town project could be closed down. He said this might happen if the coalition parties won the coming Federal elections.
Senator Rae was outlining his parry’s policy on tourism. He said many areas of Labor’s economic policies would be changed following their ‘3 years of mismanagement’. ‘ For instance, Old Sydney Town worries me ‘, he said.
Senator Rae said the project had been the ‘Labor Party’s own Opera House or Fl 1 1’. ‘Already $3&m equity has been invested- with more needed to complete the project’, he said. ‘This seems an incredible amount for one project when there was only a relatively small Commonwealth budget allocated for tourism’. He said a decision will have to be made whether people ‘poured money into that sort of investment’.
The candidate of the Liberal Party of Australia for the electorate of Robertson, Mr Chalmers, panicked at the report and apparently contacted Senator Rae. A report appeared in the issue of 6 December 1975 of the Central Coast Express stating that the report in the Sydney Sun was false and that the Liberal Party, if elected to government, would maintain the Labor Government’s commitment to Old Sydney Town. Councillor Chalmers also sent a telegram to the management and staff of 1 50 of Old Sydney Town on 10 December 1975 that repeated the assurances in the newspaper article. That was almost 4 months ago. Despite a question in the House during the opening week of this Parliament and numerous newspaper articles and television programs on the subject there still has not been any statement by the Government on the future of Old Sydney Town and whether it intends to honour the commitment by the previous Government.
The idea for the re-creation of the birth-place of Australia was the brainchild of Mr Frank Fox, a Sydney architect. For some 4 years prior to the Labor Party’s gaining office, Mr Fox and his advisers had worked incessantly to overcome the difficulties of the Gosford Council and the State Planning Authority and to gain the large financial support required to bring the scheme to fruition. The first official visit of the former Minister for Tourism and Recreation, Mr Frank Stewart, was in acceptance of my invitation to inspect the project. Frank Stewart was as impressed as I had been with the project and we were determined to ensure that, if possible, the Labor Government became involved in the project. Not long afterwardsin May 1974- the opportunity to do so presented itself and the Government bought the shares of Travelodge Australia Ltd, which comprised 25 lh per cent of the shares issued, for $317,000. At the time of the purchase of the shares a feasibility study had been done by PA Management Consultants Pty Ltd. An independent valuation by the Australian Mutual Provident Society was commissioned and the land was valued at $900,000 or $3,000 per acre.
– Why don’t you pull your head in. You are the biggest dope in the House, with your mate here from Riverina. I raise this point because the Auditor-General’s Department and Price Waterhouse Associates Pty, appointed by the Government, have argued that the value of the land is approximately $450,000. The reason for the difference in the valuations is easy to understand if one recognises that the AMP valuation was done in 1972 at the height of the real estate boom and that the Price Waterhouse valuation was done in December 1974 at the bottom of the real estate depression. During the period from May to November 1974, prior to the unofficial opening, the Labor Goverment provided moneys totalling $700,000 in the form of a loan to the project. At that stage it was apparent to the new Board that the company was poorly managed from a business point of view and grossly undercapitalised. By the time Old Sydney Town opened it was obvious that the interest payments would be crippling and that a restructuring was necessary. At the opening the then Prime Minister stated that the Australian Goverment would invest a further $3.5m in the Old Sydney Town project.
Frank Stewart proceeded to implement the Prime Minister’s undertaking and made available moneys totalling $lm, pending approval of the 1975-76 Budget which contained provision for $3,075,000 for the purchase of the 78 per cent shareholding. The $400,000 in the Supply Bill was additional loan moneys. All the Government loans would be repaid once the Budget was passed. The balance outstanding from the Prime Minister’s commitment of $425,000 was proposed to be provided in the 1976-77 Budget. It is most desirable that a further, building program be continued gradually over the next few years to bring people back for a second, third or fourth visit. At the moment the first windmill, the Sydney gaol and St Phillip’s Church are under construction, and the King’s Head Hotel is due to start soon. Under the restructured arrangement the new shareholding will be: The Australian Government 78 per cent, the Bank of New South Wales 12 per cent and Frank Fox Development Pty Ltd 10 per cent. At the official opening of Old Sydney Town on Australia Day 1 975, the then Prime Minister had this to say:
We have since sought ways of strengthening the viability of the project to ensure not only that rising costs can be met, but the relevance, authenticity of the original idea can be maintained. We as a Government are satisfied of the real and ultimate importance to all Australia- to all Australians, and to visitors- that this project should be brought to fulfilment.
Therefore, the Australian Government has decided that over the next three years we shall invest a further $3. 5m in the Old Sydney Town project.
The new capital of the company would be around $6m and the purchase of shares would be used to repay government loans. I stress this point to emphasise that the total Australian Government commitment would be around $4.5m if the appropriation and Budget commitment was adhered to. Old Sydney Town has been operating for one year and four months. Until 31 January 1976 there had been 588 000 visitors, of which 316 000 were adults and 245 000 were children, and there were 27 000 pensioners. By any yardstick that is a remarkable performance. These initial figures compare favourably with the only other major attraction of this type, Sovereign Hill at Ballarat. It is anticipated that by 1977 three-quarters of a million people per annum will be visiting Old Sydney Town. An interesting comparison can be made with one of Australia’s most famous attractions, Taronga Park Zoo, which after being established for years attracts only 800 000 visitors per annum.
A further example of the gross misrepresentations that have taken place over the viability of Old Sydney Town is exemplified in an article which appeared in the Gosford Star of last week. Mr Chalmers claimed that Old Sydney Town had made a loss for the financial year of $223,799 or $4,303 per week and that in 1975 a loss of $295,402 or $5,680 per week. The loss of $223,000 for 1974 was sustained during a period when it was not even open but was in the construction stage. The other loss was sustained when it was open for only a 7-month period. One wonders just how dishonest one can get. There is no doubt that the project is presently running at a loss. The major reason for its losses is the crippling interest rate which it has to sustain. These losses will fall to virtually nothing with the new arrangements that have been made to open 5 days a week instead of seven. Immediately there will be a saving of at least $2,000 a week. The present Board is of the view that within a matter of months, given relief from the interest charges, it will be operating without any loss. That would be a remarkable achievement for a venture not yet 18 months old.
However, it should be remembered that the objective of the Government investing in Old Sydney Town was not to make huge profits. Our commitment was based on the fundamental belief that, in Gough Whitlam ‘s words, ‘The project should have genuine validity as a recreation, a genuine recreation, a living recreation of the origins of modern Sydney and modern Australia . . .’Old Sydney Town is a monument to Australia’s beginnings. It will have immense value to every Australian, new, old and young, to enable them to learn of Australia’s humble start. Hundreds of thousands of Australian see this as one of the great educational, historical and cultural ventures undertaken by the late Government, not to mention the enormous benefit it will be to tourism, both intranational and international. When one considers the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on education, the millions of dollars poured into the arts, sport and recreation, and the funds now being spent on museums, few of which would have anything like the attendance at Old Sydney Town, is it not absurd to suggest that a few hundred thousand dollars of losses is sufficient justification to scrap the project?
There is an ironic twist to Old Sydney Town’s fate under the Liberals. Whilst the Federal Liberal Party is attempting to dismantle the greatest memorial to the birth of a nation ever created, the State Liberals and their counterparts in the Sydney City Council are planning to hold the 1988 Olympic Games in Sydney at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars- the staging of the Montreal Games in 1976 will cost between $ 1,200m and $l,400m-to celebrate the bicentenary of the establishment of the first settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. The ultimate irony must surely be the amount of money that Australia is now spending to celebrate America’s bicentenarysomething of which I approve- whilst it considers abandoning the greatest memorial to its own beginnings just 12 years before the twohundredth anniversary of Governor Phillip’s landing at Sydney Cove.
– I want to say a word this morning about the family, from whose stable environment most of us have come. I know that honourable members opposite were probably thinking that I might say something unkind about them this morning, but I am not going to do that. I am prompted to speak on the family this morning because there are good family men on the other side as well as on this side of the chamber. Having spoken to a number of them since coming to this place, I have come to the conclusion that we all tend to take for granted this wonderful privilege that we enjoy. Another reason why I am speaking about it is that I believe there has been an overconcentration by all forms of the media in this country on the rather odd situations that substitute for family relationships. I suppose the thing that concerns me more than anything else is that these odd situations might become more accepted as the norm in this country at the expense of the family. I suppose the third reason I am speaking about this matter is that, having read with very great interest the splendid first speech made by Senator Shirley Walters in the other place, I felt that it was about time that somebody in this House drew the same sort of attention that she did to the importance of the family.
It was not so long ago that it was unheard of for anyone to speak ill of motherhood or of the family. Today times have changed. There is a variety of attitudes on just what the family means and what the role of the mother and the father should be. There is a variety of attitudes to marriage itself and even to whether marriage is necessary to the raising of a family. With the advent of easy divorce, easy contraception and abortion, there is a questioning of the old values and codes of behaviour that bound the family together and made it strong. We have nothing to fear from change itself, from questioning the old ways and from examining new ones. What I believe we have to fear today is the type of change that is developing in thinking about the fundamental role and integrity of the family. What we have to fear is not the questioning but the direction that some of the pop culture answers are taking.
There is, unfortunately, in the community a glib and vociferous minority which aims at destroying the fundamental family unit and replacing it not with anything demonstrably stronger but with alternatives that raise serious doubts about their long-term and short-term consequences. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations declares:
The family is the natural and fundamental group-unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
The Declaration on the Rights of the Child puts it that ‘The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding . . . and shall, whenever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parent’. Nearer home our own Liberal Party federal platform says:
The family is a cohesive force in society and the Liberal Party recognises the necessity for strengthening its influence.
– It is the basis of society.
-That is right and I thank the honourable member for Darling Downs. But how can our sensible ideals be upheld, especially in this time of change when the heart of the home, the woman, the mother, is being inveigled out into the workforce and children are more and more being farmed out to professional quasiparents? Dora Russell, former wife of the later Bertrand Russell and certainly one who could never be accused of any religious bias towards life, spoke recently of the world’s deep need for real mothering. She believed that the lack of this mothering was the root of many of the problems of today’s world. A recent survey showed that by far the majority of Australian women really want to be wives and mothers and to remain in the home. This may have surprised some but not anyone with any perception of how closely linked are women’s biological capacity to bear children and the deep instinctive desire of the majority of women to fulfil themselves through that capacity.
I agree with Dora Russell and many others that the rootless instability of so many young people and the problems arising from it stems in part at least from their lack of warm full-time mothering. But how can they get it when so many mothers work, either for economic necessity or because they have been conned by feminist movements and propaganda into believing the role of mother in the home is somehow a degraded one- a kept woman as one of the members of those movements put it, a vegetable? The bearing of a child is described by Paul Ehrlich, that great gentleman, as a 9-months disease and the child itself is presented in many quarters as an evil and a menace to the human race. Unfortunately, much of the feminist movement is a rejection of the mothering role. So also is any government action which forces or even encourages women to leave the home and their vital work of mothering and go out into the workforce. I want to emphasise that I do not deny women the right to choose their lifestyle in the community provided that their choice does not impinge on the rights of others. But I do believe that a change in emphasis is needed in this community back to upholding the value and integrity of the mother being available to her husband and children and fulfilling herself, finding her reward, in their stability and gradual growth to maturity. I believe that this Government should do everthing it can, particularly in its statements and policies, to bring this about. After all it is government statements which should give the country guidance and leadership.
I believe we should upgrade the special nature of the woman as wife and mother within the home, encourage more women to take up that role and restore its pride, and remove from our society any pressures that might militate against any woman choosing that role if she wishes. Two of these pressures are inflation and taxation. Inflation makes the every day balancing of the family budget a heartbreaking impossibility without the added income from a mother’s earnings. Therefore I support wholeheartedly every measure that this Government proposes towards curbing inflation. The burden of direct and indirect taxation also falls heavily on the family and undoubtedly is one factor in forcing women out to work, even though this adds to the family’s overall tax bill. I urge this Government to do everything it can to lessen the burden of direct and indirect taxes on the family income.
One aspect of taxation is often overlooked, I believe, when considering the stability of the family as the basic unit of a community. This is the inevitable financial cost to the community of what is sometimes called the permissive or libertarian society. This question was raised by Mr Justice Megarry of the English High Court of Justice in his fifth Riddell Lecture in 1972 and his comments perhaps are even more pertinent today. He showed how this libertarian society involves not merely a claim for absolute rights to live according to one’s own desires but also a demand for facilities for that lifestyle. He pointed to the cost of doctors, lawyers and social help when drug taking gets out of hand. He talked of the cost to the community of clinics and hospitals and social help for venereal diseases and abortion clinics as a result of a demand by libertarians for their permissive lifestyle. He pointed to the cost of the facilities demanded by those who opt for the alternative society while still demanding recourse to the food, medical, dental, legal and other services which the alternative society does not and cannot provide.
To this can be added the cost of child care centres demanded at government expense by those who insist on their right to farm out their children. Granted, these people pay taxes but if their demands are met to the full the rest of the community, including the family where the mother remains at home, must cany part of the cost. There is therefore injustice and a species of insanity in a situation where the family must bear a share of the cost of the consequences of a lifestyle which inherently is at war with the family concept.
The new lifestyles, therefore, raise very serious questions of economic cost and social priorities. There is a limit to the proportion of the gross national product which governments can take in taxation. In the United Kingdom the Government already is taking 60 per cent of the nation’s output. If money is spent by government on venereal disease clinics, drug treatment and assessment centres, abortion climes, social workers and child care centres for working parents there is less, in simple cash terms, to be spent on the genuinely poor, the deserted wives, husbands and children, the widows and the abandoned old.
It is not a moral but a social question to determine spending priorities and I urge the Government to look closely and carefully at its priorities so that it not only does nothing to penalise the family but actually encourages its growth and strength. The Liberal Party’s federal platform sums it up particularly well when it says:
Liberals acknowledge the vital contribution of the family in the development of the individual and, if the family is having difficulty fulfilling that task, the community must come to its aid.
In this context the Government is the community and I urge the Government to do all it can to encourage women back into the home so the family is not deprived of its heart. Finally I draw attention to the magnificent statement yesterday by the Liberal Party leader in the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, Dr Hughes, in which he called for an increase in child endowment. I think this would be one of the factors which would encourage women to stay at home instead of going out into the workforce.
– I wish to bring a matter to the attention of the Government, particularly to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). I refer to the introduction into Australian shipping on 15 April of a Russian shipping line known as FESCO Australia Limited or the FESCO Australia Line. It is controlled by the Soviet shipping agency in Moscow which is known as Sovinflot. This is a nationalised organisation of the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It has set up agencies in all of the major trading countriesin the United Kingdom, in Belgium, in the Netherlands, West Germany, Portugal, Japan and Singapore. Now is has set up a similar line in Australia. Here it is known as Opal Maritime Agencies Pty Ltd of which the Russian Sovinflot agency holds 75 per cent of the shares and James Patricks and Company Pty Ltd, an Australian organisation, holds 25 per cent. Honourable members would realise that James Patricks and Co. Pty Ltd were brought into the deal because it is one of the large shipping agencies in Australia and its organisation could be used to get trade.
The question that arises is whether there is a need for the FESCO Australia Line to enter the trade. There is no need for it. This trade already has adequate shipping tonnage provided by the existing shipping lines which have been servicing it for some considerable time. The Australian National Line already has 2 ships in the trade. I do not have time to spell this out in detail but ANL has two containerships in this trade. With two other ships it is servicing the South East Asian trade. It is also having a ship constructed in Japan to provide an additional service for the Asian and Japanese trade. All told Australia is very much involved in the Japan-Australia and the Asia- Australia trade. There is no need for this new shipping line to enter the trade.
I have a list of the ports that this shipping line will be visiting. The first ship will sail from Vladivostok on 15 April and there will be a 15 per cent discount on the freight rates. If the Conference line and the other shipping lines reduce their freight rates by 15 per cent- and they will- we know from past experience that the Soviet line will reduce them by another 1 5 per cent, 20 per cent or 30 per cent. On the basis of that line’s performance in other countries throughout the world, this 1 5 per cent discount is only the first bid and shippers can negotiate even greater discounts, if necessary.
I bring to the attention of the Government and the Ministers concerned just what is happeningthey know of it- and the fact that there is no effort whatever by the Government to do anything about it. For example, some 3 weeks ago Mr Swayne, the chairman of Overseas Containers Ltd and the Australia- Japan Container Line, came to Australia especially to warn the Minister for Transport of just what was under way. I regret to say that, even though the Minister was aware that I would be speaking on a shipping subject today, I do not see him anywhere in the chamber. This once again indicates that he has no regard for what is happening, in the same way as he indicated to Mr Swayne I understand, that he was not concerned about the shipowners’ problem; he was concerned about the shippers and their shipping problem. Also, Mr Neville Jenner, the Chairman of the Australian National Line, was interviewed on this subject. The article, published in the Daily Commercial News and Shipping List on Friday, 12 April, on that interview, stated:
In an exclusive interview yesterday, Mr Jenner said the Australian National Line provided a top-grade service to shippers on a commercial basis.
With this in mind, it naturally must be concerned about the threat of competition designed to entice away its clients.
He said it was too early to comment further on possible effects of the Russian competition as the ships have not begun calling at Australian ports.
He did say, however, that shippers would no doubt bear in mind the longer term situation and weigh it up against any immediate advantage which may be given from accepting lower freight rates offered at this time.
Mr Jenner was dealing with the subject about which I am talking. So Mr Swayne, the leader of one of the leading shipping interests of the world, and Mr Jenner, the Chairman of our own national shipping line, the largest Australian participant in foreign trade, expressed concern. Once again I emphasise the point that there has been no Government or ministerial response to the intrusion of the Soviet shipping line into Australia. This line trades not on the basis of competitive prices or the economic operation of its ships but purely and simply in order to have Russian ships in a particular country’s trade. Every Western country today is concerned about this.
When I was in Europe in June last year I was approached- because the discussions were more or less on a confidential level I feel that I am not free to name the people who spoke to me- by people who stated that all the leading people in European shipping are concerned about the way the Soviet Union is expanding its shipping operations throughout the world today. The Soviet Union is one of the minor trading countries and probably has less trade than most other countries; but it is the sixth largest shipping nation in the world today. I emphasise that point to the very few Government supporters who are sitting in the chamber now. Every country is concerned about the way the Soviet Union is expanding its shipping fleet. When I was in Europe I indicated to the people with whom I spoke that I, too, was concerned and was prepared to look closely at the matter and to talk to them at a future date. I am sorry to say that those people are not in a position at least to receive a sympathetic reception from a Minister of the Australian Government. This unsympathetic attitude is similar to the frigid reception the 2 shipping representatives got from the present Minister for Transport on this very important subject.
I indicate clearly to honourable members that I am really concerned about the intrusion of the Soviet shipping line into activities in Australia.
This line is developing a trade wherein it will take out of Europe on the Trans-Siberian RailwayI am talking now in terms of Asian, South East Asian and Japanese-Australian trade- as much of the container trade as it can and take it to the port of Nakhodka, from where it will be shipped to Japan, Australia, Singapore or whatever ports the line is servicing. It appears to me that the Government is not really concerned about what is happening. The Russians approach the matter on the basis of the trade being a foreign currency earner and part of an export industry. By this means they will earn export currency in the form of income from freight. They see it as a major part of their foreign policy to have a Russian presence in almost every country in the world. Yesterday the Minister for Defence replied to the honourable member for Tangney (Dr Richardson). Dealing with the United States, he stated that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence have said on several occasions that the use of facilities in Western Australia by the United States will be welcomed by this Government. From the attitude of the Minister for Transport and the Government as a whole, the Minister for Defence should have added that with the entry of FESCO into Australian trading we welcome our great friend the Soviet Union into Australian trade and its use of Australian ports, because that is what it means to have Australian ports used by Soviet shipping.
All Government supporters in the AddressinReply debate on the Governor-General’s Speech laid great stress on free enterprise. Where are the great free enterprisers today? What will the Government do about this? What will the Government’s great free enterprise Minister do about it? Nothing. Up to this point he has given the Australian and overseas shipping lines the cold shoulder. They can look for no comfort from Nixon or this Government. Bilateral agreements similar to those of the airlines are needed. There should be an endorsement of the Geneva liner conference which provided for a 40-40-20 proposition whereby the exporting nation carries 40 per cent of the trade, the importing nation likewise carries 40 per cent and 20 per cent goes to cross traders. The resources, facilities and means to deal with this problem are at our disposal but the Government will not pick it up.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Listening to the previous speaker, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), one is liable to draw a couple of conclusions, and one is that he apparently knows quite a lot about shipping. But I am prompted to remember that not so long ago while he was trying to start his motor boat it took oil and he fell out because he had not pulled up the anchor.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not know where the heck the honourable member got this assertion from. He was yacking about it yesterday. All I say is that he is a liar.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle has been a member of this House long enough to know that that remark is completely and absolutely unparliamentary. I confess that I am surprised that he used that word. I ask him to withdraw it.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, when people make statements that are deliberately untrue and they know that they are untrue, it is a lie, and you know that that is a he.
-Order! The honourable member is now compounding the offence that he committed in the first place. I suggest that he withdraw the remark without making a comment on what has been said.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, out of regard for you and the Standing Orders I shall withdraw the statement and say that the honourable member’s remarks were a great and total untruth.
-I will not go into that matter. I did get the information correctly. I also draw the attention of the honourable member for Newcastle to the Standing Orders of the House which state that he should address honourable members, especially Ministers, by their titles. Instead of saying ‘Nixon’, he should have said ‘the Minister for Transport’. Perhaps one day he will pay that courtesy.
Today I should like to talk on 2 housing measures announced recently by this Government. The first is the States grants legislation to transfer funds for housing from the Commonwealth to the States. I shall not speak about a Bill that is before the House- I say that in case anybody gets awfully excited about that- I just want to draw a parallel and in doing so to mention the other legislation that we are proposing to introduce, namely, that dealing with the home savings grant scheme. I should like to draw a parallel with what the previous Government did or did not do for housing. Members of the Opposition are very vocal on this issue.
I should like to sum up by suggesting a couple of points that perhaps could amend both of these schemes. First the Labor Government promised home owners many things. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), when he was Minister for Housing, said that the Labor Government would provide $6m to build some 1 500 homes. This was in 1 972, honourable members might be surprised to know. In 1 972 the cost of houses was somewhere around $10,000, $12,000 and $14,000 respectively around the various parts of the Commonwealth. Apparently the honourable member for Hughes thought he was back in 1 902 when he was allowing $4,000 a home. Of course we have come to learn over the 3 years that the Labor Government had no knowledge at all in the fields of management or business expertise otherwise the Minister might have had some of his homework done for him and been properly enlightened. However, he did not last very long; as is the usual custom with Ministers who have failed, he was sacked and transferred. Then another Minister took over. This Minister made a magnificent statement. He promised that there would be absolutely no reduction in the 1975-76 grant. He said that the amount of money being spent on housing would not be less than in the previous financial year. Within about 2 months of that statement, out came the Budget and we found a $69m reduction in the amount provided. This is of course indicative of the way in which this former Government behaved during the 3 years it was in office.
Let me remind the House of just one thing which the Labor Government very willingly wished to introduce. Fortunately the people of Australia executed the vote that prevented it. I refer to the report of the Priorities Review Committee which recommended such proposals as the abolition of land tax and rates as a tax deduction. This would have been a slanted attack against many of the average people in this country. It advocated the imposition of a building tax against owner-occupiers. In other words, if a person were prudent and worked hard to get his own home, this former Government was going to introduce measures to make sure that he paid an added levy against his already high income tax. It suggested the creation of a new tax equal to the rental value of a person’s home to be added to his income. For example, if a person’s house was worth $25,000, an amount of $1,875 a year would be added to his income for tax purposes. Fortunately for the people of this country they woke up in time and they got rid of this socialist government.
Then the Labor Government introduced the Housing Corporation Bill. This was originally designed to nationalise the Australian building industry totally. There is no doubt about that. The Labor Government’s plans were quite specific. The Bill was to allow the acquisition of land for purposes associated with dwellings, the development of facilities and services such as headworks, power supplies, transport, etc. and the lease of land, buildings, etc. to any person for use- anything incidental to the Government’s powers and the pursuit of the Government’s overall objectives m regard to urban and social economic development. This meant that the Government could enter the field of buying and selling, taking over companies- all sorts of things that this former Government had in its platform of nationalisation. It is in the Labor Party’s platform and has been spelt out often enough.
In the time left to me I should like to touch briefly on the 2 proposals introduced into the House and to mention in particular the States Grants legislation to provide funds for housing. I believe it would be in the interest of all home owners if the Government were to arrange that the subsidy to the co-operative housing societies were to be deleted in a period of up to 10 years. This subsidy is part of the money provided to States and is paid to those income earners who earn up to $ 150-odd a week. They can borrow money at 4 per cent to 5 per cent over 30 years. If this subsidy were to be deleted in a period of up to 10 years it would mean for example that a person who went into one of these co-operatives some 10 years ago would be paying a ridiculously small amount at today’s inflated income of about $ 10 a week off his principal plus his interest. By lifting his interest rate at the end of 10 years to about 10 per cent he would still be paying only about $13 or $14 a week, but that would allow the co-operative societies to borrow money against that income at 9 per cent or 10 per cent and to lend it out again at 4 per cent or 5 per cent- at the base rate. It would provide an enormous fund for home ownership for young people. It would be the most positive step that both Commonwealth and State governments could take. I intend to discuss this at great length with the Minister concerned. I know that he is interested and I know that the matter will receive attention. It will not cost the Government anything, because it has already started the initial loans. This would mean that the young people of this country who are unable to get housing commission homes because of their incomes would be eligible to get finance on this basis.
Reverting to our home savings scheme, the only disappointment I have with this scheme- I have mentioned this to the Minister and I understand and I hope that it is being further consideredrelates to the existing scheme which provided for $750 for those who have saved over the 2-year term. This scheme was introduced by us back in 1970-71. It is a scheme which the Labor Party refused to upgrade. It did not allow for inflation. In those days to qualify, a person had to build his home for no more than $22,500 including the cost of land. Today, I think even the honourable member for Newcastle would agree, that would be virtually impossible. I suggest that this amount, this ceiling, should be lifted to at least $30,000 or $34,000. It would not cost the Government any more because it has already been budgeted for in the last Budget. I am not suggesting adding money to the scheme; I am merely saying that, by lifting this ceiling, those people eligible for a homes savings grant under the existing scheme could use some of the money that is available. Once the funds had run out that would be just too bad, because only a certain amount was budgeted for.
Again this would be a positive step to help the young people in this country who are eligible, who have been waiting for this grant and who have not been able to get it because of the lack of foresight, the lack of initiative and the lack of management of the socialist government which was interested only in making sure that people did not own their own homes and that the people of this country were reduced to renting homes and being servants of a centralist, socialist government.
-On 25 February last, a petition was read by the Clerk concerning a matter of Crown privilege. This is contained on pages 251 and 252 of Hansard. It was lodged for presentation by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott). I do not think the petitioner was one of his relatives, so the AttorneyGeneral would not mind my mentioning the person’s name in this House. The petition was from a man called Sankey who apparently is a part owner of a girlie bar in Sydney. At the time no one paid any attention to it. Then on 16 March the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) asked the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a question about the petition. This is on pages 632 and 633 of Hansard. The honourable member for Bradfield seemed to be a favoured Dorothy, but then, as we in this House know, his uses are limited. It seemed extraordinary at the time that any Minister, let alone the Prime Minister, should intervene in this matter by arranging a Dorothy Dix question.
Why this relationship between the Prime Minister and the honourable member for Bradfield? I suggest that perhaps they became friends when the honourable member for Bradfield was a minor figure in the diplomatic service and the Prime Minister was seeking an outlet for his energies abroad. Perhaps it was because the Attorney-General was not prepared, as we know, to dirty his hands carrying buckets. Whatever the reason, the Prime Minister took and answered the question and pointed out that it related to a curious action in the Queanbeyan Court of Petty Sessions. It seems that this Mr Sankey has brought a citizen’s information against the former Prime Minister, my Leader, and 2 former Ministers of the Labor Government and a judge of the High Court, alleging conspiracy. The Prime Minister obviously knows a great deal about the action. In the National Times of 22 March 1976 Mr Sankey asked the Government to help him out with his legal costs because he was poor. I suggest that he must be the only man in Sydney to own a girlie bar and remain poor; but then his tax has not yet been indexed.
There are a number of very curious things about this action and its sponsors. There seems to be a fairly incestuous relationship between some of the principal figures engaged in prosecuting the action. When Mr Sankey was a young man, he got into trouble in Sydney, as I recall, by giving a false alibi to one of his unsavoury clients. He was implicated in the case of R. v. Stuart Daren and Stuart Harold Tange which was heard in the Court of Quarter Sessions in New South Wales in June 1971. Tange was Sankey ‘s client and Sankey gave detailed evidence as to the time and place of meeting with Tange. Unfortunately Tange was committing an armed robbery at the same time. The police believedand they were decent police officers- that the proceeds of the robbery found their way to Sankey, but they were harassed in their attempt to pursue the matter. Questions are now being placed on the notice paper in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly which may shed more light on the Tange affair.
The barrister acting for Mr Sankey in Queanbeyan was also involved in the Tange case and apparently shared chambers with Mr Sankey during the latter’s brief, ill-fated career as a barrister. Oddly enough, the barrister is also a friend, I regret to say, of Mr Leo, S.M., the magistrate hearing the conspiracy case. It seems they have worked together before. That was in the inquiry into the tragic bus disaster in Cooma in 1973. I would be the last one to criticise
Cooma- it has worthy people of all types- but it has been alleged to me that there is not a great deal of night life there and as a result Mr Rofe, Sankey ‘s barrister, and Mr Leo were able to see a lot of each other. That may explain the second curious aspect- the fact that the case is being heard in Queanbeyan.
– I rise to a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker, prima facie the matters being dealt with are sub judice and I would ask for your ruling in that regard.
-The comments and the remarks of the honourable member for Hunter are rather wide. I would suggest in this particular instance that he should not refer particularly to the subject matter that is before the court. The honourable member for Hunter is not out of order in respect of the other comments he is making.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. 1 had advice on this matter so that I would not infringe the Standing Orders. The fact of the matter is that the case is being heard in Queanbeyan, and I will keep wide of identifying this matter, Mr Deputy Speaker. Why Queanbeyan, one might ask? Why not Canberra? Why the change of venue from Canberra where the offence is alleged to have taken place? Why not Sydney where Mr Sankey and his barrister live? Could it be that they have reason to believe that they could take their mud-slinging further in Queanbeyan? I believe so.
– He could not do worse than you are doing.
– I will share it with you or anyone. Of course, the third very odd aspect of this whole matter is the absent friend. It seems that it is all right to prosecute a former Prime Minister, 2 former Ministers and a High Court judgeperhaps because he is not one of the Attorney’s cousins- but the other, the decisive participant in Executive Council is to be immune. Still, the New South Wales courts would not wish to muddy their track record of double standards in the administration of justice.
– I rise to a point of order. I suggest the reference to the ‘decisive’ member, to quote the honourable member’s word, in the Executive Council is a clear reference to the only other person involved, namely His Excellency the Governor-General. As such, the honourable member’s remarks involve an imputation, albeit an oblique one. I suggest that the honourable member should be called upon to withdraw the imputation.
– It is not easy for the Chair to make a decision on an imputation implied by an honourable member. There is one danger If the Chair comments that it is an imputation without positive fact relating to that statement, the Chair could be accused of assessing an imputation when in fact no imputation was made. I think that the honourable member for Hunter has on 2 occasions gone fairly close to transgressing the Standing Orders in regard to giving details in respect of the case which is being heard. His comments on a reason for the case being heard in a certain area as against another could be considered to be an implication relating to the case itself. The honourable member for Hunter should be extremely careful in associating his remarks with the case which is at the moment sub judice.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I said that the New South Wales courts would not wish to muddy their track record of double standards in the administration of justice. To return to the point and crux of my address: There is also the whole question of costs. Sankey has publicly sought the Attorney’s help in this regard. It must be costing him a fortune to maintain a barrister in Queanbeyan in an action he cannot possibly win. Why does he do it? Who is paying him? If the entire resources of the Queensland Government have failed, what makes Danny run? These are serious questions which deserve the urgent attention of the Attorney-General who will not be a toady to anyone according to the impression he has given honourable members. Vexatious actions of this sort have only one purpose- to divert the attention of the public from the excesses of the squattocracy running the Government and to seek to keep the Opposition from being an effective force in this Parliament. If members of Parliament and the judiciary can be harassed in this case, all parliamentarians will And their time and energies misdirected to self-defence against vexatious legal actions. One could envisage a conspiracy case against the Attorney and his cousin in a suit for conspiracy to commit fraud under the tax laws against the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Premier of Victoria. And, I need hardly add, that the Queensland Premier would need to maintain a permanent gaggle of barristers. We would not want that would we? We certainly would not. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, would agree with that.
-One of the worst pieces of legislation to be introduced into this place has been legislation which divided the then Postmaster-General’s portfolio into the
Australian Telecommunications Commission and the Australian Postal Commission. Members of the National Country Party of Australia spoke against this division at the time the legislation was before the House. Of course.the division was a fait accompli and we all now know the results. The 18c charge to post a letter in Australia represents the highest rate of postage in the world.
As I travel throughout my electorate I am informed by postmasters in the towns and villages that the quantity of mail has fallen by from 17 per cent to 20 per cent. They fear that if this trend continues they will lose their jobs. The present postage rate is a tremendous load for small businesses and people living in country districts and the cities to carry. As I said, Australia has the highest postage rate of any country. Yet we are putting up with this situation. We are not expressing considerable opposition in this place to this high rate. I believe that we should be using everything in our power to influence the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) to get on to the Postal Commission to see what can be done.
Other impositions are placed on us every few weeks. Just recently the fee for mail bags used on country runs has increased from $15 to $30. The charge used to be $4. But in 1974 it rose to $15. The Postal Commission the other day issued instructions that mail bags used in the country mail bag service will cost $30. People living in the farflung areas of Australia are having this burden placed on them. I note that in Tasmania the cost of a country mail bag is of the order of $60.
We on this side of the House are asking the Minister to get on to the Postal Commission to see whether this iniquitous fee, which is out of all proportion, can be reduced. Mail bags used in country mail services are owned by individuals who also provide the locks for the bags. The service provides a great means of mail delivery. Many country people will cease to use the service if this fee is to continue. People in country areas are being isolated by the delays that are taking place in mail services. Mail has taken three, four and five days to be delivered from country areas of New South Wales to the city. Indeed, in the cities it is taking two or three days for mail to be delivered into the suburbs. The cost of postage of periodicals and papers throughout Australia is exorbitant, and local newspapers and the printers of journals are very concerned with the problems they face in that field. We have heard recently that the ordinary letter rate might be increased to 23 cents, and the Minister for Post and Telecommunications should be informed that we expect him to see that some sanity is brought to bear on the Postal Commission. As businessmen we realise that goods have to be sold in quantity, but apparently the Postal Commission does not believe that. It believes that all it has to do is to keep putting up the prices. It is losing a great quantity of business and people are using mail courier services. IPEC, Comet and others are reaping the benefits of the exorbitant postal fees because people are sending mail through those services and that represents a loss to the Commission.
The Australian Telecommunications Commission produced a net profit of $67. lm in its first 6 months of operation. That is the biggest profit ever disclosed by any business or corporation in this country and indicates that the price of some of the telecommunication services should be reduced. Telephone calls have gone up from 5 cents to 9 cents, trunk line fees right across the nation have been increased, and telephone rentals have been inceased by $27. It would appear that if the Commission can produce a profit of $67. lm then it ought to be able to reduce the cost of the services it provides. In both country areas and in the cities people who have lodged applications for telephone services are being told that it could take 2 years or more to provide them. One of the district telecommunications centres in my area informed me today that it has 1015 applications for telephones and the district telephone engineer says that there is a shortage of cable. A shortage of cable means that there is a shortage of funds to buy cable. I understand that plenty of cable is available from the manufacturers but the problem lies in the allocation of funds to buy new cable to give people telephone connections.
I believe that the Telecommunications Commission ought to be looking at these factors and giving the people of Australia the sort of telephone services to which they are entitled. In certain country areas subscribers to exchanges situated 20 miles or 30 miles away from a main town are being charged for trunk line calls to that town, the town where they transact their business and get their goods and groceries and necessities of life. In some instances the exchanges have from 17 to 27 subscribers, which is only a small ring to telephone locally, yet when they telephone to the main town they are charged a trunk line rate. I think that that system needs to be looked at and revised by Telecom. There has been considerable comment in the Press on this matter, and in the Age of 8 March an article headed ‘Telecom profit: call for probe’ stated:
The Victorian Employers Federation yesterday called for a public inquiry into the operation of the Australian Telecommunications Commission.
It went on to say that Telecom had announced a profit of $67. lm and that it was estimated that if that rate of profit continued the Commission would have made a profit of $ 160m at the end of 12 months trading. As a businessman, I say that needs to be looked at. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications should look at the operation of the Commission and ensure that better services, more facilities and more telephones are made available to applicants. Business cannot be transacted without a telephone, and I have had the experience, as no doubt other members of the National Country Party have, of small businessmen communicating with me and saying that they want a telephone but are being denied a connection for the reasons that I have given. The Minister should get on to Telecom and ensure that its great profit is used to provide more telephone connections and better services at cheaper rates to business people and to the Australian community generally.
– I rise to speak today because of recent moves in the field of employment and industrial relations, or more accurately the draconian way in which the Fraser Government has taken the axe to the innocent and the weak in this field. Under this Government Jesus Christ would be ineligible for unemployment benefit. They would declare him a vagrant, they would say he dressed poorly and associated with undesirables, wore a beard and was a carpenter who left his trade to live without work. Worse than that, he would be regarded as a mindless visionary with no right to the public purse. Be that as it may, draconian measures are insensitive and are to be condemned for that alone. What is worse is the vile arrogance of this Government in its execution of such policies. I have repeatedly raised this characteristic of the present Government in this place, but it seems that the total elitism is inextricably tied up with the leaders’ philosophy. They are men who are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, heirs of squattocracy and big business interests, rich beyond comprehension of most Australians, people who have not known poverty or war or even the mundanity or nuisance of city life. How would they understand the real tragedy of people being out of work? No doubt it would be difficult but not impossible if they would try. But they will not or do not try because it suits them not to. I wish to quote from page 581 of last week’s edition of Nation Review, where Mungo MacCallum stated -
– Ha, ha.
– If the honourable gentleman would listen he might learn something. Mungo MacCallum stated:
In the lexicon of Malcolm Fraser, ‘bludger’ means anyone who can’t get a job. ‘Dole bludger’ means someone who can’t get a job who is receiving the unemployment benefit, and ‘dole cheat’ means someone who can’t get the son of job he wants and is still receiving the unemployment benefit.
The new provisions read as though they have been deliberately designed to inflict the maximum possible hardship and personal humiliation on Australia’s 200 000 unemployed.
Or, as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) would have it, Australia’s 200 000 bludgers. Despite the fact that the experts say that in all truth there are very few real dole cheats, this Government holds the cretinous view, the bourgeois and prejudiced view, that people who do not work or who cannot work are bludgers, that the lower class which the Prime Minister despises might be able to exist, however poorly, without putting a lot of effort into it. The fact that nine out of every ten people without work are suffering hardship does not concern the Government or those on the other side. That is made even more ugly by the fact that it is so hypocritical. The Prime Minister is a man of considerable inherited wealth who has never worked at anything in his life in terms of the possibilities open to the people he labels as bludgers.
The same arrogant, inhumane and elitist attitude which says that if a young person from a poor family, without assets, wants to look around for agreeable work with good prospects and is on unemployment benefits then he is a bludger, also says that if another young chap with assets who can live with his family for a while does the same thing, then society admires him and describes what he is doing as looking for work. As an outgrowth of that we have the spectacle of the rural farming community, which accepts and in fact expects federal aid for its beef operations or grazing requirements but bitterly opposes all social programs that do not concern it. Worse, it rejects the philosophy behind programs not directly helping it as being a socialist drain on the public purse. This animosity to bludgers has made unemployment a dirty word, and has hidden the really horrendous experiences of being without work. The Government’s new crackdown on those receiving benefits will make life even harder for the genuinely out of work but, according to the conservative philosophy, this is OK as long as they catch the bludgers.
This simple-minded phobia with bludgers, the numerical strength of whom is unknown and irrelevant to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) is taking on similarities to, and the dangers of, ridding a neighbourhood of a stray cat. The Minister, like the cat chaser, is so preoccupied with catching the offender that in trying to poison the minority or stray animal he kills everyone else’s cat in the district. In the analogy, killing all cats in the neighbourhood is a big price to pay when you cannot be sure you will get the stray. Similarly, single-minded chasing of dole bludgers will drag down the majority of legitimately unemployed people. However, apart from the ludicrous nature of the game the Minister is playing, what really concerns me is the fact that this prejudice against alleged dole bludgers ignores the real tragedy of people out of work. Social welfare worker Graeme Brewer of the Brotherhood of St Laurence has found that the ratio of jobless people to job vacancies stands at 1 1 to one, and for young people it is even higher. He said in the Age on 29 January 1976:
When I returned to Australia last year I was amazed to find all this ‘scapegoating’ of the unemployed. It’s far, far worse than in Britain where the unemployment problem is much greater. I think it’s because Australia is basically a country of vast middle-class affluence and this blinds people to the real problems of unemployment . . . this violent reaction to a tiny number of dole cheats has clouded the whole issue and a lot of out-of-work people with serious problems are suffering as a result.
While all this talk of bludgers preoccupies the free-thinking and perceptive legislators of the Government side, they are in simple fact hiding the truth that nothing is being done to solve the very real problems of unemployment. It is in fact a cunning, cynical and utterly vile use of the oldest trick in the book, the red herring. It is similar to the Jew-baiting tactics used by Hitler.
Really and truly, how many people want and enjoy living on the pittance they receive on the dole? Does this miniscule number of people really put an overly large burden on the federal coffers? Of course not. The whole issue is a smokescreen to distract people from the truth of the matter. That truth is that this Government has not done and will not do anything to allay the suffering of the huge majority of legitimately and hurtfully unemployed. Quite the opposite is in fact happening. Current government policy is only making the hardship worse. The dole is not enough to live on as it is. Yet the Government is making it harder to get and even harder to keep. It is the age-old Liberal-National Country Party trick of bleeding the wealth from those who really need it and giving it to those who are already wealthy. I do not know how honourable members opposite can live with themselves in the knowledge that it is people like the unemployed and the pensioners who subsidise large landholders and big business. In their view, the unemployed must be kicked from pillar to post to enable the Government to allocate money for a superphosphate bounty. According to the Government, it is untenable that a worker should get $37 a week from the Government, but it is legitimate for economic fat cats not to pay tax. It is the same argument that says: It is fair for the business lunch of steak and martinis to be tax deductible, but not for the working man’s lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. Possibly the most dangerous part of these attitudes is the shortsightedness of them.
The fact simply is that never again will Australia have the low unemployment we came to expect in the 1960s. No doubt for short periods in our future the pool of unemployed workers will be greatly reduced, but over a long period it is just not on. Australia, like England and the United States of America, has a degenerate Western capitalist economy. Such economies, or the controllers of them, have no place for full employment. It is not in their interests. Worse still though, automation as a growing characteristic can only add to the problem if there is not a good deal of thought leading to rationalisation. This Government and all policy makers should take a good long look at the obvious trends in our economy. Whether or not ‘government planning’ is a dirty expression for the bourgeoisie, it has to become a reality in this economy. If we leave economic growth and development in the hands of the disparate or, of necessity, selfish groups known as capital, then like the United States we will have to come to terms with consistent unemployment levels of over 5 per cent. Mindless utterances about dole bludgers and drainers of the public purse will not alter the situation. Loud, intransigent and meaningless condemnations of those unfortunate enough to be unemployed will not take the problem away. It is here and needs recognition and subsequent planning. I call on the Minister to stop his illdisguised game of smokescreening. He is fooling no one and hurting many.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– We are sick to death of hearing his Hitler-like red herring arguments.
-Order! The honourable member will please resume his seat.
It is now fifteen minutes to one o’clock. In accordance with standing order 106 the debate is interrupted and I put the question:
That grievances be noted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Livestock Slaughter Levy Act 1964-1974 to provide for the introduction of a further component to the livestock slaughter levy of $1 per head on cattle slaughtered on and after 1 July 1976. The proposed levy is designed to offset the Commonwealth contribution to national endemic cattle disease eradication programs in Australia through the operation of a trust account, which will be established under the terms of the complementary Bill, the Livestock Slaughter Levy Collection Amendment Bill 1976. The only national cattle disease eradication campaign presently in operation is that for brucellosis and tuberculosis. No other is presently in contemplation.
The national brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign was commenced in 1970. At that time the Commonwealth Government contribution was by way of direct grants to the States from consolidated revenue. The previous Government introduced the meat export charge legislation which in the case of exports of beef and veal raised 0.6c per lb for recoupment of the Commonwealth Government’s contributions to this campaign. As honourable members will know, legislation was recently passed to suspend this charge.
The Industries Assistance Commission has drawn attention to the inequities of the export charge for brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication and its replacement by the slaughter levy proposed in this Bill has the support of industry organisations. Reference to the complementary Bill indicates that a national cattle disease eradication trust account will be established into which the moneys resulting from this levy will be paid. I wish to stress that at the present time the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign is the only one that will be financed in this way. However, the trust account has been given a wider name so that, should there be a further national eradication campaign for some endemic cattle disease, the same principles and arrangements will operate. I wish to remind honourable members of the importance of total eradication of these 2 diseases from the national herds, particularly in view of their importance in maintaining overseas markets for livestock, meat and dairy produce.
In accordance with the Government’s wish to simplify printing styles in legislation the Bill also contains some formal amendments. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Livestock Slaughter Collection Act 1964-1974 to establish a National Cattle Disease Eradication Trust Account into which moneys raised through the additional slaughter levy imposed by the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill 1 976 will be paid. As I said in my second reading speech in connection with the Live-stock Slaughter Levy Amendment Bill, the levy for national disease eradication will, for the time being at least, be used only for purposes of the national brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign. However, the Trust Account has been given its wider name so that in future the same system and arrangements can operate without new legislation.
The Trust Account will be subject to the normal audit provision for such accounts. Into the account will be paid moneys collected by the newly introduced levy and interest from the investment of funds standing to the credit of the Trust Account. The Minister for Primary Industry may approve expenditure of moneys from the National Cattle Disease Eradication Trust Account by way of payments to the States and in meeting costs incurred by the Commonwealth for the purpose of the eradication of any endemic cattle disease in Australia. Moneys may also be paid from the Trust Account with the approval of the Minister for Primary Industry, to reimburse the Consolidated Revenue Fund in respect of any expenses connected with eradication of an endemic disease of cattle which may have been defrayed from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
In accordance with the Government’s wish to simplify printing styles in legislation, a number of formal amendments have been included. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill, the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Amendment Bill 1976 and the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Amendment Bill 1976 is to extend the Commonwealth apple and pear stabilisation scheme to cover the 1976 export season for apples and pears. The scheme has operated over the 1971 to 1975 export seasons. The Industries Assistance Commission has inquired into the need beyond the 1975 season for Commonwealth Government financial support for the stabilisation of returns to growers from exports of fresh apples and pears. In its interim report, the Commission recommended the continuation of this scheme on a modified basis for the 1 976 season.
These Bills give effect to the Government’s decision, announced on 27 February this year, to accept the Commission’s recommendations. The recommendations in respect of apples were that the maximum level of price support under the scheme in 1976 be $2 per box and the maximum quantity eligible for support be 2 million boxes. Support should be confined to sales ‘at risk’ to Europe, including the United Kingdom. Previously, stabilisation support for apples covered all apples exported on an ‘at risk’ basis. The Government has also accepted the recommendations of the Commission in respect of stabilisation support for the 1976 pear exports. ‘The recommendations were that the maximum level of price support be 80c per box and the maximum quantity eligible for support be 1.4 million boxes. Support would be confined to ‘at risk’ sales to Europe, including the United Kingdom, and North America, whereas under previous stabilisation arrangements all pears exported on an ‘at risk’ basis were covered by stabilisation support. The opportunity has also been taken to convert units and quantities referred to in the legislation to metric units, and to bring the language in the existing legislation into line with current drafting practices. The term ‘reputed bushel’ referred to in the Act has been replaced with the term ‘reputed box’ in accordance with the terminology currently in use within the industry and approved by the Metric Conversion Board.
During the 1 97 1 to 1975 seasons the apple and pear stabilisation scheme has provided for the establishment of a support price for the season for each variety of apples and pears. The support price has been calculated each season in line with movements in growers’ cash costs as assessed by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The ‘average export return1 for each variety was determined at the end of the season from actual sales. Where the ‘average export return’ for apples or pears was less than the ‘support price’ a payment equal to the difference was made to growers exporting that variety ‘at risk’. Overall limits were placed on support to provide for a maximum rate of 80c per bushel on a total of 4.4 million bushels. The maximum quantity eligible for support was increased for the 1972 season only to 4.9 million bushels. Where the ‘average export return’ was greater than the support price a charge was levied on the relevant growers. A limit on the grower charge equivalent to the limit on the payments from the funds has been applicable. Varietal stabilisation funds were established, into which Government and industry contributions were paid and from which payments to growers were made. Provision for imposition and collection of the charge liable to be levied on growers in the circumtances I have just outlined is made in the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Act 1971 and the Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Act 1971-1973, respectively.
The purpose of the Apple and Pear Export Duty Amendment Bill 1976 is to limit the rate of export duty that growers may be required to pay in the 1976 season, in accordance with the limits on stabilisation payment proposed for the 1976 season under the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Amendment Bill 1 976. These limits are a maximum of $2 per box for apples and 80c per box for pears. Export duty will also be limited in its application to exports to markets covered by the stabilisation scheme in 1976. The 1974 and 1975 export seasons have seen the operation of special schemes for apples only, supplementary to the Commonwealth stabilisation scheme. This additional assistance was provided jointly by the Commonwealth and State governments. In 1975 a limit was placed on this supplementary support of 80c per bushel on a maximum quantity of 3.04 million bushels of apples exported ‘at risk’ to the
United Kingdom/Europe market. In 1976, similar supplementary proposals have been made to State governments by the Commonwealth Government for a support program covering apples exported on an ‘at risk’ basis to the United Kingdom/Europe market in 1976. The quantity of fruit covered by this Commonwealth offer is being apportioned among States. The Government has proposed that this assistance program, which would be supplementary to stabilisation support and funded jointly by Commonwealth and States governments, provide support totalling $lm equivalent to 500 000 boxes at the rate of $2 per box.
Economic pressures on the export section of the apple and pear industry have been acute. The export sector, particularly of the apple industry, has traditionally been oriented towards the United Kingdom /Europe market. The profitability of this outlet has been reduced drastically by rising freight rates, currency adjustments and severe international competition. The industry is a labour intensive and high cost one, and is particularly vulnerable to international and domestic inflation. The nature of the apple and pear export trade, which involves long distance transportation of a bulky commodity, sold largely on a speculative basis in Europe and North American markets, is such that the transportation and marketing costs have severely eroded the profitability of much of the export trade. There have been strong representations from the industry, particularly from Tasmania and Western Australia, that the level of support recommended by the Commission for 1976 exports of apples would not be adequate and would result in hardship in fruit-growing regions. The Government considers that there is a case for some liberalisation of assistance, chiefly with respect to the quantity eligible for support. Accordingly, the special export assistance to which I referred, covering a further quantity of apples to the United Kingdom/Europe market beyond the 2 million boxes supported by the stabilisation scheme, has been submitted to State governments with my strong recommendation for their support.
The extension of the ‘stabilistion scheme will assist in easing the social and regional difficulties associated with the necessary adjustments which are occurring in the apple and pear industry. A considerable number of growers have left the industry, particularly in Western Australia and Tasmania, in recent years. The adjustment which had already taken place in the industry has resulted in a substantial reduction in exports. To illustrate the changes taking place in the industry, the volume of apple exports has declined from 7 million boxes in 1970 to 4.4 million boxes in 1975. Over the same period, apple and pear bearing tree numbers have declined by some 26 per cent. There can be little doubt that the next few seasons will see increased economic pressure on the apple and pear industry and that substantial further adjustment will be required. Because of the regional concentration of the export industry, particularly in Tasmania and Western Australia, the necessary changes have profound regional implications. It seems inevitable that the industry will become increasingly oriented towards the domestic market with a substantially reduced and redirected export trade. It is the Government’s intention that this process of adjustment should be orderly and should not be accompanied by unnecessary individual hardship.
The Government regards the stabilisation support as an interim measure pending Government consideration of the Commission’s final report on the apple and pear industry. This final report, which was preceded by the interim report referred to earlier, is expected to be tabled shortly. The final report will cover government assistance for the apple and pear industry beyond the 1976 season. The maximum cost to the Commonwealth of extending the apple and pear stabilisation scheme for the 1976 season would be $5.12m. It should be noted that depending on the variables which influence the seasonal level of payments under the Commonwealth stabilisation scheme, such as average levels of return for fruit, the maximum commitment may not be fully drawn. In 1975, although $4.7m was committed by the Commonwealth in export support programs, only $3.6m was ultimately utilised. These Bills provide Government support for the 1976 apple and pear season which has already commenced. As such, they provide interim support for the industry for the period during which longer term and more comprehensive proposals for the industry can be considered. I commend the Bills.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair and read a first time.
– As honourable members will be aware, I covered the substance, the reason and the purport of this legislation in my second reading speech on the first of the bracket of these Bills immediately before the suspension of the sitting, namely the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Amendment Bill. Therefore I move:
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– In the same manner as the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Export Duty Amendment Bill, I have covered the substance and the purport of this legislation in my second reading speech on the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Amendment Bill. Therefore I move:
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– In the unavoidable absence of my colleague, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), on his behalf, I move:
Where the first person personal pronoun is used, it refers to the Minister for Transport. This is a very important measure both in respect of Commonwealth Government appropriations for road works and also in respect of the other changes which we propose to make to the existing legislation. The Bill is of course similar in some respects to the Bill introduced last November and which lapsed at the time of the Double Dissolution. I have circulated to honourable members an explanatory Memorandum covering the details of the Bill. I would comment that the Bill does appear to be rather complex and I have attempted in the Explanatory Memorandum to outline in clear layman’s language what the various proposed clauses are intended to do.
The Bill serves really 3 main purposes. First of all it will appropriate an additional $64m in Australian Government grants to the States for road works in 1975-76. Secondly it will amend the existing legislation so as to allow easier administration and transfer of funds between road categories and between Acts. Thirdly it will amend the legislation to avoid unnecessary involvement and control by the Commonwealth Government in the area of local road programs. I propose to deal briefly with each of these aspects in turn before outlining the main provisions included in the Bill. Of the additional $64m to be provided by the Act $ 14.9m is to be allocated to national roads and the remaining $49. lm will be made available for use in accordance with the Roads Grants Act. The purpose of the additional funds is to partially offset the effects of inflation on existing appropriations. The increase is equivalent to about 17.8 per cent of the existing appropriations for 1975-76 and thus represents a very substantial effort on the part of the Commonwealth Government at a time when we are pressing heavily to reduce expenditure so as to get the Budget deficit under control.
State quotas are also to be increased by an equivalent percentage and together with additional Commonwealth funds this should enable us to maintain a substantial improvement in road construction and maintenance activities generally. The detailed allocations of these additional funds are of course set out in the Bill. I would comment however that the way these allocations have been made largely reflect the States’ own views and their program commitments. As honourable members are no doubt aware the Commonwealth expressed its concern at pervious cut backs in funds for local authorities and we asked the States to direct these additional funds wherever possible for use at the local level. As a sign of our co-operative approach we have accepted the requests made by the States in respect of allocations and the States have given assurances that they are able to provide properly for local government authorities.
I now turn to the administrative changes which we are proposing. First of all we intend to continue with the amendment originally proposed by the previous Government to allow State governments more flexibility in seeking approvals for transfer of funds between road categories and between Acts. As the Act stands at present States may only seek approval for transfer if they can certify that they cannot spend the funds in the particular road category concerned. Obviously in times of high inflation it would be very difficult to give such an assurance. In any event it is necessary that the administration of the Acts be made more flexible so as to allow for work priorities to be taken into account in switching funds. We are therefore proposing to continue with this amendment. More important however is the change we are proposing with regard to local government road works. At the present time State governments are obliged under the Act to seek approval for individual projects. In fact this system has already broken down. Generally, the States are simply unable to provide this level of detail because it has no part in their normal administrative procedures. We are therefore proposing to restructure the Act in respect of rural and urban local roads so that in future State governments may seek approval for proposed allocations of Commonwealth funds to local authorities. The Act also provides for other State authorities to use funds provided under the Act for local roads in those cases where the authorities concerned are in fact doing the work. These moves represent a change in the basic philosophy of the legislation.
I discussed these and other matters in some detail with my State counterparts at the meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council held recently in Melbourne. I think it would be informative for honourable members if I summarised very briefly the main points that I made in an opening policy statement to that meeting. State Ministers seemed to me to be unanimous in welcoming the marked difference in approach which I outlined in my statement. The meeting represented a good practical start to the cooperative approach we are trying to achieve in transport matters. In addition to the main changes proposed in the roads legislation, which I have already described to the House, one further most important change concerns urban arterial road projects, including freeways. Under the previous Government, States were obliged to seek Canberra approval for all urban arterial projects even where the States proposed to fund the works entirely from their own resources. Under the new arrangements which now apply States will be able to proceed with their own urban arterial projects without having first sought permission from Canberra.
I also indicated to the State Ministers the steps I had taken to clear up a number of outstanding issues. One example, which I should mention, concerns the re-allocation of urban transport funds to allow available funds to be used in the really pressing areas such as the provision of rolling stock. The States had been placed in some difficulty I understand because the previous
Government had not approved the commencement of new projects for the 1975-76 year. My aim simply is to get the program moving again at least with the depleted funds we have available for the rest of this year. As I made clear to the ATAC meeting therefore, my approach in the transport portfolio will be to seek the closest cooperation with the States. The Commonwealth has a clear national interest in a number of transport areas and these also have to be dealt with in a co-operative and federalist manner. I should repeat at this point that all States, including those with Labor governments, seemed to welcome our proposed co-operative approach.
I now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. It is divided into 3 Parts. Part I sets out the usual preliminary information. Part II, that is clauses 3 to 8, relate to the National Roads Act. Part III, that is clauses 9 to 22, relate to the Roads Grants Act. The total increase in funds for each State is as follows:
The detailed schedules included in the Bill show how these State totals are allocated to the various road categories. The relevant clauses for the detailed category allocations are clause 8 for national roads and clause 21 for the Roads Grants Act. The Bill provides for the additional amounts set out in the schedules to be added to the existing 1975-76 appropriations. As I have already indicated the allocations reflect State views and wishes. The main clauses relating to the easier transfer provisions to which I referred earlier are clauses 6 and 16 for the national roads and Roads Grants Act respectively.
The changes with regard to local road allocations are substantively covered in clauses 10, 12 and 13. Honourable members will note that it was necessary to amend a number of the definitions included in the original Bill and this of course reflects the different approach we are adopting to allow proposed allocations of funds to be submitted for approval. I should comment that the purpose of the roads legislation is to ensure that money going to the States is actually spent on roads and these changes do not in any way alter that situation. Finally in relation to the new procedure for rural roads I should also draw members attention to clause 22 which is a validation clause to cover retrospectively certain actions already taken with regard to local road programs. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 18 March on motion by Mr Eric Robinson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Superannuation Amendment Bill and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment Bill as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-The purpose of the Bills now before the House is to introduce a new superannuation scheme for Australian Government employees. The Superannuation Bill 1976 is the principal Bill which introduces the new scheme. The Superannuation Amendment Bill introduces consequential amendments to the existing Superannuation Act, which it is intended to keep in force to the extent necessary to provide continuing authority for the payment of existing pensions. The Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment Bill likewise seeks to amend the principal Act to take account of changes being effected by the Superannuation Bill 1976 and to ensure that arrangements already in existence continue in force.
As honourable members are aware, this is not the first attempt by a government to introduce a new superannuation scheme. The previous Labor Government had recognised the inadequacy of the existing scheme, as indeed had the Liberal-Country Party Government before that. The existing superannuation scheme, which commenced in 1922, had clearly become quite inadequate over the last few years as its contribution arrangements led to high levels of contributions in the latter part of the working lives of members, particularly in times of inflation. Proposals for a new scheme eventually reached legislative form last year when Bills for a new scheme were introduced in May. It is now history that those Bills were subject to substantial criticism by the then Opposition as being too generous and as being a pace-setter in the field, and they were blocked in the Senate. In fact, the scheme was not more generous than some of those applying to public servants working for some State governments, including non-Labor States. The scheme which is now before the House provides markedly lesser benefits than those proposed by the Labor Government last year, but it is not anywhere near as ungenerous as the scheme that the then Opposition would have had implemented at that time.
In the debate on the superannuation Bills last year the then Opposition moved several amendments to reduce the benefits provided in the proposed scheme and implacably opposed as a matter of principle some of the proposed benefits. It is indeed gratifying to us to note that in government the Liberal and Country Parties have had second thoughts about some of those principles and have conceded their applicability, though not to the same extent as was proposed in the 1975 Bills. One such matter of principle is that of the right to retire at age 60. The 1 975 Bills provided for retirement at age 60 with a government financed pension of 50 per cent of the final salary. The then Opposition expressed total opposition to this concept as it would, it said, set a trend towards age 60 retirement when no such trend currently existed. Instead the then Opposition proposed that pensions not become payable before age 65 and that those members of the existing scheme who were contributing at a higher rate in order to retire on full benefit at age 60 would have the option of staying in the current scheme or switching to the new scheme on an age 65 basis and taking a cash refund of the excess contributions already paid.
In the Bills now before the House those proposals have been scrapped and the right to retire at age 60 has been acknowledged. However, as distinct from the 1975 legislation, the full benefit of a government financed pension equal to 50 per cent of the final salary will not be available at age 60. Instead the government financed pension for retirement at that age will be a basic 45 per cent. In addition to that 45 per cent certain supplementary pensions may be payable as part of the government financed pension. There is also to be an additional pension to a maximum of 20 per cent of final salary which is financed by the employee ‘s own contributions.
The decision of the Government to acknowledge the right to benefit at age 60 but at less than the full rate does pose difficulties for members of the current scheme who intended to retire at age 60 but who now find that they can do so only on a pension that is less than the 50 per cent government financed pension they had been counting on. This was not a difficulty in the 1975 scheme because full benefits were available at age 60. Admittedly it is proposed in the Bill to give credit to contributors who have contributed to the existing scheme on the basis of retirement at age 60 by the use of a complex formula with which one calculates what supplementary pension is due to an age 60 contributor if he or she retires at age 60 or at any time before age 65. The net effect of the formula is that only if a contributor has paid up all his age 60 contributions or has reached age 59V4 by the time the scheme comes into force whilst still contributing for age 60 units will he or she be able to receive on retirement at age 60 the full benefit that he or she expected to get under the existing scheme.
All those age 60 contributors who do not meet these exacting conditions will receive a supplement under this scheme which is less than would give them the full benefit. Furthermore, it is very important to note that the supplementary pension is worked out as a money amount as of 30 June 1976 and is credited to the contributor as a money amount. Thus if his supplement is calculated at, say $300 per annum as of 30 June 1976 it remains credited to him at that amount until he turns 60. This may not matter too much if he reaches age 60 within a few years, although if a contributor had 3 years to go to age 60 and inflation continued at 10 per cent for that time there would clearly be a very real reduction in the value of this supplementary pension. If the employee had, say, another 20 years to go before he reached age 60 the real value of the supplementary pension provided by the formula would be a mere fraction of its value at mid- 1976, even if inflation continued at rates well below the current level. Therefore the net effect of this move to provide for a reduced pension at age 60 will clearly result in a reduction of the benefit available under this scheme as compared with the present scheme.
The extent of that reduction can be ascertained from Appendix B of the explanatory memorandum distributed with the Bills. It shows the capital value of benefits under the present scheme for current contributors as $9,302m on the Melville-Pollard assumptions. The effect of the adjustment of the present retiring age provision to those proposed in the Bills is shown to reduce that capital value by $504m. The effect of this provision, therefore, will be to reduce the benefits available to current contributors by 5.4 per cent. Of course, an offsetting factor to this is that age 60 contributors will not in future be paying the level of contribution they would otherwise have been paying if the current scheme had continued. But that does not alter the fact that many age 60 contributors feel that the recognition awarded to their past contributions will be virtually meaningless by the time they come to collect it and that accordingly the pension they will receive at age 60 will be well below what they had counted on.
Before leaving this matter of age sixty contributors, I would add that as a result of what the Government is doing to those people it is highly likely that many of them will now feel compelled to stay on in the Service till age sixty-five. That probably does not please most of them, nor does it seem to accord with government policy of reducing the numbers of government employees. If that is what the Government wants to achieve, its treatment of age sixty contributors seems curiously in contrast to that objective.
Another feature of the 1975 Bill which was strongly opposed by the Opposition in debate on the Bill was the proposal for an additional pension supplement to be paid to those who had contributory service of more than 30 years. The rate of such additional pension was to be onehalf of one per cent of final salary for each year of contributory service over 30 years, with a maximum of 5 per cent at 40 years contributory service. The Liberal and National Country parties said then that such a proposal would be pacesetting for the private sector, and they opposed the whole concept of supplementary pension for long service. Now in this Bill they have accepted the concept, although the rate of the additional pension proposed is one-quarter of one per cent per annum instead of the one-half of one per cent contained in our Bill.
A further proposal of the 1975 Bill which was completely opposed by the Liberal and National Country parties was that the pension of a dependent spouse, where the contributor died, should be increased from 62.5 per cent of the contributor’s pension, as contained in the current scheme, to 67 per cent. The then Opposition said that such a provision was over-generous, having regard to benefits in the private sector, and it opposed any increase in the rate. I am pleased to say that the Government has now seen the error of its ways and the Bill now before the House provides for a rate of 67 per cent. Indeed, to give credit where it is due, it has gone beyond what was contained in our Bill by further providing that the pension of a dependent spouse continues after remarriage. In the current scheme such pension ceases on remarriage. That condition was continued in the 1975 Bill. Now, however, the conditions of payment of a dependent spouse’s pension are to be decidedly improved. As most dependent spouses are widows rather than widowers, this is decidedly an improvement in the rights of women. Indeed, it could almost be said to be pacesetting.
There are therefore three quite important provisions of the 1975 Bill which were strongly objected to by the then Opposition not just as to amount but also on principle, but which now in government it has decided to accept in principle, although in less generous terms in the case of two of them and more generous terms in the case of the other. It is indeed gratifying to the Opposition to note that when the Liberal and National Country parties had the responsibility of drawing up a Bill and not just criticising our Bill they were able to see the logic of our proposition and they have acknowledged the principles involved.
There was, however, a further provision in our Bill which was strongly opposed by the Liberal and National Country parties as a matter of principle and in relation to which their stand has not changed. I refer to the adjustment of the pension. Our Bill provided for the whole pension- that is both the government-financed part and that part financed by the contributor- to be adjusted annually in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. That was the intention of the present scheme also, although the actual adjustment is 1.4 times the percentage increase in the consumer price index or one times the percentage increase in average weekly earnings, whichever is the lesser; and that is applied to the government-financed portion only. As the government-financed portion of the pension in the current scheme is five-sevenths of the total pension, the application of 1.4 times the movement in the consumer price index to that fivesevenths gave an adjustment to the total pension of one times the consumer price index. The arithmetic is five-sevenths, multiplied by fourteen.tenths, which equals one. That at least was the theory, but over time, the government-financed portion being automatically adjusted whereas the other part was not, it would steadily become a larger proportion than five-sevenths of the pension, at which level it would start out at on retirement, so that adjustment of 1.4 times would give an increase to the total pension which was greater than one times the consumer price index movement.
Last year the Liberal and National Country parties opposed the application of the consumer price index adjustment to the full pension, again on the basis that to give a totally inflation-proof pension equal to 70 per cent of final salary would be far more than the private sector could afford and that such pacesetting provisions should not be included. All of this entirely ignored the fact that the current scheme effectively gave inflationproofing to the whole pension. Not to grant it in the new scheme meant that a very substantial benefit of the existing scheme would be taken away. The attitude of the Liberal and National Parties was even more curious in that when the 1.4 times consumer price index adjustment had been introduced in 1973 on the recommendation of Professor Pollard, they supported it and, indeed, seemed to want to take credit for it because they had established the Pollard inquiry in the first place.
Their attitude to the proposal in the 1975 Bill to provide full consumer price index adjustment to the whole pension seemed therefore to be rather inconsistent. Unfortunately they have seen fit to maintain their 1975 attitude in drawing up this Bill. The consequence is that the scheme now before the House deprives current and future contributors of a very substantial benefit. Just how substantial is that benefit is demonstrated again by Appendix B.of the explanatory memorandum which shows that the change in the form of the adjustment mechanism will of itself reduce the capital value of benefits available under the present scheme by $ 1,683m or 18 per cent. Clearly that is a very important factor and one which greatly reduces the attractiveness of the proposed scheme. Quite obviously the effect of not providing consumer price’ index adjustment for the contributor financed pension will be greatly to encourage employees to take the option, which is not currently available, of commuting that part of their pension which is financed by their own contributions into a lump sum. Provision of the right to commute pan of the pension is probably a good thing in that it gives freedom of choice to the individual to arrange his life on retirement in a way which is most suitable to him.
However, by not providing the option of an indexed pension instead of the lump sum, the scheme will encourage people who would prefer to have the income nevertheless to take the lump sum and invest it elsewhere in the hope that they can so invest it as to keep up with inflation. Obviously some will do that better than others; some may make quite unwise investments, particularly if inflation is high and they are seeking a substantial return on their money. If, however, the scheme provided for indexation of the contributor financed pension, people who wanted income and wanted protection from inflation would readily ignore the right to commutation and take the full pension. If inflation continues at levels anything like the current ones, it is difficult to imagine that many contributors would be at all interested in the non-adjustment pension which is financed by their own contributions under this scheme.
In making these comments I am aware that the Melville-Pollard report on the original proposals for a new scheme, as put forward by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) when he was Treasurer in 1973, recommended that the consumer price index adjustment not apply to that part of the pension which is contributor financed. We do not agree with that recommendation, as of course was made clear from the 1975 Bill. Indeed, it is relevant to note that none of the various State governments agrees with it. The fact is that every State government provides a superannuation scheme for its employees which includes full adjustment of the total pension for movements in the consumer price index. When this new scheme is introduced Australian government employees will be the only government employees in this country who are not entitled to full indexation-proofing of their whole pension entitlement. That brings me to consider in more detail the superannuation schemes applying to various State government employees. I seek leave of the House at this stage to incorporate in Hansard a document which compares benefits under the various government superannuation schemes.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
-I thank the House. The document shows, firstly, the retirement age in the various States; every State provides for retirement at age sixty. I just note inpassing that last year the Liberal and National Country parties wanted to disallow any pension entitlement at that age to Australian government employees. The document then shows the maximum benefits available for government employees on final salary of, firstly, a low $6,500 and, secondly, a medium income of $ 1 3,000.
It can be seen that at $6,500 the age 60 entitlement under the proposed Government scheme is less than that in New South Wales and only fractionally above those in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Even the lowest entitlement- that in Queensland- is only 6 per cent below the Commonwealth figure. On a final salary of $13,000 the Commonwealth maximum entitlement for age 60 retirement of 67.25 per cent is the best of all, looking at it at the point of retirement, although again it is only very marginally above those in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, which are all 66.6 per cent, and that in New South Wales, which is 64.9 per cent.
At age 65 the picture is rather different. At a final salary of $6,500 the Commonwealth maximum entitlement of 72.5 per cent is below that in New South Wales, where the entitlement is 97.2 per cent of final salary; that in Queensland, where it is 75 per cent; and that in South Australia, where it is 73.3 per cent. The Victorian figure is fractionally below, at 70 per cent. On a final salary of $13,000 the picture is similar, with the New South Wales percentage being reduced to 80.4 per cent but still being well above the Commonwealth figure of 72.5 per cent, whilst the Queensland and South Australian figures are also higher than the Commonwealth figure. The Victorian figure is slightly below and the Tasmania and Western Australian figures are notably below.
On this basis of comparison it could be said that the benefits of the Australian Government scheme are pitched at roughly the average of the State schemes. However, it should be noted that, as shown in the table, for those schemes with a contribution scale based on a percentage of salary- which is all of them, except those in New South Wales and Western Australia- the contribution rate needed to obtain maximum benefits is highest in the Commonwealth’s proposed scheme. Thus, to obtain average State benefits at the point of retirement Commonwealth employees will have to pay above State average contributions, and that is not an unimportant point. Perhaps I should mention that the maximum contribution rate under the Commonwealth scheme is 10 per cent, in Victoria it is 9 per cent, in Queensland 6.5 per cent, in South Australia 6 per cent and in Tasmania 5.5 per cent.
Furthermore, as the table shows and as I have mentioned already, every State provides adjustment of the total available pension according to the consumer price index, but the Commonwealth will apply it only to the Government financed pension- that is, five-sevenths of the pension on retirement. In inflationary times this is a very substantial deficiency in the scheme. To demonstrate the extent of that deficiency I have had some calculations made which analyse the comparative movements in pensions under the proposed Commonwealth scheme and the various State schemes for a pensioner on a final salary of $ 1 3,000.I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the effect of inflation over a 10-year period on maximum pension payable to Federal and State Public Service pensioners with a final salary of $ 13,000.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The table read as follows)-
-I thank the House. I will not go into the figures in the table; I merely point out that the table shows the effect on the pension of adjustments for inflation over a 10-year period, assuming rates of inflation of 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 15 per cent. In New South Wales, at the point of retirement, the pension for a person on a final salary of $13,000 would be 16.4 per cent above the Commonwealth pension for a pensioner with maximum entitlement. After 10 years and only 5 per cent inflation the New South Wales pension would be 30.2 per cent above the Commonwealth pension. This is explained because the Commonwealth pension is not getting full adjustment according to the consumer price index, whereas the New South Wales one is. Thus, even with a comparatively low rate of inflation the disparity between the 2 benefits is widened considerably. After 10 years of inflation occurring at a rate of 10 per cent the difference between the 2 pensions would be 40 per cent the New South Wales one being the higher, and after 10 years of inflation at 15 per cent the New South Wales pension would be 46.8 per cent higher. With more time and higher rates of inflation, those figures get higher and higher. A similar picture appears when one compares the Commonwealth pension with those of any of the States. They all improve markedly relative to the Commonwealth employee’s pension. Clearly, a major deficiency in this Bill is that it does not provide inflation adjustment to the total pension when that protection is granted to the employees of all State governments and currently is provided to Commonwealth employees in the existing superannuation scheme.
The Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) said in his second reading speech that taken overall the new scheme provided an increase of 1 per cent in the capital value of benefits. This is true; but it hides the fact that the capital value of benefits for existing pensioners and contributors is reduced by 6. 1 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively. The marginal overall increase comes only through the inclusion in the scheme of Provident Account contributors. Their inclusion is a highly commendable aspect of the scheme, as it was also of the scheme proposed last year by the Labor Government; but their inclusion should not be used to obscure the fact that this scheme reduces the capital value of benefits to existing pensioners and contributors.
In summary, the attitude of the Opposition is that the Bills do not provide the most appropriate form of superannuation scheme for Australian Government employees. In most respects the proposed scheme is inferior to that proposed by the Labor Government last year and compares quite unfavourably with State government superannuation schemes. The Opposition does not intend to move amendments to the Bills in the Committee stages, as we have made our position quite clear in the scheme we introduced last year and we are conscious of the desire of the Government and of government employees to have this legislation passed without delay so that the new scheme can be brought into operation smoothly by 1 July. However, we do intend to move an amendment to the motion ‘That the Bill be now read a second time’. I formally move the following amendment:
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 is of the opinion that the Bill is deficient in that it removes some important benefits now applying under the current Superannuation Act, thereby reducing the overall value of benefits for existing pensioners and contributors’.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-The attitude of the Labor Opposition, as outlined by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), was interesting to listen to. The Opposition spokesman said that the Opposition will not move amendments to these Bills. I was told on the telephone this morning by a union representative that the Opposition had been instructed specifically not to move amendments because the unions want these Bills and this scheme to be carried. However, the Opposition has moved an amendment the effect of which, if carried, would be to defeat the Superannuation Bill. Even though the opening words of the amendment say to the contrary, that would be the effect under the Standing Orders. The honourable member for Gellibrand is the Opposition spokesman on industrial relations.
– And a very good one.
-Perhaps he is; it is rather soon to tell. I do not mind taking this opportunity to say that I have a high regard for the ability of the honourable member for Gellibrand. I do not disparage him personally, however, I point out that the Opposition’s attitude is seen in terms of opposition on behalf of unions, not in terms of the community or of this being a Treasury measure. The Labor Government’s Superannuation Bill was treated as such by the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart), the Minister Assisting the Treasurer in that Government. He put that Bill through this House and so put the matter in its proper context.
The honourable member for Gellibrand misunderstood the former Opposition’s attitude and statements in a number of respects. I will reply to some of them in the course of my substantive remarks. It really is not true to say that on the whole government superannuation schemes of non-Labor States are superior. It is not true to say that the Liberal and National Country Parties ever had a proposal under which no pension could be received until a person reached 65 years of age. It is not true to say that the Senate blocked the Labor scheme. The then Senate opposition presented a large number of amendments in 4 categories. The Senate agreed with 3 of the 4. If the Government of that day had seen fit either to agree to them or to talk about a modification of them and some compromise, the scheme would have gone through then, very much earlier than is now possible. This scheme will not come into effect until 1 July. I shall say a little more about that in a moment.
The honourable member for Gellibrand gave a comparison of certain features of the Commonwealth and State schemes. I do not propose to follow all those points. I make the comment that the comparisons he made can be answered, necessarily at some length, firstly, in terms of the definitions that have been used and which I think he was careful to follow- no doubt some advice was given to him, and I do not say that in a critical way- and, secondly, by saying that the comparisons lacked that examination, which is necessary when one is comparing 2 superannuation schemes, of the whole package to see all the features. It is relatively easy to pick out one or two items in isolation. This package is a favourable one.
The 3 Bills which are before the House now embody a superannuation scheme for Commonwealth Government employees which is a result of negotiation and argument since about 1970. 1 will not trace the whole history of it. There have been a number of reports on various schemes and proposals. Throughout that period there have been lengthy and detailed negotiations with Public Service unions involved, both individually and jointly. There are 22 such unions, incidentally. There has been considerable controversy in Parliament and hot debate in the community about the benefits and costs. This scheme represents the result of all that effort and activity. It contains many desirable features for Government employees and I believe it strikes a just balance between the demands of Public Service unions and individual Government employees on the one hand, and the cost to the taxpayer and the community on the other hand.
Every superannuation scheme contains many features- contributions, retirement age, pension entitlements, just to name 3 broad areas. Each of those features can range from the very generous all the way to the ungenerous. Each scheme is a package of features. This scheme strikes a balance as a result of all that negotiation. It is our belief that the Labor Government scheme was over-generous. The examination of its features which took place publicly, mainly in May and June last year, I think made this obvious.
– How much does this one save?
– That is contained in the Minister’s second reading speech which I would have assumed the honourable member would have read. The examination of the features which took place in the middle of last year made the fact that the Labor scheme was over-generous obvious to most people. I know a number of Labor members of parliament who were also of the opinion that it was over-generous and I know a number of well-informed public servants who were of that opinion as well.
I will not go over all the features. The Minister’s speech and explanatory memoranda have done that very well. The major complaint which came to me, and I think to most members of parliament, from Government employees was the . contribution system which required that early in his employment a public servant pay a small percentage of his salary for superannuation and that percentage rises steeply, particularly for those wanting to retire at 60 years or between 60 and 65 years. Those in their final years found that burden almost impossible to bear. That has been realised for some years. This scheme meets that problem fully. We are now speaking of a new scheme in which there is a compulsory contribution of 5 per cent of salary and an option to pay up to another 5 per cent. I think the way I have expressed it is less misleading than the way it was put to us a moment ago when it was said that the contribution was to be a maximum of 10 per cent. There is a compulsory payment of 5 per cent and an optional payment of up to another 5 percent.
For that the contributor gets a pension based on his final salary- not the average of the salary in his last year or the average of his salary in the last 3 years or 5 years of service, as with many private schemes. The benefit is based on the final salary. He gets from the Government after 30 years’ service 50 per cent of final salary, and an additional percentage which is the result of the contributions he has made during his period of service and which can reach a maximum of an extra 20 per cent depending on salary level and length of service. On top of that, the Government portion, which as I have said represents 50 per cent of his final salary, is index-linked. In other words he gets an increase of the percentage rise of the consumer price index adjustments. This is a very generous provision which allows pensioners from Government employment to be largely insulated against the ravages of inflation which of course affect everyone else in the community, including all of those who are unable to be members of such a scheme as this. Additionally provided in this scheme is the right to receive a lump sum on retirement. This provision has not formerly existed.
I point out those features to show what I mean when I say that it is a fair and indeed generous scheme. I think many of those in the Government service who have felt that opposition to an even more generous scheme was unfair, have not really understood, firstly, how generous it is and, secondly, the position of other people in the community outside Government service against which some sort of comparison or weighing up must be carried out by a responsible government.
There are many other improvements- I think I have mentioned the main ones- in the scheme. Reference has been already made to the position of Provident Fund members. There are additional benefits for widows and orphans. I will not try to list all the features for they are in the memorandum. Naturally many Government employees would like to see even greater benefits. Their case has been put with some force by the members of the Australian Labor Party. But I put it to the House that a scheme that provides in times of high inflation complete index linking which provides full pension at the age of 60, is over-generous in terms of cost to the taxpayer and in terms of comparison with what is available to those outside the Government service. Some regard must be had to that.
After all, where is the logic of full retirement benefits being paid at 60 years? Why not 58, 55 or 50 years? That of course will be the next claim, if it has not started already, by some of the unions. One understands and expects that, but it is not to be yielded to. This scheme put forward provides that if one retires at less than 65 years a pension equal to a smaller percentage of the final salary will be paid. There will be a discounting. The Government portion of the payment will reduce from 50 per cent of final salary at the retirement age of 65 to 45 per cent at the age of 60, with pro rata amounts in between those ages. Savings are significant.
The argument has been put today and on earlier occasions that somehow or other the Government ought to be encouraging people to retire and to use this scheme as a method of getting people to retire early. That really does not stand examination. I remind the House of what was said in debates last year, that retirement at age 60 as against 65 would be at a cost of 30 per cent more to the taxpayer. This is not a small cost. So today, in a time of budgetary restrictions, to use that as a method of getting people out of the Public Service would be farcical. It is also argued: ‘Well, when someone has reached the age of sixty, he ought’ to be retired to make way for a younger man’. Of course that would be covered not by the superannuation legislation but by the Public Service Act and like Acts. I am sure that a number of honourable members in this House over 60 years of age would quickly agree with me that compulsory retirements are not necessarily in the national interest. On a more serious note, of course, the argument about making way for younger men can be used for people at any age. It could be used for those at 55 years of age or 50 years of age. Perhaps some people are too old or ineffective at 40 years of age.
During debate in this House last year Labor presented its scheme as an ‘all or nothing’ proposal. That was the Labor Party’s attitude. That attitude has resulted in the delay of almost a year. I hope that fact is completely clear. What we saw was a majority of the Labor Party- not all, I happen to know- playing pure politics. The Labor Party had no other consideration in mind than the votes of the potential 300 000 members of this scheme and no doubt some of their relatives. In our comments in the debates we made it clear that we were prepared to give consideration to having some give and take about all the features in the total package which I have mentioned. We were positively refused drafting advice. I have a letter from the then AttorneyGeneral, Mr Enderby, refusing that advice. Other advice was locked off from us once it was known that we opposed much of the scheme. I say that if that had not happened, it would have been possible to reach the sort of agreement, the sort of package that we have before us today, much earlier. It could well have been introduced by about the beginning of September last year.
A lot of discussion went on, not in Parliament but in the Labor Party and the Liberal-National Country Parties in July-September last year, initiated, I believe, by the Public Service unions- and all credit to them for that. But the Labor Government then rejected whatsoever any compromise or change, or treating. It was completely rejected. I am told it was the then Prime Minister himself who in particular wanted to hold out in the belief that if we went into an election with a conflict of this kind it would result in more support for the Labor Party. I say that that resulted in a delay of almost the 12 months. The final scheme we have today could easily have been ready long before now. So we went through the election and here today we have a scheme which is a fair one put to this House. I have no doubt that it will be carried, that the amendment will be defeated and that the Bill will be passed by the Senate so that the scheme can be implemented by 1 July 1976 as provided.
The cost of this scheme is more, but within it and among the details- not merely the aggregate figures referred to a little earlier- there is a great improvement in the equity, in the use of the money to be allocated for the scheme. Because of the technical changes of the scheme the cost to the Budget during the next financial year will not be an increase over what it would have been under the existing scheme. So in a budgetary sense there is very little change and no additional cost to the revenue for a few years to come. That is one aspect which I think ought to be borne in mind when the question is quite properly posed: Why are you bringing in a new scheme at a time of economic restraint? This scheme does not affect that economic restraint. On the other hand, there are potentially great administrative savings which I think should be welcomed by everybody. In time, those savings should be dramatic. That is just as well, because costs in this area and in many other areas of government administration are far too great for what is achieved.
The Bill also provides wider powers of investment for the contribution funds. This should improve the yield significantly, though it is hardly likely to have the dramatic impact that seems to be foreseen by the Australian Financial Review in a recent article. I believe that the documents that have been put before us with the second reading speech are detailed and comprehensive. I congratulate the Minister on that presentation and on achieving the introduction of the long fought for scheme. I thank him for the kind remarks he made about me in his second reading speech. In summary I believe that the new scheme will be of great benefit to
Commonwealth employees and to the country. Whilst there are features which will be criticisedI could perhaps and will join in that debate in the future- this scheme is a very fair and favourable one. Anybody who says the reverse has not analysed the details.
– I support the measure that is before us subject to the amendment moved by my colleague, which simply draws attention to the fact that there may be some who will suffer detriment by reason of the introduction of this scheme. At least the position of those people should be looked at. There is a clause in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit legislation that when a change was made there should be no detriment to a particular contributor by reason of the new scheme as against the old. That is all that this amendment seeks. It is nice to be able to score political points by saying that the amendment is obstructing the BUI. Nobody has any doubt that the Bill is going to go through this House. Fortunately for them honourable members opposite have not got the position in 1976 that we had in 1975 that what we got through this House could be frustrated in another place. So to the extent that one plays politics, I shall play it to that extent. But all we are trying to draw to the attention of the House is that there are some people- this includes some attendants in this House- who claim that they suffer a detriment in their retirment by reason of the introduction of this scheme as against what would have happened under the previous scheme. Whether that is the case or not, and the individual details of it, I do not know. All that my colleague is trying to draw attention to is that there are some people who claim that they suffer a detriment. All I am sorry about is that this Bill, in a somewhat better form, was not passed more than a year ago. Whilst a certain amount of unction can be taken now about the reasons for rejecting our Bill, I simply say that it was politics played by those who now accuse the present Opposition of playing politics on this matter.
I do not want to go into the detail of this Bill to a great extent. I find it a little hard to believe that it can be rationalised that 45 per cent payable at age 60 years is somehow more equitable than 50 per cent payable at age 60 years and 60 per cent payable at age 65 years. I leave the honourable gentleman to tread on his own points of the needle so far as those fine distinctions are drawn. I simply point out now that the objective to which both Parties claim to be working with regard to social security benefits is a pension that will be one-quarter of average weekly earnings. For a married couple this means they will have 50 per cent of what the earnings are at retirement- not over the last several years, but what the average weekly earnings happen to be from year to year.
What I do want to draw attention to is the awful mishmash that exists in Australia with regard to provision for retirement. Attention is drawn to this kind of difficulty in chapter 2 of the interim report of the Committee of Inquiry on National Superannuation in Australia. The report shows, for instance, that in 1971-72- that is some 5 years ago now- Commonwealth, State, local government and semi-government schemes covered something like 678 000 contributors and 115 000 pensioners. At that stage fewer than one-third of that total number of contributors were covered by the scheme about which we are now talking. I concede that many details would have to be analysed before one could say precisely whether the State or local government schemes are better or worse than the Commonwealth scheme. But at least I think it will be agreed that governments, be they State, local or Australian, were the first to recognise in a systematic way the need to provide that those who. had wrought in their years of strength in the service should be adequately looked after in their retirement. I hope that we will get around to implementing this principle as a nation very quickly. Whatever virtues we try to take ourselves I think we are almost the last example of a Western democracy that has not got a comprehensive national scheme covering all people.
The chapter to which I referred in the Hancock report contains statistics for the whole of Australiathey are certainly rudimentary and are based largely on an inquiry undertaken by a Canadian expert in Victoria in 1968- which show that only one-third of the total population of Australia was covered for retirements benefits and that many of those people were covered most inadequately, and that even in an age of equality of the sexes provision for retirement benefits was predominantly for males and the number of females eligible for this benefit was almost negligible. So we have a long way to go. I believe that Australia is capable of providing for all a retirement scheme that will give them something like one half of whatever they were earning at the point of retirement. But at present retirement benefits are provided by a hotchpotch of processes.
The Hancock Committee points out that well over half of the males at age 65 qualify for a full pension irrespective of the operation of the means test. The means test has been liberalised. I would say categorically that I was never a great supporter of the abolition of the means test. However, this objective became part of the doctrines of both the major political parties. In no area was political advantage more blatantly used by the present Government than in its use of the abolition of the means test as a central pillar in respect of social equality in the social system. I believe that far more important than the abolition of the means test is the need to make the basic pension adequate for those who require it. We can add the other refinements after if we want to. But the reality of the situation at the moment is that because of the failure to provide systematically for retirement in Australia the majority of people on retirement do become recipients of the age pension. The cost of providing for this benefit is increasing considerably.
Those people who provide for themselves by way of superannuation, life insurance or some of the various forms of savings can take advantage of certain tax concessions. When we take into account the tax provisions as far as life assurance is concerned- I have said this before and got into a certain amount of hot water over it with people in the life assurance industry who are living in the last century rather than the present century I believe that life insurance in the rest of the 20th century and into the 2 1st century will be a very different sort of system from what it has been from its introduction up until the present time. By that I do not mean to denigrate in any sense the service that life assurance has provided over recent years. But life assurance would not have been as extensively used and would not be a very effective form of saving today if it were not for the tax concessions attached to it. One only needs to look at the last annual report of the Life Insurance Commission to see that the return on investments is not very substantial. If it were not for the tax savings that are made by the person who pays a life assurance premium this area would not be a very effective way of mobilising savings in the community.
I repeat that while life assurance may have served a role in the past I think that role has to be very different in the years ahead. The sooner both sides of the House and the life assurance industry in particular realise that the more we will avoid the sterile sort of debate and activity that took place in the last election in which life assurance clerks were mobilised as Liberal ticket holders and pushers on the day of the elections.
Much of general insurance in the workers’ compensation field is virtually bankrupt. This again is something that requires closer examination by both sides of the House in the future. I believe that the role of insurance in the remainder of the 20th century will be a very different one from what it has been. The industry should vacate many of the fields which it now occupies. It should be much more imaginative in the fields in which it wants to remain.
– You would rather nationalise it, would you not?
– The honourable member refers to the question of nationalising insurance companies. When one looks at the preponderance of their investments either in Government securities or in debentures of multi-national societies or mortgages, one really wonders how much private enterprise there is.
I want to say a little about the investment policy being pursued by the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund at the moment. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) in his second reading speech seemed to suggest that there would be a liberalisation of this policy in the future. I suggest that that remains to be seen. If I may say so, there is a far better yield on investments of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund than the yields on the investments of the life assurance industry taken generally. But when one finds that part of the return to the Commonwealth fund is by investment in mortgages, in some cases returning 15V4 per cent, I sometimes wonder where we are getting to in this so-called freedom to invest in other than government securities. I sound a warning that it is extremely doubtful whether investment in equities is necessarily a better proposition for a life assurance or a superannuation investment policy than investment in the last sort of loan that was floated by the Government. Honourable members opposite can crow jubilantly and get a little grandiloquent about the great release and amount of the funds, but after all, as I see it, there will be roughly $ 120m to $ 125m of new funds annually in the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund as against total available annual investible funds in Australia of something like $15 billion. I do not think we should get too carried away by what this new freedom in the investment policy will mean in reality. I believe that at times euphoria overcomes commonsense in the evaluation of these things. I have heard in many speeches in the last few weeks comments about this great animal called private enterprise or free enterprise. The life insurance companies have chosen to put their investments into the multinationals or the safe debentures rather than in risk-taking enterprises.
There is one matter to which I want to draw attention because I believe it is a matter that should receive the scrutiny of both sides of the House. When there exists a scheme such as the Commonwealth superannuation scheme, or ultimately, as I hope, a national superannuation scheme, what then is the role of social services and the pension-free means test? I believe that it is over-generous that people in government employment should receive a pension which, taking into account the provisions for refund of contributions, is a fully government pension, and when they reach the age of 65 years they believe that they are automatically entitled to that pension as well as to the social service pension. I think that there has to be a rethinking of that aspect. It ought to be possible to compute on a given pension- whether it is from a private source or a government source and taking into account past tax provisions and so on- how much of that pension is being paid directly from Consolidated Revenue. That should be taken into account as an offsetting factor before determining people’s eligibility for a direct contribution from Consolidated Revenue via the social service provisions. Unless that is done there will be a maldistribution of resources and the criticism may well be made that the community as a whole cannot afford it.
I am prepared to say categorically that a community can pay to people in retirement something that has some relationship to what they earned in the last years of their economic activity. Whether it is in the last year or the last several years seems to me to be a quibble, but if no provision is given to them directly then it has to be given indirectly through various sorts of social service systems and relief schemes with onerous means tests and so on attached. I believe that it is a mark of an enlightened community that it will pay to people in retirement sufficient to enable them to live at the standard to which they believe they are entitled and towards which they contributed during their active years in the community. It is possible to put arguments as to whether people should retire at 65 years, 60 years, 67 years, 62 years or some earlier age. Those matters are always debatable, and I wish that at times greater emphasis was placed on those sorts of nuances than on the sheer political differences that sometimes emerge.
The Hancock Committee report drew attention in its introduction to the fact that matters of final retirement had technical, actuarial, economic and legal aspects. I should like to add sociohuman attitudes as well. Those are the sorts of things we should be examining. We are only doing justice to our own servants, our direct employees, in the provisions of this Bill, but this
Parliament has an obligation to try to do justice to all sections of the community, to see that the national cake is distributed properly. The work force at any time has to support children not yet active and people who are retired on the social contract assumption that when they retire they will be treated in an adequate way. There is therefore an obligation to make proper provision out of the existing cake, both at the early end for education and at the latter end for adequate retirement.
– I should like to be able in this debate to reply to my old friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) but I will not do so because I really was not sure what he was talking about. I do not mean that with any great disrespect, but I did have difficulty in following what the honourable member was saying. It seemed to me that he was drawing upon some atavistic unreason of another day, the relevance of which to this legislation I did not understand. The honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) has answered eloquently some of the remarks of the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), including the question of the overall benefits of this scheme compared with the schemes of the States and the relevance of the amendment moved by the Opposition which, if passed, would have the effect of defeating the Bill.
– You did not worry about that last year. You threw it out entirely.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! I ask the honourable member for Lang to cease interjecting.
– You have lost hundreds of our public servants.
-Order! The honourable member for Lang will cease interjecting.
– I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, I did not hear you.
-You must be deaf.
-If time permits, I will come back to the point raised by the honourable member for Lang, but I would like to deal now with the question of age 60 years retirement because the honourable member for Gellibrand made some point about it. Presumably that matter was largely in the minds of the Opposition when it moved the motion. Of course, it is a fact that by virtue of the Public Service Act it is a condition of employment that a public servant may retire at 60 years of age, with an option to continue working up to the age of 65. It is true that some government employees such as the police are obliged to retire at the age of 60 years. The Superannuation Act has enabled persons to retire at 60 years, and theoretically it was possible for them to retire on full benefits provided they had contributed at the higher rate. In practice that was difficult, and that is an important point. The amendment moved by the Opposition is aimed at a very theoretical situation. In practice it was hard to purchase units and retire on full benefits at age 60 years. Only 25 per cent of public servants now retire at that age, but many of them accept diminished benefits because of the contribution structure of the present scheme. Those who do retire on full benefits at age 60 years often do so at great cost to themselves. So in practice the provisions of this Bill do not vary greatly from the practice of the old scheme.
Pollard and Melville have been referred to by the honourable member for Gellibrand. He did acknowledge some of the points they raised, and it is worth referring to their comments and recommendations regarding age 60 years retirement. In summary, this is what they had to say:
By the standards of most private sector schemes, retirement on full pension at age 60 is an early retirement (for men).
However, they pointed out, as the honourable member for Gellibrand pointed out, that every State government superannuation scheme provides for a full pension at age sixty. How these work in practice is another matter for examination. Thirdly, they said:
Because of this (and the existing rights to retire on full pension at age 60) the Commonwealth may feel obliged to provide again for full benefits at age sixty.
It is important to remember that the Commonwealth may, as a matter of policy, feel so obliged. They went on to issue this caution, which is consistent with what the honourable member for Curtin has been saying:
Before doing so the Government should consider.
the effect of this on age retirement patterns in the longer term; and
the large number of public servants who; in view of the transfer provisions, will as soon as the proposed scheme is introduced become eligible for retirement on full benefits.
They were, of course, referring to the scheme formerly proposed by the Labor Government. In the view of Pollard and Melville, earlier retirement on full benefits also means increased costs as a percentage of the salary bill both because of the longer period on pension and because of the shorter working life.
In paragraphs 24 to 26 Pollard and Melville show that they are far from convinced that the Government should be encouraging earlier retirement. They appeared to favour age 60 retirement on full benefits because it was the existing theoretical right rather than because as a matter of judgment they were of the opinion that it should be granted. They set out their arguments and then they state that they are unconvinced by them. They add that, if it is Government policy to encourage earlier retirement, then of course the base age of sixty may be appropriate. Professor Hancock, in his study of national superannuation, argues strongly against a general retirement age of less than 65 years at this stage of our development. Therefore, it would be most undesirable for any government to set out to encourage an earlier retirement age. If retirement at age 60 on full benefits with the consumer price index adjustments to which the honourable member for Gellibrand referred were available, an increased number of public servants would retire at age sixty. There is no doubt about that. In the long term that may be the goal which the government of the day then decides is appropriate, but at this stage the impact on the private sector would be enormous.
The mere fact that this scheme is better than most private sector schemes does not necessarily mean anything. Many private sector schemes need improving and updating. There is no question about that. It would be at considerable cost to the taxpayer, as has been shown by the honourable member for Curtin, if this scheme were more generous than it now is; but it is in fact better than most private schemes operating and, of itself, it will lead to an improvement in private schemes. If the scheme provided for retirement on full benefits at age 60, the impact on the private sector would be very severe. At the same time there would be a greater cost to the taxpayer. It would be irresponsible to adopt that position at this time. Therefore, the new scheme as introduced in this legislation does not lessen the benefits available in practice and it does not prejudice a particular individual in practice.
The unions have been very realistic. The unions accepted the proposition of the previous Government, which is contained in this Bill, that the period of service required for maximum benefits be extended from 20 years to 30 years. This would have seemed an incredible reversal of policy if it were not for the reality that in private sector schemes 30 years is the period recognised as that for entitlement to maximum benefits. Just as the unions accepted that change, they were realistic enough to expect that they had to accept some other changes. This is how the compromise came about. The unions were prepared to recognise that nationally the age of retirement is 65 years. They also recognised that this will be the case for some years to come. They recognise that Commonwealth public servants enjoy conditions comparable with private industry in general and better superannuation conditions in particular. They recognise that these superannuation conditions would be better still if 65 years were the age for full benefits and age 60 benefits were higher than those which have obtained in practice.
It seems to me that the Parliament is behaving most responsibly if in fact it cures the worst defect complained of- that is the contribution systemwhile at the same time not costing the taxpayers substantially more than they are currently paying. As the honourable member for Curtin pointed out, to grant what the Opposition originally proposed would cost the taxpayers 30 per cent more than the cost which this Bill proposes. The Senate- this comes back to the point made by the honourable member for Lang- in fact cured the worst features of the old scheme. Its proposals accepted the provisions relating to uniform contributions, comparable benefits for members of the Provident Fund, improved benefits for temporary public servants, widowers, children and orphans, and greatly simplified and therefore less costly administration. As the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) pointed out in his second reading speech, this Bill goes a stage further and greatly improves the position of women in the Public Service.
It is most important that we remember that the national interest had to be considered by this Parliament, and that is what this Bill does. It does not take away any right of retirement at age 60, but it gives a disincentive to retire at that age. At this stage of our economic development that is right and proper. It certainly is not correct to say, as the honourable member for Gellibrand said, that in major respects this Bill is more generous than we were prepared to acknowledge last year. The fact is- this is the point in which the honourable member for Lang was interested- that the government of the day then was not prepared to compromise. We in the then Opposition put forward amendments, most of which were carried by the Senate, and the then Government decided that it was to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach. It was not that we set out to oppose its Bill. We moved amendments. Those amendments, in spirit, are adopted in this Bill. The former Government would not under any circumstances accept the amendments, even though in due course the trade unions did. It would have been possible to have had consultations between the unions, the then Government and the then Opposition and to have arrived at this legislation and to have had it in force one year earlier than it will not be in force.
-The honourable member for Lang says: ‘Twaddle’; but it is a fact. This is the very reason we reached this compromise. In October last year the honourable member for Curtin and I, along with the now Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), had discussions with the unions and reached this very compromise. It was possible then. It would have been possible earlier. So it is not twaddle at all. The government of the day just would not bend.
As we knew, there were points upon which everyone agreed. Those points are in this Bill. We all agreed on the uniform contribution of 5 per cent. We all recognised the incredible disparities in the contribution rates that were then being paid. One only has to go back to the speech of the honourable member for Curtin on 28 May to see that in fact he recognised the savage treatment of contributors as they advanced in service and tried to keep up with their payments for units. Members were commencing at absurdly low levels of less that 2 per cent of salary, while those in older age groups had to pay absurdly high amounts, even going up to 25 per cent of salary. This clearly was recognised in the speech of the honourable member for Curtin when he was a shadow Minister. Throughout our stand in this House and in the Senate we acknowledged that there were defects that needed curing. A uniform contribution rate was the most important cure. Option for retirement earlier than age 65 with a pension adjusted proportionately was always our policy. Equally, we were concerned for members of the Provident Fund, temporary public servants, widowers, children and orphans. Certainly we wanted to simplify the administration of the scheme and it now is possible to compare private schemes with the public scheme and to recognise that some of the attractions that were originally necessary to get public servants are now no longer necessary because of the general comparability and high standard of conditions prevailing in the Commonwealth Public Service. In effect, this is a solution worthy of Solomon because it does not cost the taxpayers any more substantially than the present scheme, yet it does cure the defects. It is a tribute to the Minister, to the Treasury and to the unions and, if I may add, to the honourable member for Curtin who worked very hard on the subject for a long time.
There has been a year lost as far as public servants are concerned. It has been a year of individual hardship for many people and that is greatly to be regretted, but the result of this compromise is that the defects are cured without any greatly increased costs. The honourable member for Gellibrand criticised the non-adjustment of the whole pension, but he acknowledged that this is consistent with the Melville-Pollard report, and again it is a matter of costs. It is a matter of asking: When will Opposition members learn that there is a bottom to the bucket? When will they learn that the taxpayers cannot continue to go on paying? That is what would be required if we were to make this scheme even more generous than it now is. Again one has to repeat one observation, without any questions about the quality of the contribution of the honourable member for Gellibrand, that it is extraordinary that the shadow Treasurer has not taken a major part in this debate as either the lead speaker or one of the early speakers, because it is a matter with great ramifications of a Treasury nature. It is not really in a labour-management context.
The one point that I think needs to be made finally in answer to the honourable member for Gellibrand relates to the lump sum payment. It is demonstrable that the lump sum payment is now preferred by most employees. It represents a real advance for individuals. It is certainly at the same time a lower cost to government, but this provision has not been introduced for that reason. It is still a better provision than those which apply in most private schemes, but not so much greater that we have two classes of people- -public servants and others.
I would say in closing that I personally have reservations about the necessity for a supplement for over 30 years of service. I do not really understand the rationale for that and I can see that the cost can get out of hand. Also as a personal view, while I recognise the difficulties of spouses who remarry- and under the existing scheme would lose their benefits- I do find it strange that there is no test of dependency or no need requirement to be shown in order that they can continue to get the pension even after remarrying. One would have thought that there should be some sort of dependency or need requirement and that in the event of their second spouse also dying then of course the contributor’s spouse could well go back on the original pension. With those two minor quibbles I must say that it is a most commendable piece of legislation and one hopes it will be passed quickly.
– I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I do so because it does not matter how one looks at this new scheme, whether one looks at it from the point of view of the contributor, or whether one looks at it from the point of view of the Public Service itself as a very vital element of government. Whichever way one looks at it it is a very poor substitute for the Labor Government’s scheme which was put up last year and was so callously rejected in the Senate by this Government, then in opposition. That scheme has come to be known as the Crean scheme. The new scheme is a very poor substitute for that one. In the case of many individuals it is even a poor substitute for the existing scheme. It is a tragedy for many people because even though they are not happy with the new scheme they have been placed in a fairly intolerable position to the extent that they cannot afford to reject this scheme even though they are not a bit happy with it because many of the contributorsand honourable members on the other side of the House may not be aware of this- are paying extremely high contributions from their current salaries. Some of them are paying up to 40 per cent and the take home pay of some of them is such that they have great difficulty in maintaining current standards of living because of these very high contributions. The stick is being held over their heads. It is a matter of accept this new scheme or go on with this very unfair scheme under which people are paying extremely high contributions. As I said, some of them are paying as much as 40 per cent of their salary.
Many members on the other side of the House may not be here long enough to have to worry about retirement schemes as far as their connection with this Parliament is concerned, but I would suggest to them they should try to place themselves in the position of contributors to the scheme and contributors to the new scheme which is being put up and look quite objectively at the situation in which they would be placed. Many contributors take the view that there has been a breach of contract by the Government. These people entered into an arrangement to make certain contributions under the old scheme and in return to receive certain benefits. They have fulfilled their part of the contract, but now the Government is wanting to change the rules. The Government is saying: ‘That was good enough before but now we are going to change the rules to make them something quite different from what the contributor entered into’. This is admirable if the change means that contributors will be better off and the scheme will be more equitable, but this of course is not the case. Under the new scheme some people will be better off. Some people will definitely be worse off. There is no question about this when one looks at the actual provisions.
The main difficulty, of course, with the new scheme is in the area of age 65 retirement because many people have planned to retire at 60 years. They have arranged their accommodation. They have arranged their finances. They have arranged their family concerns to retire at that age and to do what they chose to do. Some of them may want to travel. Some may want to write their memoirs. Some may just want to go fishing. Whatever they want to do, that is the way they have planned their lives. They planned to retire while they were still in reasonable health so they could enjoy reasonable retirement in economic security. That is what they set out to do. Now all their plans have been thrown up into the air because to get the benefits they had planned to get they have to go on and work for another 5 years, and Government supporters cannot deny that this is the case. Great strains are going to be placed on the health of these contributors because they will have to go back to work even though many of them are not in very good health. They have been able to carry on in the hope of retiring at 60 years of age, but now they will have to go on working for another 5 years. The prospect is not a very inviting one, I can assure honourable members, for people who had been planning to retire at 60 years of age to be told that they have to go on and work for another 5 years.
The new scheme is shot through with a whole range of deficiencies and ambiguities, but the most outstanding deficiency, of course, is the one concerning the age of retirement. This is really turning the clock back. It is a complete reversal of the general trend throughout the world. The general trend, of course, is for early retirement and a general reduction in working hours. This has been accepted as a trade-off because of the advances that have been made in technology and computerisation. If people are going to benefit from these advances- and they should be advances in a civilised society- they should go towards improving the quality of life, the way people live and how they live. To achieve this the logical trend is towards shorter working hours and towards an earlier retirement so that people can enjoy their retirement in reasonably good health.
A group that appears to be particularly disadvantaged in this respect consists of those people who have less than 20 years service and who did plan to retire at 60 years of age. It is quite a bitter sham to claim that these people are not disadvantaged. I would just like to quote a couple of case histories that have been brought to my notice to support what I am saying. The first one concerns a class 4 clerk with an anticipated final salary of $10,000 per annum. Under the existing scheme he wanted to retire at 60. He would have received 49.8 per cent as a government contribution plus 20 per cent from his own contribution, which would have given him almost 70 per cent of his salary- in fact, $6,980 per annum under the existing scheme. He claims that under the new scheme he will get 45 per cent plus 2’/i per cent bonus, which is 47& per cent or $4,750 per annum. He is down $2,230 per annum under the new scheme when compared with the existing scheme. This is not an isolated case. I have had several of them brought to my notice. There is another, from a 45-year old Fourth Division officer who is not in a career position and who anticipates he will retire on his present salary of $11,581 per annum plus normal indexation. Under the existing scheme 70 per cent would have given him $8,106 per annum. Under the new scheme he gets 45 per cent plus 2.2 per cent, which gives him $5,714 per annum. He is down $2,392 per annum. Yet members opposite claim that people will not be disadvantaged by this scheme. Many people will be down about $2,000 per annum in respect of the pension on which they had planned to retire at age 60. To get what they planned to get, they must go on to 65.
At the other end of the scale, by contrast, many Second Division officers are in quite a different position. Under the new scheme they will be advantaged at the expense of those who are disadvantaged. I quote the case of a Second Division officer with a final salary of $30,000 per annum. Under the present scheme he would have received 44.3 per cent or $13,290 as government contribution. Under the new scheme he will receive $ 15,000. In this category people in the higher echelons are better off. Most officers in this category will receive benefits as good as, and some will receive benefits better than, those they would have received under the existing scheme. My correspondent sums it up in this way:
There is no way for me to retire at my planned age of 60 years and receive even 50 per cent of my final salary.
I am forced to work an additional 5 years for this benefit but this does not apply to the top echelon. It is a grant to them at my expense.
I would like to know what the Minister has to say about people in that category.
To offset this argument the Government will say that people will be paying less in their contributions. This is fair enough. There is no question about that. People will be paying less, but a lot of people have been paying more for many years. Some of them have only two or three years to go before they retire. The Government will claim that contributors will get a lump sum return of their surplus contributions, plus interest, to offset loss in pension. There are 2 very important aspects which we must consider in relation to this argument. Firstly, these lump sums will not be indexed in any way to offset inflation- inflation which was initiated by the Snedden Budget in 1972. The other aspect is that the lump sum return under the Crean scheme could be used to purchase additional pension rights. Part of it could be used to purchase additional pension rights. Under the new arrangement it is the lot or nothing. A contributor must use the whole of the lump sum to purchase additional pension rights. He cannot say that he will take half as a lump sum payment and use half to purchase additional pension rights. This option has been removed. In that respect the new scheme is much less flexible than the Crean scheme. The return of the contribution without indexation represents a severe loss in the real value of the lump sum because of inflation.
As the honourable member for Gellibrand said, the Commonwealth Public Service will now be the only Public Service in Australia in which the full pension will not be indexed. That is a great distinction for our public servants, compared with State public servants. There is no way to compensate for this loss, unless the contributor is tempted to speculate in real estate to achieve some capital gain. This is precisely what the Government is trying to discourage. If the man does that he is sacrificing income, he is running the risk of his speculation not coming off, he has liabilities in the form of rates and he is adding to the inflationary pressure by being forced to go into this sort of speculation.
There are many other glaring deficiencies in this scheme. I will mention just a few. Another important example of inflexibility is the denial of the right to pick up units which have been rejected and which, under the Crean scheme, people would have been able to pick up 3 months before or 3 months after a new scheme was introduced and claim them as full pension rights. This is not an option under the new scheme. Many contributors have pointed out to me that it is a grave disadvantage. Other people have queried the fact that there is no indication of what will happen to the surplus in the old scheme. They have also queried the extent of that surplus. Nobody has told us that. I think the Government should be more forthright. The contributors have created this surplus. They are entitled to know how much it is. They are entitled to know what will happen to it. We are told that many of the unanswered questions and many of the queries that people bring up will be covered or answered by regulations. I would like to know from the Minister whether, in framing these regulations, representatives of the contributors will be consulted and whether the Government will have some consultation with the white collar union representatives to see whether those regulations fill the gaps about which people are complaining.
Another area of concern, or an area of ambiguity to many people, is that there is no assurance that the lump sum return will buy the extra 20 per cent pension that was available under the old scheme after 20 years of service. Some people believe it Will take 30 years of service to get a sufficient lump sum to buy back the extra 20 per cent. This matter is certainly not clear in the Bill. It should be clarified in the interests of the contributors.
One group in the Australian Capital Territory which I think will be disadvantaged is the Australian Capital Territory police. These people do not have the option of retiring at 60 or 65. They have a compulsory retiring age of 60. How are these people placed? On the surface it appears that there is no way they can get 50 per cent government contribution towards their pension. I would like this matter clarified by the Minister. I could outline many more deficiencies and ambiguities in the scheme, but it is quite obvious from what I have outlined already that many individuals will be disadvantaged. This cannot be denied. I have received many representations. I have many case histories. I know my colleague, the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem), has received them also. They are there for anybody to see. People will be disadvantaged under the proposed scheme as compared with the existing scheme, and certainly disadvantaged greatly as compared with the scheme which was rejected last year.
We should not be merely concerned at the fate of individual contributors- they are our main concern- we should be concerned at the general effect of this scheme and at the effect it will have on the Public Service as a vital part of government and as a vital process of government I do not think there is any doubt that the decision not to grant full pension until 65 must lead to an older, more conservative Public Service. I think in many ways it will be a less qualified Public Service. It will no doubt block effectively or slow down promotion opportunities for many highly qualified public servants, many of whom have set out to obtain qualifications to fit them for particular jobs in the Service. Now their employment opportunities are being blocked by this slowing down of the retirement process. I believe that the new scheme will establish a pool of very dissatisfied, highly paid public servants who had planned to retire at 60 but who are now being virtually forced back to work for another 5 years to get the 50 per cent of their final salary. I have no doubt this will have a significant effect on the quality of their work, on their morale and on the morale of those around them. I have no doubt that the scheme will lead to a more expensive and less efficient Public Service for the people of Australia.
I must comment on the reference that the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) made to the effect that the introduction of this scheme will have on the private sector. There is no rationale in his argument. The Commonwealth Public Service employs only about 6 per cent of the total work force in Australia. It is not rational to say that an improvement of their conditions will create hardship for the private sector in Australia. The fact that the conditions of this 6 per cent of the work force are improved does not mean that everybody will rush in and work for the Commonwealth Public Service. It will not increase the size of the Public Service by one person. All it will mean is that the competition for positions in the Public Service will be a bit keener and that the Public Service will be able to attract people of better quality. The argument that the Commonwealth Public Service will become the pacesetter and that the private sector be forced to compete with it has no real foundation. So let us not carry on in that vein and present a completely false picture. This scheme will apply to only 6 per cent of the total work force and it cannot affect the rest of the work force.
I think that most members of this House agree that government today is a very complex business, a very difficult business, which requires the services of the most talented people. I think that the difficulties of the Government today highlight that statement. Government is a very difficult business and to carry it out requires the services of the most talented, the most highly qualified, the most professional people that we have in the community. We should not be apologising for having a highly competent, well qualified Public Service. The Labor Government did a lot to upgrade the Public Service, to improve its efficiency and to improve its professionalism. We do not apologise for that. I do not think that the Australian people would want us to apologise for it. There is no questioning the fact that under the Labor Government positive steps were taken in this direction. To maintain the standard we should have conditions which attract the best talent available and create favourable conditions for advancement.
I believe that this scheme is a tragedy not only for the many public servants who have served the people well over a long period and who want to retire in good health at age of 60 years but also for the Public Service itself, because the clock is being turned back on the considerable progress that was made under the Labor Government to make the Public Service a highly competent and well motivated organisation serving the Australian people. I do not think that it is in the interests of the members of the Public Service or the Australian people to turn back the clock on the progress that already has been made. I certainly do not think that we or anybody else should apologise for wanting to have a highly efficient Public Service of the best standard that we can possibly get. We can do this only by creating the conditions that will attract people of the right quality and calibre to the jobs in the Public Service.
– I give notice that I will not be taking up my full time in this debate. I just want to make a few points and then give the members of the Opposition plenty of time to speak. I am pleased to be following the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) in this debate. Having listened to his speech one could be excused for being left with the impression that this is the most disastrous superannuation scheme that could ever be foisted upon any group of public servants at any time. I, as previous speakers on the Government side of the chamber have done, point out that this scheme is basically what the Public Service has asked for and is basically what the Public Service wants.
– It has no option but to accept it.
-You just spoke for 20 minutes and you made absolutely no contribution to the debate. You did nothing but complain, moan and whinge. You represent 20 000 or 30 000 public servants. You should be making a significant contribution to this Parliament on their behalf, as is done by the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) and Senator Knight.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member will address his remarks to the Chair.
-The honourable member for Fraser said that this legislation is a poor substitute for the legislation brought in last year by the Australian Labor Party when it was in government and that the legislation introduced at that time had been callously rejected by the then Opposition. I want to point out that it was generally accepted by most people and by most reasonable public servants- most public servants are reasonable- that the scheme proposed by the Labor Government at that stage was indeed over-generous. That legislation contained provisions that had not even been recommended by the Melville-Pollard inquiry. By and large that scheme was one which put public servants as a group into a privileged position in our community. As I said earlier, I have a lot of respect” for public servants. I for one do not want to deprive them of any benefits to which they are entitled and do not want to deprive them of any scheme.
– They are supposed to be socialist employees.
-They are our employees. They are the employees of the Government. I can only assume that the honourable member for Fraser placed an advertisement in the newspapers asking everbody who has a complaint about the proposed scheme to come forward as I think that he gave every conceivable example of who would be disadvantaged by the scheme. He did not give any credit to the Government for the fact that the thousands and thousands of public servants will benefit significantly from this proposal. The major part of his speech was taken up with making excuses and pointing out every possible deficiency. He finished up with the proposition that we are going to have a less efficient Public Service as a result of the introduction of this scheme.
I do not accept that. I believe that the introduction of this scheme Will make life a lot easier for the vast majority of public servants. It will put money back into the weekly or fortnightly pay packets of the vast majority of public servants. It will do a great deal to improve the retirement benefits ultimately received by the majority of public servants. I do not think that it is possible to introduce a scheme in any area of government administration that does not provide some degree of disadvantage for some members of the community. I am prepared to acknowledge that there may be a few public servants and some groups of public servants who will not be completely advantaged by the implementation of this scheme. I have just taken the view that I could not let the honourable member for Fraser sit down, and I am sure that he would not expect me to let him sit down, without making some comments on his contribution.
The main point that I want to make in this debate before I resume my seat is that in my view there is a need for an overall look by this Parliament at the Public Service and its structure, administration, responsibilities, relationship with the Government and a whole range of other aspects. As we know, a royal commission under the chairmanship of Dr Coombs is presently inquiring into the Public Service. We also know that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has appointed Sir Henry Bland to look into other aspects of the Public Service and the administration of this country. There is no doubt that there is a need for reviews of this nature to be done from time to time within the Public Service and that there is a need for the Parliament to give serious consideration to the results of those reviews. I trunk that we are very fortunate in this instance in that we have two inquiries looking at different aspects of the same subject. I think that we probably will be in a better position than most parliaments in that we will be able to look at the findings of two separate inquiries into various aspects of the Public Service. I hope that we will be able to view the results of those inquiries with a degree of maturity and be able to come down with some revised views about what is the attitude of the Parliament and the Government to the administration which serves them.
I think that there would be little point in arguing in 1976 that the Public Service is not well treated. Going back in time, it is true to say that for a long while the members of the Public Service were the poor relation of other sections of industry and of other sections of the community in that their levels of salary and things of that nature were not necessarily commensurate with those applying outside the Public Service. But the Public Service offered security and a good pension or superannuation scheme, and that was an offsetting factor for those people who were prepared to forgo the salary that they otherwise may have been able to obtain in the marketplace.
However, that is not necessarily the case today. Over the years we have improved and improved. The Administration of the last 3 years improved at a more rapid rate than had been the case in previous years the lot of the public servants in terms of their salaries and wages, the conditions under which they work, all the various forms of leave which are available to them, and the superannuation scheme which applies to them. It is probably worth pointing out that the necessity for a new superannuation scheme has been intensified by the policies of the former Administration, because it is largely the severe inflation and the increasing wage payments that are being made which have forced up the cost of contributory units and resulted in distinct hardship for a great number of public servants.
The thing which I regard as being important in relation to this matter is that there must be an overview, and a refreshing overview, of the Public Service and its role in Australia. In this debate today we are preparing to approve a new superannuation scheme for public servants in this country. We know that they are relatively well paid and that their working conditions are good. I do not deny the public servants any of these benefits. What I do say is that the Public Service, for its part, must perform; it must be prepared to play its part; it must make its contribution to government and to the community. If it transpires- I hope it does not- that the Public Service does not perform and is not deserving of the benefits which this Parliament and governments bestow upon it, then changes must be made, and the Public Service must be prepared to accept those changes. If over a period the Public Service in fact is not shaping up, if it is being inefficient or if it is expanding at a rapid rate without any improvement in its performance or in the carrying out of its duties, then I think we have a duty in terms of our administration and responsibility for the taxpayers’ funds, to ensure that changes are made which offset what is happening. Changes may need to be made in relation to the permanency of employment in the Public Service if certain things develop.
I just raise this point, and I do not want to canvass it to any great extent: The Public Service in 1976, and in fact in most of the 1970s, is relatively well off. It cannot be pointed to as an area of deprivation in our community. The salary levels in the Public Service are good. This afternoon I took some figures from Commonwealth Gazettes. There is no particular significance in terms of the dates to which they relate. All sorts of variables could apply to them. I simply took out figures in relation to salary increases over the period from June 1971 to June 1975. The percentage increase over that period for a Clerk class 2/3 was 64.4 per cent; for a Clerk class 5 it was 58.6 per cent; for a Clerk class 7 it was 55.3 per cent; and for a Clerk class 10 it was 44.6 per cent. Probably the large bulk of public servants would fall somewhere within those ranges. There is no sinister motive on my part in taking out figures in relation to those particular ranges of employment. I just picked them out at random.
By way of comparison, average weekly earnings in that period from June 1971 to June 1975 increased by 74 per cent. So, although the bases may have been different, the salaries of public servants did not increase by the same amount as average weekly earnings increased. However, the increase in Public Service salaries was still relatively good. Over that same period, from June 1971 to June 1975, the consumer price index increased by 53.8 per cent, which is probably more in line with the average increase in Public Service salaries over that period. The message that comes out of that, to my mind at least, is that the Public Service has been keeping up. It has been argued that the Public Service was a pacesetter for a long time. That may have been the case during a period within the time scale at which I have looked, but I think that during that 4-year period between 1971 and 1975 the Public Service kept pace with the consumer price index and with the increase in average weekly earnings.
The scheme which we are debating at the moment and which we are introducing will ensure that the public servants are adequately- in fact, very well- catered for in terms of superannuation. We know that their recreation leave, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave arrangements and all of these sorts of things are certainly as good as, if not better than, those which apply to people in industry. The challenge which I put to the Public Service is this: We as a government certainly are not holding it back. We are doing our bit to see that public servants are being well treated by us as employers. The responsibility on the Public Service is to perform for its Government in return. It has to accept the responsibility which goes with the conditions, the rights and the privileges which the Government confers upon it.
I do not want to say any more than that. I hope that the remarks I have made will be accepted in the spirit in which I have made them. There is no criticism involved; it is just a matter of making a point. I hope that the Public Service does accept the conditions which we as a government are providing in good faith and that the Public Service in its turn will ensure that it performs for its Government.
-I rise to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I think it is worth reading out the terms of the amendment. It states:
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 is of the opinion that the Bill is deficient in that it removes some important benefits now applying under the current Superannuation Act, thereby reducing the overall value of benefits for existing pensioners and contributors’.
Later I shall have something to say about the deficiencies in the proposed scheme. The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) indicated quite a number of those deficiencies and the fact that the proposed scheme can in no way be compared with the scheme which was proposed last year by the then Labor Government. I have a particular interest in this matter because for 18 years I was a contributor to the Superannuation Fund. When this matter was debated last year I made some inquiries as to what my position would be if I were still a member of the Superannuation Fund. When I resigned in 1969 to enter this place I was paying 12.5 per cent of my income in superannuation payments. I checked the situation last year and found that my contribution would have risen to 19.5 per cent. No doubt at the present time it would be somewhere between 20 per cent and 20.5 percent.
There are many Commonwealth public servants in the electorate which I represent. They are to be found in the Australian Postal Commission, in the Australian Telecommunications Commission, in the Australian National Railways where approximately 3000 or possibly more people are employed, and in the Weapons Research Establishment at Woomera. All told, they make up a pretty solid block of Commonwealth employees. Quite a large proportion of them would be contributors to the existing Superannuation Fund. Last year when our BUI was about to come before the House I took out some figures in relation to the payments made by employees of the Australian National Railways who were contributors to the Fund, who were in their fifties, and who had decided to take advantage of the opportunity to retire at age sixty. When I asked for those figures to be taken out I said that I wanted an across the board set of classifications I did not want just the people at the top- including tradesmen, leading hands, foremen, class 3 clerks, Fourth Division officers, and so forth.
When I received those figures and examined them I found that aU these people had taken the maximum number of units. The contributions of these people, whose ages were in the 50s, to the superannuation fund ranged from 24 per cent to 37 per cent of their wages. Because of the increases in wages since then those percentages would have risen. Now we have reached the stage when many employees have stated that they have to go to the bank each fortnight in order to live. Some people may think that that is odd. Last Saturday morning a person who would earn about the average earnings in Australia walked into my office and told me that he was going to the bank every fortnight in order to keep going. He was paying over $ 1 30 each fortnight in superannuation. By the time he paid his tax and met his other commitments he had to go to the bank. These are the people contributing to the existing scheme about whom I am most concerned. I am not so concerned about the top brass. Although such people might be paying high contributions they still have quite an amount left on which to exist. The lower paid workers, whether they be clerical workers or wage employees, have a lot less on which to live after they pay their contributions to the fund and this means that they are in dire financial trouble.
All honourable members know that in 1971 a Treasury committee was appointed to look at the superannuation scheme and to bring down recommendations. That Committee recommended a new scheme and pointed out the anomalies in the existing scheme. It made recommendations, together with certain alternatives. Nothing was done, of course, from a legislative point of view until the Labor Party became the Government. In 1973 the Labor Government, in order to bring about an efficient and equitable scheme, again called for a report and it acted on that report by introducing legislation. That legislation was introduced in May 1975 and it was to operate from 1 July 1975. We all know what happened in the Senate.
From the time when the question of an inquiry into the superannuation scheme was raised in 1971 Commonwealth public servants were looking expectantly for some move by the Government to ease the financial burden to which a lot of the older members were subjected and from which it did not appear that they could escape. As they got older the position got worse. Their hopes began in 1971 and finally, in 1975, the Labor Party Government introduced its scheme. That legislation was rejected with all the other Bills rejected by the Senate. The Senate returned it to this House with a pile of amendments. I think there were 94 or 95 amendments but the main bone of contention was that the age of 60 years was altered wherever it appeared to the age of 65 years. This was a let-down to all those people who had been contributing for many years to allow them to retire at 60 years of age. The honourable member for Fraser referred to the expectations held by these people. Their hopes were again dashed.
I think the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) said that the unions were prepared to accept the superannuation scheme now before the House. Previously the unions were not prepared to accept such a scheme. They were right behind the Labor Party in trying to push the initial Bill through the Parliament The unions are accepting the present proposal. Unfortunately, they have no option. They know that if they do not accept this scheme this matter will go on and on and the situation will get worse and worse. If the honourable member spoke to the unions he would find that they are not happy with this scheme because of the many anomalies in it and the disadvantages of it when compared with the Labor Party ‘s proposal and also with the existing scheme in some respects.
The position now is that wherever the age of 60 years appeared in the Labor Party’s Bill the age of 65 years appears in this Bill. Because of the frustration of the Senate- one of the many frustrations engaged in by the Senate- the Labor Party’s Bill was withdrawn last year. This resulted in extreme disappointment to all the contributors who had been looking to the Labor Party to provide for them a scheme which would take some of the financial burden from them and allow them to have decent retirement. All honourable members know what happened. There is no need for me to go into what happened on 1 1 November and the events that led up to it. Our intention to reintroduce the original Bill in the same form was defeated by what happened on 1 1 November and we are now dealing with the scheme introduced by the present Government
The honourable member for Fraser mentioned some of the disabilities associated with this Bill and perhaps I could mention a few. There are disadvantages in the invalidity clauses. Those clauses disadvantaged people with less than 30 years’ prospective employment. Present contributors cannot take up rejected units, as they were able to do in the past and as they would have been able to do under our scheme. The greatest disadvantage is the inability to retire at age 60 on the full pension. I do not know the exact figures but I would say that a very high percentage of the contributors I know have been contributing higher payments so that they could retire at 60 years of age. Now the hopes of these people have been dashed. If they retire at 60 years of age they will receive only 45 per cent of their final salary compared with 50 per cent under the Labor Party’s scheme. Again I say that my main concern is for the lower paid employees who contribute to this scheme, because they are the people with whom I have the closest association.
The honourable member for Hume said that the honourable member for Fraser must have put advertisements in the newspaper to get people to come along and complain about this Government’s scheme. I am sure he did not do so. As he lives in Canberra where there are so many contributors to the superannuation scheme he would not have to put advertisements in the newspaper. The proportion of public servants in his electorate is a lot higher than it is in mine and I know the number of people who have come to my office and voiced their objections and complaints to the proposed scheme.
Much has been said in various place about making Commonwealth public servants tall poppies and giving them benefits which are not available elsewhere. If a comparison were made we would find that all States have public service superannuation schemes and I would say that in most cases they are better schemes. The Commonwealth scheme may not be the worst but it is a long way from being the best. The honourable member for Fraser also pointed out that the Commonwealth scheme is now the only scheme under which a person has to work until the age of 65 in order to get full benefits. There were other matters that I wished to point out but I think I shall conclude on that note. I again express my support for the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand and trust that the House will accept it.
Debate (on motion by Mr Short) adjourned.
-by leave- Mr Speaker, the purpose of my statement today is to spell out, in a detailed way, the Government’s policy towards foreign investment in Australia. The statement I am making is necessary in order to dispel the atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty in which foreign investors have had to operate over the last few years. The scale of this uncertainty is, I believe, considerable. In this context, I would draw attention to the fact that over the past three years total capital inflow- viewed broadly as the rise in Australia’s net overseas indebtednessrepresented only 3 per cent of our total gross domestic capital formation, compared with around 10 per cent in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There is little doubt that confusion in the minds of investors about the circumstances in which they could operate in Australia was a major factor in contributing to the fall. This confusion arose because the previous Government was very conscious of the costs of foreign investment but was reluctant to adequately acknowledge its benefits. The effective implementation of its policy was hamstrung by this attitude.
The Government firmly believes that foreign investment should play a bigger role than it has in the past 3 years and that it should do so without adversely affecting our national interests. Let me be clear at the outset. The Government’s basic objectives are to encourage foreign investment in Australia because of the considerable contribution it can make to Australian development and prosperity but, at the same time, to see that such investment is on a basis of fair sharing of net benefits as between the foreign investor and the needs and aspirations of the Australian community.
Our policy will offer Australians maximum opportunity to participate as fully and effectively as practicable in the ownership and control of our natural resources and industries- and, thereby, in decisions having an important influence on our economic and social development. What it will offer foreign investors is fair treatment under clear guidelines in the belief that we will thereby be making a significant move towards getting Australia going again. In view of the current depressed nature of private capital expenditure in Australia, foreign investment will play a positive role in assisting overall economic recovery.
Role of Foreign Investment in the Australian Economy
Before I proceed to outline the details of our policy it is important to consider the role of foreign investment in the Australian economy. Any successful policy in this field must be based on sound understanding and judgments about the way in which inflows of foreign capital affect our economy. Foreign capital seeks to avail itself of profitable opportunities and Australia has a social and political environment which imposes few non-commercial risks. But while foreign investors come to make a profit, their investments here can in fact benefit us if put to productive use.
Foreign capital provides extra resources. It enables us to import more and develop at a faster rate than we otherwise would have done. It can bring with it, and disseminate, technological know-how and managerial skills. It can stimulate competition within our economy, thereby improving our efficiency and international competitiveness. Substantial blocks of needed risk capital may become available, and otherwise inaccessible market connections may be established. The overall impact of such benefits is reflected in enhanced productivity, greater employment opportunities and higher real Australian income than would otherwise have been achieved.
These can be important contributions. Nevertheless, there can be costs as well as benefits. Our partnership with foreign capital must be a realistic one of mutual advantage. In past decades of high immigration and rapid industrial development, there was a general presumption that all foreign investment should be welcomed. This is no longer the case. The Australian community quite properly demands that governments today take a more discriminating and mature attitude towards foreign investment. This is particularly essential in the case of direct investment, which paradoxically has most to offer and also raises the most important problems. It provides us with technology and skills and export markets as well as added resources. But it involves foreign ownership and control, and can raise various practical considerations about which any government must be sure that it is fully informed and has the appropriate administrative machinery to deal with. These include taxation, technological arrangements and marketing and export plans. They involve policy issues much broader than simply the question of foreign ownership and control.
In weighing these benefits and costs it must be understood that we cannot have it both ways. We cannot both ward off foreign direct equity and acquire the benefit of it at one and the same time. The choices in the longer term are either a potentially slower rate of growth but with a larger share of the product of that growth accruing to Australians, or a faster rate of growth at the cost of greater foreign ownership. But the period of euphoria about foreign investment has gone. Foreign capital is a means to material advancement but material advancement is not our only aim.
The Government recognises that pursuit of policies on ownership and control involves trading some measure of material advancement for a more satisfactory overall arrangement. Added resources, access to technology, and increased managerial skills and other economic benefits need to be placed within the context of the community’s total requirements. Quite clearly, Australians will feel deprived if they believe that foreigners are investing here in ways which are harmful to our national economic and social interests. They will also feel deprived if foreign investment occurs in such a way as to deny them reasonable participation in the development of their own economy. However, sensible policies and effective administration can minimise any such potential loss while at the same time making it clear to the foreign-controlled companies already operating in Australia, to potential foreign investors and to our major trading partners, that they have a role to play which is consistent with the national interest of this country.
We aim to strike a balance at the policy level between the potential net benefits of long-term investment by foreign interests and the possible costs to the national interest and aspirations of an over-high level of foreign ownership and control. We propose to do so by examining, in a framework of clear guidelines, individual foreign investment proposals of specified kinds. We recognise that, in order to achieve the balanced outcome which we seek, government policy must be practical, widely known, well understood and not subject to unpredictable changes. Our policy has been framed with this very much in mind.
The essential elements of that policy are: We will provide the maximum opportunity for Australians to participate as fully and effectively as practicable in the ownership and control of this country’s industries and natural resources. We will make use of foreign capital, especially where it is accompanied by new technology and expertise, as an integral component of Australian economic and social development. We will place major emphasis on Australian participation in new projects but without preventing projects that are clearly not against the national interest from proceeding.
We will welcome proposals to increase the level of Australian participation in existing foreign-owned companies but we will avoid the costly option of repurchasing such companies. We will establish a Foreign Investment Review Board to advise the Government on foreign investment matters. We will restrict foreign investment in certain basic sectors of the economy. These areas, some of which are already covered by legislation, are banking- both savings and trading- radio, television, daily newspapers and certain aspects of the civil aviation industry.
Proposals by foreign interests for investment in Australia, outside the prohibited sectors just mentioned, may be examinable by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Not all such proposals will be examinable and those which fall outside the scope of the screening machinery may be proceeded with automatically, subject to normal exchange control requirements where appropriate.
The Government wishes to examine the following types of proposals, details of which are contained in the attachment to this statement: Proposals falling within the scope of the Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act including proposals by a single or associated foreign interest to acquire or increase a holding of 15 per cent or more in an Australian business even where the proposal does not involve a change in control of the business; proposals involving the establishment of new non-bank financial institutions and insurance companies; proposals to establish other new businesses or to undertake a new mining or natural resource project, where the amount of investment is $ lm or more; certain acquisitions by foreign interests of Australian real estate.
The definition of a foreign interest is clearly set out in the attachment to this statement, and in order to remove any doubts which may exist I specifically invite attention to that definition.
Each examinable foreign investment proposal will be considered on its merits to determine whether it is contrary to the national interest. The criteria for making this examination are set out in the attachment but, in the main, they encompass the net economic benefits and employment opportunities offered by the proposal, the level of Australian equity participation and management involved and the likely effect of the proposal on the Government’s general economic and social policies. It is not intended that all investment proposals shall necessarily satisfy all of the criteria listed in the attachment before being allowed to proceed. The list will be drawn on to the extent relevant in the circumstances of each particular case. Proposals found not to be contrary to the national interest according to these criteria will be approved.
The Government has decided that in certain sectors of the economy designated as key areasnamely production and development, both onshore and offshore, of oil, natural gas and all other minerals including uranium; agricultural and pastoral projects and forestry and fishing projects- 2 specific objectives will be pursued.
The 75 per cent rule
Because of its unique status the Government has decided that special conditions should apply to foreign investment in uranium. In this sector a project involving investment by foreign interests, not already in production, will only be allowed to proceed provided it has a minimum of 75 per cent Australian equity and is Australian controlled. This is to be achieved by the time the project comes into production. In this area the Government will have regard to foreign portfolio investment Uranium enrichment and other investments in the nuclear fuel cycle, apart from mining and production to the yellow cake stage, are not covered by this rule and will be looked at separately.
The 50 per cent rule
In the remaining key areas a new business or project involving investment by foreign interests of $lm or more which is not against the national interest will, as a general rule, only be allowed to proceed provided it has a minimum 50 per cent Australian equity together with at least 50 per cent of the voting strength on the board held by Australian interests.
The establishment of new projects in these sectors involves development of the natural resource wealth of the Australian continent and adjacent offshore areas, and the Government considers it especially important to ensure that Australian interests participate as fully and as effectively as possible in their development and exploitation. Nevertheless, we are determined not to unduly delay the development of Australia’s natural resources and without prejudice to what I have already said concerning uranium, the unavailability of Australian equity capital on reasonable terms and conditions will not prevent a project, considered by the Government to be not against the national interest, from being allowed to proceed. In that event, though, the Government will, as appropriate, seek satisfactory arrangements for Australian equity to be increased to at least 50 per cent within an agreed period.
In view of the need to achieve and maintain an adequate level of mineral exploration and because of the limited availability of Australian risk capital, the Government has decided to concentrate on obtaining the maximum level of Australian participation at the development stage of a mining project Accordingly, while the Government wishes to encourage Australian participation in mineral exploration, it will not be mandatory for foreign interests to seek Australian partners in their exploration programs.
In the field of real estate the Government is concerned to ensure that rising land values generated by the growth of the economy as a whole accrue to Australians. We are particularly concerned that foreign interests should not engage in speculative purchases of real estate. Therefore, except for certain specified types of real estate investment, all acquisitions of Australian real estate by foreign interests will be examinable.
In other areas of the economy no specific prohibitions or minimum requirements for Australian equity will apply. Cases will be examined on their individual merits. In general, if it can be demonstrated that a project will be Australian controlled it will be approved. As well, the Government will expect to see significant economic benefits and/or Australian equity participation before permitting a new foreign interest to come into those areas where foreign ownership and control is already extensive.
Working with Private Enterprise
Earlier in this statement I said that an important element of the Government’s policy will be to provide the maximum opportunity for Australians to participate as fully and effectively as practicable in the ownership and control of our industries and natural resources. The Government is aware that the Australian capital market sometimes experiences difficulty in providing sufficient equity finance to ensure a reasonable level of Australian ownership in projects where the expected ultimate return may be high but where the prospects for dividends are not good in the short term. However, the Australian capital market is continuously improving its capacity to respond to the opportunities which our policies are designed to provide, especially in the area of joint venture participation in major resource projects. In this connection, the Government believes that the Australian Industry Development Corporation has an important role to play in helping to mobilise funds required by Australian companies and in helping to bring together efficient Australian enterprises in order to foster Australian equity in local ventures of national importance. The Government expects the Australian Industry Development Corporation to work closely with the Foreign Investment Review Board to assist in achieving the Government ‘s policy objectives.
The Government is conscious of the fact that foreign controlled companies have access to the Australian market for loan funds. We expect such companies to give full consideration to the possibilities of raising additional capital requirements through equity issues in Australia as an alternative to borrowings in Australia. In the present circumstances, and given the Government’s expressed attitude, we do not see any need to lay down different rules for domestic borrowings by foreign controlled and Australian controlled companies.
Guidelines for Foreign Interests Operating in Australia
I now turn to the activities of foreign controlled corporations and businesses operating in this country. We are, of course, anxious to see that the continuing operations, policies and practices of already established companies are not in any way contrary to the national interest. Foreign controlled corporations and businesses operating here do, of course, have to observe all the relevant laws of the land. And in this sense they are and always have been subject to the Government’s control. But it may be that, in respect of some aspects of their activities, it would be helpful to have some additional guidelines which they would be expected to observe. Before taking a decision on this question we will be seeking the advice of the Foreign Investment Review Board. We will ask the Board to report on the potential value of guidelines covering such matters as:
Inter-company pricing and profit arrangements;
Royalty and licensing arrangements;
Availability of technology, patents, etc.;
Export franchise arrangements;
Extent and nature of parent control of Australian operations;
Management and personnel policies including the role of Australians on boards of directors and in senior managerial positions.
In addition, the Government believes that the Australian branches of overseas incorporated companies should disclose publicly the same information in respect of their Australian operations as is required from Australian public, listed public or private companies as the case may be. We will seek to ensure that this is done. As well, the Government will monitor very carefully any situation where there is the possibility of resort by taxpayers to various tax avoidance devices and take any necessary steps to ensure that foreign investors, along with all other taxpayers, do not shirk their responsibilities under the law.
Foreign Investment Review Board
Mr Deputy Speaker, as I mentioned earlier in this statement, the Government has decided to establish a Foreign Investment Review Board. The Board will:
Advise the Government on foreign investment matters generally, including the need for and scope of a foreign investment review Act;
Foster an awareness and understanding of the Government’s policies in the community at large and in the free enterprise sector in particular;
Work towards a high level of Australian private capital participation in new investment undertakings;
Give guidance to foreign investors on those aspects of their proposals which may not conform with the policy and suggest ways by which such proposals might be amended in order that they will do so;
Establish appropriate liaison with State government authorities;
Keep in touch with the activities of foreign controlled businesses already operating in Australia; and
Consider the desirability of maintaining, in a form to be approved by the Government, a register of foreign investment proposals.
Initially we will establish the Board by administrative action. It is proposed that it be given a statutory basis as soon as possible.
The Board is to be comprised of not less than 3 members and not more than five. Except for the executive member, the appointments will be part-time. I expect to announce the names of the part-time members shortly. The head of the
Treasury’s Foreign Investment Division, presently Mr M. A. Besley, will be the executive member of the Board. The Board will meet regularly, at least once a month, and will be supported by the executive services of the Treasury. It will also have available to it the expert advice and assistance of other relevant Commonwealth Government departments. The Government is confident that the establishment of a Board, to which we will appoint noted Australians with extensive commercial experience, will help to facilitate speedy, efficient and practical administration of its policy.
The Government’s administration of its foreign investment policy is based on the Foreign Takeovers Act 1975, the powers available to it under exchange control legislation and regulations and under export control powers. The Government is concerned, however, to simplify as far as possible, understanding of the executive basis of the Commonwealth’s powers in regard to all foreign investment matters. This should help to remove confusion in the minds of private investors. For this reason we will examine the possibility of embodying our policy in a comprehensive way in legislation. As I have mentioned, the Foreign Investment Review Board will have an important role in advising the Government in this regard. In the meantime, the Government will continue its practice of seeking the cooperation of all parties in the implementation of its policy.
One aspect of current legislation which has caused us concern for some time is to be remedied. I refer to the present advantage which it has been suggested foreign-owned companies appear to enjoy over Australian-owned companies in applications before the Trade Practices Commission. The Government proposes to introduce amending legislation which will remove the inter-relationship between the Foreign Takeovers Act and the Trade Practices Act so that foreign companies will no longer be able to obtain automatic approval from the Trade Practices Commission consequent upon approval of their proposals under the foreign takeovers legislation. Parties with proposals that fall within the scope of both Acts can avoid unnecessary delays by submitting their proposals to the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Trade Practices Commission simultaneously. For their parts, the Board and the Commission will liaise closely to ensure that their investigations minimise delays to the business community.
In addition, the Government proposes to introduce amending legislation to correct, retrospectively to 1 January 1976, certain technical deficiencies which have been found in the recently proclaimed Foreign Takeovers Act. These relate to the compulsory notification requirements of the Act and the transitional provisions linking it with the now repealed Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act. Details of these deficiencies and the proposals designed to rectify them are contained in the attachment to this statement.
This statement has been made in order to set out clearly the Government’s foreign investment policy. It is a comprehensive policy which has been formulated to meet the particular needs and aspirations of Australia and its people. It is a policy which recognises that in a world where technology and market opportunities are changing rapidly, and where large scale funds are required for development, Australia cannot afford to isolate itself from a major source of innovation, competition and capital. It is a policy which is in harmony with other national objectives in other important areas such as Aboriginal interests, decentralisation and the environment, as well as with our obligations under international treaties. It is a policy which recognises that there is genuine concern in the community that Australia should not allow itself to slip into a position where vital decisions affecting the growth and direction of the Australian economy are being taken by foreigners who may not be fully attuned to Australia’s best interests.
These policy objectives are, I believe, widely accepted in the Australian community. We now need to settle down to the task of realising them. The Government does so in the expectation that we can make good the opportunities wasted amid the confusion of the past 3 years. We look to foreign investors to accept the challenge and to play an essential role, in partnership with Australian investors, in the development of Australia. For the rest I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the detailed aspects of our policy as set down in the attachment to this Statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
The Government’s foreign investment policy is administered by the Treasurer. In the administration of the policy, the Treasurer is advised by the Foreign Investment Review Board which will have available to it, through the executive services of the Treasury, the departmental expertise previously made available by the Foreign Investment Advisory Committee (FIAC)- that is to say, contributions by the Departments of the Attorney-General, Industry and Commerce, National Resources, Overseas Trade, Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Reserve Bank together with the advice of other departments as necessary for the consideration of particular proposals.
In taking decisions on foreign investment matters the Treasurer will consult other appropriate Ministers.
The foreign investment machinery does not affect the legal requirements of the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations. However, where Reserve Bank approvals are required in respect of a proposal falling within the ambit of foreign investment policy, the Bank will continue its practice of withholding approval until the Government has indicated that the proposal is not inconsistent with the policy.
So far as export permits are concerned a foreign investor to whom the screening machinery applies is assured that in consideration of his application for an export permit he will not be disadvantaged because of the degree of foreign participation in the venture, provided the foreign investment aspects have been approved by the Government as not being inconsistent with its foreign investment policy.
The following definitions are provided for guidance in interpretation of the scope of the screening machinery:
A foreign interest is defined as:
A natural person not ordinarily a resident of Australia;
A foreign controlled corporation (or business); or any corporation (or business) in which there is a single or associated beneficial foreign interest of15 per cent or more or in which there is an aggregate beneficial foreign interest of 40 per cent or more, regardless of whether or not the corporation (or business) is foreign controlled.
The Foreign Takeovers Act 1975 provides that unless the Treasurer is satisfied that in fact foreign person(s) are not in a position to determine the policy of the corporation concerned, a corporation in which:
Is a foreign controlled corporation. (Note: In the determination of interests in ownership and voting power, a corporation, which is controlled by another corporation (whether incorporated in Australia or overseas) which is a foreign person, is also a foreign person (subsection 9 (3)).)
Commercial investments by foreign governments, other than investments related to their official representation, will also be examinable in terms of the guidelines and criteria set out herein.
Foreign investment’ means funds to be invested by a foreign interest in shares or fixed assets whether financed from equity or loan funds, and whether financed from whatever source within Australia or overseas. The term does not include investment of a purely ‘portfolio’ nature except that in the production and development of uranium regard will be paid to foreign portfolio investment.
A new business (which includes the diversification of an existing business) is defined with reference to the Australian standard industrial classification as published from time to time by the Australian statistician. A proposal will be taken to involve an establishment of a new business if it will result in a foreign interest carrying on a new primary activity outside that basic group in which the foreign interest is already engaged in Australia. A new business also includes a new natural resources project.
Certain sectors of the economy have been designated as key areas. These sectors are:
Production and development of oil, natural gas and all other minerals including uranium- both onshore and offshore
Agricultural and pastoral projects Forestry and fishing projects
Australian real estate is defined as all forms of freehold and as certain types of leasehold. Types of leasehold which are deemed to be ‘real estate’ include leases which provide for profit sharing arrangements to the foreign lessee, which carry options to purchase, which provide for a transfer of ownership in specified circumstances, or which provide for compensation or payment on surrender of the lease.
Proposals by foreign interests for investment in Australia may be examinable under the screening machinery administered by the treasurer. However, not all such proposals are examinable and those proposals which fall outside the scope of the screening machinery may be proceeded with automatically, subject to normal exchange control requirements where applicable. The scope of the screening machinery is outlined below.
The following categories of investment will be examinable:
Proposals falling within the scope of the Foreign Takeovers Act- including proposals by a single or associated foreign interests to acquire or increase a holding of15 per cent or more in an Australian business even where the proposal does not involve a change in control of the business;
Proposals involving the establishment of new non-bank financial institutions and insurance companies;
Proposals to establish other new businesses or to undertake a new mining or natural resource project, where the amount of investment is $ 1 m or more;
All proposals involving acquisition of Australian real estate, except for those categories of real estate investment exempted in this attachment. GENERAL GUIDELINES
The Government seeks notification of the above foreign investment proposals and consultation through the Foreign Investment Review Board. In examining proposals, the Government will keep administrative procedures as simple as possible and will not, insofar as it is possible, interfere in normal commercial relations.
The Foreign Investment Review Board will have the responsibility of discussing with foreign interests any deficiencies in their investment proposals and of suggesting ways in which these could be altered so as to conform with the national interest.
Each foreign investment proposal will be looked at on its own merits to determine whether or not it is contrary to the national interest. The criteria for making this examination are set out below.
In administering its policy the Government aims to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of foreign investment. In order to achieve this aim each examinable proposal will be considered on its individual merits against certain criteria the most important of which are listed below.
In applying the criteria which follow, a less rigorous approach will be taken in respect of proposals which can be shown to be Australian controlled. Except for investment in the natural resources areas and except for investment in real estate, proposals which can be shown to be Australian controlled will generally be approved. In the natural resource and real estate areas, proposals will be examined on their merits in terms of the criteria and guidelines.
The Government will take into account whether, against the background of existing circumstances in the relevant industry, the proposal would produce, either directly or indirectly, net economic benefits to Australia in relation to the following matters:
If a proposal is judged to be not contrary to the national interest on the basis of the above criteria, the following additional criteria will also be taken into account:
These criteria will be applied pragmatically according to the circumstances of individual cases. It is not intended that all investment proposals shall necessarily satisfy all of the above criteria before being allowed to proceed. For example, a proposal for activity purely within the Australian domestic market would not be disadvantaged because it made no contribution to export markets.
In sectors of the economy designated as ‘key areas’ the Government will pursue some more specific objectives.
Because of its unique status special conditions will apply to foreign investment in uranium. In this sector a project involving investment by foreign interests, not already in production, will only be allowed to proceed provided it has a minimum of 75 per cent Australian equity and is Australian controlled. This is to be achieved by the time the project comes into production. In this area regard will be paid to foreign portfolio investment.
Uranium enrichment, and other investments in the nuclear fuel cycle apart from mining and production to the yellowcake stage, are not covered by this rule and will be looked at separately.
A new business or project involving investment by foreign interests of $lm or more which is not against the national interest will, as a general rule, only be allowed to proceed if it has a minimum 50 per cent Australian equity together with at least 50 per cent of the voting strength on the Board held by Australian interests.
Proposals which are not against the national interest but which do not meet the guideline of a minimum of 50 per cent Australian equity may be allowed to proceed if the Government judges that the unavailability of sufficient Australian equity capital on reasonable terms and conditions would unduly delay the development of Australia’s natural resources. In that event, however, the Government will, as appropriate, seek satisfactory arrangements for Australian equity to be increased to at least 50 per cent within an agreed period.
It will not be mandatory for foreign companies to seek Australian participation in their exploration activities. However, the Government wishes to see, to the extent reasonably practical, a continuing and significant level of Australian involvement in mineral exploration. It will, therefore, expect foreign interests to seek Australian participation in those projects for which there is a reasonable expectation that they will proceed to the development stage.
The Foreign Investment Review Board has as one of its tasks the role of keeping in touch with foreign interests operating in Australia. As part of that process, the Government will require foreign exploration companies to advise the Foreign Investment Review Board annually of the details of their forward exploration programs.
Foreign investment in real estate will be considered to fall into one of the following categories:
The following classes of proposals are not examinable
intending migrants who have been formally accepted as such by the Australian Government.
Note 1- Companies making acquisitions falling within (a) will be required to notify annually of the purchases made and the relationship of the value of their total holdings of real estate to their statutory funds.
Note 2- Acquisitions listed in (e), (f) and (g) are required to be sold to Australians, or other eligible purchasers, when they are no longer being used for the approved purpose.
This category includes the purchase of land for the erection of factories, shops, hotels, or sites acquired by foreign interests as incidental to the main purposes of their normal business activity. This category does not include purchases made as part of the business of real estate development. Acquisitions of real estate which do not constitute part of an overall investment proposal, but which are incidental to future expansions and new investment will only be examined where the value of the real estate exceeds $100,000. However foreign interests are required to provide an annual return listing purchases of real estate of this nature.
Acquisitions of real estate to be used substantially or in full for accommodation purposes of the purchaser, whether this be offices or otherwise, will normally be approved.
The following acquisitions of real estate will be examined on their own merits, having in mind the special significance the Government attaches to foreign acquisition of real estate
All forms of real estate acquisition other than those outlined in the foregoing will not normally be approved
All proposals, including proposals notifiable under the Foreign Takeovers Act 1 975, should be addressed to:
Inquiries concerning the Board and proposals for the Board ‘s consideration should be similarly addressed.
In non-takeovers area, if a decision has not been made within a maximum period of 90 days from the date of submission the parties will not be prevented from proceeding with their proposals. (It is expected that most proposals will be determined in a significantly shorter time.)
In the takeovers area the time periods are laid down in the Foreign Takeovers Act.
Potential foreign investors should submit their proposals to the Board at an early date. This is particularly important if the investor is uncertain of the acceptability of his proposal. Early submission will enable the investor to discuss his proposal with the Board and to receive any necessary guidance on it.
It is proposed that the Foreign Takeovers Act be amended retrospectively to allow persons to whom the compulsory notification provisions of the Act (contained insection 26) apply to:
Proceed, without notifying the Treasurer, with an acquisition of shares which received governmental approval prior to the commencement of the Act on 1 January 1976, but which had not been effected by that date.
The Act at present does not exempt such share acquisitions from compulsory notification. A person who received governmental approval to acquire shares in an Australian corporation should clearly not be required to renotify that acquisition. The proposed amendment will rectify this situation.
Implement a proposal notified under section 26 within 40 days of giving notice of that proposal to the Treasurer where the Treasurer has advised the persons concerned that the Government has no objections to that proposal.
Section 26 of the Act prohibits certain persons from acquiring, or offering to acquire, a substantial shareholding in an Australian corporation within 40 days of giving notice to the Treasurer of an intention to do so. This prohibition was designed to prevent persons who had so notified from proceeding with their proposal while it was being examined. However, the effect is also to prohibit implementation of such a proposal until the expiration of the 40 day time period, even when the Treasurer has, within that period, notified the persons concerned that the Government has no objections to the proposal. This situation was never intended to arise and the proposed amendment is designed to correct this.
Make agreements or offers to acquire or increase a substantial shareholding in an Australian corporation without attracting the penalties provided for in section 26 of the Act where those agreements or offers are conditional on the receipt of governmental approval under the act.
As the Act now stands, there is some doubt as to whether parties to an acquisition of shares can engage in preliminary negotiations without leaving themselves open to the possibility of committing an offence against section 26. Such a possibility may well inhibit normal commercial conduct. This was never intended to occur. The proposed amendment is designed to correct this situation.
It also appears that any agreement entered into in contravention of section 26, whether unwittingly or otherwise, may be invalid and void at law. This was never the intention of the Act and the Government regards such invalidity as an unnecessarily harsh penalty. It is therefore proposed that the Act be amended retrospectively to prevent this situation from arising.
The Government further proposes to amend the Foreign Takeovers Act to achieve equality of treatment under the Trade Practices Act for both foreign and Australian companies. To this end: The Treasurer’s power to issue a certificate to the effect that a proposal would not be contrary to the national interest (such certificates being used to direct the trade practices commission to authorise the proposal) is to be deleted from the Foreign Takeovers Act. The transitional provisions of the Act are to be amended to prevent the further issuance of such certificates under the now repealed Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I present the following paper.
Foreign Investment in Australia- Ministerial Statement, 1 April 1976.
Motion (by Mr Killen) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
-by leave- I rise to advise the House of the detailed arrangements that are to apply in respect of leased plant that attracts the new investment allowance. There has been a good deal of interest in this matter since it was mentioned in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). In my Press release of 26 January, I repeated the broad outline of the Government’s attitude that had been envisaged in earlier policy statements. Briefly, this was that for eligible plant acquired and used under normal leasing arrangements, the allowance would accrue to the lessor. At the same time, it was the Government’s expectation and wish that the benefit of the allowance be passed on to the lessee-user. I said then that there would be consultations with finance and leasing institutions and that, once assurances had been received that the benefit would be passed on, the amending legislation would have effect in respect of eligible plant acquired and used under normal leasing arrangements on or after 1 January 1 976.
There have been consultations with representatives of the Australian Finance Conference which has been most helpful and co-operative throughout. As well, individual institutionssome Conference members, some not- have made representations to the Government on the matter. It appears from the information that has been put before the Government that, while the institutions are anxious to meet the Government’s wishes in this regard, there would be serious practical difficulties in the way of getting the benefit of the allowance effectively into lessees’ hands if the law were to provide simply that the allowance should accrue to lessors. Cases would arise in which the deductions available to an institution exceed its assessable income in which case there would be no immediate tax saving to be passed on. There could also be other, lesser, impediments to the immediate and substantial flow-on of the benefit to lessees. Very careful consideration has been given to the views expressed by institutions and to the suggestions made by them and others for some alternative form of arrangement.
While the Government is preserving the original concept in that, initially, the allowance will accrue to lessors it will now be modified so as to facilitate and encourage the flow on of the tax benefit. The modified scheme will incorporate a declaration system under which lessors will be able, where they have reason to do so, to forgo entitlement to investment allowance deductions in favour of lessees. Thus an approved lessor company- a term about which I shall have more to say later in this statement- will have to discuss with its potential lessee how the investment allowance is to be shared between the parties at the time of the financial arrangements under the lease is being settled. An agreement having been reached that all or a part of the allowance is to be passed to the lessee, the lessor will need to furnish written advice of the relevant details- plant cost, investment allowance claim, lessee’s agreed share- to the lessee. Lodgment of the advice by the lessee with his tax return will establish prima facie entitlement to the agreed deduction, subject of course to the plant transaction satisfying other conditions of eligibility. The lessor, for his part, will be required to lodge each month with the Taxation Office a schedule covering the various lease agreements made during the month to which the investment allowance was applicable. A declaration lodged with the schedule would operate to detach the agreed shares of investment allowance claims from the lessor, and at the same time provide a summary of lease transactions against which the claims made in lessees’ returns could be verified.
The modification of which I am speaking raises some questions as to the valuation basis to be adopted when the investment allowance is claimed by a lessee, the timing of his claim and the rate of allowance- 40 per cent or 20 per cent- at which it is made. Although arguments can be put either way, the Government has decided that lessees, along with hire purchasers and outright purchasers, should be allowed to claim any investment allowance entitlement that is ceded to them as an outright deduction at the rate ruling at the time the plant in question is installed or brought into use, and on the basis of the full cost of the plant to the lessor.
I have explained that the declaration system is to be introduced in part because of the tax loss situation into which some lessors might find themselves moving. With that contingency provided for, it is only logical that any tax losses that might still arise to lessors on account of the investment allowance- because of a reluctance, say, on the part of lessors to forgo their entitlement to the allowance- should not be available to be carried forward against income of future years. The amending legislation will provide accordingly. Since tax losses resulting from allowance entitlements will not be able to be carried forward by lessors, they will have the more incentive to forgo entitlements. There is, however, no intention to withdraw the availability of tax losses from lessees or purchasers of plant eligible for the investment allowance.
With a concession as generous as the new allowance, there could be some temptation to exploit it for tax avoidance purposes. The Government is aware that leasing agreements of the traditional kind normally carry provisions against early termination. It considers that some safeguard should be provided in the legislation to prevent misuse of the new allowance for avoidance of tax and to restrict the availability of the allowance to lessee-users who may, for practical purposes, be regarded in the same light as owner-users. It is proposed, therefore, that the allowance will be available in respect of eligible leased plant only where the period of the lease is at least 4 years. This requirement will be reinforced by a further provision that, if for any reason a lease of plant is terminated within 12 months, other than by the lessee becoming the outright purchaser, there would be an automatic disallowance of the deductions. It is proposed that purchased plant will also be subject to an initial 12 months retention test. There will be a further provision to disallow deductions, in appropriate circumstances; for example, in tax-avoidance situations where there is a disposal of an interest in the plant, or where the lease is terminated or the plant is sold outside the initial 12 months period.
I referred earlier in my statement to approved lessor companies. The use of this term reflects another aspect of the Government’s concern to prevent misuse of the concession through the establishment of what I might call personal leasing companies by individual taxpayers. To guard against this, the Government proposes that the allowance will be available only where the lessor initially entitled to claim the investment allowance is a bank or other company whose principal business is the provision of finance and which is acting at arm’s length from the lessee. This very necessary restriction will cover the traditional kind of plant leasing arrangement under which a lessor selects the kind of plant he needs, and the plant is then acquired by the lessor and leased to the lessee-user. It will equally cover the alternative kind of arrangement under which the prospective lessee purchases the plant outrightusing finance provided by the future lessor- and, after a short initial warranty or shaking-down period, sells the plant to the lessor who immediately leases it back to him under a standard lease agreement. The full details of the declaration scheme will, of course, have to await the amending legislation which I hope will be introduced quite shortly.
But I trust that the information conveyed in this statement will remove any doubts there may still be as to the operation of the investment allowance in relation to leased plant. If taxpayers do have any unresolved questions, the Commissioner of Taxation and his officers will do all they can to answer them in the meantime. It will now be practicable for the full benefit of the investment allowance to be received by the lessees who are the users of plant, either through lower lease-payments or by direct tax deductions. The Government will keep under review the way the leasing arrangements operate and will not hesitate- I underline these words- to take whatever steps are appropriate if it appears that the benefits of the investment allowance are being unfairly withheld from lessees. I commend the statement to the House. In doing so, I present the following paper.
Income Tax Investment Allowance and Leased PlantMinisterial Statement, 1 April 1976.
-by leave-Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition has not asked that this statement be noted with a view to a later debate, because there will be an opportunity to debate the subject when the necessary amendments to the Income Tax Act come before the
House. However, as with the earlier statement on foreign investment in Australia, the Australian Parliamentary Labor Party does want a debate on the subject. I understand that the Government has arranged for this to take place next Thursday. Frankly, I would have liked to say a few words about foreign investment today and then to continue my remarks on Thursday next. But, for some reason best known to the Government, I was told by those who have the numbers in this House that that was not to be allowed. So, I have been forced not to use the forms of the House to speak on foreign investment today but instead to issue a Press release, which I am in the course of doing right now, pointing out some of the retrograde steps in the statement on foreign investment.
Returning to this statement dealing with the 40 per cent investment allowance, let me say firstly that it is most appropriate that it has been made to the House today, April Fools Day. This 40 per cent investment allowance is a clear example of a political party- or, in this case, 2 parties, the Liberal Party and the National Country Party- promising something foolish in an election campaign with the result that we now have the measure hanging around our necks like an albatross. This is the fourth statement on the subject and the details in my view are still as clear as mud. In fact, the whole subject is becoming more blurred with each statement. I say to Government members who are trying to interject that they have not had the opportunity to read the statement in detail as I have. Incidentally, for the sake of those scholars of this fascinating saga, I point out that the first statement was made on 22 December 1975, the second statement on 26 January 1976 and the third statement on 25 February 1976. Now the fourth statement has been made today. Still, I believe the details are unclear. I will come to that aspect in a moment.
Let me make the point that an economic recovery in Australia will come not from an investment led stimulus, from a measure such as this investment allowance, but from a return of consumer confidence. So, I am less than enthusiastic about this allowance, quite apart from the difficulties in implementing the allowance as we have seen from this statement today. But do not take just my word for that. Let me return to one of the Government’s own reports. I am referring to the Quarterly Survey of Manufacturing Industry, a publication issued by the Department of Industry and Commerce. I read from the Melbourne Age of 16 March 1 975:
The department said: ‘The low level of new capital expenditure has been a feature of these surveys for 2 years ‘.
We all concede that fact. The article continues: ‘A continuance of this situation is consistent, however, with a low level capacity utilisation and overtime worked. ‘
In other words, capacity is there. I read on from the report: ‘It is reasonable to suggest that new capital expenditure will only respond to a significant and sustained increase in demand,’ the department said.
I emphasise that that is what the Government’s own Department of Industry and Commerce has said. Kenneth Davidson, the economic journalist went on to say in the report from which I am reading:
This view cuts across the line taken by the Government during the election, that economic recovery could and should be ‘investment led’.
It goes further than that. It cuts across the line that the Government is instituting or attempting to institute in a measure such as this one. I also point out that this investment allowance, although it will achieve precious little in getting any economic recovery moving, at the same time will have at least 3 serious adverse effects. The first adverse effect is that there will be an enormous erosion of the tax base. I believe, although we have not had final statistics or even estimates on this, that the erosion will be to the extent of at least a net $75 m in a full financial year. If my statistics are wrong I will thank the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) for the courtesy of informing me, as he has done on a previous occasion. Let me hasten to say that on the previous occasion I was not wrong but he quickly answered in written form a question from me. From what I understand this will cost $150m in a full financial year. Offset against that is about $7 5m owing to the doing away with the double tax deduction. There would be a net cost of $75m. This is a measure brought in by a government which is cutting government spending at the expense of people who will pay more for pharmaceutical prescriptions and people whose pension increases are being delayed, and so on. That is a real adverse effect.
With so much less tax coming into the Treasury because of this measure so much more will have to come from elsewhere or so much less will be spent. I drive this home by quoting the words of Professor Russell Mathews, the Chairman of the famed Mathews Committee on the subject of this allowance. I am now taking his words from an address to the Metal Industries Association on 20 February. He said:
My reasons for disquiet on the business tax side stem from the Government’s decision to introduce generous investment allowances as an additional taxation concession to business. The Committee concluded that investment and accelerated depreciation allowances were unsatisfactory means of countering the effects of inflation on business taxation. To the extent that these other concessions reduce revenue yields, the scope for the proposed valuation adjustments must be reduced. They are essentially policy alternatives and I believe that it is undesirable to provide investment allowances on a continuing basis at the same time as a major change is being made to a new basis of business taxation.
Among other things, some of the better thought through recommendations of the Mathews Committee are now put in jeopardy, I believe, by this measure.
The second adverse effect- tremendously adverse- will come when the economic recovery gets under way. This recovery is being jeopardised by such Government policies as higher interest rates. We only have to look at tonight’s Melbourne Herald to see the headline: ‘Interest on Home Loans Up: Society Sets the Lead ‘. That is today’s news. By policies of deliberately creating unemployment and deliberately cutting Government expenditure at this time the Government is killing our chances of economic recovery or, at least, postponing our chances of economic recovery. But assuming that recovery will eventually come because of the world recovery, this measure is a dangerous one. When that recovery does come we must be very careful that we do not ricochet back into an inflationary situation. Bringing this measure into existence at a time when investment should be dampened down- and that time will come- is a retrograde step. This investment allowance will last for a number of years. It is not something which will be taken off too easily. So even if it were justifiable now I believe it is not justifiable as a long term measure.
The third adverse effect is that the allowance could stimulate investments in an area where there will be, even in good times, an overcapacity. The cement industry is a clear case in point. This was pointed out in the Australian Financial Review only recently. Two separate companies can use what I call the false benefits available under this measure to invest simultaneously in greater capacity and when the new capacity of the 2 companies comes on stream and is added together then we will have an overcapacity in that industry. In other words there is a misallocation of resources brought about directly by this measure. I come back to my main criticism, the shockingly confused way in which this 40 per cent investment allowance has been notified to the people of Australia, firstly on 22 December and then on 26 January. At that stage some thought they would qualify for it. Later on 25 February they learned that they would not qualify for it. Admittedly in this statement the
Treasurer has been helpful to those who have lease agreements. At least to that extent I welcome the statement. However, the whole picture is a confused one because the measure was illconceived and was brought in as an election promise far too hastily. Now one has to sit down with one’s lessor and the Taxation Office to learn whether one qualifies for this allowance.
I repeat that this is another illustration of how much better off we would be if the Liberal and Country Parties had not been so hungry for power, had not forced the coup d’etat on 11 November, had not thought that they were born to rule and had not quickly grabbed for power. They bought votes with this measure, promising it far too hastily, and now we will all lament.
-The Superannuation Bill 1976 which is now being debated replaces the Superannuation Bill 1975 which was introduced by the Labor Government on 1 5 May 1975. That Bill was opposed by the then LiberalNational Country Party Opposition in the House of Representatives as being over-generous, and on 5 June 1975 unacceptable amendments were made in the Senate by the Liberal-National Country Party Opposition there. On that same day the House of Representatives advised the Senate that it was not prepared to accept these amendments and referred the Bill back to the Senate for further consideration. On 1 1 June 1975 the Senate, which was under the control of the Liberal-National Country Party Opposition, decided that it would insist on the amendments. Finally, on 19 August 1975 the House of Representatives insisted that it disagreed with the amendments that were carried by the Senate and this had the effect of temporarily shelving the Bill. The events of 1 1 November 1975 then intervened. The coup d’etat occurred and the Labor Government was dismissed from office by the Governor-General. After the following election the Liberal and National Country Parties assumed the mantle of Government.
In the period between the date when the Whitlam Government introduced the Bill, 15 May 1975, and the change of Government, the Liberal and National Country Parties have had some amazing changes of heart. On the one hand the Government has been pressured by the Commonwealth Public Service unions to agree to the provisions of the Bill. Contrary pressures came from the private employers organisations who could see claims arising from their employees for similar benefits. The then Opposition spokesman the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), is on record as saying: … the present scheme is a very good scheme with regard to the level of benefits provided.
I invite honourable members to refer to page 2941 of Hansard of 28 May 1975 because it was during the honourable member’s speech there recorded that he made that statement. Of course, he was referring to the old superannuation scheme. The honourable member for Curtin was prepared to concede that it was inadequate in one major and one minor respect. The major defect was that contributors in their final years of service were paying an unreasonably high percentage of their salary in superannuation contributions. Instances were quoted of employees paying as high as 53.5 per cent of their salary to the superannuation fund and it was the exception rather than the rule that contributors were paying amounts less than 25 per cent of their salary to the Superannuation Fund. The minor defect which was cited by the honourable member for Curtin was that employees did not have the op- portunity to convert part of their pension to a ump sum. However, the Liberal-Country Party Opposition opposed the Bill in relation to those aspects of the proposals which would, in its supporters’ words, unreasonably widen the gap in superannuation provisions between the public and the private sectors. In other words, the Liberal-Country Party Opposition opposed the Commonwealth Public Service being used as a pacesetter in the matter of conditions.
I might add that this was really a consistent attitude for the Liberal and Country Party supporters as they had adopted the same principle m the past in regard to salaries. I hope Commonwealth public servants will remember this next time they cast a vote. Apparently public servants ‘ memories were very short on 13 December 1975 as there must have been a high proportion of Commonwealth public servants throughout Australia who voted for the present LiberalCountry Party Government and quickly forgot the benefits which had been provided to them by the Whitlam Government. I quote but a few: Four weeks annual leave; improved long service leave; paternity leave; maternity leave; and an annual leave loading of 1 7 lh per cent. They are a few of the conditions which the Whitlam Government improved in the Commonwealth Public Service. History has shown that the ordinary person invariably bites the hand that feeds him. It was ever thus. I suppose Commonwealth public servants or those in that section of the
Public Service who voted for the LiberalCountry Party Government are no exception. I suppose that by now the former AttorneyGeneral and member for Canberra, the honourable Kep Enderby, has resigned himself to accepting the debt of ingratitude which was shown by Commonwealth public servants in his electorate of Canberra in tossing him out on 13 December 1975 and replacing him with a political nonentity in the person of the present honourable member for Canberra, Mr Haslem.
The then Liberal-Country Party Opposition, which is now the Government, through its then spokesman, the honourable member for Curtin, has unequivocally stated that the standard retiring age from the Public Service should be age 65. This was not withstanding that at least 40 per cent of the then contributors were and still are paying for age 60 retirement at considerably higher rates of contribution. I am afraid the encouragement to retire at age 65 has been carried into effect in this new legislation which is now before the House. Under the 1975 Bill introduced by the Whitlam Government contributors would have received the full superannuation retirement benefit at age 60. The Liberal-Country Party Bill allows retirement at 60 years of age but at a reduced superannuation pension. This will have the effect of encouraging Commonwealth public servants to remain in the Service to age 65. It will encourage older people to stay solely to receive a higher pension on retirement. It will lead to an older Public Service, a conservative Public Service, and a less efficient Public Service.
One of the purposes of the Labor Government’s Bill was to encourage older public servants to retire at age 60 to give greater opportunities to the younger public servants who had the drive, the vigour and the initiative to perform the increasingly harder tasks, particularly at the higher levels in the Public Service. The present Government has been very shortsighted in adopting its current attitude. What Australia badly needs is a more efficient Public Service, and the present Government’s policy has prevented this occurring. The Labor Government’s superannuation Bill provided for an additional pension of one-half of one per cent for every year of contributory service over 30 years with a maximum of an additional 5 per cent. The present Government has said that this would be too costly and it has decreased the percentage increase to one-quarter of one per cent which is exactly half of the Labor Government’s proposals. The Labor Government’s proposals were that the whole of the pension would be adjusted annually based on increases in the consumer price index. I emphasise that this increase was to be based on the whole of the pension. However the present Bill introduced by the LiberalNational Country Party Government allows for an increase in the consumer price index but only on the proportion of the pension which is paid by the Government.
It is important to emphasise that in no other superannuation scheme in any public service in Australia does this niggardly provision apply. In every case the yearly increase is applied to the whole pension and not just the government proportion. It is also important to note that the Bill takes away a benefit which is currently in existence under the present superannuation scheme. The net result of the Liberal-National Country Party superannuation scheme is an overall increase in benefits of one per cent. I might point out that the proposed Labor Party superannuation scheme gave an overall increase in benefits of 13.7 per cent.
The present Bill is an improvement on the Labor Government Bill in only one area, and that is the pension paid to a dependent spouse on the death of the contributor. Sixty-seven per cent of the contributor’s pension will be paid to the surviving spouse, which is the same as provided for in the Labor Party Bill, but that pension will not now cease on remarriage of the spouse. I agree with and support that provision. I commend the Government for introducing it. It will prevent surviving spouses being forced to live in a de facto relationship to avoid losing a superannuation pension. One of the matters with which I am concerned is the provision of the Bill in regard to investment of the trust funds which are in reality the contributor’s moneys. The investment provisions have been widely expanded. They will now allow the Fund to invest in the shares or debentures of any company incorporated in Australia or a building society. I counsel caution on this because I still have vivid memories of the debacle in the New South Wales Superannuation Fund. That fund made a large investment in H. G. Palmer and Co. Ltd which went into liquidation. To the best of my knowledge a considerable amount of money was lost by the New South Wales Superannuation Fund due to this misadventure.
I trust that when this Bill becomes an Act the trustees of the contributors’ money- and it is the contributors’ money that the trustees are playing around with- will give serious consideration to how the funds are to be invested and not go into any fly-by-night companies, either by way of debentures or shares, solely because a high rate of investment is promised and high interest rates are payable. I think they should take note of the difficulties in New South Wales concerning H. G. Palmer.
I note that no provision in this Bill allows the investment of the funds of the trust in credit unions. Credit unions, particularly in the Commonwealth Public Service, have done a tremendous amount of good for their members and I ask that the Government give consideration to allowing the investment of the superannuation funds- the contributors’ funds- in credit unions. Possibly this can be done by regulation; I am not certain. I accordingly ask the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) to give this suggestion serious consideration. The Labor Opposition is supporting this Bill in principle basically because it is the wish of the combined Public Service unions that this Bill be brought to fruition as quickly as possible and also to prevent hardship to a large number of Commonwealth public servants who are presently paying over-large superannuation contributions. However I stress that the Commonwealth Public Service unions should be consulted before the regulations are prescribed. What will happen to the assets of the present superannuation scheme? Presumably this matter will be determined by regulation in which case the Commonwealth Public Service unions, which are the representatives of the old contributors- the money belongs to the contributors- should be consulted before any firm decisions are made in the gazettal of the regulations.
The Labor Party does not apologise for its desire to have an efficient, highly qualified and well paid Public Service. Public servants should enjoy good conditions, such as superannuation, which is dealt with in this Bill. The Labor Government Bill was not over-generous. As the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) stated today when leading for the Opposition, the present superannuation schemes for the State Public Services are in most cases still more generous than the scheme introduced by the present Liberal-National Country Party Government. Accordingly I have pleasure in supporting the amendment, which reads:
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 is of the opinion that the Bill is deficient in that it removes some important benefits now applying under the current Superannuation Act, thereby reducing the overall value of benefits for existing pensioners and contributors’.
– I support the general thrust and content of the Superannuation Bill and reject the amendment moved by the Opposition- an Opposition which, when in government, sought to introduce proposals which were wildly extravagant even by comparison with the wildest expectations of public servants, of whom I was one at the time.
The previous speaker, the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin), said that public servants must have short memories, voting as they obviously did so overwhelmingly in December for the Liberal-National Country Party, following all the supposed benefits they had received from the Whitlam Government. The honourable member must think that public servants are mindless. They knew that the pacesetter role in which they were cast by the Whitlam Government, although superficially attractive, was full of dangers and long term costs for not only them but also for the whole community. The flow-on from the pacesetter role was a major factor leading to the massive and unrealistic wage increases and demands under the Whitlam regimeincreases which raised expectations to an absurd level and which led to massive industrial unrest, record interest rates and a level of sustained inflation unsurpassed in Australia. In other words, there was a situation which brought this country to near ruin and which the new Government now has the Herculean task of rectifying. No, public servants did not have short memories on 13 December; rather they demonstrated their intelligence compared with that of members of the then Government.
The points raised by the Oppostion in the debate so far are minor, nit-picking points and in any event are questionable in their factual bases. The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry), as I recall, made 2 main points. The first related to age 60 contributors under the existing scheme. He claimed- I hope I do not misquote him- that there were many examples of existing age 60 contributors who will be disadvantaged under the new scheme. All I can say on that point is that my understanding of the Bill is quite contrary to his. I will be interested, if there is any point in the issue raised on this score by the honourable member for Fraser, if the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) would clarify the situation at a later time. My understanding is that the honourable member’s advice is incorrect. The other issue that he raised concerned the indexing of lump sum retirement benefits. I agree with the principle of indexing in terms of ongoing retirement benefits, but it seems to me that to index a lump sum payment on retirement is attempting to have one’s cake and eat it at the same time. I dismiss completely that point as a criticism of the Bill.
The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) raised several points which I think are misleading although, I hasten to add, I am sure from my previous experience of the honourable gentleman outside this House, that this would have been quite accidental. He raised 2 points on which I would like to touch briefly. He said that the return on investments was much less in the case of private insurance companies than in the case of the Superannuation Fund. He also said that insurance companies had been remiss in investing only in risk-free ventures and those which did not have any developmental potential. As far as the latter point is concerned, my understanding is that that is a very misleading and factually incorrect statement. The investments of most insurance companies in Australia vary from year to year; but to accuse the insurance industry in this country of investing in a negative way from the point of view of potential and worthwhile investment is, I think, incorrect.
I also think it is misleading to compare the return on investments of insurance companies with that of the Superannuation Fund. The comments of the honourable member ignored completely a variety of factors, including the taxation aspects. The Whitlam Government, in an arbitrary, hurried and sledgehammer reaction to the Coombs task force report, greatly damaged the insurance industry by changing taxation arrangements which had been in existence for up to 40 years. I do not wish to pursue this matter here, but I believe that it is an area to which the Government will need to give a great deal of attention in order to restore order out of the chaos created by the Whitlam Government.
The superannuation scheme which this Bill replaces had many defects. The worst defect was the inequitable and excessive burden which it placed on contributors as they cut additional units at a time when they were approaching retirement. I know of examples of public servants who were approaching 60 years of age, who through salary increases became eligible for additional superannuation units and who, on taking up those units- and taking into account the taxation at the marginal rates applying to those salaries- found themselves in a negative take-home pay situation. That is a quite inequitable situation. Of course, those contributors could have elected not to take the units, but that destroys the whole purpose of an adequate superannuation scheme. There was provision for non-contributory units to ease this burden; but, in my opinion, they were of limited value. The new scheme corrects this and other faults which are in the existing scheme, without intoducing the more extravagant and undesirably costly elements of Labor’s 1975 proposals.
Superannuation is one of the major elements of employment terms and conditions. If an employer wants to attract good quality staff in the first instance, and to hold that staff, he must be able to offer adequate retirement benefits. The Commonwealth Government is far and away the largest employer of labour in Australia. Despite the present necessary restraints on the growth of the Commonwealth Public Service, there is no doubt that it will continue to be a dominant employer of labour. There is also no doubt that the increasing demands put on government by all sections of the community will require an increasingly high quality Public Service in the years ahead. Whether we like it or not, the Government will be a good government only if it is advised by a high quality Public Service. The vast majority of public servants are not policy advisers to government. Nevertheless, they play a vital role in the community by the service they provide in day to day contact with the general public, which has a right to demand efficient and courteous service from the Public Service. An adequate superannuation scheme is one important element in attracting into the Public Service the quality of people necessary to provide this service.
Lest I appear to be something of an apologist for the Public Service let me say that since leaving the Service last year to enter the Parliament I have become increasingly aware of the power of the Public Service in determining the course of government. I have some concern about this matter. Government is in the end about peopletheir aspirations and needs. It is the elected representatives of the people who are closest to those aspirations and needs. The Government and the Parliament need to be backed by an able Public Service, but there is a need for balance between the 3 arms. I fear that we may not nowadays have quite the proper balance. There is a need to strengthen the parliamentary arm so that the attitudes and wishes of the people of Australia are better taken into account in the governmental decisions-making process.
I turn now to some of the more detailed aspects of the Bill. I stress that I do not profess to be an expert in this area; on the contrary, I positively profess not to be an expert. Superannuation is a very complex subject. Even those who have spent years studying it frequently have the same problems as laymen like myself in working their way through the labrinth. I would like, however, to mention those areas in which I consider the new proposals to be a considerable improvement over the existing scheme and then to raise one or two points which do cause me some concern or on which I would like to have clarification from the Minister in due course.
I am pleased to note the provision in the Bill for conversion of part of a contributor’s pension entitlement into a lump sum. I am also pleased to see the better deal that Will pertain to contributors who, under the existing scheme, would be Provident Fund contributors. I particularly welcome the new arrangements insofar as they relate to orphans, especially the provision whereby in certain circumstances the benefit will be or will include a lump sum payment. The provision to extend membership to part time employees as and when appropriate is also a sensible and enlightened development which recognises the changing nature of employment and the composition of the work force in today’s society. It has particular application to women employees of the Public Service. I would Uke to hear from the Minister precisely what is meant by the words ‘as and when appropriate’ and whether there are any major difficulties in triggering this provision at an early date.
The reduction from 20 years to 5 years in the period of time after which benefits can be preserved is also a welcome move. Again this will be of particular benefit to married women, but not only to them. However, as I read the Bill- I am subject to correction in this respect- the preservation rights apply only on movement to other public employment. This is also the case under the existing scheme. At the time the portability provisions were first introduced under the existing scheme the intention, as I understood it, was to attempt to move progressively towards wider portability to encourage a greater crossfertilisation between the public sector, the private sector, the academic world and other areas of endeavour. Such cross-fertilisation is in my opinion essential if there is to be the improvement in communications and understanding between all sectors of the community which I believe is essential if we are to realise our full potential as a nation not only in economic terms but as well in social and personal development terms. I therefore hope that the Government will keep under close review the possibility of widening the port.ability provisions of the superannuation scheme in the not too distant future. In saying that I realise, of course, that it takes two to tango. The private sector also must play its part in implementing broader portability provisions in its own superannuation schemes.
There are clauses in the Bill, including the payment of additional pension and the refund of moneys on resignation, which provide for the payment of interest. I am pleased to see them. The existing scheme is unjust, for example, in that on resignation a contributor gets merely a refund of his contributions without any payment of interest. Not only has the real capital value of his contributions been eroded over time but also he has suffered serious income loss on the interest foregone. The new proposals rectify this injustice. The point I want to make, however, is that I cannot find in the Bill the method by which the rate or rates of interest will be calculated. It could be that this will be covered in regulations but I would like clarification from the Minister on this point at a later stage.
Another point which is not clear to me concerns the provision for payment of a pension on retirement at an age less than 60 years. As I understand the situation a permanent public servant cannot retire voluntarily until he is at least 60 years of age. This provision is contained in the Public Service Act. Therefore, it appears to me that the provisions in the Superannuation Bill relating to voluntary retirement before age 60 will be inoperative unless and until the Public Service Act is amended to permit such voluntary retirement. I would be grateful for clarification on this point.
Finally, a provision in the Bill which causes me the greatest concern is that which permits spouses- these would be widows, in the main- to retain their pensions after remarriage. As I understand it, it would be possible for a woman to remarry several times and, provided her new husband was a public servant on each occasion, to collect a number of separate pensions. I must confess that I have some doubt about the equity of this. Much more importantly, however, I question the effect it may have on the security of our male Public Service population. May this provision not simply be encouraging the development of a race of female Bluebeards in our midst? The thought is terrifying.
Putting that aside, however, and subject to the points on which I have sought clarification, I consider the Bill to be an enlightened and long overdue piece of legislation. It has been born following protracted debate and consideration both in this House and elsewhere. It has the approval of the Public Service unions. Undoubtedly it is not perfect. No retirement scheme can ever be perfect. It may be somewhat generous in parts and inadequate in others. Time may show it to be in need of modification and I expect that it will. From my reading of the Bill, I believe it contains the essential elements of a satisfactory scheme and one which is not out of line with existing schemes in larger private organisations. Therefore, I support the motion for the second reading of the Bill.
– I rise to support the amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Superannuation Bill 1976 moved so ably by my colleague from Gellibrand (Mr Willis). It is very important, as the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Short) mentioned, to take cognisance of the people who are employed by the Government, commonly known as public servants, when we refer, to superannuation. Superannuation is an integral part of the wages structure of public servants. There can be no doubt that a government cannot survive without its public servants and is entitled to the best public servants it can get. I do not subscribe to the view that public servants continually ought to be chastised and criticised by the rest of the community. I firmly believe that it is sheer nonsense to say that public servants in Australia receive special treatment. If we compare a public servant with a person performing a comparable task in the private sector, I firmly believe that we cannot put the public servant into the feather bed class as many people do.
I do not think that we should make comparisons between government superannuation schemes and private superannuation schemes. I have heard it said that the proposed scheme and the scheme that was proposed by the Labor Party when in government last year are far too generous. There is a great need for anybody who makes an assertion such as that to be careful about the things he compares. It is just not possible to compare things unless they are alike; to compare things which are not alike is to come to a false conclusion. So if one is really going to make comparisons in relation to the superannuation scheme of the Australian public servant, the only way that one can do so is in relation to State government employees and the various schemes that have been implemented for the benefit of State public servants.
I think that sort of comparison bears elaboration. Let me take, for the sake of argument, an Australian government employee presently earning $13,000 a year. That employee will contribute 10 per cent of salary as a maximum contribution and on retirement at age 65 will draw a pension of $9,425, which is 72.5 per cent of the $13,000 that he was earning while he was working. In comparing that situation with the situation which applies in the States, let me start with Western Australia. The Public Service in that State has a unitary scheme, so it is not possible to determine the contribution rate as a percentage.
However, the maximum amount that can be drawn, again using as a basis a salary of $ 1 3,000, on retirement at age 65 is $7,956 or 58.9 per cent of final salary. In Tasmania, where public servants contribute 5.5 per cent of salary, the return is $8,658 or 66.6 per cent of salary. Even in Victoria a public servant earning $13,000 contributes 9 per cent of his salary as a maximum and will draw 70 per cent of his salary on retirement or $9,100.
Now the comparison starts to get pretty interesting because in South Australia- we all know that that State has got a pretty good government- a public servant who enters the Service when he is less than 30 years of age contributes 6 per cent and receives 73.3 per cent of salary or $9,533 on retirement. Even in Queensland- we all know about the white man’s Idi Amin who is running that State- public servants make a 6.5 per cent salary contribution and receive 75 per cent of salary or $9,750 on retirement. So a public servant in Queensland is in a better position than a public servant in Canberra. I suppose the Queensland people would need to receive that sort of benefit to put up with that person up there. The situation in New South Wales is pretty interesting. That State has a unitary scheme also, so again it is impossible to determine the percentage of contributions. But on retirement at age 65 the public servant in New South Wales, again using the example of a salary of $13,000 a year, receives $ 10,968 or 80.4 per cent of the salary that he received while he was working. Those figures are very significant, especially when one takes into account the adjustment which is made after the public servant retires. The consumer price index adjustment on the salary of the Australian government public servant applies only to the Government’s share, yet in every other State it applies to the total amount of pension payable.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
-Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I had just drawn the attention of the members to the way in which the Australian employee as a recipient of a superannuation pension is in no better position than any other public servant of Australia, as an employee of the States. In fact, in 3 of the 6 States the State recipient is in a much better position than the Australian Government employee and in Victoria the Victorian recipient is only marginally behind the Australian Government recipient. There is another feature of this new scheme, Mr Deputy Speaker, that has a great deal of significance and that is what happens to the pension of the ex-public servant as time goes on.
This can be only some sort of a guesstimate of what would happen, but to draw comparisons again between the States and the Australian Government, let us assume for the sake of argument that 10 years have elapsed. We will also assume that there is an inflation rate of 5 per cent per annum in the first instance, 10 per cent per annum in the second instance and 1 5 per cent per annum in the third instance over those 10 years. Now, after 10 years with an inflation rate of 5 per cent per annum the Australian Government employee who retires at age 65 on a $ 13,000 a year salary, would be receiving then $13,717. If we take the best of the States we would have to go to New South Wales, where his counterpart would be receiving $17,866- some $4,000 a year more than the Australian Government employee. This is brought about of course by the application of the consumer price index to the total pension and not only to the Government financed section. The very worst State in those circumstances would be Western Australia where instead of receiving the $13,717 that the Australian Government employee would receive the Western Aus.tralian would be receiving $12,960. So he is only marginally behind. The ex-public servant from the other States would be in a much better position than is the Australian Government employee.
To move to the area where we assume that inflation is at the rate of 10 per cent per annum, the Australian Government employee there receives $20,303 per annum whereas in New South Wales his counterpart receives $28,448. Again, the worst State in this instance is Western Australia where the figure is $20,636. If we assume that inflation is at the rate of 15 per cent per annum then after 10 years the Australian Government ex-employee will have received $30,211. His counterpart in New South Wales would be starting to look at a sum totalling $44,372. It is about a 46 per cent increase over what his counterpart in the Australian Government would receive. Under no circumstances can it be said that the Australian Government public servant is being featherbedded in this area or is in any way receiving something better than his counterparts in this area.
If you want to start talking about what he receives compared to most members of the public who are not involved in superannuation schemes, of course he does better. Then of course he contributes towards it. Each pay period he makes his contribution towards his own pension. It is interesting to note, because these comparisons are being drawn a very large section of the Australian community, the working people of the Australian community, are not members of any superannuation fund at all and, as I have already stated, to try to compare the public servant with those people is to make a wrong comparison. There is indeed a need, in my opinion, for a national superannuation fund. I know that somebody from the other side is going to stand up and say: ‘Your mob were in office for 3 years and did not do anything about it’. We also had reasons why a lot of things we wanted done could not get done, principally due to a hostile Senate where some backward people from the Liberal and National Country Parties set about frustrating all of the progressive legislation that the Labor Party introduced.
If one cares to think about this national superannuation fund, the more you think about it the better it looks and the more one can see the need for it. I think that the debate on this Bill will highlight, more than anything else, the need for that fund. I have to mention one of many reasons to complain about the present legislation. I know the attitude of the unions in this. They know that it is the best they are going to get and they are prepared to take it rather than put up with the scheme as it exists. It seems to me a backward step not to give the people the right or the opportunity to retire at age 60 rather then enforcing them to work on until age 65.
The honourable member for Ballaarat raised the point that the Public Service Act does not provide for that contingency. I do not think that is much of a reason or much of an excuse either, because the Public Service Act is only an Act of this Parliament and at any time can be changed by this Parliament. I should prefer to see the situation arise where people had the opportunity to leave their employment at age 60 rather than being forced to carry on to age 65. There are a variety of reasons for that, not the least being, as has already been mentioned, that there is a need to have a younger Public Service to encourage younger people to come in, to encourage people to retire at the other end. I do not dispute that. It has also to be understood that in the light of other debates that have been held in this place quite recently, it is very clear that as time goes on in Australia, and indeed in the industrialised world, there is going to be a need for people to work fewer hours a day, fewer days in a week, fewer weeks in a year and certainly fewer years out of their lives. There will be a trend towards shorter working weeks and earlier retirement. In my view that is a very good move and a progressive move. This Government, with the Bill that it has brought in, has not moved in that direction at aU. It has rather gone the other way and just insists that people keep on working until they are 65.
There are of course many good features about the Bill, and I think not the least of these is the fact that it is rather embracing, it sweeps in the superannuation scheme people who normally would not have the benefit of belonging to a superannuation scheme. Only very recently I learnt of a person whom I think everybody would regard as being a public servant of some repute and would regard as being a permanent public servant; but because of an illness that was suffered at an earlier time this person is denied the opportunity of belonging to the superannuation scheme and must belong to the provident fund. There is a difference between the two; the benefits of the superannuation scheme are better. The amendments bring such people into the superannuation scheme. Just in passing, I make some reference to the remarks made by the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Short) who I understand said that prior to coming to this place he was a public servant, I understand he was with the Treasury. His entrance into this House, judging by his remarks in this debate, did not enhance the House at all. After listening to the very conservative attitude that he took towards things, I am quite sure that he did the Treasury a service by leaving it to come here. He was most unhappy that the Public Service was cast in a pacesetter role, as he described it, by the Whitlam Government. I do not know whether he has ever taken the trouble to study the Public Service. I am not sure what he meant by using the term ‘pacesetter’ but he would find that in the area of working conditions, the Public Service certainly has been to the front except as regards pay. I understand that public servants were the first people in Australia to receive paid annual leave, and this was so for a long time. It is only in recent years that the community caught up with them.
The honourable member for Ballaarat spoke about the Labor scheme being wildly extravagant. I do not know what he meant by that because all the costing I had relating to the Labor Party’s superannuation scheme left me with the distinct impression that it would cost the Government no more that the existing scheme. In his mad endeavour to have a sideswipe at the Labor Party, he talked about the Labor Party increasing interest rates on home loans. Clearly, he has not seen the front page of the Melbourne Herald tonight. It has been brought home very forcibly to me that since 13 December the Labor Party no longer sits on the Treasury benches but the front page of the Melbourne Herald tonight indicts those who sit there now. During the last election campaign and what led up to it the Government and its supporters put out spurious propaganda to push their own cause and now they stand indicted. Two matter were raised. One is an increase in interest rates by establishments that lend money for home building and the other is a demand to devalue the currency. These are things that are not going to help the ordinary battlers in this country one little bit and the Government is responsible.
The honourable member for Ballaarat also mentioned minor nit-picking points raised by Opposition members. I thought the purpose of a debate in this House was to point out either real or imagined problems in legislation and for judgment to be passed on that basis. He then went into a great flight of fancy about the portability of wives’ pensions. I do not know the sort of women that the honourable member associates with and I am not reflecting on anybody who is related to him but from the way he described people to the House one would think that we had a community of ‘Bluebeards’ in which women went around accumulating husbands who were eligible for a Government pension and then disposed of them. I do not think he meant that but if he cares to read his speech tomorrow he will find, quite clearly, that that is the inference.
I agree with the portability of the wives’ pension. I see absolutely nothing wrong with it. I do not think it is any more than giving a woman her right. Any pension a woman receives upon the demise of her husband in my view is her right. He contributed towards it and it belongs to her. I cannot agree that a change in marital status should disadvantage a woman. Of course it should go with her. If we had a pipeline to heaven and were able to contact her former husband I am sure that he would agree that she should take it with her at all times. I know that that would be my wish for my wife.
All in all, this Superannuation Bill is the best of a bad job but it is nowhere near as good as the proposition the Labor Party put forward. The Labor Party proposition was not as costly as people who cannot add up would care to make it sound. The Bill before us is the best of all things that are not good. It is the best the Liberal Party can put up. I support the amendment and I am very disappointed that at an earlier time the previous Parliament could not see its way clear to give to the Australian Government’s public servants the justice they deserve.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 31 March on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Hayden had moved by way of amendment:
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’.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, last night I spent a few minutes dealing with the subject of the 2 Bills that are before the House- one relating to repatriation and related matters and one relating to social services. They both purport to update the amounts of money paid as benefits under the 2 Acts which they seek to amend. We on this side of the House accept, firstly, that the indexation principle that is applied in these Bills is a useful one, but as usual the Government has failed to carry out its duty in both areas in accordance with its own expressed policies in the past and the needs of the community at the moment. Last night I followed the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) who, perhaps, is rather typical of honourable members opposite, except that he shows a little more understanding of the subject. But I think I could say that generally speaking, he was long in view and short in understanding. He was a little too sympathetic to the economic situation in which the Government claims to find itself and a little less sympathetic in understanding what is required to be done immediately at this point of time.
The criticisms that we have to offer are based on a number of factors. Firstly, there has been a failure on the part of the Government to take up the guarantee that it gave earlier on social services, which was part of its electoral platform. But there are several pieces of pettifoggery associated with it. First of all, let me take the commencement date of the increased social security payments- 13 May 1976. I recall that when the announcement about this commencement date was made some time ago the Minister was expressing some gratitude that we were able to save some millions of dollars by deferring the commencement date. But as is the custom of honourable members opposite they attempt to balance their budgets and to solve their financial problems by depriving the people least able to support the measures.
Then there was the other question of funeral benefits. If it were not for the other benefits that are provided in these Bills we would, of course, oppose the Bills simply because of the piece of pettifoggery associated with the removal of funeral benefits. Surely honourable members opposite recognise the feelings of the people in the community about this matter, particularly those people who have to be the beneficiaries of such government payouts. It is an emotional question in many areas. Although over the last 3 years the general citizenry in Australia, particularly that section of it which is likely to need this kind of benefit, has been better off financially than it was before, the facts are that this matter is a worry to a great number of people in the community. It is a miserable exercise indeed to remove the benefit, and we say so.
The other point of criticism is that dependants’ allowances themselves are not dealt with in this legislation. In fact dependants’ allowances remain at their present level. They are not indexed. Of course, it is all part of the total payment that people receive. The time has come for us to take an overall look at the whole social security system to make absolutely certain, in the first instance, that the payments that we are considering now are adequate for 1976. In listening to the speeches of honourable members opposite one could only be struck with the Government’s obsession with cliches and with repeating them. For instance, the honourable member for Sturt, as do other honourable members opposite, continuously talks about inflation. They put forward the idea that inflation is a particular Labor Party invention. We all know that probably some factors have been induced in the inflationary system by our actions. It may well be that the steps that we took to make sure that the people who produced the goods in the community received just reward for their work contributed to the inflationary spiral. But it is also true that the import prices, which rose in this country, also formed part of the inflationary pressures. It is true that we inherited things from the past. It is also true that the people in the community who make profits strive as hard as they can to increase their prices and their profits regardless of whether people will be affected by inflation or not.
The question that I ask honourable members opposite, particularly the honourable member for Sturt who pours out his soul here- he is so devoted to the cause of the nation and all the rest of it- is: Where did he stand on 8 December 1973 when we conducted a referendum on price control? How different would the situation be if that referendum had been carried? Perhaps it would not be a great deal different, but certainly we would have had better instruments with which to control the system. What happened to the referendum in the electorate of Sturt, which was the honourable member’s responsibility? He opposed it, as did all his colleagues. Of course, the referendum was lost in the electorate of Sturt. The honourable member could have taken a leaf out of the book of the people of Wills who voted substantially in favour of the referendum. Honourable members opposite would have a pretty heavy burden to carry if they had a conscience at all in relation to that matter. Continuing attacks are being made on the Labor Government in the kinds of statements that are made by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). He talks about bad administration. What exactly does he mean? You cannot escape by continually using generalities. So the social security base is being eroded by not tackling such questions as dependants’ allowances, by not updating the system, by not making sure that there are automatic adjustments for price rises. We should be taking steps to remove anomalies.
I suggest to the House that we should examine the various social service systems which we have inherited from the past, one of which is the Repatriation Act and the other is the Social Services Act, plus a large number of others, and try to relate them to one another and try and reduce the complexity of the system. We must raise the general standard of benefits available to the people of Australia to the highest levels that can be attained.
Whenever this subject comes up, I have a feeling, perhaps because of the generation to which I belong, that one should say something in defence of the repatriation system. There is a tendency now for people to say that the whole system should be abolished, that the Department should be phased out and something else done. I believe that would be a wrong procedure. I should remind the House and the millions outside listening eagerly to this speech how many people are involved. From the 1914-18 conflict there are 15 000 ex-servicemen and women, 22 000 of their dependants, and 20 000 people who are dependants of deceased ex-servicemen- 57 000 in all. From the 1939-45 conflict there are enormous numbers- 176 000 ex-servicemen and women, 213 000 dependants, 34 000 dependants of deceased people, a total of 500 000 or more. From the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere there are some 27 000.
Over half a million people are involved in what is a unique social security system. It is
Australia’s most experienced social security system. I suppose in a way it is Australia’s most generalised social security system, including as it does, benefits across the board from students’ allowances to support for soldiers’ children through housing and all the rest of it. There is a lot to be learned in the social security area from the simple application of many of the principles we have evolved over the years in repatriation. I have never been able to work out why we have not got round to applying the principles of the repatriation system to third party insurance, for instance, as we were attempting to do under the national compensation scheme. One has only to compare the intricacy, the complexity and the absolute cost in the third party area with the Repatriation Tribunal’s procedures to see how much we could benefit by simply applying the lessons we have learned there.
I remind the House tonight that on an occasion such as this there ought to be steps taken now to raise the general level of payments. A person on the totally and permanently incapacitated rate of pension would be getting something like $147 a week, taking into account his wife’s allowance. Now, that sounds a lot for a pension system. But what is the situation in the rest of the community? I think average weekly earnings have now reached about $160 a week. Consider the situation of a young person conscripted to fight in Vietnam and, as a result, totally incapacitated, never able to work. His life will be circumscribed absolutely by the income he receives from the repatriation system. Relatively, he has been conscripted into a lifetime of poverty. Although some of the things that have been said about the repatriation system and the general levels of benefits- that they are some of the best in the world- may well be true, but that is not all there is to it.
The benefits that have come to a person in the repatriation system flow as a compensation. They are some attempt by the community to repay for loss, suffering, incapacity and inconvenience. A lot of these inconveniences, of course, are not observable. People who have been wounded in action, or knocked about in accidents during the war or something of that nature- made slightly less efficient physically over a lifetime- cannot be recompensed adequately. They can be given only some sort of support. For most of the people involved in it, of course, adequate support in time of illness is an important question. We have always been pretty meagre about that. We, during the course of our operations as a government, were attempting to expand the repatriation system and to bring the community into its benefits, particularly in the hospital area.
It has always amazed me that there is so much criticism of the idea of a national salaried medical service, when so many people, some half million or thereabouts, use a salaried medical service in the form of the Repatriation Department. They use nationalised medical services in the hospitals. They go into nationalised public hospitals. They find that they are as good as hospitals are anywhere. I have been a customer of the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg in Victoria on a number of occasions. I suggest that it is as efficient and as effective as any other hospital in the system. It is a pretty good example of what a national health service ought to be. Tonight I am suggesting that the House give serious thought to taking the lessons out of the repatriation system, taking some of the standards we have adopted in the repatriation system and applying them as rapidly as possible to the rest of the community through the social security system. It is Australia’s most experienced social security service. It is the one that is, generally speaking, the most ubiquitous, and to those who happen to get under the benefit umbrella of the system, probably the most accessible.
Therefore tonight we on this side of the House are reproving the Government for its failure to update such things as dependants’ allowances. We are voting against the removal of funeral benefits, and we object to the deferment of the beginning of the social security payments because, as I said earlier, and as my colleagues on this side of the House have reiterated, it is one of the characteristics of this Government that the people who are the least able to pay are the ones it will make pay.
-Mr Acting Speaker, I am supporting this Bill, but I must say that when I first saw it there was a certain amount of disappointment. That disappointment was tempered when I realised that this is only an interim Bill and that the Government’s real policy would, for the benefit of pensioners, come in in the Budget session. I want to go through some of the the things which were in my mind in this regard. First, this Bill does adjust the pension to the consumer price index, and that is a good thing; and it is in accordance with the Government’s pledge.
I have hoped that for the future, and I feel a little doubtful that this will be done, that the tie with the consumer price index will be made an automatic tie. This is something which, when I was a Minister, I endeavoured to have brought in and I am only sorry that it has not been brought in earlier. This does not, of course, mean that the pensions should not in the future rise more than the consumer price index. As the community becomes more prosperous and its standards of living rise, as I think they will, and as under this Government they will rise, I believe that pensioners should at Budget time share also in that rise in standards. When the whole situation of the community uplifts I believe that the position of the pensioners in real terms should uplift with it also. But below this, as a floor, there should be the holding of the pension at its purchasing power so that pensioners are not disadvantaged by rises in prices, and for that the six-monthly adjustment to the consumer price index is the right thing; and I believe it should be the automatic thing. As I have said, if the prosperity of the country has improved from Budget to Budget, as indeed I am sure it will under this Government, in addition to the CPI adjustment pensioners should share in that increased prosperity.
I want to deal with a question which has exercised my mind and the minds of other members of this House- the question of funeral benefits which are covered by Part IVa of the principal Act. This bill repeals that Part which has always been an unsatisfactory section. It is far too complicated. It is hedged about with unreasonable means test provisions and I do not think it has really operated as it should have done to the benefit of pensioners’ families because of its relationship to what I would call the funeral industry. It is an unsatisfactory Part and its repeal is not unreasonable. But it should be replaced with something better. I believe that the Government is going to replace it with something better.
What is now proposed is simply clearing the way for a new move to be made to substitute something better for the old funeral benefits. I should like to make a suggestion as to what that something better should be. I base this on a provision which I brought into this House when I was Minister; namely, provision for the payment of pensions at married rate for 12 weeks after the decease of one partner in a married couple. This is provided for by section 135U of the existing Act. This is, I think, a good provision. It has worked well. It has been a humane provision and I think that it is the provision we should imitate when we look for something better to put in place of the old funeral benefits. I believe that what we should provide is that for a period of some weeks after a pensioner’s death, the pension should continue to be paid to his estate so that it would be available for his funeral or for the benefit of his relatives. This can be done fairly easily. Such a provision has great advantages. It gets rid of all the obnoxious complications of the old funeral benefit. It gets rid of some of the unreasonable means test restrictions which applied to the old funeral benefit and it will enable a reasonable payment to be made. With the pension of the order of $40 a week, as it is now, even 2 weeks would be worth $80 which would be better by far than the existing funeral benefit. It would be taxable as part of the estate of the deceased person, but that is not unreasonable nor is it unjust because taxation of pension is the only proper form of means test. This taxation, which should fall on pensioners and non-pensioners alike- on all members of the community- is a reasonable way of applying a means test. It seems to me that for those over the age of 65 years anything else is unreasonable. Therefore I suggest that for a fortnight or perhaps 4 weeks after the death of a pensioner the pension should continue to be paid to his estate and this would be a much more humane and much better way of dealing with the situation than the old funeral benefit. I hope that the action the Government has taken to get rid of the old funeral benefit from the Act is only in order to clear the way for putting something better in its place.
I speak next of something which was raised by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) in his speech. He spoke with feeling and sympathy for those people who are left destitute, need an emergency payment and cannot wait for their pension papers to be filled in and all the formalities to be gone through. I know that these people do require special support, but I do not find myself in agreement with the method of support which the honourable member for Hotham proposed. If people want and need emergency payments because they are destitute, then it is not possible for the bureaucratic check to be made. The government machinery must be one which provides for bureaucratic checks; otherwise there will be fraud and dissipation of the revenue. With government, the bureaucratic check is necessary, and I think every sensible person will realise that it is necessary. How then do we meet these emergency cases which have their own necessity which also must be met? I do not think there is any way to do this, except by some machinery more decentralised than the Commonwealth machinery. Some people say: ‘Let it be done through the States’. Certainly the States, with their access to their welfare organisations, police forces and so on, are in a better position to take a spot judgment than is the Commonwealth.
But I do not believe that even the States can do this effectively.
It seems to me that the only ones who can do this effectively are the charitable organisations. This should be one of the reasons for which they exist. It will be said, and said very rightly: ‘Why should the burden fall on the charitable organisations?’ I do not think it should. I believe that we should make the charitable organisation the responsible agent for the distribution of these emergency funds. This can be done fairly simply and with proper accounting precautions. It can be done in this way: We will say to the charity organisation: ‘You make the advance and then, when the payment comes through- as it will, after the bureaucratic necessities have been satisfied- we will arrange to recoup it to you so that you will not be out of pocket’. The charitable organisation might well say: ‘Yes, but there will be some loss because every now and again we will make an emergency payment which will not be recouped to us’. This is also true. Would it not be possible and easy to arrange for such charitable organisations to receive a commissionshall I say 10 per cent of the amount of money that they turn over in this way- so that they would not be out of pocket but at the same time there would be some kind of check upon them and they would not be irresponsible?
Let me put it to the House that the charitable organisation which goes down to the grass roots is in a far better position to estimate the genuineness of a claim in respect of an emergency need than any Commonwealth service can be. I know that there would have to be checks as to duplication and things of this character, but I do not believe that these are matters of any insuperable difficulty. I have put this to charitable organisations in the past, and I put it to them again: They should not be called upon to carry the burden of this; but they should be asked to do effectively the administration, because they can do it much better than any Commonwealth or State instrumentality can. If they will not do it then let the States do it. But above all, let us try to avoid duplication, a situation where we have the charitable organisations in at one point, the State services in at another point and the Commonwealth services in at another. That is triplication, not duplication, but triplication is even worse than duplication.
I would hope that under the Government’s plan of decentralisation, under the Government’s plan for trying to get responsibility away from decisions of the Public Service and into private hands, we would find this as a proper avenue through which the charitable organisations could exert their energies. After all, this is the reason for the existence of these organisations, and this is as it should be. This was their function in the past when we were in government. We should now be trying to use the charitable organisations to the greatest possible extent and co-operate with them in order to enlarge the ambit of their activities. While I am dealing with that, let me say that I am disappointed that under the Labor Government the aged persons homes scheme was virtually strangled. I know the Labor Government proposed an increase of the two-to-one subsidy- it was to be increased to four-to-one, or what have you- but administratively it put on limits so that nobody could take advantage of the new bounty. ‘Hang your clothes on the mulberry bush but don’t go near the water’ was the way the Labor Government administered, maladministered, and virtually strangled the aged persons homes scheme. The figures will show that. Under Labor the number of approvals dropped right off because of the way in which the scheme was administered and because of the strangling effect of the upper limit of costs at a time when building costs were escalating at an alarming rate.
I hope that as part of our scheme for decentralising and making use of the very real charitable feelings which exist in the community we can once again revive this aged persons homes scheme and drive it forward as it should be driven forward, because it is the pensioner who does not have proper accommodation at a reasonable rate who is the pensioner in difficulty. If one looks at Professor Henderson’s poverty line and if one takes out the rent component, as is the fair thing to do if one looks at the way in which the poverty line was first calculated, we will see that the pensioners who really want and need help are those who do not have accommodation at a reasonable rate. It is for that reason that the aged persons homes scheme should, I believe, be driven forward once again. We had great momentum under a Liberal government. I am proud that, as Minister, every year I was getting a record number of units built. Under Labor the output fell right away. That is a matter of statistics.
Next let me say that I am disappointed that so far the Government has not plugged what I think is the main weakness in the whole social service scheme, that is, the failure to do anything for the widower with dependent children. I am hoping that in the next Budget this is one thing that will get the Government’s support. I shall be plugging for that as hard as I can. Finally let me say that I am hoping that it will not be long before we make another move towards carrying out the Government’s announced plan of getting rid of the means test for everybody over the age of 65 years. There is some confusion about this which I hope I will have an opportunity to speak about at greater length at some time. My time is running out now and I shall not be able to do more than say that I myself will continue to drive for the abolition of the means test for all over 65 years of age at the earliest possible moment.
When we went out of office at the end of 1972 we said we would abolish the means test within 3 years, and we would have been able to do it within 3 years if it had not been for the immense financial morass into which we have been plunged by the maladministration of the Labor Government. Even allowing for that it does seem to me that this should not be too long delayed and I myself, as I have said, will be doing everything to make it clear to the Government that I will not be able to continue to support it on this social services issue unless something effective is done about the means test and done fairly soon in accordance with the pledge which the Government has given. I say with some confidence that I believe the Government will cany these things out in accordance with the undertaking which was given to the electorate.
– I want to be very brief and to speak for only two or three minutes. I cannot let the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) get away with some of the things he said, particularly with regard to aged persons’ accommodation. I was quite involved with this in my own area; I got very involved with the problem that the Government was facing. I do not have the exact figures in front of me at the moment, but over the past 5 years spending on aged persons’ accommodation rose from about $ 18m or $20m in the last couple of years of the previous Liberal Government to about $22m or $23m in the first year of the Labor Government. It would have been a little extra except for the Brisbane floods. In the second year of the Labor Government it rose to $40m and in the third year it rose to $70m. When I was discussing the matter with the Minister for Social Security, because of the increase of the subsidy from $2 to $ 1 to $4 for $ 1 and the lack of restrictions in meeting any rise in building costs the value of applications in the pipeline had risen to $270m.
Let us be honest. I do not think the honourable member for Mackellar, the former Minister, is aware of this: There is no way in the world in which this Government or any other government is going to have a rise in this area from $ 18m or $20m to $270m in the space of three or four years. I have not worked it out, but it would be a rise of about 900 per cent. It would be absurd to suggest that. Obviously the Government had to put priorities and select its projects. I was very fortunate in my area because we were able to get $1,023,000 for about 90 beds for various hostel, nursing home and aged persons accommodation and that was more in one year than had ever been spent in the previous 8 years by this government. There are more aged people on the Central Coast than in any other part of Australia.
Finally, let me say to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) and to the honourable member for Mackellar that we have been hearing from the Liberal Government for 27 years about how it was going to abolish the means test. In fairness, the honourable member for Mackellar, as the appropriate Minister, did taper the means test. That is a step in the direction of abolition. But the only Government that has ever done anything in this regard has been the Labor Government, which abolished the means test for people over 70 years of age and was proposing to bring the age down to 69. 1 thank the House and I thank the Minister. I just wanted to make those couple of points.
– in reply-This being the first Bill that I have the pleasure and the responsibility for introducing into this House, I can say that by and large I have enjoyed listening to the debate. Speakers on both sides of the Houses have made observations and suggestions on social welfare matters which I have noted, and I will make sure that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in the other place is made aware of them. Those members who directed remarks to repatriation matters have my assurance that I will keep these matters in mind when framing repatriation measures in the future.
I said that I have enjoyed the debate by and large, but at the same time I am concerned to note the level of debate which some members of the Opposition intruded into this House. We would all agree, I think, in this chamber that the success of our deliberation in part depend on a viable and concerned Opposition with the ability to produce some decent, constructive criticism. My enjoyment of the discussion last night and tonight has been qualified by a certain sadness for what I can only call the poverty of debate which has been disclosed by the Opposition in this second reading. Many of their remarks have been bereft of constructive criticism. Their speeches have been peppered with unsubstantiated criticism and misrepresentations.
– Which ones? Come on, then; name them.
– I will come to that. In fact I would go as far as to say that in the second reading debate it has been left largely to Government supporters to provide constructive criticism, ideas and recommendations which we can consider and perhaps act on.
– Surely you do not have to give a summing up at the second reading stage.
-The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) is one of the very members who illustrates my point pretty vividly. Last night he subjected us to a diatribe which was emotionally couched and which was completely lacking in any decent objectivity. I have heard him speak in this place before and as a previous Treasurer and Minister responsible for Social Security his remarks did not really become him. He accused us of dismantling and distorting the social welfare program, of breaking promises and of dealing coldly and harshly with pensioners. How in Heaven’s name he can believe these contentions I do not know. He certainly did not prove them in that 30 minutes of talking last night.
This Bill, or both Bills, represent the Government’s first step in achieving its social security and repatriation policy objectives. It is true that the children’s allowances have not been included in the benefits but as the honourable member for Oxley well knows, because we could rightly say that he is responsible for most of the problems we now face, priorities have to be set somewhere. I presume that when the member for Oxley was the Minister in charge of social security he faced the same problems in 1973 and 1974 when he did not include increases in children’s allowances in his autumn increases.
– That is not true.
– It is true. In fact if you like to look at the table which the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) tabled last night you will see quite clearly that the proof is in the pudding of his table. The Government will consider children’s allowances along with other benefits when it considers its next 6-monthly adjustments. And I remind the honourable member again of the point that I made in the first speech that I made on the subject that the Income Security Review Committee will report on all aspects of social security benefits.
The honourable member for Oxley made pretty wild assertions in regard to the abolition of the means test. He said that he felt that the death knell had been sounded on any further progress towards the abolition of the means test. This simply is not true, and I will repeat again a comment made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The Government is committed to the abolition of the means test for all age pensions for persons over the age of 65. I have no hesitation in qualifying that because our first priority is the reduction of inflation, and it is not possible to indicate when the means test will be abolished. We consider it preferable to state the position honestly rather than to make promises which cannot be kept. Pensioners will benefit, along with all other Australians, from the stabilisation of prices which is implied by a reduction in inflation. We must keep in mind the present circumstances that we face. It is possible to provide more substantial assistance for those in need.
I turn to other matters which I wish to take up. I refer first of all to those remarks which are concerned with social security matters. The honourable member for Prospect has misrepresented remarks made by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in the other place. Opposition members last night tried to tell us that she was claiming that the double pension benefit was introduced by this Government. Now, no such claim has ever been made.
– She said ‘recently’. It was in 1968.
– If the honourable member for Prospect will bear with me for a moment I will repeat what was said in the first speech on this matter. I repeat it for him because obviously he did not listen very hard. The second reading speech says:
The Government has decided that although the funeral benefit is to be abolished -
– He may have listened very hard. He is hard at listening.
– The honourable member for Wills has made some very good contributions to debates. So I ask him not to get me too angry early in the piece. Let me continue:
The Government has decided that although the funeral benefit is to be abolished, the (double pension) provisions will continue.
The provisions enable the sum of the two pensions formerly payable to a married couple to be paid to the widow or widower for 12 weeks following the death of the pensioner spouse. This benefit was introduced in 1 968.
The Minister has made no other claim.
– That is not what the Press statement said.
– Honourable members opposite were asking before about my accusations on misrepresentation, and there is a clear example.
– I was referring to the Press statement
– I have the Press statement here. You might like to consult it later on. You will see that I am right in that respect. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) tried to argue that the children’s pensioner benefit is an integral part of pensions and that it is an important principle that it should always be increased with other pensions. The honourable member implies here that the principle was, throughout the term of office of the Opposition when it was in government, held to by that Government. As I have already said there were occasions in 1973 and 1974 when the Labor Government did not see itself clear to increase these pensions. I repeat that the Government has limited resources only, and on this occasion it has not been able to grant the increase in respect of pensions to dependants.
The honourable member for Grayndler who, I might say, was one of the few members of the Opposition who did make a constructive contribution to the debate, also said that he was not aware that there was a committee dealing with income security review. He averred that he had never seen the statement in respect of such a committee being appointed. Again, he was in error. I refer him to the Senate Hansard report of 4 March 1976. The Minister for Social Security, Senator Guilfoyle, in replying to a question without notice from Senator Coleman said:
I wish to complete an answer, which I gave to Senator Coleman during question time earlier today, with regard to the membership of the Income Security Review Committee. The group, which has been working for some time -
I interpolate, not in secret: . . . consists of representatives of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Social Security, the Department of the Treasury, the Taxation Office, the Department of Repatriation and the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. Previously the Social Welfare Commission was also represented; but, in view of the abolition of the Commission in the near future, it will not have continuity of representation in that Committee.
Now, on those matters raised by honourable members concerning repatriation let me say first of all that I have noted the comments by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett). I can assure him that the whole question of the level of those special rate pensions and general rate pensions will be considered, but in relation to the Toose Report.
The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) raised the question of Press reports dealing with bullying in tribunals. I think this is one matter that we must deal with here. I am sure that the honourable member realises that these are independent statutory bodies that were conceived by request of the ex-service organisations. I would add also that they are quite independent of the Minister. They consist of a chairman, who is an ex-serviceman, and 2 doctors who are well acquainted with the problems that the appellant in whatever case they are considering may have. I am quite happy with what I have seen so far of how these tribunals are working. I am aware of the Press reports that have been made on the matter and am looking into it. The honourable member quoted Mr Justice Toose and I would like to quote him again. Mr Justice Toose said in his report that the substantial body of evidence that he had received said that the tribunals acquitted their responsibilities well and expressed complete satisfaction with their work.
I agree with the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) that there is a need to simplify the Act, particularly expressions in the Act or the Acts that govern the repatriation system, and I can assure him that the Government is going to look very closely at this matter. He also raised the problem of the Heidelberg Hospital. There are wards and beds that sometimes are not occupied in that hospital and I agree that this is a bad thing. It is not entirely the fault of the Government. There have been problems over salaries for both nurses and doctors. Honourable members would know, I hope, that the problems of the nurses were solved in a decision they received at the end of January. The doctors’ case is before the Full Bench of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and has been deferred. Following the favourable decision for wage salaries for the nurses, all sisters, senior tutors and matrons now have a fair deal in all States except, perhaps, Victoria and Western Australia where they only just miss out on having complete equity. I think the problem with nurses has been solved and we are trying to recruit again to make up the deficiencies in staff. It will follow, I hope, that we will start to fill the beds. .Dr Jenkins- What about the community involvement?
-Repatriation hospitals do admit a range of community patients. This is important for a lot of reasons.
– For diagnostic purposes?
-Right. It does happen. I think in Concord- I do not remember the figures for Heidelberg- it is up to about 12 per cent. We will continue that policy. I turn now to the remarks of the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). I thank the honourable member for his comments about the repatriation system. I know that he is an old soldier of, I think, almost 30 years experience. If my record is correct he was also Minister for Repatriation for almost a month. In addition I suspect that there is a deep seated ambition in the mind of the honourable member for Wills to be a TPI pensioner one day after he retires from this place. There are some points he made that I should mention.
I appreciate his defence of the repatriation system and I do not say that with any sense of propriety or self indulgence. I hope that we will be able to continue the repatriation system. There are a couple of things I think I had better clear up. The honourable member tried to liken the social security pensions to the war disability pensions that the repatriation system grants. There is a distinction. The war disability pensions are paid for compensation and therefore should not be equated or likened to those social security pensions. I think the honourable member was drawing a very long bow in trying to equate the hospital system with a nationalised health system. I am sure the honourable member for Wills knows that the repatriation system employs a wide range of local medical officers- about 6500 I think- plus a great number of consulting specialists who visit the hospitals. It is a very far thing from a completely nationalised medical health system as the honourable member would like us to believe.
The final matter I wish to mention was raised by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the honourable member for Prospect, and it is transport for repatriation patients. Let me assure honourable members that there has been no change in the policy of this Government or the previous Government for the provision of transport to take veterans to places where they need medical treatment. This costs the Government- it costs Australia- $2m a year and there is no doubt that there is evidence of misuse of this transport system. Therefore, we have asked our local medical officers to exercise a little bit of discretion in the way these cars are used. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for Prospect last night. He has no objection- nor do I or the Governmentto trying to save money if it is done reasonably. This is what we are doing in this case. The guideline that we have asked local medical officers to follow is that if a veteran is a private patient who had such a medical condition that the medical officer would prescribe a taxi or an ambulance to transport him, the medical officer should order a car for that veteran.
I would also like to comment on the remarks of the honourable member for Prospect about the cost of TPIs, for example, using transport rather than cars. Once again, I would assure the honourable member that there is no change here. If a veteran on the special rate has to use a bus or his own car, he can claim for the expenses or the fares- and that will continue. Mr Deputy Speaker, these 2 Bills represent the first step of the Government in achieving its social welfare and repatriation policy objectives. They implement the Government’s promises to increase pensions every 6 months in accordance with the consumer price index.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) who has resumed his seat. He asserted very early in his speech that the Labor Government had not increased the allowance for dependent children of pensioners in 1973 or 1974, and drew our attention to a table inserted in the parliamentary record last night by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). If the Minster cares to re-read the table this time in a normal fashion, instead of standing on his head, he will see on the bottom line that allowances for children of all beneficiaries stood at $4.50 in October 1972. In September-October 1973, we increased them to $5. We increased them to $5.50 in July-August 1974, to $7 in May 1975 and to $7.50 in November 1975. The table shows that in that period the increase in those payments was 66.7 per cent. The increase in the consumer price index over the same period was only 44.7 per cent. That is, the rate of increase in these allowances was twice as great as the rate of increase in the cost of living. I think that things have come to a sad pass -
-Order! I think that the honourable member for Oxley has now claimed where the misrepresentation was. The reason why he was allowed to go into the detail of the explanation is that he was the Minister at the particular time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I only observe that it is a sad situation that a former officer and former gentleman should stoop to this tactic.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I think it is incumbent on me to reply. I apologise if I gave the impression that I said that there were no increases in 1973 and 1974. If I missed the word, I meant to say ‘autumn’ increases in 1973 and 1974.
Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar)-I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). He said that I had misquoted figures. I have now got the official figures and I shall quote them to show that I was right and he was wrong. The official figures are these: For aged persons homes, the beds approved were as follows: In 1969-70, 3305; the next year, 4136; and the next year 4760. It was increasing at the rate of about 700 a year while I was the Minister. For the next 3 years under Labor, the figures are: 3989- a drop of 800; 3417-a drop of 500; and 3910-a little recovery, but only a little one. You would say that in those 3 years -
-Order! I think also that the honourable member for Mackellar has explained where he was misrepresented.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Hayden’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Amendment negatived. Original question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to 6- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 7 (Repeal).
-The Opposition will oppose this clause. The enshrinement of clause 7 in this legislation is a disgrace to the motives of the Government. This clause will deny pensioners funeral benefits. A miserably small amount of money is involved- less than $300,000 for the rest of this financial year. It is incredible that in a Budget where more than $23,000m is to be spent the Government should decide on the one hand that it is prepared to add to expenditure a sum of $30m for the superphosphate bounty- a subsidy arrangement which will benefit, among other people, that strapping landholder the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)- and on the other hand, as part of the sacrifice to be imposed on those members of the community who too often have to make sacrifices, pensioners will be denied the funeral benefit of $40 which is a small enough sum to provide some financial relief at a time of extreme personal distress.
The proposal could have been acceptable if an alternative had been put forward- perhaps a right to spend the amount of money provided on some sort of option chosen by the pensioner at the time of bereavement. Perhaps it could be used to acquit debts or to help meet the costs of transferring property from the deceased spouse. But no such alternative is put forward. This is just a crude snatch from people who are depressed, who are suffering the grief and the pain of bereavement. Aged people in the communitypeople who, by and large, are of very limited means- will suffer.
I felt personally distressed tonight to hear the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) stand in this House as an apologist for this rotten filch from the pensioners of the Australian community. How could he stand here and articulate a case excusing this mean action of the Government. He is a man who for so long in Opposition indulged in the luxury of masquerading as the pensioners’ friend. On the first occasion on which his credentials are put to the test in government he backs away; he starts to explain and equivocate. He defends this rotten action of the Government in denying some of the most needy people in the community. There are many honourable members in the Government ranks who came in on that quite significant swing in the last election. Many of them will be going out at the next election, no matter what they do. Some of them may be able to hang on, through some sort of marginal benefit. I can assure the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock), who at the present time is giggling like a senior member of the Sistine Chapel Choir and who no doubt has the same physical attributes as a member of that choir, and his colleague who is sitting on his left that they, among others in the Government ranks, will be mentioned to pensioners in their electorates. We will be sending letters to all pensioners in Government-held electorates, pointing out the stand that was taken by Government supporters in the course of the debate on this legislation.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. I feel that I have been intimidated in that I was singled out and it was suggested that letters would be sent to people in my electorate on this matter.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! There is no substance in the point of order. As I understand the honourable member, he said that he would send letters out, but he did not specify individual electorates. Therefore, there is no substance in the point of order.
– At least the honourable member for Parramatta can claim the redemption of being ashamed of his action tonight in voting in support of what is clearly a rotten, unprincipled deprivation of pensioners in the Australian community.
– And you are laughing about it.
– The honourable member for Griffith has now interjected. He too defends this action; he too stands firmly behind the action of the multi-millionaire Prime Minister of this country who, to meet the $30m cost of the superphosphate bounty, is prepared to filch from pensioners like a cheap thief. I can assure the honourable member for Griffith that pensioners in his electorate will be well informed on his action in this Parliament. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Parramatta suggest that it would be intimidation for anyone to suggest outside this House exactly what was the stand of honourable members in the Government ranks on this issue. I can understand their uneasiness, but I really think we ought to indicate to their electors what brave men of principle they are. We will be circulating letters to people in individual electorates such as Parramatta. If the honourable member for Parramatta feels intimidated, I will specify his electorate. We will be referring to the way in which he vigorously interjected, no doubt demeaning the position of pensioners, and giggled during a serious discussion about the deprivation that pensioners will endure at a time of great sadness.
How many members of the Government Parties will come across the floor of the House and vote with us in defence of pensioners? The honourable member for Mackellar is the man who said that he would have the means test abolished in 3 years, or he would not be the Minister for Social Services. He was the Minister for Social Services 4 years later and not one step had been taken towards the abolition of the means test. He is the man who did so little, relatively, in the time he was Minister for Social Services, for pensioners and other people in the community. He is the man who, when we were in Government, frequently took the opportunity to declare that he had a bounden commitment to the people in need. For instance, he declared that it was his purpose to see, as a matter of social, moral or economic justice, that a supporting fathers allowance was introduced. But on all occasions he neglected to mention that before he became Minister for Social Services he committed himself to this; that, in the period during which he was Minister for Social Services, in a statement by one of his Prime Ministers a commitment was made to introduce this benefit; and that, in spite of that undertaking by his Prime Minister, in spite of that support, the benefit was never introduced.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member might have a look at clause 7 and see whether he is talking about the funeral benefit.
-I think this is what one could call a case of filling the issue out so that people can understand it better. The honourable member for Parramatta again is interjecting. All the nastiness, all the viciousness and all the opposition to pensioners is now showing through. We really know where the honourable member for Parramatta stands when it comes to the matter of pensioners.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-If the honourable member does not return to the object of clause 7 I will have to ask him to resume his seat.
-With the greatest of respect, it is the pensioners who are going to be denied the funeral benefit and I would question how genuinely concerned you are about this in view of the fact that you are trying to silence me on this issue.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The honourable member will withdraw any reflection on the Chair.
– Of course. I quite see the point. Mr Chairman, I believe I have made the point, and I believe the honourable member for Parramatta, among others, can look forward to members of his electorate at last being fully informed -
A Government supporter- You must have had too much to drink. Get on with your solicitation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I do not appreciate hearing comments from the Government side along the lines that I just heard. I am not sure who said it. I disapprove completely, and if the honourable member who made that interjection makes it again he will be in a lot of trouble.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, the frivolity, the lack of seriousness in the midst of the Government ranks on an important issue like this is incomprehensible. It is quite clear that honourable members opposite are indifferent to the fact that if clause 7 is enacted it will mean that pensioners will be deprived of a long standing benefit- the funeral benefit. I cannot understand why there is not one serious face- not one long face- among the ranks of the Government benches on such an important issue. I suggest that the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron), who is trying to interject, at last can display a little of the courage which he likes to suggest might be somewhere within the distant perimeters of the areas in which he moves in his electorate by tonight voting against this clause. Other Government supporters could follow suit.
-Mr Chairman, my consideration of this clause has, quite frankly, given me more anxiety than any consideration of any clause that I have ever had to deliberate upon since 14 May 1966 when I was first elected to a Parliament. I must say, Sir, that the decision that I have had to make in respect of this clause would, at this moment, be the most difficult decision of my political career to date. I have now resolved the matter, but only in the last few hours. I speak with some sorrow and some unabated anger on this occasion: Sorrow at the decision, but determined to accept it, and unabated anger at the cant and hypocrisy that we have seen from honourable members opposite who, once again, turn the welfare of the pensioners of Australia, which I regard as a most serious matter, into yet another debate which has been prostituted by their treating the pensioners of this country as a political football.
Sir, I do not appreciate the sort of speech which we have just heard from the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) on clause 7. 1 have had sleepless nights over clause 7 and his remarks do not help me, the Parliament or the pensioners. The honourable member can laugh as much as he likes, but I will tell him something here and now: If he wants to play conscience and politics with me on a question like pensioners, he has picked the wrong one. I do not believe it is a fair go for the pensioners to see the honourable member once again using them for political purposes. Sir, I have had- believe it or not on the other side of this chamber- a commitment to the pensioners for many years. Unfortunately eight of those years were spent in a State parliament when there was not much opportunity to do the sort of things that I wanted to see done. But let me indicate here and now that I shall endeavour to prove that the Opposition is not genuine in its attitude to clause 7. It has picked out clause 7 for cheap political capital.
I am going to refer to things said in the second reading debate, not to re-open the debate, because I know I would be out of order, but to prove the hypocrisy that has come from the other side of the chamber and from the honourable member for Oxley in particular. I do not believe there is a single pensioner in Denison or Franklin- I include Franklin because of the attitude of the honourable member for Franklinwho does not recognise that pensioners are going to receive a better deal under this Government than they have ever received in the history of this country. I take the strongest exception to the hypocritical and arrogant pronouncement by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) when he said this -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The honourable member may not reflect against any individual member of the Opposition. I advise him to watch that point
– I accept that, Sir. What I am now saying applies to all of them. If they adopt the tactic of saying that the Liberals stand for reducing the living standard and the selfrespect which were derived from the living standards that pensioners had available in the past, if they say that we are trying to drag the pensioners down, what a disgraceful and rotten thing to say.
– Of course you are.
– That honourable member over there, Sir, whom I am not allowed to name, is taking it up. He is saying from his position that the Liberal Party stands to drag down the pensioners.
– Of course you are.
– That is a lie, and you know it. You can give it and I will take it, and I am going to give you a little of it back to your corner. The other comment in yesterday’s debate that I take up is this statement:
I challenge the members of the Government to explain why they are prepared to tolerate so much deprivation for so many people depending 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?
Let me tell honourable members opposite that we are not a century behind. You are, and the pensioners lobby in this country is now to be found on this side of the House among the spirited and concerned back benchers of the Government and we are the people who are going to get a fair deal for the pensioners; not you. You had your chance for 3 years and you muffed it and you come into this place tonight and make cheap political capital out of funerals. Are there no depths below which you are not prepared to sink? Funerals! Funerals! You are trying to stir up the emotions and I am stirring yours back. You are trying to stir up emotions in relation to funerals and the grave. I have brought you in and you can come in as hard as you like and you are going to get it right back.
Quite frankly, Sir, I have waited for this debate. I have itched by the minute to get an opportunity to just throw a little bit back at them. Last Monday, unlike the soap box orators on the other side, my colleague from Franklin and I went and spoke to the pensioners. We go to their meetings. Did you not know that? You got stuck into the honourable member for Parramatta. He has the closest contact with pensioners of any member in Sydney and you do not even know it. Why do you not go and talk to them? Why do not you try and understand them? Why do you not show a genuine interest? You treat them as electoral cannon fodder. You put them up at election times and when you can pick a little hole in a Bill, something which none of” us likes -
– Tell us about Gorton’s 50c.
-Oh, I am not interested in you. When you can find a Utile hole in a Bill, you belt it away. You try to make it so big and so enormous; but you are not going to con the pensioners this time. We are giving the pensioners automatic indexation. We are going to tackle inflation, not like the honourable member for Oxley. Under your inflationary policies the pensioners of Australia were robbed. You do not think they know it but they do, because week by week that went by their pensions bought less and less.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! Will the honourable member resume his seat for a moment. I am sorry to interrupt the flow of the honourable member’s speech but I point out that it is proper that he should address the Chair. He should not direct his remarks directly across the chamber, no matter how much the provocation. I advise the House to come a little bit to order. All honourable members have the option to talk on this clause as far as I know.
– I am sorry, but the honourable member for Oxley distracted me a little bit. By Heaven, Sir, I can say here and now that there are many people who would welcome the opportunity to stand where I stand tonight and say through you, Mr Chairman, the things I am saying to him. Having said that, let me now get back to the gist of the matter. Frankly, Sir, it really upsets me that members of the Opposition, the few of them who are here, think this is all a bit of a joke, a carnival, at the expense of the pensioners. I am proud to claim practically every battler and plonko in Hobart as a friend, and I do not think it is a funny matter. I do not think it does honourable members opposite any credit at all.
– I rise to a point of order. My point of order is that this is the National Parliament of Australia and the term ‘plonkos’ applied to citizens of Hobart ought to be withdrawn by the honourable member. It is disgraceful. No wonder he does not consider the pensioners.
– No point of order is involved.
– I think I am closer to the people that the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) is supposed to represent than he is. I share the distress of the pensioners at this decision. I swallow it and I take heart in it because I believe that we should look at this thing in the broad, and that the promise we gave to improve the lot of the pensioners will be honoured.
– You did not do it.
– It will be honoured. You are hoping and praying that we will not honour it but I am telling you now that you are going to be disappointed. And those who are distressed in 1976 are going to be full of gratitude by 1978, because at least we will be able to prove in black and white by reference to the record that we did something for the pensioners when you merely used them at election time. The automatic indexation, the financial autonomy, the consolidation of a payment, the recommendations of the Income Security Review Committee are all worthwhile initiatives and drives.
It is for these reasons, Sir, that I support with reluctance this clause. I see it as the first step along the way to a long-awaited fair deal for pensioners. I appeal to honourable members on the other side who genuinely believe in the interests of pensioners, like the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) not to get carried away by the other gentleman, if they can be so called, who are using pensioners as political footballs. Unfortunately for them, their football season ended on 13 December last. We will not use the pensioners as political footballs. We are going to do the job for them. I am determined on this and every other member of the Party is. I just say one other thing in conclusion: We have long memories. I believe the Government will answer the call that comes to it from those who believe and from those who want to see justice for the pensioners of Australia.
-I have heard some rather emotive speeches in my time. I will accept that the honourable gentleman should have spent some sleepless nights about this clause because the reason given by the Government for the deletion of the pensioner’s funeral benefit is to save money. On the first night I spent in this Parliament- if you want the record of your Party- the then Treasurer, the now right honourable William McMahon, gave the pensioners sitting in the gallery here a very large dose of sympathy and no money. By the time the Budget was passed the Government which had no money for pensioners, was able to find $120m for devaluation compensation for another section of the community. Now the Government finds it necessary to abolish a benefit which is costing less than $2m. The benefit could be doubled, or made a respectable benefit of around $150 or $200, for less than $4m. This Government is abolishing it; we did not. Honourable members opposite laugh about abolishing it. Yet they, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) and others, will go to their pensioners’ meetings and tell them what good fellows they are when they are taking $40 from a pensioner who is trying to cope with the traumatic problem of burying his or her partner.
Honourable members on the other side can laugh. I can assure them this is not funny, and their Government is not doing it to improve the lots of pensioners. It is not doing it as a result of an election promise. It would not be in power if it had told them this was its intention. If honourable members opposite had the courage of their convictions- which they have not- they would be voting with us to prevent the abolition of this clause. I will not be surprised at all if this clause in fact is returned to the BUI when it comes back to this House. Do not be surprised; there are people with conscience although regrettably they may not be in this place. I am suggesting that your record, despite what you may promise to do- and if you carry out your promises in full it will be less than was done in the last 3 years -
– That is not true.
– You are putting up what you are going to do against what has been done. The honourable member may know everything, I am not sure. AU I know is that you are going to sit in this chamber and vote to take $40 from the partner of a dead pensioner to save $700,000 this year- to reduce the $4,000m deficit to a deficit of $3,999m. That is what this Government proposes to do. Such a sum is not even worth considering in terms of the size of the Federal Budget. This is a psychological move designed purely to create a political atmosphere in which other expenditure cuts will be more acceptable and in which people will say. ‘If the Government has to take it off the pensioners, it will have to take it off other people’. Honourable members opposite talk about using people as political footballs! That is exactly what they are doing. They do not like it and I do not blame them for not liking it. That is a fact. If honourable members opposite want to hear a bit more of their record, I will tell them what happened.
After seeing the sympathy for the pensioners demonstrated by the right honourable member for Lowe when he was Treasurer, we had a nationwide campaign in 1970 to try to get the pensioners a decent increase that year. They did not get it.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I rise to order. Is the honourable member addressing his remarks to clause 7?
– Oh, sit down.
– I did, just then.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-I call the honourable member for Corio.
-I think the honourable member is making sure that everyone understands exactly where he stands on this matter. He has no feeling for pensioners- only contempt. He believes that they can be used as he is using them.
– That is a lie.
– The honourable gentleman may say that and get away with it because he has the numbers.
– That is a reflection on you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Corio has far more experience in this Chair than I have. I must remind him that he must not reflect on an honourable member -
– I am not reflecting on an honourable member. If I did, I would withdraw the remark.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- If the honourable member did not, his language was bordering on being unparliamentary to the honourable member.
-I would not wish to interrupt a good speech by making reflections on an honourable member.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I am sorry if I have interrupted a good speech. I invite the honourable member for Corio to address his remarks through the Chair every now and again. I call the honourable member for Corio.
-Mr Deputy Chairman -
– I rise to take a point of order. I consider that the remarks made by the honourable member for Corio should be withdrawn.
-If the honourable gentleman had been listening, he would have heard that I withdrew the remark that he found offensive before he found it offensive.
– Why do not you speak up so that we can hear you? You were yelling well, before.
-If the honourable member took his fingers out of his ears and cleaned the wax out of his ears, he might be able to hear.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! There is no need for the honourable member to be deliberately offensive or provocative. I was -
-Mr Deputy Chairman, if I may say so, the honourable member -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Would the honourable member kindly retain his peace while I am speaking. I did not hear any withdrawal by the honourable member for Corio. I am prepared to accept what he says. But I think that he had better not continue to reflect on any honourable member. I call the honourable member for Corio.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that you may have missed a few dozen reflections from that area of the chamber and one in particular in which the honourable member called me a liar. Apparently, that is not unparliamentary.
This debate is about a $40 benefit for pensioners. It is about a Government decision as a result of which honourable members opposite will bravely come to the party and vote to delete that payment. That will make a magnificent difference to the Budget deficit later this year. Honourable members will not be able to see even a change of position in the decimal point in the amount shown on the balance sheet following this action. But the pensioner who loses this $40 will lose something important. If honourable members opposite believe that the Opposition should applaud this as some sort of magnificent economic action, they have another think coming.
I return to what I was saying when I was interrupted. Honourable members opposite talk about using people as political footballs. Tacked on to the end of the first speech delivered by the then new Prime Minister in 1970- it was inserted only to catch a headline- was a statement in which he threw 50c to the pensioners.
– Fifty cents meant something in those days. It does not any more.
– Yes, it meant a lot. That was the increase in one year. Of course, the honourable gentleman at that stage most likely was at school. That amount of money would have bought him about 5 ice creams. The facts of the matter are that this is a despicable action aimed at those people least able to defend themselves, least able to afford it and least able to gain the political momentum which is necessary for them to reject what the Government is doing. If the Government took an equivalent amount of money off some of the people to whom it has just given a very substantial handout by way of the superphosphate bounty, people who do not need it -
– You do not understand.
-Of course I do not understand. I do not understand, if I may address my remarks through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, how members of the National Country Party can agree to give one man who has no need of the money an amount equivalent to 2000 funeral benefits and support that move as a great act and then say in the Parliament that the Government cannot afford $700,000 this year to maintain this funeral benefit. I hope that what the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) said eventually becomes true- that a better, modern benefit replaces this benefit- I do not believe that if the Government removes a benefit now it will replace it at some time in the sweet bye and bye with another benefit. If another benefit was being placed on the record now to replace this benefit we would not be seeking to remove this clause. No other benefit is mooted. The much vaunted indexation of pensions has been talked about for 3 years. Make no mistake about that fact.
Finally, I want to say this: After much promising the last time the Liberal Party and the Country Party came out of Opposition into Government, in their first 5 years in office they managed to reduce the pension rate for married couples from 70 per cent of the basic wage at that time to 54 per cent of the basic wage. I have no doubt they will do it again.
– We have listened to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) and the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), both of whom narrowly scraped home at the last Federal election, trying to present themselves as champions for the cause of the pensioners. The honourable member for Oxley accused the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) of being a member of the Sistine Chapel choir. I remind the honourable member for Oxley that Michelangelo painted and made things of beauty with a chisel for that chapel. The mess the honourable member for Oxley left behind as a result of his 12 months or so as Treasurer is responsible for half the problems we face today.
I believe that if the Labor Party was fair dinkum about its concern over funeral benefits, in the 3 years that it was in power it would have increased the $40 benefit to a more realistic figure because of the inflation which took place during those 3 years. Every honourable member knows that today $40, whilst helpful towards the cost of a funeral, is of little value in comparison with its value in 1965 when the benefit was introduced. It is not as substantial a contribution as it once was.
Let us consider the social services program. Last year, under the Labor Party, when people below the poverty level were receiving less than $2,000, it cost more than $8,000 to administer the program for every person below the poverty level. Pensioners or people needing assistance were getting $ 1 out of every $4 spent on the social welfare program. The system had become so top heavy and over-balanced that the right people were not getting the money. We provide $1.7m for the funeral benefit for pensioners but we end up spending a greater figure simply to administer the scheme. I do not stand here without sympathy or without feeling for people who have to rely on the pension. If any member of the Opposition were to so suggest, I would go so far as to risk being thrown out of this House as a result of using unparliamentary language by calling him a hypocrite, because it would not be true.
We have reached the stage where there has to be a rationalisation. A few years ago the LiberalCountry Party Government introduced a program whereby on the death of a partner in a marriage the survivor was given 12 weekly payments, which today is the equivalent of $400, to assist that person to go through that period of grief without concern and to readjust to a different income. That happened about four or five years ago under the Liberal Government. The figure is now $400. I ask: If we have a scheme which is costing twice as much to administer as the benefit that we are giving, is it not time that we really had a look at it? I do not advocate the total withdrawal of the scheme because, regrettably, it is an emotional matter. Members of the Opposition could make great politics out of it, they could stir up people, and they could suggest that we were trying to put people in a pauper’s grave. That is not the intention of this Government.
Personally, I would like to see introduced a scheme whereby when a pensioner died a funeral director could make a claim on the Department, and the money could be paid directly to him. If we centralise and minimise the amount of paper work involved, it could reduce the administrative costs. Honourable members opposite sit there and wait for the consideration of clause 7 which deals with the funeral benefit. During this debate they have not referred to any other clauses. They are just waiting to beat the meat, to try to make as much political capital as they possibly can out of this subject.
I know that honourable members on this side of the chamber have, in their own Party room, expressed concern at what has been done. They have expressed concern, because if we are going to take something away something must be given back. The members of the Labor Party have sat here for 3 months and have wallowed in the memory of Kerr- I must apologise, of the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. They have stood up in this House every day trying to rip his wife’s marriage or past marriage apart. They have been preoccupied with that matter. For the first time they have read the newspapers and have seen that Government supporters in their Party room were expressing a little bit of concern about this matter. So they say: ‘Well, this must be a good subject to drag up in the House and try to recover our depleted stocks’. Well, shame on you.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. I hesitated to take the point because I thought that you would take it yourself. Whilst I personally do not have respect for the present encumbent in the Governor-General’s office, I believe that the office is important, and the reflection made by the honourable member, even if unintended, should not go unattended by you. I suggest that you might give consideration to asking the honourable member to be more respectful and to redress the indignity that he has done to the office.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-The honourable member has made his point of order. I did not take action on 2 accounts. First of all, although there was a scream for a point of order from the Opposition side, in fact nobody rose. Secondly, the honourable member corrected himself, .very quickly, but I would nevertheless remind him that the correct title surely should be His Excellency, the Governor-General.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I did correct myself, as you have correctly pointed out. It is very good to see this division starting in the Opposition side, where one member on that side is prepared to stand up at long last and defend His Excellency the Governor-General. It has been a long time coming. In conclusion -
– A point of order. I claim to have been misrepresented.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member will resume his seat. If he claims to have been misrepresented, he will have an opportunity to take up the matter of a personal explanation after the honourable member has concluded his speech.
– I did not realise that I had hit such a sensitive nerve in the side of the Opposition. I have said all that I wish to say. I conclude simply by saying that this side of the chamber is not just concerned with what happens after death. We are concerned with ensuring that the life of the pensioner will be made as happy and as pleasant as possible. It is necessary that this Government should get the country back on a sound economic footing and so destroy the inflation which has ripped away at every pension increase that honourable members opposite have given and lauded themselves for having given and which within a few months has been rendered useless. I am absolutely confident that future policies of the Liberal-National Country Party Government will ensure that the pensioners and people who have a greater income will have a far better life than they had under the Labor Party. When the people spoke on 13 December 1975 the voters just did not kick honourable members opposite out; they roared ‘Out with Labor’, so they did not think much of their performance.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-I do claim to have been misrepresented, greviously. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) has done me a very grave disservice which could be extremely damaging to me in the Party of which I am a member and in the electorate which I represent.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I suggest that the honourable member explain where he has been personally misrepresented.
-If you will allow me and if I have no interruptions 1 will do it as expeditiously as is possible. Mr Deputy Chairman, the honourable gentleman called me a royalist and to me that, in the present situation, is extremely offensive.
– I never said that at all.
-He called me a royalist and if that was known in my electorate and in the Party that I represent I would be regarded as very much out of character with the spirit of the Labor movement and the spirit of my electorate. I have indeed over the years had a lot of respect for royalty as have many other people. But in view of the political intervention which took place in this country in recent times, I now have very strong tendencies towards republicanism and strongly advocate it. Indeed, I could not be correctly described as a royalist and I ask the honourable gentleman to withdraw the allegation that he has made because I regard it as offensive.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no such issue before the Chair. I call the honourable member for Wills.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, this must be the Liberal Party’s and the Australian National Country Party’s proudest hour. We have seen the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) waving his arms and pointing in various directions but not making it quite clear what the directions were. By sound and fury he might have confused the people who were still listening in although customarily I would expect that when they heard him announced they would switch off. They would forget what it was all about. We are discussing here tonight the repeal by the Government of a section of the Social Services Act which gave funeral benefits to the pensioners of Australia. The benefit was about $40. The sum involved this year was perhaps $700,000 but in the first flurry of the return to office of the people opposite, they decided that they must show the people of Australia that the time had come to show restraint; to pull in the belt; to reduce expenditure; to get out of the public sector into the private sector; and to do all the other things that are going to save us from destruction. So who do they pick on first? The people least able to stand it at the moment of their greatest deprivation; the people who receive funeral benefits. So we heard the honourable member for Griffith.
I must say that I did not quite understand what he was saying. I did my best. I was not quite sure whether he was for the proposal or against it. But I am quite confident that when the vote comes up he is going to vote for the repeal of this section.
– He voted for the superphosphate bounty.
– That is right. As my colleague, the honourable member for Port Adelaide points out, he voted for the superphosphate bounty. But before we go much further on that line there is a correction to which I think he ought to be subject. He passed some remark about the extraordinary administrative expenses involved in the system. I understand that the appropriation in 1974-75 was $3,800m for social services. The administrative expenses were about $75m- 2 per cent- 2c in every $1. 1 would presume that that applies to the administration of this area too. It ought to be possible for the honourable member for Griffith to get his facts straight.
Then there was the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). At least I will say this for him. When his Party was under fire, fortified by his yean of experience in that august body the Legislative Council of Tasmania, he was prepared to stand here and take us all on. He made it quite clear though, that he had had sleepless nights about it. He was worried about it. He did not really approve, but he is not going to carry his disapproval so far as to vote against it here in this House. That is the final test. If you vote for this you are voting for one of the most insensitive actions that a government has carried out in a long while. If it were part of the whole package of change in which the social security system was going to be amalgamated with something else, in which people were going to receive benefits across the board and this removal of this one was part of a package deal, well then we on this side of the Committee would not be taking any exception to it. But this was pan of a different sort of deal. It was part of a political deal to try to get atmospherics in the community- these men mean business. The great and powerful leadership, steeped in the traditions of the past of the Melbourne Club and the squattocrazy and so on. He would show us what could be done; he will punch the pensioners, and nothing that you say opposite about hypocrisy or cant, about political footballs or anything else can claim the climate of that. That is what it is all about. What a miserable pettifogging action. I do not know how many people are involved; perhaps up to 40 000 in a year. What does it mean to them? When we consider issues of this nature in this place it is fair enough to take the national content. But you have also to consider the personal content of the other end. And the facts of life are of course that in a country such as this $700,000, a million or so, is chicken feed in the national Budget. But to the people receiving $40, people who are pensioners, people at the time of greatest loss, it is quite an important matter. But also in many of these matters- and I work in a community to which these things are important- there is a psychological question that has been raised by the persons opposite. So this evening we reject the charge of hypocrisy and cant. My honourable friend from Oxley (Mr Hayden) changed the standard of life of every pensioner in this country, and he did it in the face of the hottest critical opposition you could encompass, from obstructions from State governments, from obstructions from the other place, from appeals to the High Court in various areas, and all the rest of it. Every possible obstruction was carried out. We changed the style of life, the standard of living and the quality of life of everybody subject to benefits under this Government.
– Rubbish, he says. A little while ago the honourable member for Parramatta thought it was a breach of privilege almost to suggest that we should let the people of his electorate know how he votes in this place. It is not rubbish. Get the figures; have a look at the amount of money left in people’s hands; take a look at the electoral offices where people come in. As one pensioner came into my own office a few weeks ago before the State election in Victoria and said: ‘Pass this on to the Labor Party; it is $5. We know what the Labor Party did for us. ‘ You have only got to do the arithmetic. Perhaps they do not teach arithmetic any more. You have only got to relate the pension to pounds of butter and pints of milk, to the removal of the means test for people over 70 years old, to see what a difference it has made. Unfortunately, no matter what the honourable members opposite may think or feel, no matter what they might say in the Party room, no matter how much they may plead for consideration, the facts are that the pensioners’ standard of living is going to go downwards over the next few years. The honourable member for Denison said that the people who were distressed in 1975 are going to be grateful in 1978- grateful because in 1978 they will have a chance to throw this graceless lot out of office.
-Mr Chairman, I rise to speak on this clause because it is one that has caused me considerable concern.
– Sleepless nights?
– Yes, sleepless nights.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)The honourable member will address his remarks to the Chair.
-Fine, Mr Chairman.
– There is too much humour on the other side. It is a big joke.
– It is a very serious matter as far as I am concerned. As a matter of fact I would have walked the floor at night but for the honourable member for Oxley. He baited one of our members and brought this debate to a level of filth as far as I am concerned. It is an issue that in my own electorate has caused those constituents who are pensioners to be concerned about our social welfare objectives and our direction. I too have felt that the withdrawal of this benefit may cast doubts on our overall aims in social welfare policy, but I know that the Government faces severe economic problems. I know that some cuts had to be made. I would have preferred to see this benefit remain but I can understand the dilemma in which the Government finds itself.
It is under these conditions and these conditions alone that I accept the Government’s decision. It is for those reasons that I have tried to explain to my constituents why the Government took this decision. Although I support the decision now I have this to say: I urge the Government in its next review of social welfare benefits to look very closely at the gap that has been left by the withdrawal of this benefit. I hope that the Government will be able to see its way to replace it. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has said that the Income Security Review Committee is examining the whole range of benefits with a view not only of rationalising the odds and ends that now exist, but also of producing a new, better and more meaningful scheme of income assistance for those who are in need.
Mr Chairman, these are not just idle words. I come from a working class background and I am proud of it. I have pensioners in my family and I am proud of them. But I have seen them suffer because of the policies of the man who sits opposite, who pretends to be their champion. I have seen members of my family suffer because of the disease called inflation; I have seen them suffer because of unemployment.
– Dry your eyes.
-I will. The deletion of this funeral benefit has caused me concern. I have to say that I believe it is only the first bite at achieving our social welfare objectives.
– To make the pensioners poor.
-No, it will not make them poorer. It is a program that will not be realised now or perhaps in the next 6 months, but before this Government’s term of office is finished the pensioners of Australia wm thank us for what we have done. Those are not ordinary words, Mr Chairman. I am convinced that Malcolm Fraser is fair dinkum about pensioners and that at long last pensioners will get a fair go from us instead of being treated like political footballs, as the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) and his colleagues opposite are doing tonight. It has been a dashed shame. Several times when a new member in this House has risen to speak he has been called a oncer by honourable members opposite.
– You will be a oncer.
– Fine. I will be proud to be a oncer if within 3 years I can contribute to the betterment of the lot of pensioners and the underprivileged of Australia. The honourable member for Oxley and his colleagues can throw as much as they like at me but the pensioners back home know that I am sincere. They know that I Will work for them. The Opposition tonight has thrown slush and muck around. It may have hoped to get results but it will not get those results now because I am awake and a lot of people in Australia are awake also. They know that unlike members of the Labor Party, we on this side stick to our word and we keep our promises.
Mr Chairman, I know that the views that I have put and which I so firmly believe in have been heard by the Government and will be considered. I support the Government in what it is trying to do to help the pensioners. I condemn the Labor Party for once again trying to play pOlitiCS with the pensioners of Australia and the underprivileged.
– by leave- In reply to a question without notice in the House on 30 March 1976 I promised the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) that, in the near future, I would be making a submission to the Government on migration from the Lebanon. I am now in a position to advise the Parliament of arrangements the Government is making to process as quickly as possible applications from those Lebanese people who qualify for migration to Australia. The situation in the Lebanon is tragic. There is no doubt that the lives of many people are in danger and that there is a considerable number of people eligible for migration to Australia who are at present unable to move.
It was decided on Sunday, 28 March, that the level of risk in retaining an Australian Embassy in Beirut was such that the presence of Australian officers there could no longer be justified. The senior Australian immigration officer remained in Beirut until the Embassy staff was withdrawn. Up till then he was able to serve a useful purpose in processing migration applications but under the conditions pertaining in the days immediately preceding last Sunday operations became impossible in addition to the escalating risk to the officers in Beirut. Locally engaged staff, except for one or two people who endangered their own lives were unable to reach the hotel in which the immigration officer was operating. It was virtually impossible for those in the Lebanese community who may have sought to reach the immigration officer to do so.
Before leaving Beirut, staff placed a notice in the Press on 29 March advising applicants of the closure of the Embassy and that if they were able to make their way to Australian embassies in Cairo, Ankara or Athens, they could still be assisted. If a formal refugee situation eventuates in Lebanon the Government would certainly give earnest consideration to how it might play its full part to help in such a situation. It must be evident to all members of the Parliament and, indeed, to the Lebanese community within Australia that, if a refugee situation should arise, it could well be of a magnitude beyond the capacity of Australia or of any one country to handle alone. However, I have been informed this morning that there is a significant movement of Lebanese into Syria. At this stage it is not known what the composition of this movement is and hence whether they would be eligible for migration to Australia. I have already given instructions that an immigration officer of the former Beirut staff, who is now in Athens, should proceed immediately to Damascus to process those people who would be eligible to come to Australia. The Australian Government does not officially have resident representation in Syria. Migration inquiries are handled for us by the Netherlands Embassy. The Australian officer will work in association with that Embassy during his stay in Syria. There is an Australian High Commission in Cyprus and those people from the Lebanon eligible for migration to Australia can apply there.
I now wish to speak of further action proposed to deal with migration of Lebanese, both those within the Lebanon and those who manage to reach other countries. I have already stated that the Australian Government will co-operate in any international efforts to deal with a refugee problem if one arises. As soon as the situation in Beirut stabilises to the point where the Embassy staff can return and operations can begin again, a task force of immigration officers will be sent into Beirut. It will have the necessary facilities to process applications for migration to Australia as rapidly as local circumstances permit. This will require the co-operation and availability of locally engaged staff for interpreting, clerical and other support. I pay tribute to the locally engaged staff in Beirut who have endeavoured to maintain a service to potential migrants and others applying to the temporary Embassy at very great personal risk to themselves.
Mr Brogan, the Senior Migration Officer who was in charge of the Immigration Office in Beirut, is now in Athens. He has been directed to co-ordinate immigration arrangements for those Lebanese who reach countries outside the Lebanon. This will involve maintaining continuous contact with our missions in nearby countries and an oversight of those countries where there are no Australian missions. In the latter category are Jordan and Syria. There are Australian missions in Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and Egypt. I must emphasise that currently the normal migration criteria will apply to people from the Lebanon applying in other countries. This means that those eligible will be the spouses, dependant children and aged and dependant parents of Australian residents. Cases outside these criteria will be considered sympathetically on their merits as they arise.
Extension of the eligible categories either of migrants or visitors is not foreseen. There are major problems of identification and extreme difficulties of obtaining necessary checks of potential immigrants including health checks. Honourable members will. I am sure, understand the need for careful control of entry to Australia from areas of international dispute. In respect of the persons in the present eligible categories I have mentioned- that is spouses, dependant children and aged and dependant parents- it may be necessary to dispense with checks, including health checks, if conditions do not permit them to be undertaken. Wherever possible, however, these checks will be undertaken.
I hope that this statement will clarify both the present position regarding eligibility for migration and indicate the firm intention of the Government to do all within its power to ease hardship. The situation will be kept under constant review and I can assure the House that I will be maintaining personal supervision of the arrangements I have outlined.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that the Lebanese community in Australia expected the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Mackellar) to clarify the position regarding relatives and friends who are living in the Lebanon. The present situation is causing a great deal of grief and distress in our Lebanese community. I do not believe that this statement adequately clarifies the position. There is nothing in it to satisfy the apprehensions of members of the Lebanese community in this country who feel that they are being left in the lurch. The whole statement is a facade. It is designed to lull the Lebanese community in believing that people existing in such tragic circumstances in the Lebanon can look forward to assistance. But something more specific should have been proposed to get people out of that country. The Minister referred to ‘arrangements the Government is making to process as quickly as possible applications from those Lebanese people who qualify for migration to Australia’. I stress the word ‘qualify’. No procedural change is proposed. The Minister has made it abundantly clear that existing criteria will continue to apply.
He said that the situation is tragic. Of course it is tragic! I do not challenge the Minister’s feelings but if his feelings are so deep for the individuals concerned I point out that his statement and his answer to a question the other day do nothing to relieve the apprehensions of members of our Lebanese community. The Minister agrees that the situation is not normal. This area has suffered as a result of conflict yet the normal migration criteria will apply. The Minister said:
This means that those eligible will be spouses, dependent children and aged and dependent parents of Australian residents. Cases outside these criteria will be considered sympathetically on their merits . . .
What does that mean? I have details of a case that was submitted to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I should like the Minister to reconcile his statement tonight and the answer he gave the other day with what has happened. An application was made on behalf of a lady, whose breadwinner was shot in Beirut, and 4 children. They sought permission to join a son and nephew in Australia. An officer of the Department notified my office on 9 March that permission had been refused. He refused permission on the ground that there were no special circumstances to consider in this case. I put this to the Minister: If, for instance, a person has lost his father, if a family has lost its home, or if a woman has lost her husband, does he seriously say that that does not come within the ambit of special circumstances? If that is not the issue or if that is not what is spelt out in the statement, then another statement needs to be made dealing with this as a specific matter. Will the Minister undertake to reverse that decision, and in the future to deal with other applications, including applications that are there at present, with a little more compassion? I hope that I am not boring the Minister -
– You are boring me.
– It might be boring the honourable member who interjects, but it is not boring the people in Lebanon; neither is it boring their relatives in Australia. If that is all the honourable member for St George is going to add up to, he might have in his electorate some Lebanese people who might be taking him to task; and I sincerely hope they do.
What does the Minister mean when he refers to ‘a formal refugee situation’? It is hypocrisy. The formal refugee situation was a quasi-war refugee situation, and that has not changed. It means that a large ethnic community in this country must wait until this Government finds some magical formula before it is able to assist friends, relatives and countrymen in an extraordinary and extremely tragic situation. I do not think this statement goes anywhere near far enough. It certainly does not clarify the matter. The Minister says in his statement that before the staff of the Embassy left Beirut they put a notification in the Press advising people to go to Athens and other places. I think he refers to Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and in particular Damascus. I wonder whether we have asked the Syrian authorities whether we can carry out that sort of operation in Damascus. We have sent people into other countries in the past and they have run into serious trouble with the governments concerned. The Minister ought to clarify whether in fact that has been done; whether we will receive co-operation from the Syrian authorities; and whether that has been tidied up.
The Government also is asking these people to go long distances. Is it spelling out exactly what is meant by that? Are people to be attracted to the various areas to which I have referred, only to find that their applications are refused? Will they be refused because of the strait-jacket nature of the criteria which the Government is using at present and which do not meet the problem and the examples which I have put to the Minister? I believe that that advertisement may do more damage than enough. I put it to the Minister sincerely that the House is entitled to know just what the arrangements are. The people in this country who have relatives there ought to know, and it should not be the type of vague, general statement that has been made here this evening.
In summary, Mr Speaker, the fact is that the criteria for entry have not changed. The situation is tragic- there is no doubt about that- but everything is normal. The criteria are normal. This statement goes no way towards satisfying the apprehensions of the Lebanese people concerned. I think it is a political trick, an attempt by the Government and the Minister to pretend that they are doing something that they really are not doing. I charge the Minister with the responsibility of clarifying the statement and going to the point of answering the question concerning the example that I gave. The Lebanese people who have relatives in this country and the relatives of those people, who are living under tragic circumstances in Lebanon, need a better explanation. They need special circumstances and special criteria to deal with a very serious problem. It is the height of hypocrisy to put out a statement that does not change the existing situation. Given the fact that the Minister accepts that it is a tragic situation, I think there is a deeper responsibility to the Lebanese people here and to their relatives in Lebanon.
Unemployment in Cobar -Beef Industry: Rural
Poverty -Communications in Rural
Motion ( by Mr MacKellar) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (10.30)-Mr Speaker, I was very grateful for the interest shown today in the problems of the township of Cobar, following my question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) concerning the retrenchment of a further 65 employees and the fact that 30 per cent of the work force of that town is now unemployed. I am very pleased at this interest because Cobar has a long and interesting mining and pastoral history. At the turn of the century there were 10 000 people in Cobar and many mining companies and many mines were operating. Cobar at that stage even had its own stock exchange. The first mining lease was taken out in 1870 and there was a boom in copper mining in that area from that period until 1919 when low copper prices, rising costs and other problems forced most of the mines to close down. The last big producer of Cobar boom days closed in 1920 when the CSA mine was forced to close due to fire.
The second stage of mining took place in 1932 and continued until 1952 when the New Occidental Gold Mines NL operated 3 mines in that area. Then, once again, we saw the close down of the mining operations. The third stage of the Cobar mine in which I am now interested was under the management of Cobar Mines Pty Ltd which took over the old CSA mine in 1962 and began production in June 1965. It employed 450 employees. Many other ore bodies were located and it was anticipated that several mines would be operating at this period. The present mine yields low grade ore, but it has one of the most modern plants and modern systems in the world. This can be borne out by the fact that the production target for this year was 625 000 tons with only 200 people employed.
I want to inform the House of some of the present day problems of the town of Cobar. In the middle of 1975 the future of the mine was not very rosy. It was a credit to everyone in the town concerned that the people were prepared to talk about these things. I took part in many official and non-official talks on this problem. The Minister for Minerals and Energy at that time, the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor), was kept informed of the situation and he intimated to the people involved that if the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill was passed there would be some assistance for the Cobar mine. Unfortunately, when there was a challenge to this legislation and it become quite obvious that no assistance would come as a result of that Bill, an arrangement was made for a delegation of shire officials from Cobar representing the mine workers to meet the Minister and the Treasurer. The outcome of this was a notification that the Industries Assistance Commission would be asked to consider the problems of the copper industry and would be asked to report back within 60 days. That was on 17 September 1975.
Unfortunately, the situation deteriorated more quickly than was expected and, following another series of discussions, it was decided to revise the scale of operations and 200 employees were retrenched. It was a credit to the company that plenty of warning was given and much consideration was given to employees’ relocation assistance and so forth and assistance with their housing. Both the State member and I were invited to join the discussions and we tried to find a way to assist the situation. The only complaint I have, Mr Speaker, is that I gained an understanding during these discussions that operations on this reduced scale would continue until the LAC report was made known. It seems to me that there was some slip-up here because there has been a retrenchment of another 65 employees. It can be seen from the Minister’s answer to my question today that this Industries Assistance Commission report has not yet been made public.
The breakdown of the M2 conveyor belt and an overtime ban because of some argument about sick leave brought about this failure to achieve their production target and the company announced that a further 65 employees were to be retrenched. However, it did agree to keep the mine operating provided a significant reduction of the losses incurred could be made. It was agreed that changes had to be made in operations, that mining operations would be mostly on the open stope system, that production would be maintained at 2500 tonnes per day, and that the additional 65 employees would be retrenched. Fifty per cent of these were staff. It was agreed that the remaining employees would recognise and accept the need for flexibility in work allocations, meaning that they could be shifted from the surface to go underground and to take place in stope preparation and so forth. I was speaking to the unionists tonight in Cobar and I am pleased to say that they have reached agreement on these things, and the mine might be able to keep open on this reduced scale. I hope there will be no further reduction in the work force of the mine and that the Australian Government will be able to find a way to give the mine some assistance.
I would like to return to the 30 per cent who are already unemployed. Even before any retrenchment on the mine there was an exceptionally high number of unemployed in that town, so much so that the previous Government in a little over 12 months made $621,000 available in Regional Employment and Development scheme grants and in 2 years they got $237,000 from the Grants Commission. Capital grants for education for the high school and Catholic schools amounted to $140,000, and there was also finance for Aboriginal housing.
It seems to me that the Government should not wait for the mine but should try to find some way to assist the economy of the town. Unfortunately it appears that this Government is heading in the other direction. Because the natural gas pipeline goes through that area, over 42 per cent of the roads were damaged. Although the rate income for the year 1974 amounted to only $173,103 the total cost to repair these roads would amount to $799,105. The Shire has written to the Government on several occasions but it cannot get an answer to its claim to have this reimbursed. On top of this, an amount of $28,554 expended by the Council and representing award increases for the number of manweeks involved in the RED scheme is outstanding. One of the conditions of the scheme was that the project in question would be approved provided any variation in wage costs would be automatically added.
I ask the Government to give further consideration to the economy of the town, because there is a lot of ore around the town and more companies are ready to move in. Already many millions of dollars have been paid into the treasuries of the Federal and State governments from this mighty town of Cobar. I ask the Government to consider an immediate investigation to try to find some way of keeping that mine open, because there is no doubt that eventually we will have a good mine producing in Cobar and a great national benefit.
-Mr Speaker, over the last few weeks a lot has been said in this House about the situation in the beef industry, and the rural poverty situation has been the subject of a special report. I would like to speak tonight about an area that combines the problems of the beef industry and that of rural poverty. The comparison is all the more striking because this particular area fringes on probably one of the greatest and wealthiest mining areas in Australia. I refer to the Utah Development Company mines at Dysart and Moranbah. In 1967 the Brigalow Land Agreement Act was introduced by the Commonwealth to provide financial assistance to Queensland for area 3 of the Brigalow scheme. The project involved breaking down the larger leases previously existing into smaller living areas.
The scheme was evolved through the active encouragement of the Queensland State Government and the Federal Government at a time when the beef industry was affluent and the future appeared bright. Conditions on the ballot blocks ensured a minimal equity by the settlers with the Queensland Land Administration Commission allowing for the block being paid off over a period of years, interest free. Further funds advanced through the Land Administration Commission by the Commonwealth were allocated towards improvements and the purchase of breeding cattle at a variable rate of interest, currently at 10.2 per cent, repayable over 20 years from the date of advance. The interest rate at the commencement of the loan in 1971 was only 7 per cent.
Before full development could be undertaken in Brigalow area 3, and before the breeding herds could develop saleable cattle the beef market deteriorated badly. Interest rates on loans escalated dramatically and the political climate changed, thereby making unattainable the budgets and financial projections on which the original settlers had been accepted for the scheme. The changed circumstances were unforeseen by governments, financiers, stock and marketing specialists and particularly the settlers themselves. The changed circumstances must pose questions of future viability for some of the settlers, even if the beef market improves to a cut even point.
Communications represent one of the elementary tenets upon which economic growth and development depend. Roads, transport, mobility of human resources and verbal communications all provide the necessary input and output information on markets and they provide a link of communication for medical services for people in this area. Communication facilities enable people to live in and be attracted to remote areas. The matter of telephone communications is therefore particularly important in the development of this area. Nebo exchange partially taps the top of area 3, and Isaacs River Exchange has suffered from procrastination and deliberate delays by the previous Government. The Dysart exchange, centre of a very prosperous mining area, bypasses some of the adjacent properties. A special arrangement exists for a dam project on the Mackenzie River that may be expanded in the future.
In this problem of communications the need is pressing. Accident victims have been known to wait for 6 hours for attention, or days when the country is flooded. The matter can be one of life or death. The present limit of free extension and the expense of line reticulation prevents the settlers from providing the necessary funds even when partially subsidised by the Commission. Of all their social problems this one of communications is the most pressing. The Australian Assistance Plan operated from the Mackay Regional Development Committee has operated beneficially for the social good of these settlers. The people are firm advocates for the plan.
While not being a problem unique to area 3, beef markets and stabilisation of prices form one problem in relation to which all beef producers are looking to this Government. The Federal loans that were advanced by the 1967 Act in area 3, with interest capitalised to 30 June 1975, amounted to $4,018,614. While appreciating the extended terms with no repayment, these initial redemptions will now be made while the beef industry and producers of the area are in an economic trough.
– They are real battlers, too.
– That is the problem. To all of this there are answers. I am merely reporting on the problems that the settlers of the area consider immediate. I believe that the Government could, by following certain suggestion, which could be adopted by Ministers concerned in these particular areas, assist the settlers to a great extent. I name these recommendations.
The Federal Government should continue to pursue every avenue to seek out long term world markets at better than cut-even prices. Interest rates on the loans mentioned should be reduced on all loans directly or indirectly to the industry from the Federal Government preferably to the 4 per cent presently applying to the rural reconstruction loans, these to include the special assistance to the Queensland Government and also Development Bank loans. The redemption of the above loans could be suspended until the industry became more viable.
The Federal Government through the Income Tax Act could provide for the income equalisation deposits to allow taxation deductions at the point of purchase and to provide for their taxation at the point of redemption, as recommended by the Industries Assistance Commission in July 1975. These bonds could be made available to aU rural producers. A committee could be formed, perhaps within the framework of the IAC, to take evidence from the meat industry and producers to formulate recommendations to government as to how the industry in all aspects may be best assisted by the Government. There could be a return of the petrol price equalisation scheme which was removed by the former Government. Investigation should be undertaken of the needs of local governments in these areas that constitute predominantly depressed grazing industries especially for finance to enable them to continue to provide services without excessively rating the property owners.
Within Brigalow Area 3 the particular problem would be that there must be an immediate consideration in the reduction of interest and deferment of redemptions and, perhaps in conjunction with the Queensland State Government, this Government could provide personnel to determine the immediate financial situation of the settlers and their long term viability, to review completely the whole scheme, and to investigate the residency and other conditions of the initial contracts to allow for an earlier sale or a deferment of development. The viability of each property must be ascertained and also the amount of further assistance individual settlers will require to inject into their properties to make them viable and profitable.
This morning in the course of the grievance debate, the honourable member for Paterson (Mr 0’Keefe) mentioned particularly the Postal and Telecommunications commissions. In this area I think there could be real advantages if the commissions or if the Minister could look at certain aspects of these problems including sending an investigation team into the area to report on the needs of the settlers at Valkyrie, Isaacs River, MacKenzie River, Dysart and Moranbah. They could suggest acceptable alternatives where normal telephone communications cannot be made, that is, by 2-way radio or radio telephones. There could be a costing prepared on the minimum needs of communications with a view to the Government making a special grant to Telecom to carry out this work, and provision in the 1976-77 Budget for the erection of a translator to service the mining towns of Dysart and Moranbah with commercial and national television with Utah company assistance, which has already been promised.
In the general area of post and communications I agree with the honourable member for Paterson when he mentioned this morning that there should be a re-assessment by the Telecommunications Commission in the 1976-77 Budget of rural telepohone charges to reduce the price of a local call to the charge prevailing at the city closest, most frequented or used for business by the settlers. Some latitude could be granted to allow for self-help in the reticulation of private lines to minimise costs.
Mr Speaker, I do hope that the Government and its Ministers will take note of the particular problems of these settlers. They are people who have chosen to follow this way of life and to develop a particularly rich area of land and who, through circumstances beyond their control, have fallen upon bad times.
– They are the salt of the earth.
– They are, too. I believe that if the Government could assist in the manner in which I have mentioned it would assist not only Brigalow 3 but rural areas throughout Australia and particularly the beef industry.
-Mr Speaker, several constituents have asked me to raise a matter which concerns a wonder drug diet- a weight reducing method- which has involved them in what in common parlance would be called a rip-off. Whilst they are not complaining much about that they are concerned that the costs associated with this treatment are a charge on Medibank. There is a very strong feeling that the Government is not being viligant enough in ensuring that only bona fide charges are made against Medibank and insufficiently vigilant about bringing to heel people of the type I am going to mention.
The company concerned is the Obesity and Gerontology Research Clinic at 175 Pitt St., Sydney. That is the head office of this company. It also has 5 clinics in the suburbs of Sydney and, I think, 2 clinics in Melbourne. It now is moving to Adelaide as well. In the first year of its operations this company is said to have had from 3000 to 3500 clients. I think honourable members will acknowledge, after I have finished speaking, that they can be described as victims. I am very concerned that the Government may be harbouring people of this type- people who are battening on the great humane concept of Medibank.
This clinic had been advertised extensively on television by the well-known woman’s cookery writer, Margret Fulton. It is run by a Dr Thomas Beck and he has convinced thousands of women to take this $ 1 1 8 diet course- the wonder drug diet course. The matter to which I am referring was the subject of a very excellent exposure by the Sydney Daily Mirror on the 16 February. People who are interested could gain a lot more detail by reading that newspaper. The doctor’s credentials are not recognised in Australia. There are registered doctors co-operating with him in this rip-off despite the possible deregistration that they face. I understand they have been warned to that effect.
This wonder diet involves an injection of hormones taken from pregnant women and it is regarded as useless by the experts. The drug is called HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. Dr Beck regards this as having such great potential that he has actually sought to extract the hormone from the bodies of starving women in Bangladesh. It is such a lucrative business that it does not matter where you get it from. It is used with a daily injection and patients are placed on a 500 calories a day diet.
The latter part of the treatment might have merit in itself but the former part seems to be extremely questionable. Leading nutritionists in the Federal Department of Health have criticised the program and called it a gimmick. One expert, Professor W. Jones, a former lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Sydney, said it was unscrupulous. Professor J. Turtle, a professor of medicine at the University of Sydney, said that there have been no studies to establish that the treatment has any benefit whatsoever. Professor Drenick, professor of medicine at the University of California, said that the treatment ‘could induce hair loss, dry scaly skin and lowered blood pressure’. He said that the United States Food and Drug Administration had actually required the labelling of HCG to indicate that there is no evidence that it induces weight loss.
As I said earner, this matter involves some thousands of people, 3000-odd in the first year, at an average cost of $118. 1 have several letters from constituents but I will refer only to one. It says that it appears that the clinic takes all the patients it can get. There is supposed to be a psychological test to determine whether people are capable of responding but the clinic takes people whether or not they undergo that test. In fact it usually signs them up and commences the course. People almost complete the course before they get the results of the entry test. I will read this paragraph from the letter. It says:
It also appears that they take all the patients they can get, give them the treatment, if it works they are suitable for it, if not send them back to their doctor.
You only have to go to the Medibank office in Miranda -
That is a part of my electorate- to see how many people go straight from the clinic to collect their medical refunds, to realise how many people have responded to the advertising, and this is only one of the clinics in Sydney.
This constituent began his letter by saying:
I am very disturbed about the methods some doctors are using, which may bring Medibank into disrepute, and I would hate this to happen after all the Labor Party has done to bring it into being. It may require adjustments and modifications, but it seems to me that Fraser would just as soon scrap it as modify it.
I have talked to several of these people and they realise that they were taken for a ride. One lady told me that after the first injection she was subjected to vomiting, nausea, intestinal pains, tingling of the fingers, deafness and blurred vision. She knows, as I say, that she has been taken for a ride. But what she and a number of other people are now anxious to ensure is that this is not underwritten by the Australian taxpayer, by making it a charge on Medibank. I have already taken up the matter, by way of correspondence, with the Minister. I have listed it as a question on the parliamentary notice paper. I believe that it is important to get the issue recorded in Hansard so that other people can be informed about the hazards represented by it.
Mr Speaker, in the several minutes that remain, and without labouring the point, I would just like to refer to the closure of a post office. Now that sounds mundane and very ordinary, because many post offices have been closed in Australia in recent years. But this one has a feature about it which I believe needs mentioning. The Menai post office serves a little community 20 miles from Sydney. It is a place where there will be maybe 70 000 people in the near future. It will be a sort of a satellite city. In fact the first town houses are already starting to be erected. There has been a post office there for donkeys years, and now the postmistress has resigned. Why has she resigned? It is simply because the agreement with the non-official Postmasters Association and the Government is to the effect that this postal officer, be it a postmaster or a postmistress, is paid $42 for a 5-day week and $2.50 for 2Vi hours work on Saturday. In other words, the Australian Postal Commission is seeking to run this service on the cheap. I do not doubt that this is but only one case where we are just trying to get too much out of these people. I think it is fair to describe the policy as blatantly exploitive and reminiscent of sweated labour in the dark ages. Of course, the regrettable thing is that the members of the public are the unfortunate victims of the endeavour by the Postal Commission to get this service on the cheap. I actually went round this town asking people whether they would like to become the postmaster or the postmistress. They just said to me: ‘You must be joking. It is such an absurd proposition’.
This is what happens in this instance: The postmistress receives an annual allowance of $2,180 which, as I say, is the equivalent of $42 a week. Then there is accommodation. The allowance for the rent of a very nice office that she provides is $936. There is an allowance of $26 for a supplementary thing- I am not sure what that is. Then there is an allowance of $52 for heating, $39 for cleaning the public telephone cabinets, and $133.70 for Saturday penalty rates. There it is. A very assiduous service is required by the community and a competent sort of a person is required to run the service. That lousy wage is a reflection on this Government. If anybody else tried to engage a person of that sort of calibre for that wage the Government would probably prosecute him. I believe that this matter ought to be looked at, because the case I raise is undoubtedly typical of similar situations in many other parts of Australia.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
Is he able to say how many Federal laws have been contravened to date by the buyer of the Robbins Bendigo gold nugget, and what action does he propose to take on behalf of the Australian people.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
This answer is based on facts supplied by other Departments and by the Reserve Bank. As required by the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations an approval for the export of the nugget was issued by an officer of the Department of National Resources duly authorised by the Minister for National Resources on S February 1976 pursuant to regulation 9 and the consent of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs was obtained on 10 February 1 976 pursuant to regulation 4. The Reserve Bank of Australia verified on 4 Feburary 1976 that the arrangements made for payment for the nugget complied with those approved by the Bank under the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations. The nugget was exported on 12 February 1976. No duty was payable. Section 1 14( 1 ) (b) of the Customs Act provides that in such a case the goods shall be entered for export not later than three days after a Certificate of Clearance has been granted to the master of the ship, or pilot of the aircraft, in which the goods are to be exported. In this case the Certificate of Clearance was granted on 12 February 1976 and the goods were entered for export on 17 February 1976. Having regard to the fact that all necessary approvals for export had been obtained the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs is of the view, with which I agree, that this is not a case in which proceedings should be brought for non-compliance with section 1 14( 1 ) (b) of the Customs Act.
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
What is the
Will he provide a list of the names of the experts he consulted in the national museums before issuing the licence to export the gold nugget. . Mr Howard- The answer to the honourable member ‘s question is as follows:
182 ounces troy.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for National Resources, upon notice:
Are there any plans to exploit the coal reserves at Lake Philopson in South Australia; if so, what are those plans.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Utah Development Company, which holds the exploration licences, is committed to a program of examining the feasibility of development of the Lake Phillipson reserves, particularly in relation to power generation. The company reports on a regular basis to the Government of South Australia.
As far as I am aware, there are currently no firm plans for exploitation of the reserves.
Trade with Arab Countries (Question No. 186)
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice:
Is it a fact that the Scarf Memorial Foundation is the principal Australian organisation which trades with Arab countries and has been encouraged in its efforts by his Department.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have noted that, in recent television interviews, the Leader of the Opposition has alluded to the Scarf Memorial
Foundation as the principal Australian organisation which trades with Arab countries and the organisation which had, in effect, a monopoly of trading relations with the Arab countries. The Leader of the Opposition has also said that this organisation was the instrument being encouraged by the Department of Overseas Trade to foster trade with Arab countries. I think it needs to be made quite clear that the Scarf Memorial Foundation is not the principal Australian organisation which trades with Arab countries nor does the Scarf Memorial Foundation have sole trading rights with Arab countries.
Many Australian organisations trade with Arab countries. While the Foundation has been seeking to develop trade with a number of Arab countries, I understand that the Foundation has concentrated most of its efforts on trade with Iraq. Australian exports to Iraq in 1974-75 amounted to $45m, of which wheat accounted for $41m. The Wheat Board makes its own arrangements for sales of wheat to Iraq.
Mr Scarf has received assistance from the Department of Overseas Trade and the Trade Commissioner Service in his efforts to develop trade with Arab countries, but he has only been provided with the type of advice and assistance that would be afforded to any Australian businessman seeking to develop overseas markets. The Department will continue to assist Mr Scarf in the same way it would assist any other Australian exporter.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 April 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760401_reps_30_hor98/>.