30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
-Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the 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 whereas the Democratic control of organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is essential to a sound system of industrial relations;
And whereas Democratic control can only be guaranteed by the opportunity for all rank and file members of organisations to vote in elections for all officials and all Committees of Management and whereas some forces within the Trade Union Movement are attempting to deny rank and file members the right to vote in all Union elections;
Your petitioners humbly pray, that the members in Parliament assembled will take steps to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr E. G. Whitlam, Mr William McMahon, Dr Edwards, Mr Haslem, Dr Klugman, Mr Les McMahon and Mr Wentworth.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Commonwealth Government to reduce the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote by $2 1 million 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 Lynch, Mr Newman, Mr Corbett, Dr Edwards, Mr Hurford and Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That the existence of a system of double taxation of personal incomes whereby both the Australian Government and State Governments had the power to vary personal income taxes would mean that taxpayers who worked in more than one State in any year would-
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a system of double income tax on personal incomes be not reintroduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the honourable the speaker and Members of the House of representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that milk subrCritutes be restored to the schedul of Pharmaceutical Benefits for children up to the age of six years as soon as possible.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bryant and Mr Morris.
To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That the undersigned persons believe that-
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Division of Bruce and other electorates respectfully showeth-
That NEAT as a motivating scheme to place skilled workers in areas of employment need has become, by the new financial guidelines imposed, a social security based system. The distress occasioned by many NEAT students is not acting as an incentive to successful completion of studies, but is causing many to consider leaving courses half completed, and many are reverting to receiving unemployment benefits.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will seriously consider that this potential loss from urgently needed areas of employment will ultimately be more costly to the community in general, than the relatively minor amount saved by reductions in trainees’ payments.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Falconer.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petitioners of various Divisions of South Australia, respectfully showeth:
That wetlands in the world are diminishing in area and quality through man’s activities
That the wetlands of the Northern Territory are some of the most extensive in Australia
That these areas are important, not only to migratory birds from overseas but provide an important refuge to birds from southern Australia, particularly in drought periods
That the Australian Government is a signatory to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, and as such is obliged to consider any moves which might limit wetlands
That some of these wetlands of Northern Australia, notably all those within the catchments of the East and South Alligator Rivers, should therefore be incorporated into a National Park.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House instruct its Standing Committee on the Environment to examine the boundaries of the proposed Kakadu National Park with a view to including the whole of the catchments of the East and South Alligator Rivers within the Park.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Giles.
To the honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Division of Angas respectfully showeth:
Those children living in isolated country districts are suffering disadvantages because of this isolation and need more financial assistance than is now available and more accommodation for them. They would also be helped if an Infortmation Centre where country parents and students could obtain-
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives will review the assistance given to help the education of isolated children.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Giles.
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 1975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem and Mr Lucock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Transport left Australia this morning to attend a meeting of the South Pacific Regional Shipping Council. He is expected to return to Australia on 3 May. During his absence the Minister for Construction will act as Minister for Transport.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. What new economies will the Government now have to introduce to compensate for continuing the funeral benefit for pensioners?
– The question is as ludicrous as it is characteristic of the honourable gentleman. All I need say, Mr Speaker, is that -
– You are looking pretty glum about it.
– That hardly characterises the expressions on the faces of the honourable gentlemen behind me, although it does characterise the expressions on the faces of the honourable gentlemen behind the caretaker Leader of the Opposition.
– There are not many of them. Most of them are not even in the House.
– As my colleague reminds me, there are not many of them. There are very few in the House to listen to the honourable gentleman at this stage. The Government has taken a responsible decision in relation to the funeral benefit matter. It was the subject of comment by me to the Press Gallery after the Party meeting this morning. I have nothing further to add.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I refer the right honourable gentleman to the target levels he set earlier this year with regard to the size of the Commonwealth Public Service. Is he in a position to inform the House of the progress which has been made towards achieving those targets?
-When those targets were set some people said that the Government was being much too rigid in its approach to this matter and that the targets could not possibly be met by 30 June. I have pleasure in informing the House that the targets for Government departments in the Public Service have already been met. The figure for the Public Service for March was 300 to 400 below the ceiling for 30 June. That does not mean that Ministers and departments can now go ‘hot foot’ to the Public Service Board for additional places and additional appointments. I do not believe there has been any deterioration in efficiency in the Public Service as a result, rather an increase in efficiency as a result, as some of the surplus arrangements which were so much a part of the present Opposition’s approach on a previous occasion have been removed from the scene. This situation has been reached by the natural process- by resignations, retirements, natural wastage- and not by sackings in any sense, shape or form. As a result of the measures we are taking and will continue to take we will have a much more efficient Public Service which is properly attuned to the needs of the Commonwealth of Australia and which will not be such a burden on the taxpayers of Australia.
One of the things that the caretaker Leader of the Opposition never seemed to understand was that when he was making so many of his wonderful promises all around the country he was never promising anything of his own, never promising anything of the Australian Labor Party, not even something from Iraq. However he was promising something belonging to every Australian. He was very willing and able to do that. We have a much greater concern for the resources that belong to the people of Australia, and we are determined to use them economically and sensibly.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I remind him of his recent statements drawing attention to the role and importance of inflationary expectations. Is he aware that very little is known to the Government about inflationary realities, apart from its own economic shibboleths -
– Order! The honourable gentleman is making a statement. He will ask his question.
-That last sentence was the first part of my question. I repeat it for your benefit, Mr Speaker. I said: Is he aware that very little is known to the Government about inflationary realities, apart from its own economic shibboleths, and that there has been little research on the subject? That was part of my question.
-It is still a statement. Proceed with your question.
– Will he commission some research, as present Government policies of increased interest rates and cutting government spending are clearly having only the effect of killing or at least postponing the recovery which was under way? Will he commission some research urgently?
– I find it a matter of classic irony that the honourable gentleman should pose a question of this type. It reminds me very much of an arsonist who, having proceeded over a period of some years to burn down public buildings, stands up in public and seeks to ask some noticeably naive questions about fire control. The honourable gentleman and his colleagues were members of a Party which in this country produced the highest interest rates since the Rum Rebellion; they produced the highest level of unemployment and the highest levels of inflation.
There is no need for this Government to commission the inquiry which the honourable gentleman seeks. We are acquainted with the realities of life, if I may use the honourable gentleman’s phrase. We have the resources of the Federal Treasury. We have the independent advising arm of the Reserve Bank. Unlike the previous Government, we have deliberately sought to use the full capacities of the market place to provide feed-in information of a useful economic type by the establishment of the Economic Consultative Group. As for the realities of life, they are the real reason why the discredited Leader of the Opposition was so forcefully rejected at the polls last December. This Government is aware of the problems ahead resulting from the past policies of the Australian Labor Party but it is of the view that we are now in the early stages of economic recovery. But that recovery will depend significantly upon the Government’s capacity to come to grips with inflation. It is coming to grips with inflation, as shown by the positive measures which have been introduced.
– You are frightening the wits out of the Australian savers.
– The honourable gentleman, who used to be nicknamed ‘The Strangler’, frightened the almighty wits out of most of the mining industry in this country. With the greatest of respect, I would have thought that the honourable gentleman- he still sits on the front bench, for reasons that frankly escape me- ought to be aware that the Government knows what the position is and that its economic policies will be successful.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the House. I refer to the occurrences in the House last night on the adjournment when the Opposition, for whatever motive, called for 3 divisions, thus occupying most of the allotted time and effectively stifling debate to the extent that you, Mr Speaker, felt compelled to remark upon it.
– I think that that remark should be the end of the matter. The question is asking the Leader of the House to comment upon -
– I will permit the honourable member to ask the question.
– 1 ask the Minister: Does he recall that this incident occurred on the first adjournment after his introduction of the sessional order which was designed to give honourable members better opportunities to speak on the adjournment? Will he consider the introduction of an appropriate amendment to this sessional order so as to prevent the recurrence of such an abuse of the processes of this House? Alternatively, will he consider referring the whole matter to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Standing Orders?
– Before the Minister proceeds with his answer let me say that, if my recollection is correct, the Opposition called not for 3 divisions but for 2 divisions, and one division was called for by the Leader of the House himself.
– The reason for the change in the sessional orders to which the honourable gentleman’s question refers was to provide greater opportunities for members of both sides of the House to discuss those matters which are customarily debated during the adjournment debate. Unfortunately last night when the honourable member for St George sought, very naturally I thought, to raise the similarities between some of the matters which the Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales seeks to assert in his election campaign and those that were presented by the -
– Order! the Leader of the House will resume his seat. The honourable member for Corio is raising a point of order.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House is commenting on a debate in the House and is not answering the question which was asked. I think it is quite out of order for an honourable member to raise or revive at question time a debate which has already taken place.
-The point of order taken by the honourable member for Corio is substantially correct and I uphold it. The Leader of the House is entitled to respond to that part of the question which asks for future action but he is not entitled to comment upon the debate of last night.
– The purpose of the adjournment debate is to enable private members within the Parliament to canvass issues of significance to their own electorates and issues that might be of significance within their own States and thenown communities. It is unfortunate if, in the change of sessional orders, a pattern develops which sees new members of this chamber such as the honourable member for St George being prevented from expressing a point of view. Indeed, I understand that at the moment the Labor Party is particularly sensitive to any attempts by those on this side of the House to establish in the minds of the Australian community the true relationship between the leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales and the leader of the Labor Party in the Federal Parliament. I hope that the sensitivity that has been apparent at question time this afternoon and the sensitivity that was displayed last night will not continue in the future in adjournment debates because it is necessary for the people of New South Wales in particular to know and accept the similarity that exists between the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party and the leader of the Labor Party in this place. I believe that the adjournment debate is a proper place where views of that character can, should and must be asserted. The change in the sessional orders is designed to protect the rights of private members. Unfortunately, the Labor Party has not been wont in the past or in the present to have any concern whatsoever for those rights. In contrast, we on this side of the House have a concern and intend to preserve the opportunities for all private members to use that part of parliamentary proceedings.
-Has the Department of the Treasury provided the Treasurer with the usual forecasts of the level of unemployment in coming quarters? What is the Treasurer’s present best estimate of the level of unemployment, in seasonally adjusted terms, at the end of this year? Is it a fact that the Government expects the level of seasonally adjusted unemployment to rise during the next 12 months or, at the very best, to remain constant?
-The Australian Labor Party, of course, has the record of being the Party which has produced the highest rates of unemployment in our history. I think it is not unreasonable to question the credibility of a proposition put to me seeking information about the forward picture on unemployment. It is true that from time to time both myself and my colleagues are in receipt of forecasts in relation to levels of growth and, in particular, to the question of unemployment during the period ahead. Unemployment and the labour market generally will be affected by the process of economic recovery which is occurring at the present time. I might say that I do not share the gloom which has been expressed in some sections of the media in recent times.
Let us consider these facts: Between December and March, seasonally adjusted unemployment, excluding school leavers, fell by 24 000. In actual terms from the end of January to the end of March, unemployment fell by almost 66 000. If I might say so in passing, this happens to be the largest fall in any 2-months period since Commonwealth employment statistic records have been maintained. I believe that unemployment as at the end of April might well be less than a year ago. This is no more than a forecast; 1 would of course be subject to correction when the actual figures are released. If this is the case, it will be the first occasion on which that has taken place since June 1974. 1 have noticed one or two Press assertions in recent days that the Federal Treasury and indeed I myself believe in some policy of continuing unemployment, presumably as a drag against an inflation increase. That is quite mischievous. It is based on speculation. It is not consonant with fact. I, my officers and indeed the Government as a whole are determined to provide policies which will ensure economic recovery, the overcoming of inflation and of course in the context of both of those problems, a return to the levels of full employment which this country enjoyed under the former coalition Government.
-Is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations aware that Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd, a major Tasmanian employer, has recently announced that it will be increasing production of paper at both its Wesley Vale and Burnie mills, with a resultant significant increase in its work force? Does the Minister view this as evidence of a general improvement in the economy?
– I am well aware of the honourable member’s interest in and constant representations on behalf of the industries in his electorate. Indeed, I remember attending one of these mills with him. I am aware that the company intends to increase its employment by approximately 100 people. As an employer of some 1900 people in the north west of Tasmania this company is the major single employer in the region and it has a major bearing on the economy of the region- a region which incidentally has been experiencing very severe difficulties due to the policies of the previous Government. The intended action by the company to increase its employment is a welcome development which should go some way to easing the very severe problems that the area has been experiencing. I understand that the company’s reason for taking on extra people is some increase in the demand for paper. I am further informed that in engaging labour to fill these extra 100 positions preference will be given to those employees who were retrenched due to the policies of the previous Government.
– I ask the Treasurer Did he on 27 November last release an economic statement entitled Policy Speech, Supplementary Statement, the Economy? Did that statement say that the strategy for restoring full employment and economic growth would be based on a revival of private investment? Did the statement further say that a sustained and permanent revival in employment will not- I stress ‘not’- be secured through private consumption expenditure? Is this still the Government’s economic strategy? Does the Government still expect an economic recovery to be based on an improvement in private investment? Alternatively, do the Treasurer’s recent statements about the need for consumers to spend mean that the Government has changed its tune?
– Unlike the policies which were pursued by the former Government the present Administration has a consistent economic strategy which, unlike its predecessors, it has been prepared to put on the public record for parliamentary debate. I have seen odd comments emanating from the Opposition spokesman on Treasury affairs and some commentators on what I might call the simplistic debate about investment-led and consumer-oriented recoveries. The simple fact of life is that the country requires both. That is clear. We have made that perfectly clear. My senior colleague, the Prime Minister, recently, in one of his noteworthy addresses in Perth, in his inimitable fashion adequately captured the basis of the Government’s economic strategy. He recognised the need for giving a lead to the people of Australia by saying that those who would normally purchase ought in fact to go out and purchase.
– That is not what you said last November.
– I wish the honourable gentleman would give me an opportunity to answer the question he posed; if he does not want to hear the answer he should leave the chamber. I have said that the strategy requires both factors. In the investment area, because private fixed capital investment has been so kicked to death, if I can use that term, because of what the former Government did to investment and to private enterprise, this Government has recognised the need to provide an incentive. If there is any problem in the investment area at present or in the consumer area the honourable gentleman might be the first to stand up and publicly admit that it is due to his own policy and that of his Government.
– My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister. In view of the continuing depressed state of the beef industry and the concern of people in that industry, can he indicate what progress has been made in obtaining export contracts for Australian beef?
-After a gruelling period of about 2 years of low prices and sluggish demand, the cattle industry is now coming around the corner and can look to a brighter future than it has seen for some time. This has been brought about as a result of efforts by our exporters, more favourable market conditions and successful negotiations and discussions by the Government. For instance, we recently concluded negotiations in respect of the United States of America market which gave us a starting quota of nearly 8000 tons more than we had for the previous year and, with the obvious shortfall that we will get during the year, it will exceed last year. Yesterday Japan announced its quota for the next 6 months. This was the result of requests that I made to the Japanese Government that there be more predictability in quotas and that the Japanese give them every 6 months instead of for a 12 months period. The Japanese have announced that they will accept 45 000 tons in the current 6 months as against the 40 000 tons they took for the whole of 1975. 1 anticipate that the second quota for the other half of the year will be even larger than that, bringing the Japanese back almost to the figure that existed when they closed the door completely in 1974.
On top of that the Canadians have also removed the global quotas which they had on meat imports. Last year we sold 28 000 tons to them. I would be very surprised if this figure were not exceeded considerably this year. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has also shown signs of coming in and making some significant purchases. Only in recent days it purchased 10 000 tons from New Zealand. We are also expecting to make considerable sales on that market. There are many small markets, such as Sweden, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Middle East countries, which are also showing greater activity and it seems clear that we are going to be making more sales on those markets for the coming year. So I suppose that all round the prospects are very good. The one black spot is the European Economic Community, which, under its common agricultural policies, still has a complete or virtually a complete embargo. We will continue to negotiate and battle for access to that market.
I think it is very interesting to see the figures released today by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, which show that our export sales this year are expected to be $507m as against the $323m of last year. In fact, they are expected to be up by 57 per cent. If we have the export performance that I am expecting and that I am mentioning to the House now, it is quite clear that the demand is soon going to tighten up. If the supply should dwindle as a result of the dry conditions in some parts of Australia, I think that the beef producers in this country can look forward to a period this year when prices will strengthen.
– The honourable member for Mackellar has asked me to correct a misstatement of fact which I was guilty of making from the Chair. I forget my exact words but I said that one of the divisions in the adjournment debate last night was called for by the Leader of the House. The honourable member for Mackellar has pointed out to me that the Leader of the House only moved the motion and that it was the Opposition which called for the division. Insofar as that was a mis-statement of fact, I acknowledge it.
– Thank you very much.
– I ask the Treasurer a question that is supplementary to that asked of him by the honourable member for Chifley. Does the honourable gentleman confirm that on 27 November last he said that the strategy for restoring full employment and economic growth would be based on a revival of private investment? Will he also confirm that he said at the same time that a sustained and permanent revival in employment will not- he underlined the word ‘not’- be secured through private consumption expenditure? If he confirms both statements, will he say when he came to realise that a consumer-led recovery was required? Would he also be able to say when his senior colleague came to the same realisation?
– It is not a question of coming to any realisation of when a consumer recovery is required. The honourable gentleman is returning to the same simplistic sort of debate about consumerled and investment-led recoveries. What I said to the caretaker leader’s colleague in response to an earlier question was, that at the present time Australia requires a growth in consumption and at the same time a greater recovery in the private investment area. He ought to know about these things although honourable members on both sides of the House admittedly will be aware that his forte is not the matter of economics. I suspect that this is one of the reasons he lost the last election.
So far as the question of recovery is concerned, I take the opportunity, because it has been the subject of some comment, to refer to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the National Bank March quarter survey. The results of that survey are in fact encouraging. They show that confidence is beginning to return to the Australian economy. I refer particularly to the outlook for capital expenditure as measured by the survey. In the December survey 39 per cent of respondents indicated that their capital expenditure would increase over the next 12 months. In the latest survey for the March quarter some 46 per cent of respondents expect spending on capital items to increase over the next 12 months. The fact is that if one had at the present time a recovery in the consumer field without that being backed by a recovery in investment of course supply constraints would occur and these would result in a further fuelling of inflation and inflationary expectations. I say to the honourable gentleman, although perhaps he does not appreciate the point, that the response both to the problem of consumerism and the problem of investment must lie in very clear and decisive action on the inflation front, and that is forthcoming from this Government.
-My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Transport.
-Is it on funeral benefits?
-No it is not on funeral benefits. Behave yourself, bully-beef.
– Is it a oncer?
-No, it is a twicer. My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Transport. What is the present position relating to the construction of a second Derwent crossing north of the Tasman Bridge which is now being repaired? Can the Acting Minister advise details, please?
– I thank the honourable member for the question and for his continuing interest in this subject. As he will be aware, a joint committee of Commonwealth and State officials has been established to control, supervise and review the design and construction of the second Derwent crossing. The joint committee has already forwarded its first progress report to the Prime Minister. The first stage of the committee’s work is to carry out the technical investigations associated with the second bridge. This phase is expected to last at least 18 months. With the approval of the Committee, the Tasmanian Department of Public Works has appointed Maunsell and Partners as consulting engineers for the design of the bridge and related investigations. These investigations include a river transport study to assess the type and nature of the vessels which may need to go under the bridge, a development impact study to assess the effects of a second bridge on land use and development in the greater Hobart region, a traffic impact study and an environmental impact statement. Five consultants have already been appointed to undertake aspects of this work. The joint committee is also working with the Hobart Marine Board to determine navigational aids required for the bridge.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and follows my question yesterday in which I asked whether the Minister would hold a judicial inquiry into the deaths of the five Australian newsmen who were killed- some people think they were murderedin East Timor. The Minister evaded the question. He will be aware that sections of the Australian community regard reports provided by his Department on the deaths of the five Australian newsmen in East Timor and the disappearance of Mr Roger East as incompetent and incomplete. In view of those feelings and in view of the willingness of Jose Martins to come to this country, I again ask the Minister: Will he establish a judicial inquiry into these matters?
-I thought I gave a detailed answer to this question yesterday. I do not believe that I can be accused of evasion on the question of East Timor. I do believe that there are people in this House- not on this side of the House- who could justifiably be accused of such evasion, but I rarely touch upon that matter. Honourable members will know from what I said yesterday that Mr Martins will have his entry into Australia facilitated. I thought I dealt at length yesterday with that question. It is correct that I did not deal in detail with the judicial inquiry. If the honourable member would impose on himself the honesty he seeks to impose on others he would recall that my very first words yesterday in answering the question were that I was not certain that I caught all of the question, that I would seek to answer it in as much detail as possible and that perhaps he would interject and advise me if I missed one point. Perhaps the time taken for him to reach the allegation made indicates more his lack of capacity to perceive the nature of my answer than his ability to engage in allegations of evasion.
The honourable member now asks me about a judicial inquiry. I will answer that question and answer it in detail. As I said yesterday to the media, when asked this question, the Government does not have a closed mind on the question of a judicial inquiry. It may emerge eventually that some form of judicial or other public inquiry would be feasible and appropriate. But on the basis of the present situation, the Government does not believe that a judicial inquiry would be able to function effectively in the matter. Firstly, those who have first hand knowledge of the events in Balibo, and they would be the key witnesses, are not Australians and are not in Australia. They are in Timor and the Government has no way of compelling their attendance at any inquiry here.
– You could try.
– We have tried on this matter to an extent that nobody on the other side, with but few exceptions, can match. Secondly, the events did not take place in Australia; they took place on foreign soil, and the Government has no power physically to extend its inquiry to another territory- in this case a territory which is still in dispute- without the consent and co-operation of the authorities concerned. In such a situation, it is difficult to see that any inquiry in Australia involving witnesses who are in Australia or who can get here from third countries would produce evidence additional to that which is already available to the Government. Before it could lend support to the proposal the Government would need to be convinced- and I have said that it still has an open mind on the matter, bearing in mind the difficulties-that any such inquiry would serve a real and positive purpose, that it would have a clear and definable value; in short, that it would be likely to reveal the facts. I doubt that any purpose would be served by setting up an inquiry without such knowledge.
Going back to the answer I gave yesterday, the honourable member will be aware that today we have a mission going into Timor. We have asked that arrangements be made for the team to visit places other than Balibo in order to make contact with anyone who may be able to throw light on the circumstances surrounding the death of the newsmen. I have already said that I will discuss the findings of these new rounds of inquiries not only with the next of kin but also with the Parliament and the Australian Journalists Association. Few governments have done more in circumstances such as these to get to the bottom of a matter and we are still applying pressure. I say to honourable members opposite: Do not treat it in the manner in which you are inclined to today. Approach it with at least the decency with which I think you approached it yesterday, making genuine inquiry and receiving a genuine answer. I have added at least further detail on the question of a judicial inquiry and there will be further opportunities for discussion of this matter. But bear in mind that if there has been any evasion it has not been on this side of the House.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations been drawn to reports that Colgate-Palmolive Pry Ltd intends to grant major wage increases and shorter hours of work to its employees? Can the Minister clarify the position?
-Yes, my attention has been drawn to this matter. It has received some publicity. It may be of interest to the House if I outline briefly some of the claims which are said to be about to be made on the company. They include a 30 per cent across-the-board increase in wages, which would amount to up to $50 a week extra for many workers; a 3 5 -hour week; an increase in annual leave from 4 weeks to 5 weeks, with 6 weeks for 7-day shift workers; a 25 per cent loading on annual and long service leave; rises in shift rates; maternity leave, 12 weeks fully paid, with up to 52 weeks total absence for each confinement; one week’s paternity leave; multi-cover hospital and dental cover on a non-contributory basis should there be any change in Medibank; and the right to retire at 60 with the same superannuation provisions as apply at present to retirement at age 65.
I am informed by the company that it has no formal knowledge of these claims. In fact I am informed that they are under consideration at present by the shop stewards employed by the company who in due course will be serving a log of claims. To my knowledge that has not yet been done. The important thing is that the company has assured me that in no way will it agree to any increase in wages outside the indexation guidelines or enter into any agreement of a sweetheart nature or which would involve a pace-setting principle. The log of claims which it is alleged may be presented to the company in due course is an indication of the sort of claims which, if granted, would be an absolute guarantee of increasing inflation in Australia, accompanied by ever-rising unemployment.
– I draw the attention of the Prime Minister to a broadcast at lunch time today by the Minister for Administrative Services to the effect that he saw the same role for Mr Clunies-Ross in the Cocos Islands as he did for most owners of private property and that Mr Clunies-Ross was entitled to run his private property as he saw fit provided that those who do not want to live that lifestyle, those who do not wish to remain in his employment, have the opportunity to leave. I ask the Prime Minister whether his Minister’s statement represents the
Government’s policy. I also ask whether those Cocos Islanders who do not wish to remain in Mr Clunies-Ross’ employment and cannot secure employment from the only other employer in the islands, the Australian Government, will be given permission to enter Australia and facilities to do so?
-A short while ago the Minister visited the islands, as honourable gentlemen will be aware, so that the Minister could gain first-hand knowledge of the circumstances on the islands before preparing a submission which will come to the Government for consideration and decision. Until that paper has been prepared and until the Government has made any decisions concerning it I am certainly not going to make any comment on the substantive issue which seemed to be embodied in the honourable gentleman’s question. Any decisions that this Government makes will have a concern for and a sensitivity of the needs of all the people affected by those decisions.
-Has the Treasurer noticed recent comments expressing concern about the 1976 census? Does the Treasurer agree that this is an example of people- for example, Mr Justice Kirby- getting on the Cameron privacy waggon which has been rolling since I arrived as a member of this House in 1966? I say this with modesty. Will the Treasurer assure the House that, while agreeing with my continuing contention that many of the questions asked are still an invasion of privacy, the Statistician has taken steps, in view of my well-founded criticisms, to ensure that the degree of confidentiality is higher than ever before?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for his modest question. I do not know whether Mr Justice Kirby is on the honourable gentleman’s privacy waggon but I am well aware, by recollection over the years, of the very considerable interest in and the particular contribution which the honourable member for Griffith has made to making Australians better aware of the need to ensure that our people are protected against the types of invasion of privacy to which he has made earlier reference. It is true that my attention has been drawn to a number of Press comments about the procedures governing the census and, in particular, to that aspect concerning the confidentiality of information.
The House will be aware of the reference by the Attorney-General to the Law Reform Commission concerning invasion of privacy. The
Government has decided to draw the 1976 census questions to the Commission’s attention and to seek from the Commission comment which can be considered when formulating the next census. I make it clear that the questions to be included in this year’s census were approved by the former Government. Any alteration to the census now would result in a loss of at least $ 1.5m and would lead to a deferral of the census beyond the due date. That, of course, would seriously jeopardise the usefulness of the statistical information which would be obtained. The concept, objectives and form of the census are certainly supported by the Government. I can give the honourable gentleman an assurance about the confidentiality of the census information. I have been informed personally by the Acting Commonwealth Statistician that strict secrecy attaches to the information provided by individuals to the Government during the conduct of the census.
I may not have answered one or two of the questions asked by the honourable member. I will regard them as being on notice and will provide the honourable gentleman with a full explanation later. I invite the honourable member to have a personal discussion with the Acting Statistician so that he can assure himself that the procedures which are under way do not represent that form of invasion of personal privacy to which he has referred.
-My question to the Prime Minister concerns recent statements by him imploring people to spend more. Can he explain to the House how he reconciles his policy of” increasing the rate of consumption with his Government’s action in seeking to reduce the purchasing power of wages by halving wage indexation? Likewise can he explain why the Government is currently encouraging people to save more and thereby to consume less by its introduction of the home savings grant scheme?
-The honourable gentleman seems to have a very strange view of what happens in an economy. I should have thought that, if people were saving for the purposes of the home savings grant scheme, they would meet the deliberate objective of that scheme which is to persuade people to spend money on buying houses. There is a very definite consumption objective in relation to that particular policy which the honourable gentleman seems to fail utterly to understand.
The honourable gentleman also seems to fail to understand the difference that has occurred in the habits of people because of a fear about their jobs and the future stability of the currency as a result of policies of the past Government. These policies have led to the percentage of incomes being saved rising very substantially over the last two or three years. In a period in which people were concerned about the future they saved more and did not undertake the normal consumption expenditures which they had undertaken on previous occasions when they could look forward to a predictable and sensible future because there was a government that was responsible and sensitive to their needs.
What I have said, and what the Treasurer and the Government have said, is that people should have confidence in the future to undertake their normal budgetary programs on a family basis. If they had intended to buy a new car or a washing machine they should spend and make that purchase in the normal course of events. The honourable gentleman would well know that because of the increased proportion of money that has been saved in recent times there is a great capacity amongst individuals and families of Australia to make such purchases.
Another element which the honourable gentleman fails to understand is that nobody’s capacity to spend will be increased if costs are increased through increased wages leading quite directly to further applications to the Prices Jus.tificationTribunal, as happened 3 months ago. This will mean only that people will be paying more dollars for the same goods. There is a very real difference between measures that are designed to achieve stability in the value of the currency and measures designed to achieve a return to normal habits within the Australian community.
One of the tragedies of the present situation is that honourable gentlemen opposite have not understood that mere higher money wages with a continuation of high unemployment and high inflation will never give consumers the encouragement and confidence to spend in the normal pattern because they will be concerned about the future. Those same circumstances of high unemployment and high inflation will not give investors the encouragement needed to invest. Therefore I would have thought it was quite plain from the experience of the last two or three years that merely adding to money wages and leaving ills in the economy, as has been the case, will not do anything for the recovery of the economy in a way which will assist individuals and families all around Australia.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on spectacle and sun glass frames, sun glasses, etc.
– I understand that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs wishes the indulgence of the Chair.
– Yes, Mr Speaker. Some sections of the media have reported portion of an answer I gave yesterday to a question asked by the honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) as indicating that it was my intention to present a separate Cabinet submission on the subject of tax effect accounting and the current differences in approaches that exist to that matter throughout Australia. It was not my intention to give that impression. It is not my intention to present a separate Cabinet submission dealing with that particular aspect of company law regulation. I realise on reading my answer to the question that my final sentence was open to that interpretation. I therefore take the opportunity to correct any ambiguity that may have been contained in the answer. The submission to which I referred in the final sentence of my answer is a submission which I propose to present to Cabinet very shortly covering the appropriate role for the Commonwealth in the whole area of company law and securities industry regulation. In all other respects I confirm both the tenor and the detail of the answer that I gave to the honourable member for Barton.
For the information of honourable members I present the report by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board, together with a report to the Board by the Australian Government Actuary on the assets and liabilities of the Fund at 30 September 1972. 1 seek leave to make a short statement on the report
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The report I have tabled refers to an excess or surplus of assets at book value over the liabilities of the DFRB Fund upon transfer to the Commonwealth, as at 30 September 1972, attributable to those who were pensioners over a period of 8 years 3 months from 1 July 1964 to 30 September 1972. Preparation of data for the Australian Government Actuary, originally intended for December 1975, for the further report relating to former DFRB contributors, has been delayed because of a need to finalise outstanding options available to them upon transfer to the new scheme. The further report will refer to 2 groups of contributors: Firstly, those who were contributors on 30 September 1972 and transferred to the new scheme on 1 October 1972; and secondly, those who were contributors for portion of the period 1 July 1964 to 30 September 1972 with pension entitlements falling due before 1 October 1972.
Before summarising the outcome and the arrangements for a cash distribution, I should place on record the very considerable difficulties which have faced the Australian Government Actuary and the DFRB Board in resolving the problems posed by this task.
– Would you speak up? It is hard to hear you, with all the noise.
-I think the honourable member for Oxley is having a slight dig at the Minister for Defence. I ask the Minister to continue.
– I would not have thought this was a matter of levity after 3 years of delay by the Australian Labor Party Government. Not only was it necessary to establish new specifications for the statistical information to be used but there is no precedent for the methods which were developed. Uncertainties about the appropriate action which might be taken and in the interpretation to be placed on the results of the actuarial calculations are reflected in the report.
On the one hand, there is a fundamental actuarial approach recorded in the report of the Australian Government Actuary to the Board and his further expression of views as a member of the DFRB Board. An alternative approach was to relate the conclusions and proposed action to the basic approach of the Joint Select Committeethat is the Jess Committee- report on DFRB legislation of May 1972 and the policy incorporated in the relevant legislation brought down by the previous Government and assented to on 19 June 1973. The latter approach was used by the Board, by majority decision, in formulating its conclusions and has been adopted by the Government in reaching a decision on this matter.
Of the moneys in the Fund as at 30 September 1972, $160,866,000 at book value, transferred to the Commonwealth under the terms of the amending DFRB Act, Act No. 82 of 1972, the following excess or surplus amounts at book value have been accepted as attributable to those who were eligible pensioners- those who were pensioners during the period 1 July 1964 to 30 September 1972:
An excess or surplus of $6,337,000 as at 30 September 1972 will be distributed in cash to those who were pensioners during the period 1 July 1964 to 30 September 1972 or to their survivors.
The principles to be applied under the relevant legislation are similar to those adopted for the cash distribution of surplus from the DFRB fund for eligible pensioners during the period from 1 July 1959 to 30 June 1964. The amounts allocated to eligible pensioners as at 30 September 1972 will be accumulated from 1 October 1972 to the date stipulated for distribution using a factor based on 6.533 per cent, the earning rate of the fund at 30 June 1972.
It should be added that the legislation will provide for the Australian Government Actuary to develop a basis of allocation of these moneys to each eligible pensioner. This will be as simple as possible commensurate with the essential requirement that each person should receive a fair share. The Board will need to consult some thousands of records over the period from 1 July 1964 and develop the relevant computer procedures. In these circumstances, some months will elapse before the task can be completed. However, every effort will be made to arrange for the procedures to be developed for payments to be made before the end of this year.
I present the following papers:
Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund- Ministerial Statement, 28 April 1976.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the papers.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hayden) adjourned.
-I have received a letter from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
Plans to impose double income taxation.
I call upon those members who support the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
– The new federalism was presented to the Australian people as the centrepiece of the Fraser philosophy. It was to be the basis of the great Liberal counter-reformation against the heresies of centralism and big government. It was to return to the States their sacred autonomy, their cherished independence, their due sovereignty. Now the new federalism is being revealed for what it is. It has taken a State election to force the truth from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Liberal Premiers. The closer we look at the new federalism the more questions arise. The more questions we ask the more difficult it is to get answers. There has never been a policy put forward by a major party whose meaning is so shrouded in evasion and obscurity. No party in Australia has ever been so coy about its fundamental beliefs and intentions. No party has wooed the voter with such modesty, such circumspection. No party has flaunted its attractions behind such copious veils. The new federalism is not some last-minute Liberal promise. It is not a matter of detail or technicality. It is the most thorough-going departure from established fiscal policy- the totality of fiscal policyever presented to an Australian electorate. It overturns the system of uniform taxation which has served Australia well for over a generation. It returns to the States a power to impose income tax which the States have not possessed since 1942. It opens the way to double taxation. Double taxation is what it is all about.
The Prime Minister, having unloaded this incubus on the Premier of New South Wales, is doing his best to cover up the policy he was proclaiming with pride and fervour a few months ago. We had the clearest example of his embarrassment in the House yesterday. We know that the Prime Minister is no longer capable of answering questions unless they come from his own side and the answers are prepared for him. Mr Speaker, you know that he cannot even crack a joke if you do not let him read the script. Yesterday the Prime Minister was asked 3 times about the so-called new federalism at Question Time. He could not remember what he told the Premiers at his conferences with them in
February or in April; he had not read the transcript of his remarks at those 2 conferences; he had not thought it worth checking on what he said at the 2 conferences. Yet he asserted that he stood by his words. He could not remember his words but whatever he said must have been right! The Prime Minister imagines that because he was able to evade questions and avoid answers in the Federal election campaign, he can do the same in any other election. The voters of New South Wales, whose interests are at stake in this matter, will give him their answer on Saturday Labor Day- 1 May.
The evasion of the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales is easy to understand. The new federalism has no basis whatever in economic rationality. It springs fully armed from the ideological preoccupations of the Prime Minister and his junior colleagues. What are the practical benefits of the scheme? Who would gain from it? Who would be better off? The answer is: No-one. The States will get no more money. They will get less. Local Government will get no more money. In all probability it will get less. There will be no benefits for the economy, for employment, for business confidence. There will be no benefits for taxpayers. There will be no more money for education, health services, transport, roads, hospitals, child care, universities and colleges or urban and regional development. The States, as I shall show in a moment, will not even get a fixed share of overall Federal revenues. Many organisations and services dependent on Australian government assistance and specific purpose payments to the States will find these funds cut off or drastically curtailed.
The Prime Minister and Sir Eric Willis deny that their policy means double taxation. Their denials are specious. They are asking people to believe that a provision specifically written into the new federalism- a promise announced by the Prime Minister last year, confirmed by him in February and agreed upon at the Premiers Conference on 9 April- is either meaningless or never going to be used. The double-tax proposal was spelt out in the Prime Minister’s own words after the last Premiers Conference. The agreed text used these words:
Each State will be able to legislate to impose a surcharge on personal income tax in the State (but not company tax or withholding tax on dividends or interest) additional to that imposed by the Commonwealth.
There is nothing vague about that. The States can impose a personal income tax if they wish. True to Liberal philosophy, it will be paid by wage-earners alone, and not by companies or investors, but double taxation it will be. If that is not the plain meaning of the words what do the words mean? I repeat them:
Each State will be able to legislate to impose a surcharge on personal income tax in the State . . . additional to that imposed by the Commonwealth.
If there is to be no double taxation why was this proposal agreed upon by the Prime Minister and Sir Eric Willis? If there is no intention of using the power why was it formulated? Of course it will be used.
Transcripts of the Premiers Conference have been published showing that Sir Eric Willis clearly envisaged an additional income tax in New South Wales if a Liberal government was in office. Sir Eric has changed his tune 3 times since the transcripts were revealed. His first reaction was to maintain that the only effect of the new scheme would be the appearance of a second line on the income tax return. His second reaction was to admit that the State would have a reserve power to top up revenues from the Commonwealth. His third reaction was to maintain that no new State tax would be needed. His latest reaction- I cannot say that it will be the last- was to claim that a State income tax would one day replace all indirect taxes. It is an extraordinary catalogue of confusion and contradiction from the Premier of the largest State in Australia- the State where the new federalism was first devised, where the Secretary of the Liberal Party is now a senator entrusted with the task of advising the Prime Minister in matters of Federal-State financial relations, where the Premier’s colleagues were the architects of the scheme of double taxation.
For 30 years or more, under governments of every persuasion- Liberal Treasurers, Country Party Treasurers, Labor Treasurers- the Commonwealth has made general purpose revenue grants to the States on condition that the States did not impose their own income tax. The present Prime Minister is removing that condition. For decades the Commonwealth has made grants and tax reimbursements to the States which grew year by year. In effect these grants were indexed. They were tied to average weekly earnings and the growth of population and latterly were supplemented by a betterment factor. For decades the States have been guaranteed a steadily increasing volume of the total Commonwealth revenue. The present Prime Minister is putting an end to this system. He wants to tie grants to the States to a percentage of the Commonwealth’s own income tax collections alone. In other words, the available money for the States will fluctuate with the Commonwealth’s income tax revenues. This proposal would be defensible if Commonwealth income tax revenues were to continue to grow and the level of specific purpose grants to the States were to remain at the generous levels established by my Government. But neither of these situations will apply under the new federalism. As the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out before the last Premiers ‘ Conference:
Giving the States a fixed percentage of income tax revenues is not a significant reform at all if the Commonwealth uses other forms of taxation to increase its revenue.
The Fraser Government is not just allowing the States to impose double taxation; it is compelling them to do so. They will be forced to impose their own taxes as receipts from Commonwealth revenues decline. Their only alternative will be to cut back their services and to depress the living standards of their citizens. The Federal Government’s promise of tax indexation- however the Government may equivocate about it, whatever its merits as part of an overall economic strategywill make the States’ problems more difficult. The indexation will heavily reduce the Federal tax revenues and general purpose grants to the States. With indexation of direct taxes the Commonwealth will be forced to look at indirect taxes as additional sources of revenue. The States would receive no share of these indirect Federal revenues at all. The taxpayer in New South Wales would be paying not only an income tax imposed by the State but higher indirect taxes imposed by the Commonwealth.
During the 3 years of Labor Government, tax revenues to the States increased by approximately 20 per cent in 1973-74, 50 per cent the next year and an estimated 30 per cent this year. Even without tax indexation it is unlikely that there will be an increase of more than 10 per cent in overall reimbursements to the States next financial year. If Federal taxes were indexed the pressures on State budgets would be insupportable. Yet this is precisely what the Prime Minister foresees and what he wishes. The Prime Minister gave a revealing insight into the real purpose of tax indexation in a broadcast on 18 April. He said:
Tax indexation will put earnings back into the hands of individuals and will eliminate as far as possible total dependence on big government programs.
That is, tax indexation is specifically intended, not as a relief for the taxpayer, not as a contribution to greater equity, but as a check to Federal revenues and hence the grants to the States.
No less ardent a defender of State rights than the Premier of Queensland has exposed the central flaw in the new federalism. Mr BjelkePetersen has joined his Liberal Treasurer, Sir Gordon Chalk, in condemning the whole scheme. Sir Gordon, the senior Treasurer in Australia, said last year that the new federalism ‘will mean a return to the dark days with each State outbidding each other by way of taxation’. Mr Bjelke-Petersen said on the 8th of this month:
The Treasury is trying to dump the odium of tax raising on the States without dumping any of the money itself. If the Prime Minister is genuine about federalism he will be talking not just about income tax but about a share of all federal revenues.
All the States are being offered is a share of income tax revenues which the Fraser Government is doing its best to reduce. The States were given no information at the Premiers Conference on the 9th of this month about the real extent of their revenues in the year ahead. The full details will not be known until the New South Wales State elections are over. Only one aspect of Commonwealth reimbursements to the States- that of general purpose grants- was discussed with the Premiers. Not until the Loan Council in June will the Government determine how much it is prepared to lend the States for public works. Not until the Federal Budget in August will the States know the full extent of the cuts or restraints or ceilings on specific purpose grants for education, health, transport and urban and regional development. Only then will the States know how much their Federal funds will be reduced, how much their own taxes will have to be raised, and how much of the Federal deficit Mr Fraser is unloading on to State taxpayers. For that is precisely what the Government is doing. The double-taxation policy will transfer to the States the burden of the Prime Minister’s determination to cut the deficit- to cut Federal expenditure on essential programs. We know the Prime Minister’s obsession with the deficit. We know the only way he could reduce it significantlyforget about the tinkering and window-dressing of last February- is to put the axe through all the programs in health, education, transport and urban improvement originated and expanded by my Government. The Prime Minister’s hatred of these programs is unmistakable but he wants to avoid the odium of cutting them himself. He wants the States to do his dirty work. What better way to achieve this than to starve the States of funds and force them to do one of 2 things- either cut these essential programs or impose their own taxes to maintain them.
Double taxation will fall harshly on the people of New South Wales. Whatever protections the smaller States may have from the depredations of the Fraser scheme, the larger and more populous States will have none. New South Walesthe State with the largest population, the greatest needs, the highest taxes- will pay more for services it never gets and benefits that never appear. At present the people of New South Wales pay more for their milk and cigarettes than people in any other State. They pay $204m in gambling taxes and $550m in payroll taxes. They have to carry a loss of $300m on the State transport systems. They pay twice as much as some States for drivers’ licences and third party insurance. Pubhe transport fares are 60 per cent higher in New South Wales than in any other State. Now the Liberals want double income tax as well. The Prime Minister wants the people of New South Wales, people who pay the highest State taxes for the worst Government services, to pay for his onslaught on essential public expenditure.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– This debate today is not about double taxation, it is about which Party is going to win the New South Wales State election. That question can be quickly and easily answered: There will be a decisive victory for the experience and leadership of Eric Willis and his team. The New South Wales public will not have a bar of a one-man Wran band. Mr Wran is no more than a pale shadow of Mr Whitlam, a man without support in his own Party, whose Labor policies were decisively rejected in December last, as the Wran Labor policies will be rejected this weekend in New South Wales. The fact is that if Mr Wran is elected, the New South Wales public can expect a repetition of the inflationary, centralist, and spendthrift policies of the Australian Labor Party.
The irony is that the question of double taxation is raised in this House by a man who, as Prime Minister, presided over the greatest tax rip-off in the history of any Australian government. I remind this House that in the first 2 years of the Whitlam administration, personal income tax receipts increased by 89 per cent. If this year’s Budget had had its planned outcome, that increase would have been a massive 140 per cent. The public will recall of course the Australian Labor Party’s promises not to raise personal income tax or to raise indirect taxation. It is a matter of record that those promises were broken in the most blatant and cynical way. Perhaps the supreme irony is that the Labor
Parry’s caretaker Opposition Leader in this House apparently is prepared to say in Canberra what Mr Wran is not prepared to allow him to say in New South Wales.
– Lead in the saddle bag.
– He is lead in the saddle bag, as my ministerial colleague reminds me. The fact is that Mr Whitlam and his senior colleagues are not wanted in New South Wales. They do not happen to be on the visitors’ list for the New South Wales State election. Apparently Mr Whitlam can breakfast with the Iraqis, but he is finding some great difficulty in being invited as a dinner guest with Mr Wran at the present time. We believe the Australian Labor Party is petrified at the appeal which our federalism reforms have to the New South Wales public As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has made perfectly clear, we promise a new deal for New South Wales and for State governments generally and of course for municipal authorities. Mr Wran’s attempts to sabotage these reforms are out of step with every State leader in the country. Mr Dunstan and Mr Neilson, both Labor Premiers, have publicly supported the Government’s federalism program. For example, I need do no more than quote from the Adelaide Advertiser of 9 April which stated:
The South Australian Premier (Mr Dunstan) said the Fraser plan was a genuinely new deal. ‘I think it is a good idea for the States as it stands’, he said. Mr Dunstan left the morning’s talks smiling and said the States had been given almost everything they sought.
Not only are Mr Wran and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) out of line with their State colleagues but also the extravagant promises of Mr Wran do not hold up to financial scrutiny. The promised 20 per cent reduction in transport fares is put forward on the basis that it will win back enough passengers to pay for itself. This is nothing short of economic nonsense. Studies, including those by the Federal Bureau of Transport Economics, as well as international evidence, clearly show that demand for public transport is price inelastic. Let me quote from an article in the Bulletin dated 24 April. It stated: … but the evidence is overwhelmingly against the proposition that reduced fares pay . . . Wran cited an economic consultant as supporting his idea but his staff have refused to release his name so he can be interviewed. Every transport specialist we were able to talk to scoffed at the idea.
The simple fact is that Mr Wran’s proposals will either bankrupt the New South Wales public transport system or bring about massive increases in all forms of indirect taxes in order to make up the transport deficit which would result. Beyond this, Mr Wran apparently intends to finance his other extravagant transport proposals by selling off assets purchased with funds made available specifically for roads by way of section 96 grants under the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act. Again, this is a highly questionable proposal and not one which any responsible political leader could put to an electorate.
Today’s debate also reflects, once again, the Federal Labor Party’s complete commitment to the centralisation of financial and economic power in Canberra. No one should forget that the Labor Party’s stated objectives are to abolsih the Senate and the State parliaments and to amalgamate Australia’s local government councils into a smaller number of regions completely dependent on the Federal Government. I remind the House of the public statement of the Leader of the Opposition some time ago that the role of State Labor politicians is to bring about their own dissolution in order to support the Labor Party’s centralist ambitions. The present Government rejects without qualification the centralist objectives of our opponents in this House. During the next 3 years we will be introducing the most significant reform to Australia’s system of government since Federation. We will provide the States for the first time with assured access to Commonwealth personal income tax revenue.
For the first time local government authorities will have access to federal funds on a continuing and guaranteed basis. In response to the question of guarantee to the States, a matter subject to distorted comment by the Leader of the Opposition, there will be a guarantee arrangement to ensure that the stage 1 entitlement of the States in any year are not less in absolute terms than in any previous year. This arrangement will be supplemented in details which are set out in the attachment to the Prime Minister’s Press release of 9 April. For the first time there will be an advisory body- the Council for Inter-governmental Relations- to act as an instrument for cooperation and co-ordination between all levels of government. In all of this the position of the less populous States will be fully protected by a guaranteed equalisation system. The fundamental principle on which this Government’s cooperative federalism policy is based is that the government which spends the money should have some responsibility for raising the necessary taxes. This is a system of responsible government, not dependent government.
Before indicating the details of the arguments and discussing the proposals put forward by the Opposition there is one point which I seek to emphasise. Following discussion at the February and April Premiers Conferences and the detailed work at officer level undertaken between those Conferences, the Commonwealth Government and all State governments, including the 2 Labor State governments, have agreed on the basic principles under which the income tax sharing scheme will operate. What we are saying to the members of the Opposition in this debate is that they are behind their State colleagues. Apparently they have not been given access to the views which their State colleagues have put down. Further than that the State Premiers have also agreed on many of the important points of detail beyond the basic principles.
Under stage 1 of the scheme, which will commence in 1976-77, the Commonwealth will remain the sole government legislating to impose personal income tax but the States will be entitled to a guaranted share of the yield of the tax. Under stage 2, which is planned to commence in 1977-78, each State will be able, if it wishes, to levy a surcharge on income tax payable in its State or to grant a rebate thereon. The Opposition’s assertions about ‘double taxation’ appear to be centered on stage 2 arrangements. A new revenue sharing arrangement of this kind has been sought by the States for many years. Our opponents in this House are in fact attacking today a long held objective of the States. Beyond that- let there be no mistake about it- the attack by the Opposition on this scheme is motivated largely by the fact that it is a fundamental departure, and a very significant one, from the centralist philosophies which the Labor Party pursued in so extreme a fashion when in government.
The assertions by the Opposition about ‘double taxation’ could be discussed at length, but let me briefly make 5 points. Firstly, under the arrangements that have been firmly agreed upon between the Commonwealth and all the State governments there will at all times remain one collection and administrative agency. There will be no additional forms to fill in. There will be one set of assessment provisions remaining completely uniform as between the States and one basic rate scale. There is absolutely no suggestion whatever of a return to the situation which existed before 1942. Secondly, no State will be in any sense obliged to levy a surcharge. The decision will be one for each State to make having regard to all relevant considerations including, of course, the views of the public. Thirdly, the States have agreed that in exercising these powers they accept responsibility to work in harmony with, and not in negation of, the overall economic management policies of the Commonwealth. Fourthly, some Premiers have foreshadowed the possibility of using their new powers in such a way as to reduce the burden of existing State taxes. Does the Opposition oppose the States being given the capacity to do just this? Finally, there have been some suggestions that this matter has been pursued between the Commonwealth and State governments in a devious manner. That is absolute rubbish.
After the recent Premiers Conference the Prime Minister issued a lengthy Press statement outlining the agreed arrangements, including in relation to stage 2 arrangements put down in detail. The fact is that that Conference was one of the most, if not the most, successful Premiers Conference on record. A firm decision was made that local government would participate in the new tax sharing arrangements as from the next financial year. The States agreed to establish State Grants Commissions in those States which did not already have them. There was agreement to establish an advisory council on intergovernmental relations. There was agreement that working parties of Commonwealth and State officials be established and required to report to the June Premiers Conference. As a result of the April Premiers Conference the Government has every confidence that the June Premiers Conference will lead to agreement on implementation of the new tax-sharing system next financial year. I emphasise again that those agreements were reached between both Liberal and Labor governments.
It is clear from the statement of the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales that, if elected, he would set out to sabotage the progress of these new reforms. The election of a Labor Government in New South Wales would mean that the residents of that State would have unwarranted financial penalties imposed upon them. The Government, for its part, is proud of its federalism policies and welcomes the progress that already has been made towards their implementation. The Opposition in fact dropped its bundle when it saw the large and continuing measure of co-operation that the Commonwealth has enjoyed with all State governments and the great progress that consequently has been made with the implementation of a taxsharing system. The Government decisively rejects the views which have been expressed by the Opposition in this debate. They represent nothing more than a mixture of old-fashioned, discredited centralism and the dragging in of red herrings for crude electioneering purposes. They are in conflict not only with expert opinion but also with the agreement reached between all the governments- Liberal and Labor- involved. As I said at the outset of this debate, it is not really about double taxation; it is about who is going to win the next State election in New South Wales. We have no doubt that Sir Eric Willis and his experienced team will be returned decisively and that New South Wales will continue its progress under that administration. The Government rejects the arguments put before the House by the Opposition.
-The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has not applied himself in any way to the very real questions about revenue sharing raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) in this debate. I do not blame him. He knows what difficult ground he is on in applying himself to this subject. So he spent much of his speech skirting around the subject of this debate on a matter of public importance and blowing a smokescreen in relation to the New South Wales elections. I am prepared to meet him blow for blow on the New South Wales elections. I have great confidence in Mr Wran and his team and believe that they will win the elections next Saturday. I intend to mention those elections, too, although not so exclusively as did the Treasurer.
The holding of the New South Wales election this week instead of when they were due later this year is yet another Fraser Government confidence trick. There are 2 vital reasons why those elections have been brought forward. Firstly, the Fraser Government persuaded Sir Eric Willis to have them now because of the horror Budget in August that the Fraser Government has been promising the nation, with its damaging effects on and tragic hardships for so many people in our community- indeed those who are most in need of help in our community. It is clear that the Liberal-Country Party Government could not win an election in New South Wales after August. Indeed, the real message is got across by Saturday, I do not believe that the LiberalCountry Party Government will win the election in New South Wales then. Secondly, the elections have been brought on prematurely because by August the harsh realities of the so-called new federalism policies will be known. I believe that the words ‘new federalism policies’ give this concept more respectability than it deserves. I call it the Fraser revenue-sharing arrangements. The harsh realities of the situation will have sunk in by later this year, even if they have not sunk in now. There is no way in which the new arrangements are going to be attractive to any State in Australia, large or small.
The grazier from Wannon and his followers have been pulling the wool over the eyes of the State Premiers. Indeed, I believe that they have been selling the State Premiers a pup on this issue. The Premiers seemed to be pleased, as the Treasurer said, with what was unveiled on 9 April. At least that was the initial impression they gave. But in defence of and explanation for my friend and colleague who was mentioned by the Treasurer- Mr Don Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia- I say that I believe that his reactions have not been properly analysed. What he said after the 9 April meeting was that the proposals were all right insofar as they had been revealed at that point in time. He made it quite clear that his final reaction could not be gauged until after the next meeting of the Premiers, which is due to be held next June. He hedged, but he has not been given credit for that hedging.
I believe- I hope that I will be permitted to use this example- that the Fraser Government has been treating these revenue-sharing proposals like Salome when she revealed herself. Tantalisingly the revealing has come about little by little. But there is one vast difference between the two. I am told that Salome left the best to the last. The last veil to be shed was the most exciting one. On the other hand the last veil of the Fraser Government’s proposals has yet to be cast off. In my view when the last veil of this revenuesharing package is cast off it is going to reveal anything but an exciting package for the State Premiers- indeed, for the people of Australia. In fact, we are all going to notice that the casting off of the last veil reveals a very damaging and dangerous package. I suppose to that extent the casting off of the last veil by Salome and of this package relating to revenue-sharing proposals would be the same.
The key agreement at the brief and I will admit at this stage seemingly amiable Premiers Conference meeting on 9 April was that the States would receive next financial year as financial assistance grants the same percentage of Commonwealth personal tax revenue as they received in financial grants this year, namely, 35 per cent. I say to that: So what? Those financial assistance grants are not all- they are not even most- of the Commonwealth assistance to the States. In fact, in the current financial year they constitute only 37 per cent of the Commonwealth payments to the States. What about the other 63 per cent, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out earlier? What is going to happen to the other payments to the States? For instance, what about the specific purpose payments for recurrent purposes, which amount to 25 per cent or one-quarter of the payments to the States? We have heard nothing about them. What horrors are in store when that last veil is cast off and the package is further revealed? What about the Commonwealth interest-free grants, which constitute 5 per cent of the whole? What about the general and specific purpose capital funds, which between them add up to 33 per cent or about one-third of the whole? We know nothing about them.
The more one looks at the situation in this respect the more one realises that the surface has only just been scratched in the matter of Commonwealth and State financial agreements over the next few years. There is so much more to be revealed. The more one thinks about this situation the more one realises that what has yet to be revealed is going to be disastrous for the States. It is no wonder that the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Eric Willis, is rushing to hold the New South Wales elections on Saturday. He wants the people of New South Wales to be hoodwinked about revenue-sharing. I believe that he does not want them to know the truth about this deal. He does not want them to realise that there is going to be relatively less coming from Canberra and that either their services will have to be cut drastically or a second serve of income tax will have to be applied to them. We have already seen what difficulties are involved in cutting services. The people will not cop too much of that. So the long and short of it is that the people of New South Wales and, indeed, the people of the other States of Australia are going to be double taxed. They are going to have to pay a Commonwealth income tax and a State income tax, which is double taxation in anybody’s language. That is the first and the main point.
The confidence trick has embraced the belief that this magic formula is going to mean more and better services, less taxation and decisionmaking closer to home. It will not mean any of those things. It is going to mean less services, more taxation and a much more inefficient use than hitherto of the taxpayer’s funds. State administration of services does not mean closer to home administration. Without the transfer of these additional functions to the States the State bureaucracies have been growing at a far greater rate and in a more inefficient way than the Australian Government administration. I draw attention to an article in the Australian Financial Review of 17 February on that very subject. Also I draw attention to another article in the Australian Financial Review, already quoted by my Leader, about what Sir Gordon Chalk has had to say about these particular arrangements. He described this proposal as a return to the dark days.
Every cloud has a silver lining. The New South Wales State election has at least put into focus the danger of the Fraser Government revenue sharing proposal. We have seen that is it not good enough for the States to be happy with the 35 per cent of the funds being received as a percentage of Commonwealth personal income tax revenues. There are other areas of funds receivable by the States which are likely to be cut. Other veils have yet to be cast off to reveal the dangerous package. Anyway, that financial assistance is likely to have to cover many more functions than it was hitherto. Look at the wording of the Liberal Party policy. The basic financial assistance for the States ‘will also have to take into account the transfers of such section 96 grants as should be absorbed into this figure’. These other areas of State funding have become increasingly important, so much so that the general financial assistance grants used to be much more significant. In 1972-73, the last year of the McMahon Government, the States won back 42 per cent of the total income tax revenue as financial assistance grants- 7 per cent more than this wonderful figure that is apparently being offered in the forthcoming year. But this 35 per cent has to cover, as I pointed out earlier, many more functions because it also has to cover the functions carried out with section 96 grants, many of which will be slashed in the forthcoming horror Budget. The truth is, as I have said before, that this is a measure which is hoodwinking the people and I believe the people of New South Wales would do well to look at it in greater detail.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Under the guise of asking this House to talk about an alleged double income tax arrangement which simply is not going to exist the Opposition gives us the opportunity to talk about the New South Wales election. I can assure the members of the Opposition that those on this side of the House, particularly those of us who come from New South Wales, are only too delighted to talk about the sorts of issues that will be involved in the election in New South Wales next Saturday. This discussion does give us the opportunity to direct our minds to the type of government that New South Wales needs. Above all, the type of government that New South Wales needs after 1 May is a government that is going to co-operate with the current Federal Government, a government that shares the objectives which the Australian people and not least the people of New
South Wales so overwhelmingly endorsed on 13 December. It is little wonder that the New South Wales Opposition Leader is desperately keen to dissociate himself from his own Federal leader.
What an extraordinary contrast this election presents to the picture that we had in 1973. Let us go back to the New South Wales election in 1973, to those halcyon days when it was believed by the Labor Party that the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) was a vote winner, when it was believed by the Labor Party throughout Australia, whether one was a Federal member of Parliament or a State member of Parliament, that the way to success, the way to the voter’s heart was to associate yourself with the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party- the then Prime Minister of Australia. Those of us who live in New South Wales will remember all those Australian Labor Party advertisements in 1973. One could be forgiven for believing that the honourable member for Werriwa was then the Leader of the New South Wales Labor Party. One hardly ever heard a mention of poor old Mr Hills who was then the Leader of the State Opposition. At every turn, in every advertisement, on every television screen there was the beaming face of the Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party- the very leader that Mr Wran now disowns, the very leader that Mr Wran has told to stay out of New South Wales, the very leader who is lead in the saddle bag as far as the New South Wales Labor Party is concerned.
If there is one thing that this discussion has done today it has been to remind this House and I hope many people throughout Australia and in particular the people of New South Wales that it is one and the same Party. One must admire the persistence of the honourable member for Werriwa unwanted, uninvited, undesired in New South Wales by his colleagues at the present time. He is not to be restrained. If you cannot be invited, then invite yourself! The way he invites himself is to sponsor a matter of public importance in this place. Surely he would have got the message by now that he is not wanted in New South Wales, and the gratuitous interventions by him in the election campaign in New South Wales will only do his colleagues in that State damage. But no, the honourable member for Werriwa will never learn. He is very good at inviting himself when he is not wanted.
We on this side of the House welcome the discussion of this matter of public importance. We welcome the opportunity to repudiate the claims of double taxation which have been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and I think by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), the Opposition spokesman on financial matters in this place. The truth is that the revenue sharing arrangements, the new federalism arrangements, unveiled by the Opposition, as it then was towards the end of last year, are certainly the most dramatic and the most significant development in government relations since Federation. When implemented these proposals will end for all time the begging bowl of the Premiers Conference. They will end for all time the wrangling that has gone on between Federal and State governments over the years. They will give to the States and also to local government throughout Australia the financial capacity to discharge the legal responsibility of those two levels of government.
Every member of this House knows this and there can be no better example than the many honourable gentlemen who remain opposite and who were in government until November of last year. They know only too well that if the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States had continued to exist without amendment and without change in accordance with our federalism policies then the States would ultimately have become mere puppets of the Commonwealth Government. They would have become mere agencies of the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Government, through having got all the financial control of this country, would have been in a position to dictate to the States. That is a state of affairs which is repudiated by us on this side of the House. Let it not be forgotten that that is not repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition. He is an implacable opponent of the States. He found the States to be a nuisance when he was in office. He still finds the States to be a nuisance and that is another reason why Mr Wran does not want him in New South Wales. How could Mr Wran parade him in New South Wales as his great Federal leader when he knows very well that the people of New South Wales and the Australian people generally, know that when the honourable member for Werriwa was the Prime Minister of this country he set about a policy and he set in train a series of events which would ultimately have led to a situation in which the States would be the mere agencies of the Commonwealth Government?
Mr Wran knows that that is a state of affairs unacceptable to the people of New South Wales. He knows that our revenue sharing arrangements have drawn strong support from the people of New South Wales. He knows the attitude of his own colleague Mr Dunstan in South
Australia, another State Labor leader who not so long ago found it very inconvenient to invite the honourable member for Werriwa to come to his State. Mr Wran knows that our policy has appeal because people see in it a genuine attempt to end the wrangling that has gone on over the years between the Commonwealth and the States, a genuine attempt to give financial reality to the Australian federation. It is the most significant development in government relations that has occurred since Federation and will end for all time the inevitable drift, the inevitable concentration of power in Canberra. That is what this debate is all about. It is all about the fact that Mr Wran knows in his heart of hearts that his own federal leader is an electoral liability. Mr Wran will not thank the Leader of the Opposition for raising today this matter of public importance. All it has done has been to remind this House again just how implacably opposed is the Federal Labor Party, and in particular its leader, to decent revenue sharing arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States; how irrevocably committed the Federal Labor Party still is to policies of centralism; how absolutely blind it is to the developments that have occurred in the Australian community over the past 10 years; how absolutely insensitive it is to the need of State and local governments to have the financial capacity to discharge their legal and constitutional responsibilities.
Far from the new federalism being a retreat into the past, it is in fact a recognition that government developments in federations all over the world have demonstrated that if you believe that all the problems can be solved by putting all the responsibility in the centre, you are very mistaken. The policies to which the Leader of the Federal Opposition is committed in 1976 are the policies that were tried by successive administrations in the United States and found to be wanting. The policies that he espouses were the policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the United States and they were found not to work. We all remember President Johnson’s talk about the great society. He believed that if all power was concentrated in Washington and everything was handed out from Washington, bypassing all of the States and local agencies, the problem was solved. Of course, what happened was that they created the most expensive inefficient federal bureaucracy in the history of the United States. They found to their concern and dismay that it did not work. Far from this Government’s policy being a retreat, into the past, it is a recognition of present-day realities. It is the leader of the Opposition and that dwindling band of people who now sit behind him who are really living in the past as far as government relations in this country are concerned.
-The weakness of the Government’s case in this issue is shown by the fact that consecutive Government speakers have refused to face the issue. Nothing that has come from the Government alters the fact that its proposed new financial arrangements with the States must lead to a greatly increased burden on the States and consequently to the imposition by the States of the additional income tax surcharges- double income taxallowed for in the proposal and/or additional indirect taxes. The agreement made at the Premiers Conference on 9 April is not final, and I think that is an important point. The Commonwealth hopes to achieve that final agreement at the June Premiers Conference, but it will not achieve it if the States wake up to what is involved, and I think the States are starting to wake up- even Sir Eric Willis, who is no relation, by the way. I ask the House to look at the proposal. Firstly, the States are to receive by way of financial assistance grants the same percentage of personal income tax as they received in 1975-76, that is, 35 per cent. The States originally expressed themselves to be pleased with that arrangement because, on their calculations, it gave them approximately $3 50m more than would have applied under the current formula. Sir Eric Willis said that it would enable him to cut indirect taxes, but I think he has now retreated from that somewhat. He now says that he will not increase taxes.
The Federal Government is proposing to introduce tax indexation, and I think that is an extremely important point to consider. In the next financial year tax indexation is to apply, at least in part, so we are told continuously by the Government, and so the growth of personal income tax revenue is to be reduced. Certainly it will go up if there is only partial indexation, but the growth will not be anything like as rapid as it would have been without tax indexation. Under the current formula, the financial assistance grants to the States would have been improved by 3 factors: Firstly, the betterment factor of 3 per cent; secondly, a population factor of 1 per cent; and thirdly, an allowance for average weekly earnings which would be 12 per cent or 13 per cent. So under the current formula the grants would have gone up by 16 per cent or 17 per cent. Without indexation, income tax revenues would increase next year by appreciably more than that, but with full indexation there would probably be no improvement over what was provided under the old formula. Indeed, the grant could be less, except, that a provision in the 9 April agreement is that for 3 years and no more the amounts the States will receive will not be less than would have been provided for in that year by the current formula. So if tax indexation is introduced this year to the extent of one-third, as has been indicated by the Government, the States will still be better off in their financial assistance grants, although not by $350m but by about two-thirds of that amount.
A specific section of the 9 April agreement between the States and the Commonwealth is that there will be no sharing with the States of any Commonwealth tax surcharges. At page 2 of the Prime Minister’s Press statement he said:
The yield or costs of special surcharges or rebates applied, in appropriate circumstances, by the Commonwealth will not be included in the base figure from which the States’ entitlements will be calculated.
So the Commonwealth could use this agreement as a means to increase income tax without having to share with the States. It could simply say: ‘This year there is a 5 per cent surcharge’, and the States could not get any of the 5 per cent. The States could be well and truly ‘had’ by that clause, and I do not know whether they have realised it yet. Furthermore, the guaranteed 35 per cent of personal income tax revenues, less any Commonwealth surcharge, represents only 37 per cent of total Commonwealth payments to the States, as the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) said, and the rest is comprised of specific purpose payments and general purpose capital funds. The States have received no assurances whatever about the level at which specific purpose payments and general purpose capital funds will continue. All they have is one-third of the package. That is all they have been given so far- one-third of the package. At page 7 of the Prime Minister’s Press statement of 9 April he said:
The single most important issue outstanding is the question of which specific purpose payments to the States are to be absorbed into the general revenue arrangements. A good deal of consideration will need to be given to this matter and a working group of officers will be examining the whole range with a view to decisions being made during the course of the next financial year.
The Prime Minister intends that the States will reach agreement with the Commonwealth Government in June of this year, but he intends also that there will not be final agreement about the absorption of specific purpose payments into the base grant until after that date. So the States are being asked to accept something absolutely blindly, to pick up one-third of the package without knowing what is going to happen to the other two-thirds. That is definitely buying a pig in a poke. Furthermore, the proposal goes against the policy of the Liberal and National Country Parties as set out last year in their Federalism Policy statement. At page 4 of that policy, referring to a transition to flexibility, it is stated:
Stage 1: A calculation will be made of the percentage which in the previous year general revenue grants to the States bore to total personal income tax collections in that year. That percentage will be used to ascertain the share of personal income tax to the States in Year 1 -
I ask that particular attention be paid to this - and will also take into account the transfer of such section 96 grants as should be absorbed into this base figure.
The Liberal and National Country Parties stated there quite specifically that the section 96 grants should be taken into account at the time of working out the base grant, but that is not what is proposed now. What is proposed now is that the base grant will be worked out, by June at the latest, and that the States will not know what specific purpose payments are being absorbed into that base grant until some time in the next financial year. So the States would be going in absolutely blind. Clearly, the States are being asked to adopt arrangements not knowing what section 96 grants are going to be absorbed in the base figure. That is extremely serious because there is a great likelihood that the Government will seek to wipe out or drastically reduce many programs that it finances currently in this way, and if the States want them to continue as before they will have to pay for them.
Could I summarise very briefly the enormous bind in which the Government finds itself at the moment, very largely through its own policies. Firstly, it found out in January- and called on all the departments to produce their forward expenditure estimates- that there was a projected deficit of $5,000m. Expenditure cuts were then made which will have an ongoing effect next financial year of about $300m, which reduces the deficit to $4,700m. If tax indexation of one-third is introduced, that will cost $400 m, and if inflation accounting for companies to the extent of one-third is introduced that will cost $500m. So there is another $900m, and the Government has already increased other expenditure items such as the investment allowance, payments to the States, the superphosphate bounty, etc, to the tune of almost $ 1 ,000m.
If the Government introduces tax indexation by one third that will chop back the additional payment to the States but there still will be something like $890m additional expenditure which the Government has brought in this financial year. Therefore the Government faces a deficit on those figures of $6,490m. Clearly, if those figures are anything like accurate, and I suggest they certainly are accurate, the Government has to do either of two things, or perhaps both. It has to make substantial increases in revenues by levies or increases in taxation of some sort or another and also has to slash expediture.
Quite clearly I would say that it is going to do both things. If it tries, for instance, to introduce Medibank levies, radio and television licences and so on it probably could raise $ 1,000m and reduce the deficit to $ 5 1/2 billion but it still will have to make enormous cuts in government expenditure which would affect specific purpose grants to the States and the capital purpose payments to the States as well. Therefore the States would be in the situation where the two-thirds of the payments from the Commonwealth would have to be hacked around enormously by this Government in an effort to get the deficit down. Of course it may be that the Government will find that it cannot cut government expenditure very much and that it will have to put up with an enormous deficit but from the way the Government keeps talking it apparently intends to cut government expenditure very substantially.
Of course, the Bland Committee has been operating now for a couple of months and looking at specific expenditure areas which can be handed back to the States, and the States then will have to make up their minds about whether they will continue funding them. If they are going to continue funding them they will have to pay for them and if they are going to pay for them they Will have to increase taxes. They either will have to increase indirect taxes or increase the additional income tax- apply a double income tax which is allowed for under the new federalism proposals. Either way there are going to be very substantial increases in State taxes, either through income tax or indirect taxes, if this Government has its way. The result will be that the people of Australia will be paying not less tax but tax in a different form. They will be paying less tax to the Federal Government and a lot more tax to the State governments.
I suggest that States which have their own interests in mind realise that there is not yet final agreement on this matter. There is to be a Premiers Conference in June at which the Premiers can decide to reject this new form of federalism or this federal funding arrangement. I suggest that the people of New South Wales would be well advised to elect a Premier who would oppose this new kind of federalism and who has made it quite clear that he has no intention of applying a double income tax. If they leave Sir Eric Willis as Premier they do so knowing that he has made it quite clear that he will go along with the new arrangements and will apply double income tax.
-Order. The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I was informed this morning that a matter of public importance, double taxation, had been listed on the notice paper for today. I asked my Party’s Whip which member on the Government side had asked for that matter of public importance to be debated and was informed that the request did not come from our side, the Government side, but that it came from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), no less. I could not believe it. We know the subject and we have heard the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition. It is clear and beyond doubt that the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he must make some nominal effort in the campaign being conducted in New South Wales. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was not wanted in New South Wales, that he was persona non grata in that State.
– Not wanted anywhere.
– In fact, as the honourable member for Riverina points out so ably, he is not wanted anywhere. However, the word filtered through to the Labor Party machine in New South Wales that the Leader of the Opposition was giving some thought to raising in the Federal Parliament this week matters which might be beneficial to Labor’s cause. As I hear the news the word came back, very strongly, from the organisation in New South Wales that if he insisted on doing so he should make sure that he did not do it on a day when the proceedings of this House were being broadcast. Here we are now, when the proceedings are not being broadcast, dealing with a matter which is supposed to be in the interests of the Labor Party in New South Wales where the State election will be held this week. We are doing it on a nonbroadcast day, on a day when members of the Labor Party in New South Wales hope that there will be very little publicity arising from the fact that this subject has been raised.
– What will we be talking about tomorrow when the proceedings are being broadcast?
-When the proceedings are being broadcast I am sure that members of the Labor Party here will be talking about all sorts of other interesting things. The Leader of the Opposition accused this Government of a total departure from established fiscal practice and went on to make some comments about what he called double taxation. To my way of thinking this is a classic case, similar to those on which the Labor Party has embarked so often in the last 3 years. It learned from the ‘honourable’ Dr Goebbels, from whom it learned so many other things, that if you say things often enough people will start to believe them.
There is no double taxation in this federalism policy. There is no room for double taxation. It has been pointed out and ably argued that there is to be no double taxation. The Labor Party chose to bring this matter before the Parliament and we have found difficulty in talking to the point for 10 minutes or 15 minutes, as the case may be, simply because one can stand up in this Parliament and say there is no double taxation. It takes about 5 seconds to say that and one then is faced with thinking of something else to say for the remainder of the 10 or 15 minutes. This is the problem which we on the Government side face today.
The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) came forward and said that he was going to make some mention of the election in New South Wales. He certainly did. He mentioned very little else. He certainly did not make much reference to double taxation. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) attempted to make a contribution but it turned out to be nothing more than a series of non sequiturs and illogical arguments. It is quite apparent that the New South Wales Labor Party had passed the word to other Federal honourable members from New South Wales that they should not take part in this debate. The Leader of the Opposition was unable to find any other honourable member from New South Wales prepared to take part in the debate. The Opposition had to turn to a Victorian representative and a South Australian representative to come forward and make some contribution which the Leader of the Opposition thought might assist in some way the cause of the Labor Party in New South Wales.
The points raised by the Opposition were raised in a very shoddy fashion. No logical arguments have been put forward and statements alleged to have been made have not been backed up. The honourable member for Adelaide, a fan, protege and other such things of Mr Dunstan, the
South Australian Premier, had to find excuses for the fact that his Premier had approved in glowing terms of the federalism policy of this Government. It seems incredible that a Federal member has to come into this place and justify his Premier’s acceptance of a particular proposal put forward by this Government. The only adverse comment that could be found, as a result of digging deep into the newspaper clippings in the Parliamentary Library, was made way back in the beginning when the Queensland Premier indicated that this policy was a return to the dark days. The Queensland Premier and the Queensland Treasurer made that statement way back before anything was known about what was proposed under this policy. They may have been entitled to do so in ignorance but now, knowing the facts, the Queensland Premier is enthusiastic, as is Sir Eric Willis, and is Mr Rupert Hamer, as is Mr Don Dunstan, as is Sir Charles Court, and as is the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Neilson. They are all enthusiastic about this proposal. The Opposition had to go a long way back to some incredibly old, almost ancient statement to find anything ever said by a Premier to indicate that he was even vaguely antagonistic to the proposals put forward by this Government.
The fact of the matter is that this policy put forward by this Government and accepted in principle by the States relates to tax sharing, to revenue sharing. It does not relate to revenue or taxation increases. It does not relate to double tax. Nowhere is there provision for double tax. Nowhere has the suggestion been made that there will be or may be double tax. This is a proposal for carving up the revenue which comes to the Federal Government in such a way that all arms of government get a fair share of it. The spending of money must bring with it some responsibility. That is what this policy is about. We do not want to continue to develop a situation as developed in the last 3 years when the Commonwealth Government’s revenue increased by about 140 per cent, the State governments were lucky if they got an increase of 20 per cent per annum and the State governments were not answerable for the money they spent. One of our objectives in introducing and implementing this policy is to see that people understand who is spending the money they are paying in taxation. That is what the policy is about.
At a later stage provision will be made to enable the States, at their option, to impose a surcharge or make a rebate of up to a couple of per cent on the amount of money they receive from the Federal Treasury. That is not double taxation; it is a surcharge or a rebate which may be applied at the option of a State. By no means can that aspect of our policy be interpreted as double tax.
An election campaign is in progress in New South Wales and the fact that the misguided Leader of the Opposition thinks he may be able to gain some advantage by creating scare tactics in telling the people of the States- of New South Wales in particular- that they will be taxed to a greater extent and more frequently is nothing more than propaganda designed to break down confidence. This attitude is already to some extent causing a breakdown in the negotiations which are continuing for the satisfactory implementation of this policy. In referring to a breakdown I instance that the New South Wales Leader of the Opposition has already indicated that he will not go along with the Commonwealth’s proposals. If by some tragedy of chance, which will not happen, he were elected as Premier of New South Wales on Saturday next he would be the only person out of step and there would be a major flaw, a major chink, in the policy we are implementing.
The fact is that the Commonwealth Government is voluntarily putting itself into a position where the growth of its own revenue will not be as great as it has been in recent years. This aspect is important. Obviously the Commonwealth Government’s income will grow, but it will grow at a slower rate than the 140 per cent total by which it grew during the 3 years of Labor administration. The Government will be forced to be more efficient. The Government, in consultation and co-operation with the States, will be forced to reduce the massive duplication of services maintained by governments at present. These matters are important. The State governments, which have been starved, are entitled to a fairer share of the revenue. Because their effective and relative share of revenue was reduced by the Whitlam Government it has been necessary to totally realign and re-assess present financial policies. I am proud to support the Government on this issue.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is now concluded.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments.
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
Leave out clause 7.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
Leave out clause 1 1.
– I move:
The effect of the 2 amendments made by the Senate is to restore the funeral benefit to the Social Services Amendment Bill. In speaking to these amendments I indicate that the Government has decided to accept them because it wishes to avoid making the question of the funeral benefit a matter of issue between the 2 Houses of the Parliament. In such a situation the only people who could suffer would be pensioners. Further, to avoid delay in the provision of the proposed pensioner benefits the Government accepts the amendments.
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative. Resolution reported.
Adoption of Report
Motion ( by Mr Newman) proposed: That the report of the Committee be adopted.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, the Government’s humiliation in this case is not a reason why the House should adopt the report -
-Order! Will the honourable member explain to me why he is on his feet?
-I am speaking against the adoption of the report.
-The Government’s humiliation in this instance is not a reason why the House should not consider the very serious question involved in the passing of a financial measure by this House, its being amended in the Senate and brought back to this House, and without any explanation or debate the House being asked to accept a report and adopt amendments by the Senate. I believe that this House should not adopt this report, that the matter should be referred back to the Comittee and that a proper explanation should be given of the reasons why the Government has decided to accept amendments, with which I do not disagree, to what was put through this House as a serious money Bill. Members of this House were told that they had to support Government policy on this legislation.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the honourable member for Corio be not further heard.
-The question now is: That the report be adopted. All of those in favour say aye, to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it.
Opposition members- The noes have it.
-Is a division required?
Opposition members- Yes.
-A division is required. Ring the bells. (The bells being rung)
– I rise on a point of order. This division is on the motion that I be no longer heard?
-No, I took it to be on the question that the report be adopted.
– No, we asked for a division on the motion that I be no longer heard.
– On a point of order -
-Order! Just wait a minute. The House will come to order. I put the question that the report be adopted. At that stage members of the Opposition said that a division was required and a division was called on that basis.
– No, on the motion that the honourable member for Corio be no longer heard, which has to be dealt with first.
– On a point of order, that motion has been put and passed. We are now dealing with the second motion on which a division is in progress. I suggest that the proceedings of the House should not be interrupted.
– We would not divide on the motion that the report be adopted. We would divide on the motion that the honourable member be no longer heard. We are not opposing the motion for the adoption of the report.
-Could I reinforce what the Leader of the House has said? I put the question. On the question that the member be not further heard there was no call for a division.
– There was.
-There was not. I then put the question that the report be adopted, at which stage there was a requirement for a division. The situation is quite clear in my mind. That is what occurred. The House should proceed on that basis.
– It is not necessary for anyone to ask for a division. It needs only 2 members to indicate opposition.
– Are you taking a point of order?
– Yes. The point of order is that if 2 members dissent from the ruling a division is required. Members did dissent. We are not dividing on the second question.
-There is no substance to the point of order. On the first question there was no call for a division. The question now is that the report be adopted.
– No division is required on that question.
– No division is required.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I move that your ruling be dissented from.
-Call off the division. The question now is that the original motion that the report be adopted be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Suspension of Standing Orders
-Would you put the motion in writing and have it seconded?
Mr SCHOLES I will put the motion in writing. I will have it seconded after I have spoken. I move this motion because I believe that this is a matter of some consequence-
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the honourable member for Corio be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O ‘H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-The Government has been condemned and rejected by its own senators for its heartlessness -
-Is the honourable member seconding the motion?
– Yes, but I have to get a few words in before the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) moves his motion. I am making the point that the Government has been condemned for its heartlessness and its treatment of Australian pensioners.
-I take it that the honourable member is seconding the motion?
-Yes, I second it. Motion ( by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, the motion is out of order.
-I am sorry. I have just received some added advice. The Leader of the House can move only that the honourable member be not further heard.
– I thought that you had put the question, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you have not put it, I move:
The House divided. ( Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O ‘H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Dr Klugman- Mr Deputy Speaker -
That the motion be agreed to.
I call the honourable member for Prospect.
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
Motion ( by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
-Order! The honourable member for Prospect rose before the Minister rose. I have therefore called the honourable member for Prospect.
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
-The Minister has already moved ‘that the question be now put’. I am sorry but I must accept that. The question is: ‘That the question be now put’. All those in favour say aye, to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to order. I understand that 25 minutes are set aside for debate on this matter. The debate started at 4.45 p.m. and therefore a further 5 minutes are allowed.
-The honourable member has made his point of order. The answer to his point of order is that the Leader of the House may move at any time the motion he has moved. The question therefore is: ‘That the question be now put’. All those in favour say aye, to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it. Is a division required?
Honourable members- Yes!
-Ring the bells.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put:
That the motion (Mr Scholes’) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for proposed expenditure announced.
Bill presented by Mr Lynch, and read a first time.
– I move:
I present Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1975-76 which is the first of the 2 Bills which, taken together, comprise the additional Estimates for 1975-76. The second Bill which I shall introduce shortly, is Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1975-76. In these Bills, Parliament is asked to appropriate moneys, additional to those appropriated under Appropriation Acts (Nos 1 and 2) 1975-76, totalling, in all, $506,201,000. Of this total $344,430,000 is sought in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and $161,771,000 in Appropriation Bill (No. 4). The Bills seek parliamentary authority to make payments under specified heads of expenditure the need for which has arisen since the Budget was prepared but for which the appropriations provided in Appropriation Acts (No. 1) 1975-76 and Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1975-76 were insufficient or for which no provision was made in those Acts. (Quorum formed). The amounts included in the Bills are needed to meet commitments made by the former Government as well as commitments made, for essential and unavoidable expenditures, under the authority of the present Government.
While it is necessary to provide further appropriations to meet certain expenditures which we consider to be inescapable, I am pleased to be able to say that savings under other annual appropriations of the Consolidated Revenue Fund are expected to total $47 8.2m. Honourable members will be aware that it is not possible to transfer and apply those savings towards appropriations which must, of necessity, be supplemented. I have circulated a paper entitled ‘Statement of Savings Expected in Annual Appropriations’ which details the particular division, sub-division and item of Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1975-76 and Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1975-76 under which savings are expected to be made. These savings will be achieved largely as a result of restraints imposed by the Government since it came into office.
Before I go on to speak about the main items that make up the additional appropriations being sought, there are a few observations I should make so that they can be seen in proper perspective. (Quorum formed). On the face of it, the fact that we are seeking additional appropriation authority of $506m at a time when we are pursuing a vigorous policy of expenditure restraint may appear somewhat incongruous. That impression would be quite wrong. The truth of the matter is that our efforts to rein back expenditure from the rocketing trend on which it was set by the Labor Government are beginning to bear fruit. It is, of course, not to be overlooked that when we embarked on our policy of restraint following the election in December expenditures in this financial year were already largely predetermined. By that time, it was all too abundantly clear that, if things were left to take their course, expenditures this financial year would be greatly in excess of the Budget estimates. That prospect has been decisively and dramatically changed.
For those expenditures financed from the annual appropriations the net effect of the additional appropriations I am proposing, and the savings we now expect to be realised, is an increase of $28m on the expenditures provided for in Appropriation Act (No. 1) and Appropriation Act (No. 2). This stands in stark contrast to the situation last financial year. The additional appropriations approved then totalled $ 1,241m, against which the savings concurrently announced totalled only $ 136.8m. The net increase then compared with the Budget Appropriation Acts was thus some $ 1,104m. But to get the full picture one needs to go beyond the changes from the figures in Appropriation Act (No. 1 ) and Appropriation Act (No. 2).
Looking across the whole range of expenditures, the prospect now is that, as a result of the action we have been taking to rein them in, total Budget outlays in this financial year are likely to be less than my predecessor estimated that they would be when introducing his Government’s Budget on 18 August 1975. In comparison with the prospect that faced us when we assumed office, that is a remarkable change to have achieved. It is also remarkable in terms of any comparison with previous years, particularly given the rate of inflation which we inherited and which has been exerting strong upward pressure on expenditures this year. One would have to go back a long way to find a year when outlays were in fact less than the Budget estimated. In fact, last year actual expenditures exceeded the Budget estimate by a staggering $ 1 ,700m.
I now mention some of the factors which have led to the need to seek the additional appropriation authority at this stage. The most significant of these is the increased rates of salary payable to government employees. Although my predecessor estimated that $150m would be required to meet salary increases throughout the year, and that figure was reflected in his estimate of Budget outlays, it was not included, in conformity with normal practice, in the Appropriation Acts. Parliament is now being asked to appropriate $88.9m for the payment of the increases which have been granted since the Budget was prepared. But for the staff ceilings we have applied a substantially greater amount would have been required. The sum of $25.7m is being sought to meet increased post and telegraph tariffs. The increases were announced in the period late July to early August but allowance was not made for them in the provisions for expenditure by departments included in Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1975-76. Formal appropriations are also required for several departments as a result of the re-arrangement of departments and functions which was approved by the GovernorGeneral soon after the Government came into office. These appropriations, which total $4 1.6m, do not add to expenditures as the equivalent appropriations of certain former departments will be underspent. The Bills also contain clauses, similar to those included in Appropriation Acts (Nos 3 and 4) of 1972-73, the purpose of which is to validate certain expenditures necessarily charged to the appropriations of the former departments during the transitional period.
A further $85. lm is required for the Department of Defence- $43.9m for salaries and payments in the nature of salary, which is part of the amount of $88.9m for salary increases which I have already mentioned, $ 12.6m for administrative expenses, $20.2m for equipment and stores including their repair and overhaul, and $8.3m for other Defence services. An amount of $3 1.6m is sought for ship construction- purchase of ships, under the Department of Industry and Commerce. However, related revenue will amount to $ 19.2m and the net increased outlay on ship construction will be $ 12.4m. An amount of $5.1 m is sought for other repatriation benefits mainly for increases in fees for specialists, medical officers, dentists, chemists and ambulance services. An amount of $5m is required for grants to eligible organisations under the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act to meet increased costs under current contracts. An additional $ 18.5m is sought to meet increased losses on the Australian National Railways Commission, arising primarily from increased costs which have not been offset by increases in revenue. The major losses of the railways are incurred in the South Australian and Tasmanian regions. The increased provision to meet these increased losses will be offset to a large extent by a reduced capital expenditure by the ANR. (Quorum formed)
As I have said, this Government will have chalked up a notable achievement if, as now appears likely, outlays in 1975-76 can be held below the Budget estimate. It will, moreover, mark the first real brake on the mad growth in Government spending over the past 3 years and all that entailed. We will and must continue with this most searching review of all areas of Government spending in 1976-77 and the years beyond. It is a central element in the Government’s overall economic strategy to restore economic prosperity by curbing inflation and reviving the private sector and private initiative. I comment the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for proposed expenditure announced.
Bill presented by Mr Lynch, and read a first time.
– I move:
I present Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1975-76, in which appropriations, additional to those made by Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1975-76, totalling $161,771,000 are sought for capital works and services, payments to or for the States and other services not being ordinary annual services of the Government. As I have already explained in relation to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1975-76, these appropriations are required to enable payments to be made, the need for which has arisen since the Budget was prepared, but for which the appropriations then provided were insufficient or for which no provision was made in Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1975-76.
I now refer to some of the major items for which provision is made in this Bill. An amount of $ 17.5m is sought for the National Capital Development Commission to meet unavoidable expenditure on rise and fall obligations under current contracts for rises and adjustments which have occurred since 1 April 1975. An amount of $ 12.5m is also sought for the Darwin Reconstruction Commission to cover the cost of rise and fall provisions of contracts and for the renegotiation of contracts cancelled following the cyclone. An amount of $25m is for expected payments to the States for expenditure on agreed measures of relief and restoration following bushfires, floods and storms in New South Wales, floods in Queensland and Victoria and a cyclone in Western Australia. The amounts of $8. 870m sought under Division 915 and $40.770m under Division 9 1 7 are for capital and recurrent grants for childhood and associated services which would have been met from an appropriation for the children’s commission if the Act establishing the commission had been proclaimed. The amounts are fully offset by savings under that appropriation. An amount of $6.3m is for payments to Tasmania relating to the Tasman bridges project and $6. 7m is required for payment to South Australia under the Adelaide-Crystal Brook Railway Agreement. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 27 April on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Yesterday the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) gave notice that the Opposition proposes throughout the life of this Parliament to defend most vigorously the basic principles embodied in the Trade Practices Act. Any fiddling with that Act or its administration by this conservative Government must be regarded with grave suspicion. The record of inaction of successive Liberal-Country Party governments throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, combined with the hostility of those parties and of their supporters to the principles of the legislation introduced by the Labor Government in 1973 and 1974, makes such caution essential. The Government has fiddled with the administration of the Trade Practices Act.
The Bill before the House amends the Act to reflect the curious administrative arrangements of this Government. Responsibility for the administration of the Act now rests with a department of conflicting interests, officially known as the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs. There can be no doubt that this arrangement is misconceived and inimical to the interests of the public as a whole. In his second reading speech in this debate the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) argued that his portfolio was created ‘so that business regulation by the Federal Government could be co-ordinated and administered with a practical orientation’. The fact is, of course, that his Department has no such responsibility. With the exception of sections 62 and 63 dealing with product safety and information standards, Part X dealing with overseas cargo shipping, and section 172 dealing with exemption of primary product marketing organisations, the Trade Practices Act does not provide at all for regulation in the strict sense by the Government.
The stale rhetoric about excessive government regulation of business may go over well in the boardroom pitches by the Liberal-Country Party bagmen, but at least in the area of trade practices and consumer protection it is patently nonsense. Parliament, not the Government, has made the new rules, and they are set out in the provisions of the Trade Practices Act itself. Ultimately, of course, the regulation of business under the Act takes place in the courts.
However, the Trade Practices Act does require firm, unrelenting and evenhanded enforcement for its effectiveness. True, the Act created important new rights for citizens and corporations, but their practical importance is somewhat limited by traditional judicial views on the availability of discretionary remedies and by cost. The Attorney-General and a new independent agency, the Trade Practices Commission, were to share the main responsibility for the Act’s enforcement. The Government has now changed that.
Firstly, the Government has removed the Act from the administration of the AttorneyGeneral. That is a retrograde step. The kind of proceedings contemplated by the Act make it particularly appropriate for the administration of the first law officer of Australia. The honourable member for Port Adelaide made that point strongly yesterday. The nature of the discretions available to the Minister administering the Trade Practices Act also emphasises the desirability of the Act being administered by a Minister in one of the great departments of state with a strong tradition of independence, such as the Attorney-General. It is well worth remarking that in the early 1960s Sir Garfield Barwick, in his then overtly political and partisan days, proposed that his rather weak trade practices legislation be administered by the AttorneyGeneral. As you would need no reminding, Mr Speaker, indeed his Liberal and National Country Party successors as Attorney-General did get custody of his weak and sickly legislative offspring.
The consequence of handing over the administration of the Trade Practices Act to the Minister of a department with conflicting policy interests is gradually becoming apparent. In the adjournment debate earlier this month on 8 April the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) raised the question of a blatant breach of one of the Act’s consumer protection provisions by the Consolidated Press organisation, publishers of the Bulletin. The business house and the magazine need no introduction to honourable members. They are both well known, particularly the magazine, for their overwhelmingly anti-Labor stance. The Trade Practices Commission investigated the breach and recommended a prosecution. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs declined to consent.
The Minister sought to justify his decision by drawing attention to his discretion under section 163 of the Trade Practices Act to determine whether or not he should consent to a prosecution. The Minister further said that the discretion had to be exercised ‘both in a policy context and in a legal context’. The existence of the discretion is undoubted, but the reference to the policy context somewhat puzzling. After all, to what policy context is the Minister referring? Is it the consumer protection policy, the only one that seems relevant, or policy relating to one of the myriad other fields for which his Department is supposed to be responsible? The Minister himself is not very helpful, refusing as he did, in a very sensitive case involving a business organisation sympathetic to his Party, to indicate the kind of considerations that weighed with him in the exercise of his discretion.
The Minister’s constant reference to the availability of the discretion under section 163 does not dispose of the matter. Honourable members will be interested to know that the Trade Practices Commission has been most concerned about the question of consumer protection prosecutions. The Commission has no quarrel with the provision being used to prevent capricious prosecutions by persons who are not responsible officials. However, in its first annual report, the Commission drew attention to the mechanism provided in section 163 whereby another person might be authorised to consent to such prosecutions. The Commission went on to suggest that its Chairman be so authorised.
Public confidence in the independent administration of our consumer protection laws might be restored if the Minister were to act on the Commission’s suggestion. The Minister would not then be placed in the invidious position of having constantly to defend, in this House or elsewhere, his bona fides in relation to policy considerations that he is unwilling to canvass. At least by strengthening the potential for responsible independent operation by the Trade Practices Commission, the Government and the Minister would go some way towards removing consumer disquiet arising from the hopelessly compromised diverse interests of the Minister’s portfolio.
The Government is also fiddling with the enforcement of the Trade Practices Act in some discrete ways. The honourable member for Port Adelaide referred yesterday to the emasculation of the Trade Practices Commission that continues apace. The activities of the Commission are being curtailed as part of the Government’s phoney cost-cutting measures. The effectiveness of the Commission is being undermined by the restrictions thereby necessitated. The Government realises that. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) would like nothing more than to point to the ineffectiveness of the Commission as justification for its abolition. The Opposition realises that. Consumers and small business will suffer if the provisions of the Trade Practices Act are allowed to stand unaltered but enforcement of its provisions discontinued. The sinister strategy of the Government, revealed elsewhere, is also to be relied on in the area of competition policy and consumer protection- starve and discredit.
There is no greater fiction put about by this Government today than the barely veiled suggestion that the Trade Practices Commission is in some way interfering with business efficiency or economic recovery. The Minister at the table, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, and perhaps more predictably the Prime Minister, instance constantly the failing firm denied the employment-saving merger by a Commission concerned with economic theory.
No single instance has ever been documented. In this debate the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer) has also spoken unconvincingly of conflict between the Trade Practices Commission and the Industries Assistance Commission. No doubt the potential does exist in theory for conflict, but again no single instance has been or can be given of such conflict occurring and affecting business efficiency or economic recovery.
These red herrings are reminiscent of the phoney arguments raised against the Trade Practices Act by the Liberal and National Country Parties and their Press stooges during 1973 and 1974. No doubt it suits the conservatives to muddy the waters. Competition law can be a difficult subject. It may be easy for unscrupulous commentators to misrepresent a dedicated public body, the Trade Practices Commission, as a mere band of theoreticians whose policing of business has no direct public benefit. That is why this phoney campaign continues. The Government’s privileged backers are concerned that the Trade Practices Commission is becoming effective, not only in the area of trade practices to the immediate benefit of small business, but most importantly in the area of consumer protection.
That is why the Government has appointed its review committee to conduct a review for which there was no public demand. Honourable members might note that the Government has flagged for the Committee’s special attention 2 practices -mergers and price discrimination. Significantly, those are 2 areas in which the Trade Practices Act is just beginning to work.
The Opposition is not opposing the second reading of this Bill. That will be clear from the remarks of the honourable member for Port Adelaide. The Opposition is aware that the Bill is basically a tidying up measure. The only amendment of any real importance is the insertion in the Trade Practices Act of the proposed new section 163a dealing with the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court to make declarations and orders. As the Minister conceded in his second reading speech, the former Attorney-General, Mr Enderby, had proposed last year to fill this gap in the powers of the Industrial Court to make declaratory judgments.
I should like to look very briefly at this new provision and at the conduct of proceedings thereunder before the Industrial Court. The Minister did not mention in his speech, but the explanatory memorandum circulated by him does refer to. the limited right of intervention of the
Trade Practices Commission in such proceedings.. Proposed new sub-section 163a (3) will only give the Commission the right to intervene in matters that have been or could have been the subject of an application for clearance under the Act. The intervention of the Commission in that restricted class of proceedings is obviously desirable and will be of great assistance to the Court. But what of proceedings under the proposed new section 163a relating to practices for which clearance is not available, such as monopolisation, exclusive dealing under subsections 47 (3) and 47 (4) resale price maintenance and price discrimination? No doubt it is always open to the Trade Practices Commission to institute proceedings under section 77 and section 80 of the Act, but that does seem clumsy. When a person is seeking to exercise his new right under proposed section 163a, perhaps to clear up a grey area the subject of discussion with the Commission, I do not see why the Commission should not be able to intervene as of right. After all, the Commission, not the Minister, has the resources and intelligence about market definition and the like which are central not only to the consideration of clearance applications but the existence of many types of prohibited conduct. Similar comments would apply, of course, to the Commission’s right to intervene in proceedings relating to prerogative writs under paragraph 1 (b) of proposed new section 163a. If the Trade Practices Commission does feel disadvantaged in its enforcement of the Act as a result of this limited right of intervention I urge its members to speak up. That said, Mr Speaker, I do welcome this new provision. The opportunity to seek a declaration will give business organisations the opportunity to clarify questions raised in investigations by the Commission and its staff. That seems to me to be a much more satisfactory way of resolving doubts in the minds of ethical business firms than to comply less than wholeheartedly with the Commission’s view of their practice.
The other provisions of the Bill are innocuous enough. I was, however, amused at the suggestion of the honourable member for Casey that the clarification of the Government’s right to make submissions to the Trade Practices Commission and the Trade Practices Tribunal on public benefit in authorisation applications and appeals represented a great advance for the consumers. Perhaps he can be excused when the Minister himself referred, in his second reading speech, to the Government now being able to make ‘public interest’ submissions. That is not the position.
The Opposition is not opposing the Bill. It contains some welcome tidying up provisions. The main effects, hopefully, will be to improve businesses’ dealings with the Commission and the Opposition supports it. The Opposition, however, will remain vigilant to see that the Commission is not starved of funds by this Government and that this Government, through the back door by means of committee recommendations, does not seek to emasculate the provisions of the Trade Practices Act.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
-Mr Deputy Speaker- (Quorum formed) I rise to support this legislation and in doing so should like to bring to the attention of the House the speech by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) because I think there were some fallacies therein. He talked about restrictive practices being rife in Australia and about their causing prices to be maintained at artificially high levels but he did not tell us about the restrictive practices carried on by sections of the union movement. Neither he nor the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) told us of the abuses of the use of monopoly power that exist in this area. No member opposite referred to the situation in New South Wales where the Transport Workers Union has a ban, part of which has been temporarily suspended for the purposes of the State election, on the supply of cheap petrol. We did not hear a word of the abuses m this area and I think the speech of the honourable member for Port Adelaide was deficient in that respect.
He also said that the Australian people must be wary of any attempt to water down the trade practices legislation. I can assure him that there is no intention on the part of Government supporters to water down the Trade Practices Act. I can assure him and the people of Australia of that fact. We believe in strong and effective trade practices legislation in the public interest. We believe that the consumer- the man in the streetmust be protected on the one hand from abuses in the private sector and on the other hand from abuses by the use of monopoly power by organised labour to which I have already referred and about which my friends opposite have been remarkably silent. The average citizen stands in the middle. It is essential to the survival of the free enterprise system that we have strong and effective trade practice laws. It is also essential for the survival of our free enterprise system that the union movement recognises that abuse of power will no longer be accepted by the Australian community.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide also said that he thought that the activities of the Trade Practices Commission were being curtailed. I find no evidence of this. I have heard no complaint of this from the Commission. When the honourable member said that Federal officers of the Commission will have to take over when the State office of the Commission finds that more detailed inquiry is needed in a State in which a company may be operating I, probably like members of the Commission, found that insulting to the members of the State offices of the Trade Practices Commission who I am sure are most effective people carrying out the work of that office. Why he necessarily believes that someone should fly from Canberra to investigate a matter elsewhere in Australia where there are adequate and competent people to do so is beyond me.
– Who said that?
-It was the honourable member for Port Adelaide. I support the amendment that makes it possible for governments, both Federal and State, to make public interest submissions to the Trade Practices Commission on matters of authorisation. Matters of authorisation are heard by the Commission and parties have to prove, when applying for an authorisation, that a substantial benefit must be available. I hope that the Trade Practices Review Committee will look into this matter and perhaps at matters that were referred to in the old section 50 of the Trade Practices Act 1971-73 because the public interest in anti-competitive matters is a subject for wide ranging inquiry. The old section took into account: the needs and interests of consumers, employees, producers, distributors, importers, exporters, proprietors and investors; the needs and interests of small businesses; the promotion of new enterprises; the need to achieve the full and efficient use and distribution of labour, capital, materials, industrial capacity, industrial knowhow and other resources; the need to achieve the production, provision, treatment and distribution, by efficient and economical means, of goods and services of such quality, quantity and price as will best meet the requirements of domestic and overseas markets; and the ability of Australian producers and exporters to compete in overseas markets.
I personally think that matters of that nature need to be taken into account as well as some of the competitive tests in some other sections of the Act.
I welcome the proposed discontinuance of the special treatment that foreign companies receive under the Act in respect of takeovers. Under the existing legislation if a company gets a certificate under the Foreign Takeovers Act it can produce it to the Trade Practices Commission and the Commission must automatically let that takeover proceed. This Bill seeks to make foreign and domestic companies equal. This is a good thing. But on the subject of domestic and foreign companies, I hope that companies, prominent individuals and people from the private sector will appear before the Trade Practices Review Committee and as the result of their experience put cases for changes. I know that industry associations will do so. I know that they recognise that they have a proper part to play in such a matter and that they have a proper part to play in the free enterprise sector by representing various business interests. I also understand why in some cases companies prefer to have their views put by an individual association rather than by the company itself. Whilst I understand the reluctance and perhaps the desire of companies for anonymity it is important that individuals with experience contribute to national debate on this subject and on the general issue of the worth of the private sector. It is important that people of responsibility in the business community and the private sector contribute to the general debate on the defence of the free enterprise system. We in this Parliament proudly defend it. We speak on it. We are prepared to be accounted for on it. We are criticised by our friends opposite for our defence of it. I say to businessmen of Australia with something to contribute to the debate: Help the survival of your way of life by so doing.
Quite a number of business leaders and eminent industry spokesmen have made outstanding contributions to the debate. But many others are reluctant to speak and remain silent. To them I say: Speak not only at annual meetings of companies, speak not only by way of a chairman’s or managing director’s address, but speak when you feel you have something to say to contribute to the national interest. It is not only business leaders who must contribute but those businessmen, executives and union leaders who have something to say. To the boards of medium and large companies I say: Let the heads of your economics, statistics, legal or research departments participate in public debate by speaking at seminars, by publishing articles and by generally making a contribution. Some of the private banks have made contributions in this regard by participating in economic surveys. Some corporations naturally have a reluctance to let executives who are specialists in particular fields comment in the public arena. Again I say to them:
Let these people contribute because it is important in the’ national interest and for the defence of our way of life and the free enterprise system that they do so.
The next item to which I would like to refer is proposed new section 163a. This proposed new section envisages applications to the court for a declaration in relation to the operation or effect of the Act with one exception. I welcome this provision. I agree with the honourable member for Grayndler that it is not an enormously farreaching provision because of the nature of the interpretation that the courts have placed on it which is in part due to the constitutional limitations on the judicial power. To make a declaration the court needs a matter before it. A dispute or justiciable issue would need to be before the court. Perhaps the parties need to have a real interest in the matter. There would need to be something like a right being threatened or a claim to assert. What I do say is that this is a welcome amendment. However, I think it raises another matter that the Trade Practices Review Committee might like to consider. Parties may be engaged in litigation on a contract in a State supreme court and one of the parties may take the point that the contract at issue is an invalid one under the Trade Practices Act of the Commonwealth. Rather than perhaps needing to apply for a declaration under this provision to the Australian Industrial Court it might be worth considering and conducting a debate- and I put it at no higher level than that- as to whether there ought not to be some right of concurrent jurisdiction with both State and Federal courts, if that does not now exist.
I would like to conclude my remarks by referring to some of the comments that were made by the honourable member for Grayndler. I took him to say that there was no public demand for change to the Trade Practices Act. Many businessmen have made legitimate complaints, not because they are breaking the law or because they are carrying on illegal practices but because of some uncertainties that have been created. I would have hoped that the honourable member for Grayndler with his business experience would have recognised that. He said that there was no public demand in the case of the price discrimination section of the legislation. Well, the people may not be rising in the streets for change in respect of legislation which was borrowed from a similar United States of America statute and which, as the honourable member knows, causes lawyers who have to interpret it great trouble and perhaps financial reward. To my mind the effect of the section in Australia has been to keep prices unnecessarily high in some cases where a supplier or manufacturer has been reluctant to reduce prices to one customer because he feels that he may be discriminating against another customer to whom he sold the same product at a higher price last week. I believe that if the matter were examined- I hope evidence is put before the Trade Practices Review Committee- we would find that people are paying higher prices in some areas as a result of this section.
I also took the honourable member to sayand he can correct me if I am wrong- that he was not concerned about the area of conflict between the Industries Assistance Commission and the Trade Practices Commission.
– In a practical sense.
-With great respect and no disrespect I disagree with the honourable member. I think there is an inherent conflict between the philosophy of efficiency and rationalisation as expressed through Industries Assistance Commission reports and the Trade Practices Act. The very nature of the philosophy that comes through in Industries Assistance Commission reports is that industry has to be economic and efficient in this country. This philosophy will often involve people having to rationalise production. The Industries Assistance Commission discourages fragmentation or uneconomic small manufacturing units which means that people have to get together. To get together in the terms of the Industries Assistance Commission philosophy and the old Tariff Board philosophy is by its very nature likely to cause businessmen to worry about whether or not they are going to be guilty of an offence under section 45- the restraint of trade section. Businessmen are in a state of uncertainty because they want to obey the law. When they talk to a competitor they are faced with this uncertainty; when their lawyers say to them that they may or may not be obeying the law, because we have no interpretative case law, they are faced with an imponderable problem which inhibits their decision-making process. Problems are created for businessmen when they have to deal with 3 government bodies- the Prices Justification Tribunal, the Industries Assistance Commission and the Trade Practices Commission. All those bodies need to exist, but we must make sure that they co-ordinate their approaches in the national interest. I am pleased to support this legislation.
– The honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) has gone into a wide ranging discussion of a number of matters more on the philosophy of what he thinks should be happening in the business world than on what is happening in this Bill.
– It was a very good speech.
-He makes good speeches, but this one was not really related to the legislation, which is what we must discuss. Let me take him up on a few points. He was a little critical of the Transport Workers Union of Australia in New South Wales because it was trying to preserve employment for its members. We could be just as critical of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) for failing to proceed with a prosecution against a petroleum company allegedly because the Government is short of funds. These are the sorts of accusations that can be made.
– Would you like to name that company?
-I said that this is an accusation which has been made.
– Why not substantiate it by naming the company?
-Is there not a case?
– You made the allegation, you name the company.
-Be patient. Do not get too excited. The company to which I am referring is BP Australia Ltd. Is there not a case that should have been proceeded with against that company?
-Why not? You can explain it later. It is the same company.
– You have your facts wrong again. You made the allegation. You are very good at making allegations.
-I will make a few more before I am finished.
– I am sure you will.
-I seek your protection, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!
– I apologise to the Chair.
-I call the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I am trying to make will astound the Minister. I am basically agreeing with his legislation. One of the points which I wish to raise is why the Attorney-General has been removed from the focal point of the legislation. To that extent my remarks will become a little relevant to what the Minister might be worried about, because it appears that the present Government is more interested in putting all these matters, which in our view should be dealt with on an impartial basis, into an area where there can definitely be a conflict of interests. We will set out to show it a little later. Of course there is every good reason why there should be a Minister interested in consumer protection and business affairs, but there is an equally valid reason why, when there is a conflict of interest, the matter should be determined by a commission or a tribunal. There would be no suggestion of influence. There would be no suggestion that the Minister had a discretion which he might deign to use. Let me take up the honourable member for Higgins on some of his accusations, particularly in respect of section 90 (9). He was very critical of the Minister under the previous Government exercising certain discretion. That was a valid criticism. I notice that the section remains. On this occasion the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs will have that discretion because the provision has been removed from the jurisdiction of the Attorney-General.
Let us look at the structure of the Bill and what we think about it. As the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) said, we have no basic objection to this legislation because, in the main, it is something that a Labor government would have introduced as an improvement. When it comes to the removal of the AttorneyGeneral from the section, we are rather interested why so much weight has been given to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs in all aspects of restrictive trade practices. Clearances, mergers and all matters which affect competition and public interest are matters which interest us. In a very short space of time there will be a review of the Trade Practices Act. The review group will be established immediately and will report to the Minister on a number of matters. Section 28 ( 1 ) (b) of the Trade Practices Act states that the Trade Practices Commission can examine critically and report to the Attorney-General on the laws in force in Australia relating to the protection of consumers and in respect of matters referred to the Commission by the Attorney-General being matters with respect to which the Parliament has power to make laws. But the Commission is completely ignored. It is not even asked to make any suggestions. That task is given to an outside group. That group has been asked what it thinks ought to be done.
How impartial are members of this group? One is a solicitor. He has a pretty close affiliation with a major firm in which the Minister has a relative. It is not bad having a relative in the business. This is perhaps one of the serious matters that we want to raise. The firm has taken an active interest in a number of matters. Its members are legal men. They are entitled to put their case. In most cases they are acting for people who want a clearance or an authorisation granted. They are acting for big business. Very seldom do they act for the small consumer. That signals that something is amiss in the review of this Act. In my view it would have been quite proper and fair, and certainly impartial, to leave it to the Trade Practices Commission to report whether the Act ought to be reviewed. There certainly would have been an impartial result. Nobody would suggest that the commissioners have any particular affiliation.
Now that the Attorney-General, the first legal officer, is removed from the act the problem is who will supervise the Commission in the normal running of trade practices legislation? This is not unique legislation. There is equivalent legislation in most other democratic countries. If they are progressive they must have some form of control over corporate affairs and business activities. There is similar legislation in countries such as Canada, Sweden, France and Germany. We had a lot of trouble getting effective trade practices legislation introduced in Australia. Most of the trouble came from the then Opposition. The Prices Justification Tribunal met similar opposition. At the last Federal election a plank of the present Government’s platform was to do away with the Tribunal. So we have this sort of attack on the consumer or the ordinary lay citizen. This legislation should have been available to him years ago.
We are now suspicious of the reason for this sudden review by people who we would submit, have no close affiliation with the day to day public, the consumer or the free enterprise system, which in its strictest sense, should be free to trade for the benefit of the consumer. We are closely moving into the area of the multinationals and their influences. When one looks at the group that is reviewing this legislation one cannot find anybody effectively representing the trade union movement, the consumer or the small businessman. I will not name the members of the group. The Minister knows them well. It is on that basis that we are somewhat concerned. We think that this is the tip of the iceberg as to what will happen to trade practices legislation. We will give specific examples. I am not being personal of what the Minister has done but in the sense that he is the Minister applying the Act as he thinks it must be applied. In that process he gets caught up in the conflict of interest. There was the question of the Bank of New South Wales having a close affiliation with the Australian Guarantee Corporation Ltd in its attempt to take over the Mercantile Mutual Insurance Co. Ltd. I have mentioned a bank. It has a close affiliation with a certain legal firm. That figures. There is a close affiliation.
– You have the wrong firm.
-Just on that score, the inference was that there was no need to worry about getting any clearance from the Trade Practices Commission. An inquiry was made. Perhaps I am right in saying that Mr Schreiber was acting in that matter at one stage.
– I do not know.
-I will tell you. I think he was. I think he was properly trying to suggest that the Commission should have been involved. I understand the message was that there was no need to worry about the Comission in this matter because the case was not its concern. We cannot go to the final point because the takeover bid by AGC did not continue.
I come to another matter raised by the honourable member for Higgins. It relates again to the Transport Workers Union. One can read between the lines. There will be an amendment to the Act so that the unions will be subject to the Act. That will not happen at this stage but a little later; certainly when we get this report from the review committee. They will not necessarily be bound by it. But the Minister knows very well that certain draft proposals have been put up to him as to how the Act ought to be altered. The point I want to make is this, that even the matters contained in the Press release, in respect of which the Minister expressed some concern on 23 February, were known to him on 20 February and the Commission itself knew nothing about them. I am not accusing the Minister of being involved in this matter. I think that he is only what might be termed the official representative. But behind the scenes, without the Commission being involved, all these arrangements are made. That is no way to protect the consumers or for this Parliament to be satisfied that the Commission is an impartial tribunal.
The next point is a matter of some concern and will show why I am very anxious that the Act should remain under the control of the AttorneyGeneral. If there are to be mergers and take-over bids there will be interest in the outcome, particularly from the point of view of reduction in competition. That is not necessarily a bad thing, providing the price is right. I refer to the takeover by Wormald International Ltd of M. B. John & Hattersley Ltd, the valve company. Earlier there had been a couple of other contenders but they withdrew. The Commission was not invited at any stage to take part in the matter but 1 understand that a letter was written to Stephen Jaques and Stephen, solicitors, suggesting that some information might be given in December. The letter did not come back from Stephen Jaques and Stephen but a reply came back from Wormalds and was written by a director who also happens to be a solicitor in the firm of Stephen Jaques and Stephen. The reply pointed out that there was a clear understanding that there was no need for that matter to go to the Commission. In fact the merger or take-over was virtually consummated without the Commission being able to make a decision. It dealt with the matter, of course, and it was not a unanimous decision. There was an equal division of opinion and the chairman had a casting vote. Maybe that was the right result but it certainly creates a severe -
– Are you suggesting that I would behave like that?
-Not you, Mr Minister. What I am suggesting is that you are unconsciously involved in a conflict of interest where a letter has been written saying that there was a clear understanding that nothing would be -
– I am very conscious of these allegations.
-You are, but that is your problem. What I am saying is this, that if the matter is left to the Commission to determineit is on record that the Commission itself is divided- and evidence is given that a letter was written by Wormalds saying that there was a clear understanding, perhaps as the result of a conversation with somebody in the department, that there was no need to go to the Commission, and that pre-empts the Commission’s decision. The significant part of this situation is that the legal firm involved and one of the members of the review committee are the same. Does the Minister not have some family affiliation with this firm? I do not know, but that is the sort of accusation that has been made. It would be more beneficial for the Government, for the Minister and for the public if the Minister could say: ‘I have no real influence with the Commission. This is a matter for the Attorney-General. I am not involved’. While ever the amending Act removesexcept in a few sections- the Attorney-General from that control there will be accusations against the Minister, the Government or -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I remind the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith that a short while ago we had a slight difference of opinion over my comments about what the honourable member was saying. He suggested that I should wait until he had finished. I have accepted the fact that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has said in reply to the Minister that he has not made an accusation against the Minister -
– That is right and I repeat that -
-But I suggest that the honourable member should be careful about what he says.
-What I am saying here is that by this Act the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs is to be the Minister concerned and he has been concerned in the past under the administrative arrangements. They are now being regularised by the Act. I am talking about specific incidents where complaints have been made- not against the Minister personally. I do not want to bandy around in the Parliament the names of people -
– But you are very happy to do so.
-I am quite happy. Schreiber is the name. Schreiber is a member of the firm of Stephen Jaques and Stephen.
– You are very careless with the truth in these matters.
-It is not a matter of my being careless with the truth.
– Yes, it is.
-Order! The Minister is not helping the situation by constantly interjecting.
– I apologise to the Chair.
-I notice that the apology is to the Chair and not to me. The point I am making is that this matter went before the Commission. The Commission was divided. There was a suggestion that the legal firm had a clear understanding that they need not go to the Commission. A member of that firm concerned is a member of the review tribunal and I understandI am not putting it on any other basisthat the Minister has a relative in that same firm.
I am not casting any aspersions on the Minister but the fact is that a conflict of interest is involved.
– Who are you trying to kid?
-The Minister has to wear it, has he not, when the opinion of the Commission is divided, when the vote is 3 all and when the only way the decision can be given is for the chairman to have a casting vote for the second time? The honourable member wants to suggest that this is an impartial decision. I would not be raising this matter if a complaint had not been made to me. It is my duty to do so. It is the Minister’s duty to understand that he should not be proposing review practices in circumstances in which people can make these accusations. It is his duty to tell the Prime Minister that it would be better to leave the matter under the control of the Attorney-General. That is the duty of a parliament. These matters have to be brought out when we are considering the reason for an Act to be amended. Why is it that the Attorney-General was not able to control the matter as he normally would? Why is it that there is a suggestion that the Minister may not have lodged prosecutions in certain cases? The Act is going to be reviewed. For what reason? To weaken the existing powers of the Commission, to give more powers to the Minister, for the Government to create an impression that nothing is being done at the moment and that this will be a fair and impartial tribunal.
Because of the Wormald case- I will be specific- I think the Minister ought to review the membership of the review tribunal. Accusations will be made that there was a conflict of interest in that case, that there was a contact that certainly indicated beforehand that there was no need to worry about the Commission’s decision because the letters were dated before the decision. Why was the letter written to Stephen Jaques and Stephen not replied to by the firm but by a member of the firm using another letterhead and saying that there was a clear understanding? These matters are well known and I want to raise them with the Minister so that he is alerted to them. It surprises me that he knows nothing about them.
– It is an act of charity.
-Yes. Perhaps we ought to make this clear. Perhaps decisions of the Commission ought to be made public so that there would be no suggestion of a special arrangement being made- it was clearly mentioned in the letter- and the merger going ahead before the Commission made its decision. These are matters for consideration. An arrangement was supposed to have been made with the International Telephone and Telegraph Company, a multinational company, that it would not come into this particular area on the understanding that this merger could take place and that the people concerned in the merger would not enter into another field on an international basis. All these accusations have been made. When dealing with big business and international competition we are not dealing with some small segment of Sydney. We are dealing with a worldwide franchise and we have to look at whether there is any significant reduction in competition, whether any particular favour was granted to any person.
The purpose of my speech, as the counterpart of the Attorney-General, is to suggest that if the matter is left as it is these problems would not arise. It would be on a strictly judicial basis. The Attorney-General would be the controlling authority of the Commission which would be virtually an impartial, overriding body that could look at matters without the suggestion of telephone calls being made and certain letters being written to individual firms which now have representatives on the review tribunal. The proposed amendment will not help the Minister, it will not help the Parliament and it will not help the report of the tribunal, particularly as the Commission was completely ignored and not invited to report on what should be done under the Act. For these reasons, in conclusion I emphasise this point: While ever matters are brought to the notice of an Opposition, that Opposition is in duty bound to raise those matters. It is not much good the Opposition raising the matters in the corridor or by giving a leak to the Press. These are the issues that we want to have thrashed out here. It would be far better in the Minister’s interest if this particular segment deleting all references to the Attorney-General is allowed to remain.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I take this opportunity to associate myself and my Party with the Trade Practices Amendment Bill. Also I should like to support the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) and the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer). I find it particularly difficult to follow an honourable member such as the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen), who I thought tonight might have proven that he “ as a saint. Instead, he stood in the chamber here tonight and tried very hard to tip cans over Cabinet Ministers. All the time he was saying that he was not casting any aspersions on them. He stood there for the whole time devoting some 12 minutes to being terribly critical of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard).
– The honourable member says ‘facts’. What a funny Party he belongs to, to be dealing in facts. He then dragged in the old red herring of the multinationals. When the Labor Party is down and out it always brings up the old red herring- the multinationals. It says: ‘Let us bash the multinationals’. The only question I ask the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith is: ‘Why the devil do you always judge everyone else by yourself?’ I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for the very forthright manner in which he has tackled the problems which he inherited from the former regime.
This Bill will certainly assist the people of Australia. In the main it is a mechanical type of Bill. It makes provision for the Minister to have more control over the Commission. It allows the Minister to put his point of view. I wonder what the former Government would have done. This is a vastly different approach to the one which was adopted by the previous Government. Had the previous Government continued in office, the people of Australia would have been ruled by commissions and statutory bodies with no control at all to be exercised by the Minister.
The second point is that this Bill gives a greater degree of safety to our Australian public companies. I say this because all too often in the past we have seen foreign companies raid our stock exchanges and try very hard to take over our own Australian public companies. This legislation does not completely make companies, whether they be Australian or overseas, immune from takeovers. It gives them a larger degree of safety by virtue of the fact that the Minister may intervene.
This Bill goes further. It gives power to the industrial Court. We on this side well realise that the judges have developed a large degree of expertise in this field- contrary to what the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith was saying. The business community has a right to express clearly the point that some clear guidelines must be laid down so that they might be able to plan ahead and that they may see some future for themselves in regard to this particular aspect. I feel that this Bill does assist them in this regard. Honourable members opposite appear not to agree with these steps which we have deemed to be progressive steps. They would like to return to the days when they were in power and trying to frighten business houses and the business community with the power that they were contemplating and that they were going to introduce into this commission. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) claimed that we were going to dismantle the commission. He spoke of red herrings. As far as the Labor Party is concerned, there are red herrings all over the place. The honourable member certainly is trying to drag in a red herring. If this was not a red herring that was introduced here late this afternoon by the honourable member, I should think it was probably introduced for electioneering in New South Wales. It could well be that this is one of the many points that will bring about the Labor Party’s downfall in New South Wales. He suggested that this Bill might represent an effort to tidy up some of the mess. I thank the honourable member for Grayndler for that suggestion, but I wish like the devil that he would concentrate on tidying up the affairs in his own Party. When he spoke of monopoly control I immediately thought back to what his party was trying to introduce when it was in power. I make particular reference to the Labor Party’s electoral legislation. If that was not trying to force upon the community of Australia, a political monopoly, then I am afraid I am not sure what the word means, because the Labor Party was aiming at forcing a one party system on Australia.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Capricornia apply himself to the Bill before the House. His remarks over the last few minutes have been quite a fair way from the Bill.
– With all due respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, I felt that I was only replying to comments that were made by other honourable members. They were allowed the lattitude to expand their views in regard to this matter and undoubtedly you were here in the chamber when the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith spoke.
– He has had 12 minutes on it.
– That is correct.
-Order! The honourable member will address the Chair and will address himself to the Bill.
-I am, Sir. I think it is worth making a comment here on behalf of the beef producers. I feel that the beef producers have a case now to present before the Commission. I recommend that they seriously canvass the idea of applying themselves to this Trade Practices Bill. Honourable members opposite do not agree. Well that is their prerogative. I have agreed with very little they have said here tonight. I will not take any great length of time on this Bill because I feel that it has been well canvassed. It has been well spoken on by my colleagues from this side of the chamber. Honourable members opposite claim that they are not opposing the Bill in any shape or form. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) said that he was not opposing it and his Party was not opposing it. From some of the comments made here tonight, one would have thought that a few honourable members opposite were opposing it. But I think in actual fact they are not opposing the Bill at all; in reality they are opposing the Minister. I will not delay the passage of this Bill by using all the time available to me. As I said, it is purely a mechanical Bill. As one of the Opposition members said, it is a cleaning up operation. There are many cleaning up operations that must be effected within the next few months. So I support fully the amending Bill which is currently before the House. Once again I commend the Minister for the manner in which he has introduced the Bill and also for the manner in which he is conducting his ministry.
– in reply- I should like first to thank everybody who participated in this debate. Also, as this is the first opportunity I have had since assuming responsibility for the Trade Practices Act to speak on a substantive measure involving the operation of that Act I should like to make it clear so far as this Government is concerned, that whilst we are having a review of the Act’s operation as indicated in our pre-election policy statement, it is our intention to retain the Trade Practices Act. We believe that essentially the provisions of the Trade Practices Act should be administered by a Trade Practices Commission that operates independently.
I accept that in the context of debate on legislation of this nature and because it involves a consideration of business and consumer interests it is natural that the Opposition will take the opportunity to make a few political points about alleged conflicts that exist between the consumer interest and business interest aspects of my portfolio. I take no exception to that at all. I only wish that in the course of indulging in that acceptable political practice the Opposition would get a few of the facts right. The first honourable member on the Opposition side who got his facts wronghopelessly wrong- was the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), who is the Opposition spokesman on business and consumer affairs. He had the remarkable statement in his prepared speech- so it was no slip of the tongue under the provocation of the House- that the first anybody knew about a review of the Trade Practices Act was when the Governor-General’s Speech was delivered. I remind the honourable member for Port Adelaide that it was made plain in black and white- or if one likes, blue and white- in the pre-election policy statement of the coalition parties.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was well aware of the fact that it was mentioned in the electoral material of the Liberal Party before the election. But so was full indexation. So I have tended to ignore what the Government said before the election.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)That is not a point of order.
-I shall continue after that frivolous point of order which indicates the sensitivity of the honourable member for Port Adelaide on being exposed as a person who does not do his homework on an area for which he has responsibility. I suggest that the honourable member for Port Adelaide should leave wage indexation to the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) and ought to concentrate on business and consumer affairs. That is his responsibility in the Opposition. He ought to get his facts right too. The Liberal and National Country Parties made it very plain before the election- we put it down in writing- that we intended to carry out a review of the Trade Practices Act. There was nothing secret about this. We made it very clear that we were going to carry out a review and we indicated that there were S broad criteria that would influence that review. All of those criteria have been picked up in the terms of reference.
Immediately after I became the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs I made it plain both in Press interviews and in a number of public speeches that our commitment to carry out that review remained. The impending review was given wide publicity. The terms of reference of the impending review were tabled in this House. The identity of the members of the review committee was made quite plain. At every stage the procedures that we have adopted for this review have been completely open. In fact, we have gone to considerable lengths to make the review of the Trade Practices Act well known to the public. Through paid advertisements in the Press we have invited public submissions to be made to the members of the Trade Practices Review Committee. This Review Committee is operating as an independent body. It will make recommendations to the Government. Only one member on that Committee could in any sense be regarded as being closely associated with me, and he of course is a senior member of my Department. He has served previous governments as a senior adviser in this area.
– What is his name?
-Mr Hartnell. He is the senior adviser on trade practices and consumer protection. To suggest that nobody from my Department should be on the Committee would be a nonsense. To suggest that the Trade Practices Commission has been ignored in this matter is also a nonsense. One of the very first matters I discussed with the Chairman of the Trade Practices Commission at our first meeting after I became the Minister was the course of the review of the Trade Practices Act. A full time consultant from the Commission, Mr McKeown, who is a First Assistant Commissioner, is on this Committee. The honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) does not make any allegations or inferences; he collects a few names and a few companies, leaves the whole thing hanging in the air, and then says: ‘I am not making any allegations or inferences’. That appears to be the style of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. But as has been made very plain by him, one of the members of the Trade Practices Review Committee is a solicitor from Sydney who is recognised as being extremely experienced and competent in this field.
I make absolutely no apology for the fact that that person has been appointed to the Committee. I make no apology for the fact that he, together with 21 other people, happens to be a partner of my brother in a legal firm in Sydney, just as I would not have criticised the appointment of Mr Justice Dovey to the Family Law Court if that appointment had been made by the previous Government. To suggest that this gentleman, because of that association, should be disqualified from sitting on this Committee is an absolute nonsense. I do not intend, in the administration of this Act, to be deterred from appointing people of ability and people of recognised competence to these positions because of the coincidence of the type to which I have referred. These allegations about smoke-filled rooms and the undertakings given over port and cigars sound very lurid. They might go down well in some quarters but I think the time has long since passed when the members of the Labor Opposition ought to adopt a more realistic attitude to these matters. Of course effective legislation in the trade practices area is necessary in Australia. Nobody disputes that. I do not dispute that. It will not be the intention of the Government parries or of this Government to dispute that, and any suggestion that we are disputing it is an absolute nonsense.
The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith made an absolutely remarkable speech. If the honourable member has any suggestions of impropriety or allegations to make against me I would be happy to receive them. I can assure the House and the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith that in respect of no matter at any time since becoming the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs have I transgressed, exceeded or abused any of the powers that have been given to me under the Act. I am quite happy at any time to receive either inside or outside this House any allegations that the honourable gentleman wishes to make. But like the honourable member for Port Adelaide, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith does not get his facts right. He talked about me stopping a prosecution of BP Australia Ltd. I have never been asked to consent to a prosecution of British Petroleum. But it so happens- I think the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith ought to be aware of this- that proceedings against British Petroleum are afoot at present. They are proceedings taken by the Commission under the provisions of the Act. There is no suggestion that the Commission is being prevented from pursuing those proceedings because of lack of funds and there is absolutely no substance in the honourable gentleman’s suggestion that I have intervened to stop the prosecution. Those proceedings are of such a character that I have no power to intervene in any way. So as well as getting his facts wrong the honourable gentleman’s understanding of the Act is abysmally wrong. He ought to know that in respect of proceedings under Part IV of the Act the Minister has absolutely no capacity to intervene.
The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith ought to remember and the honourable member for Port Adelaide ought to realise that this Government is not the first government that has taken away from the Attorney-General administration of part of the Trade Practices Act. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), who sits opposite me at present, by the administrative arrangements of the previous Government was given control over Part V of the Trade Practices Act. Were any cries raised then by the honourable member for Port Adelaide or the then Minister for Manufacturing Industry that the honourable member for Hindmarsh should not have had administration of Part V of the Act? Of course not. I raised objection to the fact that Part V and Part IV were not to be administered by the same Minister, but I did not suggest that the honourable member for Hindmarsh, who was then the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs, ought not to be responsible for the consumer affairs legislation of- the Commonwealth Parliament. What nonsense it is to say that the only legislation that the Commonwealth Parliament has in the area of consumer affairs should not be within the control of the Minister who is responsible for consumer affairs.
– But I had wide experience in Labor and Immigration.
– Yes, the honourable member for Hindmarsh had very wide experience in that portfolio. I am quite aware of that fact. Yet somehow or other that association was terminated. Let me analyse further the speech of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. The honourable member talked about section 90 of the Act and, rightly, reminded the House that the previous Attorney-General had on 3 occasions exercised the discretion that the Minister has under section 90 of the Act and that I had criticised the exercising of that discretion. I criticised it because I believed that, at the very least, it ought to have been exercised in circumstances in which the reasons for the exercising of that discretion were given. We gave an undertaking prior to the election that that discretionary power would be removed. That discretionary power has not been removed by this legislation, but it is patently obvious, as the review committee is dealing with the question of mergers generally, that the appropriate time to give attention to the implementation of that undertaking is, of course, when any amendments flowing from the review are considered by this Parliament.
The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith also talked about the Bank of New South Wales and other large companies whose names flowed off his tongue very easily. I cannot understand what the honourable member for KingsfordSmith was getting at. He talked about something which is quite well known in commercial circles and which was given very wide publicity, namely, the attempted takeover of an insurance company by the Australian Guarantee Corporation. I had absolutely no approaches, as the Minister responsible for this Act, regarding that matter. I am at a total loss to understand what the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith was getting at. But his confusion was even worse confounded when he started to talk about petrol discounts. He said that I had issued a statement on 23 February, that it was prepared on 20 February and that the Trade Practices Commission knew nothing about it. He has it all wrong. The sequence of events very simply was that an 23 February the Commission issued a public statement saying that after a careful examination it had come to the conclusion that there was not capacity within the Commission to do anything about what the Transport Workers Union was doing in relation to the discounted petrol supplies in Sydney. That is a perfectly natural thing for the Commission to do.
– But you knew about it on the twentieth.
-Of course I knew about it, because it had paid me the courtesy as the Minister responsible of informing me on 20 February that it proposed to issue a Press statement on 23 February. Is the honourable gentleman suggesting that I should have intervened in some way to stop the Trade Practices Commission from issuing that Press statement? Of course not. All the Commission was doing was paying me the courtesy of telling me 3 days in advance that it proposed to issue a Press statement. I regard that as being an entirely proper thing for the Commission to do. I regard that as being an entirely courteous thing for the Commission to do. Any suggestion that the Commission knew nothing about it is absurd because the Commission informed me; it was its Press statement. So how could the Commission know absolutely nothing about it?
– It did not meet until 23 February.
– On 23 February the Commission put out a Press statement; yet the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith is still interjecting that it knew nothing about the matter. Is the honourable gentleman suggesting that the Commission knew nothing about a Press statement that it put out on 23 February?
– It did not meet until 23 February.
– The Commission put it out on 23 February and the honourable member says that it knew nothing about it.
– That is when it met.
-Of course. So the statement went out.
– You told it on the twentieth.
-I told the Commission nothing; it told me. The honourable gentleman ought to check his sources of information because he has some of his facts in relation to this matter absolutely and hopelessly wrong.
This legislation is in itself fairly minor legislation. It does give legislative sanction to the transfer of the administration of this Act to the control of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Unlike the honourable gentlemen who sit opposite, I believe that the creation of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs will bring to this whole area a practical consideration of the interests of both business and consumers. I do not believe that by separating consumer interests from business interests one is necessarily going to get a better result. In fact, the placing of consumer affairs at a federal level under the responsibility of an independent Minister may entrench conflict in an area in which it ought not necessarily to exist. In future debates in this area I will certainly always welcome constructive criticism from the members of the Opposition, but I do hope that they will get their fundamental facts in this area a little more accurate than they have during the course of their remarks in this debate.
The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) directed a number of very constructive remarks towards the operation of section 163a of the Act. I assure the honourable member that I will take those remarks into account. If it is possible and is regarded by the Government as being reasonable to give effect to those remarks, that will be done. But I do regret the fact that the honourable member for Grayndler alleged that the Trade Practices Commission was being emasculated. The fact of the matter is that the Trade Practices Commission, like all other statutory commissions and departments within the area of government, has been subjected to the imposition of certain staff ceilings. The Trade Practices Commission is being treated no differently from any other statutory commission within my portfolio. It is being treated no differently from my Department. It is being treated no differently from any other section of the Government. To say that we are driving the Trade Practices Commission into extinction by strangling it of funds is an absolute falsehood. If the honourable member for Grayndler has any substantive allegations to make about that I will be very happy to hear them. If any honourable gentleman on the other side of the House has a constructive allegation to make in that area I will be extremely interested to hear about it.
Throughout the course of this debate honourable gentlemen opposite have constantly misunderstood remarks that have been made by me and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) about the operation of the Trade Practices Act as being a reflection upon the Trade Practices Commission. I regard the Trade Practices Commission as being a body of people who are performing an extremely difficult task. I have the highest regard for the Chairman of the Trade Practices Commission, whom I regard as being a very outstanding public servant in an extremely difficult and complicated area and a person who has faithfully and conscientiously served governments of both political persuasions to the best of his ability. At no stage since the present Government took office has it criticised the behaviour of the Trade Practices Commission.
The honourable member for Grayndler also referred to an answer that the Prime Minister gave to a question that was asked in this House on 25 February. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, on his old hobby-horse about not transferring the administration of this Act to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, asked the Prime Minister whether he would reconsider the matter. In the course of his reply the Prime Minister said:
However, I would say that in respect of some of the measures undertaken by the previous Administration there was a degree of harassment of businesses which is, in no small measure, responsible for part of the unemployment that now exists in Australia.
That was not a criticism of the Trade Practices Commission; it was a criticism of the attitudes of the previous Administration, and a justifiable one. Surely the honourable member for Grayndler is not so sensitive as to suggest that the Prime Minister cannot criticise the behaviour of the previous Administration. We are not reflecting upon the behaviour of the Trade Practices Commission. If there is anything wrong with the operation of the Trade Practices Act it is essentially because of the Act itself. We are reviewing the Act’s operation. It is not the responsibility of the Commission to review it and to tell us how the Act should be re-written. That Act is a piece of legislation of this Parliament and if that Act is to be changed it is to be changed at the initiative of this Parliament. The suggestion that once the Act was passed and the Commission was established the legislation became the total possession of that Commission is absolute nonsense. The Trade Practices Commission has responsibilities to discharge under that Act- I am glad that the honourable member for Grayndler agrees with me on this issue- and, insofar as it does discharge those responsibilities, it is not the prerogative of the Government to intervene and it is not my intention as the responsible Minister to intervene. But insofar as those matters in relation to which I do have a discretion are concerned it is certainly my intention to exercise that discretion to the best of my ability. It is inevitable, as the honourable member for Grayndler has suggested, that some of those decisions will be difficult. Some of them will invite political comment. The honourable member has drawn attention to one tonight. His colleague, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), also did this the other night. (Extension of time granted) I thank the House.
The only other matter I wanted to mention is that I think it is regrettable that at no stage during the debate did any member of the Opposition acknowledge that one of the measures achieved by this Bill is the removal of the link provisions between the foreign takeovers legislation and the Trade Practices Act. In fact, that is really in political terms the most significant thing that this legislation achieves. What in fact this legislation does is to establish that foreign companies will no longer be treated as being in a favoured position so far as the operation of the Trade Practices Act is concerned. I think it is something of a commentary on the study that most but not all members of the Opposition have given to this legislation that absolutely no reference was made to this point.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together.
– I direct the Committee’s attention to clause 3 (a) of the Bill. The effect of this clause, as of clauses 6 ( 1 ), 8 and 1 7, is to delete from the Act all references to the Superior Court of Australia and to give the Australian Industrial Court the jurisdiction which the Act intended that the Superior Court of Australia should have. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) made no reference in his second reading speech to these deletions and to this transfer of jurisdiction. I assume that he encompassed them under amendments ‘of a technical or consequential nature’ about which he ‘need not take up the time of the House’. It seems an unceremonious and even underhand way for a Liberal Minister to abandon a proposal advanced under Liberal Prime Ministers
Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon and Liberal Attorneys-General Barwick, Snedden, Bowen, Hughes and Bowen again, with the assistance of Solicitors-General Bailey, Mason, Ellicott and Byers. Since I myself first proposed the Superior Court at the tenth Legal Convention in Perth in 1957 and in the debate on the estimates for the Attorney-General’s Department in 1958 and in dozens of speeches and questions throughout the 1960s the House will forgive me if I take up a little of its time to recall why the references to the Superior Court of Australia were put in the Act and why they are now to be deleted.
It has been accepted for decades among the judiciary, the law officers of the Crown and the legal profession that the High Court of Australia ought to be relieved of much of its original jurisdiction and some of its appellate jurisdiction. In January 1963 Mr Byers, Q.C., and Mr Toose, Q.C.- who have since achieved more exalted rank within their profession- presented to the thirteenth Australian Legal Convention a paper entitled ‘The Necessity for a New Federal Court’. Speaking on the paper Sir Kenneth Bailey, Q.C.- then Solicitor-General- announced on behalf of Attorney-General Barwick that the Cabinet had authorised the Attorney to design a new Federal court. Sir Kenneth conveyed Sir Garfield’s congratulations to the authors of the paper for the contribution they had made to this task. After Sir Garfield became Chief Justice an article he had written when Attorney-General was published in the first issue of the Federal Law Review in June 1 964 again arguing the case for a Superior Court. In that article he reiterated his support for a Superior Court and stated that there was a general consensus in the legal profession that such a court was needed.
Sir Garfield Barwick was succeeded as Attorney by our present Speaker, who continued the work of designing a Federal Superior Court. At the fifteenth Australian Legal Convention in 1967 the next Attorney-General, Mr Nigel Bowen, Q.C., delivered a paper on the proposal and declared that there was a broad consensus that such a court should be established. He paid tribute to the work his predecessor had done. He stated categorically that a decision had been taken to establish the court and he described arguments against it as of academic interest only. In September 1968 the Attorney-General appointed a committee to consider the provisions of the Judiciary Act. Mr Mason, Q.C., the Solicitor-General, was the first chairman of that committee. He was succeeded as SolicitorGeneral and chairman of the committee by the present Attorney-General. As a result of the Committee’s work, Attorney-General Bowen presented the Superior Court Bill to Parliament in November 1968. The Bill lapsed with the 1969 elections.
The efforts to create a Superior Court were pursued by Mr Bowen ‘s successor as AttorneyGeneral, Mr Tom Hughes, Q.C. They were not completed when Mr Bowen returned to the portfolio in 1971. In answer to a question from me on 29 April 1971 Mr Bowen confirmed that work was proceeding. No Bill was presented to the House before it rose for the 1972 election. Meantime, 3 lawyers had accepted appointments to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory on the promise by Liberal AttorneysGeneral that they would be elevated to the Superior Court when it was established.
At both the 1972 and 1974 elections my Government promised to proceed with the Superior Court Bill. We first introduced a Bill in similar terms to the Bowen Bill in the Senate in December 1973. It lapsed when Parliament was prorogued on the occasion of the Queen ‘s visit. It was reintroduced in the Senate in March 1 974 and defeated on 2 April. The Bill was introduced in this House after the elections of May 1 974 and passed on 24 July 1974. In the Senate, however, the Bill was defeated in a tied vote on 26 February 1975. The Bill was again passed by this House on 3 June last but again defeated on 1 1 June in the Senate. The Bill was cited in the proclamation dissolving both houses on Remembrance Day 1975.
Last July, in a speech to the eighteenth Australian Legal Convention in Canberra, Mr Justice Mason, as he had become, summed up the problem faced by the High Court and the absurdity of shelving the Superior Court. He said:
As the Prime Minister observed on the opening day of this Convention, in 1963 a proposal was initiated for a Federal Superior Court designed to relieve the High Court of most of its original jurisdiction and part of its appellate jurisdiction. A reduction in the jurisdiction of the Court was then thought to be a necessary step. Notwithstanding that everyone is agreed that the High Court should be relieved of part of its existing original and appellate jurisdiction, that proposal has perished on the rock of State rights. Meantime, although we have been relieved of the taxation work at first instance the balance of the Court’s jurisdiction remains. What is more important, it continues to grow in volume and, I should add, difficulty with the marked upsurge in constitutional work. It is a matter of concern when changes in the Court’s jurisdiction which should be made are not made because there is a question whether a Federal court or State courts should receive the jurisdiction. The choice to be made between these alternatives is much less important than the desirability, indeed the necessity, of ensuring that the High Court’s jurisdiction is appropriate to that of an ultimate Court of Appeal.
I have traced the history of this proposal at some length to demonstrate the amount of thought, time and effort which has been invested in the proposal for a Superior Court. Four successive Liberal Attorneys-General sponsored the proposal, worked on the proposal and supported the proposal. Four successive Solicitors-General were involved in the development of the proposal. The present Solicitor-General and the present Attorney-General made major contributions to the work. Yet after a decade of study and development by the best legal minds in the country, the Superior Court is now to be thrown into the wastebasket. No mention was made of it in the Governor-General’s Speech. Now it is to be expunged from the Trade Practices Act. The main reason for proposing the Court in the first place was the need to relieve the High Court of most of its single justice original jurisdiction. That was an important reason. It remains a valid one. The High Court ought to be free to concentrate on its great tasks as the interpreter of the Constitution and the ultimate court of appeal.
It is not, however, the only reason for proposing a new court. In recent years there has been a rapid expansion of the areas of Federal law. The Trade Practices Act is an excellent and important example of the expansion. Further expansion into such areas as regulation of the securities and exchange industry is inevitable and necessary. This Parliament has an obligation to ensure that these and other Federal laws are effectively administered and serviced by a uniform system of courts of law. It was in recognition of this need that the Parliament legislated for the establishment of the Family Court of Australia. The Australian Parliament, as the High Court has been careful to point out, has no constitutional responsibility for State courts and cannot intervene in their organisation. Thus, whether it be in a matter as trivial as the refusal to issue certificates of decrees of divorce, as required by Federal legislation, or as important as the prompt and efficient dispatch of litigation under the Trade Practices Act, the Federal government is powerless to intervene in the administration of State courts.
I dealt with many of the arguments against the Superior Court in my speech on the Superior Court of Australia Bill on 4 June last. Some of the arguments- dismissed by Attorney-General Bowen as only of academic interest eight years ago- are based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the United States federal courts system.
The jurisdiction-hopping which plagues that system would not occur in the Australian system for reasons which have been canvassed in this House many times before. State courts would continue to exercise jurisdiction over both Federal and State laws arising before them in the same case. Experience with bankruptcy and other areas of Federal jurisdiction has already shown that a dual system of courts- with Federal courts exercising jurisdiction over discrete areas of Federal law- would be an efficient and effective system. The Industrial Court was not designed to administer the range of Federal laws now brought within its jurisdiction.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Mr Chairman, can I have my second period?
– I think that if we obtain the consent of the Committee that nobody else will rise, then the Leader of the Opposition can continue.
-Thank you, Mr Chairman. The Industrial Court can never fulfill the role of the Superior Court. It can never relieve the High Court of the matters which slow the consideration of the great legal and constitutional questions of our time. By deleting the references to the Superior Court in this Bill the Government confirms its opposition to a superior court system. In doing so it condemns the administration of Federal law in Australia to the vagaries of the present overburdened and inadequate system of courts, none of which is designed to administer the great new legal reforms legislated by this Parliament under my Government. As an incidental, in so doing the Government discards the work of 4 Liberal Prime Ministers, 4 Liberal Attorneys-General and 4 Solicitors-General.
– The differing views of the present Government and the present Opposition regarding the Superior Court were canvassed last year at some length during the debates on the Superior Court Bill. Whilst I respect the strength of feeling in the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) on this matter- they are well known to the members of the Government- the Government took the view in drafting this legislation that, as it was not the current policy of the Government to proceed with the establishment of the Superior Court of Australia, as a logical consequence references to the Superior Court in the Trade Practices Act were irrelevant and ought to be replaced by references to the Industrial Court, which does have the jurisdiction. The question of jurisdiction in matters arising under Federal laws, of course, is a matter for my colleague the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott). To that extent, I do not wish to pursue on behalf of the Government the debate relating to the Superior Court in the context of this amendment to the Trade Practices Act.
– I want to emphasise again what I said in my speech during the second reading debate about the need to keep the Attorney-General in control of the Commission. That matter is covered in clause 18 of the Bill. Without getting overheated about the matter, I wish to reply to some of the suggestions made following my submission.
– Order! The honourable member is referring particularly to clause 18. At this moment the Committee is dealing only with clauses 1 to 3.
-I will deal with clause 1 8 at the appropriate time.
Clauses agreed to.
Section 6 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from paragraph (h) of sub-section (2) the word and figures ‘or 89(7)’.
– I move:
The purpose of this amendment is merely to clarify the drafting of section 6 of the principal Act. The need to do this arose out of some comments made by the High Court of Australia in the course of hearing a case which is still proceeding. The amendments proposed in no way affect the substantive provisions of section 6 of the Act. They are purely drafting amendments. I can assure honourable members opposite that they are of an entirely technical nature and are intended merely to improve the clarity of expression in clause 6 of the principal Act.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 9- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Section 90 of the Principal Act is amended-
– I move:
The amendments suggest an extremely small addition, once again to clarify the drafting of the principal Act, and arise out of the same circumstances as I described in relation to the amendment I moved to clause 4.
Amendments agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole.
– I wish to emphasise again the point I made in my speech during the second reading debate. I feel that this Commission should remain under the control of the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott). Clause 18 removes from the Attorney-General most of the control of the Commission. Following my speech I was castigated by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) because I had made accusations. The Minister castigated me in a typical way without any justification and without any foundation. If one considers the accusations I made, I was speaking about the conflict of interest involved in 2 Ministers having some control over the Commission. I am suggesting that that control should remain with the AttorneyGeneral. In the course of my speech I said that I understood that proceedings against a petroleum company had not been proceeded with, and the Minister challenged me to name the company. I said that the company was BP Australia Ltd, and I still say that. I understood the Minister to say that he did not know anything about the matter, but if the Minister looks at his files I think he will find that the position is that he was told on 9 February that proceedings against BP had been commenced.
-But you alleged that I had stopped the prosecution.
-No, I did not say that. I said that I understood there was insufficient evidence for the prosecution to proceed. My colleague has reminded me that in the appropriation Bills there was a massive cut in the allocation made.
– The allegation about BP -
-I just want to make the point that, on the basis of what I said, I was challenged to name the company. It was 9 February and I said that I was of the impression that proceedings had not been proceeded with because of a shortage of funds.
– That is wrong.
-That may be so, but that is the point. I do not make accusations without having some weight to what I am saying. The Minister would be able to tell me, apparently, when the proceedings were completed. That is the point we are talking about here.
– I cannot tell you.
-The point made to the Parliament was that I thought the Minister was not aware of the proceedings. He has corrected that now and said that he was aware. I know he was made aware of them on 9 February. Turning now to the other matter about which I allegedly put the wrong position, it is a fact that a Press statement was given to the Minister on 20 February and I know that the Commission did not meet until 23 February. I know the Commission felt that it would have been better for it to have been able to determine the matter so that it could make a Press statement, not have one prepared in advance. I accept the Minister’s explanation that he understood that it had all been done with the knowledge of the Commission but I want to emphasise that it was not, because the Commission did not meet.
The statement I am making is an explanation. I do not usually make statements in the Parliament without having some foundation for what I say. These things are documented in the Minister’s office. I know that. I am saying how much easier it would be if we could get away from the sort of accusation that the Commission is subservient to the Minister even in the issue of Press statements. The Commission itself might have decided on 23 February that it did not want one issued. Apparently it did not want one prepared in advance until it has discussed the matter.
– But the Commission prepared it.
-Well, somebody on the Commission might have prepared it but not the Commission. This is the point that is causing some discussion. It is important when dealing with legislation of this nature to deal with it on an impartial basis. Clause 18 gives us that chance. All I am saying in reply is that there is not much hope of convincing the Minister that he is going to be able to continue operating in an impartial fashion, although I respect his view that he can do so. I suggest to him that if the Commission were allowed to function independently of him, perhaps with a secretariat under the Attorney-General, it would have a much better chance of being considered impartial. While the Government, and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his wisdom, put the Commission in a position where it is subject to the Minister, who has a number of responsibilities particularly in consumer affairs and business activities, there is going to be an accusation of somebody indicating to the Commission in advance what it must do and, more importantly, in other fields there is an indication to other people that perhaps the Commission need not be consulted.
– I would like to speak briefly about clause 15 of the Bill which seeks to substitute proposed new section 163a, particularly proposed new subsection (3). The general wording covers an application for a declaration in respect of a matter in which the party gave or could have given a notice under sections 92, 93 or 94 of the Trade Practices Act-that is, a notice seeking a clearance. It follows that the general wording equally covers a declaration in application for authorisation matters under sections 88 and 89 of the principal Act. If an applicant is refused a clearance under section 92 he can, under this provision in the Bill before us, apply for a declaration that the refusal of the clearance was unjustified or, alternatively, that on the facts nothing in the section to which the matter refers- that is the restraint of trade section, section 45- prohibits his intended conduct. He has now used the action for declaration to give himself an appeal for which the Act does not provide.
Similarly, in relation to applications for authorisations, an applicant can make an application for a declaration and also, one assumes, can make an application for a declaration that an authorisation ought to have been granted if it has been refused. It will be interesting to see how this works in practice because in relation to authorisation matters, as I understand it, there is an appeal to the tribunal constituted under the Act whereas in clearance matters that is not so. It will be interesting to see how it works in practice. Again this is a matter to which the review committee might wish to put its mind.
– I ask the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) when he responds to confirm my understanding of his reply in the second reading debate that he will take up with the Trade Practices Commission the question of its views on the adequacy of its rights of intervention under proposed new section 163a which is to be inserted in the principal Act by means of clause 1 5 of this Bill.
– I shall deal first with the question raised by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam). I shall discuss his proposal with the Trade Practices Commission and also consider it at departmental level. I want to refer briefly to 2 other matters. The first is the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court. It was suggested during the debate that the effect of these amendments was to vest exclusive jurisdiction in the Industrial Court so far as the making of declaratory orders was concerned. My advice is that that is not the case and when these amendments pass into law both the Industrial Court and the State courts will exercise concurrent jurisdiction in this area.
The other matter I would like to come back to is the second contribution to this debate by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). It is quite obvious from the tenor of the remarks he made a moment ago that it would not matter if the Archangel Gabriel administered this Act because the Archangel Gabriel would not be free from accusations made by the honourable member. He is hung up over a Press statement issued by the Trade Practices Commission on 23 February. Yes, there was a Press statement and it was issued by the Trade Practices Commission on 23 February. The sequence of events is this: On 20 February I received from the Trade Practices CommissionI think from the Chairman but certainly from a responsible member of it- a copy of the Press statement and was informed that the Commission proposed to issue it. That Press statement was issued. I in no way communicated with the Commission and suggested that it should be issued in a different form. All the Commission did was to pay me the courtesy of telling me in advance. I did not ask the Commission.
I have never given a standing instruction to the Trade Practices Commission that it has to forward to me a copy of any Press statement on any matter before it issues it or that it has to get my approval. The Commission does not have to get my approval. Because the matter dealt with was of some political consequence the Commission took the view that it ought to pay me the courtesy of letting me know in advance what it was going to say publicly.
If that represents ministerial interference, if that represents a situation where there is a conflict of interest, if that means that in some way I am interfering with the independence of the Commission, I think ordinary English words have lost their plain meaning. It does not mean those things at all. It is absolute nonsense for the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith to labour this point and to carry on about it. By all means let the Opposition criticise my administration of this Act on legitimate grounds. Let it criticise conflicts of interest. Let it criticise things. But when we get to the situation where I am accused of interfering with the Commission simply because without any request on my part I received in advance a Press statement which the Commission proposed to issue, the meaning of the ordinary English language is being so distorted as to leave me, and I am sure all members on this side of the House, absolutely flabbergasted.
It does not amount to that at all. This is typical of the approach that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith has taken during this debate. If he has any allegations of substance to make about improper administration, if he has any allegations about irregularities, let him make them. I would be delighted to hear them. However, there are none. They would be interesting fiction for this House to hear. In future it would pay the cause and the reputation of the Opposition in debate in these matters if the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith confined himself to facts and dissociated himself from the realm of fantasy.
– In reply to that speech, and I am entitled to reply, let us get this clear: I am not making any fantastic allegations against the Archangel Gabriel or against John Howard. The point I am trying to make is that it was the AttorneyGeneral who had responsibility for the administration of this Act and I was anxious to say that it should be with him. In the course of a long tirade of abuse against me it was suggested that I had made this statement without any foundation. The Commission met as a commission on 23 February and the Minister cannot wriggle out of that. Members of the Commission apparently felt that they should have been able to decide whether a Press statement should be prepared. I acknowledge that somebody in his Department told the Minister that a Press statement had been prepared but what I am trying to emphasise is that 3 days before it was issued the Minister knew of a Press statement which the Commission as a whole did not know about. I emphasise this point and it is a fact The Minister has put himself in the position of saying that this could not happen and that the Commission must have dealt with it on 20 February but it did not.
– I did not say that.
-The point I am making is that the Commission as a whole did not deal with it until 23 February. Perhaps as a commission its members may have decided not to issue a Press statement. Its members apparently felt that there was something unusual in the fact that the Minister was told in advance what they were going to do. I say no more than that. The Minister should not level personal abuse in saying what was wrong with this debate here. I have mentioned 2 factors. The Minister was told on 9 February of a prosecution against BP Australia Ltd. He challenged me to name that company and I did so. I was accurate and the Minister has not denied it. I also said that it was 23 February before the Commission- not a segment of it or one member of it- knew of a Press statement that was being issued. Members of the Commission apparently felt that they should have been granted the courtesy of designing the Press statement rather than having it prepared and sent to the Minister in advance.
– As the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) feels so strongly about this matter I am prepared, rather than waste the time of the Committee, to show him the text of the communication that I received from the Commission on this subject and also the text of the draft Press statement. I merely repeat that I received it on 20 February, apparently on the authority of the Commission and not of my Department. It was a draft of a proposed Press statement which I was informed the Commission intended to issue. The question of whether that communication was made to me with the authority of the Commission is something for which I cannot be held responsible. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith by innuendo suggested that in some way I leant on the Commission or my
Department leant on it to drum up a Press statement. The honourable member is very good at innuendo but very poor with facts.
– Here he goes again. Can’t you leave me out of it?
-No, I cannot.
Remainder of Bill agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard)- by leaveread a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed from 8 April, on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser:
1 ) That a Standing Committee be appointed to:
-It is the intention of the Opposition to oppose the establishment of a standing committee on public expenditure at this stage. The Opposition is opposed to it for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that this motion is before the House in order to pre-empt the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. That Committee has made one report to this House. In it it recommended that the present Public Accounts Committee become a House of Representatives committee, that it have 1 5 members and that its existing terms of reference be extended to cover items such as are envisaged in this motion. The Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System was established during the previous Parliament. It had been instructed to report by 26 May next. It sought information from Canada and London on expenditure committees and similar committees and has gathered a considerable amount of evidence on their effectiveness and otherwise. I believe that Committee was not terribly enamoured of that type of committee. The suggestion made in its interim report is I believe the type of recommendation which would have been made by the Committee had it been left to its own devices in bringing forward its considered report on a matter which this Parliament charged it with the responsibility of investigating. It is now in the position where the House is considering a motion which will in all probability be forced through the House in its present form and that Committee will be required to report within 4 weeks after the House has expressed an opinion on such a committee.
The terms of reference of the proposed committee have considerable weaknesses for a parliamentary committee of this nature. It is to be a committee of this House and it is to act as a watchdog over government expenditure. However, if honourable members examine the proposals concerning the appointment of members to that committee they will see that instead of such appointments being made, as I believe by the usual means, by the Speaker- although in practical terms the result would be the same- the leaders of the political parties, who naturally have vested political interests, are to make the nominations. The Speaker should have been given the task of nominating the members. This would have divorced political leaders from making the appointments. I would hope that the Government supporters who have examined the proposal, who are so concerned about this matter and who seek to pre-empt the work of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System would support my suggestion that the Speaker should nominate members to the committee rather than 6 members being nominated by the Prime Minister and 5 members by the Leader of the Opposition. If the course I suggest were followed the proposed committee would at least originate in this House.
I also challenge the proposal in the motion that a senator may serve on the committee or nominate a person to serve on it. This is to be a committee of the House of Representatives and I do not think it proper that a person not a member of this House should have the right to nominate a member to a committee of this House. It is proposed that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee or his nominee will be a member of the proposed committee. If honourable members read the explanatory memorandum which was circulated by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) they will see that it is envisaged that there would be such a nominee if the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee were a senator. So the proposition is that a senator may nominate a person as a member of this committee. The actual terms of the motion do not prevent the senator himself serving on the committee, even though it is to be a House of Representatives committee. He can serve on it by right, not by election. It would be better if the terms of this motion were such that the committee had the right to invite the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee to participate in its deliberations without the right to vote or to be nominated on sub-committees. Alternatively a member of the House of Representatives to be nominated by the committee could be invited to join that committee if the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee were a senator.
My own inclination is that we should not be considering this motion at this time. The Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System should have been paid the courtesy of being allowed to conclude its deliberations without its role being pre-empted and without it having imposed on it the pressure which will result from the carriage of mis motion establishing a public expenditure committee.
There are a number of other matters which are of concern. If the committee is to be a watchdog committee, if it is to be charged with the responsibility of acting on behalf of this House in examining expenditure of the Government, it is essential that it should have available to it the proper staff which is competent and able to carry out the duties. That is not possible under the present staff ceilings within the parliamentary establishment unless other committees are dissolved or substituted. I see no evidence of that being done at the moment. If the Prime Minister sticks to the proposition which he put in this House that staffing must come within existing ceilings, the committee will in fact be unable to carry out the very high-minded principles which are expressed in its terms of reference because it will not have the technical competence to carry out the duties which the House has designated.
This is a serious matter. If a committee of this nature is to give the imprimatur of this House to inquire into expenditures of governments which this House approves, that committee must be serviced in a manner which will justify its having the imprimatur of this House. I question whether the committee should be serviced by staff that may be made available under the existing ceilings rather than by the staff that is required for the committee to function efficiently and properly. I am not asking for the committee to be serviced by some great mass of staff. In fact if the original proposition of the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System were adopted the staff required would very largely become available because a committee which is operating largely in the same area would have absorbed this function and become a House of Representatives committee and staff transferred from the joint committee to the House of Representatives committee would be available and would consist substantially of persons expert in the field. But it is no good coming into this
House with high-minded ideals if one is not prepared to put up the wherewithal for those ideals to be pursued with effect and in accordance with what this House is entitled to expect of a committee of this nature if such a committee is established.
The Opposition also believes that the part of the motion which requires that the chairman of the committee must be elected from those members nominated by the Prime Minister should also be deleted. We believe that, in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House, the members of the committee should elect the chairman. Obviously there will be a majority of Government supporters on the committee and there is no doubt that they will be able to elect the chairman they wish to have. But I do not believe that the committee should have foisted upon it a requirement that it shall elect a person from the Prime Minister’s nominees. I do not expect Government members of the committee to depart from the practice of electing a Government member as chairman. This is the normal practice in this Parliament. But the committee is supposed to be a committee of this House established to serve this House and not the Executive. In fact the committee is supposed to be effective in the reverse way in that it is to act as a watchdog for this House over the expenditures approved by the Executive. That cannot be seen to be done if we have a situation where the chief executive officer nominates the majority of members of the committee and the chairman of the committee is required to be chosen from the members he nominates.
I do not think that the Parliament is sufficiently adult in its thinking and approach to this type of problem at this stage to accept the proposition that an Opposition chairman be appointed but I believe that at least we ought to write into the proposals for the committee a proposition which would allow the committee, if it chose to do so, to elect any one of its members as its chairman.
I think that the proposal to establish the committee is premature. I think that this House would be done a service if the proposition were not proceeded with at this time. Apparently the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System has to report before 26 May. That Committee could be asked to make an immediate report to this Parliament in respect of expenditure committees and we could base our judgment on its report. As a result of my insistence this Parliament sent a group of members of Parliament to the United Kingdom House of Commons and the Canadian House of Commons to see how expenditure committees worked in what I would think are comparable parliaments. These members were able to gain considerable knowledge which has not been generally available to members because the documentation in respect of this subject does not really put forward the realities. These members are at present involved in drafting their report. They have made an interim report in which they suggest a different proposition which should be acceptable to this House because it meets 2 criteria: It enables the staffing to be provided and also it enables an existing committee with expertise and competence to be given a job which it can do on behalf of this House. The Joint Committee would be relieved of its responsibilities, the Senate would be able to carry out its responsibilities and this House would be able to carry out its preliminary responsibilities for finance.
I return to the proposition with which I commenced my speech. I am concerned that the parliamentary committee system is being preempted by the proposal to set up another committee on what is in fact the Prime Minister’s initiative. I do not dispute his point that he has supported the establishment of this type of committee for a long time. He like myself and many other members gave evidence to the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System and expressed a point of view. I believe that the Committee should be allowed to exercise its judgment and to make its recommendations on the propositions which have been put to it and on the evidence it has been able to acquire. It should be able to make its recommendations on the basis of what it considers is the best rationale for a committee system for this House.
I believe it is unfortunate that this motion is before us for adoption at a time when the committee which was charged with the responsibility is in fact drafting its report. I would hope that Government supporters will take this matter seriously because if the committee is set up in the form stated in the motion it will be set up as a committee forced on the Parliament by the Executive as a watchdog for the Executive. We know that private members have had a say in how this should be done. But the facts of the matter are that this proposition has been brought forward and is being discussed in this House at a time when a committee charged with the responsibility is going through its report preparatory to presenting that report to this Parliament within a very short period of time.
As I stated at the outset of my speech, the Opposition opposes the setting up of this committee at this time. We would seriously ask that a reexamination be made of some of the proposals set down in the motion. I refer especially to the proposal concerning the election of the chairman, the proposal which seeks to give the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee or his nominee the right to serve on the committee and the proposal in respect to the nomination of members. I believe that without any loss to anybody it would not be unreasonable if the Speaker nominated the members of the committee. I would prefer that there be 15 members rather than 1 1 members but I do not think that I will pursue that point. I believe that the committee should have the responsibility of inviting the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee or another person recommended by that Committeeif that Committee is to continue- to serve on the committee. I believe such a decision should be the prerogative of the expenditure committee itself. Such a decision should not be forced on it by the House. It is possible that a senator could serve on the committee. The motion contains a clause that its provisions will have effect even if they are in conflict with our Standing Orders. But I think that the matters I have mentioned could be adopted without any great difficulty to the Government and would result in a better committee. But until the report of the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System is received the Opposition will continue to oppose the establishment of this committee. We believe that the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System should be given the chance to which it is entitled to make its report and to have its report considered as a whole by the House. At the moment the House may impose something which the Committee may well recommend against.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order. The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am sorry that the Opposition is not supporting the motion for a proposed standing committee on expenditure, which I regard as a most welcome and important step in the development of a proper balance of power between this House and the Government. The opposition seems to be based at least in part on a misunderstanding. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) said it was undesirable that the committee give the House’s imprimatur to matters that come before it. The committee will do no such thing. The proposed committee will be a committee of this House. It will report back to this House, which has the responsibility. The honourable member for Corio made a number of technical points which are no doubt true, but the motion spells out in detail the normal functions of the proposed committee. I see no objection to them. The honourable member said that the whole subject of committees was before the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. That is true. I think it is highly desirable that that Committee have some fixed point on which to make its recommendations. In my view, the proposed expenditure committee is so important it should be the fixed point on which the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System should make its recommendations.
I think this House should approve the setting up of a committee on expenditure, as a matter of urgency, because it would deal with a vital subjectthe control of Parliament over finance and over the Government. That is a real power, as the present Opposition found out in rather salutory form a few months ago. We must see whether this power is there. There must be a proper structure in which the power can be exercised. So far in this area we have the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. It is dealing with an important area. In a way it is the hatchet man for the Auditor-General. It does not deal with many other important areas such as the financial control of Parliament and the relationship between Parliament and the Government. The new committee would deal with these areas. I draw the attention of the House to 2 very important areas of responsibility of the expenditure committee. It has to consider how, if at all, policies implied in the figures of expenditure and in the estimates may be carried out more economically. It has to examine the relationship between the costs and benefits of implementing government programs. Those are new and highly important areas of influence of this Parliament on the operations of government and areas which I thought all members of this House would welcome.
The new expenditure committee is avowedly based on the Westminster model. We must examine how that model has worked, learn from it and if necessary introduce modifications to suit our peculiar conditions. Therefore it is most important that this committee be adequately staffed and have adequate information if it is to be effective. We propose a committee of twelve, broken into not more than 2 sub-committees. The Procedure Committee of the British House of Commons in 1969 recommended a similar committee of eighty, broken into 9 subcommittees. The British Government eventually accepted, amid considerable criticism, a reduced committee of forty-nine, broken into 6 subcommittees. Looking at the matter in that way, I think it becomes quite apparent that our expenditure committee, if it is to be effective, must specialise. It cannot cover the full range of activities covered by the much larger British House of Commons Expenditure Committee.
Other committees of this Parliament are carrying out duties in this field. I have already mentioned the Public Accounts Committee. The Senate has a number of committees which look at the Estimates. They look at what might be called the managerial aspects of the financial management of both Houses. So I think we can have a division of responsibility. The Public Accounts Committee can look at what might be called the legal aspects of financial control to see that money is spent as Parliament has ordered. The Senate Estimates committees can look at the managerial aspects. The new expenditure committee can look at the much more difficult and complex side of the long term policy aspects of expenditure. If the new committee is to be effective in this complex field it must be efficiently staffed. The Public Accounts Committee is effectively assisted by staff of the Auditor-General’s Department. The new Committee must have expert advisers. I believe they must be permanent. It is not always easy to obtain temporary advisers with the necessary expertise. If the new committee is not properly served by expert advisers it will not be effective.
I turn to the question of the evidence which this committee will use on which to base its decisions. The obvious first one is the Estimates. They have been presented in traditional form and have been in use for over 3 centuries. Professor Parkinson has pointed out that our present system of accounts was designed for use during one period of history. The system was introduced during the Second Dutch War, in 1666. Its primary purpose was to prevent King Charles II using the navy estimates on the appropriately named Duchess of Portsmouth. Even for this strictly limited purpose, the system was not conspicuously successful. It was revised to assume its present form in 1689. It more or less prevented King William III spending the money appropriated in the estimates on his friends, who were not even girls. Like many of our other institutions, we inherited the system from Great Britain. We still have it, although Britain is moving away from it.
The only clear justification for the presentation of the Estimates in their present form is that the system enables Treasury to wield control over the day to day disbursement of public funds. Even for this strictly limited purpose, the vote system of Estimates does not appear to be very effective, judging by the frequency and enormous size of the Supplementary Estimates which must be presented to this House from time to time. We would have found the vote system even more cumbersome and inappropriate if in the past we had bothered seriously to debate the Estimates. Now that an expenditure committee will look at them closely I think their shortcomings will become alarmingly apparent. We must move towards a more sensible system of budgetary control. The United Kingdom Government produces an annual White Paper which is available to its Expenditure Committee. That White Paper gives firm estimates on a functional basis for the current year, fairly firm estimates for 2 years ahead and provisional plans for the fourth and fifth years. That sort of budgetary informationthose medium term projections- must be available to our expenditure committee if it is to fulfil effectively the roles I mentioned.
The United Kingdom Expenditure Committee has not, I think we must face it, been entirely successful. It has been unsuccessful in its attempts to obtain information on the costed options given to Ministers. If our committee is to make reports, as it is charged by the motion, if it is to report on options and on whether funds are being spent economically, it should have available information on costed options. That information has not yet been available to the British Expenditure Committee. It is something that should be available to our committee. There will be protests. In Britain one Minister said: ‘We cannot reach the point at which a select committee is, in effect, sitting at the desk of Treasury Ministers and peering over their shoulders’. If we do not have this sort of information available to our expenditure committee it will not be effective in fulfilling its prime role.
We must accept that the situation is that the Government quite properly sets the goals. This House, with the expenditure committee as its vehicle, examines those goals and makes recommendations on various alternative means of reaching those goals. Further, I think we should provide or certainly agree that when we are considering alternative methods of reaching goals Ministers should be prepared to give evidence before this committee as to how these goals can best be reached. We must go further in preparing proper information about our budgetary processes and I think without doubt we will have to move, as other countries are moving, to some variant of the planning, programming budget system. I do not think that we need to move there immediately but I am sure we will get there in the end, in common with all other developed countries- and the sooner the better.
This type of budgetary control is designed to show the link between departmental spending and departmental objectives. By linking resources to purposes and inputs to outputs in a program and by looking ahead several years the Budget would be designed to give a better appraisal of what is being achieved towards the agreed objectives. Linked with this and necessarily an essential part of it is systems analysis to provide a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of alternative approaches to a policy goal. We need not be too frightened of this because it is nothing new. Cost benefit analyses seem to have begun in the Garden of Eden, for one is mentioned in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis. Although we might not be ready for systems analysis the time is long past when we should be examining Estimates on a long term functional basis relating ends and means. That is the right- I would say the duty- of this House and the committees set up for that purpose. We have given the responsibility to this committee. We must see that it has the means to achieve it.
There is one more point. It is not sufficient if this committee merely examines matters and produces comprehensive reports which no one reads. I am always sorry to see that we do not debate Public Accounts Committee reports because there are many important matters in them which should be debated by this House. If this expenditure committee makes reports on policy objectives and methods of achieving them and on how effective the Government is being in achieving its aims, it is important that this House debate them. The House of Commons has not yet been successful in achieving more than about one day’s debate on these subjects in each session. We should aim to do much better than that because that is how this House will keep the essential control over expenditure. In the past there have been defects in our financial control but when defects are known it is up to this House to rectify them as speedily as possible. That is what is being done in this motion. If we do not take steps to rectify defects we denigrate Parliament and, through that, we denigrate ourselves. This is a most important step forward for the development of our parliamentary system and I welcome the move.
– I am pleased to enter this debate to explain the Opposition’s attitude to the proposed standing committee on expenditure. I do not disagree with- 90 per cent of what the honourable member for
Isaacs (Mr Hamer) has said. In fact I commend him for most of his remarks. I too agree that it is necessary for the Parliament to take a far greater and closer interest in the expenditure of government, but we believe that this proposal has been ill-thought through and is ill-timed. The Opposition contends that with the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System which was not just set up in the time of the Australian Labor Party Government but which has been reestablished under the present Government, with that Committee yet to report and with that Committee having already brought down an interim report which devoted itself in one of its recommendations to this subject, we would be acting only as good parliamentarians and in such a way as to have respect for fellow parliamentarians who have done a lot of work on that Committee if we were to await the final report of that Committee.
I believe that a measure such as the one before the House tonight merely pre-empts a lot of the hard work and thoughtful work that has been put into the deliberations of that Committee. Unfortunately I missed hearing the speech of the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) but in case he did not give the details let me read recommendation 5 of the Interim Report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System- a proposed system of committees for the Australian Parliament. Recommendation S reads as follows: 1 16. It is recommended that a new Public Accounts Committee be appointed, consisting of members of the House of Representatives only. 117. Subsidiary to recommendation 5 it is also recommended that:
This is the most pertinent part-
It might be desirable that the chairman of the subcommittee dealing with the new term of reference be an opposition member.
With such a recommendation already in an interim report surely it would only be proper and surely it would only be showing proper courtesy to await the final report of such a committee. Those of us who were in the last Parliament had evidence that this proposal was the brainchild of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I think
I have evidence that there were many who have greater knowledge of the committee work of this Parliament in the financial sphere- many from his own side of the Parliament- who were attempting to dissuade the Prime Minister from adopting this particular measure. I am only sorry that their efforts did not prevail.
I have taken the trouble this evening to look up the Parliamentary Handbook to see the Prime Minister’s own experience in this Parliament. I think it is worth pointing out that he has had no experience whatever on an economics committee of this Parliament. For instance he has not been a member of the Public Accounts Committee. He was elected to Parliament in 1955. According to the Parliamentary Handbook, the only committee on which he has served is the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs on which he served for 4 years, from 1 962 to 1 966. 1 believe that it is that lack of experience that has given rise to such a measure as the one we are debating tonight which probably in the long run will damage the proper scrutiny of this House in economic affairs.
I use the experience that I have had as a member of the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament to point out to the House that the Public Accounts Committee of the Australian Parliament has different functions from the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. It has 3 functions. Two of them are the same as those of the House of Commons and one is very different. One of the functions is to look at the Estimates ex post facto- after the financial year has been completed. The Public Accounts Committee and the staff in particular work very hard in the months of July and August going through each item of expenditure and comparing what has actually been spent under each heading with what was estimated. It then chooses certain items for further examination, particularly where the Treasurer’s Advance has been used or where there has been under-expenditure. In that way it has a very salutary effect on the estimating of the departments of government in Australia. It is very much related to this function. Admittedly it is one of those functions that is shared with the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons.
The second function which is shared is the work on the Auditor-General’s Report. The Auditor-General ‘s Report is studied by the Public Accounts Committee and certain items on which the Auditor-General has found fit to report are examined in greater detail. Incidentally, while I remember it, I must point out to the honourable member for Isaacs that in a very small way does the Auditor-General’s Department help with the staffing of the Public Accounts Committee. That was a mistake made by the honourable member for Isaacs and I hope that he will soon serve on the Public Accounts Committee in order to gain more experience in these matters. I shall refer to staffing in a moment if I have time.
The third function of the Public Accounts Committee of the Australian Parliament is very different from any function of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. That is where departments and semigovernmental authorities are examined in depth by the Public Accounts Commitee. Of course at any one time there is only time to examine one major government department and one semigovernmental authority together. I do not want to pretend that the government departments are covered very often, but during the course of such examination, the expenditure of those government departments is examined in great detail. A lot of valuable work has been done by the Public Accounts Committee in that area. So to that extent it is not fair to look at the House of Commons and say that it has found need for an expenditure committee and therefore it is natural and goes without saying that there would be such a need in the Australian Parliament. I am bound to point out that from the reading I have done about the expenditure committee of the House of Commons, in no way can it be said that the committee has been a success. I think that I am only repeating something that the honourable member for Isaacs has said already about that matter. Let me quote from a document which I think has been torn from the publication, The Parliamentarian. The article is headed ‘The Expenditure Committee: A Preliminary Assessment’. It is written by Paul Byrne. In this article he says:
In conclusion, it can be appreciated that far from providing a coherent overall analysis of the Government’s strategic expenditure plans, the Expenditure Commitee has split into six separate sub-committees, of which only the General subcommittee has approached fulfilment of the original roleexpectation outlined in 1 969.
I break off to point out that really there has been very short experience of the Expenditure Committee in the House of Commons. It was set up only in 1970 so probably we cannot draw any final conclusions. But from the preliminary conclusions that have been drawn about this committee, as far as my reading goes, there is no great joy up to this point. I read on:
The main problem is that with a small membership, a large area of responsibility and professional help limited to ad hoc specialist advisers, the functional sub-committees have only had the time and resources to conduct Estimates Committee style investigations into specific topics or areas.
In itself, this is a worthwhile function, but the subcommittees have not been able to give proper attention to the projected expenditure set out in the White Papers for their respective areas, the objectives at which it is aimed and Departments’ efficiency in attaining those goals- in short, the new dimension provided by the PPB orientation.
That is not a very optimistic report on the Expenditure Committee of the House of Commons. Although staff for the Expenditure Committee for the House of Commons is limited, I hope that in this Parliament’s expenditure committee we get staff of the same calibre. I doubt whether we will. This brings me to one of the great defects of committee work in this Parliament. In my view we need the joint committees if only for one reason and that is to build up the status of each of the joint committees so that the secretary is a second division officer. It is only if there is a second division officer of, say, an economic committee of the Parliament that we will have the necessary staff structure to deal with departments of State in this nation. We cannot expect a class 10 officer- this is the class of public servant that serves as secretary of the Public Accounts Committeegood though he is in quality to have the authority when dealing with permanent heads of departments that they should have. In my experience and in my view, committee work in this Parliament will be unsatisfactory and lacking in real work of proper depth until we build up the staff structure to deal with people of the calibre of permanent heads. Otherwise we will not be able to implement such an expenditure committee as this the proposal for which, I repeat, has been hastily drawn up and brought before this House.
I should like to mention another aspect which has led me to the conclusion that this motion has been hastily drawn up and has not been based on any real knowledge of economic committee work in this Parliament. That is the cross-fertilisation, if I can use the term, with the Public Accounts Committee. 1 realise that there is great need for co-operation between the 2 committees but when on earth is an expenditure committee of this Parliament going to have the time to sit if it has to find time other than when the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament is meeting? If the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament is working as hard as it did in the years when I sat on that Committee, first as Deputy Chairman and then as Chairman, then it will be meeting every Tuesday morning while the House sits. If there were time to fit in a meeting on Wednesday before the Caucus met, the Public Accounts Committee would sit for an hour. Then again it would meet on Thursday morning, certainly between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. in each sitting week that time was required. If the Public Accounts
Committee Chairman or his nominee is to sit on the expenditure committee, when on earth are they going to be able to fulfil their task properly by sitting on both committees? I am using this as an example of what I consider to be an unsatisfactory motion which is before this House, a motion which required the deep thought which I hope the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System is putting into this subject of parliamentary committees.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I believe that one of the ways in which proper scrutiny of the expenditure of government departments could be carried out in the Australian context is to follow one of the recommendations of the Coombes Committee of Inquiry into the Public Service which was to build up the functions of the Auditor-General in this country. At the moment the Auditor-General looks only at whether expenditure has been properly authorised. That is not sufficient. I believe that he ought to Undertake the functions that the Controller-General of the United States Government undertakes and look at the efficacy of that expenditure as well. I believe this Parliament would be well advised to lock in an economic committee- a joint committee with the satisfactory staff which I have already talked about- with the work of the Auditor-General. In that way we would be able to carry out the hopes of the honourable member for Isasacs and have proper parliamentary scrutiny over the economic area of government in this country. We certainly will not get that by a motion such as this which is before the House today. It is hastily thought through and shows signs of its author not having had experience in this area.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Garland) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Street) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to raise briefly one or two matters which are of concern. They deal with the aircraft industry which at present is in a state of some flux. I understand that the Nomad program which has been carried out by the Government Aircraft Factories is in some jeopardy and that the Government Aircraft Factories have been informed that unless the next aircraft is delivered on time a review of future manufacture of the aircraft will be undertaken. The concern I wish to express to the House of course is that I do not believe that, in a commercial and competitive field, the Government Aircraft Factories are being given anything like a fair opportunity. The factory is told it must deliver aircraft on time. It is subject to all sorts of restrictions which are imposed because it is operating under a public service type structure in a commercially competitive field. It is limited by Treasury regulations to one or two suppliers of specific items which it must buy- suppliers who are late in the provision of those supplies. The factory is able but not permitted to use alternative sources of supply which would enable it to meet its timetables and to make it more competitive in the price of its aircraft.
It is a serious matter. The Nomad aircraft is saleable and extremely good but it is rapidly being priced out of the market by the control of the Public Service and the Treasury. I believe this is one example where the use of fiscal control is costing rather than saving money. I think there are a multitude of these examples which could be cited throughout the normal Public Service operations. But in this case a project which I think has been handled fairly skilfully by a dedicated group of people working for this Government in Australia is in jeopardy because those people are tied hand and foot in the procurement of the basis to manufacture an aircraft which they must sell on a commercial market. I ask that immediate inquiries be made into any bottlenecks which exist which would prevent the Government Aircraft Factories from efficiently handling the procurement of needed supplies.
I am also concerned because this is an industry in which in the last three or four years there has been some reasonable stability of employmenta situation which had not existed over a long period. I am now informed that there is a threat of retrenchment to slightly less than 50 per cent of the people employed in this industry. This industry could not survive such a loss of skilled personnel. If it occurred it would inevitably result in the industry ceasing to be viable in Australia.
I raise this matter because it is of some consequence. I hope that the responsible Minister will have a look at what I have had to say and give me a reply when he is able to consider these matters. This project is of value. It has been carried through for a number of years. It was initiated under a Liberal government prior to 1972. It has produced a product which is commercially acceptable but is being prevented from being properly marketed by what I would have to say is bureaucratic control and the application to a commercial venture of Public Service type regulations.
– I wish to speak briefly tonight on a noncontentious issue. I realise that non-contentious issues will probably be the order of the day in the adjournment debate from now on. Tonight I want to speak about something that I know perturbs all of us at times and that is the fact that in Australia we and our children are eating a lot of food which is produced in other countries. I recently obtained from the Department of Overseas Trade a list of imported food items of various types which come in cans or in frozen form, or in the case of cheese in straight off-the-shelf form. Coming from a rural electorate as I do, I am under continuous pressure to try to do something to stop this accelerating rush of overseas foods that seem to be coming in. If one goes to the supermarket these days one can find imported tomatoes and mushrooms- I realise that the Industries Assistance Commission is preparing a report on this- and frozen potatoes. My electorate produces good potatoes. It bothers the potato growers to find that these frozen potatoes are being sold in shops no cheaper than the locally produced ones.
But probably the biggest problem is the importation of fish. Again, my electorate borders a very big fishing ground with fishing centres such as Eden, Ulladulla and Bermagui. I found last year that there was absolutely no effort by the then Government to stop the flood of fish into Australia that was sending our fishermen broke. As a result I did a small survey of a number of shops. In my home town of Goulburn of the 2 1 or 22 fish and chip shops of various sorts in the main street only one or two were serving fish caught by Australians.
I knew that people on both sides of the House would be perturbed if they knew this and that is why I have raised the matter. I am also perturbed that in the Parliament House dining room we eat imported fish- and I would suggest that it tastes like imported fish. I want my Government to make sure that the importation of foreign foodstuffs is kept to a reasonable minimum. Many people working on the land in electorates all over Australia are looking at the moment to alternative ways of production. Many of those people could be actively engaged in producing some of these products that our wives are buying. In many cases multi-nationals in a sense are dumping these foodstuffs on our markets from places like Spain, Eire, Argentina, the United States of Amenca and most countries in the western world. I think that in Australia we are looking for self-reliance and good housekeeping. If we cut down our consumption of imported foodstuffs we would do the Australian stomach and the Australian housewife a good favour but probably more importantly we would do a bit more for those much maligned people who are reaching the poverty line in the country- the agricultural people and the fishermen.
– It is appropriate at this time to examine certain basic fundamentals of the Australian Labor Party in view of the election in New South Wales next Saturday. Firstly, I want to remind the House of certain statements made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) recently in which he talked about mass action on the part of persons in the Labor movement. He was reported to have said:
The ALP would have to act outside the parliamentary process if it could not bring about worthwhile changes to the ‘establishment’.
He is reported as saying:
If we can’t get results we will have to start to use more mass action.
He was also reported as saying:
Parliament was an important weapon in this regard. But it was only one of the weapons that could be used in the democratic process. Outside forces could also be employed.
What does that mean? Does that mean we have to listen for the tread of heavy bootsjackbootsoutside? what does it mean? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is reported as saying further that during the events of last year members of the Labor movement should have taken over the centre of the capital cities and talked about what had occurred. He is reported as saying:
What we should have done was to show our muscle and our might.
What does that mean in Australia? It means nothing more than the rejection of the democratic process in the Parliament. No amount of saying that the parliamentary system is one way of doing things is sufficient to gloss over what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was really saying. I ask: What is the relevance of that to members of the Australian Labor Party? The simple fact is that all people who campaign for seats under the Labor Party’s banner take a pledge which includes the following words: . . . I also pledge myself if returned to Parliament, on all occasions to do my utmost to ensure the carrying out of the principles embodied in the Labor platform . . I also pledge myself to actively support and advocate at all times the Party’s objective- the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.
That pledge is common to every member of the Labor Party. The members of the Labor Party have never satisfactorily explained how they reconcile that with the democratic process as such. Except for the inclusion of the word ‘democratic’ in the pledge- does it really mean what it says- it is very plain. I assume that it means exactly what the Australian Labor Party is supposed to stand for- the maximum amount of socialisation that it can have, consistent with its aims.
The pledge also refers to the elimination of exploitation and other anti-social features. What is an anti-social feature. It is a carte blanche for saying: ‘What we do not like about what you are doing we are going to stamp out by showing our muscle and our might’. That pledge is taken by every member of the Australian Labor Party, including the man who is running on Saturday to be the Premier of the State of New South Wales. He has bound himself in exactly the same terms. He is now running as a one man band. He is trying as best he can to remove himself from the Federal branch of the Australian Labor Party in order to avoid it coming into the public eye that he is bound by that pledge. I follow that through and look at the Australian Labor Party’s caucus system and the way in which it operates. It denies entirely the freedom of any person to have his own say.
I add now one more matter. It comes out in practical terms when we see the double talk of Mr Wran, who says he is not going to have various increases and so on. How can he possibly pay for his promises without imposing massive indirect taxation which hits the rich and the poor alike? Every cent increase in the price of a middy of beer is paid by the poor man as well as the rich man. There is no way in which Mr Wran can pay for his promises without imposing massive indirect, unfair and pernicious tax burdens upon the very people whom he seeks to represent. The Labor Party always hurts the blue collar man the most. This was shown at the last Federal election when the trade unionists cast a massive vote against it. In another place an honourable senator has called the Australian Labor Party a party of intelligent men. I think that the intelligent men are in the ranks of the blue collar workers and that next Saturday they will prove it.
-The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) talked about jackboots. From time to time we see honourable members come into this chamber and talk with the same hysteria as the honourable member for St George did, but most of them, particularly those who were elected to seats such as the one to which he has been elected, do not last for very long. The Government creates hysteria by talking about violence. What more violent action by forces outside the elected government could there be than the refusal of Supply? And that was a decision made by the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party of Australia. Honourable members opposite were responsible for the first refusal of Supply in the history of this Parliament. How could anyone be more violent than that? How could anyone be more violent than were the forces outside this Parliament who brought about the sacking of the previous Prime Minister? What utter disgrace!
Honourable members opposite are concerned about whether forces outside this Parliament should be taking action. Of course action should be taken by a parliamentary party, but that is not to say that the actions of a parliamentary party are the only way in which democracy can be defended. Some people say that when there is an election it is for a 3-year period and that something dies between elections. I believe that other forces must be involved if the democratic process is to function. It is my strong conviction that people should be more involved in the issues that control their lives. They cannot leave it to taking action at the ballot box only every 3 years. They must be on guard to meet the issues day by day. It may need to be only a letter to a newspaper or the making of a protest to a local politician, but, where it is warranted, mass action may be needed- a mass protest. For example, honourable members will be well aware that the Victorian farmers marched on Melbourne several years ago and that the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) did not receive much of a reception when he addressed them. People have demonstrated against the war in Vietnam. Trade unionists have demonstrated about economic injustices. Ratepayers have demonstrated against councils re-zoning their living areas from low ratio residential development to high rise areas. There have even been protest marches aimed at the protection of part of our national heritage.
The issue involved determines the magnitude of the action taken by the people. That is my position. I have always tried not to be a demagogue. During a lifetime in politics I have tried to be a collective man. I examine and re-examine my position, drawing on my experience, trying to make myself a better man to serve the people and trying to make our society a more just, a more equal and a more humane society. That is what we have to try to do. The conservative forces want to be able to manipulate power and privilege, but power and privilege do not lie in this Parliament. Power and privilege lie in the monopoly control of this country. In the 1972-73 financial year less than 2 per cent of the companies controlled at least SO per cent of all business and most of that 2 per cent were multinational companies. The real power in this country is controlled by the multinational companies, the wealthy companies and the major bureaucracies. This Government will find that it will have very little say when it needs control over a major section of the economy. It is important that there is participation by the people. People must become more and more involved in their society. They certainly should not rely solely on the ballot box every 3 years if they want to have a proper, democratic society.
– I think that the speech just made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) at this given time was a most interesting one. One might almost say: ‘I think he protesteth too much’. I think that perhaps the major reason why he is protesting at this given time is the event that is going to take place in New South Wales on 1 May when the people of that State will be going to the ballot box to cast their votes for a State government.
– A secret vote.
– As the honourable member for Riverina has said, it is to be a secret vote that they will be able to cast at the ballot box. If one reads the comments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition one will find in them, as my colleague the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) has pointed out, what I think is most dangerous thinking. It is something to which everyone in Australia should give consideration. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about defending democracy. As I have said, I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition came into the chamber at the stage at which he did and protested against the charge that had been laid against him by my colleague the honourable member for St George because of the election that is coming up in New South Wales on Saturday. The people of New South Wales should give consideration to this matter. The words to which the honourable member for St George referred were spoken not just by a member of the Australian Labor Party; they were spoken by a person who holds a responsible position in it- the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. They are beyond any shadow of doubt a call to naked dictatorship. What words were used? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said:
What we should have done was to show our muscle and our might.
The comments that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made tonight about multi-national companies and all the other things were of the same nature as the comments that were made in relation to the double dissolution last year when charges were laid against the then Opposition, the Senate and His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. But there has not been one comment by members of the present Opposition about their behaviour and their reaction in relation to the things that caused the Senate to take the action that it took in November of last year. This is what the people in New South Wales must give earnest consideration to because the State Labor Party in New South Wales is tarred with the same brush as is the present Leader of the Opposition and the Australian Labor Party. Let me say this to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: In saying that the multi-nationals and the people outside this country are seeking to control and dictate to this country he should bear in mind what has happened in New South Wales in the last few weeks.
Many of the militant unions, the communistcontrolled unions in New South Wales which want to disrupt the State of New South Wales, its industry and the progress of that State, have been told to keep quiet until after 1 May. We know that this sort of thing has happened. I mention men like Halfpenny and Carmichael. These men are doing everything they can to destroy the progress and development of this country, but at the moment they are not saying or doing as much as they have said or done in the past because they know that the people of New South Wales are going to put back into power in New South Wales a Liberal-Country Party government and keep out of power these socialistic people who are working only for the destruction of this country.
Let me say one other thing. There was a lot of talk today about double taxation. Why is it that Mr Wran and the people of New South Wales are opposing the new policy of the LiberalCountry Party Federal Government? The reason is that it will be a handicap to them in their endeavour to achieve centralised socialist control because this policy is a danger to Mr Wran, who like all Labor people wants to get centralised control in Canberra. He knows that if this new federalism policy of ours is accepted and becomes successful, as we know it will be, it will stop the ALP from having any possibility of achieving centralised socialist control in Canberra. Local government supports our policy because it sees it as an answer to many of its problems. It has been put forward by the Prime Minister of a Liberal-National Country Party Government. They know that it will contribute in this country to the progress and development which ceased in the 3 years that the Labor Parry was in office.That is why we hear statements such as the one made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. That is why we have this attack by Mr Wran. That is why a lot of misleading statements have been made by him in recent days in regard to what this proposal will actually mean. That is the reason that many militant unions in New South Wales have been told to hold off until after Saturday’s election- to help the Labor Party in the election in New South Wales.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr UREN (Reid)-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) accused me of advocating naked dictatorship. I was also misquoted by the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil). I did not go into detail in my speech earlier because I knew that I would not have sufficient time in the S minutes to explain in full what I had in fact said. Because of the serious charge made by the honourable member for Lyne, that Christian gentleman- we know that pious Christian gentleman -
-Order! The honourable member will withdraw that remark.
– That he is a Christian gentleman?
-No, that he is a ‘pious Christian’.
-I withdraw the word ‘pious’. I spoke at the Labor Club at the University of Western Australia. No accredited journalist was present. I spoke for one hour, with questions and answers and with only a 5-minute introductory comment. Honourable members opposite are seeking to interject. If this rabble- and I use that word- does not understand that in a personal explanation one is permitted to clear the record and that anyone who has been in this House for any length of time listens with patience to a personal explanation -
-Order! The honourable member is now debating the point. I am not prepared to permit him to do so. If the honourable member has been misrepresented, he should state the nature of the misrepresentation and the denial.
-What was the editorial based on? It was based on a garbled report. In one question I was asked:
Arising out of the November crisis and the sacking of the Whitlam Government, has the parliamentary system failed? If so, what alternatives are available?
The real power lies outside of Parliament.
I gave details of the power structure. For example, I said that in the 1972-73 income year the report of the Commissioner of Taxation revealed that 200 000 companies made a taxation return but -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is going beyond a personal explanation.
– With due respect to you, Mr Speaker, I have been accused of saying something at a meeting at which no accredited reporter was present. I am saying clearly what I said in part at that meeting. I said that less than 400 companies- less than 2 per cent of all companiesshared nearly 50 per cent of the profit earned by all companies, and that of the 2 per cent of companies most were multinationals.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
-Mr Speaker -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. The honourable gentleman is perfectly entitled to make a personal explanation. In making a personal explanation he will have every right to state where he was misrepresented and he is entitled to say how he was misrepresented. The honourable gentleman is not entitled to read an entire speech.
– I am not reading an entire speech. Might I tell you, Mr Speaker, that I spoke for one hour. I have already said that it was a garbled newspaper report on which both the honourable member for St George and the honourable member for Lyne based the accusation that I was going to try to create a dictatorship in this country. I have been a member of this House long enough to know the forms. I am explaining what I said in part. I have prepared a statement to that effect. I am sticking to the statement to clarify the situation. This relates to the reply to the question which the garbled newspaper report referred to. If I might continue, I said:
The real power in this country lies in the multinational corporations and the Federal bureaucracy.
-Order! That which the honourable gentleman is now saying is argumentative in content and does not relate directly to the misrepresentation of which he complains.
-With due respect to you, Mr Speaker, I am being told that I cannot explain the newspaper report or the interpretation placed on it by the honourable member who made such a serious allegation. I happen to be the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. The honourable member not only attributed the report to me as the Deputy Leader of the Party but also he is making an accusation against the Party itself. I have a right to clarify exactly what I said in reply to a question to which this distorted newspaper report referred. I said:
The citadel of the Federal bureaucracy was the Federal Treasury. They were two of the powerful sections of the system.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now going beyond what is a reasonable personal explanation.
– I am not, with due respect to you, Mr Speaker.
-Well, you can be respectful to me, but I am saying to the honourable gentleman that he is going beyond reasonable bounds. I remind the honourable gentleman that he has already been called and has spoken in the debate. In the course of speaking in the debate he used words which were very similar to those that he is now reading. The fact is that the honourable gentleman has already traversed the matters which were raised by the honourable member for St George. The honourable member for
Lyne has spoken and it is so that the honourable member for Lyne made an accusation about the honourable member for Reid. I am not surprised that the honourable member would want to make a personal explanation, but that will not warrant him reading the whole portion of the speech that he made.
– I will continue with what I said, Mr Speaker, because as far as I am concerned I am clarifying the matter. I think there has been a smear. There has been a smear on me by honourable members opposite. On one occasion it took 6Vi years of litigation to finalise another matter.
-Order! This is not relevant to the personal explanation.
– It is relevant to the question of justice in this Parliament. I said that Parliament was an important weapon but it was only one weapon that could be used in the democratic process.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order.
-Order! I will not hear the point of order. The only opportunity for speech now is for Ministers, who may respond for a period of 5 minutes in the case of one Minister or for a total of 10 minutes if more than one Minister wishes to speak. As no Minister has asked for the debate to be continued, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
What has he done to correct the situation at Canberra hospitals where outpatients subsequently admitted to the hospitals are not properly advised of their choice of standard or private wards and doctors.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
A satisfactory procedure operates at Canberra hospitals to ensure that patients admitted to hospital are properly advised of the choice available to them of standard or private wards and doctors.
The patient admission staff at each hospital explain the options available to patients and in particular the conditions relating to their choice of service. This information is also outlined on the hospitals “Request for Admission’ form.
Signs have been erected in waiting areas in casualty and out-patients departments informing patients of the choices available to them if they require hospitalisation.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1) (a) No direct grants have been made to the Wayside Chapel from funds administered by my Department.
The funds allocated in 1973-74 and 1974-75 were $10,500 and $39,600, respectively, for the purpose of operating a Socio-medical crisis intervention and outreach centre.
The 1973-74 grant was on the basis of meeting 100 per cent of the salaries of a Director, Assistant Director and Outreach Director for part of that financial year. The 1974- 75 grant was allocated on the basis of meeting 90 per cent of salaries, the funded positions having been increased to include an Educational Director, Receptionist/Secretary and a part-time Assistant.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Is it a fact that an obstetrical account cannot be sent to Medibank by a doctor until after the child is delivered, and with the delay in payments it could be 12 months after a particular service before the rebate is paid.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Medical Benefits Schedule provides various items for different obstetric services. The most common item of service on which benefits are paid covers antenatal care, confinement and postnatal care for nine days. This service has been in the Medical Benefits Schedule since 1953.
As with the previous Scheme, Medibank Medical Benefits are not payable until the particular service covered by the Schedule has been completed and an appropriate claim made.
Separate benefits are payable in respect of the first antenatal attendance so, in ordinary circumstances, the obstetric service referred to above would be completed within eight months of that date. Medibank benefits are normally paid within two weeks of lodgment of a claim.
Wool Packs (Question No. 182)
My Hyde asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
What was the number of wool packs (a) manufactured in Australia and (b) imported for the year ended 30 June 1975.
What was the weight in kilos of polypropylene resin (a) manufactured in Australia and (b) imported for the year ended 30 June 1975.
What was the weight in kilos of (a) polypropylene tape, as used in the manufacture of wool packs, manufactured in Australia and (b) similar material imported (i) as tape and (ii) in the form of made up wool packs for the year ended 30 June 1975.
Is the specification of polypropylene tape used in wool pack manufacture 3.2mm and 1000 denier of 4.5kg breaking strain and buff colour.
Is this tape available in Australia.
Is a suitable substitute available in Australia; if so, in what way does the substitute vary from the tape used for most wool packs.
At what price is suitable polypropylene tape available in Australia.
At approximately what price is it possible to land suitable polypropylene tape in Australia.
What is the duty payable on imported polypropylene tape of specification suitable for wool pack manufacture.
What is the duty payable on imported wool packs.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In response to the honourable member’s question, I note that he refers to the use of polypropylene in the manufacture of wool packs in Australia. It is relevant, however, that while polypropylene was previously used extensively in the production of wool packs for Australia, with the introduction by the Australian Wool Corporation of the ‘Standards and Tests Methods for Woven Wool Packs-Type 1/75, Made From High Density Polyethylene, Polypropylene or a Blend of these Polymers’, all manufacturers who have submitted woo) packs which comply with the specification have chosen to use high density Polyethylene polymer. It is believed that this present situation will not alter in the foreseeable future.
The primary reason for the changeover is that high density polyethylene exhibits lower fibrillation tendencies than polypropylene and, hence, manufacturers are able to attain the performance requirements of Specification 1/75 at significantly less additional cost in processing.
The Australian Wool Corporation, in drawing up Specification 1/75, endeavoured to take an objective approach in their emphasis on the performance capabilities of the final product while leaving the manufacturer to use his own initiative in choosing polymer types and the processing route.
From all reports available to me, the cost of reducing the fibrillation tendency of polypropylene to an acceptable level would be prohibitive at this point of time.
To present an explanation of fibrillation, samples of polypropylene and polyethylene fabric showing the effects of bursting of the tapes are available for inspection in the Parliamentary Library.
Sample 1 is produced from high density polyethylene which has been extruded to comply with the fibrillation requirement contained in Specification 1/75. Sample 2 is a typical example of the type of polypropylene wool packs which were previously imported and are more prone to contaminate wool as a result of the fibrils breaking off and becoming entangled in the wool, especially during the process of grab sampling necessary for pre-or post sale testing of wool or when pierced by a bale hook or otherwise mechanically ruptured.
In the light of the developments outlined above information has been sought in answer to the honourable members questions with reference to polypropylene and polyethylene and specifically with reference to the use of such materials in the manufacture of wool packs.
Questions (3) (a), (4), (5), (6), (7) and (8) refer to technical matters outside the normal fields of the Department of Primary Industry. Information has accordingly been sought from the Australian Wool Corporation, the Australian National Wool Pack Pool, the Department of Industry and Commerce, and from several industry sources.
However the questions raise complex issues. For example, I am informed that there is considerable scope for substitution between materials and manufacturing processes. The Australian Polyolefin Textiles Association has undertaken to provide further information to the honourable member to supplement this reply should he desire to pursue the matter in greater depth. (l)(a) The number of wool packs manufactured in Australia is negligible, largely owing to the high labour content in the manufacture of wool packs which makes competition with countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore almost impossible. In a trial by a local producer it appeared that he would probably need to sell a finished wool pack for at least SA4.00 to show any profit whereas imported wool packs of synthetic materials and satisfactory jute packs currently retail to the grower at approximately $A2.00. It has been indicated that next year jute packs will retail at a few cents cheaper than synthetic packs.
Of the number of wool packs imported into Australia for the year ended 30 June 1975, 4.38 million were synthetic wool packs and approximately 0.5 million were jute wool packs. Of the synthetic wool packs, polypropylene packs were predominant with the remainder of high density polyethylene. As a result of the introduction of standard 1/75, it is expected that for the year ending 30 June 1976 the predominant proportion of imported woolpacks will be made of polyethylene material.
Although polypropylene resin is imported into and manufactured in Australia, its use in the manufacture of wool packs is reported to be negligible for reasons stated in answer to Question ( 1 ).
(a) Polypropylene tape is used in Australia in the manufacture of woven material for sacks, bags, carpet underlay, tarpaulins and similar products. Tt is not woven into material to be made into wool packs. Australian manufacturers generally produce their own requirements of the tape with only small quantities of the tape being imported.
Only a small number of firms produce polypropylene and polyethylene tape in Australia. In accordance with the established policy of maintaining the confidentiality of informanon in such circumstances, details of the operations of these firms are not published.
(b) (i) The mass of polypropylene and polyethylene tapes imported into Australia in 1974-75 was not separately recorded. The total mass of these two tapes imported for the year ending 30 June 1975 was 17 560 kgs. This material was not used in the manufacture of wool packs.
(b) (ii) The mass of wool packs manufactured of materials other than jute imported into Australia during the year ended 30 June 1975 was approximately 6.6 million kgs.
There is no specification laid down, as far as the Australian Wool Corporation is concerned governing the tapes which may be used in producing fabrics for wool packs. However, according to information received, the specifications given in QuesTion 4 are those for tapes that are generally used in fabrics which are manufactured into sacks and bags. I understand that the denier specifications of polypropylene tape used in wool packs are generally around 1600 denier.
It has been reported that, those wool packs which, so far, have been manufactured, and comply with Specification 1/75, have been produced from high density polyethylene tapes ranging from around 1650 deniers up to 2200 deniers
In looking to tape deniers as a means of obtaining a suitable product it should be noted that the quality of raw polymer, extrusion temperature, stretch ratio and the choice of weave construction will be important factors in determining the ultimate strength properties of the woven material.
With regard to the colour of the tapes, the industry has always sought to have synthetic wool packs produced in a reasonably standard buff shade.
Polypropylene tape of similar specifications is available in Australia and among other uses, is woven into polypropylene fabric. The major use of the fabric is the manufacture of sacks and bags used for containers.
There are, generally speaking, two substitutes for polypropylene tape available in Australia; high density polyethylene tape and tape of jute material. The latter material was generally used for the manufacture of wool packs before the cheaper man made fibres were developed. High density polyethylene tape is, in 1976 substituting polypropylene tape in the manufacture of wool packs, as a result of the fibrillation problems discussed in the introduction to this reply.
A low density polyethylene tape is available in Australia and is in widespread use. However, its stretch characteristics prohibit its use in wool packs.
Polypropylene tape, suitable for use in weaving wool pack fabric, is available in Australia at an approximate price of $1.02 per kg.
However, I have been informed that, most tape is manufactured in integrated plants and is sold only after it has been woven into various fabrics or incorporated into made-up products.
The quoted prices for resins and the stabiliser used in making tape fluctuates significantly from month to month. It is accordingly difficult to make any reliable estimate of the cost of production of tapes in overseas factories, and overseas manufacturers apparently guard the confidentiality of such commercial information very closely. Information provided to my Department suggests that the likely range of conversion cost lies between about 20c and 40c per kg of tape.
After allowing for the duty on landed tape it would appear that its landed price per kg landed in Australia would be substantially the same as the price of equivalent tape landed in made up form as wool packs. No duty is payable on imported wool packs manufactured of either natural or synthetic material.
Imported polypropylene tape of specification suitable for wool pack manufacture is dutiable at 22.S per cent (preferential rate) 30 per cent (general rate) and 30 per cent (developing country rate).
Imported wool packs are free of duty from all sources.
Relations with South Africa: Recognition of Angola (Question No. 184)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
March 1972. However, a Heavy Engineering and Consultancy Services marketing mission did visit South Africa in October and November 1972 and was accompanied by an officer from the then Department of Trade and Industry.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Australia’s share of the total world flour market has declined largely because of the competition from subsidised exports especially from the EEC.
Yes. Specifically the industry has requested government support in order that its performance in export markets might be strengthened through
The Government continues to provide a wide range of services to assist Australian industries and firms to develop overseas markets. These facilities, which are available through the Department of Overseas Trade, include specialised assistance to the Flour Export Promotion Committee which has now been operative for many years. At the request of the Committee, the Department in conjunction with its Trade Commissioner Service, has recently undertaken investigations to assist the industry in locating and developing new export outlets for Australian flour.
With regard to the industry’s latest specific requests
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The Society is in receipt of salary subsidy and maintenance subsidy under the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act 1974 in respect of two training centresone a nursery and the other a kindergarten. For the calendar year 1975, subsidies paid were $22,915.
Providing it will assist them in obtaining employment, blind persons may be accepted by the Department for mobility training and the supply of a guide dog, long cane and/or binaural spectacles. In these cases, the Department meets the cost of mobility training and guide dog or other mobility aid. Where blind persons already in employment are likely to lose their jobs unless they receive mobility training, they may also be assisted. Since July 1975 a total of 18 blind persons throughout Australia have been provided with this form of assistance.
The Society operates a sheltered workshop, an activity centre, two training centres and a residential accommodation unit for the blind and has received 63 grants totalling $621,063 for the purposes listed in parts (a) to (e) of the question.
Subject to the provisions of the Social Services Act a Handicapped Child’s Allowance may be payable in respect of a blind child under 1 6 years of age. Under the Act the allowance is payable to parents or guardians who supply constant care and attention for a severely handicapped child in their home. A severely handicapped child is defined as a person who has not attained the age of 16 years and who has a physical or mental disability and by reason of that disability needs constant care and attention and is likely to need such care and attention permanently or for an extended period. Since the inception of the scheme in December 1974 to February 1976, 19 448 grants for all disabilities have been made.
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have asked all interested parties to carefully examine the AIDC report and to submit their views on its proposals as soon as possible.
Implementation of any form of restructuring or rationalisation of the industry will depend considerably on cooperation between all concerned.
The proposals are complex and it is desirable in my view to allow time for proper consideration.
Although the abridged report as distributed is also dated 6 February (i.e., the date on which the full report was completed) it was in fact, submitted to the Department on 5 March 1976 and, after examination, was distributed on 23 March 1976.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
What sum has been paid by his Department to each airline for air travel within Australia during the last 2 years.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question for the period 1 April 1974 to 1 April 1976 is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
What financial assistance has been made available to the Royal Flying Doctor Service by the Australian Government in each year since 1970.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Royal Flying Doctor Service has received or is expected to receive the following financial assistance from the Australian Government in each financial year since 1970-71:
Capital assistance- $ 1 for $ 1 in respect of an approved program of capital expenditure. Operating assistance-A fixed contribution towards the operating costs of the Service.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 April 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760428_reps_30_hor99/>.