30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned members of Phillip Island Conservation Society respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission which was approved by both sides of this Parliament, and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community 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 Government’s programme of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1 975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lynch.
Similar petitions have been lodged by Mr Adermann, Mr Carige and Mr Wentworth.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned students and staff of Christ College and State Colleges of Victoria respectfully showeth:
That Teachers recruited outside Australia by the Victorian Education department have their income taxation exemption for the period of their stay in Australia cancelled.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Treasurer will carry out this petition.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lynch and Mr Chipp.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Members in Parliament assembled will move to immediately revoke all whaling licences issued by the Australian Government and to reimpose a total ban on the importation of all whale produce.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Baume and Mr Chipp.
The humble petition of residents of Australia respectfully shows: That we regard the plight of the World ‘s great whales to be desperate;that we are convinced that they need conservation now, and that exploitation should cease; that we agree with Dr Sidney Holt of F.A.O. who says that a complete re-assessment of all scientific data on whales is needed; and we futher submit that substitutes to all whale products are available, and could, with Government encouragement, be made in Australia. We are convinced that the great whales, as a significant part of the World’s Wildlife Heritage, and being on the verge of extinction, now need our complete and wholehearted protection.
We, your petitioners, therefore humbly pray that you will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Baume.
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 since the Australian Assistance Plan is making it possible for citizens to help themselves, thereby ensuring best possible use of limited Government resources, as shown by the fact that over 200 community projects have been initiated or funded through the A.A.P. in the Outer Eastern Region.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to continue the Australian Assistance Plan as recommended in the Report tabled by the Honourable the Minister for Social Security, Senator Margaret Guilfoyle in Parliament on the 4th March, 1976.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr J. F. Cairns and Mr Fife.
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 Australian Government to reduce the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote by $21m, and by the abolition of the Australian Development Assistance Agency.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Giles and Mr William McMahon.
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
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 that Australia take a strong role of leadership at the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
We yourpetitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government instruct its delegation to the fourth session of UNCTAD
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
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 Cadman.
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:
Whereas the Aurukun Associates Agreement Act was passed in contravention of a 1968 agreement;
Whereas this Act conflicts seriously with Commonwealth Government Policy on Aboriginal Affairs and on Australian equity in multinational corporations working in Australia;
Your Petitioners therefore note with appreciation the statements already made on the matter by Government members but humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government will also:
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 assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
We, your petitioners, therefore humbly pray that you will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
That the undersigned persons believe that the $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Speaker and the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned students and staff of Christ College and State Colleges of Victoria respectfully showeth:
That the Immigration of teachers recruited from outside Australia be prevented while students with similar University qualifications are refused entry into Diploma of Education courses, and school leavers are refused entry into the State Colleges of Victoria.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Minister for Immigration, Mr MacKellar will carry out this petition.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrHamer.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the State of Western Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Australian Government call for a referendum to abolish the position of Governor-General. We condemn the dismissal of the democratically elected Government of Australia on 1 1 November 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr James.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction.
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represents a potential production of over 540 000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in Light Water Reactors overseas.
And whereas the Maximum Permissable Inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram.
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers.
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarter of a million years.
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles its most dangerous form.
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere.
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission, and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us.
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Peter Johnson.
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 distress is being caused to social security recipients by the delay in adjusting pensions to the Consumer Prices Index months after prices of goods and services have risen, and that medications which were formerly pharmaceutical benefits must now be paid for. Additionally, that State housing authorities’ waiting lists for low rental dwellingsfor pensioners grow ever longer, and the cost of funerals increase ever greater.
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to adjust social security payments instantly and automatically when the quarterly consumer Prices Index is announced.
Restore pharmaceutical benefits deleted from the free list.
Update the State Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act of 1974, eroded by inflation, to increase grants to overcome the backlog.
Update Funeral Benefit to 60 per cent of reasonable cost of funeral. (This benefit was 200 shillings, 20 dollars, when introduced in 1943. It was seven times the 1943 pension of 27 shillings a week).
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
That the public schools in the inner city of Sydney are in desperate need of special grants and provisions, viz.,
The maintenance of current expenditure
The allocation of smaller classes
The absorption of unemployed teachers
The provision of more specialist teachers, such as bilingual and remedial teachers
The provision of special grants for disadvantaged schools
The provision of cash grants for aid and equipment, and the
Implementation of building programmes to improve the deplorable conditions in these schools
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to ensure that Grants to Underprivileged Schools in the Sydney Inner City are retained.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
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 Morris.
To the Honourable Mr Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the dairy farmers in Victoria and Tasmania are suffering as the result of a collapse of world markets of milk products, in particular the skim milk powder market;
That the farmers, their families, the communities and businesses which depend on a viable dairy industry are experiencing an extreme economic depression;
That the social consequences from this depression will result in many hard working and responsible farmers surrendering their farms and seeking other employment;
That it is incumbent on the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia in the short term to guarantee a minimum return for the dairy farmers manufactured products of butter, skim milk powder, casein and cheese, and in the long term to determine whether the Government supports a dairy industry which will produce for the export markets.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to take immediate steps to support the dairy farmers in the crisis they are currently experiencing until the stabilisation of the industry and the determination of long term Government policy is concluded after consultation with industry leaders and the State Governments.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) left Australia last evening for Papua New Guinea where he will be having further discussions on the Torres Strait border issue. He is expected to return to
Australia on 29 May. During his absence the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Sinclair, will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs. I understand that he is fog bound this morning and that is why he is not here at the moment.
I also inform the House that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar, will leave Australia today to lead the Australian delegation to the Habitat Conference that is being held in Vancouver. He will also visit migration centres in the United Kingdom and Europe and represent the Government at independence celebrations in the Seychelles. He is expected to return to Australia about 3 July. During his absence the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) will act as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. From today the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) will act as Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development.
– I ask a question of the Attorney-General concerning section 15 of the Audit Act which, as he will know, entitles the Auditor-General to lay before him a case in writing as to any question concerning the discharge of his duties and enables him to give a written opinion on such case. I ask the AttorneyGeneral: Has the Auditor-General sought his opinion on the propriety of payments made to the States or to be made to the States under the Medibank hospital agreements? If so, when did the Auditor-General seek his opinion? When did the Attorney give the opinion? Will he table the opinion?
– The Auditor-General has not sought my opinion. The authority for payments under the agreements that were entered into is contained in section 125 of the Health Insurance Act. Funds are appropriated under the Appropriation Act into the Health Insurance Fund. Section 125 of the Health Insurance Act provides:
All amounts (including advances) payable by Australia under Fart II, Part III (including an agreement under that Part) or Part IV and amounts of hospital benefits payable under the regulations shall be paid, on behalf of Australia, by the Commission.
The Health Insurance Fund is set up under the Act and payments are made out of that Fund. The opinion that was tabled last night indicates that in view of the law officers the agreements are not in accordance with sections 30 ( 1 ) and 30 (2) and therefore the authority for payment is not there. There is no authority from this Parliament to make payments under those agreements. As Attorney-General I would feel it my duty, and I think honourable members will agree, that if I felt an agreement which allegedly authorised payment was invalid I should instruct the Government that no such payment should be made until the matter had been cleared up.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Are reported suggestions correct that the Government is attempting to destroy the cost sharing arrangements with the States for their hospitals?
-The reports that might suggest that the Commonwealth would be seeking to get out of Medibank arrangements previously entered into are completely and utterly false. The Commonwealth stands by its arrangement to meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs of State hospitals. There is no question about that. We are concerned that high quality health care be available to all Australians. That was said yesterday, and I repeat it now. We will be doing this under the general arrangements of Medibank.
We also are concerned that there be economy in the interests of taxpayers. This is a concern not only for State governments which meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs of hospitals but also for ourselves. We believe that arrangements better than those that have been encompassed in the past can perhaps be devised between the Commonwealth and the States. The Minister for Health drew attention to this in his second reading speech. Again, that is a matter for negotiation. That has been made quite plain. I think the initial discussions will be taking place on 1 1 June.
The course that the Government has taken will enable the proper and existing arrangements to continue in the intervening period. If honourable gentlemen ask why a different course is not taken to validate automatically the past agreements, I point out that the advice which has come to me from officers of the Department of Health is that, although an attempt was made to achieve this in clause 17 of the Health Insurance Commission Bill, the words in that clause do not achieve that objective. In other words, in spite of that clause there would still be invalidity involved in the arrangements. Therefore, the Commonwealth came to the view that it would be better to discuss these matters with the States in order to make sure that when validating legislation is passed it is done in a proper way which cannot and will not be challenged. The interim measures which will be introduced- hopefully today; but, if not today, then very early next week- and passed through the Parliament will enable matters to proceed in the proper way.
I return to the point on which I began. There is not and never has been any intention on the part of this Government to break the Medibank arrangements and the 50 per cent sharing of net operating costs of hospitals with the States. We are concerned for quality of health care for all Australians. We also are concerned for economy for taxpayers, as I hope the State governments are. I hope that this answer at least will prevent undue and unreasonable speculation which can only cause concern where there should be no cause for concern.
– Does the Treasurer agree that a large reduction in the rate of increase in the money supply can dry up working capital, cause unemployment and retard recovery? Can he say what changes have actually taken place in the rate of increase in the money supply in recent months? Will he assure the House and the nation that no sudden or large change in the rate of increase in the money supply will take place?
– I am surprised that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should raise this point at question time today, because I specifically recall the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Adelaide, saying during the debate on my parliamentary statement on the economy that he accepted that the Government’s projected or planned rate of growth in the money supply, defined on the M3 basis, of between 1 1 per cent and 13 per cent was in fact a satisfactory rate of growth in the money supply. All I can suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that he is seeking in this House to recreate the form of alarm which his colleagues sought to create quite some time ago by alleging a credit squeeze. I repeat, for the information of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that in the detailed statement which I put down on the rate of growth in the monetary aggregates quite some months ago I indicated that the projected rate of growth in the money supply, defined on the M3 basis, was between 1 1 per cent and 13 per cent. I said then to the honourable gentleman, and I repeat now, that forecasts of that type are necessarily made with many qualifications because there is difficulty in being absolutely precise about them. If the honourable gentleman were to press me in relation to the 1 1 per cent ot 13 per cent forecast I would say that it could be marginally shaded, and if the rate is towards the lower end it may range between 10 per cent and 1 1 per cent. That is based on the latest advice available to me.
What the honourable gentleman is adverting to, if in fact he understands the problem, is that at present we are in what is called the seasonal downturn in liquidity when there is a very heavy pay-in to the Government because of payments of company and provisional tax. I say to the honourable gentleman what I have said here before and what all the media and economic commentators are picking up at present. The position has been closely monitored, as I said it would be. I repeat what I have said on many other occasions: The Government is determined that there will be an adequate flow of funds into the private sector to enable the private sector to underwrite recovery, but the flow will not be at the indulgent rate that the honourable gentleman’s Government permitted during the latter months of last year when the money supply, on the M3 basis, was running at upwards of 20 per cent. I say again, but I am sure every commentator in the country now realises it, that there is no credit squeeze; there is the normal seasonal tightness. Some short term rates have moved up but the basic situation is that there is no change in the long term rate.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Repatriation. Is it true that repatriation pensioners in future will have to pay for their medical prescriptions?
– A report to that effect is misleading and mischievous. The facts are these: Up till now the Government has allowed doctors, virtually unrestricted, to prescribe medication, drugs and so on for repatriation beneficiaries. I have been informed that there has been misuse of this system in over-prescribing, prescription of expensive drugs that need not be prescribed, and so on. Therefore we have decided that from now on the guidelines given to doctors will be that the prescription should be based on the national health formulary. About 70 per cent of all prescriptions are now based on that formulary.
– Thirty per cent will now have to be paid for. Put it the other way.
– When a prescription is written the beneficiary will receive the medication free. But an important aspect of the guidelines we have laid down is that if a doctor believes it necessary for the best treatment of the repatriation beneficiary, he can prescribe outside the national health list. The approval for that will be simply and very speedily laid down. The Government’s decision was taken on the advice of the medical advisers of the Repatriation Commission. I am told that the beneficiaries will in no way be disturbed or disadvantaged in having their therapeutic needs met.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. It concerns the section of the Audit Act which entitles the Auditor-General to communicate with the Minister upon all matters relating to the expenditure of public moneys. Has the Auditor-General brought to his notice any doubts about the propriety of payments made or to be made to the States under Medibank hospital agreements? If so, what was the date of the Auditor-General’s communication, and will the Treasurer table it?
– I welcome the first question from the honourable gentleman for some considerable time in relation to any economic matter. In fact I have been sitting here on the Government front bench wondering whether the honourable gentleman still maintains an interest in the workings of the Australian economy.
– He has never understood it.
– He has never understood it. That is part of the problem of what has happened to the economy in recent years. I sat in my hotel room last night wondering why the honourable gentleman never asked me a question. Then I thought: Obviously the honourable gentleman is so busy planning his next 6 week overseas trip that he has not got the time to come into the Parliament and -
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there is a need for the answer to be in some way relevant to the question. The Leader of the Opposition has asked a specific question to establish whether the Prime Minister has been telling lies to the House and the Treasurer should answer the question.
-The Treasurer will make his answer relevant to the question. There is no point of order other than that point. I remind the honourable member for Blaxland that if he takes a point of order and adds to it, I will have to deal with him in the future.
– Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. So far as the question is concerned, the answer is no.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. The Minister will be aware of the soaring costs of farm machinery, with increases of up to 400 per cent over the past 12 months. These increases are creating severe liquidity problems for producers and ultimately will restrict the capacity of primary industry to increase efficiency through equipment modernisation. Can the Minister advise the House of any action to investigate the excessive costs through a reference by farming organisations to the Prices Justification Tribunal?
– My attention has been drawn in recent weeks to reports about rapidly rising costs of farm machinery. I should point out to the House that, like manufacturers in other sectors, manufacturers of farm machinery are subject to the price notification procedures laid down in the Prices Jusification Act. To that extent, price increases in this area are no different from price increases in other sections and in other industries. However, I shall have some further investigations made. The honourable member will appreciate that in the first instance it is the responsibility of the Prices Justification Tribunal to determine whether or not a public inquiry is to be held in respect of any applications for price increases. The manufacturers of farm machinery are subject to the requirements of the Prices Justification Act and to the extent that that Act applies to them they must comply with it. I will have some further investigations made and inform the honourable gentleman accordingly.
-My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Is it correct that an official of his department, Mr P. Massie, who has been in Paraguay for 15 months, has been brought home? Is it correct also that the Government has given up its attempts to extradite Alexander and Tom Barton and bring them back to Australia?
– It is a fact that Mr Massie is coming back. Mr Massie is the Crown Prosecutor in the Australian Capital Territory, and I am one of those who believe that people who have a job ought to do their job. I am concerned that the prosecuting work in the Territory should proceed under the Crown Prosecutor, and that is my reason for bringing him back. As to the other matter to which the honourable member referred, the answer is no. The Government has not given up its endeavours to bring back the Bartons. Further steps are being taken through the courts in Paraguay in order to secure their return. I am still hopeful that it will be secured. Communications have taken place, I understand, between the Prime Minister and the President of Paraguay in relation to the matter.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security aware of the situation in South Australia where a magistrate adjourned a number of applications for adoption of Vietnamese children? Can the Minister offer any information on this matter?
– Yes, I am aware of the matter that has been drawn to my attention by the honourable member for Barker. I obtained a reply from the Minister for Social Security which I think is important to him and to those concerned. The Minister for Social Security remains the legal guardian of the children concerned in the cases in South Australia and will remain so until such time as they are legally adopted in accordance with State law, marry, leave the country or reach the age of 18 years. In practice the power and responsibilities of that guardianship have been delegated to the Director-General, the Department of Community Welfare in South Australia, and to the principal officers of the relevant child welfare authorities in other States and Territories. Hence the welfare and status of these children will continue to be protected. The Minister, in association with child welfare authorities, is concerned to do whatever is possible within her powers to facilitate the adoption of the many children such as these and in fact already has signed some 90 orders which have the effect, by exempting the children from the provisions of the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act, and hence the guardianship of the Minister, of permitting the due legal processes in the States or Territories to determine whether adoption applications may be approved.
– Incorporate it in Hansard.
-No, it is rather important. This is a very important matter with a great degree of sensitivity attached to it. I seek your protection, Mr Speaker, to allow me to continue.
-Order! The Minister for Health is entitled to be heard in silence. I should say to the Minister that if the answer is obviously read one must expect the Opposition to become testy about it. On the other hand I ask the Opposition to understand that this is in fact a very human and sensitive issue on which people need to be informed. I invite the Minister to continue.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. Therefore the exemption will take effect only if the adoption offer is made. Already some Vietnamese children have been approved for adoption in Australia. The Minister circulated earlier this week to honourable members a statement which sets out the processes involved in intercountry adoption. Because of the importance of that statement and the desirability of ensuring that people are properly informed, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
-Leave is granted. ( The statement read as follows)-
Enquiries about inter-country adoptions are increasing because of the shortage of children in Australia available for adoption and the growing incidence of people seeking to adopt children from overseas. The following information may be of assistance in clarifying the issues involved.
The adoption process is a matter that falls totally within the framework of State Legislation and Territory Ordinances. It is an extremely complex legal and social process. Exhaustive enquiries are made by the child welfare authorities and considerable delays can occur before the Courts or, in the case of Queensland, the Director of Children’s Services, who is the approving authority in that State, can consider these applications. These enquries, of course, take time. Time is also needed for the translation and preparation of documents for presentation to the court. Delays can occur because of the sheer volume of work imposed on social workers and other staff in the offices of the State and Territory child welfare authorities, or in getting the matter before the court. Any enquiries about these matters should be directed to the relevant State of Territory child welfare authority. The addresses of the principal officers of the child welfare authorities in each State and Territory appear at the end of this statement.
The Federal Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has the responsibility for determining the eligibility of people for residence in Australia, including a child whose admission is sought by Australian residents for the purpose of adoption in Australia, or an immigrant child being adopted overseas. A child being admitted into Australia in these circumstances would normally travel on a national passport of the country of which he or she is a citizen. This normally provides a means by which the authority of that country can control the departure of such a child. Additionally, some countries require an exist visa before their nationals may leave that country.
The requirements for the recognition of an overseas adoption in Australia are matters for the appropriate State and Territory authorities to resolve.
Whilst there is a basic scheme of adoption in Australia, a number of differences have evolved both in the law and the practice and the requirements of the individual States and Territories both in the documentation necessary to assist in the granting of an Adoption Order in Australia and for the recognition of an overseas adoption, may differ.
For the above reasons, people interested in sponsoring a child from overseas for the purpose of adoption or who are proposing to adopt a child overseas, should in the first instance, seek advice from the child welfare authorities in their State or Territory of residence. Officers of those Departments are the appropriate persons to advise them of the formalities to be undertaken, particularly in regard to the documentation which will be required.
for the adoption of the child in Australia; or
In the case of (i). On arrival in Australia, children admitted for the purpose of adoption become ‘immigrant’ children in Australia within the meaning of the Immigration (Guardianship of Children Act) 1946-73. This Act is administered by the Federal Minister for Social Security. The Federal Minister for Social Security becomes the legal guardian of such children until they are adopted, marry, leave Australia permanently or attain the age of 18 years or are otherwise exempted.
In the case of (ii). There is a growing practice of people proceeding overseas with the intention of adopting children in accordance with the laws of the overseas countries concerned. Whilst such adoptions may be valid in the country in which they are made, they may not be recognised in Australia under State or Territory legislation. If the adoption is not recognised because of legal or other requirements imposed under State or Territory legislation, these children also become ‘immigrant children’ within the meaning of the Act. It is for this reason that people contemplating adopting a child overseas should seek the advice of the child welfare authority of the State or Territory in which they reside before initiating any adoption action overseas.
Additionally, those people who have adopted a child overseas should similarly consult the child welfare authorities in the State or Territory where they reside, as otherwise problems for that child may occur in the future if the adoption is not recognised. These would include doubt regarding the authorization of medical treatment for the child if the guardianship were challenged. Also, it is important that the interests of the child are protected in a disputed inheritance matter, or where the dependency of the child is challenged following the death or incapacity of the adoptive parent in the event of a claim for damages or compensation.
As the guardian of immigrant children, the Federal Minister for Social Security has the same rights, powers, duties, obligations and liabilities as a natural guardian. Since 1952, by agreement with the State and Territory authorities, those powers and functions of guardianship of the Federal Minister for Social Security under the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act, have been delegated to the principal officers of the relevant State and Territory child welfare authorities excepting the power of delegation. However, at present, by administrative arrangement, where adoption, marriage or departure from Australia are involved, the matter is referred by delegates with the appropriate recommendation to the Department of Social Security in Canberra for the Minister’s consideration.
In the case of adoption, the preparation of a recommendation by a State or Territory Child Welfare authority involves a careful examination of the situation which can be a lengthy process. This recommendation is examined by officers of the Department of Social Security as a matter of urgency to ensure that it is in order and that any other issues which may affect the Commonwealth have been resolved before they make a recommendation to the Minister. Matters of concern to the Commonwealth include correct identification and confirmation of arrival details, including the granting of residential status, possible international implications and the general well-being of the child. The applications are dealt with by the Department of Social Security as expeditiously as possible, but it must be borne in mind that there is frequently a need to consult other departments and some delays may occur. Currently, in cases where there are no complications, applications are being processed by officers of the Department within one month of receipt of the Department. When this is completed, it is the practice for the Minister for Social Security to sign personally an Order exempting the child from the provisions of the Act to enable the adoption applications to be resolved by due legal or administrative process in accordance with the legislation of the State or Territory concerned.
To ensure essential formalities are kept to a minimum, administrative procedures at Commonwealth level have recently been thoroughly reviewed. As a consequence, the Prime Minister recently wrote to State Premiers suggesting changes to present arrangements. Subject to the agreement of State authorities which has now been obtained, new procedures will be introduced which give State and Territory authorities, power as delegates of the Federal Minister for Social Security to exempt a child from the provisions of the Act without reference to the Federal Minister. This will enable child welfare authorities to take all the necessary action in connection with adoption, marriage or departure from Australia without the necessity of referring the matter to the Federal Minister for Social Security unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The Federal Minister for Social Security will, of course, retain overall responsibility for the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act and the actions taken by the delegates under that Act. The changes in the administrative procedures do not imply any lessening of interest in adoption matters, nor of concern for the children for whom the Minister for Social Security remains the legal guardian.
To ensure that the children’s welfare is safeguarded, the Minister for Social Security has requested that child welfare authorities continue to refer for attention, matters of an unusual nature or where malpractices occur, and has asked to be kept informed on a regular basis of the number of children in their State or Territory who are known to come within the provisions of that Act or are exempted therefrom.
Apart from the particular issues mentioned above, all aspects involved in inter-country adoption have been reviewed by an inter-departmental committee established in 1975, whose report raises many complex problems. The Committee’s recommendations are at present under scrutiny by the appropriate Commonwealth and State authorities.
At the conference of the Council of Ministers of Social Welfare at Darwin on 24 May 1976, it was agreed that a standing Committee of Australian Adoption Officers be established to assist States and Territories to liaise with the Federal Government and to consider matters affecting intercountry adoptions and other related issues.
The addresses of the relevant Child Welfare Authorities to whom all enquiries regarding adoption should be addressed, are as follows:
Department of Youth, Ethnic & Community Services,
Central Square, 323 Castlereagh Street,
MELBOURNE. Victoria 3000
Department for Community Welfare 50Grenfell Street, ADELAIDE, S.A. 5000
Department for Community Welfare, 8 1 St Georges Terrace, PERTH, W.A. 6000
Social Development Branch, Department of the Northern Territory Mitchell Street, DARWIN, N.T. 5790
BRISBANE, Queensland 4000
– I give an assurance that we will be endeavouring in every way to assist State Governments and State courts to facilitate adoption procedures. More than that we cannot do because it is a matter for State authorities to determine whether the adoptions can be finalised.
-Is the Minister for Defence concerned about the growing presence of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shipping in the Indian Ocean? If so, does his anxiety cover naval, scientific and merchant shipping?
-The answer is yes. I think it should be acknowledged immediately that there is a totality with respect to all Soviet shipping. To seek to isolate oceanographic shipping, for example, from merchant shipping, from naval ships simpliciter, is a quite wrong approach. If there is one clear fact to be drawn from all Soviet maritime activity it is simply this: It is directed towards spreading Soviet influence throughout the world. I invite my honourable friend to concede that that is precisely the case. Soviet maritime activity in the Indian Ocean, despite some of the cynics in bur community, is of a very significant proportion.
-I ask the AttorneyGeneral: Is it a fact that a proclamation has been issued to phase out the jurisdiction of the State supreme courts to hear divorce proceedings and other matters under the Family Law Act? Will this mean that people resident in areas such as
Bendigo who at present are covered by the Supreme Court circuit will now be forced to travel to metropolitan cities such as Melbourne in order to attend Family Court hearings?
– The Governor-General has been asked to issue proclamations under the Family Law Act terminating the jurisdiction of the supreme courts of the States in family law matters as from 1 June. That will mean that on and from that date the only applications that can be filed in State supreme courts will be those which are ancillary to proceedings already commenced or which are in the nature, I understand, of cross proceedings. However, this does not mean that the Family Court will not service country areas. I am happy to inform the honourable member that in Victoria proposals are afoot for the Family Court to sit at Bendigo, Ballarat, Horsham, Shepparton, Warrnambool, Mildura, Geelong, Sale, Wangaratta and Hamilton. This will be done, of course, under arrangements with the State authorities, and similar arrangements are going ahead in each State.
-I ask the Prime Minister to recall yesterday that he tabled some documents of a particularly sensitive and confidential nature covering communications between senior public servants and members of the Government. 1 ask: Is he aware that his action already is causing considerable unease in the Public Service, many members of which feel that their independence and distance from political conflict will be difficult to maintain in the light of his action? Therefore, will he clarify in crystal-clear terms, if it is possible for him to do so-
– Order! The honourable gentleman will not make those comments. He will ask the question.
-. . . the guidelines that now apply for the release of such documents? Finally, does he feel that his action yesterday would justify similar action by former Ministers of the last Government, some on this side of the House and some outside the House, in releasing documents of a similar nature, for instance copies- not the originals- of legal advisings on fairly sensitive and delicate matters of law from former Attorneys-General among others such as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia?
-The convention which has traditionally applied in Australia and which will be maintained- I do not think I have any reason to believe that the previous Government breached it- is that Cabinet documents belong to the records of a particular government and should not and shall not be available to some subsequent government. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition, in his time in government, observed that convention and my Government most certainly will observe that convention. But in regard to matters in the files of departments that are concerned with arrangements with the States, there has never been a suggestion that pertinent papers relating to negotiations and matters that might need to come before the government of the day should not be available to Ministers of the day. When it came to our notice that certain arrangements were outside the law there were obvious questions: How has this occurred? Has it only just come to our notice? Was nobody aware of it beforehand? How have these matters been allowed to proceed? There was therefore, as the honourable gentleman knows, an exchange of correspondence between the Attorney-General’s Department and the department that he formerly administered which was then responsible for negotiating Medibank, which indicated that these matters had been brought to attention.
The honourable gentleman, I was advised yesterday, had asked that the legal opinion upon which our view was based and upon which the actions taken to rectify the matter over the last few hours has been based, should be made public. My original view had been that the opinion ought to go in the first instance to all the Premiers and it is going to all the Premiers. But the matter of making the opinion public was pressed and we were asked for the document to be available. Therefore I made that document available. It also seemed pertinent and appropriate that the earlier exchanges relating to these matters should also be made available; in order to avoid any suggestion of a slur against public servants who might have been in a position of being required in the course of their duty to advise Ministers of the day that certain matters were probably not in accordance with the law of the time. If those matters had not been brought to attention there could have been a slur against the public servants concerned. It was important that that possibility be removed and that it should be brought to attention that the Public Service had done its duty in relation to these matters. It was therefore necessary for the interchange of letters between departments that were also tabled, to be tabled. The honourable gentleman might also recall that it was on his own initiative that some of these matters were raised and opened. As it was, in a Press conference yesterday morning I had been perfectly prepared to leave the matter rest. A circumstance had arisen. We were doing what we could and should to overcome the deficiency in actions that had taken place. No blame was being attributed to anyone and no blame was attributed to anyone at that Press conference. The honourable gentleman would have been much better advised to let the matter rest on that basis. He chose not to do so.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister and is supplementary to one which has been asked almost continually in this House by the Leader of the Opposition. Does the Prime Minister recall, stating in his policy speech prior to the last general election, that the Government would not give assistance to overseas countries involved in terrorist activities? Is he aware that Mozambique is giving haven and assistance to Russian trained forces who are attacking and killing both black and white Rhodesians? In view of the limitations which Australia has found it necessary to place on the amount of aid which we can give to under developed and needly nations, will the Prime Minister give an assurance that his Government will give very serious consideration to the matter before succumbing to the continued pressure of the Leader of the Opposition for aid to Mozambique when there are very many more deserving and peace loving countries?
– I appreciate very much the sentiments expressed by the honourable gentleman. I am well aware of the statements made on earlier occasions before the last general election which indicated that we would make quite certain that no aid provided by this Government would end up in the hands of terrorist groups. Having said that, I have nothing to add at this stage to the matters that were related to the Parliament by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This is a subject that will need to come before Cabinet for consideration as a result of matters which have been put to the Government by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. When those matters have been properly considered, on a submission from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister will make an announcement on behalf of the government.
-I ask the Treasurer: Has his attention been drawn to the anomaly which exists whereby companies that hire out plant and equipment have been ruled ineligible for the 40 per cent investment allowance? As this places these companies at a grave disadvantage in business, will he give this matter his reconsideration?
-The answer to the first part of the honourable gentleman’s question is yes. The answer to the second part of the honourable gentleman’s question is also yes,
-I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications: Is he aware of a British Broadcasting Commission interview on the Panorama program between Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Michael Charlton? Is the Minister aware that there is a ground swell of public opinion in Australia which requests that this interview, which exposes the shocking philosophies of left wing politics, be screened on the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a matter of urgency. Will the Minister have discussions with the ABC and use his very best endeavours, of which we are deeply appreciative, to have this interview shown so that -
-Order! The honourable gentleman has said sufficient to make the question intelligible. I call the Minister for Post and Telecommunications.
-I have not quite finished.
-I know that the honourable gentleman has not quite finished. Nevertheless I nave called the Minister for Post and Telecommunications.
-I regret that I was unable to hear the rest of the question that the honourable member for Darling Downs had in mind, but suffice it to say that I have noted his comments. Of course, the programming of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is a matter for its judgment. It is quite possible for me to make a comment or a request to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as it is proper, I think, for any member of the Australian community to do so. I will certainly take up the comment inherent in the honourable member’s question. I cannot, of course, give any guarantees about the matter, but I will have it looked at.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. The Treasurer said last Thursday week that he expected his statement on fiscal policy decisions to increase business confidence. I ask: Why, after investors have had time to evaluate the implications of the decisions, have Australian stock exchange indices fallen during the last few days?
-It may well have been because the investors have been listening to the cries of doom and alarm and to the Jeremiah who sits opposite. If there is one thing that might be said at the oustet in relation to the Opposition’s response to a very comprehensive and firm policy position that was put down by the Government it is that the response has been negative, unconstructive and nit-picking by an Opposition that apparently has no economic policy that it can put forward to the country at large. I invite the shadow Treasurer to do some homework in relation to his own economic policy because what he has been putting forward in this House is the outmoded, decredited philosophy of piling deficit upon deficit and more government spending upon government spending. The honourable gentleman in fact is still asserting that the country can spend its way out of the recession. Of course that, insofar as the actions of his Administration is concerned, has been very clearly seen now to be a total matter of discredit and no response to what is required.
Of course the stock markets will move up and down over a period. It is nonsense for the honourable gentleman to suggest that any daily movement or even a weekly movement is a reflection or a barometer of economic activity. I remind the honourable gentleman that every survey that is coming out at the present time from the business sector reports increasing confidence by the business community, and it is because the business community now has a government that knows where it is going, which is unlike what it would have with the honourable gentleman, who -
-The light at the end of the tunnel.
– The former Treasurer has interjected. All I can say to the former Treasurer and his colleagues is that all of their concern apparently- their total concern- was a matter of seeking to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. But the fact is, of course, that there is now a new administration in charge, that confidence is returning and that economic recovery is under way.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I refer to the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions. As there is at the very least a very strong presumption on the evidence that extortion, blackmail and intimidation occurred which were not pursuant to an industrial purpose, what action does the Commonwealth propose to take? Is the Commonwealth necessarily wedded to Mr Justice Sweeney’s proposal to validate or forget the past and merely alter the auditing obligation of bodies registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act?
-The report of the Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions, which was chaired by Mr Justice Sweeney, was tabled recently in both the Senate and this place. I answered a question on it the other day. I said that the report and the recommendations by Mr Justice Sweeney were under active consideration by the Government- by my Department, by the Department of the AttorneyGeneral and by the Department administered by my colleague the Minister for Transport. When we have had a chance to consider fully the legal implications for the Transport portfolio and for the portfolio of Employment and Industrial Relations of the issues arising out of the Sweeney report, the Government will be bringing forward proposals to deal with the problems that have been outlined.
– My question is directed to the Minister for the Northern Territory. I direct his attention to the recent announcement by the Minister for Transport that the North Australia Railway line is to close on 26 June and that 150 employees will be retrenched, and to his responsibilities under the Northern Territory Acceptance Act.
– Are you reading the question?
-Of course I am reading it. I am going to have it incorporated in Hansard so you will be able to read it. It concerns 150 people in the Northern Territory. You may be interested. Is it a fact that under the terms of the Act the agreement of the South Australian Government is necessary before any variation can be made to the agreement to provide a railway from port Darwin to a point on the northern boundary of South Australia proper to connect eventually with the trans-continental railway? What action will be taken - (National Country Party members interjecting)
-If members of the National Country Party -
-Order! The honourable member for Shortland will ask his question.
-It is very difficult. I am trying not to be provocative.
-Order! The level of conversation while the honourable gentleman is asking his question is far too high. I ask the honourable gentleman to put his question shortly. I ask all members of the House to listen.
-Thank you for your protection, Mr Speaker. I hope the Minister understood the first part of the question. It is a very serious question. The second part is: What action will the Minister take to ensure that the rights of residents of the Northern Territory to a railway service from Darwin to the South Australian border are fully protected, as set out in the terms of the Act? Is he aware that the Minister for Transport was unable to answer these questions?
– It might be well to remember why we have problems with the North Australia Railway. The problem of Frances Creek can be sheeted home very directly to the previous Government which raised freight rates so high that the whole venture became totally uneconomic. The questions that the honourable member has raised are at present the subject of discussions between myself and the Minister for Transport. Further information will be given by the Minister for Transport at an appropriate time
– I direct a question to the Minister for Natural Resources. He will be aware of the difficulties being experienced by many towns and cities due to very heavy increases in the cost of producing town gas since the onset of the oil crisis. In view of the excessive cost of feed stocks for gas making, has the Government given any consideration to ways of relieving the financial burden being placed on gas authorities and consumers in centres where natural gas is not available?
-I am well aware of the increased burden that gas authorities as well as consumers have had in many towns across Australia because of the high price of naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas. This has resulted largely because of increased import prices for crude oil since the oil crisis. Unfortunately, neither of these commodities was taken into account in our indigenous crude oil allocation formula, so they had to bear the cost of the imported price of crude oil. This meant that the price of LPG rose from $28 to $67 a tonne, and the price of naphtha rose from $25 to $100 a tonne during the last couple of years. Consequently, local gas making authorities or those authorities using LPG were placed at a distinct disadvantage compared to authorities using competitive types of fuels. I know that many representations were made to the former Government to have the allocation formula changed. I know, for example, that Hobart in particular and Newcastle have immense problems. The former Government did not seem to do anything about the matter. I asked for a report on the whole matter. As a result of that report I have now decided that naphtha and LPG be taken into account. This means that it should be possible to reduce the price of naphtha very considerably. I would think that the price of naphtha would probably fall from $100 a tonne to $60 a tonne and in the case of LPG, the price should fall by about $ 10 a tonne. The main cities affected by this reduced price for naphtha would be Hobart, Newcastle, Muswellbrook, Brisbane and Port Pirie. But there are also about 50 cities across Australia which are using LPG. Mr Speaker, I ask leave to have incorporated in Hansard a list of towns which should benefit as a result of this decision.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
By including LPG in the list, quite a number of country centres will benefit to varying degrees.
These centres are: Ararat, Colac, Hamilton, Horsham, Kyneton, Mooroopna, Portland, Queenscliff, Stawell, Warrnambool, Aberdare, Armidale, Bathurst, Bega, Bowral, Broken Hill, Camden, Casino, Cootamundra, Cowra, Dubbo, Glen Innes, Goulburn, Grafton, Katoomba, Kiama, Lismore, Lithgow, Molong, Orange, Parkes, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Grenfell, Wellington, Yass, Bundaberg, Cairns, Charters Towers, Gympie, Mackay, Maryborough, Mount Isa, Mount Morgan, Rockhampton, Sandgate, Townsville, Warwick, Mount Gambier, Whyalla, Albany, Bunbury, Launceston.
– I believe that this will be of considerable help. It will take a while to make new arrangements with the oil companies. I will be putting out a statement later today giving the details. I think that it will go some of the way towards easing the burden for a lot of these local councils and other gas supplying organisations. At the same time, I will have included refinery produced hydro-carbons that are used for fertiliser making. Unfortunately some fertiliser producers who are using this feed stock have been at a distinct disadvantage because those using natural gas have been able to produce fertiliser from lower priced feed stock. So the total decisions that I have made in this area will be of benefit to gas making utilities as well as to the fertiliser industry.
– I direct a question to the Attorney-General. Since the House will today determine its participation in the work of the Constitutional Convention, what negotiations has the Government had with States since coming to office on the proposed interchange of powers referendum? He will know that the proposal for this referendum was made at the first meeting of the Convention in Sydney in September 1973 and was supported and, indeed, applauded on all sides and that late last year there was only one minute query raised by a single State which stood in the way of total agreement on the form of the Bill to be introduced in this Parliament. Has the Government considered holding an interchange of powers referendum before the next meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 5 months time as a demonstration of the Federal Parliament’s willingness to promote constitutional reform?
-I have not seen the agenda for some time. However, my recollection is that this question is on the draft agenda for the Constitutional Convention which will meet later this year. I understand that some of the States still have some reservations on some provisions in that measure. I apprehend that they will be clarified and dealt with at the Convention.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Does the Minister yet know the outcome of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’s hearing on the national wage case and on the future of wage indexation?
-Yes, I have heard the decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in relation to the national wage case. It was issued at approximately 10.30 a.m. The decision is to adjust wages by 3 per cent- that is, the amount of the consumer price index increase in the March quarter- up to $125 a week. Thereafter, a flat rate of $3.80 is to be applied. I believe that that is a sensible decision. It offers a real hope for containing costs in Australia while maintaining the purchasing power of the less well paid members of our community. The Commission, in its decision, recognised that full indexation would leave inflation at a rate of about 13 per cent, with the prospect of economic stagnation and continued rates of high unemployment. As the Australian Council of Trade Unions acknowledged in its case, departure from full indexation could be warranted in exceptional and compelling circumstances. The Commission considered that the present situation does constitute exceptional and compelling circumstances. It has taken a responsible attitude. It is up to all sections of the Australian community to back that decision in their own interests and those of Australia’s economic recovery.
– For the information of honourable members I present the Grants Commission special report on financial assistance for local government. Due to the limited number available at this time, reference copies of the report have been placed in the Bills and Papers Office of the House of Representatives and the Parliamentary Library. Further copies are expected to be available within the next few days.
– Pursuant to section 10A(2) of the Royal Australian Air Force Veterans’ Residences Act 1 953- 1 965 I present the annual report of the RAAF Verterans’ Residences Trust for the year ended 30 June 1975.
Pursuant to section 122 of the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act 1971-1974 I present the annual report of the Commissioner for Employees ‘ Compensation for the year ended 30 June 1975.
Mr VINER (Stirling-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs- For the information of honourable members I present a report entitled Literacy and Numeracy in Australian Schools, together with a statement by the Minister for Education relating to that report.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Apple and Pear Stabilization Amendment Bill 1 976.
Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Amendment Bill 1976.
Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Amendment Bill 1976.
Debate resumed from 25 May, on motion by Mr Lynch:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate on this Bill is resumed, I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Supply Bill (No. 2) 1976-77, as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures? There being no objection, I will permit that course to be followed.
-The Opposition will not oppose the passage through this House of the Supply Bill (No. 1) 1976-77 and the Supply Bill (No. 2) 1976-77. The Supply Bill (No. 1) deals with the appropriation of revenue for ordinary current expenditure of the Government covering the period from 1 July to the end of November. The Supply Bill (No. 2) covers the appropriation for capital works and services, payments to or for the States and certain other services for the period 1 July to 30 November 1976. Having witnessed the attitudes that were adopted by members of the present Government parties when in Opposition, I will not anticipate the attitude that may be taken by the Opposition in the Senate on a Supply Bill of this nature. We cannot tell what the numbers in the Senate will be from one month to another. All sorts of exigencies can arise. There has been such a breaking of conventions over the last couple of years in relation to the granting of Supply, and to the replacement of senators who have left the Senate by persons of a different Party, that we have the instability that now exists in our system. Although it would seem from the majority that the Government has in the Senate that the Supply Bills will be passed in that place, I would not presume to say that that will definitely be so. Speaking for the Opposition in this chamber, 1 indicate that we will not be opposing the Supply Bills on this occasion.
The detailed appropriation of revenue in the Supply Bills does not give very much indication of what the Government will do in the next Budget but there are 2 areas in particular- the appropriation for Aborigines and the appropriation for the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development- which draw to our attention once again the unfortunate statement of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) which was made on Thursday of last week, in which he announced such devastating cuts in so many areas of government spending. In regard to Aborigines, in opening the debate on the statement in this House last Tuesday I said what a short sighted policy this was. We now have this highlighted to us when we find the appropriation for Aborigines so markedly cut. The tragedy is that this will be counter-productive. The tragedy of the situation is that expenditure of money on Aborigines now could have such a wonderfully beneficial social effect on integrating the Aboriginal community into our Australian community. It would provide them with housing and better social conditions. By reducing the appropriation for Aborigines as this Government is doing, as is witnessed in one of the Supply Bills before us, we can only come to the realisation that the Aboriginal community, growing in numbers, will become more and more bitter and that the expenditure on Aborigines by this Parliament over succeeding years will have to be greater in order to overcome those problems. I deplore this cut in government expenditure, as I deplore the overall cuts.
As I said last Tuesday in opening the debate on the Treasurer’s economic statement which is still before this House, we in the Parliamentary Labor Party and in the Labor movement generally in this country cannot go along with the overall economic strategy of the Government. However, before moving on to deal with that overall strategy, let me mention the other appropriation to which I have already alluded- that for the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. We can almost say that this Department, which was made up of three departments of the Australian Labor Government, will be extinguished in this forthcoming 1976-77 financial year. What environment development, what housing development or what community development will there be after the drastic reduction in funds that is apparent in both of the Supply Bills?
I return to deal with the overall strategy of the Government. It is, I believe, outdated economics and is based on false ideology. I commend the contribution which was made last night by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) in the debate on the economic statement.
It is heartening to find that there are Government supporters- he is not the only one, although he is the most courageous in speaking on the subject- echoing the sorts of things that I am saying. What I am saying is that in this day and age of large unions determining wages and large corporations determining prices it is counterproductive to think that we can get an economy like ours moving again in this way after the drastic slump brought about almost entirely by world conditions. One only has to look at the economic history of every other comparable country over the last 12 to 24 months to recognise that we have been suffering from a world phenomenon. We must realise that we will not get out of this condition by following the ideology that a cut in government expenditure will create a gap which ipso facto, the private sector will take up. This just will not work. What we want is confidence in the community. What we want is consumer spending. Consumers will not spend if they are being given the sort of messages that are emanating from Government Ministers at this time. Consumers will not spend if we are ricocheting from one economic statement to another, if there is seen to be virtue- as there is seen to be virtue from the Government side- in making statements about enormous cuts in forward estimates.
I pointed out earlier this week that such cuts in forward estimates are normal, although I believe in this case they are far more drastic than normal because the forward estimates would have been far more modest than normal after the sort of attitudes that this Government has portrayed in earlier months. If this cutting is seen to be a virtue, then its adverse effects will, of course, flow over into the community. My question to the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) today gave just one indication of the adverse effect this attitude has had on the community because since the Treasurer’s statement- itself allegedly designed to bring confidence to the community- the stock exchange indices, one of the most immediate indicators, have shown a downturn. This is the last thing we want. We want a return of confidence. We want consumer spending. It is only when consumers have spent in such a way that the slack in the production capacity of this country is taken up that we will get that new investment which is required for sustained economic recovery. Instead, we have the strategy of crying wolf, of suggesting that there are dire times ahead, that there are no soft options and that we have hard decisions to make. All of this affects confidence and the recovery that we so badly want.
In addition there is a marked downturn in activity in the government sector of the economy, which makes up one-quarter of the economy. That government sector, of course, itself trades with the private sector and this trading will be downturned if there are cuts in government expenditure. We find that there are not the contracts going to the building industry which we desire. Honourable members who listened to the Canberra radio news this morning will know that the building industrial workers and the building employers in Canberra are to get together to ask for further government contracts in order to help the building industry, which is on the decline in the Territory. They want the Government to issue further contracts to get that sector going again.
– Hear, hear.
– I am very glad to have the support of the honourable member for Canberra on this matter. I believe that he is another of the members on the other side of the House, to whom I referred earlier, who is bringing some support to the cause which I am taking up of trying to change the Government’s attitude in respect of cuts in the public sector. Unfortunately I do not think that the action he has taken will save him in any way. Nevertheless, I welcome his support. What he is finding in his electorate applies elsewhere in Australia.
– In South Australia?
– It applies very definitely in my own State of South Australia, may I say in response to the Minister’s interjection. We find that there are many, many contracts which would have been let if there had not been unnecessary cuts in public expenditure. Those contracts are not being let in a wide variety of areas.
– Is residential housing one?
– I am not referring to housing alone. I am referring to Government spending over all. I gave examples earlier this week in my response to the economic statement by the Treasurer. Let me give an example of cutbacks in one or two areas. One is the cutback in Government printing. In a small area of activity like that a number of contracts are let to small private printers who are now finding themselves with less work than they would otherwise be doing. Everywhere we turn in the economy we find the link between the public sector and the private sector. When the public sector activity is cut in the way in which this Government has acted not only are confidence and consumer spending affected but also employment is affected directly because of its relation to the contracts which would have been taken up in the private sector.
So, the strategy has been, I believe, deliberately to create this unemployment and deliberately to work in the hope of a compliant union movement in this country allowing a real downturn in wages. Some success has been achieved as evidenced by the announcement within the last three-quarters of an hour of the decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wage case. There has been some success if one takes the philosophy of the Government as being correct. I believe that the success is temporary. I can only see the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission moving away from what will happen in the real world outside by its decision.
I can add to that only that its decision will heighten the complete chaos that exists in wage determinations in this country. The Western Australia Industrial Commission some month or 6 weeks ago in its wages decision granted a 3 per cent increase to State awards. A leapfrogging situation is created with inequity setting in. The whole area of the margins problem in this country is opened up once again. That problem has been temporarily put aside with the national wage decisions following the principles that have been adopted recently. Looking at the situation in the State of Western Australia, we find that workers under State awards there have received a 3 per cent across the board increase. Yet those in that State working under Federal awardsthese people may live in the same street or work in the same factory as those under State awardsare to receive a 3 per cent increase only on wages up to $125 a week.
This problem comes back to a situation of which, I believe, all of us in this country ought to be ashamed; we have not sorted out wage determination policies. In particular, the shame lies with the conservative parties because they were the ones who more than 1 8 months ago opposed, hook, line and sinker, the referendum on powers relating to prices and incomes. It is only when we have such control over prices and incomes, which control is -
– It comes back to the abolition of the basic wage which the conservative parties thought was a good idea but which now they regret.
– I welcome the intervention of the honourable member for Corio into this debate. The point I was about to make is one in distinction from that made by him. It is only when a proper wage determination system is introduced in this country-we must do away with leapfrogging claims, State determinations and Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission determinations and introduce some semblance of planning into wage determinations- that we will find ourselves with an equitable and adequate wages policy for Australia. That policy must be equitable and adequate to help overcome the very grave and difficult economic problems experienced when running a mixed economy such as ours.
I do condemn the Government Parties for continuing to oppose the introduction of such order and powers which exist in the hands of other comparable governments and even other federations similar to our own in the world. Until we have this order, we will continue to have chaos. We will continue to find it extraordinarily difficult to overcome the economic problems with which we are beset. It is because of the Government’s ideology of seeking to reduce real wages, and indeed, on the way to doing that, increasing unemployment, that we have the present ever worsening economic situation in this country. That is not the ideology, not the strategy of the Labor Party. The Government’s own strategy is helped along by its own ideology, believing in even a smaller and smaller government sector. That is not our ideology. We believe that in this country in particular we have been built on a very proper intervention of public enterprise in our economic activity.
-You mean that it should be bigger and bigger.
-I believe that in many cases, in order to bring about equity in this country, in order to bring about an improved standard of living for those whom I seek to represent in this Parliament, there will have to be larger and larger government intervention. I am not ashamed to say so. This does not mean to say that there is not a tremendous amount of work to be done to ensure that that intervention is more efficient. We are the Party that set up the Coombs royal commission in order to bring about that efficiency. It was a shame on this Parliament and on the governments of this country that the last look at the Public Service and the delivery of such programs as we believe are necessary through government, goes back to the 1920s. That is when the last commission of inquiry into the Public Service was held. We set up the Coombs royal commission and we are looking forward to its findings.
We believe in efficient public service; we believe in efficient government. There are no ways in which we can improve the quality of life of this country with better schools, better cities, better sewerage, a better deal for Aborigines, which I have already talked about, better telephones and postal services, better legal aid, better housing, better hospitals and better urban life generally other than through the intervention of government. I am not ashamed to want those things. I speak for all of the Labor movement when I demand that those things should be available for the people of this country. When you do knock the public sector as with their ideology, those on the other side of this Parliament do, then you are knocking these things: Better roads, better pensions, better overseas aid, better family law administration- and even better defence. I add the last for the benefit of the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman), who is at the table, and who spent a great part of his career in the defence forces.
I return to the details of the Supply Bills and say that particularly in the areas of appropriations for Aborigines and appropriations for environment, housing and community development, we see the first signs of real cuts. But we need not have waited for these Supply Bills to know about them, because we heard about them in the Treasurer’s statement earlier this week. But as a spokesman for the Australian Parliamentary Labor Party in these matters, I pledge our Party to do everything it possibly can to reduce the unemployment in this country by advocating that the Government reverse this strategy on which it has embarked and reverse this ideology which it holds against the public sector. We just will not get a return to economic health in this country by starving the government sector.
As a government, you must get out and spend. That spending is necessary in order to create contracts rather than cancel them- which is happening at the present time. That spending is necessary to create jobs rather than to have fewer jobs- which is happening at the present time. As I have already indicated, that spending is necessary to bring about the consumer confidence which itself will give rise to greater investment, to a greater share of the cake to the business sector, which I believe is necessary, from the present level it has reached, if we are to get the new investment which is necessary for sustained recovery. But we do not need to create unemployment in order to do that. The fact is that if we get that consumer confidence, if we get that spending, if we get that greater production, we will get greater productivity along with them. I believe that by sitting down and discussing these matters properly with the unions we will get the greater productivity transferred to the business sector and thus a greater investment for that greater sustained growth. There will be hard times ahead if the present strategy persists.
I would now like to say a few words about the ideology of the Government in relation to a smaller public sector. I point out that this is certainly in contradistinction to what is happening elsewhere in the world. I noticed that in the debate on the economic statement the assertion was made- it is no more than an assertion- that the son of things I talked about on Tuesday in leading for the Opposition in the debate on the economic statement and the sort of things I have repeated today are not being supported by economists of this nation or of anywhere else. I refute that suggestion. I believe that the vast majority of economists- some in the business sector and nearly all in the academic sector- support what I am saying, as indeed some honourable members on the Government side are now supporting the line I am taking.
– Like Professor Wheelwright?
– An honourable member interjects and mentions Professor Ted Wheelwright. It is true that I quoted from a talk that he gave on the Australian Broadcasting Commission about the ideology of a smaller government sector, but it is not true to say that he involves himself in advice on economic stability in this country. I have not heard his opinions on the sort of things that I am talking about. I was referring to people like Professor John Nevile of the University of New South Wales and Professor Victor Argy of Macquarie University in New South Wales. I could go around nearly every university in this country and find support for the sort of things that I am saying. I do not have to turn only to universities. If I were free to do so I could also mention economists in the public sector itself.
I am certainly free to quote from some of the published work of Professor Nevile about the deficit and the money supply. An article entitled Government Expenditure and Inflation written by him was published, of all places, in the Bank of New South Wales review of 17 March last. The article said that according to an analysis of the Friedman thesis- which has been followed to a great extent by this Government- welfare states with a high ratio of government expenditure are more prone to inflation than others. Professor Nevile finds the case not proven. He goes on to say that there is ‘no necessary link between a larger deficit and a higher rate of inflation’.
The Opposition knows this. As I have sought to show in the debate so far, the Government does not seem to know this. Specifically regarding the deficit and the money supply, Professor Nevile finds little relationship between the two in Australia’s recent history.
The point is made that measures ‘aimed to affect aggregate demand’ cannot be regarded as the major cause of high inflation in Australia in the last few years. The largest measures taken to stimulate aggregate demand in recent years have been increases in government expenditure. The Opposition has been arguing for some considerable time that increases in government expenditure have not been major causes of our problem. Professor Nevile certainly seems to us to agree with that view. I ask all honourable members to read the splendid article in the Bank of New South Wales review to that effect.
When one is in opposition, particularly in a position like mine, one is in a tremendous dilemma about these matters. I believe that, politically, it will serve my cause well if the Government goes on along its present wrong course. But of course I cannot advocate that. It is not what is politically good for me or my Party that I must advocate; it is what is good for this country. The present economic policies are just not good for this country. They will not get us out of our economic troubles. It is my task to seek to help the Government while it is in office to get us out of our economic troubles; to get us back to economic health even though that might be politically damaging for me. There are just so many areas to which I can turn where these cuts in Government expenditure are counter-productive. A matter to which I must draw attention is the axing of the household expenditure survey because it is so important that, just as we should have an orderly wage determination system in this country, we should have more and more statistics on which to base our economic policy.
– We have not got the results of the first two surveys yet.
– I asked a question of the Treasurer on this subject and the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) will remember that he could not answer me then but sent me courteously a reply in the post that day. Perhaps the honourable member has seen a copy of it. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) established the survey which was to operate for at least 3 years. It was always intended to be an ongoing survey. The problem is not simply with establishing a household expenditure pattern but monitoring changes. Initial investment was put into recruiting interviewers and devising analytical techniques in this survey. Results from the first survey would have taken a long time to come through because of the need to adapt existing facilities to suit the data obtained. The results of the second survey obviously will be available much sooner for collection. By the third survey- definitely not tentatively planned but really planned- the Australian Bureau of Statistics hoped to issue quarterly surveys. This is the stage at which the data would be of most use. Of course, the project has been cut off in midstream.
I welcome the interjection from the honourable member for Perth. The results of the first 2 surveys have not come through. It was an ongoing project and its only value would be if the survey results continued to come in regularly because it is the changes that are all important. It would seem that the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) may follow me in this debate. I hope that as a former Treasurer of this nation he will support the contention that there is so much more that needs to be done in collecting statistics and necessary data on which to base proper and adequate economic policies for this country.
– I do not accept all that the Government Statistician is compelling people to answer in the census that is about to be conducted.
– I regret that the right honourable member does not because in the economic sphere there are minds greater than his or mine which have gone into drawing up that survey.
-I am thinking of people, not experts in the economic field- individuals.
– I too am thinking of people and there is nothing that hurts the lives of people more than the trade cycles which have been affecting their lives. I am aware of the fact that the only nation in the Western world which has in any way insulated itself from the slumps, peaks and troughs is Sweden, a country which has a public sector comprising 50 per cent of the work force as against our 30 per cent- a country which thanks to 30 years of a socialist democratic government is collecting the necessary statistics on which to base proper economic policies. I believe that the census which the Treasurer commendably is pursuing will give us a lot of information. I believe also that this household expenditure survey would have brought in the necessary information on which to base some of our economic policies.
There is a lot more ground that I would like to cover but my time is coming to an end and I want to let as many others into the debate as possible. I end on this note: These Supply Bills unfortunately perpetuate a wrong economic policy which was commenced by this Liberal-National Country Party Government when it took over 6 months ago. I regret the ideology on which this wrong economic strategy is based. We must urge the Government to change not for the political fortunes of the Labor Party but for the good of this country because our first aim is to get people back into employment. We cannot trade-off unemployment for inflation. The old Phillips curve just does not apply now and has not applied for some time in this new psychological era in which we live. What we need is increased spending and with it increased production, increased productivity and an increased share for the business sector in order to get that higher return on investment which will stimulate new investment and sustain the recovery. This line is supported by many eminent economists. It is supported in other countries which are successfully coming out of the depression.
-(Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This is the second time is less than 10 days that I have had the misfortune to have to follow the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), in a similar type of debate. Of course one must answer, in exactly the same way as previously, the proposals that he has put to the House this morning. He talked about ideology. I wonder whether his definition of ideology is different from mine. I hope it is, because when looking at the measures which have been taken by the Fraser Government we have to admit that they are a straight out application of common sense to the problems this Government inherited with a bankrupt economy which resulted from the futility and stupidity of the actions of the Labor Party.
The honourable member for Adelaide went on with the old thesis, which I thought was drowned over a year ago, that inflation was a world phenomenon and that our problems were due to overseas conditions. If that is so, how does the honourable member answer this proposition: Is it a fact that inflation in the United States has moved down to between 6 per cent and 7 per cent? Is it a fact that the United States thinks it will achieve a growth rate of 7V4 per cent? If honourable members look at our other main trading partners with the exception of United Kingdom, which is now starting to show signs of real revival and change, it will been seen that most of them expect a growth rate of 4% per cent in their next financial year and inflation down to less than 10 per cent. If these are the facts overseas, why are not we in Australia moving in an exactly parallel fashion if the honourable member’s silly argument relating to overseas conditions being the cause of our problems applies? We now face an inflation rate of about 15 per cent this year with the real hope that it can be improved in 1977. It is only now that the Fraser Government has established the conditions on which we can hope for progress in the next two Budget years.
I do not want to say very much more about the comments of the honourable member for Adelaide other than to reply to what he said about Sweden. When you meet a Swede today and ask him where he would most like to live he will name half a dozen places but never mention his own country. The Swedes are sick and tired of the idea that mother knows best and that 50 per cent of everything they do has to be controlled by a government. I do not care very much about Sweden anyhow. I care about my own country. I know what the people of this country did to the Labor Party when it tried to bring 50 per cent of their activities under control. They booted it out of office and left it with a miserable minority consisting of the miserable lot of people sitting opposite today.
I turn to the 2 Bills now before the House. The Government has managed to keep down to $720m the increase in the appropriation in Supply Bill (No. 1 ) above the corresponding appropriation for last year and has reduced the appropriation in Supply Bill (No. 2), which relates to capital expenditure and other similar types of items, by $264m. This means that the overall increase in the Supply appropriation this year is $456m. When we recall that Medibank will take up $495m, because of the cost of the scheme and the other peculiar circumstances that applied in this Budget year there will be an overall reduction of expenditure. There can be no doubt that this is a good performance. The Government has every right to believe, every right to be proud of the fact, that it is another of the achievements for which it can tick up a plus mark. I believe the general public supports it.
In the context of the economic situation which exists today these 2 Supply Bills are based on forward forecasts. They do not look at today! They do not look at the past! They look to the future! I want to look to the future too. Because I believe that this will be the last opportunity I and others will have before the Budget is presented. I want to make a few comments about the main problems that we face and I would like the Government to consider these problems when the Budget is being constructed. In fact, I know that the Government has already given consideration to them. I want more. I know that from the first day the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) became Leader of the Opposition and then, providentially for us, the Leader of this great country of ours, he has always had these problems in mind. Immediately I want to contrast the difference between the two Governments- the general attitude of the Australian Labor Party with the attitude of the Fraser Government.
I think the best way to talk about the attitude of the Labor Government to administration and economic problems is this: Normally its attitudes and actions were ill considered and were taken at random. In an overall economic and administrative sense they were aimless and unpredictable. In contrast the activities and the policy decisions of the present Government have been deliberately designed. There is a continuation of policies directed towards achieving the strategy of the Government with regard to national growth, inflation, unemployment and incentives to the private sector of the economy. Its actions in the public sector have been designed to build up in places where the government sector was previously taking up too much of our resources and creating conditions of inflation and unemployment. The bases on which I put my argument to the House today are these: I have just read a copy of an article in the Australian Economic Review for the last quarter of 1975. 1 believe that it touches on the critically important residual economic problem now that the Government has dealt with so many other problems which face the Australian people and Government today. This article concerns the economic performance of private enterprise in the overall Australian economic and social field. As the Prime Minister says, if private industry does not suceed we cannot remove inflationary pressures. We will not get growth. We will not get a better standard of living for Australians and a better and happier life for them. I believe that that is the objective of every honourable member who sits on this side of the House. I cannot say that for the Opposition. I shall read from the article. It will frighten everyone as I believe it must have frightened the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I took time this morning and left the
House to hear what the Commission had to say in the judgment it delivered on indexation.
The gross operating surplus in the year under consideration was $3,484m; depreciation was $ 1,420m; interest was $546m and stock adjustment was $75 lm. That means that profits before tax were $767m. That is a big reduction from an operating surplus of $3,484m. Then, income tax was $900m. The residue of profits was only $767m out of which taxation was taken. Therefore, profits after tax were minus $133m. The dividends declared were minus $358m. There was a deficiency in the retained profit accounts of the corporations of $49 1 m. That is a prescription for disaster. That kind of result has to be altered. I know that the Fraser Government, the present Government, has taken action of a kind on consumption expenditure. It has diverted more income to the less well off section in the community. The housing industry and motor vehicles industry are doing well.
To look at the substance of my argument against this background. I believe there is an area, critically important to the economy as a whole that needs consideration. It is proper that I should make some comments and suggestions about it.
It concerns Australian corporations. The real problems facing corporations in general have been dealt with in outline or, in many cases, in depth by the Mathews Committee and the Asprey Committee. They have identified 2 problems associated with corporate finance and survival which must be cured. The first one deals with current value accountancy; that is, applying new accountancy methods and formulas to inflation. These are methods which are designed to establish the real profits of corporations after allowing for inflationary effects rather than the profits that are illusionary because of inflation. It is not money that counts, it is real assets. It is these at which we have to look. The second problem relates to the replacement cost and value of plant and equipment. I do not want to touch on that. It is not necessary. I believe that the Government has been generous even to the point of over-generosity. All I suggest is that when the investment allowance of 40 per cent, reducing over a period of years, is phased out the Government might consider several alternatives and even give taxpayers a choice. But it is too early to push that argument to too great an extent.
I turn to current value accounting. The real problem associated with current value accounting and its application to the difference between the value of opening and closing stocks is that under our present taxation laws the difference is taxed even though the closing stocks have not been sold and profits have not been made, and have to be replaced at inflated value. When I think of it now in inflationary conditions, I cannot understand in logic how the system was ever introduced and continued even when there was no inflation. Unless the Government wants higher returns from taxation- I do not think this is the proper way to do that-I believe that the values should remain as at purchase and should not be taxed. Under inflationary conditions the effect of such taxation becomes extremely bad. When the Government taxes the difference between opening and closing stocks it takes the money flow that permits the company to buy replacement stocks. In most cases this price has increased since the purchase of the original stocks. This must be a self-destructing process and has to be changed. I do not know of any economist of merit, or any economist at all, who disagrees with that analysis. This raises 2 major problems. Let us look at the position of some sectors of manufacturing industry to get a truer appreciation of the way in which the company finance and the substance of companies is being chiselled away and see the reason why so many sections of the economy are going bankrupt. Before I come to the specialised part of dissecting manufacturing industry I mention- it was mentioned also by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission- that Company profits normally used to represent 15 to 17 per cent of gross domestic product. They fell to 8.8 or 8.9 per cent and then recovered to about 1 1 per cent, but there is a recent downward trend again. This is a problem we have to look at and solve. I believe that the level of 15 to 17 per cent of GDP must be reinstated. We should be doing our best to ensure that it is achieved by fiscal action and also by the decisions of the Arbitration Commission and others.
Let me present some facts about some of the manufacturing industry of crucial importance. The metal trades comprises 41.6 per cent of the total number of manufacturing establishments in Australia, employs 47 per cent of the work force and pays 49 per cent of the wages and salaries paid in the manufacturing sector as a whole. What is the position today of that sector of the total manufacturing industry? Although there has been some upturn in the general employment figure, it is still retrenching labour. The industry covers refrigerators, clothes washing machines, radio sets, electric motors, internal combustion engines and motor vehicles. The foundry section of the industry is probably the most reliable of all indicators of conditions in the metal trades industry generally. In that section orders on hand are now down to 4 weeks, compared with the normal 20 weeks. In the words of industry spokesmen, no orders are coming into the industry from its customers. Because it is of crucial importance, I repeat, that no orders are coming into the industry from its customers. They say that no upturn is in sight. I have here a typical account which shows that while profit for tax purposes was $570,000 and tax was $240,000, after deducting provision for long service leave and depreciation allowance and after applying current value accountancy rules relative to inflation there was a loss of $2,600,000. Those are some of the facts which ought to interest us. Much the same sort of thing applies to the building industry- that is, building and construction but not housing- this is another area I hope will be looked at during the Budget discussions.
It is not that we have not done this before. It is not as though the Prime Minister has not done his homework. Many of us remember the statement he made in this House on 26 August 1975. He said then that an essential feature of reviving the economy was to revive production and investment in the private sector. He stressed, so far as the matters I have mentioned are concerned, that it would be achieved over a 3-year period. I do believe that some taxation concessionseven a considerable one- must now be made to overcome the problems relating to taxation of the valuation of stock. I believe it was intended originally that there should be a value adjustment of 50 per cent in the first year, as recommended by the Mathews Committee and the balance within the following 2 years. I hope this is done.
The second question to which I will refer relates to Government deficit financing. I have never believed that any simple kind of formula or any simple kind of rule can be developed to overcome serious inflation. I do not believe in fetishism or trying to govern by rule of thumb. Therefore I do not believe the money supply, the deficit in government finances should be the sole and dominant element in a political strategy designed to conquer inflation. I am sure that that dominant role will not be the guiding principle of the Fraser Government. I believe that common sense must apply everywhere. Of course we want to reduce the deficit but simultaneously, as the Prime Minister has said, we have also to ensure that stimulus is given to the private sector of the economy to take over the slack particularly any slack which emerges because of reductions in Government expenditure. The facts are there.
They prove beyond any shadow of doubt that manufacturing industry including small and private corporations and the building and construction industry need help and need it soon. I do not know the forecasts or estimates of deficit relating to the next Budget. I have read newspaper comments that Treasury wants the deficit to be between $2,200m and $2,500m. That figure just cannot be sustained. I believe the proper principle should be that large enough appropriations should be directed to ensuring that production is stimulated in the private sector to get the economy going so that industry can be made properous as part of the contribution to the solution of inflationary problems and national growth. You are then on the right track. Supplementary to that must be an effective funding program to sop up the deficit part of it.
Let me turn now to wages. I think one must approve the decision set down today by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It is a decision of the highest level of authority, of the highest level of common sense, and designed to be in the best interests of the unions and the Australian people. I know that there will be trouble with the Maoists, the Stalinists and others in the builders union, and that there will be trouble with the transport union and the metal trades unions. But I believe the mass of the trade union movement as such is solid and sound. I believe that it and its members will approve the decision to introduce platform wage indexation which the Fraser Government advocated at the most recent Arbitration Commission hearing as complementary to its own taxation indexation proposals now being debated in the House. The Arbitration Commission decided that minimum award rates will be increased up to $125 a week by the 3 per cent equivalent of the latest rise in the Consumer Price Index. On award rates in excess of $125 a week the increase will be $3.80 a week. The increase will not apply to over award payments. It is a real and significant break through. It supplements the other actions that the Fraser Government has taken to control inflation. I can only hope that the problems I have mentioned will be looked at in relation to the next Budget and answered in a way that will establish the framework in which private enterprise can prosper.
-Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired.
-(11.50)-Unlike the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) who was ungracious enough to say that he had the misfortune to follow in this debate the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), I am gratified to be following a man who has had such distinguished political service. It is a terrible pity, however, that so much of his service was in such grievious error. I listened to his speech and I will take a few moments to deal with some of the things he said. He has fallen into the error of all of our opponents who replace analysis and logic in the consideration of the economy with vituperation. They seem to think that if they keep announcing things long enough people will believe them in the end and things will change. They have adopted the old trick of the Nazi regime in Germany, that if you speak up long enough and loud enough people will believe you in the end and change the way that events go. It is utter nonsense to continually denounce the Labor Goverment’s economic policies as being irresponsible, and all the other things that were said about them. The right honourable gentleman and his colleagues opposite inherited one of the strongest economies in the world and now they are trying to turn it back.
The right honourable member for Lowe indicated a fair amount of the thinking of honourable members opposite. They think they are going to turn the tide of history by tinkering with the tax system. What is the situation? It is that 1976 is totally different from 1966 and even more different from 1956. When I listened to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the string of former Prime Ministers talking I was reminded of the people who in 1492 did not believe that Columbus had reached the new world. In fact Columbus himself did not think he had arrived at the new world of America. He thought he was still in the old world. That is one of the great problems of honourable members opposite.
There was one thing that the right honourable member for Lowe said about the deficit and that situation that I should mention. I pay him the compliment of dealing with some of his statements. He said that we needed common sense. Unfortunately we get none of that from the people opposite. He talked about the industrial base and of the troubles of the industrial world, particularly the metal trades industry. He said that unfortunately industry was running at under capacity. He presumes that by tinkering with the tax system in some way, by some sort of plea to the system, people will rush out and buy another 6 refrigerators or perhaps double their stocks of Rolls Royces, Mercedes or even Fords. We are in a totally different society. We were in a consumer society because for many years we had been deprived. For some five or six years 30 years ago the world was bent upon destruction. One of the facts of life in most of the industrial countries of the world is that they have overtaken their general running needs with their industrial capacity. Therefore Australian industry now runs at about 80 per cent. Unless we change the system of using up goods our industry will continue to run at about 80 per cent.
Consider the nonsense of it all. We are talking about a consumer-led recovery and the Supply Bills that we are now debating will reduce the capacity to consume of the biggest customers, the biggest consumers in the business, the governments and public authorities in Australia. It always seems to me to be odd that in a world such as this, in a country such as this, parliaments and governments are unable to recognise the importance of the government as a consumer, as an activator, and as a creator in this society. I am not talking in terms of Keynesian economics; I am talking about Australian society as it has developed over the century or so of responsible government. Governments are the suppliers and the providers of so much upon which we all depend.
I would like to make one other point before I deal with some of the general issues. I refer to the very existence of these Supply Bills. I believe it is a rather eccentric piece of governmental behaviour that twice a year we have to produce appropriations to deal with the need for more money not properly appropriated in the Budget. The whole Budget system I think is tired. I think it is time that the whole Budget system was reviewed, including the way in which the other House deals with Estimates, the way in which this House deals with Estimates and the way in which Budgets are produced. If it were not for the obsession about governmental arithmetic Budgets could make a proper allowance for the whole 12 months and perhaps we could even overrun that period. Nobody in the system can plan effectively if they know that somewhere along the line- within 9 months on average, I supposethey will run out of their general appropriation and are not sure that they will receive funds again at the same rate.
I administered the Department of the Capital Territory for 2 years. I pay a tribute to the people who worked in that system. There is no doubt in my mind that the whole structure and efficiency of the operation was inhibited by the fact that at some stage about this time of the year problems will occur in regard to cash flow and the security of programs which will prevent a department carrying on properly. I make a plea to the Parliament itself, to the Expenditure Committee which has been established and any other bodies that are associated with this matter to overcome that problem. The Supply Bills, of course, are the twice annual exercise in which the Senate can probably sabotage the whole system, as it threatened to do and in fact did do to us at least on one occasion. I think it is time that the people of Australia recognised the shattering intellectual ineptitude of the Prime Minister and his followers. We are living in a world of economics in which we get continual assertions without analysis. What do we read in Hansard? What do we hear pouring out over the air? We see and hear continual statements and reports that will not stand up to any kind of analysis. The Prime Minister says things like this: Spending our way gently but firmly out of stagnation. One can turn back the pages of recent years and find that those sorts of things have been said continually.
The right honourable member for Lowe talked about areas of the economy being bankrupt- I think that is what he said. What exactly did he mean? Most of the areas of the economy are capable of expansion but there is nobody in many of the areas to whom to sell the products. Let us look at the economy. I think we are the world’s biggest producer of bauxite. We are the ninth or tenth largest producer of motor cars. I have some figures here which I found the other day relating to Australia’s position in mineral production. For instance, in bauxite we are first; in lead we are third or fourth; in nickel we are fourth or fifth; and even in salt we are seventh or eighth in world production- all this when we are about fortieth in line on world population figures.
We face a great challenge to develop the resources we have. We are showing a remarkable incapacity to use the resources that we have at our disposal. When I hear the continual catchcries from the people opposite I am staggered that the people of Australia believe them or voted for them. We know about the deficit fixation. Fortunately the right honourable member for Lowe seems to hold a different view from that of many of the people opposite, who like lemmings will follow their leaders over the cliff into economic disaster by removing the Australian Government, its authorities and the State governments who rely upon it for cash, from the consumer scene. I refer honourable members to an article in the Australian Economic Review No. 3, 1975. I will not read it all because my colleague the honourable member for Adelaide mentioned the same thing. It is produced by the
Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research and reads:
Growing Budget Deficits- An International Problem. It is not often realised that a swollen Budget deficit is a phenomenon which Australia shares with most of the major industrial countries.
The report goes on to state such things as:
The United States administration’s projection envisages a deficit of US$59.3 billion or 19 per cent of receipts in fiscal 1976. That this latter figure is too optimistic is strongly suggested by the fact that in seasonally adjusted terms the deficit reached 41.8 per cent of receipts in the second quarter of 1975.
I think my friend from Lowe was telling us that the inflation rate is falling in the U.S.A. Germany is another example that is cited of where the inflation rate is falling. The report states:
In the first half of 1975 the West German Federal government cash position showed a deficit of DM 17 billion (30 per cent of receipts) … the United Kingdom the central government borrowing requirement reached £5.1 billion . . . (17 percent of receipts).
Later in the year Australia’s level was running at 22 per cent of receipts. The report continues:
The Australian government budget, now set at about $3,800 million or about 21 per cent of estimated receipts, seems rather less overwhelming.
The report further states that in each of the countries mentioned: . . . deficits of the broad magnitude currently envisaged for Australia are proving compatible with a reduction in inflation.
In other words, we are looking for a pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow and like the people in the legends we will not find it because one will not find any solution in that sort of nostrum. All the evidence is that there is no necessary relationship between the absolute size of the deficit and the inflation rate.
There are other factors creating inflation of which we seem to be totally unaware. For instance, there is never any adequate examination of what government costs do. For instance, what will happen to the consumer price index for the Australian Capital Territory when the impact of all the charges that have been loaded upon it over the last few months is really taken into account? How much will those increase charges raise the cost of living and the cost of being here when the actual price of land has been increased as it was by my successor but one’s predecessor? What will happen because of the rise in interest rates on the housing of the 8000 or 12 000 people who have interest bearing loans from the Australian Government? These will rise from the 4 per cent or 5 per cent rate at which they were held to 9 per cent or 10 per cent. I presume that there is no absolute level. What will that do to the person with a $10,000 loan? Of course it will raise his cost of living by $8 or $9 a week. This was an unqualified, unreservedly Government sponsored decision. We know nothing about that aspect. There has been no effective studies done upon the effect, say, of increases in telephone charges. I noticed that the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in his second reading speeches on the Supply Bills mentioned the cost rise to the Government because of the increase in postal charges. I think he said it was $43m. When we took the decision which was taken by the Government of which I was a member, and which had been initiated away back, perhaps 12 or 15 years ago, about how we should finance the Post Office, one of the factors which was not considered was the impact of that upon the greatest consumer of telephone and telegraphic services in Australia, the Australian Government and its authorities.
When we talk about incentives to the private sector we have another assertion which is based upon some sort of false analysis- as though people will rush out and do things just because we plead with them to do so. I agree with my friend from Adelaide who pointed out that this Government is pursuing a totally erroneous policy and that if we extract the Australian Government from so many areas of consuming- and therefore of spending- in which other people are involved we will be heading for a high level of unemployment. Everybody recognises that that is a social disaster. I know that we have made inflation the great thing at the present time, but I also know that the people with whom I associate, the people I represent, regard unemployment as the greatest possible social disaster. I think that it is a social disaster of the first magnitude that so many thousands of young people in the 18 years to 23 years age group cannot find adequate full time employment. I am one of those who in 1932 left school and had no adequate or full time employment for 3 years and I know what it does to a person. We cannot tolerate that. It will be only by Government action over many areas that we will be able to overcome the situation.
I think that the challenge of today is how we are to tap the resources at our disposal. As I have pointed out, we have an industrial capacity that is capable of out-producing Australia’s ordinary needs. We have mineral deposits and a minerals industry that put us at the top of the world league. Our mineral wealth has produced a situation in which our international reserves are consistently rising. When I look at the figures I find that in large areas of ordinary endeavour most people are better off than they have ever been. One of the great revolutions that flowed from the 3 years of Labor Government was the transfer of wealth from corporations to private citizens. The percentage of the gross domestic product that went into salaries and wages rose significantly and, of course, in large areas profits fell by an equal percentage. I am one of those who do not believe that profit is a dirty word. But I am also one of those who believe that the people who produce the wealth should get their fair share of it.
When I look at the figures I also find that in relation to gross savings by the country there has been a big transfer from the business and corporations area to the household area. The gross savings in the last few years in what is called the household savings area have gone from 25 per cent to 50 per cent. What does that mean? One has only to look at the newspapers to see what it means. The savings bank deposits in Australia are at an extraordinarily high level. Wages in Australia are now, I understand, the world’s highest. People are able to do many of the things that they could never do before. There has been an extraordinary rise in the amount of overseas travel. Why? Because people are able to do in 1976 as a result of what happened between 1972 and 1975 the things that they never dreamed they would be able to do. There has been the biggest swing over to colour television in any country in the world. Why? Because the money is in the pockets of the people. That is a revolution in Australia’s living standards and values that I propose to do everything in my power to protect.
I have mentioned that I thought that the great challenge that faces us and to which the Government has no answer- I am not saying that we do, either- is the tapping of the resources that are available to us. We have to find out how to fit the financial capacity that we have and the industrial capacity that we have into the areas of need. I represent the suburbs of Brunswick and Coburg in Melbourne, a great industrial area. The needs of the people there are for roads, schools, houses and so on. When I talk to the industrialists most of them say. ‘We do not need to re-equip. We have re-equipped over the last 10 years. We can now turn out beer cans by the million, we can turn out photographic equipment by the ton, we can manufacture motor vehicle tyres by the hundred-thousand and we can turn out items of hoisery by the million’. But when I go down the streets- they are not the sort of streets that ought to be found in one of the wealthiest countries in the world- I see that the houses need rehabilitation. I suppose a third of the hourses in Brunswick are obsolescent to the point of being obsolete. So we should be putting money into the hands of those people. Any interference with their standard of living will reduce their capacity to do anything about their present situation.
We should be able to find some way of tapping the extraordinary capital resources in the hands of people in the same way as is done with their income. I do not know what the technique is, but there is some error or some weakness somewhere in our technical capacity. We show no hesitancy whatsoever in tapping income to the absolute limit. I am one of those people who think taxation upon income is becoming inhibitive. It is starting to make people think. It is unjust or inequitable. We are in a new arena. I think it is a totally new world. The productive capacity is immense. People’s buying and consuming habits are changing. The community has a different area of approach to so many things, but the greatest needs m Australia are those things supplied by governments- communication, transport, housing finance, roads, railways and all the rest. They are as important to our standard of living as the carpets upon the floor. These Supply Bills are a clear indication that the Government has no idea whatsoever what it is all about.
-I support these 2 Supply Bills. They demonstrate Government’s determination to reduce inflation, to reduce unemployment and to help the disadvantaged. The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon), in his excellent and erudite speech, dealt with some of the details of these Bills. I would like to deal with some of the broader aspects. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch), in his second reading speech, stated that the Bills reflect decisions relating to expenditure and, more generally, the Government’s continuing policy of expenditure restraint Restraints and reduction of expenditure always fall unevenly. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the isolated areas of a nation are always harder hit than the great metropolises. I make a plea to the Government to give every consideration possible to those disadvantaged by isolation and the tyranny of distance, such as the people in my electorate of Leichhardt.
In this House there are 6 members who, between them, represent 74.54 per cent of the land mass of this continent. Almost 75 per cent of the mainland is represented by 6 members from both sides of the House. I am disappointed in my gallant and honourable friend from Lowe, because this is his cue to interject: ‘Camels and spinifex’. I quote from the maiden speech of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam):
To hear the detailed topographical description of their electorates in which certain honourable members indulge, one might be forgiven for thinking that they were here to represent majestic mountain peaks or babbling brooks, or even sheep and goats.
-I do not have any goats in my electorate. That profound comment led me to do some research. I discovered that at the 1975 election the honourable member for Grayndler represented 57 081 voters while I, in my electorate, represented 61 266 voters, over 4000 voters more than the honourable member for Grayndler at the last election. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) represents 57 483 electors. The honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) represents only 55 567 voters, almost 6000 fewer than 1 have in Leichhardt. Compare the few square miles of his electorate to my electorate which is 4 times the size of Victoria.
– You deserve to be paid more.
-I agree. This profound ignorance on both sides of the House of problems in isolated areas concerns me. Last night in my office I was speaking to one of my colleagues who has had the good sense and perception to have decided to visit my electorate. I wish more honourable members would visit it. We were looking at a map and discussing some of the problems. He said: ‘You know, I had no idea of these problems’. He represents a small, safe, wealthy, inner city electorate. We hear a lot about equality, justice for all and the quality of life. I hope that these good things do not apply only to cities. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) has made several speeches recently about these factors. He shows great concern for the cities. It is high time that more of us stood up and showed concern for the isolated areas of this nation. There are many problems. They include education and rural poverty. It is worth noting that Professor Henderson stated in his report on poverty that there are 14 per cent more people in the rural areas who are below the poverty line than there are in the cities. I hope to deal with those 2 subjects at another time.
Today I should like to talk about communications in all its aspects. I want to stress the problems of communications and the lack of them in their widest possible aspects- radio, television, telephones, mail deliveries, roads, ports and airlines.
Let me deal first with television. Threequarters of the people in my electorate do not have television reception. I heard the honourable, member for Wills talking about colour television sets. It is of no use for most of the people in my electorate to buy colour television sets, even if they could afford to do so. We have a television service, but it does not cover a very big area. In fact, because of our magnificent mountains there are areas within two or three miles of the main city of Cairns that cannot receive television.
-They are in blind spots?
-Yes, they are in blind spots. We would receive much better television reception over a wide area with the installation of 9 television translators. The installation of this equipment was deferred in the Hayden Budget brought down by the previous Government, but I am delighted to hear from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) that money for the translators is likely to be made available next financial year. The installation of two of them in north Cairns and Mossman should take place this year and the remainder in due course. Hopefully, one day television reception will be extended throughout the vast areas of the Gulf and the Peninsula in the electorate of Leichhardt. I give notice that I will press for this as soon as the present economic crisis is under control.
-Was the previous Labor Party member sleeping?
-I do not wish to comment about the previous member; he is an old friend.
Let me take a specific area of my electorate, the area north of Cooktown covering the Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait Islands. There are 12 000 or 13 000 people living in that area. They have no commercial radio, no television and no roads, except for a few bush tracks. They have no reception of Australian Broadcasting Commission programs unless they have short wave radios. Last month the Minister for Post and Telecommunications announced plans to install an ABC transmitter on Thursday Island. It is difficult to realise the impact this will have on the people in this area. I urge the Minister and the Government not to cut out this proposal. I regard it as a matter of urgency because it will provide the first ray of hope for a very disadvantaged area.
A great deal of money has been spent on rock radio stations and FM radio stations in the cities. People in my electorate find it difficult to understand why those people who, to use the words of the well known advertisement, appear to have everything should be given such luxuries when they, the people of Leichhardt, have so very little by comparison. I wonder what the reaction of some of my city colleagues would be if 13 000 of their constituents had no television, no commercial radio reception, no roads and no parliamentary broadcasts. Exactly the same problems that I have mentioned in regard to Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands apply also in the western and Gulf areas of my electorate.
I would like to mention briefly roads. Considerable sums of money have been made available for roads in these Bills. One of my constituents who lives in a very isolated town called Helenvale recently visited me at Parliament House, having driven as far as, I think, Adelaide. Adelaide to Helenvale is about as far as you can drive north-south in Australia. He said that he was very impressed by the roads and that in some places there are two or three roads running to the same place. He pointed out that he did not have a road to his area. He has not. He was quite right. I hope that some of these funds will be made available for roads in my electorate. Some priorities should be set between the building of great freeways and the improvement of bush tracks. For example, the town of Normanton which is 749 kilometres west of Cairns, has a road running to it. But 225 kilometres of that road are unsealed. It is impassable for 5 months of the year during the wet season. During the dry season it is covered in a foot or so of what is known locally as bull dust- great choking clouds of dust. It is dangerous. Several enterprising operators have tried to start bus services in that area, but they have had to give up. I might say that in the 23 years of previous Liberal-National Country Party governments several hundred miles of that road were sealed. The beef roads program was stopped, not by the LiberalNational Country Party Government but by the last Labor Government. Had it done its job and looked after the people in the bush we would have had those 225 kilometres of road sealed in the last 3 years.
Burketown is 2 15 kilometres west of Normanton and almost 1000 kilometres from Cairns. It has leading to it a dirt track which can be used by 4-wheel drive vehicles for very brief periods of the year. On the peninsula, the 480 kilometre road from Cooktown to Coen can be used only with 4-wheel drive vehicles in the dry season. It is closed at the moment.
– They own their own aeroplanes, do they not?
-I will come to that. I hope that some money will be made available to commence upgrading those roads. I know that the Commonwealth provides the money and the
States decide the priorities, but the Commonwealth will have to start pressing Brisbane. I might say that in the minds of my electors Brisbane and Canberra are grouped together as being very distant, unfeeling centres of government.
– Who is in government in Brisbane?
– This does not necessarily apply to governments; it applies to the people who form them. Telephones are another problem. Many thousands of people in my electorate have no telephones. One family was recently quoted the sum of$15,000 to have a telephone installed. Hundreds of others maintain their own telephone lines at their own expense, and many others have to rely on 2-way radio which gives them very little privacy. It is fascinating to listen to some of the broadcasts over the air. I believe that a denial of communication such as this is a denial of the freedom of speech. It shows up the disadvantage of people living in the isolated areas, the 75 per cent of this continent which is represented by only 6 Federal members of Parliament.
Yesterday morning at question time the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite asked a question on zone allowances. I strongly support what he said. I was delighted to hear the Treasurer agree to investigate the boundaries of the zone allowance areas and to increase the base value to give some compensation to those taxpayers who suffer isolation, inconvenience, bad climate in some areas, and the high cost of living. Let me cite a couple of examples of the high cost of living faced by these people. In Burketown petrol costs $1.14 a gallon; in Coen it costs $1.03 a gallon. When the economy improves I intend to press for the reintroduction of the petrol equalisation scheme which was cancelled by the last Labor Government which thought nothing of the people in the country areas.
I now turn to air routes, about which an honourable member interjected a moment ago. In those areas where there are no roads, airlines and aeroplanes are vital. The Labor Government reduced the subsidy for local scheduled air services. This year 31 scheduled air services in my area have been cancelled and another twelve are due to be cancelled on 1 July. Again I intend to press for the reintroduction of the subsidy when the economy improves -
– Ask your Minister.
-The Government of which the honourable member was a member cut them. It is difficult,I think -
– You will not be here when the economy improves.
-I will take you up on that one. It is difficult for people in the cities to realise the reliance which people in isolated areas place on air services for their mail, for their supplies, and for such things as correspondence courses for their children who are educationally disadvantaged. There are some areas in my electoratefor example, some areas in the Torres Strait- which receive a mail delivery only once every 2 months. How would honourable members opposite fight for their electorates against a problem like that? I hope that strenuous efforts will be made to improve the frequency of mail deliveries and to reduce the impositions, such as a doubling of the mail bag rates, which were made by the previous Government. I hope that the Government will give consideration to those of us who live in the isolated areas of the continent. People who work in rural areas, on farms, in mines and at sea produce 73.5 per cent of Australia’s exports, and it is time they got back some of the money Australia receives for its exports. I hope that some of this wealth will be returned to the people who produce it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 25 May, on motion by Mr Lynch:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 29 April, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate on this Bill is resumed I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1 to 5), as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I therefore suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 6 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to proceed with the debate as suggested by the Minister? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (12.28)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the Wool Industry Amendment Bill and the Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1 to 5) because they represent a continuation of the praiseworthy legislation introduced by the previous Labor Government which was aimed at bringing about a common sense and beneficial marketing system for our Australian wool clip. I remind the House that such legislation was urgently needed but sadly lacking during the long term of office of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. In spite of the many crises which the wool industry faced during that period, that Government failed to come up with a scheme that offered any real assistance to the wool industry. If honourable members will recall that that Government introduced a scheme which provided emergency financial assistance for wool growers and also the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Act 1971, they will realise the very serious plight in which the wool industry found itself during that period.
Even before the Labor Government came into office in 1972, the Australian Labor Party was negotiating with China, Russia and other countries to find markets .”or our primary industries. Late in 1972 wool prices were rising slowly. But under the Labor Government they rose dramatically during the latter part of the 1972-73 wool season. They reached a peak of 295c per kilogram in March 1973, the highest price since the 1950-51 Korean War boom. However, during the first half of the 1974-75 season demand was very poor and by June the price had fallen to 129c. The average price for wool during the 1974-75 season was 127c per kilogram of greasy wool. It must be remembered that even this low price was twice the amount of 64.7c received in 1970-71 under the Liberal-Country Party Government. These figures can be found in the Department of Agriculture publication of August 1975.
Even though the price by June of the 1974-75 season was twice the price that obtained under the reigning Liberal-Country Party Government, the Labor Government took definite steps to obtain a better price for our Australian wool clip. Early in 1974 the Australian Wool Corporation recommended the introduction of a new wool marketing scheme where a single marketing authority would handle all of our greasy wool destined for export. This, of course, was over 90 per cent of the Australian wool clip. The Labor Government, anxious to sponsor a sensible wool marketing scheme, was very much in favour of this proposal and entered into negotiations with various people interested in the wool industry to bring about a sensible marketing scheme. Of course, during that period we heard the old cry of socialism from the Liberal and Country Party benches but members of those parties were unable to offer any better scheme for the marketing of our Australian wool clip. They were afraid to mention the word ‘socialism’ when the Labor Government authorised the Australian Wool Corporation to operate a floor price for wool sold during the rest of the 1974-75 season equivalent to 250c per kilogram for 21 micron wool. Although it was made plain that they would prefer the Australian Wool Corporation to obtain funds by private borrowing, it was clear that all that could be obtained from a consortium of private banks was $34m. The Labor Government, interested in the Australian wool clip, in the Australian wool industry, introduced legislation which authorised loans of up to $350m. No doubt this was the kind of socialism that the wool growers did not mind. They knew that it was not the private trading banks or the Liberal and Country Parties that saved the wool industry. The only time that wool growers have ever been able to get finance from private banks is when they could prove they did not need it. The wool industry knew that the schemes introduced by the Liberal and Country Parties, such as the emergency financial assistance for wool growers and the wool deficiency payments schemes, did nothing to solve the marketing problems of the wool industry. Neither will the present Government’s defeatist scheme of dole handouts to the primary industry do anything to solve the marketing problems. All the wool industry wants is a fair go and a sensible marketing system. I am supporting the Bills before the House today because they provide for an extension of the very creditable marketing scheme that was introduced by the Labor Government.
I ask the House to compare this scheme with the emergency financial assistance provided for woolgrowers. Honourable members will recall that big woolgrowers who were in the know at that time were able to reduce their wool incomes by 8 per cent and, by so doing, received a gift of $1,500. Small woolgrowers trying to build up their wool stock and thereby increase their returns from wool were unable to receive any assistance. Everywhere one travelled in the country one could feel the divisiveness caused by this illfounded and unfairly operating scheme. It created resentment not only amongst wool growers but also between wool growers and members of other primary industries such as the dried fruits industry and the poor wheat growers who were at the time forced to operate under a quota system.
The Liberal-National Country Party Government has a strange way of solving our rural problems. It provides handouts to wealthy farmers. If one is a big user of superphosphate, one receives $5,000; if one cannot make it in the Melbourne Club, one gets the dole. The Labor Government’s decision for the wool market for 1975-76 supported the previous legislation and provided for a continuation of the 1974-75 floor price arrangements. The Liberal-National Country Party Government no doubt would still cry socialism about that action but it knows that wool growers would soon silence it. So today we have this Government endorsing the Labor Party’s policy and providing only for an extension of the existing accounting provisions contained in the original legislation for the floor price scheme so that those existing accounting provisions cover the 1976-77 wool marketing period, together with a small measure to provide for the inclusion in the Australian Wool Corporation’s trading results of any profit or loss arising from its activities in processing or manufacture of wool products and trading in such products. Of course, it was not necessary to make these provisions in the original legislation as no such processing or manufacture was taking place.
I believe that when woolgrowers agreed to pay an additional 5 per cent levy into the market support fund- previously they had paid into the research fund only- this action showed that they were prepared to make a major contribution to market support and to contribute to price support of their own commodity provided a clear system was submitted to them, backed by their representatives and also by the Government. One of the most praiseworthy provisions in the Bill is the arrangement made to enable the Corporation to make advances to growers when the sale of their wool has been delayed by the Wool Corporation through rescheduled offerings. I say that this provision is most praiseworthy because carry-on finance is one of the greatest problems facing the rural sector in a period of low market prices. Because these provisions are included which are in the best interests, I believe, of the wool industry and because this legislation endorses measures introduced by the Labor Government, I support these Bills.
– In supporting the Wool Industry Amendment Bill and the Wool Tax Amendment Bills I should like to say how pleased I am that the Opposition also has chosen to support the Bills. I should also like to say that I regret very much that because of the present legislative program I shall not be able to explore some of the points that I should like to bring out more fully than I shall be able to do today. Nobody in the industry or, I think for that matter, throughout Australia now doubts the benefits of such a scheme.
I think it is to the great credit of the previous Labor Government that it continued our initiatives in trying to set up a scheme whereby woolgrowers would have some sort of guaranteed price. Of course some of the things that happened during the time of the Labor Government did not reflect very well on that government, as it turned out. I think that it is rather ironic that today is the anniversary, plus one day, of the Labor Caucus’s decision, taken at last on 27 May 1975, to continue the price scheme again. That was in the face of great criticism, which was openly printed, from the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) who pleaded with Caucus to reduce the support for the wool industry. In my view, that is a reflection on the Labor Party, as was a comment made on the radio program AM the following day by the previous member for Eden-Monaro. When asked whether he had lost face as a result of the episode he said that he was not particularly concerned and that people like that are not worth great consideration. He was referring to the farmers who came to Canberra on 27 May 1975 to protest at the very capricious way in which the Labor Government was looking at their livelihoods. Nevertheless, as I said, the Labor Party is supporting these Bills and I am very pleased to know that it is.
The record of the scheme has been good. A support scheme is necessary. There are inherent problems in the marketing system as people on the land who have to deal with an auction system know all too well. There is a fragmented supply source in that many thousands of wool producers are acting in each case with a single voice. They are working against what sometimes is a rather unified demand source. I am quite sure that the Japanese buyers who come to Australia as a group have knowledge of what other people in the group want to do. I suppose that this is the worst thing about such an auction system when it deals with such a fragmented supply source. The support scheme overcomes some of the imperfections of that marketing system.
Again, the support scheme helps greatly to reduce fluctuations. People on the land have learnt to realise that great fluctuations militate very much against their livelihoods. Sometimes when prices are high, of course, people think that they have never had it so good and that prices will never drop again, That inevitably happens in respect of rural produce in this country. When
E rices are high, expectations in some quarters get high. People get out of other industries and into this industry. That then at times turns the high prices back into low prices. It is in regard to these fluctuations that a steady support scheme such as the one we are supporting at the moment is such a good thing.
This Bill follows our election promise that we would introduce such legislation. As I said, what a difference from last year. One of the things that the Australian people still did not learn properly last year is that the support scheme is not a scheme that encourages the Government to put in a great deal of money and leave it there; it is a scheme whereby the Government lends money. Last week we were very pleased to learn from the announcement by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) that the Australian Wool Corporation, which has borrowed roughly $294m from the Government at this stage possibly will be able to repay that loan in the middle of next year if the market conditions remain as they are. I should just like to quote what Mr Asimus, Deputy Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation, said a week or so ago. He said:
The corporation has ample funds for the present selling season, and does not anticipate any need to call on the Federal Government for extra financial aid.
If the market continues its present upward trend, the corporation should enter the next selling season in a strong financial position.
There are indications of an upturn. The price for 2 1 -micron clean wool at the Goulburn wool sales last week would have been around 280c a kilo. That is 30c over the official support price. For that reason, in recent weeks there have been net disposals from the stockpile of the Wool Corporation. That is one of the reasons why the Corporation is in a far more liquid position than it was. It is in a position where loans from taxpayers, through the Government, look as though they may be able to be repaid. I count this as a very important manifestation of the results of the work of the Wool Corporation because what we can begin to look at now is the environment that is being created in which the next logical steps can be made. As I said,, the Labor Government made the logical step from our previous scheme to the present scheme. Some steps will have to be taken again shortly.
The first thing that is being talked about in the wool industry right across the country is what the support price will be next year. The figure that is being spoken about in the industry is a minimum price of 300c as against 250c. It is my view that, provided the stand is a reasonable and a strong one, as was the stand taken in the past for support for the wool market, it will not frighten away overseas buyers. It has been said quite openly by overseas importers that they welcome the knowledge that we have a stable scheme in this country. I do not think some sort of increase will frighten away, overseas buyers. They will come to the party.
It is interesting to reflect that the raw price of wool is really a small percentage of the price of a finished garment. In fact the cost of the woollen suit that I am wearing at the moment given a 20 per cent rise in the wool support price scheme, would increase by only about 2 per cent. So even if the price goes to 300c it will not create a large increase in the price to the consumer of woollen garments. Therefore, in my view, it will not create a situation of a mass exodus out of wool into other fibres. We know that, after many years, wool is beginning to come into its own in competition with other fibres which for the first time are finding cost problems. The growers need the increase this year. They, like people in many other industries, especially the rural industries, are finding themselves in a position where cost increases are outside their control and they need some sort of guarantee by the Corporationhopefully in the new financial year- that the support price will increase. After all, even a 20 per cent rise will only be an average of 10 per cent in the last 2 years.
The other thing at which we have to look very soon is the long term set up. There have always been misgivings amongst the growers that government control of their wool clip is a socialist step. They fear that government will gain full control of them in the future. It was for that reason that so many growers voted against some sort of acquisition plan in the early 1 960s. At the moment those misgivings are probably unreasonable, but certainly the Wool Corporation is beginning to look to the day when it will be able to stand on its own feet. When the Government is paid back I hope that the powers of the Corporation can be widened so that the Corporation can make more of its own decisions on its own price support level. I hope that at that stage it will be able to borrow all its money from the banks. It has a current overdraft limit at the moment of $30m which, incidentally, is not now being used. The Government will, of course, have to take great care as lender of last resort, that when the Corporation has wider powers the Corporation is looked at very closely in its day to day and year to year workings. Certainly we are approaching the stage where the Corporation should get more teeth and be able to stand on its feet more and more. The 5 per cent levy that has been paid by growers since the Corporation was established and which is the subject of one of these Bills is building up to a sizable bank account which can be used in such a way that growers will feel they have more say. Stockpiles overseas which may further stabilise the industry also will have to be looked at in the giving of more teeth to the Corporation.
There is a glimmer of light in the industry. The cost rises in the industry are beginning to abate and this is very much due to the policies of my Government in an overall national sense because we are trying very hard to pull down inflation. That is beginning to work. On the other hand the product price is beginning to rise and these 2 indicators together are showing us that there is a glimmer of light in the industry. I hope that there will be an increase in the support price soon because wool growers have suffered terribly on average over the last 20 years and they are, after all, very hard working Australians.
– I thought it ill behoved the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Sainsbury) to cast reflections upon his predecessor in his role in establishing the floor price support scheme last year. I also thought it ill behoved him to say that the Labor Government followed the initiatives of the former Liberal-Country Party Government. What initiatives? It never had any initiatives. We established the floor price scheme exclusively and the Government now is trying to cash in on what we did. However, there will be no cashing in while the Australian electorate remembers that this Government did nothing to stabilise this major export industry. The floor price plan, so called, was a product of the Whitlam Labor Government, and certainly nothing in the legislation controlling it had anything to do with legislation introduced earlier by the former Liberal-Country Party Government. If one wants to continue to refer to the debate on the 250c price plan last year, and it is competent for any Government to consider it when the scheme comes up for renewal, I remind the honourable member for Eden-Monaro that his own Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) was not so many months ago fearing the day when the market price would drop below 250c. He would have been run over by the Treasury and there was no way that the Government would have supported the price of 250c. That was his great fear, that the market would slip below 250c.
– You did your best!
– Do not tell us that we did our best. We set up the plan. The Government should come out and tell us what it intends to do next year and what price it will support instead of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) sitting nitpicking at the table.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I suggest that the Minister leave his remarks until such stage as he may be speaking on the Bill.
– The Opposition, the former Labor Government, established the legislation and set the price at 250c on 2 occasions. Now it is up to this Government to say where it stands but to date we have heard nothing except that it will do it at the end of the season. Let the Government give the industry some indication.
The Opposition supports the legislation the subject of this cognate debate. The purpose of the Wool Industry Amendment Bill is to amend the Wool Industry Act 1972-74 to extend the wool floor price schemes to include the 1976-77 season and provide accounting machinery during the current season and the 1976-77 season. With minor exceptions the legislation is the same as the legislation proposed by the former Labor Government. The amendments to the legislation also provide for the inclusion of any profit or loss arising from the trading or manufacture of woollen products in the Wool Corporation’s trading results. When the powers of the Corporation were expanded by the 1974 amendments to the Act no provision was made for accounting procedures to cover such trading.
The Bill will also amend the principal Act so that the Corporation is obliged to consult with and have regard to the views of trade union and employer organisations before taking action likely to affect conditions of employment or the demand for labour in the wool industry. This provision again was to have been provided for in Labor legislation. The present Government when in Opposition requested this amendment in November 1974. The then Minister for Agriculture, Senator Wriedt, said on that occasion:
There is not a great deal of difference of viewpoint here between the Government and the Opposition . . . and … I am quite prepared to review both of these provisions . . . in the new year.
The present legislation with its amendments will provide that the results of the floor price scheme are to be accounted for in a number of periods. They are: Firstly, from 2 September 1974, when the floor price arrangement commenced, to 30 June 1975; secondly, the period July 1975 to June 1976; thirdly, the subsequent period July 1976 to June 1977; and fourthly, and further periods as necessary until wool purchased under the reserve price arrangements during the 3 seasons has been disposed of.
The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) points out in the second reading speech that the amendments provide only for continuing accounting procedures and that details of the Government’s policy on the floor price arrangements for 1976-77, including the level of the floor price, will be announced after the end of the 1976-77 season. Need I say that I hope the Government will be as generous and understanding to the industry at that time as was the previous Labor Government. Of course the major problem for the Minister for Primary Industry will be beating the Treasury off particularly as it now has the moral backing of the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) with his obsessive pre-occupation with ‘small government’ and holding down government expenditure. It was common knowledge earlier this year that the Minister was worried lest the market price for 21 micron wool slipped by any significant degree below the floor price. His concern stemmed from the realisation that the Prime Minister and the Treasury would have- to use a colloquial expression- ‘put the cleaners through him’ when he asked for a supporting commitment to allow the Corporation to hold the price. Fortunately for the industry this did not arise and the Country Party’s delivery capability within the Government did not have to be tested.
The former Labor Government’s legislation of 1974 authorising government loans of up to $3 50m for the 1974-75 season was a milestone in the history of the wool industry providing for the first time legislation to stabilise the price to growers for Australian wool. It is pleasing in the extreme to know that the scheme has been successful inasmuch as the Corporation is able to repay loans that were provided to stabilise the industry. The Government should now make its long-term plans for the industry clear. It is obvious that costs are eating away at the returns to growers and some increase in the minimum price will be necessary to maintain their real income. The former Opposition ranted and raved when the former Government considered its plans for the 1975-76 season, suggesting with some validity that any malaise in resolution on the part of the then Government would damage confidence in the operation of the scheme. The same argument is now just as valid. The Labor Party rose to the occasion and clearly came out supporting the 250c price. Let the Government put its cards on the table and have done with the pennypinching frugal approach of the Prime Minister and the Treasury. A price of 250c is now only subsistence level for the industry. The Government should indicate to what degree it is pre-‘ pared to support a reserve price increase in the scheme.
I reiterate that point to the House. Last year there was a debate as to whether a price of 250c was applicable. If the then Opposition had not gone out of its way to make some capital out of the debate there would not have been any scaremongering of the industry at all. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro referred to an address by his predecessor to people in front of Parliament House. He had argued consistently in the Party Caucus for 250c and was successful by an overwhelming majority, but when he met the wool growers out on the steps of Parliament House they booed him for his efforts. They might just well remember that he was instrumental in persuading the Government of the day that price ought to be implemented.
In respect of the Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1 to 5) 1976, these Bills amend the Wool Tax Acts 1964-1975 to extend for another year the 5 per cent levy on the sale value of shorn wool which is collected to cover the operations of the wool floor price scheme. The levy was introduced by the former Labor Government legislation of 1974 when it established the minimum reserve price scheme. The Opposition supports this amending legislation. As the Government has pledged support for the 1 976-77 season at 250c per kilogram for 2 1 micron wool, it feels a 5 per cent levy is still appropriate. The money contributed by growers to the levy can be used by the Corporation for purchasing wool in its floor price operations or for advances to growers in respect of wool that has been withheld from sale.
The 5 Bills are a consequence of constitutional requirements that laws imposing taxes should deal with one subject of taxation only. Again, like the Wool Industry Amendment Bill, these Bills are of a machinery nature to extend the total operation of the wool reserve price scheme for another season. Let us hope the Government will abide by the spirit of its apparent commitment in support of the scheme and not falter as it has with so many promises made by the present Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister outlined last week on the Australian Broadcasting Commission program Monday Conference, his promises are promises only for the ‘immediate future ‘. The question is. Who is to interpret the word ‘immediate1? Again, the Opposition supports the legislation.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.1S p.m.
-The Wool Tax Amendement Bills (Nos 1 to 5) and the Wool Industry Amendment Bill are being debated cognately. The purpose of the Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1 to 5) is to allow the 5 per cent levy on the sale value of shorn wool to continue in force for another 12 months. The Wool Industry Amendment Bill will enable the floor price scheme, as we know it, to continue through the remainder of this season and to be extended to include the 1976-77 season. The Bills provide an opportunity to say a few words about the wool industry. The National Country Party of Australia wishes to be associated with this legislation. A degree of uncertainty has been created in this industry which is still one of Australia’s leading export industries. That confusion has been brought about as a result of the actions of the former Government and of the industrial wing of the Australian Labor Party. There is no doubt that the floor price debacle, which was orchestrated last year by the Labor Party Government, has had a serious effect on the industry. The industry has only recently started to come out of the shaky situation which that Government and its actions precipitated.
At the moment negotiations are taking place between the industry and the Government on the level of the floor price scheme for the next 12 months. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has indicated that an announcement will be made shortly after 30 June, so we can expect to know early in July the Government’s decision on the floor price arrangement for the following selling season. This is in marked contrast to the approach taken by the former Government in relation to the same matter. The House will recall that the government of the day, in order to take the pressure off itself in relation to the wool industry, let it be known that the floor price would be reduced from 250c a clean kilogram equivalent to 200c a clean kilogram equivalent. Then the Government allowed the industry to go into turmoil while time was given to people like the then honourable member for Eden-Monaro to bring pressure to bear on the Cabinet and on Caucus to have the 250c level reinstated. It was one of those cynical operations for which the former Government is very well known.
A range of other problems affect the industry. One problem was the strike which has only recently been overcome. We believe that threats still face the industry in this area. The effect on the grower has been quite significant. Only today I was talking to a grower who sold his wool in February but who has not yet received payment for that wool. The brokers were able to give him some advance on his payment but that appears to be an internal arrangement with that firm. Clearance has not yet been given for some of the wool which was sold as long ago as last February. It is extraordinary that because of the climate which operates in rural industries, as a result of union activity growers should be deprived of their lifeblood in many cases for this amount of time. It is to the credit of the Government and the Treasurer (Mr Lynch ) that they extended the period in which taxes could be paid by people who were unable to pay them as a result of the actions of that union.
There have been many interesting and significant developments in relation to the Corporation. The $34m standing facility which has been available and which is still available to the Corporation has now been repaid completely, and the banking system has been repaid loans to the value of $70m that were taken out late last year. In the next full year the Corporation expects to repay to the Government an outstanding amount of about $260m that was loaned by the Government to the Corporation to enable it to finance the stockpile. Because there is still a great deal of confusion not only in the House but also in the community at large, I think it is important again to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the wool support scheme, the floor price scheme, operated by the Corporation is financed by the growers. That is an important point that needs to be driven home at every opportunity. The Government makes loans to the Corporation. The industry pays a 5 per cent levy. Under the legislation before the House that levy is being extended for another 12 months. That 5 per cent levy raised from the growers for the Corporation’s use, about $43m last financial year. The amount looks like being about $4Sm this financial year and about $50m next financial year. So, over 3 years that levy will provide the Corporation with about $140m. That money pays the interest, the expenses of storage of the wool and the other costs associated with operating the floor price scheme. It is important to keep driving home the significance of that fact. The growers themselves finance the costs of the stockpile and the floor price scheme. The growers are indeed grateful to the Government for making available to the Corporation the loans that are required to finance the stockpile; but all the associated expenses are borne by the growers and any losses that may be incurred are borne by the growers.
The Corporation expects that next year the 21 micron indicator will operate at levels between 280c and 3 10c per clean kilogram equivalent. At the moment it is a shade below 280c- about 278c. In the negotiations that are taking place at the moment the industry is asking for a floor price of 300c. In all fairness to the Corporation, the Government and the growers, it is probably unreasonable to expect the Government to agree to a floor price level in excess of the reigning market price. I think most growers would be satisfied if the Corporation and the Government agreed that the flexible floor price arrangements which have been operating will continue to operate and that the Corporation will continue to adjust the floor price to a level slightly below the prevailing market price. The stockpile has been reduced from its maximum level of about 1.9 million bales late last year to about 1.3 million bales at present. The Corporation is successfully but carefully reducing that stockpile further.
I think it is important that we make some mention of the developments that are taking place in regard to objective measurement. The objective measurement system is one of the great steps forward in the sale of the Australian wool clip in recent years. It is my understanding that approximately 40 per cent of this year’s clip has been sold under the objective measurement system, and it is expected that that figure will grow to something like 60 per cent in the next financial year. The objective measurement system will be explained at a trade fair in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics later this year. It is hoped that the industry in the U.S.S.R. will become acquainted, and familiar, with objective measurement. We may be able to encourage greater sales to that part of the world as a result of their greater understanding of the technique.
It is worth pointing out that Australia is still the largest producer of wool in the world. The 1974-75 figures indicate that of a total world production of 2609 million kilograms greasy, Australia produced 790 million kilograms. It is also worth pointing out that Japan is still Australia’s largest market and that of the 3.6 million bales exported from Australia in 1974-75, Japan took 1037 million bales. The Russian market is a significant market for Australia. It took 458 000 bales in that particular year, and if we are able to make them understand better the objective measurement technique and sell sight unseen, then we will be able to increase the market in that part of the world.
The Government is to be commended for giving at an early date an indication to the industry of its intentions. The Government is to be commended for allowing the Corporation to continue to operate the flexible floor price scheme. The Government is again to be commended because it is letting the industry know as early as possible what the decision will be on the floor price level in the next financial year. As I indicated earlier, that is in marked contrast to the debacle that took place last year under the Labor Government. The Country Party takes a particular interest in the wool industry. The Country Party is pleased to be associated with this legislation and it supports the Government in its efforts on this occasion.
– It is always rather sad that members of the Country Party are never generous enough to acknowledge that the Labor Party has ever done anything good for the rural community. Of course, the facts belie what the members of the Country Party say. The facts show quite the opposite situation. If one looks at the history of the stabilisation of all rural industries, one will see that it has always been the Labor Party which has consistently laid down long term policies on which to stabilise industry, to remove the instability that is inherent in all rural industries. All the stabilisation schemes in the 1950s and 1960s were based on the rural reconstruction report which was ordered by the
Labor Government in 1944, before the end of World War II. This report was prepared for the Government. It was a very valuable document, based on sound principles, and they are the principles which all governments have followed for many years. It was not until Labor came into office again in 1972 that another review of the whole rural scene was ordered, and we had the Green Paper on rural policy of 1974. Again, consistent permanent long term policies were laid down, and they are the ones which this Government is now following and from which it is getting some guidance. But our opponents will never concede that we have done this. They will never concede that they have consistently pursued short term ad hoc policies and have never come to grips with the long term solutions to the problems of instability in rural industries.
I want to speak briefly in support of the Wool Industry Amendment Bill. It covers 3 main areas: Firstly, the extension of the floor price scheme, secondly, accountancy procedures; and thirdly, and possibly most importantly, the aspect providing for more consultation within the industry. I want to speak mainly on the last aspect, but I should like to refer briefly to the extension of the floor price scheme, and particularly to that part of it which involves the 5 per cent levy on sales. This is an integral part of the scheme, a part which I understand is fully supported by all sectors of the industry. It certainly had the support and agreement of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. I understand that this levy is to be used to meet any losses which might result from the operation of the floor price scheme. It could also be used to serve as one of the sources of advances to growers where the sale of their wool has been affected by the . corporation’s supply management operations or to purchase wool for other purposes to benefit the industry. I believe that the revenue from this levy is channelled to a special fund known as the market support fund which will enable growers’ levy contributions to be separately identified and accounted for.
I was very surprised to learn recently that in recent times there had been quite a strong lobby from Country Party interests to do away with or reduce the levy. It is rather disappointing that these agrarian socialists of the Country Party who like to enjoy the advantages of the floor price scheme have been pressing the Government to move away from its responsibilities to make a contribution which is aimed at stabilising the sale of their product.
– What is an agrarian socialist?
– In many ways this is typical of their irresponsible attitude towards stabilisation schemes. They are agrarian socialists. There is no doubt about it. Agrarian socialism is a special brand of socialism that suits the Country Party.
– That does not explain it very well.
-They want the benefits but are not prepared to accept the levy to sustain them. That is the explanation of the term agrarian socialism. That is their particular brand of agrarian socialism. They want the benefits but do not want to pay the levies. The Wool Industry Amendment Bill had a requirement that the Wool Corporation consult with the trade unions concerend before taking any action that was likely to affect the conditions of employment or the demand for labour in the wool industry. This proposed amendment now includes a requirement to consult with employer organisations in addition to trade unions. This is a fair enough proposition. It is commendable and we support it but it should be noted that in practice this section of the Act really has Utile relevance to conditions of employment and the demand for labour in the industry. I think it is a bit of window dressing but it does not do any harm so we support it. It has very little real meaning in terms of labour conditions.
I think it is generally accepted that conditions of employment are matters for the unions, the employers and the conciliation and arbitration procedures that have been set up to deal with them. The demand for labour is primarily a function of market conditions. We might use as a good illustration of the corporation’s role the procedures which were followed in the recent industrial dispute in the wool industry. In February the Storeman and Packers’ Union placed a ban on handling what it regarded as excessively heavy wool bales. The Wool Corporation itself was not involved as it was not a party to the dispute and the matter was outside its sphere of operations. The dispute was resolved by normal arbitration procedures. However, at the request of the Storeman and Packers Union the corporation tendered information on changes in handling procedures in brokers’ stores. This was entirely a voluntary act on the part of the corporation and was in no way subject to section 20A of the Act. Section 20A can be interpreted by the corporation to mean a process of consultation with relevant unions, wool brokers and buyers on the activities of the corporation.
The central feature of the consultation process concerns the program of auctions conducted by the corporation, the types and quantities of wool being sold and the location of the sales. This is relevant to the handling of the wool for the buyers and to the unions concerned. When the corporation buys wool it contracts the handling out to various brokers and thus it is not directly involved in the employment situation. The function is primarily one of informing the interested parties of the activities of the corporation to facilitate their planning. Apart from this process of regular consultation there are from time to time ad hoc meetings between the joint wool selling organisation, which is a part of the corporation, and the unions, the buyers and the brokers. An example in this area which can be cited was the discussion of research projects on wool handling and the most efficient way of clearing wool. The actual employment conditions in the wool industry are not a matter of direct concern to the corporation as it is not immediately involved. Section 20A translates itself in practice into one whereby the corporation keeps unions and employers informed of its plans and activities.
We support this amendment because it is a further illustration that the wool industry does not see itself as comprising merely producers of wool. It is to be commended that the Corporation takes a much broader view. The producers, of course, comprise a very important part of the industry, but in terms of numbers they are in fact only a minority of the people involved. This Bill is further acknowledgment of the fact that all sectors of the industry, including those involved in the handling, the marketing and the manufacturing of wool, are given some consideration in the legislation covering the whole of the industry.
Contrary to what the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) said, the wool industry went through an extremely difficult period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the present Government was in power. In the seasons 1972-73 and 1973-74 the industry conditions were quite good. The average auction price in the late 1960s and early 1970s was in the 60c to 90c per kilogram range. It was 75c per kilogram in 197 1-72 and in 1972-73, the first year of the Labor Government, the price went up to 183.8c per kilogram. The gross value more than doubled. The following year, 1 973-74, the price was 1 8 1 .2c per kilogram. Those prices are on a completely different plane from what they were under the Liberal Government. We do not attribute the increased prices particularly to our Government, but it is a bit rough when the producers have two good years and then come round and try to tell us it was a debacle. It is nonsense. The figures do not sustain that. The producers had very good years in the time of the Labor Government. The year 1974-75 was a difficult year but levels certainly did not fall back to the levels which prevailed when the coalition parties were last in government. Of course the industry was able to get through that year because of the operations of the floor price scheme which had been introduced by the Labor Government.
The prospects for the current season are reasonably good. There are signs of improvements in the demand for wool in the manufacturing countries. Certainly stocks are fairly high in the wool producing countries but the forward prospects are for improvement rather than decline. I am sure that with the continuation of the operations of the Wool Corporation the industry will continue through a period of relative stability and that there will be a continuing need for the Corporation to adapt its methods of operation in view of the difficulties the industry experiences from year to year. It is very encouraging to see that the Corporation is prepared to adopt a flexible attitude, adapt and refine its operations and to amend its rules to deal with these new problems as they arise.
I am sure that the type of amendment we see in this Bill and any other similar amendments which tend to improve the efficiency of the operation of the Corporation will receive the support of all members of this House. I also express the hope that the Government will not submit to any future pressures from the National Country Party to abolish or reduce the special levy which this Bill seeks to continue. Instability is a built-in feature inherent in all the rural industries. The Opposition has always in the past supported and can be relied on in the future to support any well founded stabilisation schemes to overcome that inherent instability.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
(Nos 1 to 5) 1976
Consideration resumed from 20 May, on motion by Mr Eric Robinson:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bills together read a second time.
Leave granted for third readings to be moved forthwith.
Bills (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) together read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20 May, on motion by Mr Peacock:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition supports the Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Termination Bill. The Bill implements arrangements agreed to and announced last June by Mr Somare, then Chief Minister of Papua New Guinea, and me as Acting Australian Foreign Minister.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
– I move:
That the House of Representatives agrees that the Commonwealth Parliament participate with the Parliaments of the States in the continuing work of the Constitutional Convention established to review the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution and accordingly resolves:
the ten members of the House of Representatives comprise three members of the Liberal Party of Australia, two members of the National Country Party of Australia and five members of the Australian Labor Party:
the Leader of the Opposition and four other members of that House, being members of the Australian Labor Party, nominated by him, be members of the Delegation:
he resigns as a member of the Delegation by writing addressed to the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case requires:
That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of the resolution agreed to by the House of Representatives.
I wish to say several things relating to the motion which appears on the notice paper in the name of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The first is that all Australians, I think, saw the Constitutional Convention when it first convened as holding some significant hope for modification in areas of the Constitution- which have arisen either because of the changes that have occurred since 1 90 1 or because of the financial problems that beset individual State governments as a result of the passing to them of the tax powers during the war years- and of perhaps modifying the balance or powers between the Commonwealth and the States in a way which might make the business of government at Federal and State levels more workable. There have been successive meetings of the executive of the Convention since that first Convention meeting. There have also been, within the executive, meetings of a number of committees, all of which have dealt with individual items referred to those committees by the first session of the Convention. The session of the Convention which is now scheduled to reconvene in October in Tasmania is designed to consider recommendations that have been advanced by those committees and recommended by the executive of the Convention.
It is important that there is, however, an acceptance that it is not just a product of a decision of this session of the Convention whether or not there will be constitutional change even in those matters which are recommended and accepted by the Convention. The actual passage of many of these into law will depend either on a reference of powers between the States and the Commonwealth or on a referendum or referenda. If there are to be referenda, of course they will be instigated only as a result of the passage of further resolutions through the Parliament of the Commonwealth. A decision upon recommendations in that regard will depend upon the consideration of the Government and priorities that these Houses of Parliament accord to the recommendations.
Another important aspect of the Convention to which I wish to make brief reference is the fact that the Convention for the first time brought an opportunity for the 3 tiers of government in Australia to meet and participate in a meaningful way in deciding and discussing their respective functions. The Liberal and National Country Parties completely endorsed the participation of local government in the Convention. Local government, as the third arm of government, is a very important product of the Australian system. We are concerned that not only within the Convention but also within other aspects of discussion of responsibility in our community there be proper recognition of local government. For that reason we have introduced a changed form of financing for local government, which is reflected in part by the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) on Thursday night of last week. For the first time a contribution is being made to local government from the personal income tax revenues that are paid to the Commonwealth.
It is important, I believe, to recognise that as a result of the new federalist policy, not only local government but also State governments will find their finances significantly varied from that relationship which existed under the tax reimbursement agreements. The degree to which the new federalist proposals will succeed in providing greater independence and greater opportunity for State governments depends largely upon the ability of the Federal Government to contain inflation and upon its success in its overall economic program. However, it is important that all the people of Australia accept that our federalist program approaches in an entirely different way the principal issue on which the Victorian Parliament first initiated the Constitutional Convention. Distribution of finances between the Commonwealth and the States was the catalyst which prompted the then Victorian Attorney-General to recommend to his Government, and for his Government to recommend to other States, the setting up of the Constitutional Convention.
It is the view of the Federal Government that it will be difficult to determine in the first stage of implementation of our federalist program the success or otherwise of these new arrangements. We believe and are determined that they will be effective and successful. However, any decision on imbalances in financial opportunity between Federal, State and local governments that were to be predicated only upon the program at this stage, as intimated in the Federal Treasurer’s statement last week, would be quite premature. Therefore we believe that it is not appropriate for this session of the Constitutional Convention to come to conclusions on matters pertaining to the distribution of finances between the 3 levels of government. We feel that the federalist program will need a time within which it should be worked out and tested by each of the other 2 levels of government.
We understand the concern that many of those in the other tiers of government will have at the responsibilities which will henceforth be theirs to raise the funds that they will need to finance their own programs. Essentially our federalist program entails that they should raise the funds which they wish to spend. Until the distribution has been completed in its second stage- which may well not be for another couple of years- I believe it is quite impossible for a member either of a State Parliament or of a local government body to come to a firm conclusion on the degree to which past imbalances and financial responsibility can be worked out. With those views, I commend to the House the motion which seeks to ratify the continued participation of this Parliament in the work of the Constitutional Convention.
– I support the motion. I must say at the outset that the words of the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) may be interesting but they are quite irrelevant. There is no need whatever to alter the Constitution of
Australia if one wishes to alter the financial arrangements between the Federal and State governments or the Federal and State parliaments in Australia. There may be some exceptions to that proposition- for instance, as the Constitution stands it is not possible for the State governments to impose certain taxes. With that exception, the proposition is correct that none of the proposals which have been made for varying the financial arrangements between the federal and State governments by the present Government need any alteration of the Constitution.
I had hoped that the motion would be moved by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) since he gave notice of it. I would have found it exquisitely ironical to have him suggesting that the Australian Parliament should participate in the next meeting of the Australian Constitutional Convention since he led the boycott by Liberal Party members of the last meeting of the Constitutional Convention. The next meeting, which is set down for Hobart in October, will not be as futile and as irrelevant a gathering as the Government was promising to make it. Until recently, the Convention seemed likely to meet without any mention on its agenda of the most pressing constitutional issues confronting the nation. The last meeting of the executive committee of the Constitutional Convention did not deal with any of those matters. It did not have before it any agenda items which dealt with any of those matters.
When the Parliament decided 3 years ago that the Convention should be held none of us had any knowledge of the distortions and upheavals in the Constitution which were to follow soon afterwards, particularly in the last 12 months. Had it not been for the initiatives of my colleagues and me this week, the Convention would be reconvening in Hobart with no prospect of the delegates discussing these momentous events. My colleagues and I have taken steps to ensure that the Convention will deal with the Senate’s powers on money Bills, the question of simultaneous elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the issuing of writs by governors for Senate elections. We shall be seeking a firm commitment by the Convention on the filling of Senate vacancies and a guarantee that the Senate shall have no greater power over money Bills than that which all other upper houses possess.
Never before has constitutional reform been more important and more urgent. The survival of parliamentary democracy depends on an urgent reaffirmation of the great conventions which provided the framework of constitutional government in this country, conventions struck down by the conservative forces in their pursuit of power. Until last year all Australians believed that their system of government was based upon a number of propositions which, although nowhere stated in the Constitution, had through long parliamentary usage in Westminster systems gained the status of law. They believed that the Party which had the majority in the House of Representatives and which continued to enjoy the confidence of the House had the right to govern. They believed that the Senate could not force the House of Representatives to an election twice a year while not itself facing the people. They believed that, in filling casual vacancies in the Senate, State governments should obey the will of the people expressed at the previous election. They believed that in issuing the writs for Federal elections, State governments and State governors should respond to the wishes of the Australian Government. They believed that the Governor-General should dissolve Parliament only on the advice of his Ministers. They believed that the GovernorGeneral did not enjoy the power to retain a Prime Minister in defiance of the will of the House. They believed that the GovernorGeneral should seek legal advice from the law officers of the Crown. They believed that the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia should be above Party politics. They believed that the voice of this House through its Speaker ought to be received promptly by the GovernorGeneral when he was known to be carrying a message of great importance from this House. These conventions had evolved over centuries of parliamentary usage. They had never been seriously challenged in any modern parliament. If Australia is not to become a second rate democracy, these conventions must be reaffirmed and given constitutional protection. The meeting in Hobart is the first opportunity to do so. It would have been absurd if the meeting had convened without these great issues being on its agenda.
The course of constitutional reform is extraordinarily leisurely. As the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) said in answer to a question asked by me this morning, the Convention in Hobart will be considering yet again the proposal for an interchange of powers referendum. In fact, one of the 2 agenda items on this subject suggests: . . . that this Convention approves in principle the amendment of the Constitution to make provision for the inter-change by reference or designation of legislative powers between, the Commonwealth and the State Parliaments and further resolves that the precise form of the constitutional amendment should be settled by the Commonwealth and State Governments in consultation and when so settled presented to the electors at a referendum as soon as is reasonably practicable.
The matter already has been discussed on many occasions over the last 2 1/2 years. The suggestion that the Federal Government should be able to designate powers which hitherto have been exclusive to itself but which after the designation could be exercised by State governmentsthat is, that there should be a mutuality of reference of powers by one parliament to the other to complement the existing power that the State parliaments have always had under the Constitution to refer powers to the Federal Parliament- originally came 3 years ago from the governments of Victoria and New South Wales. At the first meeting of the Convention in Sydney in September 1973 it was agreed by the States and the Australian Government delegation, largely on my initiative, that the Commonwealth and States should be able to interchange their powers, to make the Constitution less rigid. It was agreed that the Federal Parliament should be able to devolve upon the States some of its powers and functions which the States could exercise more appropriately. For instance, I have suggested that such a devolution could occur in relation to sales tax and criminal law in Commonwealth places, and that the States should be able, with better assurance, to refer some of their powers to the Commonwealthfor instance, those in relation to defamation and the remaining aspects of family law.
I twice brought in Bills to amend the Constitution to enable such interchanges of powers between the State and Australian parliaments. The proposal has, I believe, the full agreement of this House. It used to have that agreement. It was accepted in principle by the heads of all delegations in September 1973. It is a proposal which, as I say, two of them suggested and all of them endorsed but which cannot be consummated, except on the initiative of this Parliament. The States cannot alter the Constitution as it stands. They can refer matters to the Federal Parliament, but they cannot alter the Constitution otherwise. Only the people can alter the Constitution, and the people cannot alter the Constitution unless they approve a Bill to alter the Constitution which has passed this Parliament or, in certain circumstances, one of the Houses of this Parliament.
I would have thought that the discussions which have taken place between the 7 governments in Australia, the 7 sets of law officers in
Australia, for well over 2 years now should enable this matter to be put before the people without further delay. I believe that it would be a very great earnest of this Parliament’s determination to promote constitutional reform. No opposition to the proposal has ever been expressed in either House of this Parliament during either of the last 2 parliaments. Nothing can be done about it unless a Bill goes through this Parliament. I believe that such a Bill should go through this Parliament. The next meeting of the Constitutional Convention will not take place for another 5 months. It is astonishing the warmth with which the proposal was received at the first meeting of the Convention. I need not quote again what was said about the proposal because I did so in October last year when I introduced for the second time a Bill for this referendum. All the Premiers supported the proposal. The Premier of Queensland did not in fact support it, but at least he said:
We do appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister made the proposal, and we look forward to being able to make a closer examination of it.
The other matter which I wanted to mention here does turn on the question of financial relations within Australia. I said earlier that there is no need to alter the Constitution if we wish to alter the financial arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States. There is, however, a need to alter the Constitution if we are to alter the financial arrangements in Australia as they relate to local government. Fortunately, one of the matters which had been under challenge or doubt has been resolved by the High Court. It is now plain that this Parliament can make grants of financial assistance directly to local government. However, the government responsible to this House in this Parliament cannot, under the Constitution as it stands, make arrangements to take over local government debts. Local government debts are now attracting a higher interest rate and, in general, have to be raised for a shorter term than has been the case in Australia this century. In fact, it is now as urgent for the Constitution to be amended to enable the Australian Government to take over the debts of local government as it was 50 years ago for the Constitution to be amended to enable the Australian Government to take over the debts of State governments.
The Financial Agreement can be amended by the unanimous decision of the 7 heads of government in Australia. At the first meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Sydney in September 1973 it was agreed that there should be a
Premiers Conference to see whether it was possible to get the consent of the 7 heads of government to amend the Financial Agreement. The Premiers Conference took place in Canberra in October 1973. Apart from myself, only 2 heads of government supported the proposal- Mr Reece and Mr Tonkin. Accordingly, a constitutional amendment is now required. I believe that no constitutional amendment is more necessary. It is certainly essential if local government is to fulfil its proper role in our nation. The Constitution as it stands completely ignores the 2 key factors in making local government a partner in our federal system: The need to take a national approach to offset inequalities between councils nationally, not merely within one State, and the need to free local government from its status as a vassal of State governments.
When the proposal to hold a constitutional convention was first made in 1972 I made it plain, on behalf of my Party, that if it were elected to government in 1972 it would participate in the Constitutional Convention on condition that local government also was able to participate in the Convention. We were elected to government in December 1972. A month later the then Attorney-General now Mr Justice Murphy, and I re-affirmed to the representatives of local government throughout Australia that we were still of the same determination. As a result, local government attended the Sydney meeting of the Convention and also, be it noted, the Melbourne meeting of the Convention. In the first session of the Parliament elected in 1972 the Grants Commission’s charter was expanded to enable it to make grants to local government on a regional basis. This session has seen that right taken away from local government.
A referendum was put in 1974- it was carried only in New South Wales- to permit local government to receive grants of financial assistance from the Australian Parliament. (Extension of time granted). I thank honourable members. The High Court decision has now made it plain that there is no need to amend the Constitution in that respect. It is still, however, as I have said, as necessary as ever to alter the Constitution to permit local government debts to be taken over by the Australian Government. The significance of local government is such in Australia now that it is very difficult for us to understand why it is not mentioned in the Constitution. There is no doubt that if Australia was devising a constitution now for the first time local government would be mentioned in the Constitution. We are handicapping ourselves by not giving local government constitutional rights in Australia. I believe that we will have an opportunity in Hobart next October to assert as the convention did in Melbourne last September that local government should be recognised in the Constitution.
One of the great political developments of our time has been the resurgence of community involvement in the solving of community problems. Local government is very much the instrument for community involvement in the solving of community problems. I do not doubt, of course, that local government in many respects needs to be restructured. That would seem to have been recognised in the last parliamentary election in Australia on the first day of this month because the party that won the New South Wales elections proposed to modernise and restructure local government; the party which lost government at that election had no proposals for local government.
As I said earlier, one does not have to alter the Constitution in order to alter the financial arrangements between the federal and State governments. One does need to alter the Constitution to alter the financial arrangements as they affect local government and as increasingly they will burden local government. It is not possible for local government with the powers at present at its disposal under State statutes to fulfil all the responsibilities which the communities expect increasingly it should provide. Many matters will be dealt with at the Hobart convention, some of which could never have been in contemplation when the first meeting of the convention took place in Sydney in September 1973. These matters will now be on the agenda. I believe, as regards financial matters which to many minds are all that matters constitutionally in Australia, it is more necessary even than it was when the Constitutional Convention was first mooted in 1971-72 that there should be amendments of the Constitution to permit local government to have the recognition and the role which all of us now would recognise that it must have in a contemporary community.
– I want to confine my remarks in this debate to local government. For a variety of reasons the role of local government in our federal system must be upgraded. The first question that this Government and every State government must answer is: After over 100 years of State dominated local government how independent and how well-funded is local government today? After all, it was the conservative governments of Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon that over 23 years of office put local government in the economic and debt straitjacket that it is in today. If the Government answered honestly it would publicly say that the real and financial independence of local government is a myth.
Every local council in every State is short of money. Every council in every State is bound hand and foot by hundreds of pages of Acts, ordinances and regulations. We recognised the dilemma facing local government. It was our intention when in government to elevate local government to its proper role as an equal working partner in the federal system. We tried to do this by a referendum held in conjunction with the May 1974 elections. The then Federal Opposition and its conservative State partners urged a ‘No’ vote to that referendum question- the then Federal Opposition for narrowminded political purposes and the States to keep local government effectively under their thumbs. The referendum proposal was to give the Australian Government power to make grants direct to local government. These would be grants of any type at all. They could be repayable advances, or they could be tied or untied grants. The conservative forces made out that the Federal Labor Government would give grants only with detailed conditions or on a tied basis. They raised the cetralism bogy, the fear of all power being in Canberra. They said that we were trying to force the compulsory amalgamation of local governments to do away with the States. This is a lie. But then, the conservative forces in this country have lived so long the lie, the innuendo and the smear.
The truth of the matter is that the States did not want to lose their power over local government. They did not want to treat local government as an equal partner in the federal system. They held fast to the view that it is the responsibility of the State governments to consider the needs of local government in their States and to ensure that the workings and responsibility of local government are considered with those of other authorities within each State according to their State priorities. The financial mess that local government is in today and has been for the last 2 decades indicates the priorities which the State governments give to local government. The Australian Labor Government took positive steps to overcome in the longer term the problems facing local government. We took the initiative to give untied grants- I emphasised that these grants were untied and unconditional- to local government through the machinery of the Grants Commission. That Commission undertook a detailed and impartial investigation of the relative needs and disadvantages of all local authorities in Australia. It made an impartial recommendation as to the amounts of money that should be allocated by the Federal Government to local government.
The role of the Grants Commission will cease very shortly. Beyond the Grants Commission aid, the Australian Government took other steps to relieve the financial burden of local government. The national sewerage program brought the Australian Government for the first time directly into financing the most basic services provided by government. The Labor Government designed its program to overcome the sewerage backlog in our major cities and also to assist semi-government and local government authorities which are the bodies that provide these basic services and the bodies hardest hit by the ignorance and inaction of successive conservative governments between 1949 and 1972. These conservative governments allowed the debt burden of semi-government authorities to increase by 2800 per cent in the 20 years prior to 1970. In that period, the debt of local government has increased some 2000 per cent. The internal debt burden of the Australian Government has remained practically static In fact the debt burden of local and semi-government authorities increased some 55 per cent. That rise was due to increases in interest rates. The actual debt itself remained static in that period. The rise of 2000 per cent in the debt of local government and 2800 per cent in semi-government authorities in that period was the result of the negative thinking of the conservative forces in this country which are now controlling the Treasury benches.
We could not allow this situation to continue. But the Fraser Government will. It will abolish the national sewerage program, using the argument that their new federalism policy will guarantee State and local governments a share of the growth tax, that is, personal income tax. This is a sham, and was recognised as such by the people of New South Wales in the recent State election. In the near future it will be recognised by all Australians as a lie. This Government is asking the States and local government to accept the uncertainty of the level of future funding for the essential services they provide. These and other programs too numerous to mention brought much assistance and many opportunities to local government. Some of these innovations also involved local government and the community at the grass roots level decision-making process. Through these programs and our regionalism concept we, in office, were developing participatory democracy in this country- not centralism in Canberra or the State capitals, which in fact has been so much the case for so long, but government by the people and for the people at the local government and grass roots levels. Labor, in developing its regionalism concept, recognised that the individual living standards of the average family, especially in environmental and cultural terms, depend more on the initiatives and efficiency of local government than on the initiative and efficiency of either State or Federal governments. We recognise that local government provides the opportunity for competitive diversity in those qualities of life which Australian families would like to see achieved in the environment of their choice.
In co-operation with the States we created regional boundaries throughout Australia. In the non-metropolitan areas, the boundaries already used by the State governments were accepted. There was complete co-operation, complete unanimity between the Australian Government and the State governments in this regard. Some States were not happy with the concepts in the metropolitan areas, but accepted the boundaries for the purposes of the Grants Commission Act. Each local government body in each region was asked to elect a representative to the Regional Organisation council. This was to be a coordinating body for the purpose of making submissions to the Grants Commission. It was felt that the same body might also develop into an appropriate organisation to be involved in the administration of both the Australian Government and State government programs. It was also an attempt to direct people’s attention to their environment and to encourage them to become involved in solving the problems of their community.
Regionalism, to the Australian Labor Government, was an anti-centralist and anti-elitist creed. It was an evolving concept. We did not try to set down too many blueprints of how it should be carried out. We wanted it to evolve from the people, from the local governments at the grass roots level. It was an evolving and democratic process based on involvement in the decision making process. We considered that regions were in the best position to recognise more readily the defects in centralised policy making and to point them out to the State and Federal governments. We also saw regions as the most effective forms of clearing houses for the delivery of State and Commonwealth services to the community. It was also the best way in which the community and groups within the community could participate in the planning and decisionmaking process in respect of the services provided bv all levels of government. The majority of local government bodies throughout Australia are in favour of a voluntary and co-operative regionalism. The Fraser Government has no intention of helping local government achieve its rightful role in our Federal system. It will by deliberate action take away many of the new avenues of financial assistance to local government.
In its last Budget the previous Government made $230m available to local government- an amount equal to 2.2 per cent of the estimated yield of personal income tax and a much higher percentage than local government will obtain under the so-called Fraser federalism policy. Aid for roads and aid under the national sewerage program and the National Estate program are just some of the examples not included in these figures. Programs under the former Department of Tourism and Recreation are also not included. The Labor Government recognised that local government was an equal partner in the federal system and took positive steps to relieve its financial burden.
The Fraser Government does not consider local government worthy of the recognition it receives. Spokesmen glibly talk of sharing personal income tax with the States and local government. Originally it was reported that, under the socalled ‘Fraser’s new federalism policy’, 2 per cent of personal income tax would be made available to local government. Treasury argued that 1.2 per cent should be made available to local government last year. A compromise was reached and $140m will be made available to local government in 1976-77. This is approximately a 1.5 per cent share of personal income tax- at least 0.5 per cent less than the original request and a much smaller amount than the 2.2 per cent which local government received in each of the last 2 financial years.
– What has this to do with the Constitutional Convention?
– In his statement the other night the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) said that it is an increase of 75 per cent. I challenge that contention. It is regrettable that the Fraser Government, in reaching its conclusions, made little attempt to look at local government finances or involve local government in formal discussions on its requirements. I am asked what this has to do with the Constitutional Convention. It has a great deal to do with it. The whole subject with which we are dealing concerns the relationship of local government and the Australian Constitution. We know that to conservative governments local government is only a creature of the States and has to abide by the decisions of the
States. Local government has been put in a position of being in debt to this Government and to State governments.
Participation in the recent Local Government Ministers Conference was agreed to only after much soul searching. Essentially this Government did not want to attend a conference that was going to consider local government finances. The relevance of this is that unless local government receives adequate financial resources it will never be an equal partner in our federal system. The problem of cities and urban communities can be solved only in a co-operative way with the 3 tiers of government working together, discussing their problems. To achieve this, local government should be an equal partner. I talk of the cities because 83 per cent of our people live in urban communities. But whether they be in urban or rural areas, local government should be an equal partner. We must solve the problems together. The Fraser Government should take steps to ensure that local government is elevated to its proper role as an independent partner, in both real and financial terms, in our federal system. Local government must be represented at the Constitutional Convention and must be given a more equitable membership on the proposed council for intergovernmental relations. Therefore I ask the Government to take more positive steps to make local government an equal partner within the Constitution.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Dairy Adjustment Act 1974 made available some $28m for assistance to the dairy industry through the dairy adjustment program. The program came into operation late in 1974 and by mid-August 1975 the funds were almost fully committed by the States. No further applications for assistance were accepted after 3 1 August last year, thanks to a decision of the Labor Government and in spite of the increasingly difficult circumstances faced by members of the dairy industry. The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Act, to appropriate a further $3.5m for the purposes of the dairy adjustment program and to give effect to the Government’s decision to extend the forms of assistance available to dairy farmers.
The additional $3.5m includes an amount of $2m specifically for selected short-term adjustment measures to alleviate the critical financial difficulties of many dairy farmers. The remaining $1.5m meets a commitment to the States by the previous Government to help fund applications for assistance received between 15 and 31 August 1975.
When the Government took office the Australian dairy industry was facing serious problems, in particular the difficulties that have followed the collapse of the world skim milk powder market. After discussions with industry leaders the Commonwealth entered into negotiations with State governments to reach agreement on proposals to give immediate relief and to provide an opportunity, with the co-operation of the States, to develop longer-term integrated measures to achieve a viable and stable industry.
The short-term measures to be available under the dairy adjustment program are relocation, diversification, farm amalgamation and development and carry-on loans. The 1974 Act already authorises relocation and farm amalgamation and development assistance. The Bill authorises the new measure of carry-on loans and extends the provision for diversification assistance.
Carry-on loans are intended to be available to producers affected by the decline in prices of manufactured dairy products and of directly associated sidelines. Many of these dairy farmers have a sound asset structure, and would be viable on recovery of the market to longer-term trend levels. Yet frequently they lack the finance to carry them through the present trough and are unable to obtain credit on reasonable terms from normal sources. In other words, for cases where the dairy farm is for the time being uneconomic but would be economic if satisfactory market conditions were restored. Dairy farmers eligible for carry-on loans would thus be those judged by the State administering authority to be potentially viable. It would be contrary to the intent and practice of the dairy adjustment program for loans to be provided without reasonable prospects of viability. For such cases the program provides other forms of assistance.
The terms and conditions on which carry-on loans are to be made have been agreed with the States. In general the maximum loan in any individual case will be $4,000; the term will be up to 7 years; the rate of interest will be 4 per cent per annum; and there will be a repayment holiday of 12 months during which interest will be capitalised. The States have also agreed to contribute equally with the Commonwealth in financing carry-on assistance.
Diversification assistance under the existing provisions of the Dairy Adjustment Act is available to producers willing to diversify where dairying is no longer the most practicable and economic use of the land and where there are prospects of viability in some other form of rural production. The Bill extends diversification assistance in relation to compensation for redundant dairying assets to two classes of producers not previously eligible. Firstly, there is the smallscale producer with no real prospects of longterm viability either in dairying or other farm production. Many of these small-scale producers would prefer to stay on the land and seek a living from off-farm work. Secondly, there is the producer who is dairying as part of a mixed farming enterprise. In most cases the returns from dairying for both these classes of producers do not warrant the capital and labour involved. By giving up dairying altogether, such producers would become entitled to recover part of their investment.
The range of assets qualifying for diversification compensation has been extended to include all assets directly associated with dairying. Previously it was limited to milking plant and dairy balls. The assistance available for relocation purposes will also be liberalised. The maximum assistance is specified in the agreement with the States. Presently the maximum loan is $3,000. The amount will be increased to $5,000.
The 1974 Act stipulates that applications for assistance under the dairy adjustment program must be lodged with and approved by a State authority before 1 July 1976. It is necessary to extend this time limit and section 1 7 of the Act is amended so that applications may be approved beyond that point in time to such later date, if necessary, as may be fixed by proclamation. Section 18 of the 1974 Act is amended to increase the total amount payable to the States to $46.5m or such further amounts that are appropriated by Parliament. Section 22 is amended to increase the present appropriation to $46.5m.
State governments have agreed to continue administering the dairy adjustment program and I am pleased to acknowledge their assistance in this respect. The States have been operating under the dairy adjustment agreements 1974-75 and these will be amended in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The assistance provided for in this Bill forms part of a series of measures giving immediate short-term help to the dairy industry. Other interim measures include the underwriting of the skim mild powder equalisation value for the 1975-76 season at $300 per tonne and an increase in the rate of Government advances from 80 per cent to 100 per cent. In addition, the Commonwealth has varied the conditions of eligibility for unemployment benefits to enable dairy farmers and other primary producers who are suffering financial hardship to qualify for assistance.
Discussions have been held with the States about longer-term arrangements for dairy industry stability. As already announced, certain guidelines have been agreed between the Commonwealth and the States. The issue of new dairy licences will be suspended during the coming financial year other than in exceptional cases and no licences would be issued to replace those for dairy farms which cease production. In addition, quota systems for market milk will be amended so that farmers will no longer be required to fill individual quotas during the offseason. There will be also an urgent examination of additional ways of assisting dairy farmers to leave the industry through extension of existing forms of dairy adjustment.
In another arena it is true that because of the extension of the tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication campaign and the provision of compensation within that scheme there will be funds available as a result of another joint Commonwealth-State initiative for compensation to be payable on those cattle which are reactors and which have been identified and slaughtered.
As part of the approach to develop longer term measures for the dairy industry, the Government has already initiated an Industries Assistance Commission inquiry headed by Sir John Crawford to advise on the subject of future marketing arrangements. This report will be available by 3 1 August 1976. Pending the receipt and consideration by governments of that report, the Commonwealth and State governments will examine the alternatives which are available so that the position of dairy farmers might be protected until a final decision can be taken on the longer-term future of the industry. The dairy industry is facing a period of acute difficulties. The States have joined with the Commonwealth in accepting responsibility for providing financial relief to help farmers weather this crisis or facilitate their exit from dairying where this seems to be the more prudent course. The range of measures now proposed will certainly assist the industry to contract production to a level that should ensure more adequate incomes to efficient farmers. I commend the Bui to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second dme.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Dairying Research Levy Act 1972-73 to impose a levy on whole milk or on butter fat, as the case may be, to provide a more equitable and effective form of financing the administration and promotion activities of the Australian Dairy Corporation. The Bill, in effect, provides for the existing levy which contributes towards the cost of financing the dairy industry research program to be extended to finance the operations of the Corporation.
The main source of finance for the operations of the former Australian Dairy Produce Board and now the Australian Dairy Corporation has been a levy under the Butter Fat Levy Act 1965-72 on butter fat used in the production of butter, butter oil, butter powder, cheese and f;hee. However, the revenue obtained over the last 2 years from the maximum rate of levy imposed under the legislaton has been insufficient and the Corporation’s finances have now reached a serious position. This situation is the result of a fall-off in the production of some butter fat products coupled with rising operational costs and requirements for promotional funds which have risen along with the general cost increases that have occurred.
In the last Parliament legislation was introduced to provide for levy on the butter fat content in all milk and cream used for manufacturing purposes, to enable the Corporation to obtain the necessary additional finances for its operations. The changes then proposed followed a review of the existing legislation and were approved by the major dairy industry organisations. As the operations of the Australian Dairy Corporation benefit all sections of the dairy industry the Government considered it would be more equitable for the levy to be imposed on all whole milk. The present levy falls almost exclusively on the butter and cheese sectors of the industry. In some parts of Australia, particularly Queensland, there have been some very real fears at the undue burden which this might place on producers who do not see themselves as having an identity with the Australian Dairy Corporation. I recognise the concern of those Queensland producers. Nonetheless I believe that, in the total package of what is being sought to alleviate quite critical financial distress among many producers, this spreading of the levy on a more equitable basis is more than justified. I have told those who feel that there has been inadequate consultation that I will be only too happy to see them. That I will do. However, I commend this levy which is wider than that which existed before and which fell exclusively on the butter and cheese sectors of the industry.
This matter was initially discussed with State governments at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council on 1 April in the context of a number of proposals advanced by the Government to assist the industry with its present problems. I outlined these measures in my second reading speech on the Dairy Adjustment Amendment Bill 1976. The proposed levy on whole milk has since received the endorsement of the State governments. Whilst there have been some reservations expressed within the market milk sector, the Government considers that as the Corporation’s activities are of benefit to the industry as a whole it should receive wider support from the industry. In presenting this Bill, the rates of the research levy have been converted from imperial to metric terms. The maximum rates are 25c per 100 kilograms of butter fat and lc per 100 litres of whole milk. These levels, which are marginally higher than the former maximum rates, were recommended some time ago by the Dairying Research Committee with the approval of the representatives of the Milk Producers Association of Australia and New Zealand and the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation.
The actual rates payable, which are pescribed in regulations under the Dairy Research Levy Act, will also be converted to metrics. These operative rates are at present 20 per cent below the maximum rates and will continue to be so.
The legislation also provides for the maximum rate of levy for the Corporation’s domestic sales promotion activities to be either $1.50 per 100 kilograms of butter fat or 6c per 100 litres of whole milk produced and sold, and $1.50 per 100 kilograms or 6c per 100 litres for the Corporation’s administration and overseas market promotion activities. The maximum rate of levy proposed to be applied to whole milk is equivalent to the maximum rate applicable to butter fat. Conversion is the same as that used in the research levy and is based on a 3.6 per cent butter fat content in whole milk, the level which is being met by all fluid milk producers in all States. The operative rates of levy for the purposes of the Corporation will be less than the maximum rates laid down in the Bill. The initial operative rate will be 85c per 100 kilograms of butter fat or 3.4c per 100 litres of whole milk for the Corporation s domestic sales promotion activities and $1 per 100 kilograms or 4c per 100 litres for the Corporation’s administration and overseas market promotion activities. These operative rates will be prescribed by regulation and may be varied by regulation after taking into account any recommendations made to me by the Australian Dairy Corporation after consultation with the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation and any other organisations which may be appropriate. It is in that respect that I understand that the Queensland organisation wishes to make submissions to me.
As with the existing research levy, the new levy will be payable by the producer on either a butter fat or litre basis. For the purpose of facilitating the collection of the new levy, provision has been made in the accompanying Bill to extend the provisions of the existing Dairy Research Levy Collection Act 1972-73. Levy collections will be payable initially by the purchaser of the milk or cream concerned and will be recoverable from the producer of the milk or cream.
As I mentioned in my second reading speech on the Dairy Adjustment Amendment Bill 1976, the dairy industry is experiencing serious problems which do not appear capable of being resolved in the short term. The Australian Dairy Corporation has an important role to play in assisting to overcome these problems. The Government believes that the proposals embodied in this Bill will give the Corporation a firm financial basis to enable it to carry out its functions in a manner which will meet the future needs and circumstances of the industry. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Bill- by leave- presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill, which is supplementary to the Dairying Industry Research and Promotion Levy Bill, is to repeal the existing butter fat levy legislation and to make a number of consequential technical amendments that have been made necessary by that Bill. Clause (3) of the Bill repeals the Butter Fat Levy Act 1965-1972. The clause also provides for the provisions of the Butter Fat Levy Act and the Regulations under that Act to continue to apply to butter fat produced before the commencement of the proposed new legislation whether the butter fat was used in the manufacture of dairy produce before or after the commencement of the new legislation. Clause (4) of the Bill extends the provisions of the Dairying Industry Research Levy Collection Act 1972-73 to include the collection of the proposed new levy for the operations of the Australian Dairy Corporation.
Clauses (5), (6) and (7) amend the Dairying Research Act 1972, the Dairy Produce Act 1924-1975, and the Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Act 1958-1975 respectively to provide for the disbursement of that portion of the levy which relates to the particular funds or accounts established under those Acts. The Bill also provides for a number of amendments to the abovementioned Acts which are of a machinery nature only. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 20 May, on motion by Mr Street:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-At the outset I register some protest at this Bill coming on for debate at relatively short notice. Until Wednesday night we believed that it was not to be discussed until next week. Notice of a day or so is relatively short. The Bill provides for a number of amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Some of the amendments introduce the much-heralded requirement for union officials to be elected by secret postal ballot. Other amendments are aimed at expanding the role and influence of the Australian Government in the procedures of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The attitude of the Opposition to these amendments is that they will not help to promote or achieve the objectives of the Act, and therefore we oppose them. Indeed, we consider that they will be positively harmful to industrial relations if they are brought into operation.
An exceedingly curious aspect of this legislation is that the Government is bringing it before the Parliament for consideration without being sure whether it really intends to implement it. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) in his second reading speech informed us that the Government did not intend to proclaim the legislation, other than in respect of the quite minor aspect of providing for the appointment of an additional judge to the Industrial Court, pending discussions with the Australian Council of Trade Unions on the state of the economy, and on wages policy in particular. These discussions with the ACTU are scheduled for next Monday week and the following Friday and Saturday. But the fact that the Government is demanding that this legislation be debated and passed through the Parliament before those discussions are held surely must be taken as evidence that it holds little hope of reaching any substantial agreement with the unions on wages policy. If it believed that there were reasonable prospects of reaching agreement and if it were prepared to put aside these proposed amendments- which are opposed by the ACTU- as its quid pro quo for achieving a satisfactory agreement on wages, then surely it would not be asking the Parliament to sit extra days to debate legislation it did not intend to proclaim. Accordingly, the fact that the legislation is being pushed through now can only lead us to assume that the Government is quite pessimistic about reaching such agreement with the unionsand well might it be pessimistic.
The wages policy that this Government is pursuing is one which seeks to reduce the real value of wages and salaries for all but the miniscule proportion of wage and salary earners who are on the minimum wage. That was the Government’s preferred option in the national wage case that was decided today. All other workers would find that the amount of goods and services they could buy with their pay would continually diminish if the Government’s wage policy, as advocated by it before the Arbitration Commission in the national wage case, had been implemented. Today’s decision goes some way towards the Government’s policy by providing for 3 per cent on wages up to $125 a week and a limit of $3.80 a week on wages above that. Had the Government’s preferred option been adopted by the Commission all workers would have received a rise of only $2.80 a week. The Commission ‘s decision means that real wages for low paid workers are maintained but most will suffer some reduction.
It is difficult to believe that this decision could provide a basis for agreement on wages between the Government and unions though that may not have been possible had the plateau been set at a higher level, say, at the level of average weekly earnings which are about $165 a week. At this level approximately two-thirds of workers would have had their real wages protected. Nor is there much chance that the Government’s recently announced fiscal measures would encourage the unions to accept reduced real wages. Unlike in other countries, such as the United Kingdom or the United States of America, the Government has no intention of offsetting reduced real wages by substantial and compensating tax cuts. As we have shown in earlier debates, most wage earners will be worse off as a result of the Government’s latest measures. Apart from the very low wage earners and those on very high incomes, especially those with large families, there is little in the package that could be regarded by wage and salary earners as compensation for reduced real wages. It is difficult to see therefore that there is much chance of agreement with the unions arising from the scheduled discussions. Indeed, the Australian Council of Trade Unions Executive has already described the fiscal measures as unacceptable and as having an anti-working class bias.
Thus we are now debating this legislation because the Government rightly believes that offering to withhold it will not be sufficient inducement to the ACTU to accept and cooperate with the Government’s economic and wage policies. In those circumstances the Government intends by this legislation to attempt to impose its will on the unions and the Commission by substantially increasing its role and influence in the wage determination process. For instance, the Bill gives the Minister the power to apply, where a matter is before a single member of the Commission, for a reference to a Full Bench of the Commission. As the Act stands at present the Minister has the power to intervene in a reference matter once it reaches the Full Bench, but he cannot seek the reference.
– Except for section 31.
– Yes, except for section 31. Despite the fact that the final decision as to whether a reference should be granted remains with the President of the Commission, this is a substantial expansion of the Commonwealth Government’s power to play a bigger role in the day to day operations of the Commission. So it is also with the provision in the Bill to give the Minister the power to appeal a decision of a single member of the Commission whether it be an arbitrated decision or a consent award, and also to appeal a decision by a single member of the Commission to certify an agreement. The Act currently gives the Minister power to intervene in appeal proceedings before a Full Bench but no right to seek that appeal, or review as it is termed in the Bill.
It is remarkable, indeed it is not a little arrogant of the Minister, that he did not bother to explain in his second reading speech why the Government was seeking these increased powers in regard to references and appeals other than to say that the present position was anomalous and to state obliquely that the measures would be adequate to ensure that decisions of a single member of the Commission were in accord with principles laid down by a Full Bench. Surely a change in the Act of this magnitude, which greatly increases the power of the Commonwealth Government to intervene in the disputesettling process, should be put before the Parliament with substantial supporting argument as to why the change should be made. But this has not been done. The Parliament and the people have been given no substantial supporting reasons.
The Government also proposes that the Minister will be given a statutory right to be represented by counsel in any proceedings before the Commission. At present the Act requires all parties and intervenors who wish to be represented by counsel to seek leave of the Commission, and that includes the Minister. Now, however, the Minister is to have the right to be represented by counsel in any proceedings before the Commission whereas other parties and intervenors to a dispute will still be obliged to seek the leave of the Commission to be represented in the proceedings. The Minister has given no reason whatever for this change. Indeed, he did not even mention this provision of the Bill at all in his second reading speech. He referred sweepingly to what he terms machinery measures and they presumably incorporate this provision.
The Opposition sees this provision as being much more than a machinery matter. It places the Commonwealth in a privileged position compared with other parties and intervenors and could well mean that lay advocacy and reference proceedings could become a thing of the past. Accordingly, we strongly oppose this amendment. The Government has also sought in this Bill to lean on the Commission somewhat by proposing to strengthen the requirement that now exists in the Act for the Commission in Full Bench proceedings to have regard to the public interest and in particular to the state of the national economy and the likely effects of its decisions on the economy. The Government now proposes to add that the Commission must pay special attention to the likely effects of its decisions on the level of employment and inflation. In so doing, the Government is undoubtedly attempting to pressure the Commission into paying more regard to the economic arguments of the Government than it did in the indexation case earlier this year in which case the Commission repudiated the Government’s arguments saying it could not accept the Government’s assertions as to the adverse effects of awarding the full 6.4 per cent due under the indexation principles.
The Government of course has blatantly broken its election promise to support wage indexation by arguing that the Commission should award only about half the 6.4 percent. Its arguments having been repudiated by the Commission on that occasion, the Government is now, by this amendment, undoubtedly attempting to increase the pressure on the Commission to accept its economic arguments and change the form of wage indexation to one which will produce lower wage increases. As things stand, the Commission has shown by its decision today that it does have substantial regard for the state of the economy. If the Government continues with this amendment it can be seen only as an attempt to induce the Commission to accept the Government’s wage line completely rather than the partial acceptance implied by today’s decision.
The Opposition completely repudiates this attempt to intimidate the Commission. It is an insult to the Commission to suggest that in reaching its decisions it does not pay substantial regard to such important matters as employment and inflation already, but that is what is implied by this amendment. What the Government cannot seem to understand is that in making its decision to apply indexation the way it has operated over the past year, the Commission had to have regard to what would happen if that wage fixing system were not operating. The Commission clearly believes that in terms of achieving its objective of equitably settling industrial disputes, the application of full wage indexation was desirable and that if it had not been applied the level of industrial disputation and the level of wage increases would quite likely have been higher than those that did operate with the indexation system.
This is an aspect of indexation that the Government refuses to face. In the hearing of the national wage case that was determined this morning, the Government refused repeated requests to comment on the industrial relations implications of the Commission’s adopting the Commonwealth’s recommended format of wage indexation, particularly the likelihood of other wage increases occurring outside indexation guidelines. That attitude and these amendments both demonstrate the Government’s blind determination substantially to reduce wage increases flowing from decisions of the Commission so as to reduce real wages. The Government apparently would then rely on unemployment and /or restoration of penalties on unions to ensure that wage increases granted outside the Commission’s guidelines did not restore wages to their previous level.
The Opposition rejects that policy in toto. It rejects the argument that real wages for ordinary wage earners have to be reduced. It rejects the Government’s apparent assumption that reducing real wages for wage earners by changing the indexation format will not cause increased industrial disputation. It rejects the Government’s proposal to interfere much more in the disputesettling process by its amendments to the reference and appeals procedures. It will clearly be extremely detrimental to good industrial relations if the Government is able to appeal continually, and does, against single member awards, consent awards and decisions to certify agreements, or seeks references of matters to full benches before they are determined. The parties will never be sure whether a matter can be settled quickly and quietly because the Government may come barging in at any time. The incentive to the parties to reach agreement under the auspices of the Commission will be prejudiced and the almost certain result of such Government intervention as these amendments open up is that there will be a tendency for parties used to reaching agreements to go outside the Commission to settle their disputes because they would there be free of Government interference. Apart from all that, the Commissioners could find their role reduced to meaningless proportions, with matters often being referred away from them to a full bench and such decisions as they did make being subject to appeal by the Government.
Finally, on this aspect of the Bill I make the point that whilst an acceptable form of wage indexation is in operation it is nevertheless possible to keep a check on sweetheart dealswhereby employers concede big wage increases and then pass them on in the form of higher prices- without resort to this enormously disruptive interference by the Government in the dispute-settling procedure. This can be achieved, and is currently being achieved, by the operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal which refuses to allow a wage rise that is outside the indexation guidelines as the basis for a price increase. By this means companies are dissuaded from conceding wage claims that are outside the guidelines as any such concession comes out of profits. There are occasions on which companies may be prepared to do that, that is, to pay a wage increase out of profits. If a profitable company wants to keep its employees contented by conceding increases above the guidelines then no damage at all is done to the economy. In this way the operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal can be extremely valuable and can provide an infinitely more sensible means of protecting the economy from a damaging wage explosion than the crass methods this Government is seeking to employ.
Another important aspect of this legislation is the proposed requirement for the election of union officials and, supposedly, officials of em- ployer organisations, to be by secret postal ballots. I say ‘supposedly’ in the case of employer organisations because frankly we regard their inclusion in this matter as being no more than an attempt by the Government to appear evenhanded in its dealings with industrial organisations. Everyone knows that this legislation is aimed at trade unions in general and some trade unions in particular, and especially one trade union, the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. This union was the focus of the Government’s attention in the election campaign. Indeed even in his second reading speech on this Bill the Minister referred again to the AMWU as a prime example of the low participation rate by union members in elections for officials. Clearly what the Government hopes to achieve by providing for secret postal ballots is more moderate union leadership- and employer organisations are irrelevant to that consideration. Indeed, if the Government legislates later this year to allow a collegiate system of voting for officials to operate- the Minister’s speech seems to indicate that that is a possibility- employer organisations would be little affected by the secret postal ballot provisions as they have mainly relied on the collegiate system in the past and would presumably retain that system.
The attitude of the Opposition to this proposal for secret postal ballots is that it is unnecessary and somewhat provocative. It was essentially an election gimmick by which the Government succeeded in leading people to believe that trade union leaders, particularly the militant ones, were dominating their members, were unrepresentative of them and were able to remain in office by undemocratic election procedures. The reality is very different. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act currently provides, and has provided since 1951, that union rules must make provision for election of officials by secret ballot with provision for absentee voting. Of course absentee voting is by postal ballot so the legislation currently requires all unions which hold secret ballots by the use of polling booths also to make provision for secret postal voting for those who want to vote absentee.
Furthermore, the Act provides that if any member of a union believes that the officials are not following the union rules, including the rules regarding elections, he may take the matter to the Industrial Court and obtain an order requiring the union management to observe the rules of the organisation. In the 25 years from 1949 to 1974 only 45 election cases were brought to the Industrial Court. That is an average of less than two a year. According to a study by Mr Frank De Vyver, an American academic, which was published in the Journal of Industrial Relations of June 1 975, in many of these cases there was no allegation of attempted fraud; rather, technicalities which had been overlooked in the past were used to protest procedures when some individual or group of individuals became dissatisfied with the current officials. There is little evidence of election malpractice. The Act, as it stands, provides that a union member who believes that there has been an irregularity in an election can lodge an application for an inquiry by the Industrial Court into the matter. In the 25 years from 1949 to 1974, 35 cases were heard by the Court, less than one and a half a year on average. Mr De Vyver pointed out in his article that in these cases, even though an irregularity has been proved to exist, the case is often dismissed when it is shown that the election results would not have been affected.
Apart from those substantial protections against election irregularities, the Act currently provides that the union management or a group of members- that is, 250 or 5 per cent of the membership, whichever is the smaller- can obtain a government-controlled ballot simply by requesting one. If a small proportion of members are fearful that irregularities could arise in a union-run ballot, they can obtain a governmentcontrolled ballot quite easily. However, it is the union managements that have mainly sought this type of election. There has been an increasing trend for unions to seek such elections in recent years. In the period from 1950 to now the total number of elections held under the auspices of the Industrial Registrar, at the request of union members, is only 1 18, despite the fact that it is not difficult to get such elections. On the other hand, the number of such elections held at the request of union management between 1950 and now is 724- six times the number held at the request of union members. Of those 724 elections, 402 were held in the 1970s. So it is beyond doubt that there is increasing usage of this form of election by unions over recent years. One reason for that trend is undoubtedly the spiralling increase in postal charges. They have made many unions consider holding such elections through the Industrial Registrar because in this type of election the Government pays the cost of holding the election.
In our view the current Act provides a very substantial protection against election irregularities. We suggest that the record of the past quarter century displays no evidence of malpractice in union elections. Having examined the provisions of the current Act and having looked at them in operation, Mr De Vyver, at page 146 of the article to which I previously alluded, said:
In fact Australian union members and union leaders who genuinely want honest election of officers have ample provisions in the Arbitration law.
He also said:
Only member apathy makes possible major infractions of the rules or irregularities in an election.
He concluded his article by stating:
The Australian Government does not interfere in elections but it does provide the machinery so that union elections should never be fraudulent or irregular if the members and officials show interest in the process.
This raises the point which we have made many times. A government cannot legislate against apathy. The Government’s proposal that all union elections be by secret ballot would not overcome apathy. However, whilst regarding the Government’s proposal as unnecessary, I would also acknowledge the fact that the Government has made some concessions to union objections, although what we thought on examination of the Bill when it was first put before the House was a major concession has now turned out to be no more than a mistake in the drafting of the Bill or perhaps a change of mind by the Government. The Government’s original proposal, as outlined on many occasions, was that all elections for union officials would be by secret postal ballot of all eligible members conducted by the Australian Electoral Office. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations claimed that a benefit of this would be a higher election participation rate because every member eligible to vote would receive a ballot paper.
However, the Government appears to have made 2 concessions: One is to allow those unions whose rules provide for a form of voting that is likely to achieve a higher participation rate than a secret postal ballot to retain that form of voting. This principally affects the waterside workers, the seamen and the miners. It is interesting to note that all of those unions achieving a high participation rate of voting are left wing unions. So I do not know where that takes the argument presented by the Government about more moderate union leadership coming from a higher participation by members voting for union officials.
The Government has made the further concession to the Australian Council of Trade Unions that the unions could run their own ballots as long at they remained secret postal ballots. This reduces the impact of the charge of undue interference in trade union affairs somewhat and also prevents possible conflict with International Labor Organisation Convention 87. However, when the Minister put the Bill before the House, it appeared that he had made a far bigger concession than either of the previous Bills because nowhere did the Bill define what was meant by ‘secret postal ballot’. It would therefore have been possible, it seemed to us, for unions to conduct elections simply by running a postal ballot in which all who wanted to vote would apply to the returning officer for a form in much the same way as absentee voting is conducted under the current Act. It would certainly not have required that a ballot paper be sent to all members eligible to vote. This would have been a great concession indeed. We were unsure whether the Government intended it but the Minister today has notified us that he will be moving an amendment in the Committee stages to define postal ballots so as to ensure that the Act provides that ballot papers are sent to all members. The Opposition rejects this Bill.
-The House is debating amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which are brought into the House pursuant to the industrial relation policies of the Liberal and National Country Party Government. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) gave what I thought was a fairly half-hearted opposition to the measures which are before the House. In saying at the beginning of his speech that these measures are ‘harmful to industrial relations’ in this country, 1 think he is indicating just how out of touch he and his colleagues in the Australian Labor Party have become with the views of ordinary, moderate rank and file trade unionists throughout this country. I have been amazed at the way in which unionists have come to me as a Liberal member of the House to express their views on the industrial relations legislation which we proposed to introduce. I know that a number of other honourable members on this side of the House have found exactly the same thing. It seems to me that more and more moderate trade unionists in this country are detaching themselves from their formal links with the Labor Party and trying to establish good relationships with people on this side of the House. I for one am very thankful and grateful that this trend is occurring. I believe that it is a very healthy trend for the industrial relations system in this country.
The Bill will give the Government an opportunity to express a view as to whether there should be an appeal or reference to a full bench of the Australian Industrial Court in the public interest. The Government already has the right to intervene in the public interest in matters once they come before the full bench. But we all know that quite apart from those hearings before the full bench there are many occasions on which decisions made by lesser tribunals have very significant flow-on effects. They do have pacesetting effects or they can lead to leap-frogging between various groups in the community, with one award which is granted in one place leading to higher awards for other groups in the community. It is, I think, a reasonable measure that the Government should be able to express its firm view on whether such decisions ought to go to the full bench for a further hearing.
I will not deal with that aspect at length. What I do want to say is that the present Bill must not be construed in any way as an attack on the authority of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Commission is not in a position to inform itself as to the public interest, and economic matters are complex. Its role in the context of the Government’s overall economic strategy must also be appreciated in the wage-fixing process. Tribunals of this nature, which operate on the adversarial system, depend very heavily upon the submissions of the parties before them. The Government has the information and the expertise at its disposal to provide the relevant economic information and the necessary information as to the techniques of economic management which the Government is employing.
The Act presently provides that the full bench of the Commission must take into account the state of the national economy and the likely effects of any award that might be made. Clause 6 of this amending Bill widens this provision to require full benches specifically to take account of the likely effects on the level of employment and on inflation. The idea is not a new one. Let me go back some years to what the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the late Sir Owen Dixon, said in the railway case of 1953. He said:
While an arbitral tribunal deriving its authority under an exercise of the legislative power given by section SI (xxxv) must confine itself to conciliation and arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes including Wilt is incidental thereto and cannot have in its hands the general control or direction of industrial, social or economic policies, it would be absurd to suppose that it was to proceed blindly in its work of industrial arbitration and ignore the industrial, social and economic consequences of what it was invited to do or what, subject to the power of variation, it had actually done.
I only wish that the Hansard editors had been able to get to that sentence before it was committed to paper because they might have broken it up into two or three different sentences.
In these days when we talk increasingly of a social contract in industrial relations, of arriving at some general agreement between government and trade unions on what should be the general level of wage increases in the community, of what could be the total package in terms of things like taxation measures, tax indexation, wage increases and various economic measures that might be introduced, it is even more necessary that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission should be required to take into account matters of direct relevance to the economy. It is therefore appropriate at this time to specify that the Commission should take particular account of the likely effects of its decisions on the level of employment and on inflation. Those 2 mattersemployment and inflation- are matters which are concerning us very greatly at this time, not only in this country but also in many other countries. We cannot hope to have a workable, viable industrial relations policy and a wage fixing mechanism unless we can look at wage fixing and look at industrial relations matters in the context of their effect on employment and industrial relations.
I move on to the matter of secret postal ballots. The honourable member for Gellibrand described the Government’s measures before the House as being provocative. He then went on to make some remarks which I felt were fairly halfhearted. It seemed to me that he was just putting forward some opposition for the sake of recording opposition on behalf of his Party. I cannot imagine that he really had any great objection to the measures contained in this Bill.
Under these provisions the unions will have a choice. They may have their elections conducted by the Commonwealth Electoral Office free of charge. Alternatively, they may run their own elections, but in that event the costs will have to be met by their members. In a large union this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let me refer to some of the costs involved in conducting union elections. In 1975 some 31 elections conducted by the Electoral Office, which required postal ballots or expenditure by the Office, cost an estimated $144,727.68. That estimate does not include the cost of the ordinary salaries of those handling the administration. I will take some particular cases. Elections involving the Australian Railways Union were estimated to cost $40,248, elections involving the Vehicle Builders Employees Federation were estimated to cost $34,643, and elections involving the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union were estimated to cost $22,195. Savings of this scale to organisations would in anyone’s language be significant and, if for no other reason, should commend the present proposals. It also would be clearly to the members’ benefit if resources presently being spent on elections can be used henceforth for legitimate industrial purposes. It should be emphasised also that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act already provides for the Australian Industrial Court to hear a challenge from any member of an industrial organisation who believes that there has been any irregularity in an election. Where an irregularity is proved, the Court may order a courtcontrolled election where it is considered to be warranted.
The Government, through the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), is committed to genuine and constructive consultations with employers and trade unions on its industrial legislation. In the amendments now before the Parliament the Minister has demonstrated his willingness to listen to wellargued views of both employer and employee representatives. The legislation reflects that flexible approach. Further measures are planned by the Government to ensure the fullest possible participation by members of unions and employer organisations in the election of their office bearers. This will be the subject of further examination. As a result of the Government’s initiatives, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has agreed to take part in wide-ranging discussions with the Government on the state of the economy, with particular emphasis on wages policies. Wage restraint, as most people in the community recognise now, is essential for economic recovery. The Government has given evidence of its good faith by introducing tax indexation and by taking full account of union views in amending its industrial legislation. We now seek the co-operation of the trade union movement in bringing inflationary costs under control. Such co-operation is vital in the interests of the Australian community.
The Bill before the House provides for certain exemptions from the secret postal ballot procedure. The ballot would still have to be secret, but there are certain ways in which a union can have an election by other than a postal ballot. I refer to clause 13 of the Bill. It provides for a new section 133AA. Sub-section (3) of new section 133AA states, in part: … the Industrial Registrar may . . . exempt the organisation, in respect of an election, from the application of this section if he is satisfied that the conduct of the election in accordance with those rules-
I believe that the measures that the Government is introducing take account of the situation that may be faced by particular unions in particular circumstances. They are flexible provisions which can take account of the environment in which people work and the industries in which unions operate. If, for example, a union has most of its workers employed in three or four sites in the country and they are not spread through many small factories, in that case it could be quite appropriate for the ballot to be conducted by way of polling booths at those three or four limited sites where 90 per cent or 95 per cent of the union membership might be found, and for there to be a supplementary provision whereby people could apply for a postal vote if they so wished. The intention of the Government’s legislation, therefore, is not to impose any rigid, dogmatic, doctrinal view of how industrial relations ought to be conducted but to ensure that whatever means are used gain the highest possible proportion of union membership participation in those ballots. That is the basic aim of the legislation that the Government is introducing now and that the Government may have occasion to introduce later this year.
I want to deal very briefly with the collegiate system which the Minister mentioned in his second reading speech. The Minister gave notice that he was postponing for the time being the introduction of any legislation relating to direct voting and the collegiate system so that he could hear a wider range of views on this matter. I have been trying to come to grips with this rather difficult problem because I find that one is the target of representations from many people in the union movement and in employer organisations who have a wide variety of views to put. One cannot really categorise those views according to a certain view that belongs to those who are of the left and another view that belongs to those who are of the right. It seems that there is an extraordinary crossing of lines amongst unionists and people involved in industrial relations on this matter.
Earlier I said that the intention of the Government was to try to ensure the greatest possible participation by rank and file members in union affairs. With that in mind I believe that one can look at other than a direct voting system. I must say that on my first approach to the problem I did think that a system of direct voting for all members for the election of all office bearers of a union would provide the maximum participation by the rank and file membership. But if you consider the situation faced by the rank and file union membership of a large national union where every member of the union throughout the country is required, or is given the opportunity, to vote, for example, for the national president or the secretary of the union, you can see the potential problem that the average unionist faces. How does the unionist in some far flung corner of the country really know anything about the candidates whose names he sees on the ballot paper? How can a candidate, representing a moderate group within the union- a group that perhaps does not have great organisational or financial resources behind it- conduct a campaign which would require him to organise support throughout the factories and to send through the post how to vote information and literature on himself and his policies to every union member throughout the country.
One can see that a candidate standing for election in that sort of system could face the problem of having to run a campaign costing $20,000, $30,000, $50,000 and perhaps more in order just to get his name across, in some superficial sense, to every member of the union. So there might be difficulties in many unions in the proposition that direct voting in fact allows the rank and file members to have a meaningful say. It could well be the case that a better system in such a union would be to have an election for office bearers at a regional or State level where the campaign would not be so costly. It would be more likely that the average rank and file unionist would want to offer himself for election, and where it would be possible for him to become known and for members of the union to express a meaningful vote. Then, officials having been elected at that level, in turn national office bearers could be elected. That is the view I am coming to on this matter of whether there ought to be direct or collegiate systems of voting in union elections. I am happy to leave it up to the unions to decide which system they want, but I do believe that a form of collegiate voting, as it is called, ought to be open to unions to apply if they so wish.
Let me make one final point. It is rather a matter for regret, I think, that we have come to use this term ‘collegiate system’. I wish I could find another term to use, but there is nothing surprising about a collegiate system. There is nothing unusual about it in this country. The Parliament itself represents a form of collegiate system. The electors throughout the country do not directly vote for the Prime Minister. They elect members of the House of Representatives, who, in turn -
– They do not know them. They do not know the people for whom they vote.
– Well, they have the chance to know them because at an electorate level individual candidates do have some ability to get around their electorates and to explain their own policies and their parties’ policies. What I am saying is that this Parliament represents a form of collegiate voting system. The Senate is possibly a better example of some form of collegiate voting systems because there is found equal representation from all of the States to ensure that the smaller States have an adequate say.
Also, the party organisations which preselected every one of us who now sit in this chamber represent forms of collegiate voting systems. In our own party organisations- and I will speak of my own Party’s system- we elect people at a State conference or State council level who in turn elect the members of a State executive. That State executive elects delegates to a federal council which in turn elects a federal executive. In each of the major political parties in this country there is a multi-tiered form of a collegiate voting system. Therefore, I think it would come strangely from members of this Parliament to require of other organisations in this country that their elections should be conducted wholly and simply on a direct voting system. I think that we do need a more flexible approach. We certainly do need safeguards on the collegiate system. But I think the option should be there in any future legislation that we introduce for unions to conduct their elections by a collegiate voting system.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I suggest that this debate might be adjourned until Tuesday. I understand that the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) is coming in soon to make a statement. I will not be able to finish my speech in the time available today. I do not like to start a speech and then have to finish it four days or five days later. Therefore, I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Lynch, and read a first time.
The Bill before the House is designed to authorise grants to the States to assist with the financing of operating costs of public hospitals as an interim measure following the Government’s discovery that the hospitals agreements with the States are not valid. As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has already announced to the House, the Government has found that the agreements, which were negotiated by the previous Government, are in a form that is not authorised by the Health Insurance Act 1973-1975. Under section 30 of that Act an agreement must be substantially in accordance with the heads of agreement specified in Schedule 2 to the Act. In particular, the Government has been advised that clause 4 of the agreements differs substantially from head 3 of the schedule. As the Commonwealth cannot properly continue to make payments that are not authorised by law, payments under the agreements have been stopped. Even before the invalidity of the agreements was known to the Government we had announced our intention to have discussions with the States on the replacement of the cost-sharing arrangements under the agreements with a system of block grants.
The situation that has now arisen makes it urgent for new arrangements to be made with the States, and the Government proposes to proceed with negotiations as quickly as practicable. It is envisaged that legislation for new arrangements will be introduced in the Budget session. However, the Government is concerned that the continued operation of public hospitals should not be imperilled during the period while new arrangements are being negotiated. This Bill provides authority for payments to be made to the States to assist with the financing of operating costs of public hospitals before 1 October 1976. Payments will be made as block grants to the States and on such terms and conditions as the Treasurer determines after consultation with the Minister for Health. Payments will not be made directly to public hospitals, as was the case with the daily bed payments of $16 per day made under the agreements. However, it will be a condition for the pay ment of grants that information at present provided to the Health Insurance Commission in relation to claims for daily bed payments will continue to be provided. Payments made will also be subject to conditions to ensure that no double payment will occur in the event of moneys being at any time payable to a State under a hospitals agreement.
The Government is conscious of the cash flow problems that an abrupt cessation of payments might cause to State governments. The Government therefore intends that this Bill should come ito operation as quickly as possible so that payments can be resumed at the earliest practicable opportunity. Under the Bill, the payments that may be made to the States are limited to $31Sm.This amount has been calculated from estimates provided by the States of the net operating costs of recognised public hospitals over the period from the commencement of the agreements and before 1 October 1976, less payments, including daily bed payments, that have already been made under the agreements.
The invalidity of the hospitals agreements also affects the daily bed payments made to private hospitals. Under sections 33 and 34 of the Health Insurance Act, these payments are limited to private hospitals in States that are parties to hospitals agreements. The Government is concerned that private hospitals in the States should not be disadvantaged by the invalidity of the agreements, and the Bill includes a provision which will validate payments made to private hospitals in the States and provide for them to continue in the future.
This legislation does not validate past payments to the State because we came to the view that it would be better to discuss these matters with the States to make sure that when validating legislation is introduced it is done in a way which will not be challenged. I also understand that there are some detailed matters of procedures which the States wish to have changed. We would hope to encompass such matters in discussions before permanent and continuing legislation is introduced. The Government has acted promptly to take corrective action following our discovery that the agreements negotiated by the previous Government are invalid. As I have said, we intend to proceed to negotiate the new arrangements with States, which will provide a sound and fair basis for future Commonwealth support for public hospitals. The present Bill will ensure that Commonwealth financial assistance for these hospitals will be maintained in the meantime. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hayden) adjourned.
House adjourned at 4.35 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
When the scheme was first proposed in 1974 it was independently costed for the then Government by the actuaries, Mr G. L. Melville and Professor A. H. Pollard (see Parliamentary Paper No. 103 of 1974). The revised proposed scheme that was the subject of consideration by the Parliament last year was costed by the Australian Government Actuary on the same basis using the Melville/Pollard assumptions (see Explanatory Memorandum circulated with the Superannuation Bill 1975, paragraphs 90 to 93).
The new scheme coming into operation on 1 July 1976 was also costed by the Australian Government Actuary on the Melville/Pollard basis using their assumptions (see Ex- planatory Memorandum circulated with the Superannuation ill 1976, paragraphs 1 1 1 to 1 14 and Appendix B).
The estimates are indicative only and their reliability is dependent upon the validity of the many assumptions that have had to be made. The further into the future the estimates are made, the less reliable they become.
The estimates are shown to the nearest S5m only, representing the likely degree of accuracy in the first year 1976-77. For later years the accuracy is lower. Differences between the estimates for the two schemes must be seen in this context.
Note: Because of differences in the formulae for increasing pensions alter retirement, any inflation that actually occurs in the period to 1990 can be expected to have a greater effect on the costs of the present scheme than those of the new scheme and will thus bring the estimated costs of the schemes closer together.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) The Australian Statistician has advised that it is not correct to say that there is a time lag of several months between the importation of ball bearings and the publication of the relevant imports statistics. Statistics of imports, including those relating to ball bearings, are prepared monthly and generally are available 7-8 weeks after the end of the month to which they relate.
asked the Acting Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice:
What sum has been paid by his Department or by Departments formerly encompassing the functions now performed by his Department, to each airline for air travel within Australia during the last 2 years.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The amounts paid for air travel for the Labor Group of the former Department of Labor and Immigration during 1973-74 and 1974-75 were:
These figures do not include payments made by the Attorney-General’s Department for travel undertaken by members of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Attorney-General’s Department provided the administrative support for the Commission up to 30 June 1975 from which date my Department assumed responsibility. The Attorney-General’s Department has indicated that it is unable to isolate costs for the Commission for 1 973-74 and 1 974-75 as, during that period, these costs were combined with those for the Australian Industrial Court
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Maintenance costs are kept on a regional basis and the sections are Darwin-Edith River and Edith River-Newcastle Waters. The routine maintenance figures given include an estimate for the section Edith River-Larrimah.
The increase in normal and regular maintenance is due to current expenditure not keeping up with the requirements for shoulder grading, cleaning and guide post maintenance. There is a need for this expenditure to be increased as indicated. It is emphasised that the above expenditure is subject to the necessary confirmations.
Further, it is not possible to estimate the cost of apprehending overloaded or speeding vehicles. Enforcement on the subject section of the Stuart Highway is a function of the Northern Territory Police. This is performed as part of their normal duties and a breakdown of costs for the function is not obtainable.
asked the Minister for National Resources, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Because of the current unrest in Central Africa and the effects of exchange rate fluctuations, it is difficult to give a precise forecast for copper consumption and production. However, market sources predict 1976 consumption of copper in the Western World will increase by between around 10 per cent and 20 percent (about 5.9 to 6.5 million tonnes). Estimates for refined production range from 6.3 to 6.6 million tonnes.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
When may I expect an answer to question No. 185 which first appeared on the Notice Paper on 1 8 March.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I draw the honourable member’s attention to the answer to Question No. 185 provided in today’s Hansard.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice:
– The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided the following answers to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Acting Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Medibank: Pre-existing Illnesses (Question No. 615)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
No tender was received for light commercial type vehicles from an Australian manufacturer but substantial quantities of sedan derivatives type utilities were purchased from them.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
When may I expect an answer to question No. 496 which asks for an answer to question No. 1 85 which first appeared on the Notice Paper on 1 8 March.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I draw the honourable member’s attention to the answer to questions Nos 1 85 and 496 provided in today ‘s Hansard.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The. answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (i)
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 May 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760528_reps_30_hor99/>.