30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is making a political point. He knows better than to ask my indulgence to do that.
– 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 the Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth: that the decision to withdraw the Australian Trader from the Tasmanian service;
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will move to restore the Australian Trader to the Tasmanian service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government;
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government;
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth-
Whereas your Petitioners respectfully request consideration be given to:
Both of the above being without the prerequisite of referral by a medical practitioner.
Therefore your Petitioners pray your Honourable House to legislate accommodation of these matters under the provisions of Federal law.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by William McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That the undersigned persons believe that-
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas an amnesty was announced for all illegal migrants and that whereas Mr Ignazio Salemi an applicant for amnesty has been denied amnesty.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
That as Mr Salemi fulfils all the publicly announced criteria for amnesty he is permitted to remain in Australia as a resident.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrInnes.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision of the Government to introduce a 2.5 per cent levy on incomes to finance Medibank and to offer private health insurance as an alternative to Medibank.
Your petitioners call upon the Australian Government
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byDr Jenkins.
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 Price 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 dwellings for 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 Price 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 Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth-
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
Symphony Orchestra in Newcastle
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Hunter Valley Region respectfully showeth the lack of a resident professional symphony orchestra in Newcastle and surrounding areas, with consequent denial to the citizens of adequate provision of concerts, opera, ballet, school concerts, teaching of various orchestral instruments and career opportunities for young musicians.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament give due and early consideration to the provision of funds, in association with the New South Wales State Government, Local Governments and the community of this region, for the establishment and maintenance of the Hunter Symphony Orchestra, consisting initially of 40 players, located in Newcastle and serving the cultural needs of the500,000 inhabitants of the region, in accordance with the proposal and budget submitted to the Industries Assistance Commission, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Charles Jones.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the new Government during the recent election campaign, promised lower taxation and more money in people ‘s pockets.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the House of Representatives will take immediate steps to prevent the introduction of Television and Radio licence fees, the imposition of a tax levy for Medibank and the introduction of higher charges for drugs dispensed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byDrKlugman.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that; the Budget will increase unemployment to unprecedented and crisis proportions at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians, especially school-leavers, young workers and apprentices, are without work; the Budget completes the dismantling of Medibank as a simple, effective universal health insurance scheme, providing basic coverage for the total community; the Budget, by its heavy cuts in urban and transport programs, will worsen the quality of life available to many Australians; the Budget will compel state governments to reduce their services and increase charges; the Budget reduces spending on Aboriginal affairs by 30 per cent and returns expenditure on Aborigines to pre- 1972 days; the Budget seriously disadvantages migrant groups, most notably in employment and health, and leaves room for concern over the future of ethnic radio; the Budget, despite the government’s earlier rhetoric about defence threats to Australia, continues to hold the size of the armed services at present levels; and the Budget, despite all the above, still cannot be expected to reduce Australia’s annual inflation rate below twelve percent; Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the 1976 Budget be redrafted to provide for economic recovery within the guide-lines laid down by the Australian Labor Government’s 1975 Budget. And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
Dockyards at Newcastle
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Newcastle respectfully showeth-
That shipbuilding and repairs play a vital role in the economic stability of the Newcastle region.
That a recent study by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation showed that 50,000 people were partially or wholly maintained by the State Dockyard.
That stability is at present in jeopardy, as a new ship order is required within the next few weeks if serious unemployment and hardship is to be avoided.
That the previous Government’s plan for the building of a graving dock in Newcastle should be continued as proper ship repair facilities are a vital factor in the maintenance of a viable shipbuilding industry.
That the Government’s election pledge to restore business and employment can be implemented in Newcastle if new orders and a graving dock are granted.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government place immediate orders with the Newcastle State Dockyard and implement the previous Government’s plan to build a graving dock in Newcastle.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Scholes.
– I inform the House that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) left Australia this morning to visit Indonesia. He is expected to return on 1 1 October. During his absence, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) will act as Prime Minister. I also inform the House that the Acting Prime Minister is incapacitated and will be unable to attend today’s sitting of the House.
-My question, which is directed to the acting Acting Prime Minister and Acting Foreign Minister, follows on the question I asked him as Acting Foreign Minister alone yesterday about the visit of a Government member to Rhodesia on the way to a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I ask: Is it a fact that Security Council resolutions over the last 10 years have made mandatory calls upon member
States to prohibit all their official contacts with Rhodesia? Is it a fact also that as a consequence, all Australians in the Australian Embassy in South Africa are forbidden from travelling to Rhodesia irrespective of the type of Australian passport they might use? On what passport or travel document did the member of the Government party in this House travel to Rhodesia?
-I think it might be appropriate if I first of all commented on the intervention by the honourable member for Corio at the beginning of question time when there were only about 8 members of the Australian Labor Party in the House, of whom there were only three on the front bench. Those Ministers who are absent, including the Prime Minister, are away from this House either on official business on behalf of this country or, in the instance of the Acting Prime Minister, because he is ill and unable to be present. With respect to the specific question by the Leader of the Opposition, I am again rather surprised that he has seen fit to raise in the Parliament the question of overseas travel. It is of course a matter of some moment that during the 3 years in which he was an incumbent of the position of Prime Minister, some 5XA months in all were spent outside the country with a total cost to the Australian taxpayer in excess of $ 1.5m. Since this Government has taken office it has reduced such expenditure by over a quarter from something approximating $400,000 to a figure that at the moment is less than $230,000.
As every member of this House should know it is important that Australia does not follow its policies in isolation. Those Ministers who are absent from the country at the moment are acting on behalf of the country. In the instance of the Prime Minister, he is away today because of the significance of tomorrow in accordance with certain religious practices of Indonesia. It was not possible, practicable, desirable or diplomatic that he should arrive in Indonesia other than today. It would not have been practicable for him to arrive tomorrow.
With respect to the suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that there was something untoward in a visit by a member of this House to Rhodesia and a contravention of the Security Council resolutions to which he referred, I undertook yesterday to provide on notice a response to his question. I have asked for certain details from the Department and I shall respond to his question in the normal course. I understand that the IPU Conference which the honourable member attended along with a number of other members of this Parliament dealt with problems relating to southern Africa. I believe it is important that
Australia should concern itself with southern Africa and with developments there. I understand that the honourable member for Bradfield did in fact make a private visit to Rhodesia.
– Is the Minister for Post and Telecommunications aware of the section of the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which indicates that a number of country commercial radio stations may have to cease the relay of news bulletins because of the high cost of landline and telex charges? Will the Minister consider reviewing this cost situation so that this essential service can be maintained?
-I am aware of the report to which the honourable member has referred. The arrangement concerning costs between the Telecommunications Commission and the country stations in regard to landlines is a commercial transaction. It is not within my responsibility to arbitrate on those charges which are not basic charges under the Act. We need to keep this service available to country listeners. I suggest that the honourable member should ask country broadcasters to use whatever commercial instinct and capacity they have to get the best possible deal out of the Telecommunications Commission.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. Are there any plans for joint Australian-Indonesian military exercises in Indonesia this year? If there are, does the Minister think that such exercises are appropriate at this time when Indonesia is condemned in the world forum as a military aggressor for its military takeover of East Timor?
– I excuse myself from offering any view as to the philosophic attitude of Indonesia in terms of the world community. The answer to the specific question put to me is no.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs who is responsible for administering the Racial Discrimination Act. Has his attention been drawn to reports in the Press, in particular the Adelaide Advertiser of 20 July 1976, in which the Commissioner for Community Relations was reported as saying that the Federal Government was monitoring 23 organisations that it regarded as racist and that 95 000 Australians were members of these organisations? Are these reports true?
– My attention has been drawn to the newspaper reports to which the honourable member has referred. I think that many members of the Parliament have received correspondence relating to these reports. I wish to stress that the Commissioner for Community Relations is a statutory officer with certain functions set down in the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. The Government supports the principles on which the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 is based and adheres firmly to the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination which Australia has ratified. As a statutory officer the Commissioner for Community Relations is not a spokesman for the Commonwealth Government, nor do his statements necessarily reflect the Government’s position on specific matters.
In view of the wide interest generated by the reports which the honourable member has mentioned I requested the Commissioner for Community Relations to indicate whether the newspaper reports were an accurate statement of what he had said, and also requested information on the 23 organisations which are alleged to be racist and on the nature of the monitoring to which he referred. In the light of the Commissioner’s response to my request I have no reason to doubt that the newspapers have reported his statement accurately. The monitoring to which he referred is conducted by his office. To indicate the nature of this monitoring he has provided me with a booklet prepared by his office titled Racist Propaganda in Australia: A handbook of Hate. That booklet contains a short foreword and a list of 23 organisations which the Commissioner regards as propagating racial prejudice in Australia. It also contains extracts from various publications by these organisations and various articles by journalists and others on certain of these organisations operating in Australia. The figure of 95 000 Australians quoted by the Commissioner for Community Relations as being members of the organisations is the total of the membership of the 23 organisations as estimated by them. However, that estimate of 95 000 includes a claimed estimate of 85 000 by the League of Rights. To my knowledge, none of these claims have been substantiated.
I read the booklet very closely. Much of the material is from overseas. Some of it dates from several years ago, and some of it reproduces articles from newspapers and periodicals. Apart from the foreword and the list of organisations, there is no original material in the booklet. My suggestion to the Commissioner was not to circulate it. I made this suggestion simply because the booklet was not of a standard which in my view would bring any credit to the Commissioner or further the cause of those of us in the community who are opposed to racism and to discrimination based on racism. This is an extremely sensitive area. All honourable gentlemen are opposed to racial discrimination and the Government is committed to its elimination in Australia. However, there is within a free society the right to hold and express differing views as to the extent and composition of the migrant intake.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry conscious of the constant urging by the Australian Wool Corporation and the Australian Wool Industry Conference for the Government to make a decision on the wool marketing report? Has there been pressure on the Minister and the Government from wool brokers to procrastinate on the issue? When can the industry expect the Government to honour its promise for a decision on the report? In short, when will the Government stop fooling the wool industry around and make up its mind on this vital issue?
– It is of interest to comment that the report to which the honourable member’s question refers was in fact in hand during the course of the occupation of the treasury bench by the Labor Government. Its total inactivity in this area is highlighted by the fact that it was not until the Liberal and National Country Parties took over government that the wool market significantly improved. It might be of interest to honourable members to know that at present the wool market is operating at prices significantly above the reserve prices which were set earlier this year by this Government. Honourable members will recall that the actual level of prices on an average clean basis was about 234c per lb. At the moment it is about 276c per lb. Fortunately, the market continues to improve.
With respect to the wool marketing plan, however, there is obviously a need either to declare that further steps will be taken to implement it or to declare that for the time being no change will be undertaken. It was for that reason that I conferred with the Australian Wool Industry Conference early in July. As a result of that discussion I wrote to the Australian Wool Corporation and asked for its consideration of certain proposals. To date I have not received a reply to that letter. Until I receive that reply I will not be in a position to put to the Government any recommendations regarding the marketing plan of the Australian Wool Corporation. In any event, the Government is in no way bound to any sectors of the wool industry other than the producers. We believe that at the moment it is important that the very marked improvement in tone in the wool market be preserved. The Government does not intend to do anything to disrupt that stability. We are, however, quite prepared to consider any steps by which the quite excessive costs of handling wool will be contained. It is with that objective in mind that my present consultations with the Australian Wool Corporation will continue.
– I address a question to the Minister for Defence. He is no doubt aware of developments in Thailand, resulting in a coup by the Minister for Defence in that country. Will he indicate whether this has any special significance for Australia? Will he assure the House that he will not attempt to emulate the Thai Minister for Defence and stage such a coup?
– This is the 21st year I have spent in this place. During that time I have seen an infinite variety of skills wielded. I would like my honourable friend to know that I have not remained untutored by the experience. If I decided to stage a coup in Australia I would seek to make the Entebbe airport raid appear as an exercise in clumsiness.
– I address a question to the acting Acting Prime Minister in his capacity as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can he tell the House whether the Prime Minister has taken an umbrella or a cigar on his visit to the Indonesian dictator?
Mr Yates proceeding to address a question to the Attorney-General-
-Order! The honourable member is not entitled to ask a question which raises an issue critical to the holder of the office of Governor-General. A suggestion of some sort of judicial action against him is I think critical. The question is therefore out of order. The only way in which the actions can be criticised is by way of a substantive motion.
- Mr Speaker, I seek your advice on that ruling. In deference to you, I shall seek it after question time. That way it will be easier for honourable members.
– My question is directed to the Acting Treasurer. Is it true, as stated by Syntec, that ‘no part of the Government’s discretionary economic management mechanism is set for strong economic growth this year’? Is Syntec right in suggesting that ‘business is looking for more growth in 1976-77 than the Budget is designed to give’ and that ‘the Government is being less than frank on what the Budget strategy implies’? Will the Government remove the confusion which it has deliberately created, as witnessed by Syntec ‘s views, by saying clearly and truly that its Budget policy is aimed at retarding economic growth?
-I have seen the report of Syntec. Every time there is a report such as this the Opposition uses it to try to downgrade the Australian economy. It has been less than 8 weeks since Mr Lynch presented his Budget. In that entire time the Opposition has been less than responsible. What Mr Lynch said in his Budget Speech are the facts. The Government’s first priority is to contain and reduce the rate of inflation. That exercise has commenced with some degree of success. A responsible attitude by the Opposition and the President of the Australian Labor Party, now that the Party has decided his career, some wage restraint, and responsibility in industrial relations, would help to achieve the desire of the Budget. There is in the Budget a growth planned for Australia this year of about 4 per cent. We accept that some of the signs are spotty or are fragile in degree. In some areas, not all the indicators are in the wrong direction. The Treasurer has said consistently and constantly that given a chance of success, given some sense of responsibility in this Parliament and throughout the nation, the Budget strategy will give Australia economic growth and development. Not only has the Government complete faith in its Budget, but it will be shown clearly that economic growth will be restored to Australia.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry. He will be aware that the method of fishing with monofilament and multifilament nets is seen as being completely irresponsible by most fishing nations and is in fact illegal in New South Wales waters. In view of the serious potential danger of these nets to the marine environment, will the Minister ban their use in Commonwealth waters?
– I must confess to not knowing very much about monofilament and multifilament nets. However, I am told that a proposal designed to protect in-shore New South Wales fishermen and New South Wales blue eye trevally fisheries, while allowing assessment of this gear in deep off-shore waters, has been put to New South Wales officials. There have been discussions, I know, between New South Wales and Victorian officials regarding the use of these nets. The Commonwealth is quite prepared to join in those discussions. We will sympathetically examine the request of the honourable gentleman. I hope that out of the discussions there might be adequate means of protecting the New South Wales fisheries which have developed, and that this may not necessarily be by the steps that he has suggested.
We must take account also of the fisheries in the waters of the electorate of my colleague, the honourable member for Gippsland. This identifies one of the problems that exists in the field of fishery management around Australia. Because of the extension of State boundaries into waters adjacent to the coast, quite often fishermen come into conflict with fishery management practices in an adjacent State. These matters can be resolved only by consultation. It is as a result of the development of such co-operation that I am anticipating some future change in the establishment and issuing of Commonwealth licences, with a single licence to apply which will be issued and administered by individual State authorities. If this can be achieved I trust that problems such as that identified by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro will be minimised in future.
– I direct my question to the Acting Treasurer. Is the grant of $200,000 by Utah Development Ltd to the Australian Opera Company tax deductible? If so, can he estimate the net cost to Utah of the gift and, in view of the large windfall increase in profits granted to Utah- some scores of millions- as a result of the changes to the coal export levy in the Budget, can he estimate the loss to the taxpayer by financing the Australian Opera Company through Utah rather than through the Budget?
-I shall supply some information about whether it is tax deductible when I check the matter after question time. It is regrettable that the Leader of the Opposition saw fit to criticise a very magnanimous decision by a great company. I know that if a company is successful in Australia, particularly if it is a mining company, it is not acceptable by the Australian Labor Party. The decisions in the Budget were designed to get growth back into the Australian economy. If Utah or any other company enjoys the benefit, well good luck to it or to them as far as I am concerned. Finally, I should have thought that the Leader of the Opposition, as a supporter of the arts, would have welcomed a sense of public responsibility. His attitude on this matter disappoints me.
-I ask the Minister for Transport whether the Australian Coastal Shipping Agreement expired on 30 September. Does the Government intend to extend the agreement for a further period? In any considerations of a new agreement will the Government be looking into or considering the favoured position of the Australian National Line as compared with private operators?
-The Australian Coastal Shipping Agreement did conclude on 30 September. It is not my intention to renew it at the present time. Instead, what I have done is to circulate the various shipping companies, the stevedoring companies and interested parties about what future arrangements might be made on the coast. During the course of the period of the agreement there have been a great number of changes on the coast. For example, there are very few shipowners today by comparison with the great number years ago. In respect of the last part of the honourable member’s question I should point out that the purpose of the agreement was to limit the growth and capacity of ANL rather than to give it any special place. All of this will be taken into account when I receive responses from the various interested parties.
-Has the Acting Treasurer seen reports last week that company profits as measured are rising at about twice the rate of inflation, and that some are rising considerably in excess of that? Is he satisfied with this inflationary increase in the rate of company profits? Does he consider they are sufficient or does he consider that the increase in company profits has to be greater still in the future?
– When we look at company returns, particularly for some of the larger companies, we can have no doubt that they have had substantial increases in their profitability, but of course, in the main, despite that profitability the corporate sector still lags behind in terms of its share of the national wealth or national profit. The Government is pleased to see that a number of companies which have taken some cost-saving decisions and exercised management skills, have done well. After all, we gather 42 Vi per cent by way of taxation into the coffers of the Commonwealth. We have to allow, of course, for the enormous impact which inflation has had upon those profits. That is the reason for the Government’s decision with regard to the Mathews proposals on indexation. I hope to see an increasing number of Australian companies making increasing profits because that means increasing employment and greater development.
-Has the Minister for Post and Telecommunications seen a report in today’s Australian which mentions guidelines for the use of 4-letter words in Australian Broadcasting Commission programs? Will the Minister give the House details of these guidelines? Who laid down the guidelines? Will the Minister explain in what circumstances 4-letter words may be used on the ABC?
-I have not seen the report to which the honourable member refers. I have done a fair bit of reading this morning but this is one matter which has not attracted my immediate attention. This is the sort of area which, unlike some people in the Parliament, I will leave to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It has responsibility to conduct its own affairs. Its sense of independence and integrity will be maintained and I expect, as would the honourable member, that the ABC will carry out its functions in a proper manner.
-I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Education. I refer to guidelines for universities indicating that they must spend only $30 m on capital works at December 1975 prices. Did not the Universities Commission in reply indicate that that would mean no new works at universities and the omission of a number of urgent works in the triennium? In view of the fact that the Minister has been able to dredge up some funds for students to the extent of $26m since 17 August- worthwhile as that is- what are the prospects of getting capital for universities to comply with the urgent needs of the students?
– I was very pleased to hear the honourable member acknowledge how worthwhile were the increases in student allowances announced yesterday by the Minister for Education. That is certainly in contrast with the record of the former Labor Administration which flatly refused to increase those allowances. It has taken this Government to restore some equity to the universities and other students in this country. I have no doubt that my colleague has well under control the matter of capital works expenditure for universities. I shall refer the question to him and give the honourable member an answer.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen reports that Royal Australian Air Force Iroquois helicopter pilots serving with the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Middle East have been criticised for refusing to fly at night and that Navy helicopter pilots have been sent to the Middle East to do night flying for them? Are these reports true? If they are, will the Minister take steps to see that Air Force helicopters are equipped, and that pilots are trained, to operate by night in order to overcome what appears to be a serious operational weakness?
– I am under heavy obligation to my honourable and gallant friend for his question. He served with distinction with the Senior Service in the last war. I trust I will not be accused of prejudice arising from my own service association when I tell him that the Royal Australian Air Force is prepared to fly to heaven or to hell, wherever it may be beckoned. Speaking for myself, I am assured by the critics that I fly to the latter with a greater measure of assurance.
The report is utterly false and I would only hope that the newspaper that published it would seek an early opportunity to correct what it said. This Government, and if I may say with respect the former Government, sought to encourage joint operations between and among the Services. I think it is absolutely essential that one force knows what another force is doing and that all forces can better understand the skills. When the Royal Australian Air Force detachment to Ismailia was organised arrangements were made for units of the Royal Australian Navy to participate in the exercise. That is the simple answer to the honourable member’s question. Royal Australian Navy pilots will operate Iroquois helicopters from time to time. My honourable friend would be aware that the Iroquois is limited to a certain extent in terms of night operations and this distinguishes it from, say, the Wessex or the Sea King helicopters which are operated by the Royal Australian Navy. But the RAAF detachment has given an undertaking to operate for 24 hours a day. That undertaking is being fulfilled. The suggestion that pilots of the RAAF have refused to fly is utterly false. I trust, with respect to a very great Service, that the newspaper which published that report will seek to correct it.
– I address my question to the Attorney-General. I refer to the answer he gave yesterday to a question asked by the honourable member for St George about legal aid in New South Wales. Does the Attorney-General agree that the most vital funds provided for legal aid in New South Wales are those appropriated by this Parliament for expenditure by the Australian Legal Aid Office? Did he decline to proceed last financial year with the planned opening of Australian legal aid offices at no less than 10 places in New South Wales? Did the Government last financial year reduce by more than $2m the amount allocated for expenditure on matters referred to legal practitioners by that Office? How does he reconcile those decisions with his professed concern for the effective delivery of legal aid services in New South Wales?
– The fact is, of course, if one knows the figures- and I do not expect the honourable gentleman to know them- that the funds that are provided in New South Wales for legal aid in part come from the Federal Government, in part from the State Government coffers and in part from interest on the statutory deposit accounts when funds are available from this source. I think that if the honourable member knew the figures he would find that the amount that comes from New South Wales sources is not as much, but is not far below, the amount spent by the Commonwealth Government on legal aid in New South Wales. The cost of administration of the Public Defender’s Office, the Public Solicitor’s Office and the Law Society scheme adds up to an amount which is not far below the amount that the Commonwealth Government expends.
The honourable gentleman is well aware that the establishment of legal aid offices which the previous Government had nominated to open up was held up temporarily on the basis that I was to discuss with the State of New South Wales and other States the question of setting up a legal aid commission. My attitude was that I did not want to pre-empt the adoption of new ideas on matters of legal aid. I thought that was a very proper approach to adopt. I repeat what I said yesterday: If New South Wales wishes to have a legal aid commission which will enable the expansion of legal aid services in New South Wales, the Premier or the Attorney-General have only to sit down at the desk and write a letter and discussions on the subject will be held very quickly.
-I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications a question supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Riverina. I point out that no one challenges the independence and integrity of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, nor do I imply or seek any political interference with the ABC. I ask the Minister, in line with his ministerial responsibility in this place for the ABC, to give the House details of guidelines which exist in the ABC for the use of 4-letter words. Is the House entitled to know whether such guidelines exist and, if so, will the Minister give the House that information?
-I would be very happy to give the honourable member and every other member of the Parliament any information I have. As I indicated earlier, I do not have that information. I will certainly ask the Australian Broadcasting Commission if it has such guidelines. I have been shown a newspaper report which contains some reference to the meeting yesterday. Because of the obvious interest of the House, after question time I will ask that the information be made available to me and transmit it to the honourable member.
-I address a question to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Is it a fact that recently the Government gave assisted passages to 2 members of the royal family of Laos to settle in Australia? I emphasise that it was a Government decision and I believe it was against the recommendation of the Minister’s Department. Is it also a fact that neither of the princes was classed as a refugee and neither came within the groups eligible for assisted passages? If so, can the Minister assure the House that the sympathetic treatment extended to Their Royal Highnesses will also be extended to refugees from Thailand whose lives and safety may be endangered by yesterday’s coup d’etat, reported and depicted in all its savagery in today’s Australian newspapers?
– It is a fact that assisted passages were given to the sons of a member of the Laotian royal family. To give the background to the case, the father of the 2 boys was amongst the 550 refugees who were brought from Thai refugee camps earlier this year. Honourable members will recall that one of the first things the Government did on attaining office was to initiate a refugee program involving some 800 people of Indo-Chinese background. Of those 800 people, approximately 550 came out of Thai refugee camps. The family of the 2 princes was amongst those 550 people. In line with the criteria established in relation to that exercise, split families were reunited whenever possible. In fact, family members of those people brought from Thailand were brought to Australia from such countries as France, the United States, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. In terms of family reunion and in terms of the criteria relating to the refugee operation, those people were eligible for assisted passages.
When the case of the 2 princes came to our attention, it was first stated that they were students in Japan and wished to complete a 2-year university course in that country. As such, they were not eligible for assisted passage at the expiration of the 2 years. When that was pointed out to them, they said they wished to be reunited with their family as quickly as possible. In those circumstances and in line with the general policy relating to the reuniting of families in this program, assisted passages were granted to them. I might say that there was absolutely no discrimination for or against these people. The Leader of the Opposition will recall the recent case of 2 young Indo-Chinese women in Victoria whose mother and 2 brothers managed to get to the United States. I have since made a decision that those people should be reunited and that they should be given assisted passages as well. The fact that these people are of the Laotian royal family in no way decides whether they are eligible for assisted passage. In terms of the criteria, they were eligible for assisted passage. The only dispute in the matter concerned our belief that their initial request was that they be allowed to remain in Japan for 2 years to complete their university courses. As soon as they altered that decision, they became eligible and assisted passages were granted. I might add that the remaining member of the family, a son who was at that stage in the Philippines, was also granted an assisted passage and travelled to Australia, I think, sometime in August.
– Is the Minister for Post and Telecommunications aware of a contention broadcast by one Western Australian television station that the Government is considering the reintroduction of television and radio licences? Is there any truth in this contention?
-I state in answer to the honourable member that there is no truth in the contention at all.
– I direct to the Minister for Transport a question which concerns the Government’s attitude to the shipbuilding industry. Does he recall that the transport policy put forward by the Liberal and National Country Parties at the last election stated that the Australian shipbuilding industry was important to this country and that it promised specifically that a coalition government would ensure the continuing viability of the shipbuilding and ship repair industries? Will the Minister now give the House an assurance that in determining its attitude to the Industries Assistance Commission report on the shipbuilding industry the Government will adhere to its election promise?
– The Government will take into consideration the various information that has come before it when it considers this question in the next few weeks. Of course, we have to take into account the Industries Assistance Commission report and the Australian Council of Trade Union’s submission that came in yesterday. I might say in passing that I thought the ACTU submission was pretty much a lightweight submission. I was very disappointed with it. There were about 80 or 90 pages to it. It does not do justice to the amount of publicity it received before it was put into the hands of Ministers. I will not go into any further detail about the ACTU submission.
– Will you table it in the House?
– There is absolutely no need for me to table it. It has been broadcast over every television and radio program in Australia throughout the last few days. The fact is that the Liberal and National Country Parties have a commitment to shipbuilding in this country. Because of the difficulties of the Newcastle State Dockyard and the Whyalla facilities, which are the 2 shipyards under scrutiny at the moment, whatever their fate after the Government’s consideration, that does not preclude there being a shipbuilding industry in this country. The House knows well that there is one shipbuilder, Carrington Slipways Pty Ltd, out of Newcastle, that has been sucessfully operating without much government assistance over a great number of years. It has been demonstrating to other shipbuilders in the country just how to go about the job and to do it successfully.
– Can the Minister for Post and Telecommunications inform the House of the actual circumstances surrounding the seizure of the Fretlin radio transmitter in Darwin on Monday of last week? Is he aware of statements that the operator of this clandestine radio intends to flout the laws of the Commonwealth and carry on business as usual? Will he assure the House that in the event of any further violations, prosecution proceedings will be launched forthwith against those concerned?
-My responsibility under the Wireless Telegraphy Act is to carry out the duties of the Minister and the Department. When it comes to our notice that facilities are being used without a licence and being used illegally, we seek to find out where this is taking place. Instances like this, of course, create a tremendous amount of public interest. It might be noteworthy to the House that about 150 cases each year come to the Department’s attention. Our suspicions were aroused that an illegal radio was being used to receive messages from and transmit messages to Timor, operating in Cox Peninsula near Darwin. Following those suspicions and information coming to us, we were able to locate that particular transmitter. The 2 people who were operating that transmitter admitted that they had been receiving and transmitting messages to and from Timor. The equipment has . been confiscated. I hope that people do not continue to flout the law because if they do, they will be subject to the processes of law.
– Do the same to citizens’ band radio.
– My concern with this matter is administering the Act which is my responsibility. That is what I did under these circumstances. The Opposition can play politics all it likes. As far as I am concerned, the provisions of the Act will be applied when anybody in any area of Australia uses a radio illegally. Therefore I assure the honourable member that these 2 gentlemen will be subject to the processes of law. That is already occurring.
-I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications: Were tenders by an Australian company for the supply of materials for Australian telephone books rejected? Were the contracts let to firms outside Australia?
-I shall be very pleased to let the honourable member have all the details, if he so wishes, because it is a substantial contract. The Telecommunications Commission has already indicated publicly that there was a substantial requirement for a particular type of paper this year. It was put out to tender. One Australian company did tender. The price over and above what was available overseas was substantial. The matter was given due consideration. Tenders have been let. I think they were awarded to 3 or 4 overseas companies- I am not sure- but not just one overseas company is involved.
-On 10 September the Minister for Primary Industry announced Commonwealth support for the 1977 export season for apples and pears. The announcement stated that the Commonwealth would discuss with the State governments possible supplementary support arrangements for 1977 on a joint CommonwealthState support basis. Growers need to know urgently what assistance will be available.
– Are the apples any good?
-Are they any good? They are the best apples in the world. If you are a good boy I will bring you over a few.
– And the bishop.
-Yes-and the bishop too. Can the Minister inform the House of the progress of these discussions and when an announcement will be made?
– I think everyone in the House knows and sympathises with the concern so often expressed in our midst by the honourable member for Franklin at the plight of his apple industry. It is an industry of which he can be justly proud. It is one which has made a tremendous contribution to the development of his State. However, like many other primary industries it suffered the inflation which was of course largely fostered by policies of the previous Administration. A lot of the present difficulties of the apple producers in Tasmania are not of their own making, but directly flow from the fact that costs have risen and that wage rates now make it so difficult to operate. As my colleague reminds me, the wharf labourers generally have made the cost of handling the goods excessive. It was that aspect which turned out to be one of the principal problems in trying to maintain the competitiveness of the Tasmanian fruit crop. It was one of the factors that influenced the Government to introduce its support in terms of freight equalisation which is, of course, a very important part of the Government’s present program of assistance to the industry.
On the 14th of this month I wrote to the State Ministers giving details of the apple and pear stabilisation plan. As the honourable gentleman will know, we have not accepted the recommendation of the Industries Assistance Commission to reduce significantly the level of assistance for that industry this year, but have maintained the level of recommended support at the level which operated during the preceding season. Certain supplementary proposals are now before the State Ministers. I have had a definitive reply from only one of them. I will be meeting other State Ministers in Sydney tomorrow, and I hope that matters relating to support for the apple industry for the coming season can be resolved then. I can well understand the honourable gentleman’s concern about the industry. I also appreciate the fact that he has invited me to come to Tasmania not only to sample the apples but also to discuss with his fruit growers some of their serious problems. This I will be happy to do at an early convenient time.
– Pursuant to section 18 of the Dried Fruits Research Act 1971, I present the annual report of the Dried Fruits Research Committee for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report on the Territory of Christmas Island for the period 1 July 1972 to 31 December 1975.
– For the information of honourable members I present the benefit-cost study of the Industries Assistance Commission of the national dairy herd improvement scheme.
– Pursuant to section 31 of the Atomic Energy Act 1953, I present the annual report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– Pursuant to section 78 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, 1 present the annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– Pursuant to section 125 of the Insurance Act 1973, I present the annual report of the Insurance Commissioner for the year ended 30 June 1 976.
-Mr Speaker, during question time today I was put in some difficulty in asking a question. Many questions are divided into two or three parts and I think, without being disrespectful to the Chair, that sometimes the Chair has ruled that a certain Minister may answer one part of the question but may not answer another part of the question. Before I was able to complete my question you, Mr Speaker, ruled that the whole question was out of order. That I can understand because Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice states that any mention of or discussion about the Chief Justice has to be initiated by way of substantive motion. Is it not possible under the Standing Orders for a private member who wants to ask a question of public importance to do so by giving private notice to the Chair after question time? Under what circumstances can a private member after question time put a private notice involving a matter of urgent and public importance?
-I have ruled that the reference in May’s Parliamentary Practice which would prevent even the mention of such an office holder in the Parliament is far too restrictive and that there can be discussion about such an office holder provided that the discussion relates to a statement as to whether the actions were right or wrong, is conducted in a reasonable fashion and does not attribute motive to or involve criticism of the office holder. In the case of the honourable gentleman’s question, it seemed to me that the raising in the Parliament of a question involving some sort of impeachment of an office holder necessarily ruled the question out of order on the ground that it would involve inevitably criticism of the action of the office holder and attribution of motive. Secondly, I believe that the question was out of order because the Attorney-General, to whom it was directed, has no responsibility for the actions that may be taken in the Caucus of the Australian Labor Party. If the honourable gentleman wishes to raise the matter he will have to do so on notice.
– If I may, I would like to follow up that point, with respect, because it is useful for honourable members to know the position. The latter part of the question concerned whether the Attorney-General could inform the House and the nation whether there were any precedents for the Chief Justice of the High Court advising on constitutional matters. I could not get to that part of my question. I understand that the best thing that I can do in the circumstances is to move some motion or ask a question in some special way if I am to find out whether the Chief Justice of the High Court is entitled to advise the GovernorGeneral on constitutional matters.
-The honourable gentleman will have to take the course of action he believes best suits the circumstances.
– He can be as underhand in giving advice to the Governor-General as he wishes.
– I rise to a point of order.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw that remark.
-Mr Speaker, irrespective of the -
-The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. I have called upon the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the remark.
Opposition members- What did he say?
-I said that the Chief Justice could be as underhanded in giving advice to the Governor-General as he wishes, and I withdraw it.
-Order! I call upon the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the remark.
-I did so, Sir.
-You did not withdraw it unqualifiedly. I call for it to be withdrawn unqualifiedly.
– I repeat: I withdraw it.
-Mr Speaker, I rise to a point of order concerning the question raised by the honourable member for Holt. The whole basis of the question was a hypothetical matter. It concerned a decision that may be taken by the Australian Labor Party. I suggest to you, Sir, that it would be out of order irrespective of whether it was put on notice. No such decision has been taken, nor will it be taken.
-The honourable member for Corio can be assured that I will abide by my ruling. I am indebted to him for the assistance. If I find that the question is hypothetical I will rule it out of order on that basis as well.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment Bill 1976.
Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1 976.
That grievances be noted.
-( 1 1.33)- I wish to raise a matter which is particularly appropriate to the Scullin electorate. A very high proportion of the population in that electorate is of migrant origin. It is also one of those electorates containing the highest number of unemployed. Those 2 factors are not unrelated. Certainly the failure of this Government to stimulate any business confidence is not helping the situation. There may be many more urgent factors to be considered than the ones I am to discuss, but I believe that we should not overlook the problem of the disadvantages that the migrant worker, particularly migrant women, in the work force suffers. Under the previous conservative Government we had 23 years of a very substantial migration program which essentially provided work fodder. Certainly for most migrants the opportunities available to them were better than had been available to them previously and they made good use of them. However, no in-depth attitude was taken to satisfying their needs.
From 1972 to 1975 there was a greater recognition of those needs and increased confidence amongst those in the community of migrant origin. However, the situation is falling back once more.
I refer to an article in yesterday’s Melbourne Age headed ‘Headscarfs thin out in the fields’. This article deals with a shortage of labour in market gardens in the Werribee area, but there are some disturbing features arising from it that we should guard against. The article itself is about a 65-year-old migrant woman from Yugoslavia who is picked up at 5 a.m. by a contractor in a bus and transported to a market garden where she spends 8 hours in the field hoeing and gets for doing so $17. I think that an immigration program that leads to that sort of situation is shocking. But more disturbing than that is the comment that the fall in immigration has dried up the traditional source of labour for the farms. One of the contractors said that stepping up the level of immigration is the only way in which to provide enough workers for the market gardeners. If this sort of attitude is allowed to develop I think that the Government will attract great shame. This 65-year-old woman catches a bus at 5 a.m. and works for 8 hours for $17 but that is only one of the unfortunate positions in which many migrant women workers find themselves.
I refer now to a quite sensitive article in the Medical Journal of Australia of 1 1 September, which deals with a report entitled ‘But I Wouldn’t Want My Wife to Work Here-A Study of Migrant Women in Melbourne Industry’. It was a research report for International Women’s Year by the Centre for Urban Research and Action. I think that this article does a very good job in delineating the areas of concern and will lead many of us to question what Government action is necessary arising out of this report, which was essentially commissioned by the Federal Government although that Federal Government was of a different complexion from the present one. The article commences with a quotation from that report. It reads:
Considerable changes are required at all levels of Australian society to enable migrant women and their families to have opportunities to develop their potential. … At a societal level all structures must adjust to bring the reality of present day multicultural Australia into accordance with principles to ensure a fair deal for migrants. Changes are needed in all structures and institutions.
It is disturbing to go on and find the following comment in this article about the work done by these women:
These women are resigned to the fact that they often have to work in cold, dirty and foul-smelling situations. The research team found that sore eyes from poor lighting, chest complaints from heavy dusts, headaches from noise and aching legs from working on concrete floors were common conditions. Women were loath to take time ofl* from their regimented or piecework/bonus system employment to seek proper medical attention. In many instances there was a fear of accidents because of inadequate multilingual safety signs.
I think honourable members will remember my colleague the honourable member for Batman (Mr Garrick) raising the subject of a woman who was killed in a rail accident. She boarded an express train and was unable to read a sign, did not have warning, leapt off it and was killed. The article continues:
The needs of the children of migrant working mothers, farmed out to relatives or friends, sent to day-care services or in some cases left alone at home, were a constant source of tension to the mother and among concerned neighbours and friends.
Many of those conditions probably apply to the several-generation Australian working in industry. What is disturbing is that the migrant woman worker goes into that position without the protection of understanding and without the ability to communicate. This article comments that it appears basic that migrant women should be freed, encouraged and trained to articulate their own needs. But why can they not do this? It is a matter of acquiring the language to communicate those needs. English language classes are provided, but when are they provided? They are provided at night, when the woman who has been working in the factory and who has had a long day in the factory has to be at home as a housekeeper and as a mother. In any case, she is probably too darned tired to go out to those classes. It is about time consideration was given to encouraging these women in the work force by devising a system by which they can obtain this training while in the working situation, to gain a knowledge of the language that is needed for communication. Without that there is no way in which they can learn what their working conditions should be, what welfare conditions there are and what health conditions there are. They are working as a matter of economic necessity. So many of them are working because they are thrifty and industrious people. I do not knock them for that.
In the area of child care the program seems to be running down under this Government. The program is needed to enable them to employ their talents fully and to enjoy the fruits of their labour. It is only when we have a migration program that allows the migrant woman worker to feel the confidence that she can communicate, can make her demands, can understand the conditions under which she works, can feel a position of equality and dignity in the work force that we can be satisfied with that migration program. I believe that for too long this aspect has been forgotten. I have no evidence that the present Government is taking note of these factors. On behalf of so many of the people who live in my area, I urge that urgent action be taken.
-On behalf of the Government, I acknowledge the contribution of the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) made in such a thoughtful manner. My attention was also drawn to the plight of those Yugoslav women who were working in market gardens at Werribee. There are 2 points that I would like to make. Firstly, I think the $ 1 7 referred to was an after tax wage and I hope it complies with the Victorian vegetable growers award which should cover work of this nature. I suggest to the honourable member for Scullin that if it does not, any case of injustice should be brought before this Parliament. I assure the honourable member that I know first hand that the plight of migrant people in general, but women in particular, was the subject of review by a Government committee very recently. That matter is in front of the Government at the moment.
I thought I would take this opportunity, which is roughly 9 months after the Liberal-National Country Party Government came to office, to review some of the things that have happened in those 9 months. I thought that in the course of my review I would reflect on what might have happened if the Australian Labor Party had regained office last December. We recall that on 13 December last year the Australian Labour Party got the most overwhelming vote of no confidence that any political party has received in Australia’s history. It was clear from that vote that Australians demanded the end of ineptitude, the end to scandal and the end to incompetence in national government. Well might that be demanded. I believe they also demanded a government that was prepared to take the necessary steps to pull Australia out of the critical economic conditions that had developed as a result of the Labor Government ‘s schemes of the previous 3 years. It was evident that Labor’s approach was something of a crackpot jackpot, take it or leave it, grab at public office and government. They had not really thought through their responsibilities, which landed them in the mess that we recognise. I do not believe any Australian government has come into office in such a difficult time as did the Fraser Government. Inflation was rampant, interest rates were high, unemployment was at levels unheard of for 40 years, and the opportunities of thousands of Australians had been compromised in that short time.
I think it is important to compare the vast gulf between Government and Opposition policy on economic recovery. In this Parliament the Australian Labor Party is still advocating more government spending as the means of solving the problems that the country is presently facing. In the 3 years that it was in office it managed to spend $6,000m more than it raised. That is notwithstanding the unprecedented increases in income tax revenue that it received. In this Parliament the Opposition is still claiming that government spending is the key to reducing unemployment. Forgetting for the moment that in 1974 it increased government spending by 46 per cent, unemployment went up by 300 per cent in the same year. In the same fashion it argues today for further wage increases to boost consumer spending. This blindly ignores all the evidence that in times of high inflation wage increases have the opposite effect. They fuel inflation, they increase unemployment and they effectively reduce consumer spending. In high inflationary times those who call for higher government spending, for bigger deficits, for full wage indexation or for devaluation of the Australian dollar- in the name of reducing unemployment- are simply calling for higher not lower unemployment. Pump priming is not the answer to today’s problems. There will be no lasting return to individual prosperity or national competitiveness while inflation is rampant.
Yesterday in this House I heard one Opposition member- I think it was the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson)complaining bitterly that Australian manufacturing companies have set up manufacturing divisions in South East Asia. He overlooked the fact that those companies have virtually lost their entire competitive position in Australia and that they have been effectively driven to set up manufacturing divisions in South East Asia. I believe the honourable member for Burke went on his usual kick of accusing the Government of union bashing. The only bashing so far in this Parliament has been Opposition members bashing enterprise.
– Bashing our ears, too.
– Bashing our ears too, as the honourable member for Swan interjects. Since they have been in Opposition they have been verbally assaulting enterprise in the same manner that characterised their term of government. Honourable members may be aware that I have purposely not said ‘free enterprise’, because there is no free enterprise. There is nongovernment enterprise, and that is the enterprise which traditionally employs 75 per cent of the Australian work force. That is the sector of the economy which makes the real contribution to the national resource so that living standards and opportunities for Australians are increased. It is not only a question of bashing the multinationals; it is not only a question of bashing the large Australian companies. Non-government enterprise in this country includes every man or woman who makes an investment or takes a risk to set up a business operation, to do something for themselves and thereby do something for others, who employs other people and contributes through taxes to the national resource. It is a strange fact that there were no more people employed in the non-government sector of enterprise in 1975 than there were when the Government parties left office in 1972. Yet the work force increased in that time by over 370 000.
– What happened to productivity?
– Productivity did not go up either. If the honourable member for Wills reflects on the subject of productivity he must realise that it must be related to wages. In addition, profit margins come into it. What the honourable member for Wills needs to understand is that real’ wage increases in the 2 years to December 1974 increased by 1 6 per cent.
– That was a first class social revolution.
– The honourable member for Wills thinks that that personifies the revolution to which he is looking forward. That may be his attitude but the fact is that over a long term, in the 23 years of stable government provided by the Liberal Party and the Country Party ‘real’ wage increases averaged 3 per cent each year. In those 2 years to 1974 the real wage increases of 5 years were compressed into 2 years. Unfortunately productivity increases were not commensurate with those wage increases. So what inevitably followed? The result was high inflation, uncertain business and consumer confidence and inevitable unemployment. The honourable member for Wills, by his interjection, draws attention to the malaise of that period in which he and his Party were in office.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-My contribution to this grievance debate relates to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. The trip of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to Jakarta can be described only as a tragic example of appeasement- perhaps the greatest act of appeasement to another country by Australia since the days when Australia’s foreign policy was determined in the United Kingdom. Appeasing the Indonesian generals is the objective of the Fraser Government. In doing this it is prepared to ignore the feeling of the East Timorese, a large number of democratically-minded Australians and the vast body of world opinion.
There is no escaping the conclusion that the Prime Minister should not go to Indonesia while Indonesian troops are continuing the brutal occupation of East Timor. There should be no meeting of heads of state whilst the East Timorese are suffering at the hands of the most murderous invasion of recent times. Some estimates state that over 60 000 East Timorese have been slaughtered already. Six Australian journalists were murdered by the troops of the Republic of Indonesia. How much more suffering has to be undergone by a people in order to make the Fraser Government listen and to stand up for the rights of a people so near our shores to self-determination free from interference? How much does it take for the Fraser Government to listen to the cry for help of the East Timorese? When will this Government take note of world opinion on this blackest, anti-democratic action which was accompanied by deceit, lies and deception?
These questions have been blatantly ignored by the cold, hard, insensitive motivations of the Government and its handful of shadowy advisers. Appeasement rivalling Munich is the only way in which to describe the political action of the Prime Minister in scurrying off to Jakarta. He certainly is the Indonesian generals’ man and in the comfort of Jakarta the tragedy of East Timor can be schemed away. This latest episode of appeasement is only a further step in a series of actions by this Government in denying any assistance to the East Timorese. They are recorded in history. The closure of the Darwin radio link on 26 February 1 976 was perhaps the first sign of this Government’s desire to placate Indonesia. This was a deliberate attempt to cut off the independence movement in East Timor from the outside world and to scuttle the visit of the United Nations representative, Mr WinspeareGiucciardi, to East Timor.
In April the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) visited Jakarta. He returned in forced glory heralding his own skills in conveying Australia’s position to the Indonesian generals. He told the House that he put our position forcefully. We should ask: How forcefully? The
Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Malik, revealed in an interview the true nature of Mr Peacock’s visit to Jakarta. In the Melbourne Herald on 2 1 September Mr Malik was quoted as saying that our Foreign Minister said:
My position in the Parliament is like this and maybe, Mr Malik, you feel unhappy but I must wait. But in the long run we understand that this is the only way for Indonesia.
Yes indeed, the Fraser Government has understood the invasion and murder in East Timor, just as it did in duping Australians into Vietnam. However, we did not have to wait long to see further examples of duplicity. The proposed humanitarian barge organised by church groups, trade unions and concerned individuals was told that it would be prevented from going to East Timor. Mr Peacock told us all that it would not be necessary as the International Red Cross would soon be returning to East Timor. What a sham! Still to this day only a brief visit to Dili has been made by the International Red Cross. Now we are to give aid to the Indonesian Red Cross. This contradicts one of the 4 points of this Government’s policy on East Timor. It gives aid to a partisan organisation that has aided and abetted the invasion. This aid in fact will assist the invading troops and no one else.
In the last few days we have witnessed the high points of duplicity of this Government. They also highlight the underlying weakness of this Government in placating the repressive Indonesian regime. In all 3 major international issues involving Indonesia in the last 15 years the Liberal-National Country Party coalition has played an essentially weak and subservient role- during the confrontation with Malaysia, the takeover of West Papua New Guinea and the invasion of East Timor.
What of the future? Which other areas need Indonesian volunteers to shape their future? Weakness is the essence of appeasement. It is also accompanied by an unprincipled world view on events around us. The seizure of the radio link is the expression of appeasement to the Indonesian generals. There is no doubt in my mind that this action was taken following the conveyance of orders from Jakarta. The Fraser Government is once again eagerly assisting the Indonesians in the strangulation of the East Timorese.
Why is all of this occurring now? In my view it is to prevent the United Nations from hearing the voices of independence from East Timor and to make it easier for the Prime Minister to recognise the incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia. Perhaps the real nature of these latest events lies in the words of the Leader of the
Government in this House, the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Sinclair). In the House on 5 October in reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Short) he stated:
On other occasions in this place the Labor Party has supported the idea of Australia in some way actively participating in support of insurgents- in the past in Africa and now apparently in a neighbouring country.
Mr Sinclair was replying to a question on East Timor. He pulled the veil of deception away. The seizure of the radio was a deliberate step in the move to recognise the Indonesian takeover of East Timor. His words ‘in support of insurgents’ can only imply this. Many Liberal Party members have sadly admitted as much. We are told and they are told and argue that this is inevitable, that we must recognise the Indonesian takeover of East Timor. I say that that is wrong. We cannot and must not accept the situation. We cannot and must not let down the East Timorese people who have asked Australia for assistance. Yes, they have asked for our assistance just as we asked for their assistance during the Second World War. It is about time that honourable members in the House recognised that it was the East Timorese people who defended our troops. Many of these people were slaughtered by the Japanese because of their loyalty to the Australians who were fighting in the mountains of East Timor for so many years during the Second World War. The radio link was a small measure of our support for these people. Surely we cannot desert them now. This trip to Jakarta by the Prime Minister bears a striking resemblance to the appeasement of Hitler by Neville Chamberlain. It is nothing short of a weak placating of the repressive, aggressive and expansionist Jakarta generals. One can only ask: What paper will the Prime Minister sign? Will it be a further step in recognising the tragic and illegal Indonesian incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia? I hope that my remarks will bring some truth at last to the Australian people.
-My grievance is that no government in Australia has ever properly investigated the possibility of introducing worker participation schemes into Australia. During the debate on the Budget several weeks ago I suggested to the House that the present economic problems confronting Australia were much deeper than many people seemed to realise. I stated that Australia’s problems basically stemmed from deep-seated structural problems of both an economic and social nature. The historical development of large countervailing concentrations of power, of both labour and capital, the way these powers were being used and the developing political and social bitterness which seems to be hardening between different groups of Australians, is in my opinion the very basis of our present problems. These fundamental, social, political and economic divisions are tearing Australian society apart. In the process they are destroying the very foundation of our economy.
If this is the case, and I believe it is, we must, in attempting to solve Australia’s present economic and social problems, lift our horizons. I believe many of us cannot see the wood for the trees. We are bound up in conventional economic problems and solutions, fine tuning by monetary, fiscal, wage and industrial relations policy adjustments. But I think that all of us, on both sides of the House, might be missing the major point. Should we not be looking at ways and means of solving the present structural divisiveness, which, in the long term, if allowed to go unchecked will bring this country to its knees and render all these conventional short term measures totally useless. I suggest to the House, and particularly to the Government, that a fullscale inquiry be held in order to assess whether some kind of employee share ownership scheme can be effectively implemented in this country. As long as workers and management have very divergent views of their roles in society the inevitable political, social and economic disruption will work against the best long term interests of this country.
We must try to devise a way in which both workers and management can establish a compatibility of interests, a convergence of views, and thereby work towards the same goals and further the best interests of everyone involved. Unless we do this the social divisions in Australia will continue to provide the basis for conflict. Therefore, I want the government to investigate the relevance of worker participation schemes to the Australian experience. One such possibility might by Kelso’s employee share ownership plan which is a technique for financing employees into acquiring ownership in their company at no cost to themselves and creating a new source of corporate equity. His plan has been supported by legislation in the United States Congress. It has gained widespread acceptance by both unions and business. Shann Turnbull has suggested that in Australia a Kelso plan with some modifications could be established. At this stage I do not want to become wedded to any one plan. I simply speak about the principle of worker participation schemes. I hope that a government inquiry will look at the details of alternative proposals.
A scheme such as that proposed by Kelso provides for a second income for wage earners so that employees not only rely on wages income but also on income derived from sharing the ownership of the productive assets of the country, in particular by having a share in the capital of the company which employs them. Such schemes would provide a true compatibility of interests between labour and capital. They would help avoid the class conflicts which are at the very basis of Australia’s present economic and social problems. They would achieve this by spreading the vast natural wealth of this country over all individuals, irrespective of their economic status by sharing more equitably the productive assets of the nation. This is the greatest benefit of all participatory schemes. It helps to unite otherwise diverse groups which can work towards common goals for the benefit of all people of the country.
I shall relate the experience of a large company in Western Australia which has adopted a worker ownership scheme. The company is called Hart of the West Limited. It has adopted a scheme which is different from that suggested by both Kelso and Turnbull. In the early 1970s the company of S. W. Hart and Co. Pty Ltd was the subject of a number of takeovers. By late 1973 the staff of the company were becoming confused and frustrated with the succession of new owners. As a result of their dissatisfaction the staff responded in a unique way. It banded together to buy the company at a cost of some $1,150,000. This takeover of S. W. Hart and Co. by its employees made history in Australia as it was the first time that a company of this size and diversity had been taken over from within. This was achieved by forming a public company called Hart of the West Limited. It issued a prospectus to all employees of S. W. Hart and Co. offering them a total of 300 000 $ 1 fully paid shares which was a significant part of the total capital funding of the company.
More than $2 10,000 were subscribed by more than two thirds of the employees, from the cleaner to the managing director. Of the onethird of employees not taking up shares, nearly all were outside site workers. The maximum number of shares available to each person was 10 000. There was no compulsion to acquire shares. To those who suggest that the average worker is not interested in management problems it should be made clear that he need do no more than own shares unless he wants to extend his interest to management matters. This scheme of ownership is different in detail, but not in principle, from those proposed by Kelso and others, inasmuch as no ownership trust need be established. One simply puts one’s money on the line. Other financing arrangements could, of course, be made if necessary. The composition of the board of management also provides for employees being given very effective representation on the board.
It is significant that over the past 3 years, at a time of considerable industrial problems in the metal trades industry, there have been no strikes by the company’s employees. Only 80 manhours have been lost over disputes but these were by agreement with the company. The workers did not want to stop working but it was agreed that the company should be represented at disputation meetings. Of even greater significance is the profit performance of the company. In the first 6 months of operation, profits to 30 June 1974 were $20,000. One year later profits rose to $404,000. In the year to 30 June 1976 the published net profit was $533,000. This is an incredible performance. I asked the managing director how this transformation had taken place. He simply replied that everyone worked hard. Surely there is a lesson here for all policy makers. This identity of interests which stems from substantial worker ownership might provide a long term answer to Australia’s problems. There have been no strikes, staff relationships are very good and very informal and the staff is well provided for. All employees have an interest in their company making a profit because in the case I have mentioned this has led, for the workers, to the introduction of a staff superannuation scheme, Christmas bonuses, better staff facilities and of course higher incomes derived from increased productivity and from the increased dividends they receive on the shares they own as a result of the increased profits for which they are largely responsible.
I pay tribute to this company and its employees. I pay a tribute to the principle of employee share ownership. If the recent performance of this company were transposed to the national economic scene, Australia’s economic problems, and many of her social and political problems, would be solved in the longer term and in the best interests of all Australians. We are not now confronted with just a transitory cyclical economic problem. It is a long term structural economic and social problem which requires a response designed to attack these problems. I am not saying that share ownership schemes are the answer. They may not be. But Australia, in its present state, cannot afford to ignore the possibilities which might be inherent in such schemes. I simply call on the Government to undertake a full scale inquiry into whether or not such schemes can be introduced in Australia, and if so, how.
In the last few days there has been some talk by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of the need for employees to play a greater role in management matters. I think that such a proposition is good. It is a step in the right direction but it is not enough. Additional incentives are required. Nothing could provide a greater incentive than ownership participation to complement management participation. I think that this Government must investigate the possibilities inherent in such a scheme.
-Last weekend I returned from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s conference which was held in Mauritius. I was most impressed by the interest shown by delegates from all over the Commonwealth in the East Timor takeover by Indonesia. The honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) and Mr John Middleton of Papua New Guinea greatly impressed delegates when they spoke on this matter. One could gauge the attitude of delegates. There is growing indignation by millions of Australians now they are learning more about the barbaric takeover of East Timor by our friends, Indonesia.
I want to applaud the submissions made by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) because I do not think that anyone in this Parliament is more qualified to speak of the loyalty of the Timorese natives to Australian troops in the last World War than the honourable member who served in Timor and was taken prisoner of war from East Timor by the Japanese. I understand that the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) is to be the next Opposition speaker in the debate. The honourable member, although not taken a prisoner of war, effectively discharged his duty to Australia in driving the Japanese out of Indonesian Borneo.
In the events that have occurred in Portuguese Timor since August of last year Australia has witnessed perhaps the worst example of decolonisation since the process began in its modern context after the Second World War. According to some accounts these events have cost more than 50 000 lives. Although these figures may not be substantiated the extraordinary measures taken by Indonesia to prevent outsiders from gaining access to East Timor suggest that the figure of 50 000 lives might well be accurate. The grim tragedy of Timor constitutes a denial of basic human rights as well as a brutal act of annexation of the type carried out by Hitler when he seized Czechoslovakia. Here one might point out that Hitler used ‘volunteers’- the Frie Corpsand contended that the people of Czechoslovakia wanted to integrate with the Third Reich, as Indonesia has alleged in respect of East Timor. It is also interesting to note that the mood in which the German aggression was carried out is not so different from the mood prevailing in the governments of the countries adjacent to Indonesia today.
It could be argued that the Australian Government, despite a few statements critical of Indonesia’s aggression against East Timor, has been negative in its approach to this problem. The honourable member for Fraser, who as I have mentioned was a delegate with me to the Australian Parliamentary Association’s conference in Mauritius, reported that during the United Nations Security Council debate the Australian mission played a low key role and sought not to embarrass Indonesia. The honourable member reported that several Western diplomatic missions in New York indicated that they would have adopted a firmer stand on the Timor question if Australia had given them some leadership. But Australia, which other missions accepted as having an intimate knowledge of the Timor issue, did not seek to provide the kind of leadership that might have led to effective United Nations action in support of the right of self-determination of the peoples of East Timor. In short, it might be argued that although certain statements critical of Indonesia’s aggression were made within the Australian Parliament, Australia did nothing to prevent what is perhaps the worst act of aggression to have occurred in South East Asia since the end of World War II.
After its invasion on 7 December last year the Indonesian Government treated the angry reaction of the UN, and in particular the resolutions of the Security Council, with scant regard. In 2 separate resolutions the Security Council called on Indonesia to withdraw her troops and to provide for an acceptable act of self-determination. Indonesia’s response was to sabotage the efforts of Mr Winspeare, the UN special envoy, to make an impartial assessment of the situation in East Timor. Indonesia has consistently claimed that the people of East Timor wanted to integrate with their country, a claim that has been denied by all Australian observers who visited Timor prior to the invasion. That includes persons of all political persuasions- from Labor parliamentarians to Mr Michael Darby who has been a constant foe of the Labor Party. The Indonesians then went on to organise hurriedly a complete sham act of free choice, cynically exploiting petty kings and chiefs who had been the pillars of the old colonial system.
The Timor episode raises many questions about Indonesia’s integrity and, it might be argued, about the conduct of Australian foreign policy. Many observers of Indonesian political behaviour have contended that Indonesia is a peace loving country, without territorial ambitions. Perhaps this is so, but it should be noted that this is the third occasion within a period of some 16 years that Indonesia has used force against neighbouring territories. It used force in West Irian in 1961. 1 had the pleasure of accompanying the honourable member for Wills to the Indonesian border of West Irian. There we spoke to 150 West Irians who had advocated independence in West Irian and as a result were subjected to maltreatment. One of the people to whom we spoke had been shot through the shoulder. These people had fled from West Irian and had sought refuge in what was known then as Australian New Guinea. Indonesia also used force during the period of confrontation with Malaysia. Has the kind of behaviour really ended?
Events in Timor have caused considerable anxiety in Papua New Guinea which shares a common border with Indonesia. As I said in my opening remarks an impressive speech was made by John Middleton of the Parliament of Papua New Guinea at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s conference. We might ask ourselves whether Australia, by accepting Indonesian agression against East Timor, has not given encouragement to Indonesian leaders like General Moertopo and General Moerdani, who appear to have been the architects of the seizure of East Timor. Might these generals not be tempted to repeat their operation against East Timor at a time when Papua New Guinea is still facing serious problems in establishing national unity? On the basis of our performance in the Timor affair it would not be surprising if the Government in Port Moresby has grave misgivings about how Australia would respond if certain Indonesian generals decided to launch another ‘integration’ operation. It could be argued that Australia not only did nothing to prevent the seizure of East Timor but also it now seems ready to brush aside a brutal act of aggression costing thousands of lives in the name of establishing good relations with a regime whose main attraction is its relentless hostility towards communism.
Whenever the Opposition has raised the Timor affair the Government has responded by attacking my leader, Mr Whitlam, for the way in which he handled the Timor policy when he was in office. However, it might be argued that the main invasion occurred while the Fraser Government was in office and that the time for a forceful response to that act of aggression was last December. It might also be argued that the Indonesian Government was not convinced that Australia was seriously concerned about the denial of self-determination to East Timor and simply chose to ignore the few statements emanating from Canberra. The Indonesians would have realised, however, that the reaction from the Labor Government to such a naked act of aggression would have been more forceful and less compromising. I understand from private sources that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock), for whom I have great respect, quite apart from his political views, was subjected on one of his visits to Indonesia to great humiliation and indignity by one of the generals. We should not appease Indonesia any longer but should speak out strongly and say what our attitude is, for which millions of Australians would applaud us.
-My grievance today is on behalf of the cheese industry of Australia, particularly the processed cheese sector, which alleges that cheese is being dumped in this country from New Zealand and has been dumped for up to 2 years. There are 3 related matters concerning the importation of cheese from New Zealand. The first matter is dumping; the second relates to the definition of ‘cheddar’ under the New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement; and the third relates to another aspect of the agreement, that is, the informal cooperation required between the New Zealand Dairy Board and the Australian Dairy Board on all dairy industry matters. I believe, from what I have seen, that on all 3 issues the New Zealanders are guilty. New Zealand imports into Australia are under quota for cheddar, which is 1220 tonnes per annum, but for the fancy varieties there are no tariffs and no restrictions at all. In the past 5 years imports of cheese from New Zealand have increased rapidly. I agree with those people who say that in some varieties the quality of New Zealand cheese is more consistent than the Australian cheese.
At the present time the dairy industry in Australia is suffering from probably the greatest crisis in its history. In my own area there is a combination of problems. Returns are disastrously low, having dropped from up to 75 cents per lb of butter fat in milk 2 years ago to 50 cents now, although with the latest very generous Government assistance that return will rise to 55 cents. As well, production is down by 30 per cent or 40 per cent because of the worst drought for many years. Those points relating to the problems of the industry, although pertinent, are not the actual points at issue with New Zealand. Australia has an objective import protection system through the dumping provisions, the Temporary Assistance Authority or the Industries Assistance Commission. I believe that it is the least politicised import protection system in the world. If one looks at the European Economic Community and the way its governments make import decisions without going through these objective procedures, one can see the point I am making.
Objective procedures are available for protection against the dumping of any product, whether it is cheese or cars or anything else. I understand that at the present time there is an application before the Customs section of the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs relating to the alleged dumping in this country of easy cheese. I have here an advertisement which appeared in the Melbourne Herald on 7 September 1976 which quotes the price of 8 ounces net of New Zealand easy cheese as 25 cents. According to the definition, dumping occurs when a product is sold in another country for less than the normal sale price in the country of origin. The normal sale price of easy cheese in New Zealand is 46 cents. If one allows for a 25 per cent currency differential, the price in Australiaand I know that this is a rough estimate and does not allow for freight, which would add to the cost- would be approximately 34 cents to 35 cents, but it is being advertised for 25 cents. To my mind, that is a prima facie case of dumping, and if the Customs section considers that a case exists then under the NAFTA agreement there is a 60 day negotiation period to try to resolve the problem. If the problem is not resolved at the end of 60 days anti-dumping duties are applied if they are found to be necessary.
The point I want to make is that this is not a request for protection against lower cost imports because the other country has a lower cost wage structure than Australia. The fact that we have the highest wage costs in the world is a tremendous problem for all primary industry in Australia. The costs of cannery operators in the fruit canning industry are the highest in the world, if one considers wage levels generally. But that is not the point. Here is a straight out case of dumping, of a product being sold in a second country at less than the normal sale price.
The second related issue is whether easy cheese is cheddar. If it is cheddar it should be included in the quota of 1220 tonnes. It is very difficult to ascertain the figures because, under different categories, processed cheese can come from New Zealand either as cheddar, processed cheddar or other processed cheese, and there is no reference on the label to this being a cheddar cheese. If all the cheese- that is the easy cheese, cheddar and processed cheddar- is added together for the 1975-76 year, it amounts to 1600 to 1700 tonnes, to my knowledge, which is about 500 tonnes more than the quota. If one looks at the health regulations in the various States of Australia one finds that the definition of processed cheese, that is, a cheese which has been emulsified and pasteurised and had certain other things done to it, includes cheddar cheese. I think anybody who eats New Zealand cheese and also one of the three brands of Australian processed cheddar cheese will agree that they are the same type of cheese, although some people say that the Australian cheese is better. So if this is a cheddar cheese, and I believe that the weight of evidence is that it is a cheddar under the Pure Foods Act or the health regulations of the States, it should be included in the quota. If it is included in the quota, I believe that New Zealand is clearly in breach of the quota arrangements between the 2 countries.
That brings me to my third point. It is important for the dairy industries and the dairy boards of both countries to co-operate because we are the two largest exporters in the world of dairy products. It is to our mutual advantage to ensure that these products are not sold in third countries at unnecessarily low prices because that reduces the return to producers and the foreign exchange in both countries. There is also the informal requirement under NAFTA that the two dairy boards co-operate on the export of dairy products from one country to the other. I understand that the New Zealand Dairy Board has been made aware over the last 2 years of the dumping of easy cheese in Australia- alleged dumping, if you like- and has not responded. If a prima facie case of dumping is made out there is a requirement under NAFTA to look at the situation. The requirement for co-operation between the dairy industries and dairy boards of both countries is such that I and a number of others from the industry requested the Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Anthony) to raise this question at the recent annual ministerial NAFTA meeting. In reply to a question I put to the Minister on this subject, he said that he was aware of the general complaints of the dairy industry in Australia and of the problem of quotas. He stated in the answer that he would bring this matter to the attention of the New Zealand Minister at the forthcoming ministerial talks. My understanding is that that general subject was raised at those talks.
Sometimes people say: Why should we not get something as cheap as possible from another country? If that were done, everybody in this country would be out of a job. The most overpriced product in this country is labour. The people who sell their service of labour have the greatest protection from any import competition that is possible. I believe that this is completely onesided and unfair. On the one hand, they have this level of protection but on the other hand they then want to have the best of both worlds and to have a product as cheaply as possible. The Australian people should have a good range of dairy products, including cheese. I am not in favour of banning imports of cheese. I believe that the arrangements we have in Australia provide a far greater access for the Australian consumer to varieties of cheese from all around the world than exists in most other countries. But it is completely unfair if dumping is taking place and if quotas are being breached. I believe that in both cases I have raised, a substantial case exists to show that a verdict of guilty must be brought down against New Zealand on these issues.
– I support the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) and the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) in their criticism of the visit of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to Indonesia at this time. I think that we are at a climatic moment for democracy in this area of the world. Only this morning, the tragic events in Thailand have become common knowledge in Australia. We have heard about the destruction of the Government of Thailand which was elected as a result of a reasonably free election in April 1 976 following an election in 1 975. Where is democracy to stand if we are to tolerate- in fact, almost give our imprimatur to- what is going on in Timor? On Christmas Day 1 945 I sat on a hill in Borneo with my colleagues and comrades-in-arms of an Australian infantry battalion. We listened to an impassioned appeal from the free Indonesian forces for assistance in their claim to become a free country and win independence from Holland. I know the response of the people who sat around with us at that time. The soldiers were all on their side. The Australian Government came to their aid. The unions of Australia came to their aid. Indonesia received its freedom and its independence at the response of the people of Australia over the following two or three years. I think it is sad that at this stage a nation which was born under those conditions should sink so low as to become the vehicle of aggression against its smaller neighbours. We in Australia must start to apply ourselves to the whole question of independence, freedom and selfgovernment in this area.
What is the Government of Indonesia? It is a military dictatorship. It is not the worst in the world by a long shot, but it is a dictatorship and freedom is depressed. People are in prison without trial for years. It is not the kind of government any of us would support. Nor should we stand by and allow it to be inflicted on other people. As my colleagues have pointed out, where will it end? A few years ago, it was West Irian. Now it is East Timor. Where do we draw the line? I belong to that generation which perhaps gets a little edgy at times such as this about what happened in our time- what happened pre- War 1939 and in relation to the appeasement system. I wish to quote from an impeccable authority, according to conservative people- none other than Winston Churchill himself. I quote from page 2 18 his book The Second World War where he says:
Mr Chamberlain was imbued with a sense of a special and personal mission to come to friendly terms with the Dictators of Italy and Germany, and he conceived himself capable of achieving this relationship. To Mussolini he wished to accord recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia as a prelude to a general settlement of differences.
That could be a very accurate description of this pilgrimage of the Australian Prime Minister to Jakarta. He should turn around and come back. What are we doing? Of course, he talks about legitimacy, sovereignty and things like that. It is time to apply different criteria. What other criteria should we apply to governments and the relationship between nations? They are humanity, liberty, freedom and self-government. In my view, those demands transcend any considerations of sovereignty or what might be called neighbourliness. This is no time for legalisms. When I hear the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson), the right honourable the Prime Minister and others talking about the application of the law to one little radio in Australia, my heart sinks.
– I know that their remarks represent the desertion of the things that really matter. I am sure that even the honourable member who interjects would place the demands of humanity, the rights of people to freedom and liberty above any questions of the legality of one radio set. What have we come to? Is the regard of the Indonesians so important that we must surrender everything that this country has ever stood for? Our people went in the hundreds and thousands to fight in the First World War and the Second World War. They ran up their flag at the Eureka Stockade. I think that it should be more important for Indonesia to try to earn our regard. I would say emphatically that it is impossible for Indonesia to threaten Australia militarily in the foreseeable future. I am certain of that. But one cannot tell what the future will bring if we give continued encouragement to aggression as we have done in this case.
What has been our approach? Let us take the significance of the radio set. There are a number of things we could do. We could have given it a licence. We could have ignored it. We could even have encouraged it. We are the inheritors of the British tradition. Back in the last century, every person in Europe attempting to overthrow dictatorships and oppressors fled to Great Britain and found a home there so that they could carry on. Where do we stand at times like these? I suggest that we should do several things: Perhaps we should change the law. We should issue a licence. We should turn a blind eye. Perhaps it is time we brought in the Nelson touch. What should we have said to the Indonesians? Perhaps we should have told them that Australia is a big country and it is very difficult to find one wireless set. Our attitudes represent an invitation to continuing aggression. I regard this incident as one of the most shameful incidents in Australia ‘s political history. It is true that for the first time Australia stands on its own facing big neighbours on an international question. We stand on our own because through world pressure nations have turned a blind eye to what has happened. They have passed a few resolutions, but what are they doing about the situation? My friends opposite may say: ‘What can we do?’ I recognise the feeling of helplessness one gets on occasions such as these. But the first thing to do is mobilise world opinion. Our ambassadors overseas ought to be calling on every single government telling them what we think about it. Of course, they will say yes. One of the lessons of my political experience is that you do not give up because people only listen to you the first time. You do not go away because they reject you the first time.You stand up, speak up and keep on doing so. Our embassies around the world ought to be part of the world agitation system.
We should say to the United Nations: ‘Send back your mission to East Timor. If the Indonesian Government cannot guarantee security and safety for it to visit Timor, we will’. I am quite certain that the Indonesian Government would not front up if we placed adequate forces at the disposal of the United Nations mission visiting Timor. We have to maintain pressure on Indonesia. We have to indicate our continuing displeasure with that country. We must not in any way give recognition to its take-over of East Timor. I suppose also that we should be continuously exercising pressure upon the Portuguese Government to use its goodwill and relationships around the world in the same way. This is no time to desert our historic past. This is the time to stand fast.
I must admit that this morning I am stirred more than usual in these matters by the events in Thailand, a country which has had a long history of odd governments and dictatorships but also a history of very peaceful changes of government, even by way of alleged military coups. Here we have another military takeover in our area. We will become the last island of democracy if we are not careful because, as my friend, the honourable member for Hunter said, what is to stop Papua New Guinea from being next? One only has to read the telexes hung in the refreshment room to know that the Chief of Staff in West Irian was asking the Chief of Staff of Papua New Guinea to suppress the people from crossing the borders there. So I appeal to all the goodwill of the people of Australia, to our historical past and to people in this House- I know there are many who believe that what I am saying here this morning is correct- to stop appeasing dictators and oppressors and try to demand that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister (Mr Peacock) stand up and speak up for what all Australians believe in: Liberty, democracy and free expression of free peoples. We should use whatever influence we have to persuade world opinion to have the Indonesians remove their military forces from East Timor.
-It is indeed pleasing to hear from the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) that Australia will become the last bastion of democracy. His words are in sharp contrast to the words of his leader and in sharp contrast to the actions of his leader in the last few months of last year. I have only a short period in which to speak and I should like to raise again a question which I raised during question time. It relates to the fishing industry. In my electorate of EdenMonaro we have a very large fishing industry with 3 very substantial fishing ports- Ulladulla, Bermagui and Eden- apart from other smaller ports. A very serious question is confronting the fishermen in New South Wales at the moment and that is the question of whether or not monofilament nets should be allowed in any waters in Australia. Monofilament nets would be a thing that honourable members in this place, apart from a few of us, I suppose, would know nothing about. They are nets made of non.degradable material. The material is invisible in the water. For that reason it is very effective for catching fish. There is no doubt that at first look fishermen would want to rush in and buy those nets and take them out and they would probably increase their catch.
The reason I am so keen to have these nets banned is the long term effects they will have on the marine environment. What can happen is that bits might break off and just float in the water. What happens then is that fish continue to get caught in the nets, never get harvested by humans and, maybe, get eaten by sharks. Nevertheless there is a continuous harvesting of fish remaining dead in the sea forever. That is the great problem that such nets cause. There has been substantial evidence that that is in fact what does happen. Not very long ago a large length of net was found off Wollongong by fishermen. Many dead fish were entangled in it. The Victorian Government which I fear has an obscurantist approach is having some trouble in seeing the arguments put forward by the fishermenthe people who know about fishing and the people who invariably are great environmentaliststhat these nets militate against the best interests of the fishing industry in Australia. I believe that all major fishing nations except France have banned monofilament nets. In all those nations the truth has been seen and those nets have been banned. As far as I am concerned monofilaments nets must be banned in Commonwealth waters. That is the reason I asked the question of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) this morning. I am very pleased he is doing everything he can to get the facts on this matter. But I assure the House that the facts are that monofilament nets are against the long term and short term interests of the fishing industry in Australia and of our marine environment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-On behalf of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I bring up the Committee’s report on alcohol problems of Aboriginals- Northern Territory aspects. A dissenting report signed by 3 members of the Committee is included with the main report.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.
Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The opening words of the foreword in the report I have just tabled are:
Alcohol is the greatest present threat to the Aboriginals of the Northern Territory and unless strong immediate action is taken they could destroy themselves.
They indicate the great concern of the Committee at the effects of alcohol on the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory. It is because of this concern that members of the Committee, following their first inspections and public hearings, unanimously decided to present an interim report so as to inform the Parliament, the Government and the Australian public of the seriousness of the position.
The causes of alcohol abuse among Aboriginals are many and varied. They are discussed in the report. The Committee received evidence that in some Aboriginal communities a great majority of the males are very heavy drinkers and indulge in regular binges. The proportion of income spent on alcohol by Aboriginals appears to be very high. In some cases the proportion could be as high as SO per cent and the regular expenditure could be up to $50 per adult per week. The effects of this alcohol abuse is of great concern to the Committee. The situation, of course, varies between communities. The Committee received a lot of evidence that drunkenness results in lighting and brawling often leading to severe physical injuries and, in some cases, death. Property is destroyed. Women are severely beaten and families neglected. Health and education services break down. Aboriginals in traditional areas have had no experience with alcohol and, therefore, have not developed mechanisms or tribal sanctions covering its abuse. All this has led to a breakdown in traditional authority and the discipline of clan elders.
The Committee recognises the enormity of the task facing the Government and the Aboriginal people themselves in overcoming the severe drinking problems of some Aboriginal communities. In this regard the Committee is encouraged that some Aboriginal groups are aware of the dangers of alcohol abuse and that they are doing something about it. The movement away from the main settlements by some groups to their traditional land, not necessarily to get away from alcohol abuse, is probably the most important step that has been taken and should be encouraged. Some communities have prohibited the importation of liquor, others have imposed quotas, whilst still others have confined the sale of liquor to beer. Some communities have also established licensed clubs as a means of controlling alcohol consumption. Attempts have also been made by some communities to impose their own discipline.
The Committee strongly believes that each Aboriginal community should make its own decision as to whether alcohol should or should not be permitted on a settlement. Once a decision has been taken the Committee is strongly of the view that enforcements of that decision should be supported by all resources of law. Should a community decide to ban alcohol every effort should be made by the Government to assist the community in enforcing that decision. At present, in cases where a community has banned the importation of alcohol or imposed rationing, large quantities are being brought in, mainly by charter aircraft or taxi. The Committee believes that the law should be amended to stop this practice. Should a community decide to allow the consumption of liquor, the Committee believes that a licensed club should hold the only liquor licence within that community. Such a club should provide for the sale of nutritious food and amenities. There will need to be strict supervision of the operation of the clubs and the legislation will need to be amended to provide for special guidelines and conditions applicable to them. Present legislation provides for individuals to be issued with personal liquor permits to import liquor onto reserves and missions. The Committee received evidence of the abuse of this system. Because of this abuse and as there would be no need for such permits under each of the options open to Aboriginals communities as mentioned above, the Committee believes that the personal liquor permit system should be abolished. A dissent on this aspect by three of my colleagues is attached to the report.
Whilst Aboriginals themselves have taken some steps to alleviate the situation, the Committee notes with concern that there appears to be little activity on the part of government departments. This is despite the preparation of a number of reports on the subject which, in the Committee’s view, if implemented would also go some way towards alleviating the situation. The most important of these reports is one which recommended a large number of amendments to the outdated Northern Territory Licensing Ordinance. This report was presented in mid- 1973 and little has been done to implement its recommendations.
The Committee has also made recommendations for the recruitment and training of police, that alcohol education programs be speeded up, that meaningful employment be given to Aboriginals, that accurate statistics be maintained on a regular and continuing basis at Aboriginal settlements, and that a drug and alcohol authority be established in the Northern Territory. The Committee has also recommended that an interdepartmental committee, chaired by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, be established in the Northern Territory to implement and coordinate programs aimed at reducing the alcohol problems of Aboriginals.
There are other aspects of the problem on which the Committee has not made conclusive findings. The Committee is continuing its inquiry into the State aspects and its conclusions will be embodied in the final report. The recommendations of this interim report are aimed at retrieving the situation in the Northern Territory in the short term. The Committee is anxious that its recommendations be acted upon with the utmost expedition in view of the urgency of the situation, and commends them to the Government and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly for their attention.
-by leaveThe fact that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has chosen to produce this interim report on alcohol problems of Aborigines in the Northern Territory shows how seriously the problem is regarded by the Committee. The Committee had access to some SO publications, it visited 16 Aboriginal communities and it took evidence from 44 departmental, private and agency witnesses. It is an established fact that alcohol consumption is relatively high in the Northern Territory, and serious social, economic and health problems undoubtedly accrue as a result. Aboriginal people are by no means the only ones who are vulnerable in this respect, and the inquiry must not be regarded as a witchhunt against them. There are many militating circumstances relating to Aboriginal consumption of alcohol in the Northern Territory.
The Aborigines live in a hot, arid climate. Per capita expenditure on alcoholic beverages is higher in the Northern Territory than in other parts of Australia. The Milner report states that in 1973 per capita expenditure for Australia was $133 and $198 for Darwin. In the report titled 40 Gallons per Head’, which was produced by the Alice Springs Regional Council for Social Development, this contention is made: the people of the southern region of the Northern Territory drink almost twice as much as any other heavy drinking community for which data is available.
Northern Territory Aborigines are obviously influenced by the heavy drinking atmosphere around them. Aboriginal drinking appears to reflect despondency arising from the loss of traditional land and life style; the breakdown of tribal law; the ineffectiveness of the white man’s law in remote regions; massive unemploymentAborigines account for probably more than SO per cent of the work force; and poor socioeconomic conditions.
Aboriginal drinking is also very public and very visible, and this reflects the Aboriginal outdoor living style. It also reflects the community nature of Aboriginal life and the sharing characteristic which is customary of the Aboriginal race. It must be remembered that apart from a few exceptions, Aboriginal communities have no counterpart to the white man’s social club. There is a deficiency of home refrigeration and ice supplies in Aboriginal communities, which probably provides an incentive to after-hours drinking in the vicinity of the town hotel where cold beer is available. This circumstance possibly provides some explanation for the consumption rate of fortified wines and what is called the ‘hot stuff’- rum and other spirits.
The report lists the serious social consequences of excessive alcohol consumption which, if left unchecked, could easily reach genocidal proportions. In the face of such an alarming situation the Committee is concerned that a period of 3 years and 4 months has elapsed since the Board of Inquiry on Liquor Problems, which was appointed by the Northern Territory Legislative Council, presented its report. If the recommendations of that Board of Inquiry had been implemented, many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory could have been spared a great deal of suffering. The fact that the Northern Territory Legislative Council has not given effect to these far-reaching reforms provides ground for the most serious concern. If drafting resources are inadequate to enable the introduction of new ordinances, then adequate resources should be provided without further delay. This matter obviously, needs priority attention by the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) and possibly by the Federal Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott).
The Chairman of the Committee has already mentioned the cavalcade of human tragedy, as revealed by the evidence given to the Committee. We were told that children as young as 8 years of age are being intoxicated; that wives are being beaten up to make them hand over child endowment, and that child endowment increases- the baby money- has been and is being used to buy grog; that charter planes are flying loads of liquor into reserves; that one community passed around a hat on one occasion and that $3,000 was collected in 2 days to buy grog; that husbands are selling women to finance liquor supplies. We were told of a communityand I quote- ‘collapsing in a great, bloody, brawling, sprawling drunken heap’; that white men are selling flagons of wine to Aborigines at $20 a flagon; that one Aboriginal drunk pick-up service picks up 50 to 60 people a night; that one Northern Territory town has 52 liquor outlets; and we were told of a community rationing beer to 12 cans per adult per day and 24 cans on Saturdays. All this clearly reveals a great human tragedy.
The Committee has made a number of proposals to deal with this disastrous situation. It is not prepared to recommend discriminatory treatment about the rights of Aboriginal people to drink. It has not recommended prohibition, knowing that that is unachievable. The local option system is supported, but clearly more attention should be given to this matter, particularly in terms of decision-taking processes by Aboriginals and the frequency with which the question might be put to a community. A minority report supports retention of the personal liquor permit system on a local option basis provided it is efficiently policed to avoid abuse. One of the reasons for this point of view is to ensure that communities opting for prohibition can still provide permits for visiting contractors and servicing personnel if that is considered necessary by the Aboriginal community concerned.
The Committee has not sought to reverse the decision to decriminalise drunkenness. It advocates greater mobility of the Northern Territory police, the provision of more police stations, the enforcement of decisions by Aboriginal communities on liquor consumption, restrictions on the carriage of liquor in taxis and aircraft, the issue of club permits, the provision of detoxification and rehabilitation units, and the setting up of a drug and alcohol authority. The question of customary law obviously requires further attention.
Both the Chairman of the Committee and I have had an opportunity to deal only cursorily with some of the highlights of the Committee’s findings. I commend the report and the transcript of evidence to the consideration of the Parliament and of all those people who are interested in the survival of the Aboriginal race.
-by leaveThe House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs would not have brought forward an interim report had it not believed that it was absolutely urgent to overcome this alcohol problem of Aborigines. The object of bringing forward this interim report is to get positive action as soon as possible. In the Northern Territory and elsewhere disappointment has been expressed that in the past numerous reports on this matter have been made and no action has followed. I hope that this report will not fall into that category. It is an emergency report. I do not think it is necessary for me to underscore the remarks that have been made from both sides of the House about the urgency of the situation. The deterioration in the traditional Aboriginal communities of the Northern Territory over the last two or three years has been unbelievable, and it is continuing. Under the present situation there is no prospect that things will get better of themselves. Indeed, the contrary is the position; there is the prospect that if things are left as they are the situation will get worse.
This is a first-aid recommendation; it is no more and no less than that. If a person is injured in an accident one does not necessarily inquire what were the circumstances of the accident or how it could have been prevented. That comes later. What we have to do immediately is to give first-aid help, to do things which may save life. It is like this for the Aboriginal people, the traditional people of the Northern Territory; firstaid help is necessary if their lives are to be saved.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
-by leave-As a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, I am sorry that I have only two or three minutes in which to discuss this very important matter. I think that the human tragedy that has been shown to result from the excessive use of alcohol in many Aboriginal communities has been well documented in this report. I have seen children of the age of 8 or 9 years take to alcohol in a big way. Children of that age are dying from petrol sniffing. When entire Aboriginal communities have a binge- this happens in some settlements at least once a week- there is mass violence between the different tribes located in those settlements. Children are awake all night and have to sleep during the day while their parents are hung over. They cannot go to school because they are too tired. Household money is often spent almost entirely on alcohol and the women and children have to go without food. Health standards have accordingly dropped in an alarming way. They are not isolated events. They are happening in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia. Certainly they are happening with the assistance of a number of Europeans who are exploiting this situation to their own pecuniary advantage.
As the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) stated, this is a cosmetic report. It will meet the short term needs of these people. I urge the Government to give very prompt consideration to the recommendations contained in this report. This report deals with something which is more the symptom than the cause of the problems of the Aborigines. The final report of the Committee will have to deal with the more basic forces which have led to this problem arising, that is, the disintegration of the traditional way of life of Aborigines. We will have to question some of the very basic forces which have led to the social and cultural disintegration of the Aboriginal identity and which seem to be a major cause of the alcohol problem.
We have to ask ourselves: What is the rationale behind the large isolated settlement as a form of social organisation which is really not appropriate to that to which the Aboriginal communities are accustomed? What is the rationale behind providing individuals and communities with large amounts of cash? They are not familiar with this medium of exchange. They do not have long term financial commitments. Their money is basically spent on current consumption and very largely on alcohol. Often they do not know how much they get, when they should get it and why they get it. I think that this matter has to be re-examined in some detail. What is the rationale behind requiring them to work? Where is there meaningful employment in settlements located in the middle of deserts once the necessary houses have been built? It is not part of their ethos. I remind the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) that there is evidence to suggest that the provision of work opportunities will not of itself mean that these opportunities are always taken up.
What is the rationale behind the councils we have established? We have imposed our own European systems of authority on these communities and we have plenty of evidence to show that in many cases settlements are better off when the councils do not exist. What is the rationale behind applying European law and European standards to alcoholism? Being drunk is not a social disgrace to the Aboriginal in the same way as it is to Europeans. It is just that it has never been a form of social animation to them. Is not customary law more likely to be more useful in helping them to solve their problems? Those are the basic features that we will have to try to resolve in the final report. It is going to be a very difficult task, but unless we tackle these matters assiduously we are not going to solve the symptom of these problems, that is, the excessive use of alcohol.
– by leave- As one who signed the minority section of the report on the permit system, together with the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), perhaps it is only right that I should say a few words. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, but I certainly hope that the contents of this report, as other honourable members have stated, are a long way from being the contents of the final report. In this report we certainly have not gone into the social causes and so forth. I think that a deeper study is needed to discover the various reasons why this problem does exist.
When the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs visits the various States to examine the problems there and to gain all the information that is available I am sure that it will take into account all the other factors that come under consideration. It is to be hoped that the Committee can pinpoint in its final report some of the main points about this problem. It is a fact that the problem varies from area to area and from situation to situation. It varies between the urban situation, the fringe dweller situation and in the various settlements away from the major cities. As the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) has said, I am sure that this report will be taken as being only a short term report and that the final report will cover more fully all those social aspects that possibly are not covered so much in this report.
-by leave-Firstly, I would like to thank the House and its managers at the moment for the courtesy that is being paid to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. The Committee is, of course, exercising its duties on behalf of the Parliament. I suppose it is appropriate enough that when a report of this nature is tabled the members of the Committee should have the opportunity to say something about it. I will be quite brief in my remarks.
It is important that the members of the Committee associate themselves with this document. I suspect that many of the Aboriginal people of Australia will be worried that we have concentrated on a single aspect of their society to the exclusion of others in taking up alcoholism and its threat to the Aboriginal communities as a subject of special study. When either the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock), who is the Chairman of the Committee, or the Deputy Chairman of the Committee was speaking earlier one of my colleagues said: ‘That sounds very much like the rest of the Australian community’. That is true enough. However, the kind of impact that alcohol has upon Aboriginal communities, particularly isolated Aboriginal communities, is different from the kind of impact that it has upon the rest of the Australian community. We discovered in many areas that the access to alcohol had produced a total drinking situation and that in some communities almost 100 per cent of the people drank much more than was good for them or for the community and in others the women were excluded either of their own volition or because of a community decision. The Aboriginal communities are different from our own in as much as they are comprised of very much the same people. They all belong to the same social class, their culture is the same and their economic situation is the same. So the impact upon one individual is likely to be repeated right across the board among some hundreds of them. Therefore this is an important issue for consideration if we are going to do anything for the revival of the status and morale of the Aboriginal community.
That is the first point that I wanted to make. The second point is that we must take action immediately. There is going to be a need for an immediate amendment of the ordinances of the Northern Territory in co-operation with such institutions in the Northern Territory as the police, the Legislative Assembly and the administrative authorities. I think that we also have to seek a bit of understanding on the part of the people who purvey liquor in the Northern Territory. That applies also to the rest of Australia. I was one of those who, over many years, took an active part in having the liquor laws changed so that the Aboriginal people were not excluded. The many hundreds of thousands of people who are eagerly listening to this debate this afternoon may not be aware that I do not touch the stuff.
– Is that what is wrong with you?
-That is what is wrong with me. Maybe it has made me like I am. Others have to drink themselves into the same sort of situation. Another point is that while I was the Minister for the Capital Territory I perforce had to come to an agreement with the local authorities about legislation concerning the rights to sell liquor during 24-hours a day in Canberra, for which I found myself assailed on television some weeks ago. That is part of the problem of being in public office. The issue originally was not alcohol but the fundamental question of freedom, of human rights and of equal rights for everybody in the community. I can see no way in which it is possible to exclude one group of people from having the right to drink alcohol while everybody else has that right. This matter is a challenge to our whole way of doing things. As my friend, the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) said, we have not gone into the social issues behind it. Everybody knows that the situation in which so many Aboriginal people find themselves is frustrating and degrading to the point of driving them to find some relief. I hope that the Ministers involved, including the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann), the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) and the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott), will take immediate action to implement the recommendations in the report.
I would also like to say how much I have appreciated the company and the views of my colleagues on this Committee. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and I would in some ways represent totally different views of politics. In some of these issues we find ourselves in total agreement. It may be that on certain specific issues the Parliament could get away from its constant arena of confrontation and could get around to co-operative looks at the social questions contained in the unanimous recommendations of the Committee.
-by leave-I think my colleagues on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs have covered quite adequately the interim report and have explained why we brought down an interim report to the Parliament. I wish to take up one small point in the report which has not been emphasised to any degree by my colleagues. Recommendation 13 states: an interdepartmental committee, chaired by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, be established in the Northern Territory and that it co-ordinate all the action necessary to implement programs aimed at reducing the alcohol problems of the Aboriginals in the Northern Territory, including the recommendations in this report.
There are 2 advisory committees in the 4 departments that are mainly concerned with this problem in the Northern Territory today. My colleagues and I were concerned at the lack of co-ordination and consultation amongst those 4 departments. After visiting numerous communities in the Northern Territory I am appalled at the lack of co-ordination and planning by those 4 departments of the Government not only in relation to alcohol-related problems but in relation to all matters affecting communities including the building of facilities or the planning of communities. There is certainly not enough cooperation. It is not unusual to find in a community a new council chamber, a new government store and new nursing quarters erected without any consultation with the community as to its needs. On one community those 3 things are standing there, brand spanking new, and have no relationship to the needs of the community. The councillors do not wish to use the airconditioned council chamber, the government store has nothing to speak of in it, and the nursing sister wishes to live where she is in a very comfortable home. A tremendous amount of money has been spent on one community. It has no relationship to the needs of that community. That happened to a lot of the money which the Government spent on Aboriginal affairs over the last few years. The community which I mentioned was in desperate need of adequate toilet facilities and additional housing to bring it up to a reasonable standard. Yet this amount of money has been wasted. My plea is that the Government take special notice of this recommendation. It is by no means the most important recommendation, but it is a very significant one. I urge the Government to take special notice of the lack of planning and co-ordination and the overlap of departments, to bring some sort of efficiency and sense into the planning of communities in the Northern Territory.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the Government’s decision to increase the rate of the handicapped children’s benefit as announced by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in his Budget Speech of 17 August 1976. Honourable members will be aware that the handicapped children’s benefit was first introduced in 1968 under the National Health Act 1953-1968 and was incorporated in the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act 1974 when the Act was passed in 1974. The handicapped children’s benefit is payable to an eligible voluntary, religious or charitable organisation, or local government body, which provides approved residential accommodation for handicapped children who are engaged in training programs.
The Bill provides for the rate of this benefit in respect of each physically or mentally handicapped child under 16 years of age to be increased from $3.50 a day to $5 a day with effect from 1 November 1976. Claims for payment of this benefit are submitted monthly in arrears by the organisation. Currently, the benefit is payable to 86 homes in respect of 1400 handicapped children. As the House is aware, the Government has also decided to increase the handicapped children’s allowance from $10 a week to $ 1 5 a week, which is payable under the Social Services Act 1947-1976. In addition, an amount of $30m, comprising $27m for continuing commitments and $3m for new projects is being provided this year under the handicapped persons assistance program. In 1977-78, $10m will be provided for new projects, as well as an amount for continuing commitments. In 1978-79 provision for new projects will be doubled to $20m, in addition to providing for continuing commitments. Over these 3 years, a total of $ 1 2 1 m will be provided under this program.
Furthermore, the Government is providing $ 14.1m this year for the operation of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, which provides rehabilitation treatment and training to restore disabled people to their fullest physical, mental, social and vocational usefulness. These measures illustrate the Government’s concern for the welfare of the handicapped and the high priority afforded the provision of adequate facilities and care to meet their needs. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to seek the approval of the Parliament to an Agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Republic of Nauru that would allow appeals to be brought to the High Court from certain classes of decision of the Supreme Court of Nauru. The text of the Agreement is set out in the Schedule to the Bill. I will return later to a discussion of that text. Honourable members will recall that Nauru, formerly a Trust Territory administered by Australia for many years, gained its independence in 1968. Under the legislation that was in force in the former Trust Territory of Nauru an appeal lay to the High Court, by leave of that Court, from the judgments, orders and decrees of the then Court of Appeal. This Parliament, in the enactment of the Nauru Independence Act 1 967, made provision for the final moves of the Nauruan people to the adoption of their own constitution. In the course of negotiations that preceded the independence of Nauru, the Nauruan leaders expressed a wish that provision be made for appeals to the High Court from certain judgments of the Supreme Court of Nauru that was to be established under that constitution.
The Government is happy to accede to the desire of the Nauruan leaders and so to enter into the arrangements necessary for a suitable scheme for appeals to the High Court. Accordingly the terms of the necessary Agreement were discussed in detail between officers of the 2 governments and the Agreement was finally made at Nauru on 6 September 1976. 1 submit this Bill in order that the Parliament may approve the Agreement. Other provisions of the Bill enable the terms of the Agreement to be carried into effect.
The Bill represents a novel and significant step in that for the first time the High Court will function as a final court of appeal from the Supreme Court of another independent sovereign country. Generally newly emerging countries establish their own judicial institutions. In this case the Nauruan Government took, as I have explained, the initiative in seeking to have the High Court serve as the final appellate court of Nauru. We see that as an expression of confidence in the capacity and impartiality of the High Court.
We have had, of course, to consider the source of constitutional power to enable the Parliament to enact the legislation and to confer the jurisdiction on the High Court. The High Court has held that it may have conferred on it appellate jurisdiction other than from the State courts, so long as there is a proper source of power for the Parliament to enact the legislation conferring the jurisdiction. A line of decisions has established that the High Court may hear appeals from Territory courts. The source of power to provide for appeals from Territory courts is to be found in Section 122 of the Constitution. These decisions were well summarised by Mr Justice Menzies, when, in the course of his judgment in Capital T.V. and Appliances Pty Ltd v. Falconer, 124 CLR 59 1 , he said at page 604:
Federal courts, including this Court
That is to say, the High Court, can be given judicial duties beyond the matters set out in ss. 73 and 76 of the Constitution by reason of the exercise of legislative power outside Ch. III. This is established by the line of decisions which recognises that, by laws made under s. 122, this Court may be given jurisdiction to hear appeals from courts not being federal courts for the purposes of ss. 7 1 , 72 and 73 of the Constitution, and not being State courts.
In the present case, I believe that the external affairs power provides a sufficient constitutional basis for the Bill. Reference might also be made to the power of the Parliament to make laws with respect to the relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific.
I turn now to the terms of the Bill. It is proposed that the Act would come into force on a date to be fixed by proclamation. That date must be a date earlier than the date on which the Agreement comes into force, for which, as I will explain later, the Agreement itself provides. Clause 4 expresses the approval of this Parliament to the Agreement. Later clauses provide for appeals to lie and applications for leave to be made to the High Court under the Agreement. The necessary jurisdiction is to be vested in the High Court in respect of those matters. The High Court will be empowered to make Rules of Court for procedure in matters coming to it from Nauru. At least 2 Justices of the Court will be required to sit on those matters. Necessary provisions are made as to the nature of the judgment that may be made on appeal and as to the manner in which, in a divided court, a question is to be decided.
Clause 10 deals with the appearance of a party before the High Court, either personally or by a representative. That representative may be a legal practitioner of the High Court or of the supreme court of a State or Territory, or may be a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nauru. If an appeal is made in a criminal matter by a person who is required to serve a sentence of imprisonment imposed by a court of Nauru, that person cannot appear personally in the High Court. Honourable members will appreciate that in such a case a prisoner must remain within the control of the court that has imposed the sentence.
I draw the attention of honourable members to the Schedule to the Bill that sets out the text of the Agreement to which I have referred. The preamble notes the previous arrangements that formerly applied in regard to appeals to the High Court and the Nauruans’ desire to maintain those arrangements. Article 1 sets out the nature of matters in which appeals are to lie to the High Court and is careful to allow appeals as of right against the specified classes of decisions of the Supreme Court when acting in its original jurisdiction. Leave to appeal is required only from decisions that have already come before that Court on appeal from another court. Under Article 2 appeals would not come before the High Court in matters that are appropriate for final decision in Nauru.
The Agreement recognises, in Article 5, that the signatories will need to pay regard to constitutional and other requirements, such as the enactment of enabling legislation, before the Agreement can come into force. Accordingly commencement is deferred until an exchange of notes signifying that all those requirements have been met. Finally, Article 6 enables either country, on 90 days notice to the other, to terminate the Agreement. This Government recognises that the Nauruans may not wish to continue these special arrangements indefinitely and a convenient means of termination would be of assistance if ever that were to be so.
I point out to honourable members that the Government has responded to the wishes of the Government of a small country whose welfare was formerly a special responsibility of Australia. We are happy to make available appeal facilities that will enable decisions in matters covered by the Agreement to be determined at the highest judicial level by a court of considerable standing and repute. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Newman, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill makes provision for a number of social security programs which give effect to the Government’s desire to assist people to overcome hardship and insecurity in ways which ensure that they retain the maximum scope for independence and achievement. The Government’s long term objective is to encourage the development of an Australia in which people can have maximum freedom and independence so they can achieve their own goals in life in ways they themselves desire. The Bill makes provision for the following:
Increases in the standard and married rates of pension and benefits;
The incorporation in legislation of the automatic adjustment of standard and married rates of pensions and benefits each 6 months;
The introduction of an income test for pensions replacing the existing test on both income and assets;
An increase in the rate of the handicapped child’s allowance;
Validation of existing procedures for payment of unemployment and sickness benefits in fortnightly instalments.
The total cost of the proposals contained in this Bill is $145m in 1976-77 and $222m in a full year. The total number of pensioners and beneficiaries who will directly benefit from these provisions is more than 1 850 000. The total payment by way of pensions and benefits that will be made this financial year is estimated to be $5, 178m which is a 32 per cent increase over payments in the 1975-76 financial year. This demonstrates the Government’s determination to ensure that those in real need are assisted.
Pension and Benefit Increases
The Government has given a commitment to protect social security pensions from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting pension levels each 6 months according to the movements in the consumer price index. In keeping with this commitment the standard and married rates of pensions and benefits will be increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for the March 1976 and June 1976 quarters. The standard rate of pension for aged persons, invalids, widows and supporting mothers, will accordingly be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50 a week. The married rate of pension will be increased by $2.00 a week to $36.25 a week, that is from $68.50 to $72.50 a week for a couple.
These new rates will be payable from 11 November 1976. This will mean that the 2 pension increases announced for 1976 by the Government total $4.75 per week for the single rate and $8 per week for the combined married rate. In the case of age pensions this will require additional expenditure of $277m in a full year, bringing the total to approximately $2,485m at the end of the 1 976 year in respect of 1 .2 million age pensions.
Unemployment and sickness benefits will be increased similarly except for unmarried persons under 18 years of age who will continue to receive $36.00 a week. The rate of unemployment and sickness benefits payable to unmarried persons aged 1 8 years or more will be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50 a week. The rate payable to married persons will be increased by $2 a week to $36.25 a week. The rate of additional benefit payable in respect of a dependent spouse will be increased by $2 a week to $36.25 a week. These new rates for unemployment and sickness benefit will operate in respect of payments due on or after 1 November 1976.
The proposed increases will also apply to 5400 handicapped persons receiving sheltered employment allowances in more than 120 sheltered workshops in Australia. The Government has given a commitment to ensure that the value of pensions will be preserved in order to provide security to people in receipt of them. To do this we have promised and put into effect an increase in the rates every 6 months in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. We believe that it is important to legislate to make this 6-monthly increase automatic. For the first time since 1944 this Government is providing by legislation for automatic increases in social service pensions and benefits. This means that these 6-monthly increases will be paid without the need for further legislation.
In May of each year the standard and married rates of pensions and benefits will be increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for the immediately preceding September and December quarters. In November the rates will be increased by the movement in the consumer price index for the preceding March and June quarters. The automatic adjustment provisions will not apply to unemployment and sickness benefits payable to persons under 18 years of age or to payments such as mother’s and guardian’s allowance, additional pension and benefit for children and supplementary assistance and allowance. The Bill contains a provision which ensures that pensions will not be reduced as a result of the application of automatic adjustments.
New Income Test to Determine Pension Entitlements
The Government gave an undertaking that it would move toward replacing means tests with an income test with a view to not penalising those who have saved. The Government saw this as an opportunity to eliminate much administrative complexity. We are now taking steps to achieve this aim which we are confident will be of great assistance to persons reliant on pensions. Honourable members will recall the comments made by Professor Ronald Henderson in his first main report on poverty where he considered that the existing means test which determines eligibility includes ‘a treatment of assets which is a relic of far less generous days’, and he recommended that the treatment of asset incomes for pension purposes should be no different from the treatment of other incomes.
In keeping with the Government’s determination to see that the recommendations of each of the poverty reports are carefully studied and assessed and implemented wherever possible, the Government has adopted Professor Henderson ‘s suggestion. Under the existing eligibility test for pensions, which applies to all pensioners under 70 years of age except blind pensioners, it is obvious that the ‘means as assessed’ system of combining income and assets or property into a single figure for means test purposes involves anomalies and the Liberal-National Country Parties social welfare policy provides for this to be altered to an ‘income only’ eligibility test.
At present, for the purpose of determining the rate of pension payable the total value of assets is brought into account by adding a notional 10 per cent of the estimated value of assets to any other income, other than income from property, which a pensioner may have. This has meant that before becoming eligible for a pension many people may have run down their assets, except for their house and car, which are exempt. One anomaly arising from these arrangements has been that a person who has invested funds in a valuable home received a full pension, whereas another person with the same funds invested in non- exempt assets might receive little or no pension, despite possibly having to pay for his accommodation. To remove the anomalies from the present arrangements the Bill replaces the existing means test with a test on income only, including income from assets. The new income test will come into effect on 25 November 1 976.
This measure will mean a simpler and more easily understood test of eligibility for pensions. It will also be of assistance to people whose asset holdings are too high to permit payment of a maximum rate pension, or even a reduced rate pension under the existing means test, but produce little by way of income and therefore may entitle the person to additional pension when the new income-only test is applied. Pensioners who will benefit from this change will include those receiving a part pension only who are currently earning less than 10 per cent on assets such as shares and debentures. In addition, some people disqualified from eligibility for pension under the existing means test may now be eligible as a result of the new test. Let me give one example for the information of honourable members. I will take the case of a single pensioner with assets of $20,800 providing a return of 8 per cent per year and with no other financial resources. Under the existing means test the maximum rate of pension is reduced by $500 a year or approximately $9.50 a week, giving a pension payable of approximately $34 a week. Under the proposed income test the pension will be reduced by $312 a year or $6 a week, giving a pension payable of approximately $37.50 a week. This means an increase of $3.50 a week in pension.
This progressive change, when considered in conjunction with the increases in pension rates to take effect from 11 November 1976 will mean that a single age or invalid pensioner without a child will, regardless of his assets, retain some pension eligibility until his income, apart from pension, reaches $ 107 a week or $5,564 a year. A married pensioner couple without a child would not have their eligibility extinguished until their combined income, apart from their pension, reached $179.50 a week, or $9,334 a year. The result of the 2 pension increases that the government has announced for 1976 means that the limit has increased from $5,070 to $5,564 for a single pensioner, and from $8,502 to $9,334 for a married pensioner couple. The Government has given special consideration to the situation of pensioners who are currently earning more than 10 per cent on their assets. A savings provision is included in the Bill to ensure that such pensioners do not have their existing pensions reduced as a result of the change from the present means as assessed system to the new income only test. Pensioners in this situation will still receive the full increase to be paid on 1 1 November 1976. After the 1 1 November adjustment, where the pension being paid exceeds the pension entitlement calculated under the new income test, the 1 1 November rate will continue to be paid but future 6-monthly increases in pension will not be passed on to the pensioner until the excess entitlement has been absorbed.
For example, let us take a married pensioner couple with earnings of $40 a week and assets of $30,000 providing a return of 14 per cent per year. Under the existing means test the maximum rate of pension is reduced by $801.50 a year or approximately $15.40 a week, giving a pension payable of approximately $20.85 a week. Under the proposed income test, pension will be reduced by $1,121.50 a year or approximately $21.60 a week, giving a pension of approximately $14.65 a week. This is a decrease in pension of $6.20 a week. The savings provision will enable pension to continue to be payable at $20.85 a week until such time as future 6-monthly increases absorb the difference of $6.20 or until the pensioner becomes eligible for a free of means test pension at age 70. Naturally the figures in the examples I am quoting apply so long as there is no change in the pensioner’s financial circumstances which may in itself lead to a change in pension entitlement.
This procedure will also be adopted in the case of people in receipt of superannuation who have been specially assisted by a provision which has enabled them to capitalise their superannuation pensions. At present, if it is more favourable to the pensioner, the annual rate of superannuation is given a capital value and treated as property rather than income in the assessment of pension entitlement. People who have been receiving this concession will be paid their 1 1 November 1976 pension increase in accordance with the present method of calculation. Thereafter, as for pensioners with actual current income in excess of 10 per cent of the value of their assets, their pensions will not be increased until future 6 monthly adjustments have absorbed the excess between the 1 1 November 1976 pension and the pension entitlement as calculated under the new income test system.
The new income test will also apply in determining eligibility for pensioner fringe benefits provided by the Commonwealth Government, including a pensioner health benefits card. A single person, without child, will qualify for fringe benefits provided his income, other than pension, is less than $33 a week. A married couple, without child, will qualify provided their combined income apart from pension, is less than $57.50 a week. Savings provisions will ensure that no pensioner loses an existing entitlement to fringe benefits solely as a result of the change to the income test. The Government feels that the introduction of the income test is a positive step towards eliminating administrative complexity and will greatly facilitate public understanding in a difficult area.
Handicapped Child’s Allowance
The handicapped child’s allowance is to be increased from $10 to $15 a week. The handicapped child ‘s allowance is particularly designed to help the parents or guardians of severely handicapped children under the age of 16 years who need constant care and attention and who provide this care in the family home rather than place the child in an institution. Payments of this allowance are made at 4-weekly intervals and the first payment at the new rate will be made on 30 November 1976 with effect from 2 November. This allowance is currently being paid to the parents or guardians of over 19 000 severely handicapped children who care for the children at home.
As announced on 17 August new medical guidelines have been worked out in consultation with the Department of Health. One aspect covered by the new guidelines is the position of infant children. Up to now the view has been taken that in some instances a severely handicapped infant required no greater degree of constant care and attention than a conventional infant and therefore it was not possible to grant handicapped child’s allowance. The new guidelines will provide that where an infant child is diagnosed as having a physical or mental disability, by reason of which he is likely to qualify as a severely handicapped child within the terms of the legislation, eligibility will be conceded.
Fortnightly Payments of Unemployment and Sickness Benefits
Honourable members will be aware that it has been the practice for some considerable time to pay unemployment and sickness benefits at weekly intervals. The large increase in numbers of beneficiaries during 1975 had made it a very difficult task to avoid errors and delays in maintaining a weekly processing cycle. With the concurrence of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) a fortnightly payment cycle was introduced from
March 1976 as an experiment. This proved successful and approval has now been given to its permanent adoption. This Bill validates that procedure.
In the past, payment of unemployment and sickness benefits has been related to a 6-day benefit week. A further amendment provides for payment to be related to a 5-day benefit week. The daily rate of benefit shall be one-fifth in lieu of one-sixth of the weekly rate. This practice which was introduced in conjunction with the fortnightly payment cycle experiment brings payment into line with the 5 -day working week.
The estimated additional cost of increasing pensions and benefits in November is $135m in 1976-77 and $206m in a full year, bringing the total cost to $4, 120m in 1976-77 and $4,326m in a full year. The increase in the handicapped child ‘s allowance from $ 1 0 a week to $ 1 5 a week is estimated to cost $3.4m in 1976-77 and $5.2m in a full year, bringing total expenditure to $14.1m in 1976-77 and $15.9m in a full year. The change from the present means test to a straight income-only test is estimated to cost an additional $7m in 1976-77 because of the additional pensions that will be payable as as result. As. mentioned earlier transitional arrangements will ensure no existing pensioner will suffer a reduction in pension as a result of the change. The Government is confident that the introduction of these measures will be of great assistance to pensioners and I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Newman, and read a first time.
The Bill represents a firm and substantial expression of the Government’s undertakings in respect of the repatriation system. The principal matters with which the Bill deals are amendment of the rates of disability pensions announced in the Budget, provision for indexation of the main repatriation disability pensions and introduction of the new test based on income only to replace the existing means test which has regard to a combination of property and income.
I should like to remind honourable members that this Bill must be considered along with and in the context of other recent announcements by the Government, in particular the recent statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) confirming the Government’s intention to retain the repatriation system and emphasised by his announcement of the change in the name of the Ministry and Department from that of Repatriation to Veterans’ Affairs with the additional functions of defence service homes and the Australian war graves. These initiatives, as honourable members are aware, were very much welcomed by leading veterans’ organisations. All these changes indicate the Government’s interest in the welfare of those who have served their country in the Defence Force in war and peace. The Government has also demonstrated its concern for Papua New Guinea veterans by providing substantial increases in their pensions as from November. These increases have been effected by regulations under the Papua New Guinea (Members of the Forces Benefits) Act.
I shall now outline the specific alterations to which this Bill will give effect. The rates of payment of the various pensions referred to are in weekly amounts and will apply as from 4 November 1976. The Bill amends Schedule 2 to the principal Act to increase the special- totally and permanently incapacitated- rate pension by $4.40 a week to $83.25. This will cost an estimated $2. 748m for the remainder of this financial year and $3.967m for a full year. About 16 500 veterans will benefit by this increase. I remind honourable members that the special TPI rate pension is payable to those veterans who, because of service-related incapacity, are totally and permanently incapacitated to such an extent that they are precluded from earning other than a negligible percentage of a living wage. This pension is also payable to those blinded as a result of their service and to certain double amputees, irrespective of employment, and to certain sufferers of pulmonary tuberculosis and those temporarily totally incapacitated because of service-related incapacity.
The intermediate rate of pension will be increased by $3.05 a week to $57.35, at a cost of $203,000 for the rest of this financial year and $293,000 for a full year. This increase will benefit an estimated 1850 veterans who, because of service-related incapacities, are able to work only part-time or intermittently. The general rate pension, which is payable to nearly 180 000 veterans, will be increased at the 100 per cent level by $1.65 a week to $31.45. There will be proportionate increases in rates lower than 100 per cent. The cost of this proposal will be about $4.47 lm for the remainder of this financial year and $6.459m for a full year.
There are about 50 000 widows at present receiving the war and defence widow’s pension, which is payable where a veteran’s death is related to his service or where he was, at the time of his death, receiving or would have been entitled to receive a special rate of pension under Schedule 2 or under any of the first 8 items of the table in Schedule 5 to the Repatriation Act. The war and defence widow’s pension will be increased by $2.25 a week to $43.50. The cost of this proposal is estimated to be $4.062m for the remainder of this financial year and $5. 868m for a full year. Other repatriation beneficiaries who are to receive an increase are Service pensioners, whose pensions are subject to the same increases as have been announced for age and invalid pensioners under the Social Services Act, $2.25 a week for a single Service pensioner and $2 a week for each of a married couple. This will benefit 98 600 veterans and 44 000 wives of veterans.
All these increases have been based on the movement in the consumer price index for the 6 months ended 30 June last, in accordance with the announced policies of this Government. This Bill goes further in the implementation of these announced policies and provides for all of the pensions I have mentioned to be increased automatically in future as from the first pension payday in May 1977 and thereafter as from the first pension payday in each November and May, in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. These increases will be rounded to the nearest 10 cents a fortnight. Further, it must be emphasised that if, in any of these half-year periods on which the automatic adjustments are to be based, there is a fall in the consumer price index, these pensions will not be reduced. They will remain at the level which they have reached until the consumer price index level once again moves past that at which they have been previously set. Repatriation Service pensioners will enjoy the same protection by virtue of the proposals in respect of age and invalid pensions under the Social Services Act, which will have effect on the levels of Service pensions payable under the Repatriation Act.
The Bill amends the relevant provisions of Division 5 of Part III of the Repatriation Act to apply to Service pensioners the new income test which is to replace the existing means test. The new income test, which will apply as from 25
November 1976, has already been explained to honourable members. Many pensioners will be entitled to receive higher pensions as a result of the new income test, but there will be some whose pension entitlement under the new income test will be less than that to which they would be entitled under the existing means test. They will be protected by the Bill in that, unless their income other than pension changes, they will continue to receive the increased rate of pension payable from 4 November 1 976 until such time as their entitlement under the new test equals that rate. From then on, they will be entitled to each 6-monthly increase.
In view of the nature of the change from the existing means test to the new income test, the existing provision applying to eligibility of Service pensioners for fringe benefits will no longer be appropriate. The Bill therefore restates that eligibility test, converting it into specific income levels at which eligibility for fringe benefits will cease. The specification of the income levels which will apply will make it much easier to identify eligibility, compared with the present requirement to consider amendments to the Social Services Act 1947-1968 which had the effect of alleviating the operation of the means test- a very difficult principle to follow. As with protection provided in the change from the present means test to the proposed test on income only, the Bill will protect any service pensioner entitled to fringe benefits immediately before 25 November 1976 whose entitlement to such benefits would otherwise cease under the new test. The Bill provides that Such service pensioners will not lose their eligibility solely because of the amendment specifying the limits of eligibility in terms of income. The Bill is therefore one of much substance and of importance; an importance which is even more marked if, as I mentioned earlier, it is considered against the background of other Government initiatives in the repatriation field to which I have referred. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Scholes) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23 September, on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition does not oppose this Bill to establish an Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations because at least, for the first time, the Liberals are according some recognition to the place of local government in the federal system, however incidental that may be to the Bill ‘s purposes. The proposed Advisory Council attempts to do 3 things- prop up the archaic federal system, bolster the muddled and dangerous theories of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on new federalism, and paper over some of the rivalries and tensions of the coalition partners in the conservative States. What a feeble, toothless, half-baked body it will be! This centrepiece of the Liberal philosophy- the key to the brave new world of co-operative federalism- has been revealed to us in a bare page and a half of Hansard. It will be a body without any real powers. We are not told when it will be set up. We do not know who will be its members. Its charter has not been revealed. We are not told whether its inquiries will be held in public or whether the reports of its inquiries will be made public. Already one State has decided to boycott it.
-Which State is that?
-Queensland. I appreciate that the Government Whip is one Queensland Liberal who is prepared to express his shame of the coalition Government in Queensland. It is surely one of the richer ironies of current politics that a body intended to promote harmony and co-operation between governments has already driven the coalition parties further apart and intensified hostilities between the Fraser Government and the nonLabor States. For it is not the Labor States which are creating difficulty and embarrassment in inter-government relations; it is the conservative States. The Liberal Premier of Victoria, at a memorable Press conference in July, described the economic policies of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) as disastrous. The Liberal Premier of Western Australia, where the coalition parties are in disarray, has pursued his vendetta against the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and resisted any federal responsibility for a national resources policy. In Queensland, where fundamental divisions in the coalition erupted last weekend, the disintegrating and increasingly dictatorial State Government pursues its maverick path of obstruction, blocking electoral reform, rebuffing the Federal Government and meddling in foreign policy. If there is a need for a Council for Inter-government Relations its first task must surely be to put the conservatives’ own house in order.
Ostensibly this Bill is part of the so-called new federalism. The Prime Minister knows that his new federalism is both unwanted and unworkable. At the only election where the policy was specifically an issue, the people of New South Wales rejected it last May. The essence of the new federalism is the Fraser Government’s avowed intention of reducing funds for the States and local government and forcing them to raise their own taxes or allow essential community services to decline. However the Government’s intentions are disguised by talk of an ‘assured source of revenue’ and ‘appropriate allocation of functions’- two of the Prime Minister’s favourite phrases- the policy remains the same. My Government ensured that the States and local government had ample access to funds to carry out their responsibilities. In our first year we increased grants to the States by 20 per cent, in our second year by 50 per cent, and in our third year by 30 per cent.
In the Lynch Budget the heaviest retrenchment in government spending was not in the Federal Government’s own services but in outlays to the States and local government. The States’ funds for capital works- schools, roads, hospitals, housing, sewerage- were reduced by $127m. Funds for local government were also drastically cut. To support the pretence that funds for local government are increasing the Fraser Government makes a totally dishonest comparison between the outlays under the Lynch Budget and those which Labor provided through the Grants Commission alone. The Hayden Budget’s total outlays for local government were in fact $274m compared with $195m under the Lynch Budget. It will take more than a Council for Inter-government Relations to redress the hardship and dislocation caused by these cuts, in State and local government resources, not to mention the setback they are causing to economic recovery. The States know they will be worse off under the Fraser federalism and no amount of waffle about ‘ a proper balance between responsibilities and finances’ will alter the fact.
What then is the need for this Council? There is already ample machinery for consultation between the States and the Commonwealth, given the necessary good will on all sides, without the need for flagrant window dressing of this kind. Matters can be raised at Premiers Conferences and at the Loan Council. The Constitution provides for an Inter-State Commission. My Government’s Act last year to re-establish the
Commission, passed after protracted obstruction by the Liberal and National Country Parties in both Houses and assented to in October last year, has not yet been proclaimed by them. If relations between the States and the Commonwealth were all that mattered there would be no need for this Council. The Premiers Conference, the Loan Council and the Inter-State Commission would be completely adequate for all relations, financial or otherwise, between the Commonwealth and all or any of the States.
It is not, however, between the States and the Commonwealth that the real deficiencies in cooperation and consultation and the real distortion in our federal system are to be found- imperfect as that relationship may be. The really grievous weakness in the federal system is in the historic neglect of local government by the States and its domination by the States. The virtues of true federalism- true regionalism- have to do with the dispersal of power and the involvement of local and regional communities in the process of decision-making. What we have in this country is a pseudo-federalism- a system which multiplies governments and bureaucracies without promoting the local autonomy and regional independence which true federalism is meant to confer. The key to true federalism lies in the status and financial viability of local government. The needs of local government have been ignored by successive State governments. The Liberals have always treated inter-government relations solely in terms of Commonwealth-State financial relations. The debate has been cast in the narrowest terms of confrontation between the State capitals and Canberra. The idea that local government had a valid stake in the running of the federal system was never entertained until the Labor Government came to office.
The proposed Council will accord some recognition to local government but in many ways will reinforce its traditional status as a vassal of the States. True it is that local government will have 6 representatives of the Council, the same number as the States, thanks to a change of heart on the part of the Federal Government. Initially there were to be 3 local government representatives. Even the Fraser Government has recognised the absurdity of having 3 local government representatives on the Council when there are 6 local government systems in Australia. It is one broken promise of the Government that makes sense. But local government will still be subordinate to the States and the Commonwealth. As the Bill stands, matters will be referred to the Council from the Premiers Conference or by a majority of the 7 Governments in Australia. If the local government representatives wish to have any matter referred to the Premiers Conference they must do it- in the Prime Minister’s words in his second reading speech- ‘through their State Premiers’. In other words, any matter of importance to local government in a particular State will be discussed by the Council only by grace and favour of the Premier of that State and, if that hurdle is crossed, by grace and favour of the other Premiers.
Yet even this token concession to local government was too much for Queensland. The Queensland Premier has served notice that Queensland will boycott the Council. Presumably he calculated that the local government representatives, the Labor States and the Federal Opposition’s nominees could already in certain circumstances over-ride the Federal and State conservative governments. Mr BjelkePetersen expressed his fears in revealing terms at the Premiers Conference last April. I shall read from the transcript:
– A problem has arisen in relation to local government because, as the Premiers will know, local government basically was organised on a State basis. The structure of their own consultative organisations was on a State basis. They put it to us- with some degree of validity, I think- that if there are to be only 3 representatives on the Council they do not know how they will pick them. This poses very severe structural problems for them. I have written to the Premiers- I do not think that they have all responded -
They were never very prompt in responding to me either- suggesting that there should be an observer, not a member, from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. In order to overcome the problem which local government faces we propose that there be a local government representative from each State and otherwise the membership should remain as it is.
Mr Bjelke Petersen I think that I was the only one who opposed the setting up of this Advisory Council last time because I was afraid that we would reach a situation where local authority would want to go direct to the Advisory Council rather than to the Minister for Local Government in the State. That has already happened in Queensland. I have received a letter from the Lord Mayor in a capital city saying that he wants a particular matter to be decided not by the Minister for Local Government but by this Advisory Council. I am deeply concerned that we will reach a situation where these matters will be taken out of the hands of governments and direct to the Advisory Council.
The Premier was desperately worried that the States might lose their traditional domination over local government. He is determined to deny local government any independence whatever. Even a toothless Advisory Council- a body which will discuss only local government matters in Queensland with the Premier’s approval- is dangerous in the Premier’s view if local government has equal representation with the States.
The Premier of Queensland has shown his contempt for local government, his contempt for his coalition partners and his contempt for even the most token efforts to improve the workings of out political system. He has rebuffed the Prime Minister on this issue just as he has rebuffed the Liberals on electoral reform. It is difficult to take seriously an Advisory Council on Intergovernment Relations which at least one Government- the most recalcitrant and obstructive of all State governments- has decided to boycott. The Prime Minister must not back down in the face of the Premier’s intransigence. There is a very good test of the Prime Minister’s good faith. He must ensure that local government in Queensland is represented on the proposed Council whatever the State Government decides about its own representation.
Mr Bjelke Petersen is not the only Premier who is paranoid at the prospect of local government gaining financial independence. The States are positively obsessed with the need to preserve their domination. At their conference in February this year the Premiers decided that no resolutions on financial relationships, including those affecting local government, should be submitted to the Constitutional Convention which is due to meet in Hobart this month. This was accepted by the Executive Committee of the Convention in Sydney on 8 March. The Premiers rubbed in the message at the next conference in April. The Prime Minister himself conveyed the stern message to the Convention in a letter to the chairman of its executive committee on 28 April. The Prime Minister said in that letter:
The Conference -
That is the Premiers Conference- requested that I again write to you as chairman of the executive committee to stress the conference ‘s view that no agenda items dealing with Commonwealth/State financial relationships or financial assistance to local government should be dealt with by the convention.
That is, the Constitutional Convention. This is the Fraser Government’s attitude to any important question of policy involving the States and local government. It can be summed up as follows: Talk as much as you like, but do not go into financial arrangements. One is reminded of the Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training which the Prime Minister announced here 4 weeks ago. The terms of reference required it to take as given and not consider in detail the arrangements for funding and co-ordinating postsecondary education agreed between the State and Commonwealth Governments’. In other words, financial arrangements- the key to any rational discussion of federalism- are to be regarded as the sacred preserve of the Prime Minister. Local government can like it or lump it. It was only on the insistence of my Government that local government was able to participate in the Constitutional Convention in the first place. The Premiers and the Prime Minister are now doing their best to see that this participation is a charade.
Local government has been persistently ignored and downgraded under Liberal State and Commonwealth governments. The first attempts to liberate local government and raise it to its rightful place as an equal partner in the federal system were made by the Labor Government. Almost without exception these efforts were blocked by the States and by the conservative Opposition in this Parliament. The case for a fair balance between the 3 tiers of government has been put repeatedly by local government authorities themselves. In 1969 the Council of Local Government Associations prepared a document: The Case for Financial Assistance from the Commonwealth to Local Government. It included this passage:
The financial resources available to local government under the existing setup are quite inadequate to satisfy its needs and drastic measures are essential to ensure the survival of local government as an autonomous institution, sharing the responsibility of government within the Commonwealth. In Australia we have a federal system of governmentthe Commonwealth, the States and local government. Each has its responsibilities and each is essential as a partner in this tripartite arrangement to the successful working of the system.
In 1971 all State Local Government Ministers meeting in Hobart carried a resolution in these terms: the annual reimbursement grants of income tax from the Commonwealth to the States should include an element of contribution to local government finances.
That resolution was carried unanimously. It was carried as a result of pressures brought to bear by local government associations, by councils, by aldermen, by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations and many other people. The Liberals ignored it.
Any recognition now of the needs of local government and its place in the federal system is solely the result of Labor government initiatives. Where it was open for the Australian Parliament to make provision for local government, we did so. For the first time in the history of the National Parliament, my Government made it possible for local government to have access to financial assistance through the Grants Commission. As a result of that amendment the Labor Government provided, on the recommendation of the Grants Commission, $56.3m for local government bodies in the 1974-75 Budget and $79.9m in the 1975-76 Budget- money that local government could spend as it wished, with no strings or ties or tags of any kind.
Those reforms are being destroyed. The Commonwealth Grants Commission Act, introduced by this Government, removes all reference to local government from the Grants Commission’s responsibility, and in doing so, of course, it removes the basic principle behind Labor’s reforms- that local regions and councils should be assisted on the basis of need. Instead, local government is to be financed by grants distributed through the States on a per capita basis. Any ‘topping up’ process to remove the grossest inequalities will be done through State Grants Commissions. So we have this situation: In addition to the Commonwealth Grants Commission, the Fraser Government envisages 6 separate State grants commissions as well as the advisory council proposed in this Bill- 8 bodies in all- plus State departments of local government; and this from the Government opposed to waste and extravagance. Instead of duplication we have octuplication.
In October 1973 I met the Premiers and put to them a proposition I had put in my Party’s election campaign a year before- that aldermen and councillors from each State should choose a representative to speak and vote on their behalf at the Loan Council. Every non-Labor Premier rejected that proposal. It would have been possible for the Loan Council to admit local government representatives because the Financial Agreement, pursuant to section 105A of the Constitution, permits the 7 heads of government in Australia to agree on such arrangements for the Loan Council provided they are unanimous on the question. It was because the non-Labor Premiers rejected the right of local government to participate in Loan Council meetings that my Government proposed a referendum on local government finances in May 1 974. Every member of the Liberal Party and the National Country Party in this House and every Liberal and National Country Party senator opposed that referendum. It had to be passed twice in this House to enable it to be put to the people. When it was put to the people in May 1974 every nonLabor State Premier- Sir Robert Askin, Mr Hamer, Mr Bjelke-Petersen and Sir Charles Court- campaigned against it. Every member of the Liberal Party and National Country Party in this House and every Liberal and National Country Party senator opposed the referendum. Yet the referendum was carried in New South Wales; it was very nearly carried in Victoria.
Throughout Australia, 47 per cent of the electors supported the proposal.
The right of the Commonwealth to make direct grants to local government has since been upheld by the High Court in the Australian Assistance Plan case. It is a principle which of course was resisted, as I said, by the Liberal Premiers and the Country Party Premier during the 1974 referendum campaign. It was a principle which was challenged in the High Court after the 1974 Budget appropriations for the Australian Assistance Plan by the Victorian Liberal Government. The New South Wales and Western Australian Liberal Governments intervened before the High Court in support of that challenge. At the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Melbourne a year ago the proposal was put that there should be a referendum to amend the Constitution to provide that the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any local government body constituted under the law of a State or Territory on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit, that is, to amend the Constitution to make it plain that this Parliament could grant assistance to local government bodies in the same way as it has always been able to grant assistance to State governments. At that time all the Liberals who attended that Convention, that is, 8 Liberals from South Australia and Tasmania and the Liberal Movement representative from South Australia, voted against the proposition. I should add that the High Court decision in the Australian Assistance Plan case makes it plain that the Constitution does not now have to be altered to permit grants by this Parliament directly to local government bodies. As in all challenges to my Government’s legislation in the High Court, the legislation was upheld.
Local government has had to fight every inch of the way for recognition in the federal system. There is nothing surprising in the fact that local government was ignored when the first constitutional conventions were held in the 1 890s, but there can be no excuse for ignoring local government today. If the Constitution were being drafted today, it is inconceivable that local government would be ignored. If the Financial Agreement were being drafted today it is inconceivable that local government would be ignored, as it was when the Financial Agreement was drafted in 1927. If the Loan Council were being set up today it is inconceivable that the interests of local government would be ignored, as they continued to be ignored by the Loan Council until the gentlemen’s agreement was made in 1936. At that time the functions and borrowings of semi-government authorities were still comparatively rudimentary. Since the war, however, the scale of operations of local and semi-government authorities has been transformed. The combined debts of local government authorities in 1974 already totalled $ 1702m. The debt situation of local government now is just as pressing and ominous as the debt situation of the States in 1 92 7 when the Financial Agreement was made.
Clearly, in any rational arrangement in the Australian Federal system on financial matters we must contemplate the position that local government debts can be taken over by the Federal Government as State government debts were taken over by the Federal Government 50 years ago. The situation is comparable. But now we find that local government debts have the highest interest rates and the shortest terms and that there are a very great number of people in financial institutions, maybe even in local government, who get a rip-off from the constant turnover of local government debts. There can be no question that the ratepayers are paying more and more dearly for this system. The percentage of annual rates being devoted to servicing local government debts is constantly rising. Yet at the Melbourne meeting of the Constitutional Convention a year ago when the proposition came up for a vote that the Constitution should be amended by holding a referendum to provide for the borrowing of money by the Com- monwealth for local government bodies constituted under the law of a State or Territory, there again State Liberals who attended- the 8 from South Australia and Tasmania and the Liberal Movement representative from South Australiaall voted against the proposition. It was carried of course because the local government representatives supported it and they still want it. This is one amendment to our financial relations which would seem to require an amendment of the Constitution.
This Bill will do nothing to alter the fundamental disabilities from which local government has suffered since federation. Until it is guaranteed reasonable autonomy, reasonable financial independence and reasonable access to the nation’s financial resources all the Grants Commissions and any advisory councils will achieve nothing. The Prime Minister acknowledged in his second reading speech that the future of inter-government relations a viable, contemporary and genuine co-operative federalismdepended on decisions by the Government. There is no sign that the Government is ready to take those decisions. The Prime Minister is wedded to concepts of federalism that pre-date Federation, that will entrench State bureaucracies, that will strengthen the domination of local government by State bureaucracies to the detriment of true regionalism and the welfare of the Australian people.
-The purpose of this Bill is to establish an Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. It is part of a significant program of the present Government to strengthen the federal system in Australia. We have just heard a speech from Australia’s greatest centralist, a man who does not want the federal system to survive. While in office he did everything in his power to destroy the federal system, and now he resents actions being taken by this Government to improve the operation of the federal system. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitiam) in his speech talked as if he were a supporter of local government. His aim and purpose was to destroy local government, and local government understands that that was the case. This Bill will establish an Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. Its aim will be to provide a forum where the relationships between the 3 spheres of government can be examined and discussed, because it is quite clear that if the federal system is to operate effectively there must be an appropriate allocation of responsibilities as between the 3 spheres of government and there must be matching revenue resources available to the spheres of government. If matching revenue resources are not available governments will not be able adequately to fulfil their responsibilities.
The Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations will comprise 22 members. It will have representatives from the Commonwealth Parliament, the State parliaments and local government. The Leader of the Opposition tried to convince this House that the present Government was not concerned about local government. This Bill is one of a number of measures which clearly prove that this Government is concerned to strengthen local government, to raise it to a position of autonomy so that it will be able to fulfil the responsibilities that have properly been given to it. The debate about federalism is a fundamental one. The Leader of the Opposition, however, tried to gloss over the essential elements of the debate. He talks about the money that he handed out when he was Prime Minister. He failed to tell the House that the manner in which he handed out that money to both the State governments and local governments was designed to take away their independence and autonomy. The debate about federalism is a debate about the future system of government that we will have in this country. Do we want a centralised system of government, or do we want a federal system? If we want a federal system, do we want a system where a power is gradually concentrated on the centre, or do we want a system where power is being moved back closer to the people who are affected by the decisions of government?
Clearly at the time of Federation there was a distribution of power, but as time has advanced that distribution or allocation of responsibility is not now as appropriate as it was. The cooperation between the 3 spheres of government in the Federation has developed through the years in a haphazard fashion. A great fiscal imbalance has arisen. The States and local government have not had available to them sufficient resources to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities. The degeneration in the workings of the federal system was such that when Labor came to power it moved swiftly to destroy the federal system. At the heart of the difference between the Liberal and National Country Parties and the Australian Labor Party lies this profound difference in approach to government. The Leader of the Opposition has sought to gloss over that difference by pretending that he would have in mind giving local government greater independence and autonomy. Nothing is further from the truth. The Leader of the Opposition is well known for a statement that he made in what is now a much publicised lecture. He said:
Our continent should have neither so few State governments nor so many local government units … we should have a House of Representatives for nationwide matters and an Assembly for the affairs of each of our dozen largest capital dues and Regional Assemblies, for those few score areas of rural production and resource development outside those cities.
The Leader of the Opposition was seeking to establish a unitary, unicameral system of government with one Australian Parliament vested with plenary powers consisting only of a House of Representatives. He aimed to do away with the States and to abolish the Senate. His aim wasand from what he said today I believe still is- to centralise all legislative power in Canberra. He said in his speech today that he believed the federal system was an archaic one. He implied by the way in which he said it that he would destroy that system. He used the argument about the importance of governments understanding the inter-relationships of the actions that they take on behalf of the citizens in their territories. The argument about regionalism as a smokescreen for his desire to change the whole structure of government in Australia. The aim of the Leader of the Opposition in promoting regionalism was not to establish elected systems of government at regional levels or to preserve local government at the local level or to support the States, but rather to set up an administrative network based upon regions. He wanted the legislative decisions to be taken here in Canberra. His aim was to replace the elected representative in local government and the elected representative in State government by a Federal bureaucrat who would be instructed to follow the guidelines of policy determined by a single parliament here in Canberra.
Spokesmen for the previous Labor Government talked about citizen participation. To them it appeared to mean involving citizens at the local level with administrators who would ultimately have been responsible to other administrators higher up the line in Canberra and who, in the final analysis, would have been responsible for carrying out Canberra’s dictates- the policy of the day. Though it can serve a useful purpose, I think the House will agree that this form of public participation is not as effective as that which should be encouraged to take place between concerned citizens and their elected representatives. The elected local councillor is not only more willing, but also more able to respond to the wishes of the community than a bureaucrat appointed and controlled by a central legislature. Today the Leader of the Opposition made clear the fact that he still adheres to the view that local participation is participation with administrators; and that legislative power should be centralised here in Canberra. I again quote from what the Leader of the Opposition has said in the past. He said:
Much can be achieved by Labor members of the State Parliaments in effectuating Labor’s aims of more effective powers for the national parliament and for local government. Their role is to bring about their own dissolution.
Today and in recent speeches the Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that that is his intention. However, we on this side of the House believe that power should be distributed. We think that in order to safeguard a free, democratic country it is essential that the legislative responsibilitythe power to make law- should be divided among a number of authorities. We support having a federal system- a 3-sphered federal system. We do so because we believe that there should be the checks and balances that are inherent in such a system. We also believe that such a system will result in more effective governmentgovernment which is more responsive to the wishes and desires of the people and which enables individual choice and local differences whilst maintaining high ideals and standards for the nation as a whole.
Although a significant element of the debate on federalism is about money, the real essence of the debate is about power and initiative. Free people can lose their freedom if power is placed in too few hands. We saw in the last 3 years of the Labor Government how that power could be abused. Let us think about how it would have been abused still further if there had been plenary power in the House of Representatives with a government led by the present Leader of the Opposition. We believe that each level of government- Commonwealth, State and localshould make decisions appropriate to that level of government. It is necessary therefore to strengthen the federal system, which was severely weakened in the Whitlam years. There is need for a more rational and coherent approach to the sharing of responsibility and the sharing of the resources available to governments.
The purpose of establishing the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations is to enable a rational, sensible debate to go on to determine which decision should be taken at the local level, what should be determined by the State governments and what should be within the capacity of the Commonwealth Government. Having made that determination, it is necessary that the adequacy of the resources available to governments be examined for it is no good giving a government a power and an authority if, in making the decisions in relation to that power and authority, it does not have the resources to put its decisions into operation. Our aim, therefore, is to strengthen the independence of the State and local governments and to do this they must be given an adequate capacity to act as they believe best and the political responsibility of raising the funds they spend.
It is true that over the last 9 months this Government has necessarily had to concentrate on what might be described as fiscal federalismthe allocation of resources to the State governments and to local government. A great deal of progress has been achieved, but, in the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at the last Premiers Conference, the decisions so far taken are ‘the foundation for the future development of federalism, including the basic issues of defining clearer and more efficient roles and responsibilities for the 3 spheres of government’.
In the time remaining to me I do not propose to enunciate the details of Stage 1 of the revenuesharing arrangements, nor do I propose to expand upon the second stage of those arrangements. What I do want to do is to speak for a few minutes on the role of local government. This Government takes local government seriously. The previous Government- the Whitlam Government- used local government as a pawn in its design to take over its power. This Government has made general revenue available to local government and has linked the availability of that revenue to income tax collection. The revenue is being made available to local government free of strings. What the Leader of the Opposition had to say on the amount of funds made available by his Government was a misleading of the House as to what that Government in fact did because included in the figures that he quoted as the funds made available to local government were payments under the Regional Employment Development scheme- payments to relieve a problem that the previous Government caused and caused so seriously that it continues today, that is, the problem of unemployment. We have chosen to tackle the problem of unemployment in a more positive and significant way.
We have given to local government resources that it will receive at a guaranteed level each year- some distributed on a per capita basis and some distributed on an equalisation basis. Yet the Leader of the Opposition sought to gloss over that fact. We are concerned that local government should have an adequate revenue base available to it to fulfil its present responsibilities and what I hope will be its expanded responsibilities. Local government has increasingly entered into the field of what may be described as ‘people services’. I hope that local government will continue to do so. I trust also that when the country pulls through its present economic difficulties the funds available from the Commonwealth through the share of income tax now being provided to local government will be used not merely for rate replacement but to enable local government bodies to undertake new and exciting ventures, to expand their areas of responsibility or to act in areas which are now their responsibility but in which they have failed to take initiatives because of their belief and because of the fact that local government has not had a sufficient revenue base.
Our policy envisages substantial increases in the responsibility of local government. The success of the policy will depend upon the extent to which not only the Commonwealth but also the
States are willing to devolve functions on local government and at the same time to provide local government with an expanded resource base that is sufficient to enable it to cope with its responsibilities. In the past the States, like the Commonwealth, have adopted a centralist attitude towards local government. Sometimes local government has been required to act as a tax gatherer for State governments. We heard it said today that the Australian Labor Party is the friend of local government, but in my own State of South Australia the Labor Government uses local government as a tax gatherer. It imposes a levy upon local government to pay the State Government’s responsibility for funding its hospitals. The amount received by one council under Commonwealth grants assistance is matched by that council’s liability to the State Government.
It is time that the State governments gave greater independence to local government and that the States raised directly the taxes that they need to carry on their services and enable local government to have the rate base available to it together with other revenue sources to spend directly on the responsibilities that belong to local government. Local government should no longer be tied to the apron strings of the States. Local government must be released from the straitjacket of State government centralism. As local government is not protected by the Constitution at present the responsibility sharing process has been one that has been determined unilaterally by the State governments. The time has now come for local government in each of the States to seek and be given its own charter of independence and autonomy.
The Commonwealth is playing its part. It is increasing the revenue base of local government by making available untied grants to local government. The Commonwealth is also playing its part by giving local government a real voice on this Council, which, in the development of government in this country, will be one of the most significant ventures ever undertaken since Federation. All around the world we see the process of devolution, the process of taking decisionmaking closer to the people. The purpose of the Council to be set up under this legislation is to provide a venue where there can be real and sensible discussion and to enable the federal system to work more effectively by having built into it guarantees for its future safety against the threat of the greatest centralist of them all, the gentleman who preceded me in the debate this afternoon.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The subjective and negative attitude of the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) towards Whitlamism is regrettable. He has taken out of context the position of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) in regard to local government. I was the Minister for Urban and Regional Development under the honourable member for Werriwa. Clearly, there is no argument that he tried to extend the national government’s power on many issues in regard to the matter of urban and regional development, which deals with the real issues of local government- the grass roots of politics- there is no greater regionalist or no parliamentarian who has made a greater contribution towards assisting local government or who has worked towards achieving that end than the honourable member for Werriwa. That has been the position in the 18 years in which I have been a member of this Parliament. One has only to read the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee on regionalism to see the stand which he took. There was a unanimous decision by all members of the Committee which comprised representatives from both sides of the chamber. When the honourable member for Werriwa was a young member of Parliament he made a contribution to that committee on the role of regionalism. Contrary to the accusation of the honourable member for Sturt in regard to the power of local government, the honourable member for Werriwa probably worked harder over the years than any other member of this Parliament to try to give greater powers to local government- at the grass roots level. It is about time honourable members opposite understood the situation.
The honourable member for Sturt talked about federalism. One only has to look at the situation to know that to return to the new federalism is to return to those miserable years from 1949-1972. Because of the increase in interest rates the internal debt of the Commonwealth increased between 1950 and 1970 by a little over 50 per cent. The debt of the States increased 7-fold. The debt of local government increased by 2000 per cent. The debt of semi-government authorities increased by 2800 per cent. Local government and semi-government authorities are the grass roots of government. This is the type of government to which the honourable member for Sturt wants to return under the new federalism.
The Opposition will not oppose the second reading of the Bill but will move amendments as at the committee stage. We will move to amend some machinery provisions which will ensure fairer representation for local government. Our approach does not mean an unqualified approval of this measure- far from it. In our view, the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations is no more than a gimmick. It does nothing to come to grips with the basic problem of making our Federal system work. It creates an aloof advisory body, far removed from the grass roots level at which the 3 tiers of government should join together in co-operative programs. We want to see our Australian, State and local government public servants working together in a spirit of co-operation. This is the way to break down the barriers of distrust that have been built up over the years. I saw the distrust. The Department of Urban and Regional Development saw it. We tried to build a basis on which to break down the distrust that existed between State and local government. I have stood on a platform, when I was Minister, and challenged Premiers to say that there was no confrontation between State or local government bodies. Even Premier Hamer, on the same platform, agreed. We worked across the board with all States, irrespective of the political persuasion of their governments, to build a basis of co-operation. The only way to solve the problem of federalism is for the 3 tiers to work together and to break down the distrust between public servants at all levels. When one starts to get that trust, as the Whitlam Labor Government did, one starts to get to work. Honourable members opposite know of the spirit of co-operation which prevailed at that time on the matter of urban and regional development.
The chances are that this Council will be another impotent structure divorced from the day to day problems of making our complex federal structure work. Despite the basic flaws in the structure and the composition of this body, and the blatant gimmickery which inspired its creation, the Opposition is prepared to give it a chance. There is just a chance that it may be of some use and may foster a measure of cooperation between some elements of the federal system. Even if this happens, it is impossible to see much benefit filtering through the federal channels to the community groups which should be the point of delivery for all government programs. On the face of it, the Council is doomed before it is even formed. The Premier of Queensland has issued one of his edicts rubbishing the Council and rejecting any co-operation with or participation by his staff. This gives the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) just a taste of the obstruction and lack of cooperation which the previous Government suffered at the hands of Mr Bjelke-Petersen. The bluster and obstruction by the Queensland Premier cost his State in many programs, not only in the urban and regional development field but also in other fields. We broke through in many of them. In many fields it cost Queensland tens of millions of dollars which lowered the living standards of the people of Queensland. These programs would have reduced the heavy unemployment now afflicting Queensland. Mr Bjelke- Petersen can no longer knock back spending programs on the most narrow and bigoted grounds. He can assert his independence by refusing to co-operate with the Council, but this toothless paper tiger will not be able to do too much. Apparently he has adopted this stance because he is having a row with some of his councils over electricity undertakings. He feels threatened because, he claims, these councils want to bypass him and go straight to the Advisory Council. He cannot have read the terms of the legislation if he sees the Advisory Council as any threat to the State’s powers. Faced with this puny Advisory Council, the Queensland Premier was able to record this protest at the Premiers Conference:
I have received a letter from the Lord Mayor in a capital city saying that he wants a particular matter to be decided not by the Minister for Local Government but by this Advisory Council. I am deeply concerned that we will reach a situation where these matters will be taken out of the hands of governments and directed to the Advisory Council.
Where do we go from there?
We might echo the Queensland Premier and ask: Where does Australian federalism go from here?’ If it is not possible to get off the ground a simple Advisory Council, with a few functions and no sanctions, without this sort of wrangling, what chance does the Government have of making its new federalism work? If a State government feels threatened by the mere thought of a council writing to an Advisory Council based in another State, what will happen when the States feel the fangs of the Fraser Government’s double taxation proposals? This is an important side of the new federalism. With the best will in the world, it must be said that this Advisory Council, which the Government has made the cornerstone of its federalism policy, has got off to a bad start.
Turning to the structure of this Council, it has gone through a number of formats since it was first mooted. In many ways the structure before the House is the best that could have been devised. It is at least pleasing that the Government has rejected the proposal to include only 3 local government representatives. This number has been increased to six but much of the force of this change has been dimmed by the failure to give each State a guaranteed local government representative. This is bad in principle. With only 3 local government representatives a gross imbalance of representation could not have been avoided. Three States certainly would have misrepresentation; very likely four of the 6 States would have missed out. The wisdom of Solomon could not have devised a system which would have selected 3 local government representatives from the whole of Australia in a way that was even remotely fair.
Local government has made great progress in recent years but we are still a long way from the Utopian state where it is truly a national institution. There are more than 900 local government authorities throughout Australia and the diversity of interest from unit to unit in each State is quite staggering. Even a single representative from each State would face a mammoth task in putting a viewpoint acceptable to the range of local government within its own borders. The task is multiplied a hundredfold if selection of local government representatives is undertaken without regard to State representation. Much as I subscribe to a wider viewpoint in government I am realistic enough to accept that disregarding State differences in nominating local government representatives just will not work. For this reason we urge the Government to revise its approach and to write into the legislation the principle that each State should have its own local government representative elected from its local government organ.
The Prime Minister said in his second reading speech that so far as is practicable the 6 local government members should be persons associated with local government in different States. This imposes an intolerable burden on the Council of Local Government Associations in choosing its nominees. Stipulating that each State should be represented will not solve this problem but it would remove the risk of the total absence of representation of local government bodies within the State. We submit that this is the fairest approach.
The ‘little brother’ status of local government emerges again in the sharp clamp put- on its powers to initiate approaches to the Council. In essence there are only 2 ways of getting business before the Council. The Premiers Conference may refer matters directly to the Council or a majority of the governments represented on the Council may agree to refer matters to it. This means that three of the State governments, with the support of the Australian Government, can refer items to the Council. Without Federal support it will be necessary for four of the States to join together in getting matters before the Council. It is just not possible to see the Council drumming up much business with this framework of reference. The Premiers Conference simply is not geared to select and analyse items for the Council. In the next few years the Premiers Conference will be fully occupied in sorting out the debris of Fraser ‘s new federalism. Its focus will be almost solely on tax sharing and the relative shares of each system of government. There will be little interest at this level in the theoretical side of inter-governmental relations. I have no doubt that there will be occasional references to the Council from the Premiers Conference but I cannot see them as being significant.
– Oh, really!
– The honourable member for Denison, who interjects, is a babe in the woods. Premiers Conferences are concerned about financial issues and not major ideological change. In the main these references will be designed to move items of dispute over detail off the floor of the conference. Nor is there much chance of important issues moving up to the Council from the grass roots of local government and community groups. I have referred to the problem of getting a majority of the 6 participating governments to agree on a reference. The only access for local government to this Council is through a State Premier. This was described by the Prime Minister in these terms:
Local government, through their State Premiers will be able to have matters brought to the Premiers Conference for reference to the Council for examination and report.
We have seen the reaction of Mr Bjelke-Petersen to this sort of approach from local government. The mere suggestion of a local government unit making an approach to the Council was enough to make him scrap all participation by his State. Access by local government might have been slightly better if the coalition parties had backed the Labor Party’s efforts to secure local government participation on the Loan Council. This recognition of the key role of local government would have given local government a greater voice in the determination of national policy. It would have lifted the status of local government and forced the Premiers to take note of its voice. This opportunity was missed and the inclusion of greater local government representation on this Council is no substitute.
In the light of these problems of reference it is difficult to see the Advisory Council playing a role of any real substance. Creation of the Council is an attempt to transfer an American structure to the peculiar complexities of Australian government and Australian federalism. The Prime Minister says that the model has worked well in America. This may be the case but it is no guarantee that such a body can make any really effective contribution to Australian federalism. A point that should be noted is that it will be several years before the Council can produce work of any value. There is the real danger that there will be duplication of work which has been done much more effectively by other agencies. The Prime Minister made no reference to the relationship between the work of the Council and the Centre for Intergovernmental Studies at the Australian National University. This centre has produced a wide range of relevant work in the past few years; it has built up a vast amount of expertise in this area. It has also been given strong measures of financial assistance by the Australian Government. Yet it was ignored in the statement by the Prime Minister. With all respect to the resources of Hobart, quite clearly it cannot match this expertise.
There are other aspects of intergovernmental relations which have been thoroughly researched in recent years. One example is the work on regions which was undertaken by the Coombs royal commission and which is fully documented in the report brought forward by Nugget Coombs. In many ways this is the most visionary part of the Coombs report. The Government also has at its disposal the report on local government finances which was undertaken as a co-operative effort by the Federal and State governments. This is by far the most detailed and constructive report available on this topic. There is also the valuable work done in the first half of last year by the Whitlam Cabinet committee on Australia/State relations. Some very valuable research was conducted during the short life of that committee. Much of it was at a relatively early stage but it pointed the way to the main problems we are facing. There is also the ground work done on co-operative arrangements between the Federal and State governments. This followed a decision taken by the Premiers Conference last year. Initial meetings of State and Federal officials were held to begin the process of seeing where the 2 levels of government could work effectively in a co-operative way.
These things are only part of the stock of research material on intergovernment relations and the possible initiatives that can be undertaken without wasting time in more studies. It will be many years before this Advisory Council gets under way. The only way in which local government can get a fair go is to make sure that we work at all levels of government. In the area improvement program which occurred in only 13 regions in Australia we saw the Australian and State governments and local governments working together in a spirit of co-operation. Most of this stemmed from the grass roots level.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-As a committed federalist coming from the most federalist State in Australia I am proud and honoured to take part in this debate to support the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations Bill and to commend the Government on its practical implementation of the new federalism policy. But first I must make some comments upon the 2 extraordinary speeches we have heard this afternoon from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). With the greatest respect to the Leader of the Opposition, he once again demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that he is the most unrepentant convicted centralist in this country. If he ever got back into a position of power he would pick up the threads of 1972-75 and set about destroying federalism in Australia. He is still the same man who wants to see the State governments destroyed and with them the power of the States. He is still the same man who wants to see the Senate destroyed. He is still the same man who wants to see all power vested in Canberra and the 900 local government organisations throughout the country reduced to 50 puppet regions to be dictated to in their goings on by bureaucrats in Canberra.
The Leader of the Opposition stands convicted out of his own mouth as an unrepentant centralist and socialist swimming against the world tide which is as my colleague the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) so ably pointed out, towards devolution of power and greater federalism. The Leader of the Opposition, in his incredible speech, supported by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has censured each of the 6 State Premiers, including the Premiers of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. He has passed a vote of no confidence in the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. His colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition- his blood brother- added injury to insult by denigrating Hobart as the choice of the secretariat for this Council. It appals me that the Leader of the Opposition can come into this chamber and make 3 statements which are demonstrably untrue. I shall deal with them one by one.
The Leader of the Opposition claimed that the result of the New South Wales State election was a defeat for federalism. That is not true. The federalism policy had not even been fully announced at the time of that election. As my colleague, the honourable member for Sturt, mentioned earlier, many of the vital decisions were not taken until the June Premiers Conference which was several weeks after the New South Wales State election. I believe that honourable members from New South Wales who are honest will concede that, in the election, issues such as the New South Wales transport system, the question of milk zones, the nurses’ strike and even funeral benefits all ranked in greater priority than federalism. So I throw back to the Leader of the Opposition the statement -
– And the broken promises.
– And the broken promises, quite so, but his statement certainly was demonstrably untrue. The next claim by the Leader of the Opposition was that under Fraser federalism there would be less funds for the States and for local government. Again, that statement is demonstrably untrue. I shall deal with the position of the States, if I may. In relation to general revenue funds, this year the States have received the greatest allocation ever from Canberra. They have received a total of $3,743 billion, which is an increase of 20.3 per cent on the figures under the Whitlam formula. In relation to specific purpose funds of a revenue nature, the increased allocation to the States was 31.3 per cent on last year’s figures, to a total of $2,484 billion. When the Leader of the Opposition can stand in the Parliament and claim that local government is receiving less money under new federalism than it received before- this is in light of the fact that local government this year is receiving from the Fraser Government an increase of 75 per cent which brings its allocation to $ 140m- then, quite frankly, I wonder on what possible basis the Leader of the Opposition can expect his remarks to be given any credit or any recognition throughout the nation.
As I have said, the Leader of the Opposition made a further statement which was a censure of every State Premier. He claimed that local government in the States would get their matters raised and put before the Council for Intergovernment Relations, only by the grace and favour, as he put it, of the State Premiers. Is he saying that Mr Wran, Mr Dunstan and Mr Neilson, will shut out the views of local government and not have them put before the Council for consideration? Is he claiming that Mr Wran, Mr Neilson and Mr Dunstan are determined to conspire together to prevent the voice of local government being heard and to prevent the problems of local government being considered by this Council? That is the effect of what he has said.
The Leader of the Opposition was followed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. In an extraordinary incoherent diatribe he rambled on and on about some amendment which he intends to move in the committee stage which will give greater representation to local government. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition seemed still to be under the impression that there would be only 3 local government representatives on the Council. He is well behind the times because there will be six. Those 6 local government representatives are not the only citizens to be on the Council. I believe it is incredible that both the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy failed to advert to the fact that in addition to 6 local government representatives we, believing in the opinion of the grass roots of the community, are legislating for 5 community representatives to be appointed to the Council by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) but after consultation with the Premiers of the participating States. So 1 1 out of 22 members will represent local government and the community. For the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to say that 6 members are insufficient in a Council of 22 makes me wonder exactly what he is driving at. Does he want to see a situation in which the State representatives disappear completely? I think that is what he has in mind. That would be consistent with the centralist ideas of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the States, as his leader has said, should disappear and that State parliaments should vote themselves out of existence.
I shall now deal with the insulting remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about Hobart. I believe it is absolutely deplorable that that man, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, can stand in the Parliament and dare to suggest that Hobart does not have the facilities or the expertise to provide the secretariat for the Council -
– It is an insult to the whole of Tasmania.
-To the whole of Tasmania, as my colleague from Braddon reminds me. This is the sort of treatment we received from the Whitlam government between 1972 and 1975.
– That is why we got 5 seats.
– I am obliged to the Minister for Construction. This is the truth. Tasmanians are sick and tired of being treated as second rate Australians. I pay a tribute to the Prime Minister because on 9 December last year in Hobart he announced that this is not merely for Hobart- I am obliged to both my colleagues, the honourable members for Braddon and Franklin- it is for Tasmania. As an indication of the Federal Government’s commitment to new federalism and as a recognition of the vital and historic role played by smaller States the Prime Minister gave a commitment to the people of Tasmania that the secretariat for the Council would be based in Hobart. That commitment is being honoured in this legislation. Quite frankly, we will not be the least disappointed if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition never comes to Hobart again. His contribution to Hobart and Tasmania is minuscule. When he can stand in the national Parliament and denigrate the second oldest capital city in Australia, then I believe he is adding fuel to the flames as the Australian Labor Party goes down in Tasmania. According to the latest gallup poll that party’s popularity rating in our State is 37 per cent. That, we think, is too high. I am sorry to be enraged but when people in the Parliament treat Hobartians, Hobart and Tasmanians as second raters -
– It is like martians.
-That is right. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition seems to think we are not even worthy of consideration. That spurred me a little. I turn to the Bill. It is an important and historic step in the reintroduction to this country of true federalism. The sorts of dangers which we encountered from 1972 to 1975 were predicted by that great South Australian Sir John Cockburn in 1891 when, in an historic address, he made this comment:
We know that the tendency is always to the centre, that the central authority constitutes a vortex which draws power to itself. Therefore all the buttresses and all the ties should be the other way, to enable the States to withstand the destruction of their powers by such absorption.
The next words, I believe, are extremely significant in view of the Whitlam Government’s performance particularly in dealing with the smaller States from 1972 to 1975. Sir John said this:
Government at a central and distant point can never be government by the people and may be just as crushing a tyranny under republican or Commonwealth forms as under the most absolute monarchy.
I believe that when the people of Australia on 13 December rejected the Whitlam Government and threw it out of office they did so for 2 reasons. They did so firstly because of its socialism. Secondly- and this was a close second- they did so because of its centralism. When they put the Liberal and National Country Parties back into power they gave us a mandate- indeed I believe they made it a commitment- to restore federalism in this country. When we restore federalism we are not just talking, as my colleague the honourable member for Sturt made very clear, about fiscal matters. We are talking about the whole structure of government to lead this country into the 1980s and into the twenty-first century. Accordingly the Liberal and National Country Parties support the concept of federalism in which there are 3 areas of government, namely, Federal, State and local, and in which the powers and functions are distributed to achieve a continuous response to and provide an effective barrier against centralised authoritarian control. I am talking here of the sort of centralised authoritarian control which we saw in Canberra in the years 1972 to 1975 which led to the crushing votes against the Labor Government in Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland in particular. Tasmanians, Queenslanders and Western Australians and people in other States were sick and tired of having decisions which affect their lives made at that distant point of Canberra by people who frequently do not know the problems at the grass roots level and who in some cases regrettably follow the example of the centralist Ministers who do not really care about the problems at the grass roots level.
I submit, therefore, that federalism is not merely a structural concept. Its principal justification is a philosophical one. It aims to prevent a dangerous concentration of power in a few hands and in so doing it provides a guarantee of political and individual freedom. I therefore contend that those who support federalism support freedom, not merely of State governments and local governments but at an individual level; that those who espouse centralism use it as a means to introduce socialism which is the enemy of freedom. Socialism can never succeed whilst people are free. As long as Australia is free I trust it will remain free of the scourge of socialism which regrettably had been inflicted on this country over the 3 years from 1 972 to 1 975.
The Council will act as a living keystone of federalism. At the Premiers Conferences the Premiers confer, go away and come back 3 months later. This Council will be working in that intervening period on the matters referred to it by the Premiers Conferences. It will be a council, though based in Hobart in accordance with the Prime Minister’s electoral commitment, that will sit in every capital city in Australia. I cannot for the life of me see why people should be critical of something which is based very much on the model of the United States Advisory Commission which has had a distinguished history over the 17 years it has been established. Mr John Ryan, a most distinguished American who is visiting Australia briefly in conjunction with the United States presidential election, visited Canberra today. He speaks highly. of the work of the United States Advisory Commission which is bipartisan and through which all levels of government have immediate access. Also the community has the right of direct approach and representation to the Commission.
Of course, the Labor Party is trying to denigrate the constructive step that we have taken by painting it as a paper tiger. I have no desire to engage in a brawl with the Premier of Queensland, but I say publicly that this Council is strong enough to go on and it will go on notwithstanding, with respect, the comments of Mr Bjelke-Petersen because it is a Council to which every Australian will have the right of access. For the Leader of the Opposition to contend that the recommendations of this Council will not have any great effect is absolute nonsense. The Bill provides that there shall be a report not only to the Prime Minister but also to the National Parliament and to each State Parliament. So every member of Parliament in the country will know what the Council has been considering and what its decisions are. I believe that the small and distant States will have a far better opportunity to have their problems discussed, understood and acted upon than they have under the existing arrangement. I draw attention to the fact that although State Leaders of the Opposition do not have access to the Premiers Conference they will have access by one means or another to this Council. Therefore the Council will not just be fed the line that a particular State government wishes to put forward. The Council will have the opportunity of getting the views from both government and opposition at State level, from local government and from members of the community who will serve upon it.
Having said that might I make 2 final comments. I would like to draw attention to the actions of 2 State Premiers, both of whom on 10 April applauded the new federalism policy and both of whom have now done the most extraordinary turnabouts which must seriously damage their credibility and respect in the eyes of all reasonable and objective Australians. A report in the Adelaide Advertiser dated 10 April reported that Mr Dunstan emerged from the Premiers Conference smiling and said that the States would be receiving more that they had expected and that the new federalism was a genuine deal. It also reported that the Premier of Tasmania came out of the conference- he takes a little longer to think perhaps than does Mr Dunstanand was prepared to say that he expressed cautious satisfaction. But 7 weeks later the Premier of Tasmania made an incredible speech in which he said he had been conned. He has never quite explained what he meant but nevertheless he went out publicly and said that he had been conned. Last Friday night Mr Wran, the Premier of New South Wales, and Mr Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia, attended a fund raising dinner in the electorate of Sturt. Why they picked Sturt is difficult to understand, South Australians are absolutely amazed because there is no way known even if they work at it for 50 years, that Labor will dislodge the present honourable member for Sturt. But Mr Dunstan got up at this fund raising dinner and said that the new federalism was a fraud and a con job. What is behind all this?
– He takes the money.
-That is the point. The honourable member for Casey took the words out of my mouth. Mr Dunstan is prepared to take the money. He is prepared to have a surplus of $51m. He is prepared to take all the money, to claim the credit for it and at the same time to denigrate the new federalism. Why are he and Mr Wran doing this?
– It is politics.
– It is because they are playing politics with the people of Australia. They are trying to whip up antagonism to the new federalism, but underneath they know very well that they are better off than they would ever have been had the Whitlam formula continued. Whatever Mr Dunstan says he cannot deny the fact that South Australia is receiving more under the new federalism, as indeed is Tasmania and every other State, than it would have received had the Whitlam formula continued. I therefore say that both Mr Wran and Mr Dunstan stand publicly condemned for their hypocrisy in publicly denying and denouncing a policy which they know is going to work well for their States, which they know is going to enable them to bring in Budgets which are far more benevolent than they would otherwise be able to introduce. But they have the gall and hide to try to decry and destroy the basic policy upon which their States are flourishing. They therefore are publicly exposed as centralists, as dangerous, I suggest, as both the Leader of the Opposition and his Deputy.
I add a final word of caution to the people who live in the States governed by Labor Administrations: Watch what the governments are doing; they might very well be preparing the way to sell out your State in the event of a Labor government coming back to power at the federal level although I do not believe that will happen for many years. I commend the Government for making federalism in this country re-live. I commend the Government for introducing the legislation and for having the good sense to decide that the Council should have its secretariat in the most beautiful city in Australia.
– Following that bombast, it is not difficult to agree with the sentiments expressed by both the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). Both men have for many years past, certainly during the 3 years of the Labor Government and for many years before that, been two of the few people in public life who have struggled seriously to develop policies for inter-governmental relations in Australia, not as some abstract concept of political science but as a way of delivering services to people, a dynamic way of providing services to people. Let us look at this first legislative offering of the Fraser federalism. It is the first one, after 10 months of government, that the Government has come up with- the Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations. Both Government speakers- the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson)- referred to its American origins. I wonder how much they know about it. I suspect that they know precisely as much as does the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser).
The Prime Minister, in his curious speech on 23 September, talked about the Commission in the United States having been of great assistance in improving the American Federation. Has any? body heard that expression before- the American Federation? Never. The name of the country is the United States of America. It is quite often referred to as the Union. It is occasionally referred to as a code word by conservatives as the Republic and occasionally by people of a more liberal manner as the Nation. Lord Bryce wrote a book called The American Commonwealth. But the American Federationnever. This is the first time the expression has been used. It exhibits how much the Prime Minister knows about history, how much he knows about this organisation on which he has modelled his new jewel of federalism.
The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in the United States is a presidential advisory commission. If one looks through any index on Washington, if one looks through something like the definitive Congressional Quarterly Index to Washington one will see that it gets precisely half an inch in a volume of 1000 pages. If one looks at any of the standard texts on American politics and the American political system, if it is a very detailed work one may find the Commission footnoted. It is absolute nonsense to say that it is in any way an influential body in the workings of the American system. It has been thrown out today as some sort of snippet from the Government to put something into legislation so that the Government can say: ‘There, look. Aren’t we great federalists?’ The origins suggest that the body in fact does not have much influence in the United States and, as both the Leader and the Deputy Leader on this side of the House have said, it is unlikely to have a great deal of influence in this country either.
The Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations may never get to the starting gate. If one looks at the proposed section 8 (5) of what will become the Act, one will see that it is going to need 4 States to participate. Queensland has already said that it is not going to participate. It is not hard to imagine one of the other States withdrawing. So Government members should not waste too much hot air in saying that this is essential to the federalism policy. It may just fail. It may never come to fruition. The Leader of the Opposition spoke at some length about the difficulties that the Premier of Queensland had with this body and his reservations about a body which might conceivably pass on the requirements of local government. He said that the Premier was determined, as a centralist at State level, to stop local government responsibilities being examined dispassionately by anybody. The Leader of the Opposition quite rightly painted the Premier of Queensland as a conservative in this area who was unwilling to have this kind of examination carried on. But if one looks further at the transcript one will see that the villains are not simply persons like the Premier of Queensland. They include people who stand in the shadows, people who are not even in this House- people like Senator Carrick, the man who stands behind this whole phoney federalism, the man who wants to wind down the responsibility of this Parliament for everything that can make the lives of people in this country better. If one looks at the transcript when Mr Bjelke-Petersen put his reservations about the Advisory Council examining requests from local government, Senator Carrick said:
This Premiers Conference decides the objectives and the jobs that it does.
Then Mr Malcolm Fraser, the Prime Minister:
Matters come to this body to decide what should be referred to it.
That is suitably ungrammatical.
That is the safeguard. That was agreed at the last meeting.
The Premier of Queensland may have looked at the proposed workings of the Council more closely than Senator Carrick and the Prime Minister have. In the legislation one will see in clause 4 that the Council does have responsibility, subject to the directions of the Premiers Conference, to look at matters relating to inter-government co-operation and to make recommendations thereon. It is clause 5 which refers to the requests from the Premiers Conference. Clause 4 gives the Council the right of its own volition, subject to directions of the Premiers Conference, which presumably would be in the nature of guidelines, to look at these matters. So Mr Bjelke-Petersen just might be right.
The Premiers Conference which is referred to in the legislation is also a peculiar reference. It will be seen in the definition that it is not the Premiers Conference as we understand it, it is in fact the Prime Minister and the Premiers of the participating States. So we could have a situation where two of the States are excluded from the definition of the Premiers Conference for the purpose of this legislation. If one looks at clause 5 of the legislation one will see how ridiculous is the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Denison that such stalwart fellows as the Premier of New South Wales, the Premier of South Australia and the Premier of Tasmania would be party to seeing that the fears of local government about its access to revenues were not put to this Council, that they would somehow frustrate local government. They will not have the chance. There has to be a majority and everybody knows that the majority will be the conservative States. They will not have the opportunity to make the request to the Council.
Let us have a look at the composition of this Council- the jewel of federalism. One of the most peculiar things, of course, is that once again, as the Leader of the Opposition remarked, we are not told who is going to be on the Council. We are given a description of the sorts of persons who are going to be on it. It is important to realise that to an extent this is an intergovernmental body, which makes it a significantly different body from the body in the United States on which it is supposedly modelled. Both may be bipartisan, but as anybody familiar with the history of this country ought to know, the problems that occur in relations between governments in this country are institutional because we have different governments. This body will simply put those problems in to a Council. It is an inter-governmental body. One of the things which is not clear is whether the members of Parliament who are to be appointed to it are in the main to be Ministers or shadow Ministers or are likely to be backbenchers. It is not clear whether it is likely to be a body like the Inter-parliamentary Union or the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, related particularly to functions within Australia. Those matters are not clear at all.
Of course, there is a reference to the 5 citizens who are not members of Parliament, and they are to be drawn from different sections of the Australian community. I would bet that predictably no less than three of those 5 citizens will be members of boards of public companies in Australia of whom no one in this House has ever heard except a few privileged persons on the other side. There will be the usual suggestion that these people are non-political appointments because they have never participated publicly in politics and have no overt partisan affiliation. It will be back to the 1949-1972 show all over again. There may be one token trade unionist or perhaps someone from the universities. Who knows, they may even appoint a woman. But among the 5 prominent citizens, including especially the chairman, you can bet your life there are going to be these grey faceless men who make their deals with the Cabinet in the boardrooms out of sight of the public. They will be responsible men, men who always surface as the men of great public stature and independence, but who also happen to run companies that contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberal and National Country Parties.
– With knighthoods.
-If they have not got knighthoods when they are appointed they will get them afterwards. In fact, that could be one of the attractions of the appointment. It would short circuit the usual route of doing charity work and working your way up through the Order of the British Empire from one level to another. You might become a knight bachelor much quicker or even a knight of the order of the bunyip. The Advisory Council on Intergovernment Relations is to inquire into intergovernment co-operation. Again, honourable members opposite have not told us what intergovernment co-operation is. If they look at the legislation, they will see it defined as including inter-government co-ordination also. What nonsense! What spirit impels these men opposite to enter Parliament? Do not they have any thoughts about these matters themselves? Why do they come to Canberra? Why do they stand for Parliament at election time unless they are prepared to come out with specific policies about how this country ought to be governed and about what is an appropriate function? The word ‘appropriate’ is a code word. There is no such thing as appropriate’ and ‘proper’. They are value judgments every time. It is about time that honourable members opposite realised that the people out there in the electorate have woken up to the fact that when the Prime Minister uses those words, he is using them as an excuse to shed the involvement of his Government and to stop this Parliament allocating funds for the real human needs of people. Real federalism is not about crummy pieces of paper like this Bill. It is about how we get governments to work for the good of the nation and for the good of individuals. This is a dynamic proposition.
– You do not want them to work.
-The honourable member for Sturt who interjects will not have an opportunity to interject in the Thirty-first Parliament because he will not be here. He will not be here because of the sorts of things about which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was talking. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have talked about the potential weaknesses of this Council and how no one on the Opposition side objects to it. However, they have indicated that it is unlikely to achieve anything by way of federalism. Federalism is politics at work. Federalism is what the Labor Government delivered between 1972 and 1975. It is schemes such as the area improvement program and the Australian Assistance Plan. Honourable members opposite laugh. But I advise them when they return to their electorates to look at the Budget Papers to see what funds are available. I dare say that the honourable member for Sturt can balance his cheque book better than I can because he has a bit more to balance. But if he looks at the public accounts of this country, unless he has absolutely no ability with arithmetic, he will see that the position goes beyond that total figure. When will the silly fellows opposite stop talking about allocating $140m for local government purposes as opposed to the untied grants of $80m made available by Labor? They should look at the bottom line. That gives the real story. The bottom line tells us that this year the Liberal-National Country Party Government will allocate less than $200m for local government whereas Labor last year allocated nearly $2 80m. That is what federalism is all about. That is why local government bodies are aware of the humbug that honourable .members opposite spout in this House. The idea is that somehow the Government washes its hands by pushing off these matters for consideration by a Council. Let us hear honourable members opposite now put forward their proposals about how Australia should be governed. We saw what happened under the Deputy Leader of the Opposition when he had one of the most dynamic ministeries in Australia, one that helped fulfil the aspirations of the Australian people which had been held back for so long- for 23 years of Liberal-National Country Party misrule.
One of the things that the Prime Minister said in his curious second reading speech was that the setting up of this Council would promote discussion which would dispel the notion that all wisdom came from the centre. Really, his speech writers have to improve. They must vary their language. Let us get something new. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went through item by item the kind of programs that meant federalism or inter-governmentilism, which I think is a better word, at work in Australia from 1972 to 1975. It meant not simply money; it meant also the way in which services were delivered and the involvement of local communities. We do not hear the members of the National Country Party interjecting in this debate. They sat silent in the House when the majority of their Government Party coalition denied access to the Grants Commission for rural local government authorities. They know that in the rural areas, local government authorities did extremely well out of that access to the Grants Commission. They know that the topping up grants- the giving of assistance on the basis of need- was a very welcome innovation on the part of the Labor Government. It was one welcomed in their local government areas and we do not hear them objecting.
But we hear the silly fellows opposite who were elected on the basis of this mindless slogan, Turn On the Lights’ and other such ridiculous slogans. What will see honourable members opposite who are interjecting defeated will be the fact that funds available under these programs for urban public transport, national sewerage, the National Estate and the Australian Assistance Plan for local government authorities are now being made available. In my constituency, an area which does not have a great many people of tremendous personal wealth and which has a great many people of ethnic origin, the local government authorities are striving manfully. They took up the challenge thrown down to them under the Labor Government to employ the resources made available to them to develop programs to benefit those local communities. Now they are finding that the funds are not available. It is an absurd irony that in this country the Government makes funds available to voluntary agencies- to charity- to do work amongst the ethnic communities when it will not make funds available to locally elected government bodies. Those bodies ought to be challenged. They ought to be charged with doing those sorts of things. But this Government makes no funds available to them. However, it makes funds available to charities.
What is a proper function? It is the same function regardless of who is delivering it. It is the same function regardless of whether we are talking about a democratically elected body delivering it or a body of self-appointed do-gooders. I know which I prefer and I know which every honourable member ought to prefer. The federalism policies of the Labor Government were federalism at work. It was not a phrase that meant nothing. It meant real programs. It meant cash. It meant the involvement of local resources. It meant the access of local communities directly to the revenue resources of this nation- the ones produced by legislation enacted in this Parliament. There is no greater humbug than for honourable members opposite to talk about wanting to see devolution of responsibility down to these local authorities. They never mean that. They simply mean that they want to wash their hands of responsibility for these functions which, for the first time, government started to discharge properly. It did not start to discharge them at the federal level. The Federal Government simply funded them. They were discharged as near as possible to the people who were to receive those services.
All honourable members opposite want to do is to turn back the whole matter to the States, the States which did nothing for so long. If they truly believe in a whole separate number of independent political entities in this country, they will not come into the chamber and trumpet about the percentages of personal income tax made available to the States and the millions of dollars made available in untied grants to the States. They will give local government authorities income taxing powers. They should give such powers not just to the State parliaments but also to local government authorities. But, of course, the Treasurer would not have any of that and no rational manager of the economy would. In addition, we should not shirk from the setting of national goals in this country. The system of block grants being given in untied funds is already working to the disadvantage of many groups in Australia. The community health program is a particular example I have in mind. In the reactionary State of Queensland, people are suffering as a result of this Government not directing in general terms where those funds will go.
Honourable members opposite also talk humbug when it comes to a matter like rural roads. If rural roads are involved, the States will be told precisely where the money is going. The State governments have no independence then. In that case, the Prime Minister does not think that States should choose between spending the money on welfare housing or on rural roads. The money goes to rural roads if the National Country Party wants it to go to rural roads. So this is humbug. Honourable members opposite are inconsistent. Their federalism policies are a sham. They cannot hide behind the erection of an Advisory Council like this to conceal it.
- (Mr Ian Robinson) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
– I move:
In clause5, add the following sub-clause:
The members of the Council appointed on the nomination of the Council of Local Government Associations, or a majority of those members, may request the Council to inquire into, and report on, a matter relating to inter-government co-operaton specified in the request and, where such a request is made, the Council shall, subject to any directions referred to in sub-section 4(1), inquire into the matter and furnish a report with respect to the inquiry to the Prime Minister, to the Premier of each of the participating States and to the Council of Local Government Associations’.
Clause 5 of the Bill provides that inquiries by the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations may be carried out on the request of the governments represented on the Council or a majority of those governments. The 7 Australian governments are represented on the Council. Accordingly the Council can carry out inquiries if requested by 4 State governments or by the Commonwealth Government and 3 State governments. The amendment which I moved will permit the Council to make inquiries if requested by a majority of the local government members of the Council.
It was originally proposed that there should be 3 local government representatives on the Council. The Bill, I hasten to add and to applaud, now provides that there shall be 6 local government representatives on the Council. There will be as many local government representatives on the Council as there will be State government representatives on the Council. It is enough for the Council to inquire into any matter if a majority of government representatives, that is, 3 State governments and the Federal Government or any 4 State governments, request that course. It would seem to be fair to provide that the Council should also inquire into any matter if requested by the local government representatives or a majority of them. The great merit of this Bill- of the Advisory Council which it establishes- is, as I said in my second reading speech, that for the first time a Liberal Party gives some role to local government in the Australian federal system. If, however, the Bill remains unamended then it will be a charade or a sham as far as local government is concerned.
The Council can only consider matters subject to and in accordance with directions given at a Premiers Conference. I have already quoted from the proceedings of the Premiers Conferences in February and April last to show that those Conferences, maybe only by majority, did their best to ensure that the Constitutional Convention which will meet in Hobart later this month will not consider matters of local government finance. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) expressly wrote to the Chairman of the executive committee of the Constitutional Convention to say that the Convention should not have matters of local government finance on its agenda. The executive council of the Constitutional Convention accepted that ukase- that decree- from the Premiers Conference.
– Is that not why they would not come last year? Last year they refused to come because local government finances were on the agenda.
-To be precise, the Federal Liberal and Country Party members boycotted the Constitutional Convention. The Convention was also boycotted by Liberal and Country Party members of the Parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. There were Liberal delegates at the Convention from the State Parliaments of South Australia and Tasmania. It is true though that those Liberal delegates to the Convention did vote against the proposals for local government. The local government representatives voted in favour of them. The Liberal members of the Houses of Assembly voted unanimously against them, so, too, did the Liberal Movement delegate there.
What I wish to emphasise is that we know from the experience of the Premiers Conference this year that the Premiers did their best .to see that m the context of the Constitutional Convention there could be no discussion of local government finances. At this stage, as the Bill stands, it is quite doubtful whether the Council could inquire into those matters. It could only inquire into them according to the proceedings of the last Premiers Conference, if a Premier brought the matter to the Premiers Conference and the Premiers Conference then referred the matter to the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. It may be that the Council itself could discuss this matter. It certainly is not certain that it could. We want to make it certain that it can.
We should equate the role on this Council, of the local government representatives and the State government representatives. If a majority of the local government representatives want a matter to be discussed then the Council should inquire into that matter. If a majority of State government representatives want the Council to discuss a matter the Council must inquire into it. The same should apply to local government representatives. It is true that as the Bill would stand with the adoption of the amendment I have moved, the Premiers Conference could still overrule it just as it did in February and in April last in relation to the proceedings of the forthcoming Constitutional Convention. Let the Premiers take that responsibility if they venture. One of the great reasons the Liberal Premiers and the Liberal Prime Minister did not want the question of local government finances to be discussed at the Constitutional Convention is that they would have to declare themselves. How they voted would be seen. How they voted would be recorded. None of them openly wants to disparage or reject local government. In private they do their very best. They are paranoid; they are obsessed about the fact that local government might be able to appeal to a wider forum, and that their own attitude to local government, their own centralisation in each of their States, should be exposed, visibly and palpably. At least this amendment will ensure- it will specify- that if the majority of the representatives of local government on this Council request the Council to inquire into a matter, then the Council will do so. Sure the Premiers Conference would be able to veto it. It would be able to silence it. But unless the Premiers Conference took that responsibility then the Council would have to inquire into and report upon any matter sought by a majority of the local government representatives on the Council.
As I said in my second reading speech there are already organisations in Australia- the Premiers Conference and the Australian Loan Council- which permit the Federal Government and the State governments to discuss matters. There ought to be an Inter-State Commission which would permit the Federal Government and the State governments to have matters discussed which are of mutual concern to them. Admittedly the Inter-state Commission Act has not yet been proclaimed. It was assented to by the Governor-General a year ago. The Fraser Government has not yet proclaimed that Act. But there are institutions to deal with financial relations- inter-government relations- between the Federal Government and the 6 State governments or any of those State governments. This is the only body which institutionally could deal with the relations of local government and the other tiers of government. It is true that the State governments created local government but they have provided no statutory bodies for the aspirations of local government or the relations between State governments and local governments to be discussed. My Government tried to do so. We established a wider charter for the Grants Commission in that respect. We tried to amend the Constitution. We did, in fact, pass legislation which was designed to make grants directly to local government. The High Court upheld that procedure. But in this Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations, with members drawn from the Federal Government, State governments, local government bodies and the Federal Opposition, at least we ought to ensure that local government has the same right as State governments have to have its relations with the State governments or the Federal Government, or both, inquired into and reported upon. This amendment will permit that course.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In listening to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) propose this amendment one finds that his total hypocrisy is made manifestly clear. In his speech and in the speech of his sibling earlier this afternoon it was stated that this legislation would not achieve the purpose for which it is designed. Of course, honourable members opposite do not want it to achieve its purpose. They are opposed to the federal system. They want to destroy that system. Now by this amendment the Leader of the Opposition seeks to make some mischief. In his speech during the second reading debate, to which he kept referring in his comments a few minutes ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that in 1971 the Premiers, because of the influence of local government, of councillors and aldermen, came to the Premiers Conference and said that there should be greater involvement by local government and that more funds should be made available to local government. If local government has a strong argument and can persuade the Premiers in the future, I am sure that it will succeed in doing so.
I take up the argument of my colleague, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). Let us look at this matter in the practical political terms of today. At present there are 3 States with Labor Premiers. If local government believes, and if it is a fact, that the only Premiers who will at present support it are the Premiers of the Labor-controlled States, then local government already has 3 votes at the Premiers Conference. Therefore, it has to win the support of either one of the other Premiers or of the Prime Minister. I am convinced that if local government’s argument is strong enough it will persuade the Premiers and the Prime Minister of the importance of the Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations considering a matter which local government wishes to have discussed.
Then I draw to the attention of the Committee the remarks of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam). He, in denigrating the proposal for the establishment of the Council, amongst other things drew the attention of honourable members to the fact that the Council will have certain powers to initiate its own discussions. He pointed out that clause 4 of the Bill states: the Council shall, subject to an in accordance with directions given at a Premiers Conference, inquire into and keep under consideration and review matters relating to inter-government co-operation . . .
If the local government representatives, of whom there will be six out of a total membership of twenty-two on the Council, cannot get the support of the Premiers or of the Prime Minister at the Premiers Conference they can come along to the Council and gain the support of 5 other members of the Council- they could gain the support of the 5 citizen members- and local government would then have sufficient support within the Council to enable it to proceed to discuss the matter that it wants to initiate, except of course if the Premiers Conference gives directions that that matter shall not be discussed. I suggest that it would be a bold group of Premiers at the Premiers Conference who, in the face of a decision of the Council itself, made up of the representatives of the various groups, would say: That matter which local government wants considered shall not be discussed ‘.
I point out to the Committee that there are 2 quite effective methods whereby local government can achieve the discussion of matters that are of concern to it. Firstly, it can get sufficient support within the Premiers Conference itself or, secondly, it can get sufficient support within the Advisory Council itself. Those options make this amendment totally unnecessary. I think that we should allow the Bill to proceed in the manner in which it was proposed, to provide time to determine how the Council operates. I am convinced that the Council will make a significant contribution in inter-governmental relations. I am not, like members of the Opposition, pessimistic about the Council’s future. It is pessimism or wishful thinking on their part that the Council should not succeed? It will succeed if those who comprise its membership have the will to make it succeed. The 5 selected citizens will no doubt take up their appointments with a determination to make the Council a successful body.
If local government wants to have a greater say in the development of our federal system, as I believe it does, this Council, structured as it is by this Bill, will give it an adequate opportunity to develop its place in the Federation. This Council, comprised as it will be of local government representatives, will give to local government a significant place in the Federation. I do not believe that the Bill should be amended in the manner suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. I think that he has put forward his proposal just for the sake of making mischief.
– I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) because I think it is important that the representatives of local government should be able to bring matters before the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. After all, we are talking about people at the grass roots level of government, and unless the representatives at this level of government are able to bring matters before the Council, the Council will not really do its job. The only way in which we can assist this governmental problem is to try to get a real understanding of the problem at all levels of government. At present the difficulties facing State governments in Australia can be put before Premiers Conferences. Under the present proposal matters can be put before this Council only by the Premiers Conference or by a majority of the governments involved. The governments involved in the Council are designated in clause 5 (2) of the Bill. Those governments will be the Commonwealth Government and the governments of the participating States. I suppose sub-clause (2) of clause 5 was drafted in the belief that not all States would participate in the Council. Already Queensland has dissociated itself from the Council. Therefore, representation on the Council will be the same as that at the Premiers Conference, except that Queensland will not be one of the participating States on the Council.
There may be a desire for a discussion of, for instance, the Grants Commission. From the 1930s the Grants Commission has dealt with the question of lack of equality among the States. An amendment was passed by the Whitlam Labor Government enabling it to allow for the differences between regions- in other words, to look into the areas governed by local government bodies. We set up the machinery to enable the Grants Commission to look at these matters.
We found that in having these matters looked at we have drawn together an expertise in the field of local government which is unequalled in this country. Local government was able to come before the Grants Commission and put its case to the Commissioners. It was able to show the grave inequalities that existed.
Why have members of the National Country Party of Australia not criticised this proposition? Because the Grants Commission, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Else-Mitchell, found that there were graver inequalities in relation to the rural areas. In the first year of the Grants Commission’s activities in this sphere it was shown that for every $2.50 per person made available to urban councils, $6.50 per person was made available to rural councils. But by the time of the introduction of the last Budget- the Hayden Budget- in which $79.9m- an increase of 40 per cent over the previous year- was made available the contribution had increased to $3 a head for urban councils and $10 a head for rural councils. Those are matters that were brought forward at the time.
I should say that Mr Justice Else-Mitchell, who was brought to the Grants Commission from the Supreme Court of New South Wales, is an expert in land valuations. He probably has had more experience on land tenure and land valuations than any other member of the judiciary in the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia. Not only did we do that but we also brought people from local government to sit on the Commission and to work with the Commission. We engaged people with a business background, we sought people from the universities and we involved people from the State government administrations. So we had all levels of government represented on the Grants Commission and we had people with university and business backgrounds. This body had such expertise that it was in fact a body which was respected at all levels.
What has the present Government done? It has limited the power and involvement of the Austraiian Grants Commission in relation to local government. In fact, there is now going to be very little intercourse between the Grants Commission as set up by the Whitlam Labor Government and local government. The present Government has asked the States to set up 6 State Grants Commissions. It is a Government which has said that it does not want to extend the bureaucracy; yet in this respect it has extended the bureaucracy a great deal. The sad thing about this matter is that the expertise that was gained by the Grants Commission under the previous Australian Government’s administration may be no longer taken advantage of. These days it is extremely difficult to get such expertise and it is very difficult to duplicate efficient organisations such as the Australian Grants Commission. The Australian Grants Commission has in fact built up a great deal of information and knowledge that is not available to the States grants commissions. It would be practically impossible for any of the State governments to gain the enormous amount of expertise and goodwill that was gained by the Austraiian Grants Commission.
I believe that local government should be able to bring matters before the Council for debate. That is one of the reasons why we should support this amendment. The local government representatives should be able to recommend matters to be brought before this Council. There are other aspects that these local government representatives might want to have discussed. In this respect I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a document entitled ‘Table 99- Summary of Commonwealth Government Payments to or for Local Government Authorities’, which appears at page 123 of Budget Paper No. 7.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
– If a table such as that were brought before such a Council it would be possible to explode the myth that is being put about by the present Government that the allocation to local government in this year’s budget is an increase of 75 per cent. The Government says that the allocation to local government has increased from the Labor Government’s allocation of $79.9m in 1975-76 to the allocation of $140m this year. As the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) was able to point out to honourable members earlier today, if one looks at the bottom of the table one will find that the final amount for 1976-77 is $ 195.2m whereas the total amount for 1975-76 was $274.2m. In other words there has actually been a decrease of about 28 per cent this year in the allocation to local government. It is at Council meetings that matters such as this- financial matters, structural matters and matters concerning the grave problems that the rural and urban councils are experiencing- could be brought foward by local government. It is only the local government aldermen at the grass roots level who understand the problems.
– Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s time has expired.
– The Australian Labor Party seems to be still persisting with the idea that by the manipulation of local government it will be able consistently to reduce the powers of the State. The Government does not accept that attitude. We believe that the State governments must have primacy within the structure of the Australian Constitution. It is because we believe that they must have primacy that this clause has been drafted in this way. Indeed, the whole concept of an Advisory Council for InterGovernment Relations is specifically to enable the 2 principal tiers of government to have a continuing forum on a broad range of matters but also to enable local government participation and to enable citizen participation so that the 3 tiers of government and the community will participate together in broad general discussions.
This amendment seeks to give an initiative to local government. I do not know whether the Council of Local Government Associations has been solicited on it, but no approach has been made to the Government to have this sort of initiative given to local government. The whole concept of the Advisory Council is that it is the beginning of a continuing forum in which matters that affect the 3 tiers of government and the citizen can be discussed. It is important that there be no intrusion into the responsibilities which should be predominantly those of the State governments and those which should be predominantly those of the Federal Government. If this amendment concerning the initiating of matters for discussion were to be accepted there would be a derogation of the responsibility of the State governments. The extent to which local government should participate is, of course, recognised by the inclusion of sufficient membership to ensure that each State has a local government representative. However, we have so framed the Council and the form of the Council that the responsibility of the State governments over the whole field of local government is none the less accepted. This Council is not intended to change in any way the responsibility that now exists.
Every member of this place should be aware that local government is essentially the product of legislation passed by State governments. That legislation ensures that local government areas have certain responsibilities in each State. In South Australia, large areas of the State are not under the responsibility of local government. Because of the sparsity of population and the character of the area, the administration of those areas is exercised by the State government. In other States, generally all area is in some way covered by local government. This Bill does not seek to change that relationship in any way. State governments must maintain their responsibilities. The responsibility accorded to local government under the various local government Acts varies from State to State and from area to area. Where there are matters which affect local government it has the capacity, through the State government, to suggest that certain matters be brought forward. We believe that to be adequate.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) went into a eulogy on a form of financial grants to local government which seemed to me to be somewhat of an extension of the amendment. Because he commented on it, let me say briefly that the selective character by which funds were allocated to local government under the previous administration was one of the sources of constant concern of everybody involved in local government. There was a total uncertainty about the sort of funds which would be available to any council each year. There was a system to decide who got what. Out of that system a large number of councils received nothing. While councils were in a position of uncertainty they were not able to budget ahead. They were not able to contain rate increases to meet their outgoing expenditure. Citizens were unduly penalised. Everyone knows how rates have progressively become a burden.
In contrast, we have provided a complete and certain allocation of money which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) recently announced would be provided in block grants so that local government would have the money at the beginning of the year. That is intended to try to halt the escalation of rates so that not only will local government be able to finance its own operations but the citizens will know that rates will not be increased because of the uncertainty with which local government was faced when it did not know the sort of funds which were coming from the Federal Government.
– It is a 75 per cent increase.
– It is a 75 per cent increase, as my colleague from Denison reminds me. The whole approach of this Government has been to support local government. We have supported the maintenance of funds to local government. We have supported the concept that if we can provide adequate finance, and certainty of the receipt of finance, rates will not have to be increased; so the citizen is protected. In contrast, the Labor Party in government sought to do several things. It sought to reduce the power of the States. It sought to augment the power which it exercised through its centralist philosophy. It sought to reduce the powers of the States by increasing the number of these fairly loose regional groups. In many instances it denied to individual councils the opportunity to decide their own fate. It applied to an amalgam of local organisations powers which were regressively intended to reduce the efficacy of State government legislation and operation. The conception is interesting. The product was that more and more the central government, not only through the exercise of financial control, but through the exercise of changed administrative authority because of these regional associations, was trying to destroy not only the State governments but also the local government. Rather than being the great champion of local government, the Australian Labor Party was intent on destroying the other 2 tiers of government.
The conception of this legislation is that there should be an Advisory Council. We recognise, respect and intend to preserve the sovereignty of State governments. Local government is not a domain of the Federal government. We accept that it has a very important role. It was as a result of an initiative of the McMahon Government, not of the Whitlam Government, that local government was included in the Constitutional Convention.
-That is not accurate.
-It is, I am afraid. We see the function and the control of the whole of local government as an integral part of the 3 tiers of government in our system. We think we need an Advisory Council. This initiative flowed from our concern to preserve the proper relationship. The first relationship is between the Federal Government and the State governments. We hope that all State governments will participate in this Council. It is a forum within which everybody’s sovereign rights will be protected. Yet it is to change those sovereign rights that I see some of the consequences flowing from this amendment. We do not wish to change that sovereign responsibility. We accept that State governments have a predominant responsibility, through their local government legislation, for the councils and municipal authorities in their areas. We wish to give local government a voice, so it is represented on the Council. We wish to give the citizens an opportunity to speak, so they are represented on the Council. I see this legislation as a very positive and progressive movement forward in enabling a better communication between the several levels of government. However it is important that it should not be used in any way as a device to lessen the proper responsibilities of each of the existing levels of government. The Government therefore does not accept the Opposition ‘s proposal. It believes that the structure of the Council, as devised in this legislation, is adequate both to preserve the 3 tiers of responsibility and to enable matters to be brought forward properly within the confines of discussion. Therefore this amendment is rejected.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7- by leave- taken together and agreed to.
– I move:
In clause 8, omit sub-clause (3), substitute the following sub-clause:
In nominating persons to be the members referred to in paragraph (2) (j), the Council of Local Government Associations shall ensure that the local governing bodies in each State are represented by one of those persons, being a person elected for that purpose, in accordance with a method determined by the Council of Local Government Associations, by the members of the local government councils in the State.’.
Sub-clause (2) of clause 8 lists the sorts of people who shall comprise the 22 members of the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations. Paragraph (j) states that among those people there will be 6 persons not being members of a Parliament who shall be appointed on the nomination of the Council of Local Government Associations. My amendment provides that those 6 persons should be chosen in each State by members of the local government councils in that State. One of the remarkable things about this legislation is that it mentions 2 bodies which have no statutory definition or in fact any constitutional definition.
– There is the Prime Minister too.
-As my colleague the honourable member for Grayndler points out, there is a third person mentioned in the Bill who is not defined in any Act or in the Constitutionto wit, the Prime Minister. I think he might also have added the Leader of the Opposition. The Bill mentions the Premiers Conference. There is no such statutory or constitutional body. It mentions the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. As the Bill now stands, it is the Australian Council of Local Government Associations which will nominate the 6 local government representatives on the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations. There is no Minister present in the chamber at the moment. I doubt whether any Minister could give the Committee a definition of the composition or the constitution of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. In this Bill we are being asked to give to a body of which any of us, at best, has a very hazy notion the right to nominate the 6 local government members of this body which we are establishing by statute. The amendment I have moved would provide that the representative on the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations from each State should be chosen by the elected members of local government bodies in that State. In other words, the aldermen and the councillors in each State should decide who should be their representative on the Advisory Council we are establishing by means of this Bill.
I appreciate that the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair), the man who is acting as Acting Prime Minister today, was as vehement and as glib as usual in opposing the previous amendment. He relied on notions of State sovereignty and so on which are always used to downgrade and to oust local government. Surely not even he can find an argument based on State sovereignty for saying that the local government representative on this Council should not be chosen by the aldermen and councillors in each State rather than being chosen by this Australian Council of Local Government Associations. The States do not appoint- they may influence but they do not appoint- the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. The States, under the Bill as it is, have no right to say who will be the local government representatives on the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations. The amendment would provide that the State representative in each case should be chosen by the people who have been elected to local government bodies in that State. That seems to be a very reasonable proposition. I do not really believe that it can be opposed on any grounds of State sovereignty. It cannot be opposed on any ground of Commonwealth intrusion or supervision. It is a reasonable proposition and I believe the people in local government would support it. Accordingly I put this amendment. It is a reasonable and feasible method by which to let the people who represent local government be the persons who are chosen by those who serve in local government- who have been elected to local councils. I believe that this is a proposition that at least the Government should accept.
-I must briefly impose a few ideas in this debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) remarks that the Australian Council of Local Government is a nebulous body which is not terribly well known to members of the House. It is extremely well known to honourable members interested in local government. Briefly I might point out that the Australian Council is the very essense of representation from the grass roots of local government because the local government members on the Australian Council are in turn appointed by the State governing body. For instance, if I might use my own State as an example, the State body is the Queensland Local Government Association. It appoints one member to the Australian Council. This happens in each State and finally the Australian Council has six or seven members. So, in effect, if it does have authority to appoint 6 representatives, its members have been appointed to the highest possible authority because they are the parent body, the supreme body, the supreme voice of local government in the country. I do not agree with the Leader of the Opposition. If the Australian Council has that authority it has it by the purest democratic means.
– I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). I do so on the basic principle that it represents a more democratic approach. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) has accused members of the Labor Party of being centralist. I point out in answer to that charge of centralism in regard to local government that I have been able to demonstrate that probably no other member of Parliament has had as great an association with local government and has fought for local government and for regionalism more than the Leader of the Opposition. Yet the Government and its supporters still make the irresponsible charge that we are centralist where urban and local and regional affairs are concerned. That is a lie.
By having a democratic approach to this matter it can be taken back to the rank and file, to the grass roots of local government elections, and this will give this proposed body greater strength. If all the aldermen and councillors within each respective State make a decision as to who should represent that State on this Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations, this may give strength to that body. It certainly will give strength to local government. For the love of
Pete I cannot really understand why the Government refuses this proposition.
The present national local government association is a respected body but to some extent at this stage it is a very loose body. It is still in the stage of development; it has not got the complete unanimity of local government behind it. We would like to see it get a lot more muscle and would like to give it more encouragement. Nobody has given it more encouragement than we on this side of the chamber. The Leader of the Opposition and I have had a long association with local government. The Leader of the Opposition has been involved with local government for much longer than I or any other member of this House, although the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) sprouted about the Leader of the Opposition not knowing this association. We know its personalities. In fact, some of the people who play leading roles in local government were seconded from that association by us to the former Department of Urban and Regional Development. Some of them worked on a contract basis with our administration for a period of time so that we would have the knowledge of their expertise and background of local government in order that an Australian government department could understand the in depth problems of local government.
The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition represents common sense. If all the aldermen and councillors within a respective State select their representative on this Advisory Council this must have greater moral support from local government than if that person were appointed by a body in Canberra.
There is another difficult matter that this Advisory Council would have to determine. It is said that wherever practicable its members should come from each State. That was spelt out by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his second reading speech. What will be the position of the State of Queensland? Already the Queensland Premier has stated clearly that his Government will not participate in this Council. We know that local government, as it is at present, really was the creature of the State, although there have been a few breakthroughs. Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition told us of the constitutional decision about the Australian Assistance Plan programs. A constitutional challenge was brought by certain States and the High Court of Australia ruled that the Australian Government could make direct grants to local government. There are other precedents and illustrations to show that we are coming out of the dim dark ages and that local government is being recognised as a level of government and that it is not completely a creature of the States. I believe that this amendment represents a rational request. The Leader of the Opposition has put forward a rational amendment and it should be accepted. It gives the direct lie to those who put forward the proposition that with respect to local government our government was a centralist government.
As far as we are concerned local government never got a better deal in its life than when the Whitlam Labor Government came into office and we were able to put our policy into effect. We were able to point out earlier in the Committee stage how much local government has received. This year it has received 28 per cent less than it received last year. Surely there is enough evidence of this. All we are asking the Government is to give the right to local government aldermen at their local grass roots level to have a say in the matter of electing their representative on their Council. If this Council is to be any real forum then the Government certainly should allow local government aldermen in Sydney, in Dubbo, in Broken Hill and in all the rural areas to have the right to determine whom they should elect to represent New South Wales on the Council.
The same thing should happen in Tasmania. No centralist body in Canberra should determine who should represent Tasmania. The aldermen in Tasmania are the ones who should determine who will be their representative. Let us wipe away the hypocrisy which exists. Let us determine this matter in a democratic way. I ask the Committee to support the rational and democratic proposition which has been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition.
-Any chance which the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) had of attracting the support of the House has just disappeared with the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). The Leader of the Opposition is an unashamed centralist. For that, I believe, he should be given some credit because he does not try to conceal or deny- as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did a few minutes ago- the fact that he is a centralist. Indeed the Leader of the Opposition is the greatest convicted centralist in Australia, having been convicted by the Australian people on 13 December. Accordingly, I looked with some care to see whether there was a centralist theme in the amendment which he proposes. And, would you believe it, there is! What the Leader of the Opposition proposes is that the Australian Council of
Local Government Associations will dictate to each State the method of election of the representatives of local government in that State to serve on the Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations.
– The heavy hand.
-The heavy hand of a centralist directive as to the method of election of representatives. The Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations Bill is quite clear. I shall not take very long to make these points because I believe that even the Leader of the Opposition knows full well that the Bill is quite clear. It provides that there shall be one representative from local government from each of the 6 States of Australia. The reason the number was increased from three to six was simply to make it physically and numerically possible for there to be one representative from each State. I cannot for one moment conceive that the Council of Local Government Associations will take its charter under clause 8 ( 1 ) (k) and then say: ‘We will not appoint one representative from South Australia and we will not appoint a representative from Queensland.’ The second point is that the various States may desire their representatives to be chosen by different means. In Tasmania it might be that the executive makes the decision. In another State it may be decided that an election should be held.
It is for those reasons that the amendment which is put forward by the Leader of the Opposition cannot be accepted. It would take away the rights of individual States to determine the way in which persons from those States are to go on to the Council. Secondly, it imposes a centralist directive. My final point is that I believe- I am sure the Leader of the Opposition will not deny thisthat this amendment does not come to the Parliament with the support and approval of the Council of Local Government Associations. That being so, I believe the amendment is not in good faith. Accordingly, it should not be accepted. The States should have the right, in accordance with the federalism principle, to decide how their representatives will be chosen, so that each one may be able to carry out his role on the Council, not feeling that he is in any way subject to centralist directive as he would be if this amendment were to go through.
– The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) has seen a centralist plot on my part in the amendment which I have moved. He has seen that because I have said that the method by which the elected aldermen and councillors in each State should choose a representative for that State on the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations should be in accordance with a method determined by the Council of Local Government Associations. This Council is an Australia-wide body, and therefore I am suggesting some centralist policy. Of course, this Australia-wide body is the very body which under the Government’s Bill will choose the representatives of local government for all the States. If I am making a centralist suggestion in saying that this Council should choose the method of election in each State, how much more centralist the Fraser Government is being in saying that this body shall make the choice, for all the States, of members of the Advisory Council.
This is an Australia-wide body. It seems reasonable enough that, representing local government all over, it should suggest the method by which the aldermen and councillors in each State should choose their representative on the Advisory Council for Inter-Government Relations. Obviously in this amendment I am not suggesting that the Federal Government should, by regulations under the Act, prescribe the method of election of the local government representative in each State. I am not suggesting that the State Parliament in each case should suggest how the local government representative for that State should be chosen. I am suggesting that the very body which this Bill nominates- the Australian Council of Local Government Associations-should suggest the method by which local government elected persons in each State should themselves elect a representative for themselves on the Advisory Council for InterGovernment Relations.
It is absurd, even for the honourable member for Denison, to suggest that my amendment is centralist. I have suggested a local government body representing the whole of Australia as the body which should lay down the method of election. The Government suggests that that body should make the choice. Of course, under the Bill, the body could choose a representative for any State, for several States or for all States, who would not be the choice of the aldermen and councillors in that State. We could have a majority on the Council of Local Government Associations which would not be sympathetic to the majority point of view held by the elected aldermen and councillors in any one State. Under this Bill it would be perfectly open for the Council to choose, to represent local government in a State, a person who was known not to be typical of the local government point of view in that State. That is not democracy, It would, in fact, be centralism.
The first speaker on the Government side, the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), took it on himself to mention the constitution of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. In his remarks he showed how little he knew about it. The body consists of 3 delegates from each State. If the capital city council in a State belongs to the Local Government Association in that State then it has one of those 3 delegates. Otherwise the 3 delegates to the Australian Council of local Government Associations are chosen by the local government association for that State. If there is more than one local government association in any State, as there is in New South Wales and Western Australia, then each of those associations has the right to appoint a delegate to the Australian Council of Local Government Associations. The fact is that this body of 1 8 members, three from each State, is differently composed in most States. It also has, of course, 2 associate members from the Northern Territory. It also has as an associate member Mr Jim Pead, the Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory. It also has, strange to say, 2 delegates from New Zealand. It would seem to me reasonable to suggest that this is not the ideal body to choose the 6 local government representatives to the Advisory Council for Intergovernment Relations in Australia. It may choose anybody it likes from each State. The person it chooses from each State may be completely untypical of local government views in that State.
My amendment proposes that the Council should have the right to suggest the method of election of the local government person in each State by the aldermen and councillors in that State. Of course it is quite obvious that the real objection of members on the Government side who have spoken is this: They want the representatives from local government in each State to be as unknown or as unrepresentative as possible. If the aldermen and councillors in each State were to choose their representative themselves the person they choose would speak with very great authority indeed. He would speak with as much authority as the Premier or anybody that the Premier chose. What we do as regards the States representatives is to see that they are members of Parliament and that they are in effect chosen by a majority of members of their parliament. Here the person who is chosen as the local government representative does not have to be an elected person at all. He can be a council employee; he can be an employee of the local government association. He does not have to be a member of local government. Sail less does he have to be chosen by the people who have been elected to local government bodies in the State. There is no valid argument, there is no argument that honourable members can openly put in opposition to this amendment. Their real motives are to make this Advisory Council for InterGovernment Relations as far as local government is concerned as little representative and as little known as possible.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Viner)- by leave- read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 9 September, on motion by Mr Killen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– It is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose this Bill. We will facilitate its passage by not debating it.
-I can assure honourable members that I do not propose to take very much of the time of the House in dealing with a Bill that was introduced purely to bring validity to a situation that was just a little dubious. It is purely a machinery Bill to bring the matter into line and to make sure that it is absolutely valid. But this does give me the opportunity to comment on the Government’s action in restoring the 3 cadet systems. I think the whole of this nation was acutely aware of the action of the previous Government, in accordance with its general attitude towards the defence of this country, in cutting out the cadet system. The previous Government played up the suggestion that this system was encouraging jingoism, that it was making our young people militaristic, and so on. It never referred to the fact that the substance of our cadet system was to put into young men a sense of responsibility, of awareness of the necessity to defend this nation- after all, who would be ashamed of that- a sense of discipline, adventure training and so on. It is to the credit of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) that he reintroduced the cadet system without delay. He said he would do it and he did it. We now have it as a going concern.
I must say that I personally derived a tremendous amount of pleasure when I saw on television the other night the first of the cadet camps which have been held since we restored this system. I think that an even greater and more efficient system of cadet training is going to emerge from the reintroduction of the cadet system. That is all I have to say in regard to the Bill, except to indicate that the Minister has displayed his analytical approach to these matters. A Minister of less ability, less discernment and less dedication might have let the possible invalidity of this Bill go undiscovered. I commend the Bill and I commend the Minister.
-We do not oppose this Bill. I have been speaking with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) as I was interested to know whether the Bill would cover females who might want to join the Air Training Corps. I went to the Minister personally because he has one of the best legal minds in this Parliament, as he is always the first to acknowledge, and sought his advice on this matter. He confirmed that under various legislative provisions there would be adequate cover for this particular contingency. As I understand the Bill it merely rectifies a few deficiencies which arose and which are largely technical. This Bill repairs those deficiencies.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Killen) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 August, on motion by Mr Staley:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate on this Bill is resumed I should like to suggest that it might suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Australian Film Commission Amendment Bill and the Film and Television School Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Of course, separate questions will be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit. the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering these 3 measures?
– Might I also say on the same subject, Mr Deputy Speaker, that on 3 June the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) suggested that the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on government policy on the arts might be dealt with at the same time as the legislation flowing from it, that is, the Bills which the Minister has suggested, so that we can have a debate on the ministerial statement and the 3 Bills at the same time.
– I suggest that we follow the course that I have suggested simply because I know of no other arrangement. I am not doubting the word of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam); no doubt what he states is recorded in Hansard. But that is a matter that has not been considered by the Government and I suggest that we follow the procedure originally suggested to the House.
-Is it the wish of the House to accede to the first suggestion made by the Minister to debate the 3 Bills together? I shall allow that course to be followed.
– Skilled as the Fraser Government is in doubletalk and evasion, it cannot conceal the limited and perfunctory nature of its policies for the arts. On 19 August the Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts (Mr Staley) introduced these pieces of legislation. On 3 June the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a brief statement on the arts in this House. It was largely a mixture of waffle and platitude. What meaning, for example, can be attached to these words: ‘We believe in freedom for artist and patron alike’? What considered philosophy can be discerned in his statement that ‘a genuinely vigorous and stimulating artistic climate will emerge only when governments, individuals and private enterprises and corporations are actively and co-operatively offering decentralised and diversified patronage for the arts in our community’? The Prime Minister’s transparent indifference to the arts and artists seeps through every word and cliche of his statement to the House.
Like everything else this Government touches its attitude to the arts is overlaid by an obsession with cost-cutting and economy. It came through clearly in the Prime Minister’s speech. There was stress on the need to ‘minimise duplication and overlap’- fair enough as a general principle, but we are not told how it will be done. There was the ritual obeisance to the superiority of the private sector in the arts as in all else: The Government was seeking ‘ways and means of encouraging individual and private enterprise and corporate patronage’. It would be interesting to know how this particular quest is going. There was a vague promise of ‘the possibility of taxation concessions and other incentives’, which the Government is ‘having examined’. It all sounded like a speech to a businessmen’s luncheon. There was even a reference to the United States bicentennial. Only the Fraser Government could make a statement on the arts an occasion for celebrating free enterprise and the American alliance.
Nowhere in the statement was there any sense of commitment or enthusiasm for the arts. Nowhere was there any acknowledgment of the critical funding problems now faced by the performing arts in Australia. The Fraser Government’s attitude to the arts exemplifies better than anything the hypocrisy of its attitudes in Opposition. For 3 years the Liberals poured scorn on my Government’s determination to expand funding for the arts and upgrade their place in national government priorities. Crude appeals to Philistinism went hand in hand with hysterical propaganda about wasteful handouts and extravagance. Grants or purchases approved by independent statutory bodies like the Australia Council or the National Gallery were ridiculed as if they had been made on Cabinet instruction or by ministerial decree. Much of the criticism revealed an ignorance of the arts and an insensitivity to artistic values which found a ready echo in the more irresponsible sections of the Press. I shall give 2 examples. The Australia Council in 1975 made an exceedingly modest grant of $500 towards the costs of the Eaglehawk Dahlia and Arts Festival in Victoria. It was ridiculed in the newspapers as though it was a $500 grant to a flower show.
– But it was not. You were there.
-Indeed I was, and I was very well received. This grant brought down the wrath of our opponents and of others who should have known better. The annual
Eaglehawk Dahlia and Arts Festival is an occasion of central importance in the life of the whole Bendigo district; it is comparable with the Jacaranda Festival at Grafton, the Lilac Festival at Goulburn and many similar celebrations in other cities and centres which are regularly patronised by honourable gentlemen opposite.
I mention Blue Poles. Nothing so stirred the cynical resentment and uncomprehending fury of conservatives as the purchase of Pollock’s masterpiece, a key painting of the 20th century. It was purchased on the recommendation of the Acquisitions Committee of the National Gallery. Four of the five members of the Committee which recommended the purchase were appointed by the previous Liberal Government. They included the Director of the National Gallery, Mr James Mollison, who was appointed in October 1971 by a Liberal Government. The value of the painting is difficult to access, but to anyone who still regards Blue Poles as a waste of money I merely say this: Let him sell it. If the Fraser Government were sincere about Blue Poles it would have sold it already, and incidentally it would have received very much more for the painting than my Government paid for it. According to news reports this morning, the National Gallery in Washington has purchased its first work by Pollock- a work inferior to Blue Poles- for a price equal to, and probably higher than, we paid for Blue Poles. The program A.M. reported this morning:
It is now beginning to look as though the decision (to buy Blue Poles) was not only right after all but we may have got a mark down’ bargain . . . The New York Times reports that the National Gallery in Washington had purchased its first work by Jackson Pollock . . . Dealers in New York had two reactions to the reported sale- first, delight that the painting was staying in the United States and not again being sold to an overseas country, and secondly, agreement that Australia’s purchase of Blue Poles had revolutionised the international art market and that this new sale to the National Gallery in Washington when confirmed will make Blue Poles an even more valuable painting.
Let those who criticised the purchase of Blue Poles now sell it. We will make a handsome profit on it. The Prime Minister’s approach to the arts is typically narrow and misguided. As one of his supporters just intervened, he is a Philistine. He said in his statement on 3 June that the National Gallery would henceforth give priority to the acquisition of Australian art. Of course there is a need to buy Australian art, but to make this objective an excuse for avoiding the best purchases from overseas is to cultivate the worst sort of insularity. No country has a greater need than Australia, remote as we are from the great galleries of the world, to acquire works of art from other nations and civilisations. If overseas galleries do so, so much more should we. The Louvre, the Prado, the National Gallery in London, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, have never limited themselves to French, Spanish, British or Austrian purchases, or even given them any special ‘priority’. The National Gallery in Washington does not do so now. Overseas galleries have always recognised that the function of any gallery other than the most provincial is to offer a comprehensive view of world culture. No one who visits the Hermitage sees any priority given there to the Russian art; on the contrary. For the Prime Minister, no doubt, the Hermitage was just a Tsarist school for girls.
I recall the Prime Minister ridiculing a recent purchase proposed by the Gallery on the grounds that the acquisition in question was ‘an ancient bronze of unknown authorship’. The Prime Minister has not vetoed the purchase but merely asked that it be deferred; so did I. Personally I would not object to any work of art on the ground that it was ancient; nor am I worried about ‘unknown authorship’. Would it enhance the value of The Winged Victory from Samothrace or the Venus de Milo, the Charioteer from Delphi, the Poseidon from Artemisium, the Niobid in the Vatican, the Dying Gaul in the Capitol and the horses of St Mark’s if we knew the identity of their creators? I can only say for the Prime Minister that he is probably more familiar with these works than his appointed chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who boasted in an interview in the National Times that he was familiar with the paintings in the British Museum. That was something of a revelation, because nobody else has found any there.
When the Labor Government came to office it inherited from the Liberals a disorganised and antiquated system of subsidising the arts which gave little incentive to artists and little scope for co-ordinated advice. There was a multiplicity of advisory bodies. I mention the Advisory Committee of the Commonwealth Literary Fund, the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, the Committee for Commonwealth Assistance to Australian Composers, the Australian Council for the Arts and the Interim Council for a National Film and Television School. Successive Liberal governments had allowed most of these bodies to grow moribund. When I became a member of the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1967, for example, the Chairman of the Advisory Board was 75 years of age and had already served about 13 years; another member, who was 65, had already served 22 years; they both went on to serve another 5 years. When my Government took office, the Chairman of the Council of the National Library was 72 years of age, and the Chairman of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board had been a member of the Board for 20 years and another distinguished artist had been a member for 10 years.
The increasingly ageing membership of these bodies reflected many years of Liberal indifference to the arts and to the organisations responsible for them. Nor were Liberal government distinguished by either liberalism or liberality l. their treatment of particular artists. In the late 1960s Frank Hardy was denied a literary grant, presumably on the basis of his political opinions, and the left-wing periodical Overland had its subsidy reduced. We set about revitalising the institutions giving help to the arts and removing them from any possibility of political interference by ensuring their independence of the Government.
Accordingly we brought together the functions of the old bodies in what is now known as the Australia Council. We ensured that the boards of the Council would be largely autonomous and as representative as possible, and that their membership would rotate, in order to avoid the formation of cliques and entrenched interests. Our other great objective was to enable artists themselves to participate as far as possible in the administration of the arts. Accordingly most of the members of the boards and as many members as possible of the Council itself were practicising artists. For all the criticism of our expenditure on the arts and of particular grants this Government has made no attempt to disturb these basic reforms. Undoubtedly there is scope for improvement in the structure of the Councilthe Council has recognised this itself- but the Fraser Government is bent on meddling with the council in ways that are at best pointless and at worst harmful.
The most retrograde step is to bring the administration of the public lending right under the Australia Council’s control. The public lending right- a reform introduced by the Labor Government- has nothing to do with the functions or objectives of the Council. Writers themselves regard the separate administration of the public lending right as essential. Both the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Federation of Authors have appealed to the Government to protect the separate identity of the public lending right. The only way the security and stability of the public lending right can be guaranteed is through its establishment under an independent Authors’ Fund. Labor’s legislation for an Authors’ Fund, which collapsed with the dissolution of Parliament last year, also made specific provision for payment of the public lending right to the widows, widowers, children or other dependents of deceased authors. The Government’s Bill removes this provision and substitutes a much vaguer commitment to ‘persons falling within specified classes of relationship to, or association with, deceased authors’. There are some pretty permissive overtones in that.
In a letter of 29 September to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in the arts, the Australian Society of Authors set out a number of detailed objections to the Government’s proposals. They are concerned that the downgrading of the Authors Fund Committee implicit in the legislation would deprive authors of effective representation in negotiations with the Government and the administration of the public lending right. They are concerned at the implications of clause 5a of the Bill, which states merely that the Minister ‘may make provision’ for payments to authors without guaranteeing that such payments be made. The Society recalled an assurance given to it by the installed Prime Minister in a letter of 1 1 November- whether it was written before or after the coup- the putsch- I do not know- in which he said:
I reaffirm the Liberal and National Country Parties’ commitment to the continuation of the public lending right scheme.
Reaffirmed or not, the scheme bears little resemblance to that foreshadowed by my Government and understood by the Society of Authors to be the subject of the Prime Minister’s correspondence. I can best summarise the Society’s view by quoting this passage from its letter to the Minister of 29 September:
This Society of 1500 members is gravely concerned . . . about the Government’s attitude to the operation of Public Lending Right. This right was granted to Australian authors and publishers by the previous Government, and is the greatest benefit Australian authors have received from any Government since Federation . . . We feel that the Prime Minister’s expectation that our interests will not be prejudiced cannot be sustained if certain strictures that are proposed to be associated with the transfer of Australian Authors Fund functions to the Australia Council are carried out.
Writers are also concerned that the effective reduction in funds for the arts will eliminate the 3-year grants paid to writers by the Literature Board. There is widespread anxiety among writers in Australia that the 3-year grant will be abolished under this Government. In recent weeks I have had numerous letters from writers on this subject. I quote from a letter from Judith Wright:
The advantages of the 3-year grant system are very clear. If a serious writer, who wants to publish in Australia, and has no private income, tries to devote himself full-time to writing, his income during the period in which he produces his book or books is nil. If the book needs research or travel, he must finance this himself- publishers at the best of times very seldom can do this, and at present Australian publishing is staggering in any case, even with assistance for publishing through the Literature Board. Without some form of forward financing, his book either cannot be written, or will be a spare-time project while he works at some other job to survive and support himself and possibly a family and a mortgage as well. It is surprising that Australian literature is as good as it is, under these circumstances.
The 3-year grants, especially for those writers who have already proved themselves by publication, allow such a writer to leave his support job and to plan ahead, with time for research, and a mind more or less at ease for the future. The one-year project grants for a single book which were available under the old Commonwealth Literary Fund did not do this. The writer had to leave his job temporarily and return to it later (if it was still there for him) with loss of seniority and experience and no guarantee that he wouldn’t be financially penalised for his time away from the job, or that his book when published would earn enough to make up for this. Most writers with family responsibilities were reluctant to apply for the one-year grants for this reason.
The 3-year grants introduced under the Australia Council on the other hand were eagerly taken up by such writers: They not only cleared the way for 3 years ahead, but allowed for renewal of the grants at the end of the 3-year term for writers who had proved they could make good use of them. For the first time, such writers felt secure and were able really to concentrate on what they were doing.
– Is that what they call a rip-off?
– I am quoting Judith Wright. For this Government any sort of pennypinching is a virtue in itself. Neither the Prime Minister nor his protege has told us how significant economies will be achieved or how the reduction in the number of boards and council members is likely to benefit the arts or make the Council more effective. Membership of the boards, for example, is to be reduced by two or three people. Any savings in costs will be trifling, since board membership is largely unpaid, but there will be undoubtedly a loss in diversity of viewpoints and breadth of representation. The only significant saving in costs is to come from a restriction on the Council’s overall budget.
For the second year in succession the Council ‘s budget is being held at its existing figure of around $20m or less. This represents a contraction in real terms of 30 per cent in the Council’s available funds. There is no provision even for the indexation of wages. Yet there is a growing community demand for arts services- not just for the traditional grants but for such things as cultural exchanges, exhibitions, artistic activities in prisons, in hospitals, for the disabled. Costs are increasing. The problem is world wide. The crisis in the Australian Opera, to which the Government has grudgingly responded, is only one reflection of the difficulties faced by the performing arts in Australia. Orchestras are being forced to sack musicians. The Age on 2 August reported a statement by the chairman of the Victorian Liberal Party’s art committee, Mr Peter Block, that the performing arts are at ‘crisis point’. The present dilemma for the Australia Council is that if the opera is to be maintained some other art form will have to be sacrificed, and those most vulnerable to cutbacks will be the less publicised arts that are not institutionalised as sacred cows. The Government is doing nothing about this problem. It does not understand that art funding cannot be switched on and off without serious damage to individuals and organisations. A training program cannot survive if it is interrupted. Artists who were encouraged to stay in Australia to complete their training under my Government’s policies are more likely to go overseas and to stay there.
The Prime Minister’s emphasis on State rights in subsidising the arts- what he is pleased to call devolution’- is the purest example of Liberal ideology taking precedence over good sense. In his statement he said:
To increase the involvement of State, territory and local governments, and other appropriate regional organisations, the council will consult with appropriate authorities to begin a program of devolution of grant-giving activities.
In other words, there will be a completely new bureaucratic procedure placed in the way of art funding programs. Grants for a theatre group in Queensland or a film maker in Western Australia are presumably to be channelled through State authorities, perhaps subject to the political whims of Mr Bjelke-Petersen or Sir Charles Court. Where State governments are enlightened and progressive this may not be such a problem, but what will happen in the myopic and more reactionary States, at least one of which still exercises its own censorship? There is no legal or constitutional obstacle to the Australian Government or one of its authorities making direct grants to individuals or organisations in the States; this has been established. There is no reason why the States should not fund the arts themselves; some of them do. But it is an altogether novel proposition that the Council’s funds should be ‘channelled through it to the States’, to use the Prime Minister’s rather obscure phrase. The Australia Council has always given the strongest emphasis to community and local involvement in the arts, and rightly so. It has never sought to exercise any central control. What is to be gained by complicating the process of grants by insisting on consultations with State authorities? I am not convinced that authorities in Brisbane or Perth know more about local artistic needs than an independent council established for that purpose.
One of the changes proposed in the Council is the abolition of the Film, Radio and Television Board. Its functions are to be transferred to the Australian Film Commission. This is regrettable. I make no criticism of the Commission- the Labor Government established it- but it was never intended, and it is not equipped, to deal with the special activities for which the Film, Radio and Television Board has been responsible. The Board was set up to help the small, amateur, independent film maker working outside the commercial system but concerned with film as an art form and the development of new techniques. It is anomalous that film, the only major art form developed in the twentieth century, should be divorced from the overall arts policy and funding administered by the Australia Council.
Why should this important branch of art- innovative, experimental, at times radical, but generally creative and useful- be downgraded? We are not told what is to become of the Board’s important work in video access, with its opportunities for community participation in film and television making. The Board was pioneering a whole new means of social communication. It is not as though the Fraser Government is transferring resources to the commercial cinema instead. It has no plans for the Australian film industry. The industry is at a critical point in its growth. Without a firm policy of government promotion its initial and renowned successes will not be enough to carry it forward. Above all, we need an international market for Australian films. Box office receipts for the commercial cinema are down heavily on last year. Australian films must reach an international audience if the industry is to flourish. The Government is silent about the future of the film industry, just as it is silent about the crisis in the performing arts.
The Prime Minister proclaims his support for cultural exchanges and says the Government will support programs to bring art and artists from abroad. This is admirable; it is not new. The forthcoming exhibition of Chinese art was arranged by the Australia Council on the initiative of my Government. An exhibition of Chinese crafts toured Australia last year. The only exhibition of china which the present Prime Minister has brought to this country is to be found on the dining table at the Lodge. In April 1975 I opened the Exhibition of Modern Masters arranged by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was seen by 250 000 people in Sydney and 170 000 people in Melbourne. The Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council paid the fares of students from other cities and States to travel to Melbourne and Sydney to see it. My Government, at no charge, indemnified the owners of the works against loss or damage to a total of US$70m. Insurance costs are one of the chief barriers to exhibitions of valuable works of art.
Running through the Prime Minister’s speech, as in most other things this Government does, is a determination to shuffle responsibility on to someone else. The Australia Council is being asked to seek matching arrangements with the States for its grants to national organisations. The Council will also withdraw from training activities and there will be no further funds for capital arts projects outside the territories. It is the old story of a Liberal Government abdicating responsibility and expecting impoverished State governments to take up the burden. The States already do what they can for the arts with the funds they have; it is unrealistic to expect them to do much more in the climate of financial stringency this Government has created. One minute the Prime Minister wants to ‘minimise duplication and overlap’. Then he wants to carve out some new role for the States which will only increase the prospects of duplication. It was precisely in order to reduce overlap and co-ordinate funding programs that the Australia Council was established. All this high-sounding talk about devolution’ is really a process of deprivation. The States are in effect being told that unless they share the costs the Council will have to contract its grants. The organisations and artists themselves will have to go without.
The Prime Minister seems to think that private companies and wealthy individuals can be persuaded to take over the burden of funding. He says:
We do not see the Government as the only or necessarily the major source of art patronage.
There are many companies which give generously to the arts, and I have frequently paid tribute to them, but it is fanciful to imagine that the Government can withdraw from the field or substantially reduce its commitment. This is recognised by the Australia Council. In a policy statement prepared last December the Council said:
Australia’s present taxation policies and prevailing social values do not encourage support from the private sector and if the arts are to survive and nourish in their own right and as social resources then Government assistance must be maintained.
I myself for 10 years, as Hansard will show, have raised the question of tax concessions for individuals and companies who make it possible for members of the public to enjoy works of art. My Government set up an interdepartmental committee in October of last year to study the question of such tax concessions. This Government has done nothing about it.
During the 3 years of Labor Government the arts were encouraged and funded on a scale never before attempted in Australia. We trebled the funds for grants and we set up the machinery to disburse them in the most democratic and efficient manner. But funds alone are not enough. The arts flourish best in a society receptive to change, tolerant of ideas, attuned to human values. A government like this one, preoccupied with materialist values, diverted by militarist obsessions, can stifle an artistic climate even while it hands out money. What is needed from the Government is not this pettifogging exercise in penny-pinching and bureaucratic tinkering, but a wholehearted declaration of commitment to the arts and their place in a free society. That is what artists are waiting for. The Liberals have never really cared about the arts because they do not win votes and they do not make money. To a conservative government, the very idea of free artistic expression and the challenge to accepted ideas, the spirit of innovation, experiment and questioning implicit in creative art, are incomprehensible and dangerous. A Labor government welcomed these things; a Liberal government fears them. So long as the Liberals are in power the arts will have a secondary rather than a central place in Australian society and Australian Government priorities.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
- (Mr Lucock) -Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Leader of the Opposition stated that by way of interjection I had referred to the Prime Minister as a Philistine. That is not correct. I called the Leader of the Opposition a Philistine for suggesting that the Government should crudely cash in on inflation.
-Order! At this point the honourable member for St George is explaining where in his opinion he was misrepresented by the Leader of the Opposition. I would remind him and the House that all interjections are out of order.
– It is sad to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) perfunctorily go through the motions of opposing for the sake of opposing. It is sad because I think he really did try to do something for the arts but, like everything else he attempted to do, it was wrecked through administrative incompetence. The sad thing to hear is his clear conviction that if he had another chance he would do it all again. His learning curve is a horizontal straight line. What happened with the arts, as with so many other things, was that he sought to solve the problems, and there are problems, by pouring money over them. This does some good, of course, but the side effects must be noted. In the case of the Australia Council, the effect was to double the proportion of resources going to administration. There were people in the community who were becoming professional fund applicants. A magazine got big circulation by publishing a table on how to apply for money from the Government. Worst of all, perhaps, the Labor Government aroused expectations which no community could meet, and I think that is the worst legacy left by the Labor Government.
Our task now is to clear up the administrative mess, and the first action must be with the Australia Council, the successor to the Australian Council for the Arts, which was set up by the Liberal Government. There has been much disquiet about the administrative methods of the Australia Council, particularly with its explosion of resources under the Labor Government. The Council commissioned its own study by the management consultants, McKinsey and Company, Sir Henry Bland investigated it, and the Public Accounts Committee also showed great concern for the Council’s financial methods. What has happened is that the percentage of the Council’s vote going to administration doubled between the last Liberal Budget in 1972-73 and the last Labor Budget in 1 975-76 from 8.4 per cent in the first year to 1 6.7 per cent in the second year. That is high by international standards. When compared with the Canada Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the New York State Arts Council, those figures are very high.
It is urgent that the administrative system of the Australia Council should be overhauled. The McKinsey report recommended many measures, most of which have been adopted by the Government, which would result in the Australia Council being reduced to about two-thirds of its present size- without a drop in efficiency, I hasten to say. Not all the recommendations of the McKinsey report were accepted. They recommended the amalgamation of the Music and Theatre Boards and the Visual Arts and the Crafts Boards. Those recommendations were both rejected, I think for good reasons. It may be possible in the future to amalgamate the Visual Arts Board and the Crafts Board, but since the report on the crafts commissioned by the McMahon Government and because of subsequent action the crafts area has been probably the most successful in the Australian art world. I think that until these Boards are more firmly established it would be a mistake to amalgamate them with the Visual Arts Board. The second measure which has been taken which does not follow the recommendations of the McKinsey report is the appointment of a general manager of the Australia Council who would be a Council member, and- and most important of all- his appointment would be a statutory appointment with a tenure of 7 years. This would give the general manager, the chief executive officer of the Australia Council, much greater security than previous occupants of the post have had in the past.
The third section of the McKinsey report on which I should like to comment- the Leader of the Opposition dealt briefly with this also- is that dealing with devolution. In fact the Australian Council devolves quite a lot now. It devolves about $1.3m to various bodies. The trouble is that it devolves in the wrong way. It decides what projects or individuals should be supported and then devolves to the various bodies such as the Crafts Council and the Arts Council the administration of the funds. If we are to have successful devolution we must devolve the decision making. The financial control is much less important. I think it is important that this area of devolution should be pursued. I do not think we should look at it on the basis that there will be any significant financial saving because there will not be any saving. The structure to examine proposals will remain about the same size. What it could do, if done properly- I think it would have to be done very cautiously- is to try to involve the local community more in the sorts of decisions which are too often taken by remote bureaucrats in Sydney.
Of course there are difficulties. One of the most obvious is the fact that the grant to the Australian Council has for 2 years been held static, first by the Labor Government and now by us. This is not all harmful. There was a great deal of fat in the arts organisation but that has now all been shredded away. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts (Mr Staley) to the fact that the arts, of all activities, are the most labour intensive. It is essential that in next year’s budget for the arts cognisance be taken of this fact. The grants for the arts should rise at least in accordance with the movements in average weekly earnings, otherwise there will be a drop in real output in the arts. The second problem for the Australia Council is the inevitable conflict between the pursuit of excellence and community involvement. To a considerable extent these aspects are mutually contradictory. On the whole I believe the Australia Council has balanced these conflicting objectives well, but I think that we in this House and the Australia Council in particular have to watch the very large funded organisations to ensure they do not become dinosaurs destroying all around them, and in particular spreading their activities to suppress alternative forms of expression in their particular art forms. I believe this is most important. I am not often an advocate of the late Chairman Mao, but I believe his idea in this field of a cultural revolution every 15 years has much to commend it. I think we should look at that in the context of major subsidies for arts companies. The arts are constantly changing and developing. We must ensure that our support for the arts changes and develops with them.
I turn now to the second Bill before us, that is, the Australian Film Commission Bill. The Bill provides that the Australian Film Commission will assume responsibilities for the functions and powers of the Film, Radio and Television Board of the Australia Council and for the activities of the Audio- Visual Branch of the Department of Post and Telecommunications. The Commission can also provide assistance for independent radio and audio-visual production as it has in the past for film and television. I believe the Film Commission has been most successful in its encouragement of commercial film production. In one of our capital cities last year the 2 greatest box office attractions were Australian films. This sort of success would have been unthinkable only a few year ago. Of course the quality is also there. It can be seen in films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock. There is not necessarily a conflict between quality and commercial success. But there has been some concern- and the Leader of the Opposition mentioned this also- that when the Film Commission takes over the functions of the Film, Radio and Television Board of the Australia Council the experimental films will somehow suffer. This matter is specifically provided for in proposed new section ( 1 A) of clause 4 of the Bill which states:
In the performance of its functions, the Commission -
That is the Australian Film Commission- shall give special attention to the encouragement of-
At the moment under the Australia Council 2 film funds are administered by the Film, Radio and Television Board. One is called the Basic Film Fund and the other is called the Advanced Film Fund. The Basic Film Fund, better known as the Experimental Film Fund- why they do not stick to that name I do not know, because that is what everyone calls it- is administered on the advice of the Australian Film Institute. Its structure is being transferred intact with its associated money from the Australia Council to the Australian Film Commission. There will be no loss to experimental film making.
The third Bill before us is the Film and Television School Amendment Bill. The Bill provides for the Film and Television School to assume responsibility for training in radio and audio-visual communications. Both these areas previously were neglected. The Film and Television School was established originally with dual responsibility, both to the film and broadcasting industry and to education. It is therefore entirely proper that the charter should include audiovisual communications in the light of the increasing awareness of the importance of sounds and images, either alone or in the process of education.
I should like to raise this point: Why do we not call this Film and Television School the Australian Film and Television School? We have many other comparable bodies with a national designation- the Australia Council, the Australian Film Commission, the Australian Broadcasting Commission- so why not the Australian Film and Television School? After all, the success of this school will depend to a considerable extent on its ability to exchange its films overseas with comparable organisations. Overseas it will inevitably be known as the Australian Film and Television School so why do we not call it that in the first place? Students of this school will be going overseas and again they will call the School the Australian Film and Television School. I propose to move an amendment during the Committee stage to implement such a change.
In addition to the 3 bodies we are debating today, the Australia Council, the Australian Film Commission and, I hope, the Australian Film and Television School, many other bodies are invoved in the support of the arts, such as the State governments and, to a lesser extent, local government. Why are we are supporting the arts? I think the answer is clear A very large proportion of the community wants the Government to support the arts. A poll has shown that 90 per cent of the Australian people favour government support for the performing arts. This is a slightly higher proportion than that which obtains in the United States. The performing arts are also good business. In the United States the professional performing arts are worth more than professional sport in turnover. The performing arts widen the opportunities available to the individuals in our community. An essential component of a civilised community is that the community should have full access to the arts.
We have 2 immediate problems in our activities in connection with the arts. The first is that in Australia private support is not sufficient. It is very bad to have a single patron. We must have diverse patrons, not only the Federal Government. We must bring the Federal Government, State governments, local councils and private individuals into support for the arts. A good way to ensure the maximum use of Federal funds is to insist on matching grants from other bodes. This will ensure community support for activities which the Federal Government is supporting.
The second problem that faces the arts is that they must appeal to a wider audience. I dislike the criticisms of an elite watching the arts. There will always be an elite involved in the arts. We must make that elite as large as we can. The biggest sphere of neglect in this field has been the activities in the schools. I am delighted that a joint committee of inquiry has been set up by the Australia Council and by the Schools Commission to study the arts in schools. As I said, this is an area of great neglect. If children are not exposed to what the arts are all about in school they will be lesser adults for it. We can do a great deal. I am involved with a body called the Arts Council. I think it is the major supplier of the arts to schools. The results are most encouraging. Some years ago we were sponsoring a ballet tour through the primary schools of Victoria. I took my 10-year-old son along to see the premiere. I took him along because at the time he was something of an apprentice Philistine and I thought he was a fair sample of the lowest common denominator that the ballet might have to put up with. Members of the ballet gave a very good presentation. They showed a few demonstration steps, lifts and so an and the put on a ballet of Cinderella. To my astonishment my 10-year-old son was enthralled by all this. As we left he said that he would like to learn ballet. I said: ‘Why do you want to learn ballet?’.. He replied: ‘Didn’t you see how strong they were lifting each other up? It would be terrific training for the footy season’. This is not necessarily bad.
It is a great breakthrough if we can get through to kids that art forms are as demanding in their own way as the sport which at that time is the kids’ idol. We must see that our school children at an impressionable age are exposed to the various art forms- to what they are trying to do and what their language is. Our arts will then not be confined to an adult elite but will be spread across the community. I believe this is the most important step we can take. The arts are an essential part of a civilised man. Every great society provides opportunities for its citizens to enjoy the arts. This is our task and this is what we are doing.
– It is depressing, but not especially surprising, to learn that the Fraser Government’s attitude towards public funding and support of culture and the arts in Australia bears the same shortsighted, cynical and ultimately irresponsible hallmarks as do the Government’s other policies such as those to do with the economy, the social welfare structure, education, migrant welfare and so many other areas. The Fraser Government in its first Budget banks on credibility it does not have by cutting back or freezing grants and then asking individuals, bodies and organisations to be patient in the hope that money will flow again in subsequent Budgets.
If we have only the record of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to go on, the hopes of the Australian people for government assistance in this important area are certain to be dashed; only their worst fears can be fulfilled. Australians are now living in the chilling era of ‘fine print’ Fraser. The Prime Minister and his Treasurer (Mr Lynch) have already earned for themselves a grubby and ignoble place in the history books as the kings of the cutback. The same dead, dull and throttling hand now so tightly around the neck of the Australian Broadcasting Commission can also be felt around the jugular of the arts in Australia.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to the arts, for example, can be measured by the fact that he has delegated ministerial responsibility for this important aspect of national life to his most junior Minister. We can well imagine the desperation with which the Prime Minister must have sought to shirk this responsibility for which he had no sympathy and about which he understood nought. It may very well be that within the Ministry volunteers had to be called for and that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley), who is at the table, was the only one who felt vaguely competent to take it on. We certainly know of the Minister as no Philistine, but he is the first Minister with responsibility for the arts who has not been in the Cabinet.
Whilst applauding some of the recent proposed changes to the structure of the Australia Council, one can only be alarmed on closer examination at the likely effect of other changes to the working of the individual parts of the Australia Council structure. As anyone even faintly acquainted with the delicate but important business of arts patronage- that is government funding of the arts- would know the real danger lies in allowing the organisation to fall into the hands of cliques. By reducing the numbers of people sitting on boards administered by the Australia Council from a range of upwards of eleven to perhaps as low as six, including the chairman, the Government has made very real the possibility that some boards may no longer be representative but will become the playground of one or another clique. Even more alarming is the fact that the Fraser Government has reduced the number of performing artists on these boards and allowed the arts bureaucracy to increase its control and extend its influence over the individual boards.
The Minister, in his second reading speech, talked about the tighter control that it is proposed the Council should have over the individual boards. If one looks at the legislation one will see that it does not take things much further than they are already. The Council already had control of the Boards. The resolutions that established the Boards were quite able to set out the way in which the Boards would be run. This time the new section will be a little more specific but in fact it may not make much difference. The Minister talked about the Council control of the activities of the boards. Later on in the same paragraph he talked about rules and guidelines for the boards. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that it is rules and guidelines that he has in mind for the boards and not some sort of constant monitoring, constant control which would be quite inimical to the proper operations of the individual boards.
The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) went on at some length about the maladministration of the Australia Council and of its Boards. He really must be privy to information which has not been available to other members of this House or to the general public. He called in aid the notorious Administrative Review Committee- the Committee which for all we know may never have delivered any reportwhich is always cited by the Prime Minister in support of every dubious action. Sir Henry Bland is pilloried daily in this House when his name is taken in vain by Government supporters who call in aid this report, no part of which any of them can have ever seen. The Government is the only body which has seen it. The honourable member for Isaacs also talked about the McKinsey report commissioned by the Australia Council. Again, this report has not been published. The report was made available by the Council to the Government and we are informed also to Sir Henry Bland, but it has never been published and never been available for public information or dissection by interested members of the public. There were selective leaks. We all know the record of this Government when it comes to selective leaking. I do not have to mention anything more than the Prime Minister’s disgraceful performance in relation to the Hay report and Aboriginal affairs.
There is one other thing relevant to the administration of the Council which I think is particularly serious and which the Minister did not refer to in his second reading speech. But alas, he has been found out. Clause 9 of the Bill shows that proposed new section 17A is to be inserted into the Australia Council Act. This provides that the Council may appoint committees to assist the Council in the performance of its functions under the Act. I find it most extraordinary and curious that a new provision to set up new bodies should be inserted into the legislation. In any event there would be nothing to stop the Council establishing any committees. It does not need enabling legislation to do that, but now it will have authority to do so. The provision is expressly put in the Bill. What for? I hope the Minister will tell us something. It looks to me extremely fishy; it looks to me as if we will have committees set up for the ego of all the socialites who used so badly to manage the arts in this country and who were more interested in some excuse to dress up and have a drink and a good meal. It also looks as though it may be an excuse for committees to be established and loaded up with the Association of Cultural Freedom crowd and other dubious persons interested, so-called, in the arts.
By placing arts funding in the deep freeze in this Budget, the Government has cut the Australia Council’s grant in real terms. This decision will have immediate and unfortunate consequences for the standards, efficiences and extent of government support for the arts. As the new Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in the Arts will discover as he feels his way around his new job, many of the projects funded by the Council are labour intensive, as the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) said, and therefore extremely vulnerable to the consumer price index and wage cost-push pressures. Some performing companies now supported by the Government through the Australia Council are between 80 per cent and 90 per cent labour intensive. The Government’s parsimony towards the arts in this Budget therefore represents a major cut in this light and presents a possibly insoluble problem for the artists working in those companies and for the Australia Council, which is trying to keep them alive.
The strategy is clear. The Government is trying to starve a great many of these companies and to shed its responsibilities- responsibilities so recently and responsibly assumed by this Parliament and by the Labor Government. In his statement on 3 June the Prime Minister referred, in an uncharacteristically expressive phrase, to the ‘blossoming State cultural authorities’. Can it be that he has in mind to run down some of these companies and have them taken over by State authorities? I think that the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne and the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney are in grave peril. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he sees the continuing functioning of both these bodies as not being an essential part of arts funding in Australia. He has flagged very clearly that he will try to devolve these kinds of bodies to the States.
The Fraser Government thinks so much of the arts in Australia that it has actually let its head go and spent the equivalent of 4 Queen Anne scotch whiskies per head of population on the arts through the funding of the Australia Council or, if you like, 2 double Queen Anne scotch whiskies per head of population.
– With ice?
– I do not know how the Prime Minister takes it. That is just under $2 per capita. The National Country Party of Australia could get 10 bags of potato chips with it. As a percentage of the gross net expenditure the Fraser Government has lavished on the arts a magnificent 0.03 per cent of all its outlays for the next financial year. What a paltry, mean and characteristic display of philistinism on the part of this Government. Of course, one could not criticise the honourable members squatting on the Country Party benches for not falling over themselves to get into the door of the Sydney Opera House. It is their right and privilege if they tend to patronise the bar and refreshment facilities in our cultural centres rather than the centres themselves. No one will thank this Government for its meanness in this Budget. It will be rewarded only with the despair and disrespect of those working in the arts and the prospect of another grey dawn for arts funding under a Liberal-National Country Party government. The story of that Government’s funding of the arts is a symphony for viola and piccolo- Fraser and Staley playing a depressing tune which no one will follow.
The Liberal and National Country Parties are very interested in uranium enrichment but they will have nothing to do with cultural enrichment, in ensuring consistent and secure development of the cultural fabric of our nation, in the provision and consolidation of arts for the people. For this repulsive attitude they stand condemned. Surely, however, the most glaring example of the disinterest of the Liberal and National Country Parties in providing meaningful support for the arts is to be found in their failure to consider the introduction of triennial funding and automatic indexation of grants. Whilst ever the managements of the major performing companies- for instance, the Australian Opera Company, which we have read something about recently- only know what their budgets will be for one year they cannot plan programs and tours efficiently or in the best interests of the company or the Australian public. Opera companies, for example, have to plan more than a year ahead to obtain the services of major overseas artists, composers and conductors. They cannot make these plans whilst they are restricted by a conventional annual budget allocation. The consequences of this are that the larger companies continue to get an ever-increasing share of a limited arts cake to keep them alive but at the expense of smaller, grass roots companies and organisations- for example, crafts. This is because smaller organisations are less well organised, less influential and thereby less well funded.
Another cause for concern with the arts under this Government is the abolition of the Australian authors fund and a totally inadequate Budget allocation this year of less than $700,000 for the public lending rights scheme, the rates for which were set in 1973. Everyone concerned with an equitable distribution of income from the publication of original Australian fiction, prose and poetry must wonder who will look after public lending rights and what sort of budget will be made available for this very worthy form of arts assistance in the Budget allocation for 1977-78. The scheme introduced by the Labor Government is now in real and present danger.
With no one to speak up for it and only the Prime Minister’s word that adequate funding of the scheme will continue, the public lending rights grants to authors and publishers may soon wither and die. This is typical of the whole philistine and not terribly diligent attitude of the Government towards arts funding. The Fraser Government wants only for people not to see the real effect of its cuts, to disguise those cuts as far as possible and to create and exploit as many political diversions as it can from the subject at issue. This strategy has already begun to fail. The Budget as a whole has failed to stimulate the economy as the Government promised us it would.
With so many handouts being effected in the first session of this Parliament to the traditional hand maidens of the Liberal and National Country Parties I am amazed that the Government has hastened moves to investigate ways of stimulating private industry contributions to the arts in Australia. In the United States, the private sector contributes over $200m a year to the arts. Australia is one of the last countries in which big companies in the private sector have not been called on to come forward with some form of assistance for the arts. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), when he was Minister responsible for the arts, asked the Public Service to consider the suggestion that tax deductability be used as a carrot to tempt the private sector to make this worthwhile contribution to an important facet of national life. Only last month the Prime Minister fobbed off a question from the Leader of the Opposition about the progress of this inquiry. I understand that a private study group will present a report early next year on how this laudable aim might be achieved.
I can only urge the Government not to delay or obfuscate this avenue of potential support for the arts which it seems, judging from the Government’s general attitude to the arts, will not be forthcoming from traditional Government sources in adequate amounts in the future. At present, as a percentage of the gross national expenditure, $23m, handed out in the fashion it is handed out now, is simply not enough. We are a rich nation with a heritage of our own to build on and to cherish. If the Australian Government will not invest in that heritage, in our national culture and in the job of making the arts available to all, we have to ask who will. Nothing is so tempting to business as a tax deduction. Now that the Government has sentenced the arts in Australia to a year of financial difficulty and stagnation with this Budget allocation let us hope it will pursue with vigour and sincerity this logical and proven opportunity to contribute to a great national challenge.
-I call the honourable member for Kennedy.
– Answer that.
-Someone from the Opposition said ‘Answer that’. There are one or two answers I would like to make. The first is in regard to the claim that we are failing to spend huge amounts of money on the arts generally. The various remarks that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) are indicative of just how mean we have been. I suppose it is extremely easy to be generous with huge amounts of money, not to give a damn where they come from and not to be terribly concerned about building up a deficit that is approaching something like $6,000m and, in the process, produce some pretty crummy films. I heard a number of people being interviewed on *Four Corners- * think that was the program- in relation to the future of the film industry. As one who has for a fair part of my life been associated with this industry I was rather staggered to hear at least one producer say that he -
– Remember that country picture show you run.
– You are not entirely right, old boy. I happen to be associated with 5 drive-in theatres and a few other odds and ends. The honourable member for Blaxland is a very smart fellow. In fact he is so smart that he ridicules people from the back blocks and waffles about wool and God knows what when he would need a compass to cross Copper Mine Creek. He would not know where it was. I can immediately think of one or two interesting television series which could be brought into existence. Let us start off with Stepdown and Son. I think this would make an excellent story. If we are not satisfied with that, I suggest we cast our memory back to some of the wonderful characters who have passed through this House. I immediately think of Fred Daly. We could produce another epic called Gone with His Wind, and so on. There is no scarcity of productions if we look to the Opposition side of the House. Unfortunately, the cast has diminished in number.
– It is a pity you were not gone with your camel.
– You are a racist. Repeat that.
– It is a pity you had not gone with your camel. Did you hear?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!
-Mr Deputy Speaker, let me make a point it I may.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Kennedy address the House. I suggest that interjections might cease.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I merely point out to you that here is a man whose leader got up the other day and spoke about how terribly distressed he was about the Lebanese. You hear this racist comment from this pack of hypocrities. They are hypocrites of the worst type. They ask people on this side of the House -
-Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will withdraw that remark. Remarks concerning members of the Opposition at the present stage have no relationship to the debate which is continuing in the House. I suggest that the honourable member for Kennedy withdraw that remark and continue debating the subject matter under consideration.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I ask which remark I have to withdraw?
-The honourable member for Kennedy in replying to an interjection remarked: “They are a pack of hypocrites’. I suggest that the honourable member for Kennedy withdraw that remark and continue with his speech in relation to the subject which is before the House.
– I withdraw that remark. I ask, respectfully, if we do not have double standards here: What about his remark?
– Mine was not offensive. Get on with your speech.
-Order! I suggest that honourable members on my left keep quiet at the moment. I suggest that the honourable member for Kennedy-
– If this man wants to get personal -
-Order! The honourable member for Kennedy responded to an interjection made by the honourable member for Hunter. I drew the honourable member for Kennedy to order and suggested that there be no further interjections. It was at that stage that the honourable member for Kennedy made his further remark. I suggest, before he starts talking about double standards, which is an inference against a ruling by the Chair, that he give consideration to what happened during his speech. I suggest that at this moment he continue with his speech on the subject matter which is before the House.
– If I offended the Chair in that manner I most humbly apologise.’ Mr Deputy Speaker, no one has greater respect than I have for your services to this House. But no one has greater disrespect for a member of this House than I have for the honourable member for Hunter. On the Four Corners series to which I was referring we had an interview with the producer of the film referred to by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), Picnic at Hanging Rock. One can examine that film from any point of view. It is something of which all Australians can be well proud. By any standard whatsoever, it is a splendid picture and it will earn big money overseas. There was much talk about the discouragement of our local artists. That goes back an awfully long way. It takes two to tango, by the way, and it has been quite obvious that the artists who have made good overseas have, by their own verdict, stayed overseas. I think of Rolfe Harris, Joan Sutherland and Robert Helpman. It was their verdict that they should stay overseas. They found greater opportunities which could never be offered in our lifetime in this country.
– What do you think of Alvin Purple?
– I think it about the standard which the honourable member should appreciate. We have a tremendous opportunity in this country to produce films of the highest possible standards. There are 2 elements which go to make great films. First of all, there is the ability to produce great films. I think we have that now. I spoke on this subject in this House 2 years ago and we did not have that ability then. I think this ability, this almost genius, has emerged. The second element is consistantly good light which we have in most parts of Australia. We certainly have the scenarios. We have locales of the highest possible standard, whether it be on sea or land. We have tremendous opportunities to produce really great films. But if we talk about producing 5 films a year we are talking about something which is pretty scrubby and of an inferior quality. I say that it would be better for the Australian film industry to concentrate on a film such as Picnic at Hanging Rock or something of a similar standard. We should produce one of those a year instead of talking about producing these crummy little Alvin Purple type films.
Some of the highly publicised series on television, such as No. 96, The Box and so on, are little double bed productions, if I might call them that. They are little indoor types of films which may appeal to some people. But I think with the tremendous opportunities in Australia it is high time we gave up the double bed for the double barrel. By that I mean that we can produce a series like Rush, which was tremendously popular. In fact, it was of extreme disappointment to most Australians when it was learnt that the second series would at least be delayed. I say to the Government that if it can get ahead and produce another series such as Rush, the industry will make its impact felt on an international scale. That is my conrtibution to the debate. It is in relation to the production of good films. I again stress I am speaking generally, Mr Deputy Speaker, so please do not censure me- that there is a great element of hypocrisy in what is left in the ragged remnants of the Opposition. Honourable members opposite sit down and talk about the millions of dollars they once spent on the arts, in the film industry and in other ways generally. But they have squandered tens of hundreds of millions of dollars in absolutely frivolous ways. I appeal to the industry to go for quality rather than quantity.
– in reply- We have had some very interesting contributions to this debate tonight. I say to the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who has just resumed his seat that we are all proud of the development of the Australian film industry. This is not something for which the present Government can claim in any way -
– All the credit.
– All the credit, as I am reminded by my colleague opposite. There is no question that the moves which were set in train by previous Liberal governments a number of years ago, which set up things like the experimental film fund and other important features of today’s film industry, in addition to the generous support which the industry got from the Whitlam Government, have enabled the Australian film industry to achieve an entirely new pre-eminence around the world and in this country. We would not want to be stinting in our praise of all those involved in establishing the Australian film industry on the sort of basis which can only make Australians proud. I was a bit saddened by some of the rather wild claims and comments which were made by the 2 members of the Opposition who spoke- the father and son team which performed tonight- that is, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the honourable member for
Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam). It was nice to hear that they can still find a flow of words, but sad that so often the fine phrases were not accompanied by appropriate action. I shall take some of the specific criticisms and points made, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition, in a moment. I do not want to follow this line too much because I hope that the area of the arts is one in which we in this country can find a very genuine amount of bipartisanship on the part of the Parliament. I believe it can only be good for the arts if there is agreement right across the political spectrum in this country about the aims and motives which parliaments and governments have for the arts. Wild and exaggerated statements simply do not help to develop an appropriate debate in this country. I say quite simply that many of the claims made by the 2 Opposition speakers do not stand up to the test of the facts. The present Government has had to cut back expenditure on the arts in relatively small proportions. But as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his earlier contribution to the debate, his own Government had to cut back on expenditure in this field in almost exactly the same proportion last year. To suggest from a financial point of view that there is any special evil or anything sinister or different in this Government’s adherence to the values enshrined in its arts policy is patently absurd. But it is not enough to look at this matter simply in financial terms. Pouring money into this area can be like pouring money into a bucket which has no bottom. Sadly, that is one of the sorts of things that can so easily happen if one tries to put too much in too quickly.
I would not want to point the bone too heavily in the direction of the Arts Council but there is no question but that with the vastly increased funds which it had to administer in the last few years its administrative costs rose in an impossible fashion. In 1972-73 administrative costs as a percentage of total funds reached 8.4 per cent. This figure doubled to 16.7 per cent between then and 1975-76. That is little short of tragic. It is another illustration of the wanton approach to administration which the former Labor Government so often sadly exhibited when in office.
I draw the attention of honourable members to the question of purchases by the National Gallery, According to the 2 members of the Opposition who have spoken in this debate Government supporters are supposed to be philistines. If one is to use that often crude financial measuring stick, it so happens that the National Gallery will have 5 1 per cent more funds to spend this year than was actually spent by it on purchases last year. The actual expenditure on purchases by the National Gallery in 1 975-76 was $2.8m.
– You stopped that spending.
-The Labor Government stopped it. It is estimated that in this financial year nearly $4.3m will be spent on acquisitions by the National Gallery, an increase of 5 1 per cent on last year’s figure.
– What was the estimate last year?
– I grant that the estimate for last year was very much higher than actual expenditure. But the Labor Government ran into the facts of life, which were that it had to pull its horns in and cut back on public expenditure. This Government has managed to redress the balance in this area. It has increased the allocation dramatically on what was actually spent last year. It is important in this debate to get the facts right. The Government is concerned that assistance should be given to the artists, to those in the field, whether at the higher reaches of art or in the broad areas of community arts which the Government seeks to support. The honourable member for Grayndler made another odd comment when he drew attention to clause 9 of the amending Bill before the House. The clause reads: 1 7a. ( 1 ) The Australia Council may appoint Committees to assist the Council in the performance of its functions under this Act.
He made some very strange remarks. He seemed to see something sinister or something about socialites in this. If only he looked at the facts he would find that clause 9 was inserted into the Bill at the suggestion of the Australia Council, the members of which were largely appointed by the previous Prime Minister, Mr E. G. Whitlam, the present Leader of the Opposition. Professor Karmel, the Chairman of the Australia Council, wrote to the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and asked him to introduce this clause into the legislation. In the explanatory memorandum attached to his letter, Professor Karmel said:
This is not a proposal from the McKinsey Report but a matter that was raised by the Council in October 1 975.
That was way back in the old days of Labor Government. Professor Karmel continued:
It is clearly desirable that the Council should be able to establish a finance and administration committee. It is also desirable to be able to appoint ad hoc committees for special purposes.
There is nothing in that letter about socialites. There may be something coming from the socialists but there is nothing about socialites. The suggestions contained in the letter were made by the Whitlam appointed members of the Australia Council. The Government supports them because they are good suggestions and for that reason they are in the amending Bill before the House tonight.
The Leader of the Opposition made comments about Blue Poles. I must confess that I am not a Blue Poles basher. I rather wanted to enjoy and admire Blue Poles. I did not, in fact, happen to find myself excited by Blue Poles but I do not accept the proposition that simply to spend a large amount of money on a work of art is a bad thing. I will not accept that proposition. But the fact is that everyone in the art world in this country and overseas believed that too much money was paid for Blue Poles. I do not think one would find an artist, collector, curator or director of a gallery or museum who would not accept that proposition. That is why the United States of America has to pay the sort of price announced today for other Jackson Pollock works because the prices for all time have been escalated by the purchasing practices of the previous Labor Government. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with spending very large amounts of money on masterpieces in the art world. What is a matter for the concern of the community, the Government and all governments is whether they are responsible purchases which fit into a coherent and accepted acquisition policy. The Prime Minister and I have already had some discussions on this matter with the National Gallery which believes that it is important for a policy to be developed, put to government and to the community for discussion and agreed upon so that against that background appropriate purchases can be made.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested- I will not say ‘said’- that there had been a directive from the Government that the National Gallery was to concentrate exclusively on the purchase of Australian works of art in some parochial fashion this year. That suggestion is entirely without foundation. The Government has suggested that up to Sim might be spent on the purchase of Australian works of art in a total program of $4.3m. This is not a bad proportion. If that proportion is unreal or too high, the council of the gallery can speak to the Government about it and the Government will have a look at it. The Leader of the Opposition also suggested that the Government is somehow bent on meddling with the council. Overwhelmingly the reforms to clean up the administration of the council and its boards which are before the House have been suggested to the Government by the council. It is entirely without foundation to suggest that these proposals come from an approach by some sort of meddlesome government. They are suggestions which not only carry the imprimatur and the approval of the Australia Council, but also they are, by and large, the Australia Council ‘s own suggestion.
The Leader of the Opposition pointed out on at least 2 occasions that the public lending right scheme will continue. It is true that the Government has received a letter from the Australian Society of Authors and I am happy to say that Professor Manning Clark is coming to see me about this matter tomorrow. I look forward to seeing him and to having a good discussion with him about the matters raised by the honourable gentleman tonight and by the Australian Society of Authors in its letter to the Government in which, it is true, the Society has expressed concern about the future of the public lending right scheme. The scheme certainly has now administratively been handed over to the Australian Council but there is absolutely no truth in the suggestion that the Government wants to emasculate the scheme. The Prime Minister said on 2 July:
I would not expect these administrative arrangements to be in any way prejudicial to or have any adverse effect on the rights of authors under the public lending right scheme.
That is on the record. We shall stick to that undertaking. I point out to the House that the Australian Council, now charged with making arrangements for the scheme, has not made any decision. I shall have discussions, and the Prime Minister will have discussions, to make certain that appropriate decisions are made in this field to ensure the future of what is a good scheme. I give the Leader of the Opposition credit for what is, in world terms, I think a very special if not a unique scheme. We understand the concern of authors and we look forward to discussions with them to ensure the future of the scheme.
It was suggested also that the 3-year grants for authors are somehow prejudiced by the policies of the Government. There is nothing in this either. There is no reason why 3-year grants- a desirable practice- should be endangered. The crisis in the Australian Opera was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition. In view of his support for the Opera, I was surprised to hear at question time this morning his nasty little jibe at the Utah organisation, a company which has given a grant to the Australian Opera of $250,000- a quarter of a million dollars. This is far and away -
– You could give them $60m in a full year.
-The Opposition does not want to see business interests develop this country. Obviously the Opposition is not prepared to see organisations in this country apart from Government, support the arts. It is hardly worth responding to the interjections, Mr Deputy Speaker, so you need not worry; I shall respond to them no longer. The Government believes that patronage of the arts should be as diverse as possible. It was an entirely good thing that Utah responded to the challenge of the Government for matching grants from private organisations and State governments. What is more, the New South Wales Government has responded also. Is there something wrong with that? The matching grant approach, has on this occasion proved to be an entirely worthwhile approach to the funding of the Australian Opera. There is no suggestion, however, that private sources are to take over patronage of the arts, as was crudely suggested by the Leader of the Opposition.
Then there is the matter of devolution in the area of the community arts. No hasty decisions will be taken in this area. The aim of a process of devolution is, of course, to ensure that decisions are made not by some remote central body but in the light of local knowledge. We and the Council will move with great care in this area. There is no question that the Australia Council will maintain its oversight of the community arts program.
The question of the transfer of the functions of a film and television board to the Film Commission was raised by speakers during the debate. It is quite clear from what has been said by the Government that the crucial role in experimental film and all that has been involved in the operations of the Film and Television Board will continue under the new administrative arrangements. These new arrangements were suggested by the original Tariff Board report of June 1973. One of the clauses in the Bill before us tonight makes it quite clear that the Government intends to persevere with these desirable programs which have been developed over recent years. I understand from the Film Commission that it intends to establish a completely separate branch and account to handle this area of what is known as experimental film.
I conclude by saying that the Leader of the Opposition made some comments about the very idea of free artistic expression and so on being somehow seen by Liberals as being incomprehensible and dangerous. In fact, the very idea of free artistic expression is at the heart of liberalism. Under socialism it has little place.
This approach to diversity, freedom, the establishment of institutions, and approaches in society which can enable free men to express themselves is at the heart of Liberal philosophy. The performance of the Government to date, the amounts allocated in the Budget and the concrete decisions made all make it plain that the Government believes in the arts and in their future at the heart of community life in this country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 19 August, on motion by Mr Staley:
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 Staley) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 August, on motion by Mr Staley:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-During the second reading debate I foreshadowed an amendment to clause 1 of the Bill, which reads:
In clause 1, before ‘Film’, insert ‘Australian’.
I think the reasons for moving this amendment are obvious. We have the Australia Council, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This is a body with international connections. We have the film exchange going on in Mexico at the moment and there will be one in Japan shortly. We have students overseas. It is entirely appropriate that this amendment should be made. There is one basic amendment with a number of consequential amendments throughout the Bill. I propose to deal with them together.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Does the honourable member seek leave to consider all the amendments together?
-Yes, Mr Deputy Chairman.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– My other amendments propose the insertion of 2 new clauses and an amendment to the Schedule. I move:
After clause 3, insert the following new clause: 3 a. Section 4 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (1) before the word “Film”, the word “Australian”.’
After clause 7, add the following new clause:
The alteration of names effected by sections 3 a and 7 does not affect the identity of the corporation established by section 4 of the Principal Act or of the council referred to in section 7 of that Act. ‘.
Omit the Schedule, substitute the following Schedule:
– When the Film and Television School Act was introduced in May 1973 suggestions were made to my Government that the title of the school should be the Australian Film and Television School. The suggestion was not accepted for the following reasons: The first was that already the Australian statute book and Federal Government indexes in general were cluttered up by Acts or institutions which had titles which were too long. We took the attitude that there was no need to put words like ‘Australian’, ‘Commonwealth’, ‘Federal’, National’ or ‘Central ‘ in front of the name of an institution or a Bill unless it was necessary to distinguish it from a State counterpart or an overseas counterpart. In the present case there is no competing State body and there is no overseas body with which the Film and Television School would be confused. It was significant that the suggestion was made on neither side of either House in public debate that the word ‘Australian’ should be inserted. In fact, in 1969 an interim council for the National Film and Television School had been established. The omission of the word ‘National’ from the title of the body when it was established by statute did not produce a qualm or a tremor; and the omission of the word ‘National’ was accepted with complete equanimity. Nobody suggested at that time in Parliament that the word ‘Australian’ should be inserted.
I suppose it might be said that there are two other Bills upon which we have had a cognate debate, one dealing with the Australia Council and the other with the Australian Film Commission. In the case of those 2 bodies the word Australia’ and the word ‘Australian’ respectively were necessary. For instance, the title Australia Council was used on the analogy of the British Council and the Canada Council. The words ‘Australian Film Commission’ were used because already South Australia had a similarly named body, and since then, of course, Victoria and New South Wales have moved to establish such bodies. So I speak against the amendment in the case of the Film and Television School. I think it is an unnecessary complication. It clutters up all our indexes and our statute books quite unnecessarily. It might satisfy some people to have a more grandiloquent title. It would, in fact, achieve nothing of significance.
I do not want to discourage the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) from moving amendments. I think he has made one other contribution to legislation. It was he who was responsible for the warning given in relation to cigarettes which used to appear on radio and television. It was a more tepid and therefore ineffective amendment. But, of course, who worries about that now? Those advertisements have now been abolished. So I suppose that because that amendment moved by the honourable gentleman to legislation has disappeared, evaporated, he is entitled to the satisfaction of another. At least I am gratified and relieved, of course, that he has not suggested that the body should be called the Commonwealth Film and Television School. It has become a bit of an obsession with latter-day Liberals to use the word Commonwealth’.
– Not tonight.
-No, indeed. I was expecting that we would have the Commonwealth Council and the Commonwealth Film Commission. We have moved a long day from Menzies, because 1 1 years ago, on 20 October 1 965, Menzies, as Prime Minister declared:
I myself have been in the habit of referring to the ‘Australian Government’ wherever I go. This is something I commend to all honourable members.
It is also significant, of course, that when Menzies was Prime Minister quite a deal of legislation was introduced which used the word ‘Australian’. Very little, as far as I can remember- I have not checked- used the word’ ‘Commonwealth’. He did make some changes: For instance, that of the name Federal Capital Territory to the Australian Capital Territory. I am surprised that no move has yet been taken to change it to the more appropriate Commonwealth Capital Territory. Since tonight we are luxuriating in the arts, I would have thought that we would have had the Commonwealth National Gallery. There are, after all, State ones, rather discreditable and decrepit as most of them are. We should have a Commonwealth National Library. There are State Libraries which are often called national ones too, incidentally. We ought to have the Commonwealth War Memorial. We ought to have the Commonwealth National Line. We ought to have the Commonwealth Archives, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Commission and the Commonwealth Security Intelligence Organisation. I do not know why we are not more consistent in these things.
I notice that latterly somebody was even suggesting that we should put the word ‘Commonwealth’ back on the bank notes. I suppose that is to distinguish them from the pending issue of State bank notes. There never were State bank notes in Australia, but somebody seriously put a question on the notice paper to this effect: When are we going to introduce the term ‘Commonwealth of Australia’ on the bank notes? I have been looking anxiously at all the coins that are being issued in increasing numbers, but they all still carry the word ‘Australia’. Why do not we put on them the words ‘Commonwealth of Australia’? These are all serious matters, and I suppose that if we must clutter up the tides of statutory bodies, if we must clutter up the titles of federal statutes, at least we ought to be thankful that we are not now to have the Commonwealth
Film and Television; School or even the original National Film and Television School but rather the Australian Film and Television School. The Film and Television: School might not have much else going for it under the Fraser Government but it will certainly have a more imposing and otiose title.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), when Prime Minister, used to talk at great length about the Australian Government. We heard a great deal about the Australian Parliament.
– You will run out of breath.
-They were breathless days. I find quite breathtaking tonight the explanations given by the Leader of the Opposition as to why when he was Prime Minister he was not prepared to accept the suggestion that the school should be called the Australian Film and Television School. I can only accept the proposition which had been made to me by so many people then that the reason it was not appropriate to call that body the Australian Film and Television School was that he was seeking to reserve the name Australia’ entirely to himself. We had the Australian Government, the Australian Prime Minister and the Australian Parliament. We had abolished the word ‘Commonwealth’, I think.
When the poor, miserable practitioners of the arts- the people who out in the field ran the Film and Television School- sought to get a little of the glory, even if only reflected glory, and call their body the Australian Film and Television School because that is the name by which it was known all around the world, the Prime Minister was absolutely adament: ‘No, “Australia” is for me and me alone’. So there was no opportunity whatsoever for those people to get even a sneaking little bit of the glory- what tonight the honourable gentleman has called the glory of a more grandiloquent title. I do not know; we are a modest government. We have been asked by these people to do what the Leader of the Opposition was never prepared to do; we have been asked to call this body by the name which is used for it around the world. It is a school which is establishing a world reputation. We have been asked to do the simple thing of putting this small, simple word ‘Australia’- not ‘Commonwealth ‘-in the title.
I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his very generous remarks about the way in which the light in this area at least has dawned upon this odd Government. But, oddly enough, we were also asked to introduce this change by a Mr
Barry Jones, who is a well known spokesman for the arts in Victoria and who is a member of the Labor Party in Victoria. He communicated with one of my colleagues and suggested that it would be a good idea, and that efforts had been made in the past, to provide an appropriate title. So we said that we would look at it. We said we would look at it because we seek to be reasonable in these small things, as the honourable member has said. So this nice small change that has been suggested by my honourable, gallant and I think also learned friend, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), will be accepted by the Government with much pleasure. I thank both honourable members for their splendid contributions to the debate tonight.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 6 October.
Department of Primary Industry
Proposed expenditure, $52,827,000.
-This debate, which is known as the estimates debate, is a debate about the expenditure of money by the Department of Primary Industry and about the realm of this Department in the administration of Australia’s agricultural industries and I hope it will be an interesting one. The Budget of course provided little relief especially to those industries suffering depressed markets. During the last election the Australian farmers were told that the Labor Government had virtually ruined agriculture. We were led to believe that the election of a Liberal-Country Party Government would see the dawning of a new era. Of course we can now see how worthless this election propaganda was. Let me recount just a couple of items which were fundamental promises by the former Opposition, now the Government, during the election campaign. It promised a national rural bank. We have heard no more of it since those cynical days. It promised a scheme to lease farms to young farmers. Again that was forgotten in the flurry of the election campaign. It also promised long term loans to fishermen. That disappeared from the pages of the Australian Press and reports in the Australian Parliament. Other promises included the appointment of more agricultural attaches; tax incentives to farmers; animal quarantine stations; and an examination of the Australian Meat Board. I could go on and on with specific promises which this Government made when in Opposition and of course promptly ignored in the first Budget it has introduced.
Let me deal with a couple of things this Government has done. One is the income equalisation deposit scheme. This is now hailed as the great savings scheme for Australian rural enterprise. Under this scheme a farmer buys bonds in periods of high incomes and cashes bonds in a future period, presumably one of low income. While the scheme does have some merit, I believe, in assisting long term income equalisation it is useless as a means of assisting farmers during this period of depressed returns. Most farmers of course have no money to invest in bonds. The current unattractiveness of the scheme is emphasised by the fact that revenue foregone in 1976-77 is estimated at a meagre $2m. So all it is costing the Government in revenue for this great income equalisation scheme is a lousy $2m in this financial year.
Let me deal with the wool industry. We have heard much about how bad the Labor Party was, but where does the Government stand on this issue? Labor, during its tenure of office, introduced the wool reserve price scheme which has now re-established the Australian wool industry. Previous Liberal-Country Party governments had failed to do so. In June 1974 average prices for 2 1 micron wool were down to 129c per kilo. The Labor Government outlaid $350m to prop up this scheme. If the scheme had failed one wonders whether the industry would have been able to repay the loan money. If it had not been able to repay the money the Government would have made a grant to it. What do we find now? This Government, proudly says it is increasing the wool floor price under this scheme from 250c to 275c per kilo, but it will cost the Government nothing for this year because it has a bet running for nothing. The price of wool is exceeding these figures. This year it will cost the Government nothing like the huge bet which the Labor Government had to take in its term in office. The Labor Party put up $3 50m. In these 2 major areas this Government is up for only $2m.
Let me talk about carry-on finance for beef producers. This is also a continuation of a scheme which was implemented by the former Labor Government. Last financial year the
Labor Government provided $ 19.6m in matching grants to the States to lend funds to beef producers at 4 per cent interest. All this Government has done in this Budget is to commit a maximum of $ 15m on a dollar for dollar basis with the States. As the financial position of most beef producers has worsened, because of continuing depressed markets and drought, since the new Government came to power, this allocation is miserly in the extreme. Let me refer to rural reconstruction. Again, this is a continuation of Labor’s scheme. Up to December 1976 the Labor Government had committed $30m but this year the present Government has committed only $27m. With inflation running at 12 per cent this Government would have had to spend $34m even to maintain the dollar value of the Labor Government’s commitment. Again at a time when reconstruction is needed in some of the depressed sectors of rural industry it is not forthcoming.
I turn to fertilisers. Without warning the Government has decided to phase out the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty over a period of 3 years. It has broken a specific promise to industry. Of course the sugar and the fruit industries are the ones most affected by the phasing out of this bounty. Yet the superphosphate bounty was reintroduced. When one looks at the number of Cabinet Ministers who were recipients of the superphosphate bounty one can understand why the Government is phasing out the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty- none of them use nitrogen fertilisersand has reintroduced the superphosphate bounty. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street)- all Cabinet Ministersare all recipients of the superphosphate bounty. The sugar producers in north Queensland are having their bounty phased out. According to this Government it is all right to phase out the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty but it is not all right to phase out the superposphate subsidy.
Let me deal with the dairy industry which of course is in serious trouble. In the Budget there is provision for only $ 14.5m to continue Labor’s dairy adjustment program. Last year the Labor Government gave the program $ 18.7m. With inflation running at 12 per cent, even to maintain the dollar value of the Labor Government’s commitment this Government should have outlaid $21m as against the $14.5m it has allocated to an industry where thousands of farmers are leaving their farms, where farmers’ families are dismayed and distressed.
After years of senseless Country Party policies, putting $773m into the dairy bounty payments over 30 years, it can be seen that absolutely nothing was done to solve the major problem of the Australian dairy industry, that is, to adjust production to realistic domestic and overseas demands. It was only when Labor phased out the dairy bounty and introduced a reconstruction scheme that the dairy industry had a chance to rationalise itself. All that the Country Party dairy bounty did was drive up land prices and inequitably distribute the funds of the bounty to the wealthiest sections of the dairy industry. Had skim milk powder prices not declined on the world market, I believe that the reconstruction would have been painless. The drastic drop in price was unforeseen, but at least the Country Party has now paid the Labor Party the compliment of extending the dairy farm reconstruction scheme. The money it will pay out, miserly as it might be, at least pays lip service to the concept of reconstruction, rather than pursuing the foolish policy of trying to foster overproduction with stabilisation schemes, as has been done in the past. No matter where one looks, it is obvious that the Country Party believes it has the rural vote in the bag, and I think that in some respects the same thing can be said of the Liberal Party.
I think it is worth while to say a few words about the leaders of some of the farmer organisations in Australia. Had this Budget been a Labor budget it would not have been welcomed in the way this Budget has been welcomed. There would have been blatant condemnation. I believe that ordinary Australian farmers would do well to examine and question the attitude of some of their more vocal farm organisation leaders. Farmers really do have to ask themselves whether their welfare and their future have been discounted by their organisation leaders in the interests of Country Party politics. The public statements of farmer organisation leaders should not be an apologia for Country Party policy but should reflect the interests and the aspirations of the people the Party is supposed to represent. Farmers would do well to look critically at what this Government has done and to analyse the promises it made before it was elected.
It is quite obvious that the Country Party now sees its major interests lying with the mineral industry. It thinks it has the rural vote sewn up. It believes it has sufficiently squeezed Labor out of the political reckoning in the countryside to a degree which allows Mr Anthony and Mr Sinclair to discount the real needs of the Australian rural areas and the real needs of Australian farmers. In its 10 months of office the Country Party has shown that it can no longer be trusted to manage the fortunes of the Australian rural dweller and the Australian rural producer. Its statements in opposition and its constant ranting and raving have shown little result in government. It is time the Australian farmer woke up to himself. It is time for him to assess the integrity of Australian political parties and Australian political leaders and understand clearly who is genuinely concerned about him and who is not.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) never ceases to amaze me. He stood here tonight and tried to tell the Committee about all the problems of the rural industries in a way which presumed that he is an expert on the subject. In fact, when his party was in government it did nothing more than preside over the worst depression that Australian rural industries have known since the great world-wide depression of the 1930s. The Government has been in office for 9 months, yet the honourable member has the temerity to come into this House and criticise the actions that have been taken by the Government to correct the economy of this country and get our rural industries back into the prominent position they should justifiably hold. He tried to tell us about the problems of the dairy industry. I would think that the honourable member’s knowledge of the dairy industry is such that if he went into a milking shed he would probably hang the cups around the cow’s neck. That is about all the knowledge he has of the dairy industry.
He still does not understand that the problems of the rural industries in Australia were created because of the increase in inflation during the period that his Government was in office. He still does not understand the impact of rural industries on the economy of Australia. Members of the Opposition still think of the rural industries of Australia in terms of their voting strength. We and the nation accept that farmers represent only 8 per cent of our voting strength, and that is all the Labor Party is concerned about. Members on this side are concerned about the impact on the economy of this nation of the rural industries and the people who live out in the bush. Honourable members opposite still do not understand that in 1975-76 gross national earnings from our rural industries amounted to $4, 209.8m, which represented 45.3 per cent of our total gross export earnings- 45.3 per cent, I remind the honourable member for Blaxland.
When we are debating matters relating to rural industries we need to be conscious of the importance of rural industries in our total national economy and of the flow-on effect this has on all sections of the community. The money that comes in from overseas is not restricted to the bush; it flows through all sections. The attitude being conveyed by honourable members opposite, particularly the honourable member for Blaxland, is that anyone who is engaged in agriculture must necessarily be born and bred of the landed gentry; he must drive a Mercedes or a Volvo and do all in his power to grow rich at the expense of the average worker. That view is totally incorrect. To assume that industry support measures and schemes such as the fertiliser bounty are a rip-off at the taxpayers’ expense completely ignores the economic importance of rural industries to the nation.
– They do not understand.
– They do not understand. In fact, the majority of farmers in Australia own relatively small properties which are owner operated, perhaps with mum and the kids helping out on the farm. Those people epitomise the Australian battler. They work harder than any other section of society for a return which for many of them borders on the poverty line. Yet they contribute enormously to the wealth of this country. Is it any wonder that today a great many farmers are looking at their lot and comparing it most enviously with that of other people in society, particularly those who belong to militant trade unions who have won their rewards at the expense of the farmers out in the bush, who are doing all the hard work.
– You have beaten kim. He has walked out.
– I do not blame him. Farmers do not have a conciliation and arbitration commission to which they can appeal for a more equitable share of the cake; nor can they apply to the Prices Justification Tribunal for an increase in their market price. They are totally dependent, at the mercy of the market place. But still members of the Australian Labor Party persist in putting forward their cynical arguments whenever the Government, out of sheer commonsense, proposes some measure of assistance to the primary producer. In the same breath, honourable members have no hesitation in screaming that workers in the shipbuilding industry should be subsidised to the tune of $13,000 per man per year. If other sections of the economy are justified in seeking protection for their industry, so are the farmers.
-That is a very wise statement.
– I quite agree with the honourable member for Darling Downs. On the other hand, if farmers are to be dependent on what the market place will pay for the fruits of their labour, so should everyone else in society, including the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. In my opinion, the rural industries which are feeling the pinch most at this stage are the fruit industry and dairying industry. The announcement earlier this week by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) of an increase in the Government’s underwriting of the butter pool to $1,100 per tonne and to the cheese pool to $750 per tonne is most generous and will allay the apprehensions amongst dairy farmers throughout this nation. This should return approximately 60c per pound of butter fat at the farm gate. The need to increase the dairy farmers’ cash flow is so acute that in many cases dairy farmers are unable to go to the family grocer and pay the grocery bill. That is how acute the poverty is in many areas of Australia. In my State of Tasmania, the Premier has engaged in a lot of political huffing and puffing about what the Federal Government should do. But for his own part he has used the plight of dairy farmers only to try to win votes in the forthcoming State election.
– It was shameful. He was prepared to pull the wool over the people ‘s eyes but he was not prepared to offer any substantive assistance from his coffers. The Federal Government has demonstrated its concern for the dairying industry. If Mr Neilson is anything other than a political opportunist and has genuine compassion for the farmer, he will have no hesitation in increasing the Tasmanian farm gate price for butter fat by a further 5 cents to 65 cents per lb. In the case of the fruit industry the Government has increased its support for the apple and pear stabilisation scheme from $3.9m in 1975-76 to $5.6m for the current year. While this industry throughout Australia, and particularly in Tasmania, is experiencing a rapid readjustment due to the breakdown in European markets, the Government is doing its best to cushion the effect on growers, but I believe its best intentions are limited by the necessity to restore national economic stability. However, I appeal to the Minister to investigate any means possible that will alleviate the difficulty of fruit growers who wish only to provide a reasonable standard of living for their families. Surely they have a right to expect that. The industry needs assistance in the short term while it readjusts its varieties to suit the Asian markets that are opening up to it. Given such readjustment, I am confident that the industry, throughout Australia and in Tasmania in particular, has a viable long term future. The Government has shown delicate sensitivity in exercising its economic judgment in the way it has handled the difficult problems facing rural industry. I am confident that the Budget strategies will have long term benefits both for our valuable rural industries and for the nation.
– I shall direct my remarks to those amounts provided in the Department of Primary Industry estimates for finding markets for our products- the most necessary exercise of all, in my opinion, for all primary producers in Australia. In a contribution a couple of weeks ago in the debate on the estimates for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, I discussed economic planning. Although I drew heavily on the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, I want to make it clear that I am not sold on the idea in that report that the planning should be carried out in DINDEC, the Royal Commission’s suggested new Department of Industry and the Economy. I do not think the planning department should be associated with any particular domestic sector, whether it be secondary, tertiary, or primary industry, or resources or whatever it be. For instance, for DINDEC to be the chosen Department in my view would be unfair to the Department of Primary Industry- the estimates for which we are discussing now.
I do think there is a strong case for the planning department to be associated with overseas trade, as increased trade between nations is the world’s hope for increasing people’s standards of living. No industry will benefit from this more than primary industry. In so many sectors we need economies of scale and specialisation in order to achieve that greater productivity which is the necessary ingredient for improved standards of living. Overseas trade is related to nearly all sectors of our domestic economy. Medium and long term planning would live easily with overseas trade. But apart from that consideration, Australian trade definitely needs boosting. There is plenty we want to import. There are no problems about stimulating that area. But it is to our exports that we must direct our attention, and it is to one aspect of that problems that I turn my attention now.
It is my belief that the best hope for boosting our exports, in particular primary industry exports, is by concentrating our trade between -communist and non-communist countries. One Soviet bank tells us that only 9 per cent of world trade at the present time is in this category and that this proportion has scarcely changed in the past 15 years. This is a bad record for us all. From all the advice I have received, I believe that those who turn their backs on Eastern Europe do so out of sheer ignorance.
Let us look at some of the facts of those Eastern European economies behind the Iron Curtain. The 7 European members of Comecon account for 8 per cent of the world population. According to the World Bank, they are responsible for 13 per cent of the world’s production. By their own estimates their share of world industrial output is one-third. United Nations figures show they account for some 10 per cent of world trade, including the trade amongst themselves. They want to import all sorts of goods, primary and secondary. I know more about the latter category. They want Western equipment and technology and they want to find new markets for their growing industrial production. The communists clearly have the will and the need to expand trade with the West. In fact, in some respects they are ahead in having this will. The new 1976-80 5-year plans which are widely viewed in the West as realistic, show that Comecon is planning over-all growth of 5 per cent to 6 per cent per annum. The growth in investment is expected to be 7 per cent to 8 per cent per annum- more in some countries, less in others. Planned annual spending for the whole grouping comes out at the equivalent of $250 billion and between 8 per cent to 10 per cent of Comecon investment is spent in the West.
So it is possible to say, as a rough guide, that Comecon plans to import some $20 billion to $25 billion worth of Western goods a year, including primary products. Our exports should be part of those large figures. In short, the fact that they do things differently over there should not be allowed to obscure what their investment plans mean in terms of business opportunities, nor should they be allowed to obscure the Eastern European urgent desire for more trade with Australia.
I believe- the Australian Labor Party in Opposition as well as in government believes- that the special state capitalist institutions of Eastern Europe as well as of certain parts of the Middle East and Asia, in other words those institutions in those countries in the emerging Third World and behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains, require a special institution here to deal with them. We in the Australian Labor Party attempted, whilst in Government, to set up such a special institution, namely the Overseas Trade Corporation. We were frustrated whilst in office by the hostile Liberal-National Country Party majority in the Senate from establishing an adequate trading institution to cater for the special needs of tapping trade with countries with wholly planned economies. As so often happens, conservatives in this country prevented a progressive move which would have benefited us all. In particular, of course, it would have benefited primary producers. Let us hope that, with the passage of time, the message is sinking in and the present Liberal-National Country Party Government may see the error of their conservative ways and set up an Overseas Trade Corporation. I hope so. After all, we have seen greater changes in the Government’s outlook. I need only to refer to the Government’s attitude to China as one small bit of hope on the horizon, and the Government’s attitude to South Africa, which is another case in point. But I have not time to go into those matters.
Let me quote from a speech made last April by Mr C. E. Gaudry, Executive Director of the Heavy Engineers Manufacturing Association. What Mr Gaudry says about the secondary industry sphere applies equally to primary industry. He said:
No single Australian company had the financial muscle to act as a prime contractor in any major engineering development in the world.
Mr Gaudry was verifying his association’s support for a proposal to develop an overseas trading corporation. He did not mention at that time- probably for political, tactful reasonshow the Labor Government wished to set up such a trade corporation. He drew attention to similar corporations in Canada and New Zealand. The Canadian Commercial Corporation, which is wholly owned by the Canadian Government, and is responsible to the Canadian Minister of Supply and Services, was established to act as the contracting agency when other governments wish to purchase defence or other supplies and services from Canada on a government to government basis. The procurement in Canada for other governments is also carried out by the Corporation.
In New Zealand the Labour Government established in 1974 the New Zealand ExportImport Corporation- a statutory body, a public corporation- with its objective to promote New Zealand overseas trade. Its activities and structure are determined in the best interests of efficiency and profitability. The present system of Australian individual groups endeavouring to compete against a government-to-government based system is a bugbear to both Australian overseas trade missions and the whole primary industry and local manufacturing sector. Local heavy engineering groups, for instance, seeking overseas and also local orders have found the centralised approach almost impenetrable. Let me quote Mr Gaudry further:
The organisation would be a facility to get people together so that they can tender for a project which singly cannot be attempted.
Now what has been the position in Australia. A former Labor Minister for Overseas Trade, the honourable member for Lalor, Dr Jim Cairns, introduced the original proposal for an Overseas Trading Corporation in 1974. We believed that the Corporation, as a Government agency, would stimulate trade with countries that had centrally-planned economies- Middle East countries, together with those under communism, and developing States. We intended the corporation to be self-supporting and said that private companies would be welcome to penetrate markets opened up by the agency.
In August last year the then Minister for Overseas Trade, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Frank Crean, emphasised the growing trends in government-to-government deals in agricultural products, especially by the United States, Japan and the European Economic Community. In statements he instanced sales in wheat, sugar, beef and dairying products, aggregating thousands of tonnes. But here is the crunch about the situation today.
A spokesman for Senator Cotton, Minister for Industry and Commerce, has said that the senator was in favour of the private sector being busy in this sphere of activity. There was some hesitancy by the Government to enter into agreement in which the Government was the sole operator in the operation. So we experience the continuing out of date thinking. What ignorance it displays.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In speaking to the estimates on the Department of Primary Industry- I do not have much time- there is one section which I believe should be given immediate attention. The results of such attention I am sure would benefit the industry as a whole, would increase our export earnings and would provide lucrative employment to quite a number of our Island and Aboriginal people at very little cost to the Government. The section of primary industry I refer to is the fishing industry. In his address to the South Australian Fishermen’s Cooperative Limited last month, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) mentioned that the fishing industry needed to expand and develop to meet changing market conditions. He also mentioned that the value of exports in 1975-76 was a record $80m but there seemed to be a situation in the fishing industry of inability to supply. This may be so with the normal, ordinary fish product.
There is one product which we have not touched or harvested for many years. This product is in abundant supply and the Asian countries would provide an excellent lucrative market. I refer to the beche-de-mer industry or, as it was commonly called in Australia, the trepang industry. Some years ago this was a thriving industry but bad harvesting methods forced its closure. Now Australia is in a position to re-open this industry and, providing the harvesting methods are controlled, there is no reason why it should not be an economically viable concern for many years to come.
It has been brought to my notice that Russia recognises the food value of the trepang and is constructing a sea-food farm in Peter the Great Bay on the Soviet Pacific Coast to breed this sea slug for food production. Sri Lanka is also entering this field. I believe we should enter this particular field of trade for these reasons: Firstly, the trepang is easily assimulated in the Asiatic form of diet, giving much needed protein; secondly, it is easily distributed in Asian countries for it does not have the complicated chain of distribution such as meat, which requires refrigeration, and there is much more protein per lb retained because of the drying process; thirdly, Australia has the largest trepang fishing grounds in the world which are at present lying idle; and fourthly, new markets would be created, where at the present time we do not supply protein food.
In the speech I referred to, the Minister also stated:
In an effort to stimulate fishing activity and to ascertain what new fisheries resources there are in waters up to 200 miles from the Australian coastline, the Government in the August Budget provided $20,000 for exploratory projects off South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
May I suggest to the Minister that here is a ready-made project in our northern waters that needs only a little effort to make it a going concern and an excellent export income earner.
Funding for the marine biology section of the James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to research all aspects of this project, especially sensible management of harvesting, would not be great. I believe funding should be provided immediately. Capital cost outlay to establish this trepang fishing industry could be undertaken by private enterprise, and I am reliably informed that there are some organisations willing to do just this. It would also mean that quite a number of our Island people would be employed, for they are recognised as expert trepang divers.
Some Asian countries have already indicated that they will place orders for this product immediately fishing commences. I suggest to the Minister that inquiries begin immediately to reopen our trepang fishing industry. I know it would be worth while, and I would be only too happy to supply the Minister with any further information on the marketing of this product that he may require. I mentioned earlier that finance had been allocated to research the expansion of the fishing industry, but nowhere in the Estimates can I find any allocation for the preservation of the industry as it at present exists. I refer to the depletion of particular species of popular eating fish that inhabit the estuaries of our northern waters, for which there is always a ready market. There are many reasons for this depletion, and I feel it is time we thought seriously about aquaculture to preserve these species of fish and ensure a continuity of supply.
My time for speaking in this debate has almost concluded. I suggest that the Minister or his departmental officers liaise with the Queensland department concerned to investigate the desirability of establishing such an aquaculture centre as soon as possible. This would be a really worthwhile project and would cost the Government very little. It could be considered over and above the expenditure in these estimates. Such a centre would involve the re-stocking of all our estuary streams with fish for which, as I said before, a ready market is available.
Before I finish I should like to record my thanks to Mr Keith Bryson, a world-wide known authority on northern fisheries, for the information he has supplied to me on the beche-de-mer industry and for his outstanding efforts on behalf of the fishing industry in north Queensland. I appeal to the Minister for Primary Industry to investigate this branch of primary industry. If his officers have a look at the matter they will find no problems in regard to the co-operation of the northern people. I know that it would be a worthwhile project. Incidentally, I can supply the Minister with information on orders, already committed from Taiwan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and many other Asian countries, just as soon as this industry commences. I commend the suggestion to the Minister.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond -Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1976, I shall report progress.
Political Parties- Multinational Corporations- Local GovernmentThailand -Television
-Order! In accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1976, I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
-This evening I wish to discuss what I call the new egalitarianism. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), perhaps inadvertently, gave the House yet further insight into the strange mind of the modern socialist when he said:
Many people say that generally people should be required to work for unemployment benefits. I am not a strong advocate of that because I think it is very demeaning to send out a person who has a higher school certificate or might have several degrees to pick up papers for the local council.
Why is the honourable member not an advocate of the requirement that people should work for unemployment benefit? Not because such a course might influence or threaten the employment of others; not because he thinks that it might undermine the wage structures achieved by union activity over the years; not because temporary unemployment might interfere with job seeking; but because it is very demeaning to send a person with a higher school certificate or who might have several degrees to pick up papers for the local council.
Let us look at the implications. Firstly, that great egalitarian party, the Australian Labor Party, believes that it is very demeaning to do manual work if one happens to have the advantage of a higher education, but not otherwise. Secondly, it is yet another manifestation of the fundamental error of the Whitlam Government that brought about its downfall. The honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) consciously led Australians to believe that they were entitled to welfare irrespective of whether they were in need of it. It is a variation of the attitude which led him to tax and deficit the Australian economy into stagnation in order to provide welfare for the middle class. Thirdly, it displays a belief that manual work is demeaning- a strange attitude from a Party that calls itself ‘Labor’. Most of all, this discrimination in favour of the advantaged and the inference that the manual worker is in some way inferior is surely poor justice. Will the manual worker’s back ache any less, will the sun be less hot or the flies less bothersome because he has never studied Euclid and never enjoyed a sonnet?
-This evening I want to refer to the total lack of information on the activities of foreign-based multinational corporations in Australia. This position is aggravated by the refusal of the present conservative Government to make available to the Parliament the information that is held on their operations. While the countries of origin of these corporations have taken firm action to control the corporations, the Australian Government has little or no detail of the activities of foreign-based companies in Australia other than that already published. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) recently told me in answer to a question on notice seeking information on the United States multinational corporation, Ashland Oil Incorporated:
I do not think it would be appropriate for me to attempt to provide information of this kind on the affairs of individual companies. Even if I were to do so, all I could use would be published information.
I had sought information from the Treasurer on this company in view of the company’s confessions of having made kickbacks to politicians and political parties, of having bribed government officials on a grand scale and of having acted as a link for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. What concerns me greatly is that this same company operates in Australia through its subsidiaries of Australian Carbon Black Pty Ltd and Valvoline (Australia) Pty Ltd in key transport supply areas. I make no specific allegations against the Australian subsidiaries of Ashland Oil but the company’s admitted activities in other parts of the world raise serious questions as to its business ethics.
Let us look at some of the testimony given by the company on its recent activities around the globe. I refer to published reports of documents
Hied with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission- a United States statutory authority which vets the activities of United States corporations. Ashland doled out $1.2m in illegal campaign contributions and in payments to foreign officials. President Nixon received $100,000 in 1 968 and many Kentucky politicians shared in part of $724,000 provided in illegal political donations. Outside the United States a total of $ 1 90,000 was paid to President Bongo of Gabon and Mr N’Dong, Gabon’s Minister for
Agriculture. In June 1975 the corporation admitted to $500,000 in questionable payments to Nigeria, Gabon, the Dominican Republic, Libya and perhaps other countries as well. The Securities and Exchange Commission had charged that Ashland had failed to disclose more than $4m in overseas cash transfers on disbursements made ostensibly for business purposes. George Cecil Hardin Jnr, the corporation’s vice-president, admitted in August 1975 that he was involved in under-the-table contributions to congressional campaigns out of his own funds but was later reimbursed by the corporation. He was a director of Kerr-McGee Australian Ltd at that time.
Ashland Oil is America’s largest independent oil refiner and the fiftieth largest industrial corporation in the United States. It has extensive and expanding foreign operations. Such a corporation should be setting an example in the conduct of its affairs domestically and abroad. Ashland has, however, admitted to gross malpractice in domestic and foreign business dealings. It has admitted to providing a cover for covert Central Intelligence Agency operatives outside the United States. A letter from the corporation’s auditors, Coopers and Lybrand, to Ashland directors which was submitted to the SEC disclosed that Ashland Oil Incorporated was paid $98,968 by the United States Central Intelligence Agency between 1968 and 1973 for undisclosed purposes. Whilst the corporation refused to reveal how the money was used the Washington Post-i journal not unknown for its accuracy- of 9 July 1975 quoted a source as saying:
The Agency probably paid the funds to Ashland to reimburse the oil company for employing Central Intelligence Agency agents abroad as part of an agency deep cover operation.
The New York Times on 10 July 1975 agreed. Because of the paucity of information on the activities of foreign-based multinationals in Australia and in the absence of any investigation or examination of the activities of foreign multinationals in this country, it would be irresponsible to believe that similar practices are not being followed in Australia. The Chairman of Ashland Oil, Mr Orin E. Atkins, told the New York Times on 2 1 August 1975:
I felt I was doing what was being done generally.
In the Parliament earlier in the year I asked the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) the following question on notice:
What US multinational companies operating in Australia have admitted to activities overseas associated with the United States Central Intelligence Agency?
Significantly, he evaded the question.
– I take a point of order. I might be out of my ground, but is it proper to address the House in that manner? I honestly cannot hear or comprehend this speech; it is too fast. Surely we are entitled to hear what is being said in the House.
-What you have said is not grounds for raising a point of order.
- Mr Speaker, may I have an extension of time of one minute to comply with the request of the honourable member for Perth?
-It is not within the power of the Speaker to grant that.
-Obviously the Prime Minister and his Government want the performance and activity of foreign-based multinationals to remain hidden from public scrutiny. What is needed is a standing parliamentary committee along the lines of the United States Senate subcommittee on multinationals to monitor and examine the activities of foreign-based multinational corporations operating in Australia.
– With due respect to the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) his speech did sound like a dose of cathartic. I would like to speak very briefly about the federal grants to local government which were announced in basis on 20 May and whose confirmation at last found its way by telegram yesterday to the local government areas in New South Wales. In my electorate, which encompasses 17 local government areas, the results have been extremely good. I was notified today- the local government areas were notified yesterday- by an incomprehensible telegram from the New South Wales Government. Unfortunately, the New South Wales Government is attempting somehow to gain political capital from money which is being granted in good faith by the Federal Government with very little show and with great humility. We on this side of the House recognise that we get our money from taxpayers. There has been political capital, apparently, because the telegram sent by the New South Wales Government is very obscure. It is not very clear what is federal money and what is being given under the local government grant which the New South Wales government is pledged to give to local government in that State each year. There is extreme confusion among local councils in New South Wales as to what is federal money and what is State money. Of course, I realise as do all members on this side of the House who represent electorates in New South Wales, that 90 per cent of those funds which were relayed by telegram yesterday are from the Federal Budget. It is a shame really that the State government should attempt to get credit by claiming that it is taking money from State taxpayers and giving it to the people in New South Wales when, in fact, we had to go through the terrible process of taking the money from federal taxpayers and giving it to the people in New South Wales. Nevertheless, as I said in great humility, we are very proud that there has been such a great increase in funding for local government in untied grants from the Federal Government this year. I can certainly say that local government councils in New South Wales are extremely pleased with the result. For example, the shire of Mumbulla in my electorate suffers greatly because it is 78 per cent State forest. The shire always has great trouble in making ends meet from the ratepayers money it collects. From what I can gather federal funding for the shire this year has increased from about $50,000 to about $ 1 10,000. That is an extremely important increase for the people in the area because they live in the bush. They are extremely hard put in these times of distress in the rural economy to make ends meet. It was rather interesting to hear today the mumblings of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) about the Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations. I must admit his speech appeared to be a rather grasping, doctrinaire speech as usual. He was trying to make out that the Federal Government had done nothing for local government. That is a terrible thing to say in light of the facts. Local government in my area knows that the Federal Government is a true federalist Government. It is a refreshing change from the Whitlam Government. The academics- the honourable member for Grayndler or for the United Kingdom or wherever he comes from is a member of that clan- do not look upon federalism as being a reasonable approach to government in Australia any more. But I assure him and his dad that federalism is on the way back in under our Government. It is something we believe in. It is something which is terribly relevant in the world of local government in my electorate. If the honourable member for Grayndler cares to look around the bush and at people who work for their living with their hands, he will find that local government appreciates very much this great increase in grants from the taxpayers money that it has received from the Federal Government this year.
– I wish to address the House about what I think is a tragedy in our part of the world.
-The Labor Party.
-The honourable gentleman may add to the levity which I heard in the House this morning and which I thought was disgraceful in relation to the situation about which I am going to talk. I refer to the military takeover in Thailand and the tragic events both preceding and surrounding that takeover. I repeat that I thought it was equally tragic that certain people in the House this morning thought that it was a joke.
– Your own Party is supporting you very strongly tonight!
-I think the honourable gentleman would fully support the military takeover, including the public hanging, because it happened to be a right wing takeover.
– When your Party shows the degree of support which it does tonight we cannot take you seriously.
-I am glad that the honourable member does not take the matter seriously.
-Order! The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. The honourable member for Macarthur will cease interjecting. I call the honourable member for Corio.
-Mr Speaker, the honourable member visits the House occasionally and opens and closes his mouth in rapid order.
-The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. I interrupted because there was an exchange between the honourable member for Corio and the honourable member for Macarthur. That was not in the best interests of the Parliament. Having called the honourable member for Macarthur to order, and having called upon the honourable member for Corio to continue, the honourable member for Corio only invited continued interjection by that comment. I call the honourable member for Corio.
-The matter on which I wish to speak is, I think, one of extreme gravity and should be treated as such. Last year, as leader of a parliamentary delegation, I, with other members of this House, had the privilege of having discussions with the deposed Prime Minister. At that time he was the leader of the majority party in the Thai Parliament and the Leader of the Opposition. He was a gentleman who was, at that time, looking forward more to retirement than a further period of office. He had been Prime Minister on 3 occasions previously. His major concern, as was that of most people in the Parliament, was the maintenance of the parliamentary system. Thailand has had a long history of military politicians. It seems that they do that better than they do the job for which they are ostensibly paid, that is, running the army. The major problem with the army in Thailand is that no general ever leaves Bangkok. They prefer to talk about the problems in the country but they are not game to leave the capital because generals who leave the capital tend to come back as privates.
The takeover which has taken place is, I believe, unfortunate for a number of reasons. The democratic experiment in Thailand has hardly had a chance to work. There have been 2 Prime Ministers since the experiment commenced. They were feeling their way into a democratic system. The military had given undertakings that it would support the system. It appears the military went underground awaiting its opportunity. The present crisis was prompted by the former military dictator coming back to the country. The tragedy for our part of the world is that the fall of that democracy endangers the future freedom of the people of Thailand because the military has again involved itself in politics. It will take an extreme right wing stand which will bring about reactions from the country’s neighbours, especially where their nationals are threatened. I hope that a restoration of proper democracy can take place very quickly otherwise I fear, as I am sure will any honourable member who thinks about it, that the opportunity for a restoration of democratic government will be gone for ever.
Too few democratic governments survive in the world. Those which are surviving in Asia are almost all currently under challenge. It seemed to me, at the time we visited the country, that Thailand had a democratic form of government with a real chance of success in confronting real problems. The intervention of a military dictatorship, whether it happened to be of the right, as it is at the moment, or of the left as it is likely to be in the future because of this action, will not help the situation anywhere in Asia. It does, in fact, I believe endanger the freedom of that country.
-This evening I wish to commend the Commonwealth Government’s generous allocation of funds to local government. In South Australia inaccurate attacks have been made on the level of Commonwealth funding for local government by the South Australian Minister for Local Government, Mr Geoff Virgo, and more recently by the secretary of the Western Regional Council No. 2, Mr Jim Hullick, according to reports in the Guardian newspaper. Mr Hullick has claimed that despite a 75 per cent increase in untied grants to local government, because specific purpose payments have been reduced, the gross amount for local government has been reduced.
It is time that the facts were put straight. Untied grants to local councils in South Australia total $11,925,000. This is a 75.2 per cent increase in money terms compared with last year’s grant of $6,785,000. Allowing for the effects of inflation this results in an increase of 81.5 per cent in real terms. The $11,925,000 South Australia has received represents 8.52 per cent of the total Australiawide untied grants for local government this year compared with 8.49, per cent last year. The $140m Australia-wide grant this year represents 1.52 per cent of personal income tax collections, compared with 1.04 per cent last year. These last figures in particular lay to rest Mr Virgo ‘s misrepresentation.
It is true that specific purpose payments to local government, both direct and via the States, have been reduced, in line with the Governments expenditure cuts to overcome the deficit problems it inherited from Labor’s financial incompetence. Despite this, total payments to local government in South Australia by the Commonwealth Government amount to $14,182,000, an increase in real terms, after allowing for inflation, of 15.9 per cent over last year’s amount. Local government in South Australia has received 7.3 per cent of total Australia-wide Commonwealth Government assistance to local government this year compared with 7 per cent last year. Hence, overall, substantial real increases in Commonwealth Government assistance to local government in South Australia have been provided. Messrs Virgo and Hullick should have the good grace to recognise this and commend the Commonwealth Government rather than seeking cheap political points based on inaccuracy. I emphasise that the significant feature of the funding is the 81.5 per cent increase in real terms in untied grants. This $1 1,925,000 is available for local government to spend as it decides, without direction from Canberra or North Terrace in Adelaide.
Many councils and regions did not receive specific purpose payments under the Labor Government anyway, for example, southern region No. 4 in South Australia did not receive any specific purpose payments. So that component of funding is quite irrelevant to their welfare. The massive increases in untied grants are the important factor in their minds. This gives local people the right to decide what is best for them. The interim Grants Commission has announced this week that Glenelg Council will receive $106,000, Brighton Council $147,000, Marion Council $466,000 and Noarlunga Council $425,000 as their share of the $11,925,000 allocated to South Australia. Each council has expressed to me its satisfaction with these funds. It should be noted that the Commonwealth Government will pay these funds at the earliest opportunity in a lump sum to councils, not in dribs and drabs as occurred previously. This will be a significant benefit to council finances. I believe these 4 councils will spend this untied money very wisely on behalf of local residents.
Mr Hullick has also claimed that local government is to be inadequately represented at the national level on the soon to be established Advisory Council for Inter-government Relations, with only 3 local government members on the Council compared with 6 Federal, 6 State and 6 community representatives. In fact the legislation introduced by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 23 September and further debated today provides for 6 local government members compared with 5 Federal, 6 State and 5 community representatives. Contrary to Mr Hullick ‘s statement this clearly shows the Commonwealth Government’s commitment to local government and devolution of power as part of its overall federalism policy.
– I would like to make a few comments on the remarks of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman). He mentioned the allocations that were announced by the Grants Commission yesterday. Prior to the Labor Government coming to office finance was not made available to local government through the Grants Commission. It was not until the Labor Government came to office that the legislation was enacted to enable the Federal Government to assist local government to overcome its problems. Local government was the poor relation in the 3-tier government system in Australia. It was completely ignored prior to the Labor Government coming to office. Thanks to legislation introduced by the Labor Government local government bodies could expect to receive assistance from the Grants Commission.
I think that people are playing around with figures. They say that there has been a big increase in the amounts allocated by the Grants Commission. If one looks at the Grants Commission in isolation that may be so. But the Labor Government adopted a policy in the field of education and in other areas of allocating money where there was a need. This policy applied to education in particular but it also applied to local government.
Local government councils were helped considerably when the former Labor Government issued untied grants through the Grants Commission. The honourable member for Kingston stated that councils in his electorate were very pleased with the amounts they had received. I am sure that if one compared the figures for the amounts that were received by the councils in South Australia during the term of the Labor Government- unfortunately I did not know that the honourable member intended to raise this matter tonight or I would have brought them with me- with what has been allocated in the last few days one would find that the amounts allocated by the present Government fall far short of what was allocated by the Labor Government. Because of the policy of the Labor Government of applying finance where it was needed many councils received additional finance by way of tied grants or grants for special projects because they had a special need.
I refer to the council of which I am a ratepayer- the Port Augusta Council. This council has a large Aboriginal population. It received assistance by way of special grants so that it could employ Aboriginals on various projects. The Labor Government suggested certain areas throughout Australia where there was a particular need and set up pilot area improvement programs. The northern areas of South Australia were to be allocated an amount of $500,000 each year, divided between the 9 councils in that area, to carry out particular projects. These factors must be taken into consideration when one makes any comparison between the amounts given during the period of office of the Labor Government and the amounts given by this Government. The Labor Government was prepared to allocate money in area where there was a need for that money. Every council received some assistance through the Grants Commission according to the programs which they were prepared to submit. Where there was a special need the Labor Government went beyond what was given by the Grants Commission and supplied extra finance so that those councils could overcome particular problems.
I conclude by saying that the Labor Government set a standard that had not applied before. The finance and assistance that were given to local government previously by Liberal-Country Party governments was practically nil. It was not until the Labor Government took office and set a precedent in deciding that local government, as the poor relation, was entitled to its share of federal taxation, that these reforms were introduced. As I said earlier, the Labor Government established the practice by the Grants Commission of allocating finance to the various councils to assist them with their problems. It also took into consideration areas of need and made allocations to overcome the problems in particular areas. It set a standard. The present Government is only trying to emulate that standard. If one sits down and totals the figures of what has been allocated in the last few days, I am afraid it shows that the Government has failed.
– I am very pleased that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) is in the House this evening. He will recall giving me an undertaking to resolve as a matter of urgency the matter concerning people in Adelaide who are dependent upon cable television to get satisfactory reception. Certain steps have been taken to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion. I am pleased to note that Cablevision, the company that has been the cable operator for some 400 households in the foothills of metropolitan Adelaide, has received a letter which can only be interpreted as an indication that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board proposes within 12 months or so -the words ‘within 12 months or so’ are a direct quote- to establish a translator service in metropolitan Adelaide. Further, I am very pleased that it has asked Cablevision to consider continuing the operation of its network on a noprofit, no-loss basis for a further 12 months or so. Immediately the letter was received, Cablevision contacted Mr Connolly of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and received his assurance that the Board had in mind a subsidy to Cablevision to enable the network to continue for that period on a no-profit basis. I am also pleased that under examination by Senator Messner in a meeting of a Senate Estimates committee today, Mr Connolly acknowledged that the letter was written to ask Cablevision whether it would continue the operation with a view to exploring some form of subsidy. I hope that the Minister is able to make certain that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is able to fulfil the undertaking that its Secretary gave to the cable operator.
-Order! The time being 1 1 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 2. 1 5 p.m. next Tuesday.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
Australian Broadcasting Commission Program Guidelines
Shipbuilding (Question No. 927)
-The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Financial concessions and allowances are matters for commercial negotiation between shipowner and shipbuilder and are not available in relation to specific ships.
The United Kingdom is a signatory to the OECD ‘Understanding on Export Credits for Ships’ as outlined in the answer to Question No. 926.
The Government has no specific and authoritative information concerning arrangements on financial concessions and allowances in Hong Kong.
Company Officers: Departure from Australia (Question No. 1063)
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
No such legislation is proposed at present. Proposals to prevent the departure from Australia of any director or other officer of a company which is in liquidation or the subject of a petition or other process or proposal for liquidation raise general issues relating to the liberty of the subject which would require very careful consideration. One specific question that would need to be considered is whether the classes of persons referred to in the honourable member’s question should have their liberty restricted in the way that he has proposed even though neither they nor the company with which they are involved may have committed any offence against any law.
Cargo Facilities at Port Darwin (Question No. 1157)
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Government is still in the process of evaluating the various options included in the report. When this action is completed I will be in a position to inform the honourable member what the Government plans to do to improve the Port facilities in Darwin.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
Is he able to say whether any United States of America nuclear powered submarine or surface ship has ever been involved in any operational failure or accident resulting in any radiation leak in a port or on the open sea.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to paragraph 33 of ‘Environmental Considerations of Visits of Nuclear Powered Warships to Australia’ which was tabled in the House of Representatives by the Prime Minister on 4 June 1976. This reads as follows:
Nuclear-powered warships have operated extensively throughout the world in increasing numbers (now well in excess of a hundred) for the past15 years, during which time there has been no record of a nuclear plant incident having affected the health and safety of the public. There have been, however, several reported incidents involving nuclear warships, including sinkings, collisions and explosions. Known incidents are listed below:
Sea water and bottom sediment samples taken near both wrecks show no measurable release of radioactivity.
It is claimed that none of these accidents resulted in damage to the pressure hull of a submarine nor to the nuclearpower system. No radioactivity was released.
In March 1972 a Russian nuclear submarine of the H2 Hotel’ class was taken in tow in the North Atlantic after being disabled for about 4 days.
There have been instances where radiation levels in the proximity of nuclear submarines in port have been higher than expected but in no case were these levels enough to cause concern for the health and safety of the general public. In some cases there is a likelihood that the high readings may have been caused by other sources than radioactivity. These incidents are reported below: 1965 In Holy Loch, Scotland. Slight increase in cobalt-60 near the anchorage and on tidal mud flats. 1968 In Sasebo, Japan. High readings on radiation meters were detected for a few minutes only near U.S. Submarine Swordfish. The Japanese thought that these may have resulted from short-lived radionuclides discharged with reactor coolant. This was not proven and the United States Government did not accept this explanation, claiming instead instrument errors. 1 969 In Nana, Okinawa. Similar to the Sasebo incident. 1971 New London, Connecticut, U.S. 500 gallons of primary coolant was inadvertantly discharged into the Thames River from the U.S. Submarine Dace. The U.S. Navy confirmed that ‘there was no increase in radioactivity of the environment as a result’. (Note: This incident occurred during maintenance operations at a home-based shore facility.) ‘
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice:
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
One of the most effective means of ensuring such enrolment has been found to be the Habitation Review procedure. Where the density of population is sufficient, an index, with habitations listed in street order, is maintained in Divisional Offices. In these areas Review Officers are employed by the Australian Electoral Office to carry out a door-to-door check of the rolls, if possible, annually. In sparsely settled areas, Electoral Agents are recruited to furnish information required in the maintenance of the rolls.
In respect of persons granted citizenship, advice is obtained from time to time from the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. With the co-operation of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, electoral claim cards are customarily distributed at naturalisation ceremonies.
Furthermore, subject to expenditure constraints, Australian Electoral Office staff attend at some citizenship ceremonies on request for the purpose of assisting with the franchise aspects.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 October 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19761007_reps_30_hor101/>.