30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
The CLERK-Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that we are deeply concerned at the threat to the continuation of symphony orchestras throughout Australia posed by the LAC and Green reports.
We believe that the Government should not allow the symphony orchestras of Australia to be reduced in any way at all.
Your petitioners humbly pray that your honourable House will take steps to ensure the continuation and growth of our symphony orchestras, thereby ensuring that the quality of life of the people of this country shall be maintained.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Abel, Mr Connolly, Mr Hurford, Mr Peter Johnson, Mr Charles Jones and Mr McLeay.
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 many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Australian Government on two different levels: The imposing of a new set of controls and cost reductions on the Australian Broadcasting Commission, while simultaneously easing such controls on the commercial radio and television stations.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Eric Robinson.
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 Mr Garrick and Mr Les Johnson.
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 we are deeply concerned at the threat to the continuation of the independence of the ABC posed by the Green Report.
We believe that the Government should desist from further financial cuts to the organisation and other pressures.
Your petitioners humbly pray that your honourable house will take steps to ensure the contuinuation of all present services provided by an independent ABC.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hurford.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia do humbly pray that the Australian Government:
Give urgent consideration to amendments to the Northern Territory (Land Rights) Bill 1976 to give effect to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr E. G. Whitlam, Mr Les Johnson and Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Represenatives 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 Les Johnson, Mr Les McMahon and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government will immediately cease the mining and prohibit the export of uranium until perfectly safe methods of final disposal for radioactive wastes have been guaranteed; will greatly increase expenditure on research into safe, clean and inexhaustible sources of energy; and will aid underdeveloped countries in their efforts to secure a fair share of the world’s energy resources, while at the same time honouring its obligations to the future of humanity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Eric Robinson.
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 representation of the consumer, the listening public community groups be included in the membership of the proposed Broadcasting Council.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.
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 N.S.W. 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 the 500,000 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 the Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Commonwealth Government restore the Petrol Price Equalisation Scheme immediately for the benefit of those people who live away from the seaboard.
Your petitioners believe that the matter is urgent.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McVeigh.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully show us that- whatever our ideology, in the sight of God, we, as a nation are politically, economically and spiritually sick and in need of healing.
We, the undersigned, are Christians, and as such recognise the Bible as the word of God, and in 2 Chronicles 7: 14 we are told ‘If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land ‘.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in the House assembled will- designate a Sunday of your choosing as ‘a national day of prayer for the healing of our nation’ and to have the day and date of this event published in the daily press.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McVeigh.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. This humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Queensland Symphony Orchestra should exist in perpetuity for the musical and cultural benefit of the citizens of Queensland and Australia. by Mr Moore.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we are concerned about the future of the Australian Assistance Plan.
That we request that the Commonwealth Government support the Australian Assistance Plan by providing for legislation and finance for the Plan on a national basis.
That we feel this way, because the Australian Assistance Plan is making it possible for citizens to help themselves, especially those who need help the most, such as invalid, the inarticulate, and others, as evidenced by the work of the Western Adelaide Regional Council for Social Development over the last two years.
That we believe that this represents the best possible use of limited government resources.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament take immediate steps to continue the Australian Assistance Plan as recommended in the report tabled by the Honourable the Minister for Social Security, Senator Margaret Guilfoyle, in Parliament on 4 March 1 976.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Young.
-I give notice that at the next sitting I shall move:
That this House-
) Congratulates the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Government on altering the Australian currency rate by 17½ per cent, swiftly, sufficiently and in secret in order to preserve Australia’s international trading position and the nation ‘s foreign exchange held by the Reserve Bank;
Applauds the fact that most Australian mining, manufacturing and rural industries will become more competitive in world markets;
Calls on the Government to persevere with its policy to restructure company and personal income tax in order to avoid penalising overtime, efficiency, profit and business success; and
Therefore express its confidence in the Government’s integrity to reduce inflation and to seek the co-operation of all sections of the community and, in particular, of trade unionists who understand both the wage rate structures and the employment situation at this critical time of national economic recovery.
– The basis of the exchange rate has been set out by me in both the Press statement that was released last Sunday night and the statement that was made in the House. In shorthand terms, in response to the honourable gentleman, I can say that under the new pattern of management of the exchange rate a trade weighted average rate will continue to be computed daily on the same basis as previously, but the exchange rate no longer will be necessarily pegged on a fixed relationship to the basket of currencies. Instead, as I have made clear before, it will be kept under review and varied as appropriate in the context of the overall management of the economy. The advantages of the new system have been spelt out in some detail. It is not for me to speculate as to what may be the future movements of the exchange rate; I simply reaffirm the basis upon which those decisions will be taken.
-I refer the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs to widespread Press reports that the Government has decided to review tariff levels consequent upon the devaluation. I ask the Minister whether these reports are correct.
– It is true that a number of reports that the Government is looking at the general area of tariffs consequent upon the devaluation last weekend have appeared. I make it very clear to the House that, as stated by the Prime Minister last Monday, it is not the intention of the Government to make any general, across the board reduction in tariff levels. The Government is determined that the competitive advantages of Australian manufacturing industry which have occurred as a result of the devaluation will remain as real advantages to that sector of Australian industry. As all honourable gentlemen know, many areas of Australian industry were in a parlous competitive position prior to the action taken last weekend.
It is true, however, that the Government has under study at the present time the precise detail of the impact of devaluation upon the levels of assistance enjoyed by Australian industry at the present time. While it is not our intention to make any general, across the board tariff reductions, there are certain areas in which anomalies have been thrown up. Particularly high levels of protection are now enjoyed in areas in which there is not severe import competition. In that type of context the Government is looking at the detail of the impact of devaluation on current protection levels. It will continue to do so over the next week. As honourable gentlemen realise, this is an extraordinarily complicated problem. One should not talk about general, across the board tariff reductions because, quite apart from this being contrary to the intention of the Government, it is not the way to approach the situation as there are areas within the general tariff structure which throw up greater anomalies as a result of the devaluation than do other areas.
-I ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations: In view of the fact that the Government appears to have rejected any reintroduction of the Regional Employment Development scheme, will the Minister give consideration to subsidising local government works up to 25 per cent of the total cost, provided that adequate guarantees are available to ensure that these works are extra and not part of the council’s or shire’s normal or planned program? I suggest the figure of 25 per cent because I estimate that this would be the amount of government expenditure provided through the saving of unemployment benefit. So the actual cost to the government would be nil or very close to nil.
– The honourable member was very diligent in the interests of his electorate in obtaining funds through the Regional Employment Development scheme. Whatever one may think of that scheme, the honourable member has made a most interesting analysis of it, and that is at present under study in my department. The suggestion that the honourable member has just made is an interesting one. A great deal of work has been done overseas and in Australia on the question of job subsidy paid to employers and on the extent to which subsidies can be paid and still show a net benefit on the work done. The honourable member has made an original suggestion along these lines. I cannot confirm the percentage that he quoted and it may well be that the feasibility of what he has suggested hinges on the accuracy of that figure of 25 per cent. Certainly it is an interesting suggestion. I shall ensure that the text of the question and the answer is brought to the attention of my department and we will give consideration to it.
– Does the Prime Minister agree with the reported views of Professor Sawer, that despite the Government’s federalism policy there will be a continued drift towards what he described as organic federalism, a type of federalism in which the Commonwealth sets all major policies, with the States retaining discretion only on administration and local adaption? Does the Prime Minister expect that the federalism policy will stem the growth of Commonwealth authority, or will Commonwealth domination continue, with the difference between this Government’s federalism approach and that of Labor being only one of style and not of substance? What steps are being taken to lessen the Commonwealth ‘s dominance which now stems from the use of section 96 grants?
– In relation to the last part of the question, the honourable member would know that there is an examination of Commonwealth programs to see which programs might more properly be undertaken and more efficiently administered by the States than by the Commonwealth. In that sort of operation it is really a question of seeing which things the Commonwealth ought to do best for all Australians and which things the States or local government are better placed to do on their own account for their own citizens. One of the things that Professor Sawer missed in that particular article was the fact that we do propose and have now half implemented- very major steps have already been taken- that there be much greater flexibility for the States in the determination of their own priorities. The federalism proposalsthe tax sharing that has already been introduced- give the States a much greater degree of flexibility. We have only to look at their last budgets to see that many of them had significant concessions in them without having to raise taxes. That was done as a result of the generosity of this Administration in developing the federalism proposals to provide the States with the opportunity to make their own decisions.
One thing and one thing only would be able to destroy the thrust of the federalism proposals and policies; one thing and one thing only would prevent a proper diversification of influence, responsibility and power coming from these particular matters. That would be the incapacity of State Premiers- of Labor State Premiers in particularto accept responsibility in areas where they ought to be responsible. If Premiers refuse to accept responsibility, set their own priorities for the things for which they have funds and then find matters at the bottom of the barrel so far as their priorities are concerned, they will come along and say that the Commonwealth must fund these things. If the Premiers take that course and refuse to accept responsibility in matters which are particularly in their own provinces, quite inevitably they tend to thrust more and more power onto the Commonwealth. So, if these developmental proposals are to work it will require the kind of co-operation that comes from people of our political philosophy; the sort of cooperation that one finds from Sir Charles Court or Mr Hamer and that one would find from Mr Bingham in Tasmania. I think that in his article and analysis Professor Sawer missed the very real difference in the philosophical thrust of our policies and those of the Australian Labor Party. In one lecture the Leader of the Opposition made it quite plain that the prime responsibility of State Labor leaders and State Labor parliamentarians was to legislate themselves out of business, as the Irish Parliament did in 1 80 1 .
-I direct my question to the Treasurer. In spelling out the monetary measures consequent upon the devaluation to the House yesterday, he made no mention of the Government’s money supply target. Has the Government abandoned the target announced in the Budget Speech and is this because of the adverse effects it would now have on the housing market?
– In response to a question yesterday I said that the objective of monetary policy remained the same as I have reaffirmed on earlier occasions; that is, monetary growth will be sufficient to underwrite recovery in the economy but, at the same time, will not be accommodating to the rate of inflation. The purpose of the measures which have been introduced as part of the devaluation package is, in fact, to seek to deal with any excess liquidity that might flow from the decision to devalue. Those measures are therefore designed to deal with the monetary consequences of devaluation, not to alter the Government’s basic monetary stance.
– You are going to keep it at 12 per cent; that it your target?
– I think I have made it clear to the honourable gentleman before that the 10 per cent to 12 per cent guidelines which were set down in the Budget were clearly indicated as being guidelines and, of course those guidelines will need to be adjusted over a period as economic developments take place.
-Mr Speaker, I rise to a point of order. In answer to a question a few moments ago, the Prime Minister used a distorted quotation of the Leader of the Opposition which has been corrected previously in this House. As the Prime Minister’s answer will be broadcast I ask if you will examine that quotation and make the necessary examination of the broadcast material?
-The honourable gentleman well knows that there is no point of order involved.
- Mr Speaker, I have sent to my office for the exact quotation and will be perfectly happy to have it incorporated in Hansard so that the exact words can be on record.
-I ask a question of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It concerns the state of negotiations last weekend between Australia and the Papua New Guinea Government over the Australian border. Does the Papua New Guinea Government accept the proposal for a seabed line through a protected zone?
– As I have indicated previously in answering questions on this matter, both sides have views that must be considered. Involved in this matter are intricacies of public international law which is not an area of law with the same pristine purity and clarity as domestic law has. As a consequence, propositions that we have been putting, seriatim, not simply in regard to a line through a protected zone but covering the whole area from the Arafura Sea to the Coral Sea, require extensive research and analysis as each side proceeding through the negotiations weighs up the view of the other side. It would be grossly unfair on my part to give an indication of the view of Papua New Guinea on this specific question when it has asked at this stage to examine the matter further and to look into the implications of it. That is a perfectly acceptable situation from our point of view. There is no rejection of the proposition. Papua New Guinea wants to study the implications of it.
The honourable member will be aware that Sir Maori Kiki and I have already reached agreement on a wide number of issues. Those matters were contained within a joint statement that we issued. I think it is fair to say that Papua New Guinea has been extremely co-operative in this matter. The whole concept of a protected zone is unique in public international law. We are grateful that time is being spent in examination of not merely the location of the line but also the nature of the line and of the zone itself. Discussions are going ahead well. There is a great deal of work to be done on each side as each point is reached seriatim. I expect to be meeting again with Sir Maori Kiki some time early next year.
-Will the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations call an immediate conference comprising representatives of State and local governments and employers’ and employees’ organisations to discuss as a matter of urgency the development of a scheme to alleviate the cancerous growth of unemployment in Australia particularly among the young people?
– All the conferences in the world will not solve the problem of unemployment. The problem can be solved only by achieving a revitalised Australian economy. Since three out of four jobs in the Australian economy are provided by the private sector it is to that sector we must look to provide the jobs that we need, whether they be for the young people or for the older people who are also out of work. The action which the Government has taken in the last few days in bringing Australia’s currency more into Une with those of our major trading partners and restoring the competitive position of Australian industry, particularly the import competing industries and the export industries, will do far more good than all the conferences proposed by the honourable member. The fact is that the Australian cost structure has got so far out of line over the last few years that Australians, instead of exporting goods, have been exporting jobs. That is a plain fact of life, and nothing could be done to correct that so long as the Australian currency remained so far out of line with those of our trading partners. The action taken by the Government is the correct action to take to restore full employment to the Australian economy.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. He would be aware of the serious threat to southern New South Wales and northern Victoria from the plague locusts now spreading rapidly throughout Australia. Will the Minister provide extra federal assistance as a matter of urgency to help prevent the probable total destruction of all pastures and crops in the threatened areas?
-It is true that there is a very severe plague across a large portion of the southern, western and central western areas of New South Wales and a threat of plagues migrating into northern Victoria. I am told that hopper bands are numerous and extend from Tibooburra and Trangie in the north to the River Murray in the south, with concentrations east of Narrandera, south of Lake Cargellico and east of Hay. There are a lot of these slow moving, low level swarms and they of course have a tremendous damage potential particularly where feed is short Many producers in these areas of New South Wales and northern Victoria in fact were unable to generate a wheat crop this year. Many of them are hoping to turn to summer crops, but the newly emerging summer crops are also likely to be at risk particularly as soil moisture levels have been recently replenished. The problem with control is that it has always been difficult to strike plague locusts sufficiently early. I am told that the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, through the pastures protection boards in the infested areas, has already mounted a spraying campaign using mainly ground based equipment. Aircraft at the moment are not being extensively used. Spray chemicals are being provided and the cost is being charged to the Noxious Insects Fund. There is also a levy on landholders to support the Fund. The Australian Government has constituted an Australian Plague Locust Commission. It has been designed to try to ensure that there will be a maximum co-ordination of effort between the States and the Commonwealth. I believe that this is very essential.
– I rise to order. To facilitate the business of the House, I ask the Minister to table the document from which he is quoting in answering the question. This would save the time of the House and would give honourable members the opportunity to ask questions.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
-It is unfortunate that the honourable gentleman does not realise what is happening in a lot of the country areas in Australia. This is so true of the Labor Party. No people in this country have been more disastrously affected than those who have been affected by seasons and by plagues, such as the locust plague to which this question relates, and who have suffered because of the traumas of the economic policies that were pursued by the Government of which the honourable member for Shortland was a member. The people in the Riverina, northern Victoria and southern New South Wales are concerned to try to ensure that in spite of those economic difficulties and in spite of the problems of poor markets and the seasonal conditions which they have endured this year, there should be a maximum possible effort by all involved. The Australian Plague Locust Commission is doing its utmost to ensure that there is an adequate eradication program. At the moment it is experiencing some difficulties in recruiting staff. I would hope that as a result of its efforts there can be at least some containment of the extent of the plague to which the honourable gentleman referred. The Commonwealth certainly is prepared to co-operate to the maximum with the States in eliminating the plague. Also, it will co-operate with the local authorities.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I refer to the thesis that the Minister espouses that partial indexation of award wages is good but that full indexation of awards is always bad. Has the Minister seen reports which indicate that if full indexation of awards had been given in the 2 decisions relating to the March and June quarters, the effect of indexation in September would have been a mere 0.4 per cent? Therefore, does it not prove the stability of full wage indexation because it guarantees there will be no compression of relativity? Is the Minister aware that the Government’s own bungling of the Medibank issue guarantees that the December consumer price index will now escalate from an estimated 2.7 per cent to 5.7 per cent and therefore there are many factors other than wages which affect the consumer price index? Accordingly, will the Minister now support the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and support full indexation of award wages to prevent confrontation with the trade union movement and to give some stability to future wage increases in this country?
-The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has never said that there should be automatic application of the full amount of the consumer price index to wages. What it has said is that at each quarterly hearing it will listen to the case and decide for itself the extent to which the CPI should be applied and the method by which it should be applied. The fact is that if full indexation is automatically applied every quarter in Australia, with inflation running at the present level, there is no way in the world in which Australia’s competitive position can improve; in fact, it will go back. The average inflation rate of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries now, from memory, is slightly less than 9 per cent. I think it is about 8.8 per cent or 8.9 per cent. The Australian position is still worse than that average. We will not restore our competitive position until we get our inflation rate down to that average or below it.
The fact is that partial indexation, of itself, does not need to compress relativities. It depends on the method of application of the partial indexation. For example, if 50 per cent indexation was being applied across the board, there would be no compression of relativities. If it is applied only at the botton end of the wage scale there is compression of relativities. It depends on the method by which it is applied. The Government, as it has in the past, will continue to put, in the public interest, a case at the quarterly hearings of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which will protect the interests of Australian workers so that they do not price themselves out of jobs.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: What will be the effect of devaluation on the incomes of farmers? Is it true that these incomes will still be about $50 a week lower than average city workers’ wages for the current financial year? What steps will the Minister take to reduce further this unfair gap that not only leaves rural people with a lower standard of living but also provides no effective return on their large investments in their farms?
-It is true, as the honourable gentleman so correctly identifies, that in spite of the product of devaluation and the litt that this is expected to give to the incomes of rural producers, the average weekly expectation of income this year for the rural sector, taking into account not just labour but also management and return on capital invested, on the Bureau of Agricultural Economics projections will increase only from $126 a week to $143 a week. That compares less than favourably with the present average weekly earnings of about $184 a week across the breadth of the Australian economy. I do not think that there is any more drastic way to illustrate the product of the changes which have occurred in our society in the last few years and which are one of the very real consequences of the failure of the previous Administration to introduce policies to assist the rural sector.
There are many other things that we are doing to overcome the economic difficulties of the farmer. Such action was in evidence only yesterday in the form of the extended, revamped and updated rural adjustment scheme which is designed to accommodate those who are either financially stretched in their resources or no longer judged viable and want to move out of farming. In each of the individual commodity areas, there are specific forms of assistance. Another illustration this week of Government action is the lifting of the reserve price for wool. These examples illustrate how, commodity by commodity, we are prepared to provide assistance. There are still, however, a number of major industries in difficulties. I mention the beef industry, in which I know the honourable gentleman has an interest, and, of course, the dairy industry and the horticultural industry. Each of those three is an industry to which the Government has provided significant help already. The Government is quite determined to ensure that there will be a maintenance of additional Government aid so that, despite the economic traumas which are apparent in the statistics that I have given, that sector of the Australian community will not be too disadvantaged for too much longer.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Health, by reminding him that legislation designed to implement the recommendations of the Whalan Committee of Inquiry into the Protection of Privacy and introduced by my colleague, the honourable member for Oxley, lapsed in November 1975. Is the Minister aware that the General Manager of the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria stated on 25 November that contributors to private health insurance funds presently have to rely on the ‘good faith’ of the administrators of these funds not to divulge confidential medical and financial information about their members? As the Liberal and National Country Parties in the past have expressed deep concern about this matter- in particular the former AttorneyGeneral, the late Senator Greenwood, in February 1975 warned of the dangers of the misuse of private information- can the Minister ex- plain to the House why complementary legislation has not been introduced by the Government in order to protect the interests and privacy of private health insurance contributors?
– Earlier in the year I answered a question relating to this problem. The honourable member for Maribyrnong probably will recall that at that time I indicated that the Government had referred the whole question of privacy to the Law Reform Commission under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Kirby. One of the most important things that we have asked Mr Justice Kirby to do, under that Commission’s terms of reference, is to inquire into the question of privacy, particularly as it relates to private health insurance and health matters. The Government does share some concern with the honourable member about the need to ensure that the privacy of individuals is preserved. Section 1 30 of the National Health Act, for instance, does provide that officers of the Department of Health and public servants generally are bound to ensure that the privacy of the individual is protected, but that provision does not apply to people involved in the private health insurance funds. However, we are mindful of the fact that it is in the interests of private health insurance funds to ensure that they maintain secrecy provisions and preserve the privacy provisions that are necessary to protect the interests of their contributors.
The honourable member expressed some real concern about the Hospital Benefits Association establishing a data processing bureau in Singapore. I have looked into this matter. I could as Minister, under a provision in the National Health Act, intervene in the matter but I have decided not to do so because even under the provisions that exist the HBA will be operating that office under its own jurisdiction just as it operates its office in Melbourne. We assume that the HBA would preserve and respect the privacy of its contributors in its Singapore office just as it would do in its Melbourne office. Quite clearly there is a great responsibility on the private health insurance funds , to try to operate as efficiently and as economically as possible.
– Fair go!
-I beg your pardon?
– Ministers have been making lengthy replies.
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition draws attention to the length of the reply. I must say that that criticism would not be directed solely to the Minister for Health.
-i said that Ministers have been making lengthy replies this morning.
-I apologise. I did not know that you were speaking generally. I ask the Minister for Health to draw his answer to a conclusion.
– I have concluded.
– My question, addressed to the Minister for Primary Industry, is supplementary to the question asked by the honourable member for Macarthur. Does the devaluation increase the Australian price of imported products that receive protection? Does the combined effect of the tariff and the devaluation increase by about 80 per cent the effective protection to those industries which compete with goods that are coming in? Does this increase in costs affect farmers and other exporters?
-Of course it is true that to the degree to which there are imports the costs of farmers will be increased but the figures I referred to before related to the net benefits to farmers. Already the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has made a judgment on the assessed additional costs. Any assessment must prejudge things. It must involve using a crystal ball and it need not necessarily be accurate. However, the BAE has set a very high standard in its forward projections. I believe the benefits I have spoken of illustrate the return that the rural sector can expect in spite of additional costs that might occur in some sectors of the economy.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. It supplements the earlier question asked by the honourable member for Moore. By what amount will the cost of imports increase without tariff reductions? What effect will that cost increase have upon the cost of living in Australia? Is it the intention of the Government to prevent wage earners from receiving wage increases to offset these cost increases? Finally, to offset this economic madness, would not the
Treasurer agree that the simplest solution would be to reduce tariffs?
-There is a need to ensure that confidence returns to manufacturing industry as a consequence of the devaluation and that this is not negated by other moves made by the Government. That includes the particular field to which the honourable member referred. All I would want to say about the subject in response to the general query which he raised is that, as I think I indicated recently, the Government is looking at this area. I think my colleague the Minister for Industry and Commerce made the same point this morning. We are looking at the tariff on imported goods and equipment, particularly where such goods and equipment are not produced in Australia.
The honourable gentleman raised a question about the impact on the cost of living. I assume he is referring to the consumer price index. I have to say to the honourable gentleman that the effects are not quantifiable in a sufficiently precise form for it to be responsible of me to indicate a figure in the House at this stage. The final part of the question referred to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Government has foreshadowed that because of the impact of devaluation on the Australian community there is a need for a much stronger line by the Government before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to seek necessary restraint in wage and salary movements so that the inflationary consequences of the wage front which we have experienced in recent years can be subject to very sharp action, one would hope, by the Government in making its submissions before the Commission.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– Better make it short.
-It will be short. Can the Minister assure me that it is still the Government’s intention to tackle inflation with courage and determination? Is he aware that the devaluation decision is equivalent to an 80 per cent rise in tariff protection for imported protected goods? Does not the Minister see that not to tackle the tariff problem with confidence and resolution will allow the inflation horse to bolt, and it is likely to kick the trap to bits before we catch it again once it gets away?
– I can assure the honourable member for Wakefield and all other honourable gentlemen that the Government’s resolve to tackle the problem of inflation in Australia remains absolutely undiluted. Any suggestions that it has been diluted are quite incorrect. The honourable gentleman referred to the cost implications through increased tariff levels as a result of the devaluation. The Government is aware of them. As the Treasurer just said, and as I said earlier, the question of tariffs is under study at present. I will have to say again, as I said in answer to another question this morning, that prior to the devaluation the competitive position of large sections of manufacturing industry in Australia was extremely parlous. The employment prospects and the re-employment prospects of large numbers of Australians were also extremely parlous. If we were to squander in a general, indiscriminate manner the benefits in competitive terms of the devaluation, we would be doing very little towards stopping the increasing extent to which jobs and industry are being exported from Australia.
-Will the Prime Minister confirm that he said on television last night that the minor adjustments to interest rates announced by the Treasurer yesterday are the only adjustments to monetary policy which will be needed to offset the inflationary effects of devaluation? On what policy tool does the Government plan to depend in its future fight against inflation?
-The Government uses all 4 arms of policy in its fight against inflation. It uses its budgetary arm, its monetary arm, external policy and wages policy. The action that had been advised to us by the authorities in relation to interest rates was completed in the markets a day or two ago.
– My question which I ad dress to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs concerns newspaper reports today that imported car prices will rise from 5 p.m. today as a result of a decision of the Prices Justification Tribunal. It is also reported that the prices will apply to stock imported before last Sunday’s devaluation and that the Volvo group has been advised of the decision in a telex from the Tribunal.
– My attention has been drawn to those newspaper reports. I am advised that the Prices Justification Tribunal has not up to the present time given any approvals for price increases in respect of cars. The specific vehicle manufacturer to which the honourable gentleman refers is included in that answer. The article suggesting that a price rise will become effective from 5 p.m. today is, on my information, absolutely incorrect.
-Is the Prime Minister aware that the young people of Australia have been the hardest hit by this Government’s disastrous economic policies?
– Which government?
– This Government. Is he aware that in the western suburbs of Sydney more than 40 per cent of the registered unemployed are under 2 1 years of age? In fact in the Bankstown area of my electorate the figure is 42 per cent. Is he concerned at this indictment of his policies? Can he hold out any hope to school leavers, even at this late stage, that this malaise will be altered in the near future?
-The honourable gentleman is remarkable for his silence on earlier occasions. In 1974 and 1975 his own administration increased government expenditure by 46 per cent. In that year unemployment rose by something approaching 200 000-between 180 000 and 200 000. The honourable gentleman well knows it was the very grave and lasting damage done by his Administration’s policies, which he never for one moment criticised, that led to the difficult unemployment position in this country. The honourable gentleman has the great distinction of belonging to a political party whose significant and principal spokesman on labour matters has put on record in this Parliament that a 5 per cent level of unemployment is a proper figure to aim for.
– Who said that?
– A significant and leading member of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Les Haylen, when he was the member for Parkes.
Opposition members interjecting-
– Order! The House will come to order. I call the Prime Minister.
- Mr Speaker, I was waiting till the Opposition is quieter. I repeat that the honourable gentleman belongs to the only political party in Australia that has ever put that on the official record in this Parliament. Honourable gentlemen opposite do not like it. It might have been some time ago but the honourable member who made that statement was speaking with the full force of the Labor movement. The honourable gentleman knows quite well that the policies of this Government are returning Australia to economic recovery; the policies of this Government -
– I rise to order. Unfortunately, the Opposition’s spokesman on industrial relations is not in the House at the moment.
– What is the point of order?
– There has been gross misrepresentation. The Prime Minister has said that the Opposition spokesman on labour matters -
-There is no point of order. The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
Mr Young . . . has said that S per cent unemployment -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, you are unfairly protecting the Prime Minister.
-I am not. There is no point of order.
– Can the Prime Minister continue to say that Les Haylen, who left this Parliament in 1966 -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
Mr Young is the Labor spokesman
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– Honourable gentlemen know quite well that the policies of this Government, and especially a number of the policies introduced by my colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, have shown a particular concern for young people who have not been able to get jobs. A number of the policies that have been introduced are operating with remarkable success; so much success that the Tasmanian Premier wanted some of those policies extended as they have in fact been extended.
While I am on my feet I take the opportunity to put into the Hansard record quite accurately -
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will wait until I have heard what the Prime Minister is about to say.
- Mr Speaker, I have a point of order. If the Prime Minister is going to put the record right he should put it right by pointing out that
Mr Leslie Haylen left this House in 1963. He is the spokesman for the Labor Party whom the Prime Minister was quoting.
-There is no substance in the point of order.
-Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Prime Minister is about to make a personal explanation in the context of answering a question. I think he should do that at the proper time and in the proper circumstances.
-There is no substance in the point of order. The Prime Minister made a reference to the Leader of the Opposition. He was challenged on that. The right honourable gentleman then said that he would send for the quotation so that it could be read to the House. While the right honourable gentleman was on his feet answering a question he went on to produce that quotation. I will hear what he has to say.
– Let me add to the answer I was giving to the last question. I em- phasise that 95 per cent of those who left school last year have got jobs. They are in useful, productive occupations. The particular concern of the Government has been directed at the minoritybut an important minority- who have not been able to get jobs. The policies which have been introduced have been directed to that end. Honourable gentlemen opposite do not like belonging to a party which has on record in Hansard the matter to which I have referred. Everyone knows that Les Haylen left this place a fair while ago. But the Party still stands for the same thing, because it is the Party which created unemployment in this country. I ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Accusations have been made by the Prime Minister against Mr Leslie Haylen. He is not here to defend his position. Everyone knows that he was a great Labor man. He stood for full employment. The Prime Minister is reflecting on him, because there is ample evidence in Hansard to contradict what the Prime Minister has said.
-There is no substance in the point of order.
- Mr Speaker, I ask for leave of the House to add to an answer which I gave before and to have incorporated in Hansard the exact words of the Leader of the Opposition.
-It is not a matter of seeking leave of the House. It is a matter of seeking the indulgence of the Chair, and the Chair grants the indulgence.
– In the Chifley Memorial Lecture in 1957 named Constitution v. Labour, the present Leader of the Opposition said:
Much can be achieved by Labour members ‘of the State Parliaments in effectuating Labour’s aims of more effective powers for the National Parliament and for local government Their role is to bring about their own dissolution.
I suggest that that be incorporated in Hansard.
-The right honourable gentleman has asked for leave to have that matter incorporated in Hansard. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Chifley Memorial Lecture 1957 ‘The Constitution v. Labour’, E. G. Whitlam, B.A., LL.B., M.P.
The role of State members:
Much can be achieved by Labour members of the State parliaments in effectuating Labour’s aims of more effective powers for the National Parliament and for local government. Their role is to bring about their own dissolution. When the Labour Party holds office in the Commonwealth Parliament, the States which have Labour, governments could readily make agreements under section 51 (xxxiii) and (xxxiv) for the acquisition and construction and extension of railways in the States by the Commonwealth and under section 51 (xxxvii) for the reference to the Commonwealth of many of their present functions, such as those in respect of health and hospitals, ports and fisheries. Irrespective of the political complexions of the Federal government, State Labour governments could do much to set up stronger provincial or regional or local administrations within their own borders. Most of the State governments retain the administration of many things which concern their own capitals and larger cities alone. Ithas always struck me as peculiarly inappropriate for the New South Wales government to run the bus and tram services in Sydney and the bus services in Newcastle, which are clearly matters concerning the residents of those cities alone. There should be metropolitan parliaments, as in Brisbane, to determine for their whole area those things which concern that area alone, e.g. transport, town planning and land use, electricity generation and distribution, water and sewerage supplies, ambulances and fire brigades. Again many regional areas, such as the Riverina, the Hunter Valley, the Clarence River and central and northern Queensland, might have had more attention paid to their conservation and development problems if they had had more effective co-ordination and consultation with the areas concerned.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I raised the point that the matter was out of context. It is out of context in both time and fact. The Leader of the Opposition, in that lecture in the context of 1957, was advocating a proper diminution of power rather than advocating 2 centralist governments.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order, and I think the honourable member knows that.
– I think the Prime Minister’s quotation was out of context -
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– For the information of honourable members I present the 1975-76 annual report of the Department of Industry and Commerce entitled Industry and Commerce 1976.
– Pursuant to section 8 of the Postal Services Act 1975 I present the text of a ministerial direction dated 11 November 1976 made by me to the Australian Postal Commission.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Nauru (High Court Appeals) Bill 1976.
Federal Court of Australia Bill 1 976.
Remuneration and Allowances Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976.
Judiciary Amendment Bill 1976.
Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1976.
Bankruptcy Amendment Bill 1976.
Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill 1976.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill 1 976.
Federal Court of Australia (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1976.
Income Tax Assessment Amendment (Jurisdiction of Courts) Bill 1976.
Patents Amendment Bill 1976.
Trade Marks Amendment Bill 1976.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Monday next at 2.15 p.m.
– I have no real objection to our meeting on Monday or any other day. Today is the seventy-fourth day of sitting since last year. I draw the attention of the House to item No. 36 on the Notice Paper- the final report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System- and its implications for the way in which we run this place. In the way in which we are working I do not see that there is any possibility of the Parliament dealing with legislation adequately. The end-on-end deliberations of 150 to 200 pieces of legislation cannot be fitted into the time available. We have just completed our deliberations on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill. I suppose that that was the best example we have had for some time of a Bill which was debated at the Committee stage. I suggest to the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) that he take the time to listen to people who have something to say to him.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will resume his seat. The Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business are in discussion, no doubt about other matters of business, but I suggest to both honourable gentlemen that they listen to the honourable member for Wills.
-That is the wisest guidance you have given for some time, Mr Speaker. I was just suggesting that the recommendations of the Committee concerning the establishment of a legislative committee system should be examined forthwith so that next year perhaps we can deal with matters in greater depth and with better organisation. As I said earlier, I have no real objection to meeting on Monday or at any other time. But the rearrangement of the business of this Parliament causes great inconvenience to an enormous number of people in Australia, to airlines and their staff and to our own staff. If we cannot organise the business of this House properly so that we do not have to make frequent adjustments to our times of meeting, how on earth can we claim to be able to run the country? This is an example of the way in which this Government runs everything. It damages everything it touches.
– I took note of what the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said and I thought that some of his comments- only some- were very sensible. But I think that he is totally out of order when he criticised this Government because it was the Leader of the House in his Government who took the greatest delight in telling us how many Bills Labor passed in one year- a record number of Bills- and did it without any regret. Simply, it wanted to say what a magnificent record it had. I agree, Mr Speaker, that there should be some consideration of this matter by the Parliament. I know that you have thoughts regarding this matter. We all have thoughts on it. We all agree with the remarks of the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) but there is no point in his or any other member’s, blaming one party or another party for something that has been going on for years. I think he is trying to play trade politics and it does not become him.
-Whilst I do not oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) I want to register my protest, as one who has been a member of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. When the report of that Committee was brought down and the Government, by sheer weight of numbers, forced through this House a motion to establish the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure earlier this year, an undertaking was given that there would be a full parliamentary debate in this session on the report of the Committee. Although the session is to conclude next week no opportunity has been given for that report to be duscussed. The Expenditure Committee, from what I understand of its performance, is not working in any effective fashion whatsoever. What has really happened is that the considerable amount of time and effort that was put into the preparation of the report on the committee system by members of the Committee on both sides of the House has been disregarded.
Instead, we have again a situation this week where a select committee was established, in direct conflict with the recommendatons of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. Much can be gained for the Parliament along the lines that the honourable member for Wills indicated earlier in his comment in the management of the business of the House and in a proper examination of legislative measures introduced into this chamber. The system which is in use now is a system that provides simply for getting Bills through without proper parliamentary examination and consideration. I register my protest and insist that in the new session after Christmas there is an opportunity to discuss the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System.
– I believe the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) should be commended for taking this opportunity to raise the general question of the need to review sitting hours. The Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System, to which he referred, obviously has a very important job to do. Mr Speaker, since you and I arrived in this place a great number of parliamentary topics have emerged which never existed before. Such massive issues as urban affairs, the environment, education and Aboriginal affairs which were not before regarded as the prerogative of this Parliament are now being considered. It seems to me that in the face of that situation and considering that the business of the Parliament is being run as it has been done since the Parliament commenced in 1901 without any significant changes, we will run out of the capacity to provide for effective parliamentary democracy.
For a period there was an indication of public concern in the sense that there was democracy in the streets or politics in the streets. People were losing their faith in the parliamentary system. They will go on losing it unless we look at ways and means of utilising more effectively the human resources of this Parliament. It is a ridiculous situation when one man can stand up to make a speech, sometimes a bad speechpresent speech excepted from that possibilityand find that all other members are expected to listen, whereas in fact they do not. This system which is operating at the present time is rendered ineffective and almost obsolescent. There is a need for arrangements that will enable parliamentarians to relate to the bureaucrats and other opinion makers and leaders of industry, commerce and trade unions. There is probably a need for this whole parliamentary human conglomeration to have a committee process in the areas of speciality so that the Parliament can gather together just to hear reports and maybe even to allow members to speak in the Parliament after the matter has been dealt with in greater depth outside.
I conclude by saying that the Opposition never objects to extended sittings of the Parliament. It is good to have due notice of them because the interests of constituents are very important. Nobody wants to break commitments. But, more important than anything else, more important than the consideration of an added sitting day, is the obvious need to obtain better results from the total effort contributed to the parliamentary endeavour by members of Parliament.
– I wish to take a couple of minutes to comment on some of the remarks made with regard to this matter of extra sittings of the House and the importance of the procedures of the House. Mention has been made of the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System and the fact that as yet it has not been debated. I join my colleagues in urging that provision is made for this to be done. It is not sufficient to give extra time to the Parliament on an ad hoc basis. It is necessary to look at the procedures of Parliament. The report of the Joint Committee was one on which members of both Houses and of all Parties worked very hard and reached a great degree of unanimity in the findings.
The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) mentioned the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill as one very suitable for consideration by legislative committees. Having acted as Chairman of Committees last year when the Bill of the Labor Government was being considered and again on this occasion, I agree that this would be very proper. But I would like to accentuate that it is not just a question of legislative committees or subject matter committees. What we really should be looking at is the procedures of the House and how they can be reviewed from time to time and brought into line with the increasing legislative load and new matters that come before the House.
– I want to make one very small contribution to this debate. I was not a member of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System but I have no doubt that the matters it considered would have included the provision of more resources for this Parliament to enable it to function more efficiently. I want to point out how dependent the functioning of the Parliament is on the Public Service and how the Government is asking the Public Service to do an impossible task by imposing staff ceilings and making savage cuts in funds for the Public Service when it has all this extra work to do. Everyone agrees that the function of Government is now much more complex than it has ever been and adequate resources are needed for it to function. It it a great contradiction in the policy of this Government that it expects those functions to be carried out by a reduced Public Service operating with bans on overtime and those sorts of things which make it so much more difficult. The Public Service is given an impossible task.
Last night a Bill was introduced into this House for a very mediocre form of long service leave. There is another one coming up in the next session relating to management initiated retirements. These moves, of course, are all disincentives to the Public Service. It is time that the Government got off the back of the Public Service and gave it an opportunity to serve this Parliament in an efficient way so that the business of the Parliament can be handled more quickly.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The campaign by the Federal Government to denigrate the trade union movement and deny it its right to be involved in matters of legitimate trade union interest.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– This Government, having failed to honour the grandiose promises with which it conned its way to power, seeks a scapegoat to divert attention from its manifest inadequacies in the economic field. That scapegoat is the elected trade union leadership of Australia. Despite with the sleight of hand men, the manipulators of truth on the other side, may say, its leadership is democratically elected. In the long and shameful history of union bashing by conservative parties, this arch conservative Government stands supreme. There is no limit to the depths to which this Government and its spokesmen will sink, no limit to the subterfuge to which it will resort to denigrate and try to destroy responsible trade unionism in this country. According to this Government the unions are responsible for everything bad and for everything that goes wrong. There is no suggestion that the Government itself, by its own incompetence, is stifling recovery in Australia and wilfully- let us be frank about it- maintaining unemployment at historically high levels to the great distress of many thousands of Australians. Instead of buckling down to tackle the twin problems of inflation and unemployment in a comprehensive way, the Government attacks only the wages component of the economy, as though Australians do not have a right to maintain their standard of living. It is carrying out in a ruthless way its announced policy of reducing the real wages of Australians while sliding about all over the place in other areas of the economy.
Two areas come to mind in which the Government is spear-heading its assault on the trade unions. One with which I will deal briefly is the shipbuilding industry. The other is the Newport power station in Victoria which I will deal with at some length. Shipbuilding is an industry which one would expect would be in line with the Government’s own philosophy- or whatever it is called- to maintain. It would seem a good idea to keep viable such an industry, particularly when so many more jobs are at stake and whose loss would further aggravate the problem of unemployment.
Instead of being honest about the matter the Government does the opposite to the Mafia, which it closely resembles, and makes the unions an offer they cannot possibly accept. It then blames the unions for being irresponsible in not accepting the offer. Such manifest double dealing is something one does not expect from a responsible government which says it has the future of Australia at heart. Union leaders have rightly condemned the offer, while good working people of the city of Newcastle remain in fear of the loss of their livelihood.
This brings me to the Newport issue. It is appropriate to raise this matter in this place because the Draconian measures taken by the Victorian Government against the trade unions have been enthusiastically applauded by this Government’s leaders. Trade union leaders visiting this country in past weeks have been appalled both by the nature of the Government’s so-called offer on shipbuilding and by the savagery of the Victorian response on Newport. They say that no trade union in the world could accept either. Let us look at what the unions have done in Victoria over the Newport issue. Certainly they have maintained bans on the building of this power station, but they have done so for good and cogent reasons which have been supported by men of science and others in the community who have been led to say: ‘Thank God for the unions because they are the only thing standing between the community and potential disaster’. The unions did not take their decision lightly. The Newport issue has been the subject of long and intelligent debate. By a majority vote the unions came down on the side of maintaining the bans. Now they have gone further in a genuine effort to find a compromise which has been lacking in the Victorian Government’s approach to this problem.
The unions have asked for a wide-ranging inquiry into Victoria’s power requirements and an examination of alternative sites for the power station. Let us look at the proposed terms of reference for such an inquiry. It will inquire into the necessity for an intermediate load power station, including an assessment of the present capacity to ascertain whether it can provide for present and future variations in demand. It will inquire into the State Electricity Commission projections on electrical energy needs and the capacity of the system to supply them. It will examine alternative sources of power and the ability to deliver that power in Victoria, particularly through a stabilisation technology for the system. It will examine matters not considered by the previous Newport inquiry- land use, resource use, the economics of electricity generation by natural gas, decentralisation and aesthetics. It will assess alternative sites existing in Victoria for new power stations. I ask: Is that irresponsible? Is that holding the State to ransom? Is that an attempt to take over from the elected Government? It certainly is not. It is a reasonable conclusion reached by concerned men and women with the future needs, comforts and prosperity of the people of Victoria very much in mind.
Do we get this level of concern from the other side? Do we get an intelligent approach which seeks to look at the problem of all energy resources in the broad and to make the most efficient use of all resources? We do not. What we get is an exercise in the politics of confrontation, an almost lunatic determination to build the Newport power station at all costs, to the extent that the issue has become the focus of crisis in Victoria. The hysterical reaction of the Hamer Government to the continuation of the unions’ ban on the building of the Newport power station demonstrates that its professed concern for the people of that State is hypocritical. That Government’s solution to the stopping of one project is to stop all projects, including schools, hospitals, and sewerage and water installations, which are all vitally needed by the community. The next trick in the Hamer Government’s reactionary repertoire is to introduce anti-union legislation within the politics of confrontation to create havoc and civil strife. This Government selfrighteously says that the unions have acted contrary to the interests of the people of Victoria and that it gets back to the simple question of who is running the State. The unions are saying in the first instance that the power station is not required at the proposed Newport site; that it should be built elsewhere. They are saying further that a power station of the type proposed for the Newport site may not be needed at all, and there is abundant evidence to support this second contention.
It has been put to the people of Melbourne that the opposition to Newport is being mounted by a coalition of the power-hungry Left and unrealistic eco-freaks. This Government denegrates responsible people who make up such bodies as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Port Phillip Conservation Council and the Williamstown Conservation Society. Certainly the environment- the pollution of an already polluted atmosphere-is an issue in the struggle against the Newport proposal. But it is not the only one. The use of land resources close to the city, the wicked misuse of scarce fuel resources- indeed the whole question of a rational resource policy- are equally factors in the Newport debate. All of these factors have been ignored by the empire building bureaucracy of the State Electricity Commission and by the Hamer Government.
Let us deal with the environmental issue first before getting down to the issue of whether the Newport power station or something like it is needed in Victoria. One scientific opinion on air pollution and the Newport issue concludes:
The photochemical air pollution problem in Melbourne is already bad, and it will get worse -
I interpolate and say ‘if -
Newport begins operating. To allow these increases, plus that from Newport, to be added to an already bad situation seems to indicate that the official goal of the Environment Protection Authority and the Government that is to clean up Melbourne’s air pollution is not being taken seriously.
Another opinion concludes that the emission of oxides of nitrogens for Newport ‘will contribute to the severity and probably the frequency of photochemical smogs over Melbourne, which ave been increasing in recent years’. Mr I. C. Cochrane, lecturer in electrical engineering at the University of Melbourne, makes this comment on the Newport project:
The Newport station was intended to provide electric power for weekday industrial and domestic load plateau of many hundreds of megawatts. Because it would pollute Melbourne and deplete the natural gas resources of the State its construction was banned by the trade unions. However the load plateau can be reduced and the need for Newport eliminated, given appropriate policy and consumer cooperation.
– The SEC drones on-like the honourable member’s bees, and we have learned to live with that- about the absolute need for the Newport power station to cater for assumed levels of demand for electric power in the future. It is quite clear that the predicted demand is a direct result of the SEC’s own prodigal marketing and tariff policies in the absence of i rational energy policy. The SEC has actively discouraged community awareness. The Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee), who is carrying on a conversation with the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and who sold his soul for the front bench, is probably riving some unwieldy words of advice. The need for energy conservation has encouraged high levels of energy use. Ms Deborah White, a lecturer in building science at the University of Melbourne, in a penetrating study of whether we can afford the Newport power station, had this to say:
Not only is the need for Newport the direct and predictable result of the SEC’s past marketing and tariff policies, but the Commission’s present policies are designed to continue exponential growth in energy consumption into the twenty-first century. With a predicted growth rate of 6.6 per cent, this means that demand will be encouraged to double every 1 1 years. By the year 2020 consumption of electricity is expected (hoped?) to increase 16 times. Meanwhile Victoria’s population growth rate has dropped to less than 1 per cent and is likely to decline steadily.
Researcher White goes on to say:
It is clear that it is in fact the enormous predicted increase in the use of domestic electric appliances by 1988 for which Newport is said to be needed. The increased consumption is in all cases at least partly the direct result of SEC promotion and marketing. The SEC, however, continues to threaten the community with industrial power shortages, stand-downs and unemployment if Newport is not built immediately.
The Newport power station represents a wantonly wasteful use of the ndeniably scarce resource of natural gas. In fact, it must come as a surprise to many people that you need to use natural gas to run an intermediate electric power generating plant such as that proposed for Newport. Using gas to supply electricity requires at least 1.7 times the gas required by the more direct gas stove. The competition to sell resourcewasteful electric stoves in competition with the Gas and Fuel Corporation, which operates under the same Minister, is an indictment of the lack of a fuels policy in the Victorian Government. High peak loads are also the most expensive to supply. The reduction of electric stove installations and the substitution of gas stoves would reduce the total demand curve to provide a more efficient plant use and resource use.
Time does not permit me to go into other alternatives which the evidence suggests are available to Newport. If the alternatives I have put and others are in contention then the inquiry requested by the Victorian unions would determine the best course of action. That is the reality of Newport. That is the sane position and if this Government and other watchdogs of conservatism and reaction in this country would stop baying their demented chorus of hatred against unions we might get somewhere. The annual growth rate projected by the SEC clearly is not sustainable. The Swedish government has recognised the problem of exponential energy consumption rates and is considering a policy which would limit annual growth rates to no more than 2 per cent up to 1985 and from thereon they would either be maintained at that constant level or they would decrease.
The Fraser Government is carrying out this campaign of union bashing in order to pour the ills of the economy over the trade union movement. The Fraser Government has failed to coerce such people as Sir John Moore and his colleagues of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and to force them to become puppets of the Government as regulators of the economy. Having failed, the Minister at the table has got some people in his DepartmentI would like the Minister to reply to this point- to set up the ways and means by which the Government can put the manacles on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and have it do the Government’s dirty work for it by forcing a wage freeze. As far as I am concerned the traditional role of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is to settle industrial disputes as an independent authority without its being coerced by the Minister or by the Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who goes back to 1957 to get a prop for his Government. If the Government contemplates such a step it should have the guts to go to the Australian people on the issue. I offer the warning that attempts to destroy the principles of conciliation and arbitration in the industrial arena has resulted in the demise of governments lead by Stanley Melbourne Bruce in Australia and Mr Edward Heath in the United Kingdom. The same fate awaits this incompetent Government. If the Government believes that it is going to lead the Australian people up the garden path by this deception then it has another think coming. It will not alter the fact that the Government is on a disaster course. It is destroying the Australian economy and trying to batter the Australian unions into submission.
– I think that possibly the one interesting factor in a remarkably uninteresting speech from the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) was the fact that he did not refer to the matter of public importance that he himself has raised. The whole tenor of his speech was devoted to a lot of irrelevancies which had nothing to do with the matter before the House. I should like to analyse the matter proposed for discussion by the honourable member for Melbourne. I should like to analyse the matter and discuss for a moment the accuracy or inaccuracy of his suggestions. From the time that this Government took office we have sought to establish effective working relations with the peak union councils and the Australian Council of Trade Unions in particular, certainly to a greater extent than his Government did when it was in office, and to a greater extent then any government has done for many years. We have continued these efforts that we started immediately on coming to office 12 months ago. I should like to give some illustration of the sort of action I am talking about.
About this time last year we held discussions with Mr Hawke for the unions and Mr Polites for the employers on the establishment of a national labor consultative council. We hoped that it would be formed to enable detailed consideration of issues affecting the industrial scene. It is a matter of regret to the Government that the ACTU so far has not seen fit to agree to participate in that body. I would like to take this opportunity of saying that the offer remains open.
We have consulted with unions and employers on industrial legislation before it has been introduced this year. When sensible suggestions were made to amend the Government’s legislation we accepted them. Major discussions were held between the Government and the unions last May which lasted about 2 days. The meeting was chaired by the Prime Minister and was attended on the Government side, by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), the Treasurer (Mr Lynch), the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton), myself, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard), and the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) together with permanent heads and other senior advisers. I doubt that any government in Australia has been prepared to participate in such a way in face to face discussions with unions at such a high level over such an extended period of time.
Far from denigrating the trade union movement these sorts of discussions have sought to recognise the important role which we accept it. has in the community. At the same time, no government would be responsible if it were to refrain from speaking out on issues when it believes that the behaviour of particular groups is not consistent with the overall interest of the community. That applies whether it is unions, employers, or interested groups of various kinds. It is open to unions and to every group in the community to express and to seek to promote views which they hold on any particular matter which is of direct interest to their members. We, as a responsible Government take account of the wide variety of views which are expressed. It is for the Government, elected as it has been and responsible to the electorate, to make the final decision and to accept the responsibility. It is not for unions or any other group to use their industrial or other power to prohibit the implementation of decisions which the Government has undertaken.
The proposal which is before us today for the discussion of a matter of public importance proves that the Opposition has lost contact with the real world. The fact remains that the honourable member for Melbourne did not speak about the form of words which appear on the notice paper. Taking the proposal on face value, it proves that the Opposition has lost touch with the real world. I cannot imagine why the Opposition choose to propose this discussion in the form that it has. Every day there is more and more evidence that people are getting sick and tired of a few leaders- I emphasise that- of the trade union movement disrupting the economic and social life of this country; denying their own members the right to work; denying goods and services to the public; and making unreal demand on the resources of the country. In fact, the stage has been reached where the only real major obstacle to Australian recovery is the behaviour of a few leaders of the trade union movement. Every poll that is taken confirms that people believe that this minority of union leaders is abusing the considerable power that they have. It is interesting to note that this opinion is shared by many of the rank and file members of the trade union movement itself. The Labor movement has lost touch with reality and some of the leaders of the trade union movement also have lost touch with reality. The proper functions of the trade unoins are being swamped by the irresponsible actions of a few- a few who do not have the best interests of their members as their objective; a few who, in pursuit of their own political ideologies, are quite prepared to keep their members out of work and prevent the creation of jobs. There are so many examples of this sort of action that it is difficult to identify all of them. Perhaps the most glaring example is the one to which the honourable member for Melbourne devoted the greater part of his speech- that is the ban on the building of the Newport power station in Victoria. The ban itself is costing hundreds of jobs which otherwise would be available to people who would be building the power station. Make no mistake about it: The ban has nothing to do with the legitimate aims of the trade union movement. It is a blatant attempt to take over the role of government irrespective of the interests of the people of Victoria. The project has been the subject of the most detailed examination on environmental grounds. The honourable member for Melbourne seems to ignore the fact that the Environmental Protection Authority in Victoria has looked into this matter in the greatest detail and completely cleared the project. If the power needs of Victoria are to be met in the most economical way, it is essential that this project proceed. I am informed that the extra cost of building somewhere else the power station proposed for Newport would be approximately $100m. That unquestionably would raise substantially the cost of power in Victoria and that, in turn, would add higher costs to an already inflated cost structure.
It is probable that, in addition, there will be a shortage of power in Victoria as a result of the delay in getting the power station built. This will mean that industries which would have been set up in Victoria will be delayed or perhaps will not be set up at all. This means further the loss of jobs- many jobs- for years ahead. There is only one group of people responsible for this state of affairs, and that is a small number of trade union leaders who quite deliberately are creating direct unemployment now and much greater unemployment prospects in the future in Victoria. If that is what Opposition members regard as an example of the trade union movement being involved in matters of legitimate interest, I can assure them that they are the only people who do. Let us look at another dispute and stack it up against the criteria that have been set out in the matter proposed for discussion this morning. I refer to the ban on the delivery of mail to the John Fairfax newspaper company in Sydney. The ban on the delivery of mail to that company was imposed by a union which had no interest or no concern in the dispute with that company. Do Opposition members regard that as a legitimate use of trade union influence? Do they support that sort of ban or that sort of action? If they do, and if they regard that action as legitimate, let us hear them say so.
There is another form of industrial action, and that is the making of excessive wage claims. I stress the word ‘excessive’. A good example of this is provided by some 60 members of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association and the Electrical Trades Union who were employed by the J. Ray McDermott company on the Bass Strait oil platform construction project. These men have been on strike since 7 October in support of claims for an even time work cycle. These men currently are employed on a work cycle of 14 days on and 7 days off. They are striking in support of a claim for a work cycle of 7 days on and 7 days off, with no reduction in pay. If agreed to, this claim would mean in effect that they would work 61 days less a year for the same amount of pay. It is a claim that is clearly outside the wage fixing principles of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The dispute has been before Mr Justice Coldham on a number of occasions. The company concerned has indicated its willingness to have the outstanding claims arbitrated; but the unions have always refused to do this.
The extraordinary aspect is that 75 per cent of those employed on the project, who are members of the Federated Ironworkers Association and the Australian Workers Union, have accepted the company’s offers of improved working conditions. They are quite ready and prepared to resume work. So, the strike is being continued only by a minority of employees who are directly causing the unemployment of fellow workers. It is interesting to note the pay that these people are receiving. Honourable members should remember that these men are on a work cycle of 14 days on and 7 days off. The lowest paid worker on this project currently receives almost $30,000 a year. The highest paid worker on the project is paid approximately $38,000 a year. The wage claims which they have made would add, from memory, some $8,000 a year to the levels of wages that I have just quoted. The Australian economy just cannot stand claims of that magnitude. There is no way in the world that employment can be maintained, let alone new jobs created, if that sort of action is pursued.
There are dozens of other examples of this kind of thing contributing directly to unemployment. They are a constant reminder of the truth of a comment made by a previous Labor Party Treasurer not so long ago when he said that a rise in one man’s pay packet can cost another man his job. The trade union movement itself cannot afford to let this small minority of leaders, this militant minority, continue to deny jobs to other people and continue to delay economic recovery in this country. The honourable member for Melbourne has done one service to the House today in enabling this question to be aired. It gives me no pleasure to say that a small minority of trade union leaders are directly engaged in action which is preventing their members from getting jobs and preventing jobs from being created for those people whom they have put out of work, so that they can resume productive employment and a satisfying life. So, if the honourable member’s action m proposing this subject for discussion as a matter of public importance today has done nothing else, it has enabled this House to have a look at actions which quite clearly are contrary to the best interests of the trade union movement and contrary to the best interests of the Australian community.
-The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) accused the Opposition of losing touch with reality. I suggest that his own statement, that the irresponsible action of a few trade union officials was preventing economic recovery in this country, shows how much out of touch with reality this Government has become. The fact is that, despite the Minister’s protestations, in the period it has been in office this Government has engaged in a campaign of denigration and vilification of at least part of the trade union movement. In fact, when the Government talks about only a few people being involved, usually it is accusing the trade union movement of action which encompasses many more than just a few people. The Newport project dispute, to which I will come later, is a good example of that.
Firstly, let me say that even before this Government came to power its members ran a campaign of vilification against trade union officials. They concentrated on a few unions, such as the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, and said that the leaders were unrepresentative of their unions because they were elected by a very small proportion of the membership. The sheer cynicism of the action of Government members in that regard has been shown by what has happened this year. The Government, having provided for compulsory secret postal ballots for the election of union officials, found that that legislation had endangered the tenure of office of some ultra right wing officials. The Government then passed legislation to allow union officials to be elected by an amazingly small proportion of their union membership. For instance, approximately 0.02 per cent of the membership now can elect the officials of unions which decide to adopt the collegiate system. The sheer cynicism of the Government’s action in this regard has been amply displayed.
Members of the Government Parties have blamed the union movement for various problems existing today. The Minister has mentioned some of them in this debate. For instance, in regard to the economy there is no doubt that the Government has tried to use the union movement as a whipping boy for its failure to get the economy going. We heard that claim from the Minister who preceded me. In regard to wage indexation, the Government, having broken its promise to support wage indexation, has attacked the trade union movement for not accepting a form of wage indexation which would mean drastic cuts in the real wage levels of workers. To expect the trade union movement to support drastic cuts in the real level of wages is absolutely absurd, particularly given the Government’s initial promise. Yet, that is the line that the Government has pursued.
The same can be said with respect to strikes. The Government has tried to pretend that strikes have been so high that this has been a problem in regard to economic recovery in this country. The fact is that, with the exception of the various strikes on the Medibank issue, with which I will deal in a moment, the number of strikes in Australia this year has been extraordinarily low. In the first 7 months of this year, excluding Medibank strikes, the number of working days lost has been 56 per cent less than the number of working days lost last year. So, Medibank strikes excepted, there has been a much lower level of strike activity. The Government cannot blame that level of strike action for the problems that it has in regard to the economy.
It is true that strikes have been held on the Medibank issue. On one day, some 2 million working days were lost. Overall, the number of working days lost this year is slightly in excess of what it was in the period up to August last year. Nevertheless, the fact remains that only 4 per cent of all strikes have been politically motivated or motivated by sociological reasons such as environmental issues. The number of working days lost this year is only fractionally higher than the number lost last year. Let us put this into context and compare it with losses being caused to the economy through unemployment. If the Government were able to put another 100 000 people back to work it would have achieved 14 million extra working days in the course of the first 7 months of this year. As against that there have been 1.2 million working days lost through strikes apart from the Medibank strike. If we include the Medibank strike the figure is just over 3 million. That puts the losses to the economy into context. Losses to the economy from strikes are minor when compared with losses through unemployment.
Then the Government has blamed the unions for the destruction of particular industries, particularly the ship building industry. In its denigration it ignored the union’s actions in relation to the shipbuilding industry and it continually ignored the basic problems which that industry is having internationally, such as the problems of low prices from the Japanese which are causing tremendous difficulties in the shipbuilding industry in Western Europe. It also ignores the paucity of new investment in the industry in this country and the fact that the industry is operating on a one off or two off basis all the time without specialisation. These factors are very important in relation to productivity but they get practically no mention from Ministers who discuss the shipbuilding industry in this country. Their whole emphasis is on eliminating strikes. In fact over the past year or so the unions have gone a long way towards eliminating strikes and stoppages in the shipbuilding industry. Demarcation disputes have virtually disappeared. Again the Government is using the unions as an excuse for problems that it has in that industry.
Denigrating union motives in other disputes such as the Newport power station dispute has also been popular with this Government. In fact the actions of the unions in placing bans on Newport have not resulted from the actions of a few. They have been the result of the action of a majority of delegates to the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne, not some small unrepresentative group of militants but a majority of the unionsjust a majority admittedly, but a majority. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations have said that the motivation of the unions is political. Patently that is untrue. The unions’ motivation in this dispute has been utterly altruistic. Their motivation principally has been one of the environment but there are also other issues, as the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) mentioned, such as town planning and resources.
If we look at the environmental issues just briefly we can see why the unions are so concerned. There is a great amount of evidence about now regarding the poisonous level of the atmosphere in Melbourne. If we look at the history of the granting of the licence for the power station in Newport we can see that in fact the Government pressured the Environmental Protection Authority and the Appeals Board in a way which enabled the Newport power station to be given the okay. The fact is that after the first decision by the Environmental Protection Authority the State Electricity Commission appealed it. Because the limits set were too tight conservation bodies appealed it as well. When the matter went to the Environmental Protection Authority Appeal Board the Board increased the allowable limits for ozone in the atmosphere so that the power station could get a licence. To give the House an idea of the enormous increase, it provided a standard of 1 3 parts per 100 million for ozone in the atmosphere compared with 6 parts per 100 million laid down by the World Health Organisation and 8 parts per 100 million laid down by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. So there is no doubt that the Appeal Board lifted the standard to provide a licence for the power station because it was pressured very hard by the Victorian Government. Through those cases the State Electricity Commission said that it would build the station whatever happened at the inquiry.
Whilst those inquiries were going on the Victorian Government let contracts worth $100m relating to Newport despite the fact that it did not have environmental approval. Then it said that if the unions did not let the project go ahead $100m would be wasted. It is the fault of that government because it took quite precipitate action in letting those contracts before it had environmental approval.
The fact is that the Newport power station dispute is only representative of what is a developing trend in this country and the rest of the western capitalist world- that unions are increasingly concerned not only with straight industrial issues such as wages and conditions of employment but workers, through their unions, are becoming increasingly concerned about what they do with their labour. They want to be involved in management decision making and they are challenging managerial prerogatives. That is one very substantial development in worker participation. It is not just happening in this country but is happening right across the western capitalist world.
This raises the issue of whether we believe that workers should have the right, either individually or collectively, to withhold their labour from projects which they believe are contrary to the best interests of society. This Australian Government denies them that right, as indeed do all the conservative governments in this country. The Victorian Government denies it to the point where it has introduced and passed legislation which virtually amounts to civil conscription. It has said that workers who will not work on vital State projects, as it declares them, can be fined; that people who oppose such projects can be fined. This is a form of civil conscription. It is opposed strongly by the Labor movement, the Australian Labor Party and the Opposition in this Parliament. It goes totally against the evolving role of unions and extends beyond their conventional industrial issues. The answer to all this is to extend the role of unions to allow them to be involved in the planning process. No one wants this confrontation at the end after a decision has been made and investment has been made. The project then has to be blocked by union decision. It is better if workers are involved in the planning process at the very outset. That is proper worker participation in management and governments eventually will have to abide by it
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– This morning we have heard 2 speeches from Opposition members in support of a matter of public importance. It is regrettable that neither speaker spoke to the subject which was meant to be the substance of the debate.
-That is totally untrue.
-Let me go through this matter item by item and take the opportunity to define the terminology used. Let us analyse what the Opposition has said and compare that with the facts of the situation. We were told that the Federal Government had instituted a campaign to denigrate the trade union movement. We were also told that it denies the trade union movement the right to be involved in matters of legitimate trade union interest. Let me go through those step by step. Where is this campaign? As the constitutionally elected, government of the people of Australia it is our responsibility and ours alone to lay down the guidelines for the economic development of this nation-economic development which at this stage has faltered. One of the reasons why it has faltered is because there is a small group- I emphasise that it is a small group- of militant communist and left-wing trade union leaders who have made it quite clear, at every opportunity they get, that they do not like the arbitration system, that they do not wish to live under the social system and that they wish to destroy the system.
Let us look at the realities. If they do not like the system they can go and live in the Soviet Union. If they wish to destroy the system they can take to the streets where they will be subject to the laws of the land. But if they are prepared to work through the constitutional system, the electoral system of this Parliament, they have the right to do that too. What I fail to see is how a small group, and it is such a small group, can be encouraged by the Australian Labor Party to believe that it can use its power to destroy, to denigrate and to disrupt the daily activities of the majority of Australian people and of its own trade union rank and file members.
If it were not for the fact that one-third of all trade union members vote for non-Labor parties we could never form a government. If honourable members examine the trade union movement as a percentage of the total workforce they will see that the trade union movement represents only just over 50 per cent. What about the remainder? Is it not to be given any rights? What about the millions of people in Australia who do not belong to trade unions but who dutifully live by the democratic system which they understand and which they respect? Does the Opposition seriously suggest that the Government, for some extraordinary reason, is presenting itself as a campaigner against the rights of the trade unions? We are here because the majority of Australians put us here. We are not going to fail them because a small group of trade unionists- I again emphasise that point- decided that it does not like us, does not like our policies, does not like the system of government or anything that comes from it.
When we consider the harassment which has fallen upon the average trade unionist, in the last few months, in fact in the period from January to August this year, trade unionists and workers as a whole in Australia lost $95, 894m in wages. In case members of the Opposition do not wish to accept this fact, I stress mat when trade unionists lose their wages they suffer as much as anybody else. When the ordinary people of Australia cannot take a train, a bus or a hydrofoil, they get upset and say to the Government: ‘You are the elected government. We put you in power to control these situations’. Yet a small group of people including the Opposition is denying the Government its right to administer adequately the activities of the Australian economy. May I remind those who wish to destroy our democratic system of government that a democracy must exist on a consensus. A government cannot effectively carry out what is required of it by the law and by the traditions of the parliamentary system if a small group of people are encouraged to believe that they can usurp power outside the democratic process.
Let us be quite frank about it. We have been told about the so-called democracy in the trade union movement. How could anyone believe that the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union is democratic when 1.1 per cent of the membership of approximately 180 000 can elect the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary? Honourable members opposite have the temerity to talk about union democracy. In this week’s Bulletin there is an article on a book entitled Inside Australia’s Top 100 Trade Unions. The article contains an interesting quotation from Mr J. D. Garland, the Secretary of the AMWU. He was asked this question:
Statistics show that the AMWU represents 3 per cent of the work force and is responsible for some 30 per cent of disputes. Why?
He gave 3 reasons. One of them was:
The union has for a long period not accepted the capitalist system as one which either in the short or long term is in the best interests of the working people.
He speaks for the union. As I pointed out, he was elected by 1.1 per cent of the union membership. Not one member of this Parliament would have the temerity to make such an allegation on behalf of his electorate. Yet certain people in the trade union movement are encouraged to believe that power once gained by various means is held at all costs. We were elected to protect the interests of all Australians- trade unionists and non-trade unionists alike. We cannot sacrifice the Australian people because a small group are prepared to use their power in an irresponsible manner. Anyone reading the newspapers will appreciate what continuous strike action, often on very minor matters, means to the Australian economy in lost wages and productivity. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about mass action by trade unions. What he meant was mass anarchy. He was referring to the export of uranium, and said that the trade union movement must stop the export of uranium. Fortunately for Australia the Labor Party and the trade union movement have since seen the error of his ways. This man who sets himself up as Deputy Leader of the Opposition finds himself totally isolated on that subject. Nevertheless he urged direct union action against government policy. What of the rights of the ordinary people? What of government rights having been elected on a platform which the people accepted? Is it right that a militant handful, representing perhaps 30 per cent of the trade union membership, which is the absolute maximum constituency for which they speak, can usurp the right to speak for the trade union movement? I question their right to speak when so many of them have not been elected by an acceptable democratic process. Upon what authority do they walk roughshod over the rights of the Australian people? In the Australian of 3 June 1976 thiseadline appeared:
Strikers walk off for the fiftieth time.
That was from a building project and we wonder why the Australian economy has gone into the doldrums. In the Australian of 22 July this headline appeared: 7000 jobs hang on bans decision.
When a small group of people has the power to decide whether 7000 other men and women have the right to work where is democracy? What became of the rights of the majority? There is another headline:
Union threat to stall Tasmanian shipping.
We know the shambles and difficulties which Tasmania faces. The Government is well aware of those problems. But where lie the interests of this small extreme group of communist-led trade union officials who sabotage the Tasmanian people who go to the polls in a few days? What thanks can they give to honourable members opposite for their efforts? I quote from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 September. The headline reads:
Officer forced to pay men for not working.
The article states:
A shipping officer told a royal commission today that he had been forced to pay men who had not worked, and had also paid a port levy, payroll tax and insurance for the time they had not worked.
Another headline reads:
Air traffic controllers disrupt all airlines.
The article referred to 1000 air traffic controllers who lodged a claim with the Public Service Board. It was rejected by the Board. What did they do? They went on strike, stopped every airline and caused confusion throughout Australia. Another headline referred to a dispute stopping work on a hospital in Tasmania. It was the State’s largest building project. Another headline reads:
Brewery men to strike over hours.
Dispute between unions threatens work on docks.
Every day it is the same. It might be true in a statistical sense that the number of trade union strikes this year is fewer than it was previously, but most of the strike action is controlled by communistdominated unions whose leaders do not care for their members, who do not wish to work within the arbitration system to improve it, but wish only to destroy the electee! Australian Government and to weaken the standard of living of the Australian people. It is our responsibility to defend these people, and we shall do it.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion has now concluded.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The prime purpose of this Bill is to reconstitute the Australian Housing Corporation in accordance with the Government’s announced policy and to change its name, nature and function so that its sole responsibility will be the administration of the Defence Service Homes Scheme. The Liberal and National Country Parties stated prior to the 1975 election that the activities of the Australian Housing Corporation would be critically examined. Following that examination, the Government decided that the Corporation should be abolished, a decision which was announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 2 February 1976.
When the Australian Housing Corporation Bill 1975 was debated in this Parliament, the attitude adopted by the Liberal and National Country Parties was that the Australian Housing Corporation represented an unnecessary and undesirable duplication of services already available, particularly those services provided by the various State governments. The Government has found no evidence to the contrary in its investigations. On the other hand, the Government is wholeheartedly committed to the preservation and continuation of the Defence Service Homes Scheme, which we see as a scheme of historical and social importance for a large number of Australians.
This Bill therefore provides for the establishment of a Defence Service Homes Corporation, the affairs of which will be conducted within the departmental framework by the Secretary to the Department of Veterans ‘ Affairs. The very recent establishment of this Department is evidence of the Government’s interest in the welfare of those who have served this country in the armed Services.
Those provisions of the Australian Housing Corporation Act concerned with the powers and functions of the Corporation, other than those related to the provision of assistance under the Defence Service Homes Scheme, are repealed. The Corporation will be renamed the Defence Service Homes Corporation and continue its existance as a corporate entity solely for the purpose of administering the Defence Service Homes Act. The Australian Housing Corporation Act as amended will be renamed the Defence Service Homes Corporation Act. When the Australian Housing Corporation was established, the assets and liabilities of the Defence Service Homes Scheme were taken over by the Corporation and new financial arrangements were developed to facilitate the provision of benefits at that time under the proposed Scheme. The staff administering the Scheme, who had always been members of the Public Service, were lent to the Corporation and employed by it outside of the Public Service Act under the provisions of the Australian Housing Corporation
Act. To ensure that there is no break in continuity in the administration of the Defence Service Homes Scheme, the finance and staffing provisions contained in the Australian Housing Corporation Act will be retained for the time being and the present staff will continue in employment under the new Corporation.
I wish to take the opportunity to indicate the Government’s appreaation of the contribution made by the members of the Board of the Australian Housing Corporation during their tenure of office, under the leadership of their distinguished Chairman, Mr A. M. Ramsay, C.B.E. These members have given of their time and have individually and collectively made their contribution towards the operation of the Corporation in its short life. Their contribution is appreciated by the Government. Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report: Construction of a proposed primary school at Katherine South, N.T.
The proposal is for the construction of an airconditioned primary school for 480 students plus 50 pre-school children. It will be of a modular design being developed for future Northern Territory primary schools. It is proposed to phase completion of the school with the objective of having a learning unit for 240 students and a multi-purpose hall available for occupation from the beginning of 1979, and the remainder by June 1979. At completion the school will comprise the following accommodation:
Two 240 student learning units
One library/resources centre
One administration building
One multi-purpose unit
One single unit pre-school.
The estimated cost of the proposal at November 1976 prices is $2.6m. I table plans of the proposed work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 18 November, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not intend to oppose this Bill. However, I would like to recount a little history of this matter because we feel that a rather ironical situation has arisen. From about the early 1960s when the Liberal and Country Parties were in power chemists had agitated for a continual review of the remuneration they received for dispensing prescriptions under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. In the course of that period, namely from about March 1961 to July 1970- a quite considerable period- there was a minimal increase of 2c a prescription. When Labor came into office in 1972 the chemists received a fee of 45c for dispensing national health prescriptions. Over the course of our time in government we had many discussions and were often confronted by the pharmacists. As a result of the negotiations that took place during that short period of 3 years we increased the fee they received by 50 per cent. In other words, it went from 45c to about 62c.
As the time of our disposal, as it were, from the government benches we had started discussions with the pharmacists with the idea of setting up some form of arbitration because it was quite clear that this brawl would never end unless both sides agreed to independent arbitration in some form or other. We had not resolved the problem, I admit that. The pharmacists were still unhappy but at least they were interested in our proposals and we were proceeding with some constructive discussions to try to resolve the problem. I repeat that the pharmacists were still not happy. They still had a claim in for more money which in sum total ran into millions of dollars.
One of the many promises made by the Liberal and National Country Parties was a promise to resolve this problem immediately they got into office and to satisfy all the needs and the anxieties of chemists for long term security in this area and so on. But of course, as has been the case with many of the promises of this Government, once having gained power it sought to buy its way out of this matter by the cheapest way possible. It made a gesture to resolve the problem. It tried to buy the chemists off by offering an increase of 5c a prescription. Part of the deal was to be that that would wipe the slate clean. Whatever the previous complaints of the chemists, from then on there would be no more. They would have to then wait a further lapse of time for changes in the cost structure and so on to occur before they put in a further claim. Needless to say the pharmacists have refused to accept this bribe. Instead they have proceeded to campaign and have even gone to the extent of instituting High Court proceedings to try to force the Government to adhere to what they consider was an agreement entered into by the previous Liberal Government, not even by the previous Labor Government.
We welcome the fact that after so many months the Government has come to its senses and has introduced this legislation. Of course, it is very doubtful whether that was necessary, but still I will not quibble about it. It at least represents some action. The legislation proposes to establish a joint committee consisting of 4 representatives from the pharmacists and 4 representatives from the Public Servicepresumably they will come from the Department of Health although one of them may come from the Treasury, I do not know, because that is not specified- and to be presided over by a chairman who will be a Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. This is a very pompous structure, but the point of the exercise really is to get an arbitrator to arbitrate between the Government and the pharmacists. If that is the way in which the Government wants to handle this matter, that is OK. But if one reads the legislation carefully that is in essence all it is. It is basically what we were proposing to do when we were deposed. I shall not recapitulate the history of this matter. I think there is no doubt that the pharmacists saw that whilst they were still dissatisfied with what we had done they were more dissatisfied with the inadequacies of the Liberal Government, and they continue to be dissatisfied. Hopefully this move will resolve the problems.
For these reasons the Opposition does not intend to oppose this legislation. I have simply sought to mention some of the facts behind this matter and to make the point that, as is common with many of the promises made by the Liberal and National Country Parties, now those parties have gained power their promises in this area are not worth anything. It has only been the efflux of time and the increasing pressures from various sections of the community that has forced the Government to - finally honour the promises which it very freely made. I suggest that those promises were very significant in persuading the community to trust the Liberals and to dispose of the last Labor Government. I fear that the community is learning a lesson the hard way. We support the legislation.
-This National Health Amendment Bill, of some 9 pages will amend a small but offensive part of section 99 of the National Health Act. Its emergence comes at a time when thousands of pharmacists were beginning to give up hope that they would ever see justice in the determination of their remuneration for dispensing prescriptions under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Although successive governments may have been oblivious to the fact, a few words in section 99 have been the bane of scores of master pharmacists throughout the length and breadth of this country. No State or region has escaped the cancerous effects of the diminishing returns to pharmacists as a result of government and ministerial domination of the profession by the use of section 99.
Over the years a number of senior bureaucrats have been blamed for the deteriorating position of the master pharmacist. It has been claimed that these senior public servants have been insensitive to the plight of pharmacy, that they have been toadying to their superiors and the Minister, and that they have been subject to extreme pressures from Treasury and the government to contain the overall cost of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. It must be remembered that despite substantial increases in the patient contribution for general benefits from SOc per item when a charge was first introduced in 1960 to $1 in 1971, then to $1.50 in 1975, and finally to the present charge of $2 which was implemented in March this year, the total cost of the scheme has mushroomed to $3 17m in 1975-76. That figure does not include about $95m, which represents the patient contribution. This year the estimated cost will be $3 10m, with the cost being contained owing to the full year of operation of the patient contribution at $2 an item. Nevertheless, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme has provided medicinal preparations for all Australians at a substantially reduced cost at the point of delivery. It has been of inestimable value in maintaining a good standard of health for our people. It surely must rank as one of the finest schemes of its type in the world.
I return to the amendment to section 99 of the principal Act and illustrate to the House the offensive nature of but a few words which have proved to be the albatross around the neck of the pharmacists of this nation for more than a decade. Section 99 ( 1 ) states:
The Minister may, after consultation with the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia determine-
the rates by reference to which, and the manner in which, the Commonwealth price of a pharmaceutical benefit is to be ascertained for the purposes of this section.
In effect, all that is required of the Minister for Health is that he consult with representatives of the Pharmacy Guild. He can ask them to morning tea, if you like, and then determine on his own the level of fees pharmacists are to receive. In practice, lengthy inquiries have been conducted by a Joint Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Arrangements; but when there have been deadlocks on vital issues the Minister has had the final say, with no redress provisions being available to the Pharmacy Guild.
What a coincidence it is that this massive Act, with more than 130 sections and more than 250 pages, should have the section for pharmacists’ fee determination in such a form numbered 99. There is always something superstitious about 99. It has a rather eerie ring to it. Like the batsman dismissed one short of the coveted century, pharmacists have been one off. They have not quite made the grade in their bid for justice on fee determination. There is no denying that some chemist shops would have closed down had there been no pharmaceutical benefits scheme, or even without the squeeze applied to that scheme in recent years. Pharmacy must accept a fair portion of the blame for the overprovision of outlets. These circumstances are not peculiar to pharmacy. Most other types of businesses have experienced closure brought about by senseless proliferation of outlets and other factors.
The pharmaceutical benefits scheme, particularly since its scope was widened in 1960, has been a major component of the retail pharmacists’ turnover. In those earlier years the scheme was more lucrative, and there is little doubt that this factor lured more pharmacists into retail business. The refusal of successive governments to increase adequately the chemists’ dispensing fee, coupled with diminishing wholesale prices, brought about by considerable pressure and bargaining by Commonwealth Department of Health officials, resulted in progressively lowering the return to the master pharmacists. The pressure and bargaining to which I refer, to obtain lower wholesale prices of drugs, was the result that flowed from the so-called negotiations by Department of Health officials with drug manufacturers. The plight of the drug manufacturers, resulting from years of exposure to these negotiations, should not be dismissed lightly. Their position must be reviewed urgently; otherwise many will cease manufacturing operations in Australia and conduct merely warehousing facilities. Should this happen, many thousands of jobs will be lost.
With wholesale prices kept down to extremely low levels, it meant that the retail pharmacist was receiving less in money terms because his margin on cost remained, and still remains, at 33 to per cent. During these years normal overheads, such as wages, rents, postage, telephone and cleaning charges, etc., showed marked increases, certainly out of all proportion to the return from dispensing fees and profits from the mark-up on drugs. Therefore, the enchantment that existed within retail pharmacy in the early 1960s because returns from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme were fair soon vanished as the squeeze was applied. Many of those lured into opening a pharmacy quickly became disenchanted. It can readily be seen that the Government’s pharmaceutical benefits scheme has played a significant role in the determination of the number of pharmacies in existence, through the widely fluctuating remuneration determined over the years. The normal free play of the market place which controls most businesses was not the controlling factor in retail pharmacy. Arising out of this situation, it is not strange to find that, despite a steadily increasing population, the number of pharmacies has decreased during the past 4 years. I seek leave of the House to have incorporated in Hansard 2 tables which illustrate the downward trend in the number of approved pharmacies in the States and the Commonwealth.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The tables read as follows-
-I thank the House. The first table is taken from the annual report of the Director-General of Health 1975-76. The second table shows figures expressed as percentage reductions. The first table shows that in the 4 years from 30 June 1972 there were 387 fewer pharmacies approved by the Commonwealth Department of Health for the dispensing of pharmaceutical benefits scheme prescriptions. It can be seen from the second table that, with the exception of Tasmania where the decrease has been minimal and Western Australia where a slight increase of 1.01 per cent occurred in 1975-76, the general trend has been one of steady decline. The overall reduction for the 4 years is 6.57 per cent. The closed pharmacies fall Unto 2 categories. There are those which were closed with the stock and fixtures and fittings sold for whatever the owner could get, usually at a major loss on cost. Then there were amalgamations where two or three pharmacies’ stocks, etc., were pooled either in one of the existing premises or in new and usually much larger premises.
This amending Bill is a major achievement for pharmacy and the 5500 retail pharmacy outlets in Australia. In addition to the number of pharmacies forced to close over recent years, it must be realised that there are hundreds of existing retail shops whose owners are barely making a living. In some instances pride keeps them from closing the doors. In other instances it is purely a desire to remain in business and to continue to be one’s own master. This Bill signals the culmination of 1 5 years of bitter argument and counter argument between officials of the Pharmacy Guild, officials of the Department of Health, Ministers for Health and politicians. Bitterness on the part of some senior Guild officials in past years has seen them openly and publicly advising their members not to support a government. Knowing the frustrations of these people, I can well imagine their feelings and how they were motivated to such drastic measures.
I believe that it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the senior negotiators of the Pharmacy Guild. Their fight for many years past has been led by the National President, Alan Russell of South Australia, and by John Scown of Victoria and Alan Grant-Taylor of Queensland. They are to be commended for their tenacity and patience in times when Guild members throughout the country were edgy, dissatisfied and often highly critical. This Government is to be praised for taking a sane approach to the problem and for recognising something which was unfair and unjust and then moving to rectify the anomaly. It should be recognised by all that governments do not have bottomless pits from which to draw money, as is popularly thought by the public at large. To relinquish such a control over an area where substantial expenditure occurs is quite a feat and illustrates the fairness and goodwill of this Government. This speech would be incomplete if I did not commend the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who was prepared to listen, to identify the problems and then to act so swiftly to rectify the anomalous situation.
On a number of occasions over the past 3 years I have spoken in the House and outside it about the difficulties of the profession. I have always been genuine in my expression that I do not carry any special brief for pharmacy, although I retain some retail pharmacy interests. I have criticised various aspects of the profession before; no doubt I will do so again. On this issue I was convinced that justice was not being done. I mention this point because in politics people have the knack of saying: ‘He is only in it for himself. I feel that my colleagues on the Opposition side would confirm my non-partisan approach on many issues and, in relation to this issue, would agree that my support for this measure is not motivated by self-interest. I have oft stated that I am first and foremost a representative of the people; that being a politician is my prime duty. I might add that no political pressure has been brought to bear on the Government to have this decision made, in the sense of any standover tactics or threats of withdrawal of support by the Pharmacy Guild. If that sort of thing had been possible, this move would have been made many years ago.
Pharmacists are not a pressure group. On the contrary, they are a highly respectable band of professional people, basically docile, who perform a tremendous duty in all communities for the general good of mankind. They have no political muscle. There are only 5500 retail pharmacy outlets in Australia. I suggest that they could muster no more than 20 000 votes at best. It is my impression that there is little or no public sympathy in the community for a particular professional group when there is a suggestion that the professional group is inadequately remunerated. It has been a popular misbelief for decades that all master pharmacists are wealthy. Some are, most are not.
So far I have examined the background to the problem and have spoken in some depth on the issues that have occasioned the bringing forward of this amendment. I now turn to the substance of the Bill itself to explain how the changes to the system will be implemented. In essence, independent arbitration is to replace government or political dominance. For the first time the determination of the level of remuneration to pharmacists for dispensing prescriptions will be taken out of the political arena and vested in a body of 9 people who will meet as the Joint Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Arrangements. It will comprise a chairman being a deputy president of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, 4 members nominated by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and 4 officers of the Public Service. The Government has shown good faith in the Pharmacy Guild by giving it complete autonomy with the selection of people it nominates to the Joint Committee. If the Pharmacy Guild desires to terminate the appointment of any or all of its nominees to the Committee, the Minister shall so terminate the appointment or appointments on the recommendation of the Guild. The independent chairman must make his determination m accordance with the Committee’s recommendations, provided the Committee reaches a unanimous decision. If there is dissension the chairman has the power to arbitrate and hand down his personal decision. That decision is binding on both the Pharmacy Guild and the Government. It cannot be meddled with by either side. This is the form of simple arbitration which the Guild has been seeking for years, but to date it has been denied.
The Joint Committee will conduct such inquiries as are necessary to determine dispensing fees to be paid to pharmacists, and cannot meet until all 9 members are present. In other words, a quorum is the full committee. In spite of this excellent measure which should give pharmacy much greater stability, it is really only the beginning of the era of stability for the retail pharmaceutical industry. Much more has to be done and a careful rationalisation of pharmacies must be carried out. It is over to the profession to act sensibly and rationally to ensure that outlets are maintained at a level where the public purpose and, convenience are served while maintaining a fair income for the pharmacist. Pharmacy must learn from the bitter lesson it has attended over the past 15 years.
I am concerned that the qualified pharmacist, a person with valuable training and possessing skills obtained at a tertiary education institute, is wasting a great deal of those skills carrying out present duties. Is the community reaping the full benefit of the pharmacy education dollar? The obvious answer is no. What point is there in training people to a high standard, which should improve with years of experience, if those skills are to be wasted and diminished with the passing of the years? The profession must diversify for the good of the health of the community and for the morale and mental outlook of the individual pharmacist. The pharmacist’s more meaningful role could be achieved in many areas such as the dissemination of information to the community in health education programs and assistance to the medical profession by providing more pharmacological information. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an old cliche not to be dismissed lightly. A health education program conducted through the 5500 pharmacies to our 13.5 million people could save much suffering and reduce the quantity and cost of medical and hospital care. Busy doctors often cannot find the time to study pharmacology, which deals with the specific actions of drugs on the organs and tissues of the body. The pharmacist could develop more expertise in this field and assist doctors.
Already some chemists keep patient medication profiles to avoid drug interactions, allergies and incompatabilities. This is a simple but valuable service much appreciated by the patient and I believe that it would be welcomed by the medical profession. Family planning is another area where the pharmacist could play a useful role. There is surely no need to divert the present quantity of resources into a field like this when the understanding pharmacist, with a little more specialised training in this area, could be fulfilling the function at little cost. I hope that the matters I have raised can be studied in some detail by the Pharmacy Guild, that some plan of diversification can be evolved in consultation with the medical profession and governments and that this Government and the States will take more advantage of the skills and integrity of the pharmacy profession. It is a resource ready to be tapped for the overall benefit of our communities at little cost.
-The honourable member for Petrie (Mr, Hodges) referred to the long standing disagreement between the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Government. He referred to the impact, of the agreement to amend section 99 of the National Health Act which will provide an independent arbitrator.
The core of the dispute over the years has been that the veto power of the Minister for Health has prevented independent arbitration. In an attempt to resolve this long standing dispute, in 1972 the then Minister for Health Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson made an agreement with the Guild to have the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Arrangements, Sir Walter Scott, make some recommendations for adoption by Government. When the Australian Labor Party came to office the Minister for Health, Dr Everingham, confirmed that arrangement. In May 1975 the recommendation was handed down which, if adopted, would cost approximately $73m. The Labor Government at that time did not honour its confirmation of the agreement made by Sir Kenneth Anderson to pay the full amount of $73m. It paid $33m. I am not saying whether that was the right or wrong decision. I am only referring to that point.
Following that, relations between the Pharmacy Guild and the previous Government deteriorated until the Guild was about to issue a High Court writ in November last year. Then the dissolution of the Parliament occurred, we had an election and this Government was returned to power. At that time I was the shadow Minister for Health for the Liberal and National Country parties. I stated:
We will investigate the establishment of a more satisfactory method of setting chemists’ professional fees. As a matter of urgency, a Liberal-National Country Party Government will re-open negotiations with the Pharmacy Guild to satisfactorily conclude the unresolved recommendations of the committee under Sir Walter Scott investigating chemists’ professional fees.
– A good policy, too.
– I want to congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who is sitting at the table, for the implementation of that policy. The initial offer to the Pharmacy Guild by the present Government was 5c, or a total of $15m, which fell short of the disputed figure. In a reaction to this the Pharmacy Guild went ahead and issued the writ. I am one who has said that the Pharmacy Guild acted too abruptly, that it should then have gone into negotiation with the Government on this matter. There are those in the Pharmacy Guild who disagree with me, who say that they tried patience for close to 20 years and it failed, that this was the only course. However, behind the scenes, patient negotiation did continue between the Minister, members of the Government Members Health and Welfare Committee and members of the Pharmacy Guild. That patient negotiation has paid off. An initial agreement was reached between the Minister and the Guild which resulted in the deferment of the writ. Once this Bill has passed through both Houses of the Parliament and the Act has been proclaimed, I understand that the agreement provides that the writ will be withdrawn. I am looking forward to the withdrawal of that writ before Christmas. Not only will that be a great Christmas present for the pharmacists and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, it will also be an acknowldgement of the rebuilding of trust between the retail chemists of Australia and this Government. I join the honourable member for Petrie in congratulating the Minister for Health and the senior officials of the Pharmacy Guild, in particular Mr Alan Russell and Mr John Scown for the patient and constructive negotiations which have brought this divisive issue to a satisfactory conclusion after so many years. However, as the honourable member for Petrie and others have mentioned, that does not mean the end of problems for retail chemists and for pharmacy in Australia. There is a surplus of chemists in certain urban areas and there are problems of viability for chemists in certain country areas. I understand that the Minister has taken up with the Guild the matter of viability of chemists in certain country regions and I look forward to an announcement by the Minister on some procedure that will ensure the continued presence of retail chemists in smaller country communities.
The other basic problem is the form of pharmacy remuneration, as distinct from determination. In my view the form of determination should take into greater account the professional role of the pharmacist and a more positive approach to health care. I will call it sickness prevention rather than drug therapy. I refer to an article entitled ‘Drugs Under Health Insurance Abroad’ in ‘Pink Pages’, the United States Pharmacy Journal dated 8 November 1976. It contains a report of a recent seminar held in the United States organised by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare in which the national health schemes of 6 countries were discussed. Australia was one of the countries that were of considerable interest because it has a national health scheme. Australia has one of the oldest national health schemes in the world and one of the greatest interest to countries in the Western world.
Theodore Goldberg of Wayne State School of Medicine attacked the pharmacy reimbursements systems that are based exclusively on the notion of product transfer, or a commercial transaction. He particularly criticised the British and Australian method of acquisition cost plus mark-up plus fee. He said:
You’re not interested in how we pay, but how much. Pharmacy has taken an out-moded method of payment and carried it to a ridiculous extreme. The Australian system is so backward that you would provide a ‘fee’ for service when there is no service; it boggles the mind. It’s retrogressive, ridiculous, outmoded and permits so little experimentation. For all our faults, there is more innovation and experimentation at the pharmacy level here in the US 0270than any any of your countries have tried.
Australia’s Arthur E. Shields, supported by Britain’s T. Douglas Whittet, agreed that pharmacy reimbursement systems are antiquated and that Australian pharmacists are now locked into the situation. He said:
It’s not easy to change, but if it is to change, pharmacy must demonstrate to government the value of the change.
I do not mean any criticism of anybody quoted or of the fact that at an international seminar people are questioning not the way in which the determination is arrived at, that is, the level of the fee, but whether that is the correct basis for determination. I do not particularly want to start a row with the Pharmacy Guild just at the moment when it is satisfactorily concluding what has been a long standing problem. After talking to pharmacists around Australia, I believe that they recognise that there is still a basic problem of resolving a satisfactory professional approach to pharmacy and to positive attitudes and counselling on health care with the present payment system that we have.
I would also like to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that when members were given copies of the Bill to amend the principal Act, without the principal Act itself, we were given, I think, 1 1 or 12 separate sheets of paper containing various amendments. I know that both the previous Government and this Government have been fairly active in amending different aspects of the National Health Bill. The Minister, probably more than anyone else, hopes that that degree of change will not continue. If that is to be the case, I appeal to the Minister to have a consolidated document fairly soon and get back to one weighty volume rather than chase pieces of paper all over the place. That is not a criticism of the Minister or anybody else. It is just one of the things that has developed. I hope that something can be done about it. To conclude, I once again congratulate the Minister and the leadership of the Pharmacy Guild for the faith which they developed in each other that the policy announced and ennunciated by the Liberal-National Country Parties at the previous election campaign would be honoured. I congratulate them because as a result of this faithful and patient negotiation that commitment has now been honoured.
– in reply- I conclude the debate briefly by thanking honourable members for their contributions that they have made to the second reading debate. I would like to respond to several points made by each of the speakers. Firstly, in response to the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), I make no apology whatsoever for former Liberal-National Country Party Governments. Nor should the Opposition spokesman for Health make any apology for the failure of the former Labor Government to see that justice was done to the Pharmacy Guild. I always believe that justice must at least appear to be done in respect of the determination of services rendered on behalf of the public or on behalf of the Government.
Section 99 of the Principal Act which stood on the statute books for many years, contained a provision that made it very difficult to justify decisions that were taken in respect of determination of professional fees for the dispensing of pharmaceutical benefits. I think therein lies the argument. When a decision was made it was made by a Minister- I suppose one could say in an arbitrary sense- after a joint committee had been unable to come to an agreement. In many cases and at many times it was a very difficult exercise for officers of the Department of Health and members of the Guild. I do not think that we can derive any joy from the fact that this situation existed for as long as it did. The High Court writ was, I believe, about to be filed on 1 1 November last year- that Remembrance Daybut because of the events of 1 1 November last year the High Court writ did not proceed. Because of the events that flowed after 11 November, the High Court writ was subsequentially issued. Discussions continued and because of the success of the negotiations that took place an undertaking has been given by the Pharmacy Guild that once the legislation has been passed by both Houses, it will withdraw that High Court writ.
I take the opportunity to thank the officers of my Department for the work that they have done, work for which very often they were unfairly criticised. The officers of a department must pursue the policy of the government of the day and must live with the consequences of decisions that are taken. I think that a lot of unfair criticism was levelled over the years at the officers of the Department of Health who were acting in accordance with the law of the day and also in accordance with the policies of the governments of the day. I wish to thank them for the efforts that they made. I thank the members of the Health and Welfare Committee, particularly the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges), who have been most interested in this area, for the assistance that they gave to me as the Minister and to the Department. I also thank the members of the Pharmacy Guild for keeping the negotiations going in order to resolve what has been a long standing difference which has caused unnecessary friction between successive governments and the Pharmacy Guild. Members of the Guild, of course, have been essential to the discharge of the National Health Act and also in the dispensing of drugs that are essential, in many cases, in the saving of life and in health treatment.
I pay a tribute to the great work that the chemists are doing around Australia in co-operating with the Government and the public and in working with the medical profession. This is a very important part of health care. I take the point of the honourable member for Murray that there is an important professional role for the chemists to play. It is interesting that some chemists are taking that role very seriously. One chemist in Boorowa is doing some splendid work in counselling patients about the usage of drugs. Hopefully we will see the day when more and more chemists will be able to afford in both a material sense and a time sense to play a greater part in counselling patients in the ways in which the drugs that are dispensed or prescribed for them should in fact be taken. I hope that the day is not too far away.
The honourable member for Petrie also drew attention to one of the real problems that is developing with the number of pharmacies that are going out of business in Australia at present. A great number have found it very difficult to keep going. We are aware of the fact that in some areas there are too many pharmacies. I have had several discussions with the Pharmacy Guild about this matter and we are looking at ways and means of trying to assist in rationalising the number of pharmacies in Australia. I am aware of a general feeling amongst Guild chemists that some pharmacies that have gone out of business should have been kept in business regardless of the overall cost and other pertinent factors. The Pharmacy Guild, I am sure, recognises the need to look at the rationalisation of retail pharmacies. I hope that the Joint Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Arrangements will look at this matter with a view to providing some advice to me, through the Chairman, on whether the
Commonwealth can assist in any approach which may be suggested in this regard.
I agree with the honourable member for Murray that some very real problems exist for pharmacies which provide an essential pharmaceutical service in remote areas of Australia. I go a little further and say that in some cases these pharmacies are almost the only primary source of health care delivery in isolated regions. A number of these pharmacies in my own area exist where no other form of health service exists. They are operating at a loss. Because of the state of their financial undertakings the pharmacies cannot be sold, nor would we like to see them sold. If the operations were to cease a very important and essential service would be removed from the community. I will be looking to the Joint Committee to advise me and the Government on what special approaches should be considered in these cases. I regard this matter as one of great urgency. I hope that I will receive a report on it so that the matter can be considered in the budgetary context for 1 977.
The problem besetting pharmacies in isolated regions throughout Australia causes very serious alarm and should be dealt with urgently. I hope that the Joint Committee will be able to turn its attention to this problem at the earliest opportunity. Without delaying the proceedings of the House, I thank the honourable members for their contributions to the debate. I hope that we can look forward to a more constructive conduct of affairs by the Joint Committee. I believe that a lot of the heat will be taken out of the issue as a result of the decisions which the Government has taken and which are embodied in this amendment to the National Health Act.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Motion (by Mr Hunt) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I would just like to make an observation on something that I think has come up in the course of the debate since I spoke. I am not quarrelling or picking a fight with anyone. One of the problems that was discussed by all honourable members who spoke in the debate related to the fact that Ministers in the past could make decisions at whim and that despite negotiations and so on, they could ignore the advice that they received. It was possible, and it happened, that Ministers in the past- I am not picking out any particular Minister, I am just making a general comment- have ignored advice and made decisions that were often unfair to the pharmacists. I simply want to point out that clause 6 of the Bill, which seeks to introduce new sub-section 98C, gives the Minister power to determine:
The manner in which the Commonwealth price of all or any pharmaceutical benefits is to be ascertained for the purpose of payments to approved medical practitioners in respect of the supply of pharmaceutical benefits.
Proposed new paragraph (b) relates to approved pharmaceutical chemists. In other words the Act will still contain the potential for Ministers to behave in an irrational fashion. I am not suggesting that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) will do so. I do not believe he will. I think his behaviour has shown that he believes that one should take notice of advice given. Merely setting up this Joint Committee confirms that point. I just wanted to highlight the fact that the potential power to abuse the advice still remains. For all that, we still support the legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 12.48 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from 18 November, on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I move:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with the view to substituting the following words: whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading the House is of the opinion that this scheme does not recognise that each household in Australia is entitled to adequate and conveniently located accommodation at a price which does not impose too great a strain on household resources, rather it perpetuates existing inequalities’.
This legislation in no way assists the housing problem in this country. This Government does not have a housing policy, just as it does not possess a consistent economic policy. It does not understand the problems facing those people who need basic accommodation. It does not understand that only a comprehensive approach to the whole housing accommodation problemboth public and private, owned and rented, as it concerns the poor and rich- is the way to come to grips with the problem. The Government does not recognise that every person in Australia has a basic right and entitlement to adequate accommodation at a price which they can afford. This Government, by reintroducing a scheme which was inadequate and inequitable 10 years ago is adding to the housing problem. It is acting in a sectional way; it is perpetuating inequalities that have arisen after a decade of inflation and it has compounded those inequalities by devaluation and economic mismanagement. There can be no doubt that housing finance will become tighter and more expensive in the. year ahead. This will inevitably make the scheme more inequitable. This Government claims that it believes in the principle of home ownership but its actions are just the opposite.
The first home savings grant scheme was introduced in 1964 to help to overcome the then problem of the deposit gap. The same philosophy underlies this proposal but this is no longer the main problem. Today, the basic problem is the repayment gap. Even if the scheme removed the deposit gap completely the problem of the income gap and repayment gap will remain. The scheme before the House does not even start to come to grips with these major problems which should be the focus of the Government’s housing policy. An even more basic flaw of the scheme is its lack of equity. It redistributes from the poor to the more unfortunate in the community. These grants will be financed from revenue to which the poorer groups in the community contribute but those poorer people will be denied assistance for housing because of their inability to save. It is a denial of justice to these poorer groups, and to the younger people in particular, to hold out a reward for savings which they cannot make; savings which are now beyond their ability because of this Government’s economic mismanagement.
We all know that banks and building societies do not lend if the rate of repayment exceeds 25 per cent to 30 per cent of earnings. In most cases, this means that people who earn less than 135 per cent of the average weekly earnings- less than $248 a week- are denied the opportunity of home ownership. Only 12 per cent of the work force earns above that percentage of average weekly earnings. When the 1964 scheme was introduced every person on or above the average weekly earnings was a potential home buyer. The only problem was raising the deposit. This was entirely due to the favourable market for housing finance that existed at that time. To take an example based on South Australian figures for 1 966, in that year a home seeker could buy an average home for $ 10,000 on a deposit of $2, 100 with weekly repayments of about $13.50. This was the situation when after-tax average weekly earnings were $52 a week. Repayments approximately amounted to 25 per cent of the person’s income. On this basis a home seeker had access to home finance and could buy a home. This is in complete contrast to the situation which now exists.
The 20 years from 1945 to 1965 was an era of progress, so far as home purchases and home ownership in Australia is concerned- home ownership rose from 50 per cent to 72 per cent of householders and building costs declined in relative terms. This was followed by a slump in new ownership. Today, the cost of an average home and land in the western suburbs of Sydney is between $30,000 and $35,000. In Melbourne it is only slightly less. Fewer young families can afford to buy new homes because even if they could save the deposit they have no access to home finance. I refer again to the South Australian example: In 1975 the average home and land package cost $31,700. This required a deposit of up to $6,350 with repayments of $55 a week. After-tax, average weekly earnings were $123. Repayments amounted to 45 per cent of income. No lending institution would advance funds to a home seeker who had to devote such a high proportion of his or her income to repayments.
As interest rates rise in the next year and money becomes scarcer, only the top few per cent of income earners will be able to obtain home finance. Most Australian families will be excluded altogether and greater pressure will be placed on the State public housing authorities. The homes savings grant scheme will do nothing to arrest this situation. If anything, it will intensify the pressure on the State housing authorities. It highlights this Government’s lack of understanding of the very nature of the housing problem and this Government’s lack of overall policies and priorities. The cost of this scheme in a full year will involve the misallocation of $90m. That is what it will cost in a full financial year and I say quite clearly that it is a misallocation of resources. This Government’s record in housing is poor. Since 1949 the normal government approach has been a series of ad hoc measures to patch up particular failures in parts of the housing market and to meet the demands of the best organised pressure groups. Even the Labor Government started off with this approach. But we recognised the need to have a comprehensive policy and we were working towards it. We showed this by establishing the Australian Housing Corporation- a body which would have played an evolutionary role in developing a comprehensive housing policy in Australia. It was under the ministerial portfolio of my colleague, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les
Johnson) that the Australian Housing Corporation evolved. He drew on the mistakes that had been made in the past and even the mistakes that we made, when in Government, were examined. I think the honourable member for Hughes will agree with me when I say that we learned from the mistakes of the past and also drew on our experience in government.
This Government has abolished the Australian Housing Corporation. When we established that Corporation we recognised the value placed by the community on housing. We recognised that housing policy was an integral part of our policies concerned with the quality of both the natural environment and the built environment. We recognised that housing policies affected the location and pattern of settlement and the development and provision of services and facilities. We recognised the effect of home ownership and the use of property on the distribution of wealth. We recognised that housing was an important part of policy directed towards achievement of our equity and welfare objectives. We recognised the importance of the housing sector in policies of overall economic management. The Fraser Government fails to understand and even fails to try to understand this most complex and human problem.
This Government, unlike the Labor Government, attempted to pass the responsibility for housing back to the States and to wash its hands of involvement in the housing sector. Government members know that the Government tried to do this even in relation to war service homes, which had been a traditional area of Commonwealth involvement under our defence legislation. This Government wanted to transfer responsibility for war service homes to the States. In fact, it carried out negotiations with many of the States. Because of the heavy subsidies involved in war service homes, the States did not want to assume that burden; therefore, they rejected those approaches. That has been the role of this Government. It has sought to wash its hands completely of a matter, which is important in both the human sense and the economic sense.
We recognised that a Federal government must be deeply and collectively involved with the States in housing policy. It is an essential responsibility of a Federal government because of the vital political importance of housing for the general welfare of the nation and because the main factor in achieving housing policy objectives is the supply and price of money for public and private housing purposes. These are matters of financial and monetary management. These are a direct Federal Government responsibility; but problems in housing, like so many other aspects of life and other responsibilities of government, can be solved only by the Federal Government acting in co-operation with the other tiers of government, the community, private enterprise and the trade unions. Unless we work together at all levels of government and with the private and community groups, this problem cannot be solved. My colleague, the honourable member for Hughes, brought all of these sections together in an indicative planning body to look at the future of housing. It was our Government that took that initiative to try to bring out the importance of the leadership role of the Australian Government in this vital sector. The Government and in particular the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who is at the table, do not appear to understand the importance of financial and monetary management to housing policy. Neither housing nor the institutions which provide housing finance are given a high priority in their economic policies.
I say to the Minister at the table that housing is not only a very human problem but also an economic, social and political one. The Minister is not a member of the Economic Committee of Cabinet. He is not even a member of Cabinet. He and his Department are part of the outer Ministry. That is an indication of the priority that this Government gives to the important issue of housing, not to mention the environment and community living. The Minister, as recently as last Monday, showed this Government’s lack of concern for and lack of understanding of housing and its position in the nation’s economy. In a Press statement headed ‘Devaluation and the Building Industry’, the Minister said:
Any effect on the cost and availability of housing finance will only be marginal.
The Minister nods his head. He was talking about the devaluation. I repeat what he said:
Any effect on the cost and availability of housing finance will only be marginal.
We on this side of the House have a different point of view in that regard. The Minister does not realise that, if the Government still intends to hold the annual growth in the money supply to around 12 per cent, interest rates must rise. He does not seem to understand that the money supply has been growing at an annual rate of 16 per cent this financial year. He does not seem to understand that, because of devaluation, capital inflows from foreign speculators are likely to amount to at least $ 1,000m. We are told that $850m of speculators’ money flowed out of Australia. If that money is reinvested, at its higher value resulting from the 17& per cent devaluation, the sum will exceed $ 1,000m. The influx of that money will result in enormous pressures on the inflationary situation in this country. The Minister obviously does not understand this; if he did, he would not make such a naive statement as he did on Monday last.
There is no doubt in my mind that interest rates on home finance will rise by at least 2 per cent in the next year. If the Government intends to hold the annual growth in the money supply to around 12 per cent, interest rates must rise m the next year. The effect of this on potential home buyers, on recent purchasers, on the housing industry and on the economy will be disastrous. A 2 per cent increase in interest rates is not marginal. Its effect will be to increase average repayments by amounts ranging between $28 and $36 a month. Not even many of those better off people who will benefit from the homes savings grant scheme will be able to cope with this increase. The average worker, let alone the really poor amongst us, will have no hope of ever owning a home. That will be the result under this Government’s policies.
The effects of this devaluation undoubtedly will widen the repayment gap. It is pointless to introduce measures aimed at overcoming the deposit gap when the major problem facing home buyers is worsening. If interest rates rise by 2 per cent in the next year, only those people earning more than 150 per cent of average weekly earnings will be considered by lending institutions for housing loans if the 25 per cent to 30 per cent repayment rules are maintained. It is about time that this Government faced up to the situation and took positive measures to implement a flexible loan repayment scheme. It was the key to its December 1975 housing policy; but the Government has refused to do anything to introduce that scheme. Rather than do that, the Government has abolished the Australian Housing Corporation which the Labor Government established to introduce such a scheme.
This is a sectional Government. It is a Government whose entire ideology revolves around widening the gap between the rich and the poor. The homes savings grant scheme being introduced by this legislation is regressive. Tins and other direct subsidy schemes to home owners are regressive when they involve the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. These forms of assistance to home owners amount to no more than the poor subsidising the rich. This scheme is particularly regressive. It is obvious that low and middle income households cannot save around $40. a week on average, which is the amount needed to take full benefit of the carrot being waved in front of their noses. The scheme is a blatant subsidy for those whose capacity to save is above average.
This scheme will benefit only people whose earnings are well above the average. It will do nothing to provide assistance to people whose ability to save is low. Are these people to be ignored while the Government takes deliberate action to perpetrate class differences and injustices? There can be no doubt that the $90m that this scheme will cost in a full year of operation would be better spent on assisting people in other ways. It could be used to provide a deferred mortgage repayments assistance scheme such as was put forward by the Labor Government in the Budget of 1975-76. It could be used for a second mortgage scheme such as we put forward in that Budget. By that I mean that second mortgages would not run for a short period of some 8 years but would be spread out over the full life of a loan covering 20 years or 25 years. This money could be used to provide more welfare housing. The amount allocated for this purpose this year is frozen to the figure spent by the Labor Government 2 years ago.
The pressure on welfare housing is enormous and this present scheme is going to put even greater pressure on this sector. There can be no doubt that this money could be used more equitably. This scheme will only marginally increase the number of owner-occupied dwellings because the only people who will be able to use the benefit of this subsidy are those who would purchase a home in any case. People with the ability to save, people with access to home finance, will be the only ones who will benefit.
Another worrying feature of this scheme is its effect on inflation. We must draw on experience. The benefits paid under the old scheme when it was in full operation merely resulted in an addition to the price of land and dwellings. That was the experience of builders and real estate agents during the years the old scheme operated. I have no doubt that the long-term effect of this scheme will be to add $2,000 to the price of an average home and the land it is built on. That is the experience of the past.
Colleagues, I said earlier that housing was a human, social and economic problem. The present economic climate is what worries me particularly at the present time. High inflation will continue. In fact we will be lucky if we can keep inflation down to 16 per cent in the next year. Some economic observers believe it will rise to at least 20 per cent in the next year. The panic devaluation will have an enormous consequence on the home building industry. I see interest rates rising by at least 2 per cent in the next year. I see money for housing drying up and becoming hard to get. I see the Government’s savings bonds scheme drawing in money from both the banks and the building societies. Already the interest rate has moved to 10 per cent. That was announced yesterday. We know from previous experience that when the Australian savings bonds rate rose to that level there was a drawing off of finance from both the building societies and the banks.
– It is going to go up.
– Of course it is going to go up. I predict that interest rates for housing will rise by at least 2 per cent in the next year. We know that that situation will create chaos in the home building sector. I see gloom for the financial and construction sectors of the housing industry. We already know that the home building sector in both New South Wales and Queensland is under-used at present. I believe that the same pressure will be felt in other States and this is a matter of great concern. The general situation has been extremely difficult. I am not trying to say that we in the Labor Party had a magic wand and that we had all the answers to the problems. My colleague the honourable member for Hughes, who will follow me in this debate, knows that we had a very difficult problem to solve. In fact to some extent we did solve the problem of finding housing for people earning up to 95 per cent of average weekly earnings.
One cannot divorce the homes savings grant scheme from any section of the housing industry because all sections are interrelated. Referring now to the problem of welfare housing, when we came to power this question was tied up with the moneys made available under the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement. Moneys were made available at the long-term bond rate but with a rebate formula. Basically the money was the people’s money but they were paying for it at the long-term bond rate. In our first year in office we were able to introduce a scheme whereby we made money available at 4 per cent. The longterm bond rate was 9.5 per cent when we went out of Government but we were making money available for welfare housing at 4 per cent. In the last year of the McMahon Government $167m was made available for welfare housing but in our last year of office we made $375m available. In 3 years we had increased the amount from S167m to $375m and the terms and conditions under which we made that money available were of great assistance to the States in trying to overcome the backlog of welfare housing. People earning up to 85 per cent of average weekly earnings were able to apply for welfare housing. Further, 30 per cent of the money that we made available went into what is called the builders advance account and was made available to terminating building societies so that people with up to 95 per cent of average weekly earnings could apply for a loan. So to some extent, under our Administration, there were housing programs for people earning up to 95 per cent of average weekly earnings.
The great difficulty in the period of our Administration was meeting the need of that group of people earning between 95 per cent of average weekly earnings and 135 per cent. That is why we introduced several schemes in our 1975-76 Budget. The first proposal was the deferred mortgage repayments scheme. The second was the second mortgage proposal whereby repayments for second mortgages were spread over the full life of the original loan rather than over a short period. We were experimenting with those 2 proposals in order to try to overcome the problems facing that group of people earning between 95 per cent of average weekly earnings and 135 percent.
We were also looking at other schemes such as co-operative schemes m the inner suburbs. We were trying to establish co-operative housing schemes to cater for people who had lived for most of their lives in dwellings which were being taken over by speculators. Under that scheme such people would have been able to approach the Australian Government and join in cooperatives to acquire their homes. We were trying many other innovative ideas. Only two weeks ago the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley) opened a co-operative scheme here in Canberra which was developed and encouraged under our Administration. We were trying to do those things in other areas as well. Things were difficult under our Government and I make no excuse about that but we were getting on top of the situation and were trying to solve these very difficult problems. I predict that by the end of this financial year not only the Government will be in a difficult situation but also people earning up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings will be in great difficulties. I predict that people earning up to 155 per cent of average weekly earnings will not be in a position to meet the repayments of a normal housing loan. This scheme will in no way solve the problem. I believe it is a misallocation of resources. The $90m could be spent far more widely to overcome many of the critical housing problems. Therefore I ask the House to give consideration and support to the amendment. -
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-The amendment is an interesting one. I have taken a little time to examine and endeavour to analyse it. The expression in the amendment is peculiar to my mind because the amendment states that this scheme does not recognise that each household in Australia is entitled to adequate and conveniently located accommodation. ‘Each household’ implies that people already have accommodation. It seems to me that if one were to apply literally the thrust of this amendment one would be playing a great game of musical chairs with households throughout Australia. It is certainly not the intention of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), I would not think, to do such a thing. The intention that he expressed in his speech is not portrayed in this amendment. The words need to be expressed properly before amendments of this type are made to such an important Bill as the Homes Savings Grant Bill. This amendment appears to be an indication of poorly thought out policies or attitudes. Such policies or attitudes are reflected in amendments to other Bills. They tend to waste the time of the chamber. It is an insignificant amendment that implies, if I gather the true meaning from the speech rather than from the wording of the amendment, things that all Australians would accept.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not prepared to grapple with the real propositions. They are simple. This Government came to power, roughly at this time last year, stating that it would introduce a home savings grant scheme. Consistent with policy, consistent with public statements, we now have this legislation. On a number of occasions there has been an opportunity for this program to be fully debated by both chambers. In all the debates there has been no significant input by the Opposition, and the Government has not been deterred or has not swerved from its stated purpose of bringing forward a home savings grant scheme that is expanded, far more sympathetic and far more realistic than any previous home savings grant scheme in this nation. I refer to the time when this policy was being prepared,, There seems to be some suggestion that the/Government has no housing policy. That is far from the truth. I quote from a paper prepared by the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) when in opposition. Referring to the home savings grant, he said:
Home ownership will be achievable for low middle income earners without discriminatory subsidised interest rates by this grant.
That was followed in government by a statement by the then Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, the late Senator Ivor Greenwood. At this stage I pay tribute to the work he did in the area of the home savings grant scheme. He was an enthusiast for the concept of providing all couples in Australia with a home of their own. One of the things on which he seized when he became Minister was the proposals made during the campaign and the proposals made in Opposition. He gathered together the material. He launched a scheme for discussion. He made a ministerial statement on 31 March 1976. It is very difficult to believe that such a short time has passed since we lost such an important member of this Parliament. I quote his words:
These twin initiatives of a Liberal-National Country Party Government have been of great assistance to the people of Australia in helping them obtain their own homes. They are initiatives of which this Government is proud. The Labor Party had legislated to abolish the home savings grant scheme completely and after 31 December 1976 persons building or purchasing homes would not be eligible for a grant. We shall legislate for the re-introduction of the home savings grant scheme, enlarged to provide benefits to a greater range of people than ever before and incorporating other improvements which experience has warranted gives the Government great satisfaction. Not only will this announcement fully implement an election commitment; it will also provide clear evidence of our determination to ensure that all Australians shall have a meaningful opportunity, if they choose to avail themselves of it, to own their own homes.
That statement was clearly and concisely expressed, in the manner in which Ivor Greenwood always expressed himself. There was an election promise. A commitment was given. Then in government that commitment was carried out.
The proposals in the Bill improve the previous legislation, are more sympathetic and allow Australians to own their own homes. There were limitations to the scheme that is now running down and which this Bill seeks to replace. The limitations on marriage for widowed or divorced people were very serious. The limitations on the value of a home or property were serious, with the rate of inflation racing away. Only 2 years ago the limitation was $22,500. There are very few homes in Australia available at that price. The new scheme seeks to dispense with that limitation. I think it is a thoughtful modification in those areas- the eligibility of marital status and the eligibility on the level of value of the home. I remind the House that some time ago there was an amendment to this Act. That amendment is incorporated in the Bill and will continue. It applies to public servants or people seeking to buy or build their homes through a State or federal system. It applies also to people who are living on properties where the land is not owned. It wm allow them to proceed with the building, as did the amendment that this House passed some months ago.
To be eligible, the applicant must be an Australian citizen or have permanent resident status. The person must be at least 18 years old. A person who has owned a house previously in Australia is not eligible for the grant because this scheme is perfectly designed to assist those people wishing to own their first home. They must fulfil certain provisions. The savings which will entitle them to assistance from the Commonwealth Government to purchase their home must be in approved institutions or in acceptable forms. Deposits with savings banks- except savings bank cheque accounts- fixed deposits with trading banks, deposits and shares with building societies, deposits with credit unions, money paid towards the purchase of land or the construction of a home are eligible and acceptable forms of savings for a person wishing to be involved in this scheme.
It is interesting to note that there are changes which allow more than one person to join in an application. This will give an opportunity for a widower and his son, for instance, to join in an application to purchase a new home of their own, provided it is their first home. It will allow a widow and perhaps a daughter or a young couple and a widowed mother to join in making an application for a home savings grant. I think that this is a very sensible, humane and sympathetic interpretation of the needs of the community. In addition, since the scheme was announced on 3 1 March it has been well publicised that those people who had their savings in a required form last year would be given until 3 1 May to make an application and that it would be backdated to 1 January of this year. So a 3-month leeway was given to people once the scheme was announced.
It is interesting to make a comparison between the new scheme and the former scheme. As I have already mentioned, one of the most outstanding features of the new scheme is the change in the reference to marital status. It does not matter whether a person is married or not. This scheme allows a young engaged couple to start to save for their first home. It allows a widow, a widower and other people who were denied the opportunity to qualify for a grant under the former scheme to apply for a grant. There was an age limit in the former scheme. There is no age limit under this scheme provided that the applicant is saving for a first home. I have spoken to retiring servicemen who were wondering about their eligibility under this scheme and under the defence service home loan scheme. It has been made clear that under this scheme an elderly man, who is single and who prior to his retirement was engaged in a job where he was required to take lodgings and five in other people’s homes, will be eligible for a grant if he is purchasing his first home.
A number of parties may apply for a grant. There is no limit on the value of the home that may be purchased. There is a grading in of the maximum grant over a period of years. If acceptable savings are held for 3 years the maximum grant is $2,000; if they are held for 2 years the maximum grant will be $1,333; and if they are held for one year the maximum grant will be $667. The maximum savings rate has been increased so that instead of there being a requirement for a $600 increase in savings each year there can be a savings of $1,200 each 6 months, and if there is a short-fall in one 6 month period it can be made up in the next 6 months period, or vice versa.
The scheme will commence on 1 January. Many people have already applied to join the scheme. They have commenced to save. I would suggest to people buying their first home that they should make their applications to become part of this scheme after 1 January. It seems to me to be important that they should take the opportunity to involve themselves in this very fine scheme. There are some difficulties that have to be sorted out by the Minister. I refer, for instance, to the entitlement of a husband and wife who have been saving under the scheme and who become separated. A wife decides that she will enter into the saving program, but then she leaves her husband and the marriage is dissolved. The husband can go ahead and apply for a grant in his own right. If the discretion given to the secretary under this Bill is exercised the wife, at a later time, can say: ‘I wish to take advantage of the home savings grant scheme’. She is entitled to do so. I commend the Government for such a thoughtful piece of legislation.
No one would pretend that this is an easy piece of legislation. But it is thoughtful and sympathetic, and I know that it will be very well adminstered by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development who is at the table and by his Department. I think it is interesting to define the people who are looking for homes and who are most likely to avail themselves of these proposals. Statistics that I have from various organisation seem to indicate that the greatest demand for a home is made by people between 26 years and 30 years of age. It seems that in our community the average Australian seeks to establish a home between the ages of 2 1 years and 35 years. The occupations of home buyers generally tend to be semi-skilled and their general weekly income ranges from about $ 120 to $200 and beyond.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), mentioned that it was difficult for people in this wage and salary structure to build thenown home. This is a difficult area, but the Government is coping with it. I do not know that the previous Government coped with this matter all that well. I have a statement made on 26 July 1975, by Mr Riordan, a previous Minister in the former Labor Government. Mr Riordan, who was a good Minister, said:
I know perfectly well that if we keep non-payers in State dwellings we discourage the good payers who demand to know why the wicked should flourish.
He then stated:
But it is too simple an answer to throw away the chances of potential good citizens in the next generation through such logic. We have got to put the hard questions to ourselves and come up with at least some half-way reasonable answers.
The Labor Government never did that. We have not heard any answers today- not even half-way reasonable answers. The former Minister made that statement just one day before the chop was made to the Australian Housing Corporation. I am afraid that that chop was not mentioned in this Parliament by the Opposition. But funds in the welfare housing field were cut from $175m down to $2 5m. The then Minister was pontificating the day before the chop was made to the Australian Housing Corporation. The very next day off went his head. The hypocrisy of honourable members opposite on this subject is really beyond belief.
It would pay honourable members opposite to look at the statistics of the home building industry and just see what is happening. They are very interesting statistics too. If we compare, for instance, the 5 months period to September of this year with the 5 months period to September last year, we can see that on average throughout the nation there has been a significant improvement each month in the number of homes that have been constructed. To be more specific, the figures in respect of approvals given for construction indicate that 14 200 approvals were given for residential accommodation in September of this year compared with 12 300 approvals for September of last year. It would seem to me that there has been a very significant improvement in the home building industry in Australia. One can only say that the change of Government and the greater confidence that has been created within the community is the sole reason for this.
If we look at the average trends of the costs and expenses in the home and land package area in respect of Melbourne or Sydney, we can see what the Labor Party did to young couples and young home builders when it was in Government. The average price of land in 1970-71 was $5,070. In 1975-76 it was $13,600. Look what the Labor Party did to the home buyer in a period of 5 years. Average private home building costs rose from $1 1,600 to $24,000, an increase of 15 per cent. The cost of the average home and land package has jumped from $16,700 to $37,600, an increase of 17.6 per cent. All of these increases were achieved in a period of 3 years. I think that the improved figures that we see indicated in the statistics that are coming forward month by month indicate that the Government understands the way in which policies should be applied to the young people and the home builders of the nation.
It is interesting to note the Labor Party’s attitude on home building and the building industry in general. On 19 November last the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) made a savage attack on the drop in the building industry. The very next day the Daily Telegraph carried the headline about improvements in the building industry. The headline stated: ‘Home-land boom’. One day the Leader of the Opposition says: ‘Bad news in the building industry’. The next day the statistics and the newspapers proved him completely wrong. I commend to the House the thrust of this legislation. It is an important piece of legislation which was promised, which has been developed, which has been discussed and which now will be taken up by the home builders of Australia from 1 January 1977. Within a few months home builders will have the benefits of the promises which we made in Opposition and which we have delivered in Government.
-The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), who preceded me in this debate, put up a fairly good performance for a new member who has not been involved in the housing industry. He is due for congratulations. I think he is showing the benefit of his experience in the Old Players group back in his electorate, where he was a distinguished actor. He was able to make a lot from a small amount of information. He could benefit by knowing something of his Government’s performance in the housing field. I refer to the Government which went out of office in 1972. 1 have a feeling that that Government was relieved to get out of office because of the great problems it had created in many fields, including the housing field.
– We could not get back in quickly enough.
-Here is old Ocker interjecting again. He turns up every time we have a debate on housing. It would be useful for honourable members to know that as a result of the policies of the Liberal-National Country Party Government the increase in the money supply, which in previous years had been running at 6 to 8 per cent, suddenly in 1972-73 jumped to 26 per cent. The housing industry in particular was awash with funds. The value of housing loans by banks, building societies and life offices almost trebled in 2 years, from $ 1,250m in 1970-71 to $2,988m in 1972-73. Of course, no attempt was made by the LiberalNational Country Party Government at that time to formulate a plan for a commensurate increase in the supply of labour and materials. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman), who is responsible for these matters, is showing an interest in what I am saying, because the same kind of problem could occur again. In other words, what the Australian Labor Party Government inherited was a great tidal wave of money. Nobody has to stretch his imagination very far to recall that the country had run out of bricklayers and that one could not get bricks or timber and that the white metals which go into housing were in short supply. The whole industry had lost its interrelationship between material, manpower and money.
Those are the facts. The honourable gentleman is shaking his head. I suggest that he go and look at some statistics. We do not want to have a cliche debate, with superficialities of nonsense. We want to get down to the fundamentals. I am giving the House the fundamentals. The LiberalNational Country Party Government of that time put the country into a very serious situation. The National Country Party has never known anything about housing. I look for an intelligent response from the Liberal Party; that is a possibility. But there is no chance of getting such a response from the National Country Party. Let me tell the House what the present Speaker, the then Leader of the Opposition, thought of the situation at around that time. This is very important. He stated:
The first way to cut down private spending - he obviously thought that it was necessary to cut it down- is by making money scarcer and therefore dearer. We would be willing to do this only as part of an overall approach involving reduced Government spending.
That was a statement made by the right honourable member for Bruce (Mr Snedden), the present Speaker, on the Australian Broadcasting Commission on 26 July 1973. Mr Leslie Bury, a former Treasurer and former Housing Minister and the man who introduced the original legislation which we are debating, reacted to that Liberal-National Country Party-caused situation on 1 May 1973. He stated:
If the Government does nothing at all to restrain the development of the building sector the inflationary problem will become worse and worse.
In other words, he was simply commenting on the stupidity which characterised the LiberalNational Country Party Government’s approach in the period preceding the 1972 election. That is the situation the Labor Administration inherited. It was an extremely difficult time. It may be that the honourable member for Mitchell was not even interested in politics at that time, I do not know. Maybe he knew nothing about housing. But anybody with any recollection knows full well that as a result of that flood of money the whole industry went beserk when the Labor Government first came into office. Every person around the place who was interested in making a quick quid out of housing, and who was able to do so, got an option over a bit of land or a house and jacked the price up, and then away they went.
– Were not the Cadmans in that racket up there?
-I am unable to comment on whether the Cadmans were in it or not. I would not be unfair and steal an unjustified advantage over the honourable gentleman. But clearly, for the sake of responsible government and to ensure that the kids of the future had a chance of getting housing, some remedial action had to be taken. The Labor Government acted very responsibly in that situation. That is a little lesson for the honourable member. I shall take him aside some time and give him a little more useful information which will make his contributions to these debates in the future even more interesting.
The Homes Savings Grant Bill was introduced in 1964 by Leslie Bury, as I mentioned. Many of us remember it well. It was the subject of raging controversy from the time the concept was first thought of and certainly from the time it was implemented in legislative form. Actually, it was a Menzies Government gimmick. That right honourable gentleman had a very great capacity for approaching elections in terms of picking up that extra one per cent or 2 per cent which he needed. He was a percentage man. He used to think in terms of what kind of gimmick could be contrived in order to pick up another one per cent or 2 per cent. On one occasion it was the science laboratories grants to non-public schools. On this occasion in 1 964 it was the homes savings grant scheme.
– And the Petrov affair.
– That is another matter which worked on the same percentage basis. Whether it had principle or not did not matter. Whether it had electoral mileage was the criterion in the approach of Sir Robert Menzies. Of course, he is not exceptional among Liberal administrators. This was a election gimmick. It was loaded with anomalies. The honourable member for Mitchell has acknowledged that. Through the years this legislation has been characterised by inequalities. It is the most absurd, ridiculous and unfair legislation which could possibly be put together. I see the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) sitting over there. I have no doubt that he has represented hundreds of people who have been unable to get the homes savings gram. I am sure that he would acknowledge that, even by his silence.
– He is nodding his head.
-I do not want him to nod his head too much; that could be very deleterious to his health. The type of problem in evidence was that people did not have their savings in approved accounts. Then there were the valuation limits. That was a ridiculous proposition. At one point one had to have a house which did not exceed $22,500 in value. In electorates such as mine one could not buy the block of land for that price. Then there was the matter of savings not being held for the period of 3 years. There was a 3-year residential requirement which excluded some of the most needy people who had come from overseas. For example, there were migrants in the Cunningham electorate -
– You know the valuations there, too.
-Yes, the valuations. These people, first of all, had the problem about residential qualification. The valuation provision made it impossible for 30 000 or 40 000 people a year to qualify. That is about the number of people whose applications were rejected for the reasons I am enunciating. There was the age barrier of 36 years. The Minister would have been a young officer, probably a young lieutenant, when this legislation was introduced. If he had served his time in the Army he would not have been able to take on a permanent house, to locate himself permanently. He is probably over 36 years by now and he would have been excluded by virtue of the nature of his service. Single people were excluded. Then there were all the fights about what was the first home. It was arguable whether a little weekender that people might have somewhere was their first home. Often that kind of consideration excluded them from qualifying under the homes savings grant scheme. Credit unions were totally excluded to start with but afterwards there was some modification of that condition. The housing commission tenants, some of the most needy people in the country, were unable to receive assistance. Even widows were excluded from the benefit of the scheme at that time.
That is the kind of messy legislation which the Government introduced and which operated over that period of time. It is true that about 350 000 people have qualified for some kind of grant but that figure is used misleadingly. It is often used to give the impression that all those people received the maximum grant, but some of them received a miserable little bit; and usually they were the most deserving people. When this legislation was introduced it was disparaged by the discerning people in the building industry. The estate agents were able to predict that as soon as those grants were introduced- I am not sure whether the initial grant was $500 or $750- prices would rise to swallow them up. In fact they did. Any analysis of that period will show that this is what happened. That might not have mattered very much to the people who received the grant, but for the thousands of people who did not receive the grant it was a very serious matter indeed, because prices went up for everybody. Land prices jumped almost overnight as soon as the developers knew that there was more money to gobble up through the homes savings grant scheme, and building costs spiralled as well. I believe that that will happen again. I predict that we will see a very serious inflationary trend in the housing area.
One of the worst features of this entire conceptthe 1964 concept and the 1976 concept- is that the Liberal-National Country Party coalition is obsessed with throwing money around to people whether they need it or not. There is no sense of priority in its approach. In other words, this Bill is simply about providing a premium on affluence. The Bill provides a subsidy of $1 for every $3 saved to a maximum saving of $2,000 a year over 3 years. Of course, the scheme will not become completely effective until January 1979. It is almost a never-never scheme. In the short term people will receive less. During 1977 the maximum grant will be only $667 because the applicants can demonstrate savings only for one complete year up to that time. Then the grant on the 2-year savings period will be $1,333 on savings of $4,000. In general terms the legislation is designed to give $2,000 to people, with no strings attached, who can save $40 a week. As I understand it, the maximum savings over a 6-month period can actually go to $48 a week. People who can save $48 a week can hardly be designated as the deserving poor. Even the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who has come out of a very protected life in the socialised service of the Army, would probably know that there are lots of people around who lack the capacity to save $40 or $48 a week. But in any event they will all be contributing to make this grant to people who can save $40 or $48 a week.
I think that that involves some very dubious principles. It might be better to say that it involves a lack of principle. When I am talking about saving approximately $48 a week I am talking about saving approximately $2,400 a year. So people are going to receive this grant whether they need it or not. That is the interesting and controversial part of it. People are going to receive it whether or not they need an incentive to save. This legislation is supposed to be about giving people an incentive to save. Whether or not they need an incentive to save they are going to receive this grant simply because they enter into a contract to buy or build a house. It is a matter of concern also that they are going to receive it regardless of from what source their savings come. They could be in the form of a backhander from over-indulgent parents. There is nothing to require people to show that they have really saved the money themselves. It can simply be a transfer from a prosperous person to a less prosperous person. The honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) would appreciate what I am saying because this is done in the more prosperous family situations. Indulgent parents can ensure that their children receive every possible advantage.
The wealthy supporters of the Liberal Party and the prosperous graziers of the Country Party cannot possibly miss out on receiving this $2,000 hand-out when they go to get their house, but the kids of the poor old battlers cannot get a handout from mum or dad because those low income parents, the artisans of this country, the people who earn by the sweat of their brow, are the subject of vicious and unrelenting attacks by this Government which does not even want to give them wage indexation. It does not even want to sustain the value of their wages. They will not have the capacity to pass handouts on to their children so that they can have a lump of money which will attract this subsidy. A lot of people will be just gasping to get their hands on this money for nothing. After they get the money, whether or not they need it and whether or not they need an incentive to save, they can do what they like with it. In regard to the matter of incentive to save, I wonder whether the Government is very consistent in its economic policy. Does the Government want people to save now or does it want to unlock the banks? Does it want them to spend? Therein lies the answer to the economic difficulties confronting the country. So what we have is this low-brow, cheap electioneering approach to housing which is a disgrace to any government.
After the money is given to these people- in many instances to affluent people- they can go off and build a mansion if they like on the Yarra bank or in the most salubrious part of Australia. They would be receiving $2,000, at the expense of the taxpayer, whether they need it or not. They can do precisely what they like with it. They can go for a trip to Bali or Bangkok. They can go to Suva or Shangri-la, to Rangoon or the Riviera. This Government does not give a damn what they do with it. They can go and buy a fur coat with it or a Mercedes. They can go and blow it up at the Hilton. They can buy themselves a speedboat. It does not have to be used for housing purposes. If the Government has money to spend on housing let me tell those honourable members opposite who do not know, that there are people around this country at the present time who have been denied an opportunity by 23 years of previous Liberal-Country Party government to get a decent education and as a result an opportunity to earn a higher income. They now suffer from an inability to place a deposit on a home or to attract a loan from a building society. They are people on the housing commission waiting lists around this country. There is a queue of over 100 000 families on the waiting lists. There would be a lot more if people thought they had a chance of getting a house within 2 or 3 years. Many of them do not even attempt to join that queue because it is such a hopeless situation.
If the Government wants to do something and wants to spend $90m a year as it will be doing under this legislation, why does it not add some money to the coffers of the States which are trying to meet the needs of those underprivileged people? Why is it cutting down the money for aged persons homes and reducing the subsidy from $4 to $1? The Minister is shaking his head. He knows that that is a fact of life under this Government. He knows that whatever the area of need analysed in respect of housing, a toll is taken of the underprivileged people. For a miserable electioneering gimmick the Government is giving handouts in the form of this unprincipled legislation. Moreover, it is doing it at the expense of tax deductibility of mortage interest rates. One and a half million families have been receiving this deductibility and the Government is restricting it now to those people who are paying off their first home, and for the first 5 years. To pay for this scheme tax deductibility is to be taken away from thousands of Australian families.
– I support the Bill and reject the amendment which is a typical example of Labor hypocrisy. If these Laborites do not want a home savings grant scheme, let them vote against this Bill. They would not dare. They realise that it is good legislation. They realise that it builds on the former scheme and removes anomalies and they realise that they would be shown for what they are if they refused to allow this Bill to be passed. The 2 principal examples of hypocrisy can be seen in the words of the amendment ‘perpetuates existing inequalities ‘. We have been told that poorer people will have to pay for this new scheme but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) did not inform the House or the nation that tax is not paid- admittedly it is a low figure- until the figure of $2,845 has been reached. Anybody who is poor, who is in that category, does not have to support, by financial payments or tax, the revenue that provides for this scheme. So the poor in the community are protected.
The second piece of hypocrisy comes from the honourable member for Hughes who speaks about grants not being given on the basis of need. What could be less in accordance with the principle of need than the Labor Government’s mortgage repayment rebate scheme which assisted only those persons who had already bought their homes. Therefore, they must have been in a reasonably good position in the community by comparison with others. It assisted persons who were earning fairly substantial sums of money. This Government, far from removing that scheme, has replaced it with a reduced scheme that operates for 5 years after the purchase of the first home. This is still a very substantial benefit to those persons and enables funds to be given on the basis of need in other areas. There is a great deal of Labor propaganda about that aspect of the scheme. It is good to see that the honourable member for Hughes at least acknowledges that that mortgage deductibility scheme still operates, because many people in the community, as a result of Labor propaganda, think that it has been abolished.
In what context do we see the scheme which is proposed by the Government? It is in the context of a developing program, a package to provide for a private housing industry in this country. It is in the context of stability that this country will enjoy under Liberal-National Country Party Governments. Housing is dependent upon stable conditions and the stability that will come to the economy with the eventual reduction of inflation will enable those stable conditions to develop. We have seen a reasonable fiscal policy that provides for steady growth. The earlier statements of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about the doom that will follow devaluation are totally irresponsible. The Labor Opposition has a vested interest in gloom and doom because it is about the only way that it can propagandise in the community at large to produce fear. It is the only desperate way in which it sees itself as having any sort of chance of getting back into office one day. That is all the Opposition is interested in. It is not interested in the interests of the nation. It should be saying to the nation that devaluation signifies difficulties but that Australia as a nation can work its way out of these difficulties. I have absolutely no doubt that we will work our way out of them.
The housing industry in this country will develop. If honourable members opposite want to go around continually talking in extravagant terms of inflationary effects and of increases in interest rates which they cannot themselves predict or properly quantify, they are doing the entire nation a disservice. Let us ask ourselves what has happened this year in relation to the building industry. This industry has genuinely been improving throughout Australia. I know that there are still serious difficulties, particularly in New South Wales. In the September quarter there was a definite trend in the figures towards an increase in the rate of building of new homes. There was a movement away from the period in which funds were mostly used for pre-existing homes. Completion times have fallen from an average of 2 1 weeks in 1 974-75 to 1 5 to 1 6 weeks at present. Most builders will take fixed price contracts so the home builder knows where he stands and the purchaser knows that he will not be subjected to extras and variations that could wreck his financial planning.
In August one company announced a fixation of prices until Christmas so that rise and fall clauses, to a very great extent, have been eliminated. This indicates also that wages and costs of materials are stable, instead of rising at the massive rates of 23 per cent to 30 per cent or more per annum as in the years 1974 and 1975. Recent reports show that funds available for loans in New South Wales have been increasing. The interest paid by home owners on the first home in the first 5 years is deductible. So, other than in certain areas, particularly in New South Wales, the situation has been definitely and consistently improving. This Government has introduced a scheme which will be welcomed in the community and which must have a reasonable chance of providing a booster to the stimulus in the housing industry. Other actions which have been taken by the Government and which are allied to this proposal are seen in the housing voucher scheme. This scheme particularly will be a great boost to low income earners. I do not know how the honourable member for Hughes can criticise this Government in the face of that scheme. The housing voucher scheme will assist low income earners.
One would hope that it will be extended to home ownership. Indeed, it allows people to save money for a home savings grant whilst they are still living in reasonable accommodation. If it could be accepted in the future that the equivalent of money received under the voucher system could perhaps be notionally treated as income, it would enable that money to be used to comply with the 25 per cent rule normally used by building societies. By that means the repayment gap could be reduced and the young person could more easily be enabled to qualify for a loan. It is a fact of life that in some cases the 25 per cent requirement is an onerous burden and provides a gap.
There is one other matter that I would like the Government to look at- I have taken this matter up in correspondence with the Minister- and that is the possibility of flexible mortgage schemes. These schemes cannot be introduced overnight. They must be looked at very carefully. I understand that in England schemes have been introduced which are reasonably successful. Surprisingly, there has been a consumer preference for higher repayments in the earlier years by married couples. Then, if they have to reduce payments when the children come along, it is possible to do so. In the meantime a fair amount of the payments are out of the road provided, of course, the scheme is tailored so that too much of the interest is not being repaid. Surely flexible mortgage schemes, tailored to the reasonable requirements of the consumer and having proper safeguards in the interests of the institution, could be introduced. I know that the Minister at least is looking at this matter and the Government has said that it would like to try to do something about this matter in the future.
Let me say something about the recent devaluation as it affects the building industry. It does not seem to have had any more than a marginal effect. If, regrettably, interest rates rise they ought not to rise in the way put forward by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The societies in New South Wales are well aware of the difficulties that people have gone through in the past few years. There is concern about interest rates generally in the community. Interest rates, as they increase, are an aid to inflation because everyone has to repay loans at higher rates. I am only again describing the vicious circle. I am at pains to point out that there is no warrant for the panic suggestions of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that interest rates will dramatically increase. Any, albeit regrettable, increase will be only marginal.
I remind the House that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has never really proposed a workable housing scheme. We heard nothing today from him that provided any constructive, realistic or overall proposal for the development of the housing industry in Australia. However this Government, through this scheme and through other matters that have been announced or which I am confident will be looked at in the future, will get housing going again. Housing is the largest collective asset of the nation. The building industry has a massive multiplier effect in the economy. The people must be housed. There is no doubt that this Government’s policy, once the economy is stabilised, will contribute to and ensure a stable and developing housing industry in this nation.
– Members of the National Country Party absolutely support the Bill and totally reject the amendment moved by the Opposition. It grieves us even to think that the Opposition would see fit to move an amendment on a matter of such fundamental and vital importance to all Australians. I submit that the thought behind the amendment is obviously indicative of the negative approach of honourable members opposite to matters which are of great personal interest and concern to the Australian people. The National Country Party believes that the introduction of this Bill by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) is very appropriate and continues the great work of the late Senator Ivor Greenwood. I join with the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) in his laudatory remarks about the late Senator. The proposals are designed to arrest the slide in home ownership that unfortunately has developed in recent times. It is worthy of recording that in 1946 the percentage of Australian people owning their own homes was 52 per cent, and this increased to 72 per cent in 1966.
I was somewhat disturbed by the remarks of the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) when he briefly touched on the impetus given to home ownership by the Right Honourable R. G. Menzies. I believe that that Prime Minister never ever engaged in cheap politicking; rather all his statements and utterances were designed to improve the quality of life of the Australian people. Quite obviously the reason for the significant increase in the percentage of home ownership in what we might term the ‘Menzies era’ was the great concern of the then Government to improve the opportunity for people to own their own homes. The slide in home ownership is a matter of great regret. This Bill surely is a positive initiative to arrest that slide. In effect one might say that this Bill will inject the serum of activity into the home building industry in Australia. There is a great need for this to happen. The cold hard facts of economic reality and life indicate that the housing industry is bouncing along at the bottom of the trough.
I am indebted to the previous speaker, the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), who once again gave us the benefit of a highly intelligent, deeply researched speech. He stated that there had been an improvement in building statistics. Basically it is quite apparent that the building industry still is at the bottom of the trough. Many tradesmen are unemployed. There is a slack in the material processing industries. Land is waiting to be developed. Some 144 000 families are known to be living in very poor rental accommodation. Associated with these great problems is the 18 per cent increase in costs last year. One would hope that we have gone through the winter of discontent. I believe it is appropriate at this stage for men and women of goodwill not to keep turning back the clock and saying that the present circumstances are due to the policies of the last administration. I fondly hope that in a situation of great importance people can forget politics and forget about trying to score from the other side by saying that the present circumstances are due to the inactivity and policies of others and get together to overcome the very serious lag in home ownership opportunities for so many people.
I refer again to the speech of the honourable member for Hughes. I was disappointed with him. He is a previous Minister for Housing and was one of those Ministers who was unceremoniously shuffled backwards and forwards like a card in a pack. He was very ap- proachable and appeared to me as though he h ad a great interest in providing housing opportunities for Australians. He seemed to pass disparaging comments on the fact that members of the National Country Party did not know very much about housing. I suppose there is a certain amount of truth in his statement. Living as he does on the bitumen in a small city electorate- he could run around it three of four times before his early morning cup of tea- he is not out in the market place and does not know, in many instances, the real workers of Australia. I know that my friend the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige) quite often has publicly announced the great fighting qualities of many of his constituents who are out taming the harsh brigalow areas of Australia and living on dirt floors. I suppose the honourable member for Hughes did in his way pay a tribute to those pioneers. But he obviously does not know about the initiatives that we have developed wherein for the first time homes built on rural lands for members of farmers’ families will attract the homes savings grant. I pay tribute to the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), the honourable member for Mitchell and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull), who represents a most important farming section of Queensland, for the positive moves that they have made to have the farming community included in this legislation. I know that their efforts and the efforts of many others such as the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) persuaded the Government to include home savings grants for farmers sons on rural land. Associated measures were introduced which allow the minimum cost to be associated with the erection of these homes.
I was disappointed too with theDeputy Leader of the Opposition. It ill behoves a man who aspires to the leadership of his Party to call legislation regressive when the legislation gives money to people to build their own homes and encourages them to save by offering matching contributions. I think that legislation which provides for money to be pumped into the economic lifestream and encourages people to build their own homes would be positive rather than regressive legislation. It must be remembered that this sort of legislation applies to all types of people. We have overcome some of the anomalies that were present in the previous legislation. I should like the honourable member for Hughes to know that the Bill irons out many anomalies relating to the age limit, migrant problems, and the problems of single people and widows. In effect, it even includes people who are engaged. I think all these factors are indicative of the fact that the anomalies have been ironed out.
The honourable member for Hughes said that the Bill placed a premium on affluence. How wrong can one be? I had a conversation earlier with the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). In talking about this legislation he described it to me as the key of golden opportunity for our young people to own their own home. I think that that statement by the honourable member for Bradfield is excellent and it rebuts the statement of the honourable member for Hughes that it places a premium on affluence. I ask: What is wrong with helping people who are prepared to help themselves? Fathers, after all, have a certain respect for their sons and daughters and they give them money to set themselves up in life. Surely that cannot possibly be a crime. The honourable member for Hughes criticised that type of thing.
– Where do they get the money from?
– The honourable member for Hunter asks where they get the money from. I can tell him that they earn it, which is more than I can say for the workers in the shipbuilding industry who are subsidised by the Australian taxpayer to the tune of $20,000 a year- a golden handshake for inefficiency with the net result of exporting jobs out of the country. Our approach to the home savings grant is part of a package program. I believe that, given time, our sound economic policies and the associated exploration of the wide range of policies on land, urban transport, infrastructure, decentralisation, regional development, urban rehabilitation and finance will overcome the serious housing problems which exist in many areas of Australia.
A tendency has developed to buy old homes. I would hope that the Minister, who has created a tremendous feeling of goodwill for his part in this area of housing, would consider a scheme to employ inspectors to go out and inspect houses which are termed ‘second-hand’ because, surely, any scheme that gives the opportunity to secondhand home purchasers to overcome some of the pitfalls associated with purchasing a secondhand home is one which should receive the assent of all members of this Parliament. This sort of scheme applies already in relation to the purchase of second-hand cars. We could extend it to the area of home ownership, bearing in mind recent tendencies of an increasing number of people to purchase second-hand homes rather than to build new homes. These facts are backed up by recent figures released by banking institutions in Australia which indicate an increase in second-hand home sales in the quarter from July to September of 12.9 per cent. I hope that the Minister does take cognisance of the fact that it is an eminently desirable proposition to give second-hand home buyers the opportunity of having a reservoir of inspectors who go out to inspect homes prior to purchase so that the prospective purchasers would know the exact standard of the house to be purchased and what faults have to be rectified. The time for the debate is running out and I know other honourable members want to be associated with this measure, to lend their support to the positive initiatives of the Government and to reject completely the amendment moved by the Opposition because of the fundamental false proposition it contains.
– Their amendment is only good for little houses.
– The honourable member for Murray made a remark on which I, as an innocent country boy, would prefer not to comment. The Opposition’s amendment states that the scheme does not recognise that each householder in Australia is entitled to adequate and conveniently located accommodation at a price which does not impose too great a strain on household resources. I cannot understand the reasoning behind this amendment and the thinking that prompted its movement. This Bill is aimed directly at overcoming the very serious problems that exist. Already 360 000 people have been beneficiaries under the home savings grants scheme. Now other people will be able to enjoy the same privilege.
– I do not want to take up too much time of the House, but there are a few points I should like to answer. First, I should like to respond to the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les
Johnson) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) who said that the last home savings grants scheme-and now this one- was merely an election gimmick and a way to win votes. I find it incredible that they would actually put themselves into the position where they would say such things and suggest an amendment to this Bill so that people would be denied this grant.
Let us examine some of the facts. The honourable member for Hughes said that the 1964 scheme was a gimmick. Some 362 95 1 grants were made under that scheme. It was a long term scheme which benefited many household units and many young families. In no way could that scheme be described as a gimmick. The Deputy Leader of Opposition said that the scheme would spend $90m in any one financial year and that this was a waste of money and a misdirection of Government funds. Again, that statement is silly and inconsistent. The fact is that the $90m will benefit many thousands of young people who are trying to build their first home. My Department estimates that about 50 000 to 60 000 grants will be involved in any one year. The arguments of the honourable member for Hughes and the Deputy Leader of Opposition seem to be based on what the Labor Government did in its 3 years in office for people who wished to own their own homes. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to great lengths to show what the Labor Government had achieved in the way of providing houses, reducing the cost of land and so on. The honourable member for Hughes, after an horrendous explanation of the situation that existed in December 1972, did not bother to tell us about the situation that developed in the 3 years in which the Labor Government was in office.
The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) enlightened us about what happened during the 3 years of Labor Administration: The cost of land had soared in those 3 years and the cost of construction of houses rose. Let us look further at some of the other facts. Let us examine the consumer price index for houses in various areas. First of all, I refer to those people who had to rent houses in 1972. For privately owned dwellings the index figure in 1972 was six. In December 1975 it had risen to 15.3. In December 1972 for Government owned houses which were rented the figure was 4.6; in December 1975 it was 31.1. This is the sort of penalty that those people who owned houses had to pay for 3 years of Labor Administration. In December 1972 the index figure for prices for repairs and maintenance stood at 7.3; in
December 1975 it was 16.3. Another problem associated with home ownership is local government rates and charges. The index figure for local government rates and charges was 7.9 in December 1972 and 29.8 in December 1975. Mention has been made of the long term bond rate. The long term bond rate in December 1972 was about 6 per cent and in August 1975 it had risen to 10 per cent. That is the sorry record of the Labor Administration. That is what the Labor Government did for people who wanted to own a house or simply wanted to live in a house and rent it.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to great lengths to tell us what a magnificent scheme had been introduced in the 1973-74 Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. I will not deny that a great deal of money was put into it. I will not deny that many people have been helped. But I will say this: That scheme is not satisfactory. It is abundantly clear that the housing needs of people who really need housing are not being met. The provision of houses, whether for rental or for purchase, is leaking to people who really should not have that benefit. We are negotiating with the States, hopefully, to produce a better scheme. I am able to say that it would seem that the States agree with us. I am very glad to see that the New South Wales Government has taken up the lead given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at the Premiers Conference in May of this year when he asked the Premiers to consider this problem that I have just described. The Labor Government in New South Wales has responded. I notice that it is moving now towards charging economic rents and towards selling houses at proper market prices.
Let me summarise what I have said in this way: We have heard the same old tired, weary cries that we always hear in this House, to the effect that this Government somehow or other is directing its endeavours towards helping the silvertails of the community and forgetting those who are really in need. That catalogue of facts which I have just given speaks for itself. I do not know how Opposition members make the deduction that the matters that I have detailed helped people in need. I do not wish to continue talking about the errors made by Opposition speakers in this debate; but I must pick up one more. It is one that has been peddled for too long now to go on any further. Let me try to nail it once and for all. Every time a Labor spokesman speaks about the homes savings grant scheme, he goes on to ask who can afford to save $40 a week or $48 a week over a 3-year period to win a grant. Let me make this point clear: A person does not have to save for 3 years to qualify for the grant. Any savings that a person had in an approved account before the savings period commenced can count towards a grant. Thus, somebody who kept $2,000 or $3,000 of his or her savings in an approved savings account will, in January 1977, immediately qualify for a grant of about $700, provided that that money has been in that approved account since May of this year. That person does not need to have saved one single additional cent in that account between May of this year and January 1977. 1 hope that that explanation makes the position clear. What the Labor Opposition tries to put around the community in this respect is a misconception; it is totally wrong.
I finish on this note. The Homes Savings Grant Bill that we are now considering, as I have pointed out, will benefit many thousands of Australians, whether they are married or single and whether they live in the country or in the cities; but this is not the only initiative that this Government is taking in the housing field. It is one part of a total package that we are offering on housing for the people of this country. Let me spell out what that package involves: First of all, it involves the responsible fiscal management of this country. I stand by what I said 2 or 3 days ago. On the best advice available to me, the effect of devaluation on the cost and availability of finance will be marginal. So, responsible fiscal management is the first point. The second matter to which I refer is the introduction of the housing allowance voucher experiment which is probably one of the most exciting programs initiated in this place for many a long day. It is directed to those most in need, namely low income and medium income earners who deserve decent shelter and who should not be penalised by the cost of getting that shelter. I have great hopes for that experiment.
I mention next the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, We are looking closely at the Corporation, as we promised in the last election campaign we would, to see whether we cannot find ways and means of improving the operations of the HLIC as they affect not only the home purchase market but also the home renting market. As I mentioned, we are continuing our agreements with the States to provide welfare housing. I hope that, in the next year or so, the discussions and negotiations that we are having with the States will result in a much more effective delivery of welfare housing through StateFederal co-operation. That is the total package, the very comprehensive package, that this Government gradually and surely is working towards, in order to improve the ability of all
Australians to achieve an Australian dreamthat is, the ownership of their own home.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Newman) read a third time.
– by leave- Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and the House for their courtesy this afternoon. Earlier, the House was given a number of amendments which we will discuss next week in the debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 2) 1976; but I believed that it would be helpful to that debate if this afternoon I gave information on the amendments that have been circulated.
The first of these is in relation to clause 9 of the Bill which deals with the composition of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The basic intent of this clause is to provide for representation on the Commission from each State as well as ensuring that at least two of the commissioners will be women. It has now been decided that, during the implementation of this intention, provision should be made for all present commissioners to serve out their remaining terms of office. This, in tura, leads to the desirability of providing some flexibility in the numbers of members who may be appointed to the Commission so that State representation and an increase in the number of women on the Commission can be achieved, without prejudice to the unexpired periods of office of the existing commissioners.
Accordingly, I now propose that the Commission shall consist of not less than nine, and not more than eleven, commissioners. Because of the intention for the Commission to comprise a representative from each State and also at least 2 women, as well as the Government’s intention to retain all existing commissioners, it will be necessary to deem certain of the present commissioners as representing a State. This is now provided for in the new amendment. I emphasise that this will have no effect on the remaining terms of the present commissioners. It will also be necessary to change the quorum provisions of the Act in the light of the number of commissioners who may now be appointed to the Commission.
Clause 6 of the Bill provides for a new subsection 16 ( 1 ) (c) of the principal Act. This subsection empowers the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal ‘to determine the hours during which programs are to be or may be broadcast or televised by licensees’. This provision differs from the original wording which gave similar power to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in the principal Act, by the addition of the words ‘are to be or’. These words were included on the advice of Parliamentary Counsel, and their purpose was to remove any doubt which may arise if the validity of this provision rested on the words ‘may be’ as is now the case in respect of sub-section 16 (1) (c) of the present Act.
However, there have been a number of representations to me on this amendment and as the present legislation is largely transitional in nature, I have agreed to withdraw the words ‘are to be or’ from sub-section 16(1) (c) of the present Bill. Clause 13 of the Bill introduced interim provisions for the licensing and administration of stations in the public broadcasting sector. Section IIIB of that clause was drafted to provide that, in this transitional legislation, public broadcasting and television stations would be subject to the same licensing, regulatory and administrative procedures as commercial broadcasting and television stations. However, the drafting has been interpreted by some to enable the public inquiry process to be avoided. Because of this I am proposing a further amendment to make it abundantly clear, that a public hearing will be necessary before a licence of this type can be granted under the Broadcasting and Television Act.
I stress again that legislation to be prepared for introduction next year will provide in detail for the administration of this new and important sector of our broadcasting system. I also propose an addition to clause 14 to provide for clarification of the responsibility of the secretary of the Postal and Telecommunications Department as detailed in section 1 1 ID. This section vests the planning responsibilities for the development of the Australian broadcasting system in the department. Future plans will be heavily oriented to social and economic issues as well as to technical considerations. It is necessary, however, to ensure that this important overall planning responsibility cannot be interpreted as permitting the secretary to direct stations in matters of program content. Accordingly, the new provision is designed to make it quite clear that clause 14 will not convey a right for the secretary to in any way require changes in the program formats of stations, on either an individual or collective basis.
A further amendment proposed is that section 1 1 lc of clause 14 of the present Bill be deleted. This section was originally included as one of a number of machinery amendments which reallocated the powers and functions of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It provides that the Minister may, subject to the approval of the Treasurer, provide financial assistance to commercial broadcasting and television stations to ensure that programs of adequate extent standard and variety are provided in the areas served by those stations. Apart from the possibility that a provision of this nature could lead to some commercial operators applying pressure on the Government to make assistance available to alleviate financial difficulties resulting from their own commercial practices, the inclusion of such section in the Act does not, in reality, provide the Minister with any additional powers. The Executive Government may, at any time, provide assistance to a particular industry, should it so desire, from funds appropriated for that purpose by the Parliament. It therefore does not need legislation as now provided for in section 1 1 lc of clause 14. I look forward to the debate next week.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment.
Nitrogenous Fertilizers Subsidy Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976.
Queensland Grant (Special Assistance) Bill 1976.
States Grants (Nature Conservation) Amendment Bill 1976.
Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1976.
Debate resumed from 30 November, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill and the United States Naval Communications Station (Civilian Employees) Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions, of course, will be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. Therefore I suggest, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-In this debate on the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill 1976, the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1976 and the United States Naval Communications Station (Civilian Employees) Amendment Bill 1976 I would like to spend some little time on the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill and leave it to others who follow me in this debate to cover and canvass the other areas. The Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill, naturally enough, is of some interest and concern to my constituents in Canberra. The Bill provides for workers compensation for employees of the Commonwealth Government and its statutory authorities. The legislation for this purpose was last amended during the 1 974 Budget session of the Parliament and since then there have been certain increases in the cost of living and benefits payable under workers compensation legislation in most of the States. Therefore it is quite proper that some amendments should be made to the legislation to bring it into line with the influences on employees in 1976.
The first change to which I would like to refer briefly is the increase in compensation for total incapacity. The weekly compensation payment for employees when they are incapacitated means that for the first 26 weeks of total incapacity they would receive normal full sick pay and following that period they would receive $80 a week. This in an increase from the present rate of $57 a week. There is an additional weekly supplement for a dependent spouse and it is increased from $15 a week to $21 a week. For each dependent child the increase is from $7 a week to $10 a week. The Bill covers compensation on death and increases the amount of compensation payable where injury results in the death of an employee from $20,000 to $25,000.
It also increases payments in respect of dependent children of a deceased employee from $7 a week to $10 a week. The maximum amount payable in respect to funeral expenses has been increased from $450 to $650 in line with the sort of expenses that people would expect to pay over that 2-year period. There also are increases in lump sum payments for specific losses. For example, the payment for permanent facial disfigurement is increased from $10,000 to $12,500. Another example is that compensation for loss of sense of taste, sight or smell is increased from $2,000 to $2,500. In addition there are increases for alterations to buildings or vehicle repairs or replacements of certain aids from $500 to $700.
In 1974 there were some changes to the Social Services Act which mean that this legislation could fall out of parallel. Therefore in the Bill changes have been made to section 38 ( 1 ) so that the 2 areas of compensation- compensation under this legislation and under the social services legislation- will be dealt with on a similar basis. The result of the Bill before the House will be that no person receiving compensation payments, or a person undergoing rehabilitation or vocational training, will receive less than would have been received under the social services legislation when undergoing similar training. Another important provision in this Bill is that the amendments will come into operation as from 1 September 1976 so that any people who have been affected by the legislation will be covered from that date.
One of the problems that we must face with legislation such as this is how generous we can be to Commonwealth employees. Naturally when any person suffers some sort of accident or a family loses the breadwinner the Government would like to be, and usually is, as generous as possible. There have been some comments about the level of generosity to employees under this legislation. When one looks at comparative State legislation one can see that no State offers higher benefit for children of deceased employees than is provided in the Bill- that is, $ 10 a week, subject to a minimum of $1,000. Only one State, Tasmania, provides a higher limit on funeral expenses than the $650 provided in this Bill. The lump sum payment to a dependent widow of a deceased employee, which is $25,000, is either equal to or higher than the same benefit offered in the major States- New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia- and in the Northern Territory.
In Western Australia the figure is marginally higher at $27,617. In Tasmania it is $25,674. In the Australian Capital Territory it is just over $25,000. Naturally, legislation such as this takes into account what is applying in the States, and I think we can say quite clearly that the legislation is fair to people in the Commonwealth service, when it is looked at in relation to the State services.
I would like to canvass a few matters with the Minister in relation to what might happen during the period when this legislation is being reviewed with a view to improving it. The first one is that I can see no reason at all why members of Parliament should not be covered by similar legislation. They could be injured or could die tragically. There is not a great deal of assistance for their families or their loved ones in those circumstances, other than the parliamentary pension. The next point is that one would hope that as the economy picks up, as it is showing signs of doing at the moment, it would be possible for the adjustments to this legislation to be more of an automatic nature. Some sort of indexation could be involved so that we do not need to go through the tortuous process each year, with each Budget, of having to decide the level. The third suggestion would be that the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill 1976, although similar legislation, does not seem in all respects to parallel the Commonwealth employees legislation. I hope that over the next 12 months some work will be done by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and her Department to make the 2 pieces of legislation parallel.
When one deals with legislation such as this one will always be accused of not being sufficiently generous to people who are in needy circumstances. I daresay that when members of the Opposition speak to this Bill they will bring forward quite a list of reasons why the Government should be more generous. I remind the people of Australia when these suggestions are made that there is only one good reason why the Government cannot be more generous at the moment, and that is that the economy cannot afford it. We must always remember why the economy is in this state of depression, which we are certainly getting out of. Why is it in that state? Who had the handout mentality only a couple of years ago that caused us all the problems we have?
– This will not save you in Canberra.
– I do not know whether or not it will save me in Canberra. That is not my real concern. My real concern in coming into this
House is to try to fix up some of the things that the gentleman on the front bench opposite did during the 3 years of the most catastrophic government in Australia. I would think that the people of Canberra, who were sufficiently wise to elect to the House of Representatives for the first time a member of the Liberal Party, would be sufficiently wise to see good government when the economy gets going again and when this country is pushing forward in the right and proper way. I support the legislation.
-I support the Seamen’s Compensation Amendment Bill 1976 which, in company with Bills dealt with yesterday, is designed to help workers. In this case, as in the case of watersiders, they are all unionists because of the closed shop, compulsory unionism policy of the seamen and the watersiders. The Opposition keeps putting forward the slogans about union bashing. Honourable members opposite accuse us all the time of union bashing. It was done this morning. It was done on a number of other occasions. Yet we are going to compensate seamen. I think one could say without fear of cantradiction that the Seamen’s Union of Australia is communist controlled. It is perhaps one of the worst unions in Australia in this regard. It has repeatedly held Australia to ransom. I think the findings of Mr Justice Sweeney in his interim report of last year proved that. If time permits, I will quote a few extracts from that. For many years this union has been one of the villains in Australia. Yet this so-called unionbashing Government is taking steps to see that seamen and their dependants are adequately compensated. It should be repeated that this is a communist controlled union. There is no doubt at all about this. I wonder how honourable members opposite will be able to keep up this lie that we bash the unions when we are prepared to take humane measures such as this.
The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), in his second reading speech, outlined the main purpose of the Bill, which is to increase the rates and amounts of compensation available under the Seamen’s Compensation Act to seamen and their dependants and to ensure that the monetary rates payable are kept in line with the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1976. The increased benefits will not cost the Commonwealth Government anything. The payments under the Seamen’s Compensation Act are the responsibility of the shipowners. Having been robbed on so many occasions, they are once again picking up the tab. I mean what I say. They have been robbed on numerous occasions. A few extracts from Mr Justice Sweeney’s report, I think, will prove it. Probably one of the worst cases was that of Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd. I quote from page 42 of the report. This is a letter which Mr Justice Sweeney quoted:
On behalf of Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd we enclose a bank cheque of $17,669.30 which you have demanded be paid to your account number S090091, and request your receipt.
This represents the difference in money amount between rates of pay and annual leave conditions of crew members of the vessel Sevillan Reefer and Australian rates of pay and annual leave conditions . . .
Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd has agreed to make this payment to your account on the understanding that the Sevillan Reefer will be provided immediately with union services required to allow the vessel to leave the port of Sydney.
Mr Justice Sweeney reported:
This letter together with a cheque for $ 1 7,669.30 was then delivered to the SUA and tendered to Mr Elliott’s secretary.
He is the communist secretary of the union. The report continues:
Exception was taken by Elliott to the final paragraph of the letter and the company advised that the letter and cheque would not be accepted with the final paragraph. The letter was then retyped, omitting the final paragraph, and it and the cheque handed to Elliott. The ban was then lifted and the vessel allowed to sail.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I think the honourable member is straying a little wide of the subject matter of this Bill. I allowed him to proceed to illustrate a point. I think that at the moment the honourable member is making the illustration almost a major part of his speech on this legislation. The Minister when introducing this Bill said that its main purpose is to increase the rates and amounts of compensation payable under the Seamen’s Compensation Act to seamen and their dependants. It is a matter of compensation to individual seamen rather than something related to the union concerned. I might suggest that the honourable member has illustrated his point sufficiently.
– Thank you for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I felt it was important to make the point that the Seamen’s Union does not have a good record. The union consists of individual seamen. However, I will accept your guidance. I think that the Government has been very generous in legislating in the way it has. Of course the benefits proposed by the legislation are not costing us anything. Governments past and present have given benefits such as this. Usually one of the easiest things to do is to dispose of other people’s money. We do not like it very much when we have to pay for these things ourselves. We have legislated to provide for increased compensation to seamen and their dependants. We have legislated to remove limitations in respect of the amounts payable for medical and ambulance services. We have legislated to remove the restrictive provisions in the Act to bring compensation practices into Une with the practices that have applied to Commonwealth Government employees since 1971. We intend to make the legislation retrospective to 1 December 1976. In conclusion, I support the Bill. I think it is really an excessive generosity on the part of this Government. I hope- it is possibly too much to hope- for some sort of contrition from the Seamen’s Union in response to what we have done. But I fear that that expectation will not be realised.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
House adjourned at 4.28 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
am asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: 1(a). As at 30 June 1975 projects approved for Commonwealth Assistance under the Hospitals Development Program were as listed below:
2(a) Federal funds under the Hospital Development Program are paid in respect of total State programs on hospital works, not against individual projects.
There is one exception: under special arrangements between the previous Federal government and Tasmania the Commonwealth agreed to fund 50 per cent of Stage One of the new Launceston General Hospital. Grants made to 30 June 1 976 totalled $732,933.
Amounts paid to each State by the Commonwealth under the program in 1974-75 were:
2 (b) Amounts paid to each State by the Commonwealth under the program in 1 975-76 were:
Hospital building projects are subject to continual review. During the lengthy planning and construction period exact details of he completed project can vary significantly. Projects frequently include the partial replacement or the upgrading of existing beds as well as the addition of new beds.
My Department is currently in the process of obtaining updated figures on anticipated numbers of additional beds to be provided by projects supported under the Hospitals Development Program. I will advise the honourable member further when the up-dated information is available.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
(a) Clients of the Department have the right to receive a copy of any document provided to the Department or any statement made before an officer of the Department. A member of Parliament acting on behalf of a constituent would have the same right.
Medical Claims Paid by Commonwealth (Question No. 1571)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations upon notice:
Can he say what is the average wage rate and average earnings, or the closest equivalent to the average wage rate and average earnings figures published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, m each OECD country.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The ABS publishes weighted average minimum weekly and hourly wage rates separately for adult males and adult females, together with an index, base year 1954 = 100, which merely indicates growth since the base year.
The OECD publishes no statistics in absolute money terms on average wage rates and average earnings in member countries.
Definitions and norms used by the statistical authorities in OECD countries to gather data on wage rates vary considerably and, quite apart from this, compilation of comparative date of actual money wage rates has been regarded as having limited value because the factors affecting the level of wages differ markedly from country to country.
In light of these practical difficulties, one effective alternative method of providing comparative data on wages in member countries adopted by the OECD has been the measurement of movements in average earnings for each member country on the basis of percentage changes over time.
The OECD releases this information in two publications: the biannual Economic Outlook (latest available July 1976): and the monthly Main Economic Indicators (latest available October 1976). The attached table is compiled from data contained in the latest editions of these two publications.
It sets out percentage changes in earnings in the manufacturing industry for each OECD country covering the period 1964-1976. The footnotes indicate that, despite the fact the heading to the table refers to ‘hourly earnings’, the data is not in all cases based on actual hourly rates for all countries.
It should also be noted that these rates are for the manufacturing industry only, data for all industries not being available.
Sources: OECD ‘Main Economic Indicators’, October 1 976; OECD ‘Economic Outlook ‘, July 1 976.
asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Both side were agreed on the need for any settlement to take account of the legitmate rights of the Palestinian people, and of the right of all states in the area to exist within secure and recognised boundaries’.
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations upon notice:
How many (a) males and (b) females are employed in the (i) manufacturing and (ii) retailing of sporting equipment and sporting clothes.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows. It replaces the answer provided on 2 November 1 976 (see Hansard, page 2240):
Employment statistics disaggregated to the extent he seeks are only collected in connection with quinquennial Censuses of Population and Housing. The most recent Census figures available are for 30 June 1971. These showed that:
1 ) 1598 males and 7 1 8 females were employed in establishments mainly engaged in the manufacturing of sporting equipment;
2841 males and 2077 females were employed in establishments mainly engaged in the retailing or repairing of sporting goods, bicycles, toys or hobby equipment;
It should be noted that the figures relate to establishments mainly engaged in these activities, and therefore exclude persons employed in establishments mainly engaged in other industries but which include a degree of manufacture or retailing of sporting equipment as a secondary activity;
The Census statistics are not disaggregated to the extent that the manufacturing and retailing of sporting clothes can be separated from that of general clothing.
asked the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) Based on the 1971 Census figures and allowing for subsequent arrivals and natural increase as a result of birth of children in Australia it is estimated that there were about 53 000 people of Lebanese descent in this country as at 30 January 1976.
Aged Patients in Nursing Homes (Question No. 1217)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following amounts are payable in respect of persons accommodated in nursing homes.
As recently announced these rates will be increased by $2 a day in each State from 1 5 December 1976;
The Nursing Homes Assistance Act provides for a system of financing of the deficits incurred by approved nursing homes operated by religious and charitable organisations or other non-profit organisations.
This form of assistance is an alternative to the payment of nursing home benefits under the National Health Act and proprietors of nursing homes which participate under the deficit financing arrangements forgo the patient benefits provided under that Act.
Nursing home care is provided to three broad groups of Repatriation patients:
those who require care for a disability related to war service for whom the Department of Veterans’ Affairs pays the total fee.
Patients in these categories must contribute towards the cost of their care. The amount of that contribution is currently $4 1 . 30.
Service Pensioners nursing home care for this group of Repatriation pensioners is not available under Repatriation arrangements but is provided by the Department of Health under the provisions of the National Health Act and Nursing Homes Assistance Act.
There are also various subsidies, such as the delivered meals subsidy and the home nursing subsidy, which are paid to organisations providing supportive services to elderly persons in a domestic situation. These subsidies are not payable direct to a person who cares for an aged relative at home and I have therefore not provided details. However, further information in that regard will be supplied to the honourable member if required.
Standing Committee on Road Safety:
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
What action has he taken to implement the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety in order to (a) ensure that the Australian Capital Territory immediately legislates for retrofitting of seat belts based on the Advisory Committee on Vehicle Performance draft code of practice, (b) initiate a program to notify all pre- 1974 motor vehicles owners, at the time of registration renewal, of the inherent dangers associated with the incorrect wearing and fitting of seat belts, (c) investigate the practicality and feasibility of incorporating an outside device on vehicles to indicate whether seat belts are being worn, (d) ensure that vehicles are fitted with a ‘fasten seat belts’ warning light on the dashboard operated in conjunction with the ignition switch and (e) investigate the present reasons for granting exemptions from seat belt wearing and encourage Territory authorities to amend their legislation according to the result of the investigation.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Royal Commission on Petroleum (Question No. 1415)
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
Does the Government propose to introduce legislation to regulate wholesale financing transactions, and more particularly, to recognise agreements between dealers and finance companies.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Government has before it recommendations of the Trade Practices Act Review Committee which relate to this matter. That Committee recommended that linked financiers be jointly liable with dealers in relation to defective products. The Molomby Committee Report on Consumer Credit also recommended similar action. Moreover, the general matter of consumer credit law is currently under examination by a Commonwealth/State Working Party on uniform credit laws.
Any action proposed by the Government will be announced when it has fully considered the questions involved.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have nothing to add to my answer on 2 November 1976 (Hansard pp 2186-7).
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In some cases the claims have been found not to be false or misleading in terms of the Trade Practices Act. In other cases the action taken by the Commission has resulted in claims being altered or discontinued.
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice:
Who provided the basic information for the Industries Assistance Commission investigation into a National Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme, and who gave evidence to the Commissioners.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Commission’s benefit/cost analysis of a National Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme was foreshadowed in its Report on the Dairy Industry of 23 October 1973.
During its public inquiries on the Dairy Industry, the Commission received many submissions on the subject of dairy herd improvement. Later, a supplementary submission was prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry, which brought together data and views provided by State Departments of Agriculture and other organisations with a special interest in herd improvement.
This integrated submission provided the basic information for the IAC s analysis.
A list of witnesses to the Dairy Industry inquiry is contained in Appendix 1.2 of the Dairy Industry Report, and their requests and suggestions are contained in Appendix 1 .3 of that Report.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Is the Fawnmac group of companies still for sale; if so, what is the best offer received for the companies to date.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Government decided in February 1976 that I should, in consultation with the Treasurer, investigate the possibilities of selling the Fawnmac group, preferably to an Australian company, and report back to the Government. No decision has yet been taken on the enquiries that have been received. As the matter is still under examination it would not be appropriate for me to disclose details of offers at this stage.
Federal and State Co-operation on Industrial Matters (Question No. 1604)
am asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As part of supply and demand projections for all major agricultural commodities the Bureau has prepared and published projections of likely longer term developments in the rice industry. More recently these projections were revised and amended and are currently being printed for publication. However, they have already been discussed with and made available to industry representatives.
In October this year the Bureau prepared a report on the current economic situation and future prospects in the
N.S.W. rice industry. This paper was prepared following representations to me by the N.S.W. rice industry on a number of issues relating to the industry’s current economic situation. The paper has not been published but was discussed with and made available to the industry. A copy of the paper is being made available to the honourable member.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable members ‘ question is as follows:
The areas and industries so far covered by the Survey are as below:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member ‘s question is as follows:
Personal Staff at Posts (Question No. 1305)
asked the following question on notice of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Staff employed in these categories are the personal employees of Heads of Mission and those Australia-based officers of Australian Government Departments who are in receipt of local allowances. Within these there is a component, fixed by the Public Service Board, to cover such employment, based inter alia on the Board’s assessment of the needs of officers at each level at each post, in the light of conditions and community practice.
It would not be practicable, in terms of the manpower and time required, to provide the totals requested for numbers and costs of domestic staff employed in Australia-based officers at each post.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
Are staff members accompanying persons referred to in the latter part of his answer to question No. 1037 issued with diplomatic passports.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
One member of the personal staff of the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Australian Government Ministers and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, when accompanying these persons overseas on official business, may be issued with a diplomatic passport.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
Is it a fact that his Department does not keep a record of the number of valid diplomatic passports which are currently on issue: if not, what is the number of such passports issued for (a) a limited period and (b) a period of years.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
See the answer to Question No. 1037.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
How many limited period diplomatic passports returned by the holders are presently being held by his Department.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As at 1 November, 472 diplomatic passports with a limited period of validity were being held by my Department, having been returned by their holders.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
What are the dates on which (a) the previous Government and (b) the present Government examined and reviewed the categories of persons who are entitled to be issued with diplomatic passports when travelling abroad.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed that Ministers of the previous Government reviewed the policy on issue of diplomatic passports in September 1974 and July 1975. The present Government reviewed this matter on 6 July 1 976.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 December 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19761203_reps_30_hor102/>.