30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned concerned citizens respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, should ensure:
That the Commonwealth Government’s long-term policy should be to provide50 per cent of all funding for Australia’s roads.
That at a minimum the Commonwealth Government adopts the recommendations by the Australian Council of Local Government Associations for the allocation of $5,903m of Commonwealth, State and Local Government funds to roads over the five years ending 1980-81, of which the Commonwealth share would be 41 per cent as recommended by the Bureau of Roads.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Clyde Cameron, Mr Drummond, Mr McVeigh and Mr Millar.
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 of the continuation of symphony orchestras throughout Australia posed by the I.A.C. 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 Connolly, Mr Dobie, Mr Jarman and Mr Martin.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned concerned citizens respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, should ensure:
That the Commonwealth Government adopts the recommendations of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads for the funding of rural local roads and urban local roads in New South Wales for the triennium 1 977- 1 980.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Connolly and Mr Lucock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of certain citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That 1. There is no Public Telephone in the Minto Housing Commission Estate.
This Estate is a residential area at present housing some 60 (sixty) families or 400 (four hundred people) of whom 130 are children of four years of age.
The Minto Estate is 41.6 km (26 miles) from Sydney and 6.4 km (4 miles) from Campbelltown.
The nearest Public Telephones are respectively located 1 . 5 km away on the corner of Pembroke Road and Warwick Street; and 2.5 km away at the Minto Post Office in Redfern Street, Minto.
The poor surface condition of the roads leading to these Public Telephones causes considerable delay and inconvenience in reaching them.
That 2. There is no Doctor in Minto, such that any emergency requires telephone contact with the necessary medical authority located in towns other than Minto.
Delays in contacting medical assistance could endanger a life or lives.
That 3. On medical grounds it is an absolute necessity that some families have immediate access to a public telephone within the Minto Estate.
Seven families have young Asthmatic children and a further two families have Epileptic children who frequently suffer severe convulsions. There are case examples to illustrate the dire need for a Public Telephone and to remedy the situation where an unconscious child may be able to secure immediate attention.
That 4. A large number of the population are left during the day without transport and thus without quick access to a telephone for contacting emergency services such as Firebrigade, Ambulance, Hospital, Doctors and the like.
That S. Constant traffic of large trucks to building sites and the presence of incomplete houses is potentially dangerous and thus demands installation of a Public Telephone, in order that such potential crises can be met.
Your petitioners kindly pray that your House will:
Mortimer Street and Guernsey Avenue- an area which would not be hampered by construction work and thus damage to cables.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Baume.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners believe that every citizen should have the fundamental human right to express his beliefs without the threat of arrest and punishment by the State and therefore expresses their grave concern at the arrest and detention of Jiri Hajek and other Czech citizens merely for soliciting support for basic human rights as expressed in their ‘Charter 77’.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to voice its disapproval of the arrests and detention which are contrary to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Groom.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the said Parliament would greatly asist the Superannuant Pensioner by seeing the way clear so that the Superannuated and future Superannuated Pensioners having made sacrifices of income (along with taxes) to provide for retirement be allowed to receive their said Superannuation Pensions free of all Taxes. Increasing Taxes are becoming an increasing burden on those with a fixed income. Housing is needed by the Superannuants like any other section of the community but the Superannuants unlike any other section of the community are tied to a fixed income. The said Superannuants would appreciate this greatly as this would assist these people in obtaining (purchasing) housing of a reasonable standard.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Wilson.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House places on record its extreme regret at the action of the Czechosolvakian Government in arresting and imprisoning 6 civil liberties dissidents, including the civil rights leader Frantisek Krieqel, the distinguished writer
Pavel Kohout and the former Czech Foreign Minister Jiri Hajek, following the publication in Prague in January this year of the Human Rights Charter known as Charter 77 signed by over 240 scholars, writers and politicians demanding the restoration of basic civil rights in Czechoslovakia as guaranteed by the Helsinki pact of 1975 and further, this House calls upon the Czechoslovakian Government to restore basic civil rights to all citizens of Czechoslovakia regardless of their political or religious affiliations.
Dress of Members
-Mr Speaker, under the Standing Orders I draw your attention to the state of dress of the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage). I ask you to rule that a state of dress which would not be acceptable in the Speaker’s Gallery on the floor of this House, that is, failure to wear a tie, is not acceptable on the floor of the chamber.
-The honourable member for Chifley rang me this morning and informed me that it was hot- which indeed it was. He asked me whether in the circumstances a tie would be necessary in the chamber. I indicated to the honourable member for Chifley that I thought that every person would make his own judgment as to whether he was properly presentable to his peers in the House and that it was a matter for his judgment. He indicated to me in a most cooperative fashion that he would like me actually to see his dress. He came for inspection. After due inspection I thought that the honourable member for Chifley looked quite presentable and I agreed that he could enter the chamber dressed in that manner.
-Last night the Attorney-General stated that the Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) Bill recognises the special position of the High Court of Australia as the federal supreme court created by the Constitution and vested with the power to interpret the Constitution and, one hopes, soon with ultimate appellate power in this country. I therefore ask the Attorney-General: Has the Government given consideration to or taken a decision on the introduction of the Privy Council Appeals Abolition Bill, the draft of which he settled in consultation with the English law authorities 4 years ago?
– The Government has not given consideration to that Bill. Although the
Government supports the view that the High Court should become the ultimate court of appeal in the country, it regards the question whether appeals to the Privy Council should be abolished or terminated as a matter for each State. I can only say that I have raised the question at meetings of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General for consideration by Attorneys-General of the States. At my request the question of a Statute of Westminster for the States was referred to a sub-committee of that Standing Committee. It seemed to me that it might consider the abolition of those appeals in the course of considering that matter. That subcommittee has not yet reported.
May I say that there are at the moment 3 Labor Attorneys-General. I understand that recently an appeal did go from South Australia to the Privy Council on an electoral matter and that there was a finding against the State of South Australia. I do not know whether that decision will incline the Labor Attorney-General in South Australia to do something about appeals to the Privy Council. There is no indication whether the Attorneys-General from either New South Wales or Tasmania are active on this question. I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that if he is anxious to further the cause of abolition of appeals to the Privy Council he have a word with the Premiers of those States.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that an Australian citizen, Miss Susan Day, presently employed by the Government of the People’s Republic of China as a teacher, has applied to the Chinese authorities for permission to marry a Chinese citizen? So far as the Prime Minister knows, has that permission not yet been given? Will the Prime Minister be prepared to use his good offices to encourage the Chinese authorities to give permission for that marriage to take place?
-This is the kind of individual case in relation to which an Australian Government would want to act sympathetically. If the circumstances were reversed I think an Australian government would want to respond to a request made by somebody to marry an Australian citizen. When I was in China I expressed to the Chinese Government the view that, as we saw the situation, permission ought to be given for Miss Susan Day to marry the Chinese to whom she wished to be engaged. I understand that subsequently she made an application to take out Chinese citizenship. The interest of the Australian Government was expressed quite correctly. In more recent times the Austraiian Embassy in Peking has been asked to remind the authorities of the views that were expressed several months ago. I am not aware of any response having been received from the Chinese authorities.
– I ask the Treasurer In view of the recent devaluation and the 9 subsequent revaluations and other changes in the Government’s economic policies, have new estimates been made of the levels and rates of major economic variables for the current financial year to replace those published in the Budget? For example, is there still expected to be a growth in employment of 2 per cent over the year as a whole and is the rate of increase in the consumer price index still expected to be of the order of 12 percent?
– I can understand the honourable member being concerned about these matters. For the sake of the listening audience I use this opportunity to restate what the honourable gentleman said publicly recently, that ‘the danger in Labor’s approach was the possibility of intensified pressure of demand leading to further prolonging of inflation’. No doubt the honourable gentleman -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it possible to ask the Treasurer to answer the question rather than make blustering personal attacks? If he is again reading from the letter from which he has read previously, may I ask once again that the full text of the letter be incorporated in Hansard.
-There are 2 parts to the point of order that has been raised. The first part concerns the nature of the answer by the Treasurer. He is entitled to answer in a manner that is relevant to the question. As to the second part, at the conclusion the answer I shall pursue the matter of tabling the letter.
– I was not sure whether the honourable gentleman said ‘blustering attack’ or blistering attack’. We have been waiting all week for that incisive, sharp economic attack from the Opposition. I confess to becoming a little tired of waiting for it. But perhaps it will arise during question time. I invite such an attack because the answers can be provided. The first part of the question asked by the honourable gentleman related to unemployment, for which the Opposition Party stands indicted because it caused that particular problem when in government. Unemployment is too high. We are on the record as stating that and I reaffirm that we yield to none in our concern for the unemployed throughout this country. But I remind the honourable gentleman, who eschews a sense of concern for statistics, that it was the Opposition that pushed unemployment from 1.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent over the period of 3 years in which its members were in government. It has since risen by a mere 0.2 of a per cent. Of course, I indicate no complacency in relation to that, but I shall take up that point in a moment. As the Budget Papers indicated, no improvement -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about the growth in employment during the current financial year. I should be very interested to learn about the current rate of unemployment at another time, but is this answer relevant to my question?
-I think the answer is relevant. I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that when a question is asked the questioner may not be satisfied with the answer, but it is not the purpose of the Standing Orders to prevent this occurring. The purpose of the Standing Orders is for the questioner to put the question and for the Minister to answer it as he sees fit provided it is relevant.
-As I was saying before the interruption by the honourable gentleman, the Budget Papers indicated that no improvement in the unemployment situation was expected during calendar year 1976. As we move further into 1977 and the recovery strengthens improvement can be expected. I take the opportunity to say on the general question of employment figures that I believe that a closer look needs to be given to the true picture. I refer to the last special survey that was conducted by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. Of the respondents to the survey only 63.8 per cent were unemployed on the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition which, of course, is an internationally agreed definition, 26.8 per cent were employed full time or part time or had lost or found a job in the week of the survey, 9.4 per cent were classified as not in the labour force under the internationally agreed definition and finally 17 per cent of the sample survey rather than the respondents to the survey were found to be not residing at the address stated when registering for unemployment benefits.
As to the reference of the honourable gentleman to the consumer price index, I remind the honourable gentleman of what I said in my speech to the House on this matter on Tuesday of this week. Of course the CPI which comes out at 12 noon next Tuesday will show a higher increase than any since the 5.6 per cent recorded for the December quarter of 1975, but that once and for all statistical effect should not be allowed to obscure the steady and considerable underlying improvement in the rate of inflation. I went on to say that the point could be more easily seen if one looked at the broadly based deflators. I recall a question from the honourable member for Melbourne Ports on broadly based deflators quite some time ago. I welcome the Dorothy Dix question from the shadow Treasurer and take the opportunity to say in the strongest terms that this Government deplores the attacks which he and his colleagues have disgracefully made upon the integrity of the Acting Commonwealth Statistician. I understand that the CPI figure will be released at 12 noon next Tuesday. That is a matter for the judgment of the Acting Commonwealth Statistician; it is not a matter which comes within the competence of this administration. The Statistician exercises that responsibility, as of course he ought, in a normal independent manner.
-Does the honourable member for Adelaide wish to pursue the matter of the letter?
– Yes please, Mr Speaker.
-I ask the Treasurer whether he was quoting from a document.
– Yes, I was.
-Is it confidential?
– No, the document is not. I should however, so that the honourable gentleman is not misled, say that I have a document here which is headed: ‘What is Wrong with the Opposition’s Economic Policy’. The document runs to 8 pages. I am very happy to incorporate it in Hansard.
-Does the honourable member for Adelaide wish it to be incorporated?
– Yes, those documents from which he quoted.
– I seek leave to incorporate the document in Hansard.
-Leave has been granted.
The document read as follows-
The danger in Labor’s approach is the possibility of intensified pressure of demand leading to further prolonging of inflation.’
MrHurford 15 February 1977
On 7 February the Shadow Treasurer issued a two-page press statement that purports to be the Opposition’s economic policy. The statement contains no economic analysis and provides no details of the way in which the policy would be implemented or, indeed, of its objectives for growth, inflation and unemployment.
It is useful to recall that the Liberal and National Country Parties’ economic policy in Opposition, released on 10 February 1975, covered some 57 pages of detailed exposition.
The Opposition’s policy is designed primarily to stimulate a higher level of economic activity and begins from the following premise:
The present low level of economic activity and high level of unemployment are more that a cyclical recession.’
Apart from the fact that all recissions are cyclical, by definition, economic activity is, of course, at a low level relative to what was the norm during the post-war period only because of the damage done by the Labor Government. What we promised at election time was a three year program. It recognised that the enormity of the economic problem required policies to curb the deteriorating position under our predecessors, and to lay the groundwork for sustained recovery. Inflation was clearly the number one objective; its prominence is supported by virtually everyone but the Labor Party.
Facts the Opposition Ignores
If we look at the first year’s economic performance, evidence is increasingly showing the correctness of our approach; the fact is that economic activity has recently strengthened: 1 976 has by almost all accounts been a much stronger year than 1975.
We expect the budgeted growth rate for the economy to be exceeded.
Real gross non-farm product has increased in each of the first three quarters of 1976. It is now 7.6 per cent above the December 1975 level.
Industrial production has been filming after a growth pause around mid-year; year on year gains are spreading.
Registration of new motor vehicles, seasonally adjusted, rose to 63,200 in December, a record monthly level; 1976 registrations were higher than 1975- the year when sales tax was substantially reduced to boost the industry.
Retail sales, seasonally adjusted, grew by 2.6 per cent in November and 1.2 per cent in December, reflecting increasing buoyancy as compared with earlier months in the year. Again, 1976 appears to be a year of real growth.
Real private investment in dwellings in the six months to September was 26 per cent higher than in the same period a year earlier.
Real private investment in plant and equipment, (seasonally adjusted) responding to the Government’s investment allowance, increased by 4.3 per cent in the six months to September following a 3.6 per cent decline in the six months to March.
Company profits increased by 26.2 per cent during the six months to September last, as compared with almost no change in the six months to March 1 976.
Facts the Opposition Likes to Forget
As to the question of unemployment, the following should be taken into account:
The Labor Government, not the present Government, stands indicted for the destruction of full employment in Australia.
The average rate of unemployment in Australia between 1963 and 1972 was 1.3 per cent of the workforce. In December 1972, when the Whitlam Government came to office, the level of unemployment was 1 . 8 per cent
In January 1976, reflecting three years of the Whitlam policies, the level of unemployment had reached 5.6 per cent- it is now 5.8 per cent. In other words, the Labor Party which pushed unemployment from 1.8 per cent to 5.6 per cent over a period of three years is now condemning the present Government because the level has moved upward by one fraction of a per cent over the past twelve months.
This year’s Budget papers made it clear that a decline in the level of unemployment could only be expected towards the end of the financial year, with further improvement in labour market conditions later in 1977 in response to strengthening economic activity. This trend should be further aided by the positive effects of devaluation.
Unemployment in January this year was in no way inconsistent with what was put before the Parliament last August.
Present expectations are thus for only a gradual reduction in the rate of unemployment with little if any of this appearing during calendar 1 976. ‘ (P. 53 Hansard 17August 1976)
The Labor Party, both in and outside the Parliament, has attempted to create apprehension in the community about the unemployment situation. Both the Leader of the Opposition and his Deputy last year predicted that unemployment would reach half a million in January. The President of the ACTU made the same prediction. Labor’s new statement of economic policy is a further attempt to exploit the ‘politics’ of unemployment.
What the foregoing demonstrates is that the whole basis on which the Opposition has framed its policy is wrong. The level of unemployment is not a lead indicator and cannot, therefore, be used to assess activity at the present stage of the economic cycle. Economic activity is trending upwards and the economy cannot be said to be moving deeper into recession.
Against this general background a number of fundamental criticisms can be levelled at the Opposition’s policy:
The policy makes no reference at all to wages and it must therefore be assumed that full wage indexation for the majority of the workforce, as set down in the so-called Whitlam five point plan of 14 October last, remains as ALP policy in this area. This factor alone during 1977 would inevitably lead to increased inflation, especially insofar as it would greatly exaggerate the price effects of the devaluation. The supine posture assumed by the Opposition to the critical question of wages stands in sharp contrast to its position when in Government.
For example, the previous Treasurer explicitly recognised the real wage problem in his 197S Budget Speech when he said:
It does employees generally no good to get higher and higher money incomes if the results are just higher prices, a severe squeeze on profits, a slump in new investment and a contraction of job opportunities.
Consider, also, Mr Whitlam ‘s words to the 197S Young Labor Conference:
Inflation today is undoubtedly and almost solely due to wage claims and increases. ‘
The Labor plan argues for manpower programs such as youth employment subsidies and apprenticeship, vocational and technical education schemes’.
This, of course, completely ignores the very significant employment innovations of the present Government:
A special youth employment training program;
Improvements to NEAT;
Review of CES Services;
Inquiry into education and the labour force.
Labor’s new policy abandons monetary control as an instrument in the fight against inflation. The Labor Party now proposes that the rate of monetary growth should be increased to the rate of inflation plus the rate of economic growth- or, according to Mr Hurford, by around 5 per cent.
This is put forward because, according to the Opposition, the present rate of money supply growth ‘is causing a credit squeeze ‘. The first point to be noted is that any suggestions of a credit squeeze are baseless in fact. In the wake of devaluation, certain adjustments to the monetary instruments have been necessary to keep the thrust of monetary policy firmly on the anti-inflation track:
Yields on Government paper have been increased in order to attract more funds from the non-bank private sector;
Measures have been taken to restrict shorter term, low priority overseas borrowings from adding to monetary easiness;
Further moves have been made to contain the Budget deficit;
The SRD ratio has been increased by 3 percentage points, with another call of 1 per cent effective on 2 1 February so as to prevent an inflationary upsurge in bank lending.
But calls to SRDs have not been excessive- trading bank free liquidity averaged 6 per cent of deposits at the end of January, an increase or 4 percentage points over the level at the end of November. The very substantial non-official holdings of Treasury notes- over $2.5 billion-will serve to smooth out the liquidity rundown during the final quarter of the financial year.
Furthermore, the minimum LGS ratio of the trading banks will revert from the present 23 per cent to 18 per cent at the end of March, or when the liquidity down-swing gets underway.
Against this background there is no basis for claiming that there is a credit squeeze and that monetary policy should be eased.
Indeed, what the Opposition now advocates is that inflation should be underwritten by monetary policy. It is worth recalling that Mr Hurford claimed on 22 January last year that the Government had put in hand a ‘vicious credit squeeze’, in spite of the statement by Mr Hayden at the time that the Government’s economic package was ‘an appropriate measure’. It should also be recalled that, in a speech on 3 August last, Mr Hurford endorsed the Government’s monetary policies in the following terms:
The rate of inflation would be reduced by a combination of policies including . . . allowing the money supply to grow at a rate sufficient to accommodate a recovery of growth and a declining rate of price increases. ‘
Last August Mr Hurford presented a mirror image of the Government’s monetary policy- now he claims for political reasons that measures taken, in line with that policy, will lead to a credit squeeze. It is not irrelevant, when considering the Labor Party s record in this area, that the 1974 credit squeeze was far more severe than any credit restrictions in the post-war era and was instrumental in pushing the economy to the depths of its recession.
Labor’s new policy now finds it appropriate to ‘scrap or reduce some of the more extravagant, and only marginally useful, investment and depreciation allowances .
In other words, Labor would abolish the 40 per cent investment allowance that has been one of the primary factors leading to a revival in business investment spending. It would also reduce the extent of depreciation allowable to businesses and, presumably, abandon the move towards company tax indexation of which adjustments to depreciation are a fundamental part.
This aspect of Labor’s new policy alone would seriously jeopardise the recovery. Again, it is not irrelevant to note Labor’s previous actions and it will be recalled that the Labor Government abolished the 20 per cent investment allowance that was in force under the preceding Government. Business has condemned this aspect of Labor’s policy in trenchant terms. Some of the business groups having done so include the Associated Chamber of Manufactures, Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and the Australian Farmers’ Federation.
Labor’s plan calls for ‘a selective, stimulatory, Government spending program ‘. Consistent with the rest of the policy statement no figure for spending is included. It has to be assumed that the figure given by Mr Whitlam in bringing forward his five point plan last October-$500 million- is a minimum.
Labor’s spending proposals are simply the same old discredited big spending, big deficit approach that has been repudiated not only by the Australian electorate, but by every international meeting of finance ministers over the past twelve months. The new plan is, in this regard, little more than a hangover from the halcyon days of Dr Cairns who, it will be recalled, lifted Federal spending by some 46 per cent in one year. Far from bringing about any stimulus, the Cairns policies simply added to the economy’s difficulties at the time.
Labor’s plan suggests that indirect tax cuts should be used to increase real incomes and to boost consumer spending. There is no real basis for Labor’s assertion that reductions in indirect taxation could effectively reduce the rate of inflation, thereby leading to an increase in consumption.
In fact, when Labor reduced sales tax on motor vehicles early in 1975, the stimulus was short-lived- sales slumped badly in the second half of the year.
As a rule of thumb about $400 million of indirect tax revenue has to be foregone to reduce the Consumer Price Index by a mere 1 per cent. If inflation really could be dealt with by cutting indirect taxes, it is astonishing that such pleasantly soft options have not been universally adopted. Quite apart from the hard economic realities, precedence clearly needs to be given to personal income tax reform because of Australia’s already heavy reliance on direct, rather than indirect, taxes.
Labor’s new plan makes no mention of three important proposals that were previously put forward as essential in the Whitlam plan:
A reduction in the rate of company tax;
More generous income tax rebates;
A reduced health levy.
The plan gives no commitment to either personal tax indexation or company tax indexation.
The plan makes no mention whatever of external policy. It has to be remembered that the Labor Party has been critical of the Goverment ‘s external policy. In the light of such criticism, it is strange indeed that no alternative has been brought forward.
Finally, the plan says nothing of substance about financing the increased deficit- although some mention is made of aggressive’ selling of bonds (whatever that means)- it is abundantly clear that the Hurford plan is simply to print more money.
The absolute folly of Labor’s proposal is, perhaps, best summed up in the words of the British Prime Minister, Mr James Callaghan, in his address to the Labor Party Conference on September 1 8 last:
We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists and that insofar as it ever did exist, it worked by injecting inflation into the economy.’
– Is the Minister for Transport aware that the extent of a recent fire on a Sydney train was mainly attributable to the presence of a highly flammable material- polyurethane- in the train seats? Does the composition of aeroplane seats used on Australian airliners include this substance? If so, does he regard its presence as a safety hazard? Is remedial action contemplated? Is there any need for public concern relative to any of the materials used in the manufacture of such seats?
– I am aware that it is asserted that the fire in the train in Sydney recently was caused by polyurethane seats. I understand that tests have been undertaken by the New South Wales Transport Commission to prove or disprove that assertion. It is a fact that polyurethane is used in the manufacture of aircraft seats, but I am able to inform the honourable member that, happily, the polyurethane in aircraft seats is given some fire resistant treatment that satisfies the Department of Transport in respect of the prospect of fire. The polyurethane seats in aircraft throughout Australia are quite safe. I think that during the period of office of my predecessor steps were taken to set up procedures to test flammable materials in aircraft, and polyurethane seats were subject to those overall tests. Therefore, the safety standards of Australian aircraft are very high.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. He will recall that after the meetings between the Government and union leaders last June a joint Press statement was issued that the Government would not oppose adjustments to award wages that flowed from increases in the Consumer Price Index due to the introduction of the Medibank levy. Does the Treasurer’s statement on Tuesday that the Government intends to press very strongly indeed for a maximum measure of wage restraint indicate that the Government will now ignore this agreement with the unions and will oppose any increase in award wages to compensate wage earners for the imposition of the Medibank levy? Will the Government also oppose future increases in wages insomuch as they are caused by the effects of devaluation?
– A very quick response to the honourable gentleman would be that in matters of this type, as he should be very much aware, it ought not to be within the province of this Parliament to seek to canvass matters of detail which the Government will be putting in the national wage case. I made that perfectly clear in the statement which I brought down in the House on Tuesday of this week and I do not seek to go beyond it. I might say to the honourable gentleman generally on wages that this Government is confident that the overwhelming majority of Australians now understand the need for wage and salary restraint because of the incidence of inflation and because of the problems of job opportunities, that is to say, the absence of job opportunities created by the honourable gentleman. On this subject, I can do no better than quote what the honourable gentleman said to the Young Labor Association conference in January 1975. He said then that inflation was ‘undoubtedly and almost solely due to wage claims and increases’. He will recall this as well as I do from the piece of paper which I have here. I quote the honourable gentleman back to him:
You cannot blame Vietnam for the inflation in the world. You cannot blame the oil crisis for the inflation in Australia. You cannot blame the takeovers and the currency rates for inflation in Australia now. You have to place the blame on wage claims.
The Leader of the Opposition went even further and outlined why excessive wage increases lead not only to inflation but also to unemployment. Again I quote from what he said:
Every excessive increase in income for one man takes the job of another.
I can well understand, therefore, why, curiously and somewhat incomprehensibly, the honourable member for Adelaide, who is the Opposition’s spokesman on economic matters, made no reference whatever to wages in that somewhat incomplete- I underline ‘incomplete’economic statement published in a 2-page document some few days ago.
-Is the Minister for - Transport aware of recent newspaper advertisements by Qantas Airways Limited and British Airways Corporation which gave readers the immediate impression that they would be able to save $450 on return flights to Britain from 1 April, when in fact these cheaper fares do not apply until flights in October? Will the Minister ensure that in future Qantas and British Airways abide by the spirit as well as the letter of the trade practices legislation in relation to their advertising?
-Qantas Airways Ltd and British Airways have announced a new cheap fare from Australia to the United Kingdom and from the United Kingdom to Australia. The fare is $850 in the off-peak season compared with the present fare for the same period of $1,104. There is no doubt that in general terms the new fare structure has been widely welcomed. Indeed, Qantas received some 6000 inquiries in the first week after the announcement about bookings at the new cheap rate.
In respect of the specific matter raised by the honourable member, I have sought information on it and I understand that the advertisement is in no way in breach of the trade practices legislation, the reason being that Qantas and British Airways have widely advertised the full fare structure, including peak and off-peak travel. Therefore no prospective traveller ought to be under any illusions as to the price he would be paying. I will, however, draw to the attention of Qantas the concern expressed in the honourable member’s question.
– I ask the Treasurer a question in precise and simple terms. Does the Government adhere to its undertaking of last June that it would not argue against wage award increases by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission insofar as changes in the Medibank levy resulted in increases in the consumer price index?
– I was quite precise and made it quite clear that I would not answer that question in this House. My colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations might see fit to answer it. I will leave the question in his jurisdiction. He may or may not wish to answer it. I do not predict or foreshadow that he will. I was saying that I, as Treasurer, would say in this House no more than I said when I made the economic statement on Tuesday. I repeat that to the honourable gentleman. We shall be stating our position in this matter fully in the national wage case which is expected to commence within a few weeks. I do not propose today to foreshadow our submission in detail. I, as Treasurer, refuse to do so. I leave it to my colleague who may have a different judgment in which case he will exercise it. But, as Treasurer, I refuse to give any indication of detail as to that wage case regardless of what the honourable gentleman seeks to pose to me.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Has the Minister read a statement attributed to Mr Kennedy, Chairman of the Australian Postal Commission, regarding a possible rise in postal rates in the near future? Can the Minister inform the House whether this is a factual statement?
-I was rather surprised to read the Press statement attributed to
Mr Kennedy. I have discovered that his statement was misinterpreted by some sections of the media. I am told that the Chairman of the Australian Postal Commission in a Press announcement said that there would be no postal increases this financial year. Some sections of the Press decided to interpret that as meaning that there would be increases next financial year. It also ought to be stated that the Chairman of the Australian Postal Commission and the Chairman of the Australian Telecommunications Commission can make recommendations as to basic charges but the decision on basic charges is for myself after, of course, consultation with the Cabinet.
– And the blame.
-I would suggest that members of the Opposition do not interject because their record in this area is not very good. In the 3-year period in which they were in office, they permitted the postage charge to rise from 7c to 10c to 1 8c. In that same period they permitted basic telephone call charges to rise from 4c to 6c to 9c. That is the sort of problem we inherited from the Opposition. Under this Government basic charges have been held for 18 months. Any proposal about increasing these charges will be considered very carefully by this Government because we realise the inflationary effect they have upon the community.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Does the Government adhere to its public undertaking last June that it will not argue against increases in awards by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission insofar as changes in the method of financing Medibank result in increases in the consumer price index?
-There are a couple of points that I would like to make. Firstly, I reiterate what the Treasurer said: The Government makes known its case to be presented at the national wage hearing at the proper time- when it appears before the Full Bench of the Commission. The Leader of the Opposition did not quote in precise terms, so far as I remember, the communique which was issued.
-I do not mind if the precise words are incorporated in Hansard. I have them here.
– I think it might be useful to have the precise words incorporated.
-May I read them?
-Read them if you like and get it over in that way.
– Do I read them or do you?
– I will read them. The communique states:
The Government indicated that insofar as these changes-
That is changes in the consumer price index- resulted in increases in the consumer price index, then, for the purpose of adjustment to award wages for movements in the consumer price index under the wage indexation principles, the Commonwealth would not be arguing that the index should be ‘discounted ‘ for these particular increases.
That is the quote from the communique of the time.
-You interpolated after changes’ the words ‘in the consumer price index’. They are changes in Medibank.
-To remove any doubt, I quoted:
The Government indicated that insofar as these changes-
I interpolated there: ‘These changes being changes in the CPI due to the introduction of new Medibank arrangements’. That should remove any misunderstanding. The Government is concerned that the question of the new Medibank arrangements be dealt with on a once and for all basis, not in a piecemeal way as has happened in several industrial cases recently. Therefore we believe the proper place to resolve it is at national wage case hearings. The Government case, when it is presented at the proper time, will take into account what was said earlier.
– Is the Minister for Transport aware of a Brisbane Sunday Sun Press report on 6 February that both Ansett Airlines of Australia and Trans- Australia Airlines plan to spend $ 10m on new terminal facilities on their present locations at Brisbane Airport to handle passenger traffic until 1990? Does this indicate that all plans for a new airport complex in Brisbane have been scrapped, or is there still a possibility that the relocation of the runway system will go ahead to alleviate the noise problems in the Wynnum area in my electorate and in areas of the electorates of Griffith and Lilley?
-I am able to reassure the honourable member that any redevelopment programs proposed by either Ansett or TAA do not in any way inhibit any future decisions that may be taken in respect of relocation of the runways at Brisbane Airport.
– Has the Prime Minister read the trans-continental natural gas pipeline feasibility study prepared by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation? Does the Government concede that at least on the advice of this study the economics of a trans-continental line may be established? Has the Prime Minister approved of the Government’s negotiating with the Australian Gas Light Corporation for the sale of the Gidgealpa-Sydney natural gas line presently owned and operated by the Pipeline Authority? In view of the growing importance of natural gas to the Australian economy, how does the Prime Minister justify the Government’s jettisoning this natural asset in the interests of the commercial enterprise?
– I will refer the matter to my colleague, the Minister responsible for these matters, and see what information he would feel inclined to make available.
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I asked the Prime Minister whether he authorised the negotiations. He did and he should own up.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Has the Government made a detailed examination of recent proposals calling for a reduction in the level of indirect taxes? If so, will the Treasurer tell the House which proposals have already been studied and the likely consequences if such cuts were to be made at present?
-The Government certainly has looked at all the proposals which have been put forward, and in particular the proposal emanating from the Opposition that indirect taxes ought to be cut to reduce inflation at a cost of $400m for each percentage point. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition believes that inflation can be reduced by 10 per cent and paid for by a $4 billion overseas loan, but calls for tax cuts are strange coming from an Opposition Leader who is on the record not so very long ago as describing such calls as amounting to no more or no less than economic vandalism. They are even stranger when it is remembered that it was his Government that increased indirect taxes in each of its 3 Budgets. All Australians will recall the massive increases in the rates of indirect taxes in Labor’s last Budget when the man in the street was hit to leg by steep rises in taxes on cigarettes, beer, spirits and petrol. Against the background of the record of the Leader of the Opposition I say that his proposals for cuts in indirect taxes amount to no more than humbug and hypocrisy.
-I withdraw the word ‘hypocrisy’; I can maintain the word ‘humbug’.
– And the word ‘humbug’. The Minister will withdraw both.
-I withdraw it.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to his statement in the House on 7 December last, advising that the Government had accepted the Industries Assistance Commission tariff recommendations in respect of multilateral trade. Can the Minister explain why in respect of travel goods, which were the subject of the recommendation of the IAC, the Government has taken no action to reduce the tariff as indicated to this House? Has the Minister made any public explanation for this apparent mistake or what is the reason for the Government not taking such action? Is he aware that many people in business, particularly in importing travel goods, relied on the ministerial statement made, acted accordingly, reduced their prices for forward selling and have suffered substantial damage because of the Government’s action? Accordingly, is the Minister prepared to allow these goods in at the lower rate of duty forecast in the IAC report or alternatively will he offer compensation to the companies affected?
– The Industries Assistance Commission report referred to contained recommendations dealing with some 900 items in the tariff, and it will not therefore surprise the honourable gentleman if I say in reply mat I cannot recall the details of each of those 900 items without referring to the IAC report. I will investigate the query that the honourable gentleman has raised. If there has been any error 1 will give consideration to any consequential action that ought to be taken. I should point out to the honourable gentleman that subsequent to the decision of the Government as announced on 7 December regarding the adoption of the IAC recommendations on the Multilateral Trade Negotiations, it was ascertained that to implement all the recommendations might have breached certain bilateral trading arrangements enjoyed by this country with other countries. In consequence a further statement was issued indicating that some of the 900 items on which action had been foreshadowed on 7 December had been excluded from that action because of our trading obligations. It may be that the items to which the honourable gentleman refers fall within the category of those items subsequently excluded. If that is the case, that is the explanation, but I will check the specific items mentioned and I will be more than happy to advise the House.
-I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Overseas Trade. In view of reports of brighter prospects for the beef industry can the Minister indicate what level of exports the industry is likely to achieve this year and to what extent the benefits of higher sales are likely to flow through to the cattle producers?
– I am very pleased to be able to say that the prospects this year are for record meat sales. This is a result of the representations that have been made by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Primary Industry and me to governments for greater access to their markets. Our access to the United States this year will be at a record level under the voluntary restraint arrangements. Our Japanese quotas are being continually pushed up since the ban on imports in 1974 was lifted. The European Economic Community has eased some of its restrictions and is offering a market of about 125 000 tonnes of imports of which we will have a part. One aspect that is very pleasing is the sales that have been made to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and to the eastern Soviet bloc countries. I am pleased to say that it is after my visit to the Soviet Union and the invitation of the head of the Soviet State Trading Agency that we look like making sales to the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries of about 100 000 tonnes which is additional to last year’s sales.
The higher prices and the greater sales mean that the industry should be doing better. I believe it is true that the non-growing sector of the industry has had a prosperous year- that is the exporters, the processors and the people who work in the meat works. But the prices have not been reflected back to the cattle producers. I think it is a bad situation for the whole of the industry if everybody does not share in the benefits. The cattle producing side of the industry has gone through 3 agonising years. Unless there is a sharing of the returns then I think great harm will be done to the industry. There should be an opportunity for higher returns going to cattle owners this year but that will depend on whether the buyers are prepared to pass the returns back and on whether the meat unions are prepared to keep the abattoirs working at full capacity which they will have to do to meet our prospective sales.
– I address my question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and Minister Assisting the Treasurer. Since, as the Treasurer stated earlier, the consumer price index figures will be issued next Tuesday, why did he state on television last Tuesday in his appearance with the shadow Treasurer that they would be published this week?
-I did not state on television that the figures would be announced this week. I said that my understanding was that they would be out before the end of this week and I think I may have said ‘on Thursday’. I only repeat what the Treasurer has said- that the announcement of these figures is a matter for the Statistician who holds a statutory authority. In no way was I indicating that I knew or had any idea when they were coming out. It was my understanding that they were expected this week.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Have representations been made by Tasmanian members to the Minister for the upgrading and improvement of air freight services between Tasmania and the mainland States? Will the Minister inform the House whether any developments have been made in this regard?
– In the last 12 months I suppose that if the door has not been battered down it has certainly been well pummelled by Tasmanian members seeking improvements to Tasmania’s transport system, especially the connections to the mainland States. As Tasmania is an island State the great difficulty I have is finding alternative methods of transport that might be of assistance to Tasmania. Of course the best way of improving transport is by sea. We introduced the freight equalisation scheme to assist Tasmanian industry in that way. I have no doubt that that has been of great benefit to Tasmanian industries. I have looked at the air services to Tasmania, particularly the freight services, and have concluded that some innovation is desirable. That is why this week I have approved the import of 2 Carvair aircraft for Air Express and 2 Argosy aircraft for IPEC to commence carriage of freight between the mainland and Tasmania. I believe that this innovation and the improved aircraft will assist markedly the capacity of Tasmanian industries to sell their goods on the mainland and, likewise, the mainland industries to deliver their goods to Tasmania.
-Has the Minister for Primary Industry noted in the publication of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Trends in Australian Agricultural Commodities; Farm Costs and Farm Incomes, issued in December 1976, that real income per farm will have fallen from $ 1 5,900 in 1973 to $5,700 in 1976-77. That is, this financial year real income per farm is anticipated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to be only 36 per cent of what it was in 1973 and, by a long way, the lowest since that year. As the Minister clearly implied when in opposition that suitable policies would overcome the fall in farm income, will he outline what policies he has in hand to lift the seriously depressed level of farm incomes?
-I should like to thank the Deputy Deader of the Opposition for that question. It is one of the most intelligent observations I have heard him make in reflection on the deteriorating economic circumstances of people throughout rural areas as a result of the 3 years of Labor rule. The 36 per cent decline in farm incomes occurred as a result more than anything else of Labor’s implementation of the Coombs report and its failure to recognise that the temporary upturn for rural producers in general economic circumstances in the early days of its regime was not a product of a government change but a direct result of a lift in overseas export prices. Tragically for Australian agriculture, dependent as it is on export markets, there has always been a cyclic pattern with times of very high prices and shortages of the commodities we sell, followed unfortunately by periods when there is an abundance of the products we sell. This has been reflected in the mountains of butter in the European Economic Community, the lakes of wine and surpluses of other commodities and, the consequential collapse in world prices.
Those realities of the market place might be a bit lost on the Deputy Leader of the Opposition but they are the realities upon which the first premise of agricultural survival in Australia depends. The second premise is that there has equally been a cyclic pattern in seasons. We have floods, droughts and bushfires. This cyclic pattern does not aid predictability of general patterns pf production. Policies on our side of the House have led towards a maintenance of the circustances of the economy of the agricultural industry to offset these things. Let me give an illustration. The income equalisation deposits within the farmer’s individual capability provide an opportunity for insurance against seasonal or market change. This is a very worthwhile development. The individual farmer has the capacity to set aside money in a good year so that when markets collapse or seasons deteriorate he can reduce his dependence on government assistance because he has not paid tax during the year on the income equalisation deposits from his own resources.
We have introduced schemes of assistance in respect of individual commodities. I have said before that I regard the action by the Australian Labor Party when in government of reducing the wool price reserve as one of the most diabolic that any government has taken against the rural sector at any time in Australia’s history. When we came into government we gave the Australian woolgrowers a 2-year guarantee- a guarantee which has been reflected in the continuing improving returns for them. I do not know whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, for example, realises that almost as a direct result of the Government’s policy -
– I rise on a point of order Mr Speaker. The official report shows income increasing by 4 per cent and costs increasing by 1 5 per cent this year. That is the substance of the question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and to which the Minister is refusing to address himself. The rate of inflation is higher than it was in the previous year.
-Order! There is no point of order.
-Is he shadow Minister for Defence or shadow Treasurer? I am not sure. The honourable member for Oxley must recognise that the product of inflation, as generated by Labor policies, was very much encouraged by the implementation of the Coombs report and the removal of those forms of assistance which formerly insulated the farmer against many of those inflationary -
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In fact, the inflation rate has been calculated by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics as moving upwards since devaluation last December.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will be seated.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. During one of his answers today the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) asserted that I had said that an overseas loan of $4 billion would have obviated the need for a devaluation. In fact, what I said, as appears on page 34 of the Hansard of last Tuesday, was this:
Last year his Government borrowed $1 billion overseas. In November 1976 the Treasury said: ‘Hold fast. Do not devalue. You will not have to devalue. No one can continue to profiteer in the Australian currency if you borrow another $ 1 billion overseas ‘.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Treasurer disagreed with the Treasury advice and devalued. I went on to say:
Thereby they committed the most inflationary act possible on the pan of any national government.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-I should draw to the attention of the honourable gentleman that if he wishes to make a personal explanation he ought to approach the Chair and give an indication of its nature.
– I shall do so in future. During an answer to a question today the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) asserted that there had been no attack on economic policies from me during this week, the first week of this parliamentary session. I want to draw to your attention, Mr Speaker, and to his attention that a no confidence motion was moved which he and his colleagues avoided by the subterfuge of an economic statement and refused to debate -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is debating the issue.
– I shall just round off by saying that I have also made challenges to the Treasurer in the media to debate economic policy with him, but he has avoided those challenges.
– Pursuant to section 45 of the Pipeline Authority Act 1973, I present the annual report of the Pipeline Authority for the year ended 30 June 1976.
That grievances be noted.
-My grievance is that the Fraser Government unilaterally is trying to force the State governments of Australia to agree to the changing of the existing CommonwealthState Housing Agreement in a way that will create hardship for many existing tenants of welfare housing and will create inequity between the needy poor and other less affluent people in our country. The Fraser Government is intent upon forcing the States to pay the long term bond interest rate of 10.5 per cent per annum on loans for welfare housing. As a consequence, the tenants of welfare housing will pay rents at the current market level. The present interest rate, which was set by the Whitlam Labor Government, for those who receive a rental house under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement is 4 per cent per annum. Of the loan under the Agreement 70 per cent is used for dwelling construction by Housing Commissions while the other 30 per cent of the loan is used by terminating building societies to assist eligible families to buy their own homes. This is made available by the Government to the States at 4¥i per cent.
While there may be some long term reason in the Fraser Government’s proposals from a rational economic point of view, in immediate terms the decision is both callous and cruel and horn a human point of view it is full of weaknesses. It brands the Fraser Government as an arrant centralist. The Fraser Government did not ask the States how they considered the Agreement could be improved; it just set down the edict from Canberra. Is this a part of Fraser ‘s federalism? There can be no doubt that if this proposal is bludgeoned through by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) the immediate effect on many tenants of Housing Commission dwellings will be a large increase in rental rates. In Sydney some rents would rise from $25 a week to $80 a week. No family, no matter how well off it might be, should be faced with such a large immediate increase- such an instantaneous shock to the family budget. The situation will be similar in all States, including Western Australia, where an election will be held on Saturday. Even by Prime Minister Fraser ‘s standards, life was not meant to be that hard.
-That is why you are telling lies now.
-Order! The Minister will withdraw that remark.
-I withdraw it.
– The electors should be aware of what Sir Charles Court’s Federal Liberal colleagues have in store for his State Liberal colleagues. They set down their edicts in Canberra. Is this the Liberal Government’s new federalism? To approach such a human problem in this way only highlights the Government’s lack of humanity and concern. It does not highlight a compassion. This approach demonstrates once again the Government’s lack of understanding of the nature of the housing problem in Australia. Increases in other areas of Sydney and of New South Wales generally, let alone in other States, may not be as high as those mentioned but they would be just as hurtful. These differences result from differing market values and from differing costs to produce the total dwelling and land package. Even allowing for the subsidies the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development talked about, many families in Sydney will be faced with higher rents than financially equivalent families in other capital cities.
Non-subsidised tenants in Melbourne also will pay much higher proportions of their incomes in rent than financially equivalent tenants in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and the Territories. They will pay much higher rents because of the higher cost to produce the house and land package. They will pay higher rents because land in Sydney in particular and in Melbourne is much more expensive than residential land in other capital cities. In fact, because of the system which operates in Adelaide with a Land Commission that a Federal Labor Government assisted to set up, the non-subsidised Housing Commission tenant in Adelaide will be much better off than his income equivalent elsewhere in Australia. It is even possible that subsidised tenants in Adelaide and in other areas outside Sydney and Melbourne will be better off than their counterparts in Sydney and Melbourne if this proposal is accepted. But we know it will not be accepted. Having said that, housing commission tenants in every State will suffer enormously because of greatly increased rents. I can see this happening.
Rather than attacking the Labor Premiers who have these and other doubts over the end result of the Fraser Government’s proposal, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development would be more productive if he ensured that studies were undertaken correlating the cost benefit and social welfare implications of alternatives to the existing scheme. Before demanding changes in the existing agreement, the Government should have a definite workable proposal that will protect those people who earn up to 85 per cent of average weekly wages. These are the people who can apply for housing commission homes under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. We need proposals that will not only guarantee housing at rents these people can afford but which will also guarantee access to housing by easing the supply problem and reducing the number of families on the waiting list which currently numbers 100 000 throughout Australia.
One other aspect of the Minister’s proposal concerns me greatly. It is a matter on which he has been totally silent up to date. I refer to the question of money flowing through to terminating building societies. At present families are eligible for low interest loans- loans where the rate does not exceed 53A per cent- to achieve home ownership, which are available to families where the breadwinners income does not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings. As I said earlier, this totals 30 per cent of the money allocated. The money is made available at vh. per cent and let out at 5% per cent, the difference being taken up by administrative and other costs.
The terminating building societies are the institutions which give the opportunity of private sector home ownership to the poorer sectors of our community. The societies enable low income earners to put their feet on the rung of home ownership and the economic benefits that follow. Will these families be denied benefits of home ownership- like those in our community who earn between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly wages- by a mechanism of high interest rates and the creation of the arbitrary repayment gap? At present people earning between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of average weekly earnings find it impossible to meet monthly repayments. This Government has no solution to the problem. These families whose wage earners earn less than 95 per cent of average weekly earnings will be denied the benefits of home ownership if the terminating building society interest rates approach the levels charged by other lending institutions. Let me give an example. If interest rates are increased to lOW per cent on a loan of some $25,000- the average cost of land and dwellings in the western suburbs of Sydney at present is nearing $35,000- people will have to pay $249 a month which amounts to $58 a week. If they raise the other $10,000 deposit these people would have to earn $232 a week at a time when average weekly earnings are $184 a week. Therefore we have to make sure that we protect the position of these people by ensuring that terminating building societies do not increase interest rates. This is the great human and social problem of housing in Australia. The Government, by this new arrant centralism, is trying to force on to the States this new formula. Basically it is wrong. I hope that people in Western Australia, who at least can voice their censure on this centralism and high handedness of the Fraser Government which is cutting back once more on the needy people will show their displeasure next Saturday.
-Before dealing with a grievance that seriously affects the electorate of St George I must mention 2 matters. Firstly I refer to the disgraceful speech we have just heard from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren). He took a letter, which was written by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) to State Premiers, as the basis of discussion for a new agreement, out of context and has attempted, for blatant political purposes connected with the Western Australian election, to totally misrepresent the Commonwealth Government’s position. Editorials of last week in the Adelaide Advertiser and, in particular, in the Australian Financial Review -
– And in Western Australia.
– And in Western Australia, have pointed out that the reaction of the State Premiers is, to say the least, too hasty and indeed dishonest, They fully realise that the letter written by the Minister was the basis of discussion for proposals to found a new agreement and in no way was representing the Federal Government’s policy. They also ought to realise that the Government and the Opposition really have the same basic objective in determining a new housing agreement. A constructive approach ought to be adopted, not this political approach of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who is seeking to make some capital before the next election. He has forgotten that under the former Labor Government much of the tremendous abuse that occurred in this field was allowed to develop through his Party’s attitudes and the proliferation of the schemes which his Party failed to properly administer.
The second matter is this: I understand that last night on the 7 p.m. news on Canberra television a news reader named Ken Begg said that at the joint meeting yesterday of the Liberal and National Country Parties there was a barrage of foot stomping while matters relating to electoral redistribution were considered and that the state of party room emotions was such as to warrant the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Cabinet looking at the matter again. It is well known that other than the official briefing which is given after party meetings a member of the parties does not make comment on what was said in the party room. He neither confirms nor denies matter that may appear in the Press purporting to relate what was said in the party room. That is a proper rule. It allows full debate in the party room. When claims of these types of activities are made it is quite proper for a member to say that the conduct in the room in no way was anything other than calm, reasoned and sensible. There were no emotional overtones and matters were discussed in a sensible and proper fashion. The person who has given the so-called information to Mr Begg earns nothing more than my contempt. Labor Opposition members throughout last year sought to use statements in the Press about what Liberal or National Country Party members of the House were alleged to have said in party meetings to gain political capital in circumstances in which members could neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the reports. Those Labor members then and now earn my utmost contempt.
The grievance I refer to is the problems of the Botany Bay port development as it affects truck transportation in the St George electorate. The St George area is a very historic area not only of Sydney but also of Australia. Regrettably it is one of the most environmentally devastated areas. The present State Labor Government has spent a year postponing a previous decision. With some minor variations and the removal at this stage of the coal loader proposal the Government intends going ahead with the development. There are insufficient roads to take the trucks that will add to the already heavy congestion. No proper plan has been provided by the State Government to deal with this problem. It has in fact scrapped the former State Liberal Government’s first priority for a main road which might have alleviated the problem.
Let me mention the words of 3 State Labor members while they were campaigning in the last State election in New South Wales. The words are contained in an article in the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader which deals with statements made by the members in the House. Mr Crabtree, now a member of the State Labor Ministry, described the Government’s Botany Bay project as monstrous. He said that the election would be decided not on the political colour of candidates but on pledges to protect the area. The member for Rockdale, Mr Bannon, said that residents of Rockdale municipality could look forward to non-stop bedlam 24 hours a day if planned development of the Bay goes ahead unchallenged. Mr Walker, the present AttorneyGeneral and a member of Cabinet in New South Wales, said that the Bay project would bring in its wake environmental degradation and human misery which could be validly paralleled with the senseless destruction of war. Alderman Ryan, the present State member for Hurstville, is reported to have stated at a public meeting in April 1976 that the Botany Bay proposals would have disastrous effects on St George residents.
The former State Liberal Government provided in its roads program for the first priority road in that State to be a road called the Kyeemagh to Chullora urban road, designed to take truck transportation away from the area. The Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) recently visited the area and saw the tremendous problems which occur when huge trucks are using small residential roads. It is at least as bad as the Balmain problem and probably worse. It constitutes a very serious environmental and safety hazard. The Minister gave an assurance that funds from the federal coffers would be provided for projects in the area. It is for the State Government to decide where to build roads. I am not saying that it ought necessarily to build the Kyeemagh to Chullora road. If it does not build that road with moneys that have already been provided, it ought to build some other road in the area to alleviate the problem. There is talk of what is called an industrial road. That road or some other road ought to be built if the Kyeemagh to Chullora road is not built.
There are 2 ways in which this can be done. The State Minister for Transport does not appear to be taking any action either way. There could be an application for an export road declaration. That application has not been made by the State Government. I am given to understand that the former Liberal Government did not make the application because it intended to provide fully from its own funds for that road. The New South Wales Government should make an application immediately to the Federal Minister for declaration of a road as an export road. That could be provided under the Act. After an application was made and approval given for the road to be constructed, it would still take considerable time for the road to be constructed. It would still take 6 months or more for all the various environmental investigations and approvals and for preliminary plans and engineering plans to be drawn up. The Agreement expires on 30 June this year, although funds are still available under this year’s Agreement. I understand it is quite possible for the Labor Government to apply now for an export road declaration on the basis that it would be considered once the new legislation was brought in. The way things are going, the road will not be built by the time the port is operating. The residents are marching backwards in time as far as the environmental problem is concerned because, even with the best will in the world, the roads cannot be built before the port is open. At the very least, the State Government should make this application. My reading of the Act indicates that it ought to be successful.
The Federal Minister does not make the nomination. There must be an application, both on a fair reading of the Act and m accordance with practice. If the New South Wales Government does not intend to apply it must include this road or another road in its ordinary urban arterial roads program request for the year, which can be approved by the Federal Minister. In answer to the question in the House, the Federal Minister undertook to provide funds. If the State Government makes this road its first priority- it is the State Government’s province to declare the priority- it would become the first priority once again. Either the Kyeemagh to Chullora road or another road is absolutely vital.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has drawn the attention of the House to the very serious implications contained in the Government’s intention to renegotiate the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement. This proposal to increase interest rates on welfare housing loans has caused intense anxiety and alarm throughout Australia. Low income earners’ hopes for adequate housing have been dashed, and those renting or purchasing State housing authority homes are fearful of a massive upward spiral in rent or repayments in cases where houses are being purchased. Let me remind the House of the history of Commonwealth-State Housing Agreements. With the limited time at my disposal, I am obviously unable to give the history in detail. It is sufficient to say that successive Liberal-Country Party governments have never shown enthusiasm for the States’ housing programs for low income earners. They have always kept interest rates for the welfare housing program at a high level, generally providing only a one per cent advantage against the bond rate. If the Agreement were changed in terms of traditional Liberal-National Country Party policy, the interest rate, which at present stands at 4 per cent under the Agreement negotiated by the Labor Government, would increase to a figure slightly over 9 per cent- to one per cent less than the Commonwealth bond rate. That would have disastrous effects on the provision of housing for low income earners.
Honourable gentlemen will recall that the purposeof the Housing Agreement was to provide adequate accommodation, reflecting economic rentals, to which has been added a rental rebate system for those whose income is exceptionally low. The rebate system varies from State to State. There is scope to moderate and improve that system. The primary requirement is that the economic rental system, which I as former Minister for Housing and Construction encouraged the States to uphold, operates effectively. If it is applied in the proper manner it will ensure that nobody whose income rises will be getting a home at the expense of the Australian taxpayer. There is no need to jettison that scheme. It has provisions which, with some adjustment and moderation, can prevent the exploitation of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement and the housing commission program as we know it. The Agreement provided that up to 30 per cent of funds went to terminating building societies, at interest rates not exceeding 5lA per cent. This is a very important consideration for that medium income range of people whose income does not exceed 95 per cent of average weekly earnings. Another intention of that Agreement was to build up a stock of rental housing so that no more than 30 per cent of completed homes could be sold. We wanted young people to have the opportunity to pass through the housing commission system, to gain the benefit of a low rental for a considerable time, enabling them to have every opportunity to save which would enable them, in turn, to raise a deposit for a loan through a bank or a building society. Previously houses were being sold and resold, and sometimes bulldozed down to make way for flats in the inner city suburbs which workers could not afford.
We had this Agreement with all its virtues. If the Government abandons it, as the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) is apparently contemplating, the effect could be disastrous in many ways. The housing commissions of the various States have contrived a tender system which screws down the cost to a very competitive level. Probably no private contractor is able to turn out houses more competitively than the housing commissions are, even using private contractors, because that tender system is so tight and competitive, Moreover, if one abandons the housing commission system and the Housing Agreement one jettisons the benefit of the economic assembly of land processes. Land is bought in parcels. That does not mean that people in housing commission homes have to be congregated together. In Western Australia, a State which runs its Housing Commission quite effectively- this applies to other States as wellthere is a deliberate policy of mixing the income strata of people by selling some of the land acquired by the Housing Commission so that home ownership can take place and the socioeconomic groups can be dispersed on that basis.
What is the reaction of the State Premiers to the proposal to raise interest rates in the Housing Agreement? Mr Wran condemned the idea. He said it would mean that a typical Housing Commission rent of $32 a week would more than double in 18 months. He said rent for a new Commission house could rise to $80 per week or more. Mr Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia, said that the proposal would have a disastrous effect on rents and loans. He said that this would put home ownership beyond the reach of a very wide section of the Australian community. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) interjects and says that they are all Labor premiers. I have mentioned two of them. I will mention a third Labor premier. Mr Neilson of Tasmania accused the Federal Government of turning its back on welfare housing for low income earners generally. He has called for a special Premiers Conference to discuss the proposal which he said would force State housing department rents up by as much as $ 1 2 a week.
What of the other Premiers? How about their obligation to low income people and to the provision of low income housing? The best that Mr Bjelke-Petersen could say was: ‘But let us just wait and see if it happens first’. Is that a good thing? That is his extent of concern for low income people. Mr Hayes, the Victorian Government’s spokesman on housing, said that the adoption of the proposal would mean State governments paying 10.5 per cent on money borrowed for welfare housing. At least he is showing concern. Of course, there did not seem to be any response at all in Western Australia. I wonder whether the people of Western Australia, who are to go to the polling booths on Saturday, will have regard for the fact that the Premier of their State has raised no objection at all to this iniquitous proposition which will jack up the cost of Housing Commission homes to such a level that they will be beyond the reach of people seeking them. I wonder whether the people realise that if they want to protect the Housing Commission system and if low income earners are to be given the opportunity of obtaining housing- this group includes many young couples who have not had the opportunity to assemble the deposit- they will have to vote for a Labor Government in Western Australia.
Enormous consequences are involved. A 1 per cent movement in interest rates has an enormous effect. For example, the monthly repayment on a $25,000 loan over 20 years at 7 per cent is $ 193. If the interest rate is taken to 8 per cent the monthly repayment on this loan is $209. If the interest rate is taken to 9 per cent the monthly repayment is $224. At 10 per cent the monthly repayment is $241. Under the proposal put forward by the Minister, Housing Agreement interest rates could spiral from 4 per cent to 9 per cent plus. Of course, there is a proposal to introduce a new scheme- the housing assistance voucher experiment scheme, known as the HAVE scheme. If one had time it would be possible to indicate that that scheme is no substitute for the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. I warn the Parliament that the Government’s proposal puts at risk the terminating building society movement in Australia. I hold in my hand an appeal from the president of that organisation to fight to sustain assistance for low income housing.
– I wonder whether the Western Australian election has anything to do with the Australian Labor Party’s interest in housing.
– Why shouldn’t it?
– I will tell the honourable member why it should not. Housing is an issue that affects the poor at all times- when there are elections and when there are not elections. The Labor Party’s sudden interest in the subject leads me to be a little cynical.
I remind the House of a couple of things. Firstly, the changes in the Commonwealth-State
Housing Agreement result from recommendations of the Henderson poverty inquiry. I remind the House of the case of a man earning $600 a week, no less, who occupied a $25 a week house to the exclusion of people who were really needy. I remind the House of a Minister of this Parliament in a former government who occupied a State owned house also to the exclusion of the needy. I remind the House that the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) some time ago suggested that it was demeaning for an educated person to do manual work. The honourable member just spoke at some length about people on a medium income. I remind the honourable member that welfare housing is for those who need it- the low income group.
My purpose in rising today is to raise another matter that is troubling me. When I spoke to my wife and daughter last night I was greeted with some hilarity concerning the subject of the party room discussions of the Liberal and National Country Parties yesterday. Apparently one Ken Begg reporting for the Australian Broadcasting Commission suggested that there was an angry barrage of foot stomping at the meeting. I will quote what he said and then demonstrate to the House how far from the truth he was.
– Was it a square dance or a minuet?
– It was neither a square dance nor a minuet, but certainly the tenor of the debate was in keeping with square dances and minuets. Ken Begg said:
But the Cabinet was not entirely unsympathetic to the Country Party’s problems and it was proposed in the party room today, that the 20 percent tolerance level should apply to Australia’s 7 biggest electorates.
This proposal was acceptable to the Cabinet but was not to the Liberal dominated party room which, I am told -
He was told- greeted this proposal with an angry barrage of foot stomping.
I do not think that Begg is a Scandinavian name but I really wonder whether Mr Ken Begg has some relationship to Hans Christian Andersen.
-Or Enid Blyton.
-Or Enid Blyton. The level of the writing is more in keeping with Noddy. I am not prepared to say that this man was lying because frankly I do not know whether he was lying or whether what he said was merely the result of crass incompetence. But one way or the other, the Australian public has the right to expect better from reporters of an organisation that costs the Australian public not less than $130m each year. There is talk of investigative reporting. This is imaginative reporting.
I know that it is not customary to discuss what has happened in the party room or to confirm or deny reports. However, this matter has gone to the extent that I am going to run the risk of denying it. It is quite true that the matter was discussed at some length. It is even true that shades of opinion were expressed. I suggest to the House that the only people who are a menace in the party room are not the ones who express opinions but those who waste time saying those things with which no one could disagree. This matter was discussed in a friendly atmosphere and with considerable good humour. It is a wonder that the laughter on at least 2 occasions could not be heard outside of the party room. Yet this man, for reasons of his own, sees fit to invent a story that came out of his own imagination and to put a point of view that apparently he might think would be damaging to the Coalition or get for him a headline or put him in good standing with those people who allot time on the news broadcasts. I do not know. As I say, I have no way of knowing whether what he did was deliberate and therefore a lie or whether he is merely incompetent. He suggested that the difference of opinion, which incidentally was not strictly on party lines, would cause some strain to the Coalition. I spent a large portion of yesterday afternoon working with my colleagues in the Country Party on the Government Members Rural Committee organising some investigations we want to make. All I can say is that if these gentlemen were nurturing feelings of great hostility to the Liberal Party and to myself they are all deserving of Oscars.
-The strictures of the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) on the Australian Broadcasting Commission reporter to whom he referred remind me of a former distinguished person in the Australian Labor Party, the late Frank Anstey. He once ran a newspaper. He gave it a motto which he printed over the leading article which he said was the true motto of every Australian newspaper. It said: ‘The truth will be told but not to the exclusion of more interesting matter’. Perhaps the ABC has become converted to the general standards of the Australian Press.
I should like to deal with the honourable member’s own slight editing of facts. He spoke about the sudden interest of the Labor Party in housing presumably because of this debate. I wish to quote from a statement by the Honourable Phillip Lynch on advances to the States for housing. I am sure the honourable member for
Moore would not regard the Honourable Phillip Lynch as one who tells untruths. Here is the ‘sudden interest’ in the Labor Party in housing. In 1971- 72 the Liberal and Country Parties’ advances to the States totalled about $4m. In 1972- 73, with their agreement still operating, the figure became $13m. The Labor Party’s first agreement- their interest in housing- came in 1972-73 and that $13m became $225m, according to Mr Lynch. In 1 974-75 it became $392m. In 1975-76 it was cut by the Hayden Budget to $37 lm. The present Government has increased it by $10m to $38 lm. But the Labor Party’s housing agreement was of course what the present Government was implementing. I am quite sure that the honourable gentleman knows that that $ 10m increase, or $1 on $37, being less than a 3 per cent increase, would not keep up with inflation and would certainly not keep up with inflation of building costs. It was no greater housing effort.
We have heard the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) talking about overseas reserves being at the comfortable level of $3,000m and not mentioning that the effect of devaluation is that they have been cut by 12 te per cent in purchasing power. Yesterday I exacted from the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) the first admission that the defence budget has in fact been cut in purchasing power for equipment produced overseas by devaluation because the sum of money appropriated has not been changed. I think it would be a very good thing if in all these matters we stuck to factual analysis.
Certain State Premiers are under attack because they are alarmed at the terms of a letter from the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman). They are entitled to be alarmed at the terms of the Minister’s letter. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) has told us that the terms of the letter are merely proposals. The Premiers are reacting to proposals which seem to them to be damaging- interest increasing from 4 per cent to the bond rate. If they wish to find out what is the philosophy of the present Commonwealth Government on this matter they only have to look at what it has done in the Australian Capital Territory. I invite honourable gentlemen to consult Commonwealth car drivers as to what has happened to the level of their rents. I invite them to find out what has happened to building society interest rates in this area. There is a growing habit of untruthfulness in official government statements that is very alarming- untruthfulness or suppression. Honourable gentlemen opposite, in opposition, were constantly quoting seasonally adjusted figures on unemployment. It was quite scandalous, when seasonally adjusted figures on unemployment have been pan of the statistics of the Commonwealth for a long period, for the present Government to abolish statistics in that form because they are embarrassing. There is, as in the case of overseas reserves, this contant comparison of different units. Comparing overseas reserves after devaluation with reserves before devaluation and saying that they have improved when in fact their purchasing power has been cut is disturbing. But a really scandalous action is that of the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) in the statement that looks like a report on the Independent Schools (Loans Guarantee) Act. Listen to the peculiarity of the wording. Talking about loans to private schools he states:
Until 1974 repayments of loans were being made to schools by equal annual instalments over a period of 20 years. Due to the difficulties that have arisen, the Government has now changed the Scheme to reduce the repayment period from 20 years to 10 years, thereby doubling the annual rate at which the Government reimburses the princi- f>al payable to the lending institutions and consequently lowering the long-term interest burden on schools.
That of course was a decision of mine in 1974. As far as I know, it immediately cut the interest burden on Catholic schools by about $1.5m over a period of years. The Minister began by referring to 1974 and then said:
The Government has now -
This fits in nicely to a fiction about the Government being particularly concerned to assist the non-government schools and about the Government’s predecessors not being concerned. I wrote to all the authorities of the schools. I might explain that the situation was that the Commonwealth paid back the capital and paid the interest up to the long term bond rate. If the long term bond rate was 9lA per cent and the Catholic education authorities were paying 1 Vi per cent they had to pay 2 per cent. Obviously cutting the period of the Commonwealth’s repayment of the capital from 20 years to 10 years reduces the interest burden. That is precisely what I did. Now we have this wording: ‘The Government has now decided ‘. It is rather serious when it is in a document looking like a report but actually a ministerial statement tabled in the Parliament. It is this sort of thing which is lowering confidence and the knowledge of State Premiers of what has happened in the Australian Capital Territory has probably alarmed them.
The honest truth about the levels of housing advances made by Liberal-Country Party governments before Labor came into office- $7m and $ 13m- is that they were mere tokenisms. The McMahon Government had a marvellous art of getting away with token gestures. Now, when a very seriously increased burden is to fall on a lot of people if the Minister for Housing’s proposed new agreement becomes a fact, we have a token gesture to about 4500 poor people. At a cost of $ 15m these people will have the capacity to pay the full interest rates and the full rental burdens made possible by grant, which means there will be no Commonwealth action acting as a depressant in the market on the rentals coming from low interest advances made palatable by assistance to these few people’s poverty, though the proposition is a good one in itself, if additional to the present scheme.
According to the Minister’s own statement the number involved is 4500 out of 125 000. The cost will be $15m. It is an experiment, we are told. Of course the experiment will succeed. Of course lifting the burden from a poor family is the right thing to do. What about the other 121 500 people? When is the experiment to be declared to have succeeded? Will it be extended? At a cost of $ 15m for only 4500 families, what sort of assistance to a widespread social burden are we talking about? If you extended it to the whole 125 000 you would have to multiply the $ 15m by 28, which would be $420m. So there is a $15m burden being lifted from 4500 people as part of a camouflage for what is being done to raise interest in another field, and on the other 12 1 500 a burden which would cost $405m to lift presumably being left.
When an action like this is kept small because it is only an ‘ experiment ‘ it is pathetic. You might just as well talk about the ‘experiment’ that was made in properly feeding pregnant Aboriginal women with protein and vitamin supplements by the Presbyterian authorities in Queensland and miracle, miracle, miracle. It meant that no children were born brain-damaged. But according to the Medical Journal of Australia that was done on missions but it was not done on Queensland Government settlements.
This housing ‘experiment’ will succeed but it could be a camouflage for decisions at the expense of what has been an extremely good Housing Agreement in which the Australian Labor Party vastly increased the Commonwealth’s stake in housing the nation- from an insignificant $13m to somewhere in the vicinity of $380m for housing. If this agreement is to be tampered with and if interest rates and consequential rentals are to rise, a powerful weapon for keeping down general housing costs will be struck from the hands of the Australian community, and that will be a great tragedy. We in
Western Australia are expected to gawp with admiration at yachts of millionaire land dealers, reflecting land prices and competing time after another for the America’s Cup. I think that this demonstrates and reveals a tragedy.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Before bringing forward a grievance on behalf of rural people I would like to support my colleagues the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) and the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde), in their criticism of the lack of credible reporting by an Australian Broadcasting Commission political commentator. I feel that his comments were fantasy and were totally lacking in informative and accurate reporting. I point out also to the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley), who has just spoken, that in my understanding the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) alone did not bring about the change in compiling unemployment figures. The change was made after consultation with State Ministers for Labour and Industry.
I believe that no greater imbalance could exist than that which is seen in the huge disparity in prices of petroleum products between rural areas of the nation and metropolitan areas. Without expounding any economic reasons a substantial case can be advanced on social equality grounds for reintroducing a price equalisation scheme. Acting on the Coombs task force report, the Australian Labor Party Government destroyed the petroleum products subsidy scheme that had been introduced in 1965-66 by a LiberalNational Country Party government. That action has resulted in increasing the cost of fuel by up to 35c a gallon above the price paid in metropolitan regions of Australia. It has resulted in significantly increasing the input costs of our rural sector and the transport industry on which the productive industries so heavily depend. The rural sector uses 19.5 per cent of the total refined petroleum produced, with 21.3 per cent of the product being used in the transport sector which serves it.
The purpose of the former petroleum subsidy was simply to reduce fuel prices in nonmetropolitan areas to levels closer to city prices. The scheme incorporated an arrangement whereby the Government agreed to pay inland transportation costs in excess of 3.3c a gallon. Part of the administrative costs of the scheme were borne by the petroleum companies, which were required to furnish records of rural sales. The administrative expense on the part of the Government was very small. The total cost to the nation during the term of operation of the scheme was small, averaging $ 1 8.5m a year.
The Industries Assistance Commission report on crude oil pricing states that price rises will add significantly to the many difficulties currently being experienced by many Australian industries. Some rural industries as major users of fuel and whose ability to pass on cost increases is limited, would be most affected. Our Government had to give incentives to oil exploration. If we do not attract exploration and drilling companies back to Australia we will shortly be faced not with price rises in the order of cents but with rises that will double our fuel costs in a few years. Australia has been supplying up to 70 per cent of its annual oil usage. As this percentage has been decreasing, expensive imports have been proportionally forcing our fuel costs higher. The advantages of being able to supply a major proportion of our oil needs was a direct result of our Government’s policies. The loss of valuable technology and expertise, as with the exploration companies themselves, is directly attributable to a total lack of understanding by the previous Labor Government in removing concessions and incentives to the industry.
It is imperative that the Government takes positive action in line with the report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. It is imperative also that this action allows the exploitation of our potential oil reserves. However, it is essential that Australians receive their petroleum products at the cheapest possible price and at an equivalent price throughout the nation. An international comparison of prices at the retail level would suggest that petrol is cheap in Australia. This is misleading, as the Australian tax content of motor spirit is considerably less than that in other countries. For example, in France the price, less tax and duties, per gallon is 23.93c, in the United Kingdom it is 23.58c while in New Zealand it is 25.9c. In Melbourne the price ex-tax is 32.4c and in Sydney it is 32. lc. A major explanation for the differences in ex-tax prices probably lies in the cost of retailing. As is pointed out in the royal commission report, in the first part of 1975, at a time when Australian and New Zealand currency tax and motor spirit prices were all near parity, the cost of retailing to the motorist from service stations in New Zealand was 1 1.38 per cent of the ex-tax price of 56.2c. In Victoria it was 44 per cent of the ex-tax price of 65.4c and in New South Wales 42.8 per cent of the ex-tax price.
Australian distribution costs are even more starkly highlighted by the following figures. In 1974 the approved retail margin in New South Wales was 10.9c per gallon, to which must be added rental charge. This additional rental has been estimated at 7c a gallon, with the result that the true retail margin in New South Wales is nearly 18c a gallon. In New Zealand the retail margin is only 6.3c a gallon-approximately 35 per cent of the New South Wales margin. Despite the high retail margins for the distribution of petrol in Australia, there is no evidence that excessive profits are being earned in retailing by the companies concerned, the lessees or independent retailers. This is because high retail margins are accompanied by high distribution costs.
Some years ago a form of trading developed in Australia through contracts where dealers agreed to sell one brand of motor spirit only. As a direct consequence of this the number of retail outlets increased from approximately 1 1 000 in 1951 to 21 000 in 1966. This proliferation of retail outlets is largely responsible for the high cost of retail distribution in Australia. An analysis of marketing costs reveals that the cost of marketing through a 50 000 gallons a month station is only 62 per cent of the cost per gallon of selling through a 25 000 gallons a month station. It should therefore be possible to reduce prices by up to 10c a gallon if we ignore the effects of inflationary costs during a rationalisation process. Such a rationalisation process would also assist service station proprietors in improving their profitability which in general terms has become unrealistically low and has created severe hardships for many retailers.
The previous equalisation scheme can be criticised particularly on the ground that it dealt only with transportation costs. The overall price structure could be analysed to determine whether the pre-subsidy prices were justified. Lower retailing costs could reduce the existence of price differentials. It could be that many rural and urban consumers were being charged excessive prices. There is a real need to examine the total rural distribution system. I am quite sure that the Government will be doing this in the context of the IAC examination. However, we know that inland transportation costs for primary producers amounted to $ 12.42 a ton or 4. lc a gallon, which is 3 times the average cost of supplying the overall retail network. Analysis also reveals that the combined cost of commission, installation and depots associated with supplying primary producers was $ 1 7.76 a ton or 5.8c a gal>n compared with Australian-wide figure of $4.3 a ton.
The rural sector is virtually dependent on petroleum fuels. Primary industry is export oriented to approximately 60 per cent and does not have the ability to pass on input costs. The whole trend of agriculture since the war has been towards capital intensification. The general lower standard of farm prices has been countered by increased productivity over the years to the extent that today the industry is basically dependent on petroleum fuels. The House will be aware that in the United States of America and in Canada, our 2 major competitors in agricultural trade, the on-farm price of automotive distillate and gasoline is below the Australian onfarm price even though the price for crude oil in both countries is approximately twice the crude oil price in Australia. Radical changes must be made to rationalise distribution and major inefficiencies in petroleum retailing which would reduce both rural and urban costs. Incentives must be allowed to companies in the search to find and develop local potential. Rural people cannot be expected to produce the bulk of the nation’s export earning while being penalised by their geographical position. A noticeable trend is developing towards decentralisation. The growth of Sydney and Melbourne is slowing down.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I should like to discuss some of the aspects of what has become known as the ‘pathology rip-off or racket’ as it has hit the Press during the last couple of weeks or so. I should like to emphasise that this is a long time problem. It is not a recent problem even though it has suddenly hit the news. I became a member of this House at the end of 1969. I had been in medical practice before then. I think it was round about that time that pathology laboratories started to develop with automation and with the machines becoming available it was possible for technicians and pathologists to make large amounts of money. This is, of course, 5 or 6 years before Medibank. They were able to get money from the funds-the Medical Benefit Fund of Australia Ltd and the Hospital Contribution Fund of Australia- and those funds were aware of it. There was an organisation in Sydney called Preventicare which offered large benefits to doctors. I do not think that it did any kicking back’ as it is called these days by actually giving money to the general practitioners who sent them unnecessary pathology work but what this organisation did do was supply computer terminals in doctors’ surgeries. It supplied sisters to collect the specimens and the sisters were paid by Preventicare. The sisters were able to do other work for the doctors also. Therefore in effect what the doctor received was, of course, a free member of his staff. Preventicare went broke. I think it finally owed about $750,000, mainly to Customs Credit as I recall. The reason Preventicare went broke was that the funds decided not to pay on the money owed for the pathology carried out and I suppose that type of thing will tend to happen again. I am not sure what the legal position is. But just delaying payments can break those sorts of pathology laboratories.
One of the interesting aspects then was that this organisation put computer terminals into doctors’ offices thinking that doctors would be very interested not only in the pathology results that would come through the computer terminals but also in the fact that they could get some medical education. They could press a button which would help them in diagnosing conditions and so on. But as I understand it the most popular button to press was one- remember that this was in 1970-71- which gave the stock exchange fluctuations on the mining share market at any particular time and that was the button most often pressed in doctors’ surgeries as far as the computer terminals were concerned.
I do not think some of the comparisons which are being made at the present time are completely fair. It is not up to me to defend the present Government, but at the same time statements that there has been a doubling in expenditure on pathology from one 6-month period to another a year later are not completely fair because one is not comparing equals. One is comparing a 6-month period at the beginning of Medibank when lots of claims of course were not lodged, with a 6-month period a year or 18 months later which would include a whole 6 months work. I think the important thing to remember there is that there are all kinds of interest groups feeding information to the newspapers and to the media and they all have an axe to grind. I think that as parliamentarians we are aware that whenever we get information fed to us we have to realise what is in it for the person who is reporting that particular item.
It is important to remember just what is happening at the present time. There are pathology laboratories run by pathologists- people who call themselves non-commercial private pathologists; there are pathology laboratories- ‘commercial pathology laboratories’ as they call themselves-run by non-medical pathologists. If they charge the patient the patient cannot receive a reimbursement of that charge from any of the funds. Therefore that charge is made by the general practitioner who has referred the patient to the pathologist unless there is a trained specialist pathologist on the staff. As I understand it, the laboratories pay the general practitioner 20 per cent or 25 per cent off the top. If the general practitioner charges the patient, the patient of course gets a refund from the fund. Alternatively the laboratories have what I referred to earlier- a trained specialist pathologist on the staff who has the accounts sent out in his name and that particular specialist pathologist is paid 25 per cent or 33 per cent off the top, or at least on the letterhead.
But even the so-called non-commercial specialist pathologists who claim to be doing all the work themselves are not doing the work themselves. They employ non-medical technologists, biochemists and so on who do the work. Most of the pathology that is being done in Australia or anywhere for that matter is done by non-medical pathologists but they are specialists. They are specialist non-medical pathologists and they are undoubtedly better able to my mind to do the biochemical tests and most of the tests that are involved, than most medical pathologists would be. Most medical pathologists in fact would not be able to carry out the tests for which they charge and which they claim they have done. The tests have been done by people who have had a different training.
One of the important things that arise from our point of view is the unnecessary expenditure. I noticed in today’s Australian an article on the front page by Janet Hawley which gets closer to the facts of the matter than most of the articles that have been written on this topic. She refers in the article to one example of tests which were commonly asked for. I emphasise the word ‘commonly’. The article says that one test on a patient included sliver function tests, 5 biochemical, 4 electrolytes, a lipid and cholesterol estimation and 4 enzyme estimations. For that work the refund is $115 under some circumstances. I would argue that that sort of test would be necessary only very rarely. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) may have had that sort of test on a number of occasions recently but very few other people in the community would need that battery of tests and for that sort of test to become common shows that lots of unnecessary tests are being carried out. At the same time, it is important to emphasise that these tests do not hurt the patient. They hurt the patient as a taxpayer. They hurt the community as taxpayers because unnecessary money is going to people but they do not hurt the patient. Once a person has had a sample of blood taken from him he does not care what they do with that sample and only one sample of blood is collected.
I will compare that with unnecessary surgery which is performed on patients where there is a definite nsk involved as far as the patient is concerned. One of the interesting things that arise from this is that the Australian Medical Association, which is now being active about this socalled racket is far as pathology is concerned, accuses doctors of doing things for money and states that they are acting in a completely commercial way. It has always previously argued that it could not possibly imagine doctors performing unnecessary surgery or performing any unnecessary medical work just for the money. According to the AMA that just was not possible with the high ethical standards of the Australian medical profession. It is interesting to note that now, suddenly, when it affects other doctors’ incomes the so-called private non-commercial pathologists through their association with the doctors agree that this is going on and that doctors are prepared to order unnecessary pathology just for the sake of getting an extra income. I think it is important for this House to be aware of the real facts behind this issue. It is a difficult one to deal with and I wish the Minister success in trying to cut down expenditure on pathology tests. At the same time, he should not forget that as long as we have fee for service payment for medical services this sort of practice will continue and the only way to deal with it is to abolish fee for service payments.
-My remarks this morning will be in relation to Brisbane Airport. It is a subject which has attracted the notice of many people throughout my State for some years. A number of facts in relation to that airport have come to light which disturb me greatly. More tests have been done, more promises have been made concerning the proper development of the airport than in relation to any other major city capital airport in Australia. Those tests and promises have continued from the middle 1960s to the present day. Precise promises were made in 1971-72. Promises were made by the previous Government in 1973. The Coombs report and other determinations were utilised to try to wish the promises out of existence. Circumstances have now come to my notice which make it quite clear that that airport is incapable of functioning properly and completely even as a domestic airport.
Those facts are serious. Brisbane has the third capital city airport in Australia. It is the quickest growing airport in terms of traffic. The movements of domestic and international passengers have consistently exceeded the target levels. That happened even last year when passenger traffic throughout Australia fell significantly short of the projected levels. Therefore, the first proposition I make is this: Unless there is a new runway development that airport will be incapable of handling the traffic for the Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Games have been awarded to Brisbane. If that city is not merely to become a secondary and subsidiary airport for trans-shipment of passengers to and from international flights to other airports in Australia it is incapable of handling the traffic. I refer to the Commonwealth Games held in Perth in 1962. Even if there were the same type of increase in traffic as occurred then at Perth, Brisbane could not cope.
It is unsatisfactory that the third airport in Australia would be incapable of doing the job. The forecasts of the rate of growth of traffic have been made. Brisbane Airport has the highest per capita usage of any airport in Australia other than Canberra but the evidence in respect of domestic usage of the airport is overwhelming. It is clear that even domestic Boeing 727 aircraft are not able to utilise that airport with their all-up weight. I should like to read some data into Hansard which I believe is extremely important. In light to variable wind conditions at Brisbane Airport at 28 degrees centigrade which applies in the area for most of the year- it is a modest temperature- a domestic Boeing aircraft has to fall 2600 lb short of its take-off weight in order to function. That is equivalent to 12 to 13 passengers. At 30 degrees centigrade with similar wind conditions or no wind conditions a domestic aircraft using the present runway with its incorrect configuration has to be 4600 lb short of its all-up weight for take-off purposes. That is equivalent to 21 to 22 passengers. At 32 degrees centigrade it would be 8000 to 9000 lb short of its full take-off weight. At only 2 capital city airports are such restrictions required. Darwin, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney do not have them. Only Brisbane and Adelaide nave them and Brisbane is the third busiest capital city airport.
Last year nearly 2 500 000 passengers went through that port. I suggest to the Government that the situation at Brisbane Airport with that number of passengers and with the responsibility of being the number one airport and the only significant international airport in Queensland is totally unsatisfactory. It has always been known to me and to others that it is incapable of functioning adequately as an international port. Boeing 747 aircraft on international flights which are fully loaded with passengers have to shed fuel, drop down at Sydney and then proceed overseas. There is no way in the world that that situation is justifiable for what should be an international airport, certainly for the holding of the Commonwealth Games. I will give some data in respect of Boeing 747 jets. With nil or normal wind conditions across the runway, at 28 degrees centigrade those planes have to drop 1 16 000 lb in their take-off weight. At 30 degrees centigrade they have to drop just on 122 000 lb in their take-off weight. At 34 degrees centigrade, a temperature which is experienced in Brisbane quite often, they have to drop 133 000 lb. No one should pretend that in those circumstances the airport comes even close to functioning as a justifiable international terminal.
– How many extra on the runway are needed?
– An extra on the runway would not solve the problem because it would not take account of the correct wind conditions. They are such that the runway has to be new and tilted as an old runway was tilted many years ago. Even a Boeing 707 has to be over 40 000 lb short of its take-off weight at 28 degrees centigrade. At 30 degrees centigrade it has to be 45 000 lb short and at 34 degrees centigrade it has to be 5 1 600 lb short. The gravamen of my remarks is that judgment on the use of that airport depends upon a judgment as to its runway. I believe that all other airport conditions are secondary to satisfactory runways. For domestic functioning Brisbane runway cannot do the job. A most common domestic plane in Australia, the Boeing 727, always has to function with less take-off weight than the maximum which it can have at all other capital city airports other than Adelaide. We know the difficulties Adelaide sometimes has with passengers travelling between that port and Perth. I suggest that the Government make it a top priority in airport construction to upgrade and recast the runway in the direction that has been promised.
– Are these figures you are quoting official?
– Yes, officially obtained from those who fly the planes. These are the weights that the captains of the planes are required to observe.
– It is important that you have all the fuel you need when you get up there.
– That is right, if you want to reach your destination. Oddly this is an urgent proposition and it should be an absolutely top priority for airport construction in Australia.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Reports on Items
– For the information of honourable members I present the interim reports of the Industries Assistance Commission on clothing and certain man-made fibres, yarns and fabrics.
– I move:
Customs TariffProposals No. 1 (1977).
Customs TariffProposals No. 2 ( 1977).
Customs TariffProposals No. 4 ( 1977).
Customs TariffProposals No.5 ( 1977).
The Customs Tariff Proposals I have just tabled relate to proposed alterations to the Customs Tariff Act 1966. Proposals Nos. 1 to 3 formally place before Parliament, as required by law, tariff changes introduced by Gazette notices during the last recess. These proposals implement the Government’s decision, which I foreshadowed to honourable members in this House on 7 December last year, to take action in selected areas either to remove temporary assistance or to reduce tariff levels where such reductions would not have adverse effects on local industry. In addition, the tariff changes arising from the Government’s decision on recommendations made by the Industries Assistance Commission in its report on agricultural tractors are included in Proposals No. 2.
Proposals No. 4 amend the Customs Tariff Act 1966 to meet the duty commitments undertaken by Australia in the recently signed Agreement on Trade and Commercial Relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Proposals No. 5 give effect to the Government’s decision on recommendations made by the Industries Assistance Commission in its reports on: Calcium carbide; and copper foil; primary shapes produced by rolling, drawing, extruding of non-ferrous metals. A comprehensive summary of the changes contained in Proposals Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5 is now being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Proposals to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask for leave of the House to move a motion to discharge certain tariff proposals which were moved last year and which constitute part of Order of the Day No. 34. These proposals were incorporated in the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 and the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill 1976 which have now been assented to.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
That Customs Tariff Proposals Nos 7 to 22 (1976) and Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Proposals 1976, constituting part of Order of the Day No. 34, Government Business, be discharged.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr McLeay, and read a first time.
– I move
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I point out by way of explanation that the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) is in Western Australia on Government business and I am introducing this Bill in his absence. The purpose of the Bill is to increase pension benefits payable under the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Act 1948 and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973. Honourable members will recall that my colleague, the Minister for Defence, made brief reference in this House on 9 December last to the proposed introduction of the necessary legislation in the autumn session of the Parliament to give effect to the Government’s pension increases undertakings.
The Bill provides for pension increases payable in respect of the year 1976-77 to apply retrospectively to the first pension pay day in July 1976. Additionally, provision is made for the automatic annual adjustment of pensions in future years to operate also from the first pension pay day in July of each year. The need for separate Acts of Parliament which has characterised the annual pension increases granted since 1973, will, I am pleased to announce, no longer be necessary. The increases in defence forces retirement benefits and defence force retirement and death benefits pensions for the year 1976-77 and in the future will be related to the percentage increase in the consumer price index during the period of 12 months ending 31 March immediately preceding the date of effect of each annual adjustment. The pension adjustment factor for 1976-77 which derives from the movements in the consumer price index during the year ended 31 March 1 976 is 13.4 per cent.
The adjustment provisions incorporated in the Bill are detailed and complex. I propose therefore to explain in broad terms only how they are to operate. A more detailed explanation of their practical effects will be made available to beneficiaries by the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority when the increased rates of pension become payable. For DFRB pensioners, that is those who retired prior to 1 October 1972, the amount of the increase will be determined by applying the relevant pension adjustment factor to the total pension payable as at 30 June of each year. Pensions payable to widows and the additional pension payable in respect of eligible children will be adjusted on the same basis. DFRDB pensioners- those retired since 30 September 1972- who are in receipt of retirement pay, are to receive increases by applying the same pension adjustment factor to an amount that represents the amount of retirement pay remaining as if the member had commuted to the fullest possible extent following his retirement.
Pensions payable to the widows of DFRDB retirement pensioners will be adjusted by applying the pension adjustment factor to that proportion of the widow’s pension that bears the same ratio as the member’s residual pension, or notional residual pension as the case may be, to his total retirement pay at retirement. DFRDB invalidity pensions, and the pensions payable to the widows of deceased contributors and of invalidity pensioners are to be adjusted in full. Appropriate adjustments will also be made to the additional component of pensions payable to children.
In essence, therefore, the pension updating arrangements encompassed by this Bill achieve the earlier stated aim of consistency with those currently applying to comparable classes of pensioners under the Commonwealth Public Service superannuation schemes.
It was intended also to provide in this Bill beneficial amendments to section 25 of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act designed to remove an anomaly affecting certain officers who were detrimentally affected by their transfer to the DFRDB scheme in Ocotber 1972. Drafting of the necessary amendments has raised a number of complex technical drafting difficulties. The pension updating provisions are therefore being introduced now and drafting of the amendments to section 25 of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act is proceeding for introduction as quickly as possible into the House. I take the opportunity of mentioning that the Government is currently considering a number of beneficial variations to the existing legislation arising from a general review of the reversionary benefits structures of the DFRB and DFRDB schemes. I can assure the House that when the Government has made its decisions, proposed amendments will be introduced as soon as possible. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate resumed from 16 February, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate on this BUI is resumed I suggest it might suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill, the Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) Bill and the Constitution Alteration (Referendums) Bill as they are associated Bills. Of course, separate questions will be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 4 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 4 Bills? There being no objection, I shall allow that course to be followed.
– The Opposition supports all 4 Bills. I found the arguments of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) compelling, not least because I have advanced them myself in this place over 2 decades, in opposition and in government. The 4 proposals have become steadily more relevant and in 1975 they became urgent and crucial. Ten years ago when my Party was in opposition and I had just become its leader we supported the referendums put by the Holt Government. My Party will take the same attitude towards these referendums. We have not been soured by the attitude which our opponents took to the proposals which we put to the people when we were in government and which they are now putting to the people while they are in government. My Party sees no mileage in wrecking referendums. Our opponents now realise that too.
The first Bill proposes an amendment to the Constitution to provide for simultaneous elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. This recommendation was made to the Parliament by the Constitutional Review Committee in 1958 and again in 1959. The Committee was drawn from both Houses- 8 members of this House and 4 senators. It was drawn from all parties- 6 members from the Labor Party, 4 members from the Liberal Party and 2 members from the Country Party. On many occasions in the 1960s in each House the matter was brought on for debate. An almost identical Bill was passed twice by the House of Representatives in the Parliament elected in 1972 and thus the proposal was able to be submitted and was submitted to the electors in May 1974. It was approved by a majority of the electors in New South Wales and was rejected, but only narrowly, by the electors in the other 5 States- and by the electors of the 6 States as a whole. It again was passed twice by the House of Representatives elected in 1974. It could have been submitted to the people in December 1975 but inexplicably was not. Whatever doubts there may be about the GovernorGeneral’s powers in other respects, there can be doubt about his powers to submit a referendum to the electors in the circumstances which obtained at that time.
The proposal was relevant when made by the Constitutional Review Committee in 1958 in the aftermath of the double dissolution in 1951, which produced separate elections for the Senate in 1953 and for the House of Representatives in 1954. After the Committee made its report the matter was given renewed relevance by the premature House of Representatives election in 1963. The proposal clearly has increased relevance in the aftermath of the double dissolutions in 1974 and 1975.
I notice that the objection has been raised outside this House that this referendum will cost some money. In fact, if this referendum is carried, it will every 3 years save at least as much as it costs to hold the referendum. If this referendum is carried, instead of having 2 elections for this Parliament every 3 years there will be, as was originally intended, only one election for this Parliament every 3 years. That means that every 3 years we will save at least as much as it will cost to hold this referendum. If the best objection that can be made to this referendum is that it will cost money, there is no substance in any objections that can be made to this or any other of the referendums. Whatever might have been said on previous occasions, I suggest that there could be no valid objection to putting this referendum and to passing it.
One relevant issue will be solved by this referendum. It would not have been thought to have been a problem until the end of 1975. The Constitution provides that the writs for a Senate election in each State shall be issued by the Governor of that State. Until 1974 Governors of the States had always issued writs for Senate elections in their States on a date requested of them by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. There was every justification and every precedent for an election for half the Senate at the end of 1975. The Federal Council of the Liberal Party, however, passed a resolution on 13 October 1975 calling on the Federal and State parliamentary parties and Liberals everywhere to do all in their power to prevent the Whitlam Government gaining control of the Senate. This was an instruction to non-Labor Premiers to advise their State Governors not to issue writs for an election of half the Senate if they were requested by the Governor-General to do so.
From the time of the first Senate election State governments of every political complexion had automatically issued Senate writs as and when requested by the Federal government. Prime Minister Menzies called separate elections for half the Senate in 1953 and 1964. Prime Minister Holt did so in 1967 and Prime Minister Gorton in 1970. Those elections were held at a time chosen by the Federal government of the day. Moreover, on each occasion the Prime Minister announced his intention to Parliament-to this House- before advising the Governor-General to request the State Governors to issue the writs. Courteously, but imprudently, I did not do so in November 1975. It is quite clear that it is possibleit has always been clear that it has been possible- for State governments to advise their Governors to issue writs for a Senate election at a time when the State governments see fit, irrespective of the views of the Federal government. The Constitution says that elections for the Senate can be held at any time within 12 months before the elected senators take office. To take the current situation, under the Constitution Senate elections could be held on any Saturday this July or at any time up to the end of June next year. The elections could be held on different Saturdays in every State.
A State government may feel that the candidates of its party may not fare as well on the date proposed for a Senate election by the Federal Government via the Governor-General and the State Governor as they would fare on a later date and may therefore advise the State Governor to issue the writs for a later date. A State government may feel that the candidates of its party might fare better at an earlier date than that which the Federal Government is expected to request. The State government might therefore advise the State Governor to issue the writs before there is a Federal request. A State government may even feel that its party’s candidates may not secure a majority at any election before the time when the terms of retiring senators expire and may therefore not issue the writs at all and thus, as the Constitution permits, leave the positions vacant.
These 3 situations which I have stated are all possible as the Constitution stands at present. They would be a travesty. They would have been unthinkable before the last quarter of 1975, but the proposition was made by the supreme organisation of one of the two great political parties in this country in October 1975. It is clearly an unsatisfactory situation which should not be allowed to continue. This referendum will permit this Parliament to pass laws concerning the dates upon which Senate elections can be held. One would assume that the Parliament would only pass an act which said that the dates would all be the same. If this referendum is passed, as in this House I conceive everybody would now proclaim and advocate, we shall have an orderly succession of elections for both Houses of this Parliament at the same time. It will be a more rational, a less expensive and a more contemporary procedure.
The second Bill, the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill, is designed to write into the Constitution the principle that a casual Senate vacancy should be filled by a member of the same political party as the one to which the former senator belonged at the time of his election and for the balance of the term of the former senator. Here again this proposition was accepted by all seven governments in Australia as far back as 195 1 on the first occasion a casual vacancy occurred after proportional voting was introduced in the election of the Senate. After that time every casual vacancy until 1974 was filled by a State government and then by a State parliament by a man or a woman belonging to the same party as the former senator, however the former senator ceased to be a senator.
The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review in 1958 and 1959 unanimously endorsed that principle. It has been endorsed ever since by everybody who has considered it. It was in fact endorsed by our own Senate early in 1975. The question was regarded as academic until 1975. The events of that year are in the minds of all members of this Parliament and on the conscience I would trust of all members of the Government parties. It can no longer be said that the question is an academic one because in 1975 the convention was twice dishonoured. I believe on this issue, as on so many issues which arose in 1975 in this Parliament or on the part of persons appointed by the Government responsible to this House, the words of the honourable and learned member for Moreton, the present Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) are succinct and apposite. He said:
If in their anxiety for power men lose sight of great principles they put at risk the safety of their institutions.
Accordingly it is gratifying that this Bill is being put forward. I believe that every member in each House of any principle, every member who has regard for the safety of our institutions, will vote for the Bill and outside will give it his support. The Bill in fact is in the form moved by my colleagues at the Hobart meeting of the Constitutional Convention last October. The majority of the delegates to the Convention supported an amendment moved by Sir Charles Court which would have excluded the operation of the convention and of the proposed Bill whenever a senator ceased to be a senator other than by death or incapacity. A few at the Convention even opposed Sir Charles Court’s amendment as well as the original motion which now forms the basis of this Bill.
At the Convention Sir Charles Court accused me of denigrating the Senate. I was at some pains to dispel any such notion. Since at the Convention my remarks on this issue seemed to receive more support than my remarks on any other issue perhaps I may recall them to the House. I suggested then that Sir Charles Court, not I, was denigrating the Senate and senators by his amendment because he was saying in effect that senators even if well-suited and qualified should not become judges, ambassadors, high commissioners or administrators. I did not and I do not accept that proposition.
– Vince Gair is a good example. He was an excellent ambassador.
– I knew that somebody would make that interjection because it was made at the Convention by a fellow Queenslander and dear friend of the honourable gentleman who interjects, a Mr Frawley, MLA. I believe my riposte was apposite:
The interjection came from a Queenslander. The interjector would be worthy of being a member of the Legislative Council, the upper House of Queensland, which, of course, expired more than SO years ago.
I asked the Convention to draw a parallel with State governments. I said:
It is not so long ago that Sir Charles Court’s own party in the Victorian Parliament found there was no worthy member among them in the Legislative Assembly to succeed Sir Henry Bolte as Premier. They went to the Legislative Council and demoted the honourable R. J. Hamer, MLC, and he became Premier. Not only that, there was no adequate or worthy Liberal in the Legislative Assembly of Victoria to become Deputy Premier so they demoted the honourable Lindsay Thompson, MLC. In my party in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly there is a host of talent, but even so Mr Wran, MLC, was demoted to the Legislative Assembly.
I come back to Federal Parliament. Not long ago there was no adequate or worthy Liberal MHR to be Prime Minister. Senator Gorton was demoted to the lower House. Under Sir Charles Court’s amendment, the best man in the Liberal Party, as Senator Gorton undoubtedly was, could not have become Prime Minister. Are we to denigrate senators by saying that even if among them is the worthiest man to become Prime Minister of our country he cannot be appointed to that post? Of course he should.
I continue with my quotations from the Convention:
Regarding Judges, are we to say it is acceptable for Mr Higgins, MHR, or Mr Isaacs, MHR, or Sir Garfield Barwick, MHR, to be appointed to the High Court, or Mr Latham, MHR, to resign with the prospect of being appointed on the High Court, or Mr Joske, MHR, or Mr Nigel Bowen, MHR, to resign to be appointed to other courts, but worthy lawyers in the Senate are never to be appointed to the High Court?
At the Constitutional Convention I said:
I thought that Senator Spicer was an admirable appointment as the founding Chief Judge of the Australian Industrial Court and that Senator Murphy would prove to be the Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior of the Australian High Court. I am pleased I have such universal approbation for my assessment of these matters.
I referred to the appointment of Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin as High Commissioner to
New Zealand, which was an admirable appointment. Her term was extended by my Government. She had the complete trust of Mr Kirk and myself. During the period that she was a senator one member of this House had been appointed High Commissioner to New Zealand, Dr Donald Cameron; three had been appointed High Commissioners to Britain, Sir Thomas White, Sir Eric Harrison and Sir Alexander Downer; and another had been appointed High Commissioner to Malta, Sir Hubert Opperman. From this House 7 members have been appointed ambassadorMr Spender and Mr Beale to the United States, Mr Gullett to Greece, Mr MacKinnon to Argentina, Uraguay and Peru, Mr Roberton to Ireland, Mr Freeth to Japan and Mr Fairbairn to The Netherlands. If they had been senators, according to the majority view at the Convention, they could not have been properly appointed. Sir Joshua Francis and Mr Roger Dean were appointed Consul and Consul-General. Mr Dean, Mr Chaney and Mr England have been appointed Administrator of the Northern Territory. The best a senator could ever be was Administrator of Norfolk Island-Senator Wordsworth. Above all, Mr Hasluck became Governor-General. If he had been a senator, under Sir Charles Court’s amendment, it would not have been a proper appointment. At the Convention I said:
If the best man or woman for any of these jobs is to be found in the Senate or the Legislative Council, he or she should be eligible format appointment.
I am glad that my remarks which did not persuade the Convention have now persuaded the Government. This Bill is worthy of our support.
The third referendum Bill proposes to amend the Constitution to provide a maximum retirement age for justices of the High Court and of other Federal courts. This might not have been regarded as a matter of great moment when the judges affected consisted only of those on the High Court, of whom there have never been more than seven, or even when the first Federal court, the Federal Court of Bankruptcy, was appointed. No Chief Justice has died in office but they have all retired in the fullness of age. Griffith retired at 74; Knox at 67; Isaacs retired at 76 and lived to 93; Gavan Duffy retired at 83 and lived to 88; Latham retired at 75 and lived to 87; Dixon retired at 78 and lived to 86. The present Chief Justice is already 73. Of the puisne or associate justices, only three have retired before they reached 70-Evatt at 46, Williams at 69 and Kitto at 67. Powers retired at 76, Starke at 79, Rich at 87, Webb at 71, Windeyer at 72 and
Mctiernan at 84. Few occupations appear so calculated to preserve one’s mental powers and
Physical stamina. The first Federal Judge in Bankruptcy Mr Justice Lukin, died in office in 1944 at the mature age of 76. He had been appointed a Federal Judge after retiring from the Supreme Court of Queensland. These statistics might be notable but would not be regarded as necessarily justifying amendment of the Constitution. Nevertheless, now there is a large number of Federal judges. There are 27 justices of the Family Court of Australia, all appointed in the last year and a few months.
– As at today that is the number.
-As at today, yes. I have no doubt that we will have to amend the regulations to permit an extension beyond 30.
– We do not know what the position will be by the end of next week.
– We will get the Bill through before the appointments are made. The Federal Court now has 19 judges. Accordingly, this is now a matter of real moment. It is one of those matters in which the position could be altered by a change in opinion on the High Court. High Court and Federal judges hold office for life because of a decision given in 1918 that because at the time our Constitution was drawn up judges in England held office for life, therefore, judges mentioned in our Constitution, which is a British Act of Parliament, held office for life. The High Court could alter its interpretation. It has altered its interpretation of matters which have been undisturbed for longer than the period between 1918 and now- for instance the corporations power, the most fertile of all the powers, in the light of Attorney-General Hughes’s admirable and successful advocacy 5 years ago.
– You do not mention his junior.
– I believe that at that time the honourable and learned gentleman gave immense service to his country and I was one of the first to applaud it. Clearly it is wise to put this amendment to the people at the same time as the others. It deserves support. I would imagine that there can be no rational opposition to High Court justices and other Federal justices having a retiring age, as all other judges in Australia have long had, applied to them.
– You made an excellent speech on this subject in 1 955.
-That is quite true. I am indebted to the honourable gentleman for his second interjection. As a matter of fact, I was paid the immense compliment on that occasion by the then Prime Minister, my most distinguished living predecessor, coming into the House to hear me and asking me out for appropriate hospitality afterwards.
The fourth Bill proposes to give electors in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory a vote in future referendums. This is surely an irrefutable proposition. It deserves our support also. There are three points I might make on it. It is clear, from the batch of Bills that we are debating, that it is likely that the Northern Territory, when it becomes a State, will have a functionary named a Governor, either appointed or elected. At least he will not be a British official, as all present State Governors are, bearing a commission signed by the Queen of Britain and countersigned by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.
Perhaps the second point is that this may not be the last amendment of the Constitution which will bear upon the Territories. On 17 October 1975, in the case of WA v. the Commonwealth, the High Court by a majority rejected suits against the Commonwealth brought by Western Australia and New South Wales challenging the validity of the Federal electoral legislation, and by Queensland seeking a declaration that the Senate (Representation of Territories) Act was beyond power. Victoria intervened in support of the objectors. We therefore had at that time the 4 conservative governments in Australia- mind, as recently as 1975- objecting to the Territories having senators.
More recently on the first of this month in the case of the Attorney-General for New South Wales at the Relation of McKellar v. the Commonwealth, and Others the States of Western Australia and Queensland again raised, but did not argue, their earlier challenge to the right of the Territories to have’ senators. The Chief Justice, still sulking from his rebuff by his brethren in the earlier case, invited a further challenge.
It is important that we should have this referendum put to the people- at this stage it can only be put to the electors of the States- and let the electors of the States say that when there is a referendum the electors in the Territories also should be able to vote on those referendums. This will discourage these challenges to the people of the Territories having representation in the Senate or even in this House.
The third point, which I raised at the Constitutional Convention, concerns Australian citizens in the overseas Territories of Norfolk Island, Cocos Island and Christmas Island. (Extension of time granted) I thank the House. I speculated that Sir John Nimmo as Royal Commissioner on Norfolk Island might recommend that the Australian citizens of Norfolk Island should be given a vote for this House. In fact, since then Sir John ‘s report has been tabled and published and he did so recommend. I also vouchsafed the opinion that in respect of Cocos Island and Christmas Island there are powerful international arguments for giving votes for the House of Representatives to the citizens who reside there.
This Bill, if carried by electors of the States, will permit the Australian citizens in those overseas Territories-I imagine honourable members and honourable senators and the great majority of Australian citizens everywhere, including in those Territories, would wish them to remain Territories of this country-to vote in any future referendums. So I suggest that this fourth Bill also deserves our support.
All 4 Bills deal with issues of real importance and growing urgency. I have mentioned the desirability of amending the Constitution to permit this Parliament to set a retirement age for future federal judges, other than the justices of the High Court, and to make constitutional provision for retirement at 70 years of age for justices of that court. There is a necessity to amend the Constitution to deal with the other 3 situations where the Constitution is explicit or convention has been dishonoured. In these cases change is required. There is no way that the High Court can interpret the present Constitution to permit the changes sought by these other 3 Bills.
It will be noted that none of the Bills deals with the legislative powers of this Parliament. I must confess that I have become reluctant to ask the electors to expand the legislative powers of this Parliament. I realise that the High Court has usually been more readily persuaded to allocate legislative powers between the Federal and State legislatures. None of the Bills, for instance, even deals with the interchange of powers between the Federal and State Parliaments although that was suggested in 1973 by the conservative governments in New South Wales and Victoria and applauded at the’ Sydney meeting of the Constitutional Convention by those States and by the representatives of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and was not even opposed there by the representatives of the Queensland Government.
None of the Bills deals with the structure of State legislatures, although in respect to democratic safeguards their constitutions except possibly South Australia and in one respect- terms of office- N.S.W. such safeguards are becoming more necessary. The Bills deal with the structure of the Federal legislature and the Federal judiciary. They in no way affect the States except where the States have intruded into matters which concern this Parliament, to wit, casual vacancies in the Senate and the issue of writs for the Senate. The Bills conspicuously avoid giving an ounce of provocation to any State party. The present Government has abandoned earlier proposals to ratify actions of the Senate and the Governor-General in October and November 1975. The present Opposition has refrained from dilating on some remarkable conversions on the issues and from speculating on the Government’s motives in deferring the Senate elections.
The whole tenor in which the matter has so far been dealt with in this House, would, I believe be calculated to secure a rational and relevant approach to matters of real relevance and increasing urgency. My Party hopes that the people will support these 4 referendums. Whatever government the people hereafter elect in this House of Representatives, whatever members the people hereafter elect to this Federal Parliament, the Federal Parliament and Government will be able to operate in a more rational, contemporary and constructive way than the Parliament and governments have been able to operate hitherto. The Bills should be supported in the Parliament; they should be supported outside the Parliament I do not believe that any Party in Australia can gain anything from the rejection of any of these Bills.
– There are few occasions when I rise in this House following the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitiam) that I find myself in substantial agreement with most of what he has said. This is one of those rare occasions. There are, of course, in the electorate at large a good many divided views about the character and the manner of the Australian Constitution, in terms both of its relationship to individuals and of the necessity for change. Emotions are very easily generated when we speak of altering the Australian Constitution. Those of us on this side of the House certainly believe that the Constitution was the basis behind which the survival of democracy was achieved after 1975.
There are still many people who look apprehensively at the Constitution, believing that the inherent rights that our forebears, who in some way they believe were more wise than those of us who succeeded, wrote down so many years ago should inevitably survive without modification. I am quite sure it was never in the minds of those who wrote the original Constitution that that should be so. The very inclusion of section 128 of the Constitution indicates that there was an intention to provide for change and for circumstances of change which it was expected would follow perhaps much the same consultative course as the original Constitution conventions or, if not in that way, then in the submission of questions specifically to the people.
Referenda in Australia have not had a very happy history. So few have been passed. There is no need for me to repeat this afternoon the abysmal record of success of referenda. When I say abysmal’, it does not necessarily mean, because a question goes to the people, that it needs to be supported by the whole Australian electorate. Obviously there are differing views between the large States and the small States and there are different ideological views among the people of Australia as to the substance of the questions. In the questions that are to be submitted to the Australian people under this legislation there are 2 questions almost identical with questions that have already been submitted in earlier referenda and rejected, but they are not entirely identical and circumstances are different. That is quite important.
The first and most important thing I want to say about the submission of these questions to the people is that there seems to be almost an apprehension in the minds of some people and a belief that there should be no reference of questions to the people. I believe that to be quite false. It is essential that the Australian people accept that there are legitimate occasions when they should be entitled to cast their views on suggested change, particularly change to the Constitution, which written as it is prescribes so much of the terms and conditions within which our Federal Government can operate. There is also to be a poll on a national song. It is not part of this measure, but the necessary legislation is intended to come before the House at a later date. Again this will be a very worthwhile way by which the people of Australia can cast their views on a matter of significant public concern. I mention it because there should be no concern in the minds of those around Australia who are apprehensive about the character of these referendum proposals. There is nothing wrong in their being asked to vote. It is a necessary part of our democratic way.
The second thing I want to do is look at the way by which these 4 questions come before us this afternoon. They have not been submitted just as a matter of a government decision. When two of these matters were submitted last to the Australian people in 1974 they had not emerged as a result of the Constitutional Convention, although the Convention had its first meeting in Sydney on 3 September 1973. A good deal of discussion was still underway. There were two subsequent sessions of the Convention. The one in Melbourne was not very well attended but the other two in Sydney and Hobart, the Hoban meeting being late last year, were attended by representatives of all parliaments, by representatives of both federal and State levels of government, by representatives of local government and by representatives of both sides of both chambers in those States where there are 2 chambers. On those 2 occasions there were two very widely represented groups of people. There were not just lawyers, people who represented only a particular profession within the community, but people from all stratas of society representing local government, State government and Federal government, Federal Parliament and State parliaments. They came together and they met.
Something like 20 resolutions were affirmed by the last session of the Australian Constitutional Convention staged at Wrest Point in Hobart from 27 to 29 October. The 4 questions which are the subject matter of these 4 Bills emerged as a result of the very substantial, near unanimous, agreement on these 4 proposals. Some slight modifications have been made to the form of words. Perhaps I might refer to those directly, although the Leader of the Opposition has already referred to them. For example, in the casual Senate vacancy instance, as a result of an amendment moved by the Premier of Western Australia there was a modification of the original question. This modification, referred to by my colleague the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), flowed from what was seen to be an almost impossible task of writing into some legal form of words a condition known as bona fide illness, as it was described in the amendment. In any event, in my opinion it is far more desirable that if the convention is to exist it should exist across the breadth of casual appointments rather than in a narrow sphere only.
These 4 questions emerged not just as a product of a decision by this Government, not because two of them have been before the people before, but because the Australian Constitutional Convention on three successive occasions led towards an acceptance of these 4 resolutions, which was achieved finally at the Wrest Point convention. In that sense there needs to be a recognition by those who might question these referenda that throughout the country there seems to be a universal accord that this type of deliberation on the Constitution is worth while; that if there is to be constitutional change it should not be just for the fulfilment of the political aspirations, desires or objectives of the Government for the time being in Canberra but it should be something that has evolved from the consultation at the Constitutional Conventions. I think the authenticity of the origin of these questions must be accepted. The fact that they were so significantly supported at the Convention adds further weight to the case for referring them to the people and I hope they will receive the support of the people.
I would like briefly to turn to each of the 4 questions. There are two which I believe must be accepted by the Australian people without controversy. The first is the question of alteration of the Constitution so as to provide for a retiring age forjudges of Federal courts. It really brings the circumstances of the judiciary into parallel with those of other members of the community. While there might be some question as to the age that is to be provided for, the age decided on is again a direct product of the Constitutional Convention. It was felt that the age of 70 years was appropriate. Of course many people over that age can still have full possession of their mental faculties, but the incredible record of longevity of members of the Federal judiciary read out by the Leader of the Opposition indicates that normally on retirement members of the High Court and other Federal courts have been considerably older than people in other professions.
It is significant that we look at the form of this proposal. We should realise first that no change is to be effected on any present incumbent of the High Court or other Federal courts. Hence the suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that perhaps if there are Family Court judges or other judges to be appointed it might be desirable for the appointments to be delayed somewhat or the passage of this Bill accelerated. It is necessary that we recognise that neither this Bill nor the acceptance of this question at a referendum will in any way affect the incumbency or term of office of those who are currently Federal court judges or High Court judges. Nor will it affect the appointment and continuation in office of any present incumbent of Federal courts or the High Court subsequently appointed to a more senior position either by transfer from a Federal court to the High Court or elevation from the Federal courts or the High Court to the position of Chief Justice. There is no suggestion that in any way the independence of the judiciary is being threatened by this question but a more rational and generally acceptable age of retirement is being set. There could and should be no opposition to that question.
The second question which I think is equally likely to be accepted without criticism, although I know that there were some people at the Constitutional Convention in Hobart who offered some views upon it, is the question of altering the Constitution so as to allow electors in Territories as well as electors in the States to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution. It is true that there has been a question submitted to the Australian people before which included substantially the terms of this question. However, it also needs to be recognised that when last submitted there was another condition added, and that was that the present requirement, to which reference was made in the second reading speech of the Attorney-General, that there be not only a majority of electors but also a majority of electors in a majority of States before the Constitution be changed, would also be modified. In this instance the electors in the Territories are to be included only in the determination of an overall majority. To that extent surely there can be no maintenance of a position that those who are residents of the Territories are given something less than the full status of Australian citizens. I believe that this of itself is sufficient reason for unanimous support for the second question.
The other 2 Bills come in categories where there is without doubt some concern in some sectors of the community. However, in each instance there needs to be an analysis of just what is contained in the proposals before a rash or precipitate judgment is reached as to the wisdom of these changes. Certainly the question of altering the Constitution so as to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections has been before the Australian people. In 1974 the Australian Labor Party Government submitted that question along with 3 others- the mode of altering the Constitution to which I referred a moment ago, democratic elections and local government questionsto the people at the same time. At that time supporters of the present Government parties opposed the constitutional change for several reasons. The predominant one was that it lay as part of a total package, several elements of which we found totally unacceptable. I think it important that in looking at the package as it was then submitted- the precipitate way in which it emerged before consideration by the Convention, without the ratification or the backing of the Convention- we realise the questions were put as matters which it was felt by us and, I suspect, by many Australians, for the vote indicated that that was so, were designed to change the Constitution to the advantage of the then Government.
In this instance it is a question which is being submitted, certainly as a result of a resolution of the Convention, certainly in isolation, and I trust that it can be considered, presented and examined as such. It is also presented because, as I see it, there were matters which happened in 1975 which, if viewed in their context and if there had been no double dissolution Bills before the Houses of Parliament at that time, might well have put the Senate in a position where it could have forced the House of Representatives to an election without itself being required to do so. In other words, the simultaneous elections question which is now going to the people will ensure not that the powers of the Senate will be reduced in any way, but that they will be enhanced. So if the circumstances arise where the members of the other chamber, exercising what I believe to be their correct and proper power, decide that a particular financial measure should be rejected and wish to pursue that resolution they will not be in a position where the Government, in the majority in the lower House, will go to the people on its own but where the members of both Houses must submit themselves to the will of the Australian electorate. In that climate I believe that there will be no reduction in the power of the Senate but rather an enhancement of it.
As to the simultaneous character of the elections, of course it will mean that there will be fewer elections. In his second reading speech the Attorney-General listed the frequency of probable future elections. If we cost those elections and if we think of the circumstances of the double dissolutions in 1974 and 1975, of the 7 separate national elections from 1963 to 1972 and the prospects for the next 20-year period, there is no doubt that there will be a very significant saving in terms of money to the Australian people. But more significantly I believe that there will be fewer elections and therefore whichever Party may be in government will have a proper opportunity to govern and carry out its proper duties. So I submit that the simultaneous elections question differs in its presentation and its reasons from the earlier question. I submit therefore that it is to the advantage of the Australian people, that it is to simplify the processes of electing members of the Federal Parliament and that therefore it is a question which should be supported unanimously.
The final question is again a matter of some controversy. I refer to the question of filling casual vacancies. The Leader of the Opposition made a remark about the convention being twice dishonoured in 1 975, a contention which I do not completely endorse. I believe that, according to the Constitutions of each of the States, they must be able to set their own terms and conditions for exercising their proper functions. One of their functions under the existing Constitution is to nominate through the State Governor the person who is to fill a casual vacancy. This question will ensure that there is not just a verbal convention, an unwritten convention, but that within the Constitution the circumstances in which casual vacancies will be filled in the future are set down. The persons filling casual vacancies will still be nominated by the Governors of a State, not by the Governor-General as was suggested in some earlier proposal advanced by the Labor Party. I believe it is necessary when filling casual vacancies that we recognise that there will be a prescribed procedure which will enable the State governments to determine the manner by which they will select persons to fill casual vacancies, and which will ensure that the rights of the States are preserved, as it shall be certified by the Governor of the State and not by the GovernorGeneral, and that Governor of the State will then be able to submit the name and the person will be appointed in accordance with a constitutional requirement which I believe will validly set out a fit and proper procedure.
I believe that each of these 4 questions should be submitted to the people and endorsed by the Australian people. Constitutional change is not something on which we should embark lightly, but when it has been ratified by successive Conventions and there has been an almost unanimous acceptance of those resolutions it is necessary that the Australian people have the chance to vote and endorse that decision.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired.
– The Australian Labor Party welcomes these Bills and fully supports the proposals that are to be put to the Australian people by way of referendum. In a nutshell it means that for some time we have been discussing how best to get the Australian people to support change, but it appears now that the only practical way to do so is to have a Liberal-National Country Party
Government. Without such a government there cannot be any effective change to the Constitution, and the rules are thrown overboard in the process if a Labor Party government dares to say that it wants to have change and it wants to have adherence to a convention. The Government must be very mindful of this fact that in discussions in public forums Opposition members cannot be expected to be silent about what happened to the Labor Party when it was urging that these changes take place. Nevertheless it should not be assumed that we are in any way opposed to these changes now. We think that they are perhaps in some cases 50 years too late.
However, it is significant that change is coming about because of public discussion. I pay a tribute to a Labor man in Victoria, John Galbally, who had enough wisdom as Leader of the Labor Party in the Victorian Upper House to suggest that there should be another attempt by way of a Constitutional Convention to have change in Australia. It can be seen that as a result of that decision of his, supported by the Victorian government at the time, that we are now getting some change flowing through, little as it is. I think it is worth while paying a tribute to those many people who did assemble in Hobart last October to discuss quite fairly the problems of the nation and how best to solve them by constitutional change. The great difficulty and, I think, the great weakness is that we are trying to suggest that we, the politicians, always know what is best for the people instead of leaving it to the people themselves for discussion in the first instance on what they think should be put to them.
I want to applaud the actions of the Citizens for Democracy in urging that meetings be held throughout Australia with a view to having a new constitution- a constitution approved by the people in the first instance and submitted to this Parliament just for mere technical legal ratification. Then we would have unity in this country. We would have a sense of purpose as to where this country is going. There has been mention that there is to be a referendum on a song. There is no mention of an anthem. Are we so devoid of national spirit that we cannot even talk about a national anthem of our own, a flag of our own, and an identity of our own? How is this country going to run along in this old colonial atmosphere that says there is to be no change?
One of the Bills under discussion proposes to give the people in the Territories of Australia a vote at referendums. They have been denied a vote in the past. We extract all sorts of taxes from them. We engage them in military service for the defence of this country. We urge them to stay north of the Tropic of Capricorn in case Australia is invaded. We do everything from the point of view of saying that we are Australians, we are one nation. But when it comes to a suggestion that the people in the Territories should be permitted to have a vote on constitutional changes they are denied that right. It is a tragedy that at the Hobart convention the first item to be discussed was whether there should be a referendum vote for the people in the Territories and the representatives from the Queensland government said ‘no’ and stood up and voted against the proposal. I would hope that when this referendum is again put to the Australian people there will be a change of heart by that particular political group in Queensland. To deny fellow Australians a vote is only divisive. It only means again that the Australian people are still confused about what is happening to their governments and to their country when politicians and the political leaders cannot even agree on elementary democracy.
When referendums are held we read such things as ‘The Case for No’. That is the way it is put in this pleasant vernacular. If honourable members care to read what was put out when we were suggesting on a previous occasion that the people in the Territories be permitted to vote at referendums they will see that it was said: ‘That is a very dangerous thing to do’. It was said that we must never have change. It was said that there is a fraud being committed. I hope that none of these words are used again. The Case for No says that this is another proposal to suggest alteration by fraud. This is what was said when we were talking about giving a referendum vote to the people in the Territories. Is it any wonder that people reading that and thinking that it had some legal basis might well be encouraged to vote no? Is not the real issue this: That people of that ilk who put that sort of case forward would not be worthy of being called Australians? That should be the indictment of them. There is some slight hope that in the next referendum they will change their view but I am very doubtful about this because of what I saw in October last when they were so vicious in their opposition to the move to give a vote to the people in the Territories.
One worthwhile change in the legislation under discussion is the retiring age forjudges. It has been said quite effectively and quite intelligently that it was really never intended when the Constitution was drawn up in 1 900 that judges would not be expected to retire. If honourable members look closely at the words of section 72 they will see that it says they shall not be removed. That is a totally different proposition. There would be nothing wrong- good legal advice has said this- if this Parliament passed legislation setting down a retiring age for judges. That legislation could have been submitted to the worthy judges for a reconsideration of Alexander’s case as to whether it had been rightly decided. They might well have decided that the Parliament had the power to fix a retiring age for all judges. The question of removal related to a personality or a particular issue that involved a personality or personalities would require the Parliament to have certain provisions to remove judges.
The judges of the High Court have a great responsibility in safeguarding the Constitution as worn out and as outmoded as it is. They have to interpret the Constitution in accordance with modern times and changes in conditions. They are not immune from senility. They are not immune from the geriatric process of mental decay and accordingly it follows that there must be some intelligent appraisal by the Australian people of whether we think sixty, sixty-five or seventy should be the age at which the man or the lady- it could well be a lady on the High Court- should retire. Again this matter was the subject of discussion at the convention in Hobart. There is obviously plenty of public support for the proposal. I will not spend too much time on it because I think it will be carried by an overwhelming majority. But I am anxious to make the point that perhaps this could have been done by the High Court itself by having another look at Alexander’s case which seemed to have the doubtful distinction of having been decided by people who in fact had written the Constitution themselves and that often involves some personal motive in respect of what they think would be best for themselves.
There should be no mistique about a constitution. It is not sacrosanct. It is just a group of words expressed, we would think, in an intelligent fashion. Of course that intelligent fashion is now subject to great debate. It does not always help the nation or the High Court, for that matter, to be saddled with a stack of words which in many cases have no real application. The expressions in section 92 of the Constitution are classic English exercises which nobody understands. It is quite clear that the founders of the Constitution did not want to have customs barriers on every State boundary. That is what they meant. Of course we have the legal interpretation that perhaps we cannot control banking and we cannot interfere with suggested private enterprise operations because they are deemed to be trade and commerce within the States.
The High Court quite fairly has had to make interpretations but it is about time that we allowed the Australian people again to have a good look at where we are going as a nation. We may well find ourselves in the Pacific still arguing the merits of the Constitution when the whole world has changed or when Great Britain itself has probably entered a federation of Europe and is part and parcel of a federal system with a complete new concept. We hear many questions being asked about what is happening to our primary industries, what is happening to our former trade opportunities and what has happened to the former purchasers of our goods. They have adopted a new concept. We cannot rely on the past. That is the message we have to convey to the Australian people. It is a matter of urgency that we get a sense of national identity and a unity of purpose. A constitution is a way to do this. A national Parliament is the instrument with which to express it. The people in the parliament must have integrity and a sense of duty when it comes to what is best for Australia. This country should not have these shabby operations whereby people in State parliaments can get up to all sorts of confidence tricks by manipulating the type of person they want in this Parliament which has had disastrous results. It is inexcusable that a person filled a casual vacancy in the Senate contrary to the Party wishes of those whom he professed to represent with the express purpose of saying: ‘I am coming here to refuse Supply to the Government. That is my sole purpose’. And he was effective. It brought down a government. I think it may well have destroyed a lot of unity in Australia for a long time. When that person submitted himself at the next poll he was soundly defeated. There was no support for what he had done. Now, perhaps, we shall be able to get change through the Liberal-Country Party Government’s understanding of what has happened in the past. We are a bit cynical about the extra Senate vacancy for the State of Victoria. We wonder if it had been a long term Labor Senator from Victoria who had died, whether this Government would have been so anxious to suggest change on the basis that the casual vacancy would be filled for the whole of the term. It means at this stage that the Victorian seat that might have been expected to be won by the Labor Party perhaps will not be available. We do not mind that because the real intention is that vacancies should be filled for the term. There is no doubt about that. But what a tragedy it is to think we could never get that point of view accepted, even from the point of view of a convention.
Let me deal with some of the issues involved in simultaneous elections. I had the distinction at the Hoban Convention of moving a motion that there be simultaneous elections. I was delighted to find I had complete support from my colleagues opposite, otherwise I do not think the motion would have been carried. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile proposition. It clearly shows that the Australian people are bedevilled by frequent elections. If this referendum is not passed we will have 4 elections within the next 5 years. Can you think of anything more ridiculous or expensive? It would cost some $4m or $5m per election with the people themselves well divided on that issue.
Again, in a cynical fashion, one wonders whether this would be a primary concern of the Government at this stage if it was not aware of the fact that unless this is done it will face a halfSenate election in May 1978, some 6 months before it was due to go to the polls. The Government would not want to have a bad defeat in May because it could not be expected to recover psychologically by November. I mention that because it is the position which now applies. To put the matter on its proper basis, the Labor Party basis, is it not intelligent and proper that a Senate should be elected at the same time as a House of Representatives? The motivation of the people when they cast their votes for the election for a House of Representatives election in accordance with the policies expressed by political parties would also flow to the Senate candidates being elected at the same time. We would not then have the silly situation of senators being elected strictly to try to get rid of a government and being in no way responsible for their action.
When we consider the case for voting ‘No’ to simultaneous elections I hope we do not have the sheer nonsense and rubbish that was circulated last time as to why people should vote against simultaneous elections. The reasons given were runaway inflation, high interest rates, staggering tax payments, irresponsible government spending and a Public Service growing like Topsy. In the name of honesty that could not be related to having simultaneous elections for the rest of time. That was the way the Case for No was put. It states:
The dishonesty of this referendum question is that it says this is the only way to get Senate and House of Representatives elections held together.
That is true. The Case for No said:
That is simply untrue.
The Constitution, the law and Parliamentary practice each Prime Minister to have a House of Representatives election on the same day as any Senate election.
That is not so. It is untrue. It is surprising to think that the present Government expressed that view at that stage. It must have thought that a GovernorGeneral would always take the advice of a Prime Minister because that is the only way that that could possibly happen. There have to be good and valid reasons for the dissolution of a House yet it was expressed in the Case for No on one of the issues that it was just a formality and could readily be done. The Case for No said: ‘Be careful, you must not allow this to happen because the Senate will become a rubber stamp of a socialist, centralist, Labor Government.’ What utter nonsense to say in the first instance that senators should be elected by the people and then to suggest that people will be misled about whom they vote for on that basis. No senator would ever be a rubber stamp, nor should he be, but it is appropriate that he should be indicative of the type of person elected at the same time as a government was elected. That is what this measure is all about.
One could manipulate the Constitution to show how silly this proposition is. Under section 13, if one wanted to get elections back into kilter one could put forward a phoney proposition to a tame and friendly Senate, which would reject it, and then one could ask for a double dissolution around the end of June and organise an election for the House of Representatives some time in July. Because section 13 provides that senators’ terms commence from the previous 1 July they could have their 3-year term. Surely we do not have to go to that sort of expediency to achieve the situation aimed for in this Bill. Finally, let us look at the proposition for casual vacancies as is provided in this legislation. I think this proposition is appropriate, worth while and reasonably well drafted. I applaud the Government for the fact that for the first time it recognises political parties as being representative of the Australian people. There is nothing wrong with being a member of Parliament, a politician or interested in politics. It is the best thing one can do from the point of view of his country. Whether one is good or bad is always subject to the judgment of the people and nothing else. If one fails one does so at the ballot box. Therefore it is appropriate that we recognise political parties, their wisdom, their function and their value, and do not think always that wisdom is somewhere other than in political parties. It is not. Political parties are the grass roots of democracy and the basis of the great nation that we can make this country. Accordingly, for the first time it is recognised in legislation-I think it is to be applauded-that a person could be deemed to be a member of a particular political party with all the difficulties that might flow from trying to determine what is a political party. We have no doubt about it. People in the country have no doubt about it and I hope no court has any doubt about it.
I should like to make a suggestion at the Committee stage in regard to the part of the legislation dealing with the filling of a vacancy. I do not suggest any amendment; it is just an expression. Clause 2 states:
There is a slight weakness in the words ‘a member of that party’. I should like the words ‘and approved by that party for that vacancy’ to be added. There would be no doubt then that we would have the sort of Field disaster that occurred on the last occasion when a person appears to be a member of a party but is not supported or recommended by it. I think we have to go a little further and say that if the vacancy is to be filled on behalf of a particular political party that party should be able to nominate the person. I should like to think that would be spelt out a little more clearly.
We find this legislation very worthwhile. We give it the utmost support. We will urge its adoption by the Australian people. It is of no political advantage to the Australian Labor Party. It is to its disadvantage for the 2 reasons I mentionedthe casual vacancy in Victoria and the fact that this Government is in such difficulty economically that it would have been easier to try to thrash it to death in May 1 978 than in November 1978. Nevertheless, we will wear that additional burden on the basis of integrity of operation and what should be done by any responsible opposition.
– I believe that these four Bills are significant and historic legislative proposals which will lead to the people of Australia being given an early opportunity to amend and update the Commonwealth Constitution. These Bills should be passed and I hope that all the referendum proposals will in due course be passed by the Australian people with the majority of voters in Australia and the majority of States supporting them. Five purposes will be achieved by the passage of the referendum proposals. Firstly and most importantly, this gives the Australian people an opportunity to pass a referendum which will have the effect of updating and contemporising the Australian Constitution consistent with the needs of Australia in 1977. I do not feel in any way daunted by the fact that previous referendum proposals have not had a good record of success. I hope that on this occasion the Australian people will support the 4 proposals which we bring before them.
Secondly, I believe that the referendum proposals will at long last bring democracy into constitutional reform by giving the right to vote to over 300 000 Australians who happen to live in the Territories. I will deal with that m more detail later. Thirdly, the referendum proposals will properly synchronise Senate and House of Representative elections at a considerable saving in cost to the Australian taxpayer, avoiding unnecessary, time consuming duplication of elections. I suggest that the Australian people are well and truly tired of repeated elections and the possibility of elections twice every 3 years. These proposals will lead to more stable and better government. Fourthly, I believe that they will prevent the will of the electors being thwarted and twisted when casual Senate vacancies occur.
The proposals which are now to come before the Australian people are remarkably, strikingly similar to those which exist under the Hare-Clark system which operates in Tasmania. There is only one slight variation, and that is that in the case of a casual vacancy occurring as a result of a person elected to the House of Assembly in Tasmania dying, resigning or being unable to hold his seat, his votes are in fact recounted and the next person who would have been elected on his preferences takes office. At least by virtue of the referendum proposals we are now bringing before the Australian people they will know that if they elect a Liberal senator or a Labor senator at an election and that senator ceases to hold office for any purpose whatsoever during the ensuing period of his term of office, he will be replaced by a Liberal senator or a Labor senator as the case may be.
I shall deal in detail with the 2 instances which occurred in 1974 and 197S when the wishes of the electors of New South Wales and Queensland, in my respectful submission, were thwarted and twisted. They found that, when vacancies occurred, instead of their votes still counting, they were then represented by persons for whom they would never have voted and who indeed were not even candidates at the elections at which their original choice received their number one vote.
Lastly, the referendum proposal will contemporise the High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia by legislating for an earner retirement of judges, which must in turn lead to the appointment of younger judges. Without meaning any disrespect to elderly members of the judiciary, many of whom are distinguished and have had a most outstanding career in the law, I believe that younger judges are closer to the people and that younger judges can offer much more to a growing and developing country such as Australia. Indeed, in regard to this particular aspect, it is significant to note that in every State of Australia there exists at the moment a compulsory retiring age for State judges. It is little less tha,n paradoxical that the situation does not apply with respect to Federal judges, including the judges who sit upon the highest court in this country determining the most vital constitutional questions. I repeat that I do not wish in any way to indicate any disrespect to any sitting judge over the age of 70 years, but I do believe, as I believed when I was a member of the Tasmanian Parliament and when I voted in favour identical legislation, that there should be a retiring ase forjudges as there is a retiring age for practically all other public offices.
I shall deal with the matters in order. First and foremost is the proposition to amend the Constitution to give the electors of the Territories of Australia a right to vote. That is a proposition which I regard as being absolutely fundamental. I have the greatest trouble in digesting the troglodyte arguments of those who contend that for some reason persons who live in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory or, indeed, on Norfolk Island should not be given the right to vote at referendums when they are given the right to vote at elections. We have the extraordinary situation of the residents of Lord Howe Island, being classified as residents of New South Wales-I think I am correct in saying that Lord Howe Island is part of the electorate of Sydney-having the right to vote at referenda and at Federal elections but their colleagues who live 400 miles, or whatever it is, to the north-east of them on Norfolk Island are denied the right to vote in referenda. This is a matter which has engaged the attention for a considerable period of time of those who believe in democracy.
The Northern Territorians have been asking for the right to vote at referendums since as long ago as 1965 when they did not even have a fully elected Legislative Council, as it then was. In 1973-74 the Australian Constitutional Convention Standing Committee B looked into this matter. In fact, it went to the Northern Territory, took evidence and made a unanimous recommendation. The membership of that Committee, which included myself, comprised persons of widely varying political backgrounds. I intend to read out the names of the members of that Committee simply to indicate to those people listening to the debate and those people who may read this debate later that it included people from the extreme left and the extreme right of Australian politics, State and Federal, who supported this proposition unanimously when they inquired into the matter. Members of that Committee included the present Deputy Premier of Victoria, the Honourable Lindsay Thompson; our Minister for Defence in this Parliament, the Honourable D. J. Killen; Senator James McClelland; the Honourable S. D. Einfeld from New South Wales; the Honourable Ren DeGaris from South Australia; the present leader of the Labor Party in Western Australia, the Honourable C. J. Jamieson, M.L.A.; Mr R. C. Ward, Q.C., M.L.C., from the Northern Territory, now Mr Justice Ward; and, last but not least, that redoubtable figure of Australian politics, particularly in the field of local government, the Rt Honourable Alderman H. Brennan, Lord Mayor of Darwin.
When you can get Tiger Brennan, Ren DeGaris, Jim Killen and all those other people agreeing, as in fact they did by unanimous resolution- we recommended that the Constitution be altered to provide that residents of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory should be granted the right to vote at referendums, and we went on to draw attention to the situation with respect to residents of Norfolk Island- I suggest it should indicate to all fair thinking men, regardless of their political background, the weight and merit of it. I sought leave of the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) to incorporate in Hansard a section of page 8 of the report of the Australian Constitutional Convention Standing Committee B which was published in August 1974. He indicated to me that if he were absent from the chamber when I wished to make that incorporation I need only mention that he had granted leave for it to be incorporated. I seek leave so to do.
-Yes, leave has been granted.
That the Constitution be altered to provide that residents of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory should be granted the right to vote at referendums.
The Committee strongly supports the proposal that residents of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northem Territory should be granted the right to vote at referendums and draws attention to the fact that there will still be a number of Australian citizens who will be disentitled to cast a vote at referendums notwithstanding the proposed amendment contained in clause 2 (a) of the Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) 1974; e.g., residents of Norfolk Island.
I just want to say briefly that it would be incomprehensible and unjust, in my opinion, to permit to continue a situation in which more than 300 000 Australian citizens were regarded as second rate for the purpose of participating in one section of the constitutional reform process. The Constitutional Convention meeting in Hobart supported this proposal by 8 1 votes to 10 votes. I hope that those 10 people, and the people they represent in Queensland, will think again on this question because I submit it is basically undemocratic to say to men and women who pay taxes: ‘You can stand as a member of the House of Representatives for the Northern Territory; you can vote as an elector to elect a senator or member from the Northern Territory, but by some curious, ridiculous legal twist we are not going to permit you to vote in respect of constitutional reform’.
Lest I be accused of being a traitor by other honourable members who represent the 6 original States, let me point out that this proposed constitutional amendment gives those citizens the right to vote only in respect of stage 2 of the refrendum process, that is, in those cases where the majority of votes in Australia must be cast in the affirmative. It does not in any way affect the situation in relation to a majority of States. I want to suggest, with respect to the Whitlam Government, that the reason this proposal was narrowly lost in 1974 was that that Government tied it to a similar proposal that the Constitution could be amended with the approval of only 3 States. By linking it with section 128 that Government created a situation in which any reasonable person in this country who believed in the federal system had to vote against both proposals. We have not amended, and I hope we would never seek to amend, the majority States proposal. Therefore this proposal to give the right of voting to the Territorians, whether they live on Norfolk Island, in the Northern Territory or in the Australian Capital Territory, I believe and I hope will receive the overwhelming support of all the electors of Australia. I should also add that we as a government have pledged that the Northern Territory will be admitted to statehood within 5 years. How stupid it would be if we were to deny those Territorians the right to vote at referendums, yet at the same time pushed them into statehood.
The next matter about which I desire to talk-I do so only briefly- is the retirement ages of judges. I have made the comment before, and I repeat it, that no offence is meant to any judge over the age of 70 years. However, I believe that this legislation is appropriate. I point out that there is a constitutional argument that the Parliament itself could have voted to restrict the age of judges to 70 years. But the Government in its wisdom and the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) in his wise counsel to the Government said: ‘Put it to the people of Australia and let them say’. I believe, as I said before, that the setting of this retiring age will mean the appointment of younger judges. It will contemporise the courts. It is a good, progressive move. It in no way- I emphasise this- inhibits or affects the independence of the judiciary. Last but not least, it does not relate to any existing judge. So if anybody thought that this measure was being used as a device to remove an existing judge from office, such thoughts would be totally baseless and without foundation; it relates only to future appointments.
I turn next to the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill. I welcome this Bill as I hope that any democrat would. As I said in my opening remarks, I find it impossible to justify a situation in which electors of New South Wales who elected a Labor senator one year should find that they are being represented 2 years later by a senator who was an independent and who had not even been a candidate at the election at which the Labor senator was elected. I find it impossible to say that democracy prevailed in Queensland at the time of the unfortunate death of a Labor senator, when a replacement was made in a way which could hardly have been in accord with the wishes of the Labor people of Queensland.
I commend the Attorney-General for very carefully preparing a referendum proposal which will prevent forever and a day a repetition of the Field situation. Honourable members who have looked at the legislation will have seen that if the person nominated for the position of senator ceases to be a member of the Party in whose name he was nominated he cannot take his seat. I commend the Attorney-General for performing the delicate task of drafting this legislation. He is bringing into the Constitution for the first time the existence of real live political parties, and why not? With respect, I find it very hard to follow these people who say that political parties cannot be mentioned in the Constitution. We had no trouble in referring to political parties when legislating in the Electoral Act. The parliaments have recognised the existence of political parties. Are we going to pretend in 1977 that there is no such thing as a political party? I believe the Attorney-General has done a masterful job in drafting this legislation. I am informed that he was told at one stage that perhaps this could not be done. He has done it and I believe the Australian people will accept it.
– Queensland has its own particular and peculiar problems. The honourable member would know that.
– That is the Australian Labor Party. We perform better for the Government than Tasmania does.
-The honourable member is very upset because last night I referred to him as a troglodyte and he did not know whether he was being insulted or praised. The point I make- I say this without any disrespect to former Senator Field, of course- is that the Field type situation can never again arise. If a party says that a person who has been nominated for the Senate is not acceptable to it he cannot take his seat. I said to the Attorney-General earlier- I have considered the matter carefully and have reviewed the view that I previously took- that it was a pity, as I then thought, that the right of State Governors to fix the time for a Senate election was being taken from them. But it has been correctly pointed out to me that that in fact has to be done to give efficacy to the amendment and that, in any event, in respect of double dissolutions it will be the Governor-General of Australia and not the State Governors who will declare the time and the date for the appropriate Senate election in conjunction with that for the House of Representatives.
I repeat that I do not intend any reflection upon either former Senator Bunton or former Senator Field. I commend the Government for the proposal. It is a pity that perhaps the proposal does not go quite so far as it could; for example, by employing the Hare-Clark system as it applies in Tasmania so that the votes could have been counted. Perhaps the political parties could have added reserve Senate candidates to take office in the event of a vacancy occurring. By and large I believe and hope that the people of Australia will accept this referendum proposal because it gives effect to the democratically cast vote of an elector. I do not believe that we as a parliament should permit a situation to continue whereby electors’ wishes are twisted and thwarted. If that situation were to continue we would be on the way to destroying democracy.
Lastly I come to the matter of simultaneous elections. No doubt this is a matter which will engage the careful thought of all who are concerned about the continuation of the federal system and of the position of the Constitution in contemporary 1977. I have never felt embarrassed or ashamed in any way to be called in the past, and indeed to be called now, a States’ lighter. I am a States’ lighter and I am proud of it. I am also a federalist. After very careful consideration I believe that on balance the proposal for simultaneous elections should be supported and should be brought into effect. When one considers that from 1963 to 1972 the people of Australia were inundated with no fewer than 7 separate national elections one asks oneself what this does for the stability of government. I suggest that one must arrive at the conclusion that it is totally wrong to perpetuate a system in which the people of Australia are inflicted with and, to add insult to injury, have to pay the cost of at least 2 elections every 3 years. For why? Is there any merit in senators being elected in May and members of the House of Representatives elected in December? Do we make fish of one and fowl of another; frogs of one and tadpoles of another? Why should the senators not face the music at the same time as the members of the House of Representatives and why should the people of Australia not make a decision which will have the effect of putting into the Parliament contemporary representatives- I emphasise the word ‘contemporary’- elected on precisely the same mandate on precisely the same day?
I believe the amendment contemporises the Constitution. I believe it has the support of the majority of Australians. I believe it will lead to stability of government. In the present economic climate I add the final comment that it will save us a lot of money. With the increasing costs of administrative services one can only contemplate how much half Senate elections will cost in 5 years. We could be talking in terms of $5m, $6m or $7m. As I said, for why? This proposal only narrowly failed in 1974. 1 am now going to say probably the only nasty thing I have said in this speech. I believe genuinely that the reason this proposal failed was that the people did not trust the then Government as it presented a package of constitutional referendum proposals. I firmly believe that one of the major reasons this proposal was knocked back in 1974 was that the people did not trust the Whitlam Government and were not prepared to give it one inch on any constitutional referendum proposal. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) paid this Government an enormous compliment when he said that as a prerequisite to constitutional amendment there had to be a Liberal-National Country Party Government in office. I think the reason is very simple: We do have a good reputation, we can be trusted, we will not abuse the constitutional process.
Simultaneous elections were recommended by a constitutional joint party committee back in 1958 and 1959. 1 suggest that the referendum in 1974 failed for political and not constitutional reasons. It had the support of a large number of delegates from both sides of the chamber- State and Federal; Liberal and Labor- at the Australian Constitutional Convention in Hobart last year. I urge support for the Attorney-General’s request that the people weigh up this matter and pass this referendum proposal because I believe it will lead to better government in this country, a modern constitution, stability of government and a considerable saving of cost. I support the proposal and commend the Attorney-General for his initiative in bringing it to Parliament.
– I support the 4 Bills before the House. But I point out to the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) that I think the singular difference between his Tory Government and the previous Labor government is that his Government has no scruples. It prostituted the Constitution and debased the Conventions. I am rather pleased, but I am also amazed, that a Tory government for once has had a change of heart in the area of reform, rather than adhering to its oft-quoted political dictum that it believes in reform provided it changes nothing. It is rather pleasing to know that at last we have the chance for constitutional reform. We will again give the people the opportunity to face up to their constitutional responsibilities rather than do what governments and people of this country in fact have done since federation, that is, to rely upon the High Court for any meaningful constitutional change by way of High Court interpretation rather than changing the Constitution by way of referendum.
As I said earlier, I am pleased with the measure that is before the Parliament. But obviously one can be very cynical- I am, for oneabout the motives of this Government, particularly when one canvasses its record over the past half decade on either national or constitutional issues. I have spoken twice in this House on the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1976. I do not intend to discuss that again or the related issues because they have been brilliantly covered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen).
This afternoon I want to traverse the matter of casual Senate vacancies. I had the honour of seconding a motion moved by the New South Wales Attorney-General, Mr Walker at the Australian Constitutional Convention in Hobart. The morion read as follows:
That this Convention affirms the principle that a casual vacancy in the Senate, should, in order to maintain the principle of proportional representation and the wishes of the people of the State at the relevant Senate election, be filled by a member of the same political party as the senator whose vacancy is to be filled.
Why is this particular amendment necessary? I believe it is necessary simply because some politicians, certain governments, had considered manipulation and expediency as being the tools of trade for political office. The clear intent of this constitutional amendment bluntly stated is to proscribe what scheming politicians and machinating governments cannot do and to prescribe what they ought and must do.
I turn now to the question of casual vacancies. We are not dealing with a matter of constitutional law. We are ratifying what in effect is a conventional practice. It is in both these areas that I believe the Tory Government opposite stands indicted and condemned because it abused both convention and practice, that is if one refers to them as such. We ought to traverse the history of this matter. Clearly the function of filling a casual vacancy in the Senate, as was caused by Senator Murphy as he then was or Senator Milliner, is committed to the Houses of Parliament of the State the senator represents or, if the Parliament is not in session, to the Government of that State. Section IS is explicit. It places no limits upon the choice which is open to the Houses or the Government. Let me refer to the casual vacancy concerning ex-Senator Murphy. Conscious of unrestricted power granted by section 15 the then New South Wales Premier Lewis announced he would choose a senator who was not a member of the Australian Labor Party. The choice was within the terms of section 15 and such a choice could not be set aside as being ultra vires. But the question whether the Houses of Parliament in New South Wales had acted properly or within the spirit of the Constitution as opposed to legally or according to the letter of the Constitution was strongly disputed.
On 13 February 1975 the Labor Party, as a government, successfully moved in the Senate that the chamber declare its support for the replacement of vacating senators by the appointment of senators belonging to the same political parties. Later in the same year when it became clear that the Queensland Legislative Assembly intended to vote to fill the vacancy created by the death of Senator Milliner by choosing a candidate who did not have the support of the late Senator Milliner’s party, the Government moved in the House of Representatives that the House commend to the Parliaments of all the States the practice which had prevailed since 1949 and that the House express its great concern over reports that the long-established convention may not be followed by the Queensland House. The motion was carried without any division. Perhaps the clearest description of the function of these conventional rules is that provided by Marshall and Moodie. Conventions will be found in all constitutions, even those recently established. No rule of law is self applying and conventions are quickly developed to govern the application of the rules. No matter how detailed formal rules may be it is rarely possible in advance to eliminate doubts by way of legislation. They state:
The result is often to leave a significant degree of discretion to those exercising the rights or wielding the powers legally conferred, defined or permitted.
Let me repeat what I said in Hobart. If we profess and practise democracy, the political rules or conventions have another critical function. They connect the political system with the general view or concensus of what may or may not legitimately be done within the political process. Any action that is likely to destroy public respect for the existing distribution of power could not be described as conforming to the political rules or conventions. How is the convention respected? Between 1901 and 1974 63 places were vacated in the Senate before the expiry of a senator’s time. On 3 occasions- in 1928, 1931 and 1946- State Houses of Parliament chose a new senator from a different political party. I ask honourable members to note the dates: 1928, 1931 and 1946. However, the introduction in 1949 of proportional representation dramatically changed the nature of political representation in the Senate. Before 1949 large majorities had been common. After 1949 the voting system changed that completely.
Since 1949 there had been, until Senator Murphy’s vacancy, 25 casual vacancies. Each of those vacancies was filled by the State Houses or governments choosing a senator from the same political party as the vacating senator. Ten of the new senators were chosen by State Houses or governments controlled by political parties professing opposition to the new senators’ parties. On each occasion the new senator had been nominated to the State Houses or government by the political party to which the vacating senator had belonged. Furthermore, in 1958 the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review declared that all its members were strongly of the view that the principle of choosing a new senator from the same political party as the vacating senator should be observed without exception. The Committee noted that it had not been able to draft a constitutional amendment to make this choice obligatory. It is pleasing to note this Government has done so. Further, support stemmed from Standing Committee D. The recommendations were adopted without dissent. The recommendations made by both these bodies underlines the desirability of converting either practice or convention into law. The 1959 report repeated its unanimous support cf the principle so that the matter may become the subject of a constitutional convention or understanding, which political parties will always observe’. We are now attempting to give that the force of law.
For an individual or a small group of people to use as they did, the powers conferred by section 15 of the Constitution as a means of distorting the balance of political power in the Senate is to debase our political system and to bring that system into utter contempt. The real vice in an unfettered and partisan exercise of the power conferred by section 15 is that it places the stab.ility of our political system at substantial risk. It also threatens to undermine public confidence in our political system and in turn the confidence which most people should have in their parliamentary democracy. The power remains unfettered, so far as the formal, justiciable rules of law are concerned but conventions develop to regulate the use of discretionary powers. I suggest that the tory governments of this country broke that convention in the period up to 1975.
There is no question that conventions keep the legal rules in Une with political development. While we might have expected a wide range of discretion to be exercised in the choice of senators under section 15 up to 1949 once the Senate underwent the critical political change which came with proportional representation the application also ought to have required change. We failed to make the change. We ought to take into account the 2 occasions on which a replacement senator had been chosen from outside the political party of the vacating senator. We should view the reactions of other participants in the political process. I refer to the resolution of the Senate in February 1975 commending the practice which has prevailed since 1949 and the resolution of the House of Representatives commending that practice and viewing with the greatest concern reports that the long established convention may not be followed in Queensland. What was the downstream effect of that. With all due respect to the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) it is only too obvious that actions of the State governments could hardly be said to have been greeted with general acquiescence or indifference. It has divided the community. Indeed, the hostility of public reaction seems to strengthen the argument that experience of the previous 20-odd years had led to a consensus that the power conferred by section 15 should be exercised as it is expressed in this piece of legislation.
The New South Wales Legislative Assembly chose a senator, a member of no political party. This left those New South Wales voters who had supported the Australian Labor Party on 15 May 1974 under-represented in the Senate. The new senator supported the Government on some vital issues, such as the passage of Supply, but he voted against the Government on other important issues such as the redistribution for which given the results of the double dissolution election of 18 May 1974 the Government had a clear mandate. The action of the Queensland House of Parliament had reduced the Labor Party’s representation to a point where it could not defeat, with the aid of Hall and Bunton, the Opposition’s motion to defer Supply. Party strength within the Senate was distorted not so much from the appointment of an anti-Labor Party senator as through the failure to appoint an endorsed Labor Party senator. That distortion allowed the Senate to vote to defer Supply- a vote which could not have been passed if the late Senator Milliner had been replaced by a Labor Party senator- and to bring on the instability and crisis in November and December 1975.
I make one last passing observation. What is the real reason why this Tory Government is motivated to press these constitutional amendments, in particular this amendment dealing with casual vacancies?
– You are a socialist.
-Let us see whether I am. I suggest that the reason is one of simple political necessity. This Tory Government has consciously and deliberately come to the stark reality that the constitutional poison which it prescribed and injected into the Federal Labor Government and which had such a devastating and fatal effect can be injected into this Government with the same devastating and fatal effect. Hence the legislation seeks to achieve the immunity which we were denied but with which this Government and future governments hope to be blessed. It is for that reason that I commend and support the legislation.
– I support the 4 Bills which propose amendments to the Constitution. Many Australians may find it rather strange that politicians from both sides of this Parliament can agree on a number of important measures that are put before us. In a sense, this is a non-debate in which we are engaged. I was, however, rather interested in a statement which was made by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) when he took up one point in the Bill which relates to the filling of Senate casual vacancies. He said that he hoped that one clause of that Bill could be strengthened and spelt out somewhat. He referred to that part of the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill which states that a senator who is appointed to fill a vacancy should be a member of the Party of the senator who is deceased or has been appointed elsewhere. He said that he wanted to see that strengthened to provide that not only should that replacement senator be a member of the same Party but he should, in some way, be officially approved by that Party.
I appreciate the reasons for his saying that, but I point out that later in the same Bill there is a provision that if the new senator, before taking his seat, ceases to be a member of that Party, he shall be deemed not to have been so chosen or appointed, and the vacancy shall again be notified in accordance with section 21 of the Constitution. That effectively provides the political Party concerned with the power of veto of a particular appointment if that political Party feels that the State Government has not done the right thing and has chosen someone other than a person who would be approved by the formal endorsing authority of that Party. In the case of Senator Field, for example, who was a member of the Australian Labor Party and was known as a trade unionist, the Labor Party in that State would have had the option, as indeed it did, of expelling him. By expelling him before he took his seat it would therefore be able to prevent him taking his appointment.
The member for Kingsford-Smith, I think, was probably not satisfied with that provision. He wanted to see, as I understand it, some more formal system of ensuring that the person appointed to fill a casual vacancy was approved in some official way by an appropriate authority of that Party. I suggest that the way in which this Bill has been drafted steers a very skilful middle course. It has been very skilfully drafted to avoid some evils which could occur at either end of the spectrum. It is one thing to have a convention that a casual vacancy should be filled by a member of the same political Party and for the State Parliament, under normal circumstances, to appoint the nominee of the relevant executive body of that Party. It would be another thing, I believe, to give formal constitutional recognition to the role of executive bodies of political parties. It is appropriate to acknowledge the principle that a member of the same political Party should fill the vacancy, as the Bill does. The system of proportional representation is maintained by adherence to such a principle. It is appropriate that a political Party should be guaranteed a voice in the process of selecting that nominee. I hope I have indicated that in this Bill there is a guarantee of that political Party having a voice in veto of a nominee that it does not like.
The Bill falls short of requiring that a political Parry’s nominee should be automatically accepted, and I believe wisely so. The Bill leaves the power of appointment in the hands of State parliaments. It would, I think, be inappropriate to have a constitutional measure which leaves the power of appointment formally in the hands of some executive authority of a political Party. Parliaments are identifiable constitutional entities. I suggest that State Party executives are not necessarily identifiable and certainly are subject to drastic change from time to time. The names of parties change. They collapse, they re-emerge, they split, they amalgamate, they re-form.
Let me give a few examples of cases in which it might be difficult if we were required to follow a strict provision that the endorsed candidate of a Party executive body should be accepted by the State Parliament, which would effectively remove any discretion from the State Parliament. Let us take the example of a Party which splits some time after an election. Certain members of the Party in the Senate go with the minority Party that might be formed as a result of the split. Subsequently one of the members of the minority Party dies or is appointed to some position outside the Senate. The question would arise as to whether the State executive of the Party whose endorsement he bore when he was elected should have the right to nominate someone to succeed him or whether the State executive of the new Party which was formed as a result of the split should be able to nominate someone to succeed him. I believe that in that sort of case there would be a dispute between those 2 parties, which may be subject to judicial review. There would be effectively taken out of the hands of the State Parliament any discretion to decide on an appropriate way of filling the vacancy.
Let us look at the reverse case, where there has been not a split but a reunification. Assume that Senator Steele Hall was run over by the proverbial bus and had to be replaced. Who would claim the right to nominate his replacement? Would it be the Liberal Party, or would it be the Liberal Movement which still continues in South Australia under Mr Robin Millhouse? I think the Liberal Movement might want to put forward a nominee as replacement.
-It would have a right to do so because the Bill says so.
– I am suggesting that there should not be an automatic requirement on a State Parliament to accept the nomination of a State executive or some endorsing authority because I believe that it is difficult, in constitutional terms, to define the appropriate endorsing authority of a political Party. Even where a recognised Party authority nominates someone as an endorsed candidate, I suggest that there might be circumstances in which it would be inappropriate for a parliament to accept that nomination.
Perhaps what I have to say now will prove to be a little more controversial. A political party may choose to nominate as a candidate for appointment to the Senate someone whom it would not be prepared to put on its party ticket at an election because that party might know that the person whom they were nominating would not have public appeal and might in fact lose it votes if he had to face an election. Moreover, a political party might nominate for appointment to the Senate someone who has already been on a party ticket and who has been clearly rejected by the people in that State. For example, I throw in the name of Mr Bill Hartley. It is unquestioned that many people in Victoria, normal moderate Labor voters, avoided his name on the Labor Party ticket when they were casting their vote.
-There is no evidence of that.
-There is ample evidence to suggest that. Any scrutineer from any political party in Victoria I think will vouch for the fact that there were cases where people clearly followed the Labor ticket except for that No. 5 spot on the Labor ticket which carried the name of Mr Bill Hartley. Is it therefore consistent with the principle of following the wishes of the electors of that State if his name is submitted and automatically accepted? I just throw in for consideration the possibility that in that type of instance it may well be competent for the State Parliament concerned to say: ‘That the name is not acceptable we would like you to put up another name’. Therefore I believe it would be undesirable to put a complete straightjacket on a State Parliament in the selection of a senator. In the Bill as it stands there is a protection for the political party concerned, a protection which would ensure that a Senator Field could not be nominated and the claim made that he was an adequate representative of that political party.
I would like to move very quickly to the other matters which are before the House at this stage. One Bill refers to the retiring age of judges. It requires that there be a maximum retiring age of 70 years. In addition to the support that has been stated by other honourable members in this Chamber, I want to state my support for this proposal. We do not want geriatric judges dominating the judicial system. No one denies that many of the judges who have reached advanced years, the names of whom were recited by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), retain high intellectual talents which can be of use to the community. But not everyone recognises when those intellectual talents are being dimmed. If there is any fear that by requiring judges to retire at 70 years of age we will be losing talents that could be used in the service of the community, I suggest that that fear should be set aside. There are surely many cases where we require royal commissioners, people to serve on boards and committees of inquiry and people to be appointed as directors or commissioners of government authorities for periods of one, three or five years- specified terms after which they must retire. In all of these instances retired judges could be most useful. They could be selected for a purpose which is suited to their intellectual talents and to the time that they have available. So I would suggest that we would not lose the talents of experienced judges as a result of this measure. We will in fact be able to use them in many other areas where there is often a scarcity of suitable people.
I want to say on behalf of the residents of the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne that another Bill before the House which proposes to enable the residents of Federal Territories to vote in referendums is a most desirable one. I find it rather strange for some people to suggest that the residents of the Territories are in some way not citizens of the Commonwealth. I know that they have drawn these conclusions from reading certain extracts from recent High Court judgments. I would think that most people in Australia would recognise that residents of the Territories are citizens of Australia and that they should not be excluded by some narrow legal definition from exercising their rights to vote in national referendums. Of course, residents of the Territories will not be counted in terms of the requirement for a majority of the States to pass a measure but it is surely appropriate that they be counted on matters concerning the government of Australia as a whole- the structure of government which our Constitution provides. They, as citizens of the Territories, have as much right to express a view on that matter as do citizens of the States. I find any suggestion to the contrary quite incredible to accept.
The proposal concerning simultaneous elections is once again something that is eminently reasonable. I think that the vast majority of people hold the view that they should be able to cast their vote for both Houses at the one time and not be required to go along for a second time to vote for half of the Senate only. This is a chore to which no citizen looks forward. It is certainly a chore which none of our Party supporters look forward to getting involved in. The occasions when I get least enthusiasm from my own Party supporters- I am sure this is the experience of honourable members opposite- is when they have to get out and campaign for a Senate election only and not for their local member in the House of Representatives. For those reasons I believe that the measures before us will be accepted by the Australian people.
– I rise to join other members of the Parliament who have indicated their support for the measures we are now debating. For many years my Party has advocated simultaneous elections. The Australian Labor Party has not included in its platform all of the things that are included in the 4 proposals now before the Parliament but Labor members have certainly indicated their general support for these kinds of proposals at the Federal Labor Party Caucus level. At the same time, I do not think anyone ought to have any illusions about the reasons the Government has introduced these 4 proposals. The Government has clearly introduced them for an ulterior motive. It is wishing to avoid the necessity of facing an election for the retiring half of the Senate either later this year or early next year. The Government wants to avoid that like the plague because it knows that when that election is held, either late this year or early next year, it will be soundly defeated at the polls. The Government’s stocks are now falling almost month by month and will continue to fall as unemployment continues to rise. That, of course, is a reason the Government wants this amendment brought through.
The Government is in a quandary about the retiring half of the Senate. If it has a half Senate election early in the period permitted for this type of election- that is, between July and December- it knows that it will be badly beaten. If the Government postpones the election until later in the first half of next year, which is the latest possible date on which it can hold an election for the retiring half of the Senate, the date for the half Senate election will be brought so close to the date when the House of Representatives is due to go to the electorate that, by virtue of the stupidity of not doing so before, it would be forced to have the House of Representatives go to the electorate at the same time. This would mean that a House of Representatives election would be held before June next year. The result of that election would be absolutely disastrous for the Government. I think that almost any person could lead the Labor Party to victory at the next election. I do not think there is any doubt about that. I think that is how the Government feels about it as well. I believe that much more important than simultaneous elections is the power of the Senate to refuse Supply or to reject money Bills. If that power were taken away there would not be the same need or urgency as there now is for simultaneous elections. I am disappointed that the Government did not include a fifth proposal to define clearly the powers of the Senate to reject Supply and to reject money Bills.
– You are not surprised.
– I am not surprised, but I believe that is far more important than all the 4 measures we are talking about put together. In respect of the filling of vacancies, the Government is acting in the way it is now acting for the sole purpose of trying to prevent the election of Senator Brown at the next half Senate election because, as the Constitution now stands, it would be necessary for Victoria to elect 6 senators instead of five. If 6 senators were to be elected in Victoria the chances are that the Australian Labor Party, if it did not win three of the long term vacancies, could not be prevented from winning two of the long term vacancies, with its third seat being the short term vacancy. This proposal means that the Government will be able effectively to prevent the Labor Party from having other than an outside chance of winning a third seat in Victoria because it will alter the Constitution so that the Senator who was appointed by the Victorian Parliament to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator Greenwood will now continue to hold office until the expiration of the normal term for which Senator Greenwood would have been entitled to hold office. That is the real reason why the Government is doing what it is.
I would like to hear from the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) how it is proposed to recognise political parties. The honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer) indicated some of the circumstances which could arise which could make it extremely difficult for anybody to determine which party was entitled to nominate a person to fill a vacancy. I do not know what would happen in the case of Senator Hall, for example, who was elected to the Parliament representing a party called the Liberal Movement, which has in a sense disbanded and yet in a sense has not. I would think that its leader, Robin Millhouse, would argue that it has not disbanded, it has merely changed its name as the Country Party has so often done. Therefore if there were a vacancy arising as a result of Senator Hall’s retirement it would have to be filled by the new Liberal Movement. But would it? Is the proposed alteration to the Constitution quite clear as to who would fill that position?
There is another thing to which I would like to hear the Attorney-General address himself. I will wait till he has finished talking with the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) because the debate will be finished before he has a chance to read Hansard, as I have no doubt he usually does. I would like him to address himself to the question of who is to determine the position I have raised. I would like him to address himself also to whether it would be possible to bring in a special Act or to alter the Commonwealth Electoral Act for the purpose of defining these finer points. Would the Parliament be deemed to be exercising powers incidental to the Constitution if it brought in an Act so defining these fine points that have already been raised and which over the passage of years to come will emerge in new forms?
I want to tell the Parliament about another extraordinary political situation that can develop in the recognition of political parties. If the Attorney-General would take this on board as well it would be greatly appreciated by me. The facts are that had Mr Gair, as he then was, and his supporters who assembled in Hobart in 1953 for the Federal Conference of the Labor Party due to be held in Hobart that year decided to call a meeting of their group plus the 6 disputed delegates from Victoria they would have had more delegates than has the group to which I belonged. The Gair group would have had 28 delegates, including its six disputed delegates, and I think we would nave had twenty. Had this group been able to vote with the other undisputed delegates to determine which of the two disputed delegations from Victoria were to be allowed to take their seats then there is still no doubt that the Gair group would have had the numbers to decide in favour of the Victorian group led by McManus and they would have had 22 delegates to our 14.
The Gair group did not do that, but the result was avoided only because the Federal Executive of the Labor Party had taken the precaution to settle the question of the disputed Victorian delegates before the conference was called together. Had the Federal Executive not done so the result would have been entirely different. Had Gair decided to crash through- and not crash- who then would have decided which person should have been nominated to fill a Labor vacancy in, say, South Australia whose branch of the Federal party was in a minority? I suggest that the people who would have decided that would have been the people who controlled the Federal apparatus. That is something that needs to be looked at.
I remember in 1948 Dr Evatt, who was then the Federal Attorney-General, giving an opinion to the Federal Executive of the Labor Party to the effect that there were real legal difficulties in the recognition of political parties and he counselled us against even attempting to resolve them. I know one of the problems that he mentionedI remember it clearly- was that if you are able to devise a way of giving legal recognition to a political party the party would almost inevitably assume corporate powers and corporate responsibilities and could be sued in a way that it cannot now be sued and could be held to be liable even for some of the actions of its own members and executive.
I was pleased to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) announce his present admiration for Mr Justice Murphy. I can say that my support for the learned judge goes back far beyond 1968, when he moved to exclude Mr Harradine from the Federal Executive of the Labor Party. So I can say that it is with a great deal of joy that I join the Leader of the Opposition in expressing admiration for Mr Justice Murphy.
– Why did he threaten to resign at that time?
- Mr Whitlam.
-You ask him. I turn now to the matter of people in the Territories having the right to vote. If a majority of States narrowly favoured a change the majority against it in the Territories would then be in a position to defeat the will of the 4 States. Let us imagine that 4 States each decided by a very narrow majority in favour of a change and that the ‘yes’ vote majority throughout the 6 States has only a few hundred- a few thousand if you like- an equal number to that margin plus one would be enough for the voters in the Australian Capital Territory to set aside the majority decision in a majority of States.
The other thing I would like to know is: What would be the position if the Northern Territory is given statehood? I know that under the Constitution statehood can have attached to it whatever conditions the Parliament decides. But it cannot be taken for granted that that means that the Parliament has unlimited powers to decide what kinds of conditions attach. Any citizen of the Northern Territory- and certainly the AttorneyGeneral could appeal to the High Court against any decision of this Parliament regarding conditions that it may attach to Northern Territory statehood which the Northern Territory itself believed was arguable against in the High Court. There is no guarantee that the High Court would not uphold that appeal. I would be much happier to hear the Attorney-General say that, in the event of the Northern Territory being given statehood, that statehood would be on the same conditions as is applicable to the original States. At least if that were done there would be some advantage in that we would then only need to have a majority of four out of 7 States rather than a majority of four out of 6 States, providing always that the total number of people in the Commonwealth favoured the change.
One thing about the change concerning simultaneous elections that I like is that it will have a disciplinary effect on the Senate. The Senate will be in a position of knowing that, each time it refuses Supply or whenever it behaves in a way that causes the Government of the day to deem it proper to have an election, the retiring half of the Senate will have to face an election as well. As it is, as one honourable member opposite pointed out, the senators are as free as the breeze, providing they do not have grounds for a double dissolution hanging over their heads, to send the House of Representatives to the country every year if they want to, because the GovernorGeneral has now established the precedent that whenever the Senate refuses Supply to the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives does not voluntarily go to the electorate, it is his duty to dismiss the Prime Minister, to appoint the Leader of the Opposition as caretaker Prime Minister and to dissolve the House of Representatives.
– Just as Mr Whitlam sacked you.
-That was done under the same section of the Constitution.
-You would not go.
– In fact it was the then Prime Minister’s recommendation to the Governor-General that he use that section, a section which he did not know about until then, to dismiss me that led to the Governor-General’s using it against the then Prime Minister exactly 5 months and 5 days later. I hope that this legislation will be the forerunner of similar exercises. I hope that regular constitutional conventions will be held and that parties will be sensible enough to reach agreement on the need for changes to the present Constitution, because unless this is done the parliamentary system will not survive.
When the Attorney-General is replying in respect of the recognition of political parties I would like him to indicate what would be the position of Senator Townley in the event of his retirement. He came into the Senate as an Independent senator. He subsequently joined the Liberal Party. Does the Attorney-General believe that a correct interpretation of the proposed amendment would give the Liberal Party the right to nominate his successor? If not, would the Parliament of Tasmania have the right to appoint as a successor to Senator Townley a representative from the party which had the largest number of votes at the election at which Senator Townley was elected? I thank the AttorneyGeneral for listening to me so attentively and I will listen just as attentively to him when he replies.
-The 4 Constitution alteration Bills are extremely important measures. It is a good thing that the major political parties are supporting these Bills. It is a good thing that the community can see in the House a constructive debate on this occasion, with honourable members from both sides making valuable suggestions. The Government is to be congratulated for putting this legislation before the people following the Constitutional Convention. Indeed it was almost automatic for the Government to put it before the people. These are matters for the people to decide. I support all the Bills in the circumstances although there are one or two matters I wish to draw to the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) so that they may be looked at before the referenda are held. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) referred to an ulterior motive on the part of the Government. I reject that suggestion entirely and I am quite sure that the honourable member is not serious. He would not lend bis support to measures which had any ulterior motive.
He spoke about the elections next year. It would not matter at all if the Government called for a half Senate election in May next year followed by a House of Representatives election in December. It would be quite a reasonable thing to do if this referendum question had not been put before the people. I want to refer firstly to the referendum concerning representation of the Territories. This is an excellent piece of legislation on which to base a referendum. I cannot really understand those objections that are put every now and again, that persons in the Territories should not have the right to vote for or against certain proposals at a referendum. Subsequently there ought to be a referendum to solve some of the difficulties that may come about by the recent High Court decision involving representatives of the Territories in the lower and upper Houses. But that is another matter and no doubt it will be brought forward at a later time.
The legislation concerning the referendum on retiring ages for judges is very welcome and would no doubt be supported throughout the community. I do not believe that the basis for the legislation is the diminished power, knowledge or capacity of present or even past High Court judges. One’s mind does not necessarily lose its capacity with age. In many cases it improves. The important point is that the judiciary must to an extent be remote from the community. It must objectively apply the law and look at principles of law. But it cannot be entirely or substantially remote from the community, and an age limit should be determined so that the community can have confidence that current-day sets of values, which often conflict and which are varied, are within the general realm of experience of the currently sitting judges. In some cases a judge may retain full capacity of mind, full general mental knowledge and vigour but be out of touch with much of what is occurring in the community if he be very elderly.
There is one thing I would urge upon the Attorney-General and that is that we do where possible use retired judges on royal commissions and other appropriate inquiries because they can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to this area of public life. I would also urge that we give consideration, in view of the importance of the High Court and in view of its present role in our society, to what I believe is an overdue change in its name. This would probably require a referendum. I believe the High Court of Australia has a very high standing throughout the world. It is considered to be one of the finest common law courts and one of the finest courts in the English speaking world. I think an appropriate name for that court would be the Supreme Court of Australia ‘.
Moving on to the question of simultaneous elections, the reasons that elections should be held simultaneously are fairly obvious. They range principally from the practical question of costs, through the question of convenience to the question of keeping the public mind carefully atuned to politics. People tend to become apathetic and if we have too many elections too often there is a tendency for the value of an election in the public mind to become somewhat debased through apathy. Originally it appears on a fair reading of the historical position that the elections were designed to be synchronised in any case. Although I understand the concern of persons who consider that it may be a derogation in some way of the power of the Senate the fact is that it was only a political accident in the early 1960s that removed the synchronisation and prevented simultaneous elections from proceeding as they had for quite some years before the early 1960s. An interesting question is whether this referendum will be successful or whether the proposal will be defeated by the people. I believe that on this occasion it will be accepted. There may be some rumblings in the community from very small sectors. I do not think that these rumblings will be seen by the people as substantial and I do not think there can be any really substantial argument advanced against the proposal to hold simultaneous elections.
In fact in some respects it helps to clarify one of the problems that arose a year or more ago in late 1975. Eventually I believe we in this country are going to have to consider fully and deeply all aspects of the Constitution and we may need further referenda on important aspects. It is still to early for a number of reasons to hold referenda relating to some of the events prior to November 1975. One of those reasons is that there are court proceedings going on which have not been finalised. It would not be proper for me to comment on the content of those proceedings. I reject the suggestion of the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) that it would be appropriate to go ahead with referenda now. One effect of the present proposal will be that there will not be a situation in which one House can force another House to go to an election without the former itself having to face the people. Otherwise there could be circumstances in which the Senate could reject Supply- it certainly has the power at present to do that, because the precedent has been set- and the House of Representatives could be dissolved, but not the Senate. It is my view that where the Senate exercises that power it ought to be subject to the judgment of the people following the exercise of that power and therefore at least half the members of the Upper House and the Lower House ought in those circumstances face the people. So to that extent there will be some assistance to the overall constitutional position by the introduction of this proposal.
There is one other matter that I wish to raise which is within the province of this debate but not within the terms of the referenda. I believe that we ought to look at having fixed terms by more or less synchronising the elections for both Houses in such a way that it would be normal to have a fixed term of 3 years for each parliament. The present theoretical position is that there could be a number of elections within a period of 3 years if the Prime Minister of the day for various reasons recommends that they be held or in other circumstances. I am of the view that where possible elections should not be held until the full term of the Parliament has expired unless a workable government cannot be formed or unless the Senate exercises its power to refuse Supply. There may be some other particularly exceptional circumstances but if the elections were synchronised primarily around the Senate timings and if there were a normal fixed term of 3 years I believe it would add to stability and I think it would be welcomed by the people.
I would go one step further: I think there is much to be said for federal elections taking place every 4 years in Australia. That period might be considered by some people to be too long. I think it is not too long. In England the normal period is 5 years but often an election is called on before that time has expired. I think 5 years would be too long in Australia. The American federal experience of 4 years with mid-term 2-year elections seems to work reasonably well. Indeed, for the American presidential elections there is a specified day every 4 years upon which the election must be held. If we are to get long range planning into this country ‘s affairs, regardless of political matter, in my opinion it would be satisfactory to extend the period of elections to 4 years so that governments are not tempted to indulge in political activity for much of their term of office or act within the constraints of political circumstances most of their time but are able to devote more of their term to those functions of government which would produce a longer range benefit to the Australian community. That would also avoid the costs involved in holding various elections.
I support the legislation relating to casual vacancies. I do not like certain of the terminology. To my mind when the proposal was first brought forward following the difficulties of a year or more ago it became apparent that something had to be done. The Australian Constitutional Convention has looked into the matter in considerable detail. However, the writing into the Constitution of reference to political parties is contrary to many traditions and contrary to an established attitude within our traditional British system that we do not refer in constitutions to political parties. I think this is a healthy thing. This proposal, I believe, would have been better framed if we had been able to find a way mathematically to calculate who ought next be entitled to fill a vacancy upon the death or retirement of a senator. If there were to be a guarantee of proportional representation- and that would have to be the situation as I think there is a guarantee in Tasmania- then a mathematical quota could be worked out and the person who is next on the ballot paper, presumably, once the votes were worked out, would be the person entitled to fill the vacancy. Of course political parties would fit themselves into that framework and they would ensure that they ran a sufficient number of candidates to have a number of reserves. If they ran out of reserves the ordinary provisions of the Constitution would apply. The tendency to devalue personalities in favour of Party political matter within the Constitution is to some extent regrettable because the Senate is still primarily, as well as a States House, a House of review. It has a tradition of producing independence and to enshrine political parties in any way might tend to militate against its traditional production of independent members.
Some other matters might be looked at. I do not think they are particularly important, although some examples were raised in the debate of practical difficulties that can arise which would be overcome if the mathematical formula were used. There are the obvious problems of court challenges and issues of fact having to be determined by the courts as to whether a person was publicly recognised. Other interpretations would be required for example of factual situations, whether or not a political party existed, what a political party is, how big it is, how small it is, what happens m the case of splits and the Uke. However, the only practical matter to which I wish to allude is the principle of replacing senators with persons of the same political persuasion, other than when the senator is independent. That is a sound principle and it will overcome most of the difficulties that occurred before.
I also congratulate the Government on announcing that it will hold with these referenda a poll to settle the issue of the national song which I think is overdue and will give the people an opportunity to have their say on that matter. I support these proposals very strongly. I believe that they ought to be the subject of wide and cogent debate m the community before they are put to the people. The cases should be clearly expressed to the people. I am sure that in those circumstances the proposals will be carried.
Debate (on motion by Mr Fry) adjourned.
– I table 2 reports: The report of the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm and the first report of the Task Force on Coordination in Welfare and Health entitled Proposals for Change in the Administration and Delivery of Programs and Services. I also seek leave to make a statement.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In June and July 1976 the Government established 2 inquiries in the health and welfare fields. The first, the Committee of Inquiry into Care of the Aged and the Infirm, was announced on 6 June and was chaired by Mr. A. S. Holmes. The second, the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health, chaired by Mr P. H. Bailey, was announced on 23 July. The ‘Holmes’ Committee was asked to examine and report on:
The effectiveness and efficiency of existing Government programs and arrangements for the care of the aged and the infirm.
The appropriate role of the Commonwealth Government, bearing in mind the responsibility of State and local governments and the activities of voluntary agencies.
The relationship between programs for the aged and the infirm and other health and welfare programs.
Since it is the Government’s objective to provide assistance to those most in need and to encourage self-reliance and local participation the Committee was requested to have particular regard to:
The scope for greater coherence in planning new programs and for the rationalisation of existing arrangements, including the examination of possible new approaches.
The scope for making economies in expenditure while not compromising desirable longterm arrangements.
The Holmes Committee reports that despite large and rising expenditure there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with current programs. In the committee’s view, this it due to a number of causes including:
A lack of co-ordination between various levels of government and between government and non-government sectors.
A concentration on institutional accommodation rather than on development comprehensive domiciliary services.
A failure to develop procedures designed to match services to individual requirements.
The report says that there are a multiplicity of programs and delivery agencies and a failure to appreciate the interdependence between programs which leads to confusion, inefficiency and waste. The proposals put forward in the Committee ‘s report involve:
A consolidation of various programs for domiciliary care into a single community care program.
Possible changes in the approach to funding the operating costs of nursing homes. The report for example raises the possibility of including the costs of nursing home care within the health insurance arrangements.
A review of the need for the Commonwealth to subsidise capital outlays on selfcontained accommodation, hostels and nursing homes.
A considerable expansion in the use of assessment and rehabilitation teams.
The possible negotiation of new cost-sharing arrangements with the States.
Honourable members will recall the decision to establish the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health arose out of the Government’s concern at the proliferation, duplication and overlap of Commonwealth programs and services in the health, welfare and community development fields. Against the background of the Government’s federalism policy the Task Force was asked to:
Identify Commonwealth programs which could be better delivered by the States, local government or voluntary agencies and whose administration could be transferred to the States.
Examine the possibilities for consolidating individual programs into broader based ones to enable more efficient and economic delivery.
The Task Force was also asked to propose ways and means of achieving better co-ordination and report on consultative and co-ordinating machinery at the Commonwealth level and between the Commonwealth and the States. This will be done in a second report which will come forward later in the year. In its first report the Task Force claims there is sufficient evidence to warrant changes in existing patterns of administration of programs and delivery of services. The report says that over-lapping has resulted largely from having programs devised on a variety of bases. The report also refers to instances of inadequate information flow, proliferation and overadministration.
The Task Force recommends the consolidation of some 26 existing individual programs into 4 broadly defined program grants. The Task Force believes the Commonwealth should be concerned mainly with national planning, with establishing objectives, priorities and standards, with evaluation and with innovation. It sees the States, with regard to those programs they share with the Commonwealth as developing programs for approval within broad guidelines and carrying out the detailed administration of agreed programs. In the report’s view there should be regular consultation between the States, the Commonwealth, local government bodies and voluntary agencies. The report also contains a range of other recommendations relating to specific programs including, for example, pathology laboratories, rehabilitation centres, and the immediate post-arrival welfare of migrants. In proposing various administrative changes, both reports make suggestions as to how the Commonwealth can safeguard the role of local and voluntary agencies delivering health and welfare services in the community. Both reports in their preparation involved extensive consultation with Commonwealth and State officers and local and voluntary bodies.
The Government has given preliminary consideration to the reports. Our view is that these reports raise important issues in the health and welfare fields which merit serious consideration, not only by governments but also by all those involved. They should form the basis of discussion, without commitment at this stage, of possible new arrangements with States and others involved in the programs covered by the reports. The Commonwealth itself is examining the reports as presenting options for new administrative arrangements to enhance the efficiency of program delivery without reducing the provision or quality of services. The Commonwealth has no intention of altering the financial balance between the Commonwealth and the States. It will ensure the continuation of the important activities of local and voluntary bodies. The Government I must emphasise this- has not taken any firm decisions on the recommendations in the reports. They are being made available to enable honourable members and all others who are interested to have the opportunity to comment on the proposals that the reports contain. The views that are expressed about the reports will be taken into account in our continuing examination of the reports. In this regard I have arranged for copies of both reports to be sent to the Premiers. To enable this continuing examination the Government has decided to set up a follow-up group to consult and conduct discussions with relevant Commonwealth departments and the States. The group which will be located in my Department will be led by the Chairman of the Task Force, Mr Peter Bailey. It will include Dr Sidney Sax who was a member of the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm. The group will be assisted’ by officials from other departments including Treasury, Finance, Health, Social Security, Environment, Housing and Community Development and the Public Service Board.
The broad timetable for handling the reports that the Government has in mind is that the follow-up group will commence its work immediately and proceed to have consultations with the appropriate Commonwealth departments on the reports. Premiers have been asked to provide initial broad reactions or comments by early April so that, as appropriate, discussions may proceed between the follow-up group and
State officers between mid-April and early June. There could also be consultation with major voluntary organisations should the need arise. The purpose of those discussions would be to clarify the matters which should be the subject of discussions and decision at ministerial level between the Commonwealth and the States at, for example, a Premiers’ Conference.
These reports are significant documents warranting close scrutiny and serious consideration. Measures as wide ranging as those envisaged in the reports require time for examination, reflection and debate. Many of the proposals they contain affect governments at all levels, nongovernment agencies, and the community. They will be of interest to many. The Government’s intention in making the reports available is to provide an opportunity for those interested to give their views so that the Government can take those views into account before taking decisions on any particular proposals in the reports. The Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm and the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health are to be commended for their efforts. I table the reports for the information of honourable members. I present the following papers:
Report of the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm. Task force on Co-ordination in Welfare and HealthProposals for Change in the Administration and Delivery of Programs and Services’- Ministerial Statement, 17 February 1977.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the papers.
– It is a novel and welcome experience to find the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) tabling reports of inquiries in this Parliament. One of these is the work of an inquiry -
– I thought it was about time you came clean on overseas loans.
– I am prepared to debate them with the honourable gentleman if he will come clean himself on them instead of working through intermediaries. The honourable gentleman who has just fled the House has been associated on them with a financier who has since gone bankrupt and a solicitor who has since been struck off. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, before we saw Lynch flinch, one of the reports which the Prime Minister has just tabled is the work of an inquiry appointed over a year ago. I first asked the Prime Minister in November whether he would table these 2 reports and he declined to give an assurance that he would do so. He overlooked the fact, presumably, that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), to her credit, had promised as long ago as last May that the reports would be debated in Parliament. That is a fair indication of the Prime Minister’s attitude to open government. One must be grateful that he is earning better habits. He remembers the lesson of the Medibank debacle last year. We were never given the report of the Medibank Review Committee or the Bland report on government administration. I have no wish to sound ungrateful or cynical but I doubt whether the present reports would have been tabled today if their contents, like so much else the Government wishes to keep secret, had not been leaked to the Press and published last Monday.
Whatever the detailed recommendations in the report- so far we have only had a sketchy summary of them from the Prime Ministerthere can be no doubt about the motivation of the Fraser Government in setting up the inquiries. The whole exercise demonstrates clearly how the Fraser Government regards the new federalism and its responsibilities towards the needy, the handicapped, the aged and the disadvantaged. The inquiries were a massive attempt at buck-passing. The clear objective is to abdicate Federal responsibility in a whole range of social security matters, responsibility undertaken by every other Federal government since the war- Labor, Liberal and Labor again. To say this is not to criticise the members of the Task Force or the Committee. They were given clear instructions. The terms of reference of the Task Force directed it to look at ways of co-ordinating welfare programs ‘having in mind that coordination could be effected at the State and local government level without Commonwealth involvement’. In other words, the object of this exercise is not so much greater co-ordination or efficiency, still less greater service or care for the disadvantaged, but an abandonment of Federal responsibility for the most deprived and needy members of the community. That is the meaning of the new federalism; that is what the Fraser Government stands for.
It is easy enough to talk about greater efficiency, streamlining, co-ordination, improved delivery of services and so on, but what is the real motive of the Government? The purpose of streamlining and co-ordination ought to be to ensure that money is spent to the best advantage. The purpose of this exercise is not to eliminate duplication or get value for money but merely to spend less money. Evidence of real duplication is hard to find, though no one doubts that in programs that are largely new, and in some cases experimental, some duplication may occur. The Task Force report admits frankly on page 24:
We have not found evidence of gross duplication or overlap’.
Despite this the inquiry proposes to transfer to the States and local authorities programs for which the Federal Government allocated around $ 1,000m in the last Budget. The Task Force shows a remarkable lack of enthusiasm for the course it recommends. If the Government was looking for dramatic confirmation of one of its favourite lines of propaganda it has certainly not got it. The Task Force states in paragraph 300: we cannot guarantee that in every State or local area, and in relation to every program decision, the outcome of the changes we have proposed would be demonstrably better than it would have been had no changes been made . . . Issues of general political judgment arise which it is not our task to decide.
That is anything but a ringing endorsement of the new federalism.
The Prime Minister and the 2 reports pay the usual Up service to the value of many Federal programs. What they fail to point out is that most of them would not exist had it not been for Federal initiatives- in other words, initiatives, in most cases, by a Labor Government. It is easy enough to say, and it may sometimes be true, that a program is better run by a State or a local authority or by a volunteer organisation. Wherever that is so, my Party would support such a change, and frequently we promote it. The fact is that new ventures in social welfare or security, as in housing, higher education or transport, have, ever since the Second World War, always come from the Federal GovernmentLiberal or Labor- and the original funding for them has come from the Federal GovernmentLiberal or Labor. Let me take one example. The Holmes report deals at some length with services for migrants. It deals with such matters as legal aid, telephone interpreter services, post-arrival services, grants to community agencies, ethnic research and surveys. All of these things were initiatives of my Government. They would never have been introduced by the States or local authorities on their own. The purpose of this exercise is not just to avoid Federal responsibility for existing services but to preclude future Federal initiatives.
Already there have been a number of social welfare programs amalgamated or transferred to the States by the Fraser Government. In every case a significant reduction in funding for the programs has resulted. If we examine the case of the community health and community mental health programs the Government’s intentions are abundantly clear. In 1974-75 my Government allocated $42m for these programs and in 1975-76 $66.9m. Following the amalgamation of these 2 programs the Fraser Government allocated only $7 1.8m for community mental and community health services, a reduction in funding in real terms. The result of this cutback in expenditure has been a significant decline in the quality of health care provided to the public. Despite the increasing demand for these types of services, there will be no new health or mental health centres approved by this Government in this financial year. Yet the Minister for Social Security admitted in the Senate on 2 December that merely to maintain these programs a greater level of funding was required. Another example is the Government’s decision to transfer, or more correctly to dump, the Australian Assistance Plan. After consultations with interested groups and a report from the Social Welfare Commission recommending its retention, the Minister for Social Security announced on 21 May 1976 that the Government would not continue to fund the program beyond June this year.
The major recommendation of the Holmes inquiry, practically ignored by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his statement today, is the phasing out of nursing care benefits by the Federal Government and amendments to health insurance legislation requiring Medibank and the private health insurance funds to provide nursing home cover. Implementation of this decision would save the Government between $60m and $80m but would probably cost the community at least this amount in additional insurance premiums. In fact, the Cabinet summary of the Bailey report, leaked to the Press over the weekend, estimated that health insurance premiums could rise by as much as 70c a week. Clearly this is another exercise in the tradition of the Medibank fiasco last year. In the name of efficiency and economy the Fraser Government is simply transferring its responsibilities to the pocket of every man and woman in Australia. The Government has failed tragically to come to grips with the real problems of nursing home care. There is a real need for the development of alternative forms of care for the aged, such as domicilary care. In the words of the Holmes committee, there has been: . . concentration in the past on institutional accommodation rather than on the development of comprehensive domicilary services.
Let the Prime Minister state his policy on this issue. Let him say clearly whether health insurance premiums will rise. How long does the Government need to reach a decision on this question? Why is the Prime Minister silent on this central issue? It is perfectly clear that the Fraser Government is obsessively concerned with administrative arrangements and with reducing federal expenditure rather than with providing effective social welfare services. It is not very important whether the services are provided by Federal, State or local government or by voluntary agencies. What is important is that the services should be provided. Overlap and duplication can be eliminated with planning and goodwill, but without a commitment- a sharing- by the Federal Government it is much harder to close the gaps in health and welfare services.
Ever since the Second World War every new initiative in health and welfare services in Australia has been taken by the Federal government. Whether it was the Chifley Government, the Menzies Government, the Holt Government, the Gorton Government, the McMahon Government or the Whitlam Government, all have been undertaken by Federal governments. Up until this stage every program initiated by any Federal government has been adopted and usually expanded by its successor or successors. It is no excuse to hide behind the Constitution. If we limited the legislation of the Federal Parliament and the administration of the Federal Government to things which are listed in the Constitution as subjects upon which the Federal Parliament can pass laws, half the legislation we pass would never be introduced, half the responsibilities of Federal departments would cease and, in the process, all the valuable initiatives which have een taken in Australia since the Second World War also would cease. There is little hope and no commitment as a result of these reports which have been tabled today.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
-(by leave)-I was disappointed and surprised to hear the statements by Opposition members in the grievance debate today. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) and the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) have all deliberately distorted the true position in respect of the existing and proposed new Commonwealth-State housing agreements. I was particularly disappointed to note that the honourable member for Fremantle, whom I had previously considered to be a person of absolute integrity, had descended to cheap political tricks in order to try to mislead people who would be listening to the parliamentary broadcasts in Western Australia. It is obvious that these 3 Labor members who have spoken today are making a last ditch stand in a vain attempt to influence the State election in Western Australia. I am troubled that in doing so they may spread anxiety and fear amongst the needy and the poor- the very people for whom they pretend to fight.
Let me make it clear from the beginning that the present arrangements introduced by the previous Labor Government in the 1973-74 CommonwealthState Housing Agreement are inefficient and inadequate. Although many millions of dollars are being spent on welfare housing, thousands and thousands of people on or below the poverty line do not receive the benefit of this money and aU the honourable members who spoke today well know it. These people are simply not receiving State housing assistance. Worse, there are people on very high incomes who do receive the benefit of the money. The taxpayer is supplementing their already high incomes while needy people go without. I have previously given examples of abuses under the present Agreement. May I add yet another. In New South Wales a man who bought a Housing Commission home used the rent from it to build himself a home of what could only be described as luxurious standards. The man bought the Commission home at 4.5 per cent interest on long repayment terms and then let it at $55 a week. This helped him to finance his new home. Meanwhile, his tennant, because of the high rent and his poor circumstances, was forced to go to the Housing Commission to apply for a Commission house. Examples like this are intolerable and I am staggered that they could be defended by the Opposition.
At the Premiers Conference last year the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) outlined the Government’s concern for welfare housing and the broad guidelines that it intended to adopt to build a new agreement. This was confirmed after the Conference by telex to aU States. The Premiers were well aware of the Government’s intentions as long ago as that For example, Premier Wran replied by telex on 24 May agreeing that an effort had to be made to get money to those people now missing out. He agreed that the best way to do this was to proceed to a ministerial conference. Since then formal and informal talks and negotiations have commenced with the States. Officials of the Commonwealth met with officials of all States in November last year. Today they have been meeting again to thrash out the details of recommendations that could be put to Ministers for their consideration at an April meeting. There has been, and I hope there will continue to be, close co-operation with the States in working out the new agreement. This particularly gives the lie to the assertions of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Let me make clear the position regarding the present Agreement. False claims have been made by the speakers today that rents would rise because of Commonwealth actions. In a letter to the Financial Review yesterday Premier Wran falsely implied that the Commonwealth would force rises immediately. It is the prerogative of the States to consider whether rents should rise and, if they do, in what manner they should rise. The Commonwealth will not attempt to impose any new conditions on the States in this matter. Again, claims have been made that those purchasing Housing Commission homes will be forced to pay higher interest rates. I reject these allegations as completely without foundation. The Commonwealth’s broad objectives for the new agreement are as follows: Firstly, regarding rental policy, they are to introduce market rents for public housing- a move already begun by the New South Wales Labor Government- and by way of rent rebates to assist moderate and low income earners who are in need. Secondly, with regard to the purchase of housing, the broad objectives are that houses should be sold for cash. Where a person can afford to purchase a house, for example by using the resources of permanent building societies or savings banks, he should do so as any other person is required to do. Where moderate and low income earners need assistance, help will be provided at subsidised rates through the home builders’ account. The Commonwealth and State Ministers are now working on how the guidelines might be implemented. We have yet to determine what will be the levels of rent rebates, what families will be offered assistance, what assistance will be offered for home purchase -
-Order! I have to interrupt the Minister. There is too much conversation between members of the Opposition. I request them to remain silent and hear the Minister’s remarks.
– It is surprising that members of the Opposition should take this matter so lightly. This Government happens to be intent on reforming the way in which we help people in need in this community. Members of the Opposition would do well to keep quiet and listen for a while. I was saying: We have yet to determine what will be the levels of rent rebates, what families will be offered assistance, what assistance will be offered for home purchase, what will be the formula for calculating market rent, what are the relative resources in each State and a multitude of other matters which have to be defined and decided before we can proceed to decisions.
It can be seen that the Commonwealth is working towards a better and more efficient Agreement; one whereby the States will have more freedom of action and initiative. Much work will have to be done to decide the precise details of the new arrangements. Let me make it perfectly clear: The sort of comments that we have heard today, the crude speculation on rent increases and increased interest rates, are based either on ignorance or malicious speculation. I repeat to all Australians, but particularly to the Western Australians in whose State there has been a determined effort to confuse and frighten, that the Commonwealth has no aim other than to ensure that welfare housing is provided for all those who need it, and as well that all Australians, regardless of means, should have a real chance of owning their own homes.
I present the following paper:
Commonwealth-State Housing Agreements- Ministerial Statement, 17 February 1977
Motion (by Mr Ellicott) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-Some wild allegations have been made by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, (Mr Newman) that Opposition members have used the Grievance Debate this morning to try to stir and to worry needy people, people living in housing commission homes, by saying that their rents may go up. The Minister has said that we were the ones responsible for the situation. Of course discussion has already taken place in open public forum between 3 State Labor Premiers and the Minister. Those State Premiers have made certain allegations. Am I giving false information? Let me quote from the letter of the Minister to his counterparts in the States. In part it reads:
I was able to obtain from Cabinet issues of principles and definitions of objectives relevant to options available for future welfare housing in the States. These are set out fully in the attachment to this letter.
in respect of rental housing through the State Housing Authority:
1 ) capital funds for the construction and purchase of dwellings by State housing authorities should not be at subsidised interest rates.
-Read the rest of the letter.
-I read those words clearly in order to give their intent.
-Read the rest of the letter.
-The Minister says: ‘Read the letter’. I do not intend to do so. Let him table this letter to clear up the matter here and now.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am quite happy for the complete letter to be incorporated here and now if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wishes to do so.
-That matter remains in the hands of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
-I am challenging the Minister to table the letter and to clarify the situation. I am quoting parts of the letter. I have seen the full text of it. I am challenging the Minister to table the letter. If he wishes to table the letter to show that I am giving false information let him do so. It is within his rights to clarify the situation. But I am saying that there is. a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of the Australian Government, and it will not face the facts.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. There is no hypocrisy in this matter. I have made it perfectly clear that if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wishes to have the letter incorporated he can do so now if he has it with him. I ask that the word ‘hyprocrisy’ be withdrawn.
-I take the view that if the word ‘hypocrisy’ was used personally against the Minister -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, if you read Hansard you will see what I said. I said: It is hyprocrisy on the part of the Government.
-Order! I have not finished making my point. If the Deputy Leader the Opposition referred to the Minister as being hypocritic he should withdraw the word. If the word was used generally the forms of the House do not insist on its withdrawal. My memory is not capable of recalling the way in which the word was used.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been in this House many years. I am not a personal man; I am a policy man. The Minister is just a small cog in the wheel. He carries out instructions of the Cabinet. I used the term that it was a government of hypocrisy. That is what it is. Quite clearly the Cabinet- that is the Governmenthas given the instructions. I quote again:
So the Minister understands the situation let me make it clear that 70 per cent of the money allocated under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement goes to the State housing commissions and 85 per cent of the dwellings constructed are made available for rental housing. In effect, 85 per cent of houses constructed under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement are available to the poor and needy. This means that the subsidy of 6.5 per cent will cease. What the Minister’s proposal means is that the interest rate in future will be at the long term bond rate. This means only one thing: An increase in the rents of those people living in housing commission dwellings. The people of Western Australia should be well aware of the hypocrisy of the Government of the day. The people should understand the real spirit of co-operation between the Liberal Premier in Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, and the Fraser Government. Let me now quote from the Minister’s statement. I wish that the bureaucrats in the Department had checked his statement before he came into the House. Page 2 of the statement reads:
Let me make it clear that it is the States’ prerogative to consider whether rents should rise and if they do, in what manner they should rise.
Let us now turn to page 3 of his statement. He says: .
The Commonwealth and State Ministers are now working towards how the guidelines might be implemented.
He said ‘we’. By that he means the Australian Government. He has been given bis instructions and guidelines. As a Minister he cannot go outside those guidelines without reference to Cabinet.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. This whole issue has arisen out of a deliberate attempt by the Opposition to distort the situation.
– On the point of order, Mr Speaker -
-Order! The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. A point of order is being taken.
– I ask you to exercise your authority. The Minister is not taking the point of order. The Minister has interrupted consistently with debating points. It is quite improper.
-The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat. If the Minister has a point of order I call on him to make it.
- Mr Speaker, I have. I had to begin by saying that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was distorting the matter because he was selectively quoting from the statement. First of all he dealt with the existing Agreement and then went on to talk about what is proposed.
-Order! That is not a point of order. The Minister will resume his seat.
-I quote again:
Let me make it clear that it is the States’ prerogative to consider whether rents should rise and if they do, in what manner they should rise.
The Minister said:
We have yet to determine what will be the levels of rent rebates, what families will be offered assistance, what will be the formula for calculating market rent.
He said these things. He said ‘We’. On the other hand he said ‘We will not determine what level of rent or what charges should be made’. Either the man is a fool or he has bad advice. That is what it is all about. Any man who makes such a statement -
– I ask that the honourable member withdraw that comment.
-I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the statement.
-I do not want to be offensive. I was just being descriptive.
-The honourable gentleman will withdraw the term.
-I withdraw that comment. Clearly there has been interference. Instructions have certainly been set down by Canberra. If this is what we call Fraser ‘s new federalism, if this is the line that the Government is taking, the decision has been made, it is obvious that the Minister has been given his riding instructions. I have quoted those instructions from the letter. Unless something is done about these instructions, I believe, it is natural that housing commission rents in Sydney and in Perth and throughout the whole of the nation will increase substantially. I gave the figures this morning. Rents could rise from $25 to as much as $80 a week in Sydney. Action has already been taken.
The Minister said that there were weaknesses in the Housing Agreement. Of course there are weaknesses. There will always be individuals who will abuse certain conditions that are provided to assist the people in our community who really need help. I agree with honourable members that there are needy poor-it has been shown in the Henderson report- who are not covered by the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. Let me quote the Minister.
Although many millions of dollars have been spent on welfare housing, thousands upon thousands of people on the poverty line or below do not receive the benefit of this money. They are not receiving State housing assistance. Worse, there are people on very high incomes who do receive the benefit or the money.
I agree with this but what he failed to say was that the New South Wales Government has already taken certain action- his conservative Government colleagues have not taken action- to bring about a more equitable situation to protect the needy. I refer to a letter which the Premier of New South Wales wrote to the Australian Financial Review only a couple of days ago about what is happening in New South Wales. He said:
Rents will be set at 80 per cent of the market value of the property.
An improved rental rebate system to guarantee that rent does not exceed 20 per cent of a tenant’s income, plus 20 per cent of the spouse’s income, if any. In addition a further $5 will be added to the rent for each working member of a family.
The new policy will not apply to pensioners who will continue to pay 1 8 per cent of total income.
Restrictions on the sale of Housing Commission houses and sales at market value where sales do occur.
Surely this shows that action has already been taken by the New South Wales Government. The Minister said that moneys which should have been diverted to housing the poor are going into some wrong pockets. He did not talk about the generous concession of this Government to the least needy economic group such as the great taxation concessions to the mining companies by wiping out the coal levy. It will mean another $37m to the already wealthy companies such as the Utah Development Co. a large wealthy multinational which made $ 1 15m profit in one year. Does it need help? Certainly it needs help. The Government assists large companies by taxation concessions for depreciation, amounting to as much as $60m. The reintroduction of the superphosphate bounty has cost about $50m. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) received in subsidy a round $5,000 from this Government as a result of the reintroduction of the superphosphate bounty. The Fraser Government s talk of trying to help the needy in the housing area is hypocrisy. There is plenty of room for reallocation of resources. For the third year in a row this Government has kept the money level under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement at the same amount. In the coming year, for the fourth year in a row, the same amount will be made available. The Government is cutting back drastically on its whole contribution to the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement.
Action has been taken in New South Wales. It has been clearly set out. The Minister said he has his guidelines from the Cabinet. He is representing his Cabinet’s point of view. He set out clearly the guidelines in that letter from which I read. He said that there would be no subsidy. He said:
Capital funds for the construction and purchase of dwellings by State housing authorities should not be at subsidised interest rates.
That means only one thing. The money that was made available by the Whitiam Government under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement at 4 per cent will dry up. The money lent under that Agreement now will be at the longterm bond rate of 10.5 per cent. The Minister talks about nailing the lie. Members on this side have nailed the lie to the mast of the Fraser Government.
Debate (on motion by Mr Donald Cameron) adjourned.
-The 4 constitutional Bills represent a package which is derived from the determinations of the Constitutional Convention at Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne. It is pleasing that some results in the form of referenda bills have come before this House. It is unfortunate that the number is not greater. I think at least one other referendum was unanimously agreed to on 2 occasions- the reference of powers provisions which could have been included and which could not have been opposed by anyone. In general, with the exception of the Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) Bill, the other 3 Bills deal largely with this Parliament and the manner in which it is elected. I will deal firstly with the Constitution Alteration (Retirement of Judges) Bill. I think it is quite reasonable that provided the retiring age forjudges is known prior to appointment, such a retiring age should be provided. At the time when the Constitution was written it was not usual for people to retire but I think that at this stage in history people are not expected to hold office beyond the age of 70 years. I think the proposition is a reasonable one which should have the support of the Australian people. I would have thought that if legislation had been passed rather than having the matter decided by referendum the High Court at this stage might have reversed its earlier decision which was made at a time when a different set of criteria existed. I am certain that this referendum will be carried.
I do not suggest that age is necessarily a bar to good performance. The means by which a judge who reaches an advanced age can be removed are cumbersome and are almost unapproachable. An address of the 2 Houses would be contemplated only in the most extreme circumstances. A government would be loath to move in such a way against a person of great stature who may have reached an advanced age, possibly with some lack of performance. I think it would be a much simpler and better process to have an automatic retiring age. Under such a system we might lose occasionally a brilliant man who has a lot to offer. Unfortunately that happens in all walks of life and it is one of the penalties of having an automatic cut-off date.
The other referendums are of significant consequence. I think that the line which has developed, and which may or may not be legally correct, that persons who do not live in the States are in some way less than full Australians, is unfortunate. Australia is an island continent although it consists of 2 major islands and a number of minor ones. Every person who lives within the boundaries of Australia ought to be recognised as an Australian for all purposes. The referendum to grant people living in the Territories voting rights for the purposes of referendums is a small step towards recognising them as full Australians. There are other areas in which they may have to be given similar recognition in the future. Although this referendum nas been put before I am certain that on this occasion it will be carried. While I can see no logical argument against it, I can see some emotive State rights argument which I believe does not have any weight. To suggest that a person who lives in Queanbeyan is in some way more of an Australian than someone who lives in Fyshwick is to me a stupid proposition although it is one which is now seriously being put as a legal position in the Commonwealth of Australia
The other 2 referendums deal with the Senate. They are concerned with when and how senators are elected and maintained in office. The simultaneous elections provision is one which has also been put on a previous occasion and which I believe should then have been carried. I note that there is some opposition to this referendum. At least one newspaper has suggested in an editorial that this proposal will in some way diminish the powers of the Senate. I do not know of any way in which that argument can be sustained unless the person advancing it also suggests that the Senate is of such relative unimportance that Senate elections cannot be held at the same time as House of Representatives elections as is the case with both Houses of the State Parliaments.
We all know that in a general election the question before the people is who will govern the country for the next period of years. Those of us who have participated in elections are also aware that in a Senate election people generally, say: Why the hell do we have to go out and vote on Saturday? What is it for?’ I think that attitude does more damage to the standing of the Senate than anything else could. I think it is ludicrous to suggest that the standing of a House of parliament depends on the day on which it is elected. Does anyone suggest that the Senate of the United States of America is a less important House because it is elected on the same day as the House of Representatives? Does anyone suggest that State parliaments in the United States are less important in their constitutional structure or that they perform their functions less effectively because they are also elected on the same day as the Congress? I think that the argumentit is put usually by a minority, but a vocal minoritythat simultaneous elections diminish the power of the Senate, on the one hand is based on opportunism and, on the other, shows an inferiority complex. Many people who talk loud and long about the importance of their chamber in the Parliament are in fact worried that if they do not say how important they are other people will not recognise their importance. That is very much the motive of some publications. It is the motive of at least one official publication of the Parliament which I think ought to be struck out because of its lack of objectivity. It is certainly the motive of some members of the Senate who feel that in building up the chamber by such vocal gymnastics they are in fact building up themselves personally.
The stature of a parliament and the stature of its members depend substantially on the manner in which that parliament and its members perform their duties. It depends too on the manner in which they approach the duties with which they are charged under Acts of parliament and the constitution of the country. The Senate is a chamber of this Parliament. It has assumed powers which properly I do not believe exist. Nevertheless, those powers have been assumed. One of those powers is the power to determine whether governments will stay in office. Having assumed that power the Senate is entitled to expect that it will be elected at the same time as the chamber in which governments are formed, and therefore reflect the will and the wish of the elector on the occasion when a government is chosen. It is ludicrous and quite fallacious to argue that if we leave the Constitution as it is and by accident or design of a Prime Minister’s choosing separate elections on occasions are held for the Senate, the status of the Senate will be increased. In general terms most elections for the 2 Houses of this Parliament have been conjoint, occurring on the one day. There has been no suggestion that the senators elected on those occasions were in any way inferior to those who were elected on separate occasions.
There is reason to advance the argument that the persons chosen to be senators on occasions when the 2 Houses have been elected together have been chosen on a more objective basis and that a broader perspective of choice on national policies is exercised even though people might primarily be electing a government in the House of Representatives. In almost all cases very few political leaders have shown any enthusiasm for single Senate elections at which people have been asked to vote for senators and which do not involve the election of a government. In my memory none has been able to whip up enthusiasm in the community for reasons why Senator A should be elected instead of Senator B. The result has been- the recent Senate election indicates this quite clearly- that people tend to vote for those people who put forward a point of view which is attractive but which would not attract their votes if the choice of a government depended on their decision. Single Senate elections are very much a by-election situation.
In one recent Senate election an independent senator was elected from Western Australia on a platform to abolish estate duties. In South Australia a candidate was very nearly elected on an education platform. In Victoria a candidate received 20 per cent of the vote but his Party in a general election was able to achieve only between 9 per cent and 12 per cent of the vote. I think it is important that this referendum be carried.
Another important reason should be advanced in favour of the referendum, namely, that this Parliament has been subject to a continual succession of elections over the years for the Senate and the House of Representatives to the extent that in the last 10 years there has hardly been a year in which some form of election for this Parliament has not taken place. This does not assist in the management and government of this country. It certainly does not give any continuity to government. It creates the unfortunate situation in which governments have to plan on a relatively short term basis those policies which may be unpopular because at the end of every year in recent times there has been an election or an election due early in the following year. There has been uncertainty and this is not something from which parliaments should suffer. If the majority within a parliament changes, then the Government falls. But I do not think governments can function properly if they do not have security of tenure of office. That is one of my arguments against the section of the Constitution that allows the blocking of Supply. Tenure of office is important. If both houses have the power to form governments, when the electorate expresses its opinion both Houses should be elected at the same time.
-And go to the people at the same time.
-That is correct. In fact I would advance the argument that our Constitution should be changed radically. I do not believe that States are better represented in the existing situation. The best representation would come about- this is a personal view- if those sections of the Constitution which provide for 2 Houses were removed and proportionally elected members sat in this House with members elected under the House of Representatives procedures. I believe that would strengthen the Par.liament and it would make the Parliament a far more responsible body. It would not in any way diminish the representation from the minor States. In fact it would increase it in the chamber of government. That is a personal point of view but I think it is one that bears examination in the future because what I have suggested would strengthen the Parliament, which is tending to divide itself into 2 Houses rather than to unite itself into a parliament.
One other referendum which is to go to the people is on the question of the replacement of senators where casual vacancies exist. Because senators are elected for long terms on a proportional basis a problem arises when a vacancy occurs. If there were an election the vacancy would be filled on a single vacancy basis or would add to the number of vacancies which would normally occur and therefore distort the result of the election. This has happened on a number of occasions. I will give one or two examples. I think it was in 1964 that the late Senator Poulter was elected to represent Queensland. He died before he could take his seat. Therefore a casual vacancy was created to replace a senator elected for a 6-year term. A senator was ultimately appointed. On that occasion the Labor Party had trouble with the Queensland Parliament too. It would not appoint the man who had run in the previous Senate election and who was nominated by the Party, but a senator from the Labor Party nominated by the Labor Party was ultimately appointed. He was subsequently subject to a single vacancy election at the next election. The Labor Party would normally win two out of the five seats in that State in a single vacancy election because it is in a minority. The seat held by the senator filling the casual vacancy would be lost and there would be a distortion of proportional representation for the remainder of that 6-year period because a senator who would not have een elected on a quota system from one party is elected.
We had a similar situation in Victoria on the death of Sam Cohen. Senator Brown was appointed to replace him. An election took place within about 6 months. The Senate vacancy was then filled. I think Senator Greenwood was elected. He filled a position which would normally have been filled by his Party under the proportional system. We had a rather ludicrous situation at this stage. The Labor Party, which was entitled to 4 Victorian seats in the Senate, had three. This Bill overcomes that problem by the provision that an appointee shall serve the remainder of the term of the senator he replaces. It therefore maintains the actual wishes of the electorate throughout the term of the senator. It acts to the disadvantage of the Labor Party in this instance because in Victoria at an election due 6 senators would be elected, four of whom would be from the Liberal and National Country Parties. Almost certainly under the proportional representation system the Labor Party would pick up the sixth seat. If the Labor Party did not do so and the Government did not, some minority party would. I expect that would be the situation. That is unfortunate and I can sympathise with Senator Brown, whose position is most likely on the Une. He voted for this proposition at the Hobart Constitutional Convention and therefore realises and acknowledges that his personal position is not as important as the long term position. I am sure no Press reporter would take up the story of a politician who in the national interest voted to take 3 years off his own term. I believe it is in the national interest.
There are controversial sections in this BUI. One is the recognition in the BUI that there are such things as political parties.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Before the suspension of the sitting I was referring to the election between Senators Brown and Greenwood for a single Senate vacancy. In fact the seat being contested was Senator Gorton’s seat, to which Senator Greenwood was appointed. Arising out of that and out of the death of Senator Cohen during that election, Senator Brown subsequently contested the election for senators at which six were elected. As a retiring appointed senator because he was elected further up the list than sixth he lost his seat. The person who finished behind him took the seat to which he had been appointed for 6 months, and he was out of the Parliament for a little over 6 months because he did well in the election. The person who did less well than he immediately came into the Parliament.
I do not think that there can be any doubt that the simultaneous elections proposition should be carried. As I said before the suspension of the sitting, the argument that, by some quirk of imagination some people think that this downgrades the Senate, is a fallacious argument. I suggest that there is no evidence at all, and I hope that the present senators would support me, that they are m any way inferior or constitute in total an inferior Senate than those senators who were elected at single Senate elections in 1964, 1967 and 1970. 1 reject that argument totally. As I said earlier, it is an opportunist argument, an argument designed to inflate egos and in some cases to advantage minorities, not to bring about a proper rational election of members to both Houses of this Parliament when the responsibilities of government and choosing government are upon the electors. I think that the Australian people should carry all the referenda put forward on this occasion and I am sure that, given honest argument, on the merits of such argument they will do so.
-The 4 Bills that are before the House this evening are all important. I suppose that the most important one of the four is the one that relates to simultaneous elections. It is perhaps a pity in one sense that we do not have debates such as this one more frequently in this chamber. Yesterday the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) presented the Bills and, in his second reading speech, related the facts and statistics. He gave reasons for the referenda to be carried, particularly in relation to the first Bill. Today we heard a speech by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). I do not want to appear to be patronising but I would say that it was a well presented and well thought out speech as is customary of speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition on occasions both in this House and outside it. He was followed by the Deputy Leader of my own Party, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). He too put forward arguments and reasons to justify the Government’s action in this regard.
Perhaps one of the reasons why there are difficulties with constitutional amendments is that they are couched in legal terms which are sometimes difficult for the layman to understand. I confess that one on occasion as Chairman of Committees I asked the Clerk, Sir Alan Turner, why it was that sometimes our legal friends used confusing phraseology in their legislation. I say that with due apology to members of the legal profession. He told me that sometimes they do it so that one really cannot understand what they are saying. When various proposals have on occasions been put to the people of Australia they have been rejected because the people have not had a complete understanding of the meaning of the legislation. Because of that, opponents of the legislation have been able to create a degree of doubt in the minds of people. I would say to the- members of the media that if they have a doubt about the value of these 4 Bills they should certainly express that doubt but also they should give careful consideration to what is being presented because this legislation will affect the Parliament and also the life of this nation.
Perhaps it is unfortunate that we do not have debates of this kind more frequently when reasoned argument is put forward, even though there may be conflicting points of view, without a great deal of political emotionalism. I suppose that in political life it is very difficult to avoid emotionalism. It is very difficult not to react to something that concerns us. Any constitutional amendment affecting the Parliament affects all members in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. I hope that whatever criticism may be made will be well thought out and presented in a constructive and not a destructive manner. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) mentioned before the suspension of the sitting that one of the arrangements put forward was that this legislation would take away some of the independence of the Senate. I agree with the honourable member for Corio that that assumption is not correct. In the number of elections that have been held in Australia over recent years one thing has been paramount: That is that the real value of elections is being lost because of the rapidity with which they have been brought about. Not only do we have Senate and House of Representatives elections but we also have elections for the various State governments and, of course in a smaller way, for local government A number of years ago I put forward the contention that in Australia there should be a S-year term or at least a 4-year term for our federal Parliament.
– Ten years for Country Party members.
-I am delighted to hear that the honourable member for Prospect appreciates the valuable contribution that the Country Party makes to this country when he says that he wants us to be members of this place for 10 years which is even longer than his own Labor Party colleagues. It shows that he has a very great appreciation of the valuable contribution made in this place by my colleagues in my Party as well of course by my colleagues in the Liberal Party. I think we need a 4-year term or a 5-year term in Australia for the federal Parliament. It would enable governments to plan and to carry out programs with a sense of development.
I have been rather surprised at some of the comments that have been made in relation to this legislation. Situations change. Circumstances alter. Just because an individual, a government or a party opposes legislation at some time does not necessarily mean that it is wrong for them to support or to endeavour to pass similar legislation at a later time. I think that argument can justifiably be put forward in relation to the presentation of this legislation by the Government. I have been amazed that some of the people who have been highly critical of this legislation have put forward other proposals that may have some merit but they also have some weaknesses. I want to comment on what has been said not only recently but also previously about outside appointments being made to the executive to give the Cabinet advice. Advice from these sources, qualified as it would be, is available to the Cabinet at any time it desires to ask for it. Any Minister, including the Prime Minister and any member of the Cabinet, can receive advice from any expert, from any authority or from any person who he feels can be of value and can help in the presentation of legislation and in deliberations on legislation. I - believe that one of the great weaknesses of the American system which has been mentioned is that that person is not responsible to the people. Under our system irrespective of anything else the Prime Minister himself, the same as any other member of this House, must appear before the electors and be elected as an individual before he becomes Prime Minister of this country. I think that this is of extreme value. It is a matter of responsibility.
If one looks at these pieces of legislation one may see some disadvantages in them, particularly in the Constitutional Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, but in the total political situation they are of advantage to this Parliament and more importantly to this country. There is a concentration of effort. The legislation will certainly have an economic advantage and it will contribute to a greater stability of our parliamentary system.
In respect of the Constitutional Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) Bill, I believe everyone accepts that the vacancies should be filled by a person of the same political persuasion as the person who left the vacancy. The Bill dealing with the retirement ages of judges is advantageous and it should be given support. Many honourable members have spoken about the Constitutional Alteration (Referendums) BUI which relates to the Territories. Honourable members have mentioned the increasing importance of the Territories. This is further evidence of the continuing advancement of our Territories, and of our country, in the political field.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I hope that the people of Australia, accepting that there may be some disabilities in these 4 pieces of legislation but also accepting that in their total presentation they are to the advantage of this country in every way, after having noted the support given to them in this House will themselves give their support when the proposals are presented and that all four wil be accepted by the citizens of Australia
– I want to speak fairly briefly about the Constitutional Alteration (Referendums) BUI which particularly concerns my constituency which encompasses the people of the Australian Capital Territory and of course the people of Jervis Bay which is a part of my electorate. The Bill also applies to the people of the Northern Territory who have never had the right to vote in referendums. I think it is very appropriate that this BUI should come forward now particularly in view of the recent High Court decision which stated in a ruling about the relationship between the number of electors and the number of seats in the House of Representatives that the people in the Territories could not be regarded as people of the Commonwealth. This is a most difficult ruling to understand but the learned gentlemen of the High Court made that ruling for the purpose of arriving at the number of seats for each State in the House of Representatives. The Court said that the people of Canberra, the 200 000 people here, and over 100 000 people in the Northern Territory were not people of the Commonwealth.
This judgment highlighted a situation which was not generally understood by a lot of people in the Commonwealth at large but it was very well understood by the people in the Territories, particularly the people m Canberra, because we have always been very conscious of the fact that as far as the Constitution is concerned we are regarded as something less than full citizens. We have always had to fight very hard indeed for adequate representation in this Parliament and it was not until a Labor government came to office that we did get adequate representation and the principles covering representation were conceded. We have never had the right to express our point of view in the 30-odd referenda which have been presented to the other people- the real people of Australia- since Federation. We have never had that privilege. While the number of people in the Territories was insignificant the voices of their representatives could be ignored with political immunity but of course we have long passed that stage.
There are now over 200 000 people in the Australian Capital Territory. There is more than half that number- over 100 000, I believe- in the Northern Territory. We applaud the Government’s response in accepting a principle which, as I said, has been accepted by the Australian Labor Party for many years. Unfortunately, this principle was denied by the present Government when it was in Opposition. When we tried to pass this legislation earlier it was obstructed in the Senate. The population of Canberra is now approaching half the population of our smallest State, Tasmania. Tasmania has large numbers of elected people. It has 10 senators. Canberra has only two. I think it is a reasonable prediction that in the foreseeable future the Australian Capital Territory will catch up and possibly pass the population of Tasmania. I think it is inappropriate that such a large number of people should be ignored in the Constitution or should be regarded in any way as something less than full citizens.
I take this opportunity of saying what a high regard I have for the wise and learned ruling that was given in this House yesterday by the Speaker in which he confirmed the status of myself and other elected Territorial representatives in this House. He removed, at least for the time being, any doubts which we may have had in this regard. I think that was a wise ruling. I have no doubt that it would be endorsed by the large majority of fair-minded Australians. I have some doubt, of course, that it would be accepted by some members of the High Court. They may have dissented from that ruling if they had had the opportunity.
– We will get them when they are seventy.
– Yes. I must commend the Speaker on the very wise ruling he made yesterday and express our appreciation for it, even though we have been elected by people and we represent people who are regarded by the High Court as something less than Australian citizens.
There is no doubt that all these issues should receive an affirmative response from the electorate at large. The first 3 issues have a direct interest for all Australian citizens. The right of a vote in a referendum for the Territorial citizens is of direct concern only to those people living in the Territories. I have heard it suggested that people in the more geographically remote or isolated States in Australia, such as Western Australia or Queensland, may be tempted to vote against this proposal simply as a means of registering some sort of political protest against the centralisation of power in Canberra. Whatever their justification may be for making such a protest against Canberra as the seat of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, whether it be directed against one or other of the political parties, most people would agree that there can be no genuine justification for using this issue to deny fellow citizens a fundamental right which they themselves have enjoyed since Federation. I have confidence that my fellow Australians in those States will be generous enough to concede that we should have that right.
I am confident that most Australian citizens will see Canberra not only as the seat of the Commonwealth Parliament and the national capital but also as a community of 200 000 people, many of whom have moved here from other States. We live under much the same rules, conditions and laws as other people in Australia. Of course, some people think that everything is bright and beautiful in Canberra. I can assure them that it is not, especially since this Government has been in power. Many of the little perks that went with Canberra have disappeared and, in fact, the conditions we live under are in some instances much worse than in other parts. We pay more taxes per head than anybody else in Australia. The cost of living is the highest in Australia by far. People should not be fooled into believing that everything is bright and beautiful in Canberra. It might have been when the Labor Government was in power but it is certainly not that way now.
Probably the most ironical aspect of the denial of the right of a referendum vote to citizens of the Territories is that many of the descendants of the original citizens of this country, the Aborigines, reside in those Territories and these people are being denied a vote in referenda. Many of them reside in the Northern Territory but I also have a group in my electorate at Wreck Bay in the Jervis Bay area who are included in this category. I appeal to all voting Australians to support this move to see that their fellow citizens in the Territories are given the right to vote in referenda so that they can exercise the same democratic rights as all other voting citizens and express their points of view of issues which concern them as much as they concern other citizens of the Commonwealth. While the acceptance of this proposition will remove one of the main obstacles to full citizens’ rights to Territorial citizens it will not remove the doubt cast on the validity of Territorial representation which was implied in the remarks of the Chief Justice in the recent High Court judgment. In this regard I must commend and support the efforts of the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslam), and his colleagues to to have this doubt cleared up. I hope they will continue with their efforts and at some stage it may be considered by a future Constitutional Convention so that this doubt is removed altogether.
Whenever we are debating Constitutional matters there is always a temptation to quote our founding fathers. In conclusion, I should like to quote briefly one of our greatest founding fathers, Alfred Deakin, whose name is commemorated in this city. It is appropriate in considering matters affecting the Constitution. He said:
We should seek to erect a constitutional edifice which shall be a guarantee of liberty and union for all time to come to the whole people of this continent . . .
I emphasise the stress he puts on the words union for all time for the whole people of this continent’. It is absolute nonsense that, as some members of the present Government said when they were in opposition, it was never intended by the founding fathers that people in Territories should be citizens of the Commonwealth. It was always intended. Many quotations of the founding fathers show that it was intended that that should be. We should be a union and that there should be no distinction and no such thing as first or second class citizens. Alfred Deakin also said:
Wherever we can detect a Federal interest or power we should provide for it in advance without waiting for public clamour or the long agitation leading up to an amendment of the situation. We should provide in advance for all conceivable Federal contingencies, strengthen the Federal Government and trust the Federal Parliament to use its powers wisely.
I suggest that the Federal Government is using its powers wisely in recommending to the people of Australia that they accept these 4 alterations to the Constitution. Obviously the Constitution was intended to be amended. We provided for these contingencies and we are now exercising those rights as laid down under the Constitution to make the amendments by way of referendum. I commend all these issues to the people of Australia.
– I have been asked to restrict my comments this evening because of the desire of this House to facilitate the passage of these Bills to the other chamber. Therefore, I shall say at the outset that I completely support the Bill to alter the Constitution so as to ensure that Senate elections are held at the same time as House of Representatives elections. I support the Bill which requires the alteration of the Constitution so as to provide for retiring ages for judges of Federal courts. I support the Bill to alter the Constitution so as to ensure, so far as practical, that a casual vacancy in the Senate is filled by a person of the same political party as the senator chosen by the people for the balance of his term. However, I support a couple of members on this side of the House who have been alert enough to draw to the attention of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) the fact that there are a couple of problems in those Bills which need some attention. For example, in the case of a Labor Party senator changing his Party affiliations, as did many Labor Party members in previous years who joined other parties such as the Democratic Labor Party, we would be courting a dangerous situation if we had to ensure that a casual vacancy was filled by a person of the Party to which the departing senator belonged at the time of the election.
The purpose of the fourth Bill is to alter the Constitution to allow electors in Territories as well as electors in the States to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution. I am a Party man, and my Party has decided that it is in the interests of the nation that we all support this proposed change to the Constitution. Far be it from me to oppose such wisdom. However, I am somewhat concerned. I hark back to the referendum of 1 8 May 1 974 when exactly the same question was posed. The ballot paper read:
An Act to facilitate alterations to the Constitution and to allow electors in Territories, as well as electors in the States, to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution.
The question then posed was this:
Do you approve the proposed law?
My concern is motivated by the fact that on that occasion 1 367 000 people in New South Wales said ‘yes’ and 1 295 000 people said ‘no’. But in every other State in Australia- Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania- there was a ‘no’ vote. From an historical point of view one cannot be blamed for having a deep concern about the future rights of the people of the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory. One cannot be blamed for wondering how this question will be received just 2Vi years later, or exactly 3 years later if the referendum is held in May. The people voted against the proposition on that occasion and I do not really believe that people change their views that quickly. Much to my amazement, astonishment and fear, I heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) this afternoon talk about people of the Cocos Islands, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island, as Territories of Australia, being given the right to vote in referendums in this country. But the results of the last referendum speak for themselves.
The High Court of Australia- indeed the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick- has considered the question whether the Territories are entitled to elect senators. The High Court almost suggested in its recent judgment on the MacKellar challenge that perhaps it might be wise for Queensland and Western Australia again to present a full challenge. If a review is made of the earlier High Court decision in relation to the eligibility of senators from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory sitting in this place one wonders whether, in view of the retirement of Mr Justice McTiernan and of the appointment of another judge, the result will be a definite ‘no’ meaning that those senators are not entitled to sit in this place. Of course, I am not as learned as those gentlemen who sit on the High Court bench, but my view is that the senators from the Australian Capital Territory have absolutely no right to take their place in this Parliament. That is a private view and one which would be best kept to myself.
I have referred to the Australian Capital Territory and to the Northern Territory. The only reason the Australian Capital Territory exists is that section 125 of the Constitution requires that at least 100 square miles of land be set aside for the purpose of the creation of a capital territory.
Converted into metric terms, the Capital Territory represents 2429 square kilometres. Many honourable members in this chamber forget the history of the Northern Territory. They are unaware of the historical formation of the Northern Territory. The central section of the northern half of Australia, which was at first part of New South Wales and later part of South Australia, in 1911 became a Territory administered by the Commonwealth under the name by which it had been known for many years, the Northern Territory of Australia. Its total area is approximately half a million square miles. To go back a little before that time, in 1883 South Australia began to negotiate with the Colonial Office for a permanent annexation of the Territory. In 1890 South Australia conferred parliamentary franchise on the Northern Territory which was allowed to elect 2 members to the House of Assembly which was based in Adelaide. On the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901 the people of the Northern Territory were included in the electorate of Grey, which still exists today of course, for representation in this House. They were able to vote in the election of the then 6 South Australian senators. There existed a strong body of opinion in favour of transferring the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth Government, and in 1906 negotiations with the Commonwealth commenced and an agreement was reached in December 1907.
The Northern Territory Surrender Act was passed by South Australia, and in August 1909 the Commonwealth Northern Territory Acceptance Act became law with a formal transfer taking place on 1 January 1911. Following troubles during the latter part of the First World War and during the rest of that decade, a royal commission which severely criticised Commonwealth administration of the Territory caused the Commonwealth Act of 1923 which granted the Territory a representative in the House of Representatives, who was allowed to take part in all debates but who could not vote except on a motion for the disallowance of any ordinance of the Northern Territory. Granted, in those days the vast distance and the crude form of transport which then existed made the aforementioned decisions sensible ones.
December 13, 1975, is not an historical date simply because it marked the massive defeat of the Whitlam Government. It is also the date of the first election held in 1947 in the Territory following the establishment at that time of the Northern Territory Legislative Council which, as all honourable members are aware, is still in existence today.
Because I come from the State of Queensland I am not necessarily expressing concern about this matter, but in view of the fact that we have a lot of doubt over the future of the territorial senators and in view of the fact that there is some question as to their area of responsibility or power, I wish to propose a scheme which will ensure that the people of the Australian Capital Territory who presently feel like second class citizens, and the people of the Northern Territory who presently feel like second class citizens, do not feel that way any longer.
I propose that in this referendum we should add a proposition that section 125 of the Constitution, which specifies that the territory for the Australian capital city comprise at least 100 square miles, be amended to read something like 10 square miles’ so that we can draw the capital city back to the parliamentary triangle- bring it around Lake Burley Griffin- and count all those people who live on the outskirts as part of New South Wales. I remind honourable members that on 18 May 1974 New South Wales was the only State that was prepared to vote ‘yes’ in favour of allowing the votes of the people of the Australian Capital Territory to be counted when determining whether a referendum had been passed. If that feeling of affinity is so deep, the people of New South Wales should be given the opportunity to take to their chests the people who live outside that 10 square miles which include the parliamentary triangle.
In looking at the historical beginnings of the Northern Territory and at the decision to create that Territory, we recall that this action was motivated by the difficulties that were created by transport problems. In this latter quarter of the 20th century those problems have diminished and have now passed. It is time for this Government to legislate to return those 40 000 voters who live in the Northern Territory to their rightful place, which is as part of South Australia.
– It is really in the north of Australia.
-Whether we be in the north or the south, we are all Australians. I wish the honourable member for Grayndler would understand that no matter where we come from in this country we are all the same. Regrettably, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier), a southern seat, is bringing great pressure upon me to conclude my address. The suggestions I have made tonight are an easy way out for the Federal Government. The people of Queensland are not pleased at all about certain proposals that have been made in the past. In 1974 every proposal received a large ‘no’ vote in Queensland. I wish only for the success of the proposals contained in these Bills and suggest that the proposition be put that section 125 of the Constitution be altered to reduce the Australian Capital Territory from 100 square miles to 10 square miles. I suggest also that we should take action within this Parliament to repeal past Acts and so ensure the return of the Northern Territory to its rightful place, that is, as part of South Australia, and allow the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) to represent that area of Australia, as did his earlier predecessors in this place.
-The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) who preceded me in this debate made a very interesting and amusing speech. I agree with him that his suggestion provided an easy way out, not for the Government, but for the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) and the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) and the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry). If that proposal were adopted he would very smartly in the next general election rid himself of three of his colleagues. I do not see at least the honourable members for Canberra and for Fraser embracing that idea with a great deal of enthusiasm.
I am one who believes that we really should tear up this present Constitution and write a new one. It has been said by many people in the country that the present Constitution, if taken literally- many want to take it literally and choose to take it literally when it suits them-is one of the most undemocratic documents possible. I have listened to and read with great interest the works of Mr Donald Home, a man for whom I have tremendous respect. He does an excellent job on this Constitution when he takes it literally and points out the absurdity of the powers of the Governor-General, who in fact would be an absolute monarch if the Constitution were taken literally. I cannot remember the exact words he used, but, as an example, he indicated that under the Constitution the Governor-General is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. A lot of people in this country and in this House think very highly of the Governor-General, but I do not think many of us would agree that he is fitted to become the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. I do not think he has the required military background for such a position. But if we cannot have a new Constitution, the least we can do is to change the most obvious sections where there is agreement between the major parties that is required.
These proposals for constitutional change are contained within 4 Bills, relating to simultaneous elections, the filling of Senate casual vacancies by a representative of a political party of the same colour as that of the previous senator, the retirement of judges at the age of 70 years and the right of Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory electors to vote in referenda. Already fallacious arguments are being thrown about by those who see the opportunity to do a bit of grandstanding or those who are such constitutional fundamentalists that they are opposed to any change. I am always fascinated by those who argue that the Constitution should not be changed simply because it is the Constitution. They have a fascinating reverence for the founding fathers. I think it probably could be saidperhaps some people may argue with me- that at the time of the writing of the American Constitution there were some particularly eminent philosophers, the likes of whom probably have not been seen at the time of the writing of the constitutions of most countries. There may be some form of reverence towards the American Constitution, but they at least do make considerable changes to it.
Having read the Constitution thoroughly and having read a lot of constitutional debates, I do not believe that our founding fathers were a particularly brilliant group of men. I think they were an exceptionally competent group, but I believe that if we had to write a Constitution tomorrow we could do as good a job with the people who are in this House today as did the Deakins, the Bartons, the Kingstons and the various other people who are now referred to as the founding fathers. I am not one of those who believe that there is any need to revere the Constitution in the way* that some of those who are now opposing change do. I think the most fallacious of the arguments against change is that we should not change the Constitution simply because it is the Constitution and because the founding fathers said so. It is as if the Constitution were handed down from the Mount- as if it were a bible or something like that; as if a flash of light in 1 89 1 , 1897 and 1898 passed on some greatness to these people and they wrote this magnificent document that cannot be changed. That is the basis of some of the arguments being put up in this chamber by the opponents of these changes. They say: ‘Do not change the Constitution because it is the Constitution- it is revered, it is holy’. Another argument that has been put up against these proposals is that they constitute an erosion of States’ rights and of Senate powers.
Let us briefly go through the 4 Bills before us now. I fail to see how the retirement of federal judges at 70 years of age constitutes in any way an erosion either of States’ rights or of Senate powers. To the best of my knowledge neither the States nor the Senate have any say whatsoever in the selection of judges. It just eludes me how anybody can possibly argue that case with regard to changing the Constitution.
– Nobody has suggested that.
– It has been argued by one of the senators in the upper house- I think it was Senator Wood- that all these proposals constitute an erosion of States’ rights. This has not been argued by people in this place. But I have read today claims that all these Bills constitute an erosion of the powers of the Senate and of the States. Another referendum concerns the right of electors in the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory to vote in referenda. We would be drawing the long bow to suggest that that is an erosion of States’ powers. It is true that it does add a large group of Australians to those voting at referenda, but I doubt very much that many people in the States would argue that there was any substantial erosion of any powers.
In regard to simultaneous elections, again I fail to see how that is an erosion at all of either the Senate’s powers or the States’ powers. I agree that on the question of the filling of Senate casual vacancies there is definitely a possibility of the erosion of the sort of powers we saw exerted at the times of the filling of the vacancies caused by the retirement of Senator Murphy and by the death of Senator Milliner. Because of that action this Bill has been brought in. I think most fairminded and decent people believed that the action taken was a prostitution of democracy. While I agree with some of the comments in the newspapers and the media that there is a certain hypocrisy and cynicism in the Government’s actions now, at least the Government has seen the light The Constitutional Convention saw the light and the Liberal and National Country Parties now agree that in the long-term interests of democracy and the nation the change is admirable.
Let me make some further points. Some argue that we ought to oppose these Bills because of the short-term political gain. I find that an obnoxious proposition. I have always taken the view that if a thing is right it should be supported and if it is wrong it ought to be opposed. One should not oppose a change now because there is a little to be gained by forcing the Government to a Senate election next May or by being assured of a third Labor senator from Victoria. These are very short-term benefits. In the long term all political parties and the nation will benefit from these proposals being passed. I was interested to note the comment by Mr Knox, the Liberal Attorney-General I think from Queensland.
-He is the Deputy Premier.
-The Deputy Premier and Leader of the Liberal Party in Queensland put the proposition that it is political suicide for the Government to propose this change because it will cost the taxpayers $3m. That is typical of the sort of argument one gets from Queensland governments. The cost of having Senate elections every 3 years would be way in excess of the $3m cited by Mr Knox. The cost of continuing separate Senate elections would go on ad infinitum. I do not know the cost of a Senate election but it would be at least as much as a referendum plus of course the many millions of dollars spent by political parties. This referendum will be a once only cost, and that will be the end of the matter. In the next 20 years we will save $ 1 8m to $20m.
– That is without inflation.
-That is without inflation, of course. There are those who argue that we should not have referenda because they will be defeated if any one of the proposals is opposed. I refer honourable members to the 1967 referenda. The perceptiveness shown by voters surprised me. We were always led to believe that people went and marked the ballot paper and did not think. There was an effective if somewhat dishonest proposal put up about the nexus. This was campaigned for by the media. Clearly the people of Australia distinguished between the 2 questions. There was a overwhelming yes vote, I think, of 90 per cent on the queston of Aborigines. I was involved in campaigning very strongly for the yes vote with my colleague the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). The people voted quite differently to defeat the proposal on the nexus. I think it is the wish of this Parliament that the people of Australia will not listen to those who say oppose all change and put the fear of God into people that any change is bad. People should look at the proposal, think about it, listen to arguments put by the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Country Party and by those who are proposing a No vote, and think about each question. If they do that we will get a very interesting start in constitutional change in Australia. I conclude my remarks by briefly reading these comments from the Australian Financial Review:
There is more than a whiff of cynicism mixed generously with hypocrisy in the Government’s referendum proposal for filling casual vacancies in the Senate.
The proposal to be put to the country asks for a constitutional change which would mean that casual vacancies in the Senate are filled for the unexpired term of the former Senator by persons of the same political party.
Merely by putting the proposal to the electorate the Government acknowledges that the constitutional devices it employed to oust the previous Government were not entirely satisfactory.
Had the Senate not been stacked with men appointed by the State Premiers in defiance of the convention that vacancies should be filled by persons of the same political party as the departed Senators then Mr Fraser would not have been able to block the supply debate.
– I support the comments of my friend, the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) about the sanctity of the document- the Constitution. The document is, after all, just another creation of men. It was relevant and valid at the time of its creation. Many parts of it have served the country well for 70-odd years but increasingly a large amount of it has become irrevelant and must be changed. So much nonsense is talked about it. It is elevated as my friend from Robertson says into some holy writ in such a way that the citizenry is unwilling to alter it. It has been erected into a temple which must not be altered. The time has come for the community at large to take a deep interest in the Constitution, to study it, to be informed about it and to change it. I will do everything in my power to see that there is a Yes vote on the 4 questions in my electorate. I hope that every other member of this Parliament will do the same. The duty in the end devolves upon the members of this House. There may be some foot dragging from the people in the Senate but we on this side of Parliament ought to get to work this weekend and organise institutions of com.paigning so that the referenda pass.
There is no doubt in my mind that the major error tha we have committed in the past is failure to educate the community about the Constitution, failure to get them to understand its principles and to understand what it is all about. They must be prepared to consider it effectively to the point of change. I think that the first issue we have before us is the citizens’ right to know and how this Parliament will face the problem of letting them know. Legislation of course requires that there will be a Yes case and a No case. I believe that the document itself belongs to the community at large-the citizens. It is not the property of political parties. It is not the property of government. It ought not to be left to the political parties to put out the case. There should be a governmental operation to ensure that the citizens get the case put before them effectively. I believe that there ought to be a bureau for constitutional consideration and change, a small unit somewhere in the Government, whose job it is to continually inform people what the Constitution is about.
This haphazard approach upon which we are embarking- this is just part of a continuing series- will not get us very far. I am afraid that we may even not get the passage of these referenda unless we do something explicit about them. I know that throughout a great deal of the Commonwealth my colleagues opposite in particular have done a great deal to advantage their politics by confusion and by ignorance. They have maintained the situation that way. I am reminded tonight of the haphazard way in which we go about this matter by just looking at the Hansard of the day on which I first sat in this Parliament- 15 February 1956. The GovernorGeneral said on that occasion:
My advisers believe that the relations between the two Houses should be reviewed.
Quite a section followed which I would like to read but I have undertaken to my friends opposite not to speak at length so that we can get these Bills through this House and over to the other place. I believe that the changes about Senate elections are rational and necessary. I have some doubts in my own electorate that it is not to our advantage to have separate Senate elections because of the difficulty for the great migrant population to fill in ballot papers. I believe that it is also necessary to accustom people to vote rationally, so I think that is a necessary change.
I turn now to the question of the retirement of judges. It is a pity that such a thing has to be written into the Constitution by referendum. On the question concerning fellow citizens in the Territories, it is absolutely essential that they be made part of the whole system. It is a disgrace to the Australian political system that we even have to consider a referendum dealing with the filling of casual Senate vacancies. It is a reflection on my colleagues opposite who are part of the political system which created the crises 2 years ago that these Bills have to be introduced. Those people who say it is a cynical exercise are correct. I think it is an election-dodging exercise so far as Senate elections are concerned. I believe it is an effort on the part of my friends opposite to ensure that they never get caught in the same jam as we were in regard to the filling of Senate vacancies, and it is made as the people in the States vote increasingly for State Labor governments. Despite this cynicism, the legislation is necessary.
I put to the people who are listening and to the members of this Parliament that the continuity of change is essential for the good government of this country. We live under the most undemocratic constitutional document probably in existence. It is hard to imagine any other constitutional document which would confer upon one person, an appointed official, the powers which now lie with the Governor-General. He can dissolve the Parliament; has done so. He may prorogue the Parliament. He can decide on the meetings of Parliament. He can appoint and dismiss Ministers; he has done so. He can withhold assent to Bills. He can decide on messages of appropriation. He is the commander-in-chief. I am not suggesting that he will do all those things in the immediate future, but at midday on 11 November 1975 I did not think he would do what he did then. I believe that our Constitution is the most undemocratic constitutional document. I invite honourable members opposite to go to the Library and find some other person anywhere in a democratic society who has that authority.
There are other changes. We should embark upon a campaign to reduce the power of the Senate. It is a threat to the continuing stability of government, as the Governor-General said in 1956. He had a speech written for him by that other leading democrat, Sir Robert Menzies as he now is. It is essential that we change the numerical relationship between the 2 Houses. I think that is most important. It is nonsense that at times such as this, with the population increasing, we should be reducing the number of members of parliament. With the demands upon this Parliament increasing, we are reducing the number of members. A campaign is needed to get the message across. We need control of the economy. I think we need some machinery for co-operation rather than confrontation with the States. I say emphatically that the most important thing-I suggest the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) give thought to this- is the establishment of some machinery for a continuing campaign and information about the Constitution to the people of Australia.
I remind the House of our exercises in this regard. As my friend from Robertson said, I was an active participant in the campaign to change the Constitution and the powers of this Parliament in relation to Aboriginal people. We launched a campaign here, with petitions in May 1957. We kept it up with questions in the House, debates throughout the country, petitions from one end of the country to the other and meetings from one end of the country to the other. It was carried successfully, with a 93 per cent vote in 1967-10 years later. On the other hand, the nexus question was thrown to the people almost without any notice. I thought it would be carried. The political parties in my electorate- the Liberal Party and the Labor Party-supported it. A week before the referendum was to be held I was talking to some of my very solid Labor supporters. They said: ‘We will vote no’. I said: Why?’ They said: ‘We do not want to increase the number of members of Parliament’. I explained the technical question about the Senate. They said: ‘Is that true?’ I said: ‘Yes’. I ran off a few hundred leaflets over the weekend but they did not have any great result. The Australian Democratic Labor Party’s formidable campaign defeated the referendum. We were not prepared for it. I hope we do not fall into that trap this time. I hope we will set up an apparatus, adequately supported by government sources, to make sure that these referendums are carried.
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
– The Minister is on his feet to close the debate.
-I cannot call the Attorney-General while another member is standing, because the AttorneyGeneral, having presented the Bill in the first place, would close the debate. Therefore, if the honourable member for Hughes insists on taking the call, the call must be given to him. I call the honourable member for Hughes.
-I appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly -
– I understand that this debate has to be completed by 9.15 p.m., to allow the Bills to pass to the other House, after 4 divisions in which an absolute majority must be recorded. I ask, for the sake of common sense, that on this occasion the honourable member for Hughes forsake his right to speak. We had 3 Labor speakers in a row. Members on this side of the House stood down to allow members opposite to speak so that the Bills could go to the other chamber. I believe that we have been more than reasonable and have done the right thing by both sides of this Parliament
– As a responsible member of this House, I have a tendency to cooperate. I still have some resentfulness because this kind of thing is pulled far too often. This is a very important matter. As a long serving member, I would like to speak to the Bills. Because the
Opposition is intent on gaining the support of the community for this legislation, I will yield to the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott)
– in reply-I am very grateful to the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). Indeed, I am very grateful to all members for the way in which this debate has been conducted. There have been moments when there has been some looking backwards but basically this has been a very constructive debate. One of the reasons for the hurry in relation to this matter is that these Bills have to be passed by next week. They have to go to the Senate. The intention of the Government is that a referendum on these matters be held on 2 1 May. Under the Constitution a period of 2 months must elapse before there can be a referendum. It must be held within a period between the expiration of 2 months and the expiration of 6 months after the passage of the Bills through both Houses. I am grateful to all members of the House for being prepared to co-operate.
One of the main matters raised by members is the fact that the Government, when in Opposition, opposed the simultaneous elections referendum. There are a number of very good reasons why the Government’s attitude has changed. Honourable members will remember that in May 1974 those referenda were put to the people at a general election. The simultaneous elections referendum was part of a number of referenda. If honourable members recall, some of those referenda were of a nature that clearly no government of our political persuasion could agree to. Two of the better referenda, namely, that relating to simultaneous elections and that relating to electors of the Territories being able to vote on referenda, were mixed up with others. Therefore, in an election atmosphere there was little chance of being able to put matters to the electorate, in a way that would have enabled it to appreciate properly the various referenda.
– I take a point of order. We have surrendered our rights to speak and have reduced the length of our speeches, on the suggestion that the Bills have to pass the House by 9.15. The Attorney-General is taking up time by trying to explain his inexplicable behaviour in the past.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)There is no point of order.
– One of the referenda related to the Commonwealth taking over local government borrowings. Another related to electoral divisions being divided not according to the number of electors but according to equal numbers of people. That would have been a most confusing electoral division to have because the principle of one vote one value would not have been even approximately achieved. Probably under that proposal there would have been a SO per cent differential instead of one of 20 per cent. That was the sort of referendum that we had in 1 974. Was it any wonder that the previous Government could not sort the good from the bad. That proposal was like so many things that the previous Government did- some of them were good but they were mixed up with the bad so often.
Honourable members will remember that the previous Government also attempted to control the upper Houses and the electoral systems of the various States. As a result, it was not possible for the then Opposition to approve of these referenda. Now the right thing is being done. The referenda that we are now proposing are to be taken to the people in a proper atmosphere. I would suggest that the right time in which to hold a referendum is not at the time of a general election. The best time to hold a referendum is when people can give proper consideration to the matters that are being raised, when they are able to analyse the arguments, and decide what is the appropriate thing to do. That is precisely what the Government is now doing. These questions will be put in an atmosphere which is isolated from the heat of political battle that inevitably surrounds an election.
I think also that the events of 1975 support the desirability of the simultaneous election proposal. If the Senate is prepared to exercise its power to force the House of Representatives to the people, I believe that at least half of the senators ought also to face the people at that time. If this is done I believe that the Senate will be made a better and more responsible body. Some people will argue that such a proposal would detract from the Senate’s power. I do not believe that it would. Rather it will make the Senate more responsible.
Another matter that makes the simultaneous election proposal much more significant now is the fact that it was discussed and approved at the Australian Constitutional Convention in Hobart. As honourable members who were at the Convention will recall, this proposal was passed on the voices and it therefore appears to have had the unanimous support of all of who were there.
I would like now to draw attention to an argument I put forward in my second reading speech, namely as to the savings that will be made if simultaneous elections are held. At current costs a half Senate election would cost $5. 5m and a House of Representatives election would cost $5m. A joint election for the House of Representatives and half of the Senate would cost $6m. It is true that a referendum may cost $5m to $7m. Bearing in mind that we can anticipate at least 4 elections between 1978 and 198 1, obviously simultaneous elections would lead to a great deal of saving in public expenditure as well as in convenience to the public.
A number of points have been raised and I shall try to deal with them very quickly because we have very little time in which to pass these Bills. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) -
– The Attorney-General is supposed to wind this up by 9. 1 5 p.m.
-I want the vote to start in about 2 minutes. The honourable member for Hindmarsh very seriously raised a couple of matters for my attention. He was concerned with the introduction of the concept of political parties into the Constitution and he asked whether laws could be passed by the Parliament to define them. If the provision in respect of casual vacancies is accepted, it will in fact have the effect of giving to the High Court should the occasion arise the definition of a political party. The Government understands, and I believe that all honourable members understand, what a political party is. If we do not understand what a political party is, I doubt whether we understand what anything is. The problem of definition is not a very real one at all.
Questions were raised about what would happen to various senators whose seats were vacated. I do not want to refer to particular senators, but under the proposal if the seat of an independent candidate elected by the people is subsequently vacated, the Government or Parliament of the State he represented is responsible for filling his vacancy. They could choose anybody who had the qualifications of a senator to replace him. So under the proposal there is no binding provision relating to political party governing the replacement of an independent senator. In the case of a senator who changes his party the State parliament would choose a candidate from the Party to which the ex-senator belonged when he was elected. The basic principle is that the will of the people should prevail. This principle ought to be translated into the replacements following a casual vacancy.
We have, of course, adopted the view that the reason for the casual vacancy has no relevance. Indeed it has not. It may be that what brought about the casual vacancy can give rise to a great deal of public debate, as it has in this Parliament in the past. But that has nothing to do with the implementation of the principle, namely, that the people’s will ought to prevail in respect of the replacement. The fact that a senator vacates his seat for some unsatisfactory reason has nothing to do with the people. They choose a Liberal man, a Labor man, a National Country Party or an independent. That is what ought to be reflected in the act of replacement.
– I rise to order. Mr Speaker, prior to your resuming the Chair the Opposition was given an indication that it was imperative that this legislation should go to the Senate by 9. 1 5 p.m. On that basis the Opposition yielded or relinquished its opportunity to participate in the debate. May I now seek, through you, from the Minister an indication whether that requirement is no longer necessary in which event Opposition members would be prepared to speak on the third reading of the legislation?
-There is no point of order. The honourable gentleman is asking for information.
– What I said was that we needed to start voting at about 9.15 p.m. All I have been seeking to do -
– That is not what your Whip said.
- Mr Speaker, I have finished my remarks.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Ellicott) agreed to:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-As this Bill is one to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution must be observed. I therefore direct that the bells be rung. I would suggest that honourable members remain in their places for the time being.
The bells having been rung-
– I draw the attention of the House to the fact that because this Bill is a Bill which relates to an amendment of the Constitution it is necessary that it be passed with an absolute majority. It has been the practice in the past to prove that it has an absolute majority by calling for those who vote ‘aye’ to pass to the right of the Chair and those who vote ‘no ‘ to pass to the left of the Chair. As I interpret the mood of the House, everybody would vote ‘aye’. In those circumstances everybody being on the right of the chair would make it an impossible task for the tellers. On the other hand I have to require the House to tell me whether there is a dissentient voice because under the terms of the law there is an opportunity for those who are dissentients to state a case which will be circulated in a referendum. The question, which I have put already and which I must put again is: ‘That the Bill be now read a third time’. All those of that opinion ‘aye’, to the contrary ‘no’. I ask whether there is a dissentient voice in the chamber. There being no dissentient voice, I think it would meet the convenience of the House if I ruled that members remain in their place in order to be counted by the tellers for the ‘ayes’. I appoint the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) as tellers for the ‘ayes’ to record the names.
The following names were then recorded-
-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.
– Order! As 1 10 members have agreed to the third reading I declare that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 16 February, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Ellicott) agreed to:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I wish to inform the House that notwithstanding that the Bill has been passed on the third reading on the voices, because it is a Bill to amend the Constitution it requires to be passed by an absolute majority. I will therefore order that the bells be rung. Ring the bells.
The bells having been rung-
-Lock the doors.
The lights in the chamber havingfailed-
-The sitting is suspended until the ringing of the bells.
Sitting suspended from 9.33 to 10.18 p.m.
– I inform the House that I propose to ring the bells again. When the power failed we were at the point where the Bill had passed the third reading but for the purposes of recording an absolute majority it was necessary to ring the bells for 2 minutes. I am in the hands of the House. I think it would be appropriate to ring the bells for the 2 minutes, but if the House does not want that to happen I am prepared to forego it. I see there is a full attendance here.
- Mr Speaker, I just ask a question about something of which I have just thought. Would it be possible by a motion to suspend the Standing Orders for the 3 remaining Bills to be passed together?
-No. That would not be possible.
– You are counting the same numbers.
– That would not be possible. The Clerk has called on the second of the constitutional amendment Bills. I will not ring the bells for 2 mintues. I propose with the concurrence of the House, to appoint, not tellers, but 4 persons to record the votes of ‘aye’. The question before the House is ‘That the Bill be read a third time ‘ in respect of which we must establish whether there is an absolute majority. I appoint the honourable member for Griffith -
- Mr Speaker, may we have the doors locked, please?
– The honourable member for Burke has made a good point. Lock the doors. I am reminded by the Clerk that there is only one sheet on which the names can be recorded. Therefore I regret that I cannot appoint 4 recorders of names. I can appoint only two. I appoint the honourable member for Griffith and the honourable member for Hunter to record the names of those who vote aye.
The following names were recorded- (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden Q.C.)
During the recording of names-
- Mr Speaker, the honourable member for Wakefield is knocking at the door.
-The honourable member for Wakefield can make it clear tomorrow- or next Tuesday- that he intended to vote.
– With due respect, Mr Speaker, I point out that the bells have so far been rung for the House to resume but the bells have not been rung for a division in which case the honourable member for Wakefield may be entitled to enter the chamber.
– I have ruled that the recording of the names of the persons in favour of the motion will proceed. The whole of the House is in favour. What we need to do is to establish that there is an absolute majority.
- Mr Speaker, in consideration of the dilemma of the honourable member for Wakefield, I put it to you, sir, that the House traditionally locks the doors in the case of a division. Since there is no division of opinion there is no division and it seems to me there is no case for locking the doors.
The recording of names continuing-
- Mr Speaker, I do not believe that you checked when we returned to the House to establish whether all of the people here are supporting the proposal before the House. I have a sneaking suspicion there may be one or two among us who not realising what has happened do not now support the Bill. It may well prove that the Queensland Premier will challenge in the High Court your decision to proceed in this way and all of the progress we would hope would be made will be destroyed.
– Is there a dissentient voice in the House?
There being no dissentient voice and the recording of names being completed-
-As 108 members have agreed to the third reading I declare that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
-Order! It being after 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the Order of the House of 18 February 1976I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I require that the question be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
Consideration resumed from 16 February, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Ellicott) agreed to:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-As this Bill is a Bill to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution must be observed. I therefore direct that the bells be rung.
The bells having been rung-
-As I have informed the House already, as this is a constitution amendment Bill it requires that we record that there is an absolute majority. I propose to appoint persons to record those who vote ‘aye’. To facilitate the procedures of the House I have instructed the Clerk to provide 2 boards. I appoint the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) to count those honourable members sitting to the right of the Chair, and I appoint the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les
Johnson) to count those honourable member sitting to the left of the Chair.
During the recording of names-
-I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have not asked whether there is a dissentient voice.
-That is a good point. Is there a dissentient voice? I take it that everybody is voting ‘aye’.
– After the sitting was suspended after the lights went out, Mr Speaker, you informed honourable members that you would ring the bells, I understand, to re-assemble the House. The bells were rung to assemble the House and you then proceeded to count the ayes. The doors had been locked and there was no way for honourable members outside the chamber to enter the House and indicate whether any was a dissentient voice. I would like my remarks to be recorded in Hansard.
The following names were then recorded-
MrSpeaker-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.
-Order! As 1 12 members have agreed to the motion for the third reading, I declare that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 16 February, on motion by Mr Ellicott:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Ellicott) agreed to:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-As this is a Bill to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution must be observed. I therefore direct that the bells be rung.
The bells having been rung-
-The House has passed the third reading of the Bill but it is necessary to record the names of those honourable members who have supported the Bill. Is there a dissentient voice? There being no dissentient voice, I direct that all honourable members may remain in their places while the persons appointed record their names. I appoint the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) to record the names of honourable members voting ‘Aye ‘ who are sitting to the right of the Chair and I appoint the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) to record the names of the honourable members voting Aye ‘ who are sitting to the left of the Chair. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.)
-As 1 12 honourable members have agreed to the third reading I declare that the third reading has been agreed to by an absolute majority as required by the Constitution.
Bill read a third time.
House adjourned at 10.54 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
The information sought by the honourable member is not readily available. I am advised that officers of the Schools Commission are endeavouring to compile the information and as soon as this is complete I will write to the honourable member.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
What was the average enrolment of students in each class in (a) Government and (b) non-Government schools in the Electoral Division of Sydney during each year from 1970 to 1976 inclusive.
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
The information sought by the honourable member is not readily available. I am advised that officers of the Schools Commission are endeavouring to compile the information and as soon as this is complete I will write to the honourable member.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2), (3) and (4) The answers to these questions are provided in Attachment A.
Under the National Roads Act, the States are required to submit for approval to the Commonwealth Minister for Transport particulars of the work to be performed in respect of each project. In addition the States supply for information the estimated total cost of each project and the latest revised figure available has been included in Attachment A. Even in the case of completed projects, however, this estimate does not necessarily represent final expenditure on the project.
The ‘estimated date of completion’ in Attachment A is an approximate date only as progress on Export and Major Commercial Roads projects are subject to review by the States from time to time in the light of changing circumstances. Furthermore, although all Export and Major Commercial Roads projects in Attachment A have been approved under the Act, construction on some projects may not as yet have commenced.
The States normally provide estimates of expenditure for Maintenance on fixed segments of road. A breakdown into lengths corresponding to the construction projects covered in questions ( 1 ) and (3) is not therefore available.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following information to the honourable member’s question:
However, some information about expenditure is available for the division of Macarthur as below.
In respect of the calendar years 1974 and 1975 the information can be obtained from Report- States Grants (Schools) Act 1973-74: Financial Assistance Granted to Each State in 1974 and Report-States Grants (Schools) Act 1973: Financial Assistance Granted to Each State in 1975. Information in respect of financial years is not available. The only grants paid direct to government schools are those under the schools Commission’s Innovations Program. Grants for government schools in New South Wales are made available to the New South Wales Government. The distribution of grants is left to the New South Wales Minister for Education. In 1976 $83m was advanced to New South Wales for government school programs. The table below details grants paid to non-government schools, and those government schools which received assistance under the Innovations Program, in the electorate of Macarthur in 1976 under programs administered by the Schools Commission.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice:
– The Minister for Industry and Commerce has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Governments provides for the transfer by the Commonwealth, free of consideration, its shareholding and loan interests, in return for which the New South Wales Government has agreed to assume governmental support of the project.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
December 1975 and 30 June 1976, operating (Question No. 1091, Hansard, 21 October 1976,pages2173-4).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
New South Wales (7)
Bankstown; Glebe; Liverpool; Manly/ Warringah; Marrickville; Blacktown and Wagga Wagga.
Melbourne City and North Croydon.
South Australia (4)
Adelaide; North Adelaide; Ovingham and Whyalla.
Western Australia (2 )
North Perth and Fremantle.
Brisbane and Townsville.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Such comparisons are a complex task and of course do not take into account the relative importance of the respective points compared.
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
With reference to the answer provided to Question No. 1241, by whom are restrictions being considered and when will the restrictions be made public.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The A.C.T. Consumer Affairs Bureau is at present considering the most appropriate way of prohibiting the sale of child car seats and harnesses not certified to comply with Australian Standard 1754. This is as a result of a request from the A.C.T Consumer Affairs Council which is concerned about the sale of unapproved restraining devices in the Territory.
The Bureau is considering whether action can be taken under existing legislation or whether new legislation will be required. In the latter case the alternatives of specific legislation for child car seats and harnesses or general consumer product safety legislation will be examined.
Any restrictions imposed will be made known as soon as the necessary legislation is gazetted. In the interim the Consumer Affairs Council has issued a press release advising the public on how to select the approved restraining devices.
The Department of the Capital Territory will introduce legislation to amend the Motor Traffic Ordinance 1936 to require the wearing of approved restraints where fitted as soon as possible.
am asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
What new grants for 1976-77 will the Australian Government now make under the program for Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities as a result of its examination of the Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare and Health (Hansard, 6 October 1 976, page 1611).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Task Force on Co-ordination in Welfare, Health and Community Development has produced an interim report only and a full examination of its implications is still being undertaken. The interim report is due to be tabled this week and a follow-up group of officials has already been established for the continuing examination of the reports. The Task Force is now undertaking subsequent consultations with State and other interested groups. The timetable of these activities will obviously preclude any immediate initiatives on those programs in 1976-77 such as the Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities, which are under review by the Task Force. Consequently I am unable at this time to make any new grants under the Capital Assistance for Leisure Facilities for 1 976-77.
am asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 February 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19770217_reps_30_hor103/>.