30th Parliament · 2nd 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 Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the delays between the announcements of each quarterly movement in the Consumer Price Index and their application as a percentage increase in age and invalid pensions is excessive, unnecessary, discriminatory and a cause of economic distress.
That proposals to amend the Consumer Price Index by eliminating particular items from the Index could adversely affect the value of future increases in aged and invalid pensions and thus be a cause of additional economic hardship to pensioners.
The foregoing facts impel your petitioners to ask the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Jenkins and Dr Klugman.
Petition to the Honourable the Speaker, and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth humbly showeth that the undersigned are deeply concerned:
That abortion is the destruction of innocent human life.
That on 10 May 1973, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected the Medical Practices Clarification Bill, which sought to legalise abortion on demand in the Territories controlled by the Federal Government.
That the Legislative Assembly in Canberra should consult Parliament again before discussing and debating the opening and operations of Population Services International and Preterm Foundation in Canberra.
That the situation regarding abortions in the Australian Capital Territory is the same as that in New South Wales where the statute prohibits abortion but allows a defence.
That the situation in the Australian Capital Territory has a great impact on situations in the states.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Federal Government will act immediately to prevent the establishment and/or operation of Population Services International and Preterm Foundation, and other private clinics, in the Australian Capital Territory.
That taxpayers’ money may not be used, through Medibank, to finance abortions.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Braithwaite.
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:
Whereas there is mounting evidence that some 60 000, perhaps as many as 100 000 East Timorese may have been killed since the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces; and
Whereas a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 December 1975, stated that it ‘strongly deplores the military intervention of the armed forces of Indonesia in Portugese Timor’ and ‘calls upon the Government of Indonesia to desist from further violation of the territorial integrity of Portuguese Timor and to withdraw without delay its armed forces from the Territory in order to enable the people of the Territory freely to exercise their right to self-determination and independence ‘; and
Whereas Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrew Peacock, in a statement to the House of Representatives on 4 March 1976, described Australia’s policy on East Timor as ‘clear’ and calling for ‘the withdrawal of Indonesian troops’, ‘a cessation of hostilities’, ‘the implementation of an act of self-determination and a resumption of humanitarian aid through the International Committee of the Red Cross’;
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Brown.
Royal Commission on Petroleum
The petition of certain members of the Service Station Association of N.S.W. Ltd, and certain members of the motoring public of N.S.W. respectfully sheweth:
That the Federal Government give every consideration to implementing the findings of the Royal Commission on Petroleum.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will take action to ensure that the needs of the motoring public and the retail petroleum industry are given every consideration.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
Your petitioners humbly pray that your Honourable House will take every step necessary to ensure that:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the existence of a system of double taxation of personal incomes whereby both the Australian Government and State Governments had the power to vary personal income taxes would mean that taxpayers who worked in more than one State in any year would:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a system of double income tax on personal incomes be not introduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister able or willing to comment on the assertion in a devastating article yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, the most influential financial newspaper in the world, that the decision to devalue, which it described as disastrous, was taken against official advice and solely on his whim?
-The best description of the devaluation was one used by a journalist for the Melbourne Age, but he was in fact referring to the devaluation of my predecessor. If he had judged the devaluation that we undertook in the same terms, he would have used the same terms and praised it very highly as an advanced and foresighted move. The decision that we took, as has been stated on many occasions in this House, was taken having received advice from our official advisers. As all honourable gentlemen know, 2 options were given to us. We chose the option of devaluation because the currency, as a result of excessive wage claims, of excessive government spending of previous times and of the inflation thus caused, had become over-valued and very plainly adjustments were necessary.
I would believe that events that have occurred since then have indicated very plainly the wisdom and farsightedness of the Government’s move. More and more people in Australia are coming to accept it in that light. The main complaint, that I think I got at the time, was that a number of people said: ‘Well, look, we knew you were going to have to devalue, but we thought you would devalue in April or something like that and we were making our dispositions accordingly’. If we had waited until April, imagine how many people would have been saying: ‘Couldn’t you have seen the signs? Why didn’t you do it last November?’ We in fact did do it then. Since then there has been wide recognition in manufacturing industry that the devaluation has given it a greater chance to compete again. At the same time there has been a complete settling down in the capital markets and the speculations that were going on have utterly disappeared.
Investment decisions are coming forward. I refer to the $600m proposal announced by Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia a day or two ago, which the Chairman of Directors said quite plainly was in part attributable to the decision to devalue; the Norwich Park decision; the Alwest proposal; and the Alcan proposal for a $70m expansion of its refineries. All of those matters indicate greater optimism in the future and full justification of the wisdom of the Government’s move. If I might predict it, I also believe that other information that might be made available to this Parliament and to Australia at a later time could well point in the same direction- complete justification of the Government’s decision in repairing the damage done by the honourable gentleman.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications been drawn to a sadistic, brutal attack upon a young married woman in Hotham Street, Elsternwick that might have been avoided if 2 telephone boxes where she endeavoured to ring a taxi had not been rendered inoperative by obviously sick, senseless vandals? Will the Minister inform the House how often telephone boxes are inspected for damage? Is vandalism of telephone boxes reaching an unbelievable level? Are any positive steps being taken, including the imposition of heavier penalties, to overcome this serious problem? Will the Minister please report to the House in due course when the boxes in the area mentioned were last inspected?
– My attention was drawn to the regrettable episode that occurred in Melbourne. I am concerned, as the community would be concerned, when this sort of attack occurs. The House ought to know that vandalism of public telephones in Australia presently costs about $3m. I think the figure for Melbourne is of the order of about two-thirds of a million dollars. The honourable member asked me when these telephones are checked. They are, of course, checked automatically by the people wishing to use them. Secondly, they are checked by cleaners, coin collectors and technical staff attached to the local exchanges. Regrettably the public does not inform us quickly enough when some of these boxes are out of order.
What are we doing about the matter? The Australian Telecommunications Commission has a new program that will be to a great extent vandal proof. The instrument itself will not be so easily subjected to vandalism and when vandalism occurs an automatic signal- a beep- will occur in the local exchange, which means that the repairs will be hastened. The exchange will be informed automatically that that telephone is out of order. It is regrettable that the incidence of vandalism has grown. Whilst we are getting this program off the ground- I regard it as a matter of some importance- the public could help us tremendously by advising us as soon as possible that telephones are out of order.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Queensland Premier has said that the recent Premiers Conference agreed that primary produce would be exempted from the price-wage freeze? Was the Queensland Premier correct? If so, does the Prime Minister agree that contrary statements made by him and the Treasurer both inside and outside the Parliament are misleading?
– I speak for this Government on these matters and we indicated that there would be no exceptions in these matters.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not a matter of what statements were made. The question that I asked the Prime Minister was -
– Order! There is no point of order.
– I asked him -
-There is no point of order. The honourable gentleman well knows -
– The reply must be relevant to the question.
-The Prime Minister is entitled to answer the question as he chooses. The House will make its judgment as to the answer.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security aware that the handling of inquiries received from members of the Federal and State parliaments by the Department of Social Security in Western Australia has been banned as a result of industrial action by staff associations? Does the Minister realise that many pensioners and social service recipients rely on members of Parliament for assistance in their dealings with that Department? Can the Minister indicate what action will be taken by the Government to overcome the callous disregard of the needs of pensioners by the staff of the Department of Social Security in Western Australia?
– The honourable member raised this point with me yesterday. I have made inquiries of the Minister for Social Security to ascertain the position and to clarify some of the questions that have arisen. The answer to the first 2 questions is yes. The Minister for Social Security indicated in another place on Tuesday that discussions on these matters raised in the honourable gentleman’s question were to be held between the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association and the Public Service Board and senior officers from the Department of Social Security. As a result of those discussions an offer was made to Mr Campbell. It was made jointly by the Board and the Department, and it was 3-pronged. If honourable gentlemen will just bear with me for a minute I would like to read those 3 prongs because they are of considerable interest to the public generally. The first is the immediate approval by the Board of an additional 218 positions in response to the Department’s case put to the Board on 7 February 1977. These positions include 97 to restore the pools for training purposes to their 1975 level, plus 50 to undertake quarterly review of unemployment benefits, 36 to strengthen internal audit and field officer staff, 25 to strengthen the staff working in recovery of overpayments and 10 for automatic data processing planning. In addition the Board is recommending that the Department retain permanently 90 staff from the 150 it gained temporarily to undertake the additional work associated with moving from the means test to the income test for pensioners. This 90 staff will be applied to what are called form R reviews.
The second offer was evidence that the Department is moving actively with its staff improvement program directed to restoring its training program, reviewing outdated systems and methods, updating its computer programs, equipment and so on. It was also indicated that an immediate examination would be made as to whether additional relief positions are required. The Board has agreed to participate in this exercise with the Department.
– Order! I interrupt the Minister to draw his attention to the fact that a detailed answer of this kind is a waste of the time of the House.
– I am almost finished in respect of Western Australia. Mr Campbell claims that the Department needs an additional 60 relief positions in Western Australia immediately. He has made it clear that the situation will be examined again about the end of June. I seek leave to incorporate this information in Hansard as a true record.
-Perhaps the request ought to have been made before the answer was given. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The Minister for Social Security indicated in another place on Tuesday that discussions on the matters raised in the honourable gentleman’s question, were to be held yesterday between the ACOA and the Public Service Board and senior officers from the Department of Social Security. As a result of those discussions an offer was made to Mr Campbell.
The offer to Mr Campbell made jointly by the Board and the Department was three-pronged:
immediate approval by the Board of an additional 218 positions in response to this Departments case put to the Board on 7 February 1977. These positions include 97 to restore the pools for training purposes to their 1975 level, plus 50 to undertake quarterly review of unemployment benefits, 36 to strengthen our internal audit and field officer staff, 25 to strengthen our staff working on recovery of overpayments and 10 for ADP planning. In addition the Board is recommending that we retain permanently 90 staff from the 1 50 we gained temporarily to undertake the additional work associated with moving from the means to the income test for pensioners. This 90 staff will be applied to Form R Reviews. The final approval of them, however, depends on the IDC on Staff Ceilings;
evidence that the Department is moving actively with its staff improvement program directed to restoring our training program, reviewing out-dated systems and methods, up-dating our computer programs and equipment etc. This will be long term before any effect emerges;
an immediate examination as to whether additional relief positions are required. The Board has agreed to participate in this exercise with the Department. Mr Campbell claims that the Department needs an additional 60 relief positions in Western Australia immediately. However, as it is likely that portion of the total staff in each State (e.g. 785 in Western Australia) includes an allocation for relief positions the first thing the examination will need to do is to determine in what way any relief positions that exist at present are being utilised.
Mr Campbell made it clear the situation would be examined again about the end of June.
– I ask the Prime Minister again whether he is aware that the Queensland Premier has said that the recent Premiers Conference agreed that primary produce would be exempted from the price and wage freeze. Is the Queensland Premier correct?
– The Premiers Conference did not discuss exemptions. It made no agreement about any exemptions. The attitude of the Commonwealth Government and the attitude as understood by Premiers, I am sure, was that the freeze would cover all wages, prices, incomes, rents, dividends and the rest. We have made that plain. I think the honourable gentleman should know because it is on the record. The great disappointment in this question is that the honourable gentleman I think was about the first spokesman for the Australian Labor Party to try to destroy the basis of the wage and price freeze. He was about the first spokesman to try to spread abroad the view that a wage freeze was a quite unfair return for a price freeze. That does no credit to him or to other members of his Party who have adopted that view as opposed to the view adopted by the Leader of the Opposition, who would have given it a go.
– I rise to a point of order.
-Opposition members come in here and they just cannot take it for half a moment.
– My point of order, Mr Speaker, is that the Prime Minister keeps referring to a price freeze when in this House the staff canteen is putting up prices this week. He ought to look at his own backyard.
-There is no point of order.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry been drawn to a report that the Mayor of Kiama, a dairy farmer in my electorate, has had to resign from that office because of the savage impact the New South Wales Government’s cutting of milk quotas has had on his income? Is any method available to the Federal Government to provide some relief to those New South Wales dairy farmers, who are now having an asset for which many of them paid dearly- their milk quota- taken away without any compensation whatsoever? Can any Federal pressure be brought to bear on the New South Wales Government to end this injustice to this hard working section of the Australian people?
-I know the honourable gentleman to be most solicitous of the welfare of his constituents. Indeed, the question indicates yet again the problems that lie in the overlap of responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States in the field of agriculture. At a time when the manufacturing sector of the Australian dairy industry has been in such difficulties, the changes introduced by the New South Wales Government have led to a position where the regular supply of milk to the New South Wales market, particularly the whole milk market, is being changed dramatically without any compensation being paid to those who have been suppliers under what is known as the BMQ supply system. The changes mean that at some time of future drought or seasonal adversity in New South Wales there may be very significant supply problems for the city milk area. The consequences in individual milk quotas to dairy farmers are as the honourable gentleman has suggested.
Unfortunately, the New South Wales Government has not been at all forthcoming in other areas of assistance to the dairy industry. Not only is it changing the basis of market milk supply without providing any compensation, which is in marked contrast to the system introduced in Victoria where compensation is to be provided, but it has also refused to contribute in the underwriting that is available for skim milk powder and casein on a basis that is supported in every other State. The New South Wales Government’s lack of concern for agriculture is to be expected, of course, when its colleagues in the Federal House did so much to destroy the rural sector during the time they were in office here.
At the moment we are in the process of drafting legislation which will lead to the introduction of stage 1 of the Industries Assistance Commission Crawford report on recommended changes for the marketing of dairy products. We feel that at the Federal level that will be yet another demonstration of the efforts we are making to overcome the traumas in the market place for the Australian dairy farmer. I can assure the honourable gentleman that in spite of the shortfalls of individual State governments, we will do all we can at this level to correct the disabilities of Australia ‘s dairy farmers.
-I preface my question to the Minister for Transport by drawing attention to the fact that in early 1975 the then Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Connor, drew my attention to the fact that Australia was very rapidly running out of oil reserves, that the import cost of replacements was very great, and that there was a need to electrify Australian railways. Arising out of that meeting, a decision was taken by the Government-
-The honourable gentleman will come to his question.
– The then Government engaged the French national rail consultants, Sofrerail, to carry out a study into the electrification of Australian rail. I ask the Minister: Having in mind the importance of the contents of President Carter’s recent announcement on energy, has that study been completed by Sofrerail? If so, when can we expect the report to be tabled in the Parliament so that all honourable members will be aware of the need to electrify rail in Australia?
– The matter which the honourable member raises is, of course, important. I am aware of the initiative he took as Minister for Transport to have the study made of the cost of electrification-
– He was a good Minister, too.
– There can be argument about that, so in the presence of Mr Speaker I will not enter into a debate. The facts are that the honourable member for Newcastle as Minister took an initiative to refer this matter to study to see whether the cost of electrification of rail services was a viable alternative to the present railway system. I am not sure whether the study is completed.
– It is.
– I thank the honourable member for the information. I will make sure that my Department gets a report to me on it as quickly as possible so I can give the honourable member the information he seeks.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that air traffic controllers have been directed to stop work for 12 hours tomorrow to consider a proposal that the national stoppage be extended for 7 days if their claims are not met? Do their claims include a 36 per cent increase in their wages award? Is it true that air traffic controllers command salaries of up to $ 1 8,500 per annum, including shift penalties and allowances, for a 35-hour working week? Will the stoppage cause serious losses for airlines and inconvenience to the air travelling public particularly in Victoria and Queensland on the eve of the school holidays? What measures are being taken to avert this stoppage? If the Minister has the power to stand down air traffic controllers who stop work, will he do so, if necessary, to ensure that the Australian travelling public is not held to ransom by minority militant action such as this?
-It is a fact that the air traffic controllers have a claim before the Public Service Board for a 36 per cent increase in their award salaries. It is also a fact that the average wage earned by air traffic controllers at the moment is at about the $18,000 mark for a 35-hour week and with many other reasonable conditions. I say that in the mildest manner. On 19 April, the Public Service Board advised the Civil Air Operations Officers Association of Australia that the earliest it could consider the pay claim would be the week beginning 2 May 1977. The curious thing is that on 20 April, the very next day, the Civil Air Operations Officers Association decided that unless a satisfactory response to its pay claim was received from the Public Service Board a national stoppage of air traffic controllers would be held for 12 hours from 12 noon tomorrow. So this decision was taken the day after the Association was advised that it was impossible for the Board to listen to its claim until about 3 May.
The action of the air traffic controllers is regrettable. It will cause a great deal of inconvenience to the travelling public. It will be costly for individuals and the airlines. The matter is presently before a Public Service Board arbitrator who has called a compulsory meeting this morning at 1 1 o ‘clock to try to find a way to avert this proposed stoppage. I hope that reason will prevail, that the men will continue to work and let the proper arbitral processes proceed. The air traffic controllers should let the Public Service Board make a proper judgment in a cool atmosphere and not have the matter heated up by industrial trouble. I believe that the decision taken by the air traffic controllers is not in the best interests of either themselves or this nation as a whole. I would urge them not to undertake their strike and to let the Public Service Board make its proper judgment in the way it ought to do.
– My question is directed to you, Mr Speaker. I refer, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred, to the Prime Minister’s direction that all prices be frozen and to the fact that the Prime Minister on Tuesday of last week and the Treasurer the day before yesterday said that there would be no exceptions, not even in regard to primary produce. I therefore ask you: Are you aware that the price of bananas in the non-members’ canteen has varied in recent days as follows: On Monday they were 10c each; on Tuesday they were 15c each; and yesterday they were 15c each. Is this not a very slippery decision? What steps will you take to ensure that the freeze is observed in its place of conception, namely here in Parliament House?
-This significant matter was brought to my attention yesterday. I have caused the most extensive inquiries to be made about the variations in the price of bananas in the canteen. I have learnt that in fact the price did vary. I have given instructions that it is not to vary in the future. Although the price will not vary, I can give no undertakings about the bananas. Without the help of the honourable member for Port Adelaide, who is interjecting, I shall conclude my answer. I have given instructions that investigations be made to see whether all prices in Parliament House can be held at the present level. I shall consult with the President of the Senate with whom I share the chairmanship of the Joint House Committee. After those discussions take place I shall report to the House.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Are any Australian officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs in East Timor? If so, why are they there and what is their task?
-There are 2 officers from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta presently visiting East Timor. Their visit will extend from 26 April to 30 April. It is hoped that the visit might provide us with some first hand information about the use of the Australian contribution to the Indonesian Red Cross for humanitarian assistance in East Timor. The visit is also partly to start preliminary local preparations for a visit to East Timor by a team of Australian officials from the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. That visit was announced by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 30 March, and it has been approved.
In arranging the visit it was made clear to Indonesia that the discussions and the visit did not amount to recognition of the integration of East Timor into Indonesia. I have seen articles in newspapers which imply, if not state, that any dealings with Indonesia on a matter such as this amount to de facto recognition. To put it mildly, that is a viewpoint which flows from illiteracy or ignorance. There can in fact be 3 stages in the recognition process. There can in fact be intercourse between states without recognition. A will for recognition is required on the part of the government examining the question of whether there should be recognition. I have said in the past regarding de facto recognition that any ambiguity which exists is implicit in the term and, so far as this matter is concerned, not in the Government’s policy. As I have said, nonrecognition does not necessarily signify nonintercourse. There has to be a will on the part of the recognising body. There are numerous examples in public international law for this statement.
As is well known, and as I have said today, there can be 3 stages in the recognition process. The first stage is informal relations on a nonrecognition basis as distinct from de facto recognition. The second is de facto recognition. The third is de jure recognition. Any of those steps can be chosen at any time. Furthermore, the 2 officers are expected to travel quite extensively in East Timor and to provide us with an opportunity to make an independent assessment of the situation.
– My question, which I address to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, relates to the proposed national companies and securities legislation. Is it a fact that the agreement reached with State Ministers responsible for corporate affairs to establish a scheme to regulate this entire industry will do nothing more than institutionalise existing fraudulent and deceitful abuse and malpractice? Will the Minister call a conference of State and Territorial officials concerned with the administration, enforcement and prosecution of the laws dealing with the securities industry to flush out the weaknesses and deficiencies which are rife so that at least his attempt at national legislation may stand some chance of being efficient and effective?
-The answer to the first question asked by the honourable gentleman is no. The honourable gentleman knows, as do other members of this House who have studied this matter closely, that one of the principal deficiencies in the present situation is the absence of a national enforcement body and the incapacity of individual State organisations to act effectively.
– But the Minister -
– The honourable gentleman has asked a serious question. If he wants a serious answer he will keep quiet. The real weakness, as the honourable gentleman knows, is the absence of a national regulatory authority. The scheme agreed to in principle by the Commonwealth and the States does propose the establishment of a national regulatory authority and the honourable gentleman well knows that.
The second question raised by the honourable gentleman really is whether the existing legislation and what might be proposed by the future legislation are adequate to cope with the matters that cause the honourable gentleman concern. I understand him to be suggesting that, in the context of establishing this legislation, there should be a study made of the problems. I will consider whether it is necessary in the course of establishing this legislation for any further studies to be made on a co-operative basis between the Commonwealth and the States regarding that issue.
-I direct my question to the Minister for the Capital Territory. Is the Minister aware that a select committee of the New South Wales Parliament has recommended that gaol sentences be abolished for the use of or possession of cannabis, more commonly known as marihuana? Is it a fact that in the Australian Capital Territory the maximum penalty for the use of or the possession of less than 25 grams of cannabis is a fine of $100? Is he aware of any problems arising from the absence of gaol penalties for this offence in the Australian Capital Territory? Finally, has he received any complaints from the Festival of Light?
– It is a fact that the penalty for the use of marihuana in small quantities in the Australian Capital Territory is a maximum fine of $ 100. There is no gaol penalty. I have not been advised of any specific problems that have occurred in the Territory as a result of the fact that there is no gaol sentence for users of small quantities of marihuana. I am not aware either of any representations from the Festival of Light or from anyone else on this matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. The Minister would have heard that the Queensland Government decided this week to allow the Australian National Line unrestricted access to intrastate trade in competition with the railways. Can the Minister advise what effect this will have on the Australian National Line’s decision to withdraw from the Port Alma and Mackay port trade after a trial period? What legislation will be necessary to give effect to this decision?
-The information that the Queensland Government had agreed to the Australian National Line calling at intrastate ports was conveyed to me yesterday by the Queensland Minister for Railways, the Honourable Keith Hooper. I informed him that the news was very welcome. I am sure that the honourable member for Dawson and the honourable member for Capricoraia- I must mention the lot, having mentioned one-
-The honourable gentleman must be relevant to the question.
-Mr Speaker, let me say that I know that all honourable members from Queensland will welcome the news. It will make a very big difference to ANL capacity on the route. It will be able to provide a much better and, I hope, a much more regular service than it has been able to give in the past. I congratulate the Queensland Government for the far sighted attitude it has taken on this matter. I assume that the Premier of Queensland will be writing to the Prime Minister in the next few days to confirm the information that was given to me. I am not sure what legislative requirements will be necessary. There may simply be administrative requirements, but I will keep the honourable member informed on that aspect of his question. In respect to ANL capacity to continue to call at ports such as Mackay, I will take up the question with ANL to see what difference it will make to the projected loadings it thinks it will be able to obtain in and out of that particular port. I know that the honourable gentleman has been very thorough in his representations to me to ensure that ANL maintains its service into Mackay, as has the honourable member for Capricornia concerning the port of Rockhampton. I will take up this question with ANL and keep both honourable members informed.
– I ask a question of the Treasurer. Has he noted a statement on the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio program AM this morning claiming that the Wall Street Journal says that the devaluation strategy of the Government last year not only has failed but also has made a further devaluation now seem likely? Has the Treasurer noted the releases from the Reserve Bank of Australia concerning assets and liabilities which show that at the end of January gold and foreign exchange holdings exceeded $2998m and at the end of March had fallen to $28 19m, a loss of $180m? In the light of that movement and in the light of the statement reported on AM this morning, can the Treasurer give any reassuring comments to the House and the community to dispel the concern which is likely to flow from the statements on AM, reinforced by the knowledge of these movements of overseas gold and foreign exchange holdings?
-The honourable gentleman, who has become well known for his constant probing of this aspect of the Australian economy and recent economic developments, continues to seek to be as destructive on this issue as, in fact, he has been before. I must say to the honourable gentleman that his question about devaluation is a question about yesterday’s news by one of yesterday’s men. He will understand what I am saying by that. The Prime Minister has answered a question about devaluation already in the chamber today. The Prime Minister’s response was characteristically impeccable. There is no need to add to it except to reaffirm that the question of devaluation was a decision taken by the Government against the inevitability of the position fostered by the speculation of the honourable gentleman and against- as the Prime Minister mentioned specifically and firmly in the House today- the increasing lack of competitiveness of Australian industry as a direct consequence of the wage-push policies of the former Administration.
The honourable gentleman unfortunately has a very bad sense of timing- that is also becoming a characteristic of the honourable gentlemanbecause shortly, at 12 noon, the latest consumer price index figures will come out. Unlike honourable gentlemen on the other side of the House I have no intention of breaking the embargoes which apply to them. When the honourable member sees those figures he will again seek to distort them, but the general public, the House and community at large will see those figures for what they reveal. If the honourable gentleman is taking some thrust from me as to what they might reveal that is a matter of judgment and to some degree speculation. But of course I do not reveal the figures here. As for the position about official reserve assets, of course at the end of March they stood at some $2,999m. As the honourable gentleman might be aware, that is an increase of $3 15m since the end of November 1976. Again I observe the fact that the honourable gentleman, for his own political purposes, is seeking to make comments in an area in which he knows that speculation is not consistent with the national interest.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Is it true that a Russian student has recently applied for political asylum in Australia? Will he be granted it? If so, when? If not, why not?
– At present a group of Russian students and ex-students is visiting Australiasome thirty in all. They are here as part of an exchange program with the Australian Union of Students. It is true that a member of the visiting Russian party applied for political asylum. There has been a decision that political asylum was not appropriate but during the course of interviews a prima facie case for migrant entry was established. I have decided that the student should be given temporary entry while that case is examined in detail.
– I ask the Treasurer a question. It emerged from the last answer that the right honourable gentleman gave that between the end of November and the end of March Australia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves increased by $351m. But in the 9 weeks between the end of January and the end of March they fell by $ 180m- that being the figure emerging from the Reserve Bank’s weekly statement of 4 April. Since there must have been 3 further weekly statements by the Reserve Bank I ask the right honourable gentleman: Do the later figures justify or refute the Wall Street Journal’s assertion that devaluation failed to achieve its objective of an influx of foreign investment?
– I certainly refute the inference by the honourable gentleman. It is a fact of life of course that if one looks at the immediate shortterm impact of devaluation one must have regard for the leads and lags in the system. To some extent the unwinding of those leads and lags in the system has not taken its final effect. If the honourable gentleman wants to quote authorities here and there I just take the opportunity, only in passing and quite gently, to remind the honourable gentleman of what one of Australia’s leading economic consulting services, the Philip Shrapnel organisation, said yesterday.
– He trained in the Reserve Bank.
– As the Prime Minister says, he trained in the Reserve Bank. That organisation said: … we were able to confirm that the recovery in business activity in Australia is now clearly under way in spite of exaggerated claims in the Press that all kinds of doom and disaster would overtake the economy because of the devaluation.
Mr Shrapnel goes on to say:
The whole thing has been handled beautifully -
Opposition members- Ha, ha!
– Opposition members may laugh at that. I repeat that he said:
The whole thing has been handled beautifully, and we believe the new flexible exchange rate policy and the controls on capital inflow will continue to be handled just as smoothly.
As for the question of overseas capital, I have already given some figures to the House in relation to those projects that are moving at the present time. What honourable gentlemen on the other side of the House always fail to appreciate because of their lack of understanding of the processes of free enterprise is that major projects in Australia are subject to a considerable lag time. Therefore, no one except the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was under any misapprehension about being engulfed by huge flows of capital coming to Australia. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to probe this in the early weeks following devaluation. But I notice that he has been uncharacteristically silent in recent days in relation to this particular point.
– Can the Minister for Transport indicate when the south bound freight equalisation scheme for Tasmania will be introduced? Will the schedule of products qualifying for assistance under that scheme include fruit and vegetables shipped to Tasmania from the mainland?
-Administrative arrangements for the introduction of the south bound freight equalisation scheme are almost completed. I point out to the honourable member that there is a retrospectivity about the scheme so manufacturers in Tasmania will be able to take advantage of that. With regard to the second part of the question which related to fruit and vegetables, I would have to look at the schedules as proposed to be able to advise the honourable member more fully. I do not believe at this point that those particular products would be eligible.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr Speaker. In the debate yesterday in the House of Representatives, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) in his speech on the matter of public importance which he proposed for discussion quoted me as saying that the Federal Government washes its hands of any responsibility for a migrant once he arrives in Australia and that I had gone on record with the view that ethnic affairs are not a concern of the Federal Government. The Leader of the Opposition drew for his assertions on the transcript of the Conference of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Ministers in Melbourne on 22 October 1976. 1 would like to set the record straight.
During discussion of an item dealing with ‘Methods Used in the States for consultation with the Ethnic Communities’, the New South Wales Minister, Mr Jackson, circulated to Ministers an extract from a High Court judgment that in regard to immigrants the Commonwealth had constitutional responsibility and power and that the States do not have it. The judgment included the statement ‘once an immigrant, always an immigrant’. I then made a statement which the Leader of the Opposition misquoted. I was saying in effect that as migrants become integrated in the community they become a fundamental part of the community in the State in which they live and cannot and should not and would not wish forever and for all things to be subjected to special Commonwealth legislation. Typically, the Leader of the Opposition conveniently and deliberately omitted to finish the quotation from the transcript. The sentence finished with ‘or when does it become a joint responsibility?’ The whole quote is: ‘When does this process of integration finish, when does a migrant cease to be a migrant, and when does the Commonwealth responsibility finish, or when does it become a joint responsibility?’
The deliberate omission of that last part of the sentence by the Leader of the Opposition to support a totally false assertion is a measure of his integrity.
-Order! The Minister will not argue the matter.
– There is no notion in my mind or in anything I have ever said or the Government has ever said that we are not interested in the welfare and settlement of migrants. The Liberal-Country Party Government in the late 1960s established a settlement division within the Department of Immigration. This Government has established an ethnic affairs unit within the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs -
-Mr Speaker, the Minister is not just correcting any misrepresentation now; he is making the speech that he should have made yesterday.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is guilty of the same offence- of arguing the matter. The Minister is not entitled to argue the matter. I think he has already adequately stated the misrepresentation and its correction.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Court Proceedings: Parliamentary Privilege-Sales of Homes to Migrants -Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act-Sport and Politics -Fishing in Territorial Waters- Animal Quarantine-Unemployment: Loans for Capital Works -Taxation
That grievances be noted.
– My grievance relates to the conduct of persons involved in proceedings brought in the Queanbeyan Court of Petty Sessions against me, the honourable member for
Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns), the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) and Mr Justice Murphy. Through those proceedings and successive petitions to the House an attempt is being made to subvert executive and parliamentary privilege as hitherto applied in this country. The proceedings have been launched by Mr Danny Sankey, a Sydney solicitor. The petitions have been lodged on 21 October 1975, 25 February and 9 December 1976 and 24 March 1977 through the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), his local member. They ask that the proceedings and documents and officials of this House be made available in proceedings before a magistrate to commit me and others for trial on criminal charges.
This is not the first time that Mr Sankey and his counsel, Mr David Rofe, Q.C, have striven to subvert parliamentary privilege. They appeared for John Giles Bourke in a defamation action against Mr Neville Wran for statements he made in speaking to an urgency motion he moved as Leader of the Opposition on 10 September 1974. These proceedings were dismissed on 2 December 1 974 by Mr Justice Lee, who, incidentally, had once sought to enter this House when he stood against me in 1954. The question of privilege was raised by me at the very outset of the proceedings of 9 July 1975 which Mr Sankey and Mr Rofe are trying to bring before a court. In moving that the matter of overseas loan proceedings be considered by the House I stated:
The privileges of this Parliament fully protect members who believe that their information, even partial information, even suspect information, would warrant making specific charges of impropriety against Ministers which the laws of defamation might render dangerous if made outside. Here allegations can be made, persons can be named and documents can be produced with impunity and immunity. It is not only a privilege which Parliament bestows but a responsibility which it imposes.
On 11 November 1975 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) undertook in a letter to the Governor-General:
There will be no royal commissions or inquiries into the activities of the previous Government throughout the period of the election campaign.
He knew that at least one inquiry into the activities of the previous Government was already being pursued by the Premier of Queensland through Mr Wiley Fancher. Mr Sankey thereupon issued summonses on 20 November returnable on 8 December. The court proceedings and the petitions were not mentioned in this House until 16 March 1976 when, in answer to a question ostensibly without notice, the Prime Minister expressed the opinion that it would be somewhat doubtful whether the Commonwealth
Government could claim Crown privilege and then volunteered an attack on me personally.
In the National Times a week later Mr Sankey invited the Attorney-General to take over the proceedings. The same request has later been made by Mr Rofe in the court itself. Much harm has been done to me and the other defendants because these proceedings have been launched by a private individual, albeit a solicitor, and pursued by a private prosecutor. The normal procedure in criminal cases is for prospective defendants to be interviewed by police so that their statements may be considered before informations are laid. That did not happen in this case. Moreover, a police or Crown prosecutor is bound and compelled to be dispassionate and impartial in his conduct of the committal proceedings. Mr Rofe’s comments in court and in legal and journalistic circles have shown him to be highly partisan; he appears as for a party in litigation. A journalist of the greatest experience and highest reputation in Australia and overseas has written this account of a conversation at the Nineteenth Hole restaurant in Canberra on 22 October last:
Because I happened to be sitting near an old friend I was asked to meet ‘two distinguished legal men from Sydney’. They were junior Barrister, Mr Timothy Murphy, a young man in his first Sydney practice who enthusiastically told me of the big case he had attended at the Court of Petty Sessions at Queanbeyan that day. He introduced me to his friend and colleague, ‘a Sydney Q.C, Mr David Rofe’. They both began to tell me, at some length, that the Australian news media were very slow in ‘missing the biggest case since Watergate- and the biggest cover-up job in Australia of Watergate quality, which had now reached an important stage. I remarked that the journalists probably did not see any great importance in the case, and that it was probably just a political stunt. Mr Rofe Q.C. assured me that it was only the beginning and was completely unprecedented .. . As to the documents being produced by the Crown, surely, I said, the Attorney-General being a legal man would resist this proposal, especially as it is unprecedented. To this they replied: The Prime Minister wanted the issues fully aired but that Ellicot had legal scruples and was withholding a decision. This should all emerge when the hearing resumes. The whole conversation was on the assumption that Gough Whitlam could be removed from politics forever, a Judge removed from the High Court and a mistaken idealist eliminated, with the ALP discredited for a generation.
No public prosecutor would venture to act or speak in such a way. The Attorney-General has not taken over the case but has claimed privilege in respect of the documents and persons that have to be called by the informant to establish a prima facie case and that have to be called by the defendants if the magistrate holds that such a case has been established. Mr Rofe had the gall to say in the court on 19 November last that the Government’s claim of Crown privilege was not only wrong in law but might reasonably be construed as an attempted cover-up. That is his comment on the Government. It is unfortunate that the Crown has not taken over the conduct of a case which clearly has no merits and has merely objected to the way that a private prosecutor seeks to conduct the case.
For without doubt the case has no merits. The Governor-General was not deceived by his Ministers. Not only did he sign on 14 December 1 974 without demur a minute signed by them the previous day but on 28 January 1975 he signed with them a minute in precisely identical terms, although for half the amount. No point can be made that His Excellency signed the first minute later than his Ministers because, to quote Mr Carmody’s affidavit of 12 November last supporting the claim of privilege, ‘If the GovernorGeneral is not present at the meeting of the Executive Council the minute and the schedule are subsequently submitted to him for signature ‘. Any State government could have challenged the propriety or legality of our action under the Financial Agreement in the Loan Council or the High Court; none of them did.
The idea that the Ministers involved had broken the criminal law is absurd. Even if it was found that they had acted in breach of the Constitution or of the statutory or common law- and no government, State or Federal, has asserted that- no government would take criminal proceedings against them. There were no criminal proceedings, for instance, against the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration when the High Court in the boilermakers case decided that they had acted unconstitutionally. There are not likely to be criminal proceedings against Senator Guilfoyle, who the High Court has just declared had acted contrary to statute on school leavers. Constantly public servants act in a way which the courts say was illegal. It is absurd to suggest that criminal proceedings would ever be taken. No government would ever do it.
The matter of overwhelming importance to all members is whether the privileges of the Parliament are to be preserved. The Attorney-General in a debate on this case on 4 June last declared:
What is said or done in Parliament shall not be made the subject of proceedings in any court . . . It is the court that breaches parliamentary privilege by allowing action to be taken on something that is said or done in Parliament.
The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) on the same occasion spoke in terms which were consistent with that. I have taken this occasion to speak for the first time on the principals and the principles in this matter because attempts have been made in the newspapers and by lobbying Government members and by sudden and surprise moves in the House on 4 June and 9 December last to abet the abandonment and breach of parliamentary privilege. A fourth petition has been lodged. We must reject any moves to grant it.
-At the outset, I must say that I was rather surprised that the Leader of the Opposition took up time in a Grievance Day debate to make a statement. Grievance Day has been reserved traditionally for back benchers. However, that was his decision. I wish to bring to the attention of the House a rip-off situation involving newly arrived settlers in Australia and the sale of homes on terms contracts. Terms contracts allow a purchaser to pay a deposit, usually 10 per cent, and make weekly repayments which in the main are interest on the balance of purchase price, with settlement taking place some time later, usually after one year. The purchaser is virtually a tenant of the vendor. I believe it involves discrimination in the sense that many companies, particularly those to which I shall refer shortly, who sell houses on terms contracts appear to sell primarily to migrants. My electorate of Evans has a migrant population of approximately 30 000 people, which represents about 30 per cent of the residents.
Since my election a large number of new settlers have made various complaints to me regarding the purchase of homes on terms contracts. One such occurrence, which incidentally did not involve an Evans constituent, happened in March 1976. 1 received a telephone call from the Marrickville Community Aid Office asking whether I would see a constituent of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam), who was unavailable at the time. I agreed, and one hour later I interviewed a very distressed lady, a Mrs V. Philippidou of Warren Road, Marrickville. I can assure the House that to say she was distressed is an understatement as she cried during the whole interview. I hasten to add that she left my office happy- happy in the hope that I would solve her problem, which fortunately for her I did several months later. I now wish to elaborate on Mrs Philippidou ‘s case. She purchased a home for $30,000 on 7 March 1974 in conjunction with her mother. The home was purchased on a terms contract from Compur Pty Ltd of 363 Pitt Street, Sydney. Mrs Philippidou paid a $3,000 cash deposit and undertook to pay interest at 12 per cent per annum flat on the outstanding $27,000, provided that if she paid her weekly instalment within 7 days of the due date interest would be 1 1 per cent per annum. She had since 25 March 1974, the date repayments commenced, paid $65 a week, being $58 interest and $7 principal.
– $58 interest?
-$58 a week interest and $7 principal.
– It is scandalous. Not only did she pay on the due day each week but she would constantly pay an extra week, just in case she was unable to get to Compur’s office. Frankly, she was always several weeks in advance.
I now detail some other conditions in the terms contract by which Mrs Philippidou had to abide. Clause 28 states:
Notwithstanding anything herein contained or implied, the Vendor shall have the right to call upon the Purchaser to pay the balance of purchase monies and interest thereon … by giving to the Purchaser ninety (90) days notice in writing . . . provided however that no such notice may be given before the expiration of thirty three (33)monthsfromthedateofthis Agreement . . .
Clause 16 states:
If the Purchaser defaults in the observance or performance of any obligation imposed on him under or by virtue of this Agreement the deposit paid by him hereunder, except so much of it as exceeds 10 per cent of the purchase price, shall be forfeited to the Vendor who shall be entitled to terminate this Agreement . . .
Clause 19 states:
Where the balance of the purchase price is payable by instalments before transfer of title:
If default by the Purchaser in payment of any instalment of the purchase price or interest hereunder shall continue for four weeks (in this respect time being of the essence) the balance of the purchase price then owing with accrued interest shall immediately without notice to the Purchaser become due and payable irrespective of the transfer of title; . . .
The First Schedule states: . . . After twelve (12) months from the date hereof the Purchaser shall have the right at any time to pay the whole balance of the purchase money outstanding with interest thereon to the date of payment together with interest thereon for a further period of thirteen ( 13) weeks . . .
Those and other conditions too numerous to mention clearly show that the vendor has all the benefit, with little or no protection for the purchaser.
Under those conditions, had Mrs Philippidou not been able to obtain a loan to settle before 33 months had elapsed, she stood to lose all the interest she had paid as well as the deposit. On several occasions Mrs Philippidou, in an endeavour to settle this contract, had applied for and was refused finance from the banking and general finance institutions. When she came to see me she had only 9 months left in which to raise $27,000. Thinking that Compur Pty Ltd might extend the contract if she could not settle, she went to their office in Pitt Street to discuss her problem. She wasted her time, as she was told they could guarantee nothing and she would just have to keep trying to borrow the money. What a great situation. There she was, having paid $3,000 deposit, $6,700 in interest and principal during the previous 2 years, plus $2,500 on home improvements, and she had no guarantee that in 12 months’ time there would be anything to show for it. I cannot say that Compur Pty Ltd would have terminated the contract in the event of finance not being arranged by Mrs Philippidou, but I do know that they could have been more helpful and reassuring to her.
Fortunately, I was able to arrange a loan from a trading bank which enabled settlement to take place on 27 August 1976. It will interest honourable members to know the details of settlement, and I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard a table setting them out.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
– I thank honourable members. The table shows that over 2 years and 5 months- the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) will be interested in this-a total of $8,781.47 interest was charged and paid from the original loan of $27,000, and from that original loan $26,935 was still owing. That is not bad from the vendor’s point of view.
I have made detailed inquiries into Compur Pty Ltd and its 4 associated companies- Pax and Co. Pty Ltd, Howey and Co. Pty Ltd, Brydale and Co. Pty Ltd and Aston and Co. Pty Ltd. From information I have obtained, I believe that group of companies is taking advantage of migrants who desperately want to purchase a home and do not fully understand the dangers associated with terms contracts. They do not understand that they could lose everything, money and house, if they do not settle within 3 years. This group of companies specialises in purchasing homes in the western suburbs, redecorates them, and then sells on terms contracts, mainly to migrants. Why? Is it because migrants are reliable people? Is it because the companies wish to help migrants, or is it because they feel that migrants are easy prey? I am sorry that I cannot answer the questions except to say that I am of the very strong opinion that their profits on such transactions must be very high indeed. I doubt that Compur Pty Ltd would have paid much more than $18,000 or $19,000 for Mrs Philippidou ‘s house when it purchased it in December 1973. Allowing for the renovations carried out, I doubt if it would have cost the company much more than $20,000 or $2 1,000. Notwithstanding that Compur purchased the home by way of mortgage and thus had to pay interest on the money it borrowed, honourable members will readily see that the company was able to have its cake and eat it too.
I have spoken to a large number of real estate agents about selling homes on terms contracts.
Frankly, not too many agents will have anything to do with them because in their opinion, and I concur, terms contracts are totally one-sided, namely, on the vendor’s side. I wrote to the New South Wales Attorney-General, Mr Frank Walker, on 1 June 1976 about Mrs Philippidou ‘s case. In his reply to me on 8 June he said that he would have immediate inquiries made and advise me further at a later date. I am still waiting. Either Mr Walker and the New South Wales Government do not care about the rip-off that is occurring under terms contract sales or they are lax in their investigation of the matter. I urge the State Attorneys-General to take a very close look at terms contract sales with a view to outlawing them altogether or making changes that will give much greater protection to the purchaser and stop any unscrupulous vendor bleeding the sometimes unsuspecting purchasers, who in the main appear to be migrants who reside in my electorate and, in the electorates of Grayndler, Phillip and Sydney.
– I rise to grievance in respect of the fourth and most recent petition submitted on 21 March to this House for its consideration by Mr Danny Sankey. The petition relates to what is commonly known as the Queanbeyan loans case, in which Mr Sankey is the informant. It was presented to this House by his parliamentary representative, the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), asking this House to permit parliamentary reporters to give a report in the Police Court at Queanbeyan of proceedings in the special session of this House on 9 July 1975. Todo so would utterly destroy parliamentary privilege. Not only is Parliament asked to assist in a prosecution which the Commonwealth Attorney-General refuses to take over; also, no member can speak in this House in the future without fear that what he says may be used against him in a court later on. This raises the fundamental question of complete freedom of speech in Parliament. To break down parliamentary privilege will lead to a situation in which any member would not know whether what he said was privileged, thereby leaving him or someone else also immune from prosecution.
Apart from providing backup evidence to bolster a case having an air of vindictiveness, Parliament will be reduced to the status where it is continuously obliged to prove itself before the very courts which it created. The petition ignores the introductory words of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) in that special sessional debate of 9 July 1975 when he invited all members to speak with complete immunity under the protection of full parliamentary privilege. The petition goes further and ignores section 22 of the Crimes Act, section 86 of which we have allegedly breached. Section 22 states:
Nothing in this Act shall derogate from any power or privilege of either House of the Parliament, or of the Members or Committees of either House of Parliament, as existing at the commencement of this Act.
That was as existed in 1914. This is an absolute bar to a criminal prosecution of this type, relying on the evidence of a parliamentary debate. It cannot be overridden by resolution. It can be altered only by an amendment passed by both Houses of the Parliament. The burden and expense of the assertion and enforcement of parliamentary privilege are the responsibility of the Commonwealth. Parliamentary privilege should be raised specifically by counsel for the Crown who already appears in respect of certain claims of Executive privilege, supported by Ministerial affidavits. It is the privilege of speech of all members of this House which should be raised by counsel speaking in the name of Parliament itself.
This is a private prosecution under section 13 of the Crimes Act. The defendants are denied the protection of an objective assessment by a Crown legal officer of the evidence against them. The subject summonses are in breach of the announcement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to this House on 11 November 1975 of an undertaking required by the GovernorGeneral that there would be no inquiry into the affairs of the former Administration during the election campaign. The informations were laid in Queanbeyan 9 days later on 20 November 1975, returnable, mark you Mr Deputy Speaker, at Queanbeyan Court 4 days before polling day. Naturally, we were represented in our absence by counsel, whereupon Mr Rofe, Q.C, demanded that bench warrants be issued for our arrest. The waiting media had been baulked of their political prey, so delightfully timed.
I have never met Mr Sankey nor have any of my co-defendants. I have certainly never been questioned on his behalf. Having rushed in impulsively for the equivalent of a rugby league double tackle, Mr Sankey apparently had second thoughts when, on 22 March 1976 there was a report in the National Times of an interview in which he wistfully said:
I could be up for $ 1 5,000 to $20,000 in costs. The point is that the Attorney-General is open to taking over the case himself if he wanted to. At the moment he has not shown any interest in doing so: If he did I would be very relieved.
Mr Sankey had gone for a ride on the tiger. On 18 November last in Queanbeyan Court, his counsel, Mr David Rofe made a similar request for the Commonwealth to take over the prosecution. The Commonwealth has a paramount public responsibility to check the bona fides of this political witch hunt. For good measure, Mr Rofe threw in the allegation that the claim of Executive privilege by the Government could be construed as being an attempted cover-up of an Australian Watergate. Strange, indeed, are the abuses of police court advocacy. The Executive Council is the third arm of government under the Commonwealth Constitution. Its functions have been fully defined in the affidavit of Mr Carmody of 12 November last as presented to the Queanbeyan Court. The claim of Executive or Crown privilege, combined with the 4 defendants’ oath of secrecy as Executive Councillors, prevents the defendants from giving public details of the advice received by them before and at the Executive Council meeting from the Commonwealth’s top legal advisers in the presence of the top representatives of the banking system and the Treasury.
So far from the Governor-General having been deceived by the defendants, we rely on the evidence of the Governor-General himself who, not having been present at the Executive Council meeting, was fully informed by the Prime Minister on the presentation of the Executive Council minute for his signature. Accordingly, we propose if necessary to call him by subpoena as a witness. We have no alternative than this as a means of destroying the farrago of nonsense spewed out by political and newspaper commentators and in book form by self-styled political experts. Mr Carmody ‘s affidavit pointing out the procedure to be followed when a GovernorGeneral is not in attendance at an Executive Council meeting debunks the myth of a covert conspiracy to deceive him when unavoidably absent.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, my grievance today concerns the nature and content of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act and the way in which that Act is administered. I bring the matter before the House because of my experience in my electorate of Ballaarat in attempting to assist many Commonwealth Government employees who have been affected by the Act. The problems associated with the Act have also been brought to my attention by various firms of solicitors which have engaged in legal assistance for employees seeking compensation for injuries received while in Commonwealth Government employment. In Victoria, a person employed by the Commonwealth Government is in a far worse position in relation to compensation than a fellow worker employed by the State, a private company or an individual. I have not had the opportunity to check the situation in detail in other States but my impression is that much the same situation applies there as in Victoria.
The Commonwealth Act lacks adequate provisions for continuity and retrospectivity. Thus, if a Commonwealth employee sustains injury over a large number of years dating back beyond the 1 97 1 -73 Act, and this is frequently the case in aggravation situations such as aggravation of high blood pressure or aggravation of a back injury over a number of years of heavy work, the Commonwealth in conducting the ultimate hearing inevitably demands that the worker specify whether he is relying upon episodes prior to the 1971-73 Act. If he is, it argues that the provisions of the previous Act, which is particularly unwieldy, should apply.
It seems absurd to me that if a worker brings a claim in 1977 the provisions of one Act should apply until 1971 and those of another Act from 1971 when the aggravation of some underlying disease has been continuous over the years. No such anomaly exists in relation to the Act applying to employees of the Victorian Government. Similarly, if a claim is brought pursuant to the State Act in 1977 for weekly payments in respect of a period of incapacity in, say, 1 967, section 2 A of the Victorian Act provides that payments should be made at the present rate- that is, for a married worker with two or more dependent children, $ 107 a week. The Commonwealth employee bringing a claim in 1977 in respect of a period of incapacity in 1967, if he were similarly married with 2 dependent children would receive $33.05 a week for that period. Again, he is at a considerable disadvantage compared with his equivalent operating under the State Act.
The second problem facing the Commonwealth employee is an enormous one. It relates both to the nature of the legislation itself and to the way in which it is administered. This requires an examination of the very mode of operation of the making of and dealing with claims under the Commonwealth Act. Parts IV and V of the Commonwealth Act deal with this question. Basically, an injured Commonwealth employee must make a claim as soon as practicable, and it must be made within a period of 6 months from the day of injury or from the worker becoming aware of his injury. That, in itself, raises problems which I shall come to later. The worker makes his claim by giving notice in writing to the Commonwealth, and that notice must be served on the Commissioner. Ideally a determination is then made by the Commissioner. If the worker is dissatisfied with that determination he can request the Commissioner to refer the matter to the Commonwealth Compensation Tribunal or he may apply to a prescribed court for a judicial review of the determination.
There is no provision in the Act for forcing the Commissioner to make a determination or for making application to the Commonwealth Compensation Tribunal or a prescribed court if the Commissioner fails to make a determination within any specified time. In an ideal world the system might work satisfactorily without such a provision. But, as a matter of principle it is highly undesirable that there should be no provision in the Act to guarantee a worker getting a decision, either for him or against him, within a limited time because, of course, until he gets a decision there is simply nothing that he can do. Even if he gets an unfavourable determination, he can at least apply to a prescribed court or have the matter referred to the Commonwealth Compensation Tribunal. But until some determination is made his hands are tied. In practice that involves great hardship.
I have details of a number of recent cases in relation to which, despite frequent requests, a determination has simply not been forthcoming. In one particularly disturbing situation the following series of events took place. A claim for compensation was made in March 1972 in relation to a man with severe cardiac problems. The claim was strongly supported by the worker’s treating doctors. Reports by the treating doctors were supplied to the Commissioner and to the Australian Post Office which was the employer concerned. There was then an almost endless stream of correspondence from 1 972 until July 1975. All requests of the Commissioner were answered immediately, all medical reports were supplied, and every possible step was taken by the solicitors for the worker to ensure that a determination could be rapidly made.
Some 2lA years after the correspondence commenced the Commissioner, for the first time, made reference to the fact that the worker had previously been refused a claim by the Repatriation Department, stating that he must appeal against that refusal. It was stated that until that was done nothing could be done in relation to the man’s compensation claim, despite the fact that the man’s treating doctors would not support any claim against the Repatriation Department in relation to the man’s war service being connected with his cardiac complaint and despite the fact that all treating doctors related his condition directly to his employment. The important factor is that that point was raised by the Commonwealth only after some 2 1/2 years of the worker writing letters and making complaints about the failure of the Commissioner to make a determination.
The matter finally came to a head in June 1976- more than 4 years after the initial claimwhen the solicitors for the worker wrote to me setting out full details of all developments. As a result a favourable determination was received within 14 days. Thus, because of the provisions of the Commonwealth Act and the way in which it was administered, a war veteran of some 64 yean of age, who had worked for the Australian Post Office for 22 years and who had then been unemployed for in excess of 4 years, being a man with a bad heart and with very limited life expectancy, finally received his compensation 4!4 years after initiating his claim. The man concerned should not have had to rely on my representations to receive equitable and reasonable treatment. But that was the situation.
Another very important aspect which has general application is that there is no provision for costs in cases where there has been a favourable determination. In the case I have just outlined the Commonwealth has refused to pay costs for the 4te years work done by the solicitors for the applicant. Clearly the sort of scandalous situation that developed in relation to this man could not develop if there were some provision in the Act which was to the effect that if the Commissioner failed to make a determination within, say, 6 months the worker could automatically refer the matter to the Commonwealth Compensation Tribunal or take the matter to a prescribed court.
The case I have outlined is not an isolated example. I can site similar examples, some of which involve time periods of up to 6 years or more between the initial lodgement of application for compensation and a determination from the Commissioner. I am not suggesting that the difficulties I have referred to represent the majority of experience with Commonwealth employees compensation claims, but they do happen too frequently not to warrant close examination by the Government. The time delays to which I have drawn attention are bad enough, but what concerns me most is the complete absence of any provision in the Act to compel the Commissioner to make a determination within a specified time. If the Commission’s office simply sits on a man’s application for compensation and does nothing, under the legislation, the worker’s hands are tied and there is nothing he can do apart from making the sorts of threats to which I have referred. Those threats, of course, are outside the framework of the Act. It is a situation which I believe ought not to be required and ought not to be tolerated.
My other major concern is the lack of any provision in the Act for the recovery of legal costs by an employee who receives a favourable determination after a lengthy battle with the Commissioner. There are several other matters in relation to the Commonwealth Act which I would have liked to raise had time permitted. There is, for example, the distressing difficulty that can arise for widows as a result of the Commonwealth refusing to allow its representatives to discuss settlements of Commonwealth compensation claims. There is the question of whether the discretion conferred by section 98 of the Act is too wide. In summary, both the content and the administration of the Compensation Act require searching review. Issues of equity and fair treatment are involved. These are issues to which the Commonwealth Government should pay high regard, as they relate to the Commonwealth’s treatment of its own employees. I hope that the Government will take note of my remarks today and will set the necessary review in train at an early date.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-At the opening of the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference a few weeks ago the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made an address. I wish to quote from that address. He said:
There are still some who argue that sport and politics have no relationship.
They argue that as sporting teams come and performteams selected on a racial basis- that is not something which should concern governments or in which governments should take some action.
That kind of view is no longer credible today.
It is not the government of the host country that has introduced sport into politics. It is the government of the other country that has made arrangements for sport to be so structured internally that people of one race alone can participate.
Accordingly, if a government operates its own social and economic system in that form, other governments cannot be expected to continue with the outdated proposition that sport is separate from politics.
It is clear that, where a sport is practised on a racist basis, governments must carry responsibility. It is the government that has then introduced politics into sport.
When I read that speech I wanted to stand up and clap. I commend the Prime Minister for his statement. I want to add to that statement a comment made in the editorial column of the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday, 13 April 1977. In commenting on the Prime Minister’s speech the editorial said:
Most Australians will agree wholeheartedly with this view, and with their country’s official stand (a bi-partisan policy) that it will refuse entry to racially selected sporting teams.
As I say, I commend the Prime Minister for his statement, but I can assure the House that the Liberal-National Country Party Government and some parts of the Press of Australia are not going to get away with it as easily as that. I was reminded of the 1970-71 campaign, in which I was a participant, to attempt to prevent the Springbok rugby and cricket tours. I was staggered at the about-face by the Government and some of the Press of Australia in regard to the Prime Minister’s speech. One wonders at the question that was asked yesterday by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) in which he sought Australian recognition of the Transkei state. I would like to know where some government members stand on that issue. At the time of the Springbok tour my colleagues and I were attacked in a vicious way by members of the Government and by members of the Press. They accused us of every type of ratbaggery imaginable because we made the point that it was the South African Government which was mixing politics and sport. The Prime Minister’s statement could not nave provided us with more unequivocal support for the case that we were trying to put at that time and which was opposed by honourable members opposite. I think you, Mr Deputy Speaker, were one of the people who spoke against us on this issue, as did the then honourable member for Boothby and the current Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) and the then honourable member for Bradfield. Mr Turner. I read in great detail the speech made in the House at that time by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman). I have it with me today.
It is time to remind the people of Australia of the position taken by the Liberal and National Country Parties and the position taken by the Labor Party, which is now the respectable position as it is put by the Prime Minister of this country- not as it was in those days. Not only were Labor politicians attacked but so too were members of the trade union movement, including Mr Hawke, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, church leaders such as the Reverend Alan Walker and a number of bishops and archbishops and sincere people who joined probably their only political involvement ever in the anti-apartheid movement. Rugby union internationals such as Mr Boyce, Mr Abrahams and other sportsmen were subjected to all sorts of vicious attacks. People opposed to the tour were called communists, rat-bags and stirrers and whatever other insult could be coined at the time. Nothing was too bad to say about them. At that time not one Liberal Party or Country Party politician opposed the tour. Even some of the so-called small ‘1’ liberals who were much vaunted at the time did not make a stand. In fact one of them who was well known took a position in support of the tour.
I would like to quote some statements made by Government members at the time, some of whom are now prominent members of the present Government. A Press release dated 28 May 1971 issued by the present Treasurer (Mr Lynch) said:
Mr Lynch said that the Government certainly did not agree with apartheid, but did believe that tours by South African rugby and cricket teams should go on. ‘Because a person disagrees with a particular policy of a foreign Government I do not believe he has the right to say to that country’s sporting teams “You cannot come to my country” ‘, he said.
This is what was said by our present Treasurer. The present Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) issued the following Press release on 25 June 1971 when he was Minister for the Interior:
Australia was not only a sport loving country but a sporting country. It did not reject the cultural qualities of another country whatever might be its policies, he said.
The Press release went on to state:
The ACTU has enjoyed the respect of Australian Governments and the Australian people and it is irresponsible for the President of that movement to now try and force upon the Australian community a political attitude towards a sporting group from another nation.
We may or may not agree with the South African Government’s policy of apartheid but surely we do not attempt to disrupt the law and order of this country because a group of athletes has been invited to take part in sporting activity in this country.
I would like to quote from one of the numerous Press statements issued by the man who above all others was responsible at the time- the Prime Minister of the day, Mr McMahon. A Press release issued by the then Prime Minister on 27 June 1 97 1 in part states: . . . that politics and sport should not be tied together and that sporting organisations should not be under duress from any source for politicial motives. A few trade union leaders have no right to attempt to interrupt sporting arrangements.
The Press release went on to state that the then Prime Minister believed that the great majority of Australian people shared the Government’s view.
The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr William McMahon) issued another Press release as Prime Minister of the day when the South African cricket tour was cancelled in September of 1 97 1 . The release stated:
The Government has consistently expressed the view that visits of international sporting teams should be arranged between the sporting bodies concerned and that politics should not be introduced into sport.
The Press release further stated:
I appreciate that the great majority of Australians wanted the tour to proceed, but I recognise the Board’s problem in arranging a successful tour in the face of difficulties.
I could go on for hours quoting the statements of the people who today, finally, 6 years later, have come to the view that was put by the Australian Labor Party and which was denigrated by every Liberal Party and National Country Party member in this place and in the State Parliaments. Our view is now the accepted bipartisan view. I compliment the Government on the fact that it has finally come to its senses. Like all conservative governments it finally gets there, even 10 years after the Labor Party as in this case or after 100 years as in other cases.
– What is the honourable member talking about?
– Does the honourable member want to support the present view or the past view? I would be happy to give him time in which to make a statement.
While most of the Press supported the view of the Liberal-Country Party Government at that time that tours of racially selected South African sporting teams to Australia should go on, there were at least some members of the Press such as the Melbourne Age and the Australian, which was at that time in its heyday, which at least presented a similar view to that proposed by the Australian Labor Party. This is just another episode in the history of the conservative forces of this country coming to the right decision after having managed to make as much political mileage as they could. I would like to take a few seconds to refer to an article that was written by Mr Michael Richardson of the Age in which he pointed out that the then Government’s attitude was a political stunt to try to salvage some electoral prospects. He said that the Government of the day could see the advantage of such an attitude. I would also like to refer to an article written by Bruce Grant in the Age who was one of those to support our view. The article stated:
One of the more elegant arguments against protest is that it is legitimate provided it remains unsuccessful.
It is all right, so the argument runs, to try to stop the Vietnam war and to try to stop the white South African rugby tour, provided you do not stop the war or the tour, because then you are undermining the authority of government.
I conclude on that note. Thank God the Government members have finally come to their senses. It is a damn shame for this country that we had to go through their stupidity of 1 970-7 1 .
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) said during his speech that I had made a speech in 1 97 1 and that I have now changed my views. I have not changed my views and I stand by everything I said in 1971.
-On 2 December 1976 the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) brought to the notice of this House the matter of the illegal activities of Taiwanese in fishing off the coast of Queensland and in other territorial waters of Australia. While this is a problem, not only on the Queensland coast but also in the Gulf of Carpentaria, off the Northern Territory and off the Western Australian coast it particularly affects that portion of the Queensland coast included in the division of Dawson. I often wonder whether our reaction or our defence towards illegal intrusion into our waters would be more rigorous than it is if the illegal intrusion took place on our land mass. I would certainly hope so. However, because the intrusion is on the water the attitude might be gauged as being one of excess caution or perhaps complacency in connection with the total problem of these intrusions right around the coast.
The destruction of Australia’s national assets on the Great Barrier Reef and the plunder of its products with the resultant permanent damage is greater than any destruction perpetrated on the Australian land mass itself. The pirating of millions of clams per year, of our fish and of all living life on the Reef could create in time a desert reef along our shoreline. The known cases of intrusion up to 1975 and the estimate of the damage was given by the honourable member for Griffith in his speech. The unrecorded trespasses are rumoured to number hundreds at any one time during the fishing period. The actual extent of known illegal incursions is recorded in Hansard of 21 April. In the 10 months to February 1977 488 Taiwanese boats were identified as being illegally within our waters- 242 in Queensland waters, 40 in Northern Territory waters and 206 in Western Australian waters.
One cannot blame the more recent nonrecognition of Taiwan in favour of recognition of mainland China as the reason for these intrusions, although I am personally sorry to have seen Taiwan sacrificed in the power moves of years ago. The problem was existing even during the time of recognition. But the current nonrecognition brings with it a complete void or breakdown in any fruitful negotiations between our 2 Governments. This is a ridiculous situation. The Taiwanese boats ply in Australian waters because nations such as Indonesia do not and will not tolerate any foreign intrusion. Gunboat diplomacy is what is practised most effectively as a deterrent to foreign trespassers by such governments. This is why these boats turn to the more complacent and less dangerous attitudes of Australia. The inherent dangers are numerous. I will take one particular example. Many of these vessels fish the Swains Reef which is midway between Mackay and Rockhampton on the Queensland coast. These smaller vessels feed the mother ships which lie out beyond the continental shelf and, therefore, are free from Australian prosecution. The surveillance is completely unsatisfactory. There are too few patrol boats over a vast sea area. Aerial inspection of the Reef is not undertaken by domestic air nights and not carried out by the Air Force or by the other Services. The sighting is made mainly by charter vessels which, with some degree of national responsibility, sacrifice their own time and profit to advise the armed Services and also to provide surveillance. I have been advised that one such vessel spent up to 4 days surveying one boat until a patrol boat arrived to assist in the capture.
Although the crew are basically peaceful the arrests are not easily made. Again private charter boat owners, because of their knowledge of the waters, have been called on to make such arrests. Some day these Taiwanese may show resistance and one would then wonder in what situation this would place the private owner. The Australian continent is free at this time from foot and mouth disease which would, if introduced to Australia, decimate our herds and flocks. Whilst controls are exercised in so many other ways, little regard is had to what diseases, particularly foot and mouth disease, could be spread by letting these fishermen roam at ease on the Reef and on our shorelines. I am led to believe that they land frequently on island and coast beaches. In the 10 months I have mentioned there were 488 opportunities for this to happen. Already cases have been evident, in some instances of capture, of social diseases being present even after these men have been at sea for months. Surely it is not beyond possibility that foot and mouth disease could be carried similarly within the food products that are certainly on these boats at any one time.
The sailors and fishermen are a forgotten people as far as Taiwan is concerned. The Government of Taiwan does not in any way hold itself responsible for the lives of the men or the safety of their boats. The price of capture is of no concern to the Taiwanese Government but is borne by the Australian taxpayer in the capture, detention and repatriation of the vessel and its crew, although more recently the Australian Government has not been allowing the vessels to be returned. The fine is not a deterrent. These fishermen possess little money and isolation in a goal is no worse than the cramped conditions on a boat. In fact, in some instances, to them gaol might be a release. There was a case recently of a capture of a boat where there was insufficient evidence to justify the boat being held. By accident, but perhaps more likely deliberately, this boat discharged its bilge water into the harbour. This is evidence of continuing contempt towards Australia, but it is also an example of the continual threat of diseases being spread on the Australian shoreline. Any suggestion to deter this spoiling of our Reef and fishing grounds must bear in mind the ultimate cost to our environment now and in the future, the threat of disease in our livestock industries and the eventual cost to the taxpayer if these intrustions are not stopped now.
The right of arrest by private citizens and protection to such individuals would give a quicker response to the prevention of further damage that delays now incur. A system of aerial supervision over some of the areas where trespass is now more frequent, by using some of the domestic flights already existing, also would give a quicker response to illegal entry. A quicker and shorter Court hearing to impose a penalty, instead of the weeks of delays that now occur frequently, would reduce greatly the cost to the Australian taxpayer. A decision on the 200 mile sea limit, already made by many nations throughout the world, if made by Australia should be implemented and policed in full. Government negotiations to discuss and try to rectify the problem between the 2 nations would be useful. Failure in this regard would be a reason to exercise a bit more of the gunboat diplomacy practised by some of our neighbours, as was suggested by a stipendiary magistrate in
Mackay last year. Complete cessation of trade with Taiwan, as recommended by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) could also be a major consideration.
I bring this matter to the attention of the House, of the Federal Ministers for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock), Defence (Mr Killen) and Health (Mr Hunt) because in the intrusions are the seeds of a potential disaster for the Australian industry, the environment and the Australian citizen. To those individuals who already play a major role in sightings and observations in a private capacity this Government owes a debt of gratitude. More positive Government attitudes towards the problem and towards exercising corrective measures will be seen as an expression of such gratitude and, certainly, of concern. It will also be recognition that the great fishing grounds of Australia do form part of our greater national assets.
– Today, being grievance day, is one of the few opportunities that private members have to air their grievances before the Parliament. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) who spoke before me availed himself of that opportunity and showed the House what an inept Government we really have in Australia. As he is a supporter of the Government, I place great stock on what he says when he criticises the Government. I remind him, when he expresses concern about an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australian livestock, that it was the previous Administration, the Labor Government, which agreed that an offshore animal quarantine station ought to be built. It was the previous Government, the Labor Government, which agreed that national animal health laboratories should be built, one on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the other at Geelong.
– You did not build it, though.
-The honourable member for Maranoa, who was a member of the committee that inquired into the Animal Quarantine Station, interjects that the Labor Government did not build it. It also did not defer the work, as did the present Government. It appropriated the funds. If the coup de grace had not taken place on 1 1 November the Animal Health Laboratories at Geelong would now be built and operating for the benefit, I might add, of the rural interests in this country whom the honourable member professes to represent. I should have thought that the influence and the clout that the National Country Party usually brings to bear on the government of the day would have been exercised much more if members of the National Country Party were completely honest in their endeavours and desires to assist those who vote for them. However, that is not the case.
I had the pleasure of chairing a very interesting hearing on the National Animal Health Laboratories at Geelong at which were pointed out quite clearly the dangers that will exist to the livestock of Australia unless a laboratory is established to investigate diseases and prepare vaccines for them. That is what would have been done at the health laboratories. But members of the National Country Party, who do not represent the rural interests- they are supported by the rural interests but they represent only them- selves- have never yet brought pressure to bear on the government of the day to lift that deferment to allow the work to proceed and to allow this very important service for their constituants.
– The Minister for Health is a member of that Party, too.
-I am reminded by the honourable member for Grayndler that the Minister for Health in this Parliament is, in fact, also a member of the National Country Party. Yet we get complete silence.
– He is a very good Minister.
-He is an excellent Minister. I agree with the honourable member for Mallee. He must be an excellent Minister if he represents the National Country Party, believes himself to be putting the view of rural interests communities in this House and then allows another farmer- the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)- to defer work on the National Animal Health Laboratories. That, to me, does not add up. I find it very strange indeed and I am sure that the people of Australia also find it very strange that those people- I do not refer only to the National Country Party now; I include all honourable members who sit on the other side of the House- continuously misrepresent their position to this Parliament and, through it, to the people of Australia.
However, I did not want to spend 10 minutes talking about the National Country Party. Frankly, I believe it is worth about 1 1/2 minutes, and no more, of any intelligent debator’s time. The matter that I wish to raise today is a scheme that was instituted by the previous Labor Government, a scheme which involved people in the community in decision making in a way that they had never been involved in before in Australia. It involved them in a decision-making process that brought about tangible and visible benefits in the communities in which they live. These schemes, under the Australian Assistance Plan, are known in the State of Victoria as Regional Councils for Social Development. There are two such Councils in my electorate. One of them, the North West Regional Council for Social Development, over the years has spent a great deal of time and involved the community, as I said, to an extent that it has never been involved before in the making of decisions, recommendations and submissions to governments for funds for projects in its area. The community involvement in the north west of Melbourne has been through the North West Regional Council for Social Development. It is a body which planned and improved existing services and created additional services. The Council is continuously disseminating information and provides a mechanism for co-ordinating and seeking funds for appropriate projects. This service was not available before the introduction of the Australian Assistance Plan.
The North West Council for Social Development was established in November 1973 and received administrative funds to employ staff in mid- 1974. It was incorporated as a public company in August 1975 after a public meeting in the area held in October 1974. The area covered by the north west region of Melbourne ranges from the inner urban municipalities of Brunswick and Coburg, which have a high migrant population, through to the rolling plains of Broadmeadows, which has the second largest population of all the municipalities in Victoria and contains the largest housing commission development, if not in Australia certainly in Victoria. The north west takes in the rural shires of Bulla and Gisborne. The region had a total population at the 1976 census of almost a quarter of a million people. There were 241 5 15 people residing in that part of the metropolitan area of Melbourne and the outer rural area.
The north west region of Melbourne has long been a deprived area. Since the inception of the North West Regional Council for Social Development over the last 3 years or so activity in the welfare field has increased dramatically to the benefit of the people in such areas as the development of the central services and the raising of the quality of life in the area. In the period since the establishment of the Council its staff has acquired expertise and understanding and knows the needs of the community. It has successfully initiated many programs in the fields of health, welfare, child care, education, ethnic affairs, recreation, youth, environment and community information and media access. The North West Council has also successfully established a number of projects and attracted funds for resources and facilties such as the employment of a regional health adviser, where there was none before the scheme. There are childhood service officers where there were none before the scheme. There is now a community development officer. There are neighbourhood centres, community health centres, municipal welfare committees, a legal service and ethnic culture activity officers have been appointed. A regional dental health program has been established and a regional family services adviser has been employed. These are only a few of the examples of what the North West Regional Council for Social Development has been able to achieve in the period since its inception.
Some State and Federal government departments have tried to regionalise their services in an attempt to decentralise and to provide the community with a more meaningful and accessible service. The North West Regional Council for Social Development has become a vehicle in the north west to take a broader perspective of issues across the region and to take action where it is appropriate in an impartial and nonparochial manner, thus preventing duplication of services, overlapping and waste of resources. The Council has also taken up issues where they arose and has worked in areas that have not been covered by other organisations in the welfare field. The North West Regional Council for Social Development has informed the community of the activities of the various committees, both standing and ad hoc, as well as the activities of the staff and the Council’s general executive.
I am concerned, and so are the people in my electorate, that should funds not be available at the end of June, as stated by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), that a valuable asset in the north west will be lost to the community. There are no appropriate bodies to carry through many of the projects initiated and to take up new issues as they arise. The complaint- and the fear- is that under the socalled new federalism of the present Government it will obviously bow out of meeting its financial responsibility to the community of Australia by not making funds available after 30 June. The Government will do a Pontius Pilate on this question- wash its hands of it and say it is now returning the Australian Assistance Plan to the States. Everybody knows that there is not one State government in Australia which will be able to find the funds to enable these schemes to continue. That is the concern of the people in the north west region of Melbourne. It is a genuine concern. I raise it in this House today in the hope that the Prime Minister may even yet have a twinge of conscience and not stop funds to these worthwhile organisations.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In his statement of 18 February last the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) deplored the tendency of Australians to save to excess, pointing out how these excess savings were largely responsible for the present high unemployment. It is true enough, as he then implied, that unemployment can be regarded as the smell of savings going rancid because they are lying about unused. The decision as to how much anyone is to save is always personal. At present there is no profitable private investment available for the total of our savings, so it is better to apply them to public purposes rather than to leave them to rot. After all, there are plenty of public works which can add to our productive capacity, or improve our living standardselectricity, water and sewerage, transport, irrigation, hospitals, etc. If we use our idle resources to build these things now, we will make ourselves better off because we will have them in the future.
It is sometimes objected that, if we raise loans for these capital works, we will be mortgaging the future and will be piling up mountains of debt for future generations to meet. But the debt, if locally raised, is borrowed from ourselves, so that the money credits equal the money debits and the capital works constructed will remain as a real bonus. Over the past thirty or forty years, although we have been raising loans to pay for at least some of our capital works, the so-called burden of debt has, in fact, decreased drastically. There are 2 main causes for this drastic decrease: Firstly, each year we pay part of our taxes to a sinking fund, which uses the money to buy securities and then cancels them; secondly, rising population, rising prices and rising incomes have lessened the real weight of our loan indebtedness. I ask permission to incorporate in Hansard 2 tables prepared for me by the Parliamentary Library, which illustrate this process.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
– I thank the House. These tables show that the debt per head, Commonwealth and States together, expressed in 1976 prices has fallen as follows: In 1931, $2,644; 1946, $4,144; 1951, $2,630; 1956, $2,236; 1961, $1,929; 1966, $1,921; 1971, $1,845 and in 1976, $1,462. Honourable members will see the implication of those figures. The weight of interest liability has also fallen. Expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product the interest payable, Commonwealth and States together, is as follows: In 1931, 9.6 per cent; 1946, 5.2 per cent; 1951, 2.7 per cent; 1956, 2.4 per cent; 1961, 2.4 per cent; 1966, 2.1 per cent; 1971, 1.9 per cent and in 1976, 2.0 per cent. Over this same period the percentage of the debt owed outside Australia has shrunk dramatically. In 1 93 1 the figure was 52 per cent; in 1 946, 20 per cent; 1951, 17 percent; 1956, 16 per cent; 1961, 16 per cent; 1966, 14 per cent; 1971, 11 per cent and in 1976, 7 per cent.
Thus over the whole period not only has the real weight of total debt eased, but the real weight of overseas indebtedness has fallen even more rapidly. Thus, for example, reckoned at 1976 prices, our 1946 indebtedness overseas was $6,509m and the interest on it was $233m: Within the next 30 years these figures had shrunk to $ 1 , 325m and $94m respectively.
Under present arrangements all loan expenditure, Commonwealth and States together, is charged against the Federal Budget. The Treasurer has stated that the capital items included in the 1976-77 Budget amounted to $3,869m. No credit was taken in the Budget for loan raisings anticipated during the year, and the so-called deficit was thus reckoned as $2,608m. In other words, $ 1,261m was to be contributed from taxation to the capital programs of Commonwealth and States. Capital works costing $3,869m were to be constructed in that year and the balance of $2,608m of capital expenditure was to be raised by loans or other means. This in no sense represents extravagant loan expenditurevery much the opposite.
The Treasurer has stated that he intends to reduce the so-called ‘deficit’ next year below the 1976-77 level, and to aim eventually at a ‘balanced budget’. In his terminology this means that he plans to finance an increasing amount of capital works from taxation, until eventually all capital works, State and Federal, are to be paid for from taxes, and no loans are to be raised at all.
This, of course, means continued high taxation, but it may also involve continued high unemployment. If the public maintains its present high savings-ratio that is, the savings-ratio which the Treasurer deplored in his statement of 18 February last- the amount of disposable income spent upon consumer goods will be reduced by the amount of this saving. Without increased consumption, the opportunities for increased private investment will be restricted, since such consumption is needed to provide a market and, without such a market, investments will involve loss.
If, eventually, no public loans are to be raised, and if, at the same time, there is insufficient scope for private investment, there will be nowhere for these savings to go, and they will rot unused. Then indeed the smell of rancid savings will reach to high heaven.
There is no need for this to happen. The burden of public debt has been significantly diminished over the last 30 years, and a reasonable program of loan raising can be faced with equanimity. The position is potentially sound and strong, if only we will take advantage of the opportunity offering.
The decision to save or not to save must always remain a decision to be made by each individual for himself, but, until we realise that we have to adjust our public policy to the collective savings decisions of individual Australian citizens, we are unlikely to find any way out of the present economic morass.
-Earlier in this debate, the National Country Party Whip, the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), interjected to suggest that whilst the Labor Government had initiated the National Animal Health Laboratories program- that is not quite correct- and had advanced the program to the stage where construction was ready to commence, it had not in fact constructed the Laboratories. It was an inane comment and one which I think was made more in automatic response than with real thought. At the end of 1971, the Laboratories had reached the stage where their construction had been approved by the Parliamentary Public Works Committee. Parliamentary approval for the work had been granted. The planning and design were in hand and are still proceeding extremely slowly. Contracts were about to be let for the preparation of the site. My understanding is that it is an eight year to ten year construction job. To suggest that the project having started in 1973 should have been completed by 1 975 is inane.
However, that is not the main reason for my rising to speak in this debate. On Tuesday in this House I raised with the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) the question of provisional tax being charged in respect of persons who reared with a lump sum amount and who invested that amount in order to receive income. The income on which provisional tax is levied is $400 a year or $8 a week. In current terms, the amount invested could be as low as $3,500, $3,750 or $4,000, depending on where the money was placed. I suggest that it is an impost to charge a retired person, who has only limited income other than that amount, 2 years’ tax in one at the time of or immediately following his retirement.
There are 2 reasons why I suggest that this action is an impost. The first is that the person concerned is not a business firm which is likely to go out of business at the end of the year and therefore will be unable to pay the tax. That is one of the theoretical reasons for provisional tax being paid in advance. The second is that a person loses his income or a proportion of his income during the year in which he earns it and has to pay in advance tax which should not be taken in advance. It may be that provisions should exist, where necessary, for payasyouearn taxation deductions to be made, but certainly it is an unfair impost on retired persons to charge provisional tax on incomes from amounts they received at the time of their retirement or on savings which they accumulated for use during their retirement as income would be used. A person who retires at 60 to 65 years of age has a relatively short life expectancy. To ask that person to accept a considerably reduced standard of living, bearing in mind the reduced standard normally applying to retired persons, by the impost of provisional tax is, I think, something at which the Government ought to look. It ought to alter the provisions to provide a more reasonable frame. I am not sure whether this action is within the competence of the Commissioner of Taxation. Certainly it is within the competence of the Government to alter the practice either by regulation, direction or legislation if necessary. The fact is that the amount of only $400 is involved. The Commissioner of Taxation is serving provisional tax notices on persons with very low incomes and who are retired and dependent on those incomes. That action is an impost. If an amount of $4000 is invested, I do not think there would be any difficulty in the Commissioner of Taxation getting his funds from the estate, if it came to that.
I should like to raise one other matter. I think it is of serious consequence to this Parliament and to what the parliamentary institution stands for. During question time on Tuesday, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a statement on what he sees as the rights of persons to oppose government decisions and government policies. I suggest that that statement is most likely the narrowest interpretation of the rights of individuals in a democratic society ever made by any person supposedly holding a responsible office. The statement quite clearly says that the only persons entitled to express opposition to Government policies or Government actions are the elected members of Parliament. The remainder of the community’s rights are restricted to voting once every 3 years or as often as an election occurs.
-I suggest that the honourable member reads what was put in this House by the Prime Minister as a statement of his Government’s policy. I do not think the honourable member would allow them to vote. In a democratic society governments are elected and, depending upon their maintenance of a majority in the Parliament, they govern. The community has every right to express its disapproval of government decisions, actions or inactions. That is a right which must exist and one which the democratic process is dependent upon. Opinion forming is a process in which every individual has a right to participate. Dissent is a right which every individual has and must be allowed to maintain.
Any honourable member who reads what the Prime Minister said in this House will see quite clearly that he disagrees with that proposition and that, on behalf of the present Government of Australia, he has said that those rights do not exist. I am quite sure that the honourable members on the other side of the Parliament on whose behalf this statement has been made do not realise what it says. For that purpose I will read exactly what the Prime Minister said in answer to a question in this House on Tuesday and said as a statement of government policy. He said that it has always been the view of his Government and the Government Parties that democratic opposition must operate within the parliamentary forum in the proper democratic manner, that his Government does not believe that politics ought to be taken to the streets, as do quite a number of people on the Opposition benches of the House and as they practised on a previous occasion, and that the Government believes very strongly that the proper democratic forum- that is, the election of people at elections- is the way in which to see who ought to govern and the nature of the opposition itself. That is a very narrow statement. It can only be interpreted as I have already suggested it should be interpreted.
We most likely still would have had troops in Vietnam if people had not taken to the streets. People took to the streets peacefully and protested against what they considered to be improper government policies. People have opposed a great variety of the accepted norms of governments over a long period of time. Many of those protests were extremely unpopular in the initial stages and politicians did not take up the causes involved for the simple reason that they were afraid of the reaction of the community or the criticism of the Press. In retrospect, some of those decisions have become accepted norms. The Prime Minister made a statement a few days ago about politics and sport which would have resulted in hands being thrown up in horror only a couple of years ago- even 12 months ago when the International Olympic Committee was demanding that it had the exclusive right to apply political norms to politics rather than the governments of the countries concerned.
This is a serious question. It is one of which this House has to take note and it is one of which the people of Australia have to take note. In the opinion of the Prime Minister opposition to government policy is not allowed by the people of the country except at the ballot box and they do not get regular opportunities to go to the ballot box. But that is not always the place where opposition can be readily expressed because there is a multitude of decisions to be made in casting a ballot and individual and sometimes minority views do not hold sway. I think the most serious thing that a government of a country can suggest is that those people who do not happen to be a part of the majority at the time and who do not have the privilege of being members of Parliament are not entitled to express any forms of opinion opposed to the government of the day. It is a serious question the consequences of which would be the total destruction of the democratic way of life that we at least believe we enjoy. I would suggest that the Prime Minister and supporters of the Government ought to look seriously at the statement that the Prime Minister made in this House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Nixon, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Australian National Railways Act 1917. The main provisions of the Bill are necessary to enable the finalisation of the transfers of the South Australian non-metropolitan and Tasmanian railway systems to the Commonwealth. The opportunity has also been taken to make some other amendments of a minor nature. Honourable members will recall that the present Government, when in Opposition, did not oppose the legislation to approve the rail transfer agreements with South Australia and Tasmania on the grounds they were agreements between sovereign governments. This was the correct course of action for us to take. But that does not mean we were happy with the arrangements made. In fact I have made it very clear that in my opinion the Whitlam Government was taken to the cleaners, whilst the 2 State Premiers laughed all the way to the bank. As I have stated however we will honour the agreements, and will complete the transfers at the earliest opportunity.
The 2 rail systems were transferred to the Australian National Railways Commission on 1 July 1975. The transfer Acts however provided for an ‘interim’ period during which the rail systems would continue to be operated and administered by the State Authorities, on behalf of and subject to the direction of the Commission. The purpose of the interim period was to enable the terms and conditions of employment that would be applied to all Australian National Railways employees to be determined, so that the State railway employees could transfer to the Commonwealth. Discussions with the unions concerned have now been going on for nearly 2 years, and it is clearly time that the matter be finalised to enable the Commission to manage the total system directly. Honourable members need to be aware of the difficulties involved. For instance there are 24 unions and associations involved in the discussions, and 26 different awards covering State and Commonwealth employees. In the wages area alone there are about 600 different classifications, many of them unique to the railway service. The main provisions of this Bill result from agreements already reached with the unions. Because of the urgency I earnestly ask those involved in the discussions to co-operate to the fullest extent to enable the remaining unresolved matters to be finalised.
The Australian National Railways Commission was established as a statutory authority to operate along commercial lines. This is important. Australia cannot afford inefficiency or a waste of resources in this very necessary mode of transport. Part of the justification for the transfers was that the transfers would enable rationalisation between the systems leading to an increase in efficiency and a reduction in the deficits being incurred. The combined deficits of the two transferred systems amounted to $45m in 1976 and I do not underestimate the task that has been set the Commission.
The Government has taken action already to assist the Commission in its task. Committees of inquiry were established under the chairmanship of Dr Stewart Joy, Chief Manager, Planning and Marketing, of the National Bank of Australasia, to inquire into and report on the Tasmanian rail system and the options available regarding the construction of a standard gauge link between Adelaide and the main east-west standard gauge railway. Reports on these 2 matters have been completed and released to the public. I have invited the 2 State governments and the Commission to comment on the reports and have given an undertaking that no decisions will be taken with respect to the reports’ findings without careful and proper consideration of the various options and their implications.
Rail services must be provided to meet the needs of the States concerned at the least cost to the community and inquiries such as these undertaken by Dr Joy will assist the Government and the Commission to decide how this is to be achieved. I am certainly heartened by the constructive approach taken by my State counterparts towards overcoming the Railways problems. I am confident that if we can continue to receive the co-operation of the States as well as that of the unions and employees improvements in operation and the level of deficit will occur.
I now turn to the Bill itself. I have circulated an explanatory memorandum for the information of members but I will very briefly describe the purpose of the more important amendments in the order they appear in the Bill. Clause 5 removes the necessity for contracts, where ANR receives in excess of $100,000 to be approved by me, this having been inadvertently included in the last amendment to the Act. It is inconsistent with the commercial role of the Commission for my approval to be required in this matter. The requirement for me to approve leases of land exceeding 10 years has also been deleted as this matter is covered in the Lands Acquisition Act. Clause 6 removes the possibility of inconsistency between the setting of rates and charges under this Act and the provisions of the South Australian transfer Act and agreement which provide that relative advantages in rates and charges that previously existed are to be retained.
Clause 9 amplifies the application of the discipline appeal provisions that occur later in the Bill, and the making of determinations relating to misconduct. A provision has also been included to assist in the proving, in court proceedings, that determinations under section 46 (2) of the Australian National Railways Act were validly made and in force at the appropriate time. Clauses 10, 14 and 19 concern the industrial jurisdiction that will apply to all employees of ANRC. The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will replace the Public Service Arbitrator. These provisions are required to apply the jurisdiction of the Commission and include transitional provisions to simplify the change in jurisdiction.
Clause 11 concerns superannuation. Section 5 1 currently provides that the Act does not authorise superannuation benefits otherwise than under the Superannuation Act 1922. It has been agreed with the South Australian Government that transferring employees will be permitted to remain in their State schemes if they wish, because some employees, particularly those close to retirement, would otherwise be disadvantaged. Transferring employees will have a once only option on the declared date either to remain in the State scheme or to commence as new contributors in the Commonwealth scheme. The South Australian Government has enacted legislation to this effect. The same offer was made to the Tasmanian Government, and it is expected that Tasmanian legislation to give effect to this offer will be passed at the earliest opportunity. The clause has been drafted on the basis that the same arrangements apply to employees in both States. Clause 12 relates to promotions and disciplinary appeal procedures that are to apply to all employees of ANR when the rail transfers are finalised. The major provisions concerning the protection of rights and functions of the boards have been included in legislation. Other matters are to be included in regulations and by-laws.
Clause 13 repeals the section in the Act which provides for the retirement age of employees. It is proposed to deal with retiring age under the Commission’s power to make determinations relating to terms and conditions of service, provided for under section 46 (2). This practice is consistent with that used by the Australian National Line and Trans-Australia Airlines. Clause 18 ensures that by-laws made by the Commission for the purpose of applying State legislation are validly made. This provision is required because uniform operating rules and provisions prescribing rates and charges may not be finalised by the declared date under the rail transfer agreements and it will therefore be necessary for the relevant State provisions to remain in force until replaced. Other amendments are either of a minor nature, merely procedural or of a consequential nature. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.55 to 2.15 p.m.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent General Business Notice No. 14 being considered forthwith.
I have the motion in writing and I understand that the honourable member for KingsfordSmith (Mr Lionel Bowen) will second it.
-I second the motion.
– I have moved for the suspension of Standing Orders because I believe that the matter contained in the notice is important to the very conduct of Parliament itself. Sufficient time has elapsed since the giving of the notice for honourable members to assess that unless some positive action is taken it will be on the notice paper for an indefinite time. For that to occur would be unfair to the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) and to the House itself. To neglect to discuss it would reflect on the Parliament’s duty to be jealous in preferring its own dignity and not to be seen to stand in the way of the due legal process. Parliaments in the Westminster system express the necessary qualifications of their members in different ways and define procedures for determining those qualifications in a variety of ways. In Australia we have a written Constitution which is treated with a great deal of reverence.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) proposed:
That the honourable member for Scullin be not further heard.
-The question is that the honourable member for Scullin be not further heard. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’, to the contrary ‘no’. I think the ayes have it.
Opposition members- The noes have it. Divide.
The bells being rung-
Mi Lionel Bowen- Mr Deputy Speaker, we do not wish to proceed with the division.
-The division is called off.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I seconded the motion for reasons that ought to be made clear -
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) agreed to:
That the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith be not further heard.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Opposition decided not to divide on the issue, but at this stage I ask the Government to indicate when and if it will bring on this motion and another motion which refers to a member of this House. It is important that the Parliament not be seen to be standing in the way of legal process. On a previous occasion in the Senate a motion was referred to the Court of Disputed Returns and the senator involved was found to be not guilty of the offence. His name was completely cleared, and I believe that the Parliament was strengthened and not weakened by that process being carried out. In this case, any doubts about the honourable member should be cleared up in the proper legal way and the Parliament should not be seen to be standing in the path of legal judicial process.
– It is hardly the job of the Chair to adjudicate on that matter.
– May I seek your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, to reply to the point of order raised by the Manager of Opposition Business in the House. It was my intention to bring on this matter today. However, I believe that there is an advantage in not interrupting the Grievance Day debate. For that reason, while I share the honourable member’s desire to have a debate on this matter at the earliest possible opportunity, it is my intention to bring it on on the next day on which notices are considered, which will be next Thursday.
Original question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from 27 April, on motion by Mr Lynch:
The the Bill be now read a second time.
-The purpose of the 2 Bills before the House is the appropriation of sums out of Consolidated Revenue for the business of government in addition to those funds already granted to the Government in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and Appropriation Bill (No. 2). Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) are adjuncts to the Budget. Normally, they are simply devices to cater for unavoidable alterations to government expenditure patterns as laid out in the Budget. Occasionally they reflect substantially changes in the direction of government economic policy. That was the case in 1974-75, when the Labor Government increased public sector outlays as a counterbalance to rising unemployment. The international recession had evoked a similar response from the governments of most Western democracies, and I was glad that it evoked that response here in Australia.
Normally, unless a major change in the level of government expenditure has occurred, extra appropriations in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) are largely off-set by shortfalls in expenditure estimates in the Budget. These expenditure shortfalls are the amounts the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) likes to refer to as savings. They are, of course, not savings in any conventional sense of the word. Any large enterprise which plans expenditure over a 12-month period will find that circumstances will prevent its plans from being realised in every detail. So too with governments. The shortfalls of expenditure in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) do not emerge for the most part as a result of improved management or greater work effort; they occur as a result of things not going as the Budget predicted. They also sometimes occur as a result of governments not honouring Budget commitments about expenditure to various groups. Also, they sometimes emerge, as all honourable members who have served on the Public Accounts Committee know, because of inefficient estimating.
In the statement of savings issued by the Treasurer with the Bills we are debating, there are examples of shortfalls occurring for the first 2 reasons I mentioned. We will have to await the report of the Public Accounts Committee to ascertain whether or not the third reason is applicable here. Returning to the first 2 reasons, we see that it is expected that almost $2 1 6m less will be paid out of Consolidated Revenue to the Health Insurance Fund established under the Health Insurance Act than was expected when the Budget was framed. I suspect that this socalled saving has occurred because the Government did a better job of dismantling Medibank than it expected and that there are fewer people calling on the resources of the Health Insurance Fund. In this instance, the expenditure did not take the path expected by Appropriation Bill (No. 1).
On page 32 of the statement of savings, we find in Division 308 of the estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs an example of a saving made where a government has not honoured previous commitments. The so-called saving of $ 17.7m in the expenditure of the Australian Development Assistance Agency is effectively a cut of $ 17m in Australia’s foreign aid. This cut sits rather strangely with the assurances of the
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) that Australia’s foreign aid would not be cut in a de facto fashion via government induced administrative constrictions. It is obvious from looking at the details that this cut in aid has occurred because the Australian Development Assistance Agency has been unable because of staff cutbacks to spend the money committed to it.
Genuine savings in government expenditure which lead to greater efficiency are of course sought and welcomed by all parties, certainly by the Opposition Labor Party. A genuine saving occurs when the same service is provided to the same people for less cost or where it is discovered that benefits can be withdrawn from people who have no need of them. For example, if the reduction in the appropriation to the Health Insurance Fund had occurred because of less than anticipated usage of health services and if this did not result in a decline in health care standards, then a much needed saving would have emerged. I am somewhat sickened by Government members who claim great credit for saving taxpayers’ money but do it simply by transferring the cost to the taxpayer in a disguised fashion. I doubt whether taxpayers who were saved the cost of the burden of Medibank regarded themselves as better off after they had paid private health insurance subscriptions.
I have mentioned a number of sacrifices associated with the Bills before the House but in general I have left aspects of details of spending to be taken up by my colleagues speaking in this debate. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4), as extensions of the Budget as I said earlier, should be examined in the light of overall Budget strategy. The Budget is now 9 months old and it is possible to make a judgment as to its success or failure. This I will do later. The Budget of 1976-77 was framed around large cuts in government expenditure and investment incentives to the business sector. The ultimate parameter used by the Government in its Budget construction was the deficit. This had to be cut at all costs. The reason for this was quite obvious. The Government when in Opposition had run a concentrated campaign of conjecture, half truth and downright lies about the effects of the deficit being run by the Labor Government. This campaign, led by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), was the ultimate exercise in talking down the economy. It was an orchestrated appeal to fear, playing on the ignorance most people have of the technicalities of the way an economy functions.
The Treasurer exaggerated for his own ends figures for the final deficit. The Prime Minister quaintly told everybody the country was broke and that everyone owed the Government $500. It is no wonder that when the Treasurer accuses others of talking down the economy it is impossible to take him seriously. It is little wonder that accusations of economic ignorance thrown by the Prime Minister at members of the Opposition conjure up pictures of the chap who lived in a glass house and threw stones. As part of its attack on the Labor Government the conservatives latched onto levels of government expenditure as a prime cause of domestic economic recession. It is pointless drawing to their attention that most of the real rises in government expenditure were a reaction to rather than a cause of economic recession. In none of the of conservatives’ discussion of Australia’s economic performance in the years between 1972 and 1975 did the international recession play a major role. What nonsense this was. The Treasurer attempted to mislead us again yesterday during question time by suggesting that it was the Labor Government’s policies which had caused the recession. I repeat: What nonsense this is. There was a world economic crisis during 1974 and 1975. This discussion of the past is, of course, very relevant to the present because accurate gauging of causes of a problem are needed before any worthwhile remedies may be prescribed.
The economics editor of the Age newspaper, Mr Ken Davidson, provided us with a graphic illustration of the effects the world recession had on Western economies in a recent series of articles. During 1975 non-farm gross domestic product in 7 major Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries fell by an average 1 .3 per cent. In plain terms this means that all leading Western economies suffered a severe recession in 1975. Australia also caught up in this recession but our performance under a Labor government, aided by positive use of government expenditure, was discernably better than most others. During 1975 Australia’s nonfarm gross domestic product actually rose, granted by only .4 per cent. But it was a rise compared to the substantial average fall in the major OECD countries.
At this stage I might point to other statistics put together by Mr Davidson which compare Australia’s economic performance with the 7 major OECD countries, this time for periods following the Liberal and National Country Parties return to office. In 1976 non-farm gross domestic product in Australia rose by 4 per cent, in contrast the average for the 7 major OECD countries of 5.5 per cent. In the calendar year 1977 optimistic estimates place the real growth in
Australia’s non-farm GDP at about 3.2 per cent whereas the OECD estimates that the average figure for the 7 major countries will be 4 per cent. In short, Australia’s growth performance compared more favourably with overseas experiences under Labor than it has under this Government.
A similar view emerges from a table of average annual percentage increases in industrial production put together from OECD data in the December bulletin of the Flinders Institute of Labour Studies. In the period 1972-75 Australia ranked fourth on a table of industrial production for 14 countries. We were ninth in the period 1964-68 and have fallen from fourth to eighth when the 6 months of this Government’s policies are taken into account. I mention these facts because too much of the economic debate in Australia is clouded by ill-informed criticism of Labor’s economic performance. True, there were problems. But they were not predominantly of domestic origin. The international recession must be recognised for what influence it played. That was the major influence.
Looked at in its true perspective, the level of government expenditure under Labor was a major element in preventing a slide into much deeper recession. Any dangers that rapidly increasing rates of government expenditure could be counter-productive by crowding out the private sector were removed through the trimming which occurred in the 1975 Hayden Budget. I mentioned earlier that this was an appropriate time to examine the Government’s Budget strategy in the light of performance. In Budget Statement No. 2 a number of predictions are made for the year 1976-77 about movements in national product, monitory conditions, the labour market and wages and prices. I would like to examine these predictions at this stage.
I will deal firstly with national product. Nonfarm GDP was expected to grow in real terms by about 4 per cent in 1976-77. In the first half of the financial year significantly less than half this growth had been achieved and statistics for 1977 give no indication of any improvement. In regard to the labour market, it was expected that employment growth would be consistent with a gradual reduction in the rate of unemployment. No such thing has occurred. Unemployment in January reached a post-war record of 354 589 people- 5.8 per cent of the work force. At the end of March, 5.4 per cent of the work force was unemployed compared with 4.5 per cent a year earlier when Labor’s policies were applied. No gradual reductions in unemployment had occurred; rather a substantial increase in unemployment had taken place.
I turn to deal with prices and incomes. Both the consumer price index and average weekly earning were expected to increase by about 12 per cent in 1976-77 so the Budget told us. Experience has shown that the expectation for the CPI was little more than wishful thinking. During the first half of the financial year the CPI rose by 8.2 per cent. Devaluation has insured that it will rise by around 7 per cent in the first half of 1 977. This will give a rise approaching 15 per cent for the year compared with a Budget prediction of 12 per cent. I say this in spite of the 2.3 per cent increase announced today as the increase in the consumer price index for the March quarter. All that that 2.3 per cent depicts is that the effects of devaluation are seeping into our economy because of very sluggish retail sales rather more slowly than was expected. Another reason for the 2.3 per cent increase, which I agree is less than was expected by the pundits, is food prices which increased by only 1.9 per cent compared with 5 per cent in the similar quarter last year. The increase in average weekly earnings may be closer to 12 per cent as the living standards of workers fall and the Government intensifies its campaign to make wage and salary earners pay for its own mistakes.
Dramatic evidence of the adverse effect that the policies of the Fraser Government are having on the living standards of ordinary Australians appeared in the December quarter national accounts released yesterday. These figures revealed that living standards in Australia fell by more than 4 per cent during 1976 due to actions of the Fraser Government. The December quarter national income estimates show that, seasonally adjusted, household disposable income rose by 12 per cent between December 1975 and December 1976. During the same period, consumer prices increased by 14.4 per cent indicating a fall in real household disposable income of 2.4 per cent. When a population growth of 1.5 per cent and the reductions in the social wage through reduced government spending are taken into account, real income per person fell by over 4 per cent during 1 976.
I move on to deal with monetary conditions. The Budget assumptions were suggested to be consistent with a growth in the volume of money broadly defined at between 10 per cent to 12 per cent. Devaluation has rendered this statement somewhat inoperative as the Treasurer has told us that devaluation would necessitate a revision in the estimate for money supply growth. Significantly, no announcement as to what the revised target would be has been made. The latest figures suggest that the money supply is growing at a rate of about 12 per cent per annum. This implies a decline of approximately 4 per cent in the real level of money in circulation. Such a decline has obvious ramifications for the economy, and especially for small businesses. That sector has been extremely hard hit by this Government’s monetary policies. We see large company profits rising swiftly while small business is starved of finance even for everyday needs. The overdraft is the source of working capital for small business, and overdrafts are restricted.
It is obvious from the broad resume I have given that the 1976-77 Budget strategy is in tatters and that the Budget is nowhere near on line. It would have been reasonable to expect the Government to realise the error of its ways and to take remedial action by means of these additional Appropriation Bills which we are debating today. The central problem with the Government’s strategy has been its failure to use the public sector in its proper role. Leaving aside the folly of Medibank and devaluation, I say that the Government’s major move which has influence over the level of economic activity has been the reduction in the real level of government outlays. The last quarterly national accounts indicated a fall of some 8 per cent in government capital expenditure during the last 12 months. The effect of that has been the slow down in activity, and it is obvious that that has happened. The major part of the rest of the world is enjoying some economic recovery. In keeping with that, governments have been cutting back the rate of increase in real government expenditure. Australia, on the other hand, is still wallowing in recession. Its Government’s answer is to cut back the real level of government outlays. We are completely out of step with the rest of the world. Significantly the Treasurer no longer bleats about international endorsement for the economic policies of his Government. News yesterday of the enormous increase in government outlays in France- the home of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development- makes nonsense of the line that the Treasurer has been taking. In fact, it would seem from first reports that much of the strategy advocated by Labor over the past year has been adopted in the French Government’s latest moves.
The Government is still preoccupied with its misconceptions about the deficit. It still rigidly adheres to a brand of stone age economics. In spite of cries from all sections of the community for the Liberal and National Country Parties to take alternative action, they cling to theories and philosophies which visited the Great Depression upon the world. The Government’s approach to the economy is totally wrong. It has set about giving business incentives to expand and to invest but it has forgotten that there is not much good in asking business to produce goods if no one will buy them. The Government relied on consumer spending for a short while and then it set about reducing that spending power by its actions in national wage cases. The Prime Minister obviously does not understand the problems the economy faces and has no ideas for remedies. The grasping of the wages and prices freeze was an act of sheer desperation. No one who understands how an economy works could possibly suggest such a plan without first working out the details-getting the necessary support from employers and employees. Let us hope that something can be salvaged from the chaos. But if a proud man, our Prime Minister, will not arrange a national conference to prepare the necessary ground work, nothing will happen.
Since coming to power this Government has tottered from one economic policy to another. The editorial of the 14 April edition of the Australian Financial Review put those policies all together in one bundle. I quote from that newspaper:
Fraser’s investment led recovery, the consumer led recovery of last August’s Budget, the devaluation strategy of last November, the wages and incomes freeze of April.
They are put together in a bundle. Each of those strategies was virtually torpedoed by other government action. The Government seems intent on drawing up strategies and then taking action to make sure that they do not work. In contrast, the Labor Opposition has been consistent in what it has proposed, and I shall come to that in a moment. At the present time the country is left without a plausible economic strategy. The Prime Minister still exhorts people to support his freeze, but that does not hide the lack of a real economic policy. The Australian Financial Review of 1 5 April put it this way:
Talk of a ‘national effort’ is all very fine but it is political garbage when it is used to cover up for the lack of any coherent policy.
Conjecture is rife about the 1977-78 Budget. Fears of credit squeezes plague small business. Nobody knows where the Government is going. The Opposition has consistently put forward a viable alternative approach to that being followed by the Government. That approach involves an initial widening of the deficit and a modest increase in the rate of growth of the money supply. Support for a strategy which involves the use of the deficit to bring about a higher level of economic activity and thus attack inflation from a stronger economic base comes from many areas. All Labor State Premiers, as well as the Victorian Liberal State Premier, have put forward proposals involving initial widening of the deficit. The Bank of New South Wales, which previously was one of the Government’s strongest supporters, has noted that ‘the Government seems to have achieved little perceptible headway in controlling inflation and reviving business confidence’. The Bank of New South Wales said also that policy changes should be made ‘even though in the short term the deficit would be thereby increased ‘.
Only on Tuesday Mr Rod Black, President of the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation, called for tax cuts and a selective increase in government expenditure. Editorial comment in the Canberra Times has expressed concern at the Government’s obsession with deficit reduction. The comment is the same from all these sources within Australia. The story is the same abroad, if we look at what is happening in France, Japan and the United States, to mention just 3 countries. The story is the same abroad if we take note of the article in today’s Wall Street Journal of New York in which the bankruptcy of the Australian Government’s economic policy is pointed out. The deficit can responsibly be increased at this stage of our economic history. The rate of growth of the money supply can be increased. Once it is accepted that the deficit may be increased, half the battle is over. It then remains to obtain a maximum activity increase from a limited deficit increase. The clawback of the extra taxes from the extra income which comes from that extra activity immediately reduces the deficit.
The Opposition believes that indirect tax cuts and selective increases in government expenditure are preferable to cuts in direct taxes. Indirect tax cuts directly affect the cost structure and hence are compatible with the continuation of orderly wage fixation which indexation affords. They also tend to produce a greater increase in activity than does an equivalent cut in direct taxes. Government expenditure in areas such as the building and construction industry would have a direct and immediate effect on employment. The way back is long and hard, but these measures would, in the short term, get us back on the right path. Regrettably many of the Government’s concessions to business are not producing the desired effect. Consequently these should be scrapped to allow expenditure in more productive areas. For example, very few people ever conceived that the investment allowance should be available in conjunction with the stock valuation proposals. These funds are at the moment simply enlarging short term corporate profits. While not detracting from the importance of company profitability for new investment in new jobs, I suggest that the companies would be better off in the long term if government stimulated an increase in the aggregate level of demand.
The same comment applies to what the Prime Minister had to say today in relation to the new mining ventures that have got off the ground. Any senior mining man in this country will say that it is not the investment allowances- those hand outs- which have closed other options and which have meant that these new ventures, which we all applaud, get going. That has not been the cause of” the new investment. What has been the cause of new investment is the new markets which are created as a return from world economic activity. I believe that is why the Opposition regards many of these concessions, these allowances, as being too extravagant. It is not that we do not applaud some people getting some new concessions which might lead to new employment; it is a question of what the options are and what are better ways of doing things. The best way in which to get the economy moving in this country and to get people back to work is to stimulate consumer spending.
As part of its alternative strategy the Opposition calls for a major expansion of manpower and retraining schemes. While those sorts of activities do have some short term benefits they are primarily designed to counter long term structural problems. There is a major difference here between attitudes of the Government and of the Opposition. Very little the Government has said or done suggests that it sees the basic structural problems in the economy which cannot be overcome by macro policy initiatives. Indeed in one document tabled in the House by the Treasurer it was suggested that all recessions were cyclical and could be overcome by normal counter cyclical policy. I point out that this is not the view taken by experts in the field of employment and manpower studies. During discussion at an experts meeting organised by the OECD Directorate for Social Affairs, Manpower and Education in Paris, unemployment due to several factors was distinguished. These factors were cyclical, physical, social and mental disabilities, seasonal, frictional and structural. It is obvious that a government that is incorrectly distinguishing causes of problems will be inept at providing solutions. The Opposition, unlike the Government, has discerned many of the real problems facing the economy and has viable plans to combat them. Accordingly, I intend to move an amendment on behalf of the Opposition.
Before doing so I want to summarise the points that I have been making. The Government came to power with its ideology of mutilating and reducing the public sector. That was a totally wrong ideology which would lead to totally wrong economic policies at any time, particularly at this stage of Australia’s economic history. The lack of government spending meant a lack of jobs in the public and private sectors because of contracts the public sector has with the private sector. But more than anything it meant a lack of confidence and a lack of consumer spending which are so vitally required. From that bad start the Government has ricochetted from one bad decision to another, so much so, of course, that not only is there a lack of confidence at home but there is also a lack of confidence abroad which leads to an outflow of funds and the disastrous devaluation decision which, as I mentioned earlier, was commented upon in the Wall Street Journal. All of this has led to another grasping for straws in the so-called wages and prices freeze. This is not a substitute for hard economic policies.
What the Opposition is putting forward is a viable alternative strategy. We believe that there ought to be cuts in indirect taxes to stimulate consumer spending. We believe there ought to be more government spending, particularly in the construction area and in local initiative programs. We believe also there ought to be government spending in manpower programs because we are short of skilled workers. We believe that this spending and cuts in indirect taxes can be done without exacerbating inflation. We point in particular to the fact that our extra expenditure and our loss in revenue would be financed by phasing out some of the more extravagant handouts to the business sector which have not produced results, however pleasant they may be for those receiving them. We cannot get an investment led recovery because the business sector has not produced results. Therefore assistance to this sector ought to be substituted by programs which will produce results.
The other way of finding funds is by a modest increase in the money supply which will not be inflationary as long as that increase is not greater than the rate of inflation plus the rate of growth. We also believe that at least $500m would be available by a more vigorous selling of government bonds, a more vigorous funding of the deficit. The time available to me has almost concluded. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition I move:
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-I listened with interest to the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) put forward the Opposition’s views on the economy. As I listened it became very apparent that the Opposition has learned nothing from its 3 years in Government. It would continue to expand the Government deficit. It would continue to spend largely in the government sector. It would continue to push along into the area of a wages spiral. I would have hoped it might have learned something after its experiences during its 3 years in office in which the consumer price index rose from 4 per cent to 15 per cent or 16 per cent, in which unemployment rose from 100 000 people in round figures to 300 000 and in which there was a lack of business confidence. But I note from the editorial in today’s Australian Financial Review- this is the publication quoted by the honourable member- the following comment was made:
The Labor Party is lacking in its duty to shape up as an Opposition because it is not really interested in the country’s economic problems. The ALP is presently consumed by a leadership struggle between Mr Whitlam and Mr Hayden.
As I listened to the honourable member for Adelaide, the Opposition spokesman on economic affairs, I assumed that he had counted himself out of that struggle, but was thinking of writing himself back into it.
The problems facing Australia are great. I will not shirk conceding that point. Inflation creates a very great problem. Unless it is brought under control the whole structure and fibre of the nation will collapse. I am very heartened by the quarterly CPI figures which were released today. The 2.3 per cent increase is a remarkable achievement particularly in view of the pressures brought about by increased import costs and the other pressures that are around at the present time. I would like to congratulate the Government on its performance in this area. This achievement points to the fact that there is some basic underlying confidence that we sometimes fail to see in some areas.
I am concerned about the level of unemployment, which is too high. I am particularly concerned about the very high percentage of unemployed youth. I believe this is an area at which the Government will have to look in the future because we cannot afford to have the youth of the nation unemployed. The social problems that flow from unemployment are quite enormous. I am sure something will be done in the future to alleviate this problem.
I would like to pay particular attention to some of the problems which face the Government in framing the 1977-78 Budget. I believe there are a number of areas in which there is certainly confusion and uncertainty. I think the Government should have in mind that the Budget should be a light on the hill for people to see. People should be able to see which way taxation reforms will flow. They should be able to see which way they can expect interest rates to develop. By framing the Budget in this way the people will be able to take a positive step in the areas of personal exertion, personal investment and personal initiative.
There is no doubt that some of the sacred cows of Australia will have to be pruned. We cannot afford to continue a number of programs without a significant lift in taxation, which no one wants, or a very extensive lift in the deficit. It might be all very well for the Opposition spokesman on the economy to say that all we have to do is aggressively to sell bonds. Our record in this area to date has not been too good. I shall refer to this matter later in my speech. But while we are pruning expenditures, which were allowed to blossom at an enormous rate during 1 972-75 we will need to look at the question of flexibility in certain areas. As programs are cut and as expenditure and outlays are cut the impact does not fall evenly across the nation. It will be necessary to look in terms of special relief in special areas. I hope that some notice can be taken of these problems when the Budget is framed. In every Budget I think that too little attention is given to the question of income. We always speak in terms of expenditure and later say: ‘Where do we find the income.’ The Government has already given concessions in the area of tax indexation, investment allowances and stock adjustment. These are very significant giveaways in terms of Government income. The amount of money in one particular full year could well be approaching $2,000m. This giveaway or concession will, in my view, naturally inhibit the ability of the Government to give personal income tax concessions on a large scale. I very much doubt that taxation concessions would win wage concessions in the current climate and under the current leadership of the trade unions. I hope that people will recognise the contribution made by the Government in the area of taxation.
It is worth drawing one small parallel that if these concessions had not been given- I think that in no small way they have had an impact on economic activity in Australia- the amount of personal income tax could be withdrawn significantly. I refer to the question of the deficit because it is this area around which so many of the arguments revolve. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Adelaide, was very emphatic that this area should be expanded to allow the Government to encroach further into the area of the private sector, to bid away resources and to give out largesse on a large scale. How do we fund the deficit and what is the impact of it? In funding the deficit on an internal basis in Australia the greatest impact falls in the area of interest rates. It is the area of interest rates which I believe has the greatest impact on economic activity, an impact far greater than personal taxation. Quite clearly, we are caught in a bind. To support high levels of deficit, one must go out of the market place and bid for money. When one bids for money, one is forcing up interest rates. I think the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) would know that only too well. The Government will have to pay marked attention to the area of interest rates if it is to promote consumer spending.
There is no doubt that if high levels of interest rates are pursued, this will encourage people to save and not spend. High levels of deficit create uncertainty and do the same in terms of consumer spending. I urge the Government, when it approaches the question of funding the deficit, to be particularly cautious not to push the rates higher than it absolutely has to. Indeed, I hope that they would not go above current levels. What can the Government do in order to sell bonds in Australia? What is the history of it? The Government has only 2 options. It can set out to make bonds more attractive for people to buythat is a fact of prices and interest rates-or it can force subscriptions. It is as simple as that. I am philosophically attracted to market forces. Therefore, I would like to look at some of the ways in which the deficit can be funded in
Australia. In the 1950s most investment portfolios held by individuals had a 20 per cent to 25 per cent component of Government bonds. Today there would be very few private investors who hold any significant amounts of money in Government securities. Why is this? It is because over the last 20 years almost invariably everyone who has invested in Government securities has lost money through the rate of inflation. As inflation went up, interest rates went up. As interest rates went up, the value of the assets held went down.
Until this trend is reversed and interest rates are reduced the flow of money to assets will stay in liquid form. In this time, Government securities nave been very unpopular. At the same time Australia has established a money market in which there are 9 operators who hold approximately $ 1 ,000m to $ 1 ,200m in Government securities. But this is a very haphazard operation. The secondary market in Government securities is remarkably poor; indeed, it is a disgrace. I hope that one way in which the Government security market could be made more attractive would be to have a look at this market. It might be that there ought to be a committee of inquiry to investigate ways in which the money market in Australia can be made a more effective working organisation. I think many of the operators in that area would welcome it. In Canada, the United States and Great Britain a very conscious effort is made to make the market an attractive place. Governments, banks, reserve banks and central banks in those countries do this for the particular reason that they know that if they have a viable market they can go to it at any stage and raise significant amounts of money to fund their deficits or to fund particular programs that come along from time to time.
In Australia there are 3 basic forms of securitiesTreasury notes, savings bonds and Commonwealth bonds. These have limited appeal. I think that if more are to be sold the Government must look at some new alternatives in this area to enable it to attract the money that it will need to fund the deficit. The honourable member for Adelaide will need a very big load of alternatives to do this. Firstly, the Government might well give consideration to lifting the limit on the amount of money that can be subscribed to savings bonds. Currently, it is $100,000. Secondly, I would like to pursue the argument of indexed bonds. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) put forward a case not long ago that the Government should accept indexation of bonds as one of the ways in which significant amounts of money can be obtained from the non-bank sector. I will try, as hard as I can, to put that argument to one side. Firstly, the acceptance of an indexed bond is an admission of defeat by inflation. Secondly, it would create in itself a rush of all other securities to an indexed position. I have seen indexation of wages; I have seen indexation of taxes and I have seen indexation of various social security payments. I am bound to say that I have grave reservations about their workings, on all fronts.
In the area of taxation, it has always been my view that the Government should set a rate and live by it, that the indexation of taxation is, in itself, a way in which one can put it to one side and say that it just comes automatically. In the long run, a series of indexations will result in such distortions in whatever is being dealt with that it will become an unmanageable proposition. From a selling point of view, indexed bonds will create an enormous distortion. It is my experience that the person who wants to place money on fixed deposit wants to know 2 things. He wants to know whether the money is secure and what return he will get. In this circumstance, he will get the same security but the interest rate he will receive will be a matter of how the economy performs. Those who buy fixed deposits at a falling rate- if one accepts that one day there will be a negative consumer price index- might well get a nasty shock. The history of indexed securitiesand they are not new throughout the world- has never been a happy one. I hope that we will never come to that situation in Australia. The third form, which I think has considerable merit, is the reintroduction of a tax free or rebatable bond. This would have an enormous appeal to those who have not found a successful investment opportunity in the last three or five years. It would be an opportunity in which significant reductions could be made in the cost of securities, by way of a 5 per cent or 6 per cent coupon, which would allow the Government not to put the pressures on to the interest rates about which I spoke before, but to mop up as much excess cash as possible of that held in some of the corporations and some of the areas of individual investment.
Care would have to be taken in the framing of this area to avoid the old technique of tax washing. I think this can be done. It was demonstrated before that it could be done and there is no reason to believe that it cannot be carried out again. Any introduction of an instrument which would have the power of sale that this would have, would need to be introduced with care. If there is a rapid subscription to it from areas which normally put their money in housing societies or savings banks one would have to watch the consequences of that as they occurred. The fourth form would be to introduce a form of bond option. It is an area which I have not seen used but it has been used successfully by stock exchanges in some areas to promote sales and interest in various securities. I believe the only way in which the Government will be able to sell Government securities is to get out, brush up the image of the stock and make it more attractive, saleable and realistic in terms of its approach to the market.
I said at the beginning that the alternative is to force subscription to government securities. I have no great liking for that style of approach. But we already have a 30-20 rule and it would not be particularly difficult to make that a 40-20 ratio and to embrace the fringe banks and other institutions. As I said before, it is a policy in which I do not believe because I think the market forces would be a far better method of handling the problem of funding the deficit. It is vital that we understand and look at ways that we go about meeting the problem. The consequences to interest rates are enormous. Unless we get interest rates and taxation down we will never inspire consumer confidence to get consumer spending going at the level which we will require ultimately to break the wages and prices spiral. I believe that this can be done only through a vast lift in productivity and that can be achieved really only by a significant improvement in consumer spending.
Overseas borrowings on a large scale which may be necessary can be achieved. I hope that people will not shrink from big numbers when they talk of borrowing from overseas. Let us look to the future. I believe that there is a basic belief in the Australian community that the economy will come right. Australia has too many great resources for the economy to do anything else. These resources have enabled this country to come through many crises in the past. We have resources- energy and power resources- which will stand Australia in good stead in the future. But unless we have a strong short-term resolve to reduce the deficit we will never get properly on this course. The Government must clearly state its policy and stand by it. It is no time for vacillation or for double approaches to various items or policies of economic strategy. If these goals are achieved 1978 should see a significant upturn in the Australian economy.
– It was my privilege to second the amendment that was moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I now have the honour to speak to that amendment which proposes to omit from the original motion before the House all words after ‘that’ and in their place substitute a recipe for a solution to the economic ills of Australia- if not a recipe in full, certainly something more substantial than the Government has been able to provide for this House since it came to office in 1975.
The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) identified 2 problems early in his speech- inflation and unemployment. In the whole 20 minutes during which he addressed the House regrettably he gave no hope of there being any solution to either of these problems coming from the Government benches. He plagiarised a phrase. He mentioned the ‘light on the hill ‘. I remember that a person who had great skills indeed in the management of the economy of Australia used exactly the same phrase except that he meant it and he worked toward it and he achieved his objective. In talking of light, whether it be on the hill or anywhere else, I remind the House that in the glare of the spotlight in December 1975 the Australian people were asked to turn on the lights. That meant they should elect the Liberal Party, the conservatives, to government in this House. The people did. But from that time on it seems that the conservative Government of Australia has blown a fuse and Australia has been plunged into darkness. In fact all that was ever offered to the people was a lighted candle.
The honourable member for Moore spoke about this Government’s generosity in terms of the $2,000m that the Government forgoes or ploughs back into the community. He broke that up into 3 areas: Tax indexation, the investment allowance and stock adjustment. He made a veiled reference to wages which rather alluded me. Two of the areas he mentioned, and one to some extent, give benefit exclusively to industry, not to people who earn salaries and wages at all. People who earn salaries and wages do not get an investment allowance; nor do they get a stock adjustment. They may get some benefit from tax indexation, but that is rather doubtful. So this $2,000m that is ploughed back into the community cannot have an effect on wages; what it could have an effect on is prices. If so, how does the honourable member explain that the consumer price index is continuing to rise degrees quarter by quarter? As I said, there is some doubt as to whether tax indexation would affect the average person in the community. I found that there is another member of this House who agrees with that view, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), who, writing in the April issue of Quadrant, the latest issue, stated:
The average middle-income earner is probably taking home a slightly smaller proportion of his pay than under Whitlam.
Later in the article he wrote:
And on top of it all, when tax has never been higher, Canberra keeps insisting that it has handed out a $ 1 ,000m tax cut through tax indexation to the inflation-hit taxpayer. It is hard to convince anyone that they have had a tax cut when their pay packets tell them clearly that income taxes and levies collected this year are rising at a faster rate than wages.
That was written by a Government supporter, the honourable member for Macarthur. These are his words. He went on in his article to state:
But notwithstanding its unswerving adherence to textbook orthodoxy, the harsh fact remains that it has not put the runs on the board. In 1976 the actual rate of inflation at 14.5 per cent has turned out to be marginally greater than in 1975.
I remind the nation that Labor was in government in 1975. The article continues:
The Government is reluctant to face up to this unpleasant reality; it keeps harping on the underlying rate of inflation, comparing it favourably with the rate under the Labor Government. Even from the standpoint of political pointscoring, this is to make a foolish mistake. The Australian people are not concerned with fine statistical technicalities; they are interested only in results. All they are worrying about is the horrifying figure of 6 per cent for the last quartera higher figure than in any quarter since the Korean inflation of the early 1950s. The Government should forget about politics. It should be concentrating its entire energies on the future, instead of harking back to the past.
The honourable gentleman also has other wise words to say on the subject. In the same article he stated:
The 6 per cent is frightening not only in itself but for what it ponends. Some estimates suggest that for the three quarters to June this year prices could rise by some 14 per cent in the absence of any wage increases at all.
This could spell desperate trouble for the Government during the end of 1977. It would certainly spell desperate trouble for the economy: among other things, the near certainty of another devaluation, and thus a further push to inflation. . . .
If the Government has, on the whole, acted wisely and courageously, why has it failed to achieve results in its major policy objective, a slowing down of inflation?
Its plans have clearly been upset by the reconstruction of Medibank and will soon be further frustrated by the November devaluation.
The honourable member goes on: … in retrospect the changes to Medibank must be adjudged a serious blunder. The restructuring of Health Insurance should clearly have waited until inflation was on the way to being defeated and until the economy was back on the highway of growth. The Government was overambitious; it should have devoted all of its energies to the immediate and vital tasks. Medibank could have waited; it was not an urgent priority.
It seems to me that, in that article, the honourable member for Macarthur put very succinctly the philosophy of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of this country. The Prime Minister has led along those who support him in this place because of the overwhelming majority that he received in this place, not on votes, in the last general election. A number of his supporters are now in such a delicate position that one of these days they will have to make a decision as to whether they can win an election with him or without him. The Prime Minister will have to face up to that problem.
The Prime Minister’s whole philosophy towards these matters is reflected in the Treasurer’s legislation which we are debating this afternoon. The Government generally adopts a confrontation approach towards problems. Those people who sit opposite never wish to conciliate. Since taking office, the Prime Minister has pursued the trade unions of this country and blamed them for the country’s ills. For the first 12 months he blamed the 3 years of Labor Government. When that argument started to wear thin with the electors he thought he would pick on the trade union movement. In his endeavours in this field, he did what he has done in so many other fields; he does not remember those undertakings that he made to the people of Australia prior to December 1975. At that time he quite clearly told the people that there would be no attack on Medibank. Yet one document that accompanies the Estimates we are now considering, Statement of Savings Expected in Appropriation which refers to Appropriation Act (No. 1 ) 1976-77 and Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1976-77 and which I believe to be one of the most scurrilous documents I have ever read states, for example, that the estimated savings in the national health area amount to $232,362,000. The Government is trying to convince this House and the nation that it is saving that money. It is trying to convince us that it is in our best interests that it does so.
I return briefly to the item I mentioned before -tax. I pointed out that the honourable member for Ryan showed us quite clearly that all of the $2,000m that he claimed the Government was ploughing back into the community was in fact going to one section, namely, business and industry. It did not go into the pockets of the Australian people. I have just read to the House extracts from an article by the honourable member for Macarthur which points out quite clearly that the average taxpayer in Australia is now paying more tax, despite tax indexation and other proposals, than he was paying 2 years ago when there was a Labor Government. Surely it has now been established in the minds of all Australian people that there has been no tax relief to the average Australian taxpayer.
We find that, with no tax relief, there is a significant reduction in services. In the case of health, as I have already mentioned, that reduction in services amounts to over $232m. What is really going on? Something that I find great difficulty in understanding is how the average person is still paying as much tax now as he ever paid but is receiving less service for it from the Government. What is happening to the difference? I have a rough idea: It is going into the pockets of the friends of the Governmentthat is, the wealthy friends of the Government, who financed this Government’s return to office. They are now looking for their quid pro quo. That is where the difference is going. Every department has suffered a reduction in the amount allowed for salaries and wages. There has been no reduction in the payment of salaries to officers; people are just being pushed out of the Public Service by the man leading this Government who suffers from some sort of paranoia in this respect; he thinks he is running his farm instead of the nation.
The Department of Health is one of those areas for which the Government claims the largest reduction in expenditure. The next largest is the Department of Defence. Almost $68m has been lopped off that Department’s appropriation. Apparently we will not be buying a couple of battleships this year. Almost $ 12m- in fact $11,924,000-has been pruned from the allocation for the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. Amost all of that amount consists of the saving of $10,870,000 out of the $40m appropriated for the National Employment and Training Scheme. In other words, 25 per cent of the appropriation is expected to be saved on the National Employment and Training scheme. This action probably has something to do with the fact that the Labor Government introduced that scheme and therefore it is not now socially acceptable. The purpose of the scheme is:
For expenditure on allowances and other expenses for the purpose of employment training and re-training (including the training and re-training of widow and repatriation pensioners, migrants, Aborigines, and ex-members of the Defence Force) to meet the needs of the labour market.
If it is fair enough to say that the labour market has been destroyed and no longer exists, why should we re-train people? If we study a list of those people whom these funds were to assist, we find that the Government is living up to its reputation of bashing those who cannot fight back and who do not have the resources to fight back. I shall enumerate them again: Widows- and the Government is very good at bashing widows and the widows mite; it has a reputation for that not only in Australia but around the world- repatriation pensioners, migrants, Aborigines and exmembers of the Defence force. Nearly $ 1 1 m that was set aside to be spent on re-training these people is now being pruned. This represents a saving of $1 lm worth of service to a section of the Australian community which is not going to be delivered. I cannot see how the Government can have any pride in this document.
Another area which will be pruned is the Australian Trade Union Training Authority which was set up by the Labor Government under Minister Clyde Cameron when Minister for Labour and Immigration. It was the first such Authority of its kind in Australia. For the first time the Australian Parliament and through it, the Australian community, recognised the need to extend into the trade union area the specialist training that occurs in the community. For the first time trade unionists were to be recognised as a responsible and an integral part of the Australian community and all the things it stands for and the Australian economy. Like doctors, lawyers and architects and any other professional person in Australia, they were to be trained at community expense. The then Opposition, the now Government, offered no opposition to the passage of that legislation. It expressed the wish to have 2 amendments included in the Bill and it was accommodated by the then Labor government. The legislation was lauded at the time. It was held by the then Opposition, the present Government, to be something which would certainly be of value to the community.
The people involved in trade union training in Australia are among the most respectable and the most responsible people in our whole community. But what happened quite recently? The members of the Australian Council for Trade Union Training received a telex from the responsible Minister telling them that there was to be an inquiry into the activities and affairs of the Trade Union Training Authority. There was no consultation with them. Even the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Hawke, was not consulted. He was told that there would be an inquiry. He was then consulted about the terms of reference. Some notice was taken of his comments on the terms of reference. But the Council itself was not consulted at any time. It was told that there would be an inquiry into its activities as if it was a Mafia-like group in the community that had to be inquired into by the police.
I am not suggesting that it is wrong to hold inquiries into the activities and affairs of statutory bodies. I am suggesting that the Government has again demonstrated its intention, because of the Council’s trade union base, to smash it and to do it in such a subtle way. The Government has not seen fit to have such an inquiry into Trans-Australia Airlines or any other statutory authority. It seems to me to be an act of gross discourtesy for the directors of the Council not to be at least consulted on the matter before they received a telex that was issued at the same time as advertisements appeared in the newspapers that there would be an inquiry.
The whole attitude of this Government is one of seeking confrontation with the trade union movement. Honourable members opposite stand up in this House and speak about the irresponsibility of the people who are elected by the members of their union to manage the affairs of their union and to formulate the policy of their union. It is absolutely downright misleading to regard those people as being irresponsible. It is easy to stand up in this chamber when there is a petrol strike in Victoria and call such unionists mainland gangsters. It is easy when the air traffic controllers are on strike to say that those people are holding the nation to ransom. It is a darned sight harder to convince honourable members opposite that there are 100 reasons a week, 1000 reasons in a short space of time and perhaps one million reasons a year why men should legitimately withdraw their labour but they do not do so. Therefore responsibility does exist in this area and there is not the irresponsibility talked of by the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who has a paranoic hatred of unions. And why should he not have a paranoic hatred? He is a farmer, he is an employer, and he has always regarded the people who work for him as being paid much more than they are worth. It is the nature of the person. He is trying to run this country as he runs his farm. Not since Adam Smith has anybody tried to apply that sort of philosophy to any civilised country.
– You have never read Adam Smith.
-I have no reason to read Adam Smith. My time has almost expired. The reason I have no reason for reading Adam Smith is because Adam Smith can give no wisdom to the world today. There are much more enlightened philosophies around. Honourable members opposite are welcome to read Adam
Smith, but I would invite them to read something more enlightening and something more in tune with contemporary Australia. I commend the amendment to the motion. I trust that the House will see the wisdom of it and agree with it. It seems to me to offer the only practical solution at this time to the 2 problems that confront Australia and that are a serious threat to us.
-The National Country Party of Australia wholeheartedly and completely supports Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) and rejects the amendment moved by the Opposition. These Appropriation Bills are blueprints of the plans of the Government to restore and to maintain economic sanity in this country. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) grasped the nettle in his second reading speech and called all Australians to arms to do battle against inflation and unemployment. The additional appropriations re- quested total $326.073m, which is well down on e sum of $ 1,240.941m sought in 1974-75.
Quite obviously the Treasurer is a good housekeeper. That was confirmed by the announcement earlier today of a 2.3 per cent increase in the consumer price index for the March quarter of this year, which represents the lowest increase in a March quarter since 1973. 1 would suggest to the shadow Treasurer- he could be more aptly called the phantom Treasurer- that he open his jaundiced eyes, co-operate and become part of the success towards which this country is now headed and that he not isolate himself and his followers and be called a saboteur of confidence in this country. Anyone who disagrees with the intent and message of the Bills is not only misleading the mood of the public but also exhibiting a rather naive enthusiasm for destroying a quality of life of Australians that is based on the legend of heroism and loyalty created by our pioneers and brought to the notice of the world one cold, dun grey morning at Gallipoli some 62 years ago.
The Treasurer is dispensing the medicine necessary to revitalise Australia. That medicine is the pruning of government spending and, in answer to the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson), the obtaining of better value for each dollar spent as well as the urging of all Australians that the best cure for our ills is productive work. At the risk of repeating famous words of one of the present Ministers of the Crown, there is nothing wrong with Australia that work will not cure. Too much of our resources are being spent on propping up inefficient industries and encouraging people to do their thing, like trade unions colleges teaching young insurgents how to strike while the taxpayer picks up the bill. We need a return to the work syndrome and the retention of jobs in Australia for Australian people and not the exporting of them from this country to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or the Philippines, otherwise the alternative is sheer social corrosion, which history shows is the classical perilous effect of the lack of the will to work.
One regrets the happenings of recent days in one respect but is proud in another. We as AustraliansI realise that that isolates the Oppositionbreathed easily at the display of national confidence and national self respect which prompted the release of the text for a wage-price freeze by the 7 heads of government on 13 April. That was a reasoned approach for co-operation and consensus in the battle against inflation. It relied for its success on a groundswell of public support and confidence. I believe that this initiative of the 7 heads of government is deeply respected by the electorate. The trade union movement has tried to wreck the plan and has placed this spark of hope in grave jeopardy. Bob Hawke, as is his usual custom, has engaged in an exercise of industrial bullying.
The union intransigence to accept the spirit of the plan is based not upon fact or concern but upon an insatiable ambition to clobber our economy to death. Anyone who ever held the leader of the trade union movement in esteem must now have a downward revision of his priorities. No wonder- I direct these remarks to the honourable member for Burke- he is not consulted about anything; he is told. That is what one has to do with him.
One must also severely castigate those Premiers who gave a glimmer of statesmanship when removed from pressure and public scrutiny but who, when confronted by the noisy, irresponsible element in society, had an attack of cold feet and became dithering doves. It is noticeable that they were Labor Premiers. Their action has been a salutary lesson that in critical situations the trade union movement is the Opposition in Australia. I am reminded by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) stated this in Gladstone recently. For once the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is right. But what a scathing indictment of the people who sit behind him and who elected him to the position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition. He does not believe they are the real Opposition. He believes that the trade union movement is. Many of them will no doubt believe he is simply just not plausible. The heads of state threw out a challenge in a direct test of the people’s will. Inflation in the final analysis will only be beaten not by governments alone but by the combined efforts of governmentsFederal, State and local- and a reawakening of the Australian conscience.
These Appropriation Bills contain allowances for wage and salary increases following decisions of the court. It is worth recording that the Commonwealth Government will have cut down numbers in the Public Service by 14 000 by June this year, while State governments and local government have increased their numbers by 3.3 per cent. One can offer the comment that it is a pity that other tiers of government have not exercised expenditure restraint as the national government has. Let us recount and record the philosophy of the Australian Labor Party in expenditure. In 1974-75 outlays rose by a mammoth 46 per cent in a single year and the deficit rose from $293m in 1973-74 to $2,600m, almost a ninefold increase. Unemployment trebled. Again taking up the point made by the honourable member for Burke, I say to him: Members of your Government, now the Opposition, were the employer assassins in Australia. Average earnings rose by 22 per cent, while gross domestic product did not. The consumer price index rose by 1 7 per cent. In the last quarter for which Labor was responsible it rose by 5.6 per cent. As I stated, the March quarter figure released this morning was 2.3 per cent. Remember Mr Whitlam ‘s overseas tour at the time of the Darwin disaster. It was for 35 days at a cost of $497,559 for his personal party, excluding public servants. It is appropriate to recall this in the debate on a Bill which includes a provision for the Northern Territory Home Finance Trustee for on-lending under the post-cyclone concessional home loan scheme.
The Treasurer has been able both to restrain expenditure and to give taxation relief. The average Australian income earner will benefit from an income tax cut of approximately $4.50 per week from 1 July this year. The honourable member for Burke said taxation would increase. I suggest that he do his homework and talk to the people he represents. The reduction will come through automatic indexation of taxation, which in essence will return to the worker or salary earner the amount of extra tax he has had to pay over the past year because of inflation.
Quite obviously the benefits of tax indexation, together with increased family allowances, mean that it is quite reasonable to ask for some wage restraint. In July next a person with a wife and 2 children and on the average national wage would be paying $9 a week or $468 a year less in tax than 12 months ago. The honourable member for Burke does not believe that is a reduction in income tax.
– I do not. I do not believe it will happen.
-It already has happened. Without tax indexation, an initiative of the Fraser-Anthony coalition, the people of Australia would have paid one-third more in personal tax.
-Order! The level of conversation is a trifle too high.
-He is being provocative.
– I know he is being provocative. That is why I did not call the honourable member for Burke to order a little while ago. It would help if the honourable member for Darling Downs addressed himself through the Chair. Even if he is referring to the honourable member for Burke, he can do it indirectly.
– The revenue forgone by the Government through personal tax indexation is estimated to be $990m this financial year and $ 1,050m in a full year. This is a meaningful taxation relief, and I know that the wives of workers will be grateful for the extra take home money in the pay packet. It will at least help ease the difficult and annoying experience of going to the shopping place and food markets and facing a ceaseless battery of increasing prices and nonavailability of goods because some bloke or other is on strike over something about which he does not know anything. Her budget is always stretched to the limit. How much better it would be if prices in shops remained stable, but the demands for more and more wages and better conditions for doing less and less have blown this concept through the ceiling and made it an impossible dream. Our taxation policy is therefore decisive and direct.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) deals with the Department of Transport and the allocation of $7,514,000 for a variety of most essential services, including local government services. Local government for too long has been the meat in the sandwich of government in this country. State governments, which have the responsibility for local government, have adopted the policy of percolating among the people that the blame rests with the Commonwealth Government as it is the body responsible for using the financial pruning shears on local government. This attitude must be corrected. Under federation the
States are entitled to 33.6 per cent of the Commonwealth’s personal income tax collections, excluding any special surcharges or rebates. However the States, if they want to fund every suggested program, may raise their own taxes; but they do not appear to be very susceptible to federalism because it will bring accountability to them. They will have no one to blame except themselves. They are not game to stand up and be counted under this proposition.
Local government now has an entitlement to an annual share of personal taxation. This year local government has been granted $140m, an increase of 75 per cent over the previous year under the disastrous Hayden Budget. State government Loan Council programs will total 1,356m, an increase of 5 per cent on 1975-76. 1 want to record these figures and facts because of certain statements made by the Minister for Local Government and Main Roads in Queensland, the Honourable R. Hinze, whose recent utterances have confused the issue. They need to be corrected. The above facts indicate that there is no substance in his remarks.
For the first time local government authorities, through the States grants commissions, will have funds allocated to them on a per capita and needs basis. There are no special guidelines for the allocation of funds, no Commonwealth control or direction. It is up to the States to work out their own priorities. That is their privilege and responsibility. Local government has the responsibility for more than 83 per cent of the nation’s road system. Despite its restricted revenue raising capacities, it has continued to provide almost one-third of all funds spent on constructing and maintaining Australia’s roads.
Something has to be done to ease the burden of ratepayers. For too long they have shouldered the burden of shire finances. Those who are not landholders but who use the council facilities and amenities and who earn income and pay taxes should play their part in local government finances. Some of the taxation should be earmarked for direct payment to local government free of bureaucratic intervention from the States. Local government must have direct access to national funding as a right, not a privilege.
Our road system needs developing and upgrading. It has been estimated that there will have to be an outlay of $5,900m over a 5-year period to avert a real crisis in the national roads system. The Commonwealth Government has provided this year $38.3m for roads over and above the level provided last year. I hope the
States will not use this as an excuse for withdrawing funds from the field. We have appropriated $475m for 1977-78, with startling increases in certain areas such as 8 1 per cent for urban local roads and 39 per cent for rural local roads. Perhaps if the honourable R. Hinze stripped his outburst of condemnation of all its huff and puff and he stopped to think and analyse, he could channel his enthusiasm for his portfolio into persuading the Treasurer of Queensland to spend the extra $ 1 9m windfall that he recently received without any fanfare from the Federal Treasury on roads and bridges. That is a real test of his ability and factual presentation. It gives me no great pleasure to have inscribed in Hansard the facts of the situation to rebut the ill-founded and mischievous statements of the Queensland Minister. What he said at Murgon recently, as reported in the newspapers, is just not the truth. There has been an increase in funds from the Commonwealth, and if local government in Queensland is being suffocated it is the fault of the Queensland Minister. If he corrects his mistakes he will at least be bringing good tidings.
The real facts, not the Hinze dreams, need to be recorded. The Commonwealth grant for Queensland rural local roads for 1977-78 is $ 18.8m, an increase of 33 per cent over the amount provided in 1976-77. The Honourable R. Hinze, the Queensland Minister, assumes the increased grant for rural local roads includes an allowance for works on roads which were previously beef roads. That is simply not so. The total allowance for works on beef roads was included in the 1976-77 grant for rural arterial roads. A total of $20.9m was provided for rural arterial roads in 1976-77, $9m of which was for beef roads. The grant for rural arterial roads in 1977-78 is $23m, an increase of almost 100 per cent over the $U.9m provided in 1976-77. Grants for rural local and rural arterial roads and a provision for beef roads within those 2 categories have been increased by more than 20 per cent in 1977-78 over those for last year. Therefore, irrespective of which category beef roads money comes from, rural Queensland will be 20 per cent better off next year so far as money for roads is concerned than they were this year. The bulk of money for rural local and rural arterial roads goes to local government for expenditure on their programs. Therefore, rural local government in Queensland will benefit by about the same percentage. So far as urban councils are concerned, urban local road moneys have been increased by 72.2 per cent for Queensland in 1977-78 over 1976-77.
The Appropriation Bills also deal with funds for natural disasters. Measures to deal with disasters are essentially a State responsibility ir cl first instance. If a disaster is of such magnitude that Commonwealth assistance is needed, then the State asks for and receives help. I do not wish to canvass the issue of the organisation of task forces to act when a disaster, be it flood, fire, earthquake, tempest or drought, occurs. What I do want to discuss are the financial arrangements and planning that can be made by the various governments, individual companies and insurance houses to minimise the personal hardships which inevitably follow in the wake of any disaster. It is too late to make plans after the damage has been done. Drought and cyclone losses are larger risks than floods, bushfires and storm damage. Between 1975 and 1976 the total payments to the States for natural disasters were $224m, of which $110m or 45 per cent, were drought related. In reviewing the historical record, it is apparent that the major risks exist in the northern areas of Australia which are prone to cyclone, drought and flood. It is probable that losses due to natural disasters will increase through time. Payments by the Australian Government to the States are both substantial and increasing.
All persons in Australia should be insured with natural disaster cover at reasonable rates, with the Government acting as a refinance institution and making the best use of insurance industry resources. The Commonwealth will act with support facilities. It will not be involved in direct underwriting but would offer re-insurance facilities up to a specified maximum limit. The cover has to be automatic, otherwise confusion prevails. In the storm disaster in Toowoomba, much ill will was created because of different interpretations by different insurers.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It is often my lot to follow the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) in debate. Today I decided to exercise that self-discipline that would not allow me to respond to him as I usually do. Frankly, he disarms me. I can only assume that the National Party Minister for Local Government in Queensland has fallen out of favour with Mr Joh Bjelke-Petersen and so will join the former Treasurer, Sir Gordon Chalk, the former Minister for Justice, and a number of others and shortly disappear into the limbo of past Ministers and ex-Ministers. Having succumbed to the temptation in that way, I should now like to proceed to discuss the Appropriation Bills, which are routine measures that allow members of the House quite wide ranging discussions on the Government’s economic policy. I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), which is a legitimate method of reaffirming the Opposition’s attitude to some of the incredible economic policies of this Government. I say freely to the House that, like most other members, I am not an economist. However, I do try to read so that I can understand what those policies mean.
– You are a good doctor.
– And a fairly successful politician in the Scullin electorate, too, if the honourable member for Swan will accept that.
– Modesty becomes you.
-I am going to refer later to the modest member of Parliament. One of the things that concerns me in this area is that if the economy is to revive it is necessary that there should be confidence in all sectors in investment, in business and amongst the consumers. It is necessary that there be increased consumer spending. It should be remembered that, like me, most people in that field are not economists and that unless they have an understanding of what is going on, these factors are not going to occur. There will still be lack of confidence; there will still be lack of consumer spending. One of the problems with this Government’s economic policy is that, for the ordinary person in the street whom it affects, it is so hard to understand. There seems to be a basic assumption by the Government that if it says it has made savings in public expenditure everyone sees that as necessarily being a good thing. But many people in business do not necessarily accept that it is a good thing. Those in industry who were providing employment through the satisfying of government contracts for essential works do not see insensate slashing of programs as a good thing, and that produces an attitude of great doubt in the community.
I know that there is a certain euphoria on the Government benches because of the consumer price index rise announced today. I hope that euphoria will not stop the Government from thinking seriously about how real that figure is and how real is the benefit which it might be felt to indicate. After all, in that respect one only has to refer back to last month’s Rydge’s magazine, scarcely a Labor paper. Its comment was that the inflation rate for the last calendar year was 13.7 per cent. When the devaluation decision bites, which will be in the June quarter of this year, Australia’s inflation rate will rise to much above that. That is going to be the real test. I know that we can quote from all sorts of sources, but I am quoting from a conservative source.
One of the other things that concerns me is that it is politically expedient for the Government to blame all the economic troubles on the Labor Government from 1972 to 1975. It did that in opposition. It still does it. Even in opposition it would not accept that there were external economic factors applying which gravely affected Australia. Its problem in sticking to that line of argument is that it now has its back to the wall on any let-out. It is still faced with the problem of claiming consistently that all the problems are domestic and have been produced domestically. I refer to an article which appeared earlier in the year in the magazine Newsweek. It stated:
The unemployment rolls were pared a bit, idle plants were humming once again and government policymakers suddenly breathed easier.
That sounds like Government Ministers after midday today. One wonders how long it will last. The article continues:
On the heels of the worst recession in 2 generations, the economies of both rich and poor nations alike were expanding in 1 976- the year of the recovery.
Was this reflected in Australia? I submit not much. It further states:
But the recession and the events that accompanied it had left a disturbing legacy. Inflationary levels were still high in many industrial countries, causing a new wave of turmoil in the international monetary system. And to finance their expansions, the developing nations borrowed and borrowed and borrowed, throwing themselves deeper into debt and threatening an already fragile global financial structure.
What we do not see in the Government’s discussion of the economy is the effect that this has on the Australian economy. One American economist commented:
Without substantial stimulus, the economic recoveries in both Germany and Japan may be finished, and with slow growth in the US, there is no way for the world recovery to continue.
That is the sort of area in which I think Australia has to show some responsibility and some concern. There should be some explanation of how these factors affect Australia and what flows from them. What we have had in Australia, because of this concentration on the domestic situation, is a loss of real wages to the worker which leads to further cuts in that consumption and confidence that I mentioned before. This Government has exacerbated this matter by its actions. I think that probably this Government subscribes to the argument adopted by some of the old fashioned theorists, namely, that a pool of unemployed would help slow wage demands and reduce the level of industrial unrest that is said to be instigated by the more militant sections of the trade union movement. I think that what happened in Australia effectively disproves this. Really, if the Government were to rely on this weapon, the numbers of people out of work in Australia would have to be so large that the bulk of small businesses in the country would be forced into insolvency. There would be no consumer led recovery which is one of the things that is needed while unemployment remains so high.
I comment on that because it is pretty obvious that what this Government is aiming for is industrial confrontation. It is taking a hard line. It has said: ‘We have this domestic economic strategy and we want to confront the union movement in order to show who is boss and enforce our views’. It is doing this even though the outcome of the strategy is not certain. It has been tried elsewhere and has failed. We see this present statement of the prices-wages freeze given with no guidelines. We saw the response of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to Mr Bob Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, when he offered to consider the wage freeze in return for cuts in taxation. We only have to go back to the end of November last year when the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) was making certain comments on the economy and when Mr Hawke offered that same sort of deal to the Government. It was not a matter brought up because of this so-called prices-wages freeze. I am afraid that I do not know what this Government means by the term ‘prices-wages freeze ‘. I do not understand that there are any guidelines for it. It appears to me that we can draw the following analogy from the present situation: The Government has asked the trade union movement to give it a blank signed cheque but it will be allowed to determine the colour of the cheque. The trade union movement has given that proposition the rejection it so rightly deserves. If the Government wanted the freeze to work, if it believed it should work, it should be delineating guidelines to allow a national conference of all those persons interested to discuss how the freeze can be used to bring about economic recovery and how it can be used to inspire confidence in the investment and business sector in Australia to cause that necessary increase in consumer spending.
I submit that the Government has been derelict in its actions and quite irresponsible in this field. It brought up the idea of a prices-wages freeze as a public relations stunt. It has been shown to have no substance. It is an idea that so many countries have talked about either on a voluntary or compulsory basis. There are variations in such a freeze if one thinks of the guidelines. Without knowing those guidelines, how can one assess the genuineness of this attempt? One can only reject it as a complete public relations exercise.
I want to refer to a couple of the more specific things that are contained in these Appropriation Bills. At this stage I refer to that ‘Modest Member’ of Parliament. Some time ago in one of his regular articles he was pointing out that no really worthwhile tax cuts could be made without a corresponding cutback in welfare services. He pointed out that most of the peripheral cuts in expenditure in the Public Service had already been made and only the big ticket items were left to cut in return for tax savings. I believe that the ‘Modest Member’ indicated that these areas were education receiving 9. 1 per cent of government outlays; health, 2 per cent of government outlays; social security and welfare, 25.4 per cent; and payments to the States and local government authorities, 21.1 per cent.
– Those figures would be right, too, if they are from the ‘Modest Member’.
-I accept that they are right. I have a great deal of respect in many ways for the ‘Modest Member’ for Wakefield (Mr Kelly). I only feel that he needs some remedial teaching in politics.
– He has lasted longer than you have.
– Yes, not much longer though. The point I am making is that the ‘Modest Member’ said:
Some would cut the defence vote but not 1. I remember how we bared our breasts to the aggressor in 1939 by doing just that.
One can understand that sort of reaction in understanding Australian history. But there must be a growing body of opinion on both sides of the House which starts to question defence expenditure. Defence expenditure appears to be able to go on without proper assessment of how efficient is that expenditure. Obviously, I am citing what was stated in an magazine article that the ‘Modest Member’ probably has read. But it makes some pretty legitimate comments that I think the Government should answer. It points out that when asked by both the Whitlam and Fraser Governments, the Defence Department’s own assessment was that there was no discernible military threat to Australia in the foreseeable future. At that time, it was going into an assessment of the aircraft Australia should have to replace the Mirage fighters. Why they had to be replaced has never been explained politically. It was a desire of the Department. There was a suggestion that it was feasible to undertake a rebuilding program on the aircraft and that we should keep them in active service for the next decade at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new aircraft. It was suggested also that, if we carried out that plan, the Mirage would continue far to outstrip any opposition it would be likely to encounter in this region. In fact, it was offered as an aside that the only opposition would be likely to come, after all, from the 1950s vintage Sabres of the Indonesian Air Force which were given to Jakarta by Australia. That is not an unreasonable comment.
In addition to that sort of activity the Air Force is interested in buying some 40 specialised ground attack jets. There are problems involved in buying those aircraft. One could ask also whether the F-15 fighter, which is the one mentioned, is necessarily the best. There are other aircraft, that have multi-role capabilities, which could be just as effective as the F-15, and which could be purchased at a much lower cost.
I turn to the Navy. I remind the House that, in February 1976, the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) announced the decision to buy two of the American FFG-7 patrol frigates. Those small 2,500 tonners, he estimated, would cost $330m. He was careful to add that that figure was calculated at January 1976 prices. That would be the cost for the 2 ships, helicopters, missiles and other gear. I understand that nobody in the Department of Defence believes that that will be the cost when they come into service in 1982, but that it will be at least $500m. The Navy now wants to order one more. One questions whether those are necessarily the best type of work boats for the Navy. When doing an investigation with the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation just recently, one was led to reflect on the extent of the coastline of Australia and the type of naval craft that were best suited to our purposes, being a large continent with a large coastline and a small population. We would probably be better off with many more small patrol boats.
I do not particularly want to get into an involved discussion on that matter. What I am saying is that that sort of expenditure might be looked at in view of the fact that there is no discernible threat in the near future. Apparently not a great deal of testing is done of aircraft and vessels which we are buying. We might well carry out an assessment of the role in Australian defence and the increasing cost of the types of naval vessels being purchased, despite the ‘Modest Member’s’ reservations in treating the matter as a holy cow. I hope that the Government does apply the same cnterion when it is thinking of cutting expenditure on education, health and social welfare and when it is increasing the problems we face by ensuring that the numbers of students at our schools and tertiary institutions are maintained at much higher numbers than is necessary because of the lack of opportunities it creates for them. The Government has to offer special stimulus for the creation of enough apprenticeship places, and I believe that not enough apprenticeship places are being created. In Victoria there are many more applicants for apprenticeship places than there are vacancies available.
– I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1976-77 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1976-77. However, I wish to speak against the amendment which has been moved. I think it is amusing that the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) should say that there is no discernible threat to Australia in the near future and go on to question the Defence vote. I think I ought to remind the honourable member for Scullin that someone who should be rather closer to him than to me, John Curtin, in 1938 said:
Defence expenditure must depend entirely on the conditions which prevail in the world from time to time. Obviously that must be the position. I say that any increase of defence expenditure after the Munich pact as far as Australia is concerned appears to me to be entirely unjustifiable and an hysterical piece of propaganda.
-Who said that?
– John Curtin. In the same way, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), in criticising the Government’s economic policy, came out with the usual sorts of words that we are used to hearing from him. He said that the Government was mutilating the public sector, that there ought to be cuts in indirect taxes and that there ought to be more government spending. Really one wonders whether they ever learn, especially in view of today’s announcement that the consumer price index for the March quarter this year increased by 2.3 per cent compared with a 3 per cent increase in the CPI for the March quarter of last year. I think that is ample evidence that the Government ‘s economic policy is working.
The matter that I wish to raise in this debate is one which is probably known to many honourable members in this House. It concerns the question whether the Commonwealth is getting value for the taxpayers money which it spends. There are probably 2 areas which one can look at, first, the collection of the funds and, secondly the spending of the taxes collected. I was concerned to read, in relation to the collection of gift duty, for example, that in the 1 976 financial year about $ 10.4m was collected and that the net cost of collection was approximately $850,000 or 8.1 per cent of collections. However, I consider that the problem is greater on the expenditure side. What I am really talking about, of course, is efficiency within the Public Service. I do not want to concentrate on personal efficiencies but rather the overall efficiency of the departments and the systems under which they operate. This really concerns how much of the funds allocated to a project actually gets to the people for whom the project is meant to cater. For example, when I learned that less than 50c in the dollar found its way to the end user under many of the Labor Government’s Aboriginal programs, I thought that there was a great need for concern. Similarly, when I was in the Citizen Military Forces I was astounded at the enormous paper war that went on. Probably a greater amount of money is spent in some cases in keeping track of personal items- for example clothing- than the item is worth. I pick that example only as one that I know, but I am sure the same situation applies in many other departments. I believe the need for proper efficiency audits is overwhelming.
I now look briefly at who is responsible for efficiency in the Public Service. Apart, of course, from the departments themselves, the 2 bodies one immediately looks at are the Public Service Board and the Auditor-General. The AuditorGeneral who is not responsible to a Minister but who reports directly to the Parliament, carries out normal regulatory or compliance audits. There are, however, 2 other sorts of audits with which I am concerned. They are efficiency audits and program audits. I shall deal first with program audits. Basically they are aimed at seeing whether the programs are actually doing what was intended. I understand that that sort of review is now being undertaken by the Prime Minister’s Department and the new Department of Finance. That, of course, is in line with the suggestions contained in the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, known as the Coombs report. I understand that those departments will be looking at such matters as whether the programs are still relevant, whether they are doing what was intended, and so on.
I shall leave for a moment the question of efficiency audits and whether the AuditorGeneral may be the appropriate person to undertake such audits. Apart from the AuditorGeneral, the Public Service Board also has responsibility for efficiency within the Public Service. Section 17 of the Public Service Act states that: ‘In addition to such duties as are elsewhere in this Act, imposed on it, the Board shall have the following duties’:
To devise means for effecting economies and promoting efficiency in the management and working of departments by improved organisational procedures.
A number of headings are given, some of which are: ‘The avoidance of unnecessary expenditure’ and ‘the establishment of systems of check in order to ascertain whether the return for expenditure is adequate’. The Board has the duty ‘to examine the business of each department and ascertain whether any inefficiency or lack of economy exists’ and ‘to maintain a comprehensive and continuous system of measuring and checking the economical and efficient working of each department, and to institute standard practice and uniform instructions for carrying out recurring work’. It would appear therefore that the Board has all the power to do just what I am concerned about. The question then is: Is it doing it?
It seems to me that the Public Service Board is confronted with some rather basic conflicts. Initially, of course, the Board has to sit as employer, wage determiner and arbitrator over those employed in the Public Service. This itself could well be an area for government consideration. However, dealing with the area of efficiency audits, there seem to be even greater conflicts. If under section 1 7 the Board is to conduct the type of efficiency audits that I would hope it would be undertaking, is it in fact capable of doing so?
Remembering that the Board is in part responsible for the establishment of the organisation structure under which the departments are operating, section 17 then says to it ‘You also have a role to go back to the departments and see it they are operating efficiently’. Can it really be expected to come up with a totally objective and unbiased view when it is really sitting in judgment on itself? I do not believe under the present arrangements it can really do so. Let me quote from the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, known as the Coombs report. That report at page 47 talking of the Public Service Board, says:
The Board sees itself as a primary source of expertise and guidance for departments and agencies in organisation and personal practice, and believes that its capacity to formulate and assist departments to achieve greater efficiency depends upon the maintenance of harmonious working relations between the Board and departments. Harmony would be difficult to maintain if the Board were responsible for reports embodying serious criticism of departmental performanceparticularly if these reports were to reach a wider audience.
Furthermore, it is evident that the Board cannot be wholly objective in its approach to section 17 studies. Much of what is done in departments is the result of the Board’s own advice.
The report goes on to say, referring to efficiency audits:
The Board in conducting such an audit would to some extent be judging its own work. Apart from the influence which awareness of this conflict of interest may have on the reports themselves, it could have deleterious effects on the attitude of the Board to innovation.
I also want to refer to the types of examinations which were made by the Public Service Board under section 17 inquiries. I would read 2 paragraphs from the Coombs report which indicate the deficiencies in the types of examinations made and further problems the Commission considered applied to the Public Service Board undertaking efficiency audits. It says:
The Public Service Board has shown great reluctance to assess performance of departments and agencies. Indeed for some years no section 1 7 examinations were made. Now that they have been resumed they are seen as exercises in assisting and improving management rather than in auditing or assessing performance. They are carried out by a team headed by an external consultant and including the senior officer from the department or agency concerned. The form of the Board’s participation emphasises its role of servicing the team although there is no reason to doubt its real contribution to the study itself. Furthermore, the report of the team is treated as strictly confidential to the department concerned and great care is exercised to preserve this confidentiality. It was only with much reluctance that the Board gave the Commission access to its reports enabling it to study the scope and methods of the inquiries. That scope was found to be extremely narrow.
The Coombs report goes on:
The reviews are predominantly concerned with rearrangements of the management structures and modifications of the procedures and practices within them.
This is the important part-
They are only marginally concerned with the basic systems and procedures governing the establishment of those structures or the recruitment to and the advancement of people within them. No major aspect of the Treasury’s or, particularly, the Public Service Board’s role appears to have been followed through in any of the reviews. Nor do they comment, even on a strictly confidential basis, on the work of senior officers with major managerial functions, or encompass the efficient administration of programs as opposed to that of selected administrative units. Since the Commission believes that it is primarily in better organisation that the economies leading to greater efficiency will be found, the narrowness of the studies is disappointing.
It seems clear from what I have said and the views of the Commissioners in the Coombs report that the Public Service Board as it currently operates should not be the body responsible for efficiency audits. In fact the Public Service Board in its annual report for 1976 says so itself. At page 1 7 it says:
The Board sees its own role in relation to the overall efficiency of the service as essentially that of management improvement at the central level, in the form expressed in section 1 7 of the Public Service Act. The Board has also indicated to the Royal Commission its view that the public efficiency audit function would be appropriately placed with the Auditor-General; if that function were so placed, the Board would accordingly see its own role and responsibilities as part of the joint management team with Permanent Heads as subject to appraisal.
It would seem that the Coombs report substantially accepted the views of the Public Service Board and I now look to what is being done to implement these urgently needed proposals.
Honourable members will remember that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a statement to this House on 9 December last year. He said that the Government had taken initial decisions on a number of the Royal Commission’s recommendations. He said that the Government accepted in principle the need for efficiency audits and that officials had been asked to report to the Government on details of how such a system might be implemented. The Prime Minister said on that occasion:
I believe that we have made substantial progress in our initial examination of the report and have set in train work to prepare such detailed plans. I have no doubt that, when implemented, these reforms will lead to a more efficient administration- a matter which should be of concern to all Australians. I add that as the Government examination of the Royal Commission’s recommendations progresses, obviously there will be other reports to the Parliament concerning the decisions taken.
I want to support the Governments moves for the implementation of efficiency audits to examine whether sections of departments or indeed whole departments are operating under the most efficient systems and procedures. This is going to require some people with very specialised knowledge. There will be some differences between private enterprise efficiency audits and Public Service efficiency audits, particularly as there is no similar price mechanism or competition at work. I understand the Auditor-General was in fact overseas in December last year to look at other countries and how they operate such efficiency audits. Honourable members will know that the Americans have recently undertaken just this sort of work. I therefore hope that this means that the Auditor-General will be given the job. I strongly support the Government’s moves and I urge the Government to implement the proposals as soon as possible. This is one example of the Government having to spend money to save money, but I am confident the returns involved in increased efficiency and greater value for money will be substantial.
– I want to deal substantially with the approach to economic problems and the damage which is done by treating these problems as political propaganda weapons rather than as serious national problems. In the last fortnight, for instance, we have been almost snowed under by a public relations barrage about a price-wage freeze. On Tuesday last week the Opposition moved in this House to suspend the Standing Orders to enable the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to make a firm statement on the guidelines and procedures under which that price-wage freeze was to operate. The Government refused to do so. It promised on that occasion to make a statement but it subsequently did not make the statement. The Prime Minister then came into the house and made a statement which in no way indicated the guidelines, what was expected of people or how the government saw the price-wage freeze operating. Clearly, it was a set of words which had no basis in fact. It is still a set of words with no basis in fact.
The Government does not have a clue how it would manage or operate such a price-wage freeze. I suggest that the way to achieve that type of approach, which is expected to be cooperative and which needs not only the vocal but also the active support of the majority of people in Australia and all sections of the Australian community, is to be honest with people, to tell them what is wanted, to tell them what the problem is and to ask them to assist. In that instanceand this week we have seen further evidence- a decision was made almost over a cup of tea. The Government went into the Premier’s Conference with a number of items listed. One of them was the federalism proposition on State taxes. This is one of the panaceas of all time for this Government. In opposition, federalism was said to mean State co-operation and State independence. The States are finding out that independence has only one meaning, that they pick up the tabs for those things for which the Commonwealth decides it does not want to pay or for which it does not support continuation. That is a pretty broad field. Some of those areas were fairly clearly undertaken to be continued by the present Government during the period leading up to the 1975 election and during the election campaign.
I instance one, the Australian Assistance Plan, which is about to die a natural death. This will recentralise activities in social welfare which had been decentralised very effectively into the control and operation of the local community in a number of” areas, especially in my electorate. That is now to be put back into the extremely centralist control of the Victorian State Government. In the main, State governments are more centralist than the Federal Government, despite the propaganda to the contrary. Education, which had been substantially depoliticised by the establishment of the Schools Commission, and criteria whereby recommendations were made and the government of the day then had to make decisions as to what extent it would fund those recommendations, are now about to disappear insofar as they are public information or subject to public examination and suggestions as to what expenditure should take place. It is pretty clear that under this Government secrecy will again prevail in reports to the Government and in School Commission reports. The reasoning behind them will no longer be available to the Australian community and Government decisions will again take on the cloak of all wisdom because any criticism of an authoritative nature will not be available for the public to examine.
This technique was carried on successfully for many years. In the 3 years of the Labor Government and for a period thereafter reports important for the public to understand, such as Tariff Board reports and a number of other reports, including the Schools Commission reports, were made public so that people understood the advice given to the Government and the reasoning for that advice. When the Government’s decision was different to that advice, the Government was then placed in a position where it had to indicate quite clearly the reasons for its political judgment. If the advice of the experts is withheld the Government does not have to explain its decision. It has only to announce it. That makes for very easy government. It makes for a greater lack of responsibility on the part of the Government. In the situation which has occurred in the last 2 weeks it has now been unravelled that the whole truth was not told to the community or the Parliament with respect to the price-wage freeze. Firstly, the Premier of Victoria very definitely included tax cuts in his initial propositions. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) prevailed upon him not to proceed with that particular proposition as it would cause embarrassment to the Commonwealth. The price-wage freeze was announced- and I say announced- as voluntary following which the Prime Minister moved immediately to have a compulsory freeze on wages accompanied by a partial freeze on prices. Partial is the operative word. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) made it quite clear the day after that he did not think the price freeze applied to primary products and perishable goods because that would be impossible. I tend to agree with him on that statement. I cannot see how at an auction of cattle for instance, a seller could suddenly jump up, when the price looked like being good that day and would make up for his losses the day before, and say: ‘Sorry, that is the limit. The price freeze is there. I will not sell my cattle any dearer.’ I think that he would be locked up if he did. Similarly, I cannot see -
– It is similar to some that I have seen.
-That might be true, but I could not see even the honourable member for Wakefield, if he looked like getting a decent price for his cattle for once in a year, standing up and saying: ‘That is too much. ‘ He may even pay off some of his debts that way.
– I think you are right about that.
-I could not see one of the South Australian tomato growers, who grow for the early or late market in Victoria under conditions which must certainly attract costs which are greater than those for the grower who grows for the normal seasonal market saying: ‘Well, I am prepared to accept the seasonal glut price, as opposed to the price which I would have expected.’ These are real factors and they are factors which ought at least to have been explained to people. The Minister made a statement but the Prime Minister came into the house last week and said: ‘No. Everybody is in.’ Quite clearly that was not a truthful statement and it was not a statement which had any practical base whatsoever.
I make one other point. The whole exercise needed the co-operation not only of the employers, who had certain motivation because they were going to get out of it stable wages, which they claim is very important to them and also stable costs which the government had promised, but also of the trade unions who had to have some guarantees that their position would be protected. The people who work for a living in this community are just as entitled to have their position protected as those people for whom they work. The trade unions were not consulted and were not brought into the discussion. There was no attempt made to have discussion with them in the week following the announcement. The wage-price freeze was said to be in existence on the day after it was announced but the trade unions were listed to talk to the Government about this matter a week later. A week after the freeze came into existence the Government asks for co-operation. Applications had already been made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for a compulsory wage freeze. That is not the way to get co-operation. The call by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for a national conference, which was part of the submission to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the proposition of tax cuts in return for wage restraint were at least negotiable positions which should have been discussed. I doubt whether the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission could have made a lesser decision than to ask for a national conference and still retain any credibility whatsoever as an independent wage fixing and condition determining body. But the Prime Minister immediately set out on a course of abusing the trade union movement and its leadership because they sought to discuss the matter in a manner which would have enabled them to give serious consideration to whether they could participate.
One does not blindfold oneself and then walk through a maze of poison ivy. That is the sort of maze anyone who walks into anything suggested by the Prime Minister is likely to be in. The Prime Minister continually suggested that the Government wanted an agreement in principle. He has a habit of accepting such statements and then expanding them and placing a different interpretation on them. He has access to the public media which enables him to place on the defensive any person who would give such an undertaking and then find that he was not able to keep it. The Prime Minister, if he wanted a voluntary wages-prices freeze, had a serious responsibility to the Australian community to talk to all the parties concerned before he started hitting with brickbats. That is where the crunch comes. The Prime Minister saw this not as an opportunity to advance the economic position of the country or the national interest but rather to advance his political needs and those of his Government. That is why co-operation is difficult, if not impossible, to gain. One cannot continue to seek to divide the nation, to blame a section of the community, which at the moment even the statistics prove is carrying the major portion of the sacrifices of the Government’s economic policy, and expect that section to cooperate when it is not consulted, no discussions are sought or held and it is asked by the leadership of the Government on public forums under threat to give agreement to a plan which the Prime Minister was not able to outline in this
Parliament; nor has he yet been able to outline any significant details.
The wages-prices freeze was a farce drawn up and seized upon for one or two reasons. I think the major reason was to avoid the indexation case which would arise out of the March quarter cost of living figures, which were not as bad as the Government anticipated.
– They were very good.
– Well, they were not as bad as the Government anticipated and possibly the fears of the Government were not as warranted as they might have been. But the facts of the matter are that by avoiding that March indexation increase the Government would have effectively frozen wages for 2 months and further reduced the standard of living of those people who depend upon Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decisions. The Commonwealth Treasury- no one seems to have mentioned this, not even the Prime Minister who talks about the losses if he were to give tax concessionswould have a substantial saving if that indexation increase were not granted because the increase would go on to the bills for the Commonwealth Public Service. The figure of 2.3 per cent attached to the Commonwealth Public Service bill would be a substantial amount of money which would be saved by the Commonwealth and which therefore could at least be used by the Government, without increasing its deficit, as a bargaining position on tax concessions or some other forms of concession to meet some of the objections which exist and which were asked to be discussed at a national conference. If the Prime Minister has seriously considered a voluntary wages-prices freeze a reality he has already dropped the ball because he chose politics ahead of national interest and he is still choosing politics ahead of national interest.
The Victorian oil dispute, which the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was able to negotiate to a settlement and which most likely should have been settled a lot earlier by the same process, resulted not in any congratulations for the President for participating in and achieving a settlement of this dispute but straight out abuse from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). The reason for that abuse was that they felt they had been cheated of their victory. They wanted an industrial confrontation situation which would justify the establishment of the Industrial Relations Bureau which they are about to set up as a policeman, along with the trade union section of the Australian Security
Intelligence Organisation which this Government has reactivated, to spy on and to act as agent provocateurs within the trade union movement. They needed that situation for political purposes, to continue their campaign of divisiveness within the Australian community. They have not had that, therefore we get the reaction of abuse of the President of the ACTU.
It is strange that in this community whenever an employer organisation makes demands on the Government- when for instance the Premier of Victoria suggests tax cuts- whilst they are not acceptable to the Government they are at least considered to be responsible suggestions. But when they are made by the people who pay the majority of taxes- the people who are making the sacrifices- they are irresponsible, mean or straight out unco-operative. The Government cannot expect co-operation and national effort in economic proposals it puts forward unless it is prepared to put those policies forward honestly and without deception. That is something that no one in this Parliament at this moment could say that the Prime Minister does. He is a double standard man from way back. He says one thing but he practises another. I think that if any national effort is ever to be gained, unity of purpose is the most important single factor. But whilst people know they are being deceived and that the double standard is being practised there will not be that unity. It is interesting that the Prime Minister does not acknowledge any responsibility at all for the problems that the Government is having with the deficit. I think most of us who are interested know why the budgetary problems exist at the moment and why the Government has to carry out a policy of absolute wage freeze. It is not interested in price freeze; wage freeze is what it is all about.
– A price freeze we have got.
– A price freeze you have not got. Your are fooling yourself if you think prices have not been going up in the community this week and last week. You are fooling yourself. You ought to do you own shopping at the supermarkets. Then you would know. You obviously do not know. The housewives do, I can assure you. I am concerned, and I think all of us are concerned, about this double standard. If cooperation is to be obtained it has to be obtained on the basis of honesty. The reason for the budgetary problem which the Prime Minister now finds confronting him is his own lack of judgment and refusal to accept advice. At the time of the drafting of the 1976 Budget it was clearly spelt out to the Prime Minister that he could not responsibly make the sort of concessions which he did to mining and other companies and hope to contain the deficit. He did not accept that advice and more than $ 1 ,000m worth of concessions were granted in the Budget to sections of the Australian community which were, and are still, prosperous and which did not have the need for this assistance that other sections of the community have. These concessions have been paid for by reductions in the welfare area and community expenditures. They are now to be paid for finally by freezes on wages of those persons least able to afford to meet the cost. Nearly $2,000m in costs because of forgone revenue and other effects such as devaluation were created by direct Government decision. If there are problems in the budgetary situation at the moment they are a result of misplanning by this Government directed by the present Prime Minister. He seeks to blame others for his own mistakes. Trust cannot be built on that sort of deception.
-I am pleased to express my support for the Appropriation Bills presently before the House. It is interesting to place these additional Estimates for 1976-77 in a 3-year perspective. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) did this in his second reading speech to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) in which he stated:
I particularly draw the House’s attention to the fact that the amount of $326.073m in additional appropriations sought in the Bills compares with $506.20 1 m provided for last year and $ 1 ,240.94 1 m in 1 974-75.
Therefore, despite the inflation rates of recent years, these 2 Appropriation Bills indicate that the Government has been successful in exercising its policy of restraint in government expenditure. Further, the Treasurer stated that notwithstanding the additional appropriations sought in these Bills, it was expected that the total outlay in 1976-77 over the whole range of expenditures would not vary significantly from the figure of $24,32 lm that was contained in the Budget of last year. This of course raises the issue whether the Budget remains a reasonable arm of economic management, whether the deficit is important, whether there should be government expenditure restraint, whether there should be tax cuts and whether monetary policy might play a more important role in economic policy in the future. We are, in effect, with these Bills invited to question the rationale of the Government’s economic policy to date.
In previous debates on financial matters, I have outlined my view of the economic problems facing this country. I have outlined the direct and indirect causes of inflation, the relationship between inflation and unemployment and the Government’s strategy within that context. In speaking to these Appropriation Bills, I should like to make some comments regarding this Government’s attitude to government expenditure and in particular, to restraint in government expenditure. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and other Opposition spokesmen including the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). have often criticised this aspect of the Government’s economic strategy. In fact, it forms part of their proposed amendment to Appropriation Bill (No. 3). They stated that stagnation would result from the Government’s cutting of public sector expenditure. Those who advocate more government spending are simply out of tune with current economic relationships. They may have been correct in the early 1960s because then high unemployment was generally accompanied by low rates of inflation and could be remedied without putting pressure on prices. I have said in this place before that the 1960s was a period when prices reflected such fundamental things as demand and resource utilisation. But that element of price and wage flexibility which permitted this to occur no longer exists. The Opposition does not seem to realise that times have changed when it advocates increased government expenditure to increase employment.
As I have said before, under the previous Labor Government the highest ever rates of increase in government spending occurred at the same time as record unemployment. We have unemployment not because of inadequate spending, but because of inadequate investment. Because of excessive government expenditure, the previous Government ran large deficits, financed those deficits largely by printing new money and entered the marketplace competing excessively against the private sector for goods and services. This occurred at a time of declining productivity and it therefore produced great pressure on prices and led to record high interest rates. These factors in turn thwarted investment in key sectors of the Australian economy. It was inadequate investment brought about by these circumstances which therefore produced unemployment. Excess government expenditure, not the lack of it, led to this situation. This is the opinion of a very respectable and widespread body of economic opinion throughout the world. I certainly support the Government’s policy of restraint in government expenditure.
In my opinion there is limited scope for further action in this area. Budgets have become rather intractable and certainly inflexible and in my opinion they are now more useful as a vehicle for governments to impose their ideology on a nation than as a weapon for economic management on a continuing basis. I emphasise the words ‘on a continuing basis’. Thus approximately 60 per cent of total outlays are involved in carrying out programs in the Departments of Defence, Health, Education and Social Security. Many of these programs are either of a long-term continuing nature or are caught on the indexation bandwaggon with an automatically inbuilt capacity to involve successively higher outlays each year. I do not suggest that indexation, whether it be of taxes, wages or pensions, is a bad thing; quite the contrary. But I do maintain that it is helping to make the outlays side of budgets more intractable and less amenable to adjustment I doubt whether there is much more the Government can do in a substantial way in this area.
On the revenue side, we have the continuing call for tax cuts. I should like to make 2 comments in this regard: Firstly, given the nature of the expenditure side of the Budget to which I have already referred, any tax reductions above those already made would inevitably lead to an increased deficit and the kind of inflation and increased pressure on interest rates that Australia has experienced over the past few years. Further tax reductions should await a decline in the inflation rate which has already been substantially reduced by this Government. Secondly, people seem to forget that this Government has already made substantial tax reforms. They constitute a very impressive list. Firstly, there was the introduction of full personal tax indexation in the last Budget. This will represent a cost to revenue of $ 1,050m in 1977-78. This is the single most important tax reform in the history of the Australian tax system. For the first time it gives guaranteed protection to the community from unlegislated tax increases caused by inflation.
Then there is the investment allowance which also was introduced last year and which will represent a cost to revenue of $550m in 1977-78. This has been instrumental in bringing about a revival in investment spending. Company tax indexation is being introduced with the trading stock valuation adjustment- a charge of $400m against revenue in 1977-78. Taxation from mining and petroleum has been reduced to encourage exploration and development. This involves a loss of revenue of $40m next financial year. Distribution requirements for private companies have been eased and will represent a loss to revenue of $25m in the next financial year. Income equalisation deposits have been introduced to protect farmers from the effects of fluctuating incomes. This represents a cost to revenue of $4m in the next financial year. Estate duty exemptions have been substantially widened at a cost to revenue of $10m in 1977-78. These are all significant tax reforms and will be equivalent to tax reductions in excess of $3,000m in the Government’s first 2 years in office. Tax indexation has already saved a family of four on average weekly earnings about $4 a week in 1976-77 and will save them a further $5 a week next year, making a total saving of $9 a week. But these are not savings in the normal sense of the word. They represent money in the hands of the people which they would not have if Labor were still in office and was still continuing to refuse to introduce tax indexation for individuals.
The point I am developing is that much has already been done in the areas of government expenditure restraint and taxation reforms. In my opinion, as a result of these initiatives, there is very little scope for further budgetary action on either side of the ledger, at least until inflation has been further reduced and solid economic growth is under way. There may be some scope for further expenditure cuts, but I submit that these will be minor in relation to overall expenditure growth which will rise substantially due to inflation, continuing programs in the major portfolios and wage and social security indexation. Such automatic increases in revenue will not occur in future because of tax indexation. This may make governments honest, but it also will make life difficult for future governments in a political sense by locking them into budgetary situations which are not easily altered. In the immediate future, and given the budgetary constraints now confronting governments, there will be an almost inevitable tendency for deficits to increase while rates of economic growth are less than the inflation rate. This in turn is inflationary and will be the inevitable result unless additional revenue is raised or expenditure is reduced. There is limited scope for either in fiscal and political terms. It will therefore be very difficult for the Government to maintain its present budgetary strategy over the longer term.
When the time comes to pursue a mildly expansionary policy, and I suggest that the time is near, monetary policy will be far more important than fiscal policy. Tax cuts, for instance, are certainly desirable. Governments like providing them and people like getting them. But in the budgetary circumstances I have outlined they would have to follow rather than precede or accompany economic revival. At the moment tax cuts would increase the deficit and might do very little to stimulate expenditure. Recent evidence suggests that they would probably go into extra savings as people continue to hedge against unemployment rather than be spent as a hedge against an inflation rate, which the cuts would help to perpetrate.
On the other hand, extended credit facilities obviously would be utilised by those who had direct expenditure plans. Monetary expansion is more likely to go into investment than consumption, in line with the Government’s investment led recovery policy. I also make the point that monetary expansion could more easily be reversed should economic circumstances require this to be done. For instance, if tax cuts led to greater demand expenditure than expected it would be more difficult, and there would be greater lags, to reverse such decisions than it would be to reverse monetary policy decisions. There is also the added advantage that the Government can, through the Reserve Bank of Australia, broadly direct the areas of increased bank lending, whereas it has less control over the direction of expenditure emanating from tax cuts. But, as I said before, there is a question of timing involved here which may not be as far in the future as some people seem to suggest.
Australia’s restrictive policies have been in line with the policies of most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Although the United States, Japan and Germany have pursued mildly expansionary policies, they are in the minority and have a much different recent economic history from that of Australia. Those 3 countries implemented contractionary policies earlier than Australia and they took stimulatory action only after reducing inflation. That was due to the timing and intensity of Australia’s economic problems. The shift of income away from profits to wages and the large rise in the proportion of income saved were much sharper than in earlier Australian recessions. The resultant increases in our unemployment and inflation rates produced differences between these rates and their long term average that were greater than those in almost all OECD countries. The OECD currently advocates different economic policies with the 3 stronger countries of the United States, Japan and Germany taking action to stimulate demand but at the same time taking care to avoid measures that would renew inflationary pressures and it recommends that the weaker countries employ severe demand restraint, supplemented where possible by arrangements which limit the growth of incomes.
It may well be that Australia is now rapidly moving to the position where her economic circumstances justify taking action appropriate to that now being taken in the 3 stronger countries. Although their inflation rates have been reduced, Australia’s underlying rate dropped from 16.7 per cent in 1975 to 10.8 per cent in 1976 and the consumer price index figure released today confirms that, notwithstanding the devaluation last year, inflation in Australia is coming under control. The figure of 2.3 per cent for the March quarter indicates that Australia should have single digit inflation for the next 12 months. I think it also should be noted that unemployment levels remain at historically high levels in those stronger countries and that in both the United States and Japan unemployment is higher than in Australia, where there is also considerable excess capacity.
There are other indicators that also suggest to me that this Government’s strategy is working and bringing about an economic recovery. I have already touched on the Government’s success in bringing down the inflation rate and mention has been made of the present unemployment levels in Australia. I would like to put the unemployment problem in perspective. During the period of office of the Labor Government the number of people out of work, expressed as a percentage of the work force, rose from 2.39 per cent to 5.41 per cent- an increase of 126 per cent. Since this Government took office in December 1975 not only has unemployment, expressed as a percentage of the work force, stopped increasing but also there has been a slight improvement. Although the position is still not good it is improving.
Let us look at some other indicators. The nonfarm sector of the economy grew in real terms by over 5 per cent in the year to the December quarter 1976, more than recovering the 4 per cent decline that took place under the last 21 months of the Labor Administration. This is a major indicator of growth in the economy. Another significant economic indicator is the recovery in investment expenditure- normally a necessary pre-requisite for increasing employment. Investment in plant and equipment by private enterprises increased by 32. 1 per cent in the year to the December quarter of 1976, which is equal to a growth of 1 8.4 per cent in real terms. I think that reflects the success of the Government’s investment incentives.
A recent survey by the Commonwealth Statistician indicates that private capital investment expenditure will continue to increase. The
Treasurer indicated this when answering a question in the House yesterday. He stated:
Businessmen’s expectations are for a growth of 8 per cent during the current 6 months period. The mining industry, in which capital spending has been in decline, shows a complete turnabout with an expected rise in capital spending of 41 per cent. A solid rise of 18 per cent is expected in the manufacturing industry.
Company profits, which are tomorrow’s investments and tomorrow’s jobs, constitute a further positive indication that the Government’s strategy is working. Company profits recovered strongly last year and, in the December quarter of 1976, were some 33 per cent higher than they were a year earlier. Although there are still weak points in the economy, I feel that there is a sufficient number of promising indicators to suggest that the Treasurer is quite entitled to think that the economy is emerging from its recession and that the basis for future growth and stability in Australia is being steadily secured. For that reason I would suggest that Australia could now be considered as one of the stronger OECD member countries.
Since this Government took office Australia’s economic performance has generally been better than that of most OECD countries. It is therefore necessary for us to ensure that, with the leads and lags in the economic system, we do not lose this momentum due to excessively restrictive policies. I think we are getting to the position achieved by the economies of the United States, Japan and Germany immediately prior to their introduction of mild expansionary policies. I would therefore suggest that, in view of the restricted budgetary options I referred to earlier, the Government could consider some change of emphasis in its monetary policy to provide greater fiscal leverage and to ensure that the gains already achieved are strengthened for the future.
I support both Bills before the House. They indicate to me the kind of restraining policies that have been successful in turning the direction of the economy to one of growth. I urge the Government now to investigate the possibility of introducing a change of emphasis in its monetary policy further to enhance the prospects of the economy, which quite obviously is now on the mend with at last both inflation and unemployment showing distinct signs of improvement. We must not lose these gains. In supporting the Bills I also reject the amendment moved by the Opposition. Part of that amendment reads: . . . whilst not denying the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that (a) the slashing of government spending is part of an inept economic strategy . . .
A visiting United States professor of economics who addressed the Life Underwriters Association in Sydney recently said:
How could anyone in his right mind, given the experience of the last 3 years in Australia, with massive growths in total spending which are without parallel in any peacetime period in Australian history and which correspond to rising levels of unemployment, argue that if we simply add a little more spending we could produce some more jobs?
I think that sums up the strategy of the Opposition. I support these Bills and reject the Opposition’s amendment.
-Once again in just over a year the question of possible Central Intelligence Agency activity in Australia has raised its head. I ask the House to recall that in February of last year I brought to its attention, as recorded in Hansard, a transcript of an AM program of 19 February in which a Ray Martin from New York outlined certain allegations. I am not necessarily making a point for or against those allegations. He alleged that the CIA was connected with the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Once again this issue is very much to the fore in Australia, with allegations being made. I do not think we are in a position to advocate the truth or otherwise of those allegations at this time. I show the House today’s Sydney Sun. Its publishers are hardly a young radical organisation. The newspaper is owned by the Fairfax family. The headlines read:
CIA ‘interfered in Australian unions’
They also state:
Defence man briefed Kerr.
It is said that the briefing occurred on 8 November 1975. Allegations are again floating around Australia. They are of a very serious nature. So far as I am concerned it is a matter of not only whether the CIA is involved in espionage activities in Australia but also whether anyone is involved in the espionage activities of any country. It is time the Government took this issue seriously. It is well and truly time there was a full scale inquiry into espionage activities in this country.
– What about bananas?
– I said into the espionage activities in this country.
– Not bananas?
– Listen, mate, if you are concerned only about bananas when I am speaking to an important issue it is time that you set to and worked out precisely what is of importance to this nation. I have an A Current Affair transcript of an interview on 10 June 1976 between
Mike Minehan, Gail Jarvis and Eric Butler of fame-the Eric Butler- in which Eric Butler says:
The United Nations is, to informed people, an international front organisation. I in fact have just come from a most distinguished gathering in South Korea of the World Anti-Communist League- 61 nations represented- real experts on Communism. They all agreed of course the United Nations is nothing more than a haven for Communists. Has been from the beginning.
This is a time when it is being alleged that the Liberal and National Country Parties are being infiltrated by extreme right wing elements.
-Who are they?
– The Eric Butlers and company.
– Is he a member of the Liberal Party?
– He has a big influence in certain elements of the Liberal Party, and the honourable member knows it. For the reasons I have stated, we should be concerned at the activities of any extreme organisation in this country, be it an extremity of the Right or an extremity of the Left. In view of the latest accusations concerning activities of the CIA in Australia I call upon the Government to institute a full-scale inquiry into espionage activities in this country. It is time the Government moved in on this area. In February last year accusations were made about the involvement of the CIA in the dimissal of the Whitlam Government, and today similar accusations are made about the involvement of the CIA in the dismissal of the Labor Government. If the allegations are correct, the Government is falsely in control of this country.
This evening I also wish to deal with the need for a manpower policy and the various policies being followed by this Government which must lead to more unemployment, particularly as the Government obviously does not understand or appreciate what is happening with employment with the impact of automation and new techniques. Unless the Government is prepared to have a full-scale inquiry to determine a manpower policy in this country, then although inflation may reduce, a large proportion of Australians will be left unemployed. For this reason I strongly support the amendment moved by the Opposition in this debate, which states in item (b): there is an urgent need for alternative policies of promoting a consumer led recovery by cuts in indirect taxes and appropriate stimulatory expenditure on job creation and manpower training programs, all done in a context of not increasing inflation by (i) phasing out the more extravagant business tax concessions -
Of course we have a number of those. One is to come before the House next week which will cost the country another $340m. I am going a little carefully in my reference to it. I will not deal with the actual legislation. The amendment continues:
Let me give the unemployment figures for 2 offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service in my electorate. In Blacktown at the end of March the grand total stood at 3241, of which 1671 or 5 1.56 per cent are people under the age of 18 years. This was a reduction of only 138 on the previous month. The decrease in the figures for this office and the other office I shall mention, Mount Druitt, was due to the recommencement of universities and colleges of advanced education and young people taking up scholarships. In other words, the decrease came about because people were going back to study, not because they had found jobs. In the Mount Druitt office, of a total of 3548 unemployed 1619 were under the age of 18 years. In other words, in that area over 45 per cent of the unemployed were young people. This was a decrease of only 143, which is a far smaller decrease than occurred in March of previous years. The reduction was due mainly to people taking up scholarships in colleges of advanced education and universities.
This is a very serious position, but the important issue which should be looked at is what the future will be with the continued use of automation. Assume that an industrial organisation decides to go to the western suburbs of Sydney today. Of course that area is more affected by unemployment than most other areas in Australia. Whereas previously it would have had a fairly highly labour intensive industry, today it would go in for massive capital investment assisted by the investment allowances of this Government. Such organisations employ equipment and machinery which will maintain their labour force at a minimum. For example, I know of a food processing company which moved from the inner suburbs near the centre of Sydney to the outer western suburbs. When it moved that company flogged its land in the inner city and utilised that finance to put in equipment. The result is that in its new factory in the outer western suburbs it employs one-third of the people it employed when it was in the inner city. That is the pattern for the future.
Let us assume that we come to the end of the inflation cycle. Let us assume that business profits increase even more dramatically than some have increased recently, as in the case of
Australian Iron and Steel. We will still be left with the position where a very large section of our population will be unemployed. Very thoughtful analysis is needed to ascertain the reasons for this. What is causing it? How is it to be overcome? What new areas of employment should there be? In my belief, encouragement is needed for industry to go out into the areas of high unemployment such as the outer western suburbs of Sydney. In my view, that encouragement should take the form of tax incentives and low cost capital, and I believe the co-operation of both Federal and State Governments is needed to achieve it. If it is not achieved, the high rate of unemployment in these areas, particularly for young people, will continue.
Instead of doing these things, this Government is carrying out a policy of deliberately increasing unemployment. It is deliberately cutting expenditure in employment-giving areas, and the best example of what has happened is the city of Canberra, where unemployment has increased from approximately 1 per cent of the work force when this Government took office to 5 per cent. That has occurred because the Government has cut expenditure in employment-giving areas, and that situation is occurring all over Australia. Unemployment in my area alone has increased by nearly 30 per cent since this Government took office. I make the point that there is a very great need for the Government to conduct the necessary inquiry to establish a sound manpower policy, a manpower policy which will provide employment for the future. In particular, I refer to the need for an unemployment relief scheme. On 2 days in succession this week, yesterday and today, I received correspondence from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) refusing a proposition for the introduction of an unemployment relief scheme.
– It promised to bring in one.
– It did originally. Once again, it has forgone another promise. The first instance relates to what is called the CYSS, the Community Youth Support Scheme. When the Minister requested me to do so, I called together the various interested parties at a meeting in Blacktown. Those people sat down and said: ‘This scheme lacks teeth, but we will co-operate as much as possible and make the best use of it.’ The net result was that they made certain recommendations to the Minister. Included in those recommendations was the need for an unemployment relief scheme in areas of high unemployment. Yesterday the Minister replied declining the proposition. In the second instance, the correspondence received today relates to a proposition by the Penrith City Council that the Minister should receive a deputation which would support the introduction of an unemployment relief scheme. Without even receiving the deputation, without even listening to the arguments of the Penrith City Council, a council which largely covers the area of the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Gillard), a Liberal member of this Parliament, the Minister declined to receive the deputation and declined to support the introduction of an unemployment relief scheme.
Today we are throwing down millions of dollars in unemployment benefits and are receiving nothing in return for the community as a whole. With the introduction of such a scheme, at least we would get benefits in the form of projects of lasting value to the community, yet the Government refuses to do this. It ignores completely the impact upon the personality of the individual who is unemployed and instead brings up ersatz propositions such as the Community Youth Support Scheme. For that reason I say that it is well and truly time the Government realised that an unemployment relief scheme is essential not only to give people an opportunity to maintain their dignity because they have employment but also to ensure that the wastage of resources which goes on today does not continue. It is equally essential to introduce a viable manpower policy which will take into account the impact which new techniques are having today upon industry and upon employment, impacts which will be felt even more in the future.
It is time, with the accusations of CIA involvement in Australia, that this Government realised that a full scale inquiry into espionage activity in this country is necessary. Twice now the accusation has been made that the CIA was involved in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. In all conscience, and perhaps in an attempt to protect itself from such accusations, it is well and truly time that the Government conducted a full scale inquiry into these accusations, and for that matter into any espionage activity in this country, and I make that call. I believe that this country deserves protection, and it is the job of the Government to give the country that protection.
Debate (on motion by Mr Dobie) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act of 1975 gave effect to the recommendations of the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee, the Kerr Committee, which reported in 1971. It was supported on both sides of the House. The Bill now introduced is intended to make some changes in the structure of the Tribunal to enable it to operate more flexibly in dealing with a much wider range of matters than at present. The Tribunal came into operation on 1 July 1976. It has jurisdiction to review decisions under a number of Acts, some ordinances of the ACT, and by-laws made by the Postal Commission and the Telecommunications Commission. Nevertheless, only 24 applications had been made to the Tribunal to 26 April last. Most of the legislation conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal is not of a kind that requires decisions to be made in a substantial number of cases. So far the Tribunal has no jurisdiction in the welfare field. Plans are now well advanced, however, to enable appeals to be taken to the Tribunal under the Social Services Act. Appeals will also be provided under a large number of ACT ordinances. It has become apparent that the Tribunal should have a different structure if it is to be equipped to hear appeals on a wide range of matters without making excessive demands on the services of presidential members at a judicial level.
The central feature of the amendments is to be found in clause 12 of the Bill. At present, subject to any provision to the contrary contained in an enactment conferring jurisdiction on the Tribunal, the Tribunal must be constituted by a presidential member and 2 non-presidential members. What is now proposed is that the Tribunal may be constituted in any of 4 ways- by a presidential and 2 non-presidential members; by a presidential member alone; by a senior nonpresidential member- a new class of memberand 2 other non-presidential members; or by a senior non-presidential member sitting alone. Subject to any provision to the contrary in another enactment the President is to be empowered to decide how the Tribunal is to be constituted for a particular matter.
The President when constituting a tribunal is to have regard to the degree of public importance or complexity of the matters to which the proceeding relates and to the status of the decision-maker whose decision is to be reviewed.
What is intended is that decisions made at ministerial or very senior departmental level would ordinarily be reviewed by the Tribunal constituted by or including a presidential member. So too would a decision in the nature of a test case made at a lower level of government. Of course, an appeal that begins as a straightforward matter may turn out to be a complex one or one of much public interest, or to involve difficult questions of statutory interpretation. The Bill therefore makes provisions whereby such a case, it it has been set down before a non-presidential bench of the Tribunal, may be transferred to a presidential bench. These provisions are to be found in clauses 1 1 and 13 of the Bill.
The amendments to be made to section 20 of the Act would empower the President to change the composition of a tribunal where it has not commenced to hear a matter. Again this discretion will be exercisable by reference only to criteria of complexity and public importance of the matter and the status of the decision-maker. Where the Tribunal has commenced a hearing the matter can be brought before a ‘higher level’ of the Tribunal under the proposed new section 2 1 A which is inserted by clause 13. In such a case the change can be made only where a party makes an application for this purpose and the President concludes that the public importance of the matter warrants the application being granted. Now section 21A also provides for the case where only part of a matter requires to be dealt with at a ‘higher level’ of the Tribunal. For example, where it is necessary to resolve a question of law, proceedings commenced before a non-presidential bench can be brought before a presidential bench for the purpose, and then remitted back to the non-presidential bench.
Consequential upon the amendments referred to, section 45 of the Act is amended by clause 30 so that the Tribunal, when it does not include a 1 residential member, may not refer a question of aw to the Federal Court of Australia without the concurrence of the President. This clause reflects the view that matters should not go to the court until the resources of the Tribunal have been exhausted.
The creation of the new grade of senior nonpresidential member has required changes to a number of other sections oi the Act. Clause 4 amends section 6 of the Act to provide for the appointment of such a member. Section 10 is to be remade by clause 6, to incorporate provision for appointment of acting senior nonpresidential members. Section 22 is to be remade by clause 13, to provide for a senior nonpresidential member to preside at a hearing of the Tribunal constituted as a non-presidential bench. Although the Bill does not require a senior non-presidential member to have legal qualifications, it is intended that in practice legal training will be required for such an appointment.
Next, the Bill proposes some changes to section 26 of the principal Act. That section enables additional jurisdiction to be given to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by regulations made under the principal Act. At present, however, jurisdiction can be given only in respect of decisions made after regulations providing for appeals against decisions under a particular statute come into force. This means that, where there is an existing review machinery under a statute, regulations cannot provide for the transfer to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of matters pending before that existing review machinery at the date on which the relevant regulations are made. The purpose of clause 16 of the Bill is to amend section 26 of the Act to facilitate the transfer, by regulations made in accordance with that section, of the jurisdiction of existing appeal bodies to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The other provisions of the Bill that require special mention are those relating to the protection of information that ought not, in the public interest, be publicly disclosed in proceedings before the Tribunal or as a result of having been produced, in confidence, to the Tribunal. Section 36 of the principal Act empowers the AttorneyGeneral to give a certificate that the disclosure of information concerning a specified matter or the disclosure of the contents of a document would be contrary to the public interest. The giving of such a certificate does not prevent the information or documents being made available to the Tribunal, but it may prevent them being disclosed publicly or to parties to proceedings before the Tribunal. Except where the certificate is given on the ground that the disclosure would prejudice security, defence or international relations or would disclose proceedings in Cabinet, an Attorney-General’s certificate may be challenged before the Tribunal and may, if the Tribunal so rules, be set aside.
Section 36 is to be amended in 3 respects. First, the question whether a certificate should be set aside is to be determined by the President of the Tribunal. This is consequential upon the creation of the new class of senior non-presidential members to preside at sittings of the Tribunal. Under the Act as it stands, where a presidential member presides at a sitting of the Tribunal, he would decide the question whether a certificate under section 36 should be set aside. Secondly, it is to be made clear that where a certificate is set aside this may be done on terms that only some of the parties may have access to the document or information concerned. Thirdly, it is to be made clear that members of the staff of the Tribunal may have such access to a document or information the subject of a section 36 certificate as is necessary for them to perform their duties. A similar amendment is to be made to section 46 in relation to the staff of the Federal Court of Australia. The Act does not provide for the Attorney-General to claim a like immunity from disclosure in respect of an answer to a question asked of a witness in proceedings before the Tribunal. New section 36A, to be inserted by clause 23 of the Bill, makes provision for this to be done.
Section 66 of the principal Act makes it an offence for a member of the Tribunal, a former member of the Tribunal, or a member or former member of the staff of the Tribunal to disclose any information acquired by him by reason of his office or employment for the purposes of the Act. This provision goes much too far. It applies whether or not the information concerned is otherwise publicly available. It subjects members of the Tribunal of judicial status to restrictions that do not apply to them in their office as judges. Accordingly, section 66 is to be replaced by a new section, to ensure that documents or information furnished to or given in evidence before the Tribunal cannot be required to be produced or given in evidence in other proceedings if there is a relevant certificate of the Attorney-General in force under section 36 of the Act or the Tribunal itself has ordered that there should be no public disclosure of the material. The proposed new section also provides that a person who is or has been a member of the Tribunal may not be required to give evidence in a court in relation to any proceedings before the Tribunal. Clause 28 of the Bill proposes the insertion of a new section 43A empowering the Tribunal to return documents lodged with the Tribunal to the person who lodged them.
It is considered that proposed new sections 43A and 66, together with the general provisions of the law prohibiting unauthorised disclosure of information, will give adequate protection to confidential information and the privacy of persons appealing before the Tribunal. Regard must also be had to the powers the Tribunal has under section 35 of the Act to prohibit the publication of evidence. Contravention of an order of the Tribunal prohibiting the publication of material is punishable under section 63 of the principal Act.
A new provision is to be made, by clause 36 of the Bill, for regulations to fix fees payable in respect of applications to the Tribunal. The regulations may provide for the refund, in whole or in part, of any fees paid when the proceedings terminate in a manner favourable to the applicant. The provision is included in the Bill so that, if it appears necessary to do so in any particular class of appeals, fees can be prescribed to deter frivolous applications to the Tribunal.
The remaining provisions of the Bill relate to procedures in proceedings before the Tribunal. They are designed to simplify procedures and to facilitate the hearing of appeals by the Tribunal. Finally I should mention that the Bill has been very carefully considered by the Administrative Review Council which was appointed late last year. The Council endorses the changes proposed to be made to the structure of the Tribunal and to the procedures before the Tribunal. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
This is a very significant measure. The purpose of this Bill is to reform the law relating to the review by the courts of administrative actions of Commonwealth ministers and officials. The Bill is a further step in the on-going review of Commonwealth administrative law that began with the establishment of the Administrative Review Committee- the Kerr Committee- in 1968 by the then Attorney-General. The proposals by that Committee have so far resulted in the establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Administrative Review Council and the enactment of the Ombudsman Act. Both the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Administrative Review Council are in operation; the Commonwealth Ombudsman has been appointed and it is expected that he will take up his office about the end of June.
The present law relating to the review by the courts of administrative decisions is in a most unsatisfactory state. A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the present procedures and it is not, I think, necessary for me to elaborate on these deficiencies in the present context. The law in this area is clearly in need of reform- indeed, it could be said to be medievaland simplification and to be put into statutory form. What the present Bill seeks to do is to establish a single simple form of proceeding in the Federal Court of Australia for judicial review of Commonwealth administrative actions as an alternative to the present cumbersome and technical procedures for review by way of prerogative writ, or the present actions for a declaration or injunction.
Before I proceed to say something about the details of the Bill, it may be useful to set these proposals in the context of the machinery for review already embodied in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Ombudsman Acts. It is very important that we get this in focus. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is empowered to review on the merits any decision of a Minister or official acting under a statutory power if, but only if, the relevant legislation provides for an appeal to the Tribunal. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act does not confer a general right of appeal against decisions by ministers, officials and statutory bodies. Where, however, an appeal lies to the Tribunal, the Tribunal may review on the merits the decision appealed from and substitute its own decision.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is not restricted to the review of decisions taken in the exercise of statutory powers. He is empowered to investigate complaints against decisions of Commonwealth officials and statutory bodies, whether taken under statutory power or in the ordinary course of administration. He is excluded from reviewing actions by Ministers, but he may investigate a recommendation made by a department to a Minister. He will not be concerned directly with reviewing the merits of the decisions or action of officials where no element of maladministration is present and, in particular, he will not be empowered to substitute his own decision for that under review. He may only recommend corrective action where he thinks there has been maladministration. No doubt in many cases his decision will lead to review.
Judicial review by the Federal Court of Australia will not be concerned at all with the merits of the decision or action under review. The only question for the Court will be whether the action is lawful, in the sense that it is within the power conferred on the relevant Minister or official or body that prescribed procedures have been followed and that general rules of law, such as conformity to the principles of natural justice, have been observed. The court will not be able to substitute its own decision for that of the person or body whose action is challenged in the court. It will be empowered to enjoin action or to quash a decision it finds unlawful and to direct action to be taken in accordance with the law. It will also be able to compel action by a person or body who has not acted, but who ought to have done so.
It will thus be seen that the 3 avenues of review, appeal on the merits to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and judicial review by the Federal Court of Australia, provide different approaches to the remedying of grievances about Commonwealth administrative action. Each has its own place in a comprehensive scheme for the redress of grievances.
Apart from the technical limitations of the present law for judicial review under the prerogative writs, a person who is aggrieved by a decision usually has no means of compelling the decision-maker to give his reasons for the decision or to set out the facts on which the decision is based. Lack of knowledge on these matters will often make it difficult to mount an effective challenge to an administrative decision even though there may be grounds on which that decision can be challenged in law. Accordingly, one of the principal elements of the present Bill is a provision that will require a decision-maker to give to a person who is adversely affected by his decision the reasons for that decision and a statement of findings on material questions of fact, including the evidence or other material on which those findings were based. There is already a like provision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act in respect of decisions from which an appeal lies to the Tribunal.
A draft of the present Bill was considered in detail by the Administrative Review Council, and the comments and recommendations of the Council have been embodied in the Bill that is now before the House.
I turn now to a description of the contents of the Bill. It provides for review by the Federal Court of Australia of decisions of an administrative character under an Act of the Parliament, a Territory ordinance or regulations or rules made under such an Act or ordinance. It also provides for the review of conduct engaged in or proposed to be engaged in for the purpose of making a decision to which the Bill will apply. Decisions made by the Governor-General under statutory authority are to be excluded, and there is provision for regulations to be made excluding classes of decisions from the scope of the Bill. The present law provides only a limited scope for review of the exercise of statutory powers by the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Federal Executive Council. Where the exercise of such a power is prima facie ultra vires, the courts can grant appropriate relief. But it appears doubtful whether the courts will inquire into the grounds on which advice is tendered to the Governor-General. It will still be open, in any case where such a decision is made in excess of statutory authority, for the existing remedies to be applied, but it has not been considered appropriate that the court should be empowered to inquire into the proceedings of the Federal Executive Council in the manner provided for in the present Bill. Specific provision is made in the Bill for the court to make an order requiring a decision to be made where there has been a breach of duty to make a decision to which the Bill applies.
The grounds of review are set out in clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill. Clause 5 applies to a decision that has been made and clause 6 applies to conduct engaged in or proposed to be engaged in for the purpose of making a decision to which the Bill applies. Conduct includes the taking of evidence or the holding of an inquiry or investigation. The grounds of review specified are those that have been developed by the courts. To avoid stultifying further development of the law by the Federal Court of Australia, each of clauses 5 and 6 contains the comprehensive ground that the decision made or proposed to be made would be otherwise contrary to law.
Clause 1 1 of the Bill provides for an application for review to be made in the manner prescribed by Rules of Court and for the time within which it may be made. An application for review under the Bill may be made by any person who is aggrieved by a decision. This term is defined in sub-clause 3 (4) to include a person whose interests are adversely affected by the decision or would be adversely affected by a proposed decision. These provisions relating to the standing of a person to challenge Commonwealth administrative action may need to be reviewed when the Australian Law Reform Commission presents its report on the law of standing. The Commission currently has a reference from me on the subject. Clause 13 provides that a person who is entitled to apply for a review of a decision may obtain from the decision-maker written reasons for the decision, including findings on material questions of fact. I have already referred to the importance of this provision. No longer will it be possible for the decision maker to hide behind silence.
Clause 14 empowers the Attorney-General to give a certificate that the disclosure of information would be contrary to the public interest on a ground specified in that clause. These grounds cover those under which a claim of Crown privilege may be made before the court in judicial proceedings. The effect of such a certificate is that the information to which it relates need not be included in a statement under clause 13. Subclause (4) of clause 14 specifically provides, however, that the clause is not to affect the power of the court to make an order for the disclosure of documents or to require the giving of evidence or the production of documents to the court.
The powers that the court may exercise on an application for an order of review are set out in clause 16. The court may quash or set aside the decision or part of the decision, refer the matter back to the decision maker for further consideration subject to such directions as the court thinks fit, make an order declaring the rights of the parties in respect of which the order relates, or direct any of the parties to do or refrain from doing any act or thing where the court considers this necessary to do justice between the parties. Where there has been a failure to make a decision, the court may make an order directing the making of a decision but not, of course, the making of a decision of a particular kind.
The Bill is intended to provide a comprehensive procedure for judicial review of Commonwealth administrative action taken under statutory powers. Clause 9 of the Bill is intended to ensure that this jurisdiction is exclusive of the jurisdiction of State courts. The Judiciary Act has long embodied the policy that actions of Commonwealth officers should not be subject to review by way of mandamus or writ of prohibition in State courts- section 38 of the Judiciary Act. The clause further makes it clear that actions of the Federal judiciary are not to be subject to review in State courts. The jurisdiction of State courts to grant habeas corpus is not to be affected. Parliament cannot legislate, of course, to remove the powers of judicial review given to the High Court by the Constitution- section 75 (iii). It is expected, however, that the procedures provided for by this Bill make resort to the existing procedures for judicial review unnecessary except where a review is sought of decisions excluded from review under the present Bill or otherwise in special circumstances. Most of the prerogative writs are granted on the discretion of the court and one would imagine that the High Court, faced with an application for a prerogative writ under section 75 (iii), would give careful consideration to the situation in which an application could have been made to the Federal Court under these provisions.
Clause 10 of the Bill preserves any other right of review of Commonwealth administrative decisions. In particular, paragraph 10 (1) (b) provides that the Bill is not to affect the powers of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Government also has 2 further measures in hand as part of the program of reform of administrative law. These are a Bill to set down standard procedures for Commonwealth adjudicative tribunals, in line with the recommendations of the Kerr Committee, and a Freedom of Information Bill, which will entitle persons to have access to documents in the possession of Commonwealth agencies, subject, of course, to certain exceptions designed to protect the public interest in the confidentiality of certain documents and proceedings. Both Bills are in the course of drafting and I would hope to be able to introduce the Freedom of Information Bill before the end of the present sittings of the Parliament. The other Bill, which sets down standard procedures, will certainly be introduced before the end of this year. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) adjourned.
-We are at present debating Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4). Before I get to the substance of my speech there are one or two items that I would like to bring before the House. First I would like to say it is some source of satisfaction to see that the accounting procedures of departments are such that the demands for funds under these Bills are 35 per cent less than they were at this time last year. In other words, the Government is seeking only a further $326m as opposed to a necessary $506m last year. Having just heard the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) speak in the House I looked at his Department’s requirements. I am intrigued to find that there is an estimated saving in his Department this year of $4. 19m under an item headed ‘Maintenance, enforcement and property matters, reimbursements to States’. I would be interested to have more details of the estimate at a later time.
I am also intrigued to find that there is to be a saving in our appropriations this year of $1,065,000 in respect of our defence cooperation with Indonesia. I sincerely hope that this does not indicate a lessening of our association with that country.
When I heard the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) claim earlier in this debate that too much of present day economic debate was centred on the untrue fact that the Labor Government was responsible for economic chaos in Australia I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. I do not know whether I have used his exact words, but every thinking Australian is only too aware not only of the chaos that resulted from 3 years of what is now outdated socialist rule but also of the unbelievable speed with which the Whitlam Government achieved this chaos. I do not doubt the sincerity and goodwill of the honourable member for Adelaide. But I believe that if he were ever Treasurer of this country and the Party opposite were to govern again the constant adherence to the economic philosophy that was followed by Labor Treasurers would once more undo the work that the present Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has been undertaking for the past 18 months. The honourable member for Adelaide should bear in mind the comments of the then United States Secretary of the Treasury, the Honourable William Simon, when he addressed a meeting of the World Bank at Manila on 5 October last year. He said:
Unfortunately, good economics is not always perceived to be good politics. My experience has been that politics is an art with a high rate of discount. And while the pay-off to good economics is real, it takes time. This lag, as the economists call it, is a politician ‘s nightmare.
Fortunately, I think that more and more people now understand that this is the case- and I sense growing suspicion of the proposed instant solution, the quick fix. In a world of unlimited demands and limited resources, finance ministers are not only inevitably unpopular, but indeed cannot afford to be popular. We are required to be the bearers of bad tidings- to reiterate the unpleasant but inescapable fact that resources are scarce while wants are limitless.
It is our lot, whatever our country’s economic system and whatever its circumstances, to speak out for financial responsibilityto call for prudence in an age of fiscal adventure.
Mr Speaker, as you well know, this is the fact and the burden of a Treasurer of this House. The honourable member for Adelaide, whose amendment is made up of easy glib words, should bear this in mind. We should not forget that the last major economic statement made by the honourable member for Adelaide was selfadmittedly inflationary. We must get back to the fact that the duty of any government is not to shield its citizens from the facts. The job of our Treasurer is to reveal the facts as they are. It should not be forgotten that we are still reeling under the effects and forward commitments of the socialist Whitlam-Hayden policies of 1974 and 1975. 1 hope that the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) of the Fraser Government will, in his public statements, give more emphasis to the reasons why we have found ourselves in the economic position we now face. I am reminded of Macawber’s simple statement. Macawber. as honourable members will recall, is a character from David Copperfield who in turn migrated to Australia. He said:
Annual income £20 Os.Od.; annual expenditure £19 19s.6d.; result happiness.
Annual income £20 Os.Od.; annual expenditure £20 0s.6d.; result misery.
I will bring that slightly up to date and say annual income $22 billion; annual expenditure $2lVi billion; result happiness. Annual income $22 billion; annual expenditure $24Vi billion; result misery. There is no joy in being a supporter of a government that has to introduce economic policies to correct the extravagances of a previous government. This is the position in which this Government has found itself and in which it still finds itself. It is not too late to keep blaming the former Government. After all, the first 2 years of office of the former Government were successful because it was enjoying the fruits of policies brought down, if I may say, Mr Speaker, by you when you occupied the position of Treasurer in the former coalition Government.
– I will allow the honourable gentleman that indulgence.
– I thank you for your indulgence. We must bear these things in mind when talking of economic policies. We are not talking about how to manage some small business in the back blocks or some small business in the suburbs. We are talking about managing the economy of a complex, sophisticated society. It is not easy, as I have said before, to correct the morass in which we found ourselves. It is not easy to reverse the trend. It is no easy thing to generate confidence and no member of this House will not have recognised the reduced rate of new investment in plant and machinery, despite the Government’s new investment allowance. No honourable member could say that the Government has achieved all that it should have achieved. It has been a difficult scene. Generating confidence in the private sector will only come about if the Government provides incentives to produce and consume.
Although the amendment moved by the Opposition tries to beguile this House into believing that that is what it is trying to achieve, in fact the amendment, which I reject totally, is nothing more than a continuation of the economic clap trap that we learnt to expect between 1972 and 1975. However, I believe, as my colleague the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) pointed out, that with the very happy announcement today of a small increase of 2.3 per cent in the consumer price index, we have reached a stage where we should be considering some stimulus for the private sector. If we are to continue to overcome the twin evils of inflation and under-employment, no amount of planning by itself will provide the answer. The economy must be encouraged to expand and this means providing incentives within the private sector to produce and consume. The principle of allowing market forces alone to dictate the level of production, whether it be primary produce or manufactured goods, is, I regret to say, not the whole solution. I hope that in the deliberations that are taking place now within the Cabinet some thought will be given to this and that some action will result which will stimulate the private sector and help it to expand.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was expressing my pleasure with today’s announcement of the small increase of 2.3 per cent in the consumer price index for the present quarter. I repeat my support of the remarks of the honourable member for Perth. He was a well known economist in Western Australia before he entered this House in 1975. He said that the economic climate is such at the moment that consideration should be given to providing incentives to private industry. I repeat my own earlier remarks: I believe that the economy has to be encouraged to expand and this means providing incentives within the private sector to produce and consume. I hope that we will see some evidence of this in this year’s Budget for I can assure the House that there is great need for stimulation in the depressed metropolitan area of Sydney. Sydney has been very heavily affected by a series of major economic disasters. The closing and near nationalisation of British Leyland and the collapse of several of our major finance corporations in that city have presented a climate which needs localised transfusions and incentives. I sincerely hope that when the Budget is brought down this year we will see some evidence of that. I believe, as I have already said since the resumption of the sitting, that I agree with the honourable member for Perth that we should, at this stage, be in a position to offer some form of stimulation and encouragement to the private sector.
In my remaining few minutes I turn to what is one of the most pleasing announcements in the Bills being debated at the moment. That is the decision to provide $850,000 for the Community Youth Support Scheme under which financial aid is given to community groups which provide supportive services and programs for young unemployed people. In the Cook electorate we have proceeded with a scheme. We have called it the Cook Pre-Employment Committee- CPEC. We have already appointed our project officer, Mr Colin Pritchard, who has had considerable industrial experience. He has a great deal of community expertise, particularly in Sydney. We have also appointed a deputy project officer, Miss Susan Daevitt. She has had wide working experience in a variety of occupations as well as some very practical social community involvement.
From that amount of $850,000 1 am pleased to say that $22,500 has been provided in the Cook electorate for the year commencing 7 March. It covers salaries, materials, insurance, rent and telephone costs. We have already established a drop-in centre at Cronulla. We are investigating and negotiating another centre at Kurnell and we are looking for a third drop-in centre in the Miranda area. I am pleased to see the interest of the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) because at present he, too, is in the course of creating 2 committees within his very large electorate. I am certain that he will have the same success as we are already achieving in Cook. I should like to mention for the record who are the people on the committee in my electorate. I have maintained the chairmanship of the committee. Also on the committee are: Mrs Helen Harding from one of the schools in the area, Mr Ray Cook, and Mr Tony White, who is officerincharge of the Caringbah Community Health Centre, the Secretary of the Committee is Mr Rick Parry of the Commonwealth Employment Service office in Caringbah, and the Treasurer is Mr Graham Salter.
I wish the honourable member for Hughes, who is trying to interject, the same co-operation from his committee as we are getting in Cook. With this committee we have already established close contact with all community groups and service organisations and we feel that we have had certain successes already. One of the constant problems of these community centres- this would apply in Hughes as in other areas- is to find ways and means of getting young people to come along to the drop-in centres. This is a serious problem and not to be taken lightly by anyone on either side of the House. Despite the nonsense that is being spoken by certain people, even on my own side of the House, there are unemployed young persons in this community who cannot find jobs. The imputation put by so many people, that the unemployed do not want work, in my experience in the electorate of Cook is just not true.
– Hear, hear!
– I am pleased to hear the honourable member for Melbourne say: ‘Hear, hear! ‘ This matter goes beyond party politics. I also wish the honourable member success with such a committee in the electorate of Melbourne. I sincerely hope that he has put forward a submission to establish such a committee. I would be interested to hear later whether in fact he has. Our early experience- I give this information to all honourable members- shows the desirability and practical effects of encouraging the young people who are out of work to become involved with the administration of the scheme. So far we have had great success. We have managed to place a large number of young people in work, beyond our wildest anticipations. We have been impressed with the attitude of the young people coming to us seeking assistance in finding work.
I turn now to discuss our future. It will be to see what activities can be planned and to find out what jobs are available. It is an area which at the moment is very exciting. This activity should be occupying every member of this House from either side. I think it will be a great disappointment if we find in several months ‘ time that there have been honourable members who for political reasons have decided not to proceed to take advantage of this community youth employment scheme. It is one of the great steps that the Government has introduced to meet what is a sorry situation of unemployment. Anyone who has anything to do with unemployed youth can feel nothing but deep compassion for this hard core of youth which cannot find work. This problem is serious. It is virtually beyond politics. It is a matter that should occupy the thoughts of all of us irrespective of party and should go well beyond that consideration.
The temptation is to go on to describe the scheme further but time will not allow me to do so. I hope that within this debate on the Appropriation Bills other honourable members following me will see fit to talk of their experiences as well. We cannot find a solution to our economic situation unless we find a solution for the unemployed who are desperately seeking work. This problem knows no electoral boundary; it knows no political difference. It is something that is very serious and it affects many occupations. It is complex it is difficult: But I believe that the introduction of the youth employment scheme is one of the really positive moves that this Government has taken. I strongly support the financial policies of this Government. As I said earlier in the debate, I reject out of hand the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Adelaide as yet another example of an inflationary solution to a serious problem which we inherited in December 1975.
-In speaking on Appropriation Bill (No. 3), let me first restate the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). It states:
That all words after ‘that’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘whilst not denying the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that (a) the slashing of government spending is part of an inept economic strategy which has led to a decline in the standard of living of all Australians and (b) there is an urgent need for alternative policies of promoting a consumer led recovery by cuts in indirect taxes and appropriate stimulatory expenditure on job creation and manpower training programs, all done in a context of not increasing inflation by (i) phasing out the more extravagant business tax concessions, (ii) increasing the money supply but not beyond the rate of inflation plus growth and (iii) instituting a more vigorous bond-selling program’.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) permits the appropriation of $247m from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purposes specified in the Schedule to the Bill. This amount is made up of $44m for wage and salary increases under the relevant departments and divisions. An allowance of $90m for such increases was made in the original Budget estimates but was not appropriated in individual salary votes. The sum of $9m is sought for the May referenda; $9m for Aboriginal programs; $38m for defence equipment cost increases, $32.5m for student allowances and $6.6m for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Bill was introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) in this House on 21 April and the sum sought to be appropriated is only a pittance when compared with what should be given for capital works and services, payments to the States and other services. It is a disgrace that the country is coming to a halt. What can we expect in the August Budget this year- a freeze or a tease of the Australian people?
The previous speaker from the Government side, the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) congratulated the Government for saving money by tightening the belt. His electorate will not appreciate his remarks. The unemployed, the pensioners, small businesses, house owners and many others in this country will be worried by what the honourable member said tonight. ‘Life was not meant to be easy’, said the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Under his Government life is not going to be easy for Australians. In this Government’s 1976-77 Budget $3m was allocated to the Trade Union Training Authority scheme. A Government inquiry into the Authority is now taking place and should be finalised by the end of June this year. How much will this worthwhile training scheme now under investigation by a select committee, which will recommend alterations to the legislation and pruning of administration costs, receive for its survival in the next Budget? It is believed that the Government is looking at ways in which to cut the Budget and to take away from union representatives control of the curricula in the trade union colleges.
Over the last month many items have appeared in the Press about this important matter. One item in the Sun of Wednesday, 6 April states:
N.S.W. Labor Council is ‘extremely disturbed’ by Federal Government appointment of a committee to overhaul the trade union training scheme.
Labor Council education officer, Bob Carr, said: ‘Curtailment will lead to more strikes because many young men and women union officials have learnt and others are learning negotiation procedures, which are of great value in avoiding strikes.’
Another article in the Australian, entitled ‘Union trainee programs face overhaul ‘ states:
The Federal Government is expected to overhaul the national trade union training scheme it subsidises.
The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Street, will announce within a few days the names of a three-man group to inquire into the operations of the scheme, for which the Government provided $3m last year.
The authority was formed in 1 975 under the former Labor Government and provided for the setting up of a national training college in the Albury-Wodonga growth centre, the Clyde Cameron Training College. Training centres have also been set up in each State with a full-time staff of about 75.
It is understood the Government wants the inquiry’s report ready by the time the Budget estimates are completedprobably in June- so it can make the necessary allocations in this year’s Budget.
Union officials said last night there was no need for an inquiry and opposed the suggestion that the training scheme should embrace management.
I have had discussions with the Labour Council of New South Wales and the unions. They have stated that they are very perturbed over the issue and they are just waiting to see the outcome of the full inquiry. The Canberra Times on 30 March this year reported:
A combination of Liberal Party backbench outrage over paying government money to the trades-union movement and of resentment by established union leadership, is believed to have stimulated a Government decision to appoint a three-man inquiry . . .
It also states:
Government sources were reported yesterday to confirm that the budget for trades-union training would be severely cut back, as reported in the Canberra Times several weeks ago.
The Government’s industrial-relations platform endorsed trade-union training, in terms coinciding with the courses which TUTA conducts. The present Minister for Productivity, Mr Macphee, was a member of TUTA ‘s council before joining the Ministry.
In the Sydney Morning Herald of 30 March it was reported:
The aim of the scheme, which has centres in all States, is to train union officials- from shop stewards to union secretariesto improve the quality of union administration and leadership.
The committee will investigate the budget provided for the training and recommended alterations to the legislation.
The committee will also be asked to report whether the training should be integrated with other forms of management education.
The Government is believed to be looking to cut the budget for trade-union training and take away from union representatives control of the curricula in trade-union colleges.
Now I would like to speak about the Government’s poorly conceived and short sighted plans to overhaul the trade union training scheme. From the outset I think it is important to make it clear to the members of this House that this latest move by the Government is not an isolated affront to the unions, but one of a series of recent manoeuvres to shackle and provoke the unions. Apparently the Fraser Government is determined to cause industrial unrest, obviously as a cover-up for its own ineptitude in handling the economy; but I would like to emphasise that it would be a great tragedy if this unquestionably successful scheme for union training is allowed to be sacrificed for this devious purpose.
Since its beginning in June 1975 this important initiative of the former Labor Government has proven itself to be an effective means of assisting the unions and unionists to make the maximum use of their resources and to participate more effectively in the industrial relations field. Maybe this is what the Fraser Government and its big business friends find so objectionable about the trade union training scheme. Maybe the scheme has proven itself to be a formidable match to management education, so that the employers no longer enjoy the unfair advantage in industrial relations which they were permitted to enjoy for so long. For a considerable time government has substantially funded various forms of management education. For instance, a federal government established- and this Government continues to fund it- the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of New South Wales, and this is only one of the numerous forms of assistance currently given to the training of management. In contrast, prior to 1975 the total resources available for union training were negligible compared with those available for management training, and this was despite the fact that 53 per cent of wage and salary earners in public and private employment belonged to unions and that unions played such a key role in Australian society.
For these reasons the trade union training scheme can only be seen as a move to balance government assistance to management training and not as a union advantage over management or a needless expense, as the Fraser Government would have us believe. No one questions government assistance to meet the needs of the private sector for skilled managers and no reasonable person should question government assistance to union training. After all, both these forms of assistance contribute directly to efficient business operation and industrial peace and thereby the well-being of the whole community.
Prior to the establishment of the trade union training scheme the full-time union official was placed in the unique position of having to learn his or her skills on the job. There was nowhere that a plumber, an insurance clerk or a waterside worker could systematically or readily acquire new skills as a research officer or as a negotiator. With the introduction of the trade union training scheme union officials and potential union officials were given a much needed opportunity to obtain instruction in how to analyse the significance of the rapid changes currently taking place in industry and industrial relations. They were shown how to accept new ideas and methods and to perform more effectively their organising and administrative duties within the union movement.
Having now been in operation for nearly 2 years, the trade union training scheme has proven itself to be effective in achieving its worthy goal of promoting trade union competence. In that short time it has achieved considerable success in the closure of the gap that previously existed between unionists and management and in the level of industrial relations, knowledge and technique. An important consequence of this achievement has been the diminishment of tension and frustration between the 2 parties and a more efficient avoidance and resolution of industrial conflict. In those circumstances it seems difficult to understand why the present Government has seen fit to conduct an inquiry into the trade union training scheme. One cannot help but be suspicious about the Government’s intentions in this matter, especially when the Government sees no need to examine management training. It would not be surprising or uncharacteristic of this Government if it were to use the inquiry as a smokescreen to justify its intention to reduce the funding of the training scheme in the forthcoming Budget.
In a Press statement dated 30 March last the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Street, claimed that there was an urgent need to inquire into trade union training. Mr Street made particular reference to 3 areas of trade union training which he considered the inquiry should examine. They were the desirability of integrating trade union training into industrial relations training generally and the closer integration of trade union training with the general education system; the role, membership and staffing of the statutory authority concerned with trade union training; and the cost and methods of financing trade union training. It seems very strange indeed that this Government should suddenly deem it necessary to conduct such an inquiry into these areas of trade union training when less than 2 years ago it saw fit to pass the Trade Union Training Authority Bill without opposition. The two amendments that were put forward by the then Liberal-National Country Party Opposition were accepted by the Whitlam Government. In seeking seriously to modify the Trade Union Training Authority the Government faces the same credibility problem it faces in seeking the passage of the constitutional amendments it opposed 3 years ago. Apparently this Government is not concerned about its inconsistency. In fact, inconsistency is becoming this Government’s most consistent trait.
In March 1975 when my colleague the then Minister for Labor and Immigration, Mr Clyde Cameron, presented the Trade Union Training Authority Bill he emphasised in his second reading speech the importance of trade union training remaining the sole responsibility of unions. On that occasion he stated:
The training of unionists in union functions is a specialised task. Instructors and lecturers need to understand thoroughly their subject and the objectives and nature of the trade union movement. It must be the special responsibility of the union movement to formulate its own training schemes to accord with its own ideas and not to leave them to outside institutions. Thus, the conduct of courses cannot be a joint responsibility of unions and employers. Whilst there are many similar problems facing employer and union bodies there is much they do not have in common.
While apparently agreeing with those sentiments in 1975, we now find the Fraser Government making a complete about turn on the matter and bowing to employer pressure to reduce union influence over the curriculum of each course and to appoint employer representatives to the councils administering the system. If that happens the Trade Union Training Authority will surely lose much of its proven effectiveness and cease to perform its important function as a counterbalance to government assisted management training. Of the large range of government sponsored or assisted management schools currently operating in Australia, no emphasis is ever placed on participation by the trade union movement. If the Trade Union Training Authority is to remain a viable counterbalance to management training it is essential that this autonomy of the Authority is not lost by its being diffused with management education bodies.
The Government’s industrial relations platform endorses trade union training in terms coinciding with the course that the Authority conducts. On the occasion of the Trade Union Training Authority Bill being returned from the Senate with amendments, the present Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is recorded in Hansard as saying:
Now the Bill is perfectly acceptable to the Opposition.
Why is it then that the Government suddenly finds it so necessary to conduct an inquiry into union training when, less than 2 years ago, it wholeheartedly supported the passing of the Trade Union Training Authority Bill?
This Government’s blatant victimisation of the trade union training scheme is a deliberate provocation to the trade union movement. For instance, how much say do unions have in the role of membership, staffing and curriculum at the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of New South Wales? The truth is that unions are not considered. How can Liberal and National Country Party back benchers and employer groups justly agree that they should be given representation in union training? At this stage I think it is important that I clear up any misunderstanding that may exist in the minds of honourable members. I am not advocating that all training activities for unionists should be carried out in isolation from the rest of the community. Let me make this clear: I believe there is much scope for joint attendance of both unionists and management representatives at courses and seminars held in industrial relations and other associated areas. Such joint training is beneficial to both sections and should be encouraged.
However, these activities are not designed specifically to develop the expertise of unionists as officials and members in the union movement itself. Therefore, it is imperative that the primary objective of the Trade Union Training Authority remain the adequate provision of trade union training for the trade union movement and by the trade union movement. Honourable members must know by now that the policies of the Fraser Government are rapidly bringing this country to the point where it will be wracked with widespread industrial disruption. The Government’s wages policy is undermining the wage indexation system and thereby raising the problem of considerable industrial disputation as unions try to restore real wage levels by pursuing wage claims on individual employers. In addition, the Government is now launching a quite unprecedented attack on the trade union movement, involving widespread legislative and other action. In recent weeks, unionists have been faced with quite momentous amendments to the Trade Practices Act, legislation to enable the Government to sack permanent public servants for any reason, the proposed introduction of tough new stand-down provisions for Federal Government employees and an inquiry into trade union training with terms of reference that portend substantial changes and cutbacks in funding. Coming on top of all this, the introduction of amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is proof positive of the Government’s intentions. It is clearly seeking to smash union power even though it is likely to provoke widespread industrial disruption by so doing. The proposed amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act are clearly designed to debilitate and shackle the unions. The unions are doing a remarkable job in trying to keep peace in this country. Unions will be considerably weakened in respect of maintaining and retaining membership by legislative encouragement of non-membership of unions and the prohibition of any action by them to recruit unwilling members.
Following the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon), I speak in both sorrow and anger but without notes because, once again, we have had the news today -
– Did not Bob Santamaria write your speech for you tonight?
-A small group of friends of the honourable member for Melbourne have decided that they are going to hold this country to ransom and, in particular, once again to hold Tasmania to ransom.
– Did not Bob Santamaria write your speech for you tonight?
-The honourable member for Melbourne can yell and scream as much as he likes. I am now going to denounce his left wing and communist friends because I and the people of Tasmania on both sides of the political fence, and I believe the people of Australia, are sick and tired of those industrial mobsters and gangsters who repeatedly determine that they are going to hold to ransom this country and, in particular, the state of Tasmania. When I say that I speak in sorrow, I do, and when I say that I speak in anger, I do. Late this afternoon we received the news that the air traffic controllers had determined that their strike scheduled for tomorrow at 12 noon would go on. Sadly for me, my State and good people, both Liberal and Labor, in Tasmania once again Tasmania is to be isolated and held to ransom because these people said this afternoon it was not possible to exempt Tasmania from the strike.
Let me recount the sad and sorry tale of what has occurred this week and the efforts of people of goodwill from both sides of the political fence in Tasmania in endeavouring to save our State. What has been the product of our labour and efforts? On Tuesday afternoon, following lengthy discussions with senior officers of the Department of Transport and with the full co-operation and assistance of the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), who has been absolutely magnificent in this matter- I will pay many tributes to him for the way he has handled the matter- I determined to make a personal plea as an ordinary back bencher of this Parliament, not as anybody special but as somebody who was concerned about the fact that Tasmania had been held to ransom with monotonous regularity. I rang the president of the organisation concerned, the Civil Air Operation Officers Association of Australia. I spoke to the Federal President, Mr Charles Stuart.
Let me say from the outset that I was pleasantly surprised at the way that he received my submission and at his undertaking that he would put to the Federal executive of the air traffic controllers my submission, as the submission of an ordinary member of this Parliament, that Tasmania should be exempt from the forthcoming strike. I merely asked that the gentlemen’s agreement with the Australian Council of Trade Unions that Tasmania should be exempt from transport strikes should apply to this organisation, which as a matter of interest is not affiliated with the ACTU. Is this not right and reasonable in a Commonwealth comprising 6 States, five of which have the opportunity of rail or road communication? Tasmanians cannot walk across Bass Strait, and to all intents and purposes air transportation is the jugular vein of their transport links with the mainland. The honourable member for Melbourne may think this is funny. It is not funny. I tell him that in this matter I have on side, whether the honourable member likes it or not, the Deputy Premier of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council. I can assure the honourable member that they do not think it is funny.
– He was laughing at you.
– It is all right for the honourable member for Chifley too. He would not know the difference between B and a bull’s foot. He carries on incessantly. He is trying to shut out the voice of Tasmania from this Parliament and the nation, but he will not succeed.
– You are a oncer. You will not be here after the next election.
-The honourable member will not distract me. Whether I am here in 2 years time is irrelevant.
– You will have an increased majority.
-Thank you. Despite the honourable member for Melbourne and his left wing and communist friends, I will speak the truth and the people of Australia will hear the truth as to how a small gang can hold this country to ransom. As I said, I was pleasantly surprised at the sympathetic hearing I received from the Federal President. Mr Stuart told me that he would put my submission to his executive. I hope that his executive, as a group of fair and reasonable men, appreciate that we in Tasmania have had enough of transport strikes. We have had enough of being isolated and strangled. At the same time I pay a tribute to senior officers in the Department of Transport, particularly Mr Col Freeland and Mr David Graham, who were of utmost assistance to me. I repeat my tribute to the Minister for Transport. Whatever unpopularity he may have incurred in years past as Minister for Shipping and Transport in a previous administration, he has really stood up and fought for Tasmania under the Fraser Government. Yesterday he was asked a question which I want to read into Hansard, not simply incorporate in Hansard, because it is significant that we note the question asked, the answer given and the response of the irresponsible industrial gangsters. This is what I asked Mr Nixon yesterday:
I direct my question to the Minister for Transport. The Minister would be aware that yesterday -
That is Tuesday- after discussions with senior officers of his Department, I made a personal appeal to the President of the Civil Air Operations Officers Association of Australia, Mr Charles Stuart, that Tasmania should be totally or partially exempted from the air traffic controllers strike scheduled to commence at 12 noon on Friday. In the event of the air traffic controllers federal executive deciding in principle to exempt Tasmania from the strike, can the Minister assure the House that he and his Department will do everything in their power to see that the exemption for Tasmania eventuates?
The Minister answered in the following terms:
I should point out that the claims of the air traffic controllers are presently before the Public Service Board. I am hopeful that the proposed and intended strike as announced by the air traffic controllers will not proceed, but I would not profess to be terribly optimistic about that at this point, in view of the public statement made by the air traffic controllers themselves. I am aware of the immense significance that a strike of this nature could have to Tasmania. It has been drawn to my attention by the honourable member for Denison and his colleagues from Tasmania many times. I congratulate the honourable member on the initiative he has taken, firstly in having discussions with senior officers of my Department and then getting in touch with the president of the Civil Air Operation Officers Association of Australia in respect of this matter. Hopefully the air traffic controllers will listen to the pleas of the honourable member. Certainly, if they respond to the pleas by expressing the intention of still going ahead with the strike -
And these are the important words:
I shall make sure that my Department co-operates fully to ensure that services to Tasmania continue if the strike eventuates.
What the Minister said then was quite a significant commitment and one which was much welcomed in Tasmania on both sides of the political fence. Let me, without becoming too technical, now expand on what the Minister was saying. The last time we had an air traffic controllers strike the Department of Transport, by administrative action, released air space between Tasmania and the mainland. That permitted some form of air communication between our State and the mainland States. The president of the air traffic controllers informed me that he felt that this had been dangerous on the previous occasion. We were endeavouring to see whether a situation could be reached whereby if the air traffic controllers said that they were prepared to exempt Tasmania from the strike the Department would have co-operated by making appropriate arrangements to ensure that with safety and under departmental control planes could fly in and out of Tasmania.
What then happened? Following the Minister’s answer in the House yesterday I was delighted to see the intervention in this matter of the Deputy Premier of Tasmania, the Hon. Doug Lowe who although a Labor man- he and I are politically opposed- is a man of whom I as a Tasmanian am proud. He is without any shadow of doubt one of the outstanding State Ministers in Australia. The Hon. D. A. Lowe, Deputy Premier of Tasmania, also approached the air traffic controllers. I say to the honourable member for Melbourne that he was supported by unanimous resolution of the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council.
-That is right. The Council resolved unanimously to ask the air traffic controllers union to exempt Tasmania. So, we have a Federal Liberal member, a Labor Deputy Premier, the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council and 99 per cent of the people of Tasmania asking for this exemption. What did these dictatorial gangsters reply? Their first reply was that it was not possible to do so at this stage but they said, in a patronising manner, ‘try again’.
What happened today? The members of that union met in Melbourne today. They determined that their strike would go on. At the conclusion of their deliberations, when the question of Tasmania was raised, their Federal Secretary, Mr Garlick, said words to the effect that it was not possible. What sort of an answer is that? As far as I am concerned it is not good enough. Even at this late hour I appeal to the association to rethink what it is doing to Tasmania. We have been raped incessantly by industrial strike action. We are sick and tired of it. It is just not good enough for the federal secretary of the Civil Air Operations Officers Association to say it is not possible. Anything is possible if you have the will. Do not the air traffic controllers realise that 10 days ago Tasmanians were isolated for over 3 days with no air communication between our State and the mainland? Do not they feel concerned about the fact that to my personal knowledge 3 families in Hobart were in a situation that relatives died on the mainland during that weekend and they could not get to their relatives -
– You are a liar. You are an absolute liar.
-I am not a liar. You are a liar. You are a disgraceful little liar.
– Go outside and say that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Denison will resume his seat. I suggest to the honourable member for Melbourne that he restrain himself. I notice that he is the next speaker in the debate. The phrase that he used is completely unparliamentary and I ask the honourable member to withdrawn.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I believe that the -
-Order! I am afraid the honourable member for Melbourne must withdraw-
– I withdraw it, but if the individual concerned had the courage to go outside and say it he could be facing some sort of a writ.
-Order! There is no qualification about it. The honourable member will withdraw the remark that he made. I call the honourable member for Denison.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give to the honourable member the names of the persons who died. I will also give him the name of a young man from New South Wales -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. In answer to the honourable member for Melbourne, the honourable member for Denison who is speaking just said that the honourable member for Melbourne was a liar too.
– He is.
– I think he should also be made to withdraw that remark. If it is fair enough for one side, it is fair enough for the other.
– I suggest to the honourable member for Denison that in view of the withdrawal by the honourable member for Melbourne, he also withdraw the remark he made to the honourable member for Melbourne.
-Of course, Mr Deputy Speaker.
– I call the honourable member for Denison.
-Fortunately, I know the truth. As I said, I received personal telephone calls from the relatives of 3 people who had died in mainland States the weekend before last. Furthermore, for the benefit of the honourable member for Melbourne and all those who think that this strike is a joke, I point out that there was a young man from the mainland killed in a motor cycle accident. His body lay in a mortuary in Hobart for 2 days after the scheduled funeral date. The transport arrangements of 4000 people travelling between Tasmania and the mainland were disrupted. A man in the Royal Hobart Hospital suffering from leukaemia- the honourable member for Melbourne should listen to this -would have died had it not been for a Royal Australian Air Force mercy flight from Richmond air base. You and your friends think it is a funny matter to isolate one State from the rest of Australia. Shame on you and shame on people who put you in this Parliament that you can treat the people of Tasmania in such a contemptible way.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to order.
-Order! The honourable member for Chifley will resume his seat. I point out to the House- I pointed this out some little while ago- that unfortunately the habit has developed for honourable members from both sides of the House to address remarks to an individual and to say ‘you’ when they should address their remarks to the House through the Chair. There is an obvious reason for that which I have pointed out before. On one occasion I said that if the remarks made were taken as being addressed to the Chair- through the use of the word ‘you’- they meant that a reflection had been made against the Chair. This shows how difficult the position can become. I suggest again that in circumstances such as this honourable members return to the practice of addressing the chamber through the Chair. I call the honourable member for Denison.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, what about my point of order?
– I will hear the honourable member for Chifley on a point of order.
– My point of order is that the honourable member for Denison has imputed improper motives to the Opposition, motives which have not been stated in debate. He is doing so purely for political purposes and should be made to withdraw.
-Order! The honourable member for Chifley knows that remarks made in general terms are not remarks that the Chair can ask an honourable member to withdraw. I call the honourable member for Denison.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The statement by the federal union secretary that it is not possible to honour an agreement which the Australian Council of Trade Unions said was possible is not good enough for this member of Parliament, not good enough for Liberal and Labor State members of Parliament and not good enough for the people of Tasmania. I was present this afternoon when the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), at his Press conference, informed members of the Press and through them the people of Australia that if this strike was not concluded by Tuesday next he would, on behalf of the Government of this country, introduce appropriate legislation into the Parliament. Let me say: ‘Hear, hear! The sooner the better’. The sooner we get on to the statute books of this country legislation which will curb industrial anarchy and will call to order those who persist in picking on one State- the smallest- despite the wishes of their rank and file members the better. Witness the strike involving the Transport Workers Union last week that continued in Victoria until yesterday. Note the fact the members of that Union in Tasmania put Tasmania first and voted unanimously to return to work as from midnight last Monday week. We have reached a situation in which I believe this country can no longer permit present conditions to pertain.
For my part, I make no apology at all for having asked the Government to give the most serious consideration to bringing forward the Industrial Relations Bureau legislation. The Minister, for reasons which he considers sound and which I accept, said that an undertaking was given. I believe we are getting very close to a stage at which we might consider taking one clause out of that Bill, bringing it on straight away and putting it straight through. I do not see why we should wait while others hold us to ransom. I refer to clause 26 of the Bill which will amend section 143 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and will have the effect of rendering liable- I merely say rendering liable because it will be for the Commission to decide whether to take the appropriate action- for deregistration organisations which, by strike action, prevent, hinder, or interfere with trade or commerce with other countries or among the States. How farcical it is that section 92 of the Constitution has guaranteed us that freedom for 77 years and we have not until now- I think the Minister will correct me if I am wrong-had to put something on the statute books to give section 92 teeth. As far as the people of Tasmania are concerned, the sooner that legislation is on the statute books the better. I repeat, we have had a gutful of this. What I am saying is not just the view of my Party; it is the view of the other Party. It is the view of the Government of Tasmania.
Whether the Government decides that that is the appropriate course to take or whether it should be some other form of legislation, let me say in advance that I will back it to the full. I will back publicly the Minister who has fought in this Parliament, not just this week but in previous months, for the State which I have the honour to represent. I will back the Minister for Transport to the hilt. I believe he will have the support of 99 per cent of the people of Tasmania. I hope that we find very shortly a situation in which those who determine that a few should override the wishes of the majority, those who promote industrial autocracy of the most irresponsible kind, will come to the end of their run. I say to the honourable member for Sydney, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that far from the Government confronting the people of Australia and the people of Tasmania in particular, it is about time the Parliament took appropriate action to ensure that those who bash Tasmania will not get away with it forever but will be brought to a very speedy halt.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This evening we heard a speech that was indicative of the arrogant union-bashing attitude of the Government. The fascist-like legislation presented to this Parliament, for passing in the near futurethe Industrial Relations Bureau legislation, to which the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) referred- is designed to give effect not to what has been traditionally the purpose of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act taken in its context, that is, the conciliatory wing of that Act. People such as Chief Commissioner Chambers and others have worked very assiduously. Those who knew something about industrial relations, such as Judge Foster and other gentlemen who were revered in the industrial area, brought together people- both employers and employees- who were in dispute. I am afraid that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who has just resumed his seat has never had any experience in industrial relations, and thank God he has not. His outbursts in this place are enough to start a fight in an empty house. If we relied on the sorts of outbursts that we have learned to expect from that individual, whose mouthings come from right out of the notebook of Santamaria, we would never have any industrial peace in this country.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I remind the honourable member for Melbourne of what I said a few moments ago. The honourable member will address the Chair.
– I cannot help it if he receives his advice from the National Civic Council.
-Order! The honourable member should address the Chair.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. The amendment which the Opposition has moved spells out clearly and unequivocally the procedures and the processes that ought to be undertaken. The Government has failed miserably to carry out the promises it has made to the Australian people. It has failed miserably to come to grips with the overriding problems of inflation. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), who sits next to the honourable member for Denison, has clearly criticised the Government on its handling of the economy. The issues and the matters that are spelled out and the suggestions that are made in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) are the only things that are really constructive in relation to overcoming inflation.
What have been the results of all of the concepts, processes and procedures adopted by the Government, including devaluation, in taking a heavyhanded attitude towards reducing the real level of the wages of trade unionists in this country? If the position is laid out clearly and concisely as it was laid out in submissions made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission- I will refer to those submissions in a few moments -it must be accepted without argument that the real level of workers’ wages in this country has fallen and that the recovery that was expected to result from the procedures and processes adopted by the Government has failed to materalise. The amendment points to the direction in which we ought to go from here. We say that the standard of living of all Australians has declined. We say there is an urgent need for alternative policies to promote a consumer-led recovery. At the present moment there is only one person in isolation who does not believe that a national conference of all the parties involved ought to be held. I refer to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). He held a conference with the Premiers. The only item on the agenda was the second phase of federalism, and that really had nothing to do with coming to grips with the problems that irk the economy at the moment.
When that conference could not agree on that agenda item the Government attempted to introduce a prices and wages freeze. But it was simply an exercise in ad hockery. Everything that we have come to expect from the Government has been in that vein. In his submission to the Arbitration Commission the advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions- his words are very clear- said:
These facts are simply untrue and downright nonsense to present, if contrived as a diversionary tactic, as an act of considered statesmanship in introducing this proposition of a prices and wages freeze. The economic welfare of the Australian people deserves better than this sort of charade.
The submission then went on to say:
Illegitimacy of itself, however, should not damn the offspring. So let us examine the factual position now confronting the Commission.
The submission then went on to spell out that the best way to understand what it all meant was to understand that it was simply not a proposition for a prices and incomes freeze. It went on to say:
While some subsequent noises have been emitted in these directions, there is absolutely no apparatus to deal in any way with professional or quasi-professional incomes and with those who derive incomes from dividends, capital gains or from various sources in the interest rate structure. Most importantly it is not a freeze upon prices. Already various spokesmen for those who derive their income from prices have made it quite clear that they will not hold prices constant.
This situation has been emphasised by imports and many food items. People involved in these fields pay lip service to the freeze. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) talks about employers taking a responsible position in relation to prices. But every housewife in this country will tell honourable members that in the food marts, in areas where specials are offered, the special price is taken off and the article is offered at the old price. So, for God’s sake, I ask the Minister to remember that when we are talking in terms of increasing prices, we are not carrying out some academic exercise over in the Cabinet room. We are talking about what comes out of and what goes into people’s pockets. If we look at the matter clearly and unequivocally we will see that as well as those other items to which I have referred the components of the consumer price index which cover private rents, house prices, repairs and maintenance, between 30 per cent and 40 per cent would not be subject to the prices freeze. So the whole thing becomes an absolute facade. The real issue is contained in the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Adelaide. Twist and turn as the Prime Minister might, the situation is that the Victorian Premier posed the proposition of cuts in indirect taxes.
– Do you want me to respond to that?
-I do not want the Minister to respond. I do not suppose he can at this point. Instead of going on with all this bellyaching which we have heard from individual backbenchers, I would like whoever is going to respond to respond on the basis of the alternatives to the amendment. The Government’s proposals have failed. That has been spelt out by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and by the majority of State governments. They have suggested that a national conference should consider on a national level all the concepts which are spelt out in the amendment. If the Prime Minister cannot be the captain, he wants to take his bat home. He will not call a national conference even in the face of such a suggestion from the majority of Premiers, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and responsible employee organisations. They have called for a national conference.
If the Government introduces industrial legislation of that nature there will be a confrontation with the trade union movement. There was such a confrontation during the 1960s. I happened to be an industrial court advocate at that time. Such a confrontation failed then and it will fail again. Any government which declares a situation which will wreck the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is doomed to failure. Such action brought down 2 governments, one in this country and one in the United Kingdom. If such action is attempted again it will bring down this Government. But I do not believe that that is the spirit in which this situation ought to be approached. The honourable member for Denison failed to realise that 2 people are involved in an argument. It is very easy for employers to play a straight bat until such time as all the words run out and then to use whatever legislation is available, but not in a conciliatory fashion. They move to the penal provisions which are contained in the legislation in order to impose their will upon others. That is exactly the proposition with which we are confronted. If such a situation occurs we do not convince anybody by trying to batter them into submission. The processes of conciliation ought to apply in this area. Proper tribunals ought to be established for that purpose. Pressure was applied by the Prime Minister and the responsible Minister in the oil industry dispute, as no doubt it will be applied in the current dispute, to ensure that the dispute was not resolved. I believe that the oil companies must be up to their eyebrows in trouble because they have agreed to grant some concessions so that the dispute could be resolved.
The Government is interested only in applying pressure, as the Prime Minister applied pressure on the oil companies not to grant concessions, simply to aggravate major disputes. The oil companies were told that they would be in serious trouble if they relented to pressure by the unions.
I would now like to refer to a number of matters contained in the Appropriation Bills. Cuts were made in proposed expenditure last year and further cuts are to be made this year. These cuts affect those people in the community who can least protect themselves. They affect people in receipt of social welfare benefits, pre-school education and migrants. They affect the services provided by welfare programs which depend on supplementary advances from the Government. There is to be a saving of $7,000 in division 175 1.02 which refers to overtime payments of the Australian Legal Aid Office. This estimate really means that the Office cannot cope with the overload that it has at the present time. Further cuts only aggravate the position. Expenditure on legal aid services has been reduced by $2,496,400. At a time of increasing demand for legal aid services it is surprising that a saving of $7,000 can be achieved from a meagre allocation of$32,400.
The subject of education was debated in this House today. The honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) was a member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties and he knows very well that there are children in this country who are deprived of the opportunity of achieving their maximum level of educational development. This is particularly so in the migrant area where, as I have pointed out a number of times, the migrant child is trying to put his backside on 2 stools- he is losing his mother tongue and trying to learn English. In many cases migrant children cannot achieve this objective and because of the inadequacy of our education services they are destined to fill the more meagre positions in our society.
– You know that we are as sympathetic as you say you are.
– Why does the honourable member not go into his Caucus room and stand up to the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues and ensure that cuts are not made in that area. The adult migrant education program in Australia, including part-time instruction, is to be cut by $74,000. Expenditure on the child migrant education program is to be cut by $983,400. Also, $419,000 is to be cut from the adult migrant education program.
Spending on migrant education programs was reduced by 2 per cent in real terms in this year’s Budget. A saving of $4,000 will be made under division 274.3.01 under the item of ‘Special investigations’ for the Schools Commission. An amount of $167,000 has been cut from this item which is vital in the development of multilingual education programs. Honourable members might be interested to note that $404,000 was allocated for this item in Labor’s 1975-76 Budget. Only $120,000 was allocated in the Budget for this financial year for those special investigations into the educational needs of disadvantaged groups in this community. Even this meagre amount has been squeezed by another $4,000. The Government claims that it is interested in reducing the educational disadvantage that migrant groups suffer because English is not their first language, but where is there some allocation to implement the recommendations of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties. I ask my colleague, the honourable member for Higgins: What has happened to the report? The Government has done absolutely nothing about those recommendations and yet he and I stood up here in this House pressing for their implementation.
-All will be well.
– Yes, in the sweet bye and bye, when they have beards down to their ankles and the kids are on the end of a pick. That is when it will be OK. Like all the programs which the Government implements, the Government acts only after the ball game is over.
– We know what it is all about.
– Yes, I am sure. The tears are streaming down the honourable member’s face. Technical education is one of the most serious areas of need in this country. Expenditure on research investigation is down again by $3,000. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1976-77 reduces expenditure on this item by 50 per cent, from a total of $219,000. The 1976-77 Budget allocated only $ 125,000 for this item, a reduction of 50 per cent in real terms on the 1975-76 allocation. Yet we hear all this drivel about what we are doing in regard to technical and further education. There was a meeting of educationists in Victoria recently and I noticed that some of our friends were there. The honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) was there going for the lick of his life trying to talk himself out of trouble. I wonder how he faced up to that situation. I hope he did as well there as he does with his bees; I believe he is an expert in that field. These cuts seriously jeopardise research aimed at meeting the needs of ethnic groups, and the honourable member for Holt ought to be mindful of that. How does he explain that to the people of the Dandenong area who require this research?
In regard to the expenditure of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, there is a saving of $ 10.87m on the National Employment and Training scheme for which there was a total appropriation of only $40m. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1976-77 reduced expenditure on the NEAT scheme by $5.1m by reducing the allowances payable to trainees. The Government claimed that it could assist more people with retraining assistance as a result of its decision. This further reduction in expenditure, or ‘saving’ as the Government euphemistically describes it, demonstrates that the living allowance paid to NEAT trainees is not adequate. Clearly many people have had to abandon the programs. Anybody sitting in this Parliament knows that people who have had pressures placed on them and have not been able to bear those pressures have had to abandon programs. They simply cannot afford to continue them. Discrimination reigns supreme in every area to which one can point. So I believe that if there were an ounce of principle in the decision making process on the Government benches, honourable members opposite would not only support the amendment but also would apply sufficient pressure on the Prime Minister to ensure that without any prevarication he accedes to the wishes of the vast majority of people in this country by calling a national conference to deal with all the issues that are contained in the amendment. It is only by doing that that we will get an overall view of the situation, do what is required and at least head us in the direction of overcoming the economic ills of this country.
-Having listened to the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) and his reference to specific learning difficulties I am more than ever convinced that it is not only children who suffer from specific learning difficulties. The Australian Labor Party will never learn; it has not learnt yet. When one listens to the speeches of honourable members opposite one realises that even those 3 years when they were in government- disastrous though they were- have taught them nothing about the operation of a sound economy and the benefits of such an economy to the whole of the Australian people.
– And they still do not care for Tasmania, either.
-That could well be true. I support the Appropriation Bills now before the House and the statement of savings in the information paper put out by the Department of Finance and dated 21 April 1977. The Government is now demonstrating its ability to cope with the gigantic task of stemming the tide of galloping inflation and the flow-on from the disastrous economic policies of the previous Labor Government. There is no doubt that the present Government was overwhelmingly returned to office in the nick of time- the right time- to halt the headlong gallop into hopeless debt initiated and further promoted by the Whitlam Government. The Fraser Government has stopped and reduced, and in some areas stopped the enormous spending spree which appeared to be the enjoyable task of those honourable members opposite and which led Australia into one of the biggest financial messes that this country has ever seen. Faced with an enormous and historically high Budget deficit made and left by the Whitlam Government, the Fraser Government has acted responsibly and sensibly in reducing the deficit from some $4800m to about $2600m, and that is no mean achievement.
This has been done at some cost to popularity because under these circumstances responsible government has to take action which is not popular and I hope that this Government has the courage and determination to continue to take that action until such time as the economy of this country is back to where it ought to be, that is, in a reasonably prosperous condition for the benefit of all Australians. The reduction of the deficit through determination and responsible action has been criticised by a small percentage of people- perhaps a number of people- certainly including the rather small percentage of honourable members who occupy the Opposition benches in this Parliament.
– That is why they will continue to occupy those benches.
-As my friend the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) says that is where they will be for a long time to come. The Government ‘s action in reducing the Budget deficit has taken time. We recognise that. No doubt it has taken longer than the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) or the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) or any Government supporter would like to have seen. However, the Government’s determination has saved Australians and Australian business thousands of dollars- even it could be said, millions of dollars- in interest rates. If the Government had sought funds overseas to get this country out of the Whitlam economic debt, then we would have been forced to pay very dearly to borrow that money. We have not had to borrow the money because of the economic restraint that has been placed on the economy by this Government and which has been criticised so roundly and solidly by the Opposition.
It would have had a disastrous effect on ordinary Australians if we had had to borrow that money overseas and businesses would have been forced into borrowing money on the world market at high interest rates. It would have forced interest rates up to astronomical levels if that action had been taken. The Opposition does not seem to realise that interest rates could possibly have reached 20 per cent. What sort of disaster would that have been? That is where Australia was heading before this Government took office. The Government has not had to burden Australians with that type of interest rate and with the dark prospects that that envisages. I would like to see interest rates much lower than they are at the present time. This Government has kept interest rates down to their present levels from the very high rates they would have been if the Government had not come into office. If this Government was not in charge of the Treasury now I would hate to think what would have happened to the ordinary Australian and to business in this country.
Apart from these very important measures the Liberal-National Country Party Government has been able to save the Australian taxpayer millions of dollars. The reductions in expenditure over the past 16 months have enabled the Government to keep tax collections down. In fact, it has been able to reduce the tax burden through tax indexation. This is not generally accepted but it should be. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has indicated that the Treasury will save more than $98m in 1976-77 and that is shown in Appropriation Bills Nos 3 and 4 which we are debating tonight. Significant savings will be made in the Public Service area because of reductions in staff numbers. Administrative costs will be lower. For instance, the administration costs for the Department of Primary Industry will be reduced by some $396,000. This is an area in which I am very interested and in which I have been engaged for most of my life. So, the Government is prepared to undertake restraint right across the board. In the Department of Overseas Trade there will be a saving of some $5.9m. In the Treasury the saving will be $1 1.4m and in the Department of Transport the saving will be $ lm, to name but a few.
We are dependent on private enterprise for a large proportion of our employment. There has been a nervousness among investors which has to be overcome. The progress is slow, which is understandable when one thinks of the way in which the Labor Government wrecked the economy during its 3 years in office. People have had to be assured that the present Government can restore the economy. We have certainly faced a colossal task in bringing the Budget closer to a balance. That is our objective. We have found opportunities to further our economic philosophy, which hinges on private enterprise. Anyone who realises the importance of private enterprise will understand that this is where a high percentage of employment opportunities lie. In promoting private enterprise we are endeavouring to create employment opportunities for the Australian people. The Government has restored no less than $ 1,000m to corporate and wages sectors through taxation reform. This has been done to allow the private sector to grow. That is our objective.
The groundswell for recovery is now apparent. In the half year to December 1976 company profits grew by more than one-third. That is a fair reply to those who say that we have not made any progress in that area. As a share of non-farm national product, profits recovered to nearly 15 per cent from their low point of about 1 1 Vi per cent reached during 1 974-75.
– How are farm profits going?
-Farm profits have increased to some extent but they have not increased as much as we would like. Certainly if the honourable member’s Party had been in office they would be much worse than they are today, because the Labor Party has not the slightest sympathy for the farm sector. It has always been the same. There is not a semblance of sympathy for primary industry on the other side of the House. There never has been and there is not likely to be unless honourable members opposite change their attitudes.
In the December quarter of 1976, compared with the same quarter of 1975, expenditure in real terms on dwellings was up 20 per cent. This is another area of national importance in which we are interested. Expenditure in real terms on plant and equipment was up 1 8 per cent and personal consumption in real terms was up 4 per cent. All this growth occurred despite a reduction in real government spending. Honourable members opposite said that that growth would not occur and that it could not occur, yet it is occurring. That growth was achieved in the private sector. In the farm sector, which has been mentioned, we have introduced a system of income equalisation deposits to smooth out some of the income peaks and troughs which are inherent in the agricultural sector and which adversely affect individual farmers’ investment plans. We are continuing to support the apple and pear industries through stabilisation. A new rural adjustment scheme has been introduced. Carry-on loans, debt reconstruction and farm build-up have been continued. Rehabilitation assistance has been increased and household support introduced. It had to be introduced to counteract the drastic effects of the policies of the previous Government. The fruit growing reconstruction scheme has been extended and the conditions relaxed. In the beef industry, which has suffered very severely, substantial assistance has been made available to assist beef producers, including $ 15m for carry-on loans and the suspension of the Labor imposed meat export inspection charge. That is the sort of thing Labor introduced.
– They priced us out of the overseas market.
-As my friend from Paterson says, they priced us out of the overseas market. This action is estimated to save producers some $35m this financial year. An amount of $ 18.5m has been allocated to tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication campaigns, not only to the benefit of producers but also to the benefit of Australia as a whole. Slaughter compensation was introduced for the first time. With respect to wheat the Government has increased the first advance to $66 per tonne or $1.80 per bushel for this financial year, which is an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. I wonder whether the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) wants to hear more of this or whether he has had enough. He is very quiet now. These are some of the initiatives that this Government has taken in the short time in which it has been in office. The Appropriation Bills now before the House will allow the Government to continue the successful progress upon which it has embarked, ultimately to get the economy of the country back on a sound basis, to the benefit of every Australian- a benefit which a country having the natural resources that we have should be enjoying. It is high time that we did enjoy them, too. There has been an agreement on meat classification by the Agricultural Council -
-You are giving them another $350m through a reduction in taxes.
-I hear some silly noises on the side. There has been an agreement -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! Firstly, the honourable member for Chifley is out of his seat and, secondly, all interjections are out of order. I know the honourable member for Maranoa is being a trifle provocative but I suggest that the honourable member for Chifley should try to restrain himself.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I am not in my place, does that mean that I may interject?
-No. All interjections are out of order.
-A classification scheme will give producers of beef true returns for their cattle. So honourable members will see that it is important that beef producers get behind their organisations to implement a classification scheme as soon as possible. It was announced this week by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) that the Government has endorsed proposals submitted by him for an Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation to replace the present Australian Meat Board. No doubt there will be some criticism that the Corporation will not be completely producer controlled, but I hope that we will look at the total construction of the proposed Corporation before these criticisms are fully developed.
– Before it is finalised.
-That is correct. Although the bulk of the present functions and powers of the Meat Board will be retained by the Corporation, there will be some significant changes. In other areas of primary industry the Government has introduced a special deduction of $50,000 to apply where an interest in an estate passes to a surviving spouse. That is a very effective measure to try to protect those people who have made some savings during their lifetime. That should be encouraged. In the case of the estate of a primary producer passing wholly to a surviving spouse, the estate will be completely free of duty if valued at $98,000 or less. In family allowances the Government has introduced allowances payable for each child under 16 years of age, or under 25 years of age if receiving full time education. This is a great help as most country families are bigger than those in city areas and have difficulties of distance that do not apply in the cities. We have extended the eligibility for unemployment benefit to farmers suffering financial hardship who have registered for the benefit. I wonder whether the honourable member for Grayndler is still interested in what we are doing for the farmers.
An additional $ 100m has been provided since February this year to bring expenditure on roads in rural areas during 1975-76 to some $260m. Roads are a vital necessity in all areas of Australia. Despite the Government’s prime objective of restraining expenditure and thereby lowering inflation, it is still increasing its allocation for road building. That is something for which we should be grateful. For example, it is intended to increase the allocation for roads by $38.3m in 1977-78 over the level of funds provided for this financial year. There is a very great need for local government to be assisted even more than at present, preferably in my opinion by way of an increase in the percentage of income tax being allocated to local government. This is demonstrated by the fact that in many rural areas at least rate charges have reached saturation point and have become an increasingly heavy burden, particularly on those rural industries still struggling to survive.
We have extended free telephone installation in country areas to a distance of 12 kilometres instead of 8 kilometres. Might I remind the Opposition that when we were in government previously we were prepared to extend that limit to 24 kilometres to enable people who could not afford to pay something like $5,000 for a phone to be provided with such a service. But when the Labor Government came to office the limit was brought straight back to 8 kilometres. We have now extended it to 12 kilometres.
– Shame on them.
-As the honourable member says, shame on them. We have provided $50m to help finance relief measures for primary producers. Apart from these very important measures the Liberal-National Country Party Government has been able to save millions of dollars for the Australian taxpayers. The measures that have been introduced certainly have been across the board. I have mentioned primary industry specifically because in the course of this debate many people have referred to other aspects. We have faced colossal tasks in dealing with the whole problem that was before us. No doubt we will have to face those sorts of tasks in the future. I am surprised that the Opposition has not recognised the necessity for the improvement of our economy for the benefit of all people. The people who are most adversely affected-I heard this phrase used earlier-by a disrupted economy are the people in the lower income bracket. Those are the people we are trying to help, as well as the rest of the Australian community, by our economic policy. I know something about that area. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I know some of the problems which are confronting those people who live on low incomes. It is because of that that we have continued to try to provide an economy which will enable the living standards of this country first of all to be stabilised and then improved.
Until such time as the Opposition recognises that there cannot be an increased standard of living without increased productivity, it will never learn. That is the real basis upon which an increased standard of living can be provided. All Opposition members worry about is pleasing their bosses, the people to whom they have to kow-tow all the time. They are a small section of union leaders who are more concerned with promoting their own positions in the unions than they are with the benefit of the people whom they are supposed to represent. I compliment the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren), who is sitting at the table at the moment, for saying that the trade unions are the real Opposition today. That is an indictment. I give him great credit for having the courage to be able to present that unpleasant truth to his colleagues who sit behind him in the Parliament. That is a fact. As was pointed out in some of the leading articles in the Press today, it is not due to the fact that there are smaller numbers in the Opposition. It is due to the very poor performance of those people who sit on the other side of the House. This has been clearly demonstrated. The Opposition has a full shadow Ministry which should be able to cope. It has the forms of the House to use if it has criticisms of this Government. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is prepared to say that the trade union movement is the real opposition in this country today, that is an admission which, I think, should be highlighted.
One of the actions the Labor Party took was to get rid of some of the better Ministers it had. I believe that my friend the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) did quite a good job in his portfolio. What reward did he get for it? Where is the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) sitting today? He is on the very back bench after doing a very good job in the education ministry by comparison with other Labor Ministers. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will remember that. If he is doing a good job within the Labor Party, he is likely to be moved out of the front bench and on to the back bench. It is studded with such people. The reward for doing a good job for the Labor Party apparently is to be relegated to the back benches. My friend the honourable member for Hindmarsh is smiling very broadly. He realises the great work he did for his Party not only in the Parliament but outside it. He solved many problems for the Party. His reward was to be sent to the back bench while people of lesser quality took his place on the front bench.
I support the Appropriation Bills now before the House I hope that, through them, the Australian people will realise what a good job this Government is doing and that they will have the sound common sense to keep this Government in office for years to come so that the economy may be returned to the condition in which it ought to be to enable Australians to enjoy the standard of prosperity that our resources should enable us to enjoy.
-Normally I do not enter this sort of bun fight when the mentality seems to be ‘We did this and they did that’. But the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) said that I made a statement that the trade union movement is the main opposition to the Government in this country. He did not mention the treachery of the parties opposite, and the treachery of the forces involved in the coup of 1 1 November- treachery which has never been known before in the history of this Parliament.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-It had better be a point of order.
– There is a standing order which says that no member may reflect on Her Majesty or her representative. To suggest that the Governor-General was part of treachery is a reflection. I ask that the reflection be withdrawn.
– I cannot uphold the point of order. The honourable member for Griffith is not stating what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said and he knows it.
– You are supposed to listen.
– If you keep saying that you will not be in the House to listen yourself. I suggest you watch what you say. What you are saying is a reflection on the Chair.
– As I was saying, the treachery of the then Opposition, now the Government, was the basis of the conspiracy that existed in this country. Having said that I turn to the matters that are to be brought forward to try to destroy the trade union movement in Australia. Within the next few weeks we will have legislation before this House on amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and amendments to the whole basis of the Trade Practices Act. There has been a threat of even using the corporations power. There will be an onslaught on the trade union movement in this Parliament of a kind not seen since Federation. The Government is trying to crush the real freedom of the trade union movement. It is trying to use these measures as a smokescreen.
The honourable member for Maranoa, a member of the National Country Party, talked about rural roads. He proudly raised the question of the increase in expenditure. Yes, there is to be an increase in expenditure of 8’/2 per cent in money terms in the coming year. In real terms that means 3 per cent to 6 per cent less than last financial year. That is the real measure of this Government’s action. There is a real cutback in capital works and I want to deal with that in some depth in my contribution tonight.
– Tell us about education.
-Order! The honourable member for Bendigo has interjectedI have been counting- on 15 separate occasions.
– That is not true.
-Maybe it was sixteen.
– No, it was two.
-Order! That is seventeen. I remind the honourable member for Bendigo- I do not see his name on the speakers list- that he has the opportunity to speak if he wishes and that opportunity will be given to him. I suggest that -
– Well -
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Bendigo cease interjecting. I intend to see that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition gets the same opportunity to speak as I gave to an honourable member from the National Country Party, the honourable member for Maranoa.
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I challenge your claim that I interjected 15, 16 or 17 times. I did not interject that many times at all. If I had done so you would have been remiss in not calling me to order sooner. I interjected 3 times. Other people interjected; not me.
– I am a very tolerant person when in the chair. I try to maintain a certain amount of discipline in the House but I also recognise that there has to be a certain amount of give and take.
– But you stated the number of times.
-Order! The honourable member has been here long enough to know that he cannot interject when I am on my feet. I suggest we allow the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to speak. I intend to see that he is allowed to speak.
-I hope that at the end of my time I am given an extension of time.
– I do not wish to interrupt the Deputy Leader of the Opposition -
-Are you raising a point of order?
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, you stated the number of times that I interjected. I am sorry but I do not agree with you and I think I have a right to do that when you state the number of times.
-That is not a point of order.
– I want to look at the present plight of the building and construction industry in the economic context of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). There is no doubt that the economic policies of the Fraser Government have placed the building and construction industry in jeopardy. The residential sector has grown quite strongly in recent months but this has been offset by a decline in the non-residential sector. It is most unlikely that the levels of real fixed capital spending in building and construction will reach the 1975-76 level in this financial year. On present trends real spending in 1976-77 will be about 4 per cent below the level of 1973-74. This spells out a very drastic message for the industry which expanded at an average annual rate of 6 per cent through the 1960s. The fiscal and monetary policies followed by the Fraser Government have tightened the screws on the construction industry. It is very likely that the position will get worse. Capital works programs and the building and construction industry in particular are bearing the brunt of the Government’s economic strategy.
Quite clearly, the Government is pinning its hopes for a revival on 2 factors: It is relying on the continued recovery of the residential sector and it is looking for a rapid expansion of the mining sector to boost the new capital works programs. In my view, both these hopes are groundless, for reasons I shall develop. In the first place, the growth in the residential sector, while strong, has shown signs of tapering off. In 1975-76, it grew very strongly- about 20 per cent in real terms over the year. The rate of growth was strong in the first half of the present financial year, but it is now showing signs of levelling off. The growth for the whole year is expected to be just under 10 per cent which is a sharp drop over that of the previous year. With monetary policy very tight at the moment there is no reason to expect a drastic spurt in growth in 1 977-78.
In the non-residential sector the position is much more grim. Total spending is expected to decline by about 4 per cent to 5 per cent in real terms. This follows on the fall of one per cent in 1975- 76. Short term prospects are bleak and we can expect real output to remain depressed in 1977-78. It seems that this will happen although private non-residential construction will pick up by around 10 to 15 per cent in real terms in 1977-78. The private sector accounts for only one-third of non-residential spending. If the public sector declines by 5 per cent or even more as now seems likely, the best that can be expected for the industry is no growth- and I stress that. It may even decline further- by as much as 4 per cent or 5 per cent. The output of the entire industry, both residential and non-residential is expected to decline by one per cent in 1976- 77- about 4 per cent in real terms below the output of 1973-74.I stress that the output for 1976-77 is expected to be about 4 per cent below the output of 1973-74. That is how depressed the industry is.
At this stage the prospects for any sustainable recovery are not good. We know that Budget strategy is dictating that there will be no increase in capital outlays. The impact of this strategy on public capital expenditure will probably mean a decline in real terms in activity in the industry. While a hard Budget holds down spending in the non-residential sector, tight monetary policy will curb activity in the residential sector. Because the level of output of the industry has declined over the past 3 years, the capacity of the industry is being eroded. This is having a severe effect on an industry which grew at an average annual rate of some 6 per cent through the 1960s. In 1976 unemployment in the industry averaged about 5½ per cent compared with 4½ per cent for the total work force. The relative rates were 1¾ per cent in 1974 and 2 per cent; now they are 5½ per cent and per cent respectively. In November 1976, the industry accounted for about 11 per cent of the total unemployed in the economy, well above its share of the labour force which is about 8½ per cent in direct employment terms. Between November 1975 and November 1976, the total labour force increased by only about 6000 persons. Over the same period, the labour force in the construction industry fell by approximately 6000 persons, or about one per cent of the total construction work force. This shows how the capacity of the industry is being eroded and how deep-seated is the malaise in the industry.
I have referred briefly to the impact of the f>resent Budget and I want to develop this point a l ittle further. When the present Budget was formulated the Government set out to hold outlays at the existing level in real terms. Revised inflation estimates now suggest that in fact real outlays will decline by at least 3 per cent to 4 per cent. Capital outlays took the brunt of the cuts. They fell from 21 per cent of total outlays in 1975-76 to 16 per cent in 1976-77. This reduction would have been increased by the revised estimate for inflation. Both major items of capital outlays fell in real terms. Loan Council contributions fell by some 6 per cent to 8 per cent and specific purpose capital payments fell by some 1 8 per cent to 20 per cent. The budgeted capital outlays of both the Commonwealth Budget and the non-Budget sectors increased by about 4 per cent in money terms in 1976-77 over the previous year. This is a real decline of 6 per cent to 8 per cent in capital outlay.
These actions of the Government are mainly responsible for an expected 4 per cent to 5 per cent drop in total non-residential building and construction spending in 1976-77. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has told us that outlays will be held at a zero rate of real growth in 1977-78. This will mean some juggling because the Government is committed to increases in certain areas. For example, real defence spending is to increase by about 5½ per cent and education by some 2 per cent a year. This means that about 20 per cent of the outlays will increase by about 4 per cent in real terms. In turn, this can be done only if there is a cut of around one per cent in the other 80 per cent of outlays. Again this must lead to further cuts in capital works spending and, I might say, further unemployment will be created.
We can get a clue to the extent of these cuts from the recent statement by the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) on road funds- which I stressed earlier- that there will be an8½ per cent increase in money terms in the coming year. Yet this will mean in real terms a cut of 3 per cent to 6 per cent. This strongly implies that the capital outlays are being trimmed back hard to achieve the target of zero real increases in total Budget outlays. The Budget measures for 1976-77 were largely responsible for the depressed state of the building and construction industry and the economy as a whole. We are now looking to a coming Budget which will be even more severe. The exTreasury man who is to follow me in this debate should echo those words. The 1977-78 Budget will certainly bring a further decline in the levels of activity and employment in the building industry. This will be due solely to Government policy. It will be impossible for the apparent revival in the residential sector to redress the balance.
Turning to the other aspects of the economic policy, it is possible that the Government is looking to the effects of devaluation to stimulate a recovery. To my mind this is based on false reasoning. Agriculture, mining and the import competing sectors of manufacturing gain from a devaluation. The size of the national cake stays much the same after a devaluation. This means that the gains made by some sectors can be achieved only from the losses of other sectors. For manufacturing, mining and agriculture to gain other sectors such as transport, construction and services must lose. I hope the House understands that aspect. It can be argued that the construction industry will benefit because those sectors which have benefited from devaluation will undertake new capital investment. But this depends on a number of factors. It depends on whether gains made by agriculture, mining and manufacturing can be maintained. This in turn rests very much on the wages policies and whether pressure for higher wages builds up in areas where profits increase because of devaluation. It depends also on the pattern of investment in these 3 sectors. Construction investment is not significant in agriculture, which has a high plant and equipment content. In the past 4 years only about 22 per cent of the investment spending in manufacturing was on construction. There is little chance of any great boost to construction from this source.
In mining the proportion of construction was about 46 per cent. That means that the best prospects for a boost lie in mining. That partly explains the great stress that the Government is putting on the mining industry. Some very optimistic statements about mining investment have been made in the Parliament and some by outside consultants. I would warn against any undue optimism about a recovery in the building and construction industry or the economy as a whole that is based on the mining industry. Mining is a tremendously capital intensive industry; it does little to create new jobs. In terms of providing new infra-structure we must have doubts about what it will do in terms of job creation and in terms of reviving the construction industry.
The technology of the mining sector is changing very rapidly. We are not likely to see again the traditional sort of infrastructure that was built in the last mining booms. If the north-west shelf is developed it could have the effect of reducing the existing proportion of construction in mining investment. Furthermore, new mining ventures are likely to have a much higher component of imported infrastructure. The chances for local construction and engineering works will not be as great as they have been in the past. New mining techniques mean fewer workers. That in turn means fewer homes and fewer community facilities in mining towns.
The whole trend is towards a much more modest provision of infrastructure. Townships such as Mount Newman, Mount Tom Price, Dampier and Mary Kathleen will be things of the past. Furthermore, mining and manufacturing together account for only 30 per cent to 35 per cent of the private non-residential construction expenditure. If we add in the public sector, they account for slightly more than 10 per cent of the total non-residential construction expenditure. To increase the total non-residential construction spending by 1 per cent would mean that construction spending in the mining and manufacturing area would have to rise by about 10 per cent. That gives some idea of the level of investment in the mining industry that would be needed to have any significant impact on the building and construction industry. For that reason we must be very sceptical about a mining boom reversing the fortunes of the construction industry and, I stress, the economy as a whole.
To touch briefly on one other point, housing has always borne the brunt of monetary policy in Australia because it is a highly credit intensive industry. That applies in the present monetary context and we are looking to further tightening of the monetary policy. Interest rates are tending upwards. We must expect the May loan raising to be a failure, as was the February loan unless the interest rate offered is increased. Private sector interest rates have been tending upwards. Apart from interest rates, monetary policy has had an adverse effect on the supply of funds for housing. Strong directives from the Reserve Bank of Australia to lending institutions have bitten hard into finance for housing. That must restrain the rate of growth of the residential sector in the months ahead. For all those reasons, we must be pessimistic about a recovery in the building and construction industry that is based on a firm recovery in the home building sector. (Extension of time granted). The stimulus must come from the Australian Government. It can best be applied by increasing funds for capital works spending through the Budget.
Unfortunately- I stress this- the Government has backed itself into a corner. The Government has cut off its options. Not only has it made commitments to higher spending in some areas, it has also made some extravagant business tax concessions which will cut the growth of revenue very sharply in 1977-78. The stock valuation adjustment will take at least $400m, and the investment allowances will take at least $500m. In addition, the Government’s decision to index personal taxes means it will forgo at least another $ 1,000m in revenue. I want to stress that we now have a Government which is committed to losses in revenue of about $2,000m with a deficit running at $2,600m at the time of the last Budget. The story is that the Government wants to cut that by at least $ 1,000m. Therefore, I question its options. I believe that the Government will cut public works expenditure which will mean more unemployment in this country. It will mean that we will not have any real growth in the public sector, the sector where we really need it. We need more houses, more roads and better sewerage services. These are the things we need but this Government is not meeting these needs and it has closed off its options.
I want to raise the question of personal income tax indexation but not in a critical sense. I support the concept of indexation, but I oppose very strongly business tax concessions to the private sector of around $ 1,000m. Certain segments of the private sector are already receiving too much. There has been a diversion from the wage earners and the public sector to the private sector. This Government has diverted huge resourceseven more resources will be diverted this year- to the private sector. The movement of resources has been faster in this last financial year than ever in the history of this Parliament. Never before has there been such a movement of resources from the wage earners and the public sector to the private sector. The public sector and the wage earners are subsidising the private sector. When I refer to the private sector I mean very wealthy private sector- big business. I refer to the 400 companies out of the 200 000 companies that submit a tax return-that one-fifth of one per cent of companies that shares nearly 50 per cent of the profit of all companies. This Government represents big business and that where it is diverting our resources. This philosophy has reduced the Government’s options at a time when it is dedicated to reducing the Budget deficit and restoring the economy.
As I have said, I believe that the Government is trying to cut the Budget by at least another $ 1,000m, and that will pose an enormous problem. The Government has got itself into a bad fiscal jam. Until it revises its policies, one of the main victims will be the building and construction industry. The present plight of this industry is a very important reason for supporting the motion moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). In particular, phasing out of business tax concessions would free funds which could be directed to increased capital spending and public works, thus creating employment. Easing monetary policy, while keeping it within the rate of inflation plus growth, would provide more resources for the residential home building sector. I urge these measures on the Government in the strongest possible terms. I hope that this Government moves away from the sectional policy that it supports of diverting funds from the many to the very wealthy few. If we are going to develop this country in the best way, then I suggest that the proposition put forward by the Opposition should be accepted.
– I am sorry that in this debate the Opposition has once again spent its time attacking the Government’s economic policy in a destructive rather than a constructive manner. If ever there was a time in Australia’s economic history when all areas of the economic spectrum needed to pull together, it is now. That applies not only to politicians; it applies equally to employers, employees and the community at large. We stand at a critical stage in our economic development. I believe that the next 9 to 12 months will determine whether the Australian economy, which is poised on a knife edge, goes forward on the basis of sustainable economic growth over the years ahead or whether between us all we make such a mess of things that the well-being of the nation and of each and every Australian citizen receives a major setback from which it will take many years to recover. I firmly believe that if we adopt a united approach to solving our problems then we will solve them, but if we are not united then those problems will loom ever so much greater and will be so much more difficult to overcome. For this reason I make a plea to the Opposition to work with the Government on economic issues, not to continue its policy of obstructionism and negativism, of painting gloom which is unreal, of sapping the confidence of the Australian people for cheap political motives and of dividing the Australian people.
Let us look at just what are the facts in relation to the state of the economy at present. Opinions will and do differ on this, but if we look at the picture objectively there is no doubt in my mind that the economy overall is now trending in an upward direction, pursuing a moderate rate of expansion. The latest national accounts figures for the last December quarter put non-farm gross domestic product at 5.2 per cent above the level one year earlier. The increase in the 6 months to December 1976 was 3 per cent above the level in the 6 months to December 1975. Look at some of the other factors. For example, private investment in dwellings was up 20 per cent in the year ending December 1976, business investment in plant and equipment was up 18 per cent and exports were up 10 per cent. All are very important areas of growth. Present signs for our propects are distinctly encouraging in the area of private capital investment spending. For the current half-year businessmen’s expectations are for growth of 8 per cent over the second half of 1976. The mining industry, in which capital spending has been in decline, shows a complete turnabout with an expected rise of 4 1 per cent. In manufacturing industry a rise of 18 per cent is expected. Looking further ahead, the minerals sector has made firm decisions to proceed with a number of significant projects. One only has to recall, for example- it is only one example- the decision by Conzinc Riotinto of Australia Ltd earlier this week to invest $600m in projects in this country in the near future.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Uren) spoke about the problems in the construction industry. I do not deny that in some areas there are problems in the construction industry.
- His problems.
-The picture of the situation that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition painted tonight was completely misleading and incorrect. As my friend, the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) reminds me, he conveniently neglected the fact that many of the problems in the construction industry over the past 18 months, and prior to that, have been due to policies of the previous Government, to which I will come back later. In the December quarter of 1976 both estimated real private investment in dwellings and private dwelling commencements were not less than 41 per cent above their low points about mid- 1975. In fact, real private dwelling investment in the latest December quarter was in total only 4 per cent short of its previous very high, abnormally high, unsustainably high peak in the September quarter of 1973. The position has been varied between the different States. New South Wales last year was experiencing perhaps greater difficulty in the construction industry than in some other States. In the December quarter total dwelling approvals in New South Wales were 29 per cent higher than a year earlier and total dwelling commencements were 26 per cent higher. These figures, in my opinion, give substantial lie to the approach that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was making in his comments preceding mine.
The outlook of course varies between different sectors of the economy. This is always the case. This is particularly so in the early stages of economic recovery which is the situation I believe we are in at the moment. We are witnessing at the moment to some extent part of the continuing process of adjustment which is always going on in any economy. We must ensure, first, that adjustment is in the direction that we as a community consider it to be desirable and, secondly, that the rate of adjustment is not so fast as to be excessively disruptive. That is a point which the Opposition, I think conveniently -
– If deliberately, as my colleague says, neglects. In my opinion, and in the opinion of a great many other commentators on the economic scene in Australia, it was the rate of change that occurred as a result of Labor Government policies in the 1973-75 period that really produced most of the major problems that this Government inherited when it took office.
The gross domestic product figures I referred to earlier relate to growth of non-farm activity. The picture for the rural sector is less encouraging than for other sectors. Real output in the rural sector fell in the 6 months to December 1976 by 4.9 per cent. The problems of the rural sector, both short term and long term, are in many ways more difficult to grapple with, let alone solve, than the problems of other sectors. I believe we must recognise this and take account of it in policy formation.
Inflation and unemployment remain major problems. However light is now showing at the end of the tunnel. The March quarter increase of 2.3 per cent in the consumer price index was encouraging even though the figure is still way above what most people regard as satisfactory. There is doubt as to how much of the inflationary impact of last year’s devaluation is reflected in the March quarter figure. We may see a more significantly deflationary element in the June quarter figure. Nevertheless the 2.3 per cent figure is a favourable rather than an unfavourable indication of the way inflation is trending.
We must also be careful not to take too much account of the consumer price index at the neglect of other price indices. The most accurate indicator of the underlying trend of inflation in the economy is the gross domestic product price deflator. In 1976 this index was well below the consumer price index. There is no reason to suggest that this is not still the case. There is no doubt at all that inflation must be further reduced. It is still astronomical by most of our historical standards. It is significantly higher than the rate in most other Western countries. It is for that reason that I unequivocally support the Government’s overriding No. 1 policy objective of bringing inflation down to an acceptable figure. It is also for this reason that I reject the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Adelaide ( Mr Hurford ).
I believe that what the Opposition is proposing in its amendment will not assist the fight against inflation and will indeed exacerbate that fundamental problem. There are persons and organisations in the community which claim that the No. 1 immediate priority should be a reduction in the level of unemployment. No one accepts the present level of unemployment, however it is measured, as satisfactory. It is patently unsatisfactory. But what the advocates of tackling unemployment first neglect is that a major and sustainable reduction in the level of unemployment is simply not possible in the absence of a major reduction in the level of inflation. The experience of the Whitlam Government in 1974 and 1975 bears eloquent testimony to this fact and so does the experience of many other western countries.
As I have said on previous occasions in the House, I think it is possible that in Australia, as is the case elsewhere, we are facing a medium to long term situation in which unemployment will continue at a higher level than we have regarded as acceptable and normal in the past. There are many reasons for this. They include the growth in technology and the extraordinary and unsustainably large wage increases in recent years. Those wage increases exceeded the rate of productivity growth in this country by 5 to 10 times. Another reason is the development of industry in low wage countries in the Asian region which is a very important matter that we will ignore at our own cost. However, I am not as pessimistic on this score as many others. But I do think that in this area we have a potentially real problem on our hands which we must put to the closest study. We must better align our education system with vocational possibilities than has been the case in recent years. We must continue the progressive manpower training policies which the present Government has introduced or modernised. On this point, I agree with the relevant part of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide. But it does no credit to the Opposition to ignore the major developments in this area which the Fraser Government has already set in train. They are developments which far outstrip in a period of 12 to 15 months anything that the Whitlam Government did during its period in office in this direction.
Another essential ingredient in our economic recovery process is confidence. Confidence is returning to the Australian community and so it should, given the improvements in the economy which have taken place over the past 15 months. Again, it reflects no credit on the Opposition to continue with its Jeremiah approach to the present situation.
I turn now to the question of how much the Government can do to restore Australia to economic health. Government can do much but it cannot do the whole job. lis prime responsibility must surely be to set the right environment under which growth can take place. It must provide stability and prudence in economic management. We must move away from the ‘government should do it’ attitude which has developed to frightening proportions in the community in recent years and which the Labor Government reinforced in a major way during its period in office. I believe that this is one of the greatest legacies this country has inherited from the Whitlam Government. It appears from the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition tonight that the Australian Labor Party has not learnt from that experience. We must learn again to ask ourselves first as individuals whether we can do it on our own. Only if we cannot should we then approach government. Government should be the last cab off the rank in many instances, not the first. Otherwise, government expenditure will continue to grow inexorably and unwisely at great cost to each and every taxpayer who already bears far too high a burden.
The Opposition claims that the Government’s economic strategy is wrong. But what are the options when we take into account the situation facing the Government when it took office in December 1975 and the length of time it takes to turn that disastrous situation around. The Opposition suggests that we should cut indirect taxes. But to have any significant effect either on prices or on the willingness of consumers to spend, the cost to revenue would be enormous. The Opposition says that the Government should increase expenditure on capital works but it does not say where, nor does it quantify the proposal. Experience during 1973-75 should have convinced us beyond all doubt that more and more government expenditure does not stimulate activity and reduce unemployment. In the period between 1974 and 1975, when government expenditure increased by 46 per cent, inflation increased fourfold and unemployment went up by 150 per cent.
The Government already faces a major budget deficit problem. To act in the manner suggested by the honourable member for Adelaide in his amendment on behalf of the Opposition would greatly increase that deficit and the accompanying problems. It would, without any doubt, force up interest rates. It would, without any doubt, have a significant inflationary impact. Therefore I reject the amendment and urge the Government to hold firm on the overall policy course which it is pursuing. It is a course which has widespread acceptance throughout the community. It is a course which has already paid dividends in a lower rate of inflation and in a restoration of economic growth. If pursued with vigour, the benefits will grow. If abandoned now, the fruits of the past 12 months will be lost, and the prospects for the future will be bleak.
The Government’s present policy stance is very much in line with the attitude and policy stance adopted by most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in a similar situation. It is worth pointing out, because it does not seem to be recognised generally, that Australia’s economic performance since the Fraser Government took office has generally been better than that of most OECD countries. Moreover, our policies are clearly in line with those being adopted by such countries, the main exception being the 3 largest OECD countries where some moderate action has been taken to stimulate economic activity. These latter countries succeeded previously in getting the rate of inflation down to a lower rate than Australia has. Therefore such action is not inappropriate in the circumstances. The fact that the 3 largest OECD countries are now in circumstances in which they feel they are able to take expansionary action highlights the fact that the 1974-75 recession left Australia generally in worse shape than most overseas countries, notably in terms of the key profit and savings ratio. Therefore we had and have further to go than most countries in making up lost ground. That is an indictment, if ever an indictment was needed, of the policies of the Labor Government. Of all the Western countries that should have suffered least from the dramatic inflationary heights due to the oil crisis of late 1973, Australia should have been in the vanguard of escaping that problem. Instead, in 1974 and 1975, we got ourselves into just about the worst economic situation of any of the OECD countries.
I conclude where I started, by urging the Opposition to join the Government in tackling the nation’s problems rather than in hindering, obstructing and attempting to confuse the community at every turn of the way. As a start, I urge the Opposition to join the Government in attempting to give the wage-price pause a chance to succeed. If the Opposition is really serious about helping the Government and the community at large to solve our economic problems, it has a great responsibility to assist. If it does not assist or attempt to assist, the community will judge it for the Party it is.
– It is a pleasure to follow the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Short) in this debate. He is one of the more moderately spoken and certainly one of the more economically literate Government members. Therefore I will try to make my contribution as restrained as I possibly can. This debate marks the first occasion on which the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has entered into a substantive economic debate since the announcement of the wage-price freeze over a fortnight ago by the Premiers and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It is very instructive to look at the Treasurer’s mid-term review of his budget strategies against that background. I think it is significant that, in what I thought was a very good handling of a very poor brief by the honourable member for Ballaarat, he referred to this proposed freeze only in the last minute and a half of his address. For the rest of his speech he spoke about the effect- he conceded that different views could be held about the success or otherwise- of the policies that the Government has been pursuing for the past year or so.
It is significant that in his second reading speech on this legislation the Treasurer makes no reference whatsoever to the wage-price freeze, to its effect on the additional estimates for the Government departments which we are now debating, or the effect on the general economy of the so-called savings- this new gimmick that the Treasurer has introduced- mentioned in these sorts of debates. The only element of policy to which he referred was the Government’s policy of expenditure restraint. There certainly cannot be any doubt that the Government has pursued consistently a policy of cutting some areas of expenditure. It has certainly done that, and I shall deal with that matter in a moment and look at the kinds of expenditure it has cut.
We have had a most peculiar debate on this legislation. The debate started only today. I have not had the opportunity of hearing the contributions made by all honourable members opposite, but I have heard at least the last 3 contributions. They could not have been more different. The honourable member for Denison was most agitated about the fact that Tasmania is an island and therefore is dependent on air services to a much greater extent than the rest of Australia. He seems to want to reverse that condition. There is nothing we can do about it. I do not believe that the kind of contribution we heard from him will do anything to help the atmosphere of industrial relations in Australia. The next speaker from the Government side was the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). He made an extraordinary speech in which he said that everything was fine in the garden. To their credit, the Treasurer, the honourable member for Ballaarat and members like him do not pretend in these debates that everything is fine. They draw a picture which is fairly gloomy- occasionally too gloomy. I think that occasionally they are pessimistic about the kinds of policies that have been consistently suggested from this side of the House by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). Nonetheless, it is a very different kind of contribution.
The honourable member for Maranoa went on to talk about the expenditure that this Government is undertaking as though it is a good thing, because he talked about the kind of sectional expenditure in which the Government is engaging. It is important that we understand that at the same time as the Government has been cutting certain types of expenditure which we are debating at the moment it also has been forgoing massive amounts of revenue as well as increasing expenditure in certain areas for certain of its favoured clients. Undoubtedly the honourable member for Maranoa thinks that is a good thing. He made one outrageous statement, however, with which I wish to deal very briefly. He went on to talk about the slight increase in non-farm gross domestic product. Whilst I conceded that point, I made the interjection: ‘What about gross farm product?’ He said: ‘Yes, that has been declining’.
The last round-up issued by the Treasury shows that the gross farm product decreased during the 6 months to the end of 1976 by 4.9 per cent. That represents the third consecutive decline for the preceding three quarters. He then went on to say that the Government was not in the business of borrowing money from overseas. If we are to have a serious economic debate in this place, let us get our facts right. The Government has borrowed- there is no reason why it should not borrow; in fact, I think that possibly it should have borrowed more- almost $ 1,000m from overseas. It took me only a minute to rush to my office and bring back a prospectus and an offering circular for $US500m of that amount. So let us deal with the facts.
The honourable member for Ballaraat says: ‘Look, the Opposition is carping and it is criticising. Why do we not all pull together?’ That is all very well when the natural party of government is in power. It always says: ‘Now let us all pull together. Now is the time.’ It was never the time to do that when Labor was in power. Honourable members opposite talk about the constructive role of opposition. The Labor Party has plenty of experience in opposition, and when it was continuously in opposition during the 1960s it exercised that role very responsibly, as I believe it is doing now. But when it got into government, what was its experience in relation to the constructive contribution it received from an Opposition unfamiliar with that role and unwilling to perform it? What contribution did it receive from the supporters of that Opposition outside the Parliament? In fact, no co-operation was forthcoming.
We might as well give the lie in this economic debate straight away to the suggestion that no offer of co-operation has been made from outside the Parliament. Such an offer has been made. The trade union movement is willing to co-operate. It has called for a conference of all parties on the economic condition of this country for the purpose of canvassing many possibilities and not just a straight wage-price freeze which, in any event, the Government knows it could never implement.
It is quite extraordinary that the notes which were prepared by departmental officials at the Premiers Conference have not been made available. But excerpts from those notes which were published in at least one newspaper the weekend before last show that it is impossible to implement that kind of proposition in Australia. Every Government member knows that is the case. He knows that the power to control wages or prices is a one-sided matter. In 1973 the Australian Labor Party Government sought the power for this Parliament to legislate on this matter, so in the national Parliament we did discuss wages and prices policies. We did not have to defer to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or to somebody outside the Parliament. We said that this was a proper matter to be debated in Canberra, in the national Parliament. But the Opposition parties at that time would not support that proposal. Now they have to live with the consequences of that shortsighted and unprincipled opposition.
The Additional Estimates are a reflection of the failure of the Government’s policies. I believe that if we are to talk about policies we can isolate them thus: There are expenditure cuts which are very largely in areas which were increased markedly in the 3 years of Labor Government. That has been a consistent policy of this Government. It has pursued that policy very firmly. I do not approve of it, but the Government has stuck to it. It next pursued an investment led recovery strategy by proposing an investment allowance to business- among other allowances- which has been a flop. The estimates of the revenue forgone by the Department of Finance have varied from $400m down to $2S0m in a year.
-It will be $5 50m next year.
-The amount has been coming down. It was not supposed to take so long, as I think the honourable member for Perth will concede. I suppose the next great policy, apart from moving away from support of full indexation which the Government promised at the last election, was the revamping of Medibank. There was a suggestion that in some way the Government would pass on a direct part of the cost to the taxpayer rather than have it refunded from general revenue. Constantly the Government overlooks the fact that at least about $ 1,000m of cost is still funded from general revenue. If we look at Medibank we see the fate of that policy reflected in the documents which we are looking at today. The Department of Health is seeking an additional $250,000 because it wasted $250,000 in publicity relating to the design of the Medibank proposals last year.
Every honourable member remembers the farce in May when we had outlined to us the proposal to amend the Medibank procedures. We came back for the Budget session and we had to go through the debates again and have the whole system recast. That alone has cost us $250,000, as we see from the Bill we are debating today. I shall proceed to what has been the final Government policy, which is being pursued assiduously by certain sectional interests of the Government since it achieved power and which the Prime Minister implemented at the end of last year, and that is devaluation. It was a very unwise policy. I think Government members and certainly the Treasury conceded that the amount of devaluation was too much. The dollar had to be revalued upwards very smartly thereafter. We are seeing the consequence of that precipitate devaluation in these papers which are before us now. The amounts vary up to as much as the $30m extra which we will have to pay for defence expenditure because of that devaluation. I know that Government members constantly talk about the need to increase defence expenditure. If they want to do that they can do it more cheaply by avoiding unwise policies like devaluation. Devaluation has meant a variation in the figures from that amount of $30m to a piddling $200 which is found in the additional estimates for the Department of Administrative Services for the payment to the Singapore Government for free hospital treatment of Asian residents of Christmas Island.
Right through these documents we see the consequence of that devaluation decision where any payment has to be made abroad in foreign currency or something like special drawing rights to the International Monetary Fund. As the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) is at the table I refer to a couple of extraordinary additional estimates which are found in this Bill. One is, of course, the proposition that we should now vote an extra $20,000 for the salaries of officers of the ethnic affairs unit of his Department. Honourable members will remember that when the coalition parties went to the people in December 1975 one of their great promises to the migrant communities in this country was that they would re-establish a Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as a focus for their concerns. This has been a totally cosmetic exercise to date, and in fact all sections that deliver post-settlement services to migrants in Australia remain in the Department of Social Security. But after nearly 18 months we are voting here today for an expenditure to cover the salaries of 19 men for one month. That is a mark, I believe, of the sense of urgency of the Minister and the Government about these kinds of problems.
Within the Minister’s specific concern is the telephone interpreter service for which the Department of Social Security is now appropriating an extra $140,000 over and above the $260,000 that was appropriated last year. How wrong can this Government be? How out of touch is it with the human side of its policies when it is so badly wrong about the amounts of money that are needed to administer basic community services in Australia. I was very delighted to hear the honourable member for Ballarat refer to the problem of unemployment in Australia and to the burden that is being borne by people who are unemployed. He is the only Government supporter in this debate who has mentioned this matter. I have no doubt that we all should focus attention on this question of inflation. Of course we do that. It is also electorally very smart to do that. As I said in the Budget debate last year, many more people in this country are affected by inflation than are affected by unemployment, and if one talks about inflation one is on an electoral winner. But it will be a very sorry day indeed if we are ever so short-sighted or so cynical in our planning of the expenditures of this country to consider only the question of inflation.
I want to refer very briefly to the gimmicky part of the Treasurer’s papers that he has given us to debate. It deals with so-called savings. The statement of savings, according to my colleagues, was never made available for debate until last year. Of course, in every parliament appropriations are not always fully expended. A short fall is a saving, to some extent. If we look at what this Government regards as a saving, we see its peculiar sense of investment priorities. I do not want to deal necessarily with items in alphabetical order but this would be the easiest way for me to proceed. We are told that there will be a saving of $10,000 in overtime for staff for the Department of Administrative Services. Members of Parliament who work with me on the Publications Committee of this House know that the Commonwealth has lost the services of an excellent government printer. He has gone to the State of Victoria as Government Printer for an extra $ 10,000 a year. This is not a saving; this is a very short-sighted view of public expenditure. There is to be a massive so-called saving of nearly $800,000 on the cost of publishing Acts and statutory rules in the Attorney-General ‘s Department. That is not a saving. Every member of this place knows it is a mere postponement of expenditure. If there is one thing that has characterised this Government during its 1 8 months in power it has been its reluctance to let information out into the public arena and to have its Ministers, especially its Prime Minister go out and confront the public. There has been a reluctance to hold Press conferences to allow the policies of this Government to be examined and its Ministers to be questioned about those policies. This is a completely phoney saving. It is argued that in some way we are improving the quality of government in this country by not making available to the public the statutes that we sit here day and night to pass. We are merely postponing that expenditure. At the same time we are ensuring that the level of public knowledge of things that concern all of us on both sides of this House and in the other place is less perfect because the basic ground material that people need to discuss these matters is not available.
I would like to conclude my remarks tonight by referring again to what I said at the beginning of my speech about the Government’s so-called price-wage freeze. The savings document that has been presented to us by the Department of Finance was conceived on 25 March. Clearly at that time the Department could not have known of the great wishing exercise that was undertaken by the Premiers a fortnight ago. The document shows that the Prices Justification Tribunal, about which the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) has made the most fantastic claims in respect of its authority and power and the legitimacy of it passing on information to the Government, has had its appropriation cut. After all last year attacking this tribunal and drawing its teeth with amendments to its enabling Act- the Prices Justification Act- the Government is now further cutting its Budget at a time when it is sought to be one of the lynch.pins of the prospects of success of the so-called wages-prices freeze.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 10 March 1977, 1 propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I was concerned today to learn that the Government has decided to spend $ 1 50,000 on an advertising campaign for the poll on a national song, and that the Government intends to advocate God Save the Queen as the national song. I am not in any way implying anything against Her Majesty. I think she does a very conscientious job, and is a very courteous and gracious person. I believe that it is appropriate that God Save the Queen should be used on regal and vice-regal occasions, but I am concerned at the obvious way in which the Government is determined to have it used on all occasions and to exclude such songs as Advance Australia Fair by ensuring that the people do not vote for them. Already the Government is using the donkey vote by deciding that God Save the Queen, for some reason or other, shall be placed at the top of the ballot paper.
– Is that right?
– That is what I am told. I cannot understand on what principle that is done. I have not heard of any draw to determine the position of the tunes on the ballot paper. And if there has been such a draw, I have not heard of any scrutineers being appointed. By logic, if the tunes were placed on the ballot paper m alphabetical order, in accordance with the electoral law of this country, Advance Australia Fair should be on the top of the ballot paper. But no, this Government has made a firm decision. It shall be God Save the Queen which is placed at the top of the ballot paper followed by the various other songs.
Worse than that is the information which came to my hands today that the Government proposes to spend $150,000 of taxpayers money in advertising for the poll on a national song and that the purpose of this advertising is to advocate that God Save the Queen be chosen instead of Advance Australia Fair. I think these issues should be treated fairly. I have no objection to the people making a decision. That is their right. But I do not think there should be an attempt, as this Government is attempting to do through the type of ballot paper it is producing, with taxpayers funds, to gerrymander the decision. One could not call it anything but that. I ask the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) who is at the table to make a full inquiry into this matter.
– You did not give them a choice when you were in power.
– We gave them a very good choice. We asked people all over the country to make their submissions. Those submissions were made. At least we were conscious that Australia should have a national anthem which was truly Australian. At least we made sure that Australian sportsmen overseas knew that they were not Canadians or Fijians. We made sure that everyone at the Olympic Games knew, when Advance Australia Fair was played, that that was the Australian national anthem. I do not think that it is in the interests of this country for this Government, simply because of its old-fashioned extreme conservative attitudes, to attempt by using taxpayers money to gerrymander the decision by the manner in which it prepares the ballot paper.
-When people appear on television they must expect some feedback or public reaction, not all of it necessarily complimentary. This was the case with the Four Corners program on Australians refusing to have children, which to me was both sad and disgusting, not because it dealt explicitly with vasectomy and abortion but because it exposed to public view a sordid side of our society that we usually conceal with glamour and euphemisms. Quite unforgettable was the young single girl aged 22 or 23, determined on her own selffulfilment, who had been sterilised at her own request because she had already had one abortion and that was enough. Unforgettable was the tragedy of the older woman having her baby killed as she talked to a reporter. She knew all the plausible cliches about her strong maternal instinct being just a matter of pesky hormones. But now that strong instinct was violated as her baby was destroyed and her motives were examined before the watching public. The set-up was tasteless but infinitely worse was the unspeakably sad way that she turned her head away from the camera and shut her eyes in poignant distress as the moment arrived and the living baby was withdrawn from her body by what is euphemistically called vacuum aspiration. I hope I do not upset honourable members too much but these are just nice words which mean ‘in pieces’. Unforgettable, too, was the face of the counsellor with her- a counsellor who had tried to teach her to suppress her maternal instincts under the pragmatic convenience of the abortion. Why, in heaven’s name, if anyone has time and skill to counsel women, can they not counsel them to accept their babies instead of the dreadful negation of killing them? After seeing that, who could suggest abortion as a human, compassionate solution to anything.
Sad and somehow disgusting was the vasectomy, not because of its determined exposure of male genitalia, but because of the attitude of the patient. As the television audience watched, his male reproductive capabilities were destroyed, incidentally by a woman doctor. The psychologists may find that interesting. He comforted himself with the somehow pathetic assurance that a gelded stallion could still get after the mares. There was no word of the dignity of manhood, his priceless capacity to father children for our next generation- just a gelded horse. But most heartbreaking was the exposure of the deepseated, thoughtless selfishness of so many of us. We are all selfish. It seems a necessary part, particularly in this place, of self-preservation. But there is a point at which it becomes a fetish. It is a fetish when it results in the killing of unborn babies and it is wholly destructive. I refer particularly to how unfortunate it is in the young people who enjoy a sex life but refuse to have children. In their case it shows that they are at least immature and thoughtless. They forget that one day they will be old and sick or both. They will demand pensions and medical care as their right because of their contributions during their working years, and properly so. But they have made no contribution in people to build the security of a continuing generation to pay and provide for them.
– What about people in holy orders?
-There are only very few of them. I return to what I was saying: Who will pay the taxes to pay for their pensions and to provide the goods and services, the nursing care and the doctors they will need? Who will defend them if this country ever has to fight for survival?
People who consciously refuse to have children will have to depend on the children of others, including the grandchild of the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson). They will have to depend on the children of those generous hearted enough to take up the loving, necessary burdens and joys of children. The point is that we must have both. We must have the contribution in money and we must have the contribution in people. One is useless without the other. Each generation interlocks with the ones before and after. If one generation breaks the continuing cycle of life, reproduction and death, that generation and all that follow are affected. If anything destroys this country it will be too much emphasis on this demand for selffulfilment, self-revelation, self-awareness and self-satisfaction. It destroys self-sacrifice and self-discipline. In the end it destroys real love and replaces it with a sterile gratification. Selfishness lies even at the root of inflation for it breeds a grab mentality and oppressive materialism. If the Four Corners program did nothing more than expose this cult of the self for the corrosive thing that it is, it was worthwhile.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I came into the House tonight in a conciliatory spirit, prepared to sit and be advised by the contributions of honourable members in the adjournment debate, and what happened? I had to listen to the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) -
– A former member of the Democratic Labor Party in Western Australia.
Mr KEITH JOHNSON What the honourable member for Chifley says is correct. I had to listen to an address to this House tonight which to any thinking person in Australia would be an absolute and utter disgrace. The honourable member was talking about the attitude of people towards having children. He was decrying those who choose not to have children. As my colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) pointed out to him, there are people in Holy Orders around the world -
– Very few, I said.
-Very few, was the honourable member’s comment. He knows that that is not altogether true. A very large number of people, with the most honourable intentions, enter Holy Orders around the world and choose to practice celibacy. It is their choice. If a man and a woman choose to live together and to experience a normal sexual relationship that does not seem to me, as it seems to the honourable member for Swan, to have the connotation that an endless chain of children should be produced by that relationship. I wish that the honourable member would come into my electorate where I could introduce him, as I know the honourable member for Grayndler could, to families where the wife refuses, because of instruction or for other reasons, to restrict the size of her family and brings into the world children for whom she cannot care.
– Do they love them?
-Of course they love them.
– Well, they do not need anything else.
-The honourable member is oversimplifying a very serious problem. If he cannot see the solution, I have no pity for him. It seems to me that every person who has a child loves that child. The honourable member mentioned my grandchild. Of course I love the child. That child will experience all the benefits that I can give to it. The honourable member spoke about abortion as being something abhorrent. I do not think that it is very nice either, but I do not adopt his attitude. He says that a woman finding herself pregnant, perhaps after taking the best precautions in the world, who is not prepared to bear the child, should be forced to go ahead and bear the child.
-A lot of people want to adopt kids.
-The problem with the honourable member is that he is not a woman. If we are to look at the situation as it exists, not as the honourable member would like to see it -
-Order! I do not think that this debate is being assisted in any way by interjections. I suggest that honourable members listen to the honourable member for Burke without any interjections.
-Thank you very much for those words, Mr Deputy Speaker. Those cretins on the other side of the House might be better informed if they took your advice. It is important that a woman has the right to decide what occurs within her body. Honourable members opposite ought to read the comments of the Supreme Court of the United States of America which said that the gestation period, between conception and birth, can be divided into 3 carefully considered periods. During the first 3 months of gestation, the woman is at no risk at all in having an abortion. This is not done at her instruction but on the advice of her medical adviser. During the next 3 months there is doubt about the risk. Afterwards of course there is no doubt because there is danger to her, and from that 3 months period on the state accepts full responsibility -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with very great concern to the speech of the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) because knowingly or unknowingly he misled the House. What he said was absolute rubbish. I hope that he spoke unknowingly. He did not cite the source of his authority for his claim that the Government was going to spend money to promote God Save the Queen. If he spoke knowingly and sought to give to the House a version that was not true, all that I can say is that the Appropriation Bill that is being discussed by this chamber should have an additional appropriation in the realm of psychiatrics.
– What about the ballot paper?
– I have had some service upon committees with the honourable member and it may surprise honourable members on this side of the House to know that in some areas I have developed a degree of respect for some of his views. But as far as this matter is concerned, I can only say that he is seeking to make political capital inaccurately. The ballot paper is one matter. The substance of the honourable member’s charge, as I heard it, is that the Government is to spend $150,000 to promote one song as against the others. I remind the House that some months ago I had the privilege to express to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a view that the national anthem question in this country should be settled; that it was ridiculous to have 4 songs being played as it made the country somewhat of a laughing stock. It is quite proper that there should be a specific national anthem for regal and vice-regal occasions. But to have 4 songs for other occasions is ridiculous. The Government subsequently decided to accept the principle of having a poll for a national song. After some further representations from me the Government decided to have that poll at the time of the 2 1 May referenda.
I can inform the honourable member that when I heard his speech I consulted the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary to be absolutely certain that the advertising campaign is not intended to promote one song only. I have his assurance that the advertising campaign will deal with the background of all the songs. It will be devoted to giving information to the public about all of the songs and to allowing the public to have a say in respect of all of those songs. I remind the honourable member also of the Prime Minister’s personal view, stated in public on more than one occasion, that he prefers Waltzing Matilda. So I think that the only inference that can be drawn is that the honourable member’s speech tonight was a mischievous attempt to make political capital out of a most important matter. After the past 3 years of division under a government that sought to act unconstitutionally and illegally, it is tremendously important that this nation should have a healing process so that we can again take pride in our nation and that school children and other people who stand and sing the national song are able to do so with pride. It is important that we settle this particular issue and that we have a song that is respected throughout the world because it represents the desires of the Australian people.
I make one statement about an extension of the poll. It is to my regret that a suggestion that school children in high schools be allowed to participate in the poll has not been adopted. The Government is sympathetic to that suggestion. I would have liked to see it. A survey taken by the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, an excellent local newspaper, produced the result that school children were keen to participate in the poll. But I have been advised that although the Government would like to see this in principle, there is not time to get the consent of State governments and non-state schools, and some hundreds of thousands of persons who do not attend schools would not be able to be covered. That is regrettable but it is important that we get back to a spirit of Australia first. We have lost it. The trade union leadership in this country has helped by its continual nation bashing and public bashing. The Opposition has helped by running down the Government and trying not to assist in the wages and prices freeze for which all heads of government have opted. We must establish again a genuine national spirit in this country.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I think that in the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) we find Parliament House’s answer to Johnny Ray. I have a more important matter to raise. In 1973 and 1974 the conservative coalition partners denounced the proposal that a Medibank health insurance membership card would be issued to members of the Australian community. This was in spite of the fact that it was also pointed out by the then Labor Government that use of the card would be a purely optional matter. If a member of the community drawing on the benefits of Medibank decided that he or she did not wish to use the card or, through some inconvenience such as leaving it at home or mislaying it, was not able to present it, benefits would still have been payable.
Members of the conservative coalition partners asserted a firm commitment to certain civil liberty principles. They abhorred, they said, the thought that the Australian community was about to be regimented. They denounced the proposal as seeking to apply regimented numbers to people in Australian society. They went further and suggested that this was the beginning of the police state. All people in Australia would be recorded, which was the beginning of the accumulation of detailed records of their private lives. Of course, this was a clear case of fiction. It was a product of the wild fantasy of an irresponsible opposition.
I have discovered today that the conservative coalition partners in government intend to enforce the presentation of a membership card or book on all people who are members of Medibank health insurance, private or basic. There will be no choice and no rights. It is the end of the civil liberty principles honourable members opposite enunciated frequently and passionately in this House. A member of Medibank in future will be compelled by the Government to present his membership book or card. If it should happen that in seeking to obtain a claim against Medibank a person is unable to present his membership book or card he will have to fill in an application form.
– I take a point of order on 2 matters. Firstly, I wonder whether the shadow Minister has told the Minister for Health -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I suggest that the honourable member present his point of order.
– The honourable member does this every night. He is deliberately using the time of the honourable member for Oxley irresponsibly -
-Order! The honourable member for Corio is not helping. He is also taking time.
– I am taking a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Corio will resume his seat.
– I think you ought to be fair about this. This is an obvious attempt -
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley should consider the fact that 3 members of his own Party are trying to interrupt.
-I have told them to keep quiet. They were using my time as you are now.
– You have not heard my point of order.
-Order! The honourable member has been in this House long enough to know that if he takes a point of order he should state it immediately. The honourable member did not state it. I ask him to resume his seat.
– No public statement has been made on this issue. The Government will not make a public statement on this issue.
– I take a point of order -
-The honourable member has taken a point of order. He will resume his seat.
– I take a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for St George also will resume his seat.
– I have a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-Order! I suggest to the honourable member that he resume his seat. I am not at this moment hearing a point of order. The honourable member for Bendigo raised a matter which was not a point of order. On the adjournment debate I expect some fairness from some Goverment supporters.
– I should like an extension of time.
– I should like to take a point of order and finish what I was trying to say.
-Order! The honourable member has taken a point of order.
– You did not give me a chance.
-Order! If the honourable member looks at Hansard next Tuesday he will see the amount of time he took before he got to his point of order. He will appreciate also that the adjournment debate is for individual members. The honourable member for Oxley was making a speech on a subject which should have been of interest to all honourable members, irrespective of whether they agree with his argument. In that case, with 2 minutes to go, I think consideration should be given to this matter of the point of order. If a point of order is taken it is taken immediately and no time should be wasted in preliminaries before that point of order.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am quite happy for the honourable member for Oxley to have his 2 minutes, but when I stood up I was asking whether the honourable member for Oxley had told the Minister for Health that he intended to make this attack.
-Order! The honourable member should know that that is not a point of order.
– But it is a normal procedure of the House.
-The fact is that members cannot raise even something that may be a normal procedure of the House under a point of order. Frankly I have been amazed by some of the points of order that have been taken by honourable members.
– To continue my remarks, the fact is that this has been done -
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley can ask leave of the House to continue his remarks.
– I ask leave of the House.
-Is leave granted?
-Leave is granted.
– To continue those remarks, the fact is that the Government intends to conscript all members of Medibank into the presentation of membership books or membership cards to establish their membership of the fund. That is quite contrary to the principles the present Government so passionately enunciated on so many occasions in 1973 and 1974 when it opposed the principle of Medibank. The point I want to make- it is an important one- concerns why Government supporters want to stifle me on this occasion. The Government has not made any public announcement on this matter, nor does it propose to make any public announcement on it. It intends to impose conscription without advising the public.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A short time ago I heard the honourable member for Oxley say that you, Sir, were wasting his time. I consider that that is a reflection on the Chair and on the House. I ask that it be withdrawn.
-The honourable member for Oxley and I have often had -
– I will not say disagreements, but many exchanges of comments. In the circumstances a certain amount of what the honourable member for Oxley said was true. But I point out to him also that a number of his members were helping. I think the honourable member for Oxley has made the point during the time he spoke before the honourable member for St George raised the point of order.
– Firstly, if I have made any comment which was offensive I regret it.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I seek your ruling? You asked whether leave was granted for the honourable member for Oxley to complete his remarks. I gave that leave. I believe the honourable member has completed his remarks. I believe the Government side should have the opportunity to speak now on the adjournment debate.
– I suggested to the honourable member for Oxley that I thought he had completed his remarks at the time when the honourable member for St George raised the point of order.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I need about 30 seconds to complete my remarks.
– Fair go!
– I have not had5 minutes.
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker -
– No, I am on my feet.
-Order! There are times when I become even more and more amazed. The honourable member for Oxley and the Minister have now been discussing a matter which has no relevance to the point that the honourable member for Oxley had made. I believe that the courtesy that was extended to the honourable member for Oxley enabled him to make his point. The honourable member for Oxley said that he desired 30 seconds. We now have one minute left of the adjournment debate. I think the honourable member for Oxley has completed his remarks, and had completed them before.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe it is a very important point of order. It involves more than mere procedure; it is a matter of propriety and conduct in this Parliament. It is a simple matter. I put it to you for careful consideration and I hope that you may be able to give the members of the House the benefit of your views on this after you have considered it over the weekend. It will be a simple matter completely to disrupt the adjournment debate each evening. It seems that so far this has been done on a very one-sided basis largely by the Government Whip who is-
– Order! The point raised by the honourable member for Oxley is one to which I suggest all members of this House, not only myself, should give consideration over the weekend. I must point out to the honourable member for Oxley that the taking up of a member’s time with points of order has not always been from one side of the House. I suggest that if we are going to have an adjournment debate, in which honourable members have 5 minutes in which to speak and which allows for more speakers, consideration to honourable members should be shown and courtesy extended so that, except in cases where there is a definite and a particular point of order, no point of order will be taken.
– I wish to take a point of order.
– As no Minister wishes to speak, the House stands adjourned until 2. 1 5 p.m. on Tuesday next.
House adjourned at 11.1 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 9 March 1977:
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
am asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 9 March 1977:
What are the names and addresses of employers who have (a) sought and (b) received subsidies under the Youth Employment Subsidy Scheme and for how many persons have they (a) sought and (b) received subsidies.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The NEAT Special Youth Employment Training Program (SYETP) began operation on 1 October 1976. As at end March of this year- just 6 months after its introductionthere were some 7400 trainees in respect of whom employers were receiving the special subsidy which the Government has made available to help in overcoming the employment problems of young people who have experienced a long duration of unemployment.
I regret that in the circumstances it is not practicable to provide the information sought on the thousands of employers who are providing training. Considerable staff resources which are needed for other purposes would be required to complete the necessary listings. In addition in view of the fundamental policy of the Commonwealth Employment Service that information as to names and addresses of its clients are treated as confidential, the permission of employers for the release of their names and addresses would have to be obtained.
However, the following table provides the numbers of trainees under SYETP in each of the States, and the Northern Territory at end of March of this year and may be of assistance to the honourable member.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 9 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice, on 10 March 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Australian Embassy in Beirut (Question No. 557)
am asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 30 March 1 977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Recent developments in Lebanon have again demonstrated that this has not been a matter for easy judgment. Planning is however proceeding for re-opening in May, which will provide time for proper administrative arrangements to be made, including the completion of the migration task-force operation in Cyprus and transfer of staff to Beirut. Meanwhile consular and immigration services are also available at the Embassy in Damascus.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 April 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19770428_reps_30_hor105/>.