30th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2. IS p.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the House that this morning His Excellency the Governor-General accepted the resignation of the Honourable Robert James Ellicott, Q.C, as Attorney-General. His Excellency subsequently directed and appointed Senator the Honourable Peter Drew Durack to hold the office of Attorney-General and the Honourable Ransley Victor Garland to hold the office of Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. In this House the Attorney-General will be represented by the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, Mr Howard, and in the Senate the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs will be represented by the Attorney-General, Senator Durack.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Wentworth from making a statement to this House.
-I wish to make a statement to the House explaining why I have resigned as Attorney-General. This morning I delivered a letter to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the following terms:
It is with great regret that I am forwarding herewith my resignation as Attorney-General.
I am doing so because decisions and actions which you and the Cabinet have recently made and taken have impeded and in my opinion have constituted an attempt to direct or control the exercise by me as Attorney-General of my discretion in relation to the criminal proceedings Sankey v. Whitlam and others.
In the circumstances I feel that I have no other course but to resign my office. I regard it as vital to our system of government that the Attorney-General’s discretion in criminal matters remains completely independent.
I would like to thank you sincerely for the confidence which you placed in me in choosing me as Attorney-General and for the opportunity thereby afforded me to serve our country.
Mr Speaker, the loans affair has claimed another victim. Its tentacles have stretched into 1977. It has caused yet another resignation, voluntary though it be. As a preface to what I wish to say, I would like to read two passages- one from a speech I made on 9 July 1975 and the other from a speech of 21 October 1975. On 9 July 1975 I said:
We now know who gave the legal advice that the loan in fact sought could be dressed up as a loan for temporary purposes. The oral advice of the then Attorney-General was given. Let us just read what was stated because it is very interesting. The former Attorney-General advised orally:
In the exceptional circumstances I have outlined the borrowing could probably be regarded as a borrowing for temporary purposes within the meaning of the financial agreement.
I do not want to be discourteous to a Justice of the High Court, nor do I want to be discourteous to somebody I served under. But that is not the sort of advice that honest men would seek on an occasion like this with this extraordinary loan in their minds. It is not the sort of advice that honest men would seek if they were going off to the GovernorGeneral to tell him that this was a loan for temporary purposes. I have given this matter the most careful thought but I cannot believe that any honest man could advise the GovernorGeneral to approve of that minute if he knew that the borrowings were for 20 years and were to meet the long term energy purposes of the Government. I do not believe an honest man could do it. I believe it was an illegal and unconstitutional act.
On 2 1 October I said this:
For many months I watched the Government’s incompetence. I watched it last September; I watched it into March. I watched a Minister dismissed and I watched another Minister dismissed. Then came the events of 9 July last. That was when I resolved, in no uncertain terms, to throw myself behind the throwing out of this Government as soon as possible. That day and the documents produced revealed the greatest dishonesty that one could ever find in government. 1 saw the situation then, I said so then and I made a charge then. I appealed to honourable members opposite to set up a royal commission because I wanted some questions answered. I did not want a government that was disreputable or dishonest. I wanted a government that was decent. I would not mind a little bit of incompetence, but I did not want dishonesty for a moment. I wanted a royal commission. No trumped up situation in the Senate did I want. I wanted a royal commission where people and Ministers could appear and give their evidence and clear up this terrible mess.
When I became Attorney-General on 22 December 1975, proceedings had already been instituted on 20 November by Danny Sankey against the honourable member for Werriwa and others. For ease of reference I will refer to these proceedings as the ‘Sankey proceedings’. Honourable members will recall that one of the charges in those proceedings was that the defendants had conspired with each other to effect a purpose that was unlawful under a law of the Commonwealth. The charge was laid under section 86 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act and was therefore a Commonwealth matter. The special role of the Attorney-General in criminal matters in Australia and the United Kingdom is well known. It has been the subject of many statements which are set out in Edwards on the Law Officers of the Crown. The description of the role by Sir Hartley Shawcross is well known:
I think the true doctrine is that it is the duty of an AttorneyGeneral, in deciding whether or not to authorise the prosecution, to acquaint himself with all the relevant facts, including, for instance, the effect which the prosecution, successful or unsuccessful as the case may be, would have upon public morale and order, and with any other consideration affecting public policy. In order so to inform himself, he may, although I do not think he is obliged to, consult with any of his colleagues in the Government, and indeed, as Lord Simon once said, he would in some cases be a fool if he did not. On the other hand, the assistance of his colleagues is confined to informing him of particular considerations which might affect his own decision, and does not consist, and must not consist, in telling him what that decision ought to be. The responsibility for the eventual decision rests with the Attorney-General, and he is not to be put, and is not put, under pressure by his colleagues in the matter. Nor, of course, can the Attorney-General shift his responsibility for making the decision on to the shoulders of his colleagues. If political considerations which in the broad sense that I have indicated affect government in the abstract arise it is the Attorney-General, applying his judicial mind, who has to be the sole judge of those considerations.
Honourable members will recall that shortly after I became Attorney-General I was confronted with several matters of a criminal nature which had what might be called a political aspect. One of these was the Sankey proceedings. They were raised by the defendants themselves early in January 1976 when the solicitors for the defendants wrote seeking legal aid. I replied on 20 January stating that I would not accede to it.
Another matter which arose early in the period related to claims of Crown privilege in respect of evidence sought by the informant Sankey. These proceedings involved the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), two former Ministers and a justice of the High Court. The charges made were serious and it seemed to me that they were proceedings in which I as Attorney-General could not fail to be interested if I were to fulfil my duty. I was conscious, of course, of the political aspect of my becoming involved. However, because of the public interest aspect it seemed to me that these proceedings ought to be disposed of one way or the other at an early date. I therefore decided to ascertain the material facts by obtaining statements from the relevant witnesses. I had in mind that when the evidence was collected through the Crown Solicitor I should seek the advice of independent counsel as to whether it established a prima facie case. I first approached the Solicitor-General and the Secretary and other officers of my Department who were able to give material evidence. In due course they supplied these statements. Statements were also obtained from officers of the Executive Council- two in number. I decided to seek a statement from Sir Frederick Wheeler, Secretary of the Treasury. However, he took the view that because I was seeking evidence of what took place during the period of the Labor Administration I was not entitled to know his evidence or to see any relevant file. I did not agree with this and I was fortfied in this view by the fact that the Solicitor-General and officers of my Department gave their statements.
I take the view that there is no place where the criminal law does not run, even the Executive Council; nor can any convention that a government should not look into the affairs of a previous government prevent inquiry for the purposes of enforcing the criminal law. However, it did not seem to me that there was anything I could do to compel Sir Frederick to give a statement and therefore at that time, in 1976, I did not pursue the matter with him or other persons. Eventually I asked the Crown Solicitor to submit a brief to senior and junior counsel containing the statements I had collected. In August 1976 counsel advised that the evidence made available was not sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants or any of them were guilty of the charges. Honourable members will appreciate however that counsel did not have the testimony of people like Sir Frederick Wheeler, Sir Lenox Hewitt, Mr John Menadue, Mr Larkin and others, nor the relevant files. It was advice based on less than all the material evidence.
On 29 March 1976 I received an application by Sankey ‘s solicitors to take over the proceedings. Honourable members may recall that during 1976 there were proceedings in the Supreme Court of New South Wales and from recollection those proceedings did not conclude until October 1976. As a result of counsel’s advice, and having regard to the fact that all evidence was not before counsel, I decided that it was not appropriate for me at that stage to take over the proceedings. Accordingly I informed the informant’s solicitors on 12 November 1976. During November 1976 a question of privilege arose. This is a matter which has arisen on the basis of Crown privilege; it is a matter which has arisen on the basis of parliamentary privilege. To put it very shortly and succinctly, Cabinet decided that privilege should be claimed in respect of evidence and documents except those documents which in fact had been published, and they included documents such as the minute and explanatory memorandum of 13 December 1974 which in fact had been published in this House and in other places and in telexes which had been sent overseas.
On 20 April 1977 three of the defendants, that is those defendants other than Mr Justice Murphy, sought legal aid. In view of certain things that have appeared in the Press may I say that it is not a pan of the Attorney-General’s discretion to determine a matter of legal aid. That is a matter for the Government. It is a matter of the appropriation of funds. It is a matter that had to go to Cabinet. Cabinet had before it certain advice and certain documents and in May last Cabinet decided, although it was not communicated until a later date, that the costs of the defendants should be paid.
At that time also a decision was made by Cabinet to alter the decision on privilege insofar as it related to documents which had been published. That is to say, it was decided that in relation to those documents a claim should be made in future that they too are privileged. I took strong exception to that decision by Cabinet, and I resigned at the time. I then discussed the matter with the Prime Minister. As a result of that discussion it was agreed that that particular question would be resubmitted to Cabinet and that I would abide by the decision of Cabinet. The Prime Minister was going overseas at that time and the matter was to be resubmitted after he returned.
Towards the end of May, at their request, I saw Messrs Whitlam and the late Rex Connor in my office. During the course of that discussion- I do not propose and I do not think it is relevant to go into the detail- reference was made to the fact that I had not taken over the proceedings. I said to the two defendants that they had not asked me to take over the proceedings, that that was a matter for them. I said that they should go away and talk to their solicitors and that if they wished to make an application to me to take over the proceedings it was open to them to do so. On 3 June, I did in fact receive a letter from their solicitors asking me to take over the proceedings. On 9 June, I received a letter from Sankey ‘s solicitors, in which letter it was indicated that they had learned of this application to take over the proceedings and that they had an interest in the matter as well.
On 17 June, I wrote a letter to the defendants’ solicitors. It is an important letter because it raised 2 points. It seemed to me that if I was properly to consider the application by the defendants to take over the proceedings I needed to know all the material facts. Honourable members will recall the extract I have read from Edwards of Sir Hartley Shawcross. He emphasises that the first duty of the Attorney-General is to ascertain all the relevant facts, acquaint himself with all the relevant facts. It seemed to me that it might be necessary for me to interview witnesses, to interview those who had not previously been interviewed, and to have access to relevant documents in the possession of the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities. So, I wrote to the defendants’ solicitors in these terms:
It may be necessary for the purposes of my considering their request to have access to relevant documents in the possession of the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities. It may also be necessary to interview persons who are or were in the service of the Commonwealth or its instrumentalities at relevant times. Although I do not consider their consent to be necessary, I would be glad to know whether your clients have any objection to me or persons on my behalf having such access or interviewing and taking statements from such persons for the purposes of the request being considered. I would also like to know whether for that purpose, each of your clients would, at an appropriate stage, wish to be interviewed. I note that in the House of Representatives on 28 April last your client, the Hon. E. G. Whitlam, said in relation to the matter
The normal procedure in criminal cases is for prospective defendants to be interviewed by the police so that their statements may be considered before informations are laid. That did not happen in this case. On receipt of your reply to this letter I will consider the matter further.
On 24 June, I received this reply:
We are instructed to advise that our clients would have no objection to you or persons on your behalf having access to the documents or interviewing and taking statements from persons in the circumstances to which you refer.
We also advise that if, after you have considered such documents and/or the statements of such persons, you consider there are matters requiring clarification and /or, additional information in which our clients or any of them can assist, we would be pleased to provide you with any such clarification or information upon request.
Honourable members will see that at this stage I had an application by three defendants to take over the proceedings. I had obtained the consent of those defendants to having access to witnesses and having access to documents in the possession of the Commonwealth. Having regard to the prior attitude expressed by Sir Frederick Wheeler, it seemed to me that I should first seek Cabinet’s agreement to my having access to persons and documents. The view I took at the time was that there was no objection and could be no objection based upon looking into the affairs of a previous government. I had in mind that I would appoint a special counsel and that this special counsel would have submitted to him all the statements and all the relevant documents, and advise me as to whether there was a prima facie case against the defendants which should go to a hearing. I also thought that I should seek the assistance and the agreement of Cabinet in the first instance for the reason I have just mentioned.
The matter came before Cabinet on 26 July last. I sought access to all records and I sought permission to interview and obtain statements from persons who were in the employ of the
Commonwealth or its instrumentalities. Cabinet refused to agree that I should have this access. Cabinet made it plain to me that in its view I should take over the proceedings and terminate them. I took the position that I could not do so unless I first ascertained all the material facts, according to my duty. I also made it clear that only I could exercise the discretion. I have to say that in making this decision I regarded Cabinet as preventing me from exercising my duty. I had an application to take over the proceedings. I needed to know all the evidence. I regarded Cabinet as trying to control me in the exercise of my discretion by suggesting that there was only one option- termination of the proceedings. I have to say with great regret that I regard Cabinet as having acted wrongly on that occasion.
I do not believe that Cabinet should prevent the Law Officer from investigating any criminal matter. This is a criminal matter. There are politicians involved; in that sense one can say that it is political. But the fact is that these are committal proceedings before a court. It is a criminal matter and I believe that a basic principle is involved. That basic principle is that where the Law Officer of the Commonwealth believes that there is a matter which ought to be investigated for the purpose of determining whether some breach of the criminal law has been committed he should not have the obstruction of Cabinet; he should have every assistance which Cabinet can give. And if Cabinet has confidence in its Law Officer it will not question him. In this particular matter it seemed to me that Cabinet had a duty to assist me in the determination of the application which was before me. It was suggested that I already had enough evidence. This, of course, is patently not so. I did not have the evidence of Sir Frederick Wheeler or Sir Lenox Hewitt. I did not have the evidence of Mr John Menadue or of Mr Larkin and there may have been others. These were all material witnesses. I did not have enough evidence simply because I had before me statements from the SolicitorGeneral and officers of my Department. It was suggested that there was no justification for going any further; that it ought to be patently clear that the proceedings ought to be terminated. The Prime Minister on 9 July 1975, when Leader of the Opposition, said:
Let us come to that more serious charge which goes to the very integrity of Australian institutions. Facts now before the public raise the strong possibility that there was an illegal conspiracy to defraud and to deceive. Facts now before the public indicate a deliberate devious attempt to avoid by a subterfuge the constraints of the Constitution and to defraud the States.
Let me read what the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, said on 21 August 1975:
The Prime Minister’s involvement began when, on 13 December, he signed an Executive Council minute which was an evasion of the Constitution, a conspiracy to defraud the Loan Council.
I did not think I would have to convince the Prime Minister that I would need to look at all material facts and that I would have to interview, or have interviewed, people such as Sir Frederick Wheeler and others- anybody who could give material evidence on these matters. In relation to this case, which will continue to stay with us for some time, I do not believe that the proper course is other than for all the material facts to be looked at and considered. The course that I was proposing was that those facts be looked at not by me but by an independent counsel who would advise me as to whether there was sufficient evidence in the circumstances.
On 26 July Cabinet agreed, however, that it should be left open to me, as Attorney-General, in respect of the application by the defendants, to pursue the course I might determine. I therefore decided to make another direct approach to witnesses. I must say that in doing so I did not expect much success, and that was the result. I approached Sir Frederick Wheeler. I approached the head of the Department of National Resources. I approached Mr Larkin. I approached Mr Carmody. The result of those approaches was that I still was not able to obtain statements or files in relation to this matter. I then decided that I might consider taking over the proceedings and calling these witnesses; that is to say, not personally, but through a chosen counsel. I then gave that matter consideration and I decided that it was a proper course that I could take.
It seemed to me that in the circumstances it was a course which the defendants were, in a sense, asking me to take. They were saying that they could not get a proper hearing. It seemed to me that, if they had a Crown counsel and if the evidence were called, this would enable them at least to get a Crown prosecution. So, on the basis of that and on the basis of doing justice to the defendants, that seemed to me to be a proper course to take. I must add that it would be a most unusual course. But it is a most unusual case. Indeed, it is most unusual for an AttorneyGeneral not to have access to all the material evidence and all the material facts and documents. I was in a most unusual position. That is why what may seem otherwise to be an unusual decision was, in fact, unusual.
On 2 August last I informed the Prime Minister that I proposed to take over these proceedings. On 3 August I saw the Prime Minister at the Lodge. During that conversation the Prime Minister reiterated to me his view that the proceedings ought to be taken over and terminated. I made it clear to him that my view, based on what I did not have, was that I could not take over the proceedings and terminate them. That would not be proper. Therefore we seemed to be in complete disagreement on those two matters. On that occasion the Prime Minister asked me whether I had obtained the advice of the Solicitor-General or whether I had any objection to obtaining his advice. I indicated that because the SolicitorGeneral was a witness he might have had some difficulty in relation to the matter. However, I was prepared to ask the Solicitor-General. I also indicated that I would obtain advice in relation to the matter from the Crown Solicitor, the Secretary of my Department then being overseas. The Prime Minister also indicated that he had spoken to the Solicitor-General and had asked him whether he was prepared to give the Prime Minister advice on the matter.
On Thursday 4 August I again saw the Prime Minister. I felt very strongly that we were on a collision course. I offered to resign. However, we both agreed that we did not have a fixed mind on the subject. The Prime Minister was going overseas and we agreed to consider the matter the following week. In the meantime, advice was to be obtained from counsel, the Solicitor-General and the Crown Solicitor. It was also obtained from the Acting Secretary of my Department, Mr Mahoney. One event of significance occurred. On 5 August I received the following letter from Mr Justice Murphy:
I wish to make it clear that I have not joined in any application to you to take over the conduct of the prosecution of the proceedings brought by Mr Sankey. If the proceedings were taken over in order to put an end to them I could not object but if they were taken over with the intention of continuing them I would strongly object as they are in my opinion malicious. In any case you should not be involved in any official decision which adversely affects the defendants. Your personal involvement in this affair including certain statements in Parliament should as a matter of simple justice preclude you from acting as Attorney-General in any way against the defendants. As you are well aware there are ways in which any necessary decision can be made without your participation. 1 also wish to make it clear and my counsel has informed the court that insofar as any consideration arises of Crown or Parliamentary privilege I have not made and will not make any claim of privilege which would exclude any evidence.
Advice was received during the following week. That week I made a decision. That decision was not affected by anybody. It was my decision. I decided that I would not take over these proceedings.
On 13 August 1977 the following letter was written by me to the defendants’ solicitors:
At the outset I wish to point out that by letter dated S August 1977 the honourable Mr Justice Murphy informed me that he has strong objections to my taking over the proceedings if I had the intention to continue them. To enable me to consider your client’s application I thought it proper that I should have before me all relevant documents in the possession of the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities and statements from all those who may be able to give evidence relevant to the matters the subject of these charges. You will recall that I raised this possibility in my letter to you dated 17 June 1977. The faa is, however, that the whole of the above material is not available to me and consequently it is not possible to make a proper assessment of the evidence that might be led in relation to the charges. In all the circumstances I have decided that it would not be appropriate for me to take over the proceedings at this stage.
I may say that counsel who advised in relation to the matter stressed that it was important in his view that before deciding what I should do in relation to the proceedings- that is, whether I should take them over to continue them or discontinue them- I should ascertain the facts. That, of course, is a rather simple proposition for any lawyer. One’s first task is to ascertain the facts.
But in the light of Mr Justice Murphy’s letter and in the light of counsel’s advice, I thereupon decided I should not take over the proceedings. The following statement was made in the same letter the defendants’ solicitors were informed that: the Commonwealth agrees to pay the reasonable costs as determined by the Crown Solicitor for the Commonwealth of your clients in these proceedings.
Mr Speaker, I have been absent from this House for three weeks during which time I was overseas. When I went overseas, I was still deeply concerned about the decision of Cabinet made on 26 July, a decision in which I was refused access to documents and to witnesses. At Winnipeg in Canada I attended the Law Ministers’ Conference. One of the matters that we discussed at some length- I did not participate in the discussion; I was more interested to listen because of what was on my mind- was the modern role of the Attorney-General. The following statement was set out in a communique issued by some 3 1 law Ministers:
In recent years both outside and within the Commonwealth public attention is frequently focused on the function of law enforcement. Ministers endorse the principles already observed in their jurisdictions that the discretion in these matters should always be exercised in accordance with wide considerations of the public interest and without regard to considerations of a party political nature and that it should be free from any direction or control whatsoever.
They added this sentence:
They considered, however, that the maintenance of these principles depended to a large extent upon the unimpeachable integrity of the holder of the office.
Mr Speaker, while I was overseas an article appeared in the Canberra Times. This journal is not one that I find very accurate, with regard to what it says about me and I say no more than that. This may be the experience of other honourable members. But I was once given good advice by a predecessor in the office of AttorneyGeneral. He said: ‘Do not worry about the Canberra Times- it is only circulated in Canberra; nobody reads it anywhere else’. Despite the defamations that occur from time to time it has never troubled me enough to get worked up about it. Honourable members might, however, have read what was said. The article stated:
The decision on costs is understood to have been made by Cabinet- a departure from the usual practice in such cases, where the Attorney-General makes his decision alone, in the exercise of his power as first law officer of the Crown rather than as a minister.
As I have explained, that is quite inaccurate. The decision as to costs is a matter for Cabinet. The discretion as to whether to prosecute is very much a matter for the Attorney-General. The article went on to state:
Mr Ellicott is understood to have opposed the decision Cabinet ultimately made, and to have twice threatened to resign over the issue.
That is not correct. The article continued:
In the end, according to Government sources, he was ‘persuaded’ of the ultimate view.
No such thing occurred. I have not been persuaded of anything by anybody. Throughout this whole exercise, throughout these recent months, the views I have formed and the decisions I have made in the exercise of my duty have been my own. Further on, under heading ‘Approval’, this article stated:
Government sources emphasised yesterday that the decision not to intervene did not imply any approval for the continuance of the prosecutions by Mr Sankey. The Government’s view, they said, was that the electorate had passed its judgment on the overseas loans affair at the 197S elections and that the matter should stop. This was why the Government had refused a prosecution application, soon after the case began in late 1 975, that it take over the case.
A decision to intervene and then discontinue the prosecutions had been ‘muddied’ by Mr Justice Murphy’s firm opposition to the idea that the Government should step in, they said.
I was deeply troubled about the ‘Government sources’. It seemed to me that if that was accurate, that is to say, if it had come from Government sources it was indicating something about the discretion which I had to exercise; it was indicating, in effect, that a decision had been made that these proceedings should be taken over and terminated. But that was a decision which only I, as Attorney-General, could make. I regret to say that Mr Dickie, my Press officer, has given me the following statement:
The day after the publication of the story by Mr Waterford, Mr David Barnett telephoned me. He told me that Mr Waterford had approached him the day before about the Sankey story. He said Mr Waterford seemed to have all the facts associated with the Sankey story and that all that seemed to be missing was the motivation. Mr Barnett said that he supplied Mr Waterford with the motivation.
Honourable members will be aware that recently a decision was made by Cabinet that, in answer to an application by the informant, Mr Sankey, his costs would not be paid. That occurred while I was overseas.
As honourable members can imagine, I have given this matter very careful and anxious thought. I have dealt at some length with what has happened in relation to these proceedings, and I hope I have not bored honourable members in so doing. I have done so because I felt it was my duty to indicate what I have done in relation to the matter. It is with very great regret that I have decided that in the circumstances I have no alternative but to resign my position as Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. As I have said already, I believed and I still believe most strongly that what Cabinet did on 26 July 1977 was wrong. Again as I have said, I do not believe that there is any part of government where the criminal law does not run. I believe that a very strong and important principle is involved. I do not want to compare it nor do I want to suggest in any way in what I have been saying here today that I have been engaged in a witch hunt against any of the defendants. What one might learn from documents and from witnesses who have not been interviewed might well be evidence which would support the defendants.
– That is the risk you have to take.
– It is not a risk at all. It is wrong of the honourable member even to suggest it. There is absolutely nothing to suggest in anything that has happened -
-Tell us what the SolicitorGeneral’s advice was.
-Order! It is customary in this House to listen in silence to a statement of this nature. I ask honourable members to do so.
-I notice that members of the Opposition are not asking what the Crown Solicitor ‘s advice was or what the advice of the Acting Secretary of my Department was. They are not asking what counsel’s advice was. They seem to have some peculiar interest in the SolicitorGeneral’s advice. The question whether those advices should be released is a matter for the
Government. It is not a matter about which I think it is proper for me to say anything at the moment.
My remarks were simply to indicate that the purpose of inquiry was not to try to incriminate the defendants at all. That was never the purpose of my inquiry. The purpose of my inquiry was simply to ascertain the facts. Until all the facts are ascertained and all the documents are looked at, no public in this country will be satisfied about this case. Honourable members opposite can say what they like but the simple fact is that there is a great public interest in having this matter cleared up. I have no reason whatsoever to want the defendants to be convicted. I might hope, in what honourable members opposite might regard as my best moments, to see them cleared. All I want is for the facts in this case to be subjected to the light of day. Until that happens this case will plague us.
In conclusion, I simply say that having done what I have done I still remain a loyal member of the Liberal Party. I still propose to support the Government to the full. I propose to give whatever effort I can to continuing the work which the Government is doing. I hope honourable members will not treat my previous remarks or anything that I have said today as being of a divisive nature. We on this side of the House have a task to perform. We are going on to perform that task.
– by leave- I would like to say at the outset that I appreciate very much indeed the manner in which the former Attorney-General has addressed himself to a very difficult circumstance for himself and for the Government. Certainly all members on our side of the House would appreciate the very obvious sincerity and integrity and the manner in which the former Attorney-General has approached his speech this afternoon, which certainly must have been a very difficult one for him.
There are only one or two things that I would like to say. It is the traditional role of the Attorney-General, as First Law Officer, to institute and, where appropriate, to take over prosecutions for offences. The Government recognises that that is his role. It is not questioned that the Attorney-General has a full discretion in relation to these matters. It is, nevertheless, proper for the Attorney-General in such matters to consult with and to have regard to the views of his colleagues, even though the responsibility for the eventual decision to prosecute or not rests with the Attorney-General, and with the
Attorney-General alone. This practice of consultation is a longstanding practice. I was glad to note that the honourable member for Wentworth emphasised that the decisions he made in these matters were his alone and in particular that the decision not to prosecute after receiving Mr Justice Murphy’s letter was his and his alone.
In addition to the question whether a prosecution should be instituted or taken over- in the present instance ‘taken over ‘ is the relevant questionthere are decisions that need to be taken as to whether claims of Crown privilege should be made and whether costs should be paid. They are matters for the Government and are not peculiarly within the Attorney-General’s province, as I think the honourable gentleman himself recognised in his statement. They are properly matters for the Government. There are also the questions of parliamentary privilege which have arisen in respect of the proceedings instituted against the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and several of his fellow former Ministers. Again, decisions on these matters do not fall within the exclusive province of the Attorney-General, and I know that the honourable member would not claim and has not claimed that they do.
On this occasion I also want to pay tribute particularly and publicly to the honourable gentleman’s achievements as Attorney-General. His administration of the portfolio has resulted in some notable advances and reforms of the law and judicial administration. They will stand as their own testimony to his energy and dedication. In less than 2 years one can point to the following: The Federal court system has been restructured; there has been a fundamental revision of Federal administrative law; legal aid has been restructured in such a way as to increase cooperation with the States and to make sure that effective aid is available to those most in need; the first Ombudsman has been appointed and has commenced work; the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been given a wider jurisdiction and has commenced operation; legislation has been introduced to reform the law on criminal investigation and to establish a human rights commission; numerous references have been made to the Australian Law Reform Commission; and work is nearing completion on important new legislation on freedom of information and the use of government archives.
I have said in other forums that I believe that no government has a better record of law reform than has this Government, and the driving force in that reform has been the Attorney-General who, regrettably, resigned today. His support and counsel on this side of the House will continue to be highly valued. His resignation and the manner of his resignation most certainly have not reduced his standing in the eyes of his colleagues and of the wider Australian community.
– by leave- A statement by a Minister who has resigned is probably the most dramatic moment that ever occurs in a parliament. It is one of those moments when political opponents frequently forbear to make any comment. Since I shall have to make some comments on a matter in respect of which I have been mentioned today and in respect of which I have been harassed for 2 years, I would like to make plain my own personal relations with the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott). When I became Prime Minister he had, as is well known, sought the selection for the Liberal Party as the candidate for Berowra. He knew, and I assured him, that this in no way inhibited me in seeking his advice and appreciating the advice which he volunteered.
In fact I was very closely associated with him in matters of great moment for this country. He was one of the counsel for my Government before the International Court of Justice in the French nuclear tests case. He represented my Government in negotiations with Indonesia on the sea borders between Indonesia and Australia. He represented my Government in negotiations with British Ministers and law officers on the procedure for abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. He would know that throughout the time that I was Prime Minister and he was Solicitor-General I constantly conferred with him on any matter in which he or I thought there might be litigation affecting the Australian Government. I would have hoped, knowing how I always consulted with him as Solicitor-General, although he had declared his politics to be other than mine, that at least he would have given me credit for consulting with the succeeding Solicitor-General on any matter where there might be litigation concerning the Australian Government.
About 3te years ago the honourable member told me that he was again seeking Liberal selection, this time for the division of Wentworth. I told him that I believed that senior persons on the public payroll, heads of government departments, persons in many ways of similar status although statutory status such as he held, should not be precluded from the right, exercised by other citizens, of standing for public office. I wished him well in his selection. I assured him that if, as was not likely, he were to get the selection and not be elected he certainly would be reappointed as Solicitor-General.
I recite this to illustrate that throughout the time that I was Prime Minister and until he became a member of this House my relations with him had been professionally intimate. I must say, although I will not deal with it in such detail, that I have been disappointed in some subsequent matters at the way in which he has treated me. For instance, at one stage he expressed the view that he would consider having me prosecuted for seditious libel in the light of remarks I had made in public about the Governor-General who also is resigning.
– It is your turn next.
-Barwick is next. Also he had -
-Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw that last remark.
– I withdraw it. I will say it outside. The honourable member for Wentworth also had the Commonwealth Police report on my movements during the last election campaign. But, Mr Speaker, I must refer, as the honourable member has referred, to the Sankey prosecution. It should be pointed out that this is a private prosecution. It has been very useful to have, at length and in public, the chronology of this matter as far as the honourable member has been concerned because a great number of people have thought that these proceedings have been protracted by some actions on the part of myself or my fellow defendants. People now will see and understand why this matter has taken so long and why so many political matters of great moment requiring the Attorney-General’s attention in fact have not received that attention. It will help to explain why the courts of New South Wales, at all levels, have allowed their processes to be abused for so long.
I would remind honourable gentlemen that at the time the departing Governor-General commissioned the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to head a caretaker government he required an undertaking from him and this undertaking was given in a letter by the Prime Minister to the Governor-General. The undertaking was that there would be no royal commissions or inquiries into the activities of the Government- meaning my Governmentthroughout the period of the election campaign. Of course, as we have known for a long time, that undertaking was dishonoured, as we pointed out in this House on 19 May last year. The Premier of Queensland, who had initiated inquiries, was encouraged to continue, and that was with the knowledge of many members, including very senior members, of this Government. I do not propose to pursue those matters on this occasion. But it is significant that this private prosecution was initiated at that time also. It was initiated with the encouragement and on the incitement of the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party acting on the advice of the honourable member for Wentworth given publicly for the first time on 9 July 1975. At this stage, I shall quote from the last speech made in the House by the late honourable member for Cunningham, whose own last months were harassed by this private prosecution, as were those of his wife until she died last April. This is what the late honourable member had to say on 28 April last:
The subject summonses are in breach of the announcement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to this House on 1 1 November 1975 of an undertaking required by the Governor-General 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 … at Queanbeyan Court 4 days before polling day.
That is the day after that on which the Premier of Queensland called a special session of the Queensland Parliament. He went on to say:
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 mention Mr Rofe and, of course, the honourable member has mentioned Mr Sankey. On the same day, 28 April, I had myself referred to one of the two occasions only on which I have spoken on this matter in the Parliament. I said this:
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 1 954.
It is quite plain that this is no prosecution in the public interest by disinterested persons; it is a private -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now speaking directly to a matter which is before the courts. I think that the subjudice rule which was adopted by this Parliament would prevent him from commenting specifically on that prosecution.
-The same persons make statements to the newspapers and write letters to the newspapers. I restrain myself from doing so. When I seek to speak in the Parliament when the matter is raised, you seek to restrain me. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that at least I should have the same right to say something in the Parliament when the matter is raised as Mr Sankey has had to give interviews to newspapers and as Mr Rofe has had to give interviews to newspapers and to write to the newspapers letters which they have published.
– My ruling is this: The Parliament has always observed the subjudice rule. I have stated on previous occasions that I feel that the Parliament ought not to so constrain itself that it cannot discuss these matters and that the Parliament ought not to restrain itself by discussing only those matters which can be made public outside the Parliament. However, the subjudice rule has been observed by the Parliament. It has been reframed to a large extent by my own rulings. But at this point I must say to the Leader of the Opposition that a direct reference to the validity or likely success of the prosection would interfere with the application of the subjudice rule.
– I was proposing to say something, as I did last April, on the prospects of the prosecution. You have allowed the honourable member for Wentworth, admittedly in dramatic or even traumatic circumstances to make his own comments on the law applying to these matters. You allowed him to do it again today. At least I should be able to say today what you allowed me to say last April or what you allowed me to say in May last year.
– I have not prevented the honourable gentleman from quoting what he said last April. It was when he went beyond that that I interrupted him. Before he resumes speaking I must make the point that as I understood the statement by the honourable member for Wentworth, the honourable member for Wentworth was making quite clear the process by which he developed his thinking in terms of the specific issue which led to his resignation. I am not aware of his having said at any time whether he believed the prosecution would or would not succeed.
-No, but with respect, he did -
– If the honourable gentleman proceeds and goes beyond my ruling I shall have to interrupt him.
-The particular point I am making is that there were, in breach of the Government’s written undertakings to the Governor-General on 11 November, proceedings initiated and continued against me and some of my colleagues. First, there were those by the Premier of Queensland; secondly, there was the prosecution by Mr Sankey who briefed Mr Rofe. As I said on that occasion, and as I can now say with still more force because the facts have become better known, the Fraser Government got others to do its dirty work, and that was in breach of an undertaking to the GovernorGeneral who had installed it.
The honourable member for Wentworth has quoted correspondence which passed between him and my solicitors. I must say that I regard it as extraordinary that, as far back as last May, Cabinet took a decision to pay our costs and also took a decision that privilege would be pleaded in the proceedings in which the Commonwealth had intervened in respect of published documents of my Cabinet. The decision about costs was not communicated until 13 August. For three months we were left in the dark and our interests were prejudiced by the financial limitations we thought we were enduring. If we had known that our costs would be paid we would have proceeded with the High Court appeal. Furthermore, we have not been told until today that Cabinet had enlarged its decision on the claim of privilege, and that also should have been communicated. In the meantime, because of the delay, there have been quite large legal costs incurred so as to substantiate a plea of privilege in respect of some other documents for which the Government was not previously, through counsel, claiming privilege but for which last May it decided it would claim privilege. For three months we were kept in the dark. I believe that that is a legitimate grievance that I and my fellow defendants have.
I believe that the whole core of this matter is that the former Attorney-General has had an obsession about it extending over more than two years. He has taken an excessively vain attitude about his legal opinions. We all know the attitude he took concerning the right of the Viceroy to dismiss a government if it did not have a majority in both federal Houses, an opinion on which the Governor-General acted on 1 1 November 1975, but he has also had this obsession to defend the opinion he expressed on 9 July 1975, and he has expressed it again and again. It is on that opinion that the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party incited this private prosecution. I would like to illustrate the honourable gentleman’s attitude to some of the people he has mentioned by continuing the quotation from his speech on 9 July 1975. It states:
Who were those involved? Sir Lenox Hewitt, Mr Connor and Senator Murphy. I have referred to the advice. By the way, where was the advice of the Solicitor-General? If this Government wanted the impartial advice of a lawyer, where was the advice of the Solicitor-General? That has not been produced. We know that on 13 December the law officers were gathered. We know that Messrs Byers and Harders were at a meeting in the Attorney-General’s Department. They were good enough to prepare this document ‘J’, this farrago of fact and falsity. Why was the Solicitor-General not good enough to be asked for advice on this particular matter and where is his advice? If it were tabled here it might satisfy a lot of us.
As I have said already, it was my practice in any of these matters, always to consult with the Solicitor-General, including the honourable member for Wentworth when he was SolicitorGeneral. I continued that practice. But on 3 June last, in a letter which my solicitors sent to the honourable member, the answer is given about the advice of the Solicitor-General, Mr Byers. The letter states:
You expressed the view on 9 July 1975 on the basis of documents and facts then known to you that the action on which these proceedings are based was ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. . . You then asked if the SolicitorGeneral’s advice had been sought and said that if it were tabled ‘it might satisfy a lot of us’. We are instructed that the Solicitor-General gave advice orally, as in Karen Green’s case . . . that the course proposed was not unlawful. His advice was, we are advised, recorded by the Secretary to the Treasury on 13 December 1974 in a Minute to the effect that the Solicitor-General invoked the use of section 61 of the Constitution and advised that an opinion given the Treasury in writing four days before in regard to Mainline Corporation could be applied to the current proposals. My clients have been inhibited from publicly quoting such documents believing they are precluded by their Executive Councillors’ oaths from disclosing to unauthorised persons what has passed between them and the Governor-General before he signed relevant documents on 14 December 1974 and again on 28 January 1975.
On 3 June the honourable member had from our solicitors a reference to the record of the Solicitor-General’s advice. On 9 July 1975 he was asking where the advice was. On 3 June this year he knew what the advice was. He was given a reference to it. Throughout these proceedings, as the correspondence which the honourable member has quoted has shown, I and my colleagues have never in any way sought to deny him, his colleagues or his advisers access to documents and witnesses. We are utterly confident of what would be disclosed by those documents or those witnesses.
The witnesses would not be only Sir Lenox Hewitt or Senator Murphy or Messrs Byers and Harders. These are people to whom the honourable member refers in such disparaging terms. There would also have been Sir Jock Phillips, the then Governor of the Reserve Bank; Mr Knight, his deputy and now the Governor; there would have been Sir Roland Wilson, the former Secretary to the Treasury and the then Chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation; there would have been Sir Clarence Harders as he now is, the Secretary to the Attorney-General’s Department; and there would have been Sir Frederick Wheeler, the Secretary to the Treasury as he still is; the Solicitor-General; Mr Menadue; and many other officials- heads of departments, statutory officers and senior officials. Three persons are mentioned and disparaged. There is no question as to what would be disclosed if those men were called. We have not hesitated in asking to have them called.
I read from another letter- and I hope I do not trespass on the ruling which you, Mr Speaker, have given. It is a letter to which reference has been made. I have quoted from it. It bears upon the application which I and two of the other defendants made on 3 June last for the AttorneyGeneral to take over the proceedings. The letter stated:
Our clients believe that these documents-
I have referred to one of them- together with other records, as well as the personal recollections not only of the Governor-General but also of the public servants present at the time would show that it is without any reasonable or proper foundation to assert that our clients or any of them knowingly proceeded on an unlawful course. If you nevertheless should decide to continue the proceedings our clients urge you to brief counsel other than Mr Rofe to do so. In the House on 28 April 1977 an account is given of a conversation considered by our clients to be improper in a prosecutor, which he had with a Canberra journalist. This journalist is willing to call on you to repeat this account if you so desire. Mr Rofe also expressed the view in Court on 1 9 November 1976 that your claim of privilege was not only wrong in law but might reasonably be construed as an attempted cover-up. He further canvassed the matter in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 May 1977. He does not have the confidence of the defendants and could not have, we submit, the confidence of the Crown as a fair and impartial prosecutor.
Should you agree to take over the prosecution our clients would, of course, instruct us to withdraw the proceedings presently before the High Court of Australia, so that the matter might more promptly proceed. Unless you advise us that you would consider it inappropriate for it to be done, we are instructed and therefore propose to request our counsel to advise the Court of Petty Sessions in Sydney on Monday that an application has been made by our clients to you to take over the prosecution and that if you do so the application to the High Court will be withdrawn.
At least we should have been told that the costs would be paid and that privilege would be claimed in respect of ail documents including those mentioned in the Parliament as well as those not mentioned in the Parliament. One can feel some grievance over that. I have referred to this matter here because so often in newspaper interviews and letters to newspapers the impression has been given that somehow my colleagues and I have something to hide and that we were spinning out the matter. We know today, for the first time, the full ramifications of why it has taken so long.
I refer to a statement which I made, again, on 28 April 1977. As reported in Hansard, I said:
For without doubt the case has no merits. The GovernorGeneral was not deceived by his Ministers. Not only did he sign on 14 December 1974 without demur a minute signed by them the previous day but on 28 January 197S 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 Governor-General 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 had 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.
These proceedings were conceived notionally as a private prosecution. They were initiated with the incitement of the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party. They were timed in such a way as to conflict with the undertaking which the caretaker Prime Minister gave the GovernorGeneral. They were conceived in dishonour.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is not entitled to say that.
-They were conceived improperly. They were conceived in breach of an undertaking. They have been promoted and prolonged to this stage through the various methods which the honourable member for Wentworth has now disclosed. I do not propose to discuss what went on in Cabinet, what went on between him and his colleagues, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). All I must say now is that we see how flimsy the whole of this thing has been. It has absorbed the time of the New South Wales courts, it has absorbed the time of the Federal Ministry, it has even absorbed some of the time of this Parliament- all to no good purpose whatever. It has all been done to serve the vanity of a man who has now resigned.
- Mr Speaker -
– I call the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith
-I seek leave to make a short statement.
-I would ask the honourable gentleman to resume his seat for a moment. The Minister for Special Trade Negotiations approached the Chair before the honourable gentleman rose to indicate that he wished to make a personal explanation. He had actually informed me before the honourable member rose. Therefore I call the Minister.
- Mr Speaker, as, I think, the senior member of the Government in this House from the State of NSW and -
-Order! Is the honourable gentleman claiming to be misrepresented?
-Yes, I am.
– Do you wish to make a personal explanation?
-Yes, I do.
– The Minister will proceed.
-Mr Speaker, during the course of his just concluded remarks the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) I think twice made the claim that the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party had -
– That is not a personal explanation.
– Break it down.
-Order! Honourable gentlemen will remain silent until I hear what the explanation is.
Opposition members interjecting-
-Order! Honourable gentlemen on my left will remain silent. I call the Minister.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition twice made the totally incorrect statement that the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party, of which -
-I rise to order. Mr Speaker, it must be clear to you as it is clear to so many others in the House that no point of personal explanation is involved. The Minister is seeking to defend the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party and this is in contravention of standing orders.
- Mr Speaker -
-Order! The honourable member for Macarthur will remain silent. The point made by the honourable member for Adelaide is valid. I call upon the Minister to come to the point of his personal explanation as to where he has been misrepresented.
-Mr Speaker, the point of my personal explanation is that the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party did not inspire these proceedings and suggestions to that effect are quite incorrect.
-Order! The Minister will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith) Mr Speaker, I seek leave to make a short statement.
-Is leave granted?
-Leave is not granted.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because television and radio
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Government will amend the Broadcasting and Television Act, in relation to both national and commercial broadcasters, to legislate
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Baume, Mr Chapman, Mr Cohen, Mr Giles, Mr Goodluck, Mr Hunt, Mr Lucock, Mr McLeay, Mr Moore, Mr Wentworth, Mr E. G. Whitlam and Mr Wilson.
To the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens (students, parents, teachers) of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision by the Government to withdraw all forms of financial assistance to students of Non-state Tertiary Institutions is in total conflict with stated Government education policy.
The decision will result in a shortage of places for training secretarial and clerical students and an inordinate demand upon the State Government education systems.
At a time of severe economic disruption, this action must lead to a serious worsening of the current employment situation, particularly school leavers.
Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the Federal Government will act immediately to reverse its decision.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Beazley, Mr Garland, Mr Howard, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Bryant and Mr Falconer.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we believe that Australia’s constitution is undemocratic and should be replaced by a democratic constitution. This new constitution should be drafted at a representative, directly elected people’s convention following extensive public debate, and then put to a referendum of the people. The petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament, as a matter of urgency, will help to promote such public debate and will arrange for the holding of such a people’s convention and referendum.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lionel Bowen, Mr Bryant, Mr Clyde Cameron, Mr Hurford, Mr Les Johnson and Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That many pensioners who are holders of the Pensioners Health Benefit Card, have suffered undue hardship as inmates of Private Nursing Homes, because the Federal Government subsidy was insufficient to meet the charges as laid down.
Many pensioners whose spouse was an inmate of the Private Nursing Homes suffered poverty in an endeavour to sustain their partner while in the nursing home.
Only in rare cases was the statutory minimum patient contribution as laid down adhered to.
That the telephone was a matter of life and death to many pensioners, but because of the cost of installation of the telephone many are unable to afford the installation.
That those pensioners who have only their pension and very little else to live on and are forced to pay high rents, are in many cases living in extreme poverty.
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 Mr Dobie, Mr Hunt, Mr Les Johnson, Dr Klugman, Mr Morris and Mr Ian Robinson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that no self regulation is implemented and Mr Gyngell be dismissed as Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage, Dr Klugman, Mr Eric Robinson, Mr Ruddock and Mr Uren.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That where whole or pan of a deceased estate passes to the surviving spouse it should be free from federal estate duty.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly, Mr Howard and Mr Wentworth.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully show us:
That due to the new information on whale communication, behaviour and intelligence, and to the depleted state of most of the great whale stocks and the uncertainty associated with whale population estimates, that commercial whaling is no longer acceptable to the vast majority of Australians. It is urged that immediate steps be taken to end this activity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Macphee.
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 we have a limited understanding of the whale population which we are destroying.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that steps be taken to end commercial whaling.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrHolten.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain members of the Australian Association of Better Hearing, and other citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth that a financial burden is imposed on hearing impaired members of the public in that the special telephone equipment which is essential for such hearing impaired citizens to make telephonic communication, is subject to installation costs and rental charges.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Federal Government give every consideration to waiving the installation costs and rental charges of the special telephone equipment required by hearing impaired members of the public.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson and Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth-
That we believe that laxity in the control of broadcasting standards has given viewers-
Your petitioners humbly pray that your honourable House will take steps to-
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Peter Johnson and Mr Jull.
Gambling Casino in Canberra
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
We the undersigned, do hereby register our total opposition toward any legalising through legislation, and the building of, and operating of, a gambling casino as is being proposed within the national capital of Australia- Canberra.
We oppose the proposal on the following grounds:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Braithwaite.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth:
That the purported decline in use of existing children’s libraries at O’Connor, Lyneham, Narrabundah and Red Hill can be directly related to:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives ensure that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bryant.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Australian Government to phase out Federal financial and administrative support for the Australian Assistance Plan; the consequence of which will negate the Government’s stated commitment and end financial support for valuable community projects.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Cohen.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament Assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned members of Parents Without Partners Australia Incorporated and Citizens of Australia respectfully say that we are concerned about the discrimination and hardships being experienced by lone fathers and their children. They are faced with the same problems and financial needs as supporting mothers, without equal opportunity for comparable benefits. We feel that the Government do not recognise the needs of this section of our community.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament take immediate steps to ensure that this years Budget allows for lone fathers to be given the right to receive a pension on the same basis as supporting mothers. We also request that the Government take immediate action to instigate one ( 1 ) category of lone parent pensions to eliminate the discrimination currently experienced in the present structure.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Goodluck.
To The Honourable 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 in duty bound will ever pray: by Mr Goodluck.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament House.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that we are deeply concerned at the threats posed by administrative changes to the funding of the Community Arts Program within the Australia Council and to the continuation of effective development of community arts throughout Australia.
Your petitioners humbly pray that your honourable House will at this time take steps to postpone any change to the present structure until adequate consultation has taken place between the Commonwealth Government and constituent groups involved in community arts.
Your petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Hamer.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled, the humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia showeth:
We the undersigned request that Canberra Avenue, from St Andrews Church to the intersection of Hume Circle be kept free of vehicles in excess of 3 tonnes.
Due to high volume of heavy vehicles, excessive noise and high exhaust pollution, added to this, the danger to school children crossing Canberra Avenue at Manuka, residents of Canberra Avenue being disturbed by the noise of speeding trucks and the possibility of a major accident occurring as a result of these speeding heavily laden vehicles.
We request your urgent consideration to the above petition.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens and residents from overseas respectfully showeth that many Australians and residents from overseas are concerned for the safety of Malaysian student leader Mr Hishamuddin Rais.
Mr Hishamuddin Rais, the past Secretary General of the University of Malaya Student Union is currently in Australia seeking political asylum.
We your petitioners pray that the Commonwealth Government.
Recognizes that Mr Hishamuddin Rais was persecuted by the Malaysian Government for his activities as a student leader, because he supported the struggle of the peasants and workers for just working and living conditions.
Considers Mr Hishamuddin Rais’ case favourably and grant him political asylum in the spirit of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Understands that the belated pressing of these charges as a deliberate attempt to incriminate Hishamuddin Rais before the law so as to jeopardise his case for political asylum. Hence, we demand that these fabricated charges be withdrawn in order that Hishamuddin ‘s case for political asylum not be predjudiced.
Acknowledges that the case of Mr Hishamuddin Rais is a particular instance of political pressure brought to bear upon overseas students in Australia as a result of the collusion between the Australian Government and foreign regimes.
And recognizes that political surveillance and political intervention by foreign and Australian agents is a direct threat on the life and liberty of overseas students.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrlnnes.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia e.g. undersigned electors of the Division of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the actions of a member of the Schools Commission, Mrs Joan Kirner, have been a cause of grave concern to many members of the community in that Mrs Kirner has on a number of occasions made use of the public media to direct criticism of an objectionable kind (including the allegation of being ‘deceitful’) against a Minister of the Crown, Senator John Carrick, Federal Minister for Education.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take such action as is necessary to ensure that such regrettable conduct does not continue.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled.
We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government;
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances. The continuance of the Means Test on pensions causes undue hardship to them. We call on the Government to immediately abolish the means test on all aged pensions. To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that all Australian citizens will retire with dignity. Acknowledge that a pension is a: ‘ Right and not a Charity ‘
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrJulI.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the electorate of McMillan respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should ensure that the incidence of estate duty be phased out commencing in the financial year 1977-78 and be finally abolished within five years of such earlier date as reasonably possible.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the House notes:
That members of both sides of the House have sought visas to go to East Timor and their requests have been refused.
That the Queensland Premier is reported as stating that members of the House should not be allowed to visit East Timor until they have demonstrated impartiality and that the Premier implied that members have been either duped by Fretilin propaganda or are communist sympathisers.
The House therefore resolves that it is of the opinion that the reported remarks of the Premier are insulting, intemperate and impertinent and calls upon the Premier to apologise to members of the House.
-The honourable gentleman will need to put his motion in writing.
The motion having been submitted in writing-
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide may speak to his motion if he chooses to do so.
– I think the question of bringing on this House a discussion on the attitudes being expressed by the Premier of Queensland, rather than leaving the notice on the Notice Paper for some weeks by which time the matter could be irrelevant, is very important. It has become a matter of public knowledge that a number of members of this House, both collectively and individually, have made attempts to visit East Timor and have attempted to raise the matter for discussion in this House. It is a very important subject for the Australian people. The intrusion into the debate in the national Parliament by the Queensland Premier, who has tarred members of both sides of this House with the same brush, brings upon this House some sort of responsibility to itself, because far too often the national Parliament and members who serve in it are denigrated by the Queensland Premier. This seems to me to be a very good opportunity for all of us, seeing that we have been assembled here for the last hour and a half of drama, to take part in a debate on this very important subject of the attempt by the Queensland Premier to denigrate the national Parliament.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. This is a matter of importance to the Parliament because it affects the rights of members and because allegations have been made about members by the Premier of a State. I think the matter should be discussed immediately. It has been raised by a member of the Government parties. The Opposition is interested in the matter. It needs only a resolution of this House for a debate on the notice of motion to proceed.
That the motion (Mr Young’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– Pursuant to regulation 8a of the Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) (Superannuation) Regulations made on 30 May 1977 under the Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Act 1973 I present the report by the Commissioner for Superannuation on the operations of the Papua New Guinea Superannuation Board during the year ended 30 June 1973.
Pursuant to section 58 of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission Act 1975 I present on behalf of the Minister for the Northern Territory the annual report of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission for the year ended 30 June 1 976.
Pursuant to section 9 of the Medical Research Endowment Act 1937 I present the report of the National Health and Medical Research Council on Medical Research Projects 1975.
Pursuant to section 59 of the States Grants (Schools) Act 1973 I present the report of the Schools Commission on financial assistance granted to each State in 1976.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Diesel Fuel Tax ( No. 1 ) Amendment Bill 1 977.
Diesel Fuel Tax ( No. 2 ) Amendment Bill 1 977.
Liquefied Gas (Road Vehicle Use) Tax Amendment Bill 1977.
International Fund for Agricultural Development Bill 1977.
-I have received letters from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) and the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by Standing Order 107,I have selected one matter, and that is that proposed by the honourable member for Blaxland, namely:
Government actions responsible for substantial increases in farm operating costs.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-Recent express decisions by the Government have callously disregarded the welfare of rural people and rural producers. In a number of ways the Government has changed policies, and this will have a damaging impact on an already languishing rural sector. I refer to the 11c a gallon increase in the price of fuel, which will hit all country people but particularly those with high fuel inputs into agricultural production; the detrimental impact of the Budget measures on the rural tax averaging system; and the 3.5 per cent increase in company tax- to mention just a few of them. As well, the Government now is going out of its way by introducing a measure that will foist expensive Broken Hill South Ltd Queensland rock phosphate on Australia’s rural community. The Government could not have gone more out of its way in order to damage country interests than it has. The farmers in the Government have cynically sold out their rural counterparts.
Let me examine first the increase in the price of crude oil. This represents a $150m handout to the Australian oil producing industry. Like Broken Hill South Ltd, with its phosphate, EssoBHP is well looked after with increased oil profits. On top of its existing profitability, EssoBHP will have a windfall increment to its profits in the order of $ 109m in a full year. The Barrow Island producers will receive about $43m and the Moonie-Alton producers will receive about $2.3m. A large part of these profits will be the direct result of higher prices paid by consumers in rural areas. Again the National Country Party has shown its preoccupation with looking after the oil and mining industries to the exclusion of the people it claims to represent- the farming community and the people who live in rural Australia.
The decision by the Government to increase the price of crude oil does not come as part of a total energy package to promote a more rational use of resources; nor does it come in the presence of a secondary taxing structure, as recommended by the Industries Assistance Commission. The new pricing policy contravenes both the letter and the spirit of the IAC report on crude oil pricing. Perhaps I should read directly from page 3 of that report. The bottom paragraph reads:
However, the emergence of very large additional profits from crude oil production will require the Government to consider the adequacy of existing royalty arrangements, which were negotiated before the recent rapid increase in the world price of oil.
The Australian taxpayer and consumer is entitled to more than a promise of a resource tax to syphon off the excess profits of Esso-BHP and other producers. Even after company tax is ap- 1)lied to these new revenues, a net windfall of at east $80m will accrue to the various producers. Yet in the statement of the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) there was not one solitary commitment to the effect that the companies would step up their exploration activities in return for the receipt of these moneys. It was an absolutely no-strings-attached gift. How can the price elasticity argument for a more rational use of resources possibly apply if no thought is given to alternative fuels or alternative methods of transport?
This kind of measure cannot be supported when it is introduced in such isolation. While over time an increase in oil prices to world parity should encourage a more rational use of this scarce resource, that is unlikely to happen if there is no complementary planning in terms of the availability of alternative fuels. The clear losers in this charade are the Australian consumers, the motorists, the rural townspeople and the farmers. The Government has paid no heed to the detrimental impact of this decision on inflation, and the continuing inflation rate of around 10 per cent is likely to be aggravated by this factor. Persistent inflation has added greatly to farming costs, so much so that rural incomes have declined by 40 per cent in the last 3 years. Even official government statistics indicate that the expectations for inflation over the next 12 months are such that inflation will remain at the present high level thus cutting the heart out of any real increase in the earnings or living standards of Australia’s rural community. One wonders how the National Country Party can have the gall to describe itself as a party representing country interests when its record in government has been so poor. For example, let us consider the Government’s recent tax changes as they apply to income averaging for farmers. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) made it clear recently when he said: i
The tax under the averaging provisions applicable between $3,75 1 and $16,000 will be calculated at the standard rate of 32 percent.
In other words it will be 32c in the dollar. Previously a farmer could earn over $17,000 in a year before his income attracted 32c in the dollar tax, and even then averaging applied only to $16,000. Under the new taxation arrangements an average rate of taxation of 32c in the dollar is reached just above $22,000. This has spelt the death knell for the taxation averaging system. The Government again is breaking a commitment to farmers. The decision relating to normal company tax affects farmers dramatically. Company tax has been increased from 42.5c in the dollar to 46c in the dollar. Some say that this is a 3 per cent increase but a 3c increase on 42.5c is in fact an 814 per cent increase. A lot of farmers enjoy the benefits of incorporation. They do not transact their business as individuals because they are protected in some respects by incorporation. They will be penalised severely by this rapid increase in company taxation.
In two specific measures unrelated to the oil pricing policy the Government increased the excise on diesel fuel and petrol- that is, the normal excise or taxation arrangements which the Commonwealth uses on an indirect basis to increase its revenue- by a quarter of lc per litre on diesel fuel and by one-eighth of lc per litre in the case of petrol. This is over 1.5c per gallon on these commodities. It will have an effect on the price of commodities going to people living in the country and will mean an increased fuel input in the cost of production. Because costs have been so crippling in the last few years with inflation remaining the way it has, it is the cost inputs in agricultural production which have reduced real farm income so dramatically. So we have seen the crude oil price decision- a handout to Esso-BHP- and an increase in excise both unrelated to any broad energy policy.
There has been an increase in company tax from 42.5 per cent to 46 per cent at a time when the Government is trying to encourage investment :.n manufacturing and more activity in rural Australia. Yet the Government is pulling the rug from under its tax averaging arrangements for farmers which it so proudly introduced the year before. This is the shabby record of the Liberal and National Country parties in government. So much for their criticism of the former Labor Government’s valiant attempts to change the face of rural Australia and to do positive things about the major commodities such as wool, dairy products and wheat by the various measures which were enacted during its period of office. This Government has failed dismally to do anything for the rural community. The Minister for Primary Industry says that we are joking but he is a Minister who says anything anywhere. He is all things to all men. If he is talking to the peanut farmers in Kingaroy he will tell them one story and if he is talking to the woolgrowers in Goulburn he will tell them a different story. In fact, he sits in on Cabinet discussions. He is one of the senior Ministers of the Cabinet. He is the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party of Australia, the junior coalition partner. He was party to the dismantling of the tax averaging scheme but was not able to give a satisfactory explanation when quizzed about the matter by the Opposition a couple of days after the Budget was introduced.
The point is this: A major element of these increases is the price of fuel. That is a home town decision for Australian producers. It is out of context when compared with the kinds of provisions entered into by the Industries Assistance Commission. It is a decision unrelated to the cost of production. It is an increment to profits over an already highly established profit level. In fact, the profits from the Bass Strait field subsidise the whole of the operations of the Broken Hill Pty group. I ask honourable members to read of the handsome returns for the Esso company. There can be no clear case, particularly without a commitment on behalf of the companies to the Government that they will spend these additional funds on exploration. There is not one solitary commitment that a dollar of this extra revenue will go to exploration. Instead of introducing this decision as it is, perhaps the Government- seeing that it has had a year to consider the LAC report- could have introduced the matter in the presence of a secondary taxing structure. While the company tax system takes some of the increase back, it leaves those producers with $80m a year. There is no additional cost. It is just an additional profit because the cost of production is covered by the $2.33 a barrel which the producers are presently being paid. Of course, this increase in price will increase over time. The amounts of crude oil production which will apply at import parity will grow over time in accordance with the Government’s policy. It is now incumbent on the Government to make sure that there is a taxing system which takes the benefits back to the people so that people in rural Australia and all Australian consumers can get some benefit from these windfall gains which will go to these huge companies which the Country Party insists on looking after.
I conclude on this point: After a lot of promises in opposition, after a lot of huffing and puffing, finally we have seen virtually nothing from the Government in terms of rural legislation which will assist rural Australia. In fact, there have been detrimental measures which have added significantly to the cost of production and which will reduce real farm incomes. The Government, with 11 farmers in the Cabinet, has let down rural producers dramatically and has sold out the people it claims to represent.
– The matters which are raised in public and in the Parliament by the Australian Labor Party are really quite extraordinary. The extent to which that party is prepared to misrepresent the facts in order to try to make a political point has perhaps never been better illustrated than in a statement which was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and issued on Saturday, 27 August. It was delivered at Bundaberg in Queensland. This shows that the Leader of the Opposition knew as much about the Budget and its contents in relation to the rural sector as he seemingly knew about so many of those other things which happened while he was Prime Minister. He stated:
The Fraser Government at a time when it was restoring the superphosphate bounty struck a heavy blow at the Queensland sugar industry by abolishing the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty.
The Leader of the Opposition does not realise that contrary to the assertion of the Labor Party when it was in government and contrary to its actions while in government, this Government has reintroduced the superphosphate bounty and it has maintained the nitrogenous bounty. Indeed, that was a specific provision within the Budget. In the short time available to me I shall lay at rest the very substance of the matter which has been raised by the Labor Party. Its allegation is that this Government has been responsible for actions substantially increasing farm operating costs. If we have a look at a Bureau of Agricultural Economics index of prices paid for farm inputs we see that over the years while Labor was in office generally there was a movement of farm price indices significantly above the consumer price indices. However, during the days we have been in office the farm price index has moved below the consumer price index. Let us have a look at a few figures. In 1970-7 1 the farm price index was 4 per cent and the consumer price index was 4.8 per cent. In 1 97 1 -72 the farm price index was 5.6 per cent while the consumer price index was 6.8 per cent. As soon as Labor came into office the increase in the consumer price index rose to six per cent and the increase in the farm price index rose to eight per cent. After the introduction of all those diabolic, Coombsinspired measures in the first Labor Budget, in 1973-74 the increase in the consumer price index was 12.9 per cent. This was double the figure for the year before. The increase in the farm price index was 15.5 per cent. In the following year, thanks to the magnificent innovations of Labor, the increase in the consumer price index was 1 6.7 per cent and the increase in the farm price index was 30.3 per cent. In 1975-76, following the Hayden Budget, the increase in the consumer price index was 13 per cent and the increase in the farm price index was 17.2 per cent. Since the Liberal-National Country Party Government returned to office, the increase in the consumer price index in 1976-77 was 13.8 per cent, even including the Medibank component, and the increase in the farm price index was 11.9 per cent- less than the consumer price index figure. The projected increase in the farm price index for this year represents a reduction to below 10 per cent, namely 9.9 per cent.
On the very substance of the allegation, the assertion of the Opposition just is not true. Unfortunately, during the years of the Labor Government it seemed to believe that markets were assured and that things were great in the bush. It removed progressively every form of principal stimulus to productivity, endeavour and reasonable returns in the bush that had been introduced by successive Liberal-Country Party governments. Since the return of this Government we have endeavoured progressively to restore and stimulate the rural sector to a position of equality in the community.
I was fascinated to hear the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) comment on the wool industry. How near the Labor Government went to destroying the whole capacity of the Australian Wool Corporation to maintain a wool reserve price scheme. Inspired by the Treasury- I am not sure which of the three successive Treasurers was in that office at the time; I think it was the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden)- the principle was to reduce the minimal reserve price from 250c a kilo to 200c a kilo. The whole substance of Labor’s plan was to ensure that there should be no significant continuing support for the rural sector. The then Prime Minister and the successive Treasurers laid down that they did not believe that people in the country should be assisted. Progressively they withdrew support. Let no individual in Australia be misled into thinking that they have changed their tune.
The Leader of the Opposition has been singing and dancing up and down the east coast of Australia. What has he been doing? He has been misleading people by suggesting in some way that this Government has not been helping the rural producer. Those assertions are totally false. Unfortunately, in the 10 minutes available to me I cannot run through the whole list of initiatives that the Government has taken in the rural sector, I intend to table a copy because I think it is necessary that people understand these initiatives. Even areas in this Budget have been totally mistaken. The first is the extent to which the personal income tax change will assist farmers directly or indirectly. The Opposition fails to understand even the provisions of the averaging system. The Government has said that when the legislation to implement the tax changes is introduced into this House the scales of tax as they apply to farmers will ensure that in no year in which a farmer has income less than $3,750 will he pay any tax, and that he will pay no more tax than an ordinary taxpayer receiving the same income as he receives when his income is averaged over a 5-year period.
The personal income tax change will also indirectly benefit the rural sector. Henceforth it will be possible to engage those casual employees who obviously, at shearing time, in the canefields and in fruit picking, all form a necessary part of the farmer’s labour input. Unfortunately, thanks to the Hayden tax scale, under which income tax averaging cost the farmers an additional $40m to $50m a year, there was no capacity for the farmer to use casual employees in that way. Labor’s plan was to remove progressively every form of assistance given to the rural sector. There is no indication in the proposals Labor has advanced in talking on this year’s Budget or in its comments on the rural sector that it has yet learnt its lesson. The only matters of any substance put forward today were, firstly, the suggestion that there has been a change in the structure of the crude oil pricing policy which Labor spokesmen say will affect the farmers and, secondly, that there is nothing in the Budget for the farmers.
Let me look at both of those matters. First, I refer to crude oil pricing. The tragedy of the crude oil record in Australia is that during the three years of Labor exploration on-shore and off-shore virtually ran away to nothing which meant we were in an increasingly tight supply position. There is no group in the community more dependent on the availability of crude oil supplies than the farmers. It is quite essential that there be an adequate return again to stimulate exploration and to stimulate the development of oil fields.
The changes we have introduced are designed to provide an incentive to those who are at the moment either exploring or about to explore or who have crude oil resources. These resources will be developed or explored so that we will be in a position to maintain the availability of crude oil to the whole of the Australian community. Labor when in office increased crude oil excise. Where did the profit go? It went into the Federal exchequer. Labor did not spend money to try to stimulate exploration; it spent it to try to destroy initiatives that were there for further crude oil exploration. Members of the Labor Party have spoken about equalisation. I hope that when we advance schemes to provide some form of price equity around Australia we will get the support of the Labor Party. I hope members of the Labor Party realise that their party has at no stage introduced such a program and that it was their Government that removed it. What we have said is that we seek to minimise the cost of energy to the Australian people. We seek to maximise exploration and to ensure the availability of crude oil to Australia is such that everybody “i the Australian community will be able to continue to rely to the maximum on a crude oil resource that is not going to have its price level determined by a variant set by a group of oil exploring countries at prices which caused all the consequences of the 1973 impact of the then Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries group, the problems in Japan, Europe, the United States of America and so on.
In responsibly looking at the crude oil supply position, our program is designed to encourage exploration, to encourage development and to encourage local supply. Even with these changes, the price of Australian crude oil is still equivalent to or below prices in every other major competing western country with the exception of the United States of America. Our crude oil prices are approximately those in Canada and significantly below those, for example, in New Zealand and Europe.
I think it is important to realise that there are many farmers in Australia who are worried about the future. Perhaps I could mention the program that has been introduced. I instance income equalisation deposits, the indexation of personal income tax, changes in estate duty, the benefits of devaluation and the investment allowance, the private company profit distribution, valuation of trading stock, the family allowance, changes in pension benefits and indexation, unemployment benefits for farmers and funds to local government authorities which increased as honourable members will recall from $60m to $140m. I also mention the additional $lm for rural roads to offset the disadvantage generated by the Labor Party. I instance also the extension of free telephone installation in country areas, removed by the Australian Labor Party, for a distance of 12 kilometres instead of 8 kilometres. Mention should be made of the $65m which the Commonwealth Government made available last year in respect of drought, flood and bush fire. I also mention the term loan and farm development loan funds. In June 1976 we increased those funds by $ 1 59m- $ 106m to the term loan fund and $53m to the farm development loan fund. We will introduce legislation to implement the National Rural Bank within the next six weeks in accordance with the Budget declaration. The rural adjustment scheme provided funds not just to help farmers off the land as Labor wants but to help them stay on the land.
The provision of carry-on loans has been made to those who are disadvantaged financially. Funds are provided at low interest rates unlike what happened when Labor was in office and offered help to the cattle industry at a penal interest rate that was impossible for any cattle man to bear. We have provided finance through carry-on loans at 4 per cent interest on the advance that is provided by the States. Loans are provided at a nil interest rate by the Federal Government. We have provided the greatest allocation ever in respect of rural research. This is also the case with respect to the Australian extension service grant scheme. Special research has received a significant allocation in the Budget. We are still committed to the introduction of a young farmer establishment scheme which, when the rural bank is implemented, we will be able further to develop. I also mention fruit growing reconstruction. Fruit growing reconstruction has been provided and extended so that trees removed under the scheme have now enabled many fruit growers who are in a financially disadvantaged position to continue. We have provided fruit stabilisation assistance so that fruit growers in Tasmania, for example, have been able this year to get a far better return than otherwise would have been possible. We have completely reversed Labor decisions in relation to fertilisers. The superphosphate bounty has been maintained; the nitrogenous fertiliser bounty is there and will continue throughout the whole of 1978 at the same level as through 1977.
In the wool industry we have provided significant assistance in lifting the wool average floor price plan. Quite contrary to Labor’s policy, we have given stability in this respect for two years ahead. In the beef industry this year, although there are still major problems the Government is committed to providing further assistance. We have provided already, we are providing this year and we will provide, in quantitative terms, more financial aid than has been provided at any other time. We have provided funds not just to help people out of the beef industry, but to carry on. We have provided funds to accelerate the tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication campaign. We have eliminated the Labor imposed meat export inspection charge. This year that is costing the taxpayer $25m. The Labor Government was imposing that cost on cattlemen. Again, this represents funds made available to offset the problems caused by Labor. We have reconstituted the Australian Meat Board. On Friday next the producers’ consultative group will have their first meeting. On 1 October the new Australian Meat and Live-stock Corporation will commence operation. Carcass classification has been accelerated. We have said that we hope it can be introduced at an early date. The Federal Government is doing everything it can to ensure that there is a practical, objective scheme- the first in the world.
In relation to wheat, we have lifted the first advance. In dairying we have introduced new marketing arrangements. We have provided underwriting assistance for the dairy industry. We have increased the domestic price of sugar to help the sugar industry. We have provided loans for the canned fruit industry. We have provided grants for wine research in the wine and brandy industry. We have increased tariffs to help the citrus industry. We have moved in relation to fisheries to ensure that the investment allowance and additional research funds are available. We have made available loans of up to $6m for the
States’ extension of the forestry program in the softwood planning objectives this year.
Much has been done, but we do not rest on our laurels. Let no farmer in Australia believe that the people in the Labor Party have changed their tune or their colour. Not then, today, or for the future has the Labor Party demonstrated any sympathy for farmers as a productive sector of this community. I completely reject the terms in which this matter of public importance has been raised for debate.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-The National Country Party sells its favours like a political street walker: it sells them to the highest bidder. That, of course, rules out the Australian farm industry today in the depressed condition in which it now languishes. It means that the National Country Party has become the captive of the mineral industry of this country. The fact is that the Government has failed this nation’s farm industry at a time of great need. At a time of one of the most severe recessions for the beef industry that industry is totally unattended by the Government. Sugar prices are accelerating. The tobacco industry is in a severe recession. The dairy industry is as depressed and as poverty- ridden as ever, especially in the electorate of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony). The outlook for the grain industry is not good. Yet none of these things has been attended to in this year’s Budget. In fact, this Budget inflicts a savage body blow on a badly bruised and battered farm industry. Concessions and sympathy for the wealthy mineral industry interests contrast with the bleak fare offered to the farm industry. The Government seems to forget that in spite of its El Dorado preoccupation with the mineral industry, our traditional farm industries earn more export income collectively than do our mineral industries.
This Government is going to preside over a situation this year in which real per farm income is going to slump by 14 per cent. Farm costs are going to increase more quickly and by a greater amount than last year. The farm industry in important areas of Australia is caught in the toils of an extended and severe drought. Yet not one of these problems has been addressed in the recent Budget. In fact, there is no relief for the farmer in the Budget, just the prolongation of severe recession- a depressing outlook for the farm industry, which has been the backbone of the National Country Party, which has carried that Party for so long and which is being meretriciously used by a political organisation that turned itself into the political courtesan of the Australian political scene.
Let us look at some of these industries. Let us look at the depressed state of the beef industry. Beef producers are reeling under one of the most severe and sustained crises that the industry has ever seen. Forty per cent of Australian beef producers would continue to have an income of less than $5,000 a year even if the price of beef doubled; 7,000 of those beef producers would continue to have a negative income even if the price of beef doubled. They are the people who have a debt burden on average of about $30,000 per farm. They have no hope of acquitting the debt and certainly no hope of servicing it. The Budget makes no mention of the grave problems of these people. The Budget gives no consideration to their request for a guaranteed floor price or beef classification. The Budget certainly pays no attention to the obvious need for a structural adjustment assistance program in this industry.
I refer now to the tobacco industry. In spite of the fact that the tobacco manufacturers m this country are enjoying enormously handsome profits, the producers are suffering a depression. They are concerned that such a substantial amount of imported tobacco comes from South Korea, a country which, because’ of climatic conditions, is totally incapable of producing tobacco itself. There is a very strong suspicion among tobacco producers in Australia that a substantial proportion of the tobacco coming to Australia from South Korea emanates from Rhodesia. South Korea, they believe firmly- whether correctly or not, I am not qualified to say- is the transit point to give respectability to a thoroughly disreputable trade on the part of Rhodesia, a trade which is prohibited by international agreements. The Government ought to investigate that cause of complaint. It ought to investigate the serious complaint raised by tobacco producers that although the number of cigarettes in a packet of cigarettes has not been reduced the total weight of tobacco in a packet of cigarettes has been reduced considerably. This is one way to reduce by weight consumption of tobacco in the community. The people who are suffering are the tobacco producers of Australia.
Water conservation projects have been suspended. The national Government has made it clear that it is no longer committed to financing in co-operation with the States, as we were, the development of existing water conservation programs, let alone new ones. The Monduran Dam outside Bundaberg languishes for want of less than $4m from the national Government to allow major channel reticulation works to be completed so that the full development can be completed. That is an important irrigation program for the sugar areas of the Bundaberg district. The Julius Dam near Mount Isa is beyond the financial resources of the local shire council. We were prepared to fund one-third of the cost, with the other two-thirds being shared equally between the Mount Isa local authority and the State Government. This Government refuses to do anything. The Burdekin River Dam has been ignored totally by the Government. Not only are the irrigation farm areas to be serviced by that dam project deprived of any encouragement for the future as a result, but the development of Townsville will be brought to a dead halt in the 1980s.
I turn now to roads. Expenditure on roads, the very lifeblood of the rural areas, has been slashed back in real terms. The worst highways in Australia are servicing rural areas. If one goes to north Queensland one travels on some of the worst roads in Australia which masquerade as part of the National Highway No. 1 network. If this Government spent as much in real comparative terms on roads as the last Labor Budget provided for that purpose it would be spending $77m more than it has actually allocated.
Take the tax averaging arrangements. They are a particularly severe blow to primary industry, as my colleague the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) pointed out. Many more farmers will pay a lot more tax as a result of the Government’s so-called benefits which were supposed to disadvantage no one. Most people will be disadvantaged in some way or other as a result of these changes. How else could we have a situation in which incomes on average will rise by only 10 and a half per cent but total tax collections will rise by 17 per cent? A substantial part of the rip-off will be at the expense of a very large number of farmers.
The most iniquitous aspect of the whole Budget approach, with all of its neglect of rural industry, concerns the petrol price increase imposed by government fear. It will mean that petrol will cost Ilea gallon more. All primary producers will be disadvantaged as a result of this cost increase. As a result of this decision to introduce world parity prices, the substantial increases in farm costs predicted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics will have to be reforecast at a higher rate and at a faster rate. I cannot disagree with the principle in terms of a scarce resource, but I strongly oppose its introduction at this time for the same reason as I strongly opposed the introduction of the Medibank levy last year, because it will aggravate inflation in exactly the same way. It will prolong the inflationary problems of the country.
I oppose it on other grounds too. It will mean an enormous windfall gain for a very wealthy organisation in this country- Esso-BHP. It will represent about $109m additional revenue for Esso-BHP. As a result of the change, for that proportion of crude oil produced in Australia the price will now be $ 1 3 a barrel. The Government will receive $3 out of it and the oil companies will receive $ 10. That is not a bad windfall gain compared with the present situation in which the companies only receive $2.33 for Bass Stait oil and $2.88 for Barrow Island oil. In Saudi Arabia the price of a barrel of oil at the refinery is $ 10.35 and, according to one source, the Government receives $9.95. The Saudi Arabian companies receive only 40c a barrel. I can accept the force of the argument that in a country such as Australia, because of the high risk factor, for exploration to be undertaken, there has to be a greater return for explorers than is necessary in proven oil rich countries. But there is a vast difference between providing 40c a barrel for producing companies in Saudi Arabia and providing $10 a barrel in Australia. As the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) points out, there has to be a secondary tax. There has to be a redistribution within the community for the benefit of the community. Some of it ought to be going to the farm industry and a great deal of it ought to be going into research and development in respect of alternative energy sources.
Let us look at another way in which the mineral industry is being favoured. The coal exporting companies have received a substantial reduction in the export levy this year, following a similar reduction last year. There has been a windfall gain of more than $50m to particularly wealthy organisations in two years. The Utah Development Company made $137m clear profitafter tax, after all costs- last year. It will make more this year. The farmers are being ripped off for the benefit of the mineral interests that have now bought the National Country Party-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I completely refute the words of the honourable member for Oxley- I am confused as to whether he is Mr Hurdon or Mr Hayford- one of the fiscal twins. The House now has been treated to a matter of public importance concerning the rural community from each of them. They are vying with each other even in rural matters, which I find a trifle amazing.
– Where is the shadow Minister?
– I do not know where the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) is at present, but I presume that he is not in the House today. I am glad that the honourable member asked about the honourable member for Corio, because it was during the debate which he instigated the week before last that we were told that he had been reported in the Press as having distributed to his colleagues a list of rural seats which had to be won by the Australian Labor Party if it were to regain power. Now we know the reason for these matters of public importance. It is an attempt to win power; let us not mistake it. The honourable member for Corio said that if the seats were not won Labor need think only about shadow ministries. That is just the point. He went on to say that it was his job to convince his parliamentary colleagues of the need to win these rural seats with at least as much effort as they had put into losing them.
Let us stop and think about the effort they put into losing those rural seats. We have heard today two speeches which have stressed the importance of minerals- this is understandable coming from my friend the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating)- and the price of fuel. This is really the limit of their scope as rural spokesmen and rural debaters. I cannot blame them for sticking to their speciality. But what the House and the people ought to stop and think about is: Who took petrol price equalisation away from country people? Did this Government take it away? Did the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who is sitting at the table, take it away? The Labor Party took it away, and the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who has just left the chamber, was a member of the Cabinet that took away petrol price equalisation. What does the honourable member for Oxley do? He does nothing. He walks out of the House because he does not want to hear the news. Time and again during the sojourn of the Labor Party, and using the words used by the honourable member for Corio in that Press release, it set about losing rural seats as best it could. Now because the Labor Party has realised that it cannot gain government unless it wins some rural seats, we have the spectacle of the fiscal twins, Hayden and Hurford, or Hurford and Haydenwhichever way around they are- vying for position and trying to win back what popularity they can.
The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) mentioned a little while ago an error of fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) put up once again, this time in Queensland. I have just been informed that the previous speaker in this debate, the honourable member for Oxley, as with him in Queensland and that is the honourable member for Oxley ‘s home State. They were looking at the rural areas there. In a Press release the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Oxley said that the Fraser Government, at the time that it was restoring the superphosphate bounty, struck a heavy blow at the Queensland sugar industry by abolishing nitrogenous fertiliser. That is incorrect. All I can say is that I wish the Opposition luck. It is not going to win rural seats because rural people are pretty well informed. Members of the Opposition are going around the place making statements that are not true. That statement I mentioned was not true. This Budget stopped the final phasing out of the subsidies on nitrogenous fertilisers. Nitrogenous fertilisers are being subsidised in the home State of the honourable member for Oxley. They are being subsidised in South Australia in my electorate for the benefit of fruit growers there. I am sorry that I do not have enough time to read the statement by the Labor Minister for Agriculture, Mr Chatterton, in which he pointed out that it is meaningless whether this subsidy is kept on or not. That is what the Labor Minister for Agriculture said in my own State.
Are we going to hear what the Labor Party believes in or not? I suggest that honourable members, to use the vulgar vernacular, try this for size: In South Australia just prior to Christmas the Premier of that Labor-held State produced a form of agreement between Riverlands Product Company and the South Australian State Industries Assistance Commission. It was produced then for a variety of reasons which I will not go into at this stage. Just before Christmas all growers were in a hostage position. They were all poverty stricken and wanted the disbursement of further funds. Through this agreement the South Australian Government was to make $272,000 available to that co-operative company for disbursement. I will not go into the technical reasons now. The agreement contained many clauses that were open to question but I want to refer to one of them today because it shows what can happen once the Labor Party gets its commune concept into rural industry.
The clause I refer to would not specify how many new board members should be appointed by the State LAC to control that co-operative.
The number was not specified. It did not take much imagination to see that it was possible for control of that co-operative to be taken over for $272,000. There was $1.8m of growers’ funds in reserve just for a start. I am not saying that that was necessarily the intention but that is what happens when incompetent people stick their fingers into the problems of rural areas about which they know nothing. There was that possibility. I was very glad that I was there to point this out to the board at the time. There was a possibility that complete control of the growers’ co-operative could have been taken over for $272,000.
Let us not run away and say that everything we have done so far for rural industries is the end of the journey. It is not. In my rural committee at the moment we have five sub-committees looking at five key areas in which we want to suggest reform to the Government. Some of these reforms will be pretty revolutionary if we can get them past the scrutiny of the financial experts later in the piece.
I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table showing the indices of total prices paid by farmers from 1970-71 onwards. I have shown it to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden).
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I want to incorporate this index once again only to support the statistical contentions a little while ago of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and to refer to the prices paid by farmers- in other words, the costs- for the five years from 1970-71 onwards. The Australian average during that period increased from an index of 133 to 252. There are two Labor States which are relevant in this regard.
New South Wales is hardly relevant yet but I expect that its record will mirror that of the other two Labor States eventually. The South Australian index starts at 133, which is equal to the Australian average. In five short years it increased to 263, the highest index of cost inputs for rural producers of any State in Australia.
– Which State was this?
-South Australia. The only other State which is relevant, because the Labor Government has been in charge for a little while, is Tasmania. The Tasmanian index starts behind the Australian average of 133; it begins at 131 but is now 259.
– Both Labor States.
-Both Labor States. Only one State, Western Australia, comes between them in relation to the present level reached, although the trend of cost increases, as will be apparent to anyone who reads Hansard, shows those two States to be the worst in the country. The utter tragedy in Tasmania, of course, is that the average price received is very nearly 25 per cent below prices received by farmers in other States of the Commonwealth. So that factor is coupled not only with the high cost situation but also with clearly the lowest prices received in any State.
I conclude by saying that this has been a futile exhibition by the Opposition today to dare to bring on for debate this sort of issue. For a party which destroyed section after section of rural industry and then told them that they had never had it so good, takes some swallowing by me and by members of my electorate in South Australia. I leave my remarks at that.
-The discussion has now concluded.
– Notice has been received from the honourable member for Holt withdrawing notice No. 27 under General Business relating to the recommendations of the Distribution Commissioners concerning the Federal boundary revisions.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from 25 August, on motion by Mr Lynch:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Let me begin by congratulating the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) on the Budget that he has brought down. As usual we have heard in the debate thus far, and will continue to hear during the course of the debate no doubt, a barrage against the Budget from the Opposition. No constructive Budget is ever popular. Yet, judged against the economic conditions which exist, this Budget is less restrictive than the nation expected. This afternoon we heard a couple of Budget speeches made during the course of the debate on a matter of public importance. The speeches conformed to Standing Orders but certainly the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) took the opportunity to deliver his speech on the Budget. It was so full of inaccuracies that one wonders how, as a front bench member of the Opposition and having occupied the office of Treasurer so recently, he can honestly espouse the kind of approach that he makes on the important matters to which he referred.
Economic writers and Press tipsters painted a gloomy picture in the weeks leading up to the presentation of the Budget. I am sure that the Opposition is disappointed that the Budget has been so successful. It is resorting to making statements which are totally inaccurate, to giving misleading information to the House and generally to trying to deceive the public about the real import of the Budget. There is nothing else it can do. It can find no real way to oppose the principles and drive of the Budget. The Opposition sees the Budget as an opportunity to cash in on the nation’s problems for political gain. Again it has been proved wrong. The Budget presented by the honourable member for Oxley changed the tax scales and drastically altered the provisions of the tax laws and in the process robbed members of the farming community of no less than $50m. He hit them below the belt at a time when they could not afford to be hit below the belt. But did he admit that this afternoon? Not at all. He will never admit that he is wrong.
The Budget is less restrictive than the nation expected. It is all too easy for people to forget what happened and what was happening under the Labor Administration. We were heading then for complete economic disaster and the aftermath of Labor’s irresponsible mismanagement is still with us to a very significant degree. The inflation and the unemployment flowing from that inflation and from bad Labor decisions remain with us as serious problems- problems which demand the strenuous efforts of this Government and everyone else if they are to be solved on a lasting basis. The sluggishness in industry remains as a hangover from the pounding that industry suffered under Labor. The rural sector continues to feel the effects of discriminatory Labor attacks which added to farmers’ basic difficulties. Labor extravagances have made it harder for the present Government to redress the situation.
Since this session began there have been contributions in this House by a number of honourable members who are very close to the rural scene and who understand the effects of the Budget and of the economic difficulties which the nation faces and which are a particular handicap for the rural producer. I refer particularly to the contribution made a few days ago by the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige). He outlined very clearly what Labor had done and the effect of its actions on rural industries. They had disastrous consequences. For me to repeat his comments again would be tedious and unnecessary because those effects are all too clear and all too well known.
For the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) in the last couple of days to be stumping Queensland and pretending that he is now the saviour of primary industry, when he presided over the tragedy that happened to primary industry, is very shabby. We do not hear constructive proposals from the Opposition, but constructive proposals certainly are under consideration by this Government. Many people will ask why action has not been taken and why this or that has not been done. It is not a simple matter to take effective action. The honourable member for Oxley might remember that he changed the tax scales. He pretended that he was going to help those in the lower income bracket, but all he did was hurt them and hurt them badly. We will not take actions of that kind. We will see that the actions that are taken are effective. But beyond all these things, and far more fundamentally, a significant change occurred in some of our basic attitudes, standards, values, traditions and in the free enterprise system which has been the foundation of our growth and prosperity, particularly rural growth and prosperity.
No one denies that a change for the better is good. But quite clearly, when change is not for the better there is real cause for concern. Change was occurring so rapidly under the Australian Labor Party Government that it was difficult for many people fully to comprehend the nature, speed and extent of that change. Whilst essential spending is being maintained by the present Government, a policy of firm restraint is being pursued. The handout mentality had to come to an end. There was no way that this situation could continue as it had for the three years under Labor. This year’s estimated increase of about 10.5 per cent is the level that is required if we are to see a worthwhile improvement in growth. On the other hand, we have to ensure that we do not have the rapid inflationary growth of the kind which occurred from 1973 to 1975, reaching in excess of 23 per cent. Of course, this was the tragedy of the effect of the policies of the previous Government.
A cut in spending has been necessary but within these constraints we have been able to meet the necessary increases. For example, expenditure on social welfare is up 12.7 per cent. There is full indexation of pensions and the benefits which flow from them. There has been a 33 per cent increase in special assistance for handicapped people, increased assistance for Aboriginals and increased provision for aged persons accommodation and for children’s services. Yet we have heard the cry that the Government is cutting expenditure in so many fields. Notable in this cry has been the claim that there has been a drastic cut in education. Yet spending in this field is up 9.8 per cent. The provision might be modest as against what one could do in a buoyant economy. Nevertheless it is realistic and effective. It is getting the results which are required in the field of education at all levels. Let us not forget that student allowances were increased after being frozen by the previous Government. Health spending is up 10 per cent. Employment training programs are so vital in this period of difficulty with unemployment at such a high level and expenditure in this area is up 33 per cent to a total of no less than $ 102m.
Assistance to the States which contribute so much in the administration of the services essential in welfare, education, health, employment and all the rest of it, has increased by 14 per cent. Under the special provisions of the new system of federalism which this Government has introduced we find local government getting an overall increase of 18 per cent in the present Budget. Should these increases be seriously attacked in the way in which they were attacked this afternoon? Of course they should not. We heard the honourable member for Oxley say that funds for roads had been cut. Then he went on to say that if the level of expenditure which had been in existence a few years ago had been carried through at some fictitious figure of real terms -as he calls it- then there would be more money for roads. But he seems to forget that overspending is the reason for the restraint necessary in this Budget. That overspending created a deficit of $4,000m in the national coffers. It is the responsibility and duty of this Government to reduce that deficit. That reduction is taking place. The Budget estimate for the deficit at the end of this financial year is down to $2,300m, if my memory serves me correctly. This is the contribution which is so necessary in order to fight inflation. Without it the cost factors will continue to plague the economic structure of this country. The monetary policy which we are following is absolutely essential. The reduction of the Budget deficit will lighten the burden on monetary policy. We are thus a step closer to a substantial lowering of interest rates and the easing of restrictions on bank lending during 1977-78. Banks and other financial institutions will be encouraged to increase lending for private home building, particularly in those States and areas where the capacity of the building industry is under-utilised.
There, again, is a positive contribution to the task of helping to hold employment and to get unemployment down. But wild spending, in other words the use of funds which are not available from the taxpayer on elaborate projects which require a lot of cash in excess of labour alone would only add to the overall deficit. Let us remember Labor’s experiment in that field under what was known as the Regional Employment Development scheme which it suspended and cancelled before the change of government. Labor found that it did not work and it was too costly. It was not able to put up any alternative. Yet Labor supporters will criticise us for not implementing grandiose schemes merely to create employment. Of course, that is typical of those who espouse the Keynesian system of finance. God help us if they ever have the chance to experiment again as they did from 1973 to 1975.
The Government remains concerned about the plight of primary industry. All sectors of Australia’s rural industry, particularly the beef cattle producers, continue to fight against the cost rises to which I have referred which are the direct consequence of inflation. The Government will continue to introduce practical measures to help restore profitability to the cattle industry. Irresponsible speculation on any particular scheme can do nothing but harm. The Government has said that it will take effective action. I am confident that over the next few days or weeks we will see precisely what are the consequences of the work being done by the Government in this direction.
I make one passing reference to the effect of costs on primary industry. A schedule of the trend in wages under the Federal Meat Industry Interim Award shows a 70 per cent increase from January 1974 to March 1977. The 70 per cent increase flows right through each category of the industry such as slaughtermen and those employees essential in the various abattoir operations. This is ludicrous when we compare the employees ‘ position with that of the producers of the stock which they are handling. Yet there is no way in which the producer can claim a higher return. It is a matter of responsibility upon the shoulders of the Government to take action to help in that regard. As I said, a responsible approach is being made. I hope that it will be matched by a responsible attitude on the part of the community to see that militancy and the use of pressure to gain higher wages do not offset any of the necessary approaches to try to restore viability to primary industry.
There are still those Jeremiahs in the community who say that the Government ‘s approach is not necessary. If they are asked why it is not necessary they say: ‘The deficit does not matter; it is just a figure on paper. You can raise the money by borrowing it or printing it’. They immediately deny that the 23 per cent level of inflation caused by those very procedures is the reason for the economic dilemma that industries of the sort to which I have referred are in today. In this respect the Budget is a good Budget. Criticism of it on a sectional basis in respect of matters concerning specific industries are not justified. For example, there is a criticism that there was no allocation for the introduction of classification of meat in Australia. Have we forgotten that the work thus far carried out, including the initial experimental work which is absolutely essential before full implementation on every meat chain is possible, has been financed by the Government? Let us remember that this sort of thing is the responsibility of the Government in terms of actions not specifically tied into the Budget. There is no reluctance on the part of the Government to play its part, along with the industry, in seeing that objective classification is introduced speedily for the benefit of the cattle industry, and along with it a range of other effective measures.
In the course of the short debate thus far there has been reference to Government policy in terms of its approach to overseas marketing. I want to point out very clearly that the difficulties and disabilities which confront this country in the marketing field are by no means simple of resolution. Also, there has been no lack of effort to try to deal effectively with these essential matters. Let us compare that effort with the actions of the previous Government in respect of trade negotiations. A whole retinue of Ministers, one after the other, went, and then huge contingents were sent, to Tokyo, the Middle East and almost all the ports of the world. This action was aimed at one thing- to try to bridge the financial mess that this country had got into. We heard some reference to this in the House earlier this afternoon.
The previous Government, despite its tenacious efforts, did not make one effective announcement about improving our returns in the primary industry sector, the mining sector or any other export sector. Yet, the present Opposition has criticised the effective approach made by this Government which in the short time since the last election has been successful in virtually doubling sales in many of these difficult areas. For example, there has been a doubling of the throughput of meat. This result has not been achieved by accident; it has been a consequence of winning new markets, some of which are not very profitable. However, at least this has drained off some of the surplus; at least it has provided a hope for an increased return from each of the markets as prices improve. Likewise, in other fields we find that the confidence that is returning to industry is sufficient for the announcement a few days ago in respect of the North West Shelf and for the announcement by many industries of expansion and a restoration of an approach to development. This is the only way we will solve the economic problems of Australia. It is the only way we will steer out of the troubled waters into which we were taken so abruptly. I urge the community to support this Government in respect of this Budget which is a responsible approach to the needs of Australia at this time.
– I regret that I have to use some of my valuable time to reply to the remarks made by the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) who is a member of the National Country Party of Australia. It is well known that the National Country Party has sold out the farmers and now represents the great mining magnates and mining companies. This Government, through a National Country Party Minister, increased the price of petrol by Ilea gallon. This has meant a transfer from the people- including farmers who have to use their cars to transport them long distances- to these large companies a profit of $ 150m. That is what the National Country Party Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) has done.
This Budget is the most class dictated document ever presented to the Australian Parliament.
Not even in the 1930s did the conservative parties use all the weapons of fiscal policy to assert the interests of their class and the power elite which supports it. Never in the history of this nation have we seen such a class leader as the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). All the signs indicate that the Prime Minister is heading for the same fate as Stanley Bruce.
In the past three years we have seen the Prime Minister manipulate the Constitution and the Parliament against his class enemies. Now he has turned all the resources of the national Budget against them. For this reason it is a mistake to look at the Budget as an exercise in economic management.
It makes sense only as part of a political strategy of the conservative elite. It is in every way a deeply disturbing and divisive document. The deeply conservative nature of the Government’s economic policy and its deeply entrenched class bias has earned it a poor reputation among the economic councils of the world. Even the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is not an overly progressive body, has found the Australian Government Ministers and their Treasury officials highly reactionary in their policies. In the eyes of the OECD and other international economic agencies Australia stands well to the right of countries such as the United States of America and West Germany.
Turning to the thrust of the Budget, there is no doubt that present level of economic activity demands a stimulus from fiscal policy. The level of unemployment in the work force is 5.4 per centthe highest since the last world Depression. Only 80 per cent of industrial capacity is being used. Gross non-farm product fell in the last half of 1976- 77. Interest rates remain high. There is total stagnation in the economy and very grave fears in the community about the economic future. This Budget will hasten the process of the community’s disillusionment with the Government’s ability to manage the economy and to generate economic activity. The Budget for 1977- 78 is another Budget the aim of which is to achieve a sharp contraction in economic activity. Its impact will be to deepen the recession.
The Budget has two basic aims- to make a massive redistribution of income to the affluent and to suppress economic recovery in the vain belief that this will control inflation. The Government will fail on both counts. It will fail because income earners will see that its tax reforms are a shoddy deception- I stress the term ‘shoddy deception’. It will fail because its fiscal policies will worsen the recession without reducing inflation.
This Budget has one over-riding theme, namely the deliberate creation of greater unemployment. This theme is stamped on every page of the Budget Papers. The Budget Papers contain a wealth of evidence to support the conclusion that unemployment will increase very sharply in 1977-78. 1 give one example of that. On page 133 of Budget Paper No. 4 in the projections for payasyouearn tax in 1977-78 it is assumed that employment will rise by 0.75 per cent. This conflicts with the accepted bench mark for the natural growth of the work force of 2 per cent. On this assumption, we can expect an unemployment level 1.25 per cent higher in 1977-78 than at present. In short, we are looking at an unemployment level of about 6.6 per cent rather than 5.4 per cent. Using this yardstick, the Government is conceding that there will be at least- I stress ‘at least’- another 70,000 people unemployed in 1977-78. Unemployment is concentrated very heavily among the young, women, migrant workers and, particularly, workers in the building and construction industry. These sectors warrant selective measures to create new jobs and to revive jobs which have been deferred or abandoned in the short term.
The measures in the Budget for youth employment are not adequate to soak up the existing level of unemployment amongst those who are under 24 years of age. The Budget puts aside $18m for a special youth employment training scheme for the coming year. The subsidy is valued at $63 a week and is payable to employers for six months. The total cost is about $1,600 a person, the total amount allocated is barely enough to reach 11,250 of this target group or one-third of those who are eligible for this proposal. Undoubtedly this scheme will leave problems of chronic unemployment among the young.
I have raised many times in this House the continued decline in the building and construction industry because of the economic policies of the Fraser Government. The rate of unemployment in the industry is higher than the national unemployment rate. More than 20,000 workers have been forced out of the industry during the 18 months that the coalition has been in power. This amounts to a 4 per cent decline in the labour force of the construction industry. It has occurred when the national labour force has increased by almost two per cent. The share of the total work force in the construction industry has fallen from 8.8 per cent at the end of 1975 to 8.2 per cent in May 1977. Estimates of the output for the total non-residential sector indicate a decline of about 4 per cent in 1976-77. The industry has been in a steady decline since the early 1970s. No industry can sustain a decline of this length without suffering grave damage to its permanent health. We are now faced with a building and construction industry which is showing the symptoms of a lasting malaise.
Commonwealth controlled funds account for two-thirds of the public non-residential construction expenditure. If we look at this Budget we find that Commonwealth controlled funds which will flow to the building and construction industry have increased by no more than 5 per cent in money terms. In real terms it implies a fall of 6 to 7 per cent. I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard a table to this effect.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. This table shows quite clearly that the Government is committed to winding down activity even further in this sector.
The second disquieting attitude of this Budget is the way it maintains the downward drift in the family living standards which the Fraser Government has encouraged. Taking into account all the actions of the Fraser-Lynch Budget of last year the standard of living of Australian families, as measured by after tax income, has fallen by 3.3 per cent in real terms. Family income would need to rise by $9 a week to restore the purchasing power of the 1 976-77 income to the level of 1975-76. The blame for this massive erosion of family living standards can be sheeted home to the present Government. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing these outstanding figures for the last two years.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The outlook for 1977-78, as presented in the Budget, is for more of the same stiff medicine. Family living standards will fall even further. It means that in 1977-78 the average Australian family will need an increase in income of more than $ 14 a week to restore its standard of living to the levels achieved in 1975-76. If the effect of the increase in petrol prices is taken into account an extra $ 1 6 a week will be needed.
I now turn to the priorities reflected in this Budget. Volumes have been spoken and written in the past couple of weeks about the Government’s tax proposals, particularly the personal income tax scheme. At long last the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has been caught out by his own waffle and by his sheer inability to say anything clearly. He deserves the criticism which has been levelled at him and heaped upon him for his sloppiness. The Treasurer’s plight should not mask the real purposes of these tax changes. They have been designed to bring about a massive redistribution among taxpayers. Again I seek leave to incorporate tables in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– Wage and salary earners are now paying 80 per cent of all income tax in Australia, with only 20 per cent coming from companies. Under the new scheme the burden of taxpayers will be redistributed in a highly regressive way. It will mean that 90 per cent of all wage and salary earners will be on the same marginal tax rate of 32c in the dollar. Furthermore, under a scheme introduced last year primary producers calculate taxable income by averaging the current and previous four years’ income. For lower income farmers the marginal rate is 27c in the dollar under the present system, and 32c under the new proposal. They can rightly claim that the alleged incentive to work harder does not apply to them.
As a means of encouraging greater productivity, greater thrift and greater activity the new system is a fraud. It is not an incentive scheme; it is a naked attempt to redistribute incomes from the lower income earners to the higher income earners. It is a scheme which has been carefully engineered to yield its maximum impact over the last 22 weeks of this financial year. During these weeks taxpayers will get a distorted impression of their actual level of savings. The crunch will not come until 1 July next year when it will emerge quite clearly that the prospect of reduced taxes was an illusion. If the Government has in mind an election next May the new tax scheme is perfectly suited to its purposes. It will give maximum benefits during the period of the election- in other words, in that period from 1 February until the end of Junebut the real bump will come on 1 July. This is one aspect of the new tax scheme which the Government has carefully avoided.
If we set these tax savings against other costs facing wage and salary earners in 1977-78 we find that all wage earners earning less than $15,000 a year will be worse off. These, of course, are the overwhelming majority of taxpayers. More than 50 per cent of all taxpayers earn less than $8,400 a year. The Fraser Government is attempting the same sort of redistribution within the company sector. There is to be an increase of 3^ per cent in company tax. The higher company tax rate hits hardest at the small businesses which cany much of the tax burden of the company sector. The Government will receive an extra $203m from the rise in the rate of company tax. Much of this extra revenue will be derived from smaller businesses. Next year the Government will give back to big business some $79 lm by maintaining two of the large tax concessions of the 1976 Budget. These are the stock valuation adjustment and the investment allowance. The Government is milking the small business sector to divert income to the big companies which are its real supporters. The small business sector cannot pass on the increase in company tax.
The redistribution of income to the big corporationsmany of them trans-nationals- appears in other Budget concessions. It gives the big coal exporters about $60m- made up of $36m last year and $24m this year. The Government’s great supporter, Utah Development Company, will receive a great deal of that money. The Government will give to the oil companies $150m, with $1 10m alone going to EssoBHP and some $48m to Wapet, which is sixsevenths owned by overseas interests. This is all part of a pattern of shifting resources to a small group of big corporations which are in turn shifting resources out of Australia.
I do not have time now to go into detail about my shadow portfolio responsibility of urban and regional development, but we know that in broad terms the area covered by the former Department of Urban and Regional Development was attacked more ruthlessly than any other Department. Overall outlays in the broadly defined urban sector have fallen by 32 per cent compared with the last Budget of the Labor Government. Two important urban and regional development programs, the national sewerage program and the area improvement programme latter program was to assist local governmenthave been abandoned completely. I will take this matter up in greater detail during discussion of the Estimates. I would like to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out the real cuts m the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development over the last two years.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– I thank the House. In summary, the current attack on the public sector is one more method adopted by this Government to increase the inequalities in our society. The public sector in being eroded even further in this Budget. At the same time there has been a massive shift of income from the small income earners, small businesses and rural sector to a handful of high income earners and big corporations. It is a Budget for the wealthy and for the wealthy foreign corporations. Above all, it is a Budget that goes a long way towards achieving the Government’s ultimate aim- to transform the annual Budget from a tool of economic management into a weapon that can be used in the interests of the class that the Fraser Government represents.
I want to conclude by stressing what I said last year in my speech in the Budget debate. I said then that the Fraser Government never takes the blame for any of its mistakes. It has to have scapegoats. Last year the scapegoat was the trade union movement. This year this Government is ruthlessly and aggressively exploiting its ruling position to change material relations in our society. Australians are used to relative prosperity. Changes of the present kind, which involve massive falls in the living standards of most of our people, have never happened so fast before. The people will not allow this to happen this time. The Government must expect them to defend their rights in every way. If the Fraser
Government persists in its attitude it will do irreparable damage to the social fabric of the Australian community. I urge this Government to pull back at this time and to come to a better understanding of the people who really need assistance from this Government. The speaker who is to follow me in this debate, the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon), who is a strong critic of this Government and its policies, knows the need for change and the need for stimulus. He knows the need to stimulate the public sector which in turn can assist the private sector. He has been advocating that in the quarters in which he moves. He knows that the tightness of this Government’s policies is going to create more unemployment and more inequality in our society. I ask people with decency on the Government side of the chamber to support the Labor Party’s criticism of this Budget.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, 2 1 days after listening to the Budget brought down by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) I must say, after all these years of experience, that it seems like handling cold puttydead and lifeless. I think it is a pity that we do not concentrate our efforts and our time on the Budget for a limited period until the discussions are concluded and a vote is taken in the House. The honourable member who preceded me in this debate- I have forgotten the name of his electorate and I hope that after the next election he will not be here- spoke about my desire for changes in economic policy. I have to concede that I do have that desire. But nobody could ever say that he or she wanted to change back to a government such as the Whitlam Government with all the experiments it made and its failure. That Government caused economic and financial devastation amongst the Australian people in less than three years. A return to that type of government is totally unthinkable.
Let me preface my remarks with these qualifications: I have been associated with politics for a long time. I aspired to Federal honours in 1943. I should not have said that; it rather advertises my age. Nonetheless, I came out of the Army in 1943 for the purpose of trying to gain preselection in the Division of Martin. When I very nearly had preselection my supporters said to me: ‘You will be devastatingly defeated’. My reaction was immediate I would rather go back to Atherton and the Army. And I did. Perhaps that explanation is worthwhile.
I come back to the Budget. I do not know of any Budget that has had to face as many difficulties as this present one. Therefore no matter what
I might say or what opinions I might express, I must do so with that qualification. No government has ever had such difficulties to overcome and no government has worked harder in trying to solve them. I mention also the basic problem of the wage cost structure and the difficulty that that creates for all of us. Until we can solve that problem we cannot solve any of the problems that beset us. I mention the structure of the economy itself and the consequent need, through tariff board reports, to be able to achieve a restructuring in our time which will divert assets from the less successful and efficient sections of industry to the more efficient and successful sections. I ought to say something about unemployment but regret that I cannot- certainly not at this moment.
There is one matter which I believe regrettably has been forgotten. You would know about it as much as any of us, Mr Deputy Speaker. I refer to the fact that Utile or nothing has been said in this debate about our overseas trade and other interests; the way in which our balance of payments and the inflow of money and international commodity prices are changing and the consequent effect these have on Australia. You will know, sir, particularly of the very great difficulties that it creates with regard to Australian commodity prices. I believe that something has to be said about this matter because it is a problem which is beyond our control and is usually regarded as one of the dynamics of progress. It is one of the most main dynamic forces in this country. Again, sir, with respect to you, you will know that we lived off the sheep’s back for decades, to put it metaphorically. When this source was reduced we turned to minerals. Somebody recently mentioned the imposition of a resources tax. I shudder to think what will happen if that comes into force, and how little knowledge it shows of how the Australian economy works. Associated with that we have the beggarmyneighbour policies which are now being followed in so many countries, including the United States, particularly in relation to Japan. Only recently the International Monetary Fund, when referring to what was happening in the world, said that it had never known of such trade restrictions to be inforced in so many countries at the same time and with such ill effects.
Let me return to the effects of this international problem. I refer to the balance of payments and overseas reserves situation. On 5 January our overseas reserves totalled $2,800m. If we disregard the revaluation of the price of gold, our overseas reserves today would be down to $ 1,800m, which is a perilously low level. We are now borrowing money- rightly so- from overseas in order to neutralise this problem. Let us look at the international commodity prices. Copper, it fell from $864 a tonne in August 1976 to $657 a tonne in August 1977. The price of sugar went from $142 a tonne to $144 and wheat fell from $106 to $93. We know-you will know above all, Mr Deputy Speaker- that we now have to buy in wool through the Australian Wool Corporation at the rate of 30 per cent. One of the great dynamic forces of progress in this country has been the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. It is now being costed out of the market. Only this year it has recorded a loss on its steel making activities of $53m. So it has to subsidise that loss from its oil production and sales.
I turn to the Budget itself. I would like to make a comparison, first with last year’s Budget. I never tried to disguise the fact, as the House knows, that I did not think that last year’s Budget would be a success. It was predicated on the fact, firstly, that there would be an increase in gross domestic production of the order of 4 per cent. In this year’s Budget that figure has been shown to be de facto an improvement of only one per cent, which is low in anyone’s language. Let us look at this year’s Budget. The Treasurer said in his Budget Speech that as far as gross domestic non-farm production was concerned we could expect a growth rate of something like 2 per cent over last year’s figures. I believe that that is altogether too low to accept. We must do better than a 2 per cent increase in gross domestic production.
What then do I think? I have to ask: Is there sufficient stimulus in the Budget? If there is not, what should we do? It is true that there has been a reduction in personal taxation of about $406m to come into force on 1 February next year but there is a counteracting provision totalling $380m comprised of $200m from increased cororation taxation payable this financial year and 180m through indirect taxation on crude oil. So we cannot look to that area to get the stimulus we need to bring our gross domestic product up by 3 per cent. I turn then to the personal tax reforms that have been made. I believe that any tax reform should be based upon 2 principles unless there is excess demand. The first beyond any doubt is that we should see that the value of take home pay of the earner is steadily increased and the second is that we should always try to ensure that the after tax income of the income earner is steadily increased. Mr Deputy Speaker, I might say with some feeling of vanity, and I hope that Mr Speaker, your superior and mine when he is in the House, will be delighted to hear what I have to say, that the 1972-73 Budget was the only Budget which carried these two basic principles of liberalism into practice. There was a considerable increase in the value of take home pay after taxation and allowing for inflation. As to the present income tax changes I like to fiddle around with computers to see what the tax scales mean. I draw attention to the changes that have occurred from 1974-75 till 1977-78 in respect of incomes between $4,000 and $9,325. In only one income group was there a decrease in tax payable and that was in the $4,000 group when there was a 2 1.5 per cent decrease. There was no increase in tax payable on $4,600. There was an increase of 11.1 per cent on $6,000 gradually diminishing to zero on $9,325. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing these figures.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
– I am fortified in this opinion that a greater stimulus is needed, by the level of retail sales. When one looks at these statistics with the anguish and anxiety with which I look at them one has to realise that they do not indicate that we can expect a very good growth rate this year. Retail sales were down in July by 0.1 per cent, or an on-going rate of 1.2 per cent over the year. Over the year to July they were down 1 1 per cent with inflation running at 13.4 per cent when Medibank is taken into consideration. Despite what was said in the Budget, employment is down by 14,000 jobs from May 1976 to June 1977 and, as we all know, there has been an increase in unemployment. Here I have to emphasise my great worry about unemployment because of its social impact upon the Australian people, particularly young people. All of the indications including production and the build up of involuntary stocks move in the same way. I know the difficulties which we face. We are pricing ourselves out of international and domestic markets. Nonetheless I believe that employment now has to be placed with reduced inflation as the golden aim of policy. We have to get unemployment and inflation down and to increase growth at a more rapid rate.
That brings me to an argument that I would like to put with a great deal of emphasis. It is no use my coming here and saying that we have this slowing in the growth of non farm gross domestic production unless I can suggest an alternative to existing policies. Recent statistics are nowhere near as good as we would want them to be. Is there an alternative? I have now to qualify what I have said by adding that there are two schools of thought and we have a choice between them. The Department of the Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia would no doubt select the current method which is one of restraint in every one of the main dynamics of the economy. I ask myself, as I had to ask last year when I came to certain conclusions and pressed them through the year, whether there was an alternative. I believe there is an alternative. In June or July this year I had the good fortune to talk to people in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. They gave me a book prepared by a Committee for the OECD entitled Towards Full Employment and Price Stability, in a free economy. I believe that Committee was one of the most professional that one could choose. It is led by Paul McCracken with people like Guido Carli an Italian, Herbert Giersch, a German and five other people including Robert Marjolin. They gave their unqualified support to the market economy. They believe that if the market economy is given a proper go and if the proper rules relating to a market economy are observed, there is no doubt that we will work our way out of our problems in a much quicker time than we can do by restrictions.
Let us look at the methods to achieve these goals set out in chapter III of the book I am showing to the House. It sets out the demand management policies, monetary policy, financing budget deficits, fiscal policy, selective demand management policies and policies directly affecting employment. Then, in relation to reconciliation of conflicting claims it sets out investment, public expenditure, foreign sector activity and prices and incomes. In relation to the international dimension it particularly mentions exchange rates and international liquidity. This is the alternative I suggest. I now want to tell the House about my talks with the OECD and the top men in that Organisation. They now accept the fact that we want stimulus in the economy.
OECD wants Japan, West Germany and the United States to reflate now. The reason is that 18 months to two years ago it was thought that Japan would have a growth rate of 6.5 per cent, America 5.5 per cent and Germany probably 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent. Those figures have been revised substantially downwards. On 22 August a United States representative in Australia said that he thought that the growth rate of his country would be 3.5 per cent. Japan’s growth rate will not be as high at 5 per cent and Germany is now wallowing in a period of growing stagnation. So stimulation for growth is now considered to be desirable in these countries.
What does the OECD and the McCracken report say about growth and how it should be achieved? The OECD believes that there should be a stimulus to demand at a ‘cruising speed’. I have never heard those words ‘cruising speed’ before but they perfectly set out my attitude to what ought to be done in Australia to stimulate demand and to get this economy running in a way which I think is in accord with true liberal principles and philosophy. The report by my friend Paul McCracken and others says that the aim should be an expansion of demand somewhat greater than the growth of potential supply. The report adds a very strong qualification, namely, that the policies of all governments should act in a way that will not and in the end cannot accommodate high rates of inflation. I have no doubt that that is exactly what we ought to be considering.
– That is socialism.
– I am talking now about full employment in a free economy. If anyone can think that socialism is anything but a controlled economy of the kind which the honourable member and his friend the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) would like, then no one can understand what socialism means or, for that matter, what democracy can mean. Therefore I believe- this is critical- that consideration should be given to this report and its recommendations. I believe it contains the ingredients of an alternative policy. If in 3 to 4 months’ time we find that the present restricted policies are not succeeding we should be receptive to ideas and show willingness to change. Because of the way the taxation reforms were included at the last minute in the Budget, I believe that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will show that willingness if he is convinced changed policies are needed.
I said that we needed a stimulus from overseas. An externally led dynamic to the Australian economy. The Leader of the Opposition said in the House that we on this side of the House had missed the bus and were not taking advantage of what was occurring overseas. He went even further and said that not only did we never share in the world economic recovery but also that Australia’s economic problems and their solutions depend more on what happened here than on what happened overseas. But having said that we did not participate in the externally led stimulation he forgot that it was his own actions in reducing tariffs and substantially revaluing the currency that stopped the process.
He must remember that he inherited an economy that was fundamentally sound. Not only did the Liberal-Country Party Government bring down a good Budget in 1972. It also left economic growth at 7 per cent in real terms, inflation by the implicit price deflator at 2 per cent, consumer price index increases of 4.5 per cent, unemployment at 88,000 and interest rates at 6.5 per cent. What did the Whitlam Government do? It left production growth in the December quarter in which it left office at nil, inflation at 14 per cent, unemployment at 329,000 and high interest rates. I wonder whether any other man or any other government could have done as much damage in such a short time as his Government did. Then there was the ghastly failure of the Hayden Budget which was, I believe, the source of our present problems. It was punitive in relation to those on incomes of $6,000 to $ 1 1 ,000 per annum. No one denies that. Today there is a hangover from the Hayden Budget and its punitive action against the Australian taxpayers.
I would like to put all this in context. Never before in our political life have environmental conditions and, the industrial and political actions caused so many and such great troubles. We all know of the devastating actions of small groups in the trade union movement. I also want to refer to the tendency to massacre the truth. I will give only one instance. That is a statement by one of the leaders of the Labor Party the night before last. He said that Mr Justice Fox totally disagreed with the proposal to mine uranium and sell it overseas because of the ‘waste’ problem. Mr Justice Fox recognised that there were problems but, in fact, recommended that there were no real bars to its export from this cause. He also referred to a statement by Mr Fraser. He referred to what Mr Fraser said about the technical control of waste on a trial basis. But he left out the part relating to the need for a substantial increase in the commercial protection of waste. Mr Deputy Speaker, who do you think made that statement? None other than the Leader of the
Opposition! During 1973 to 1975 he proved himself to be totally incapable of sensibly governing this country. He must not be given the opportunity again.
– Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired. Before I call the honourable member for Robertson I apologise to the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James). There was a personal reflection against him a little while ago that I was too slow to pick up. I hope he will accept my apologies.
– It does not need members of the parliamentary Labor Party to tear this Budget to pieces. That has been done effectively by the conservative Press of this nation and the Liberal and National Country parties’ own supporters. Exactly 20 months from the date of this Government’s election to office with the greatest majority any government has had since Federation its reputation is finally in tatters. No government has promised so much and provided so little. I do not think even the Opposition believed that the Fraser Government would be as hopeless or incompetent as it is. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch), fresh from the latest attempt by the Liberal Party charm school to change his image, was at his deceptive best in presenting this latest monstrosity. Oozing goodwill and sympathy for the underprivileged on incomes above $25,000 he presented his revolutionary new Budget that will effectively redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich. There could have been no more appropriate adjective to describe this Budget than ‘revolutionary’. A Budget designed to soak the poor to benefit the rich ought to cause a revolution.
Initially, the reaction that night amongst members in the House and journalists was that the Government was being extraordinarily generous and that clearly the Government was setting its sights on an early election. But by Thursday and Friday when the economists had had time to do some more accurate calculations, it became patently obvious that the Budget was the most monstrous piece of deception ever inflicted on the Australian people. If any businessman had attempted to sell his product in the same manner as the Treasurer, he would finish up spending five to 10 years in the ‘Big House’.
As I said before, it does not need honourable members on this side of the House to tear this document to pieces. Just look at what his friends have to say about him and his boss. Firstly, an article in the Australian Financial Review from the Fairfax stable states: ,
Looked at after a day’s reflection, the Lynch Budget for 1977 is a dangerous document. It cannot be dignified with the description of being an economic policy, because in its own terms it is not. The Budget identified two problems plaguing the Australian economy: inflation and unemployment. But when you look at it, the Budget itself did not address itself in any meaningful way to either of these … As far as inflation is concerned the Government contented itself with doing little-except increasing oil prices- that would exacerbate the situation.
The Review’s stablemate, the National Times, had this to say:
In 1975, Mr Fraser promised that he would govern on behalf of all Australians, yet his Budget this week is another step in redistributing income from the poor to the better off. The Budget is the most transparent move in an otherwise largely unnoticed redistribution of wealth which has been going on since Mr Fraser came into power … He has set himself a target of sharply changing the balance of power in our society by diminishing the power of the unions and setting out to redistribute the national wealth up the salary scale to those who he believes are the productive members of society.
There is nothing that illustrates more clearly the callousness of this Budget- from the hand of Ayn Rand’s greatest admirer, the Prime Ministerthan the total absence of any meaningful assistance for the unemployed. Two years ago, the Liberal and National Country Parties, furious at the electorate’s rejection of them after 23 years and aided by a vicious hostile Press, created an hysterical atmosphere that resulted in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. There was, we were told, absolutely no reason for Australia to be affected by the economic crisis that had affected every Western economy as a result of the October 1973 Middle East war. We were told that inflation and unemployment had nothing to do with this world wide depression. It was entirely the fault of the Labor Government.
At that time, the inflation rate was 12.1 per cent and 14 per cent for the September and December quarters of 1975 and unemployment stood at 270,000. The economy was, however, showing signs of improvement and, had the Hayden Budget been allowed to work there is no doubt that Australia would have been able to take advantage of the general pick-up in the world economy that occurred in 1976. Regretably Australia was to find itself with a Prime Minister with an economic pholosophy influenced by a combination of the weird political ideas of an 80-year-old Russian nut by the name of Ayn Rand, and the man who the Chilean Government called in as their economic adviser, Milton Friedman. In Chile there is still massive inflation coupled, however, with unbelievable unemployment that has resulted in widespread starvation and misery. The RandFriedmanFraser philosophy that there is ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ has now been expanded to incorporate breakfast and dinner.
Unemployment has now reached a frightening 337,391 and if that is not bad enough even the most conservative estimates indicate that it will go well over the 400,000 mark by early next year. Some have predicted it could reach 500,000. These are not the predictions of members of the Opposition but are those of every reputable economist including Professor Hogan, the Liberal Party’s top economic adviser. Their own Budget indicates that this is what will happen, predicting a growth rate of 1 per cent only in the workforce whilst acknowledging that those seeking work will grow by 2 per cent. We must remember also that the Government’s tougher approach to people who are unemployed means that the figures would look far worse if one were comparing like with like.
The Government’s reaction to this growing array of unemployed- the people who were promised that with the return of a Liberal government there would be plenty of jobs- is to provide an extra $15m for the Special Youth Employment Training Program by extending eligibility to young people aged 25 years. I am not opposed to this program in the sense that it is better for young people to be employed for six months and to receive award wages while gaining some training than it is for them to be unemployed and feeling that society has no use for them.
There are so many weaknesses and objections to the scheme that one questions its usefulness in comparison with alternative unemployment relief schemes. First of all, of the 15,000 or so people who have been employed under the Special Youth Employment Training Program, known as ‘Sweet Pea’, how many have been retained in permanent employment after the six months period of subsidy of $63 per week has expired? How many young people have been simply replacing older employees who have been sacked by unscrupulous employers seeking to gain the $63 subsidy? What attempts are made by the Commonwealth Employment Service to police the scheme to ensure that unscrupulous employers are not simply exploiting the scheme as a job replacement measure? Is it a fact that the CES is so short staffed because of ceilings that it simply does not have the people to check to see whether the scheme is working as it is intended to work?
What guarantees have we that the jobs people are being trained for bear some relationship to the employment skills Australia needs both now and in the future? We know that despite the high rate of unemployment there are still many fields in which there are shortages of skilled workers. One needs only to look at the list of skills provided for prospective migrants by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to know that a training scheme should be related to those shortages. However, the greatest deficiency in the scheme is the fact that despite some value in providing employment absolutely nothing of value is left to the community after the six months training period is complete. In fact, it might have a deleterious effect on the young person who finds that the employer puts him off at the end of the six months period because to keep him would require the employer to pay the full wage without any subsidy.
The Education Program for Unemployed Youth is simply a program to keep occupied the young people who cannot get a job. In that sense it has some value. Regrettably, it is not getting the support in the community that it deserves because it could provide some activities for young people who must become bored after long periods of unemployment. But to suggest that somehow or another it is a scheme that has anything to do with solving unemployment is utter nonsense.
Obsessed with its ideological hatred of any form of public sector expenditure this Government has continued the slashing of public works programs, which was begun with its 1976 Budget, in such a way as can only ensure that unemployment will continue to grow. Regrettably, the Government is a victim of its own propaganda. When in opposition it successfully, if dishonestly, convinced the Australian people that the sole cause of Australia’s economic malaise was the deficit. We were told that inflation could be cured by slashing government expenditure. Unfortunately, the then Opposition did not explain to the hundreds of thousands of small and medium size businessmen and the millions of employees just how much their prosperity was tied up with government expenditure.
Their propaganda was so effective that many of the small businessmen did not stop to ask what was going to replace the sudden stoppage of public works when hospitals, schools, preschools, aged persons accommodation, welfare housing, growth centres, sewerage works and employment creation schemes were stopped or cut back. The then Opposition did not explain to these people how their customers were going to help to restore the economy when their wages were cut back, when their overtime dropped or when they were relying solely on unemployment benefit.
In a very perceptive column in the SunHerald, Neil O’Reilly pointed out just how convinced the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is that he should do the opposite of what the Labor Government did. He seems to have a very simple philosophy, namely, if the Labor Government did something he will do the opposite. Nowhere is this more obvious than in this Government’s treatment of the unemployed. I doubt whether any Opposition could have been more frank or honest than we have been in our assessment of some of the mistakes we made when we were in government. I know that most politicians in this Government would choke if they tried to admit that they had made a mistake. That, tragically, is a problem that Australia will have to suffer until this Government is defeated. Within months of our election defeat I started a study of one scheme with which I had become closely involved during our period in government, namely, the Regional Employment Development scheme.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I said that I had started a study of one scheme with which I had become closely involved during our period in government- the Regional Employment Development scheme, which is known as the RED scheme. Late last year we released a 22-page reassessment of the scheme, with 18 recommendations, about half of which were changes designed to improve the original scheme. Let me make it clear that, although we found ways of improving the RED scheme- which was introduced by the then Minister for Labor and Immigration, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron)after the scheme had been operating for over 1 8 months, this is no criticism of the initial concept. Only by experience of a new initiative can we find ways of improving it. It would have been impossible to foresee the problems that would arise. Those problems were immediately latched on to by the Opposition and the Press and were exaggerated beyond their importance.
It is easy not to make mistakes if one never tries anything new. Conservative governments find it easy to say that they have not made any mistakes, simply because they have not made anything. We also pointed out that almost as much money, $130m, was expended by the McMahon Government on its rural unemployment relief scheme which was introduced in 1971 and that this money was devoted to socially wasteful projects such as mowing lawns, chipping weeds and painting fences. After the unemployment was over and the grass had grown again there was nothing of value left to the community. Not only did we make the study available for general comment but we provided a copy to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) who, I am quite sure, must have found some valuable information in the study.
The most important recommendations we made were that a permanent local committee of community involved citizens should be set up on a regional basis to examine and list in order of priority important community projects with a high labour content so that in the event of that region having an unacceptably high level of unemployment a wide choice of projects would be ready to commence once the Government had gazetted that region as eligible for unemployment funds. This would maintain the important aspect of community involvement and would remove the unfair but persistent criticism of the RED scheme that the Government had its priorities wrong. Under the previous scheme, because projects were initiated by the community- that is, the local government body or local non-profit making organisations- and because projects were approved or rejected in the order in which they were submitted, the situation often arose that a surf club project submitted in January was approved before a water reticulation scheme or a nursing home submitted in April. By having a long list of projects designed, costed and approved by council and listed in order of the local community’s evaluation of its social priority, the Government would be assured of total community support when it decided that an area should receive, say, $2m for 15 projects for 600 workers for 26 weeks.
We also suggested that the scheme should be monitored by random inspection; that the majority of the funds, approximately 75 per cent, should be allocated to local government; that funding should be available for projects already covered under other legislation- for example, senior citizens centres and aged persons homes; that there should not be any extra funds provided, except in very special circumstances, after the initial grant of twice the wage content; and that every grant should include a minimum contribution of 10 per cent from the local government body or 20 per cent in the case of non-government organisations. We also recommended that although the employees should be obtained from the Commonwealth Employment Service, as in the initial RED scheme, if the employment situation changed sponsors should be able to obtain staff through the normal employment market.
Although dozens of copies of the paper were sent to various people and organisations throughout the country and were studied by the Government, I have not yet come across anybody who disagrees with our basic alterations and recommendations. I have the feeling that the Minister agrees with our position, if the persistent rumours that he has been trying to get Cabinet to approve employment creation schemes with a marked similarity to the RED scheme are true. Unfortunately he finds himself with a leader who has a passionate obsession with doing exactly the opposite of what the Whitlam Government did. To have reintroduced the RED scheme would have been an admission that something the Whitlam Government had done was good, and I am sure that he would choke saying the words. I am sure I speak for my colleagues on this side of the House when I say that we do not care if the job creation scheme is called red, pink, blue, green of any other colour or is called the Malcolm Fraser memorial scheme. Our main concern is that something should be done to relieve the plight of the unemployed created by this Government.
-Who terminated the RED scheme?
-We terminated the RED scheme, but it was proposed to reintroduce it early in 1976. When it was obvious that this Government would not reintroduce the RED scheme I suggested, in a question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, that he consider subsidising new public works projects by local government bodies up to 25 per cent of the total cost. The figure of 25 per cent was reached by calculating the amount of money that the Government could save in unemployment benefits, plus the claw-back through income tax. This seemed to me to be the most reasonable proposition to put to a government obsessed with cutting back public expenditure and reducing the deficit.
If local councils were prepared to undertake new works not already programmed in their budgets and were prepared to provide evidence that they were employing extra workers, surely the Federal Government should be willing to subsidise them up to the amount that it would be saving in unemployment benefits and receiving in income tax revenue. Of course, councils would have to find the other 75 per cent of the funds required, but in discussions with local councils of the Central Coast I found an immediate and welcome response. The attitude was that much needed projects that were planned for future years could be done now, with the added incentive of a 25 per cent discount. They pointed out that there was no way they could attempt the large number of projects they had undertaken under the RED scheme where the double wage grant to local bodies concept meant they could undertake many projects at minimal cost to themselves, but they certainly would be able to undertake some projects under this 25 per cent proposal.
This proposal was rejected by the Government, although in a letter to me the Minister agreed that a 25 per cent subsidy would cost the Government nothing. He said that the effect of local council borrowings would be inflationary. If ever there was an admission that the Government had used the age old method of creating unemployment to combat inflation, it is contained in this letter. Finally, after failing to convince the Government of the merits of some of these job creation schemes, a few weeks ago I wrote a long letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that he consider setting up a select committee to study alternative unemployment relief schemes and to report back immediately to the Parliament. In the letter I said that I was confident that the Labor Party would support such an inquiry and would approach it with an open mind and a spirit of co-operation. I suggested a select committee because of my experience on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety and on the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism, where I found that members of different political persuasions, working together and receiving expert advice, inevitably came up with unanimous decisions instead of political decisions. I felt that in the atmosphere of a select committee we could assess the various unemployment relief schemes that operated in Australia in the past and that operate now, together with schemes operating in other countries, and come up with the best schemes for Australia.
Apart from the RED scheme and general public works, I suggested that certain schemes might be considered. They included the New Zealand special works scheme; Public Service employment involving the placement of unemployed people in worthwhile work in various government departments and instrumentalities; work sharing where companies and employees agree to share available work through reduced hours to prevent lay-offs; and employment programs for disadvantaged people which provide funds for technical support to job creation projects for those unlikely to be employed through normal labour market activity. Such projects are geared towards providing employment that will contribute to the continuing self-sufficiency of participants as well as to community development. It is like Canada’s local employment assistance program. Finally I suggested early retirement subsidies whereby workers nearing retirement are offered a specified tax free wage if they give up work to make way for a younger unemployed worker- for example, Britain’s job release scheme.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Wentworth) adjourned.
-Mr Speaker has received advice from the Prime Minister that he has nominated Mr Baillieu to be a member of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr MacKenzie.
– Notice has been received from the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) that at the next sitting he will present a Bill for an Act to provide for the supremacy of Parliament and for related purposes.
Debate resumed from 25 August, on the motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the House take note of the papers.
Upon which Mr E. G. Whitlam had moved by way of amendment.
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘This House rejects the Government’s precipitate decision, without sufficient public debate in Australia and negotiation overseas, to renew the mining and export of uranium by Australia in the absence of:
-The matter now before the House is the Government’s decision to give the go-ahead to uranium mining and development in Australia, as outlined to the nation in five ministerial statements in this House on 25 August. In resuming the debate, I remind the House that the Opposition strongly opposes this decision on the ground that it is utterly inappropriate at this time for Australia to commit itself one way or the other. Nothing that Government speakers have added in this debate in any way alters our opinion in that regard. Indeed, events since the Government’s announcements serve only to strengthen and to endorse our attitude on this issue. Since this House last met and debated this issue, one of the principal props for the Government’s decision has been removed. The Government made great play of the alleged fact that it based its decision on the Fox reports and that, where it diverged from them, it at least conformed to the spirit of the reports. However, that has now been shown not to be the case.
I refer to a report in the Canberra Times of 3 1 August. Despite the doubts expressed by the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) about that newspaper, it gives an accurate report of the views of the person to whom I now refer. I am referring to one of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry commissioners, Professor Kerr. The article reads:
The case for delaying any decision on uranium mining and export was at least as strong as the Government’s case for making a decision now, one of the three Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry commissioners, Professor Charles Kerr said yesterday.
Professor Kerr said that the Government had used arguments for its decision that the inquiry had rejected.
It had, for instance, said that there was a great need for uranium-‘ but we didn’t say that at all ‘.
He described the international safeguards the Government used as the basis for its decisions as ‘virtually useless’, and endorsed the statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Uren, on Monday that the Government’s claim for safe disposal of waste was false.
I remind the House that I am referring here to a man who was one of the three commissioners involved in the Fox reports on which the Government said that it based its decision. The article goes on to say: ‘ We talked to the people and no one is isolating the waste, ‘ Professor Kerr said. ‘It s merely being managed. The, whole thing is not settled yet. ‘
He listed the changes the Government had made to commission ‘s recommendations as:
The land-use program, possibly jeopardising the commission ‘s strategy for protecting the Alligator Rivers region;
Declaring the national park in parts instead of at one time;
Not adopting a sequential development program for mining;
Placing greater faith than the commission in safeguards;
Predicting a greater need than the commission saw for uranium- ‘in spite of the weight of evidence that estimates of need have been downgraded since our first report’;
Reserving their decision on whether a marketing authority should be established.
There is a long list of decisions which the Government has made that have not been in accord with the recommendations of the inquiry. Professor Kerr could have added another one which relates to the use of the Atomic Energy Act, to which I will refer later. The article continues:
Professor Kerr said that he was not querying the Government’s right to make the decisions. ‘ But they ha ve made quite radical changes ‘, he said.
So much for the Government’s allegation that it based its decision on the Fox reports and, if not on the actual recommendations of the Fox reports, at least on the spirit of the reports. It did no such thing, as Professor Kerr has shown there thoroughly.
The first Fox report made it absolutely clear that the key basis of concern that it had about uranium mining and export was the problem of nuclear proliferation. The Government says that it will overcome this problem in respect of Australian uranium by a safeguards policy. Much has been made of that safeguards policy. The details of it were outlined by the then Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). The policy contained four so-called safeguards- firstly, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; secondly, the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards; thirdly, bilateral agreements; and, fourthly, participation in multilateral efforts to strengthen safeguards. The IAEA is central to this safeguards policy because of its inspection role. Without inspection there can be no monitoring of any diversion of plutonium for nuclear weapons manufacture. The Government makes it all sound very efficient and reliable but in fact it is no such thing. The Fox report expressed grave doubts about that matter but the Minister had this to say on the issue:
In short, 1 the safeguards administered by the IAEA are a thorough, technically sophisticated, impartial and international means of verifying that nuclear material in a country’s peaceful nuclear industry is not diverted to nuclear weapons.
In fact, it is not such an easy system at all. I refer the House to an article in the Australian Financial Review in April of this year headed ‘The Case of the Missing Uranium Fuel Rods’. It was one of a very good series of articles entitled: ‘The Nuclear Nightmare’. There were five articles in the series. This particular article referred in detail to the problems of the IAEA and it said:
Theoretically, an IAEA inspector would notice that weapons-grade material is missing from a nation’s nuclear energy stocks. If there is no other explanation for this disappearance, Eklund is to report it to the UN Security Council.
The process must work quickly and efficiently, if it is to work at all, because skilled technicians need only a few days or weeks at the most to turn some nuclear materials into a bomb. The force of adverse world opinion and pressure from powerful nations must be quickly focussed on Nation X.
That at least, is the theory. Whether it could ever be put into practice is a matter of growing controversy that centres around the inadequacies and the secretive nature of the IAEA . . .
The essence of IAEA’s operation is bookkeeping. The material that is known to be in a nation’s possession must be accounted for. Agency inspectors do not scrutinise the physical protection of materials- that is left up to individual nations.
To make their work easier, agency inspectors sometimes fasten special seals on fuel containers. They install specially designed robot cameras that periodically take pictures of a nation’s nuclear fuel storage areas, pictures that might reveal a diversion attempt.
Exactly how the IAEA inspectors go about their job when they arrive, however, is a matter of secret negotiations with each country. Some countries make themselves quite open to IAEA inspectors, while others prefer to do their own reporting on themselves.
I ask the House to take note that some countries do the reporting on themselves rather than allow the inspectors to do it for them. The article goes on to say:
Sometimes these reports are filed late. Sometimes they are not filed at all. And some countries assert the right to reject a particular inspector until the IAEA sends one more to their liking.
Then there is the question whether IAEA inspectors perform adequately once they are given access.
It goes on to refer to examples where they have made various mistakes, and it continues:
In recent months several US agencies have begun to worry about the secrecy surrounding IAEA safeguards. After considerable study and first hand observations of IAEA inspectors the Government Accounting Office investigators concluded, ‘We believe that the United States does not have adequate assurances that international safeguards inspections are being adequately carried out’.
This article continues in depth to question the effectiveness of the IAEA inspections. It refers to the fact that in some countries, for instance Russia, inspectors are not even allowed in. Basically it points out that inspection facilities are far from technical, efficient and thorough as the Government would have us believe. It is interesting to note that only a few months ago Tony Grey the head of Pancontinental Mining Limited, one of the companies very much involved in uranium mining, drew attention to similar shortcomings in the international safeguards through the ineffectiveness of the IAEA inspection.
The research officer for the Fox inquiry has also expressed grave reservations about nuclear weapons proliferation since the Government has made its decision about this matter. In a statement issued on 29 August he said:
Turning first to the international aspects and the questions of controlling nuclear weapons proliferation, the Government’s argument that this objective would be furthered by the export of Australian uranium seems to depend chiefly on the fact that this is in accord with the policy announced by President Carter on 7 April last. The aim of this policy is to discourage countries from turning to reprocessing of spent fuel and the fast breeder reactor, that is to the plutonium economy, by providing adequate and timely supplies of uranium. So far this policy has been notably unsuccessful. None of the countries with a commitment to achieving reprocessing and fast breeder technology have said they would consider renouncing it; most have said quite plainly that they will press ahead regardless. In any case, the policy is seriously flawed in that once a country has obtained spent reactor fuel, containing plutonium, it does not need a commercial reprocessing plant, costing hundreds of millions of dollars to extract the plutonium to make bombs, but can do it with a laboratory scale plant costing a few tens of millions of dollars.
That was the statement by the research officer for the Fox Commission. Quite clearly he thinks that the Government’s decision is totally wrong. The question of waste also is a matter of grave concern but the Government seems to think there is no problem. In the various statements made the Prime Minister in particular has gone out of his way to say that the problem has been solved. In fact this is far from true. Both the Fox report in this country and the Flower report in Britain said that the problem has not been solved. Indeed, there is a grave problem in existence as to how the world is going to cope with the issue of nuclear waste. Vitrification of the waste has been proposed as a means on disposal and this apparently is what the Prime Minister has in mind when he says that the problem has been met. In fact there is no country which is yet able to vitrify the waste in a way which is satisfactory. It is tremendously important to note also that vitrification needs, firstly, reprocessing to take place. This is exactly what President Carter said he was trying to avoid. He has asked that we not get into the stage of reprocessing, yet the one possible means by which we might dispose of the waste in a permanent way, and that is by no means certain, involves going into the reprocessing business.
The economic aspects of uranium production in this country have been vastly overstated. It is no panacea for our economic ills. The fact is that the employment effect would be absolutely minimal despite the absurd claim by the Australian, the day after the Government’s announcement, that there would be 500,000 jobs created by the milling of uranium. That was a totally absurd statement. The facts are these: The Ranger operation would employ about 600 people during the construction period of two years if the initial production rate were 300 tonnes a year and 1,000 people if the rate were 6,000 tonnes a year. Thereafter the operation would employ almost 250 and 400 people respectively. In other words we are talking about 1,000 to 1,500 people being involved in the construction and production stages. Once we got into the production stages a few hundred people would be involved. Of course honourable members can say that there would be other mines. If there is not sequential development all mines might be operating at once. But at most we are still talking about a relatively small number of people. The mining of uranium is no solution for the nation’s unemployment problem, nor will there be any dramatic change in our economic status.
The increase in national income will be at best 0.53 per cent according to the Fox report and the effect on exports would be at most an additional 5 per cent. Certainly these things are not to be sneered at. They are worthwhile additions but they are not dramatic changes. Uranium is not going to revolutionise this country and make us the Arabs of the southern hemisphere. It would do nothing like that despite the mad claims that have been made by the Government and its supporters in respect of this matter, particularly by the Minister for Primary Industry. There is nothing to support that claim.
– When did he say that?
-He said it during the last sitting week. I want to refer finally and quickly to the fact that the Government also committed a major breach of the Fox Commission recommendations when it decided to base uranium mining on the Atomic Energy Act. This has very grave implications for industrial relations in this country. It is difficult to believe other than that the Government decided to base uranium mining on the Atomic Energy Act because of the measures that this would give to it to enable it to take action against unions and people who might be trying to obstruct uranium mining. One of the many repressive aspects of the Atomic Energy Act is that all works carried out by or on behalf of the Atomic Energy Commission are as if those works were approved defence projects within the meaning of the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act. Under that Act, and therefore in relation to uranium mining at Ranger, a person can be fined $1,000 to $10,000 or gaoled for from six months to 12 months for doing anything that hinders or obstructs the uranium mining project if that mining is deemed to be under the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act. Also, in terms of the Atomic Energy Act itself, there are many penalties provided against workers involved in uranium mining if they take any action such as a strike. In addition there is the distinct possibility that the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act, the legislation which was rammed through this House in the last sitting week, would apply also, particularly to the Ranger mine because that mine is 72% per cent owned by the Commonwealth Government.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This is the third uranium debate that we have had in this House during the past six months and this important subject has been well covered. However this debate on Australia’s uranium decision has come about following production of the most enlightening and comprehensive papers brought into this House in my time and possibly for many years. The importance of uranium can be gauged by the fact that every facet affecting the mining, milling, marketing and exporting of uranium has been well covered and researched. Papers were presented by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony), the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman). All covered their respective responsibilities in this field.
It is extremely important to Australia that we should take at this time a definite stand and implement a sound policy for the export of uranium. We have 20 per cent of the world’s known resources of uranium and possibly considerable deposits of this ore are yet to be found. I am a member of the Government’s Trade and Resources Committee. That Committee has travelled extensively in Western Australia and Queensland and I have no doubt that considerable quantities of uranium have yet to be found.
The Prime Minister has said that this Government has a high sense of moral responsibility to all Australians and to the community of nations in the development of our uranium under strictly controlled conditions. These conditions have been well set out by the Government but they are well worth repeating. They are the need to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation; the need to supply essential sources of energy to an energy deficient world; the need to protect effectively the environment in which mining development will take place; the need to ensure that proper provision is made for the welfare and interests of the Aboriginal people in the Alligator River region, and of all other people living in the region and working on the development projects.
The Ranger Inquiry found that the mining and milling of uranium, if properly controlled, were not a deterrent to the development of Australian uranium mines. In fact there has not been any loss of life in the mining of uranium in Australia. Our opponents say that it is dangerous. It is not dangerous. I repeat that there has not been one life lost in the mining of uranium. Compare this with the mining of coal and other minerals where over past years there has been considerable loss of life. Most of the uranium in Australia will be mined by means of open cut operations. Uranium mining is a perfectly safe operation, as was announced by the recently released Ranger Inquiry report. Opponents of uranium mining enlarge upon the danger from radon gas given off from uranium ore. This would not present a danger in this country.
There is a need to protect the environment and this is being done by the mining companies. I mentioned a short while ago that we traversed wide areas of the uranium fields in this country and we found that the mining companies were restoring the environment to the extent that it was better than prior to the mining operation taking place. Indeed, we saw trees being planted and the environment being completely restored. We found that to be the situation in relation to all of the mining companies throughout Australia, irrespective of the type of metal being mined.
Aboriginals will be protected under the Government’s policy, particularly those in the Alligator Rivers Region. These protections have been set out in the paper read to the House by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and they include land rights, provision of national parks and also the employment of Aboriginals in those parks. The uranium industry is to be found in the low income and sparsely populated areas of Australia. That industry would create employment. It would not create a great deal of employment, but it would provide jobs for possibly 5,000 or 6,000 people. In fact, it is estimated that after its establishment anything from 3,000 to 6,000 persons would be employed in the industry.
Uranium mining was carried out successfully and safely in Australia from 1954 to 1971. The amount of ore treated during that period can be analysed as follows- these are interesting figures: Rum Jungle, 863,000 tonnes; United Uranium, 128,000 tonnes; Mary Kathleen, 2,947,000 tonnes; Radium Hill and Port Pirie, 970,000 tonnes. We visited Mary Kathleen only a few weeks ago and we saw the uranium being refined into yellow cake and cast ready for export. The question to be asked is this: Why should uranium mining be less safe now than it was then? We must realise that uranium is being mined on an increasing scale in overseas countries, including United States of America, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, France, Gabon and the Soviet Union. There is a shortage of energy throughout the world and nations are aiming to conserve energy, including petroleum and coal. Nuclear energy is the most available alternative, and Australia, having excellent deposits, will be expected to supply those less fortunate nations. By providing uranium for export we will be providing jobs, heating homes and maintaining and improving the standard of living in those countries less fortunate than Australia.
In the time that is still available to me I want to talk about waste disposal. This seems to be a most important item dealt with by the opponents of uranium mining. Radio-active wastes derive from the fission process in nuclear power plants which produces split atoms and releases neutrons. The core of the modern nuclear power plant contains several hundred tons of nuclear fuel, about one-third of which is replaced each year. Chemical processing of one ton of fuel results in 300 gallons of high level wastes. That is reduced to 150 gallons by evaporation. The remaining liquid waste will be converted into 2.5 cubic feet of gas-like solids by the use of well known technology. Today only a limited amount of spent fuel from chemical reactors has been processed to liquid form. In America about 600,000 gallons are stored in tanks.
Pending a decision on reprocessing in the US and in other countries, high level radio-active wastes from several nuclear programs are contained in the spent fuel rods which are stored in water at the various reactor sites. Waste disposal technology envisages that the liquid wastes will be converted to dry granules and then glassified to form an inert solid material. This solid will then be sealed in stainless steel containers, each of which will hold about six cubic feet of waste material. It is planned to carry out the solidification within 10 years after the spent fuel has been removed from the reactor. After this period elapses less than 0.05 per cent of the original radioactivity remains. It has been estimated that by the year 2000 all civilian nuclear power wastes together from the United States would fit into a single solid cube of 60 feet on an edge. The United States is continuing with its program of establishing permanent waste repositories to be located in suitable geological formations such as salt beds. Also Germany is actively engaged in developing an underground repository. France has developed a facility for convening its liquid wastes into glass-like solids which will go into operation this year.
Under the timetable of the United States Energy Research and Development Administration it is expected that its first repository will be licensed in 1985 for commercial operation. Presently ERDA is carrying out geological investigations in 36 States. Field work, including drilling, will be carried out in 13 States. In a recently issued report of the Mitre Corporation sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the following statement was published:
We believe that nuclear wastes can be disposed of permanently in geological formations in such a way that there is very little prospect of material escaping into the environment. Moreover even unlikely failures of repositories in the distant future would not have large consequences to human populations. This is true independent of whether the wastes disposed of are spent fuel or the re-solidified and transuranic wastes left after reprocessing and re-cycle.
This confidence is based on the fact that during the first centuries of burial the only risk stems from strontium 90 and caesium 137, the activity of which decreases so that after 300 years the initial amount will have been reduced to less than one-thousandth of its original value. In 500 years the initial activity will have dropped to onehundredthousandth of the initial value, that is, the hazard will have essentially disappeared. Containment of wastes for 500 years is not a major engineering problem if one assumes continuation of civilised human activity. The pyramids of Egypt have survived for more than 5,000 years with only superficial damage. The assessment by Mitre has also taken into account nuclear waste products such as plutonium and radium whose activity does not decrease as rapidly as those I have mentioned earlier. In short, the long term hazard of waste burial is the same as from naturally occurring uranium and radium in the earth.
I want to say a few words about plutonium. Nuclear opponents claim that plutonium is the ‘most toxic substance known to man’ and that a quantity of plutonium of the size of an orange would be sufficient to give every member of the human race lung cancer. What rubbish! It can be shown that an orange made of plutonium would weigh about 6 lb. Dividing that by the number of people on the planet, namely 4 billion, would produce three-quarters of a micro-gram- that is one-millionth of a gram- which would have to reach each person, presumably in the form of finely divided dust. However, that is not the pathway by which plutonium could reach humans from buried radio-active wastes. The orange example is more appropriate to the weapons testing progran which already has injected large quantities of plutonium into the atmosphere, of which about 10,000 lb have fallen on the earth ‘s surface.
Research has traced the path of plutonium in the environment, and its behaviour is very well understood. Its burden on the human lung is 80,000 times lower than the maximum permissible level set for occupational standards. The fall-out risk has not been considered a public health risk. The toxicity risk from buried long life nuclear wastes is associated rather with radium 226, which is one of the nuclear decay products, than with plutonium. Radium, however, is considered to be 2,000 times more toxic than plutonium. A risk assessment of radium resulting from dispersal in water originating at a repository site is extremely small. The toxicity of plutonium results from the fact that it is an alpha emitter, which means that its radiation is absorbed in the air after a few inches, and a sheet of paper is a sufficient shield. When eaten or absorbed into the blood stream it is 10 times less toxic than lead arsenate and many thousands of times less toxic than some biological poisons.
Another point made by the opponents of nuclear power is that plutonium may be dispersed by terrorists. That possibility has been analysed carefully by Dr Cohen of the American Physical Society. Any terrorists who may pursue such an attempt would be quite disappointed with the results of Dr Cohen’s study. Plutonium is a very ineffective weapon in the hands of terrorists because plutonium caused death is delayed by years and decades, whereas the use of chemical or biological toxins would have more dramatic effects. Also the use of materials others than plutonium would have far less danger for the terrorist himself. ‘Plutonium’ has become an emotionally charged word used by the opponents of nuclear power to trigger fear in the public mind. However, scientific evidence indicates that plutonium is no more dangerous than a number of other chemicals with which we have learnt to deal. We should get on with the mining, milling and exporting of our uranium as soon as we possibly can.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am sure that we all have been reassured by the National Country Party’s expert adviser on nuclear waste disposal. I might have been more impressed with what he said if I did not know that, although he now says that plutonium and other waste products are all right for us or are good for us, he gets terribly excited about somebody who smokes marihuana and he says that marihuana is a terrible thing that cannot be released on the Australian population.
The week before last we had a series of statements from the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 25 August said:
But first may I say that I do not believe that any decisions of government have been so painstaking as the ones taken in relation to this inquiry. When the Government was not satisfied with the papers and official matters put before it, those papers and documents were sent back for further elaboration and for further report.
That is a very strong claim on a very important issue. But what in fact happened? The Government decided that the Prime Minister, the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony), the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Sinclair), the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman) should make statements, and those statements were printed. On the morning of the day on which the statements were released the Government suddenly decided that there was a health problem associated with uranium and asked the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) to make a statement also. A statement was quickly written by the Department for him to make the same afternoon.
It can be seen from the original copies of the Government’s uranium kit that all the statements were printed except the statement by the Minister for Health which was roneod. It was not included in the contents table that was provided. So much for the thorough, painstaking decision making of this Government. The Government did not even think about the health problem. It thought instead about the trendy things. It thought about whether it would require soil to be put back, about whether uranium should be mined in the Northern Territory, about the effects on Aboriginal sacred sites, and so on. I am not suggesting that those matters ought not to have been looked at, but what worries the Australian population at large is the potential effects of uranium, the potential effects of the byproducts of uranium mining, and the potential effects of the use of nuclear energy on the health of the people of this country and people overseas. It is ridiculous for the Government to forget about the health aspects of uranium mining and then to include them in its statements on uranium mining as an afterthought.
I refer now to the political aspects. The Government seems to think that because the Australian population at present is divided 60/40 in favour of uranium mining- those figures were achieved by people being approached in the street or at their homes and asked whether they believed in uranium mining- everything is all right and politically it is safe. The important thing to remember is the intensity of feeling. I assure the Government that, as will become plain later in my speech, I am not a committed anti-nuclear energy man. The feelings of the people who feel strongly on the question of uranium mining and who want delays in the use of uranium and a complete assurance are much stronger than the feelings of those who say that they support the mining of uranium. They support the mining of uranium in the same way as we might answer a question on whether there ought to be a nudist beach at Lady Jane Beach or somewhere else. We would say ‘Yes’ because it does not affect us; we do not live next door. Apart from people who have shares in uranium companies or who believe that they might be some of the few people who might get a job in an uranium mine, I can assure the Government that the people who support uranium mining do not feel very strongly about it. There is a sufficient number of people who normally support the Government parties but are extremely worried, and so they ought to be.
Let me point out some of the contradictions of the people who have spoken in this debate. The first major contradiction was disclosed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition ( Mr Uren) yesterday when he showed that the Government was using the Atomic Energy Act and the associated Approved Defence Projects Protection Act 1947-73 in relation to uranium mining. Is it not a contradiction for this Government to argue that we are mining uranium for nonmilitary purposes and that it will not be used by anybody else for military purposes when it intends using defence legislation in relation to the mining of uranium? To me, that is an obvious contradiction. The second contradiction by the Government concerns waste disposal. The
Government keeps reiterating- it was said again by the honourable member for Paterson- that waste disposal is perfectly safe and there is nothing to worry about. The Government claims that it is safer than lead in petrol. Yet it emphasises that it will not allow any of this waste to come back into Australia. If the waste is perfectly safe, why emphasise that point? Cannot honourable members see the contradiction there? If it is perfectly safe it can come back to Australia; but if we do not want it back in Australia we obviously have qualms about the safety of waste disposal.
– They do not want to send it back.
– We have had assurances from Government Ministers that the Government will not accept it back into Australia. I turn now to the question of nuclear industry. There are people not only on the other side of the House but also on our side who argue that nuclear industry will be too expensive and that we should not get involved in uranium mining. I do not share the view that nuclear energy will become too expensive and impossible to use in view of the alternatives; but, if this were so and it turned out that nuclear industry would never get off the ground, that is an argument in favour of uranium mining because if it is a mineral that will never be used we might as well sell it now, if we are satisfied about the safety aspects, because it will be worthless in the future. I also have some significant reservations about the contradictions of Dr Mosely and his Australian Conservation Foundation. To me, theirs is a fraudulent attitude. Three or four years ago the Australian Conservation Foundation was carried away by the Club of Rome proposition that the most important issue was the shortage of energy in the world. However, in a statement he made in July Dr Mosely said that there was no shortage of energy and no shortage of oil in the world. They are important contradictions.
I refer now to the use of nuclear energy. If nuclear energy is necessary for many countries in the world, and that is the argument of the Government, and if this energy form is to be successful, there is no reason not to delay the mining of uranium. If the rest of the world wants our uranium and if we are confident that nuclear energy will be the energy form that will be used for the next 30 to 50 years, why should we not wait until we are completely satisfied about the safeguards associated with many aspects of uranium use? If there really is going to be a shortage of uranium there would be an extra profit to us if we did delay. Let us try to be rational about the health issues. I have not spoken previously in the debate or publicly about uranium. I have some qualifications, and I will tell the House what they are; but at the same time I emphasise that they only make me very doubtful about the arguments put forward on all sides. I have an honours degree in science and an honours degree in physical chemistry. I was on the staff of the Chemistry Department at the University of Sydney. I have degrees in medicine. So I am at least able to follow the arguments. I am not suggesting for one minute that I am an expert on this subject; but I can identify an irrational argument, and there are many irrational arguments.
So I now turn to some of the health aspects about which I am worried. The Government has decided to adopt what is called the code of practice on radiation protection in the mining and milling of radioactive ores. That does not mean that there are no risks. Based on the international code, a worker who spends 50 years in the industry has a 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent chance of getting a fatal form of cancer. So obviously it is not a question of there being no risks. The workers in the industry are unlikely to have a clear understanding of the health risks involved, even if they are told of the code and even if it is emphasised to them. The code and the risks have to be emphasised. But there is a more important aspect. It is difficult to explain the proposition which I shall put to the House. One needs a blackboard. I think that quite often that would be a useful aid to have in the House if one could get people to listen occasionally. The proposition which is generally accepted and on which the question of radiation exposure is based is that there is a radiation threshold. In other words, if one is subject to an amount of radiation below that threshold nothing will happen. But if the amount of radiation exposure is above that threshold, one will be adversely affected.
I am not at all convinced that that proposition is, in fact, true. There is at least a variable radiation threshold. It is obvious that certain cancers, leukaemias and mutations exist in the community at the present time without the people concerned being exposed to excess radiation. The assumption is made- it is possibly difficult for honourable members to follow unless they have some scientific training- that in effect there is a quantum theory type exposure. It is suggested that the amount of radiation comes in lumps and when one gets that final lump one is gone. That is not generally accepted. It is not the proposition which everybody in the community accepts and it is not the proposition which all doctors accept. It is much more reasonable to suggest that there is a sort of normal distribution curve and that the vast majority of people will be affected only when they attain a certain level of exposure to radiation. When there is low exposure, a very small proportion of the community will be adversely affected. I think those are the sorts of worries which many in the Australian community have or have thought about.
In passing I recount a personal experience which I had while I was overseas. I was in Italy three or four years ago. I was taken to one of the nuclear power stations at a place called Latina, south of Rome. It is between Rome and Naples. After a lengthy explanation that there was no radiation outside the plant, I looked at the plant. I was standing outside on a platform. After having been told that there was no worry at all because no radiation was getting out of the plant, I saw a big sign in Italian which stated: ‘Do not spend more than three hours a month here otherwise you will be exposed to excess radiation’. Obviously there is a contradiction there. Some radiation was escaping from the plant. It is assumed that the amount of radiation is insufficient to harm anyone who is there for only a short period. But there is some radiation.
I raise one other health hazard and that is the matter of tailing dams. That is a sort of slurry of finely divided material. It is one of the remnants after mining. The full impact of the hazards associated with tailing dams has not been gone into. Tailing dams are not covered adequately in the code which the Minister for Health promised us and by which the Government said it would abide. The problem is not so bad with the Ranger mine because apparently the tailings can be replaced in the mine so that they do not run away. But in the case of Pancontinental Mining Ltd, as I understand the situation, it is impossible to get rid of those tailings in that way. Therefore there is a significant worry associated with the matter. I am sorry that I do not have enough time to deal with all the aspects with which I wanted to deal. I think it is appropriate at this stage to mention a certain statement. I see the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I am sure he will be interested in this quotation. After I have read it I shall tell him where it comes from. It reads:
We distinguish between the peaceful and non-peaceful uses of atomic energy. We support the scientific conclusions that the problem of both short and long term safeguards in the use of uranium for power are being met with the development of science in relation to use and control of uranium.
We are not opposed to the use of uranium for peaceful purposes in industry and medicine. We, therefore, support the mining of uranium providing this is done under strict, supervised controls and in accordance with the safety and health regulations applied by the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
That is not a statement of the National Country Party of Australia. It is not a statement of the Australian Government. It is a decision of the Central Committee of the Socialist Party of Australia which is the Moscow-oriented communist party of Australia. The statement was released on 16 November 1976. 1 am sure I am not the only member who gets correspondence from the Socialist Party of Australia, Central Committee which gave me that information. So, it is silly for people to say that those who are opposed to uranium mining are communists or pro-communists. Obviously, some of them are communists and some of them are procommunists. But obviously there are also communists and pro-communists on the other side. We find a simplicity or naivety of attitudes in many of these people and I deplore that. I am sorry that I have not been able to deal with some of the other health aspects with which I wanted to deal. I am not at all satisfied that we should not pass the amendment which has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam).
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The House of Representatives is debating the Government’s decision which was announced on 25 August 1977 regarding the future development of Australia’s uranium reserves. Never before has a government policy decision been preceded by such an exhaustive series of studies and inquiries; never before has such attention been given to all details and aspects of the policy; never before has such thoroughness been applied to its presentation in the Parliament by the five Ministers. Firstly, I shall state what has been announced as government policy.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The honourable member is misquoting. I do not blame him for that. He refers to five Ministers but, as I pointed out, there were six Ministers because at the last minute the Government slipped in the sixth Minister.
-There is no substance in the point of order.
– The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has made it perfectly clear that Australia’s uranium may now be mined subject to the most stringent environmental and health conditions at home. It may be sold overseas for peaceful purposes, subject to the most stringent safeguards and conditions relating to the subsequent disposal or storage of the waste materials. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate on the uranium issue. I regret that only 15 minutes has been given to each honourable member. No previous decision has caused me so much personal anguish. No previous decision has caused me to seek the help and advice of so many people. Never before have I sought the views of so many residents and voters within the electorate of La Trobe. I thank those thousands of people who have helped me in consideration of the uranium question; particularly I thank those residents in the electorate of La Trobe who have written to me. There are nearly 1 00 in that latter category.
The recent decision made by this Government on uranium is in stark contrast to the position taken in 1974 by the Whitlam Government. The Whitlam Government detailed its policy on the mining and exporting of Australian uranium in a major statement to Parliament on 31 October 1974. The statement, tabled in Parliament by the then Minister for Minerals and Energy, the late Mr Rex Connor, opened:
This statement is to outline the Government’s program for the rational development of uranium resources in the Northern Territory; a program which will return substantial economic benefits to Australia from our supply of this vital energy resource to our overseas trading partners who face such grave difficulties in securing their energy requirements . . .
I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard certain other ministerial statements.
– Will the honourable member name them?
-There are statements by Mr Les Johnson, Mr Connor, Dr Cairns and Senator Wreidt, Mr Keating, Mr Hurford, Mr E. G. Whitlam and Mr Hayden.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The statements read as follows-
The then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Les Johnson, on October 16, 1975: ‘International assurances have been provided by Ministers that Australia will meet the uranium requirements of our major trading partners which could amount to a total of about 100,000 tonnes of uranium by 1990.’
The then Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Connor, on October 31, 1974: ‘Australia will ensure that our major trading partners- Japan, Italy, and West Germany- obtain an equitable share of the uranium we have for export. ‘
The then Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Cairns, and the then Minister for Agriculture, Senator Wreidt in a joint statement issued after a visit to Iran in March 1 975: ‘Iran would be given access to supplies of uranium from Australia under favourable conditions. ‘
The present ALP Shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Keating on June 2, 1 975: ‘Japan is interested in moving into nuclear power and enriched fuel. We are prepared to give the Japanese any amount of fuel that they need, enriched if we can do so. The only thing is that we would like to do the enriching. Instead of sending just yellowcake and bargain-basement prices we want to get the profit that comes from enrichment.’
Mr Keating, on October 9, 1975: ‘Since we have taken over the administration of the policy in this area, particularly in respect of uranium, we have said that we intend to export as much of it as we can. ‘
Mr C. Hurford, ALP Shadow Treasurer, April 14, 1972: ‘Uranium exports, in whatever form, could be highly profitable for this country. With the proper taxation policies there could be enormous economic benefits for everyone who lives here.’
The then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, in Parliament, February 1975: ‘In Brussels, London, The Hague, Paris, Rome and Bonn as well as in Moscow, I consistently asserted Australia’s wish to develop her own enrichment capabilities so that as much uranium as possible should be exported in an enriched form. ‘
Mr Whitlam, in Parliament, May 27, 1975: ‘Those uranium deposits which do not concern Aboriginal lands and mining of which complies with proper environmental conditions into which public inquiries are about to take place will of course be available for export and in due course for processing within Australia. ‘
The then Shadow Minister for Defence, Mr Hayden, July 22, 1976: ‘After talks with members of all Japanese political parties, including Communists, over the use of Australian uranium and necessary protective measures associated with it, I am convinced they would only use it for practical purposes.’
The then Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr R. F. X. Connor, in a major policy statement in December 1 973: ‘Australia at all times will honour its contracts, even those negotiated under a previous Government. ‘We seek to remove any fears which Japan may have that supplies would be arbitrarily reduced or terminated from Australia to them. ‘Australia at all times honours its trading contracts and will never, under any circumstances, refuse assistance to its friends. ‘In respect of our energy resources, we will, within safe limits, at all times supply to them and our other major trading partners, all that we can reasonably export. ‘
-The same Labor Government gave undertakings that 11,757 tonnes of Australian uranium would be exported to meet existing orders. That government bought 42 per cent of the Mary Kathleen mining operation. It signed an agreement with the Ranger consortium which committed the Australian taxpayer to finance 72 per cent of its operation and to take 50 per cent of the profit from uranium sales. The Whitlam Government’s policy statement made it perfectly clear that that Government put the mighty dollar before the environmental and safeguard conditions which must now apply before Australian uranium can be mined or sold overseas. That Government saw uranium as the great provider to finance its dream for Australia, its goal to make our people no more than the basic ingredients of the social laboratory. What an unprincipled attitude. What an ill-informed and morally impoverished policy for a federal Government. Labor’s plan is all verified. It was to sell as hard as possible and to hell with the consequences for the misuse of Australia’s uranium.
The decision by the Liberal-National Country Party Government has been preceded by and based on the findings and recommendations of the two major reports by Mr Justice Fox and his fellow commissioners. Any decision on uranium taken before a thorough consideration of these reports would have been premature and inappropriate. As the Prime Minister announced in the 1975 policy speech, no decision would be made on uranium until the Fox reports had been received, considered and debated in this Parliament. This, I believe, is the sixth time that the subject of uranium has been debated in this House. The steps set out in the policy speech have complied with the mandate on which we were elected.
The Government has adopted the major recommendations of the Fox reports. If currently there is agreement between Government and Opposition members that the Fox report is an authoritative and thorough study.
The purpose of those reports was to advise on the worldwide and local environmental issues associated with the mining and export of uranium. We looked to the Fox report for advice on the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear safeguards and waste disposal, and the role of nuclear power in meeting future world energy requirements.
It is the natural concern of every Australian that any uranium leaving our shores should never be used in the weapons system of another country. Equally important is the concern that adequate provision is made for the storage or disposal of any waste materials from the peaceful use of our uranium. Having weighed all this advice and after months of consideration and discussion the Government has decided to allow further development of Australia’s huge uranium resource. However, I stress that the approval is heavily qualified. Any sales of our uranium shall be for peaceful purposes only and then only under strictly controlled conditions?
To those people who have read the Prime Minister’s statement it will be obvious that the Government’s decision has followed from four basic considerations. These are the need to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation; the need to supply essential sources of energy to an energy deficient world; the need to protect effectively the environment in which mining development will take place; and the need to ensure that proper provision is made for the welfare and interests of the Aboriginal people and all other people working on development projects.
Our decision was taken on the basis of the Fox inquiry’s main findings and recommendations. I shall advise the House about some of those findings. On uranium mining the inquiry concluded:
The hazards of mining and milling uranium, if those activities are properly regulated and controlled, are not such as to justify a decision not to develop Australian uranium mines.
The Government is well satisfied that the environmental control and industrial health measures proposed by the inquiry and adopted by the Government will provide proper regulation and control. On nuclear power reactors the inquiry concluded:
The hazards involved in the ordinary operations of nuclear power reactors, if those operations are properly regulated and controlled, are not such as to justify a decision not to mine and sell Australian uranium.
This too is in accordance with the Government’s own view and statement. On waste disposal from nuclear power stations the inquiry concluded:
While we do not think that the waste situation is at present such as to justify Australia wholly refusing to export uranium, it is plain that the situation demands careful watching, and, depending on developments, regular and frequent reassessment.
The Government is now satisfied that the technology exists for the safe management and ultimate disposal of highly radioactive waste. International developments will continue to be closely reviewed and Australia will continue to participate in international studies directed to improve standards for waste disposal.
On the possibility of nuclear terrorism the inquiry concluded:
In our view, the possibility of nuclear terrorism merits energetic consideration and action at the international level. We do not believe that this risk alone constitutes a sufficient reason why the export of our uranium, including what is proposed to be done with it, and where, are matters which the government should keep under constant scrutiny and control.
The Government is satisfied that the standards of physical security by the International Atomic Energy Agency constitute the basis upon which national governments can provide strong protection against nuclear terrorism. Regarding Australia’s international obligations the inquiry concluded:
A total refusal to supply would place Australia in clear breach of Article IV of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and could adversely affect its relation to countries which are parties to the NPT.
Article IV of the Treaty obliges Australia to cooperate in the production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The export by Australia of uranium under stringent safeguards will give effect to our obligations under Articles III and IV of the Treaty. Australia became a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty when the previous Labor Government gave it ratification in January 1973. We accept and support the obligations that Treaty imposes.
The Fox inquiry concluded that to withhold our uranium from use as an energy source was undesirable and most unlikely to produce any worthwhile outcome. It further stated: the options were either to proceed to supply as soon as practicable, or to delay making a decision for a period of several years.
The inquiry stated that the choice between these two options depended largely on what was deemed to be the best strategy in relation to the matter of proliferation. This proliferation of nuclear weapons was in the inquiry’s view the most serious hazard associated with the nuclear power industry. Balancing this concern with the context of international demands for energy has been the fundamental basis of the Government’s decision. We believe that the goal of limiting proliferation of nuclear weapons while at the same time easing the world’s energy crisis is best accomplished by Australia agreeing to provide uranium for peaceful purposes and under the most stringent conditions. The simple fact is that nuclear energy is the only readily available alternative most countries have to meet their essential need for electrical energy in the wake of the oil crisis. By deciding to allow sales of uranium for peaceful purposes Australia can reduce the movement towards the use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel and lessen the attendant increased risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.
Honourable members might reflect on the predicament facing countries such as Japan which today is 90 per cent dependent on overseas sources for its energy requirements. It is 75 per cent dependent on Middle East oil. Four years ago Middle East oil was $2 a barrel. Today it is $11 a barrel. Certain projections show that by 1985 it will be $55 a barrel. Despite the fact that Japan will build another 29 nuclear power stations by 1985 and given the escalation in her energy requirements by that time it is projected that Japan will still be 65 per cent dependent on Middle East oil in 1985. 1 suggest to the House that that is a most horrific prospect for an industrialised nation like Japan, one of our major trading partners. The Japanese Ambassador, Mr Yoshio Odawara. addressing the AustraliaJapan Society on 28 July 1977 put it quite plainly. He said:
I can only envy Australia ‘s good fortune in having no need for nuclear power until the 1990s or later. We need it right now.
I refer also to a comment by the doyen of Australian science, Sir Macfarlane Burnet, in a letter to the Age on 22 August 1977. He wrote:
I believe that a majority of thoughtful people accept the inevitability, for at least an interim period, of large scale use of nuclear energy in most parts of the world . . . . . . With application of the best current techniques to ensure safety for the workers, environment protection, regard for Aboriginal land rights, and an obligation to rehabilitate areas damaged by mining, one can accept the (Fox) report’s conclusion that there is no adequate reason why Australian uranium should not be mined and supplied at the world price to those countries that have elected to develop nuclear power and can be trusted.
In fact it is only through our role as a major supplier of uranium for peaceful purposes that Australia ‘s voice on this most vital problem of international affairs, nuclear weapons proliferation, will be heard. It is the best chance we will ever have of ensuring that nuclear weapons do not come within the armoury of still more nations. It is a chance that in the interests of future generations we should not forgo.
– I should like to correct an impression that the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) may have made when he spoke about the Labor Government’s attitude to the mining and sale of uranium. When we came into office in 1972 we inherited contracts already signed- I might say lately signed and it seemed to us at the time irresponsibly signed- by the previous Government, some of them in the late hours of that Government.
– In the last week.
-That is right. That was a heartsearching matter for people such as myself, whether we should proceed with contracts which a previous Australian government had entered into.
I became the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs upon the election and return of the Labor Government. One of the first duties I had was to front up to the question of exploration leases in Arnhem Land. I had to ask: Were they to be granted afresh at the end of January or where they not? As far as I was concerned they were not to be because in my view everything that was being done in the search for uranium, in the development of the project, in the feasibility studies, was fraught with disadvantage and a threat to the Aboriginal people. As far as I am concerned the advantage to the Aboriginal, people and the protection of their social advancement transcends any potential financial gain to the people of Australia from uranium. I think that is one of the principles that should be put before this House tonight. It is good enough to quote Sir Macfarlane Burnet but if one examines the qualifications he brings to this debate and examines the state of the art, as one might call it, one can see that we are a long way short of the answers which the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) seems to have accepted and which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) states emphatically as facts of life.
I believe this is a contest for the hearts and minds of the people of Australia on a very important national issue. It is our moral duty to the rest of the world versus the materialist thirst for financial advantage. I believe we are in the hands of a government of social and environmental vandals who have not a care at all for the rest of humanity for Australia’s advantage as long as they can make some more dollars or as long as they can divide the community for their own political advantage.
I only have to look at the specious euphemisms contained in the Prime Minister’s speech. I am absolutely horrified at what the leader of this country- a man who, as far as one can tell from the qualifications which he writes after his name as a result of the education he received here and overseas, understands the English languagehad to say about waste disposal. He said:
The Government is satisfied that the technology exists for the safe management and ultimate disposal of highly radioactive waste.
That is utter nonsense. It is designed to mislead the people of Australia. It is not true.
– It is true.
-It is as simple as that-it is not true. There is no one of any particular skill and understanding of the situation who says it is true. Nobody from the other side of the House has produced one piece of evidence to show that it is true.
The subject of this debate has been before this Parliament ever since I entered it in 1955. Some 20 years ago the debate came forward in this House. My position is a bit like that of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). I am not totally against the mining of uranium as such but I say that while the issue is in doubt we should leave it in the ground, and for the foreseeable future I think the issue is in doubt. When we first discussed this matter here some 20 years ago the House was nearly as packed as it is tonight. When I stood in this place at 8 o’clock one night I was all on my own. The then member of the Northern Territory, Jock Nelson, came in and doubled my audience. Tonight, of course the proceedings are being broadcast. At least what I am saying is being broadcast throughout the House and I guess most honourable members would be listening in their rooms to what is going on here. At that stage, I suppose, most of us thought: Power, yes; nuclear weapons, no. But as time has gone on there are increasing doubts, and they are not just increasing doubts in Australia.
I was in Europe in January. One only had to speak to ordinary thoughtful people around the place to determine that they all felt the same way. The trade union movement in Germany and France had come together at a meeting in Hamburg and had undertaken to give their support to the Australian trade union movement in respect of what is a moral experience as much as a political one. I believe that the community of Australia ought to take a very serious view of the failure of the Government to have a real debate on this matter. It is a hoax to say there has been any public debate.
The Prime Minister said that this decision had been motivated by a high sense of moral responsibility. That is a euphemism for political divisiveness and materialist ideology. What sort of moral responsibility is he bringing to this subject? What are the situations about waste? Just take one simple demonstration. Some 20 years ago in this country some testing of nuclear weapons was undertaken at Maralinga and the waste was buried there. It was only by chance during the last 12 to 18 months that someone even remembered the waste was there. For over 20 years the existence of the waste had been forgotten in our own country. How are we to guarantee that we can make the disposal of the waste safe for the next half million years, which as I understand it is the radioactive life of waste material? It is quite clear that there is no way of handling it safely. One has to take extraordinary risks with radioactive waste. It is difficult to transport. The British, who are pretty good at this kind of thing, managed to tip over one of their containers of radioactive waste when it was being transported from the north of Scotland to England for disposal. There is no safe method of disposal. Therefore what the people of Australia have to decide is whether they will allow this proposal to be inflicted upon the Australian community and the rest of the world.
There are other hazards associated with nuclear energy. If one visits the Alligator River area of the Northern Territory and looks at the mines there one will find an interference with the ecology systems which is likely to produce serious hazards for the whole environment because it is almost impossible to guarantee that there will not be leakage of radioactivity into the water systems of the area. Our record in respect of control of mining in this country is not bright at all. One has only to visit Captains Flat to see what happened there. Steps had to be taken during the term of the Labor Government to overcome the problems caused by the previous record.
I want to place before the House and the people of this country the threat to the Aboriginal people that lies in the development of uranium resources in their areas. We have an unhappy record wherever we have carried mining development or any other major development close to Aboriginal communities. Arnhem Land is one of the last refuges of Aboriginal people from the assault of modern communities. We have three examples we can turn to in Australia to illustrate how well we have handled the situation, namely Yirrkala, Weipa and Groote Eylandt. We have not been able to handle the social situation in any of these areas. I am very much afraid that developments such as this, with the constant comings and goings of people, with the development of new towns and townships, will have a serious social impact upon the Aboriginal people. Not only do I feel that but at this stage I am certain of it. It is tragic that after these years of waiting and knowing what was likely to happen we have taken very few steps to train the people of the area, even in the materialistic advantage of having employment.
I do not believe there will be much financial advantage to the Aboriginal people. I think it is irresponsible of the Press to print headlines about ‘Aboriginal millionaires’. There are some 4,000 to 5,000 Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land alone. If $ 10m is to come back to the Aboriginal people by way of royalties and the like over a 12-month period the Aboriginal people would perhaps receive $2,500 per head. That amount’ will not be paid to them directly nor should it be. The money will not even start to bring many of the facilities of their community up to the ordinary Australian standard for many years. So I appeal to the House to discard some of the arguments that have been placed before it, to disregard the statements of the Prime Minister and other Ministers, including the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, about the surety of the advantage to the Aboriginal people. It will not happen. This is not because it could not possibly happen. It could happen if we turned all the wit, wisdom and will power to the problem and we applied ourselves to it over some time, and we gave the Aboriginal people the real opportunity to take the advantages of modern society in such a way that their younger people were in employment, that enough of their own people could handle the social situations that develop. I think that it is irresponsible to the point of being scandalous that we should be casting them into this situation at this time.
I would like to make some other points in the few minutes left. First, I have grave doubts as to the economic advantage to the people of Australia of the actual mining Who owns the mining companies concerned? Who are the beneficial owners of Pancontinental? If I remember rightly it is an offshoot of Getty Oil. Who are the shareholders in these operations? Who is getting all the advantage of, for example, the coal mining in Queensland? Who owns Utah?
– The Australian taxpayer.
-Oh, the Australian taxpayer!
– He gets more out of it than any shareholder.
-The Utah Development Company has made a profit of $240m out of its coal mining, with 3,000 employees. It took out a profit of $80,000 per employee. Of course, some of that came back in taxes, but that is chicken feed compared with the advantage and gains that go to foreign owners in most cases.
I read with interest again the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) about the possible 500,000 employment opportunities that will flow from this. Of course, he did not say it quite like that; he only gave that impression. He is a rather impressionistic politician. He never says things directly; he just leaves things hanging in the atmosphere. He quoted a report in South Australia so that he could say: ‘I did not say that’. It is all implied and it is all written into the record. It is what people heard. It is nonsense, of course.
Mr friend, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) I think it was, cited figures which indicated that 500 employees might be involved. Honourable members only have to look at open cut mining to see how much work can be carried out with modern machinery. In the open cut mines in Australia every person employed produces 30 tonnes of coal per man shift. How many will be needed to mine the volume of uranium that we want?
It is time that we gave serious consideration to the alternatives. For all practical purposes solar power is being ignored in this country. Some 20 years ago quite a battle went on with the authorities in Darwin to have them accept solar water heaters. I remember the argument that went forward on the building of the leprosarium in Darwin. The technical engineers and the Department of Public Works people, being naturally conservative as many of these people are, did not want to have a bar of solar water heaters. I think it was Sir Paul Hasluck who managed to have his way on the matter, so the entire supply of hot water for the leprosarium came from solar energy. Of course, all sorts of difficulties are involved, but if we spent as much money on the development of solar power as we do on research into nuclear energy I am sure we would produce a much more satisfactory result.
One source of power which the world has basically ignored, except in odd spots like Holland with its windmills and except for the windmills on Australian farms and the windlight system which people use to produce electricity on homesteads around the world, is the wind. I am not suggesting that we should go back to the use of sailing ships, but I shall just give an illustration of the power of wind. About a century ago the ship Lightning, which weighed 2,600 tons, travelled at 20 knots for 24 hours. If one goes to the publication Janes Fighting Ships to see what kind of power is needed to send a ship through the water at that pace for that length of time one finds that, say, the destroyer Vendetta with 51,000 shaft horsepower takes about 100 tonnes of fuel a day. Of course, the only thing that wind has ever been used for effectively is to sail ships, but there must be plenty of other areas in which it can be harnessed and used effectively. The same applies to the tides.
Another development going on around the world is an attempt to find a more economic use of the power that we have. I know of a factory in my electorate which had 160 machines. These were replaced by 10 machines using the power that perhaps sixteen of the previous machines used. So only about 10 per cent of the power that was required originally was required for the same output.
I think this is a moral issue. The Government has adopted a totally immoral stance. Words fail me in trying to describe the speech by the Prime Minister. I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) which states that this House rejects the Government’s precipitate decision and sets out our requirements: Commitments from customer countries, international safeguards to ensure that our uranium will not contribute to nuclear war, and an assurance that the Aboriginal people will not be disadvantaged.
-This is the first time that I have spoken in this House on the subject of uranium. However, I had the pleasure of participating in a forum on this subject held at the Melbourne State College on 20 July. Of course, that was before the announcement of the Government’s decisions in relation to the mining and export of Australia’s uranium. I mention the Melbourne State College forum because it was simply one of a great many debates that have taken place on this subject over many years. It is simply not true to assert, as our political opponents and some others do, that consideration of the public discussion on uranium is new and that the subject has not been sufficiently talked out or examined to enable governments to be in a position to make responsible decisions in relation to the development of Australia’s uranium reserves.
Tonight ‘s debate is the third in this chamber in less than 12 months. It is interesting to note that on the second occasion we actually ran out of speakers on the Opposition side. The important thing to note is that these debates are taking place more than a generation after the first use of nuclear energy, regrettably a use which was for the purpose of war and killing. These debates are taking place also more than two decades after nuclear energy was first used commercially for the peaceful purpose of electricity generation and more than two decades after Australian uranium was first mined and exported. Over that lengthy period of time there has been a great and continuing debate throughout many countries about the issue of nuclear power.
I repeat that it simply is not true to suggest that the debate is new and in its early stages, although the debate in Australia did get off to a somewhat later start than in most other countries. But it was well under way prior to 1974 and 1975. It is very interesting to note, however, that the debate was temporarily silenced in 1974 and 1975 when the Whitlam Government signed an apparently legally binding agreement with the Ranger partners to permit the mining and export of uranium. At the time the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, said:
The Labor Government believes that the Ranger project will be a major export earner and it -
He was referring to the Labor Government- will be working to bring this mining program to fruition.
Let me state some of the other facts in relation to Labor’s attitude towards this matter when in office. In October 1974 the late Labor Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Connor, said that the Australian Labor Party would: . . . ensure that our major trading partners, Japan, Italy and West Germany, obtain an equitable share of the uranium we have for export.
In March 1975 the then Deputy Prime Minister, the honourable member for Lalor (Dr Cairns), issued a joint statement with Iran, in which it was stated:
Iran would be given access to supplies of uranium from Australia under favourable conditions.
In June 1975 the present Labor shadow Minister for Minerals and Energy, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), said:
Japan is interested in moving into nuclear power and enriched fuel. We are prepared to give the Japanese any amount of fuel that they need … the only thing is that we would like to do the enriching. Instead of sending just yellowcake at bargain-basement prices, we want to get the profit that comes from enrichment.
At the Australian Labor Party Conference in Terrigal in February 1975 the late Mr Rex Connor received unanimous approval to go ahead with uranium mining and also to build a uranium enrichment plant. The Conference totally rejected a motion to halt uranium development for 12 months while a full scale government inquiry into nuclear technology was conducted. In October 1975 the Labor Minister for Aboriginal Affairs stated: . . . international assurances have been provided by Ministers -
He was referring to Labor Ministers- that Australia will meet the uranium requirements of our major trading partners which could amount to 100,000 tons of uranium.
So much for the discussion and contribution we have heard from Opposition speakers in this and preceding debates on the morality of their attitude towards the subject.
It is interesting to note also that the two leaders of the Labor Party, Mr Whitlam and Mr
Hawke, have both expressed views contrary to the recent resolution of the Labor Party Conference which after debating the issue in 45 minutes flat developed a policy, determined by the left wing of the Party, which is entirely the opposite of Labor’s policy while in government less than two years ago. The recent Australian Council of Trade Unions executive decision on uranium also shows how hopelessly divided the Labor movement is over the issue. If it were not so serious, the sight of Mr Hawke and the Leader of the Opposition trying to straddle half a dozen horses which are all galloping in different directions at the one time would be hilarious. But it is not hilarious; it is extremely serious, because it shows just how much the leadership of the Labor movement is under the influence of the forces on the Left, and not just in relation to uranium.
Over the past two decades there has been a dramatic development in nuclear technology. There also has been a major development in the thinking of governments around the world on two counts, the first of which is the need to develop the maximum possible safety and security measures and safeguards. The environmentalists and the conservationists have had a very important and, I believe, useful role to play in this regard. Secondly, more and more governments over the whole spectrum of political persuasions have come to the decision that the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposesthat means essentially the generation of electricity- is essential if the world’s energy requirements in the 1980s, the 1990s and beyond are to be met without hardship, deprivation and starvation to many millions of people irrespective of race, colour or creed. As a result, 34 countries now either already have or are about to have 500 nuclear power units, with a total electricity production capacity 20 times that of Australia’s capacity. Many of these countries already rely significantly on nuclear power for their electricity generation- for example, Switzerland, 1 8 to 20 per cent; West Germany, 1 5 per cent; Sweden, 13 per cent; Britain 10 per cent; the United States, 9 per cent; and Japan, 8 per cent.
Therefore, the nuclear powered electricity generation industry is already a well established industry in many countries. It is already an accomplished fact of life. There is no way in the world that this situation will change in our lifetime or beyond, regardless of the decisions Australia may have made in respect of the development of its uranium reserves. It is against this background, I believe, that the debate and decision-taking in Australia should proceed, because it would be unrealistic for the position to be otherwise. The decisions which the Government has taken are based in essence on the answers to the following questions: Firstly, is there a net overall benefit or loss to Australia and its people if we develop our uranium reserves? Secondly, do our decisions produce a net benefit or loss to the rest of the world? There is little doubt in my mind that the answer to both questions is that there is a net benefit. We should bear in mind that the decisions which the Government has taken relate simply to the mining and export of uranium. At the moment we are not talking about acquiring our own nuclear reactors and using nuclear power to generate our own electricity, although I believe that in time we may well need to give and should give careful consideration to these aspects. They are not at issue at present.
I would like to look now at our own selfinterest. It is pretty well universally accepted now that the actual mining of uranium, particularly by the open cut method, as much of ours will be, does not pose any real health hazard to the miners. Fully adequate safety measures have been devised and adopted. The same applies to milling. It is also generally accepted that waste disposal at the mining / milling stage presents no threat and is a smaller problem than that involved in the disposal of many other waste products. Similarly, the physical act of exporting yellowcake does not impose any unusual health hazards. It is accepted that the mining and milling of uranium, particularly given the location of the main known deposits, pose major issues to be resolved in relation to the physical environment and in relation to the Aborigines in the areas concerned. The Ranger and Koongarra deposits, for example, lie close to the foot of the Mount Brockman escarpment- a particularly beautiful area and an area of extreme significance to many of the Aboriginal local descent groups in the region. Development of these deposits therefore must be handled with extreme care and sensitivity, not only in relation to the physical environment but, more importantly, in relation to the social and cultural wellbeing of the up to 800 Aborigines who are involved. On both these counts I believe that the Government has acted with a high degree of responsibility in the decisions it has taken.
There is no doubt in my mind that on the question of economics there will be very considerable benefit to Australia from the mining and export of uranium. The Fox report put the likely increase in Australia’s gross domestic product at a maximum of 0.3 per cent. That in itself is not insignificant at the margin. However, other estimates by well respected economists are that the Commission understated the economic benefits. I share that view. Some opponents of uranium development have pointed to the so-called Gregory thesis to support their arguments. I believe this to be a fallacious use of Dr Gregory’s line of argument; and so, I understand, does he. To put a brake on mineral development makes no more economic sense than trying to stop the development of the steam engine, the motor car, the aeroplane or television would have made.
In the 1990s exports of Australian uranium will be likely to contribute one-half of the increase in Australia’s total exports during this period. This will have a significant impact on our ability to sustain an acceptable level of economic growth necessary to cater for the multitude of demands from the Australian community for improved living standards, particularly for those most in need in our community. Uranium exports will make a useful contribution to our export income, I would hope, before the 1990s. The importance of the need for increased exports cannot be overstated. I will give only one reason. There are others. It has been estimated that between now and 1995 Australia’s oil import requirement could increase fourfold. That alone would impose immense strain on our balance of payments if we did not do all in our power to increase our export income. The mining and treatment of uranium in the Northern Territory will give tremendous impetus to the economy of the Territory. It will reduce the Territory’s financial dependence on the rest of Australia and will provide significant direct and indirect employment opportunities for the people of the Territory, including the Aborigines.
There are many things that I could say and should say in a debate such as this, and there are many things that I will have to omit because of the limited time at my disposal. I think that in the end the issues of safeguards, waste disposal and proliferation are the most important ones. There is no disagreement at all, as I understand it, about the need for the most stringent safeguards possible. Australia has had and will continue to have detailed involvement in working towards the strengthening of existing safeguards, although if we were to refuse to export our uranium we very likely would be left out in the cold on these discussions and so would lose our ability to play a constructive role in this major area. Australia’s safeguards policy is the most stringent yet adopted by any country, including Canada. It is more stringent than that suggested by the Fox Commission and far stronger than that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition earlier this year. That does not make the safeguards perfect or foolproof, but if Australia co-operates with other uranium producers and consumers there is every reason to believe that international safeguards will continue to strengthen even further.
The risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons appears to be the major risk in the future development of nuclear power. The answer to this surely lies in the fostering of a peaceful international climate and in co-operation between all parties to limit proliferation. Adequate safeguards are of prime importance. Australia will do nothing to halt proliferation if it refuses to export its uranium. I would argue quite the contrary. I sincerely believe that we in Australia do not have the right to sit in judgment on the rest of the world. That is precisely what we would be doing if we were to deny the supply of uranium for peaceful purposes to customer countries which have expressed both a wish and a need for our uranium resources- resources which in energy content are of the same order as the presently known oil reserves of Saudi Arabiaand which received a major blow from the 1973 oil crises, a repetition of which they are understandably at very great pains to avoid.
– This subject has been before the Parliament on a number of occasions. One must say that usually it has been a debate in which very little new material has been produced. I have in front of me a report which quotes one of the commissioners as saying that the parliamentary debates have been completely shallow and of no help to the public. I think that sums up most of the abuse of each side. What is the value of learning how long the debate lasted at the ALP Conference or the heart-rendings that might have taken place there, when a member of the Liberal Party of Australia cannot refer to any debate in the Liberal Party at any of its conferences or to any decisions which it has made? The point made by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) is that we inherited a number of contracts that had been entered into. That clearly showed the philosophy of the present Government, which is to get in and export uranium at any cost at the best possible price at the moment but not to worry about the consequences. Connor, who has now passed to his eternal rest, was maligned again on the basis that he might have been going to do something deemed irregular. People will recall that Connor was abused for his policy of leaving uranium in the ground, for hesitating, for wanting what was best for Australia. It was a Labor Government that set up the Fox Royal Commission. One knows full well that, if it had been left to the previous Liberal-Country Party Government, there would have been no royal commission. If that Government had remained in power after 1972 it would have entered into as many contracts as it could have. That was the intention prior to the 1 972 election.
Credit should be given where it is due. If the Labor Party wants to change its view or its stance on an issue it does so on the basis of public opinion and on evidence submitted to it. At the present time the nation is divided, not on party lines but on what is the correct action to take for the world. The Fox Commission recommended that there be a full, free and extensive parliamentary debate so that the Parliament itself might be informed as to the issues. It would have been simpler for the Fox Commission, if it had not had some misgivings, merely to have said: ‘This is what you will do’. In fact it went into a neutral corner and said: ‘This is a most difficult issue, on which we cannot make decisions. It is a matter for the Government but the Government must take into consideration the views of the Australian people and the dangers to the Australian people and to the environment as well as the question of plutonium’. Is that not the issue at which we ought to be looking here? We ought to be looking at what is the best action to take for Australia and what is the correct action to take in the interests of the world. One cannot just assume that a country which is perhaps running out of energy will always adopt the correct course.
If one looks at world power politics one will see clearly that most of the super powers are interested in nuclear energy, nuclear fission and nuclear bombs because that gives them added muscle. All of them would be prepared to say that we would be better off without nuclear power but not one is prepared to say that it will be the first. Not one of them will trust the other. The Chinese leaders quite properly say that they will continue nuclear testing because their enemies have nuclear weapons and they cannot deny themselves that technology. That is the position with the United States of America, Soviet Russia and other countries.
Let us come to what this report was all about. It has been said to the Australian people that there is great economic benefit to be had from the mining and export of uranium. There is no such benefit from the point of view of employment and, from the point of view of future price, there is no guarantee that it will be of such great economic benefit. The second Fox report clearly shows that the number of people employed during the construction stage would be about 600 a year and in the operating stage about 250 a year. We now come to the question of what other evidence has been put before the parliaments of the world. The Flowers committee reported to the British Parliament on 22 September 1976, less than 12 months ago. Bearing in mind the number of nuclear reactors in the United Kingdom, the findings of the Rowers report related to plutonium as the big issue. The report said:
Plutonium appears to offer unique potential for threat and blackmail against society because of its great radiotoxicity and its fissile properties.
With respect to radioactive wastes it said:
There should be no commitment to a large program of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.
With respect to general nuclear policy for the United Kingdom, it said:
The dangers of the creation of plutonium in large quantities in conditions of increased world unrest are genuine and serious. We should not rely for energy supply on a process that produces such a hazardous substance . . . The abandonment of nuclear fission power would, however, be neither wise nor justified. But a major commitment to fission power and a plutonium economy should be postponed for as long as possible.
That report was made in Great Britain in September 1976. If we look at the problems of waste, we find that the present Australian decision is to go ahead. In the Government’s decision we find the following rather strange words:
The question of the safe disposal of the waste products of the generation of nuclear power for peaceful purposes does not now arise in Australia.
In other words, we assume that we have exported it all overseas. Do we claim that the criteria is that just because it is not in Australia it is not a problem for the world? Of course it is. If we look at page 101 of the first Fox report we see, with reference to waste, the following statement:
As an indication of the quantities involved, the Commission was told that reprocessing of the fuel used by one 1,000 megawatt light water reactor in a year would yield about 30 cubic metres of liquid high level waste. Cumulative production up to the year 2000 may be over half a million cubic metres.
The report then goes on to talk about the life of these wastes. They have a life of thousands of years. But we are saying that we think we have solved these problems. In fact it has been said that they have been solved. I note that Professor Kerr says that that claim is ridiculous. No such evidence has ever been submitted. Nobody in the world is prepared to admit that these problems have been solved.
There is one other factor relating to plutonium and to world power. There is a problem with the need for energy in the future. I have in front of me a statement made last July about the European Economic Community council of ministers. In the main they are the ones who are very interested in nuclear power and our ability to supply uranium. We now have a Minister to negotiate with the EEC. I do not know whether he will be trading in beef or uranium; the issue is not as simple as that. The EEC is interested in taking our uranium but not our beef. It is quite happy to leave us with those export problems. Germany says: ‘Let us have uranium because we want it.’ The article to which I was referring states:
The EEC council of ministers failed yet again this week to decide on a site for the Jet thermonuclear fusion research project.
Again we see the inability of countries which are interdependent to agree on these issues. The article continues:
Meantime the EEC commission has approved two papers to complete its review of the EEC’s nuclear energy policy. These papers, which will now be submitted to the EEC council, amount to a sharp rebuff for President Carter’s attempt to slow down the development of some sorts of nuclear technology.
Again it is not a question of the United States trying to tell them what to do. The EEC is going to run its race on this issue, and it will be on the basis of what is best for them both with respect to economy and with respect to the casualties that might flow from a world war. They are so shortsighted in these matters that they are not even prepared to slow down this development. The article goes on to say:
The commission argues that Europe should forge ahead with the development of fast breeder reactors.
This is a decision made three or four weeks ago, and here is a government saying that these aspects will be all right and that we will have adequate controls. The Government is saying that there is no need to worry, that everything will be all right because we can guarantee the surveillance. Where does the program announced by the Government indicate that it will have inspectors to police the use of our uranium right throughout the world through all its processes? That is laughable. Once the yellowcake gets over to the EEC it will soon be used up in some fast breeder technology, thus contributing to the potential disasters of the plutonium era.
The point is made that fast breeders are almost irresistible since they produce sixty times more energy from a given amount of uranium than conventional reactors. The lesson is that if a country has uranium and if it intends to maximise its use, there is the problem of plutonium. Let me go back to the Flowers report to the United Kingdom Parliament in September 1976 which said that this is the greatest danger which the world faces; yet if a country is short of power it should by all means maximise the production to 60 per cent instead of achieving the normal low usage from natural uranium. The commission says that if fast breeders are used it will still take 20 years to develop a technology, but that this will make little impact on the energy balance until the first quarter of the next century. At the very least, the commission suggests EEC ministers must agree to continue to develop fast breeder technology. Do honourable members see the impetus? It is obvious that they are going to use fast breeders, yet there will still be a delay in their technology. The point we want to make is that the article said:
But there is little chance of the EEC developing a ninecountry program . . .
In other words the EEC is not going to agree within itself even on this issue, and that is normal in the rat race of economic superiority, particularly in Europe. If you are German or French you want to be the chiefs while the others can be the indians. That is the point in this case. Who is going to run the technology program? Does not the Government see this problem coming? This report continues:
Most of the present programs are based on ad hoc national co-operation. The Super Phenix, for example, is being developed jointly by France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Holland. The planned German breeder involves France, Italy, Belgium and Holland. The commission has few specific thoughts on the developments of reprocessing facilities, except a suggestion that the EEC should encourage joint ventures . . . … the commission is pressing ahead because national governments feel the need to develop nuclear energy as fast as possible, despite increasing public opposition, especially in Germany . . .
That is the issue we are debating here.
There are two final points I want to make. I notice that the Premier of Queensland is anxious to say that people will be dealt with if they dare get out in the streets and say what they think. He says that people are not allowed to march or to raise their voices. I want to draw his attention to the Human Rights Commission and the fact that we are a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under that Covenant, particularly under Articles 19 and 20 et cetera, there is the right for people to have peaceful assembly and the right to express their views. All these rights are clearly set out in this Covenant.
The Premier of Queensland wants to deny and dispute every one of them. When no less a person than the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at the Premiers Conference suggested that the Government ought to legislate in this field he was opposed by none other than the Premier of Queensland on the basis that he was not going to have a national government intruding into Queensland. I hope Queenslanders who are listening tonight and those who read this debate will realise that their leader is not prepared to give them human rights, yet here we are as a nation pretending to the world that we will give those rights to all our citizens. If honourable members look at the minutes of the Premiers Conference they will see who are the guilty men. They are none other than the Premier of Queensland and he was aided and abetted, I think, by Mr Hamer of Victoria.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) said in the course of this debate that the Government was basing its authority on the Atomic Energy Act. I draw his attention to the fact that this Act is based on the defence power. In my view there is no basis within the present constitutional framework for the Government to rely on the Atomic Energy Act. Such things must be for the Commonwealth’s purposes of defence and these uranium contracts are in no way related to defence. If honourable members look at the specific provisions of that Act they will find that what was intended was really enormous. I want to quote what the Fox Commission said when dealing with the Atomic Energy Act. At page 248 of its second report the Fox Commission said:
An alternative for Ranger left open by the Land Rights Act is an authority to mine under the Atomic Energy Act 1 953. We strongly recommend against the use of that Act for the grant of an authority to Ranger to mine uranium.
The Commission then set out its reasons. The Atomic Energy Act is related to defence and the defence power is where it can be based. The present arrangements cannot be continued under this Act. If honourable members look at the provisions of section 17(4), section 34, section 41 and section 44 they will find that all of them are based on the defence power and all of them say that the Act can be used only for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth and no other purpose. Tonight we are here debating whether the Commonwealth has power to do this. In my view it has no such power and this matter should be the subject of challenge in the High Court. At least the Government might encourage that to be done and not suggest that everything is in order because it can use the Atomic Energy Act. The security provisions under Part IV of that Act, if anybody gets caught up under them, are enormous. They include imprisonment for 20 years for taking a photograph or doing something of that nature.
-Order The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Some 32 years ago the world was horrified to see the unleashing of the greatest force that man had ever known; that was the explosion of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since that time the world has changed a great deal. We have discovered, as we have in virtually every other aspect of human endeavour, that both good and evil can flow from our efforts. What we did not envisage in 1945 was that by 1977 the world would be facing the greatest potential energy shortages ever known by mankind. In fact it is estimated that by the turn of the century the increase in world demand will be some 400 per cent on current figures. The reality of this power problem which the world is facing has made the modern world realise that we must be prepared to utilise whatever means are at our disposal to encourage the development of alternative sources of energy so that industry, and people may be better able to develop not only in Australia but throughout the world. Through the development of cheap sources of energy opportunities which will be opened to the developing world undoubtedly will be much greater than they are at present.
We have heard complaints from the Opposition about the fact that there have been no less than three debates in this chamber on this subject over the last 12 months. We have heard complaints that there has not been sufficient debate. I venture to suggest that we have spent more hours on debating this issue, both in this chamber and elsewhere, than has ever been the case on any other similar subject. Nevertheless I would be the first to say that perhaps not in Australia’s recent history has the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government been faced by the need to take very significant decisions on a subject of such immense importance. This Government, after the most extensive inquiry conducted by the Fox Commission, has finally made its decision. Having done so it has the full support of this side of the House and undoubtedly it will have the support of the Australian people.
The reality of the situation is that uranium has been mined in Australia since 1958 and for at least the last two decades uranium power has been a viable source of energy, particularly in western Europe, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is not all that new. Despite this fact, the three realities which we must face and which we must grapple with- the Government has demonstrated its quite clear intention to do so- are the areas of safeguards, waste disposal and proliferation.
In the area of safeguards, the Australian Government recently announced a set of standards which are, without question, the highest in the world. They are certainly more significant, but must be seen in parallel with those of both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The areas which are being covered by the Australian Government in terms of safeguards are the need to keep policy under constant review, a careful selection of eligible customers for uranium, the application of effective international atomic energy safeguards, bilateral agreements with customer countries, fall-back safeguards, prior Australian Government consent in relation to reexport, enrichment and reprocessing, constant physical security, safeguard provisions in contracts and international multi-lateral efforts to strengthen safeguards. It is also worth noting, because it is of considerable importance, that as a result of the Australian Government’s decision to proceed with the mining and export of uranium Australia has been invited to join with the United States and other countries who are already in the nuclear fuel cycle program in the development of evaluation techniques which will be a further step towards ensuring that more adequate safeguards are constantly being developed.
There is no question in this House, that there are risks with uranium but I recall that at the turn of the century the people who first drove automobiles had men walking in front of those vehicles carrying red flags. People called it an accursed machine. Since the turn of the century we have seen more people die on our roads in this nation and elsewhere than were killed in all the wars of the last 500 years. Nevertheless the reality remains. It is our primary responsibility to ensure that there are no more Hiroshimas and Nagasakis and that secondly, through the peaceful development of uranium, we will be able to see a more viable and happy mankind in the future. In terms of the problems we face with energy needs, it is worth remembering that the future demand for uranium depends essentially on the rate of growth in electricity consumption throughout the world and upon the requirements of electricity which are to be supplied by nuclear plants. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing a forecast of world nuclear power capacity.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-Therefore the propensity for the wellbeing and development of both Australia and the world as a whole is going to depend in the future on the availability, and the reliable availability, of cheap sources of fuel. Since 1973 when the oil crisis struck as a deadly blow the industrial heartland of Western Europe in particular, as well as that of North America, the Western world has been faced by the immediate need to seek and to find and develop alternative sources of energy. Otherwise it is facing economic suicide.
The strange thing we have not noticed in this debate is that the other section of the world, namely the Soviet Union and its satellites, which are also well along the road to nuclear development, have not been brought into this debate. They do not see in their societies segments of the community, even miniscule ones, taking to the streets and making other forms of public protest, because in those societies protest is not allowed. One can perhaps ask this question: Why is it that in the Western countries we find this tendency to try to return us to the trees literally, when obviously the reality of failure to develop uranium at this stage is going to leave us within the next 20 years in a most serious predicament unless massive alternative sources of fossilised fuel are found. The expectations of the scientific community demonstrate the fact that it is highly unlikely that any large quantities of fossilised fuel will be developed in this country or elsewhere to meet the increasing world demands in the foreseeable future.
I would like to make five other points which are of tremendous relevance to the development of the nuclear uranium industry in Australia. I draw them from a report entitled ‘Uranium Resources and Requirements’ published by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and written by Messrs Silver and Wright. These are the main points made in the report: The uranium industry could be earning about $3,000m per year at projected prices or about $ 1,000m per year in current-that is, 1975- money values. These values should be compared with the current earnings from wool exports of about $800m or mineral exports of about $2,500m. The uranium industry could be employing about 2,300 people directly and probably supporting a similar number of people in the provision of consumables and operating services. A labour force of some 3,000 to 3,500 would be engaged in construction projects in the industry for the decade 1980 to 1990. The indirect labour required in other industries to support these construction projects would be at least 3,000 people. In addition to that, the construction of those plants would require about $ 1,750m to be spent by 1985, and some of that money would be spent in Australia and would therefore provide employment and further growth. The wages bill in the industry could be about $100m a year, which is equivalent to about $35m to $40m in 1975 money values.
The advantages to the Australian community and to the development of our industry are quite clear. Yet we have seen an absolute demonstration of Labor hypocrisy in the handling of this most vital issue. How is it that a mere two and three years ago the then Government could not get into the nuclear industry fast enough? Now we hear in hypocritical terms this sudden desire: ‘Stop! I want to get off’. But, sir, the world keeps turning; development will keep taking place. Every move we make carries with it a risk. But obviously it is the objective of mankind to apply his skills and his technology to overcome those risks, and developments in that regard have already taken place. Yet on 31 October 1974 the Whitlam Labor Government detailed its policy on the mining and exporting of uranium in a major statement made to the Parliament by the then Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Connor, That is what he said:
This statement is to outline the Government ‘s program for the rational development of uranium resources in the Northern Territory- a program which will return substantial benefits to Australia from our supply of this vital energy resource to our overseas trading partners who face such grave difficulties in securing their own energy requirements.
Yet it took a mere 24 hours of behind the scenes negotiations with the left wing leaders in Perth, followed by a mere 45 minutes of public debate in conference, noted by the silence of such outstanding members of the Labor movement as the President, Mr Hawke, the parliamentary leader himself and his deputy, Mr Hayden, to see that policy not only undone but completely turned over. Despite the statements made in those years by virtually every member of the Labor Party who remains in the Opposition benches, in support of the proposition that Australia should utilise its existing reserves, should get them out of the ground and should sell them to enable the world to improve its standard of living. To enable the world to have at its disposal alternative sources of energy, we as a government are faced by the reality that if we had not made this decision, if we had not made our uranium reserves available to the world, the situation simply was that the advent of the fast breeder reactor, which regrettably I believe will come in due course, would undoubtedly be hastened.
The development of technology for an effective fast breeder reactor is seen by scientists as being on the frontier of scientific discovery. Being a frontier it will be pushed back, but nothing is more certain than the stage of the fast breeder reactor will be reached if cheap and reliable sources of energy are not available at this time and in the foreseeable future. Countries such as Japan have already gone on record as saying: ‘If you cannot supply us with our requirements of U203 we have no alternative but to go into the plutonium cycle and the development of the fast breeder reactor’. Faced by that fundamental reality, by the knowledge that the development of the fast breeder reactor is imminent, the capacity of the NPT and IAEA or any other safeguards to regulate effectively the dissemination, and the risks associated with uranium, would obviously be out of normal control at that time.
The Government has taken the right decisions after considerable and very detailed examination. It is Australia’s responsibility to the world to play its full part in maintaining a peaceful future for mankind, a future which will be based as far as we are aware on the available sources of energy and the development of what could be one of the greatest breakthroughs of mankind. I am also very pleased to see in the Government’s announcement that it is proposed that part of the revenues received from the resources tax on the development of uranium will be spent in looking for alternative sources of energy, including solar energy. Of course, we will break through in this area but it will take time. In the meantime mankind needs uranium.
-Much has been made by speakers on the Government side of the fact that the Labor Government, when it was in power, agreed to and sought to promote the export of uranium. That is true. The facts of the early 1960s and the facts of the early 1970s about uranium and the nuclear power industry are no longer the facts in the late 1 970s. After we had made those decisions, following upon the decisions made by the previous Liberal Government to allow the mining and export of uranium, we were activated by the growing concern expressed in many parts of the world and not just by the Australian community. So we established the Ranger Uranium Inquiry to look into the matter. Unlike members of the Government parties, we are prepared to display the characteristic that makes man different from animals- our intelligence and our capacity to learn. We have taken note of the, findings of that inquiry and the British Government’s Flowers inquiry, the doubts expressed by President Ford and the actions taken by President Carter, all suggesting that the facts of the early 1960s and 1970s-that is, that it was all nice and safe and easily controlledare no longer facts. There are doubts. So the Australian Labor Party has expressed its view by suggesting that we should wait until we are more certain that the hazards that have been exposed by these inquiries can be dealt with. I see nothing dishonest in that action of the Labor Party as was implied in many of the criticisms made by honourable members on the other side of the House.
Another point that has been made by honourable members on the other side is that it is all terribly necessary because the world will starve if we do not export uranium. How cynical! Are they suggesting that we are going to export this uranium to the underdeveloped countries? The buyers on our doorstep and even the countries we have approached are the developed and rich countries. The cynicism sickens me. It reminds me of the story about how valuable our natural gas is and what a boon it will be for mankind. Where is it to go? Recently we have been informed that it is to go to the west coast of the United States of America. I would have thought that that was the last place to morally deserve to get it. Let us look at the claim that uranium is necessary for the starving world, that it will be a boon to the poor and developing countries.
-Who said that?
– That is what honourable members opposite tend to say. Let me quote from a letter from Action for World Development which in part said:
First the nuclear energy industry is capital intensive.
This is discussing the value of this magnificent development to the poor countries of the world. The letter continued: . . . this means that a nuclear energy program will provide no solution for one of the major problems of developing countries- unemployment . . .
Second, the phrase, ‘energy-hungry world’ is not necessarily the same as the ‘hungry world ‘.
I have already mentioned that. The energyhungry world comprises the developed and greedy countries which already are using far too much of the world’s resources. The letter went on:
For although developing countries do need cheap energy, their need is not as great as the developed countries and they have other, more pressing problems to cope with … a nuclear energy program would be an expensive luxury.
One of the signatories to the letter noted from his attendance at the 1975 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty that it was only the affluent developing countries which evinced any real interest m nuclear power. He found remarkably little enthusiasm for nuclear energy programs among the poorest of the developing countries. The letter continued:
Third, any country (developed or developing) which begins a nuclear energy program is inevitably enmeshed in the web of multinational corporations . . . … it is undeniable that international opinion (as evidenced at such fora as the United Nations) has increasingly revealed doubts about the usefulness of such corporations as a vehicle for economic development.
There was yet another reservation, in that the letter continued:
Fourth, nuclear technology is among the most complicated of all forms of technology . . .
To keep power stations operating both efficiently and safely requires considerable finance and technical ability. Both are beyond the reach of most developing countries. Additionally, a nuclear energy program would require an extensive electricity grid and this, too, would be expensive and complex to introduce.
Let us get to the nub of it. The letter continued:
It is notable that India, probably the poorest developing country with nuclear aspirations, has apparently developed no major programs for nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
But, India has made its bomb. The letter went on:
India’s example leads to the fifth reason: The threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is regrettable that some developing countries have failed to acquire the degree of political stability which was once hoped for them.
So how can one be sure what will happen if such countries develop this potential? In its letter, Action for World Development further stated:
Additionally, given the political instability of some developing countries, a nuclear energy program could be easily disrupted by guerrillas opposed to the government.
Consider, for example, what could have happened in the recent events in Pakistan if Pakistan had its reactor. What might have happened to the reactor? The letter continued: … a government could try to avert this threat by instituting a tough policy of security, for example, infiltration of politically active community opposition groups, inspection of mail, and mass media censorship. In short, such a program would either oblige a liberal government to be dictatorial or it would further entrench an already dictatorial government.
Let us look at what the Government has proposed in this country for handling the Ranger deposit. It has suggested the application of the Atomic Energy Act. Some of the provisions in that Act could well make the Northern Territory something like a police state. They are the steps to which one may be forced to go in order to ensure security, but in the process of ensuring security what sort of society do we finish up with? The letter went on:
Finally, developing countries need ‘soft’ intermediate technology- the very opposite of nuclear energy programs, which require, for example, a system of looking after nuclear waste for thousands of years. They need cheap, simple technology which will employ as many people as possible.
Another harrowing possibility to consider is whether, if in Pakistan- I withdraw that reference to Pakistan because I do not want to pick on that country- or in the poor developing countries where there is social unrest, and we have seen so many examples of this that this is not a low possibility but a high probability, there was some guerrilla activity and insurgency, the rebels would respect the technicians running the power plant- they obviously would not respect the government- or would line them up against the wall and shoot them because they were seen as instruments of the government which the rebels were opposing. If that happens, what then? Will the rebels have brought along with them trained technicians who are able to look after the reactor and to shut it down? The other day I was talking to a scientist who has had some training in this field. He said: ‘I would not be sure how to close a reactor down if I were asked to do so’. I put that question to some dozens of my colleagues who thought they knew something about the subject, but they were not sure what steps would have to be taken. So, in the situation of social instability I have described how could we expect the developing countries to find the experts who know how to control a reactor?
The suggestion arises that with proper controls we can stop the ready diversion of this material given some sort of stability in these countries. It has been claimed that it takes a lot of skill and probably a lot of money to process the material from a nuclear reactor in order to produce a bomb. Let me quote from a talk by Mr Kelleher, one of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry commissioners, to the Environmental Engineers Conference in June this year. He said:
Let me give an example of the dangers of adopting a rigidly technical approach to the consideration of problems . . .
In assessing the benefits and hazards of nuclear power, one of the more important things we had to determine for ourselves was the risk of diversion of plutonium from power reactors for use in nuclear bombs. The essential question was whether the material so produced would be suitable for use in a bomb.
Mr Kelleher then said that distinguished and technically expert Australians who had volunteered to give evidence to the inquiry told the inquiry that the material would be quite unsuitable and that any explosive device using such material would be a fizzer. He continued: … if the inquiry had been a closed one, that is, not open to the public, this advice may have been accepted. However, a member of the public submitted to us as an exhibit a book entitled Nuclear Theft- Risks and Safeguards. The book stated unequivocally that reactor grade plutonium could be used to make very destructive explosive devices. We had to obtain additional evidence on this subject and did so, finally concluding that ‘the evidence points strongly to the conclusion that very destructive nuclear explosive devices can be made from reactor grade plutonium produced in power reactors operated normally. The physical data needed to make such devices, with uncertain explosive yield but probably in the range of hundreds to thousands of tonnes equivalent of TNT, are available in the open literature’. As honourable members probably now know, the validity of this conclusion has since been confirmed in public statements by representatives of the United States Energy Research and Development Administration and the United States Nuclear Regulation Commission.
So much for security in the sense that it is really terribly complicated for one to make a bomb.
I turn to security and the international safeguards. I shall read an article in the New Scientist of 24 February 1977. It is an article by Dr Frank Barnaby. It states:
The May 1974 Indian nuclear explosion, the sale by West Germany of a uranium enrichment and a reprocessing plant to Brazil, and the sale by France of a reprocessing plant to Pakistan-
That has, in fact, become the subject of an election campaign in that country- . . . were among the events which finally alerted a previously apathetic world to the coupling between peaceful nuclear technology and the capability to produce nuclear weapons. As pan of a diplomatic campaign for nonproliferation, the USA initiated the setting up of the ‘ London Club’ . . . The Club’s aim is to minimise the risk of diversion of nuclear technology . . . to the production of nuclear explosives.
The London Club now has 14 members- the US, the USSR, the UK., France, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
That is a good unity ticket if ever there was one. Those countries have agreed to adopt guidelines for the control and export of certain nuclear materials. But the point is that the London Club guidelines are essentially a gentlemen’s agreement. They do not amount to a treaty. A member can withdraw from the Club at any time. The Club was set up after the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its safeguards and after all the talk about how we will control the diversion of nuclear material for the purpose of making bombs. Clearly, the London Club members- that is most of the countries with nuclear technology capable of producing bombs- do not believe in the safeguards which the Government so proudly proclaims will ensure that nothing terrible happens. The very existence of the London Club is an admission of the failure of the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons to establish a viable non-proliferation regime. One advantage of the London Club is the membership of France, a major nuclear exporter conspicuously absent from the NPT. This hardly outweighs the disadvantage that the success of the London Club relies entirely on the continuing goodwill of its members. This is an insufficient basis to control the cut throat competition inherent in a multi-billion dollar export industry. I appeal to members of the Government to stop deluding themselves and to consider the human problems involved. The whole mechanism of control is not a technological matter. It depends upon man and his social instruments. The technology may be safe for 500 years but it all depends on control by men, by our social institutions and which one would be guaranteed for 50 years, let alone 500 years or 250,000 years?
– I comment, first, on the remarks of the last speaker, the honourable member for Maribrynong (Dr Cass). He said that the whole situation relied on control by man. That is very true. But that is true also concerning other sources of power such as fossil fuels or anything of that nature. Man uses explosives and every other way of destroying himself. So, this uranium debate is wrongly connected to that argument. I support the mining, milling and export of uranium insofar as this conforms with the Commonwealth’s agreed conditions and the requirements stated for the handling of waste and so on. I remind the House, the Australian people, the objectors- genuine or otherwiseplus our friends opposite in the Australian Labor Party of the stand that party took when it was in government. Mr Whitlam, who became Prime Minister when he lead his socialist Party into office in 1972, gave undertakings that export contracts which had been entered into by Peko-EZ, Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd and Queensland Mines Ltd would be honoured when the Labor Party came into office.
Recently we have seen the leaders of that Party and most of its speakers- certainly the parliamentary leader and the Party leader- twist 180 degrees from that original course when they said that the Labor Party would honour contracts already made and that it would enter into the development of uranium. Now the Labor Party is dead against uranium mining and export. But in those days when the Labor Party supported uranium, it used the taxpayers’ money to buy into uranium mining and export. The then Government bought 42 per cent of the shares of Mary Kathleen at that time. Not content with that, it put a leading trade unionist on the board of Mary Kathleen- I take it to safeguard the interests of the Government. Today we have the Labor Party speaking so trenchantly against something which only a few years ago it supported very strongly. At that time, of course, the Labor Government agreed with Peko-EZ that in exchange for SO per cent of the profit of the Ranger deposit it would meet 72.5 per cent of development costs. I remind the House of what the former Minister for Minerals and Energy stated. It sounds very like some of the statements which have been made in this debate by honourable members on this side of the House. The late Mr Connor stated:
My purpose in this statement is to outline the Government’s -
That was the Australian Labor Party Government- . . . program for the rational development of uranium resources in the Northern Territory; a program which will return substantial economic benefits to Australia from our supply of this vital energy resource to our overseas trading partners who face such grave difficulties in securing their energy requirements, and recognise fully the part played by those who have successfully explored our uranium resources.
That was said only a few years ago by the Minister for Minerals and Energy in the Labor Government. He went on:
The annual report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission for 1973-74 states that reasonably assured resources in Australia are presently estimated at 188,000 tonnes uranium forming a significant part of total estimated world resources . . .
I point out to those people who are damning South Africa for various reasons that its estimated tonnage of available uranium is 200,000 tonnes. I say to many people on both sides of the House and especially to members of the Australian Labor Party that if people succeed in banning uranium mining and export they are helping those who appear to me to be their dreaded enemies in South Africa, the people who are standing against the communist penetration of that country. The former Minister continued: … the Government is determined to ensure that the Northern Territory uranium resources are developed in a sensible manner.
Resignation of Attorney-General-Cost of Air Fares to Europe arid Scandinavia
-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 refer to the proceedings in the House earlier today when the former Attorney-General, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), was forced to resign his position. What we have seen is a shameful exercise in Cabinet democracy and practice and a shameful day for the Parliament of Australia. It is in my view the first sign of the disintegration of the Fraser Cabinet. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the man who talked about Cabinet solidarity and loyalty, has been the first man to ignore the Cabinet system and destroy a Minister himself. If the Cabinet had met on this matter of the Sankey case, if the decision had been made, had there been an announcement, then the Attorney-General could have made up his own mind and made a decision about where he stood. Instead of that the Prime Minister deliberately set out to destroy the honourable member for Wentworth in the typical Fraser fashion in the same way as he destroyed former Prime Minister Gorton, and other Ministers before him. He pushed the AttorneyGeneral out naked in the public and knifed him in the process.
Let us remember what the honourable member for Wentworth said today in the House. He referred to an article in the Canberra Times which, in part, stated:
Government sources emphasised yesterday that the decision not to intervene did not imply any approval for the continuance of the prosecutions by Mr Sankey. The Government’s view, they said, was that the electorate had passed its judgment on the overseas loans affair at the 1975 elections and that the matter should stop. This was why the Government had refused a prosecution application . . . A decision to intervene and then discontinue the prosecutions had been ‘muddied’ by Mr Justice Murphy’s firm opposition . . .
The honourable member for Wentworth said:
I was deeply troubled about the Government’s sources. It seemed to me that if that was accurate, that is to say if it had come from Government sources, it was indicating something about the discretion which I had to exercise; it was indicating, in effect, that a decision had been made that these proceedings should be taken over and terminated. But that was a decision which only I, as Attorney-General, could make. I regret to say that Mr Dickie, my Press officer, has given me the following statement:
The day after the publication of the story by Mr Waterford Mr David Barnet telephoned me. He told me that Mr Waterford had approached him the day before about the Sankey story. He said Mr Waterford seemed to have all the facts associated with the Sankey story and that all that seemed to be missing was the motivation. Mr Barnett said that he supplied Mr Waterford with the motivation.
It is clear that the Attorney-General believed that the Prime Minister’s lackey, his Press Secretary who is now in the House, acted on the Prime Minister’s behalf and publicly corroborated a story to a journalist which exposed his defeat in Cabinet, left him without a feather to fly with and ultimately forced his resignation. Tonight we see an expose, a letter released by Mr David Barnett obviously on behalf of himself and the Prime Minister and probably drafted by both of them if the truth be known. In the third paragraph it stated:
Since this was incorrect, I asked for, and received authority to guide Mr Waterford.
From whom would he seek authority and receive it but his boss? It went on to say:
I did so on this one matter only, his misapprehension about the role of the Prime Minister. I told him it was the Prime Minister’s view that these matters should not be prosecuted and that they were resolved in the elections of 1975.
In other words, he confirmed all the rumours and suspicions which the journalist had picked up and verified at the Prime Minister’s behest. We did not hear the Prime Minister deny today what the former Attorney-General had said. We did not see a statement from the Prime Minister denying the fact that Mr Barnett had approached him and that he told Mr Barnett to corroborate the story. We did not get any denial from the Prime Minister that he destroyed his own Minister. We had the old story of the Prime Minister hiding behind his staff and hiding behind journalists in the same way as he did when he tried to destroy Peacock and Gorton. He has now destroyed the Attorney-General of his own Government and has put his whole Cabinet system at risk.
Those are the facts. Tonight we hear that Senator Cotton and Senator Carrick are making moves to be rid of Mr Barnett from the staff. Well they should. While he remains he is a danger with the Prime Minister as his accomplice in this kind of motivation. Why did the Prime Minister back Mr Barnett? Why did he give him a clear instruction to corroborate the story to destroy Ellicott? We do not know. Probably Mr Barnett has too much on the Prime Minister for the Prime Minister to let him down. Every Minister should be aware that he is now at risk under this process. The Prime Minister has corroborated stories and leaks indicating that the Cabinet had let the Attorney-General down. The AttorneyGeneral has been left with a decision made by Cabinet and corroborated by the Prime Minister without a feather to fly with. He felt compelled to resign. There is not the slightest loyalty or cohesion in the Fraser Cabinet. It is obviously a dog eat dog brigade with the famous hound dog, Barnett, doing Mr Fraser ‘s dirty work for him. He has done it to you, Mr Speaker. He has done it to Gorton. He has done it to others. Now he has done it to the Attorney-General.
-Order! The honourable member will not reflect on the Chair. The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I take a point of order. Is the honourable member in order to attack Mr Barnett who is not in a position to answer?
-There is no point of order. If the honourable member chooses to use the words he does, he is entitled to do so.
-I take a point of order. With regard to the manner in which the honourable member for Blaxland referred to previous honourable members such as Gorton, and so on there is a standing order which requires a better description.
– I call the honourable member for Denison.
-Bob Ellicott was and is an honourable man. He was a very distinguished lawyer before he came to this Parliament. He served as Solicitor-General under governments both Liberal and Labor. He has a long standing career at the New South Wales Bar. He has the respect, trust and affection of the entire Australian Bar. He is to this day a sincere and genuine person. Nobody who heard him in this House today would doubt his sincerity or integrity. In particular, he was a great friend to Tasmania. You, Mr Speaker, when Leader of the Opposition, appointed Bob Ellicott as spokesman for Tasmania in this House when we did not have a single honourable member in the House of Representatives. He carried out his duties on behalf of Tasmania faithfully and well. It is due in no mean order to his achievements that there are now five Liberal members from Tasmania in the House of Representatives. Above all, he was a reforming Attorney-General. He was a courageous and honest AttorneyGeneral. He knew and understood the high traditions of the office of the first law officer of the Commonwealth. He understood the principles concerning the independence of that office. I believe that as Attorney-General he will be remembered in Australia with gratitude for his keen sense of duty, his dedication to his office and the zeal with which he pursued the reform of law in this country for the betterment of all Australians.
We can compare that with the tinpot performance tonight on the television program This Day Tonight of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), himself a lawyer and a Queen’s Counsel at that. Watching it I found it hard to convince myself that it was actually a lawyer speaking to the people of Australia. I have said in the past and I feel that many Australians believe that the Leader of the Opposition during his period in this Parliament, including his term as Prime Minister of this country, has made a contribution to the nation’s development. But I could not believe that his vanity was such. I could not believe that he was prepared on television tonight not only to denigrate and defame an honourable man but also to place himself above and beyond the law of this land.
If his performance tonight has to be summed up it can be said that it proved that he has learnt nothing from his defeat in 1975. Tonight’s performance proved that he was prepared to go on national television and publicly canvass issues which are at present before a court of law, issues upon which he says- we must accept his wordthat he has a complete defence. Yet he stood over the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He stood over the Full Court of New South Wales with respect to which he has made two applications. He stood over the magistrate who is to hear and determine these charges. It is not my function to say whether there is anything in these charges or not but I will say this: If ever there was a clear case of contempt of court, if ever a man should be brought before the bar of the Supreme
Court of New South Wales for contempt of court, it is the Leader of the Opposition.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not make reflections upon the Leader of the Opposition in those terms. He can do so only by way of a substantive motion and there is not one before the House.
– Well, I will withdraw what I said and rephrase it, Mr Speaker. I simply say that if anybody did that in Tasmania he would be before the court within five seconds. I do not believe it an appropriate function of a Leader of the Opposition or indeed a member of this House to go on television and canvass issues which earlier in the day were ruled out of order by yourself, Mr Speaker, in this Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition made the point today very clearly that what he could not say in this House he would say outside it. But surely, Mr Speaker, there is some responsibility in this matter. Surely in an indirect way his action circumvented the ruling which you gave and which I believe the House would have supported today. I would hope that the Leader of the Opposition rather than fight this case through national television would do everything in his power to ensure it is brought on. At that time he can put his defence and at that time, hopefully, if the evidence is insufficient he will be cleared. But for him to go on television tonight, on the very day that an honourable man- and I believe him to be such- tendered his resignation in sad circumstances is, I believe, less than we should have expected from the Leader of the Opposition.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I also wish to reflect on today’s occurrences because the honourable man about whom the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) spoke is also a person to whom I wish to direct some remarks. I listened to the honourable member for Denison say on 10 or 15 occasions in his speech tonight that this man was honourable and truthful. First, I think the honourable member should have come into the House and told us something about the person who has replaced him as a Minister- the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs whom we on this side of the House describe as the best 500 player in the House. We would like to know from the AttorneyGeneral -
-Order! The honourable member will withdraw that remark. If he is to debate the matter he should do so without recourse to those terms.
-I withdraw, Mr Speaker. I just ask: Why was not the former Attorney-General so keen on his occupation when it involved a member of his own party? Why was he not then so keen to call witnesses and get all the truth? Why was it then that he did not stand up to Cabinet and convince Cabinet that this is what ought to have been done?
There are two elements to the occurrences of today. First, as the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) said, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should have had sufficient courage to announce the Cabinet decision to the public and to the world and not leak it out in the very mangy way it was leaked because that brought about the downfall of the former AttorneyGeneral. But what else has this brought about? It brings to mind the activities of the present Prime Minister over a number of years. Let me go back just a few weeks. How many ministers made statements to the House a fortnight ago about uranium? There were six- the perfect package. One would have thought that politically it was Christmas. Everyone was to be convinced by the professional way in which the uranium package was sold to us. But what happened on 30 July? What happened in respect of the Prime Minister’s office on that date? To find out one should look at an article which appeared in the National Times.
A story was leaked out that Justice Fox was not in favour of uranium mining. The Press was given the story unofficially from the Prime Minister’s office. The National Times of 30 July associated the Prime Minister and his office with a lie, because Justice Fox made it very clear in a telegram to his fellow commissioners that that was not so. That was the start of selling the uranium issue to the public of this country. That is the way in which this Prime Minister operates.
Have a look at what happened last week. The Prime Minister, when in New Guinea, unofficially told a couple of journalists travelling with him that interest rates were going to drop. This was not announced by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) or by anybody assisting the Treasurer. It was done straight off the top of his head. This is the way Cabinet is operating and this is the method to which every Minister, senior and junior, is to be subjected in the weeks and months ahead. This is the way in which this Prime Minister has always operated. He has the oldest, most worn out political knife in this country. If one does not abide by the way he operates one has to go and sit down at the back. Honourable members on this side of the House are getting sick and tired of speeches and statements from people leaving the Ministry and the Liberal Party. We will have to look at Standing Orders to see whether we can restrict the time that such members are given to make their statements because this will not be the end of it.
I refer to the appointment of the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations (Mr Howard). I do not think there was any great long conference with the National Country Party of Australia about that appointment. This was again another peculiarity of the way in which this Prime Minister operates. Apparently by innuendo the Minister for National Resources and Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Anthony) is incompetent to deal with matters concerning the European Economic Community. The Minister for Special Trade Negotiations was appointed by this Prime Minister without any confirmation or discussion within the Cabinet about what should be operating.
This country is littered with people who have been subjected to the political knife of the Prime Minister. The actions of his Press Secretary are insignificant. Who would not do such a job in this country for $50,000 or $60,000 a year. Of course, one would carry the bone of the master around. That is all he is doing. As I said, his actions are insignificant. But even the people sitting on the other side of the House, dumb as they are, must see the way in which this man has operated.
- Mr Speaker wants to agree with you.
– It must be -
-Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat. The honourable member for Prospect will withdraw the interjection.
– I withdraw, Mr Speaker.
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide will cease using terms such as that in debate.
– I withdraw it. Let me just conclude by saying that the way in which this Prime Minister operates must be becoming apparent to all honourable members opposite.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Tonight I would like to bring to the attention of the House a matter of very deep concern to a large ethnic group in my electorate. I am sure it will be of interest to other honourable members. The matter concerns the level of air fares between
Australia and certain points in Europe. It is probably appropriate at the moment to speak about the matter considering the tremendous publicity that has been given to the latest developments in the Laker versus Qantas Airlines Ltd situation as a direct result of the hearings of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Tourism.
I have been approached by the Finnish community in my electorate. I understand that the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who has one of the largest Finnish communities in Australia is also very concerned about this matter. Excursion air fares are available to some 20 points in Europe at the moment. To all intents and purposes, very shortly we will see the introduction of an even lower air fare to Great Britain. But the problem at the moment is that Australia does not have direct air services between Sydney and areas such as Helsinki and the other major centres in the Scandinavian area. Indeed, Madrid also comes into this category and, of course, we have a very large Spanish community in Australia.
At the moment the cheapest fare between Australia and Helsinki is $1542 in the high season and $ 1 462 in the low season. The honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) by way of interjection has been asking about other areas in Scandinavia. Maybe I can give him some information in that respect. The cheapest fare to Stockholm in the low season is $1410 and in the high season it is $1489. The lowest fare in the high season to Oslo is $1479 and in the low season it is $1401. To Copenhagen the lowest fare in the low season is $1301 and in the high season $1379. The cheapest fare in the low season to Madrid is $ 1275 and in the high season it is $1353
In my approaches to the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) the official reason given, of course, is that there is no direct service operating at the moment between Australia and the Scandinavian countries and Spain, and that although one can get these excursion air fares to some 22 points in Europe when one adds on the fares to other Scandinavian centres or Madrid it is not possible to get a lower fare than those I have just quoted. The Minister pointed out in some correspondence to me that the problem comes about when a changeover situation develops and extra costs are involved if someone gets off one service and changes to another. It is interesting to note that most stop-over packages around the world have a component for a changeover or a change of airline, usually about $35 with a maximum of $50. It is interesting to note also that the Finnish National Airline is now operating a direct service between Helsinki and Bangkok and offering excursion fares to nationals to go home to visit relatives from that point. It would seem that the Australian national airline and the Department of Transport are not particularly interested at the moment in coming to some arrangement whereby Qantas could carry the Finnish community between Sydney and, say, Bangkok and then give them that excursion fare on Fin-Air from Bangkok through to Helsinki or to other points. This is obviously causing a great deal of distress and concern, particularly amongst the Finnish community and the communities which represent the other Scandinavian countries.
The reverse situation is true, too. With such large groups of people as the Finns, the Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians in Australia, many of their families would like to visit them here, but of course the air fares are completely prohibitive. Once again Australia is in a situation in which it is missing out on this sort of tourist traffic. The visiting friends and relatives market is a very lucrative one, especially from Great Britain at the moment. With the provision of excursion fares to these other areas we could open up whole new markets. It could be very advantageous especially in an area like Mount Isa where we have a large Scandinavian community and a fledgling tourist industry which would like to see things get under way.
I know that the situation in relation to direct air services between Australia and Scandinavia is being looked at at the moment by the Department of Transport, but one would hope that some real move could be made shortly to introduce this fare to bridge the gap for these particular ethnic groups until such time as an excursion fare or a direct service is finally negotiated between the governments of Scandinavia and Australia.
– The matters raised this evening by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) and the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) are of a most serious nature. Both honourable members have pointed to a scenario which has been vaguely sketched in the newspapers over the past several weeks. Today we saw the style of government of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at last bearing fruit. His style of government is to destroy persons, when it suits him, by the use of proxies. On this occasion it has been a Press secretary in his employ. It does not matter who the person concerned is. Reference was made earlier today in this House to the use of proxies, to sustained action and to harassment of Opposition members by supporters of the Government parties. Particular reference was made to the role of Mr David Rofe, Q.C. What I have to say in no way reflects on Mr Rofe or the fact that at this very moment he is a candidate in local government elections in New South Wales, standing against the Australian Labor Party. I do not think for one moment that that would affect his motives in the conduct of any of these proceedings.
It is not an unusual tactic for the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party of Australia to be involved in these kinds of affairs. Not many years ago there was an incident in New South Wales which many honourable members may remember and in which a presiding officer of the Legislative Assembly was harassed by a private prosecution on information laid by a woman whose legal aid was provided gratis by the Liberal Party of New South Wales. The solicitor who harassed this man was subsequently struck off the roll for dishonourable conduct. His fees were picked up by the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party. This was a deliberately organised campaign of harassment which again directly affected the health of the man who, the magistrate held, had no charge whatsoever to answer and was never sent for trial. This is a usual tactic of the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party.
Again in New South Wales, the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party saw to it that prosecutions were instituted against two prominent members of the Australian Labor Party, one of whom was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. When the magistrate discovered that there was no case to answer and refused to commit both persons for trial the State Attorney-General- a tory- through a proxy, because he was too cowardly to do it himself, directed that an ex officio indictment be laid against this person. That was dismissed too. This is a tactic of harassment in which the New South Wales Branch of the Liberal Party has a very real record of involvement. The use of proxies and agents, of persons as ciphers, to do its dirty work is no new business for this Government. On this occasion it has been the use of a Press secretary to drop it on an Attorney-General who has become an embarrassment because of a mad obsession to pursue matters which he prejudged two and a half years ago.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The honourable member has reflected upon the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) by saying that he has a mad obsession. I submit that that is a reflection on the honourable member for Wentworth. The honourable member for Grayndler should be compelled to withdraw, as I was compelled to withdraw my comments about his father.
-I do not regard the term used by the honourable member as being unparliamentary. It might not be the best choice of words, but it is not unparliamentary.
-The word ‘mad’ does not necessarily mean insane. The former Attorney-General, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), went to some lengths today to justify his behaviour. The delay in communicating to the defendants in the Sankey proceedings the decision of the Governent to pick up their legal costs and the effect that had on the course of those proceedings was reprehensible. The former Attorney-General stands condemned. No one on this side of the House seeks to defend his character or his conduct. But what is apparent is that when it suits the Prime Minister to drop someone, rather than make a firm Cabinet decision and have the Attorney-General say: ‘I disagree with that. I will not accept direction on this question. I resign ‘, he will go through surrogates to achieve the same purpose.
There are a few lawyers on the other side of the chamber who might be aware that in Britain in the 1920s when Sir Patrick Hastings was faced with this same decision it brought about the downfall of the Government in question. It is very likely we are now seeing on this key issue the crumbling of this Government. On that occasion we did not have an Attorney-General who came once, twice or three times to say that he resigned; we had an Attorney-General who needed to go to the government only once.
– Tonight we have listened to the most dastardly smear campaign from the Opposition that we have heard for a long while. We have heard reference to a This Day Tonight interview with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). The interviewer asked him:
Are there going to be more victims in the loans affair?
The Leader of the Opposition replied:
No. He tried to get some victims and he did, of course. Mr and Mrs Connor died earlier than he would have-
No doubt he meant to say ‘they would have ‘- because of this persecution based on an opinion he gave intemperately and injudiciously.
I think that is the most disgusting statement I have heard in my life.
There has been an attack on the Press Secretary of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm
Fraser). I should like to read a letter that the Press Secretary to the Prime Minister addressed to the Hon. R. J. Ellicott, Q.C., M.P., dated 6 September 1977. The letter stated:
I would like to make my part in the events of 16 August clear.
Mr Waterford of the Canberra Times rang me on 15 August and put to me in considerable detail a story that he had gleaned from sources he did not disclose. He said that he had Been shown documents, told that you had threatened to resign, and told also that the Prime Minister wished to see the case against Mr Whitlam, Dr Cairns, the late Mr Connor and Mr Justice Murphy pursued.
Since this was incorrect, I asked for, and received, authority to guide Mr Waterford.
I did so on this one matter only, his misapprehension about the role of the Prime Minister. I told him it was the Prime Minister’s view that these matters should not be prosecuted and that they were resolved in the elections of 1975.
I informed Mr Dickie of the position at the first opportunity, consistent with my practice of keeping counterparts in the picture whenever stories develop affecting their Ministers. I did not ‘supply motivation’ to Mr Waterford and my action in relation to your office was completely open.
Let us cast our minds back to when this Opposition was in government. Let us look at a few initials- the Bs and the Cs. Let us start off with the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). He was sacked from his position. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) was sacked from his position as Treasurer. The honourable member for Lalor (Dr Cairns) was sacked from his position as Treasurer; he did not even get to introduce a Budget. The late honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) was sacked from his portfolio just to carry the penalty for a Prime Minister of the day who was not game to face up to his responsibilities. Let us consider a former Speaker, the former honourable member for Sydney, Mr Cope, who was sacked as part of the most disgraceful conduct I think we have ever witnessed in this House. Yet honourable members on that side of the House have the gall to criticise a man who had the courage of his convictions and resigned.
– What about me?
– Yes, we shall not forget the honourable member for Hindmarsh. He got the bullet also. One thing to the credit of honourable members on this side of the House is that when we were in opposition we did not start a dirty smear campaign against those people who were sacked. Hansard can prove that.
Opposition members interjecting-
– Honourable members opposite do not have the necessary intestinal fortitude to stand up like men and say these things outside. They use the forum of this House to protect-
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. It being 1 1 p.m., the debate is interrupted. Does the Minister for Primary Industry wish to reply?
– I call the Minister.
– I wish to say only a few things regarding the substance of the matters alleged in this Parliament tonight. I do so, firstly, because of the reference to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his involvement with members of the Ministry and because the resignation of the former Attorney-General has been canvassed; secondly, because of the references and inferences regarding the character of a member of the Prime Minister’s staff; and, thirdly, because of allegations made regarding the future of the Government consequential upon the resignation of the former AttorneyGeneral.
With respect to the first issue, I say that no action by the Prime Minister has not been covered by the letter read to this Parliament by the Government Whip tonight. The Prime Minister’s associations with Mr Barnett ‘s actions are clear and explicit. They are referred to in the letter which Mr Barnett wrote to Mr Ellicott. In that letter it is specifically stated that the Prime Minister’s views with respect to the prosecution of the case against the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and others were such that he believed that it should be taken up by the Crown and not pursued further. It was on that matter, and that matter alone, that Mr Barnett pursued with Mr Dickie the particular attitude that Mr Dickie had concerning the attitudes that were understood by the former Attorney-General and Mr Waterford. Those matters are contained in the correspondence from Mr Barnett, and there is no suggestion that the Prime Minister did other than advise Mr Barnett and that Mr Barnett acted entirely in accordance with those instructions.
-He corroborated those statements.
-I will come to the honourable member for Blaxland in a moment. With respect to Mr Barnett ‘s letter, there is no doubt that he was acting entirely in accordance with his responsibilities. There is no suggestion that he was doing other than carrying out the Prime Minister’s instructions. Unlike the instructions of the honourable member for Blaxland, the Prime Minister’s instructions in this matter have been made public. They have not been hidden behind closed doors. They have been given in a perfectly proper, contained and restrained way. There is no suggestion that any action by Mr Barnett has been other than in accordance with the proper responsibilities of bis position and the directions of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s action did not seek to destroy the former Minister. The Prime Minister’s action sought to ensure that his point of view on a matter of very considerable public and political moment was understood by the Australian people. It is a matter on which the Government feels quite strongly that a point of view needs to be considered by the Australian people. Because of the Prime Minister’s attitude towards the matter it was necessary that Mr Barnett explain it. There is no doubt that, if the Press officer of the Prime Minister had not advised Mr Waterford in the terms of the advice that Mr Barnett gave him, there would have been a misconception of the view held by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. In the circumstances that would not have been possible or desirable.
The third matter is the suggestion that in some way this matter shows that the divisions in this
Ministry are in some way akin to those within the Labor Party. I think that the lie to that comes from the publication in the Australian of 5 September of a complaint by the Leader of the Opposition about statements made by his deputy. He seems to wish to be completely dissociated from them. We see it further in actions of the executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The 12 witless men now seem to be replaced by the blustering bravado of the 17 members of the ACTU executive who apparently will lead the ALP into any future political posture they may wish to take with respect to uranium without the elected members of the Parliamentary Labor Party having much say or opportunity to condone it. On our side of Parliament there is complete unanimity about the way in which any decisions with a significant political content should be taken. All of us respect greatly the former Attorney-General. We believe that the manner of his resignation and the high principled way in which he has behaved speak for themselves. There is no necessity for this matter to be belittled in the way that members of the Opposition have sought to do tonight.
-The debate having concluded, the House stands adjourned until 2.15 p.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19770906_reps_30_hor106/>.