30th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
The Acting Clerk- Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives 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 Armitage, Mr Ellicott, Mr Graham, Dr Klugman, Mr Morris, Mr Ruddock and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
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 Lionel Bowen, Mr Bradfield, Mr Connolly, Dr Edwards, Mr Charles Jones, Mr Ruddock and Mr Staley.
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 part 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 Dr Edwards.
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 Hodges.
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 for 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 Charles Jones.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Newcastle and Hunter Region respectfully showeth:
There be continuing and expanding funding for the Hunter Region Working Women s Group so that it can continue to provide child care, legal aid, community health, welfare and educational services to the women of the Hunter Region.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Charles Jones.
Australian National Gallery: Purchase of Major ArtWorks
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 Cabinet’s decision to reject the Council of the Australian National Gallery’s porposal to purchase the Georges Braque painting Grand Nu, ignores the knowledge and experience of the Council ‘s members.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
The Council of the Australian National Gallery be granted the right to purchase major works of art within the Gallery’s budget without Cabinet intervention and that Cabinet revoke its decision to reject the Council’s recommendation to purchase the Grand Nu.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned students, parents, teachers and citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision of the Government to withdraw all forms of financial assistance to students of non-State tertiary institutions in the main, business colleges, 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 technical education systems.
At a time of severe economic disruption, this action must lead to an unnecessary worsening of the current employment situation for school leavers.
Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government will act immediately to reverse its decision.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully showeth:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
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 as the Fox report pointed out the many dangers, hazards and problems associated with nuclear power including:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
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 be implemented and that Mr Gyngell be dismissed as Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Antony Whitlam.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House:
That there have been numerous complaints regarding the working of the Family Law Act, including allegations of delay, inability of magistrates to deal with certain matters, complexity of defended litigation and the inability of the Act to protect the weaker party to marriages, and
That the Act has been in operation for about 2 years; and therefore
Resolves that a select committee should be established to undertake a thorough review of the operation of the Act and to report to the House.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister who will be aware that the Public Service Board in its annual report for 1977 commented that the restrictions imposed on Public Service staff ceilings had adversely affected operations of the Commonwealth Employment Service, Northern Territory Hospitals, the administration of changes to the pensions means test and the processing of unemployment benefits. The Prime Minister will be aware also that the Auditor-General, in his report tabled yesterday, estimated that $50m had been misappropriated through overpayments of the unemployment benefit and that, because of inadequate staff resources, none of those payments had been recovered. I ask the Prime Minister: As these reports suggest that the arbitrary staff ceilings applied by the Government are causing gross inefficiencies in the Public Service and the wasting of millions of dollars of taxpayers money, will he give an undertaking to review the projected staff ceilings announced by the Treasurer in the Budget, which imply a further reduction in the current financial year of more than 3,000- or about 1 per cent- in the number of public servants? If he will not give that undertaking, does the Government intend to forgo functions or to reduce standards of service as the Public Service Board suggests will be necessary if these ceilings are applied?
– I think it would be a good idea if honourable gentlemen kept various aspects of these particular matters separate and did not attribute the wrong causes to the wrong results. On a careful reading of the report of the Auditor-General it will appear to all honourable members, I believe, that the main reasons for the overpayment of the unemployment benefit were procedures, that also it was noted that the procedures had in fact been changed and that the changes were announced in the Budget. Attention was drawn to the fact that payments of the unemployment benefit were made two weeks in advance, whereas under the old arrangement they were made in arrears. It was the previous Administration which made the decision to make those payments in advance. It was significantly as a result of those procedures that the situation to which the Auditor-General so properly drew attention arose.
Let me emphasise also that the Norgard and Myer reports provided the framework for the action which was then taken. Also the Department of Social Security carried out an examination of the efficiency of the various methods and procedures adopted internally in the Department. These are all steps that had been taken before the publication of the report of the AuditorGeneral. Therefore, while the Auditor-General’s report certainly revealed a serious situation, I suggest that it was one in relation to which the Government had already responded.
Let me give some further information to honourable members. As I am advised, over the course of the last year the staff ceilings for the Department of Social Security have increased by 8 per cent or 850 personnel, despite the fact that overall staff ceilings through the Public Service have been reduced by about 2 per cent. The staff ceilings are implemented on advice from an interdepartmental committee. The recommendations made have in fact been pursued. In no case did the Public Service Board advise me that existing staffing levels would result in inadequate control of payments made by the Department. In any case in which the Public Service Board, together with members of the interdepartmental committee, did recommend an increase in staff ceilings, such a recommendation was accepted. In addition to that, the Public Service Board knows very well that there is an overriding requirement, in relation to the administration of staff ceilings, that services to the public are not to be prejudiced as a result. I think if honourable members read the Public Service Board report accurately they will find that the Board is addressing itself to the prospect of cuts beyond those that have already been announced rather than to the staff ceilings that have already been effected.
The most important element in this matter, of course, is the substance brought forward in the Auditor-General’s report which reveals that overpayments have been made. However, the Government has already taken action in relation to that matter and it is therefore well in hand.
-Has the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development seen or heard a statement which claimed that uranium and nuclear power is the most violent source of energy known to humanity? Can the Minister say whether the statement is correct?
– I welcome the question asked by the honourable member for Brisbane. It raises issues which are important in this chamber and for Australians as a whole. I have seen statements by members of the Opposition, particularly the one by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. There have been others including those by the Leader of the Opposition. There is no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have embarked on a wilful campaign to misrepresent, mislead, confuse and cause fear amongst the people of Australia. They are harsh words, but I shall give some examples. In the last two days the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made the statement referred to by the honourable member for Brisbane. It is quite false. In fact, the operations of the nuclear industry around the world have a proven record which is such that all the advice to this Government shows that no member of the public has ever been injured through the operations of a nuclear generator. Of the technicians involved, only a handful have ever been involved in an accident. This compares with thousands killed on the roads and hundreds killed by the pollution from coal-burning generators.
Two Sundays ago the Leader of the Opposition made an address to the nation. The Prime Minister has already shown the dishonesty of some of the things he said. I shall point out a few other dishonest statements. The Leader of the Opposition misquoted the Ranger report in relation to waste. He misrepresented the true state of technology concerning the disposal of waste.
-I did not.
– I am willing to give the honourable member the examples. The Leader of the Opposition queries the statements about what the Ranger Commission said. He claimed in his address to the nation that Mr Justice Fox recommended that no mining or export of uranium should take place until the safe disposal of waste had been solved. This is untrue. What Mr Justice Fox and his fellow commissioners said was that the present situation with waste was such that it did not justify a decision by Australia not to export uranium. If the Leader of the Opposition wants the references they are page 1 78 of the first report and page 2 of the second report.
The second misrepresentation he made in his address was that there is no technology for the safe handling of waste. That is also untrue. The technology for the handling of high level radioactive waste exists. It is proven. The technology for the solidification and vitrification of waste which will lead to ultimate disposal does exist and is being developed on a commercial scale. The vitrification and solidification process will use boro-silicate material like this which I hold in my hand. It will be encapsulated in containers which, of course, will be many times bigger than this cube which I now show to the House.
-I raise a point of order. Because it is not a broadcast day could the Minister assist us by giving a proper description of the object he is holding instead of referring to it as ‘ this 1
-There is no point of order. I call upon the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development not to describe the objects. His answer has already taken a considerable period of time. I think it is time he drew it to a conclusion.
-I can understand why the Leader of the Opposition would like me to do that.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not reflect on my ruling. It was I who asked the Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.
- Mr Speaker, I think I have said enough to demonstrate that the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader of the Opposition nave embarked on this campaign to confuse and mislead. I am sure that the people of Australia will see the campaign, particularly on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, for what it is- a sly fabrication -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will withdraw the statement.
– I withdraw. It is a fabrication to mislead -
– I withdraw the word ‘sly’. It is a fabrication to mislead. It will be judged for what it is. It was a decision by the Labor Party that was not in the best interests of Australia or in the best interests of the world.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister and I assure him that I have read the Public Service Board report tabled last week, the Auditor-General’s report tabled yesterday and the Myers report tabled a few weeks ago. I am anxious, as he adjured us, to keep the various aspects distinct. I ask the Prime Minister how he can explain that, whilst there were no changes in the procedures for making advance payment of unemployment benefits, there should have been an increase from $1 1.6m in 1975-76 in the overpayments of those benefits to about $50m in 1976-77. He will remember that I am quoting from the Auditor-General’s report on that aspect. I ask him how he explains that there should be an increase of about 330 per cent in the overpayments when there has been no change in procedure in the two years.
Next I ask him whether the Myers inquiry also recommended that the abolition of advance payments of unemployment benefits should be accompanied by an abolition of the seven-day waiting period because, as Vice-Chancellor Myers said, the two measures fit hand in glove. He said that fortnightly payments in arrears without abolition of the waiting period would cause hardship in the period before the first cheque was received. I also ask him: Will there be considerable confusion from 1 November next that will lead to many more millions of dollars of overpayments this year since from that date there will be two unrelated benefit payments systems operating, contrary to the recommendations not only of Vice-Chancellor Myers but also of Mr Norgard and Professor Henderson? I therefore ask him, as my colleague from Prospect asked him: Since the Treasurer this week has announced adjustments to the Budget of four weeks ago where injustices were found, will he also now announce that the projected ceilings on the Public Service, particularly in respect of the Commonwealth Employment Service and processing of unemployment benefits, will not be applied? I point out that on this aspect the Public Service Board has not only advised him but has advised the whole Parliament yesterday that if the ceilings which have been announced are in fact applied, the Government should forgo functions or reduce standards of service.
-Let me state again that the Public Service Board was addressing itself to cuts beyond those which had already been announced. Let me also state again that at no time in the course of the past year has the Board advised me, and I think at no time in the course of the past year has it advised the Minister assisting me in Public Service matters, that overpayments could in any way be attributable to staff ceilings. Also I think it worth noticing that in the situation in which beneficiaries failed to notify within seven days their return to employment, no action appeared to be taken to recover payments made in advance for the days of the benefit period during which the beneficiary was employed. I understand that that action could not be taken because of an amendment that had been passed by the previous Administration. Also, it is pointed out in the comments on the Department of Social Security:
As mentioned in the Budget Speech delivered on 16 August 1977 the Government nas decided that in future unemployment benefits will be paid fortnightly in arrears as it has become evident that the present arrangement for advanced payments is producing a substantial over-payment in aggregate.
I would have thought that that paragraph from the report makes it perfectly plain what was the cause. That cause has now been removed.
-I have to inform the House that we have present in the Gallery this afternoon members of the Constitutional Committee of the Swedish Parliament led by Mr Karl Boo, the Chairman of the Committee. On behalf of the House I extend a very warm welcome to members of the delegation.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. What is the latest evidence of a substantial decline in the rate of inflation? How does this square with the aim expressed in 1976 of a single digit inflation figure?
-The latest quarterly estimates of national income and expenditure which were released a few days ago reveal a substantial and continuing process in the fight against inflation. If we compare the June quarter 1977 with the June quarter 1976 we see that inflation as measured by the implicit price deflator for gross domestic product was 9.2 per cent. As honourable gentlemen would know, this measure of inflation always included health costs. It did not make changes to the way the health costs were measured because they at one time were paid in one way and at another time were paid for in another manner. As all honourable members know, that measure distorted utterly the consumer price index over the course of that period. But the implicit price deflator for gross domestic product indicated 9.2 per cent June 1977 on June 1976.
– A very good result too.
-As my colleague remarks, it is a very good result. It is a remarkable improvement on a comparable figure of 16.2 per cent that had occurred during the previous year. Obviously that is an improvement of 7 per cent during the course of the year.
Although I believe all honourable gentlemen should take pleasure from that improvement, so far as the Government is concerned the rate of inflation is still too high and the Government’s policies will be pursued to bring inflation down much further. Such a decrease is necessary if business and employment in this country are to improve as I would hope all honourable gentlemen would want. But the implicit price deflator which was published a few days ago is very real and accurate evidence of the success of the Government’s overall financial policies.
– I desire to ask a question of the Prime Minister. In view of the fact that yesterday the Australian Uranium Producers’ Forum took the cheque book around to Liberal Party Secretary, Tony Eggleton, in an effort to pressure the Government -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. The honourable gentleman is not entitled to make allegations of that kind in asking a question. I call him again but ask him to rephrase his question.
- Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister: In view of the pressure which is being exercised on the Government through the organisation of his Party to drop his proposed resource tax on uranium -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is out of order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for his Party organisation.
– I rise to order. Mr Speaker, you are not here to protect the Prime Minister from questions.
-The honourable member will withdraw that reflection.
– I will not withdraw the remark at all.
-Mr Speaker, hear my point of order. At least do me the decency of hearing the point of order.
-I will hear the point of order.
- Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister is a member of the Liberal Party. Yesterday it was widely reported that the Uranium Producers’ Forum visited the headquarters of that Party. I am entitled to ask, relative to the resource tax, whether the Prime Minister in fact is under pressure to suspend the tax.
-The honourable gentleman is out of order. This House has held constantly that political leaders in this Parliament, as members of Parliament, have no responsibility to party organisations. This ruling has been applied consistently over the period that I have been in this Parliament, simply because organisations have no direct relationship with parliamentary members, nor should they. Each member of this Parliament is a member in his own right. If the honourable gentleman accepts that statement, I now ask him to withdraw the reflection he made upon my ruling.
-I withdraw, Mr Speaker. I ask the Prime Minister -
-For the third and final time, I will give the honourable gentleman an opportunity to rephrase his question.
-I ask the Prime Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to bow to industry pressure to withdraw any proposal for a resource tax on the uranium industry?
-The Government’s policy in relation to these matters has been made quite clear.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Was a conference held recently in Moscow relating to military restraint in the Indian Ocean? Who took part in that conference and what was the outcome of it? Were there any implications for Australia arising from that conference and, if so, what were they? What has Australia done about making its views known on that subject?
-The first round of discussions on mutual military limitations in the Indian Ocean between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was held in Moscow in June. This followed the discussions that Secretary of State Vance had in March on a total package regarding disarmament matters. The aim of the United States in these discussions is to prevent any further build up of US and Soviet military presences in the Indian Ocean, to establish the status quo and perhaps later to reduce the current level of these presences. This mirrors the long standing policy of this Government. The aim is for mutual balanced reductions, a viewpoint we put forward since the days when we were in opposition in contrast to the demands of the former government, the present Opposition, which was calling for unilateral withdrawal by the US irrespective of the moves of the Soviet Union in the Indian Ocean.
The Australian views have been communicated in great detail to the United States and the US Administration has undertaken to consult very closely with this Government before any final agreement is reached with the Soviet Union. This consultation is taking place as the negotiations continue between the United States and the Soviet Union. Our Embassy is in constant contact with the Administration. I have had numerous discussions with Secretary of State Vance this year, not only on this issue but on many others. The United States and Australia are agreed, as recorded in the ANZUS communique of 28 July, that any arms limitation agreement in the Indian Ocean between the two major powers must be balanced in its effects and consistent with Australian and United States security interests.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Transport by reminding the honourable gentleman and the House that in September 1974 the Whitlam Government appointed Mr Justice J. B. Sweeney to conduct a royal commission into alleged payments to maritime unions. It had been alleged that the unions were receiving moneys by way of extortion obtained from shipping companies under threat of holding up shipping. That royal commission presented its final report to the present Government on 23 April 1976. 1 now ask the honourable gentleman: Did the Commissioner recommend certain amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and/or the regulations under the Act concerning the financial records of registered unions? Is it true that his Department recommended action along the lines of the commissioner’s recommendation but that the Prime Minister intervened to prevent any action being taken in the matter? If this is not true, does the Government intend to take any action to implement the recommendations of the royal commissioner who was appointed by the Whitlam Government to make this inquiry?
– I will answer this question rather than the Minister for Transport. The Government does intend to take action in relation to the responsibility of industrial organisations for financial reporting to their members as recommended by Mr Justice Sweeney. At present I have detailed proposals before, the National Labour Consultative Council for its views prior to bringing legislation into the Parliament.
Mr MacKenzie proceeding to ask a question of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development-
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s question is out of order. The Minister has no responsibility for a direction given by a State Minister to a State instrumentality. I call the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
– I rise to order. The question asked whether the Minister was aware of the situation.
-I am aware that the honourable gentleman’s question was in those terms. I listened to the question for a considerable time to see whether the honourable gentleman would make it relevant to the Minister’s area of responsibility. When he had pursued the question for a considerable time and not made it clear I ruled the question out of order.
-I ask the Prime Minister Did the Government authorise the use of a VIP aircraft on Monday of this week to carry the Leader of the South Australian Liberal Party between Adelaide and Mount Gambier?
– I am not aware of any such flight but I will be happy to make inquiries to see if there was such a flight.
-I ask the Minister for Transport whether he is aware that the Kingscote Council on Kangaroo Island has suffered a reduction in road funds this year. The Minister will be aware of the difficult financial plight of many local councils in South Australia and elsewhere in Australia in the financing of their road programs. Can the Minister inform the House whether local government in South Australia has a better deal from the Commonwealth in its 1977-78 road allocations than it has received in the past? Can South Australian local government and the users of local roads look forward to increasing financial assistance for their road needs?
– Since coming to office the Government has made it quite plain that it wanted to see a lift in funds made available to rural and urban local shires. A Bill will be introduced into the Parliament tomorrow in this regard. Two special provisions to increase the level of funding have been made to those areas in the last 12 to 18 months. In the Bill to come into the House tomorrow provision again has been made for an increase in funds to local councils for road construction. I point out that in South Australia the increase in funds for urban local roads is 100 per cent and the increase in funds for rural local roads is 26.4 per cent from $S.3m to $6.7m. That supports what I have said- that there has been an increase in government aid to local councils and that this is the real aim of the Government’s policy.
It is interesting to note that in South Australia the relative needs of local councils are not considered to be very high. Apparently they do not rate any priority at all because the South Australian Government has not allocated any funds from its own resources to either rural or urban local shires. This must be the first time in history that a State government has done something like that. I am surprised that the South Australian Government should act in such a way and so deter the capacity of local government associations and shires to complete the road constructions they want. The upshot of that is that in total terms- that is the combination of Commonwealth and State moneys- as a result of the lack of interest by the State government, 3.S per cent less, in total terms, will be available for expenditure on rural local road programs. I do not like being political, as the House Knows but I have to say that this is an absolute indictment of the Dunstan Government for its attitude towards local government.
-I am glad the Minister did not bring politics into the answer.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I base it on statements made by the Premier of Queensland last Thursday and today in his Parliament for the authenticity of which I vouch but not for their correctness. The first statement to which I direct the attention of the Prime Minister is a statement made by the Premier last Thursday.
-I remind the honourable gentleman that he is not entitled to ask questions of the Prime Minister about statements made by a person for whom the Prime Minister has no ministerial responsibility.
-On that point, Mr Speaker, I submit that I am entitled to ask the Prime Minister about matters on which he has conferred with Premiers. He is responsible to the Parliament, I submit, for understandings into which, he enters with Premiers or for undertakings which he gives to them.
-I would be prepared to allow a question if it were properly based on that ground. So far the question has not been properly based.
-Mr Speaker, I think I shall satisfy you.
-It had better be done quickly.
-Oh, yes. I ask the Prime Minister whether he gave an undertaking to the Premier of Queensland that there is no intention to impose a resources tax in any area, as the Premier stated in the Queensland Legislative Assembly last Thursday. Also, since the Premier has today reiterated- reiterate was the word he used- the indication that the Prime Minister gave to him when he spoke to him about resources taxes on coal, oil, uranium or whatever it is, I ask the Prime Minister whether he gave such an undertaking as the Premier has stated and has reiterated?
– I think it would be a good idea if the House understood the full background of the conversation to which the Premier was referring. For some time the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government have been in negotiation about further development of the Gladstone power station. As those with an interest in Queensland will certainly be aware, for reasons which the Queensland Government judges to be good, the construction of that power station is now being processed over a longer period than originally envisaged in the agreement between the Commonwealth and Queensland. The Premier put it to the Commonwealth that we should extend our financial assistance to Queensland for the construction of the Gladstone power station over a further three years. After my discussions with my colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer, and with other Ministers, it was agreed that the Commonwealth should meet the wishes of the Queensland Government in relation to these matters. The Commonwealth will support Queensland in achieving an additional $25m in semi-government loans over a three year period. I think the greater part of that amount will be raised this financial year- about $16m.
– That belts your Budget around again, does it not?
-Again the honourable gentleman shows his ignorance. Semi-government loans do not appear in the Government’s budgetary figures. This scheme will add significantly to Queensland’s capacity. I am sure the proposal was welcomed by the Premier of Queensland. Regarding the other elements of the honourable gentleman’s question, let me say, as I have said on previous occasions, the statements of the Deputy Prime Minister in relation to a resource tax are correct.
– I ask the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development a question. Does the Commonwealth provide funds to the States for building society advances? Is the Minister aware that building societies in New South Wales must inform borrowers that their loans are being provided from funds from the New South Wales Government? Does this condition reflect the true funding situation? Will the Minister ascertain whether the New South Wales Government wishes to continue in funding arrangements with the Commonwealth, such as the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement?
– I am aware of a direction by the New South Wales Government concerning funds provided to terminating building societies. Perhaps I should explain firstly the arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States regarding funds for the Home Builders Account. Honourable members will recall that under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement funds are made available to the States at an interest rate of 4Vi per cent and that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of those funds can be allocated to the Home Builders Account in each State. In 1977-78 New South Wales was given $128m under the Agreement, which means that 20 per cent or 30 per cent of that can go to the Home Builders Account. In addition, under previous arrangements money has been given to the States under the Agreement. New South Wales, I am informed, has $22m in a revolving fund. Early each financial year the State breaks up the money that it has in the Home Builders Account and allocates it to the various terminating building societies and the Rural Bank of New South Wales. Therefore it seems rather odd that the New South Wales Government is directing terminating building societies that when they onlend the borrowers should be told that the funds are coming from the New South Wales Government. If the New South Wales Government is doing that and if it is using funds provided under the Agreement, it is certainly grossly misleading to the borrowers and, I might say, damaging to the co-operative effort under the CommonwealthState Housing Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Government of New South Wales. I suppose I would have to say that if the State Government is granting out of its own resources additional funds to the terminating building societies that is to be applauded. To sum up, I think the New South Wales Government should clarify this situation. If it is allocating funds in addition to those provided by us, it should make that clear. If it is using only our funds, that letter should be withdrawn and the true position made known to the borrowers.
-Did the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development hear or has he since been shown a transcript of the remarks made on AM yesterday by a committee chairman of the United States Congress to the effect that the United States had a staggering problem of both cost and environmental danger in regard to what to do with the temporarily stored nuclear waste much of which is in liquid form, something like 74 million gallons of the stuff, which has fife of anywhere from 1,000 years to 250,000 years’? Will the honourable gentleman augment his efforts to curb members of this Parliament by taking steps to curb foreigners who are guilty of such misrepresentation, dishonesty and sly fabrication?
-That sort of insinuation by the Leader of the Opposition is typical of what I was accusing him of before.
– You do not doubt the quotation?
– No, I am going to try to explain it to the honourable member, if he will just give me a moment. The statement made on AM yesterday has been brought to my attention. I do not have a copy of the Congressional report which was quoted in the statement. I have issued directions that we should get a copy as soon as possible so that it can be studied. But I make this point about high level liquid wastes stored in America: First, a distinction has to be drawn between those wastes which have accrued from military processes in producing weapons and those which have accumulated as a result of commercial operations of nuclear reactors.
The facts of the matter are that only about 600,000 gallons of high level wastes have come from commercially operated nuclear plants and these are stored completely safely. There is no question of the safety of their storage. So the great bulk of the liquid waste about which the honourable member was talking has resulted from military technology of the past. I see nothing incongruous or at odds with what I said before about the development of technology in regard to the ultimate disposal and handling of wastes. It is quite consistent with what I said before.
-Has the Minister for Primary Industry noticed a statement made by the Premier of South Australia that Sl.Sm has now been spent by the South Australian Government on drought relief in South Australia? Is that statement correct? How long a period can be covered by a State applying for such Commonwealth Government reimbursement? Can employment schemes be counted in such expenditure? Will the Federal Government, subject to the considerations I have mentioned, be prepared to honour its previous agreement which, in the case of
South Australia, depends on its originally spending $ 1.5m on that basis?
– The honourable gentleman and other South Australian members of this House have referred on a number of occasions, as has the Government, to the very serious drought which exists in a number of areas in South Australia. However, it is regrettable that the Premier and State Ministers of South Australia persist in playing politics instead of worrying about the real position of those who are affected by the drought. In fact, to the best of my knowledge and the knowledge of the Treasurer, the Federal Government has received no notification from the South Australian Government with respect to the expenditure under the $1.5m program, within which program there would be some arrangement for reimbursement of funds spent above that amount.
If that position does now pertain within South Australia and those funds have been spent in this financial year then of course, in accordance with the prevailing arrangements for assistance for natural disasters, the Federal Government will be prepared to pick up the range of assistance proposals which are agreed to between the States and the Commonwealth. There has been quite protracted discussion between State Ministers of Agriculture and, in some instances, other Ministers, regarding the details of the program of acceptable works. The Federal Government does provide, for example, low interest funds which can be passed on by State governments to enable producers to finance their operations at a very significant discount. Indeed, the money is provided at no cost to the States and any interest is payable only as a result of the application of that interest by the State authorities.
Similarly, there is a wide range of measures which are intended to try to relieve disaster situations. In some instances it is freight concessions; in others it is assistance towards providing fodder, providing water, and so on. In the instance of unemployment relief, at this stage the Government does not see that such relief should necessarily come within aid provided for natural disasters. But there are a good many programs, which my colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has announced in this House, which are intended to stimulate employment.
I think quite often the South Australian Government, pursuing its socialist philosophy, fails to realise the extent to which it is necessary to provide stimulus to those who are in private sector employment so that they too can generate employment opportunities. The whole emphasis of this year’s Budget has been to provide again an opportunity for profit making by private employers. A new personal income tax scale has been introduced. All of these actions, in the frame of the Federal Budget, are intended to create the situation whereby employment opportunities can again be established. In those circumstances, a specific financial allocation to natural disaster relief does not seem practical or desirable. Nonetheless, if the South Australian Government seeks to put before the Federal Government a specific proposition, of course, it will be considered.
-Mr Speaker, with your indulgence I would like to answer a question asked earlier by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young). I am advised that the parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party in South Australia did travel from Adelaide to Mount Gambier by a light aircraft chartered from Saatas Pty Ltd and that this had nothing whatsoever to do with the Commonwealth.
-(Stirling-Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)- For the information of honourable members, I present the first report of the Queensland Local Government Grants Commission on financial assistance for local government. Due to the limited number available, copies of this report have been placed in the Table Office and the Parliamentary Library. The recommendations made in this report have already been made available to members from Queensland.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. It has been brought to my attention only this morning that yesterday in the debate on the matter of public importance the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) again misrepresented what I have said about taxation, particularly in relation to those people who have a taxable income of more than $15,000. Yesterday he changed his tack and quoted from two daily newspapers, but he failed to mention that on the following day I put out a Press release correcting the reports which appeared in those two newspapers. I know for certain that the correction was printed in at least one of those newspapers.
It is important that the Treasurer and the House know that he has misrepresented me continually since 30 June on this matter. Although I was absent from the country between mid July and mid August, as soon as his misrepresentation was pointed out to me upon my return to this country, I sent to his office a telegram pointing out where he was mistaken and I sent him a copy of a Press release which was delivered to all Press boxes and which corrected the misrepresentation which he had continually made. I will not ask for your indulgence for too long, Mr Speaker, but I wish to quote from parts of the Press release because it corrects the points of misrepresentation he has made. It reads:
Labor’s economic program, to be considered at the National Conference in Perth next week, does not include any reference to higher taxes or to a pool of unemployment.
Nor should anything said by me at the Press Conference outlining the National Economic Committee’s recommendations have been interpreted this way. Quite the contrarydespite some newspaper reports and editorials over the past two days.
The Press release goes on to state:
We recognise that there are restraints on the implementation of those programs, one of them being that there is a limit to the funds which can be collected from personal income taxes. That limit has been reached, which is why we are promising full tax indexation, not the partial one instituted by the Fraser Government.
Therefore, we intend to examine our public program priorities carefully and to pursue vigorously the collection of additional revenue by other means.
Firstly, our policies of stimulating economic recovery will make more revenue available. Much of our needs will come from growth.
Secondly, we will pursue energetically the closing of tax loopholes. Tax evasion and avoidance is rife particularly for those who contribute the top 10 per cent to revenue, namely those on taxable incomes of $25,000 and more.
Mr Speaker a reference to those who contribute the top 10 per cent to revenue is different from what the Treasurer misrepresented me about, namely, a reference to the top 10 per cent of taxpayers, as you would know. He has misrepresented me and, as I have stated, he continuously misrepresents me. I am glad to have this opportunity to make the correction. I seek leave to have the full Press statement incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The statement read as follows- 30 June 1977
From Mr Chris (CJ.) Hurford, M.P Shadow Treasurer
Labor’s economic program, to be considered at the National Conference in Perth next week, does NOT include any reference to higher taxes or to a pool of unemployment.
Nor should anything said by me at the Press Conference outlining the National Economic Committee’s recommendations have been interpreted this way. Quite the contrarydespite some newspaper reports and editorials over the past two days.
There has been so much criticism of what I did NOT say that I am obliged to draw attention to what is in the documents and what I did say.
Labor is determined to pursue as two of its main aims full employment and the reduction of inequalities.
Because of the way statistics are collected, and because of the number of itinerant workers, people between jobs and special regional factors, full employment as measured by the CES can be interpreted as somewhere between 1 per cent and 2 per cent. Basically we want the same number of job vacancies as there are people looking for jobs.
We believe that indicative planning and using the public sector are essential for achieving our aims. We have suggested and are suggesting improved public programs to achieve those aims.
We recognise that there are restraints on the implementation of those programs, one of them being that there is a limit to the funds which can be collected from personal income taxes. That limit has been reached, which is why we are promising full tax indexation, not the partial one instituted by the Fraser Government. (See separate Press Release issued today.)
Therefore, we intend to examine our public program priorities carefully and to pursue vigorously the collection of additional revenue by other means.
Firstly, our policies of stimulating economic recovery will make more revenue available. Much of our needs will come from growth.
Secondly, we will pursue energetically the closing of tax loopholes. Tax evasion and avoidance is rife particularly for those who contribute the top 10 per cent to revenue, namely those on taxable incomes of $25,000 and more. Life was not meant to be so easy as to give them the advantages of flat rate tax suggested by Deputy Prime Minister Anthony and others who want to transfer wealth and income from the poor to the rich.
Thirdly, we have in mind a secondary profits tax for those companies making enormous profits. Utah is one such company which comes to mind.
As I said at the Press Conference, if there were still essential government programs to be financed, even after our rigorous evaluation of priorities, programs which the people clearly want for full employment, a thriving economy and social justice, then we would have to look to the area of indirect taxes for the necessary funds. But there is no commitment to this- and nothing in the documents.
The Asprey Taxation Royal Commission Report has provided some options in the indirect tax field. If needed, because of the people’s priorities, then it would be possible to devise a broadly-based indirect tax which can be implemented in such a way that it follows Labor’s ‘ability to pay’ taxation principle.
We recognise the necessity for sound economic management For essential public programs we shall find the funds in the least costly way. If there is a need for the collection of extra taxes, we shall, to the greatest extent possible earmark the particular tax to the purpose for which it is being collected.
-I claim to have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). It is true that this Press statement does not say explicitly that those with incomes above $15,000 a year will pay more tax. The document itself certainly said:
Therefore, we intend to examine our public program priorities carefully and to pursue vigorously the collection of additional revenue by other means.
I suggest that if the honourable gentleman feels that he has been misrepresented he should clarify what the additional means imply.
– You display an inelegant contempt for fact or accuracy.
-The honourable gentleman who interjects is sharply contradicted by this document in relation to tax indexation. That is one point I should like to make.
– I take a point of order. I have yet to hear- I am sure you would agree with me, Mr Speaker- anywhere in what the Treasurer has just said where I have misrepresented him. The document stated what the Treasurer said it did. But it went on to outline the very areas in which I said the extra revenue will be found. In no way can it be said that the Treasurer has been misrepresented.
-The honourable gentleman has made his point. Has the Treasurer concluded his personal explanation?
-No, I have not. I wanted to draw the attention of the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) to one fact to which the honourable member for Adelaide himself specifically drew attention. This document headed ‘Taxation and Full Employment’ said:
That has been denied by the honourable member for Oxley.
-The right honourable gentleman is not entitled to debate the matter.
-I respect that ruling, Mr Speaker. In passing I sought to draw attention to the sharp conflict. I shall press on.
– I take a point of order. You have always ruled, Mr Speaker, that a personal explanation shall deal only with the explicit point I think it is a very good ruling. I ask that you now enforce it against the Treasurer.
-I shall enforce it.
– The central point I was making was that the document provided by the honourable gentleman does not explicitly make it clear that those on incomes above $13,000 a year will
PaY more tax. What the honourable gentleman as not said in detail is what he must obviously have said to the Press who were reporting this document.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now debating.
-I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
– I do. Last night on the adjournment debate I spoke on the matter of radio licences for the outer western suburbs of Sydney. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) spoke on the same matter. I claim to have been misrepresented by him. On page 1073 of Hansard he stated:
I believe he is doing what he has done tonight -
He was referring to me- with a very sinister motive in mind and it is to take away the obvious benefit that will derive to the western suburbs from this decision and to confuse the matter in the minds of the people by creating a smokescreen of allegations and innuendo. That is what he seeks to do.
As my speeches in this House, my Press releases on this subject and all my actions in this matter reveal, I have consistently advocated a radio licence or licences for the western suburbs of Sydney. My recent statements in this Parliament have merely been by way of objection to the way in which the Government is trying to circumvent judicial authorities to grant a licence to Liberal Party supporters, which would be a scandal.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Has the honourable gentleman been misrepresented?
-I believe so. In respect of the balance of the speech, which the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) neglected to mention, there was a clear innuendo which I assume he is retracting now or, if he is not, I assume that he stands by it, which justifies the comment I made.
– by leave- In making this statement to the Parliament today I acknowledge with considerable pleasure the presence in the gallery of Mr Paul Everingham, the newly appointed Majority Leader and therefore the incoming Chief-Secretary of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, and other Executive members. It is certainly very appropriate that a statement of such great importance for die Northern Territory happily coincides with his presence in the House today.
In a public statement dated 17 July 1977 I gave a broad outline of the Government’s decision to confer responsible self-government on the Northern Territory in the period to 1 July 1979. The decisions taken by the Government resulted from consultations and agreement with Executive members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Following the election for the Legislative Assembly held on 13 August 1977 there were significant changes in the composition of the Executive and I considered it appropriate to obtain a reaction from the new Executive on the proposals. I am now able to confirm that the previously announced program for constitutional reform in the Northern Territory is acceptable to the new Northern Territory Executive and the Government will proceed with the implementation of that program.
Because of their historical significance and the implications which they will have for the Parliament itself, it is appropriate that a detailed statement of the proposals for the conferral of responsible self-government on the Northern Territory be made in the Parliament. Before coming to office the Government made a policy commitment to devolve executive responsibility on the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and to bring the Northern Territory to ultimate Statehood. We have acted quickly to give effect to that undertaking. The Northern Territory (Administration) Act was amended in 1976 to facilitate the transfer of executive responsibility to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly through the appointment of Executive members of that Assembly. The new provisions of the Act were brought into effect from 1 January 1977 and Executive members having administrative responsibility for a range of local functions were appointed from that date.
Following on from these transitional arrangements it is proposed to create a government of the Northern Territory, with responsible Ministers having control over and responsibility for its own finances as from 1 July 1978. It is our intention that the new government should be given autonomy to conduct its own affairs subject only to the general oversight of the Commonwealth but without direction from it other than in exceptional circumstances. In our approach to this matter we will be guided by the principle that the essence of responsible self-government is that a community should be free to make its own decisions in the full knowledge that it will be required to live with and be responsible for all the consequences of those decisions. We are concerned to ensure that the new political entity which we are proceeding to establish will be truly responsible in all respects. The constitutional structure to be developed for the Northern Territory will be directed towards ensuring to the greatest possible extent that conterminality is achieved between responsibility, authority and accountability within the structure of government in the Northern Territory and as between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments.
Establishment of a Government of the Northern Territory
It is proposed to introduce legislation during the autumn sittings to formally establish a government of the Northern Territory. Provision will be made for the appointment of Ministers to administer Northern Territory Public Service departments and for the establishment of a separate consolidated revenue fund for the Northern Territory. After self-government the office and title of the Administrator of the Northern Territory will remain. The Administrator will continue to be appointed by the Governor-General and shall hold office at the Governor-General’s pleasure. However, in matters pertaining to the appointment or withdrawal of the commission of the Administrator, the Commonwealth will consult with the leader of the Northern Territory government.
The Legislative Assembly presently has authority in the broadest terms to make ordinances for the peace, order and good government of the Northern Territory. No change will be made in relation to this authority but in the coming months consideration will be given to means by which legislation in respect of matters not falling to the responsibility of the government of the Northern Territory will be introduced into the Assembly. At present the Administrator may reserve for the pleasure of the Governor-General any ordinance passed by the Legislative Assembly. In keeping with the principle that authority in government should equate to responsibility, the Government sees no reason to justify the reservation of ordinances in respect of matters for which responsibility has been transferred to the Northern Territory Government.
There is a body of Commonwealth legislation which has particular application to the Northern Territory. In general it is not intended to disturb such legislation at this stage other than in the following respects:
Because important issues of national policy- for example, in relation to uranium- may make it desirable to have Parliament pass further legislation in respect of State-type activities, the Government does not undertake to refrain from introducing such legislation. However, the Government will only proceed in this manner in exceptional circumstances and even then only to the extent necessary to secure the relevant policy objective and in consultation with the government of the Northern Territory.
The implementation of the proposed constitutional reforms will be dependent upon the finalisation of firm undertakings between the Commonwealth Government and the Northern Territory Executive on the financial arrangements that will apply when the Territory achieves self-government. The fundamental criteria governing financial assistance to the Northern Territory must be that, to the extent that citizens of the Territory determine the amount of government expenditure in the Territory, then mere should be procedures designed to ensure that there is a direct relationship between the amounts of such expenditure and the total level of taxes and charges levied in the Territory. In the absence of such procedures, self-government would fall short of being responsible government. It is proposed that this will be achieved by following financial arrangements broadly on the same lines as those that exist now between the Commonwealth and the States, due regard being had of course to the particular circumstances and disadvantages of the Northern Territory.
Consistent with this approach the Commonwealth will provide the government of the Northern Territory with personal income tax sharing payments as it does with the States. Consideration will be given to the possibility of the Northern Territory government having access to revenues from a Commonwealth income tax surcharge within the Northern Territory on the same basis as the proposals under stage 2 of the tax sharing arrangements with the States. Some Commonwealth funds will be provided as loan funds under the same terms and conditions as State borrowings through the Loan Council programs. Negotiations of the financial arrangements will take cognisance of any special disabilities of the Northern Territory as assessment will be made periodically of the fiscal disabilities of the Territory vis-a-vis the States.
As a general proposition the assets and liabilities relative to non-revenue producing functions will be. transferred to the government of the Northern Territory without financial adjustment. Government business undertakings will be handed over as going concerns with financial adjustments as appropriate based on book values. Appropriate financial adjustment will be made in respect of agency services rendered as between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments.
The Commonwealth will accept financial responsibility for any restoration or reconstruction of Territory assets that remains attributable to damage caused by cyclone Tracy. The establishment of a separate Northern Territory consolidated revenue fund to receive all revenues and from which all expenditures would be appropriated by the Legislative Assembly is an essential ingredient to the machinery for responsible government. Such a consolidated revenue fund will be established.
Transfer of Functions to the Northern Territory Government
It is proposed that the government of the Northern Territory assume responsibility for a wide range of specific referred powers of a Statetype nature. Details of the functions to be undertaken by the new government and the timetable for the transfer of responsibility are outlined in a statement which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
1 January 1978
Northern Territory functions of Attorney-General’s department other than the supreme court and its support services, the prerogative of mercy, removal of prisoners and admission of legal practitioners.
Town Planning Board
Apprenticeship Board. 1 July 1978
Forestry operations and plantations.
Water and sewerage administration and operation.
Water resources assessment and development.
Water supplies development assistance.
Primary industry administration.
Home finance and staff housing.
Primary production scientific and extension services.
Commercial and industrial affairs.
Child, family and community welfare.
Registration of births, deaths and marriages.
Preservation of historical objects and areas.
Parks and gardens.
Public bus services.
Stamp duties. 1 July 1979
Darwin community college.
Mining services and administration (excluding uranium).
Roads and transport services.
– It can be seen from the statement that the transfer covers a wide range of important functions such as primary industry, child, family and community welfare, payroll tax and stamp duties. In addition to the foregoing activities it will now be necessary for a government of the Northern Territory to have its own central control instrumentalities such as a treasury and audit office and public service commission and to make provision for the servicing of its administrative structure.
In order to avoid unnecessary duplication and to reduce the overall cost of government in the Northern Territory certain administrative service activities- for example, staff, housing, purchasing and transport services- will be undertaken through the use of agency and /or contract arrangements between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory governments. Details of such arrangements, including which government will have primary carriage, will be a matter for resolution between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory executive. However, where the Commonwealth provides a service on behalf of the Northern Territory government it will be the responsibility of that government to determine policy and to commit funds in respect of its use of that service.
Commonwealth-State Consultative Machinery
The establishment of a self-governing Northern Territory as a new political entity within the Commonwealth will have implications for Commonwealth-State consultative machinery. At present executive members of the Legislative Assembly attend most, if not all, of the CommonwealthState standing ministerial councils and committees with the status of observer. It is appropriate that where executive members presently have observer status at Commonwealth-State ministerial meetings, the Ministers of the Northern Territory government should be accorded full membership of such bodies upon that government assuming responsibility for the relevant function. The Commonwealth Government will sponsor such membership at the relevant time.
As I indicated at the beginning of this statement the proposed establishment of a Northern Territory government is further confirmation of the Government’s determination to give effect to its undertakings on the constitutional development of the Northern Territory. The move is fully consistent with the Government’s underlying philosophy of devolving authority in government to those areas which can best meet the needs of the community. It is also consistent with our policies on co-operative federalism and with the inevitable march of the Northern Territory towards Statehood.
I present the following papen
Northern Territory- Self-Government- Ministerial Statement, 14 September 1977
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith)The Opposition welcomes this statement particularly as it is being made to the Parliament. We are always anxious that statements, particularly statements relating to important matters such as the one before us, be made in the Parliament. We are hopeful that a statement proposed in respect of the Australian Capital Territory also will be made in this Parliament tomorrow. Although we welcome that statement we wish to express here today some of the fears that people of the Northern Territory have about statehood. The big emphasis being made in this statement is one of responsible autonomy. The Opposition welcomes that objective. In fact, the Opposition’s record has always been to espouse the cause of the people of the Northern Territory. We want to make that point very clear. The point that has to be emphasised -
-Mr Speaker, could I have a bit of silence? I have a limited amount of time in which to debate this important matter. I want to emphasise the point that there needs to be complete consultation not only with certain people who are deemed to be executive members because they may be affiliated with a certain party but also with all people in the Northern Territory. By way of explanation, the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) says on the first page of his ministerial statement: Well, I did indicate development would take place in a statement I made on 17 July. I now indicate that I had a chance to have discussions with the new executive’. I think the Minister would agree that these are the facts: There was an election recently in the Northern Territory and all seats have not been declared. In fact, this will not be done until tomorrow. One wonders what type of executive with which there was consultation. I am very mindful of the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in a sense of exuberance on IS August following the election in the Northern Territory on 13 August issued a Press statement indicating the splendid results that had been achieved by the National Country Party and congratulating Dr Letts, the Leader of the Country Party in the Northern Territory. Of course, he was defeated in the election. Not only was he defeated but also his deputy leader was defeated. A number of other people lost their seats. The point I make on bealf of the Australian Labor Party is that there was a substantial expression of public opinion at that election. The people of the Territory were fearful of what statehood means. Does it mean that the people of the Northern Territory will have to bear fiscal responsibility because that seems to be the underlying factor in and tenor of the Minister’s statement?
If honourable members look at Budget Paper No. 11 they will notice that there are a mere 16,000 taxpayers in the Northern Territory. They will also notice that 5,000 people in the Territory earn less than average weekly earnings. Further, they will notice that 1 1,000 people earn less than $10,000 a year. So the people of the Territory wonder where this burden of fiscal responsibility will lie. Honourable members will see in Budget Paper No. 4, which relates to expenditure, that the amount of responsibility in monetary terms for the Northern Territory is $193m. Equating that to 16,000 taxpayers, each taxpayer would have a burden, if I can put it that way, of $13,000. Are we talking about statehood in this sort of climate? By all means allow for the devolution of responsibility in a proper, orderly fashion. We have always encouraged that. In fact we can take credit for virtually stimulating that sort of development. The report of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory presented to the Parliament on 26 November 1 974 stated:
The Committee does not recommend the transfer of responsibility for all ‘State-type’ functions to the Territory Executive but proposes that functions of local significance be transferred as soon as possible and that, for the time being, functions of national concern be retained by the Australian Government. The proposals of the Committee are, in effect, that all ‘State-type1 functions be transferred to the Territory Executive, except that major functions such as rural land, mining, education, health … be retained by the Australian Government and other major functions such as roads, ports, fisheries, national parks and the police be shared.
Therefore, statehood would not be given on the basis that there would be centralist control from Canberra. In fact, it would be on the basis that there has to be some fiscal support.
It is quite erroneous in law to suggest that we have to create a State in the Northern Territory before the Territory can have what is deemed to be their own fiscus. It has been clearly established by the High Court in a recent case known as Berwick’s case that a territory can still have its own fiscus. The Government is running a surreptitious program in which it says that full responsibility means statehood. The point we of the Opposition make is that there can be full responsibility without the burden of statehood. That is not what the Government is saying. The Minister uses language in his statement that is worrying to the Opposition. I refer particularly to page 2 of the Minister’s statement and I quote what he said:
In our approach to this matter we will be guided by the principle that the essence of responsible self-government is that a community should be free to make its own decisions in the full knowledge that it will be required to live with and pay for all the consequences of those decisions.
It was as a result of that political environment and in that context that at the last election in the Northern Territory the National Country Party did not do so well. Concern was expressed there as to what the people would be burdened with. They have not had full and open discussion about what is in the mind of the Government. It is not much good the Minister coming into the Parliament and saying that there has been discussion with the Executive in the Northern Territory because that Executive was defeated at the last election.
The point we make in order to assist the Government is that it should consider all the fears of the people of the Northern Territory. A mere 40,849 people are enrolled in the Territory. The number is less than in any other electorate in Australia. We do not want to over-emphasise the point by saying a large group of people is involved. The population is a relatively small group and it is widely dispersed geographically. Those people do need consultation and understanding as to their needs. They do need substantial financial support from the national Government. Nobody wants to interfere with their local administration. The point we seek to make is that there should be uniformity of administration in Australia. A decision by a person in Darwin to go to live in Perth should not be influenced by different standards in those cities. Laws and opportunities for children, for example, should be the same everywhere. Likewise, if a person in Perth wants to go to Darwin that person should be able to find that there is no change of administration and no lack of opportunity there. That is what federalism is all about. Federalism is not just a fiscal arrangement- the idea that if people are going to make their own decisions they have to live with them and pay for them.
People in the Northern Territory have to make decisions on the basis that they are in a sparsely populated area and far removed from a number of essential services. Their decisions have to be balanced in the light of those sorts of burdens. They need financial support and they should be getting more of it, particularly in view of the very few taxpayers and the slender financial resources available there. People in the Northern Territory are concerned about this question of autonomy. They think that they have been hived off or dumped because that will make the Treasury figures look a bit better. The Treasury can say that the responsibility rests with the people of the Northern Territory and that they will have to do their best to raise the taxes that are needed. We see this emphasis coming through in this ministerial statement. On page 4 of his statement, the Minister said that the people in the Northern Territory will be allowed to levy their own payroll tax. That is a pretty regressive tax at any time but they will be expected to use it. Any soundthinking economist, looking at the massive unemployment that faces us these days, is very concerned with the fact that if more people are to be employed the employer must pay more tax. Giving the right to impose payroll tax to the States was probably one of the worst actions that could have happened.
The people in the Northern Territory are to be excluded from the operations of the Ombudsman. Why? Why should we not have an ombudsman to look at the laws and ordinances and the administration thereof in any part of Australia? Why should we say that there will not be an ombudsman in the Northern Territory? If it is good enough for the Commonwealth Government to pay for an ombudsman, why could he not be available to deal with all the obvious difficulties that will arise in the Northern Territory? I infer from what the Minister said that, if the people in the Territory want an ombudsman, they will have to pay for him. That would be a pretty substantial burden. We in this Parliament say that we will get money from the taxpayers all over Australia to have an ombudsman but if people in the Northern Territory want one they had better arrange it themselves.
From the point of view of federalism in this country I do not think it is proper, fair, or intelligent to worry about the State and Territory boundaries in relation to this great land mass. As far as we of the Opposition are concerned, a State boundary merely means the extent of the administration. A State boundary should not mean an alteration in the type of administration. That is why we are encouraging the development of the Albury-Wodonga area. It crosses State boundaries. There can be regional autonomy and development with local people making their own decisions. The nonsense drawn up in the Colonial Office ISO years ago as to where a State began and where it finished, thus enabling different laws to be made, has bedevilled this country. We know that for a fact. Consider the situation now in relation to this so-called fair Constitution and how it is being interpreted against these very same people in the Northern Territory. The Minister for the Northern Territory is a member of the Party which is in power in Queensland.
– It has good government.
-Good government! Consider it in the light of what I am about to say. The Queensland Government is now challenging the right of the people in the Northern Territory to have any representation in the Senate. One would have thought that there would have been consultation within the Minister’s Party about territorial representation. The Constitution allows for it but he is a member of the National Country Party and a government of that persuasion is challenging the right of people in the Territories to have representation. Yet he says it is good government. I say it is dishonest. It is political manoeuvring.
-Order! I should remind the honourable gentleman that the hearing of that challenge in the High Court has been completed but the decision has not been given. I ask him to restrain himself from comment as to the substance of the matter.
-I appreciate what you say, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed that the Minister interjected and said: ‘It has good government’. I am talking about the machinations that went on. Obviously consultation would have prevented any challenge to the fact that these people in the Northern Territory can have territorial representation in the Senate. I make no other comment.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed with the rest of his speech.
-I wish to make another point about consultation. The Government parties should look at the question of territorial representation in the light of our Constitution. The Western Australian Government is challenging the right of Territory representation in this House. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) is under that cloud. I would have thought that the political parties backing the Government would have had enough influence with the governments of their political persuasion that I have mentioned to prevent that sort of challenge. Is the Government trying to say to the people of the Northern Territory that it really is interested in them? The Labor Party has always said so and it has paid the penalty politically at the ballot box on many occasions as a result of being misrepresented. I am happy to see that, as a result of the recent election, the Australian Labor Party now has a substantial representation in the Northern Territory. It has that representation for that very reason.
– The Labor Party has six members.
-The Minister should not despise the fact that it has six members. The number will build up and we will have a majority. The issue is what is to be done about the concern of the people in the Northern Territory for their needs. We need more consultation and consideration, not the confrontation that we have had in the past. What about the financial burdens the people in the Northern Territory will suffer if they are to be given what they need, what they want and what we in the Opposition would readily give them? They want autonomy in the sense of decision-making but they should not suffer the burden of having to pay all the costs of administration because of their limited resources.
It is for those reasons that I am making these comments. I do not want the Minister to think that we applaud his statement merely because it was made in the House and contained some good points. The underlying fact is that these people will have imposed on them the burden of raising their own taxes. On page 5 of the Minister’s statement, he said that there will be consultation with the people of the Northern Territory about income tax payments just as there is with the States. There is a limited number of taxpayers in the Northern Territory and they have poor financial resources. Yet the Government dares to suggest that it is going to consult with them about income tax sharing arrangements, whether it should be 33.6 per cent or anything else. That is just a mere figment of the imagination when we come to consider what resources are needed. We want to build up the Northern Territory. We want to give the people there the ultimate in facilities. The whole concept of Labour administration has been to look at where the needs are. Whether it be in the area of health, transport or education, the national Government has even had to supplement State governments. Is it any wonder that the Federal Government will have to give substantial aid, magnificent aid, to people in these far flung areas who face this problem of distance? The people of the Northern Territory are doing a splendid job in administering that area.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. (Extension of time granted).
-I thank the Minister and the House. I shall be brief. I make the point, as it has been emphasised to me, that we are very concerned because there has not been proper consultation. We ask that the Minister to look at the questions he has raised in this statement and consult with all people in the Northern Territory rather than just the few executive members, whoever they are. That is not good enough.
There is a worry that the facilities in respect of education and health, which are included in the transfer of the functions outlined in the statement, are not as good as they should be. They are run down. There is a shortage of staff and facilities. For the Territory to take them over in that run down condition is not fair and reasonable. The Territorians are asking that the Government should build them up before it hands them over. It is for those reasons that we want to see the Government actively involved in helping the
Territory in its administration. We want to see the Territory autonomous but we want it achieved on a uniform basis. We emphasise that. We are not at all married to the suggestion that because there are State boundaries nobody need worry about what goes on within those boundaries. Far from it. The Constitution of this nation has to lead to one nation and one people. Everybody should have a fair and reasonable chance of getting out of life everything to which he is entitled as an Australian. Our efforts in communication have been magnificent in this regard because there is no distinction between people on the basis of where they live. The facilities are provided. The new technologies of television and satellite communication are available and we should be utilising them to benefit these people.
It is wrong to suggest that this will become just a fiscal operation and that because the Territory has asked for autonomy it will have to pay the penalty. I ask the Minister again to look at the fine points in his statement and to look at what the Territorians are going to say. They should have been consulted, particularly as there is a new Legislative Assembly there. It is for those reasons that the Opposition, whilst welcoming the statement, is very concerned about the type of taxation that will be levied on people in the Territory and about their inability to bear it, because it could lead to a run down in existing facilities.
Debate (on motion by Mr Calder) adjourned.
-I have received letters from both the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) proposing 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, that is, that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, namely:
The Fraser Government’s abdication of responsibility for water projects.
I therefore 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-
– Had we predicted during the 1975 campaign that water projects were among the areas marked for destruction by a Fraser government we would have been accused of ‘clutching at straws’. Yet water projects have joined Medibank, hospitals, schools and cities in the long list of broken programs and broken promises. There is nothing more depressing in private life than the back-sliding of a reformed sinner. There is nothing more frustrating in public life than having to argue all over again propositions which the nation and the Parliament settled more than a decade ago. With this Government, one has to have the patience of a saint and the persistence of Sisyphus. This is not just a a reactionary government, it is a recidivist government.
There is no worse example of the back-sliding of this Government than its attitude to water conservation projects. There is no matter on which the nation was better entitled to believe that successive parliaments and successive governments had established a settled principlethe principle that the Austraiian government would share responsibility with the States for specific water projects. Thirty years ago, the Chifley Government not only inaugurated the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme but also was co-operating with State governments in the comprehensive water scheme for Western Australia and the development of the Burdekin Valley in Queensland. The Menzies Government inaugurated no water projects before 1963 but in that and every subsequent year the Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon and Whitlam Governments introduced Bills for such projects in every State- 37 in all. The principle was established 30 years ago. It was revived IS years ago and has been confirmed by every government and Parliament since. Now the whole thing is thrown into the melting pot. Under this Government, Australia is going back not just pre- 1972, not even pre-Menzies, but pre-war.
On 3 May last the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) authorised this answer to a question on notice:
The present Government does not have a program of assistance to the States for water projects. It is of the view that the new Commonwealth/State financial arrangements should provide greater flexibility to the States in ordering their own priorities in water resource matters.
On 17 August the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement which signalled this Government’s abdication from participation in new water projects. He said:
In the present difficult budgetary circumstances the Commonwealth will not be allocating funds for individual water resources projects.
This is the first budget in 14 years to fail to do so. Thus in 1977, the national Government of the world’s driest continent, yet a continent racked by flooding on its eastern coast, will play no part in planning or financing new water projects- for the first time in nearly a generation. One has to go back to 1962 to find a similar abdication of responsibility- in the same terms, by the same gentleman, but then merely the honourable member for Richmond. You, Mr Speaker, at least, will remember that throughout 1962 the then Opposition and particularly the former honourable member for Cowper, Frank McGuren, consistently urged that the Commonwealth should share equally with the New South Wales State Government in flood mitigation works on the northern rivers. On 4 October 1962, the present Deputy Prime Minister said:
When the honourable member for Cowper rises in this chamber and says that the Commonwealth should enter this field, he is only trying to create a diversion. He is trying to pass the buck on to the Commonwealth Government, although this is a State responsibility.
He went on to say:
I think the State Government should find the whole of the money.
He also said:
It is all very well to say that the Commonwealth Government should give assistance to the States for this purpose; but where would it end?
Exactly a year later the right honourable gentleman had somewhat changed his tune. It may be that the impending elections brought on a year ahead of time had something to do with it. On 17 October 1963 he asked the question which gave Sir Robert Menzies the opportunity to announce arrangements with New South Wales which the honourable member for Richmond had denounced a year previously. The then Government tried to suggest that the flood mitigation legislation was a special case. But the floodgates were open at last; the dam had burst. Thereafter, water projects were provided in every subsequent year, in every subsequent Parliament, by every subsequent government, with every State.
I give this background to stress two points. First, the Fraser Government’s abandonment of national responsibility for water is not a temporary departure because of the present economic crisis. As the Deputy Prime Minister’s statements show, it is a long-term approach which will take Australia back 15 years. The Deputy Prime Minister has gone full circle- from nothing back to nothing. Secondly, this approach not only repudiates initiatives of my Government; it repudiates and ante-dates the McMahon, Gorton, Holt and the last two Menzies governments. It is preposterous to dress up this abdication as new federalism’. It is just the old irresponsibility, the old buck-passing, the old alibi, which coalition governments, Federal and State, have used for generations to escape their proper responsibilities. The Australian people were entitled to believe that that era had ended, at least where water projects were involved. I need go back no further than the Governor-General’s Speech opening the 1967 Parliament when he said:
Recent drought experience emphasises the importance of water conservation in our program of national development. My Government has announced its intention to set up a national water resources development program with the Object of increasing water conservation.
There is hardly an important matter where national responsibility, in every sense of the word, is so relevant as water conservation. It is not only a question of the States’ financial inability to finance huge water projects unaided. In some of the most important projects, specific needs and problems have arisen in one State because of decisions and actions by other States and by the national Government itself. I give two examples, Adelaide’s water supply and Townsville ‘s water supply. These are matters which cannot be left to the parish pump; they are national responsibilities. Adelaide is the driest capital in the world’s driest continent. Its water supply depends mainly on the Murray. The Deputy Prime Minister himself acknowledged on 1 7 March last in answer to a question from the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles):
The problem that arises is that because of the drainage from many of the irrigation areas in New South Wales and Victoria into the Murray River, there is a build-up of salinity down the Murray especially in that section past the junction of the Mumimbidgee. That of course has serious consequences for South Australia.
Yet he went on to say:
The problem in South Australia is very much one for the South Australian Government.
That is, he concedes that activities in the southeastern States create the problem, yet the problem thus created is one for South Australia alone. In February 1973, on my initiative and for the first time in 60 years, the Prime Minister and the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, met to review the operations and responsibilities of the River Murray Commission in order to permit it to regulate not just the quantity but the quality of the water in our greatest river and its tributaries. Introducing the Urban and Regional Development (Financial Assistance) Bill m November 1974, my Deputy, then Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren), said:
Adelaide’s water comes from local catchments and the River Murray- both are contaminated and the city’s water supply falls far short of international standards for bacteriological and chemical quality.
Those citizens of Adelaide who can afford it must daily emulate the miracle of Cana and substitute their superb wine for their lousy water. In this year’s Budget the appropriation for the Adelaide water treatment program has been reduced by 45 per cent in real terms, that is from $9.7m in 1975 to $6m this year. My Government undertook a program to bring Adelaide ‘s water supply to an acceptable standard by 1982. By reneging on the agreement this Government has dishonoured an Australian Government undertaking. A second example of national responsibility for a regional problem is the Townsville water supply. If Adelaide is the driest capital in the driest continent, Townsville is the centre for a water-rich tropical area, although Townsville itself is relatively dry. But many of the demands on Townsville ‘s water supply result directly from action by the Australian Government. Introducing the Ross River Dam Bill on 17 December 1974, authorising a non-repayable grant of $2.56m for stage 2 of the dam the Minister for Northern Development, Dr Patterson, pointed out:
Townsville ‘s growth over recent years owes much to Australian Government decisions such as the location of defence installations, the establishment and growth of the James Cook University and work now in progress on the Institute of Marine Science at Cape Cleveland. It was specifically in recognition of the burden on the public utilities of Townsville created by such Australian Government initiatives that we decided to provide a grant of Sl.Sm in 1973 towards stage 1 of the Ross River Dam.
In September 1973 my Government had persuaded the Queensland Government to establish a joint Burdekin Project Committee. It reported last June. Its investigations cost Sim. Its report will now be pigeonholed. The Townsville City Council has, in fact, calculated, as reported in the Townsville Bulletin of this month, that:
Townsville will face severe water restrictions, stagnating growth and possibly record unemployment by 1980 unless there is immediate State and Federal Government funding for the Ross River and Burdekin Dams.
Figures released by the Townsville City Council yesterday showed that if the city and surrounding Thuringowa Shire seven per cent annual growth rate continues. Townsville will face severe water restrictions by 1980, and restrictions could be imposed as early as 1 979.
The Joint Burdekin project committee concluded in its report:
Further water supplies will be necessary by the mid-1980s if the continued growth of the lower Burdekin for agricultural and other purposes is not to stagnate.
The committee pointed out in its report which it made in June this year that it had not, in fact, made a full economic assessment of the various projects. It is quite clear, however, that no time should be lost before that economic assessment is undertaken. The matter is urgent from the point of view of preserving the viability of existing primary production in that area and also so that Townsville will have an assured water supply. In his statement of 17 August the Deputy Prime Minister attempted to link his abdication of national responsibility with short-term budgetary considerations. This is as misguided in the short term as it is in the long term.
Amongst the industries worst hit by the present Government’s economic policies are the construction, steel and cement industries. These are the industries-private industries- which stand to benefit most from water projects. Because the plans exist, there is the least delay between planning and production, the least gap between provision of finance and the creation of jobs. For example, the Bundaberg irrigation scheme requires some $4m for completion. The operation involved is relatively straightforward; it is ready to go. The scheme maintains the area’s sugar industry. The region itself is one of Queensland’s high unemployment areas. Yet the scheme is brought to a halt in this Budget.
The race to abdication, the haste with which this Government is abandoning responsibility, can be seen by contrasting the 1977 Budget with the Hayden Budget of two years earlier. In 1975 provision was made for five Queensland projects, namely, the Kinchant Dam, $2.8m; the Bundaberg irrigation scheme, $2.5m; the Mount Julius Dam, a loan of $2m; the Ross River Dam, $1.4m; and the Proserpine River flood mitigation, $ 1 20,000. A further $2m was made available for flood mitigation in New South Wales and $12m for the Dartmouth Dam in Victoria. I stress that all these projects were the result of consultation and planning by the Federal and State governments concerned and by the water authorities of the Federal and State governments concerned. They were properly investigated, properly planned, co-operative ventures.
Last year’s Budget reduced the list to four projects and this year it has dwindled to a mere two projects, that is $6.5m for the Dartmouth Dam and $lm for New South Wales flood mitigation. The trend is clear and ominous.The intention is obvious. This Government is abandoning a national responsibility accepted by every Australian government during the past 30 years. It is turning its back on the undertakings of previous governments, turning its back on its own undertakings, given in 1975, turing its back even on the achievements of its own forerunners -successive coalition governments from Menzies to McMahon.
– I think it probably is as well to go through what this Government has done since it has been in office. I refer to the Queensland Grant (Prosperpine Flood Mitigation) Act, the Act affecting the Namoi River Weirs in New South Wales, and the States Grants (Water Resources Assessment) Act 1976 and also I refer the House to the Budget papers where honourable members will see mention of the Ross River Dam which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) mentioned in passing and urban water supply grants of $22.5m which will be provided to South Australia. I have just had time to find a speech given by the Leader of the Opposition in 1974 to the Murray Valley Development League. I notice he mentions that one should query the amount of public funds used-seriously though they must be viewed, if one can take note of a specimen which the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) held up in the House the other day- in relation to the salinity which is not cured by the nitration processes. In those days the Leader of the Opposition was talking a lot of sense.
Of course, salinity in my State remains a secondary issue to the whole future not only of the development of South Australia but also of the substantiation of what is there now. It is secondary only to the volume of water. I shall talk about that a little bit as I am grateful that the honourable gentleman mentioned Adelaide. Before I do I refer to a Press release dated 1 973 which states:
Mr Fairbairn, Opposition spokesman on National Development, said today that he was horrified to learn that Mr Whitlam had written to Mr Dunstan informing him that the Federal Government had endorsed one recommendation of the Coombs Task Force that, if possible, the rate of construction of the Dartmouth Dam might be slowed down.
The Press release also stated:
The attempt to delay the building of a dam which was already authorised must make us all realise that the possibility of any new money -
That has a familiar ring about it- being made available under the National Water Resources Development program during the life of the Whitlam Government is either extremely rare or non-existent.
There is a familiarity between the terminology of 1973 and precisely what the Leader of the Opposition tried to tell the House today. The truth is that there was an era of development, based largely on water resources, for some years in this country. One can think of the Nogoa Dam, which became known as the Fairbairn Dam, and of the Ord River. It is worth thinking about the Ord to see whether that was a proper use of development funds or whether they could have been better used in some other way. It is all right to speak now with hindsight. That was an era of development. That era came to a halt, not with the advent of this Government but, as Mr Fairbairn pointed out in his Press release, with the advent of the Whitlam Government. I would like the next speaker, I think it is the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), to explain to me where the Whitlam Government allocated funds for water resources. If I remember rightly, in the days when Mr Fairbairn was Minister, $150m or $2S0m a year was allocated for that purpose.
-It was at least $ 1 50m.
-As far as my memory goes, having just been alerted that I was to reply to this matter of public importance, the Whitlam Government certainly did not make any allocation. He cannot have his cake and eat it too. Either the Whitlam Government stopped allocating funds in this way for the proper harnessing of resources or, as he maintained, we did. I think he is wrong. I am certain that any accurate look at the National Water Resources Fund by any impartial observer on the political scene will show that Prime Minister Whitlam fixed that one and settled it once and for all.
I want to take a little time in following up this matter because it has caused most serious concern to me and to a lot of people in South Australia. In about 1970, I think, the Minister, Mr Fairbairn, announced, to the horror of South Australia at the time, that the total yield to South Australia would be greater if a dam were constructed at Dartmouth and not at Chowilla. He had a very torrid time getting through to the people of South Australia the economic sense of the proposition. It is all very well to have hindsight. At that time Premier Steele Hall negotiated with the Federal Government for an increase of disposable water for South Australia of 37 per cent- a total of 0.25 million acre feet, if my memory serves me right. To this day that remains the last significant action taken by anybody to care for, protect or increase the water flow or the water resources available to South Australia.
What happened after that? The Speaker in the South Australian Parliament was an Independent. I suppose the Speaker should be independent. Steele Hall did not have the numbers to enable him to sign indenture agreements with the Commonwealth Government for the building of Dartmouth Dam. Speaker Stott stood him up on that issue. So we had a somewhat historic election campaign at that time on the issue of whether Dartmouth Dam should be built. Logically, looking back and being wise with hindsight, it was not an issue that attracted the bulk of the people. Other issues were flying around. Steele Hall was defeated. Never let us forget that he got 37 per cent more disposable water for South Australia, the driest State in the Commonwealth. I am trying to compress my detailing of the sequence of events into a few minutes. With the defeat of Hall’s Government, Dunstan ‘s party won the seat of Chaney, which is currently in the federal electorate of Angas. He won it on the promise that he would renegotiate with the Whitlam Government the prospect of building Chowilla Dam not Dartmouth Dam. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will excuse me for not being political as there is to be an election in South Australia this weekend. Quite frankly the action of Mr Dunstan was regarded and is regarded in that area now as a highly irresponsible action. He won the seat.
– Who was irresponsible?
-The present Premier of South Australia. He won the seat then, but he has not won it since because people know he did not mean to renegotiate on the Chowilla Dam. In general, his stocks in that area are not very high because of his action. I suppose that is what politics is about.
I shall deal with things in chronological order. Next there was a big debate in which the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and myself were on either side of the central table. We agreed on all sorts of things-I will not mention them- which have come into effect since then. Some of them came into effect during the period of office of the Whitlam Government. From the point of view of South Australia the Whitlam Government achieved nothing, bar very minor alterations to the River Murray Commission Act. The Premier of South Australia has achieved nothing. In fact he has allowed salinity levels below the Waikerie area this year in excess of 1,000 parts per million. He has done nothing at all at this stage. One of the issues in the present election is water. The Liberal Party has said that it will negotiate with the Federal Government for the building of a second dam on the River Murray. It is not being parochial or one-eyed saying that the dam must be built at Chowilla, but it is appreciated that there must be a further increase in water resources to that State.
Let us look for a minute at the problems which flow to South Australia. After Premier Steele Hall negotiated an increased water supply the people of South Australia were fairly happy because they thought this would eventuate. To their amazement, on a celebrated occasion in this House Mr Uren, the Minister for Urban and
Regional Development, made an announcement that the decision to build Albury-Wodonga was a purely political decision. That announcement had the House a trifle amazed at the time. He also said that we need not worry about water resources because Dartmouth Dam would be in a position to supply the extra requirements. This introduced a real problem for South Australia. At that time I gave the advice- I have not any reason to withdraw it- that both the Dunstan Government and the Whitlam Government should, as responsible parties to the agreement that established Albury-Wodonga, have put in an optimum pollution count that must be abided by, for the future protection of South Australia. That was not done. I probably made three or four speeches on this issue.
Today South Australia is drawing in excess of three-quarters of its total water supply from the River Murray. There are appalling salinity problems. The water is drawn not only for Adelaide but for the Morgan- Whyalla pipeline and other areas also. I shall not seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a list of these areas. I merely quote the figures which I gave at the time. Albury-Wodonga, with an ultimate population of 300,000, will require 10.9 billion gallons a year, based on an estimate of 100 gallons per person. Monarto, with an ultimate population of 200,000, will require 7.3 billion gallons a year. The requirements of the Port Pirie petrochemical plant, Port Stanvac, Riverland towns, local industries, Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta industry build up an enormous total with which the resources of the State cannot cope.
One of the few long term projections that the Premier of South Australia grabbed hold of and shook around on several occasions was requests of this Government and I believe of the Whitlam Government to use some source of nuclear power so that desalination methods could be adopted to help the entire State of South Australia to get quality water, if a sufficient quantity could be obtained. Only in the past 6 months have we seen him running away totally from that picture. One ponders where South Australia will finish up unless someone has the intestinal fortitude to grab hold of this issue again and to try to promote it for the sake of the people of South Australia.
I think I have said enough, in a quiet and nonprovocative style, to point out to the House that we did not stop the national water resources fund. The big era of dam building and water resource harnessing in Australia under previous Minister Fairbairn was some years ago. It did not stop with this Government. I have indicated the schemes with which we are involved now. The era of the harnessing of those water supplies stopped with the Whitlam Government, which took advantage of the recommendations of the Coombs task force. At the time those recommendations quite possibly were correct, although most of them were not looked upon as being correct by people in my electorate. Really and truly, with great respect, I think the Leader of the Opposition, particularly after his tour through Queensland, has got on to a lame duck with this because he cannot blame us for any difference in trend- the trend was there before, with his Government.
-One thing is unmistakable: The conservative coalition Government has dumped the rural areas of Australia. The Budget is coldly indifferent to the gravest needs of rural industry in this country. Certainly there has been some adjustment to the tax averaging system, but the adjustments are going to assist largely the wealthy and successful primary producers, who represent a small proportion of the total beef producers in this country. The adjustment will give most benefit to professional men in the capital cities with rising incomes who, as a tax avoidance measure, take up farming properties somewhere. There is no new provision of aid for the impoverished dairying industry. The poverty stricken state of the beef industry is ignored. The Government seems to be determined to alienate our important sugar markets. It ignores the plight of the tobacco industry. It cuts back on the real road effort.
It abrogates its responsibilities in water conservation. It is often pointed out that this country is one of the thirstiest continents- if not the thirstiest continent- in the world. Accordingly, water is a most precious commodity. It needs to be conserved carefully. It is one of the priority responsibilities of any government in this country at any time. To say that is not to assert that all water conservation projects have to be supported. They have to be subjected to as rigorous economic justification as any other national priority development project.
Having acknowledged that, one does not go oh to assert that, accordingly all water conservation projects can be ignored. Yet that appears to be the situation with this Government, as indicated in statements made by the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) in this Parliament and as shown by the recent Budget. Not one new commitment to a water conservation project is contained in the recent Budget. It is incontestable that the national Government, this conservative coalition Government, has wiped its hands of any responsibility for new water conservation projects. It abrogates its responsibility. The Minister for National Resources said on 24 May 1977 -
– You have not got a supporter in the House. There are only two Opposition members here and neither of them voted for you.
-The Minister for Foreign Affairs claims that it is my misfortune not to have a supporter in the House to listen to me except for a couple of people- the important few.
– Two who did not vote for you.
-It is better than being in the Minister’s position in Cabinet where he has no one to support him. The Minister for National Resources stated on 24 May 1977 in answer to a question on notice:
Responsibility for water projects is essentially a matter for the State governments and, under the new CommonwealthState financial arrangements, they are now in a better position to order their own priorities in water resource matters.
What demonstrable nonsense! What arrant hypocrisy on the part of the Minister! The States are not being better served financially as a result of any changes to the financial arrangements between the national Government and the State governments. If one considers the total outlays for the States as payments to or for the States and Loan Council program assistance over the period 1975-76 to 1977-78, in a real relative sense the States are seen to be considerably worse off.
In 1975-76, the year for which we produced our last Budget, we provided to the States as payments and as Loan Council program support a total amount equal to 12. 1 per cent of gross domestic product. The following year that support went down to 11.2 per cent of gross domestic product. In comparative money terms, it was $637m less than it ought to have been. For the current year it is down to 1 1.1 per cent of gross domestic product. In other words, if the Government were to be as generous to the States in a real relative sense as we were in our last Budget as a proportion of gross domestic product it would provide $923m more than it proposes to provide in the current Budget. So the States are not in a sounder position to provide the sort of development which is essential to maintain the level of economic activity and the economic growth that is necessary for the future of this country.
Let us look as some specific projects which have been neglected by this Government. The Monduran dam outside Bundaberg has been totally ignored by this Government. It is refusing by default to fulfil commitments of earlier governments- an earlier Labor government and before that an earlier conservative coalition government. When we were in office in 1974 we increased to $ 17.2m our commitment to these development projects. We made it clear that we would honour our commitment under the relevant legislation to all the aspects of the developments which were detailed in that legislation. The situation now is that the project has almost ground to a halt for want of financial assistance- for want of about $4m from the Australian Government. That is a bagatelle in terms of national expenditure, but it is essential to maintain the development of this program and to bring it to a speedy completion.
As I understand information we have received from officials of the Queensland Government, including Mr Wharton, the Minister for Irrigation and Water Supplies in that Government, the project is in a more less suspended state at no more than 25 per cent of its total development and will languish somewhat at that point unless the Australian Government fulfils its commitments and honours its undertakings made in earlier years. A rather minor amount of money$4m will allow the project to be moved on quickly. It will allow connecting channel development to be undertaken so that within a very short time there will be 50 per cent completion of the program. The fact is that the Burnett and Childers district channel reticulationthe largest part of the whole program- cannot be completed unless the Australian Government honours those earlier commitments.
The present conservative coalition Government has turned its back on rural interests in this country. It has dumped the farm industry.
The Burdekin River project was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). It is incontestable that the technical features of this project are established. The recent joint report of the Australian Government and Queensland Government establishes that beyond any doubt. The report indicates also that to finalise the whole exercise so that a firm commitment can be made on a justifiable basis the in-depth economic analysis of the project has to be completed. There is no evidence to indicate that this Government is prepared to move ahead quickly to complete that essential report. On the basis of evidence which I can extract from this joint report and the comment from Alderman Eamon Lindsay, the Chairman of the Water Resources Committee of the Townsville City Council, it is my view that the economic justification of this report will be established. The fact is that Townsville ‘s development will come to a dead halt, according to Alderman Lindsay, in the early 1980s unless the second stage of the Ross River Dam project is proceeded with. But the best that will do will be to satisfy only to mid- 1982 the water requirements of Townsville. Accordingly, the Burdekin River project must proceed if Townsville is to continue developing. The Julius Dam at Mount Isa was a project for which we indicated, when we were m government, that we were prepared to meet one-third of the total cost, but the Queensland Government buried that proposition. Accordingly, it must accept a great proportion of the responsibility for the problems which now arise. The Mount Isa City Council claims that it is facing bankruptcy and that it faces being sacked because the ratepayers are unable to provide the sort of money necessary to service the debt.
It is a shame that I do not have more time in which to follow through the day by day saga of the statements made by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter). He started off by saying that a $4.6m grant was available from the Australian Government and that that grant could be used for the Mount Isa project. He is reported in the North-West Star of 22 August as saying that the money was given with no strings and no guidelines as to how the money was spent. He went on to say:
I believe it was suggested that a portion should be used towards Lake Julius and the Bundaberg irrigation scheme.
On the following day he confirmed that that was so. A little later, on 25 August, he suddenly became indisposed for 48 hours with influenza as people raised questions about whether such money really did exist. Then on 26 August this report appeared in the North-West Star.
Mount Isa City Council opened its budget discussion this morning under the shadow of a statement by the member for Kennedy, Mr Bob Katter, that the mysterious $4.6m federal grant to the State Government did not in fact exist.
He blows his trumpet profusely, but on that occasion he had only a tin whistle.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I never cease to be amazed at the tremendous ability of the Opposition to raise issues in this House which only serve to demonstrate further its total lack of action and its attack upon matters which vitally affected the well being of Australia’s rural communities during its term in office. It was perhaps in the area of water resource programs and projects that its record was the most dismal. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has just mentioned that the Government has totally ignored the Monduran Dam. I put it to him that that Queensland storage was completed with the use of Commonwealth funds some two years ago.
Let us look a little further at what happened between 1972 and 1975 when the Whitlam Government thankfully had a short term in office. Very few commitments were made. I will allow the House to judge the reasons why the commitments that were made were made, particularly in the electorate of Dawson. For instance, the Kinchant Dam represented a commitment of $5m while the Proserpine flood mitigation project represented a commitment of $120,000. 1 suggest to the House that those two most important projects to the electorate of Dawson were made then only for political expediency in a vain attempt to save the then member for Dawson. Thankfully it failed.
Every other major expenditure was made only to honour former commitments made by the previous coalition government. I shall mention some of them. The Bundaberg project cost some $ 17.2m, and that was a commitment made by the previous coalition government. Of that amount, $ 12.8m had already been allocated and only $4.4m had to be expended by the Labor Government to complete the project. The New South Wales coastal rivers flood mitigation scheme fits into the same category, as do the Tailem Bend and the Lock Kimba pipeline schemes in South Australia. The commitments made in respect of all those projects were made by the former coalition government, and completed by the Labor government. I believe that during its term the Whitlam Government actually reneged on a commitment made in relation to the Pikes Creek project. I remember at that time the successful representations made by the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) and the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) to the then Minister for National Development, the Honourable Reg Swartz, who agreed to sharing with New South Wales and Queensland the cost of constructing the Pikes Creek dam. Preliminary work was being carried out when the Labor Party came to office. The Whitlam Government abdicated its responsibility to carry on with that project which had been agreed to by the previous Government.
Let us look for a moment at the development of our national water programs. After two years of prolonged discussion with the States on a national water program between 1973 and 1975, the Whitlam Government was not able to obtain a single commitment; it did not enter into a commitment in relation to any individual project.
The present Government has achieved and will be achieving a great deal over the next two and three years as far as our national water programs are concerned. Already Sim has been allocated to New South Wales for the Namoi River weirs. One could refer to the statement made by the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) in relation to the water hyacinth program which effectively assists the States of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. At that stage the Commonwealth announced an allocation of $50,000 to New South Wales during 1977-78 towards the cost of an action program to control the water hyacinth infestation on the Gingham Watercourse on the Gwydir River. Since then, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have each matched the Commonwealth’s contribution. This year the program will concentrate on improving water management in the infested areas, selective spraying and further research on biological control of the water hyacinth. There is no doubt that that program ultimately will assist in protecting the lower reaches of the River Murray system from water hyacinth.
Of course, one can refer also to the fact that agreement has been reached in principle with New South Wales local authorities for the coastal rivers flood mitigation program which is estimated to cost $28m. We have also announced a water resources program under which the Commonwealth will consider grants to the States for projects which they believe should receive the highest priority. We have embarked on a three year water assessment program with the States at a cost of $6.6m over each financial year.
Of all the measures commenced and undertaken by the Government none has been more important than the extension of the role to be played by the River Murray Commission. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) mentioned the work that he did in that regard, but it was only when the coalition Government come to power that the role of the River Murray Commission in relation to water quality was actually broadened. The Commission can now consider water quality in the operation of works under its control. It can now carry on a water quality monitoring program on the main stem and on the lower end of all tributaries. It can initiate, authorise and co-ordinate studies on matters directly concerned with water quality management on the main stem of the River Murray. It can also recommend to the States standards for water quality in the main stem of the River Murray, and it can make recommendations to the States on the operation of State salinity control and drainage works which affect water quality in the main stem of the River Murray system. These are important changes?
However, it is doubtful whether the increased responsibilities of the River Murray Commission go far enough. In my view, it is important that a national authority be formed to oversee all aspects of the vast River Murray system. The River Murray system includes 1.6 million acres of highly productive land. It represents an enormous investment in land resources and people. It was with that in mind that our present Minister for National Resources recently made an extensive tour from Albury at the upper end of the Murray River system through to Adelaide. He took into account the various factors that affect this vital River Murray basin, including flood mitigation, irrigation, urban water supply, salinity, pollution and even such important aspects as recreation and the environment.
Over the years there is no doubt that parochialism and political expediency, both intrastate and interstate, have caused many vital problems to the River Murray system. In many aspects they have probably done irretrievable harm. It is important, however, that we utilise this most important system to achieve the optimum development of Australia. It is an integral system, and basic logic demands that it should be so managed. There is no doubt that excessive utilisation of water is taking place towards the headwaters in New South Wales. It is being over-allocated with the result that in critical times there is insufficient flow in the rivers to contain pollution and meet the needs of vast lengths of the lower reaches. This is happening as far upstream as Mildura. It is likely to extend further upstream to Swan Hill and into the lower reaches of the large tributaries. At critical low river flow times tremendous problems are likely to occur in relation to salinity in future years.
I ask the House where we will get the quality and quantity of water to maintain irrigation and further urban and industrial development in the general lower Murray area and the industrial and urban South Australian regions. Even now the quality of water in the lower reaches is below the standards of the World Health Organisation for drinking water. It is unsuitable for many industrial and agricultural purposes. The environment has been and is being dramatically altered. With these things in mind I believe that the recent visit by the Leader of the National Country Party and Minister for National Resources was most important. Irrigation development in the Murray system was sponsored by the Government. It is vital to the welfare of thousands of whole communities in Australia and to decentralisation.
This matter of public importance today is at best only a smoke screen in attempts by the Opposition to make people forget the devastation to Australia’s water resources projects during its term in office. It will take 20 years for rural people to forget the destruction that the Opposition brought upon rural communities when it was in office. The tremendous benefits that tax reforms, tax averaging, income equalisation deposits, superphosphate and nitrogen bounties, changes in the pension system and the unemployment benefits scheme have made to rural communities cannot be hidden. It is most unjust and only a smoke screen when the Opposition endeavours to bring forward a matter of public importance which has no bearing on the problems Australia is facing.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The discussion is now concluded.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Construction of an animal quarantine station, Wallgrove, New South Wales.
The proposal is for the construction of a comprehensive animal quarantine station comprising the following main groupings of buildings: quarantine security area, administrative and public area, service buildings and three staff residences. The estimated cost of the proposed work is $4.6m. The Committee in recommending the construction of the proposal made the following recommendations:
The Government accepts these recommendations and they will be taken into consideration in the development of the project. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution, detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
– I support the construction of this facility. I shall raise two points because they have been raised with me by a number of persons living in the area, especially those who have investments in livestock, et cetera. Some people are worried that the quarantine security area is not secure enough. I am not an expert on this matter. I realise that the public Works Committee sat in Blacktown. It had a good look at the matter and apparently it is satisfied about the possibility of viruses escaping from the area. I am not sure whether the second point which seems reasonable to me relates specifically to this subject. It relates to the transport of animals when they land in Australia from the point of entry, say, Darling Harbour or elsewhere in Sydney, to Wallgrove. There seems to be a worry- I certainly could not say that this was not a possibility- that flies or insects could come in contact with those animals or that a truck could break down somewhere between Sydney and the Wallgrove area. I hope that the Government will take these points into consideration and make sure that there are no potential dangers from the quarantine station.
-As a member of the Public Works Committee it pleases me to see that the Government has accepted the recommendations which the Committee included in its report. Firstly, I shall refer to the points raised by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). The Committee was very concerned with these two aspects, that is, the question of security within the installation itself and the transportation of animals from the airport or sea port to the quarantine station. In the transcript of evidence which has not yet been published it will be seen that these questions were examined at some length. The Committee was satisfied with the projected plans and arrangements. The Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) referred to a number of reservations which the Committee had in relation to the construction of this quarantine station. I am pleased that the Government will pay attention to the recommendations we made m relation to the grooms’ accommodation, the siting of the manure pit and incinerator and the road layout in the area.
Interesting evidence was given to the Committee on quarantine facilities for bees. The evidence given by the Commercial Apiarists Association of New South Wales and the Federal Council of the Australian Apiarists Association should be examined carefully by quarantine officers in the Department of Health. It is quite clear that there is a need for quarantine facilities in this area. This station will have a significant effect in safeguarding Australia against rabies outbreaks. At the moment there are only 12 kennels in the whole of Australia which are rabies secure for the importation of dogs. The new installation at Wallgrove will allow this number to be increased to 609, 597 being provided in the new installation. I am also pleased that the Minister has accepted the recommendations of the Committee to examine charges to see whether capital costs can be incorporated. It seemed to the Committee that there should be some charge in this respect. I refer to the capacity of facilities for importing horses into Australia which will now be provided at Wallgrove. The Committee was not aware that additional funds for those facilities would be provided in the most recent Budget. Wallgrove will provide 90 horse stalls. At the moment there are only 10 stalls with temporary facilities for perhaps an additional 20 stalls at Wallgrove.
The Committee was not aware of it at the time, but in the Budget provision is made for an additional 32 horse stalls at Spotswood during this financial year, which will lift the capacity of Spotswood to about 40. Provision is also made for an additional 36 horse stalls at Torrens Island in South Australia, which will lift the capacity in that area to 41. In effect, after the completion of Wallgrove, Spotswood and Torrens the total number of facilities available for horses will be 171. When one compares this with the current capacity of 31, one sees that it is a very large increase indeed. If the Committee had been aware of these definite additional arrangements for this financial year it may have had a different outlook on the provision of horse facilities at Wallgrove.
The Committee was very doubtfulunofficially doubtful, because it made no official recommendation on it- as to whether horse facilities should be decentralised. It was felt that people importing horses could well afford to pay any additional price made necessary by the centralisation of horse quarantine facilities. I think that the Committee would accept the need for dog and cat facilities to be segregated but felt that, with the greater range of aircraft and the greater size of aircraft shipping horses, there would be some way in which centralisation could be established. I think this report also indicates that a number of other reports of the Public Works Committee in this area have not been acted on. Let me refer to several of them. Firstly, the animal health laboratory at Geelong was the subject of a report by the Public Works Committee. In its sixth report for 1974 dated 17 October 1974 it recommended the building of an animal health laboratory at Geelong. At that stage the recommendation was accepted, and it is one of the few recommendations of the Public Works Committee in which the Committee stressed that it was a matter of urgency that the work proceed.
I point out that only about $91,000 has been spent on preliminary site work for that project and also a further $18 1,000-odd on site work construction. So with a total estimated capital cost of $67m in 1974 this significant and vital program has still to be proceeded with. Let me also refer to the delays in the high security offshore quarantine station project which was also examined by the Public Works Committee. In its fifth report for 1973 dated 13 September 1973 it recommended that an offshore high security quarantine station be established on West Island in the Cocos group. At that stage the estimated capital cost of the project seemed to be $2. lm. It is gratifying to the Committee and to all people interested in quarantine work to note that the sum of $6.9m has been provided in the Budget for work in this area. As a member of the Public Works Committee I am pleased that the Minister and the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Committee.
Mr McLEAY (Boothby-Minister for Construction)in reply- Very briefly I would like to thank the honourable members who have taken part in this debate- the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Canning (Mr Bungey). The comments of the honourable member for Prospect will certainly be taken on board by the Government and I will raise them with the officers of my
Department although, as the honourable member for Canning said, this matter has been fairly heavily canvassed during the sittings. I want to respond briefly to what the honourable member for Canning said about the animal health laboratory at Geelong. I must say that the design team on that project is still intact and still working. I have forgotten how much has been spent on the actual design work but it is certainly in excess of $ 1 m. I share with him the hope that it will not be too long before we will be able to proceed and put that facility to work.
– Will the design team remain intact?
-Who knows what will happen in the future? It has been intact for a couple of years now. If I were someone inclined to bet, I would say yes. Once again let me say that this debate demonstrates the undoubted value of the work of the Public Works Committee and I hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to enlarge its activities.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Staley) agreed to:
That, in accordance with section 5 of the Parliament Act 1974, the House of Representatives approves the following proposal: Construction of an electrical substation at the rear of Parliament House, Canberra.
Debate resumed from 25 August, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on the Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the National Health Amendment Bill as they are related measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures? I will allow that course to be followed.
-Let me refresh the memory of members of this chamber as to the purposes of the two Bills we are debating today. The first Bill amends the National Health Act and the Nursing Homes Assistance Act so as to provide for increased benefits to be paid by the Commonwealth in respect of eligible uninsured patients in approved nursing homes and to provide for registered hospital benefits organisations to pay similar benefits to eligible contributors who are patients in approved nursing homes by making such benefits a condition of registration for hospital benefits organisations. That is the main provision of the first Bill. The only aim of the second Bill, as I see it, is to ensure that all privately insured patients will pay for pathology services provided by the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. The Opposition will not oppose this legislation.
In the second reading speech the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) became rather ecstatic about the legislation he was introducing. In part of his speech he said that this introduces a new era of financial security for nursing home patients. Of course it will not do anything of the sort. It will succeed only in helping patients very temporarily. I think that that is an important point and that is why we support it. Annual adjustments have been promised but they are not in the legislation. I hope that this Government, which has broken many of its promises, will not break this one. It is important to point out that although the Government says that it introduces yearly adjustments it does nothing of the sort. It makes yearly adjustment possible, in the same way as adjustments have been possible in the past.
I think it is relevant to relate how this Bill was introduced and what is to happen. The Government admitted that many patients in nursing homes or their relatives were in dire need of support. Whilst admitting that on 16 June and saying that this legislation would operate from 1 October, the Government did not introduce this legislation until two weeks ago. I presume that the legislation will pass throught this House today, through the Senate later and will come into force on 1 October.
For the benefit of honourable members who may not have taken a very active interest in the subject of nursing homes, I give the definition of standard fees. I think there have been a number of definitions in this respect. The report of the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm, commonly called the Holmes report, which was presented to the Government in January this year, dennes the standard fee. The standard weekly fee has increased quite considerably since this Government came to office about 23 months ago. The standard fee for a State is defined as the fee which would cover 70 per cent of all nursing home patients in that State. In other words, 70
Eer cent of all the beds in nursing homes would e charged for at that fee or below that fee. That is where the first difficulty arises.
Originally the standard fee was calculated on the basis of fees charged by all nursing homes. Fees vary considerably from State to State. For the purposes of this legislation the standard fee has been increased because it covers 70 per cent of all private nursing home beds and therefore it covers probably some 90 per cent or 85 per cent -
-85 per cent
-Yes, 85 per cent. Therefore there is some difficulty in comparing the standard fee that is proposed to come into force in October 1977 with previous standard fees. Nevertheless, I have prepared a table which I am sorry to say I have not shown to the Minister for Health. However, I did show it to the Minister who was at the table before the Minister for Health entered the debate. I asked whether the Government would grant leave for the table to be incorporated in Hansard. He agreed that leave would be given. The table sets out the standard weekly fee in different States at different times as well as other things. The table has been prepared by myself and I accept responsibility for its contents. May it be incorporated?
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows-
-The table contains the standard weekly fee for all States for November 1975 and for July 1977. These two sets of figures are relevant because both were calculated on the standard fee covering 70 per cent of all beds in a particular State. It also contains the standard fee for October 1977 at which point there is to be a change and a significant increase because the standard fee is to cover 70 per cent of private nursing home fees. The table gives the percentage increases from November 1975 to July 1977 and from November 1975 to October 1977. My calculations are based on the percentage increases that have occurred over the past two years during which time there has been no major change excepting a change of government. It is important to remember that there were major changes to the costing of nursing homes in about 1973 when female wage rates were made equal to male wage rates.
I think it would be fair to state that over the last two years nursing home fees should have risen at approximately the general inflation rate in the community although in fact the fees have risen at a higher rate. Inflation rates vary quite significantly from State to State. I have no way by which to determine why they vary so significantly. I will give the figures that I have used so that the Minister can at some stage give some explanation. The assumed percentage increase in nursing home costs for a 9-month period which I have used for the purposes of working out an expected standard rate fee for June 1978 are as follows: New South Wales, 13 per cent; Victoria, 11 per cent; Queensland, 13 per cent; South Australia, 1 1 per cent; Western Australia, 17 per cent; and Tasmania, 16 per cent. I have based those percentages on cost increases during the previous two years. I do not know why there should be such a big difference, for example, between Victoria and Western Australia.
The second last line of my table sets out the expected standard weekly fee at June 1978. In the final line I have subtracted the expected standard weekly fee from the proposed standard weekly fee as of 1 October. The difference, of course, if the nursing homes are allowed to increase their charges by that amount, will be the amount patients will have to contribute in addition to what they receive from either the Government or from the funds plus their own patient contribution as it exists at the present time.
The patient contribution will, in fact, increase slightly during that time because pensions will go up during that time. The patient contribution is basically the single pension rate. I have calculated that in about nine months’ time a New South Wales nursing home patient or his relatives will be up for about $18 a week. The amount in Queensland will be nearly $17 a week and in Victoria it will be about $20 a week.
It is also important to remember that already many beds cost much more to maintain than the standard weekly fee. An answer to question No. 247 asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) appears at pages 975 to 979 of Hansard of 8 September. The question and answer relate to areas which could not be regarded as well-off areas even though some of them are temporarily represented by members of the Liberal Party. I refer particularly to the electorates of Parramatta and Mitchell. In his reply the Minister gave the names of nursing homes approved under the National Health Act, their addresses and their weekly charges as at 31 July 1977. We find that the fees charged in the first four nursing homes in the Parramatta electorate are above the proposed standard fee for 1 October. So already at the end of July this year the first four nursing homes mentioned in alphabetical order charged more than the proposed standard fee. For example, the Aloha nursing home at Epping as at 31 July charged $152.18 a week for two, three and four bed wards. The proposed standard fee will be only $142.45 a week. Therefore the patient will have to contribute about $10. The charge for a one-bed ward was $173. It is fair enough that patients wishing to be placed in a one-bed ward should contribute much more. The minimum charge at the Curie Nursing Home was $151.55 and’ the maximum charge was $163.45. We can see from these figures, taking into account that there has been no increase in the standard fee from 1 July, that patients are already paying $10 a week more than the benefits they will receive. I think it is important to realise that fact.
– Do you know what the gap is now?
– It would be much more now. I accept that the Government is increasing the benefit. My criticism is that this increase is only a temporary improvement for the vast majority of patients. What will be the result of all this? As I understand the position from persons to whom I have spoken in Sydney- it probably applies to other States- matrons and proprietors tend to reject patients who have no private means or significant private assets or patients with relatives who are not prepared to contribute significant amounts of money towards the cost of maintaining elderly people in nursing homes. We cannot blame the matrons and proprietors of the nursing homes for doing that. There are more people trying to get into nursing homes than there are beds available. To some extent the nursing homes can pick and choose. They do not want to take the risk of taking in pensioners who have no other income and who have no relatives prepared to supplement the benefits received from the government. Therefore matrons and proprietors go to a lot more trouble assessing the assets of a patient rather than the patient^ medical condition. It has become very difficult to find beds for would-be patients without assets.
In passing I would like to point out what is required, certainly in the capital cities. What is required is a type of nursing home bed clearance section such as the hospital bed clearance sections. If a medical practitioner has difficulty in finding a bed in a nursing home he should be able to ring a telephone number and tell the person running the bed clearance section, whether it be run by the Department of Health or some voluntary organisation, that he has a patient with a certain medical condition who requires a bed in a nursing home. The section should then try to organise a bed for that patient. I understand that something akin to this is run by the New South Wales Council for the Aging. I think it has difficulty in running this service without accepting commission from the nursing homes. I think the Minister would agree with me that it would not be a good idea for that sort of bed clearance section to be run by an organisation which gets kickbacks from the nursing homes because other problems would arise. The New South Wales Council for the Aging is subsidised by the Department of Social Security. It is not under the Minister’s control. I understand that its subsidy has remained unchanged since 1972 or 1973. It has had to dismiss one of its very small staff just at a time when it is trying to get something worthwhile for the aged.
I want to refer to some other proposals by this Government. The first matter I will mention is costing. I do not want to be too critical of public servants because I know the difficulty under which they work. Obtaining statistics involves getting co-operation from all kinds of people, from nursing homes, from State government departments and from federal departments. All kinds of surveys are necessary. However, I have little confidence in the final figures provided. Holmes suggested at page 96 of his report that there would be a saving of $75m if the funds paid nursing home benefits and that about 33 per cent of the people belong to funds. The Minister for Health suggested in the Medical Letter about two weeks ago that about 30 per cent of nursing home patients belong to funds and this would provide a saving of $S0m. There is very little difference between the 30 per cent mentioned by the Minister and the 33 per cent mentioned by Holmes in his report yet there is a difference of SO per cent in the amount to be saved by the Government. I do not know the correct answer. Holmes admitted that he was guessing to a large extent. I do not know whether the Minister was guessing or was hoping or was confident about the figure. That is one of the difficulties that arise when I look at the answer by the Minister to which I referred previously. After all, he is responsible for the answers to questions that he provides for Hansard
The Minister was asked the names and addresses of registered nursing homes in certain electorates, including my own electorate of Prospect. At page 978 of Hansard, reference is made to four nursing homes. Three of them are not in my electorate. The addresses are provided. It would have been just a matter of looking up the publication produced by the Commonwealth Electoral Office or at a map in order to ascertain which nursing homes were in which electorate. The publication produced by the Commonwealth Electoral Office contains lists of streets, roads, et cetera in the Sydney area together with the subdivision, Commonwealth division and State electorates in which each thoroughfare is located. I suggest that the Minister’s officers obtain a copy of that publication for use when providing answers for Hansard. It was really silly for the Minister to say that there were four nursing homes in my electorate. I have no objection to having nursing homes in my electorate. One of those mentioned is only a short distance away but two others are some distance away from my electorate. At least one of the nursing homes set out as being in the electorate of Mitchell is in the middle of my electorate. When I look at answers like that I do not have much confidence about other answers. I assume that the Public Service is particularly keen to provide correct answers for Ministers and members of parliament.
– My officers are good on statistics but they might not be very good on geography.
-I hope that their statistics are better than their geography. This is not peculiar to the Department of Health. I raised a similar question with the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). He provided figures about the number of people registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service in various electorates. There is a Commonwealth Employment Service office in the middle of Parramatta. The Minister claimed that the people of the Mitchell electorate provided 90 per cent of the registrants at that office while the people of Parramatta itself provided only 5 per cent. This is impossible. It would not happen. For some reason he claimed that my constituents go to Liverpool to register at the Liverpool Commonwealth Unemployment Service office when in fact they can register at the office in Fairfield. I do not want to get involved with side issues, but statistics are important for planning and for nursing home purposes.
Holmes suggested that the funds ought to be paying for people who are privately insured. To some extent this suggestion has been adopted by this Government. I agree with Holmes’ suggestion. However I am not so sure that the $50m in savings which the Minister mentioned or the $7Sm which Holmes mentioned will be anything like the true figure. I think that what will happen is that there will be an increase in the Commonwealth subsidy. I hope not. The Minister for Health seems to be fairly aggressive about the private funds at the present time because they have been running a campaign against him. I hope that will put some backbone into his relations with the funds.
– Get stuck into them.
– Exactly. The Minister should get stuck into them. As I see the situation, the Commonwealth will contribute to payments by the private funds via the re-insurance pool because the patients will automatically go into the re-insurance pool, as the Minister pointed out. Holmes did not suggest that they automatically go into that pool; he suggested that certain conditions should be laid down. Secondly, by an increased subsidy for the ‘hospital only’ patients- this is one of my worries at the present time- as honourable members interested in this issue are aware, people can pay the Medibank levy plus, in the case of families, a subsidised hospital-only insurance which costs $135 a year.
In that sum of $135, there is a significant element of government subsidy. I think it is between $40 and $50 per year per family.
– It depends on the State.
-Anyway, there is a significant subsidy. If the funds have to pay the nursing home benefits, as they should, for their patients who are insured for hospital only they will ask the government for a larger subsidy. I hope that the Government will insist that they use up their reserves, or a significant portion of them, before agreeing to that proposal otherwise all we will be doing is transferring the cost of nursing home benefits across to Medibank. The total cost to the taxpayer will be exactly the same.
One of the interesting things is the significant difference between the States in the use of nursing homes and the cost of nursing homes. Figures provided to me show that at 30 April this year the proportion of nursing home patients in New South Wales receiving intensive care, as it is called at present, or extensive care, as it will be called after 1 October, was 39.84 per cent. Let us say 40 per cent. In Victoria two months previously, and I assume that these are comparable figures, the proportion of intensive care patients was 93 per cent. What a huge difference- 40 per cent in New South Wales as against 93 per cent in Victoria. I suppose that that helps explain the standard weekly fees in each State. The Government is now doubling its subsidy for extensive care patients from $3 per day to $6 per day. One hopes that that will encourage the Victorian fees to come down closer to the fees in other States. To take two extremes, the proposed standard weekly fee in Victoria as from 1 October 1977 will be $184.45 and in Western Australia it will be $129.15-a huge difference of $55.30 a week. It is difficult to see why that should be so. I have given the proportion of intensive care patients in New South Wales and Victoria but I will give one additional figure so that people who are interested in this subject will be able to find this information in Hansard. The national figure, excluding Tasmania, for the proportion of intensive care patients at February this year was 67.42 per cent of all patients. That is nearly double the figure for New South Wales but still well below the Victorian figure of 93 per cent.
I will leave it to others who are participating in the debate to mention some of the other relevant points in the legislation and the general problems. I know that this area is a difficult problem. Generally speaking we are dealing with an age group that can be divided into categories from a medical point of view, even though this may be an over-simplification and may involve a significant amount of overlapping. The categories would be the well, the frail and the sick, and it is terribly important from the point of view of the aged people affected and from the point of view of the community which has to bear a significant proportion of the cost to make quite sure that these different categories of patients are in the most appropriate accommodation for them, whether that be their own homes, hostels, nursing homes or hospitals. We should make sure that as many people as possible are able to get into accommodation appropriate to their category so that we avoid a patient being put into, say, a nursing home, not because he needs nursing home accommodation but because no other kind of accommodation is available. This will need co-operation between the Department of Health and other government departments such as the Department of Social Security, the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development and Treasury. They are all relevant departments. It is a question of trying to provide accommodation for aged people at an appropriate cost so that such accommodation is available to the aged in our community to prevent their health deteriorating and then being admitted unnecessarily to either hospitals or nursing homes.
-The provisions of the two Bills fulfil the stated aims of the Government in regard to this area of health and welfare. Briefly, as I see them, those aims are: For the Government to assist those in need; for those who are able to provide for themselves to do so through private insurance; to encourage accountability for health services by the payment of a patient moiety where this is both appropriate and equitable; and to encourage the private sector in health care delivery thus maintaining a genuine freedom of choice for patients. I commend the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) for the pragmatic and beneficial development of these aims in the health area generally. The development of the Government’s policy provides several additional benefits. As I see them they are: Firstly, it allows a concentration of the limited resources available to any government in a democratic society on those in genuine need; secondly, it allows the average citizen greater ability to spend his money in the way in which he decides rather than have it taken away from him through increased taxation to pay for arrangements created by government and controlled by government; thirdly, it produces greater efficiency and accountability in the health care sector because of the recognition that the rate of increase in Government expenditure and in the percentage of gross national product expended on health cannot continue at its present rate and the recognition that there must be inefficiencies in our health care delivery due to this rapid expansion.
I now want to refer to the amendments to the National Health Act which implement the recommendation of the Holmes inquiry in regard to nursing homes. The legislation provides greater security for the high percentage of chronically ill patients who are admitted to private or non-government nursing homes. Automatically, once a year, benefit rates will be adjusted following an annual review of nursing home fees so that the benefit together with the statutory patient contribution will cover the fees charged to 70 per cent of patients in a State. Seventy per cent is the traditional percentage, a figure which has been rarely maintained over the last four years since the Labor Government introduced inflation. Private nursing homes in a particular State could be financially disadvantaged if their fees are fixed for the year at review time and a State wages determination for nurses and other staff shortly afterwards grants a substantial salary increase. If nursing homes were allowed to increase their fees following such a salary increase the patients would suffer. I hope that the annual review can be arranged to follow rather than precede major annual wage adjustments in each State and I recommend to the Minister that he consider that proposition.
The Bill doubles what was the intensive care benefit- it will soon be known as the extensive care benefit- from $3 per day to $6 per day. This is the first increase in this benefit since its introduction by a previous Liberal-Country Party government in 1969. There is also a safeguard for private nursing home proprietors and patients in the provisions relating to the payment of the benefit and membership of a health fund. In addition there is a provision for the payment of the benefit for insured patients in deficit financed homes.
I conclude my remarks by raising three issues. The first is the campaign by some private health funds against the legislation. This campaign puzzles me because I would have thought that this encouragement of private health insurance, this protection for patients in private nursing homes and, indirectly, for private nursing homes themselves would have received the approval of these health funds. I know that there is a fear that increased premiums will force people out of the private funds and into Medibank public. However, we should not forget the commitment of the Government to a strong private health care sector. The second issue concerns accountability and efficiency in the deficit financed nursing homes. These homes have to provide budgets for departmental approval but the open-ended nature of the arrangement worries me. The third issue is the disparity in benefits payable by the Federal Government after 1 October to uninspired patients in these homes. The basic benefit will be as low as $1 1.75 per day in Western Australia and as high as $19.65 per day in Victoria. The variations are not new. They are not caused by this legislation, but they continue. I understand the variations are due to State regulations and, as such, I believe the Commonwealth should not indefinitely continue to pay the full amount. It should move towards a basic common benefit and allow the States to pay the difference or pay an increasing part of that difference. I hope the Bailey Task Force has considered this matter. I support the legislation and congratulate the Minister for Health on its introduction.
-The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in relation to this legislation claims: ‘A new era of financial security for nursing home patients’. This claim is apparently based upon the following changes: A new increased benefit to operate from 1 October; a verbal undertaking- nothing more- that these benefits will be adjusted annually to cover 70 per cent of patients in private nursing homes; and, finally, that the introduction of health insurance for nursing home patients represents some dramatic new era. In the short term the new benefit will close the gap between fees and benefits. But as the year progresses the gap will again appear, just as it has done after every adjustment in benefits. In fact, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) who has just concluded his remarks made a plaintive plea to the Minister that he should make the adjustments to the benefits after major wage adjustments. But this is like the chicken and the egg. Honourable members should not fool themselves. The Government will not manage to maintain for very long the sort of relationship which is implied, I would think. It is a hell of a juggle. The Government will try it. I congratulate the Government but I will be surprised if it succeeds.
There is nothing in the legislation which changes the fact of life that as soon as an adjustment is made- true enough, there will be a small gap, if any-in a very short time, at the rate we are suffering inflation in this country, the gap will reappear, the patients will complain and nursing homes will scream that they are going bankrupt. Of course, in real terms nursing homes are usually making a very handsome profit. The introduction of health insurance for nursing home patients will do nothing to improve the lot of the patient. It may help the Government but surely it will not help the patient. In fact, on thinking about the matter a bit more I think there is some doubt about the advantage to the Government in the long run also.
Why should patients take out private insurance when their nursing home benefits are paid by the Government anyway? If they pay nothing to private funds- in other words, if they do not belong to a private fund-they are covered automatically by Medibank. Why should they be so foolish as to take out private health insurance because the amount of their nursing home fee which will be covered by private insurance is not more than will be covered, presumably, by Medibank standard? However, perhaps, the Government has in mind to change that relationship and lower the Medibank payment in comparison to what will be expected of private funds. But that situation has not come out into the open, yet. I have made the point that I cannot see the immediate benefit to patients in paying private insurance contributions. Yet the Government is reportedly conducting a low key campaign to encourage the 78 per cent of nursing home patients who belong to Medibank standard to take out additional insurance. Is this the way in which the Government assists these patients- by increasing their expenses by $1.30 per week or more? Initially, I guess the Government will succeed as there will be lots of subtle and not so subtle pressures exerted on, in the main, these poor old people to make them panic and take out private insurance cover. Hopefully, they will not be fooled for long.
Again, the honourable member for Murray made the point that with the increasing private benefit contributions people could well be prompted to leave the private funds and just be content with Medibank standard.
The two main reasons for the Government’s introduction of private insurance in this area seem to be ideological and budgetary. The Government prefers to see a greater share of the insurance market being handled by private health insurers. It is as the Minister stated in his second reading speech ‘a logical extension for the private health insurance system’. That is not a medical argument. That is not an argument in terms of the needs of patients. That is simply an ideological argument. It would be good because the Government believes in it, that is all.
The Holmes Report also gave as one of the advantages of an increased role for health insurance in meeting nursing home costs the fact that some would regard it as an attractive addition to the changes made to Medibank last October. That is brilliant! But, once again, what has that to do with the quality or availability of the care? The answer is absolutely nothing. It is simply an ideological argument. The Government put to the Holmes Committee the request that it reorganise things to relieve the burden on the Government. So certain changes were made to Medibank but not to relieve the burden on the people. In fact, the sum changes to Medibank have increased the burden for people because of the inefficiency of the modified system which was introduced by the Government. This is another example of the same sort of move. The total cost to the community will not go down; it will go up. It may go down on paper for the Government. I repeat my point that neither of these justifications has anything to do with the quality or availability of nursing home beds or with the treatment or care which patients need or get in them.
The next reason for this legislation is the immediate savings to the Commonwealth budget and a promised reduction in the Commonwealth’s share of future cost increases. The Holmes report estimates that the Commonwealth will save approximately $7Sm although the Minister more recently put the figure at around only $S0m. The difference in the estimates could come from the difference in insurance coverage provided. Holmes argues that benefits, plus the statutory patient contribution, should not cover the full fees of more than 70 per cent of nursing home patients in each State because of the undesirable effect on costs. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) pointed out that in some States costs are very much higher than in others. Holmes said that the fees should not cover more than 70 per cent of the costs in each State.
The Government has, in fact, ensured coverage of more than 70 per cent of the total number of patients as it aims to cover 70 per cent of those in private nursing homes where fees are generally higher. In other words, the balance is tipped against the Government when compared with the recommendations made by Holmes. So the Government has reduced its options for restraining costs along the lines envisaged by Holmes. I add that I do not agree with this technique for reducing budget costs. It is not reducing the total cost to the community. If anything it will increase the total cost to the community. It is simply a trick which appears to reduce the cost to the Government. In essence, it increases the burden on the individual irrespective of his income because he has to pay directly his own private contributions. They are at the same rate, whatever one’s income. That is what this move is forcing on members of the community. So the burden is increased on the poorer section of the community relative to the richer.
If one accepts that there should be subsidies for nursing home fees I would prefer to see them financed by the taxation system under which people at least contribute according to their income. But the Government is reversing that situation so that, in fact, the poorer sections of the community will carry more of the burden. In sum total that is not relieving the community of anything. It is just getting the Government off the hook in relation to its budgetary estimates and so on.
Holmes was also very conscious of the risk that insurance would do more than Commonwealth benefits to raise demand for nursing home care, that is, that people may feel that they had more of a right to care for which they had paid premiums than to care for which they had paid largely unearmarked taxes. He was saying that while the whole thing is done in a fairly impersonal fashion under the taxation system so that the people are not really conscious of the fact that they are paying for nursing homes, they are less likely to feel that they have paid for it and that they might as well get their money’s worth. If the technique which the Government is introducing of encouraging people to take out private insurance makes them more conscious of the fact that they are paying for it, they may be more inclined to want to use it. I am not sure that I agree with that argument, but it is certainly an argument which has to be considered. I take it that the Government has not considered it.
The Government may be making a short term saving but at the expense of long term cost control in this area of health expenditure. This is the experience all over the world. Health insurance on a fee for service basis of remuneration has increased the demand for these services. I should change that word. It is not ‘demand’ because that implies patients demanding it. The evidence which I discovered on my recent visit to Norway, Canada and America confirms the prejudices I had before I went, which were that insurance on a fee for service basis of remuneration increases utilisation rates. That is the word I picked up in both Norway and Canada. The Americans are beginning to say the same. They are going to
Canada to find out what the Canadians are doing to curtail excessive utilisation rates.
What does it mean? It means that they have recognised that if there is a dramatic increase in costs it is not in the main because you and I, the mug patients, are demanding more health care. It is because doctors are recommending more expensive institutional care and expensive medical and surgical procedures.
– That is right.
– We have not yet reached the stage at which the honourable member for La Trobe can say to his doctor: ‘I feel like having my appendix out next week. Could you please arrange it?’ While he is there he says: ‘I know from family history that I might suffer from gall bladder complaints in a couple of years’ time. For good measure, how about fixing that?’ That does not happen. People do not order their own treatment. Doctors decide the treatment which patients need. All patients do is complain to a doctor about a symptom. It is up to the doctor to decide whether it can be alleviated by some modest preventive cure or whether something should be done about it which would net the doctor a few hundred dollars in the process. The fact that the operation is carried out and a significant sum is paid for it does not mean that it was necessary in the first place. That is the experience in the countries I have mentioned, where more and more they are beginning to impose restraints not on patients but on the services recommended by doctors.
– How do they do that? How do they impose restraints on doctors?
– Ask some of your medical colleagues. They will soon tell you. They are screaming like hell about it in some places. For instance, in America they are terrified of the prospect. The American administration clearly intends to copy the Canadians who are beginning to clamp down. This Government has done a bit of it here. Restrictions have been placed on pathologists. That is the sort of thing to which I refer.
The point I make is that health insurance does not necessarily solve the health problems of the community. All health insurance does is ensure that whatever is done is paid for. It does not question whatever is done. In an odd way the Government is ignoring the main recommendations of the Holmes report. I disagree with a lot of it, but some things that Holmes said I think are worthy of serious consideration. Some suggestions were aimed at constraining the growth in costs. These included the development of assessment teams. That partly answers the point made by the honourable member for La Trobe. It would reduce the many inappropriate admissions to nursing homes and hospitals. Another point was comprehensive domiciliary services which would reduce the demand for the more expensive type of institutional care.
Let me elaborate a little further. I think in the Holmes report the suggestion was made that teams would in essence vet any patient who was recommended for admission to a nursing home. The advisers, the people who talked to Holmes, clearly were able to impress that committee with the suggestion that patients are often inappropriately incarcerated in bed in nursing homes, when, from a medical point of view, they would be better served if they were not admitted to a bed in a nursing home but were provided with active domiciliary care. The suggestion of the Holmes committee was that a specialist, together with other people such as social workers, occupational therapists and a whole comprehensive health care team- ironically, the sort of thing that the Labor Party is talking about in its policy- should be members of a sort of vetting committee which would check on recommendations for admission to nursing homes.
The committee suggested the establishment of health police- a team which would check on the doctor and not on the patient. I think I called it by that name when I spoke on this matter during the last session. The patient has simply made a complaint to the doctor. On the basis of that complaint the doctor is making a recommendation. The health police are not prepared to accept it until they check on the indications which the doctor thinks he has elicited for recommending that the patient be admitted to the nursing home. This is the beginning of the peer review system about which the Minister has talked and has already threatened the rest of the medical profession in respect of other areas. I agree with him on that, not that I see it as a threat. They need it because if they do not accept it the whole community will be in revolt. Ultimately governments will have to take drastic steps to rectify a runaway cost problem in health services.
It is happening all over the world. I learned in Norway that doctors there accepted without a murmur the compulsory health insurance system, unlike our medical profession, because years ago, when insurance was introduced during the Depression years, the doctors were as broke as everybody else. So these voluntary insurance systems were started. Sometimes doctors were involved in the systems because that was the only way of guaranteeing some sort of payment. That happened all over the world. I remember my father, a country general practitioner, having his list of lodge patients. In essence it was the same thing. The problem was that they paid doctors on a fee for service basis. The schemes soon found it very difficult to keep up with the demands for payment. Cleverly they invited doctors to form assessment teams to check. That is how they managed to cull the doctors who were ripping off the system. That started back in 1911 or a bit later. So in the 1950s, when the Norwegians got the comprehensive system, they still maintained that panel of doctors which still checks on claims made on the funds by patients. Their cure for excessive claims is not to make the patient pay. When they assess that a charge has been too high because of overutilisation, they charge the doctor and not the patient. It is very clever. The Minister might take note of that.
Balancing this health policy type approach is the statement, I think in the Holmes report, that part of the approach should be to encourage active domiciliary health care. In other words, the Holmes committee has cottoned on to what the Labor Party has been talking about for some years now- the need to establish community health centres with comprehensive health care teams, general practitioners, the ready availability of specialists and all the other ancillary medical personnel. Ordinary people, irrespective of their problem, could get more meaningful and effective primary health care while still at home with their families, although their families may be working. In any case, by means of far more active comprehensive care initially maybe one can avoid referring them to the range of institutions which are so expensive and, as claimed by many, which are rapidly sending the country broke.
Do not blame the Labor Government. If you like, blame the concept of health insurance, but do not blame the Labor Government for that. We did not introduce it in this country. The Liberal Government- Sir Earle Page- introduced it in the 1950s. All I am suggesting is that that defect is inherent in the system. The proposals which Holmes made and which I certainly endorse would have been more intelligent than the moves the Government has made m this legislation. Of course, we cannot oppose the legislation because something has to be done immediately to relieve the burden on the people in these nursing homes. But this is not going to cure the disease.
Notice of Presentation
The Acting Deputy Clerk- I have received from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a notice of his intention to present at the next day of sitting a Bill for an Act to establish an Office of National Assessments and for related purposes.
Notice of Presentation
The Acting Deputy Clerk- I have received from the Minister for Transport a notice of his intention to present at the next day of sitting a Bill for an Act to appropriate money out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the Loan Fund for the purpose of urban public transport and to authorise the borrowing of certain moneys by the Commonwealth.
Notice of Presentation
The Acting Deputy Clerk- I have received from the Minister for Transport a notice of his intention to present at the next day of sitting a Bill for an Act to grant financial assistance to the States in relation to national roads and other roads.
-Rising to speak on the new nursing homes benefits brings back memories because it was on this particular subject that I made my maiden speech in 1 973. This is a matter that has been of concern to most honourable members, certainly back bench honourable members. One way or another we all know of the problem facing the aged in nursing homes in our electorates. An area that has not and does not come under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), but which is associated with the matter under debate, is that of the homes or boarding houses which accommodate aged persons who cannot obtain admission into official nursing homes, either private or government. This area worries me and, no doubt, worries other honourable members.
There are a number of these homes or boarding houses around. There are a number of them in my electorate and, no doubt, in the electorates of other honourable members. Generally I have found these places to offer a fairly high standard of care. As the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) has said, the people who operate these establishments are not doing so out of love and charity only; they are doing it for business purposes. That is as it is, but without that business these particular aged people would not have a shelter. This is just one of the facts of life which we have to face. I do not know what can be done in this area. Perhaps the Minister could look at it at some future time to see whether these people can obtain some supplementary cover to assist them. They still have to pay the costs but they do not receive assistance from any government source because they are not in an officially accepted nursing home.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong raised the problem of adjustments to charges; the charges go up as costs push them up. But of course, the Government sets the charges. It has always appeared to me to be something of an anomaly that not only under this Government but also under previous governments- no doubt since such a scheme was initiated- the Government should set the charges but then should have to wait for months upon the processes of Parliament before it can set the Government’s contribution to match the increases in charges which it has authorised. It appears to me that the Minister, the Department and the Government- in fact, all of us- should be looking for some way of shortening that time gap.
I do not know whether some form of indexation could be applied to this. I am not even trying to formulate a solution. But I am sure that honourable members would agree that this is an annoying differential. One could understand this situation if the cost factor pushed up charges outside the control of the Government, as in other situations, and the Government then had to face up to meeting those increased charges. But it seems to me to be a bit odd that when the Government sets the charges we have to wait, in many cases several months, before we get an increase in the supplementary allowance to offset those increased charges. That is an area of concern.
The Minister in his second reading speech referred mainly to non-government nursing homes. Of course, the charges and benefits will apply to government homes as well. I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to a couple of matters raised by the management of the Bendigo Home and Hospital for the Aged, which is a State government authorised official home. Their concern has been that it appears that the Federal Government is suggesting that State government homes will be forced into line with nongovernment homes and be required to charge the full amount of $46.90 per patient per week, which would leave a pensioner, provided he got a rent allowance, with something like $5.20 a week.
The Minister might care to clarify that matter because I have received advice that the State governments are still free to provide a supplement to relieve this charge on the patient. In other words, the pensioner is not required to pay the $46.90 a week in a State government home. I was under the impression that this applied particularly in Victoria and that, in fact, the Victorian Government in the past has provided a share of the funding. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether this practice, which allows people in those homes to retain a greater proportion of their income, will be continued.
Another point which the Minister might like to explain relates to a request which will be made from 1 October for a detailed information sheet on every patient to be supplied each month. The mind boggles at the paper work this will require. Consider a home with something like 600, 700, 800, or possibly 1,200 patients being required each month to fill in reams of paper. The Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission and the Victorian office of the Federal Department of Health have passed this information on to the hospitals concerned.
From discussions I have had since receiving this information, it is my impression that this is not quite correct, and that in fact it is intended that a form will be provided which will sort the patients into various categories and enable them to be listed in a more comprehensive manner, so that this almost mind-boggling requirement to fill in all those forms will be eased. One must not lose sight of the fact that if the staff of a hospital has to fill in a form someone has to receive that form. Knowing Public Service departments, not one person but a multitude of persons have to view such forms.
I should be very concerned if such an operation were to be brought in by this Government. Perhaps, in the interests of efficiency, the Minister will have this looked at and will ensure that, whatever happens, the State governments or government institutions and, perhaps, nongovernment institutions, will have less need for alarm about this particular matter. Thus is a matter of concern to them. I believe that now is the time for the Minister to clarify the situation. I believe it is only a case of lack of communication in explaining what has happened.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong used the term ‘health police’. Knowing him as 1 do, I am certain that he did not mean to use the term in the sense in which it came across. I feel there was some merit in the thought behind his use of the term, but let us hope that the people in the Press gallery do not take up that term because woe betide him if we find the Press talking about his use of the term ‘health police’. Certainly I hope he does not mean that there should be a health police force. Honourable members opposite do have a tendency to talk in terms of system, groups, controls and secret police. We know that is the way they think; we understand and accept that. But they should try to keep that concept out of the area of health. I give the honourable member for Maribyrnong enough credit to think that he did not really mean to use that term.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong referred also to the needy having to pay. I find that difficult to understand on reading the Minister’s second reading speech concerning the new benefits. It appears to me that what the Government is doing is this: Take the case of those people who can afford to take out, and have taken out, private health insurance or Medibank Private- let us put them all together. They are paying into such funds, but they receive no benefit from them in respect of nursing home charges. They, through the health insurance funds to which they belong, and the funds themselves, will now provide the necessary money. So I cannot see how the needy are going to be paying for this. In fact, I think the reverse is the case. What is going to happen is that the health insurance funds are going to be paying a lot of money into the hospitals, thus relieving the Government. That in turn will relieve the taxpayer, which in turn will relieve the needy. That then will allow money to be used elsewhere.
As I see the situation, the scheme being introduced is to provide assistance to those who cannot afford health services, those who normally are in receipt of health benefits, or pensioners who pay nothing whatever. The Government will be picking up the tab for them by means of a benefit. Likewise, the health benefit organisations- the private funds, as honourable members opposite like to refer to them- together with Medibank Private will be picking up the tab of those people who have elected to pay and are in fact paying towards hospital benefits now. The Bill does not provide for an extra service because those people in fact are paying that money now and have been paying it. But the hospital at which they are treated has not been able to receive payment which rightfully the health benefit organisations should pay.
So, all in all, this new concept of nursing home benefits must surely be a step forward in the health care field. However, I agree with the honourable member for Maribyrnong when he said that it does not necessarily mean a step forward in the standard of health care. The Bill is related to funding. It is a fact of life that we have to worry about funding. We as a Government as well as the people and the patients have to worry about paying, irrespective of what it is for. Even the famous free health service with which the honourable member for. Maribyrnong had some part when he was in government really had to be paid for. It was never free. I hope that is not his argument.
– We never said it was free.
-I can well recall on those odd days when the government of which the honourable member was a member was on this side of the chamber his colleagues claimed that it was a free health service. It definitely was not a free health service. Nothing is ever free. It is a fact also that those things that are worthwhile having always seem to cost quite a lot to obtain. By providing this assisted benefit the Government is adopting the proper approach to overcoming this awful problem of giving assistance to those who are forced to live in nursing homes.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
-We have before us two Bills, the National Health Amendment Bill 1977 and the National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1977. There is a difference. It is a little hard to determine whether there is any distinction. They are both part of a complicated search for devious answers to what are, in fact, straight questions. What does the community do for you when you are helpless? I shall explain what we should be doing for people when they are helpless. The problem is that we face these questions in a totally materialist society. These problems concern people as human beings, as social units and in a personal sense. We only have to consider the way in which we bring out the quality of our administrative action on other questions.
Let us imagine that somewhere outside this House a couple of cars crash together. They burst into flames. What is the first thing on the spot? It is the fire brigade to put out the fire to protect the property. What is the next one? It is the tow truck to take away the vehicles to gain a profit. What is the next thing? It is the police, part of the protective device of society for property to see who has committed the error. Over most of Australia, not necessarily in the Australian Capital Territory, a person will wait interminable times, depending on the time of the week, for medical attention or for the ambulance to deal with the human being. The philosophy expressed in these Bills and in the speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) expressed that materialist viewpoint. The Minister said that this Bill is a major advance and that it represents a new era of financial security for the patient. The fact that, generally speaking, patients will pay more and the whole system is still in the same state of disarray does not seem to matter. As long as the Government can pat itself on the back, using these cliches all the time, it at least feels that it is getting somewhere. The Government believes that the cost of the patient cannot be expected to remain exclusively its responsibility. What I like about this is the way in which the Government is able to dissociate itself from membership of the community of which it is a part.
What is the Government’s responsibility? It is to ensure that anybody in this community who is in need of help has adequate help delivered at the time of need to the place where it is needed. It is a simple, straight logistic question. It is complicated by a befuddled approach to the philosophy of private enterprise of the duty of the individual to fend for himself. It is also all part of an enormous cost structure which we call insurance. Private medical insurance and health insurance is part of this legislation. Each one of us is pouring an enormous amount of our own personal funds into insuring against eventualities. We insure cars at increasingly high cost. We insure ourselves and other people against third party damage. We insure our houses at increasingly high cost although decreasing numbers of houses are burned down. There is the high cost to industry of workers compensation and the high cost of life insurance. We insure ourselves against age and the disability of being thrown out of the workforce. Honourable members pay 1 1 per cent of their salary for this purpose. I think the cost is $2,500 for every one of us. We insure against accident.
It seems to me that the time has come to be a little more rational and treat most of these problems- perhaps not some of the private ones associated with motor vehicles and so on, although as far as personal accident is concerned the national compensation scheme had a lot going for it- as normal social needs and bring them together. I draw the attention of honourable members and the Minister for Health to the patient situation. It is all very well to talk about a person having to contribute according to his means and to ask what his means are as though it is very difficult to determine how much any particular individual can contribute at any time. What is wrong with creating a publicly available, publicly charged and publicly salaried medical system? I should have thought a large number of honourable members would support that proposal without any equivocation.
The repatriation system in this country is available for our observation. At present half a million or more people use its services. People might get repatriation benefits for some minor disability. The repatriation system is available to increasing numbers of people for any disability. What astonishes me when I have been through the repatriation hospitals or been a patient in them is that I see people whom I know philosophically, politically and in every other way resist every effort to produce a national health service which will deliver health services to people regardless of their salary or anything else at the time of need. The repatriation system is respectable. People win their wounds in the cause of freedom. It is an honest thing to go into a repatriation hospital and be treated by a salaried servant. One never wants to inquire too far into the actual cause of the disability of some of the soldiery, particularly people in the Air Force and the Navy, but the services are publicly delivered and publicly paid for.
-I think the honourable member for Wills might be taking a risk.
– I withdraw the reference to the Air Force. I do not remember it being about.
These Bills are simply efforts to dodge the responsibility to the patient and to complicate further the whole system. The Minister is attempting to solve the insoluble with such things as approved deficits. Nobody can predict in a time such as this with costs rising and inflation moving along, despite the Government’s claims, what hospital costs will be. The various States have differential rates. There is a determinable need in this community. There is an acute shortage of nursing homes all over Australia. I understand that the waiting times for nursing homes in Canberra is upwards of 2 years in most instances. As an interesting example of a different set of priorities applying in the type of community in which we are presently operating I have an article from the Melbourne Age headed Pre-school Facilities Stun Expert’. A visitor from America saw the pre-schools here and said she was stunned by the variety, the quality and the number of them.
– And the cost?
-I am not talking about the cost. I am talking about the delivery of the service. The honourable member for Swan all his life has had the advantage and benefit of publicly delivered services of one sort or another, whether it is walking on the road, sending his children to a publicly supported school, State or non-State, or sometimes being cared for and travelling to Canberra at public expense for what reason one cannot tell. The facts are that the rest of the community accepts continuing responsibility to people. I believe that this debate is just another incident in the long road to try to produce a rational medical service. I personally believe that there is only one way to do it. It should be publicly funded. I do not mind paying my share of the taxes. The original concept of having a special tax for it was necessary politically because of the state of the nation. However, as a result of circumstances beyond our control and what the Senate did to the legislation, this did not happen. The health service was to be publicly charged to consolidated revenue. That is the logical way in which a mature commonsense society should do it. In other words, we should deliver medical services to the people at the time of need. They should be paid for out of consolidated revenue and they should be available to everyone. That is the only commonsense, logical way to do it. But I suppose we will keep tinkering with the system, following the will-o - the-wisp private enterprise, where people look after themselves and we will get nowhere.
The same applies to the philosophy expressed in the legislation towards pathology services. Recently I was a recipient of the medical and health services of this community. When one walks into the Phillip medical centre immediately one has a sense of security. That comes not just from the quality of the centre, which I suppose is apparent only after one has received the service, but from the comprehensive nature of the service as a piece of patient therapy. There is no great pressure on the doctors. They do not have a whole column of people waiting when they are dealing with a patient. I was impressed by and grateful for the way in which I was treated subsequently in the Woden Valley Hospital. I cannot understand why anybody would resist having that sort of service readily available to every person in this community? In my lifetime I have had the benefit of the repatriation system, during the war as a soldier, later as a citizen, subsequently as a backbench member of this House and again as a
Minister. The service was always readily available. It provided total care and, regardless of rank, everyone received equal care and attention. I cannot understand why anybody would resist such a service being provided for everybody in the community. I cannot understand why we do not just go ahead, establish the system and pay for it out of consolidated revenue.
-Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I listened intently to two members of the Opposition, the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). The only thing that impressed me was their lack of enthusiasm in this debate. From the point of view of participation by the Opposition it is probably one of the dullest debates I have witnessed in this House for many a day. The honourable member for Maribyrnong made a few interesting points about the situation in Sweden. He talked also of inflation increasing the patient contribution in nursing homes but said that there would be annual adjustments. I think the honourable member for Prospect made the same point. No one is denying that inflation will have an adverse effect but one can just imagine what it would have been like had the Labor Government been in power, with inflation raging on towards 20 per cent. As least this Government has taken positive steps to reduce the rate of inflation and has made a considerable achievement in this area.
More recently we heard an entertaining speech- one can say no more for it than that it was entertaining- from the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant). I do not know what is happening to the Opposition. We see little enthusiasm for this debate and indeed little enthusiasm for most debates. I rise to support both the Bills before the House.
– You have to.
-The honourable member for Wills says that I have to. I want to support them. Indeed honourable members opposite are supporting them as well, so apparently they want to. I direct my comments first of all to the National Health Amendment Bill which is designed to amend section 9 (1) (b) of the National Health Act 1953. Most of the comments in this cognate debate have been in relation to the other Bill but I want to make a few points on this Bill which deals with charges for pathology services from the Commonwealth Health Laboratories. Initially I want to examine the position as it stands at present. At the present time a patient can obtain pathology services free at any one of 14
Commonwealth health laboratories throughout the country, and additionally here in the Australian Capital Territory. After this amendment to the National Health Act is passed those same patients- I emphasise that- will be able to receive the same treatment but they will have to pay. That applies to people other than very low income earners and most pensioners.
At the present time we have a situation of unfair competition. A private pathologist has to compete with an excellent free service offered by the Government. It is the intention of this Bill to remove that unfair competition. No longer will an ordinary patient be able to obtain free pathology services at a Commonwealth laboratory. The cost saving to the taxpayer- which of course means a saving to the Government- in a full year is a staggering $5.3m or $3.3m for the remainder of the 1977-78 financial year. These points were made in the second reading speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). Privately insured in-patients of hospitals, privately insured outpatients of hospitals and patients referred by medical practitioners to Commonwealth Health Laboratories will be charged directly from 1 October this year. Those patients who are members of medical benefits funds will be able to make a claim in the normal manner whether they belong to Medibank Private or to a private health insurance organisation.
At this stage I want to direct a few comments to the medical profession. The Government, in good faith and in keeping with Liberal and National Country Party policy of the promotion of the private enterprise system, is removing an anomaly. The Government is removing unfair competition. But I want to direct these comments specifically to the medical profession because many members of that profession are not playing the game with the Government. We see gross exploitation. I want to emphasise that I am not referring to the total profession but to a minority of medical practitioners. They are exploiting the scheme with over-usage. Many of them have an obsession with making money. My impression is that it is not unusual for an ordinary general practitioner to earn something like $80,000 to $100,000 annually. So they have this obsession with making money. I have no sympathy -
– Do you support that?
-I repeat that I have no sympathy for those caught abusing the free medicine scheme. The honourable member for Wills asks whether I support it. I support those in our community who honestly earn their entitlement I believe that there are many medical practitioners in this community who honestly earn that and who are entitled to it, but to those who see fit to exploit the scheme I would extend no mercy. Indeed the Government should be backed by all members of this House, both Government and Opposition members, the public, the Australian Medical Association, the Society of General Practitioners and any other body that represents groupings of the medical profession in this country. I believe that offenders should be severely punished. Repeatedly we hear of cases of doctors defrauding the scheme, which in effect is defrauding the Government and the taxpayer. As I said earner, I have no sympathy or mercy for them.
I want to turn now to the National Health Acts Amendment Bill. It is proposed in this Bill to increase benefits paid by the Commonwealth for eligible uninsured patients in approved private nursing homes and to provide for registered hospital benefits organisations to pay the benefits of contributor patients in approved private nursing homes. Once again I want to examine the position of patients at the present time. Many private nursing home patients have serious difficulty in meeting the difference between the fees charged and the nursing home benefits paid. The gap is too great for many of them. A great deal of anxiety is caused to those patients and to the relatives and friends of patients in these nursing homes, and sometimes we see a dwindling of the meagre life savings of these people who are unfortunate enough to be so hospitalised.
Having examined the position of patients at the present time I now want to look at what the position will be after the Act is amended. From 1 October benefits will be increased and then adjusted upwards annually. I think one of the previous speakers from the Opposition side seemed to doubt the Government’s honesty in this matter. I think the honourable member concerned was the honourable member for Prospect. I have no doubt about the Government’s intention and indeed I hope that the honourable member is vigilant about this matter as well and that he will remind the Government if this is not carried out.
When we add to this increase the statutory minimum patient contribution which is at present $6.70 a day, some 70 per cent of patients will be fully covered regardless of what State of the Commonwealth they are in. This means that seven out of ten patients will remain in private nursing homes for a $46.90 personal contribution. Pensioners, of course, will still retain approximately $5 a week from their pension for personal use.
Let me sum up. The uninsured, who are mostly pensioners, will have a greater Commonwealth contribution towards their private nursing home costs. The insured will receive similar benefits but these, of course, will be paid by their registered hospital benefits organisation. I just make one other comment in relation to the terminology in this Bill because an intensive care patient is now an extensive care patient and of course that benefit is being increased from $3 a day to $6 a day.
I draw particular reference to the pre-Budget Press speculation which I believe was mischievous, untrue and damaging to the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands of patients in private nursing homes. The Minister for Health made an announcement on 16 June this year that the Budget would contain certain increases. Due to certain Press speculation by individuals, who I believe have a desire to paint this Government as a non-compassionate one, thousands of ill and old men and women were subjected to stress and anguish. Those reporters responsible should hang their heads in shame. I trust that this sort of thing will not happen in the future. This Government is compassionate. The honourable member for Prospect tried to interject a few moments ago. Of course, what he fails to tell this nation is that most of the health and social welfare advances in this country were instituted by a Liberal-Country Party government. Indeed let us not forget all the schemes that were introduced in 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government. So the Government is compassionate and does not treat lightly such matters as ill health, old age and disadvantaged groups in our community.
I turn in particular to clause 1 1 of the Bill because this clause lists the basic daily benefit payable by the Commonwealth for nursing home care for an uninsured nursing home patient. Victoria attracts $19.65; South Australia, $17.40; New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, $13.65; Tasmania, $14.85; Queensland, $11.80; and Western Australia, $1 1.75. The initial question I ask is: Why are the amounts to Victoria and South Australia so much higher than to other States? It costs the Commonwealth for the same patient with the same condition $7.88 or 66 per cent more per day in a Victorian nursing home than in a Queensland nursing home. The second question I ask is: Are Victorians superior to Queenslanders and West Australians?
Let me examine the reason for the variation. The States I believe are stubbornly imposing their own nursing standard conditions. Victorian and South Australian standards are higher than the standards of the other States. Victoria and South Australia require more registered nursing hours per patient per week and more unregistered nursing hours per patient per week than do the other States. The next question, of course, that should be asked is this: Are standards too high in Victoria and South Australia or are patients being disadvantaged in Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales and to a lesser extent Tasmania? I believe this is a ridiculous state of affairs. If State government health departments want to set these high standards it is my view that they should pick up the tab for the difference. It is time that the Commonwealth and the State Health Ministers conferred with the Federal Minister for Health and sorted out this mess and reached some uniformity in standards. As I say, if the States want to continue with those higher standards, with a greater number of registered and unregistered nursing hours per patient per week let them foot the bill from their own State revenues. As a Queenslander, I am most unhappy at having to subsidise Victoria and South Australia as no doubt are all Queenslanders, Western Australians and New South Welshmen.
– I do not know why you come down here at all.
-Well, Queenslanders are not second-rate citizens. Let me inform the honourable gentleman, who is out of his place, that there is better substance in Queenslanders than there is in most South Australians. I repeat that we are not second-rate citizens, but we are being treated as such by being forced to subsidise Victoria and South Australia. As I said earlier, I trust the Minister for Health will take this matter up with the States and at some time in the future introduce legislation that will solve this problem.
I conclude on a matter that has concerned me over a period of time and on which I have had some discussion with the Minister for Health. I refer to the fees control system as it applies to private nursing homes. An income control system has applied since 1972- in other words, specific nursing homes have had their fees pegged. There are a number of inequities throughout Australia. First, I would like to give an example. Let us assume that proprietor A builds a nursing home of ordinary standards and amenities and provides an ordinary standard of care. His return on capital investment is reasonable, as it should be. But proprietor B who built a nursing home in 1970- a better quality home than that of proprietor A- and provides a superior service is pegged in the return he receives because of the fees control system. His return is based on an inadequate capital value because the capital value for assessment purposes is pegged at the 1 970 cost and no allowance is made for inflation. However, if proprietor B sold his nursing home I understand a new capital value would be placed on it for the purposes of assessing return for the new owner. Unless this situation is rectified as time goes on relativities will worsen. I have one particular home in mind where this stituation occurs- the Crana Nursing Home which is owned by a constituent of mine. This 87-bed home is situated in the Federal electorate of Brisbane. I understand that there are scores of others throughout the Commonwealth. I sincerely trust that the Minister for Health will see fit to rectify this anomalous situation in the not too distant future.
-At the outset I ought to make it clear that the Opposition is not opposing these Bills; that might just account for the puzzlement of the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) over the detached way in which the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) dealt with them. I thought that both of their contributions were very helpful and very useful. I want to come back to them as I develop my remarks. My remarks may stray from giving the impression that we are not opposing the Bills because some of the things I have to say will be quite critical of the Government.
The first thing to do is to put aside any notion that a grand new era in nursing home benefits is being introduced by this legislation. In fact, to adopt the terminology of the report of the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm, known as the Holmes report, the legislation does two things. First, it fuses the basic and additional rates of benefit and secondly it integrates the system of benefit payments into the health insurance arrangements for hospital care. That quite simply is what it does. It does not introduce any great new era in nursing home care nor particularly in the payment by the Government of nursing home benefits.
I believe that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) accurately set out the purpose of the legislation in fixing the new rates of benefit payable in each of the several States. The Minister for Health said: the benefit levels have been determined so that the benefits, together with the statutory minimum patient contribution . . . cover fully the fees charged to 70 per cent of the patients in non-government National Health Act nursing homes in each State.
Having regard to the reservations that the honourable member for Prospect expressed about the statistical accuracy of figures available to the Minister’s Department, I suppose we would have to accept that the figures set out in the proposed new section 47 of the National Health Act serve that purpose. The Minister went on to say:
The benefit levels will be reviewed annually . . .
It is on that particular point that I wish to take issue with him, as did the honourable member for Prospect. If honourable members look at this legislation, they will see that there is no provision whatsoever for annual review. It merely contains provision for the Minister for Health to prescribe by regulation a different rate than that set out in the proposed new section 47. Admittedly it would be a higher rate. There is no requirement as to how often that determination must be made and nothing is set out about the kinds of considerations that the Minister has to take into account. We merely have as a statement of Government policy at this time that the level will be struck to cover 70 per cent of patients in nursing homes. It seems to me that it would not have been beyond the wit of the Government and the Parliamentary Counsel to devise a statutory formula which could be set out in this legislation which would allow us at least to achieve that modest objective of an annual review to strike a fee which could meet that objective. However, it is not in the Bill.
Again, I realise that there are statistical problems, but if the Minister can come into this Parliament and assert that this level of fee will achieve the objective he proclaims, it ought to be possible to set out, with a reasonable degree of precision, a direction in the legislation to the Director-General of Health to come up with that formula at annual intervals. What needs to be emphasised again, as it has been by honourable members on this side, is that in fact the mere setting of annual rates will not solve the problem of payment for nursing home care throughout Australia. The basic objective of the Government remains as it was 4Vi years ago. Despite four increases in rates the rates get progressively out of kilter. That will happen in Australia very quickly. We can firmly predict that it will happen in respect of every increase in the national wage level; yet the Government seems to ignore the impact of that on nursing home costs.
I have the most reservations about the next item dealt with in this exercise and that is what the Government calls the so-called logical extension into the private health insurance system for the payment of nursing home benefits. To me it does not seem that it is necessarily logical at all. It is in this area in particular that confusion has arisen amongst the constituents of every honourable member in this House. It was amusing to those of us on the Opposition side to hear the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) decrying the lobbying efforts of private health insurance funds. We on this side of the House know something about those activities. We look forward to reading the Christmas cards from the general managers of those funds this year when no doubt they will talk about the terrible tussles that they have had this year with the LiberalNational Country Party Government.
I was delighted to hear the honourable member for Petrie support this legislation so enthusiastically, in relation to both nursing home benefits and pathology services. I hope that he does not have the same reservations as were expressed by his colleague Senator Sheil from Queensland who, having voted in the Senate some months ago, for the pathology legislation, turned round and participated in a suit to try to destroy that legislation. Government supporters might look at this legislation to see whether in fact they can support it because we do not want them changing their minds afterwards at the behest of the private health funds.
One of the points in relation to the Government’s integration of the payment of basic and additional rates into the health insurance system is that the cost of this for so-called insured patients will now have to be met by registered benefits organisations. I think it is important to remark that that was not the only option open to the Government. In fact the Holmes report pointed out very clearly that were the Government to take over the payment of additional benefits for all persons it would be a relatively small cost. Whilst it might be logically very nice for the Government to line everything up so that everything looks neat from the point of view of its health insurance arrangements, we ought to bear in mind that nursing home care is fundamentally different, and serves a quite different purpose in the community, from ordinary hospital care which is covered under the so-called Medibank arrangements. In fact this obsession with logicality may not have been all that necessary.
The honourable member for Prospect pointed out that so-called insured patients, those who have private health insurance and those who are coming to every honourable member in this House at this time and expressing concern at the increase in the rates which is inevitable in the funds to which they subscribe, are those people who identify themselves as being able to pay for private insurance. They are the very personskely to have private resources, either owned personally or within their family units, that will allow them to meet the gap between the rates and their statutory contribution and the average fee. Where the fee paid is above the average, these people will be in the best position to meet it. Having regard to the fact that fees must increase within the space of a year, is it not likely, as the honourable member for Prospect suggested, that these people will be the very patients admitted to nursing homes? We cannot lame proprietors for that situation. Holmes himself drew attention to the fact that there are a great many nursing homes stuck with bad debts. These people cannot be blamed for choosing the patients who are likely to be the best payers. I wonder whether that really is the fair and equitable system we ought to set up for the payment of benefits for health care in Australia.
Make no mistake about it; hospital insurance premiums for those covered by private health insurance funds will rise. There is a great deal of confusion in the community already about this matter. It is being promoted by a curious lot of interests. It is being promoted by certain proprietors and by certain funds. The confusion is undeniable and I believe that in some way the Government must be responsible for this. Last year every time the Government set about taking the knife to the National Health Act, the better to impose its rearranged system of health insurance, the people of Australia had very good cause to be alarmed. I believe that we can hardly be surprised that people have been alarmed on this occasion.
One of the suggestions by nursing home proprietors is that this latest move will force a great many prospective patients of nursing homes out of private health insurance and into the Health Insurance Commission scheme; that is, they will become just levy payers, especially as they advance in age and the prospect of them needing nursing home care becomes greater. If this does happen we have to look at the effect of it. The effect will be that it will place a further strain on the level of general resources necessary to support health insurance payments by the Commission. The major objection that the Opposition party in this House had last year to the Government’s dismantling of Medibank was the fact that by creating a dual system one system is left to be supported quite substantially out of general revenue, quite apart from the amount of levy payable.
– Do not take to water. What is this talk about dismantling Medibank?
– If the honourable member for Eden-Monaro shuts up he will be able to hear and then he will understand what I am saying. Already this support is worth about one billion dollars.
– What is this about disbanding Medibank?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!
– Already one billion dollars worth of support is provided from general revenue for the health insurance arrangements administered by the Health Insurance Commission. A clear strain will be placed on that level of support if more persons -
– What fund are you in?
-Since the honourable member interjects- and I hope the Hansard reporter heard it- I am a levy payer. That this could possibly concern him amazes me. I am talking about my constituents and their concerns.
– We are concerned for you.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, protect honourable members on the Government side, not me, because in a moment I will retaliate. The point is that, if that level of resources is placed under further strain, this Government, which is so concerned with cost cutting, with moving items off the Government expenditure sheet and placing them on an expenditure sheet somewhere out in so-called private industry, will be concerned again to cut that level of support. In fact, as the honourable member for Prospect suggested, the Government already may be greatly exaggerating the cost savings of this exercise to the Government because clearly there will be pressure on the re-insurance account as a result of these arrangements. Also there will be pressure on the rate of subsidisation of hospital-only insurance. If honourable members opposite doubt that, it was the clear conclusion of Holmes that that would be the inevitable consequence of the kind of arrangement which the Government is now introducing.
Subject to those reservations, and I believe that the Government has to assume a great deal of responsibility for the concern that has been allowed to arise in the community, one of the most hopeful contributions in this debate was that made by the honourable member for Maribyrnong who talked about what might be the ideal system. If honourable members addressed their minds to the question of health care of persons in nursing homes every one would agree that the present system is imperfect. At the outset of his report Holmes said:
In the longer term, the most effective constraint on growth in costs is likely to come from the development of assessment teams and the domiciliary services . . .
It seems to me that that kind of thinking is supported by every piece of expert writing in this area. However, in the meantime we have been stuck with a system which does not usher in a great new era as the Minister suggests but which does have very real perils in relation to health insurance arrangements generally in Australia. Because of an obsession with logically structuring and folding in nursing home benefits into a system of health insurance arrangements for which they may not be suitable we will, as the honourable member for Maribyrnong suggested, be making short term savings at the expense perhaps of long term constraint on costs in this area.
– in reply-I thank all honourable members who contributed to the debate this afternoon and this evening on the National Health Acts Amendment Bill and the National Health Amendment Bill. I assure the House that I firmly believe that this legislation, particularly the Bill relating to nursing homes, ushers in a new era of security to nursing home patients and to the aged and sick aged who have to seek refuge in nursing homes throughout Australia. It is generally accepted by most sections of the community as being legislation of that nature. The exception is a small handful of health insurance funds, some of which have attempted to panic and mislead patients and contributors into believing that the Government was removing its assistance to nursing home patients throughout Australia. I was so concerned about this- I say this quite genuinely and we are not on the air- that I took the trouble to write to all patients in every nursing home in this country to assure them that they would not be having their benefits reduced but rather would be having them increased and adjusted annually to provide 70 per cent fee coverage in each State.
The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) and the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) obviously doubt the goodwill and intention of this Government and if it is feasible to amend this Bill at some future time I will take steps to see that it is amended so that there will be no doubt in anybody’s mind about the clear intention of the Government. I will ensure that the Bill inscribes the intention of Cabinet when it made this decision. There has been so much done in one way or another to aged people in nursing homes throughout Australia as a result of inflation and acts of bad faith by governments that perhaps it would be wise to inscribe the intention in this legislation. I would not like to see aged people suffer insecurity because of doubts that we express in this place or doubts that might be expressed by health insurance funds and others for reasons best known to them. I will certainly discuss that point with the draftsman to see whether it is possible for this legislation to reflect the decision by the Government resulting from the surveys by the Medibank Review Committee and by my Department.
-I am glad you have caved in on that.
– It is not a question of caving in but if it is a question of trying to give a sense of security, which I hope honourable members opposite would like to see, to people who are sick or aged in nursing homes around Australia, yes, we will give consideration to it and if it is possible we will see that it is done. The honourable member for Prospect talked about the delay in introducing the arrangement which was announced in June. We said then that benefits were to flow from 1 October. It was understood by all concerned that a period of time would need to elapse to enable the health insurance funds to adjust their table of benefits and to adjust premiums if’ they had to be adjusted. Also it was necessary for a period of time to elapse to enable my Department to establish new levels of benefits based on surveys that needed to be conducted in each State and to arrive at the formula of 70 per cent coverage of fees of private nursing homes and homes registered under the National Health Act. As the honourable member for Prospect conceded, this would ensure that of the order of 83 per cent to 90 per cent of nursing home patients m each State, including those in private nursing homes, in deficit funded nursing homes and in State government nursing, homes would be covered by the benefits received from either the health insurance funds or the Government.
– On 1 October 1977. For a very short time. Annually adjusted.
– I think the honourable member will agree that it is from 1 October, to be annually adjusted. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) raised a very good point and if it is possible to adjust the fees of nursing homes concurrently with benefits we will endeavour to do so.
– Are you going to freeze them for a year?
– We should bear in mind that the fees are adjusted according to the level of wage movements.
– Are you going to freeze the fees?
-No. We are not freezing the ruddy fees. That is something that I think the fleas of the Opposition would like to do. Of course we are not freezing fees. What utter rot!
– You have frozen them.
– There was a price freeze in all States for a specified period and we acceded to it at the time, but that freeze has since been lifted. There is no way that we will take action which causes disruption in this area. If it is possible we will try to get concurrent adjustment for the major increase in the year. Whatever might be said in this Parliament, never before has there been a clear undertaking to nursing home patients in this country that they will be covered to die extent of 70 per cent of their fees in private nursing homes throughout the Commonwealth and that the fees will be adjusted each year to ensure that that level is maintained. If it is possible to enshrine that in legislation we will do it. That is a clear undertaking to people who may feel insecure because of the tactics of a few private health insurance funds and members of the Opposition who may have a political motive in trying to belittle the Government’s genuine attempt to overcome a difficult problem for people.
The honourable member for Prospect dealt with the costs of nursing home care in Victoria In Victoria staffing requirements are higher than they are in other States and proprietors can take extensive care patients usually without having to increase staff. Therefore proprietors in Victoria admit a far higher percentage of extensive care patients than do proprietors in other States, but as a result of those higher staffing requirements their fees are higher. Therefore, in order to maintain the 70 per cent coverage, the benefits necessarily have to be higher. As the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) so wisely said in his contribution, if States choose to establish very high levels of staffing and requirements one wonders how long we in the Commonwealth area can continue to meet the costs which their standards impose upon the system. Of course, in discussions with the Health Ministers we hope to reach some uniform approach between the States into the future because there is an irregularity in that respect
At the present time operating costs, other than for wages, are claimed by proprietors only on an annual basis. I refer to thos matter again because my advice is that wages represent some 75 per cent of total operating costs of nursing homes. Increases in fees are granted as award wage increases arise. Because wage costs represent such a large percentage of total costs it is only fair that proprietors be given increases in fees as wages rise. That raises a real problem with which we are faced in trying to achieve the mechanism which the honourable member for Murray has attempted to get the Government to adopt. What he has said makes sense. If there were a mechanism which we could achieve so that every time there was a substantial increase in fees to meet an increase in wage costs, then we could move the benefits accordingly in our yearly adjustment. If we can achieve some sort of an arrangement which meets that criteria, we will try to do that in consultation with the association which represents the homes.
The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) also raised several points in relation to the annual adjustment mechanism. I think I have answered him in that respect. He criticised the Government for regarding this Bill as the logical extension of an insurance system for the sick. I do not share his cynicism in this matter. If a person is sick for one reason or another or if he is sick because of age, I cannot see any reason why insurance, either insurance which is backed by the Government or insurance from a private health insurance fund, should not cover that requirement. Under our system there is a choice. People can choose to insure themselves privately for doctor of choice or they can remain with Medibank by paying a levy. If they are pensioners with health benefit cards they get the Medibank cover for nil. Under the new taxation arrangements a further 225,000 people in Australia will not be paying tax. Therefore most of those people will not be paying any Medibank levy whatsoever. Those people in the lower range of income will not have to make any contribution at all towards their health insurance or for cover in nursing homes. I think it is fallacious to say that this system imposes a burden upon the poorer sections of the Australian community.
The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) mentioned that in his electorate there was a boarding house type of accommodation caring for the aged. He wondered whether benefits could flow to those people. If they were sick aged, they would probably come within the range of some future policy adjustment in the health area. But if it is hostel accommodation in a social security sense, that would be a matter for the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). But 1 take on board the suggestion made by the honourable member. He also made a plea to adjust fees and benefits concurrently so that there would not be disadvantage to nursing home patients in the event of regular fee increases before benefits had increased. I give him an assurance that there is no attempt by the Government to impose upon the Victorian Government or, for that matter, upon any State government arbitrary controls over the contributions they expect from their patients in State nursing homes.
State nursing homes are exempt from fee control. Under the existing legislation the Bill does not require the State to charge a standard fee. In discussions with the States my officers have encouraged them to charge the standard fee. However, it is not a compulsory requirement because we can see no good reason why, in State government nursing homes, patients should not be charged the statutory patient contribution as they are in deficit funded or in other nursing homes because people have to make a contribution out of their pension for their own lodging. Naturally, nursing home patients in nursing homes other than State nursing homes question why patients in State nursing homes should be exempt from paying the statutory patient contribution. We are trying to get some uniformity between the homes. We expect the States to try to co-operate where they will.
The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) talked about this program costing patients more. I assure him that there is no way that this system will cost nursing home patients more unless they are in the higher income range and are contributing towards private health insurance. Most of the nursing home patients, of course, are not privately insured. Therefore they will not be making a greater personal contribution. We have quite a lot of people in the higher income area with fairly high capital assets in their own name or in their family’s name who have chosen to insure privately. I have not witnessed any objection on their part to paying a premium for private health insurance because that is their choice for doctor of choice. Whether they are wise to do this is a matter for them to decide. But generally patients in nursing homes will not be asked to contribute more. They will receive far greater benefits from the Government or from the fund and therefore will receive much greater security.
In concluding the debate I again thank those who have participated for the contributions they have made. I again give an assurance to the House and to nursing nome patients that there is a clear intention on the part of the Government to bring about a new sense of security to nursing home patients and to their families throughout Australia as a result of the amendments which we have made. We have given a clear undertaking that under this legislation we will cover 70 per cent of private nursing home beds in each State and the benefits will be adjusted on an annual basis to ensure that that ratio is maintained.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 8 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed from 7 September, on the motion by Mr Sinclair.
That the Housetake 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 rnining and export of uranium by Australia in the absence of:
– This debate which continues tonight after an absence from the House of one week has been described in the interim by some of the newspapers as having been shallow. I can appreciate what the Press means when it says that the debate has been shallow. I fear that the Press probably does not appreciate that in this House it is impossible to go into all the scientific and technical aspects of the problems of uranium. The things that we talk about are political. They are the things that affect people. Our job is to talk about things that are political. It would be possible for members to talk in this House on the scientific points of view relating to uranium, but I think it is important that we confine our comments to the political points of view because the effects of the Government’s decision on the mining and export of Australian uranium are essentially political. They affect people.
Last Wednesday I sat in the House for quite some time listening to the debate. Like so many people on this side of the House I have been through an agonising period in which I have given a tremendous amount of thought to the implications of uranium mining and export, especially because views from both sides have been put so cogently in the Press and other media. I was amazed to hear last Wednesday one or two Opposition speakers trying to make political points; not points to do with people but points merely to smear the Government. For instance, I was amazed by a statement by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam). He said, in a ridiculing sense, that the members of the Government were unanimous about this measure. He thought that was stupid. Why should members of the Government not be unanimous about the decision? I believe that on the grounds of logic the Government has made the right decision. There has been a great deal of agonising amongst members of the Government over this decision.
In my electorate I have tried as hard as I could-I suppose that is about as hard as a human being could do- to get the views of people. Many of those people, of course, do not have full access to the facts, but all of them have access to an ability to think. I must say that throughout my electorate there was general support, even before the decision of the Government, for the principle that we should mine and export uranium, not because it would create more wealth for this country but because it is in the best interests of mankind.
The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) seems to have sensible views on some aspects of industry. He seems to have the employment problems in his electorate at heart. He seems to be a reasonably good Australian. I do not think he is as Irish as he thinks he is. He said that if 40 times the number of nations have bombs the risk is 40 times as great. I must say also that that is the sort of Ulogie that some of the anti-uranium people have tried to put on the people in my electorate. Nobody is advocating any increase in the number of nations which have bombs. We on this side of the House are saying that the selling of uranium will not affect the number of nations which have bombs. The nations which want bombs will have them, irrespective of whether Australia exports uranium. What has our exporting of uranium to do with whether the Israelis and the Arabs have a conflict? That is the sort of emotional statement that the honourable member for Port Adelaide, who is normally reasonable, brought out in his speech last Wednesday.
– How would you like a nuclear reactor at Jervis Bay?
-It is not in my electorate. One of the things that the people are saying- I think that it is a very sensible thing for them to be saying- is that if we had not reached the stage in our technology at which it was possible to produce a nuclear bomb, it would have been a darned good thing. The fact is that we reached that stage. The fact remains that a large number of people say that, the scientists having produced this terrible weapon, one of the good things that happened towards the end of World War II was that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. These days that is almost a terrible thing to say. In the last two weeks a dozen or so ex-serviceman have told me individually that that was the fact that saved their lives and the lives of many others.
-i was in Japan at the time. I do not say that.
– One of the people who said it to me was in Japan at the time. Nobody wants lives lost in any circumstances. The fact remains that some of these things that we pussyfoot around because of trendy ideas that are turned up at Labor Party annual meetings in Perth are things that might go against what is very dear to the hearts of some Australians. Most of us would agree that the bomb should not have been invented, but having been invented it saved many lives.
– It ended many lives too.
– We know it did, and that is the tragedy. I am pleased to answer that interjection because, as I said, I, like so many other people, have agonised over this problem. It killed a lot of people. It killed a lot of innocent people. People such as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should remember that there are other sides to the coin. This is the same in any political judgment. As I said at the beginning of this speech, we are talking about political judgments.
I do not know why members of the Labor Party seem to have such mixed feelings about this problem. Rex Connor, who died last month, was one person who passionately believed in the export of our uranium. Why do so many people in the Opposition want to go to the people, having had this long farce, and say that they have changed their minds? Why is it that one week uranium is a source of energy that will benefit mankind, and why is it not the next week? Is it because enough rabid people in the Opposition who can see just political advantage can convince their colleagues that they might win votes? I suspect that they will not win votes. I hope they have agonised over their decisions. To have turned their minds through 180 degrees so suddenly makes one cynical about the decisions made in Perth-the decisions made by other people, such as Mr Hawke, who appear to have influence in the Labor Party. Why have those people decided so suddenly to change their minds?
Many points have been argued in this House. I say quite categorically that I probably have a great deal more ammunition in terms of the scientific facts than most honourable members. But in terms of logic there is one point which has not been mentioned during the debate. It is one of many. There are points on both sides but, as I said, the biggest point is that if this technology had not been discovered we would have been better off. But it has been discovered. Professor Baxter made one point that I should mention. Professor Baxter would, of course, be castigated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), because he is in favour of doing what we on this side of the House happen to think should be done. But he made one point very succinctly -
– Tell us what it is.
-I shall tell the honourable member, and I shall tell him slowly so that he can understand. I shall tell him again later because he probably will not understand. Professor Baxter said that if less uranium is available in a world in which we are looking for better energy technologies during the interim period when we will try to produce technologies that are far less harmful than the potentials for uranium, there will be more pressure on some of the other energy resources, for instance, on fossil fuels and particularly oil resources. He has made the point that if less uranium is available many of our countries will have to depend more and more on oil. There are some lucky countries, such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which have plenty of oil and plenty of uranium.
– They know how to conserve it, too.
-Of course they do; they take it from all their satellites. That country would be in a position, as oil dried up and as uranium was not available, of having oil and of forcing some of the countries in need of oil to undertake a precipitous act and to go out and get it. He has made the point that a shortage of uranium in the interim period before there are alternative sources of energy could mean a world disaster.
The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), who said he wanted to listen, has not been listening; he has been talking. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), whose mind I do respect, asks: ‘Do you believe that other nations would always honour the agreements with Australia subsequent to our exporting uranium to them?’ I should like to know whether the honourable member believes that in the next 500, 1,000 or 2,000 years-well within the half life of most toxic nuclear fuels- if we do not mine uranium there could not be somebody who, with a shortage of oil, would say: ‘We want that uranium from Australia’? If we look at the long term, as the honourable member for Hotham did in his speech, we are looking at all sorts of hypotheses. One of the things we have to remember is that nationalities change and the rulers of nations change as circumstances change. I should like to quote one other person, namely, Professor Arndt.
-i am waiting for that message.
– The honourable member might like to give me an extension of time. I should like to quote Professor Arndt, who is a man whom I have respected for many years. He speaks about a similar situation existing when fluoridation was being introduced into the United States. He states:
Scores of inquiries had been held, hundreds of reports written, expert testimony carefully sifted. The overwhelming evidence was that fluoridation greatly improved dental health without any adverse side effects. It all made no difference to the opponents. If they could find one dentist to take the opposite view, they dismissed all other professional opinion on the ground that ‘the experts disagree’. In the 1950s an exasperated city engineer in a mid- Western city in the USA announced that the city’s water supply would be fluoridated as from the first of March. All through March the letters of protest poured in: People’s hair was falling out, pregnant women lost their babies, virgins became pregnant, fractures would not heal, bones became brittle, etc., etc. At the end of March the engineer announced that the water had never been fluoridated. In May fluoridation was carried out with overwhelming public support in that city. But antifluoridation fanatics elsewhere continued the good fight, unmoved and do so still.
From whom do we take advice? Do we take it from the Opposition, the people who turn about face just to get votes, or do we take it from the scientists? The overwhelming view amongst scientists is that we must mine and export uranium. The overwhelming view amongst international strategists is that we must mine and export uranium. It will do us no harm and will do mankind a great deal of good.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (9.15)-In my opinion this debate on the ministerial statements concerning the Australian Government’s uranium policy is the most important moral issue that has been debated in this House in post-war Australian history. It certainly is the most important debate in which I have taken part since the Vietnam War. These ministerial statements do indicate that a precipitate decision has been taken by this Government without sufficient public debate in Australia and without sufficient negotiations overseas. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Sainsbury) said that he wanted to approach the subject on the grounds of logic. I agree that we should try to do that. I agree also with the honourable member’s statement that we would have been better off if this technology had never been developed. However, I do not think he will find many honourable members on his side of the House who will agree with that because the whole trend of their arguments has always been against that belief. They have told us what a wonderful thing uranium is. It is nice to hear someone making the admission made by the honourable member for EdenMonaro.
I want to approach this subject on the grounds of logic because I believe that the mining and export of uranium by the Australian Government without commitments by customer countries to apply effective, reliable and verifiable safeguards does not measure up to the requirements of the Fox Report. In my opinion they do not measure up to the wishes of the great majority of Australians. It is bad enough that we do not have safeguards for the peaceful use of uranium; it is worse that we have no verifiable assurances that our uranium will not be diverted and be used for military purposes. At best, these ministerial statements are the most callous statements that have been presented to this House since the Vietnam War. No doubt customer countries will pay high prices to use our uranium for peaceful purposes, but it is likely that if they can use it for military purposes they will pay a much higher price for it.
We all know that we have been presented a rubbery Budget- no one knows in what shape it will finish up. But that is not good enough; there is no excuse for finding this way out. It is nonsense for honourable members on the Government side to say that the Opposition is scaremongering when it points out the callous deficiencies in the Government’s uranium policy. The danger will not go away simply because we pretend it is not there. If you jump over the gap with your eyes closed you will hit the bottom just as hard as you would with your eyes open. The result will be the same with the Government’s uranium policy.
The television program Four Corners indicated the dangers to human life and the environment associated with the disposal of radioactive waste under normal circumstances. Because of these dangers there is no doubt that we need more time. If we get plugged into the international nuclear system the consequences will be around for thousands of years. We need more time to be sure of what we are really doing. A wait of a few more years, when compared with the thousands of years that radioactive deposits will be around, will make no difference. What we should do is pause and consider what is contained in the often repeated recommendations in the Fox report. One of the recommendations states:
There should be ample time for public consideration of this report, and for debate upon it. We therefore recommend that no decision be taken in relation to the foregoing matters until a reasonable time has elapsed and there has been an opportunity for the usual democratic processes to function, including in this respect, parliamentary debate.
The Government has not given as much consideration to this debate as it has given to the Trade Practices Act. That Act was foreshadowed for months. It was introduced into this House but it lapsed when the Parliament was dissolved. It was then re-introduced.
The television program Four Corners last weekend showed that there was as yet no way to solidify high level wastes and store them safely. We are right to agree with the Fox report and insist that these matters not be left to the socalled experts. The ordinary people of this world and the unborn generations will suffer the conse- quences of any blunders made in the peaceful development of uranium. Because nuclear technology in the world is still in the infancy stage, blunders from peaceful development of uranium must take place; they will take place. There is no guarantee that an accident will not occur. But what would happen in the case of hurried military preparations? Who can give a guarantee that our uranium will not be used for military purposes? Time is needed so that we can study all the hazards of nuclear development?
After careful consideration over 2 years, the Commissioners on the Fox inquiry conclude on page 335 of their report that even though a final decision is vested in the Government, the Ranger mine project, as presently conceived, should not go ahead. If the Government decides to go ahead with a mine at Ranger, the Fox report proposes 25 conditions under which mining could take place. Those conditions present innumerable difficulties to the opening of a new mine. They imply restraints on the emission of waste and control by a supervisory authority that would be hostile to the efficient day to day operation of the mine. Those conditions, if fully applied, would make mining uneconomic. For example, one of the stipulated conditions is that the Ranger mine would have to place tailings and stockpiles of low grade ore back into the pits after milling stopped. That would be a massively expensive operation. Obviously the company would have to be compelled to carry out its obligations. As one travels around Australia one sees great dumps of mine tailings everywhere.
Generally the second Fox report was honest also about the grave environmental hazards associated with all aspects of the nuclear industry. Chapters 6 and 7 of the second report provide large amounts of material critical of the proposed uranium rnining projects. Problems such as waste seepage and radiation emission are fully detailed. Yellowcake dust pollution is revealed to be a major problem, both for the mine workers and for people living in the vicinity of the mine. These environmental pollution problems led to the Ranger Commission’s suggestion for the modification of the Ranger mine proposal. The second Fox report also expressed concern about health hazards to the mine workers. That would be particularly relevant if the third stage of the proposed Ranger mine were underground. Underground mining greatly increases the cancer risk from radioactive radon dust.
Government supporters have told us that there is no more danger from mining lead or from mining coal. The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) is not in the chamber. I do not mean to denigrate him in any way, but he issued a challenge. I read from Hansard what he said in the debate recently. When referring to a member of the Opposition, he said-.
He talked about leukaemia and made great generalisations as members of the Opposition are prone to do. But I am not aware of one single shred of specific evidence which can point to any person in any part of the world who is suffering a disability or an illness as a result of either the mining of uranium oxide or ore or from being associated with its treatment. The challenge has gone out. I repeat it again. No doubt many speakers are still to come from the Opposition side. Let them produce one shred of evidence.
I pick up the challenge offered by the honourable member for Kennedy, because I suppose I am the only member in the House who has a miner’s ticket. I have a hard rock miner’s ticket. I do not know whether the honourable member for Kennedy has one, but if he has he certainly must have been in some good stakes because he does not have a mark on him. My brother used to work in the mines. He worked in uranium mines and he had more than his share of ill health. He died of cancer. I am not saying that his death had anything to do with uranium, because I had a brother-in-law who worked in the mines. He died at a much younger age, also of cancer. It is hard to prove these things. However, there are hundreds and probably thousands of miners who have worked in the mines from their eighteenth year until they have retired at 62 years of age; their full working life of 44 years is spent in mines. I challenge honourable members on the Government benches to produce one man who has worked in the uranium mines for that long, because it is not recommended that people do that. In any case, our uranium mines have been worked for 20-odd years only.
I go a little further with this challenge. I have in my office at Broken Hill all mineral samples. I would like to know how many Government supporters, including the honourable member for Kennedy, have yellowcake in their sample chests. If honourable members opposite are still not satisfied about the truth of what I am saying, let me refer them to what the miners say is the real proof. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the honourable member for Kennedy will eat a pound of yellowcake, I will eat a pound of lead. Now there is the test. Honourable members opposite know that it is a lot of rubbish to say that the rnining of yellowcake is no more dangerous than the rnining of lead or of any of these other minerals.
-Who said that? None of us did.
– Yes, of course you did. The honourable member for Kennedy said it. It has been said often. It has been said from that side of the House that the mining of uranium is no more dangerous than the mining of any other mineral. The honourable member for Kennedy said that it would not matter if we left our uranium in the ground because other countries would supply it. He has a point there. If the only consideration was the cashing in on our mineral resources regardless of the dangers to future generations, regardless of the dangers to other people in the world, of course other countries would supply it.
The greatest revelation of all has not been made in the debate which has been taking place in this House; it has been the report which appeared in today’s Australian Financial Review. Every Government supporter should hang his head in shame in the knowledge that what is reported there has been thrust on decent Australians. The article, which was written by Mr Brian Toohey, reads:
The chairman of the Uranium Producers’ Forum, Mr George Mackay, yesterday flew to Canberra to offer the Liberal Party assistance in any forthcoming election campaign in which the future of uranium mining was at stake.
Mr Mackay ‘s offer of assistance to the Liberal Party was made at a meeting in Canberra yesterday morning with the party’s federal director, Mr Tony Eggleton.
What a shocking thing! What a crippling blow!
-Can you prove it?
– I am reading from a report which appeared in the Australian Financial Review. Honourable members opposite had the opportunity today at question time to refute the report but not a man stood up to do so. What a crippling blow to the credibility of this Government! These are the guilty people. When Mr Ellicott looked through three suitcases of evidence and said that there was not one scrape to incriminate the Honourable Rex Connor, what did the Government do? It still piled innuendo after innuendo on him. That is what it does today. Why does it not repeat its cry now? On that occasion it cried out: ‘Resign, resign’! What a terrible thing it foisted on the people of this country. Why does it not have the courage to resign? It will not have to resign if it goes to the people in an election. If this is what the debate reveals, no wonder it wants to rush it through. No wonder it wants to get a vote as early as it can. For this reason alone we should keep this debate going so that people will know what will come out. We have found something, have we not? The longer this debate goes on the more rotten the Government will seem in the people’s eyes.
– It seems that some degree of logic is believed to come into a debate by raising one’s voice. I am afraid we have seen a demonstration that that particular theory fails. The community debate on uranium has in many respects been finalised. There has been such a degree of polarisation that many citizens have reached a position where their minds are closed to further argument. That is not surprising. The Government has announced its decision. The Labor Party Conference in Perth resolved to announce its decision. The Executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions has announced its recommendations. Over the past two years in particular there has been a large volume of information available to those interested in the use of uranium as an energy resource. Since the publication and issue of the first Fox report in November 1976 the volume of information and expression of opinion from all sectors of the community has risen to a crescendo.
Many people in Australia have made up their minds that the Government’s decision to allow the mining and export of uranium was correct. Surveys in Australia have shown overwhelming support for that decision. In some ways it is comforting to know that the people support the Government’s decision. That fact does not, however, make the Government’s decision and particularly my own decision any easier. Together with many colleagues from both sides of the House I kept an open mind and was uncertain what decision should be made on this subject. As the months passed and the Fox reports became available I concluded that the Government’s decision is correct. Many decisions which arose after a detailed examination of the first Fox report were answered to my satisfaction in the several Ministerial statements made in this House on 25 August. I deplore the selective use of the commissioner’s report by members of the Opposition and their supporters outside this
House to prop up arguments which have a political basis only and which are not relevant to the detailed Ministerial papers upon which the Government’s decision has been taken.
The whole subject of uranium is complex. It cannot properly be covered in IS minutes. Therefore, I shall dwell on two aspects in this debate- whether there should be a moratorium and/or a referendum. In Australia both the official and the industry figures include a large proportion of uranium which is both high grade by world standards and is at or near the surface. By contrast many uranium deposits in Canada, the United States of America and South Africa are of very low grade, are deep underground, or both. Moreover, a considerable amount of the better uranium ores originally present in the United States, France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has been used for weapons production via enrichment. Although the United States, Japan, France, West Germany and other countries are busily searching for uranium in Brazil, Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere, several years of very extensive and expensive drilling have not yet produced the desired results. Accordingly, Australian uranium is extremely attractive to overseas buyers because of its relatively low cost and apparent abundance.
Depending on what case one wishes to promote, Australian uranium may be regarded as making up 10 per cent of total world resources, 20 per cent of cheap world resources or 80 per cent of uncommitted resources to 1985. But it is the second figure which carries most significance 20 per cent of the cheapest world resources. The Ranger commissioners argue on page 180 of the first report that since no country will really be dependent on Australian uranium until 1985, no great international harm will be done by a moratorium. But surely it is only under duress that consumer countries will listen to us anyway. Actually there are customers most anxious to receive Australian uranium before 1985. Italy, West Germany and the United States have large shortfalls. Other countries such as Japan will be placed in a difficult position if Nam6ibian nationalists close down the huge Rossing mine.
The potential sales from two medium sized Australian mines commencing operations in 1979-1980 would produce approximately 3,000 short tonnes of yellowcake a year, which amounts to $A180m a mine at between $25 and $28 per pound of yellowcake. Altogether a twoyear to five-year moratorium might lead to a revenue loss of between $A720m and $ A 1,800m, depending on its duration. Further indirect losses are involved. For example, capital costs for mines and mills are escalating at a much higher rate than overall inflation. Also, the moratorium might lead to big new uranium finds overseas. Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier might be permanently damaged by the moratorium. Many people do not realise that in at least 25 countries, and probably more, sufficient knowhow and fissile material already exist for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, albeit in small numbers. Another fact forgotten by many anti-uranium proponents is the significant number of nuclear warheads already in existence. For example, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, including France, have about 8,200 strategic warheads. They have about 22,000 tactical warheads. The USSR has about 3,700 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 8,000 to 20,000 tactical warheads.
There are at least two means by which an Australian moratorium on uranium exports might actually worsen the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Firstly, the current, possibly artificial, shortage of long term, cheap uranium supplies is prompting big consumers such as Japan, West Germany and France to explore vigorously overseas. Their targets are mostly the less developed nations, for example Brazil, whose size alone may almost guarantee the presence of uranium. Although nuclear facilities may not be immediately needed in the host countries, the exploring countries are likely to offer technology as they are in Brazil for power reactors, together with enrichment and reprocessing plants, in return for a generous slice of whatever uranium is found.
Secondly, the pace of developments of fast breeder reactors at least partly depends on available supplies of uranium. When uranium is rare as a result of scarcity or export bans the breeder’s sixty-fold utilisation rate of uranium over conventional reactors becomes an overwhelming advantage. Both the Fox Commission and the British Flowers Commission expressed grave misgivings about breeder reactors. At this point of time they appear less safe in operation than thermal reactors, but even more dubious is their everyday production and use of plutonium as the basic fuel. For both environmental and economic reasons it is not in Australia’s best interests to encourage fast breeder reactors or take any action which would hasten the development of fast breeder reactors in countries overseas.
Whilst it is difficult to gauge the exact effectiveness of an Australian uranium moratorium on nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism there could well be a beneficial indirect leverage possible on suppliers of sensitive nuclear technology who themselves need large supplies of cheap uranium for power reactors. But the question is whether a blanket 2-year to 5-year export ban with its across the board effect on all consumers can be more useful than the Government’s announcement that those nuclear nations not agreeing to improved safeguards and restricted technology transfer would selectively miss out on short term and long term supplies of our cheap uranium. The latter course has the advantage of being more credible, of establishing Australia as a nuclear fuel supplier accepted with respect in the world’s decision making uranium forums, of being more effective against dissident countries such as France and of reflecting our international energy responsibilities.
The proposition that a referendum should be conducted on the uranium issue seems to be an attempt by the Executive of the ACTU to establish a compromise between the extreme views of Labor Party members within the trade union movement. Governments are elected to represent the people and to make responsible decisions. The Government has announced its policy and proposed course of action on the subject of mining and export of uranium. It has precisely defined its program for the protection of the environment within the mining area. It has negotiated and announced its decision on Aboriginal rights. It will establish a major national park. The Government in May 1977 enunciated its onerous and stringent safeguards for the mining, sale and export of uranium. It announced an energy policy which incorporates reference to the provision of substantial funds for solar energy research. The Government took account of contracts entered into by the Whitlam Government to mine and export uranium.
Time does not permit any greater consideration of these matters tonight but it must be emphasised again that decisions on all these subjects were taken only after lengthy consideration of all arguments and analysis of all relevant facts. I presume that the Labor Party gave adequate consideration to its Perth decision not to call for a referendum. The democratic processes have been applied to the uranium debate. Television, radio, magazines, daily newspapers and interest group newsletters as well as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Friends of the Earth, the churches, mining companies, individual commissioners from the Fox commission, scientists, politicians and so on have over the past two years covered all sides of the uranium argument. Demonstrators have expressed their views on the streets and on the walls of our cities. Community groups have conducted further debates, and the Parliament has devoted a great deal of time in this House and through the committee system to the subject. The democratic processes have been at work and the Government has made its decision after taking all of these interests into account. I respectfully submit that a referendum would take the matter no further. The Government has therefore rejected this proposal.
I would like to refer to the 1976 Alfred Deakin lecture by Professor Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet on the subject entitled ‘Uranium: For Good or Evil’. I have read and re-read that lecture and admit that many of his arguments were persuasive and forceful. He concluded with these words: the one token of sincerity that we can offer is to leave our uranium ores in the ground until the nations of the world can be trusted to use, for good, what they have made a symbol of evil.
Sir Macfarlane Burnet in his oft quoted letter to the Melbourne Age of 12 August 1977 expressed a view which was different from the argument he developed in the Alfred Deakin lecture. He changed his mind after consultation with overseas leaders and observation of further arguments as they have developed since 1966. Let me quote from Sir Macfarlane Burnet’s letter. He said:
I have recently returned from a month overseas and it is clear that, both in Australia and in the Western world generally, opinion is becoming more highly polarised than ever. Accepting this, we must do what we can to find other rounds on which a broadly acceptable policy might be based. 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. Things being as they are, nuclear power generators will be needed for the next 20, or perhaps 50, years in most of the developed countries, with Japan and Sweden in particular need.
I conclude by expressing a personal hope that the world ‘s countries will honour the trust and will meet their contractual and treaty obligations and responsibilities which the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia will demand in the peaceful use of uranium. I support the motion and reject the amendment.
-I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) and endorsed by members of this side of the House. Government supporters are confused and are showing signs of strain. The people of Australia will make their decision in due course. The uranium issue is emerging as one of the most important world-wide issues of this century, and so it deserves to be since its potential hazards threaten the lives not only of everyone living in the world today but also of all future generations for the next 500,000 years. Overseas, the uranium issue has been hotly debated for over a decade and continues to gather momentum as more and more people join in the debate. Yet the issue is no closer to reaching consensus agreement than it was 10 years ago.
Here in Australia only recently has the average Australian begun to think seriously about the benefit and the costs of the use of nuclear energy and is obviously still a long way from being able to make an informed decision about it. Yet the Fraser Government has already committed Australia to supporting actively the spread of nuclear power throughout the world. This is what I believe to be the central issue under debate today- the fact that the Fraser Government has made a decision, an immensely long term decision about Australia’s future and to a large extent the world ‘s future, without giving the Australian people any opportunity to debate the issue carefully and to make up their own minds.
With an issue as important as the mining and export of uranium I believe it is imperative that the Australian people be given a chance to know the full facts of uranium usage, to be given time to consider these facts and eventually to be given an opportunity to decide what course Australia should take in the future. In fact this is exactly what the Fox Commission’s first report recommended, namely, ‘that there should be ample time for public consideration and debate’ and that ‘no decision be taken until a reasonable time has elapsed’. But, instead, what the Fraser Government has decided to do is to rush into a decision just three months after the publication of the second Fox report and thereby to sacrifice the democratic rights of the Australian people on this vitally important issue.
Worse than this, since making its notorious decision to give the green light to uranium mining and export, the Government has proceeded to cloud the uranium issue with irrelevant issues such as ‘law and order’ or ‘who is governing the country, the unions or the Government?’ The Government is actively provoking demonstrators and unions in the hope that outright conflict will take place so that public attention will be taken away from the real issue, namely, whether or not the Australian people should be given a say in the decision about the rnining and export of uranium. Demonstrators and unions are not the evil trouble makers that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and Mr Bjelke-Petersen would have people believe. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, representing nearly 2 million Australian workers, and the demonstrators, representing a cross section of Australia’s population, are just concerned bodies of people desperately trying to protect a basic Australian principle which is seriously at risk at the present moment. That principle is democracy.
In 1975 the Prime Minister demonstrated the lengths to which he would go to get his own way. The truth and long standing principles and conventions which were cherished by most Australians were simply discarded by the Prime Minister when they did not suit him. That applies now. The Prime Minister and his Government are so keen to please the multinational uranium producers that they are not willing to allow the Australian people the chance to exercise their democratic rights to decide on the future of uranium mining, because of the risk of the Australian people deciding on a moratorium. The Prime Minister might like to think he is a dictator and he might like to say and do whatever he likes but the Australian Labor Party and all thinking people throughout Australia will be doing everything in their power to make the Prime Minister think again.
The Australian Labor Party position on the mining and export of uranium is a very reasonable one. At the biennial national conference in Perth in July this year the Australian Labor Parry decided on an indefinite moratorium until the problems associated with the nuclear industry are solved. It was decided that an effective moratorium was a necessary pre-condition to the Fox Commission’s recommendation for a widespread national debate on the uranium issue to be carried out. After all, it makes sense that a public debate after commitments have been made is completely useless. But that is what the Government wants us to do. It wants this House to debate the pros and cons of a decision that has already been made, whilst suppressing full and free public debate altogether. Obviously the Government made its decision so hastily, before any reasonable debate could take place, because it had something to hide.
My belief is that the Government’s account of uranium usage is a vast distortion of the true facts about nuclear power. The Government’s stance on uranium is the same as that of the prouranium lobby and in particular the Uranium Producers’ Forum. If all the claims that the Government makes are true, why is it that the Uranium Producers’ Forum has laid out vast amounts of money in paid propaganda? If all is rosy with uranium, why pay out all that money to convince the Australian people of its worth? If there is nothing wrong with uranium, why is the anti-uranium lobby, which is without the benefit of expensive advertising, so strong?
The nuclear industry claims that most of the opposition to the spread of nuclear power stems from an emotional, stupid reaction- some sort of mindless fear of growth and technology. The industry, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and Mr Bjelke-Petersen would have people believe that the anti-uranium lobby consists of nothing but young revolutionaries who are badly misinformed about the true facts of nuclear power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The anti-nuclear movement has always been able to call upon some of the best nuclear brains around, partly because much of the opposition to nuclear power has arisen from within the industry, from scientists and engineers who knew exactly the implications of what they were doing and the weaknesses of the machines which they were designing and building. Any person who doubts the quality of the opposition to nuclear power in Australia should read the transcript of the Ranger uranium inquiry. The standard of the evidence produced by those against mining is equal or superior to that produced by the other side, despite the massive difference in resources available to the two classes of witnesses.
In the remainder of the time allotted to me, I would like to give a brief account of the true state of affairs of nuclear power, not the coloured version that the Fraser Government has so far given the Australian people. In this account I will be very careful not to overstate my case because this is something that is definitely not needed at the moment. Already too many lies and distortions have entered into the uranium debate, and what the Australian people need most of all are facts so that they can weigh them up and make an informed decision on uranium.
From all appearances, it is very unlikely that nuclear power will ever be of any real significance in the world energy picture.
– Say that again.
-From all appearances, it is very unlikely that nuclear power will ever be of any real significance in the world energy picture. At present nuclear power stations provide a little over one per cent of the world’s statistically recorded energy consumption. If all the energy that goes unrecorded, particularly in the poorer countries, were added to energy consumption statistics, nuclear energy would be even less significant. Even if the most aggressive proposals for the development of nuclear energy come true, nuclear energy will provide about only 5 per cent of the world’s energy by the year 2000. By that time presently known and inferred reserves of uranium will be bordering on exhaustion. Nuclear energy will be on the way out at the same time as oil, having provided only a tiny fraction of our energy needs, and absorbed an immensely unequal proportion of valuable capital.
Australia has 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the known reserves of the Western world ‘s uranium supplies. The uranium miners in this country have predicted a bonanza in profits and export earnings for their mines. They simple-mindedly point to the gross value of their resources- some 20 billion worth at today’s prices. What they overlook is that this resource is not worth a cent without a market and a market may not be there. All the predictions for uranium demand are based on an exponential increase in the world wide population of reactors. This is not happening. The number of operating reactors has remained constant for the last year, while the number of orders for new reactors is steadily dropping. In West Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States of America and Japan, strong and increasing opposition to nuclear power has combined with economic difficulties to cause severe cutbacks in nuclear construction programs. The nuclear power programs of France and West Germany have almost ground to a halt while in Holland anti-nuclear demonstrations have been growing rapidly. Spain is now examining hydro-electric alternatives to nuclear power while Norway has cancelled its projected nuclear power program altogether. In the United States of America orders for nuclear reactors have dropped from 30 reactors to two in the last few years, and in Japan the cutback is of the order of 50 per cent because of problems with the inefficiency of nuclear power generation.
One is then led to ask- where is this world that is desperately in need of our uranium? From the evidence it appears that the uranium producers are in a hurry to mine and export our uranium before the market disappears. In regard to dangers from the use of nuclear power, the work of the Fox Commission in Australia and the Flowers Commission in Britain has made it clear that the dangers of world trade in plutonium are so great that we should avoid it, if at all possible.
Both reports from these two commissions confirm that plutonium is a very dangerous material. They confirm that it is possible for people to gain possession of plutonium illegally. They confirm that it is possible for a small group of people with some nuclear and metal working knowledge to make a bomb if they have sufficient plutonium. They confirm that the international treaties designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons are very weak. They confirm that the civilian nuclear power industry has contributed to the spread of weapons. They confirm that the industry has been lax in its guarding of the effects of radiation on workers. They confirm that there have been accidents in reactors and nuclear power plants and that these have been potentially very serious. These are all things which those opposed to nuclear power see as reasons for discontinuing it.
In regard to the potential benefit of nuclear power to the poorer countries, it appears that because of the immensely capital intensive and centralised nature of nuclear energy this source of energy will be irrelevant to the real needs of poorer countries. How could a developing country with a population of SO million people afford the $17 billion needed to produce and distribute nuclear-generated energy to its people? The simple answer is that there is no way. Nuclear energy is only a temporary source of power at best. It is of no use to poor nations and of very limited use to rich ones. Instead what is urgently needed in the world is a rational approach to energy conservation and proper investment in solar research. Conservation of energy must be the cornerstone of any sane energy policy since it is the quickest and the cheapest way of obtaining more energy. Australia has the potential for being a world leader in solar research but the present Government is apparently not interested in this judged by the level of funding for solar research programs in the last Budget.
The Government must be made more aware of the benefits of solar energy. Not only does it work but also it is pollution free and does not change the total heat balance in the environment. Solar energy is not a dream of the future, it is with us now. It is the only viable, long term energy source we have. These are the facts about nuclear energy and its alternatives and not the one-sided half truths that the Fraser Government has been telling the Australian people. These facts must be made known and the Australian people must be given the chance to decide for themselves the future of Australia’s uranium reserves. I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.
– I oppose the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition. I would like perhaps to get away from the type of discussion that has taken place in this debate. Members from both sides of the House say that the arguments they are putting forward are right and other arguments are wrong. I believe that these arguments have been well canvassed. The honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon), who has just spoken, pointed out that not many nuclear power stations are operating in the world today. I believe that I could put another argument on that subject. Before doing so, I think it is rather interesting to consider the wrangle or argument that is going on within the Australian trade union movement as to whether it will move, transport or mine uranium for export. It is not a question of whether uranium will be exported or whether it will be sold; it is a matter of whether the trade union movement will assist. It is interesting to note the resolution on nuclear energy adopted by the English Trade Union Congress on 8 September at its annual congress at Blackpool, England.
– Englishmen are all right in England, are they? They are crook out here!
-Obviously they have a lot more sense over there.
– They are only Poms when they are in Australia?
– Well, they sent all those types of steward out here, I understand. That Congress supports the balanced development of the country’s energy resources including coal, gas and nuclear power. The resolution of the Congress lists a number of objectives that should be observed. I will not read them all because I have asked for permission to have this paper incorporated in Hansard. However, I would like to read the important section. Section (11) states:
To maximise the contribution of an expanded and socially acceptable nuclear program which is consistent with the maintenance of a safe environment in terms of solving problems of health and security which may arise.
The first thing that the Opposition will say is: ‘Of course, that is what we are saying; we want a healthy and safe environment’. But nuclear reactor power stations have been a fact of life in England since 19S4. Before proceeding further I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the Trade Union Congress resolution on nuclear energy.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
The following motion was adopted by the English Trade Union Congress on 8 September at its annual congress at Blackpool, England:
Congress supports the balanced development of the country’s energy resources, including coal, gas and nuclear, but is concerned at the increasing rate of consumption of the currently limited stock of the world’s energy resources. While welcoming the current efforts of the Government to devise an overall energy strategy, congress is nevertheless concerned by the failure of the Secretary of State for Energy to tell the British people of the grave energy problems which both Britain and Europe face in the clearly foreseeable future. Congress instructs the general council to press the Government to formulate a plan for energy which will not leave us dependent upon as yet unproved or undeveloped sources of energy beyond the 1980s and which will ensure that the urgent decisions which need to be taken to avoid any threat to economic expansion and standards of living are no longer unnecessarily delayed. This should include the following objectives:
-Recently I visited England, accompanied by my very good friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference. Part of our tour of duty was an inspection of a number of industrial sites. We visited the Hartlepool nuclear reactor power station in the north of England. I would imagine that this power station would not be more than three-quarters of the size of this building we are in now. I think that is a fair assessment of its size. It will produce about 1,200 megawatts of electrical power. That is approximately 6 per cent of the total electrical power produced m this country. Australia produces 20,000 megawatts of electricity through its various types of power stations. This one nuclear power station, with 2 reactors, will produce 1 ,200 megawatts of electricity. The station is situated on the Tees Estuary. It is 6.4 kilometres south of the town of Hartlepool and 8 kilometres north-east of Teeside, another highly residential and industrial area in the County of Cleveland. Virtually all of that County is taken up by industry and housing for the people who work in industry.
Honestly, I do not think that honourable members on the Opposition side have a real conviction that nuclear power stations are a risk or a danger. Surely they give the English people a little credit. Surely they acknowledge that there are people over there with brains, people who think. The people in England have studied this matter and have called upon the best advice offering not only in their own country but throughout the world. We were informed about this station. They wanted to make sure that the operation of a nuclear power station would be safe. They have no fear about building this supposedly formidable enemy of the people right near the town, no fear whatsoever. That is a point of which many people in this country are totally unaware. England, a country with a population of about 54 million and an area of land less than the size of Victoria, has 21 nuclear power stations in operation at present and is planning to build many more.
– How many?
-It has 21 stations at the moment. Incidentally, the Opposition will be pleased to know that the English still have industrial troubles. They started building the power station at Hartlepool in 1968 and it is not yet finished. It is expected to be in operation next year. This station will add to the existing system of nuclear power stations and I say for the benefit of the honourable member for Sydney- it will produce 3 per cent of the total power for England. The English people know, the trade unionists know, the English Government knows that despite all the oil that may be found in the North Sea a serious energy shortage will be experienced in the next six or seven years if these nuclear power stations are not available.
What will the Opposition do? Will it admit that it helped in providing that shortage because it would not sell Australia’s uranium? The Opposition has adopted a silly attitude. This country is in a nuclear age whether we like it or not. We cannot put our heads in the sand and say ‘Outside Australia you can have a nuclear age but it will not happen in this country.’ We do not have nuclear power. We do not need it. But we have an element that is required by countries which are in desperate need of energy. Those countries have explored this matter and have developed the knowledge to make sure that uranium is safe to handle. Let us be honest about this matter. Those countries would not have done so if they believed there was that risk. Members of the Opposition know it and I know it.
The Opposition is taking a political attitude. That is unfortunate but it is true. When it was in office it signed contracts to sell uranium. The fact that it has lost office suddenly makes uranium a dangerous material to handle. I wonder why. This is an impossible situation. Unfortunately people in this country who have every right to be concerned about the environment- people in this country have freedom to do so- are being led on, unfortunately, by some of the people that the Opposition represents in this Parliament. The Opposition is using this debate on uranium for political means. I am sorry to have to say that but it is a fact.
Throughout the world today there are more than a dozen countries which have nuclear power stations. I can read out the names of those countries but I do not think it is necessary. Collectively those stations are producing 86,650 megawatts of power at the present time. That is four times more power than Australia is producing. It is being produced in countries such as Switzerland, United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan, West Germany, Sweden, France, Spam, Belgium, Canada, Argentina, Bulgaria and so on- and let us not forget Russia. It is a funny thing that honourable members on the Opposition side have not often admitted that the communist countries have nuclear power. They do have nuclear power. In fact they probably were the first to develop it. Under construction throughout the world today there is a number of these power stations that will produce a further 160,193 megawatts. The reactors on order for jobs not yet under construction will produce another 153,691 megawatts. When all these nuclear power stations are completed in the next few years they will be producing 400,000 megawatts of electricity. Yet we hear honourable members on the Opposition side saying that if we do not sell uranium this process will stop. There are plans on the boards to increase the present number of nuclear reactors fourfold. Let us be honest. This is happening.
– Where are you going to put your rubbish dump? Are you going to put it next door to your house?
-I will come to that matter in a moment. The honourable member for Lang should be patient. I know that he is an impatient man by nature. I mentioned that Australia’s power plants were producing 20,000 megawatts of electricity. Authoritarian countries and communist countries do not allow their people to tell the government that it is not to go ahead with some project. In those countries the trade unions do not stop stuff being shipped. This country, and every other country of a democratic nature, has political opponents causing opposition to the selling of uranium and the use or nuclear power stations. The development of countries where this is being tried is being retarded. In the authoritarian countries and communist countries these programs are going ahead full bore. The Opposition knows it. It is another fact of life. It is going to happen whether we like it or not. They are going to want uranium. I wonder what the Opposition would do if it were in government and the communist countries wanted to buy our uranium. I would like to know what it would do. It certainly would not refuse them; that is for sure.
The real problem facing democracy today is whether we can create a society that will live m a nuclear power world. We are going to see a nuclear power world. It is going to happen. Whilst we know that through our democratic processes we give our people the right to reject decisions, and that might well happen in some areas, we know that the authoritarian countries, the communist countries and the dictatorships are going to go ahead. They are not going to wait to be told whether they can do it or not.
The Opposition has talked about the problem of risk. A report produced by the Canadian Atomic Energy Commission stated quite clearly that the risk of 1,000 people being killed by an accident with a nuclear reactor is about one-ten thousandth of the risk of that number of people being killed as a result of the failure of a dam or a reservoir. How often do we hear of a dam or a reservoir failing? Just imagine how remote is the chance of that happening. Much has been said about the problem of nuclear waste but let us look at the real facts. If Australia’s total power requirements from this day to the year 2000 was produced by nuclear reactors- that is 20,000 megawatts a year from now to the year 2000- the resultant high level solid waste, the stuff that everybody is so terribly frightened of, could be contained in a room measuring 50 feet square by 16 feet high. So, how much waste are we talking about?
– How many tonnes?
-If the honourable member wants to talk about tonnes, a 1 ,000 megawatt unit turns out approximately 2.3 cubic feet of waste per year. The world is expected to be producing 400,000 megawatts of energy by means of nuclear power stations when they are operating at full bore and that will result in only 1,000 cubic feet of waste a year. Let us be practical about it. It would fit inside this room and yet honourable members opposite are worrying about whether the world has enough scientific knowledge to ensure that the waste is safe. It is about time that the people started to look outside the boundaries of Australia to find out what is happening in the nuclear world and what has been happening since 1954. People say to me: What about an alternative source of energy?’ That is fine. We already have solar energy. Solar energy research has been going on for some time and it will continue because this Government has made a commitment that some of the proceeds from the sale of uranium will be channelled into solar energy research. Surely that is what the people want. We know and experts in other countries know that the energy produced from uranium will not last forever and alternative sources of energy are being planned now. But for the next 20 to 50 years there will be a heavy requirement for energy and this requirement can only be met by nuclear power. This Government is taking a positive step towards ensuring that we play our part in the development and functioning of the nuclear world in which we live today.
– I rise to support the Opposition’s amendment and so as not to delay the House I seek leave to have the text of that amendment incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The amendment read as follows-
That all words after ‘that’ be deleted and the following words substituted:
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:
1 ) commitments by customer countries to apply effective and verifiable safeguards against the diversion of Australian uranium from peaceful nuclear purposes to military nuclear purposes;
international safeguards which will ensure that the export of Australian uranium will not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the increased risk of nuclear war;
3 ) procedures for the storage and disposal of radioactive wastes which will eliminate any danger posed by such wastes to human life and the environment; and
adequate measures to safeguard the environment and national parks and protect Aboriginal rights and interests.
-I thank the House and the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) who is at the table. I want to convey very clearly to honourable members and to those who are prepared to read Hansard that the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) was adopted unanimously both in the executive of the Parliamentary Labor Party and in Caucus by those members of the Party who were present, and there were more than enough present for there to be a quorum on each occasion.
– That does not mean much.
-It is all right for the honourable member to say that it does not mean much. It means a lot. How many matters are unanimously carried by any political party? Honourable members opposite are all practical politicians and know as well as I know that there are differences of opinion on the Budget already. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has been talking about voting against the Budget or abstaining from voting on it, so honourable members opposite should not tell me that all political decisions are made unanimously. I am saying that our amendment when discussed through the Party ranks was adopted unanimously.
I come now to the contribution to this debate by the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier). We gave him approval to incorporate the British Trades Union Congress resolution. It was adopted by the pommy shop stewards whom the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is vilifying in this country. It seems that when pommy shop stewards come up with a resolution with which the Government agrees they are gentlemen and scholars but when they do something with which the Government does not agree they come from a long line of unmarried parents.
Let us get the picture clear. The Government uses whatever it suits the Government to use, and in this case it is using the TUC resolution because it suits the Government’s argument. However, what the Government is not taking into consideration is the position in the United Kingdom and the fact that in the United Kingdom the people have to deal with issues which concern them but which do not concern us. The Opposition believes that the subject under discussion now, the Government’s policy on the mining and sale of uranium, is being used by the Government as a stooge in an endeavour to stir up division in this country and create the environment for a law and order election which it can pull on at a minute’s notice. All I hope is that the people who are taking part in these demonstrations will terminate their activities immediately and realise that if they do so this Government will be defeated within the next 12 months and uranium mining then will not be a fact of life. On the other hand, if they want to bring about the return of the Liberal-National Country Party Government and continue the mining and export of uranium they should carry on with their demonstrations and with performances such as they put on when the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was at a university a couple of Friday nights ago. All they are doing is playing into the hands of Fraser, Anthony and the rest of the members of the Government.
Let the real issues, the economic issues, facing this country be dealt with. Today there are 90,000 more unemployed than there were two years ago. Inflation is still running at the rate of about 13.4 per cent and there is no indication that the fine tuning which the Government talked about will ever be brought into operation. So I say to the trade unions and to the people taking part in these demonstrations: There is one way to get rid of this Government; do not fall for the trap that Fraser has lined up for them, which is what they are doing now. The real issue facing the world today is the energy crisis and this is what the world should be tackling so that collectively we can overcome this crisis other than by the use of atomic energy which will pollute this world for the next 250,000 years.
-Of course it will. The honourable member should not say that it will not happen here because scientists throughout the world are united in their agreement that high level radioactive waste is a pollutant for the next quarter of a million years. We should consider just what that represents in terms of time. When we were young boys going to school we were taught about the Battle of Hastings and how the terrible Normans came over and fired their arrows in the air killing poor King Harold. That was only 900 years ago. Yet we are going to load this world with a pollutant that will last 250,000 years. The Government should have a bit of sense and tackle the problems by getting on with the real issue and using the money that it would spend on nuclear power to ensure that other forms of energy are developed and put to work. There are alternatives. The scientists of this world have overcome problem after problem and if war were declared tomorrow they would come up with all sorts of discoveries. When the Austraiian Labor Party was in office it encouraged the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian National University and the scientists of Australia to get on with developing solar energy. The world’s scientists should be looking at ways to overcome the energy problem. Already the electric motor car is a fact of life. All that is needed is for it to be expanded to meet modern day requirements. The steam driven car is also a (imposition. It is all right for the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs to shake his head and laugh but I have driven an electric motor car in this city and I have ridden an electrically driven motor bike. They are the facts of life and are in many industries today. They are a practical proposition. We should stop playing around with the issue and get on with developing alternative forms of energy which will cut down our demand for fossil fuel and overcome the problem that now confronts us. In his speech earlier tonight the honourable member for EdenMonaro (Mr Sainsbury) supported the Government although he said that we would be better off if nuclear power had never been discovered. Yet he accepts it as a fact of life.
I come back to the point I made earlier This Government is using uranium as an issue to gloss over its mismanagement of the economy. The Fraser Government is trying to mislead Australians in regard to the nuclear fuel cycle with half truths and talk of future economic bonanzas. We all remember what was said on the Friday after the announcement was made in this place. It was said that $25,000m would be the revenue from the sale of uranium and 500,000 jobs would be provided. All I ask the Government to indicate is where the $25,000m will come from. Where and when will the 500,000 jobs be provided? Members of the Government know as well as I do that the Government is talking about much smaller figures for the future. Let us turn to some of the half truths which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) spoke in his remarks about the disposal of nuclear waste. In his statement in the House on 25 August he said:
The Government is satisfied that the technology exists for the safe management and ultimate disposal of highly radioactive waste.
The Prime Minister said that Australia would participate in international studies directed to improve standards for waste disposal. This is an admission by the Government that standards of waste disposal are not at present entirely adequate. We have a typical example by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Newman). He came into the House today and used the Government’s numbers to try to ram down the Parliament’s neck facts which were not true. When he had to stand up for the issues tonight on the television program This Day Tonight he had to admit that all he had said today was garbage and that in reality there was not one commercial processing plant in the world today. He tried to mislead the Parliament today. Under questioning in the public gaze he had to admit that. The facts are there.
The Parliamentary Labor Party’s environmental committee had a representative of the Atomic Energy Commission address it. The representative was Dr C. J. Hardy, the project manager. He talked to us about the problems of uranium and radioactive waste. He gave us six things which have to be done to get rid of the waste. I quickly go through them. To get protection this is what has to be done: The disposal area must be remote from centres of population. A dry, seismically stable area for burial must be selected. Burial must be 600 metres below ground. There must be guaranteed insolubility of waste glass. Absorption by soil must be assured if any activity is leached out. There must be a sufficient tune delay to allow radioactivity to decay. It is necessary to bury the waste for upwards of thousands of years. The doctor, on the occasion of his visit to the committee, said that the waste would have to be put in secured land with guards over it All I ask is: For how long will it be guarded and who will pay the wages of the guards who are protecting the waste to keep it from revolutionary groups who could get it back and use it.
– You have it all wrong.
-It is possible. The doctor admitted to me today that it was possible to do that. He has since retracted some of the things he said, particularly about the need for the area to be secured. He said that it would not necessarily need to be secured. But he still admitted that it was possible to recover the waste. So the facts of the matter are quite clear. When we try to get rid of this stuff there is a problem associated with it.
As far as the problem of pollution is concerned, the uncertainty about waste disposal was shared by the Ranger Uranium Environmental
Inquiry Commissioners. For instance, on page 1 10 of the first report they state:
High level wastes are at present stored mainly in liquid form, and some constituents will remain dangerously radioactive for several hundreds of thousands of years. There is at present no generally accepted means by which high level waste can be permanently isolated from the environment and remain safe for very long periods.
The Ranger report at page 187 in a postscript which was printed after the first report had been prepared refers to the Flowers Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and spells out the facts. What that Commission had to say about the matter is quite clear. Only yesterday morning on the radio program AM there was an interview. I read part of it. It states:
The General Accounting Office is a Congressional watchdog and it has issued a gloomy 73-page report. The document was made public at a House sub-committee hearing.
The reporter goes on further to say that the United States over a period of 30 years had accumulated something like 74 million gallons of the stuff- that is to use his words- which had a life of anywhere from 1,000 years to 250,000 years. Honourable members might ask: What is the General Accounting Office? As I have said, that is a Congressional watchdog. It is overseeing the operations of the United States Energy Research and Development Administration which is another United States Government department. So the situation is that two United States Government departments are carrying out the responsibility of overseeing what the other is doing, and they cannot agree. The General Accounting Office says that the work which is being done by ERDA is not effective and that there is a problem because there are 74 million gallons of the stuff- again using its words. The Minister came in here and tried to ram down our necks- he was misleading the Parliament- that there is a solution. Yet tonight, I repeat, he admitted on This Day Tonight that there was no commercial plant, which is the same fact as appears from the interview on AM. The General Accounting Office is not satisfied with the way things are going. Honourable members opposite talk about scientists supporting the project. We on this side of the House can list the names of hundreds of scientists throughout Australia who are opposed to the proposition.
– Name them.
-If the Minister will give me an extension of time I shall give the names to him. But of course he will not. There are hundreds of scientists throughout Australia who are totally opposed to the rnining of uranium. Of course, Government supporters can name scientists who support the project. But, at the same time, we on this side of the House have our supporters such as prominent church people, prominent businessmen and all those people who are opposed to the proposition because they are interested in the future of the world and the protection of the environment.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Abel) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr MacKellar) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I adopt a different line to that taken by my colleague, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). I congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) on a published Press report in connection with the antiquated thoughts of an old judge at the Old Bailey in England last Friday. Apparently a man named Rossiter, 37 years of age, was convicted of a serious criminal charge. He pleaded with the judge to give him a bond and he would emigrate to Australia within 2 months. I think this is an insult to this nation by the judge at the Old Bailey. It is a retrograde step.
The situation is reminiscent of the early 1830s when the Tolpuddle martyrs were sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. Apparently some judges in the United Kingdom look upon Australia as a dumping ground for people unworthy of continued residence in the United Kingdom. I speak with some degree of authority about our criminals. We have Australian born criminals who will match the best English criminals any day of the week. It is costing the Australian taxpayers a colossal amount to try to control crime in Australia. It is almost out of control without Britain, the mother country, trying to export some of her criminals to Australia. I was very pleased to learn that the Minister had taken a very firm and positive stand. When the Sun newspaper inquired of him about the matter he is reported as stating:
Mr MacKellar told the Sun: ‘Australia will make the decisions on who is permitted to enter the country- the decision will not be made in Britain. ‘
I congratulate the Minister on that stand. I hope he will take other steps to see that this criminal does not come here under a false name. I hope the Minister will get in touch with Scotland Yard and have the criminal’s fingerprints and photograph sent out here so that if he does land we will deal with him as we dealt with another professional criminal from Britain, Billy Hill. We did not let him off the boat in Sydney Harbour. We told him to keep going.
– What about Vincent Teresa?
– He was the American mafia man who came here on a visitor’s visa. In the few minutes at my disposal I want to refer, with great respect to members of Parliament who are members of the legal profession, to three stupid old judges in Britain. I do not think those words are too strong. I spent a full day at the Old Bailey recently watching the processes of a criminal trial.
– Were you in the dock?
– I was not in the dock, but I know some Liberals who could have been in the dock in Australia. Three judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Britain reversed the decision of a trial judge who had sentenced a man to three years’ imprisonment for attempted rape of a defenceless woman. He broke three of ner ribs and her jaw and battered her face about. The trial judge sentenced the prisoner to three years’ imprisonment. The man appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal and appeared before three judges. A representative of the Army appeared and said that the prisoner was a good soldier and a credit to the nation. The man was put on a bond. This brought widespread demonstrations by the women of Great Britain. If I had stayed there a little longer I would have joined them in their demonstrations criticising the three stupid old judges who reversed the decision and who made clowns of themselves and of the British system of criminal justice. One of the judges said that if this woman had not fought so vigorously to preserve her virginity she would not have incurred these serious injuries.
– How old was she?
-He was about 75.
– No, the woman.
-She was about 19. It was an awful thing to say. The judge said that if she had not fought so vigorously to protect her virginity she would not have incurred these serious injuries.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-My concern is at some recent statements about Brisbane Airport. As would be very well known to this Government and members of this House, the Commonwealth Games are to be held in Brisbane in 1982. A number of statements have been made about the adequacy of that airport to serve the Games. It should be quite clear that the airport will not be able to serve the Commonwealth Games adequately. I merely relate one or two facts to make that crystal clear.
-Shift them to Canberra
-It would be clear even to the honourable member for Port Adelaide. The only circumstance under which that airport will be able to serve those Games adequately is if it operates as a secondary and second-rate commuter airport to which international travellers to Australia will commute after having landed at places such as Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and the other major airports in Australia. I have recounted the facts about the airport previously, but one or two further facts need to be made known. Recently a director of Qantas Airways Ltd, Sir John Egerton, toured Brisbane Airport with two other directors of Qantas. He had some interesting things to say about his visit. I quote from the Sunday Sun of 4 September of this yean
Brisbane Airport is about to become an international joke’, Sir John said.
We are extremely concerned.
The airport is inadequate, and the worst feature is there is very little prospect of upgrading it in time for the Games’ … It was the first time the delegation of three Qantas directors had inspected Brisbane Airport . . . ‘The overseas terminal is functional. It might not be an architect’s joy or an aesthete’s delight, but at present the terminal is able to handle the traffic.
It is the main runway that is the big problem. Brisbane Airport needs a new runway*.
The evidence for that statement is quite overwhelming. No substantial international planes can take of fully loaded from Brisbane Airport. That is logical, because it has the shortest runway of all the Australian capital cities and Alice Springs. For Australia’s third airport, designed to serve the Commonwealth Games, it is totally inadequate.
I illustrate the position. Recently, during the strike by technicians in the United Kingdom, planes of an international carrier- I will not name it- were delayed around the world. A jumbo operated by that carrier operates into Brisbane Airport. That carrier operates into Brisbane Airport, but only on short hops from Brisbane to Sydney or Brisbane to Darwin. Because planes were many hours and many days late this operator decided to go to Singapore from Brisbane. Planes go quite easily from Sydney to Singapore, from Sydney to Manila, from Sydney to
Hong Kong and from Sydney to Bangkok, but they cannot travel to those places from Brisbane. So this airline decided to operate from Brisbane to Singapore. The operator put 400 passengers on board-60 fewer than its complement. Eight to ten tons of cargo had to be off-loaded to lighten the load of the plane so that it could make the distance. The plane had to operate in the dead of night in the coldest months in winter with a favourable wind. It was able to make the trip from Brisbane to Singapore, but only in those circumstances.
– It only just made it.
– And only just.
– It had only 20 yards to spare at the end of the runway.
– The honourable member for Griffith has studied those matters very closely. I thank him for his advice. That merely illustrates the gravity and tragedy of the problem. The plane had to operate in the cold and in the dark for the flight to be successful. That is very unlike the intellectual processes in this place.
I make it clear that that airport will not only be unable to serve the Games as an international airport but also it cannot serve the area today adequately as an international airport. Those visitors who come to the Games thinking they are coming in economical, fully loaded flights, at a minimum fare and with the maximum ability to travel the maximum distance from the airport, which would reduce the cost of travel, will not be able to do that from that airport during the Games. That needs to be understood. Certain people say that planes are able to use the airport adequately. The planes can do so only if they operate at a substandard level of economic efficiency, off-loading fuel, cargo or passengers. They are certainly not able to operate from such an airport in a sub-tropical city in the months of September and October when the tarmac temperatures will be in the vicinity of at least 30 degrees.
– Obviously when the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) woke this morning he thought that Brisbane Airport was important.
– It is, is it not?
-Undoubtedly it is important. When I read the papers this morning I felt that one of the most important and most scandalous features in any of those newspapers was the report of the visit of Mr McKay to the head- quarters of the Liberal Party of Australia to do a eai about donations to the Liberal Party for the next election if uranium should be an issue. There can be no doubt that in any election in the next quarter of a century uranium will be an issue. We have observed the way in which the Uranium Forum has used its money in the past month to convince people that the mining of uranium is in the best interests of this country. Leaving aside the argument about uranium, it is surprising that the newspapers could bare their souls in this manner- that they could carry a story today about what the Uranium Forum has already told the Liberal Party. Just offhand I would judge that if the Forum gave the same amount to the Liberal Party as it has already spent on advertisements throughout Australia probably the Liberal Party will be on the receiving end of a donation of $500,000.
We have repeatedly raised this question of donations to political parties. We have put forward the case- we will continue to do so- to expose the scandal in which the Liberal and National Country parties are involved. They are receiving donations of this nature to buy their policies. There can be not doubt that yesterday was only the formal agreement reached after all the negotiations that have taken place during the 18 months in which this Government has been in power. If the uranium mining interests say: ‘If uranium is an issue we will give you money’, then probably similar undertakings have been made by many other companies which it is common knowledge give large sums of money to the Liberal and National Country Parties. Whilst many honourable members of this National Parliament know very little about it- those sitting opposite in the chamber tonight have had nothing to do with it- a couple of honourable members of this Parliament who represent the Liberal and National Country Parties indeed are involved in raising this massive amount of money. There is no ceiling to the amount of money that can be spent. There is no end to the amount of money which companies like the uranium companies could pour into the Liberal Party to buy the souls of its members. That is exactly what has happened.
Honourable members opposite ought to look closely at this practice which has developed in Australia and take notice of the fact that in evidence given recently before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal it was shown that in national election campaigns in Australia we are now spending more money per head of population than is being spent in the United States of
America on a presidential campaign. We are increasing the amounts being spent, whilst the United States Congress is trying to reduce the amounts, the ceilings or the levels that have been set in the United States. One of these days there will be a massive blow-up. There will be an expose of corruption such as this country has never seen because of deals which are being done by the Liberal and National Country Parties with the uranium forum, the oil companies and the mining companies to try to make sure that they hold their position of power, to make sure they are able to give greater exposure to their policies at the election campaigns, both State and Federal, throughout Australia. This sort of procedure can only have a certain life. It cannot go on for ever. Whilst the Liberal and National Country Parties receive the benefits of it at the moment, undoubtedly they will receive the blows from it when it is finally exposed.
Mr McKay from the uranium forum ought to take notice that there are people in this Parliament who are conscious of the reform that is taking place in the democracies throughout the world in elections and political campaigning. Such reforms will be invoked in Australia eventually because most people with common sense support them. The United Kingdom, France, West Germany, the United States, all the Scandinavian countries- every country in the world- is now adopting some procedures to put a limit on expenditure on political campaigns, and Australia will have to adopt the same procedure. Then all the scandal and corruption in which the Liberal Party is now involved will be completely exposed and it will have to carry the baby.
-Tonight I wish to discuss some features of the Australian cattle industry and its associated beef politics. Few people would deny that the plight of the industry is serious indeed, particularly in Queensland and the Northern Territory, where in many situations it is disastrous for those producers who are totally reliant on beef cattle for their livelihood. A plethora of schemes and proposals has been put forward to rectify this situation, but many have overlooked the fundamental causes of the beef industry’s problems.
Basically these are fivefold. Firstly, the closure of overseas markets, particularly the European Economic Community, the United States of America and Japan, resulting largely from domestic beef surpluses in those and other importing countries, has created tremendous difficulties for the industry, which is 60 per cent reliant upon exports. The rapid growth of both cattle numbers and cattle producers following boom conditions some years ago has been another major contributing factor. The industry has been beset by dramatic increases in on-farm costs and killing and processing costs in the past three years. The level of industrial disputation in the killing, processing and shipment sectors of the industry has cost producers up to $20 or $30 per beast slaughtered. Finally, all export industries, including the cattle industry, have to carry the burden of tariff protection granted to our manufacturing industries- a burden amounting to some $230m for the cattle industry alone.
This Government will shortly be announcing a number of measures designed to assist both the short term and long term problems of the industry. These and other measures have been discussed for a considerable period, in some cases up to two years, with various producer organisations associated with the industry. The Government and the organisations have to ensure that these measures give greatest benefit to those producers in greatest need. They must be effective, both in the short term and in stabilising the industry in the longer term and they must ensure that Australia is regarded as a reliable and responsible supplier of beef of a predictable quality to our trading partners.
Whilst most of the organisations representing cattle producers have acted in a responsible and informed manner, there is one whose activities have been notoriously emotional and sensational, and which have caused unfortunate divisions and rancour within the industry. I refer to the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia. This organisation has now apparently placed itself above industry organisations, above the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and above the elected Government. The National Director of the Cattlemen’s Union, in a speech given at his first public meeting as Director, in Goulburn said:
And if you are a Minister, an industry organisation, an industry leader or even a Government, and you are not serious about the job, or if you get in the way, we will go over the top of you.
– Who do they think they are?
– No doubt many people ask the same question as the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Thomson), a member who, I might add, has worked continuously for country people and beef producers in North Queensland, a member who has led many debates on rural issues in this place, as have many of his colleagues, including the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite), the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr
Carige) and the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar). But let us see what else this Director had to say. Having criticised the Prime Minister elsewhere, the Director resorted to a new level of cheap sensationalism when he stated:
Every time another cattle man in Eden-Monaro is forced to walk off, the honourable member for Eden-Monaro ought to take a bag of cow manure and empty it on the carpet of the Prime Minister’s office.
It is abhorrent to see that this highly paid Director of the Cattlemen’s Union has resorted to such petty and threatening outbursts in order to justify his position and in order to further the cause of his organisation. One wonders what he will say on his second public platform. The tactics employed by the Cattlemen’s Union would appear to be a desperate attempt to claim credit for the forthcoming measures to assist the cattle industry at the expense of the well documented and researched representations put to government by the long-established and well-regarded rural industry organisations, both State and national.
The Prime Minister recognised the valuable contributions made by organisations such as the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation, the Australian National Cattlemen’s Council, the Australian Wool Growers’ and Graziers’ Council and the Australian Farmers’ Federation, in responding to a question asked in the Parliament this week. The credibility of the Cattlemen’s Union is being eroded by its extreme and sensational outbursts. Much of the valuable progress and public awareness that it has achieved is being dissipated. I should have thought it to be in the interests of the whole cattle industry that the Cattlemen’s Union, with its undoubted energies, abilities and funds, be directed to closer collaboration and co-operation with the other industry organisations and the Government to secure a return to economic stability and security for all sections of the cattle industry.
– I suggest to the honourable member for Calare (Mr Mackenzie) that the formation of the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia was a spontaneous gesture of protest at the way in which the conservative coalition Government has ignored the needs of cattlemen in this country. More specifically, it is a protest at the indifference the National Country Party displays towards an important segment of rural industry.
– I think he is talking bull.
– I know which end of the bull the honourable member would be on. The
National Country Party corner of the House tonight is well and truly charged with some sort of thing or other.
-You are a gutless wonder.
– It has its shortcomings, but it is better than being a brainless wonder. The other thing which should be recollected is that the Cattlemen’s Union recognised fully the way in which the National Country Party has sold itself out to the big, foreign controlled mineral interests in this country. An example of this is the reduction in the coal export levy, which has resulted in a windfall gain- a straight-out addition to profits-of over $S0m last year and this year for wealthy mining-exporting corporations. Most of it is going to the Utah Development Co., a company which made a record high profit last year of $137m after all costs, including tax. The National Country Party has now sold its soul to the big mineral corporations and expects the primary producers, such as the beef producers, to keep their peace while the rest of the community is fleeced and while the needs of the primary producer are totally ignored.
– Where are you going to -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! I warn the honourable member for Darling Downs.
– The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) is not in the chamber. He has fled the House. He knows what I want to raise tonight. Tonight I want to raise the case of a $4.6m mystery.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like your ruling on a matter. Can you ask the honourable member for Oxley what he is having for breakfast in the morning and whether he is going with the Arabs?
-That is not a point of order. I call the honourable member for Oxley.
-The honourable member for Darling Downs is full of volume and short on content. I want to trace day by day this five-day mystery- a $4.6m mystery. The character on centre stage is none other than the honourable member for Kennedy.
-Hold it! Hold it! Hold it!
– I obtained my information from no other reliable source than the Northwest Star. Honourable members may well ask: The what?’. The North-West Star is the daily newspaper of Mount Isa. I am selective in my reading. I prove it by going to such sources. The first comment appeared in the North-West Star on 22 August. The whole case refers to the Lake
Julius Dam project. On 22 August a report, attributed to the honourable member for Kennedy, appeared in that newspaper. It reads:
Mr Katter said today that he would ask the Premier to make available a portion of the $4.6m given to the State Government by the Federal Government.
Although this money was given with no strings and no guidelines as to how the money was spent I believe it was suggested that a portion should be used towards Lake Julius and the Bundaberg irrigation scheme’, he said.
One can well imagine the fullsome rolling of his voice as he made those comments. On the following day, this report appeared in the newspaper.
Today the man who started the mystery, Mr Katter, said that he was ‘chasing the matter’. Speaking from Canberra he said: ‘I am endeavouring to find out just where this money is and 1 have made a full report to Mr Anthony on yesterday’s meeting.
As far as Canberra is concerned there is no doubt that this grant has been made-and it is over and above the normal grants given to the State by the Federal Government. A top- level attempt is being made to clarify the matter. ‘
I am not quite sure what that means. He probably asked the honourable member for Darling Downs for some advice. If it was late in the evening it would not be particularly coherent advice.
Government supporters interjecting-
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that that remark should be withdrawn.
-I suggest to the honourable member for Oxley that he withdraw the reflection on the honourable member for Darling Downs. The honourable member for Oxley knows that I warned the honourable member for Darling Downs for interjecting. I suggest that he withdraws the remark.
– All I say is I -
-I suggest that the honourable member withdraws.
– Well, I want to withdraw, but enough of my time has been taken up by your colleagues whom you did not stop as promptly as you stopped me -
Honourable members interjecting
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley -
-No, I will not.
-Order! The honourable member -
-No, I won’t. No, I won’t -
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
-Not unless I am allowed to withdraw.
-The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
– No! No!
Honourable members interjecting-
-The honourable member for Oxley, in the course of making speeches in this House, has continually reflected upon the Chair. I suggest that for once the honourable member for Oxley should restrain himself and behave as a member of this Parliament should behave.
– Well, what about this group who -
-Order! The honourable member for Hunter!
Honourable members interjecting-
– I withdraw.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley knows that the House was called to order and that, when the Chair called the House to order, the honourable member for Oxley made further remarks relating to members in the House. I think the honourable member for Oxley must take that into consideration before he makes a comment. The honourable member’s time has now expired.
– Well, I withdraw.
Honourable members interjecting-
– Well, Mr Deputy Speaker -
– . . . you have asked me to withdraw. I think we had better -
– I move that his time be extended.
– Well, now look -
-Order! The honourable member -
-Mr Deputy Speaker, if you got a bit of silence, I might be able to say something.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley withdrew and -
-No, I have not yet, but I will if you let me.
Honourable members interjecting-
-I think it is about time you controlled these people. Their condition is obvious and I think it is disgraceful.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will cease -
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
– . . . speaking in the House in that manner. The honourable member for Oxley ‘s time has expired.
– All I want to say is- ‘I withdraw’ -
-There is nothing for the honourable member for Oxley to say.
– You have asked me to withdraw and I have not done it yet.
-And the honourable member withdrew -
– I have not.
-The honourable member -
– I have not and I won’t until you let me!
Government supporters interjecting-
– Well, will you let me -
– I have not withdrawn and I will not do so until you let me.
Honourable members interjecting-
-Order! I suggest that honourable members on my right keep silent and, in that condition, they may help the Chair -
– It is about time!
-When the Chair is trying to keep order in the House, the behaviour of some honourable members on my right is not helping in any way. The honourable member for Oxley said earlier that he withdrew the remark -
– No, I did not say it.
– . . . which reflected upon the honourable member for Darling Downs.
-No, I did not say that. I will if you let me, but I will not do so until you let me. No, I am not going to be bluffed into it. I will if you let me and I won ‘t if you won ‘t.
-And I suggested to the honourable member for Oxley that he should not reflect upon the Chair.
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
-The honourable member for Oxley will withdraw the remark which reflected upon the honourable member -
– If I can get silence to do it.
– . . . without any comment.
– I withdraw. The honourable member for Darling Downs is really maturing on the back rack of the back bench.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. It the honourable member for Oxley continues to defy the Chair, he will be named. The honourable member for Oxley has been given more tolerance by the Chair than I think any other member in this House. I suggest that he should not take advantage of it.
– What about the interjections coming from the other side?
-Order! The honourable member for Hunter will come to order too.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
-I will raise a point of order.
-The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
-Well, only if you are going to call me on my point of order.
– Name him.
– No. I will move a motion of no confidence right now in your chairmanship, if that is what you are going to do. I am entitled to raise a point of order.
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
-I hope that it is a point of order. I call the honourable member for Oxley.
– The point of order I want to raise with you, Mr Deputy Speaker, concerns the conduct of the House tonight when I was speaking. At least half of my time was taken up when I could not even utter a word because of the noisy, disorderly and disruptive behaviour which came generally from the Government side but which came most of all from your own colleagues in the National Country Party corner. I have made only a few of the comments I wanted to make. The comments I wanted to make are about a member of the National Country Party. I had the decency to let him know -
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will -
-Well, I think your chairmanship -
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. I suggest also that the honourable member for Oxley does not continually try to justify his own behaviour in this House. If the honourable member for Oxley looks at Hansard tomorrow and also looks at the Hansard reports of many of the speeches that he has made in this House he will see that many of the interjections are replying to remarks that the honourable member for Oxley makes to honourable members when he should be making remarks in general terms to the Chair.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-I hope the honourable member for Adelaide has a point of order to raise.
– I hope it is too, but I will bow to your ruling on it. The fact is, Mr Deputy Speaker, that in the remarks that you have just made you suggested that it is in order for members of the National Country Party to interject on the honourable member for Oxley. If you look at the Hansard report tomorrow, with respect, you will find that in the remarks you made you justified interjections of that sort. I want to know whether that is what you meant.
-Order! If the honourable member for Adelaide will look in Hansard tomorrow, he will see that a number of the interjections were made in reply to the honourable member for Oxley making comments to honourable members. The honourable member for Adelaide will know that when a member is speaking in the House he ought not to address other honourable members directly. The honourable member for Adelaide ought to know also that in those circumstances interjections are out of order. But, in the circumstances, I think the honourable member for Oxley will appreciate the interjections that were made.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
-Order! The honourable member for Denison will resume his seat. I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
-i was in my office when the honourable member for Oxley was speaking but I was listening to the debate on the internal broadcast system. I must say that the House was in a state of great disorder. The interjections and the rowdiness of honourable members in the House brought me into the chamber. I really feel that the honourable member for Oxley was justified in his point of criticism- that in fact the conduct of the House was disorderly. I can verify that. It was very rowdy. I could hear it in my office on the internal broadcast system. The reason I came into the chamber was to listen to this disorderly conduct and to see what was happening in the House.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition might have been able to hear over the public address system what was happening, but I suggest that he could not see what was happening.
– I take a point of order.
-Order! The honourable member for Hunter will resume his seat.
– He is taking a point of order.
-I am replying to a point of order raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
-Order! The honourable member for Denison will also resume his seat. I suggest to the House that it might remember that the adjournment debate is a time when honourable members are entitled to bring up matters concerning their own electorates and matters they desire to discuss. Honourable members will also recall that interjections have come from both sides of the House. Interjections were made by members of the Party of the honourable member for Oxley in comments to other members in the House when he was making his speech. If the honourable member ibr Oxley says that there has been a time when he has always obeyed the Standing Orders in this House I suggest that he looks at Hansard. If the House continues in this manner the tolerance that has been shown by the Chair will cease to be shown. Does the Minister wish to continue the debate? The House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11.1 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 19 April 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
National Health Expenditure 1970-76
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 September 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19770914_reps_30_hor106/>.