30th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the House that on 30 September 1977 I received a letter from Mr Martin Henry Nicholls resigning his seat as member for the electoral division of Bonython.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because television and radio
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Government will amend the Broadcasting and Television Act, in relation to both national and commercial broadcasters, to legislate
And your petitioners as in duty bound wilt ever pray. by Mr Cadman, Dr Edwards, Mr Hunt, Mr Keating, Mr Sainsbury, Mr Stewart and Mr Wentworth.
To the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens (students, parents, teachers) of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the decision by the Government to withdraw all forms of financial assistance to students of Non-state Tertiary Institutions is in total conflict with stated Government education policy.
The decision will result in a shortage of places for training secretarial and clerical students and an inordinate demand upon the State Government education system.
Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that the Federal Government will act immediately to reverse its decision.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lionel Bowen, Mr Hamer, Mr Martyr and Mr Sullivan.
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 you petitioners to ask the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to-
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman, Mr Les Johnson, Mr MacKenzie and Mr Sullivan.
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 Parliament ban the mining of uranium in Australia indefinitely.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burr.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we believe that Australia’s constitution is undemocratic and should be replaced by a democratic constitution. This new constitution should be drafted at a representative directly elected people’s convention following extensive public debate, and then put to a referendum of the people.
The petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament as a matter of urgency, will help to promote such public debate and will arrange for the holding of such a people’s convention and referendum.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth 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 Mr Keating.
Royal Commission on Petroleum
The petition of certain members of the Service Station Association of NSW Ltd, and certain members of the motoring public of New South Wales respectfully sheweth:
That the Federal Government give every consideration to implementing the findings of the Royal Commission on Petroleum.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will take action to ensure that the needs of the motoring public and the retail petroleum industry are given every consideration.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byDrKlugman.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament here assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Australian Jaycees support the principle of passport style photographs and blood groupings to be included on driving licences.
Your petitioners therefore pray that the Government will consider and support this proposal.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lloyd.
State Housing Organisations: Interest on Loans
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The petition of residents in the city area of Sydney respectfully sheweth that they are opposed to the Treasurer’s recommendation to increase the interest rate of loans to State Housing organisations. They assert that the proposed increase from 4 per cent to 10 per cent will drastically increase rents and cause hardship to public housing tenants.
Your petitioners therefore pray that your honourable House will abandon the present proposal and maintain the existing interest rate.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Division of Stun respectfully showeth:
That they are greatly concerned about the fact that so many people, including such a large number of young people, are receiving unemployment benefits without any condition except that they are not able to find suitable employment.
Your petitioners therefore pray that Parliament give consideration to the suggestion that, to enable individuals to maintain their self-respect and dignity as human beings, and for the good of the community at large, the provision of unemployment benefits carry the requirement that the recipient of such benefit be available for service to the community for a time equal to that which would produce a similar return at minimum wage rate.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Wilson.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) left Australia on 22 September to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York and is expected to return on 9 October. During his absence the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) left Australia on 24 September to lead the Australian delegation to the Seventeenth South Pacific Conference. He is expected to return on 6 October. During his absence the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley) will act as Minister for Construction. I also inform the House that the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations (Mr Howard) left Australia on 23 September to have discussions with the Commission of European Communities and with individual and European Economic
Community member governments. He is expected to return on 3 November.
Until the return of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) will act as Minister for Special Trade Negotiations and will be represented in this chamber by the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee). The Deputy Prime Minister, upon his return, will act as Minister for Special Trade Negotiations. During Mr Howard’s absence the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) will represent the Minister for Industry and Commercein this chamber and the Minister for Productivity will represent the Attorney-General (Senator Durack).
–I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House censures the honourable member for Oxley for his recent economically subversive public statements which, contrary to the accepted traditions of the Parliament, speculated upon the standing and strength of the Australian dollar upon which the economy of this nation is based, encouraged the likelihood of a major capital outflow from Australia as the direct result of his persistent predictions of an impending devaluation and as a result sought to damage Australia’s economic and financial credibility in the eyes of the world at a time when the honourable member for Oxley knew or ought to have known that Australia was in the process of negotiating for overseas loans.
I do this because I believe that, where a censure motion is moved against an honourable member in circumstances where normally it would not be expected that the motion would be debated by the House, it is essential that the House give the honourable member the opportunity to defend himself against that motion. It is possible under the Standing Orders for an honourable member to place any allegation or any type of motion on the Notice Paper and for it to remain there for the full term of a parliament. I believe it is important that the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) have the right to defend himself. Therefore I have moved for the suspension of Standing Orders to permit an immediate debate.
-The motion will need to be in writing.
– I suggest that the honourable member for Denison would be delighted to proceed forthwith.
– If the honourable gentleman asks for leave, I anticipate that leave will be granted. Is the honourable gentleman asking for leave to move the motion?
– We accept that the honourable member for Denison should be allowed to proceed.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted to the honourable member for Corio to move that the Standing Orders be suspended.
– Will the honourable member for Corio put the motion in writing?
The honourable member for Corio having submitted his motion in writing-
– I wish to second the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. Mr Speaker-
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of procedure. As the Government and Opposition parties are in agreement that the motion be proceeded with forthwith, perhaps it would be convenient for the honourable member for Denison to seek leave to proceed without the necessary passage of the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders.
-I cannot give that direction. The motion has been moved and the honourable member for Oxley is seconding the motion.
– I second the motion. I express some surprise that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has preferred to leave the initiative in this matter-
Motion ( by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– … to a rather uninfluential member of the back bench of the Liberal Party. I have offered to debate-
– Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat. The question is that the motion be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
-May’s Parliamentary Practice provides that if a motion of censure is moved against a government that government shall call the motion of censure on for immediate debate and will not proceed with any other business before the House. May’s Parliamentary Practice does not provide for that course of action to be taken in the case of a motion of censure against one member of the Parliament. I am delighted on this occasion that the forms of the House have allowed the Opposition to call on the censure motion which I move against the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden).
Nothing is more precious to the Australian economy than the Australian dollar, upon which the strength of our nation’s economy is based. I believe that the Australian dollar is of such importance that at times members of political parties should draw back in their public comment when they know or ought to know that the statements they are about to make could cause serious and, indeed, irreparable damage to the currency of this nation. The honourable member for Oxley is the Opposition’s spokesman on economic management. He has occupied the position of Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia. If this were his first offence one might be pardoned for thinking that perhaps he ought not to be the subject of censure, but I remind the House and the nation that this is the second time within 12 months that the honourable member has engaged in public statements speculating upon the strength of the Australian dollar.
I remind honourable members and the people of Australia that last year in the weeks preceding devaluation the honourable member for Oxley made a number of public speculations about the standing of the Australian dollar. He tipped- to use his words- that Blind Freddie and his dog would know that a devaluation was about to occur and during a period of weeks he publicly speculated upon the currency of this country. In the event there was a major capital outflow from Australia in the weeks preceding devaluation last year. How much of that was the direct responsibility of the honourable member for Oxley, how much of it was caused as a direct result of his public statements is very difficult to prove. The facts remain- as Treasury records would demonstratethat in the weeks before the honourable member commenced to speculate about the Australian dollar the level of capital outflow from Australia was comparatively low. In the weeks in 1976 after he commenced to speculate about the level and standing of the Australian dollar, the level of capital outflow increased dramatically. It increased to such an extent that I believe the honourable member for Oxley could claim the credit- if it is credit- for having been responsible for more money flowing out of this country in that period than in any other comparable period and, to that extent, weakening the effect of the eventual decision to devalue the Australian dollar.
– It is to his discredit.
-Of course, as the honourable member for Kingston says, it is to the discredit of the honourable member for Oxley. I must say that I agree with the honourable member for Kingston that the honourable member for Oxley in 1976 was permitted- in fact, he made a welter of it- to speculate persistently about the strength of the Australian dollar.
What has been the situation during the past few weeks? The honourable member for Oxley, both within this Parliament and outside this Parliament, has repeatedly speculated publicly upon the standing and strength of the Australian dollar. He must have realised that in making cheap political capital out of the Australian dollar, in his undoubted desire to secure leadership of the Australian Labor Party, he has been damaging the very dollar upon which the economy of this country is based. I believe the honourable member for Oxley should be taught once and for all that patriotism should come before party politics and personal ambition. The honourable member should remember that we are all Australians, whether we support the Liberal Party of Australia, the Labor Party or the National Country Party. I am a very ordinary member. Indeed the honourable member for Oxley made the comment a moment ago that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had permitted this matter to be raised by someone he described as an uninfluential member of the back bench. I would be very proud to wear that description because as an ordinary Australian who believes that Australia comes before party politics, I was sickened and disgusted by the statements of the honourable member for Oxley during the last few weeks, in particular last week, in which he used the Australian dollar for his own cheap, personal, political purposes.
I say that the honourable member did himself a disservice, did his Party a disservice, but, more importantly, did this nation a disservice because he made those statements at a time when he well knew that this Government had publicly stated in the House, through the Prime Minister, that we would defend the Australian dollar. At the very time when this Government determined to defend the Australian dollar at all costs the honourable member for Oxley, by public statements, engaged in public comment which I can only describe as being economically subversive.
This could not happen in any other Western parliamentary democracy.
I have been looking through some speeches made in the House of Commons. I have been reading back on speeches made by Sir Winston Churchill at the beginning of this century. It is absolutely taboo for politicians in the United Kingdom to speculate publicly about the currency. That is just not done. What sort of situation have we reached in this country in 1977 when the Australian dollar is under attack, when there have been capital outflows from this country, when the honourable member for Oxley knew or ought to have known- to use a legal phrase- that the Government was determined to defend the dollar and was engaging in the process of overseas borrowing for the purpose of defending the dollar, which is the basis of our economy?
I am not an economist, but in simple terms it has been explained to me like this: Every dollar that has flowed out of this country as a result of the rantings and ravings of the honourable member for Oxley is yet another dollar that this country is going to have to borrow back- to get back into the country- to defend our currency and to maintain its true value. In very simple terms, that means that people like myself, and indeed my children and the children of other Australians, will have to pay the interest bill on the loans which have been increased as a direct result of the irresponsible, subversive and economically sabotaging statements of the honourable member for Oxley. What sort of situation have we reached in this country when in the course of a number of weeks a member of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia will make political capital out of the Australian dollar upon which he knows the economy of this nation is based?
– He is just trying to buy a job
-The honourable member for Griffith reminds me that the honourable member for Oxley is not just using this for political purposes; he is trying to buy a job. In fact, what he was doing was to weaken the Australian dollar in order to bring down our financial and economic credibility in the eyes of the world. We have a triple A credit rating. Australia I believe is economically and financially respected by many other countries. The honourable member for Oxley ratted on Australia when he decided to make cheap political capital out of the Australian dollar.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will withdraw that term.
– I withdraw it, sir. I simply say that the honourable member for Oxley did not act in the interests of this nation when he chose to use the Australian dollar as a basis for political point scoring. Can the damage done by the honourable member for Oxley be repaired? Who knows exactly how much money has flowed out of Austrafia in the past few weeks as a direct result of his public statements? I have made an official request for that information because I should like the people of Australia to see how much money has gone out of this country since the honourable member for Oxley started to predict that there was going to be a devaluation. It must be millions and millions and millions of dollars. If there is one thing which would make people withdraw money from Australia it is the possibility, indeed the probability, that there is about to be a devaluation.
– Phil Lynch left too.
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) thinks this is very funny. I see that you have joined the ranks of the political columnists. We are reading daily what you are saying in the Press. Today you talked about all sorts of things such as brinkmanship, but you never once mentioned in your article in the Australian -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not direct his comments to a member.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. I inform you, Mr Speaker, that the honourable member for Port Adelaide wrote in the Australian today and did not utter one word of condemnation of the honourable member for Oxley when he knew that the honourable member for Oxley had been playing politics with the Australian dollar. I think it is very much to the credit of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) that he did not join in the attack on the Australian dollar which was launched by the honourable member for Oxley.
No doubt the honourable member for Oxley will say that he did nothing wrong. He will say: ‘I quoted from an article which I read in the National Times’. The mere fact that the honourable member for Oxley seeks to hide behind an article published in the National Times indicates his guilt and indicates that he is prepared to say, because a document emanated from the Reserve Bank which said something about the situation relating to the dollar ‘I was entitled to go public on it’. My view is that the matter was summed up very well in a comment made in the Sunday Telegraph of 2 October last. I refer to it briefly but it seems to me to sum up some of the matters to which I have been adverting. It said:
Former Labor Treasurer BUI Hayden might one day hope to lead the ALP parliamentary party, but he has a few lessons to learn.
Hayden ‘s speculation on the economy- particularly the forecast of a credit squeeze and higher interest rates- was dangerously irresponsible.
It was common knowledge when Hayden made his comments that the Federal Government was about to make a multimillion dollar overseas borrowing to support the dollar.
Yet Hayden chose to use the ‘leaking’ of a Reserve Bank memo on the economy to predict gloom and doom on the economic front.
He should have known that such memos are considered low key by the Government’s senior financial advisers and that forecasts they contain are subject to detailed investigation and refinement, before being considered accurate.
There is speculation that Hayden might topple Gough Whitlam after this week’s Caucus meeting, but many in Caucus must be having second thoughts about such a move following the former Treasurer ‘s statements this week.
The first thing any political party expects from its leaders is loyalty to one s own country.
I say with respect that the honourable member for Oxley has been disloyal to Australia in what he has done. His statements were economically subversive; they sabotaged the determination of this Government to defend the dollar; they have impaired our economic and financial credibility in the eyes of the world, and they have cast on this generation and future generations a burden to repay the additional loans which are now going to be made necessary because he chose to play politics with this nation’s most precious possession in economic terms, namely, the Australian dollar.
It was not surprising that the comments of the honourable member for Oxley, coming as they did over a weekend and reported mainly by the electronic media, although some of them appeared in print, brought an immediate and spontaneous condemnation from the Prime Minister and from the Acting Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson). I do not need to restate what they said so effectively last Monday, what they said last Tuesday, what was repeated on Wednesday, and what I hope will be repeated in this country for many years to come, namely, that the Australian dollar is above and beyond party politics and that he who seeks to weaken the Australian dollar, he who seeks to diminish its strength, is guilty of economic treason against this country.
As a result of the irresponsible and highly damaging public statements made by the honourable member for Oxley, I believe the situation has now been reached in which we in this country should be looking seriously to a prohibition on extraparliamentary speculation as to the standing and strength of the Australian dollar. I believe in freedom of speech in this country. I believe in the right of the individual to stand up and say what he thinks. But surely to heavens, we have reached a pretty poor standard in this country when someone can play party politics and seek to enhance his prospect of leadership of the party by playing politics with the Australian dollar. I say in no uncertain terms that the honourable member for Oxley should be taught once and for all that patriotism and loyalty to one’s nation comes ahead of, and will always come ahead of, his duty to his party.
– Six minutes to go.
– The honourable member for Port Adelaide wishes to stop me but he will not stop me because I am going to remind him, through you, Mr Speaker, that it was Sir Winston Churchill who laid down the great edict that the first duty of a member of parliament is to the nation. Secondly, it is to his electorate. Thirdly, it is to his Party. He said that occasionally you could change the third and the second but he went on to say that you will never change the first. Heaven forbid that we will live in a country in which senior members of the shadow cabinet of the Opposition which seeks to be the alternative Government will be permitted to go into the streets, the highways and the byways, not once but twice in the space of 12 months, and run down the Australian dollar.
The honourable member for Oxley knew very well that, at this time, Australia was negotiating for an overseas loan in order to ensure that the dollar was defended. What sort of a friend to Australia is it who, when we are seeking to borrow money overseas, runs around this country, knocks our dollar and says that it is growing weak? What sort of a person is it who encourages people who brought money into this country to take money out before a devaluation occurs? What sort of a politician is it, what sort of a patriot is it, who is prepared to say one word and who is prepared to make one public comment which he knows is capable of damaging the Australian dollar?
I sought out the honourable member for Oxley and was unable to find him before coming into this chamber today. I gave notice of this motion. I am pleased that it has been called on. I believe it will give this House an opportunity to censure formally the honourable member for Oxley for his conduct. It will give this House an opportunity to indicate to the Australian nation that this House is not prepared to tolerate people playing politics with the Australian dollar; that this House and this nation are not prepared to tolerate politicians who make economically subversive statements; that this House and this nation are not prepared to tolerate politicians who are prepared to sabotage Australia when it is saying to the world that it requires a loan to defend its currency.
If those things are not worth defending, I and probably many others on both sides of this House would prefer not to be in POlitiCS at all. If we in this Parliament are not prepared to stand up for Australia, if we are not as Australians prepared to stand up for our currency, if we are not prepared to stand up for Australia’s good name, quite frankly we would be better getting out of the system altogether. I say to the honourable member for Oxley in conclusion that whatever motivated you to do what you did last year and again this year, whatever motivated you to cheapen yourself -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not direct his remarks to an individual member.
– I shall rephrase my remarks. Whatever directed the honourable member for Oxley to play politics with the Australian dollar which in economic terms is our most precious possession, if he has honour and decency within his veins he should publicly apologise to the people of Australia for what he has done and give a solemn undertaking never to do it again. Other honourable members are saying that he should resign. I say that he owes the nation an apology. Perhaps he ought to resign. The fact of the matter is that whether he intended it he has done grave and serious damage to the Australian dollar and to our name internationally. He has acted unpatriotically and shown disloyalty to the nation which bred him and which he has sworn to serve in this Parliament. I move:
– I second my colleague’s motion. I reserve my right to speak.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. My point of order- I ask you to rule on it- is whether the term ‘economically subversive ‘ is unparliamentary to the extent that the word subversive’ is unparliamentary.
-It is not unparliamentary in the terms of a motion. I call the honourable member for Oxley.
– It is singularly appropriate that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) should have so much resort to patriotism in his speech. He established, as we already knew, that patriotism is the last resort of a scoundrel. If the Government is so concerned about the focussing of public attention on public discussion of the Australian exchange rate and the level of Australian reserves I find it rather remarkable that last week, on one day alone, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should have done more than any other person in this country has done since Federation to focus attention on that issue by attacking me publicly three or four times.
On each occasion when he launched the attack he underscored one simple fact, which was made clear and irrefutably evident by a published confidential report of the Reserve Bank of Australia. That simple fact- not my comment, not my observation or analysis, but the considered conclusion of the Reserve Bank of Australia- was that the Australian dollar was weak, was enfeebled, and would continue to get weaker, and in the course of this year we would face a $ 1,000m balance of payments deficit. That is the sort of attention, that is the sort of focussing, that the Prime Minister reinforced in the course of last week. I find it remarkable that there should be so much contrived concern about discussion of the exchange rate when, in one week alone, the Prime Minister issued more significant comments than any other person has issued on the state of the exchange rate of this country since Federation. Of course, today the honourable member for Denison further emphasised the exchange rate situation.
It is true that substantial borrowings have been made. The Government plays that in a very low profile- and we can well understand why. Already, within a few months of the commencement of this financial year, our indebtedness for overseas borrowings is or is proposed to be of the order in total of $3,5O0m. I predict now that the level will exceed the $4,000m which created so much concern amongst conservative coalition ranks in late 1975. ‘Is there a man amongst us who would say that we should put this country into hock to the tune of $ 1,000m? The Prime Minister put that proposition in November last year. We are now m hock to the extent of $3,500m and we will be lucky if we are not in hock to an extent in excess of $5,000m by the end of this financial year.
If we in this House are concerned, if members of the Government parties are alarmed that public discussion of the exchange rate weakens further an enfeebled dollar, then there are the guilty men- the honourable member for Denison who raised this matter today and the Prime Minister who has been somewhat pixilated in the almost hysterical comments he has been making in the course of the past week on that issue. What has happened is obvious. The honourable member for Denison is in a petty conspiracy with the Prime Minister. He has given the Prime Minister the coward’s course, the escape route for a coward. I have challenged the Prime Minister publicly -
– Order! The honourable gentleman will withdraw that phrase.
– I withdraw the phrase. I have challenged the Prime Minister publicly twice, and I restate that challenge, to debate with me publicly the issue of economic management. Let the Australian public establish which of us knows what he is talking about and who is an economic illiterate. Let the Australian public establish which party understands the state of the economy, which is more competent to analyse it and which has proved beyond any doubt by its record its absolute incompetence. I did make the observation in Darwin yesterday that if I could not have the organ grinder I would settle for the monkey. All I have ended up with today is the peanut. If comments from politicians-
– I rise to order. Is it appropriate at this stage to move that so much of Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition speaking in support of the honourable member for Denison?
-The honourable gentleman will not make those sorts of proposals. They are out of order.
– If it is dangerous for some prominent politician- and I accept the description from honourable members opposite because I am too modest to make the obvious observation publicly- to express an opinion publicly on the exchange rate, if my comment of last year with the assistance of Blind Freddie, who knew a damn sight more about the economy than the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) or any member of the Government, was so dangerous to the exchange rate, how much more dangerous, how much more destructive was the comment of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) at a dinner to the International Trade Division of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales on 13 September last year? There he speculated aloud publicly on the weaknesses of the Australian dollar, on our balance of payments defects. He said:
We need to remember that our present large trade surplus is due in part to a depressed import demand. There was a marked fall in the volume of imports last year. As the economy picks up, as I expect it will -
He is not noticeably accurate on most predictions on the economy but then that is par for the Government- we must look for a strong rise in imports. At the same time we face, as always, a big deficit on invisibles. Last year it was $2, 300m.
He went on to state:
The fall in our reserves is due to the fact that our traditional deficit on current account is not being offset by capital inflow.
He added further on:
So when you put all these things together I cannot see any reason whatever for complacency about our balance of payments situation.
Blind Freddie would give & simple explanation, on economic principles, as to what that means. It means very simply that in September last year, just prior to devaluation, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia believed and said publicly that in his views our balance of payments was in a weak and deteriorated state, that our reserves were going down. The implication is clear to anyone who has a fundamental understanding of economic principles, namely, that the Australian dollar was weak and would get weaker.
Only a few weeks ago on 20 September in, I confess, one of the most impressive speeches on monetary policy made in this House, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), a member of the Brisbane Stock Exchange, said:
In Australia we have a remarkably high level of interest at the moment. If we compare this with the overseas interest rates, one normally would expect that money would come into government securities in Australia from low interest areas. The bank rate of interest in England is around the 6 per cent mark, the American interest rate structure- the bank rate, the prime rate- is about7¼ per cent. Clearly there is a marked differential in relation to the Australian Government rates of 10 per cent to 10.5 per cent- 10 per cent up the short end. Why is this money not coming here? It is for the simple reason that Australia does not give adequate forward cover on exchange rates. If this were to occur a great deal could be accomplished in terms of lowering the short term interest rates and putting a stop to the run on the Australian exchange that we are seeing today.
What does that mean in simple layman’s terms? It means the Australian dollar was weak and overseas investors had no confidence in it. This was pointed out by a man from the Brisbane Stock Exchange, one of the few people in the Government ranks who know what they are talking about on the subject of monetary policy. So honourable members will know that there is a long established convention of people in this Parliament speaking on the Australian exchange rate, and they happen to include the current Deputy Prime Minister.
Let us look at the situation a bit more realistically and not resort to the garbage that was served up by the spurious patriot from Denison. Let us look at some of the hard facts of life. The people who are concerned about the strength of the Australian dollar do not give a damn whether the people in this Parliament are silent or loquacious on the issue. They stand to suffer considerable capital losses or, in some circumstances, gains because of exchange rate movements. It is in their interests to understand what happens to the Australian exchange rate. If we maintained a total conspiracy of silence in this Parliament, if all forms of the media were stoppered and prevented from expressing any comment on the exchange rate, those people would understand what was happening. The only people who would be deceived by this silence would be the great mass of people outside who have neither the interest nor the resources to influence in any way what happens with the Australian exchange rate.
Furthermore, let us understand that those people who can move money in and out of this country are severely regulated by exchange rate regulations administered by the Reserve Bank of Australia. So we are talking about a very small group of people in the community who have to be informed otherwise, as a matter of business responsibility, they can face, through lack of attention, considerable capital losses in a situation of possible devaluation as a result of not observing what is happening with the exchange rate. Furthermore, overseas banks have been quoting the Australian dollar at five to six points below the official exchange rate for some months now. That is clear evidence, and it received no comment by anyone in this country, that people fully understood the weaknesses of government administration. That is what we are talking about when we talk about the fall in our overseas reserves and when we refer to the weakening of the Australian dollar. We are referring to defects in the Australian Government’s administration of the national economy. That is why overseas investors are not coming here. They have no confidence in the administration of this country and they have no confidence, especially, in its economy.
This country has lost hundreds of millions of dollars from its overseas reserves since early this year. I pointed out in the April-May period that if the Government acted and acted quickly to announce a comprehensive and substantial overseas borrowing program, and if the Government at the same time announced that it was going to revalue its gold holdings, and if it did this with a clear evidence of determination, then it was my firm belief that the Australian dollar could be propped up and successfully defended. Instead of that, what have we seen? We have seen bumbling and fumbling from the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). We have seen almost incoherent hysterical abuse from the Prime Minister directed at anyone who cares to criticise the Government’s economic policy and, specifically in the terms of this debate, the exchange rate situation.
The upshot has been a number of episodic movements towards borrowing money from overseas. The gold holdings were revalued. All this was done in a disparate fashion. There was no continuity. There was no toughness. There was no evidence of confidence or conviction on the part of the Government. Accordingly there is a continuing drain in confidence outside of government, outside of this country. That is why people have been taking their money out of Australia.
If it is said in some hypocritical way that I should not be discussing these things, then I say that I have no choice but to put them in these tough direct terms. I am defending myself against a quite unjustified, manufactured attack from the honourable member for Denison who is seeking to divert attention from the challenge which I have issued to the Prime Minister. He is seeking to deflect public awareness from the serious shortcomings of the Government’s economic administration. If members of the Government were concerned about the state of the exchange rate they would have acted much earlier. They would have acted toughly. They would have outlined a tough comprehensive program which would have convinced anyone overseas. Instead they lack confidence in themselves and they lack confidence in their ability to administer the national economy. They leave about them an aura or atmosphere of uncertainty. They leave about them the growing conviction that they lack the wit and wisdom to control the affairs of this country.
Seeing I am provoked in this situation and in this way let me say this, and I have not said it publicly so far: I have a growing suspicion that the Government acted too clumsily and too late. Because of its clumsy action the Government has left a deep seated and irremovable belief overseas that it is not competent to defend the Australian exchange rate. Let us look at what was said and what I commented on. I commented on something which was published-the Reserve Bank analysis of Government economic administration and the effects which flow from it. I was asked to comment by the media and I commented accordingly. Anyone could understand the implications of what is in this report. For instance, the report says:
On that assumption - an assumption to which it refers earlier- for private capital inflow the forecast rundown in official reserves for 1 977-78 is of the order of $ 1 ,000m.
Given the other information provided in this section of the report, that means very simply a balance of payments deficit of that order. That is a balance of payments deficit of some disturbing magnitude. The report goes on to say:
Such an outcome might be incompatible with expectations of stability in the exchange rate.
An interjector points out that that is excluding borrowings. Of course it is excluding borrowings. One would have to be stupid not to understand that. But the borrowings were not made until the Government found that it was compelled to make them- not by anything I said, but by comments from the Reserve Bank, one of the top two independent and best informed advisory bodies the Government has. This report of the Reserve Bank demolishes the Government and its false claims about where it is taking the economy. It is taking the economy downhill. That is the implication in this report.
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr Scholes) put:
That the honourable member for Oxley be granted an extension of time.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I second my colleague’s motion of censure of the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) for his irresponsible, not to say, subversive comments directed at undermining the strength of the Australian dollar. A leading article in the Australian recently stated that the honourable member for Oxley, as I must call him in this place - . . seems to find it hard to learn the difference between valid political statements on the conduct of the Australian economy and the kind of misstated exaggeration which may be common currency in some areas of politics-
We all have to admit to such exaggeration - but which is suicidal when applied to the economic area. It is the difference between fair comment and the scare tactic, and political scare tactics-
The honourable member for Oxley is becoming a past master in indulging in such tactics- have no place in discussion of the national economy . . .
His performance today shows that since that leader was written he has learned nothing. He talks of the Australian dollar being weak. It is not. That leading article concluded:
Mr Hayden threatens once again to help create the doom he effects to deplore.
There is some truth in that statement- though it is difficult to know why someone with the qualifications and experience of the honourable member for Oxley, who is not even the official spokesman for the Opposition on these matters but who is a Blind Bill to accompany his Blind Freddy who has so much to say, should attract this sort of attention. He said that the Australian dollar is weak.
– He is weak.
– My colleague said that the honourable member is weak. His reading is weak. Whilst I have not access to the leaked document of the Reserve Bank of Australia, I have the version printed in the National Times. Under Balance of Payments’ it states:
The trade account is forecast to strengthen during 1977-78 -
I will read that again-
The trade account is forecast to strengthen during 1 977-78 and give a surplus for the year of the order of $ 1 ,500m.
The statement outlines the anticipated rise in exports and the decline in imports which would account for this strengthening. It refers to the increased imbalance on invisible account but then states:
Private capital outflow is the area of largest uncertainty in the external accounts.
– He is hitting at that.
-As my colleague says, the honourable member for Oxley is bitting at that. If there is a weakness in the accounts it would be because of this area of capital inflow. That is the area which the statements of the honourable member for Oxley were affecting.
– He is subversive.
-They were subversive of the economic strategy of this Government. That is why he is making those statements. His purpose is to undermine the economic strategy and the economic policies of this Government. Never mind that that undermines the whole economic position and the whole economic future of
Australia. Anything will do for political advantage. The honourable member for Oxley pursues it as far as he possibly can.
It is of interest that in the same issue of the National Times which carried this report concerning the Reserve Bank’s forecast of economic prospects, Mr P. P. McGuinness, who is a significant commentator on economic affairs and, incidentally, a one-time speech writer for the honourable member for Oxley- the honourable member for Oxley is not so keen on him nowwrote that if there was any uncertainty about the balance of payments this would require significant borrowings by the Government but stated that ‘there was no real reason why this should be so’. He went on to point out that there are movements in the balance of payments at the moment. He wrote:
The September quarter is always one of seasonal pressure on the balance of payments, partly on current account as export receipts drop off in their rate of growth, and partly because, after the end of the financial year in June, it is the time when foreign companies repatriate their profits.
These are things of which over the years any knowledgeable observer- of course, not Blind Freddy or Blind Bill- would be aware and for which he would make allowance. Of all countries in the world Australia’s currency and the balance of payments, founded as it is on our strong export position, our traditional exports of wool and wheat and also our massive exports of minerals, iron, coal and future exports of uranium. Based on all these things the strength of our balance of payments and thus of the Australian dollar is assured.
Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), has a constant theme the so called Gregory thesisthat the growing exports of our minerals are going to cause all sorts of trouble- that we are going to be embarrassed by our wealth. His worry is that we will have so many exports that we will be embarrassed by them.
– Who says that?
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that. The whole thrust of the circumstances is that the balance of payments and the Australian dollar are strong. This is recognised throughout the world.
To counter this sort of current speculation the Government has given notice of its determination to ensure that the Australian dollar will pursue its strong course and will not be subjected to any devaluation and that the Government will do this by way of significant borrowings from overseas.
If people overseas really thought that the Australian dollar was weak, would they lend on the scale that has been announced to the Australian people and to this Parliament? An amount of $850m will become available within the next few weeks. This is the result of measures which were announced on 25 August by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) and set in train a long while before that. Now we have had the announcement of a further $850m being made available, making a total of $ 1,700m. The honourable member for Oxley, with his continuing irresponsibility, said: ‘I will stand here and make another prediction’. I am not sure of the details but at one stage he suggested that we would be borrowing $4 billion. We would do that if it were necessary, but it will not be necessary. The underlying strength of the Australian dollar is apparent to all.
– And of the economy.
– This applies also to the economy. I shall come to that in a moment. If the honourable member for Oxley tries to scare anybody by mentioning $4 billion, most likely it will be people on his side of the chamber who will be scared. They will have recollections of the $4 billion which was to have been obtained from questionable sources and through sleazy intermediaries and by illegal means. I do not know why they were prepared to go to that trouble because at the time the public accounts were running at a deficit and they were busy printing an amount of money of the order of $4 billion in the bowels of Parliament House, as a colleague would say.
I think I have said enough to underline the point that the Austraiian dollar is not weak and that any temporary speculation will be resisted by this Government. I repeat that the purpose of the statements made by the honourable member for Oxley is to undermine this Government’s economic strategy for a return to economic growth and stability and full employment. We shall continue to pursue our policies to contain inflation and to get interest rates down and in this way to stimulate the Australian economy and restore full employment. I stress that much progress has been made in these matters. The rate of inflation is running at 10 per cent per annum or less, compared with 17 per cent per annum and above when we took office. Who caused it? It was caused by the previous Administration and its Labor Treasurers, who included the honourable member for Oxley, the subject of this censure.
The rate of inflation is down and is running at the order of 10 per cent per annum. If any honourable member questions this, let him think back over the past two quarters and the wage cases associated with them. In the March quarter the inflation rate was 2.3 per cent; in the June quarter it was 2.2 per cent. One could add these figures together and multiply by two, or could multiply either figure by four, or make other calculations to get an idea of the annual rate; but a direct arithmetical calculation by multiplying the figure for the June quarter by four produces an annual rate of 8.8 per cent. I will not press my case that far but shall simply state that the annual rate is of the order of 10 per cent and is falling. Let no honourable member dispute that fact.
As to production, it is not currently expanding in the way in which we would like, but it is at a significantly higher level than it was under the stewardship of the honourable member for Oxley and the Government with which he was associated. It is running at a rate which is fully 416 per cent higher than it was under the previous Government. When the honourable member for Oxley was the Treasurer the level of production had been unchanged for nearly two years. So production has been expanded and, as a result of two years of fiscal restraint, the settings are there for a reduction in interest rates. That is not going to happen in one fell swoop, but conditions do lend themselves to a gradual reduction in interest rates- and an increase in the ease with which finance is made available. That has been our task, namely, to restore the settings for a healthy Austraiian economy. It is not going to be undermined by the operations of the honourable member for Oxley.
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– After listening to the remarks of the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) we all can understand why the Government parties stripped him of his post as Chairman of the Expenditure Committee of this House. The people who are responsible for the rundown in Australia’s overseas reserves are the members of the Fraser Government- the Prime Minister himself (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) and the Prime Minister’s cronies, particularly the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair). Under this Government Australia’s reserves have dropped, the debts have risen and the interest rate has increased. That was going on in October and November last year. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) gave the prescription which would avoid the mischief which this Government was bringing about. It was going on again in August and September of this year. Once again the honourable member for Oxley gave the prescription which would cure the mischief.
It rankles with the Prime Minister that the devaluation of last November was hailed on all sides as a disaster; because that was his decision. Only one man joined him in the decision, and that was the Leader of the House. It was the most inflationary thing that the Government could have done. Up till that stage the Prime Minister had said that everything was the fault of the Labor Government. He could never say that the devaluation of last November was the fault of the Labor Government; that was his own act. The decision was made by him and an inner circle. Our reserves were running down. Our overseas balances were running down. Let me give the figures in relation to our overseas debts. At the end of June 1973, at the time of the first Labor Budget, our overseas debts were $ 1 ,265m. At the end of June 1975 our overseas debts had dropped to $ 1 , 1 82m. At the end of June this year our overseas debts had risen to $ 1,871m. Now they are to be almost doubled; they are to go up by another $ 1,700m. We will owe $3.5 billion overseas, which is almost three times as much as we owed four years ago. Whose fault is that? It is the fault of the Fraser Government.
Businessmen in Australia and international financiers know quite well that Australian coalition governments, formed of Liberal and National Country Party members, cannot control the Australian currency, cannot defend the Australian currency. In October last year, when our reserves were running down, the honourable member for Oxley said that the Government should defend the dollar. He said that one means of defending the dollar was for the Government to show its faith in the dollar and to raise a loan overseas. It happens that the same advice was given to the Government by the Treasury. That was revealed, not from the Opposition, not from any individual member of the Opposition; it came from a newspaper. Mr Ken Davidson, writing in the Age, revealed that there was a discussion in Cabinet in which the Prime Minister himself raised the possibility of having to devalue; and the devaluation came about.
In the last couple of weeks the whole question of the outflow of our dollars and the possibility of devaluation arose again, because other journalistsnamely, Anne Summers and Paul Kelly of the National Times- & fortnight ago published a Reserve Bank memorandum. The Opposition cannot be blamed for that information coming out. We cannot be blamed for weakening the dollar, for causing the outflow of dollars from Australia, or for causing the lack of investment from overseas in Australia. The responsibility lies with the Government’s record in currency matters. People at home and overseas still remember that for three days over the Christmas period in 1971 the coalition Government was distraught on this question of devaluation. Even when the National Country Party had won that argument, when it had preserved a grossly undervalued dollar, it was not many months afterwards- it was before the 1972 Budget was passed- that the Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Anthony), who was then as he is now, Deputy Prime Minister, once again was urging devaluation. It was for that reason that when the Labor Government came into office the country was awash with surplus funds and the dollar was grossly undervalued. People at home and abroad know that coalition governments have been unable to defend the Australian dollar.
I should say something about the way in which this debate has been conducted. The notice of motion was given by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). It is the fifth notice of motion which he has given in the history of this Parliament. He is a great limelighter. Much to his surprise, we moved that the motion come on for debate. Instead of this poison remaining on the Notice Paper, we said that we would take it immediately. Then the Government caused the debate to come on; the Leader of the House said that it could proceed. Who spoke? The honourable member for Denison -
– He moved it.
– Yes, he moved it. But who was the second speaker? It was the honourable member for Berowra. I realise that the Leader of the House could not speak in the debate because he is not able, either in the Parliament or outside it, to talk about financial matters. This man who has owned up to a quarter of a million misappropriation in companies which he manages -
– I ask that the honourable gentleman withdraw those remarks.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw.
-Can I give the facts?
– I would be happy if you did.
– I will do it on the adjournment. A quarter of a million misappropriation -
– False- like so many of the things that your say.
-Order! The Leader of the House will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw the remarks unqualifiedly immediately.
– I do; fully, at once. Why is the Prime Minister not speaking on this motion? He is prepared to bucket outside but he will not speak inside the Parliament. He gets hysterical, self-righteous and unctuous outside the Parliament, but he will not defend the dollar outside the Parliament and he will not defend the dollar inside the Parliament. He will not justify in this place the things he says about honourable members. There again, we know that he takes advice from the man who presided over the biggest company crash in this country- a man who himself misappropriated $900,000. One can see why the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister will not come into a debate such as this. Admittedly the Leader of the National Country Party and Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer are both out of the country. But the Acting Treasurer (Mr Eric Robinson) does not come into this debate. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) who also assists the Treasurer does not come into the debate.
The fact is that the honourable member for Oxley once again has done a service for this country. A month ago he said that the Government should defend the dollar. He said that three things should be done. The first was that we should put a contemporary value on Australia’s gold reserves overseas; and the Government did. It was the correct course. He said that in the circumstances which were then obtaining the Government should raise an overseas loan; and the Government did. It did the right thing then. The honourable member for Oxley also said that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer should at least make a forthright statement to the effect that the Australian Government will defend the Australian dollar. That has not yet been said outside the House. The opportunity is available for the Prime Minister to say it, for the Acting Treasurer to say it and for the Leader of the House to say it. None of them has said it today. What conclusion will be drawn by business people in this country? What conclusion will be drawn by international financiers when they notice that when the matter is brought up by a Government supporter in the House, when the Leader of the House moves that the matter come on for debate, the Prime Minister, the Acting Treasurer, and the Acting Leader of the National Country Party will not rise to defend the dollar. Last week the Treasurer, addressing the Australian-American Association in New York, bucketed the Austraiian people and the Australian Opposition. He downgraded this country. The Treasurer has a gross, crude attitude. He gets it from the Prime Minister.
I suppose we can expect the Prime Minister to be hysterical in his vituperation against the honourable member for Oxley when one looks at his conduct as regards the Japanese. He called in the Japanese Ambassador to Kirribilli House. He stood him up and dressed him down. Before he ever saw him he got his Press people to brief the Press about what he was going to say. Next day the headlines in the newspapers were: ‘Prime Minister Blasts Japanese Ambassador’. A couple of days later from Longreach, not very far from where the Leader of the House was censured by cattlemen last week- they know bull when they see it- the Prime Minister released to the Press a cable he sent to the Prime Minister of Japan before the Prime Minister of Japan could receive it. It was misprinted in the leaked form as well, presumably, as in the form later delivered to the Prime Minister of Japan.
How must other countries regard the Government of this country when it raises these matters outside, constantly causing speculation and promoting economic and political uncertainty? What is all this talk about an early election? The speculation is condemned by the Prime Minister who himself promotes it. With one word he could quell all that speculation. What does that do for business confidence in Australia or overseas? The simple fact is that it is the Fraser Government which has been responsible for the decline in business confidence in Australia. It has been responsible for the decline in overseas confidence in Australia as a proper place to invest or to hold funds. The honourable member for Denison had the gall to suggest that there was some convention in these matters. This came from a member of the party which was responsible for the breaches of convention throughout the latter half of 1975. How unctuous and selfrighteous you can get.
The honourable member for Oxley was right last October. He was right in September this year. If his advice had been taken last year we would have owed only half as much. Instead of having to borrow $US2 billion we would have had to borrow only $US1 billion. We would have had only half the interest rate bill. We would have saved about $ 1,000m in overseas reserves. All the people are paying in monetary terms. Above all, we are all paying in terms of inflation. The devaluation of last November was the most inflationary action the Government could have taken. It cannot blame the Labor Party for that. It was wholly the fault of the Fraser Government. Inflation got a new burst. The Fraser Government ruled ofl* the book with the devaluation of November last year. The situation since then has been its responsibility and its alone. It is a victim of its own rhetoric. It should have borrowed $1 billion last November but it had already borrowed almost that amount overseas. The Government then sought- here is the dreaded figure- $2 billion overseas in one financial year. In the light of all the things the Government said about overseas loan raising in 1975 it could not face up to it. Yet the week before last the Acting Treasurer came out with the statement that the Government is borrowing $2 billion overseas for temporary purposes. What would the former Attorney-General have said about that? Now the Government has done it. If it had only taken the advice of the honourable member for Oxley 1 1 months ago there would have been less inflation in Australia. Our overseas debts would have been smaller. There would have been more confidence in Australiaboth by Australians and by people overseas.
– I rise to make a personal explanation relating to the revaluations upwards against the British pound in the 1971-72 fiscal year.
-Does the right honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I had to give that background and you will remember the occasion, Mr Speaker. I think the House will also remember it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said that the Liberal Party which involved me gave in to pressure by the Country Party on the degree of revaluation. That is totally untrue. I went into the Cabinet determined that the revaluation would be 6.32 per cent. You Mr Speaker, wanted something substantially higher. I stuck to the figure of 6.32 per cent throughout. The Country Pany wanted no movement at all. I had already taken preliminary action to swear in a new Government if it had been necessary. With regard to the second claim by the Leader of the Opposition that Australia was flooded with money at the end of 1972, any person of common sense who knew and understood the facts relating to the amount of assets held overseas by the Reserve Bank would say today that a government which could achieve that level- you were the Treasurer at the time, Mr Speaker- knew what it was doing and was successful. There were few signs in the subsequent three years that the
Labor Party ever knew what it was doing. That is the cause of our present problems.
-Bring back Bill!
– I say to the fat gentleman opposite that I am 9st 61b. He is 13st 41b and bloated. One can tell to which person Big Fat Bill ‘ ought to apply.
-Order! I do not think the honourable member was saying ‘Big Fat Bill’. I think he was saying ‘ Bring Back Bill ‘.
– Will you extend the courtesy to allow me to say that I should like him to say it again? I am sorry that I misunderstood him. I would like to hear it more clearly.
-I have bad news for the right honourable gentleman. I think it was me he meant and not the right honourable member for Lowe.
– I fully support the motion moved today by my colleague the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and so ably seconded by my colleague the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards). It is certainly a much more relevant and urgent motion than the matter of public importance that was originally proposed by the Opposition. Nowadays urgency debates in this House are not what they used to be.
-Order! I suspect that the honourable gentleman is speaking to a matter of public importance. The motion before the House is that moved by the honourable member for Denison.
-i take a point of order. The Leader of the House has already been exposed. We know that the Government will not permit the urgency motion at a later date.
-There is no point of order. The honourable member for Ballaarat may speak to the motion moved by the honourable member for Denison. When I called him he was the only person from the Government benches to rise. That is why I called him to speak to that motion. If he does not wish to do so he should resume his seat.
– I rose to support the motion. In doing so I think that the honourable member for Denison and other speakers from this side of the House have shown today to the House and to listeners of this debate the hypocrisy of what the Labor Party in opposition has been trying to achieve in the two years since it lost the government benches. Over the last two years the Labor Party has thought that it can hoodwink the Australian people and con them against all logical reason into believing that the Fraser Government has not brought back responsible government to this nation after three years of catastrophic mismanagement under Labor. But the Australian people have not been conned. They know, just as the Opposition knows in its own heart, that this Government has got Australia back onto a sound footing and that the economy has already started on an upward path of renewed growth and on a return to prosperity that is essential if the needs and aspirations of all Australians are to be fulfilled.
Certainly we still face problems. Certainly the way ahead will not be all plain sailing but there is now light at the end of the tunnel, a light which was virtually wiped out in November 1975 because of the economic holocaust of the Whitlam years, years which produced a four-fold increase m inflation, a three-fold increase in unemployment, a complete halt to economic growth and prosperity for all Australians, and a great fear throughout the land as to just where our nation was heading. It is undeniable that there is still some lack of confidence about the future felt by many Australians, but the fear of the Whitlam years is gone and confidence is returning- and for good reason. Inflation has been reduced by 40 per cent since the Fraser Government took office. Also, the staggering rates of increase in unemployment which occurred under Labor have been cut back dramatically. Interest rates have stabilised and, again through sound economic management, the scene has been set for a downward movement in rates over the course of the year ahead as the level of inflation continues to ease.
All these facts-they are facts, despite the wild, unsubstantiated, scaremongering assertions of the Opposition spokesmen- support the view, which is reflected by most forecasters including the Reserve Bank of Australia, that 1978 will see a major improvement in the Australian economy, firmly rooted in the return to underlying economic stability, for which the Fraser Government deserves the highest praise. The Government’s impressive economic achievements in less than two short years have already been well outlined by my colleagues, and I W1 not repeat them. I intend to concentrate my remarks today on the attitude that has been adopted in recent times by the Opposition’s economic spokesmen. We have not heard much of the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). He has been remarkably quiet. The running seems to have been left to the shadow Minister for Defence who is also the socalled spokesman for economic matters, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). It is sad to see the honourable member for Oxley performing, both inside and outside this Parliament, in the way in which he has will over the last year or more.
The honourable member for Oxley was regarded by many as being not too bad a Treasurer, although he was Treasurer for only some five months. Of course, that is too short a time in which to judge. But he was thought to be a responsible member of the then Government. In the past year or more the honourable member for Oxley has lost all vestige of responsibility, all vestige of credibility. This is sad to see because apparently the honourable gentleman is the heir apparent to the leadership of the Parliamentary Labor Party- either earlier of later. It is about time the Parliamentary Labor Party had a responsible and credible leader. It does not have one in its present leader or in its putative leader, and that is not good for parliamentary democracy. I dismiss the remarks today by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam). Even Blind Freddie knows that the honourable gentleman knows nothing about economics or economic management. His term of office as Prime Minister of this country between 1973 and 1975 bears very eloquent testimony to that. He proved it once again today.
But the honourable member for Oxley should know better because he was the Treasurer, he has had training in economics and he claims to be an economic spokesman. His statements on the economy in the past year have been pathetic. He has talked nothing but gloom. He has attempted to talk the economy down. He attempted, with some success, in November last year to achieve a movement in the exchange rate which many people judged was not in the best interests of this country. His approach on economic matters has been the height of irresponsibility. He has deliberately fostered speculation against the Australian dollar, and he stands condemned for it. As the Australian newspaper commented in recent days:
Mr Bill Hayden seems to find it hard to learn the difference between valid political statements on the conduct of the Australian economy and the kind of misstated exaggeration which may be common currency in other areas of politics, but which is suicidal when applied to the economic area. It is the difference between fair comment and the scare tactic.
Mr Hayden may imagine that he can gain some political advantage from the gloom he expresses, but seems unaware that if he does so it is at the expense of the nation’s economic health.
In my opinion, Opposition spokesmen on economic matters have a responsibility to speak in a manner which is not deliberately damaging to the Australian economy. Just because honourable members opposite are not in office does not mean that they cannot act in a responsible manner in discussing and working towards a solution to the problems that face this nation. To their dying shame, nothing that honourable members opposite have done m the past 12 months goes anywhere at all towards supporting the view that ought to be held, namely that they have a sensible and responsible wish to see the economy improve. The honourable member for Oxley, the Opposition and the Australian people know that the Australian economy is improving. But the honourable member cannot afford to admit it, apparently. His reasons appear to be purely political. If economic spokesmen who claim to be responsible economic spokesmen cannot divorce politics from responsibility then they ought not to be economic spokesmen.
The honourable member for Oxley knows full well that the Australian dollar is one of the soundest currencies in the world and that the Australian balance of payments is in a very sound position. The Opposition knows perfectly well that we are in Australia in what is traditionally a seasonally weak period from the point of view of balance of payments and that the balance of payments, on normal seasonal grounds, will continue to improve from towards the end of this year. For the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the Government’s borrowing program, as he did today, and to attempt to compare it with what his Government attempted to do in 1975 is sheer hypocrisy. He knows as well as does anyone else in this country that the borrowing program that has been arranged by the Government in the last few days was arranged through responsible international financial channels, through international financial houses that have the highest repute in the world, with which we have had a traditional relationship for many years and from which we have been a trusted borrower.
Let us contrast that with the situation in 1975 when the Government of the day attempted not only to fool and to mislead the Australian people as to the nature of the borrowings that were proposed at that time but also to obtain those borrowings through financial intermediaries who had no credibility, no responsibility and no authority in international matters. To compare that with the situation today is the height of idiocy, as I am sure that listeners to this debate realise. As I have said, the Government is achieving and in fact has already achieved a sound base for future economic growth in this country. I have no doubt at all that 1978 will be a year of sustained and sustainable economic growth. The Opposition cannot admit it. The honourable member for Oxley cannot admit it because he knows that he was a member of a government which brought this nation to its knees. He cannot bear to watch the present Government restore the situation. But he will have to watch. Whether an election is held early or whether an election is held late, it will be a long, long time before the present Opposition ever leaves the Opposition benches.
– I oppose the censure motion moved by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). Instead, I believe that this House should be debating a motion seeking to congratulate the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) for his action to expose the policies of this Government not only prior to the November 1976 devaluation but also in respect of the present crisis.
I wish to refer to an article which appeared in the London Economist oT 24 September 1977. In the International Business Section, on page 95, the article, headed ‘Fraser takes the muddle way’, states:
Currency speculators are encouraged both by the Fraser government’s consistently poor timing on exchange-rate changes and its impressive record for caving in under pressure.
This was the view of the London Economist of the Fraser Government’s decision to devalue.
For six months prior to the decision in November 1976 to devalue, the surplus in the trading account was in excess of $ 1,000m. In the six months following the devaluation of 17V4 per cent by the Fraser Government, our balance on trading account fell to $2 10m. Prior to devaluation our balance of trade was not falling. At that time our balance of trade had increased by $ 1,000m.
At that time the foreign based companies as well as large Australian companies sent enormous amounts of money overseas. The Government did not take any action at all to stop that flow of money. It allowed speculators to make enormous profits from their activities. The Government knew what was going on.
What is the situation now? In the past 18 weeks our international reserves have fallen. At 30 April, our international reserves stood at $3,780m. By 21 September, they stood at $2,468m. Therefore since 30 April our international reserves fell by more than $ 1,300m. This amount included a $222m overseas borrowing. So, the fall in our foreign reserves was more than $ 1 ,500m in a little more than four months.
This is the way in which this Government manages the economy. The Government is responsible for the instability that has resulted in enormous amounts of reserves being withdrawn from this country. The nation is aware that foreign and Australian based companies, particularly subsidiaries of transnational companies, have been sending enormous amounts of money from this country. The Government has the power to stop such enormous sums of money leaving the country and could have taken action, thus avoiding the need to borrow large amounts of money. The situation was known on the Sydney and Melbourne money markets. The honourable member for Oxley said that, whether such matters are commented on by newspapers or mentioned in this Parliament, those speculators who are active in making a dollar for themselves are not concerned about the basis of our Australian sovereignty. They are the people who create the problem. They are the people who have been sending out the money.
This Government is a government of big business. It represents the very powerful elements in our community. Therefore, it should have taken action to deal with that situation. Since it took power in a very dubious way, this Government has represented the powerful elite in this country.Not only has it transferred wealth from the workers’ wage packet to the private sector but also it has cut back on public works and transferred this activity to the private sector. The private sector is only a very small section of the Australian community. Of the 200,000 companies in Australia, fewer than 400 companies earn more than 50 per cent of all company profits. We also know that these large corporations have profited greatly from devaluation of the Australian dollar.
The whole strategy of this Government has been to base expansion on the level of foreign capital inflow. The Government seeks foreign capital inflow. It believes that recovery will result from a mining export boom. An enormous amount of foreign capital inflow is required to bring about that mining export boom. The Government adopted that broad strategy. But what has occurred in the mining sector has not resulted from any leadership by this Government. We have a leader of a kind that this country has never known before. He recognises a class system. He has polarised the Australian community to such an extent that foreign investors fear investing in this country. Long gone are the days when Australia had a stable government. This is a government of confrontation. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) seeks to confront not only the trade union movement but also those sections of the community which dare to criticise him in any way.
Even supporters of the Government are well aware why the Prime Minister wants to hold an early election. He knows that economic conditions will be worse this time next year. He knows also that his grasp on the leadership of his Party is shaky. Within the Government ranks and within the circles of Australia’s financial institutions, people are saying quite clearly: ‘We do not want this man who is a power unto himself; we want a concensus leader. We want a leader of the character of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Street, the quiet representative of the Establishment’. Malcolm Fraser will not be the leader of the Liberal Party in the future. We know that the leader will be Tony Street. Liberal Party supporters do not want a leader who will continue a policy of confrontation. That is another reason why an early election is desired by the Government. Honourable members opposite must understand that, while their leader adopts a policy of confrontation, foreign capital will not flow into this country and instability will continue in this country.
Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister faced the problem whether he should put Australia into hock for $ 1,000m or should devalue the currency by 17Vi per cent. There was not a balance of payments problem in respect of the balance of trade prior to that date. The crisis was in relation to the capital account and not the balance of trade where there was a surplus of over $ 1 ,000m. The Prime Minister devalued our currency by 17’/i per cent. The situation now is that the Prime Minister has not borrowed just $ 1,000m; he has now borrowed some $2,000m. Prior to 1975, certainly a great deal of criticism was directed to proposals to use money from Arab sources. A great deal of the $2,000m that will come into this country derives from Swiss banks. That money, of course, is Arab dollars. So, the old sectarianism attitudes of the past apparently do not matter so much under this Liberal Government.
The action by the honourable member for Denison in moving this censure motion against the honourable member for Oxley is shallow. We know that the Prime Minister believes that the whole basis of our economic management, particularly that under the honourable member for Oxley, was sound. This fact causes the Government concern. The credibility of the honourable member for Oxley is high. We know that the credibility of the Prime Minister is extremely low. Recently a national opinion poll was taken and it showed that the credibility of the Prime Minister was extremely low. The poll revealed that 36 per cent of the people were in favour of the work he is doing, whilst 59 per cent of the Australian people were dissatisfied with him. In regard to the honourable member for Oxley the situation was that 66 per cent of the people were in favour of the job he is doing, whilst 12 per cent were opposed to him. Therefore the credibility of the honourable member for Oxley is high within the electorate, much as government supporters may criticise him. The Prime Minister attacked the honourable member for Oxley personally three times in one day. The credibility of the Prime Minister is failing while that of the honourable member for Oxley is building up.
I am not a person who treads any individual down, whether he is the honourable member for Oxley or the Prime Minister. I believe that in the end the only way in which we can solve the problems of this nation is by adopting sound policies. The policies of the Opposition, are much sounder than those of the Government. Quite frankly, we gained a good deal of experience of government in the three years we were in office. We learnt much about economic management. We will work together as a team. We will look for stability because we believe that the Australian people are asking for it. One thing that this country does not have at present is stability. The Prime Minister and other honourable members on the Government side are seeking a polarisation of the Australian community. They seek confrontation. Never before in our history has there been such a transfer of resources from the very many to the few as has come about under this Government.
Why is it that in the last 1 8 weeks, setting aside borrowings of $220m, our international reserves fell by more than $ 1,500m? That is the situation. Why is it at this time that this can happen to such an extent? We know that the Government can put up all the smokescreens it likes by attacking the honourable member for Oxley. Why haven’t Government Ministers stood up in this debate today to level the criticism against the honourable member. Why is it that the Prime Minister makes his criticism of the honourable member for Oxley while on the hustings? For some reason or other, when we come into this House we do not see the Prime Minister or any of his Ministers standing up to support this censure motion. He leaves it to the back bench members to level this criticism. I do not want to get down to personalities, as the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) does. We know that his politics have been very low in the past. I think that he should be much more careful in making criticisms about any other honourable member. He is the last person in this House who should stand up and make remarks about any other honourable member. He should consider whether he should vote on a motion of censure such as this. He should recall the words: ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. When we on this side of the House have the numbers he might find the situation reversed.
Be that as it may, the real question is not one of personalities but one of policies. No individual can solve the problems that we have at present. I believe that our policies on this side of the House are much more rational, much more progressive and much more positive in respect of solving our present economic problems. We know that this debate, this attack on the economic spokesman for the Opposition, is a smokescreen.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
That the motion (Mr Hodgman’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-I call on questions without notice.
– I ask that questions be placed on the Notice Paper.
– For the information of honourable members I present the interim statement of the Australian Egg Board 1 976-77.
– Pursuant to section 45 of the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Act 1974 1 present the annual report and the financial statements of the Australian Wheat Board for the year ended 30 November 1976.
– Pursuant to section 34 of the Services Trust Funds Act 1947 I present the annual report of the trustees of the Services Canteens Trust Fund for the year ended 31 December 1976 together with the report of the AuditorGeneral relating to this report.
– Pursuant to section 125 of the Insurance Act 1973 1 present the annual report of the Insurance Commissioner for the year ended 30 June 1977 together with selected statistics on the general insurance industry.
Pursuant to section 1 1 of the Cities Commission (Repeal) Act 1975 I present the final report on the operations of the Cities Commission and financial statements for the period 1 July 1975 to 18 January 1976.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on assistance to the performing arts.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Temporary Assistance Authority on manually operated chain hoists, chain pulley tackle and chain winches.
For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Temporary Assistance Authority on brandy, whisky, gin and vodka.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
National Health Amendment Bill 1977. Appropriation (Urban Public Transport) Bill 1977. National Health Acts Amendment Bill 1 977. States Grants (Roads) Bill 1977.
-Mr Speaker has received advice from the Leader of the Opposition that he has nominated Mr Morris to be a member of the Standing Committee on Road Safety in place of Mr Cohen.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The economic uncertainty caused by the comments of the Prime Minister and senior Ministers about the economy and an early election.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-Comments by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and a leading Minister of the Government in the past few weeks-
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Newman, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I have presented this Bill on behalf of the Minister Assisting the Treasurer. This Bill provides for the payment to the States in 1977-78 of the sum of $390m as advances for welfare housing under the provisions of the 1973-74 Housing Agreement. The advances are repayable over 53 years with interest at highly concessional rates. The allocation for this financial year is $15m more than was made available in 1976-77. The funds will be distributed among the States as follows:
The apportionment of each State’s allocation between the State housing authority and the Home Builders’ Account of the State is determined by me after consultation with the Housing Minister of the State concerned. Allocations to the State housing authorities are to assist with the provision of dwellings for rental or sale on a concessional basis to low income families; those advances bear interest at the rate of 4 per cent per annum. Allocations to the State Home Builders’ Accounts are to provide low interest housing loans to prospective home-owners who meet the eligibility criteria of the Housing Agreement; they bear interest at4½ per cent per annum. Honourable members will recall that this is the final year of operation of the five-year Housing Agreement entered into by the Whitlam Government in 1973 with each of the States. Over the five year period, 1973-74 to 1977-78, the States will have received concessional interest rate advances totalling $ 1,734m for welfare housing. The early years of the Agreement were marked by rapid acceleration of the amounts made available, followed by a levelling out in 1975-76 that resulted iri some adjustments to the housing programs of some States.
This Government’s aim, however, continues to be to maintain activity in the welfare housing area on an even keel. We have done this by maintaining as a basis the high level of advances reached in 1975-76 and providing steady increases in 1976-77- $ 10.4m- and again in this year. Information on welfare housing activity in 1976-77 provided by the States indicates that loans made from Home Builders’ Account moneys were responsible for completion or purchase of 9,475 homes and, in addition, the State housing authorities commenced 9,420 dwellings and completed 8,530 dwellings in the year. Housing authority work on hand at the beginning of 1976-77 comprised 6,750 dwellings. This had increased to 7,640 dwellings under construction as at 30 June 1977. The funds to be made available to the States under this Bill will ensure continuing steady activity in the public housing sector throughout this financial year.
As to the private housing sector, activity reached a high level in most States in 1976. Private investment in dwellings in Australia as a whole in the December quarter of 1976 was 40 per cent higher in real terms than in mid- 1975. Activity was most buoyant in South Australia and Western Australia but subdued in New South Wales. This growth in new dwelling construction in 1976 was not matched in all States by growth in demand and there was some build-up in stocks of unsold dwellings in the latter part of 1976. Adjustment to those excess stocks and some temporary reduction in housing finance resulted in a fall back in industry activity in the first half of 1977. In 1976-77 as a whole, however, private investment in dwellings was 9 per cent greater in real terms than in 1975-76. The Government has been concerned to ensure that the availability of finance is not a barrier to steady sustainable growth in home building activity. Following a temporary slowdown in lending by savings banks early in 1977, the level of new lending for housing has been increasing again since May. On a seasonally adjusted basis the level of lending for housing by banks and permanent building societies in July was the highest so far in 1977 and is now approaching the high levels prevailing in 1 975-76.
As the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) announced in his Budget Speech to this House the Government has informed the Reserve Bank of Australia that it wants to see banks and other financial institutions encouraged to increase their lending for private home building, particularly in those
States and areas where the capacity of the building industry is under-utilised. The rundown in the unsold stock of houses together with increased levels of lending is expected to result in moderate growth in house building activity during the rest of 1977-78, with activity by the end of the period returning to the high levels of mid- 1976. The present Housing Agreement has achieved a great deal in the provision of good quality rental accommodation and concessional housing finance for low to moderate income earners. Nevertheless, the Government is acutely aware that much more could have been done in this area with the funds provided under this Agreement and under successive earlier housing agreements if the substantial subsidies attaching to these funds had been applied more assiduously to those in need. We are looking to the States, in the negotiations now in train for a new housing agreement to come into operation after June 1978, to agree to institute new practices that would result in the housing subsidies being directed more closely to those in need and in the withdrawal of concessions where the real need for them has passed. We expect to bring forward in due course legislation for a new and improved housing agreement. In the meantime, the Government has agreed with the States to certain amendments to remove some of the restrictive terms of the current Agreement where each State so wished. We shall bring forward legislation to effect these amendments. The States will be able to apply the advances provided under this Bill and under comparable earlier legislation in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Housing Agreement as amended by the new legislation that I have mentioned.
The Bill authorises the Treasurer to pay to the States in the first six months of 1978-79 the sum of $195m, which is half the allocation for 1977-78, distributed on the same basis as the advances in the current financial year. Moreover, the Bill authorises the Treasurer to determine the terms and conditions applying to the advances made in the period from 1 July 1978. This provision will enable the Treasurer to continue payments to the States for welfare housing after the expiration of the current Agreement on 30 June 1978 until legislation for a new agreement, and an appropriation measure for 1978-79 pursuant to the new agreement, are passed by the Parliament. Authority is also provided to the Treasurer to borrow the moneys necessary for making the advances to the States under the Bill. The repayable interest bearing advances will, as circumstances dictate, be made either from the
Consolidated Revenue Fund or the Loan Fund. Provision is made for any payments out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for this purpose to be reimbursed in due course from the Loan Fund, when the Treasurer considers this appropriate. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Uren) adjourned.
Notice of Motion
– Notice has been received from the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) of his intention at the next sitting to present a Remuneration and Allowances Amendment Bill.
Consideration resumed from 20 September.
Proposed expenditure, $14,922,000.
-Any time that parliamentarians need to speak about the Parliament there seems to be a degree of hesitancy on their part to raise the matters that are wrong with it. I do not mean so much the things that are wrong with the proceedings in the chamber as the things that are wrong with the building itself. This building is now more than 50 years old. It has weathered well. In the first instance it was not intended to be a building of substance or one which would last into future centuries. It was built as a provisional parliament house. That attitude was adopted by the Parliament of the day. It was rejected and argued against by Walter Burley Griffin who, in 1922, told the Public Works Committee which was investigating the construction of this building that there were sufficient building materials in Canberra for the nucleus of a permanent parliament house to be commenced and that it should be constructed on the hill or the slight rise behind the building that now stands. However, the Parliament of that time had its way. In 1977 and, by any estimate, for the next decade we will be occupying this building that has long since passed its useful function so far as private members are concerned and, I suspect, so far as the Executive is concerned. I know for sure that for the executive of the Opposition there is virtually no accommodation in this building.
Quite recently a decision was made by the High Court on the size of electorates. At a referendum in the 1960s the people of Australia voted solidly against the breaking of the nexus between the size of the House of Representatives and the size of the Senate. Unless another referendum is put to the people, it seems that the Parliament is in two binds: Firstly, it can remain the same size, with 124 members of the House of Representatives and 64 senators. On that basis, only one conclusion can be drawn, and that is that the numbers of electors in electorates will get larger. Whilst there are 69,000 electors per electorate throughout Australia now, it is conceivable that if the population were to grow to any vast extent the number of electors per electorate would increase to 100,000 or more. The alternative is that the nexus be broken and that 24 more senators be commissioned. If I interpret you correctly, Mr Deputy Chairman, you rather agree that it would be political suicide for any government to suggest that the number of senators be increased by almost 50 per cent; but that would bring about a commensurate increase in the number of members of the House of Representatives.
Whichever way things go, the accommodation in this place will get progressively worse. If the first proposition, by which members are expected to represent more than 100,000 electors in their electorate, is accepted, it is quite clear that it would be beyond the capacity of one member to serve those people. If it is beyond the capacity of one member with two people working for him in his office in the electorate, it would become obvious even to those who have the most bitter hatred of parliamentarians that there would be a need for assistance in Parliament House in Canberra. If that proposition were accepted, there would be nowhere in this building that such people could be accommodated. If the second proposition is accepted and the size of the Senate is increased, with a commensurate increase in the size of the House of Representatives, the same problem would pertain. There would not be sufficient accommodation in this building for those who were required, indeed charged, by the people of Australia to be here. That is the position from the point of view of members.
Let us go even further than that. Any of us who have been through the section of the building occupied by the Press would worry. The whole area is dilapidated. I understand that there have been a couple of false alarms lately at which the fire brigade turned out. When I turned the corner in the car one morning and the fire brigade was here my heart stood still, because I live in tenor of any conflagration starting in this building. If it did it would be uncontrollable. The loss of life, with such a large number of people working in this building, I believe would be appalling. This building is supposed to be the prestige building of the parliaments of Australia. The whole building is decrepit. It has been added to. It is out of shape. It does not serve the purpose which was first envisaged for it.
The very people who write down Parliament are the parliamentarians. As you know, Mr Deputy Chairman, there is a committee looking at the proposition of constructing a new and permanent parliament house. I do not think it is any secret that the committee would be looking at a project that would cost about $ 100m spread over 10 years. Again I see people going white at the thought of going to the electorate and saying to the people: ‘This sort of accommodation is required’. But I believe that parliamentarians have, in the first instance, to convince themselves that this is what is warranted and justified and, in the second instance, to have the courage to proceed from that point and to sell to the community the proposition that those people whom the community expects to manage the affairs of this country should be able to do so in accommodation that is of no greater or lesser standard than the accommodation that is used by other people who are engaged in very large enterprises.
One could enter into a dissertation about the management of the affairs of this country and I believe it would be quite legitimate to do so while we are discussing the estimates relating to the Parliament. To elaborate on that point, as we know, the parliamentary structure in this country embraces the Executive, which comprises the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. We know that these people are directly responsible for putting propositions to this Parliament. I interpolate that in recent times they have not put up too many of these propositions, but that is their responsibility. There are people who are Government supporters, who sit behind the Executive and support it on these issues.
On the other side of the House there is the Opposition, clearly identified by the Leader and the Deputy Leader. It has become the practice over the years for other people to sit with the Leader and the Deputy Leader and they in turn are a counter to the Government Executive, they constitute the Opposition executive. Then, of course, there are private members of the Oppositionsupporters of the Opposition who sit behind the Leader and the Deputy Leader. All sorts of facilities are available to the Government Executive if I may use that term to indicate the Prime Minister and his Cabinet- as there should be. I make no criticism of that. Surely this whole parliamentary system is based on having a government and an opposition. That being the case, surely the opposition must have access to facilities if not equal to at least somewhere near the facilities that are available to the Government Executive to enable the Opposition to perform the task the community expects it to perform. Our friends in the Press are never loath to state that the Opposition is not, to use the vernacular, getting stuck into the Government as much as it should. A lot of these things depend upon the facilities and backup that are available. There is no doubt that with the volatility of the Australian electorate nothing is going to remain permanent for any great length of time.
At the moment the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is playing some sort of parlour game. He is enjoying himself. He has the business community upset. Frankly, we are deriving some glee from the fact that he might call an election at any time. If that is the case he is going to find himself back on the Opposition benches. He will not be sitting on the front bench; he will be way up the back. But I point out to the Committee that there is a need to make accommodation within this building more civilised than it is at present, not only for the members of Parliament but also for the members of the Press and the Library, and all the other people who inhabit this building. There is a need for consideration to be given to facilities for Opposition executive members.
Mr DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I should like to respond to a number of comments made by the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson). Much of the complaint that he has registered in the Committee this afternoon is valid. I am well aware of the fact that the accommodation provided for the members of Her Majesty’s Opposition is not all that most of us would like to see. Having been in opposition during the years 1972 to 1975 I can confirm what the honourable gentleman has said. However, at that time and in those circumstances when requests were put to the then Prime Ministerthe present Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam)- we found it was very difficult to convince him that very much should be done. In fact, when he was previously the Leader of the Opposition the same circumstance existed. We find ourselves rather like a dog chasing its tail.
I do not want any of these remarks to be interpreted in any way- I am quite sure that my friend the honourable member for Burke would agree with me on this- as a reflection upon the members of the staff, that is, the people in the Department of the House of Representatives, the Department of the Senate, the Joint House Department, the Library, the Hansard staff and other organisations around Parliament House. The honourable member made an interesting comment when he referred to the Senate and the referendum of 1967 in which the present Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Werriwa, and the then Prime Minister, the late Right Honourable Harold Holt, were approaching the Australian people jointly to have that nexus broken. At that time, thanks largely to the distinguished members of the Fourth Estate and their customary misrepresentation and distortion, it developed into an argument as to whether there ought to be more or fewer members of Parliament within this country.
It was rather unfortunate that this matter was not developed properly because one can recall that in the days when Australia had six million to seven million people we had 36 senators. Today, with 14 million people in Australia I am not at all sure that there is not some merit in saying that there ought to be 84 senators. This would give us a House of Representatives comprising about 168 members. I point out that when there were six million to seven million people in Australia we had a Parliament comprising 74 members. In 1948-49 the Labor Government of the day had, if I remember correctly, 45 members in this House and the Liberal-Country Party Opposition had 29 members. If one considers the validity of comparison between the population at that time and the population today there is a reasonable argument to be advanced. Of course there are always arguments of a party political nature which interfere with a proper, responsible and rational interpretation of what should be the size of Parliament in relation to population.
The other comments by the honourable member for Burke which I wanted to endorse related to the new and permanent Parliament House. At a time of economic restriction, as we have at present, it is very difficult to imagine that the Government will approach with a great deal of alacrity these programs, the cost of which would probably run to at least $100m, as my colleague from Burke said earlier. But the fact remains that we do need to have a new and permanent Parliament House. There is no doubt that if we do not meet this expenditure in the late 1970s, whereas we would be paying $100m or more now, in 10 years time we will be paying twice that amount. This is the story of the past 40 to 50 years in this country. I have no doubt that that story will not change in the future.
In the few minutes still available to me I want to make one or two comments in favour of the staff of the Parliament. In debating these estimates I am quite sure I speak for the very great majority of the members of this House of Representatives when I say that we are extremely grateful for the services rendered here in circumstances which are not always the best. I hope to make one or two comments in relation to some of the figures in these estimates. I note that we are graced with the presence of the Speaker. I am delighted to see him in the Committee this afternoon. I want to put in a word for the equipment that we have within the facilities of the Parliament. I am thinking in particular of that in the dining room and in those areas that are controlled by the Joint House Department. I notice, for example, that the appropriation for equipment in 1976-77 was $28,500 and that, with a remarkable capacity, the Joint House Department managed to dispose of $28,499, which left $1 in kitty at the end of the financial year. However, this year the appropriation has been reduced to $ 14,000. After examining some of the equipment in the dining room- I shall make no more particular reference than this- it is quite apparent to me that some of it needs refurbishing and some of it needs maintenance a little more constantly than it is receiving at the present time.
– It is old world.
– I quite understand. I agree with my honourable colleague from Banks that much of it is not new. However, I would say that it is still valuable equipment. If the plating on a lot of the jugs and other equipment in the dining room was regularly considered, and if money was provided to maintain that equipment it would last a long time. I suggest that in this circumstance and at this time it is a matter that might be considered.
I turn once again to the facilities section and refer to some of the critical comments made earlier by the honourable member for Burke I think it is only fair to point out to him that when I was first elected to this place in 1949 the facilities provided to members of Parliament were not as good as they are at the present time; they have improved substantially over the years. I pay some tribute to the former member for Grayndler, the Honourable F. M. Daly, because in my judgment he made a very substantial contribution in many ways in improving the facilities provided for private members of parliament. Her Majesty’s Ministers, because of the financial support they receive, do not need the sort of aid required by back benchers. I do not necessarily believe that the former honourable member for Grayndler should be compared with Ministers of the present Government, but I point out that we do owe him a great deal. When I first entered the Parliament I well remember that we had only one secretary. No office was provided for the honourable member for St George, as I then was. I had, I think, the use of half a table in the ministerial party room. I do not know that that was a tremendous confinement, but there is no doubt that in this day, in this building, members are very substantially better off than they have been in the past, I think that that ought to be recorded side by side with the general criticisms put before the Committee this afternoon by the honourable member for Burke.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (4.58)-We have just heard two logical contributions in the consideration of these estimates. It was a pleasure for me to hear the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) say that the complaints made by the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) were valid. I reciprocate by saying that I agree with the contributions made by both honourable members. As a matter of fact, it was my intention to mention some of the points referred to by those honourable members. I find that I will have to steer a somewhat different course. However, I still feel that we have some duty to discuss some of the functions of the Parliament to be maintained by this appropriation and to discuss some of the benefits to be derived from the proper functioning of the Parliament. It is appropriate also to discuss the benefits to be derived by the country as a whole. I feel also that we ought to discuss some adjustments that could or should be made in order to make the Parliament more efficient and to win us greater respect and understanding from the citizens generally.
I am conscious of the official brochure which is handed to visitors in King’s Hall. It speaks about the outstanding role that members of this Parliament have to play. It goes on to say that the decisions made by those people will have a farreaching effect on the lives of every citizen. It then goes on to say that we see at work the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln: ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’. I am quite sure that most honourable members have those lofty ideals when they come to this Parliament. Unfortunately we seem to lose our way somewhere along the line. I think the damage is done because we project the wrong image. I want to put forward some facts, to make some comparisons, and to use some arguments to justify my belief that this Parliament could be improved. That could be achieved without a great deal of effort but simply by a change of attitude.
It is my belief that the Parliament should be an expression of the social structure of the society it represents. Therefore we should act in conformity with the hopes, desires and wishes of the people who put us here. Over and above that expression, of course, members on both sides of the Parliament have a common interest. We have a duty to defend the common interest and to prove that we are willing and capable of serving that common interest which, of course, is to consider the requirements of the nation as a whole. Along the path towards defining that common interest, I want to give some recognition to the guidance given by the Speaker. I am very pleased to see him in the chamber this evening. Some time ago he told us he would make arrangements to have the national flag displayed in this Parliament. There is no doubt that the appropriation we are considering will be used for small things such as the erection of the flag, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and even the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship.
I shall deal with some of these things. To some people they may appear to be minor matters, but to me they play an important part in the functioning of the Parliament. It seems to me that if we are to be an expression of the social structure of the society we represent we must carry the flag of our electorate in this Parliament. We should put up the standard and every day when we come to the Parliament and we see our national flag we should remember our duty to our electorate and to the flag we carry. I believe that if we were all a little more conscious of what the flag represents we would have a better Parliament, a better nation and a brighter future. I do not want to dwell on this for too long. However, I do congratulate the Speaker and I ask him not to dally any longer but to have the flag put up, because we can certainly do with a few more flag carriers in this Parliament.
Another matter to which I wish to give some consideration is one which I think is doing violence to this Parliament. I speak of the hierarchy syndrome. It seems to me that there are symptoms of that on both sides of the House. I make the point that no one increases his dignity by standing on it. I ask the question: Why is it that some members who come into this Parliament with reasonable to outstanding educational qualifications can wriggle their way on to the front bench or into Cabinet and then imagine that they are super-intellectuals? It seems to me that that sort of thing is causing a good bit of disharmony in this House. I cannot understand why any Christian would take that attitude, because those people should know that some knowledge, some wisdom, which is withheld from the learned and the wise, is revealed to little children.
– You have a reputation as a saintly man.
– I thank the honourable member very much. He said that I am a saint. I am only a back bencher of the Christian Fellowship. My honourable friend, the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin), and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) who are on the front bench of the fellowship should know that the truth of my words can be found in Matthew 11.25. In any case, I ask the Speaker not to allow those members on the front bench to ask three more questions than honourable members on the back benches.
The honourable member for Burke has already mentioned that members of the Press deserve to have some of this appropriation used to improve their facilities. I agree with this but I do not want anyone to think that I believe the Press is always responsible in reporting the happenings of this Parliament. I deplore some of their methods of gathering news, although they are sometimes of advantage to the Party I represent. However, I think that practices such as leaking information, tipping people off and pimping on one’s own Party are to be frowned upon. Mr Speaker would know that rarely does the Press tell the nation about the good work he does. It very seldom gives me a mention either. I believe that it does some violence to our democracy both inside and outside this House. On several occasions I have spoken about the value of some of the country newspapers, in particular the Barrier Daily Truth and the Lachtander. I wish to refer to another smaller country newspaper. That is the Recorder which circulates in Ivanhoe and district. Honourable members will understand how truthful this newspaper is when I read an article from it. It is headed ‘Champion of the Outback’ and states:
No matter what your party politics may be, I think you will agree that the scrapping of the States biggest seat, Darling, held by Mr John FitzPatrick for the ALP since 1969, will be a great blow for the Far West.
Is that not lovely?
– It is very good reporting.
– Yes it is. The article states further:
While we hold no party policies one way or the other, in all fairness, it must be put on record that Mr FitzPatrick has been the Champion of the Outback.
I could read it all, it is such a lovely story. I wish to touch on the appropriation for the InterParliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I notice that the Senate debates on the Estimates touched on this matter. It seems to me that people outside the Parliament often condemn members of parliament for going on visits overseas. I have been away on three and I have never worked harder in my life and I have had a spell in hospital each time I came back. I think that it is much more beneficial to send a member of this Parliament overseas to spread goodwill and to understand what goes on in the rest of the world than it is to send an army overseas. Unless we are prepared to spend this money we will damage human relations. Every encouragement should be given to keep the good work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union going.
I refer also to some of the good work done by the parliamentary committees. I have been on several committees of this House and I have always found some dedicated people who work a lot harder than I am able to do myself. I am sure that the Parliament gets a lot of benefit out of the committee system.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Firstly, I also draw attention to the fact that Mr Speaker is with us. May he long continue to resist any interference or influence from the Executive. He is our man as the Speaker of this chamber. He will know that he has the full support of honourable members from both sides of the chamber if he ever feels that he needs it.
I take up the issue where the honourable member for Darling (Mr FitzPatrick) left off. To my disappointment I notice in the community today an increasing disillusionment with Parliament and its politicians. This attitude I think is fed by the mass media which reports primarily on disputations and confrontations because its job is to sell newspapers or to increase ratings. I believe that the community should know, on the other hand, of the many instances when members and senators work together on specific matters in the total interests of the nation, a matter already referred to by the honourable member for Darling. The mutual respect that has developed between members on both sides of the House has, I think, surprised several of them and enhanced the institution of Parliament.
Since 1964 when I entered this House there has been a substantial growth in bipartisan activity and in the degree of expertise and concentration on certain areas developed by members of the House of Representatives and senators of all parties. Inter-party co-operation in committee work has not detracted from the proper role of Her Majesty’s Opposition to probe government legislation and statements. However, publicity of apparent and sometimes real disagreement on matters of policy or practice conceals the common desire by most, if not all, honourable members to serve the nation and the people who elect them to parliament. To illustrate what I have been saying, when I joined the Parliament in 1964 there were six senate committees, five House of Representatives committees and five joint committees, a total of only 16 bipartisan committees. All but two of them dealt with domestic matters to do with the Parliament. These committees required a total of 139 members drawn from a Parliament of 182 members.
Today we have 37 all-party committees requiring 297 members, elected strangely enough from a total of 191 senators and members. Leaving out Ministers of which there are twenty-six at present, on average each member of the House of Representatives and senator serves on more than two such committees. This ensures a considerable cross-fertilisation of party ideas when framing committee reports to Parliament. I took out some figures earlier this year for the Government Parties Rural Committee of which I am Chairman. Each committee member had, on average, commitments to over four committee tasks. I think honourable members will know that leaving out such people as whips, deputy whips, deputy chairmen of committees, deputy speakers and so on, there is a fair work load on the rest of the back bench. I am sure that the Opposition has the same if not a heavier work load to cover a similar range of activities with substantially smaller numbers available to do the work.
The work load is compounded by an increasing number of electors which each senator and member is required to represent. Excluding the special cases of representation in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory the number of electors per member is greater now than it was before the expansion of both Houses, agreed to by Parliament in 1948 and implemented in the 1949 elections. I shall repeat that: The number of electors represented by members of parliament now is quite a deal greater than it was prior to the last reform introduced in relation to representation in the Parliament.
– The population has doubled.
– The honourable member for North Sydney has said that the population has doubled. Of course it is that growth which is responsible for the present situation. A strong case now exists therefore for a larger number of members and senators. Bearing in mind that the Australian people voted at a referendum to maintain the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives, an increase of four senators, for instance, phased in over two elections, would increase the number of senators to eighty-four, as has been mentioned before, and members of the House of Representatives by approximately forty-five. This may seem a large increase but if that were done the number of electors represented by members of parliament would still be greater than was the case after the 1948 change.
That was over one-quarter of a century ago in a much simpler world than confronts the Parliament now. It would probably be more practical, bearing in mind accommodation problems in Canberra and the considerable changes that a large redistribution would entail, to increase die number of senators by two at each subsequent Senate election whether it be a half-Senate election or a full Senate election. This would mean a corresponding increase in the size of the House of Representatives of about 22, building up later by 23. So, growth by new seats can be achieved within the nexus that has been set down. I can imagine that some people would react by saying that Parliament costs enough already. It might be worth noting the outlay per head of population per annum on Commonwealth parliamentary government, at constant prices, using 191 1-12 as the base year. I have a table showing those figures which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)-I leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows- 1911-12- 10c. 1 948-49- 1 5 .3c This was before the 1 949 expansion in size of the Parliament 1 950-5 1 - 1 3.6c After the 1 949 expansion the cost was less.
– Few people want big government. Certainly honourable members on this side of the House do not want it. But, if the 1949 experience is any guide, we will achieve better representation for the people at very little extra cost. I have two further charts which I have shown to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam), and I seek leave to have them incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The tables read as follows-
– Those charts clearly show the statistics of the increase in bipartisan committees of this Parliament. The people of Australia should not think that we spend all our time here cat-calling at each other and disagreeing on every principle. The charts point out very clearly the huge increase in the number of bipartisan committees of all types on which members meet and through which they find an increasing respect for each other. The statistics lead to the conclusion that almost all members of Parliament spend a great deal of time not only representing their electors in this place but also representing and working very fully in the interests of the nation as a whole.
– I agree with many of the sentiments which have been ex- pressed by previous speakers, particularly theonourable member for Darling (Mr
Fitzpatrick), the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) and the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) who has just resumed his seat. I am a deep lover of the parliamentary system and a firm believer in it, but some of the words which I will speak today will be critical. I feel that Parliament no longer is fulfilling what should be its real role in the community. There was a time when the moulding of public opinion was carried out within the Parliament, but nowadays it seems to be the fashion for it to be carried out by the media- by radio, television and the Press. I firmly believe that the Parliament is the place where public opinion should be canvassed, where public opinion should be moulded and where decisions should be made.
Unfortunately, decisions are not always made within the Parliament. As I have just stated, decisions are pre-empted and public opinion is moulded by the media to such a degree that the media have developed a talent for creating public opinion. The stage has been reached where members of the Parliament are like players on a stage, but unfortunately it is not serious theatre that goes on within the precincts of the chamber. There has been a tendency for the proceedings of the Parliament to become almost vaudeville or slapstick comedy. If we ourselves do not take steps to improve the standard of parliamentary proceedings the parliamentary system could become a farce. I think that that would be a very dangerous situation. Any real student of history would know just how valuable the parliamentary system is and how hard it was to achieve. We as members of the Parliament should be the last ones in the world to denigrate the system for which so much blood was shed in days gone by.
Unfortunately, we have seen members from both sides of the Parliament wanting to attempt to mould public opinion outside the confines of the Parliament. There is a tendency for them to limelight, to become television personalities, to accept invitations to appear on programs such as This Day Tonight, Monday Conference or A Current Affair. I will not include the Willesee show because I think that it has become slapstick and vaudevillian. There is a tendency for members from both sides of the Parliament to want to appear on the AM and PM shows conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, to the exclusion of their activities within this Parliament. I am not firmly convinced of this, but I think that one answer could be to give more consideration to televising the proceedings of the Parliament- not as a funny show, not as a comedy show and not for the information or the joy of the people who sit up in the gallery, because they are only a very small percentage of the 14 million people who now live in Australia. I believe that we would achieve a far better presentation of parliamentary proceedings and a far more serious attitude towards them if they were televised.
We saw a very fine example of that when the Joint Sitting of the Parliament, which was unique in the history of the Parliament, was televised. When the parliamentary proceedings were being televised there was constant attendance in the chamber, members of Parliament wore their good suits, they were on their best behaviour, no cheek was offered to Mr Speaker and Mr Speaker looked very impressive in the chair as usual. I think that if more consideration were given to the televising, not of the whole of the proceedings- I do not think that that should be inflicted on any section of the community- but of a selected portion of the parliamentary proceedings the role of the Parliament in moulding public opinion would become much greater. I put a case for televising not only the proceedings of the Parliament but also the proceedings of some of the committees of the Parliament.
I am certain that the people who sit in the public galleries to watch the proceedings ask themselves: ‘What do politicians do? Where are they? Are they in the bar again?’ I can assure the members of the public who are present here today that politicians spend very little time in the bar. Let me cite a statistic that is not widely known: It takes three weeks of the parliamentary session for 18 gallons of beer to be drunk in the parliamentary bar, whereas I would say that at one good party it would take only an hour and a bit to knock over 1 8 gallons. That gives some indication of how little drinking goes on within the confines of the Parliament.
Before I came to this Parliament I heard it said- not in fun in many cases- that it was the best and highest paid club in Australia. I can assure people that it is not the best club and it is not the highest paid club. I often wonder what it is that drives a person to want to become a member of the Parliament. It is certainly not the money; it is certainly not the working conditions; and it is certainly not the prestige of the job. If any member of the Parliament thinks that he has prestige, he is not going around his electorate. The standing of the member of Parliament in the community has been denigrated- and I say this quite advisedly- by the media which wants to take over the role of the Parliament to become the moulder of public opinion and the decision maker. It has almost succeeded in achieving that objective. It has set out quite deliberately to make the member of Parliament the butt of cartoons and through the Press to pass on the jibes of the populace.
Despite what is written I believe that politicians I do not class them politicians as such; I would prefer to call them members of the Parliament- do an honest and honourable job. Despite the jibes of the community and the cartoonists and what is written by members of the Press who sit up in the Press Gallery looking down on us- and I use the term ‘looking down on us’ advisedly also- I have never seen in the eight or nine years I have spent in this Parliament a more sincere, dedicated, hard working and capable group of people, and that comment applies to members of both sides of the Parliament.
Prior to entering this Parliament I worked for 34 years in the Commonwealth Public Service where there are also dedicated, hard working and sincere people. I put the member of Parliament in the same category as those dedicated, sincere, hard working and capable public servants. Frankly, members of Parliament are public servants. I am here as a representative of 63,000 people. I am here to do my part to assist them. Obviously 63,000 people from my electorate cannot come up here to govern. Therefore they have sent me and, I might add, they have made a wise choice. I am sure the same can be said of most members of this Parliament.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I also commend the presence in the House of the Speaker, who, as the Presiding Officer, is the senior officer responsible for this part of the Parliament. I put the basic question: For what purpose was Parliament House built? I also put the subsequent question: In the achievement of that aim or purpose, who should have priority in the allocation of the limited space in this building? The answer must be that Parliament House is for the governing of this country by those elected for that purpose to represent the people of Australia. I do not believe the present situation reflects that priority that members and senators should have in this building. However, the position is better than it was, certainly in respect of the recent past since I have been here. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) and the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) referred to an earlier period.
I note that the Speaker and the President of the Senate are very much aware of the situation.
I understand that certain plans are in hand to alleviate the position further. But I must say that the demands on a member have increased at a disproportionate rate to the improvement in facilities. There are many reasons for the increased work load and I shall mention some of them. First, unlike State parliaments where the number of members is being continually increased to offset the growing population and demands on those members, it appears impossible to increase the size of the House of Representatives. In fact, a recent High Court decision has reduced the number of members of this House. Secondly, people are not only using their members more than they have in the past but also they are turning more to Federal members for many of their problems or aspects of policy areas that in the past were considered to be State matters only. My third point is that Parliament is passing more legislation and that there are more committees and inquiries of a national and parliamentary nature requiring the time of members of Parliament and their staff.
The Remuneration Tribunal acknowledged this situation in its 1977 determination. In paragraph 31 on page 19 of its review the Tribunal stated:
We are satisfied that there is a prima facie case for a back bencher to have one member of staff in Canberra, one in his electorate and one additional staff member who may be located in either place from time to time. We will look further at this matter when the accommodation constraint at Parliament House is overcome.
Canada probably is the most appropriate example for this Parliament to consider in terms of accommodation and staff because its system is similar. I was in Canada a couple of years ago and I understand that a member of Parliament in Canada represents about three quarters of the number of electors that we do. Each member of the lower house in Canada has an office of three rooms, if not in Parliament House itself, in a building quite adjacent to it. The member has a staff of two in his parliamentary office and a staff of one back in his electoral office. In other words, he has a staff of three which was the size virtually recommended for members of this place by the Remuneration Tribunal.
Twenty-two members of the House of Representatives, or about 16 per cent of the total, are obliged to share rooms. As a result it is impossible for these members to have any staff in Parliament House at all. I might point out that members of Parliament are now allowed to employ one research assistant each. There are 30 research assistants presently employed with House of Representatives members in this building.
A couple of weeks ago a group of Government back benchers made a tour of Parliament House. I was not a member of this group but I understand that it found more room could be made available. There is an unoccupied flat on the Senate side of the House. Members of the group were informed that the flat was used to house a small bomb disposal unit which would, presumably deal with incoming mail. I understand that there are five rooms in the flat. There is also one vacant Senate office which had been vacated by a research assistant. Members of the group believe that they saw only one office used by staff employed in Parliament House that was worse than the offices that many members are required to put up with in this building. It is not absolutely essential to house some sections of support staff in this building and therefore they should make way for members and senators.
Therefore the problem is one of restricted space and the priority for allocation of that space. Eventually the construction of the new and permanent Parliament House will overcome this problem. But stage one is set down for completion in 1988- that is 1 1 years away. I commend and support the Speaker and the President for their determination to have stage one completed on time in 1988 because it is absolutely essential that this be done. But what is to happen in the meantime- in the 1 1 years until 1988. I believe that all who work and who are accommodated in this building must accept that a certain minimal standard must be provided for all members and senators and that this standard must include a separate room for each member of parliament. It is also important that those rooms be of a size to accommodate adequately the member and one research assistant. We should remember that the Remuneration Tribunal has stated that a case has been proved for up to two people in addition to the member to be located in Parliament House.
I acknowledge that the facilities of the staff who work here are also inadequate. I am not saying that the facilities are inadequate for members only. But I return to the point of who must have or should have first priority for that space. The answer for the next 1 1 years appears to be to add to this building where possible and to re-locate as close to Parliament as possible staff whom it is not absolutely essential to house in the building. I want to emphasise that that re-location must allow the minimum accommodation standards for members to be achieved. In conclusion, I commend again the Speaker and the President for their recognition of this problem.
-This is one of the opportunities we have each year to discuss matters relating to the Parliament. Although I would like to talk at length about the estimates of the Parliament, time does not permit me to do so. Therefore I will say only one thing about the estimates of the Parliament. I am pleased to see the Speaker of the House to hear any occasional reference which might relate to his financial administration of the Parliament. I assure him that I do not intend to raise those sorts of matters today. I make the point that I think continuing consideration should be given to the view that the appropriations for the Parliament should be considered by the Parliament quite separately from the normal appropriations of government. The appropriation for the Parliament should stand alone. I say that for a number of reasons. One reason is that Parliament never should be in the position where its operation can be jeopardised by the political activities of political parties in the House.
Perhaps I can refer briefly to the events of 1975. One effect of the continuing clash between the Houses of Parliament could have been that Parliament would not have had funds with which to operate during a period of national crisis. Its funds were dependent, as were those of the Government of the day, on the annual appropriations. In such a clash I think the Government most likely would have refused to put the Parliament’s appropriations forward as a separate operation. The Parliament should not be jeopardised in its operations by any political clashes that may take place. More importantly, the Parliament ought to be answerable for and the presiding officers ought to be responsible for the funds which are allocated for the Parliament. It is not a government exercise. It is a responsibility of the Parliament as a whole that it fund its operations and that it justifies them. The furphy so often suggested around the place, and I suppose the Treasury would be the worst example, is that funds have to be controlled by a Minister of the Crown. I suggest that the person elected to accept responsibility on behalf of the Parliament -after all it is the members of Parliament who carry the brunt of criticism for the expenditure of funds or for wasting funds, as the case may beshould have the authority for the expenditure of those funds and also should present the estimates for the Parliament and carry them through the Parliament. This process should be part of the independence of Parliament.
I want to raise one or two matters relating to the administration of the Parliament. In this period I believe that a change in the accommodation arrangements is absolutely essential and that changed administrative arrangements may be equally essential. It is difficult to propose change. At the moment the two Houses of the Parliament operate in the presence of five separate departments. I think this is impractical and I do not believe it adds to the efficiency of the management of this building. It is my opinion that the management of this building should be subject to very serious investigation. Possibly a joint parliamentary committee could investigate the situation.
I believe that the creation of a department of the Parliament, responsible for the functions now carried out by the Parliamentary Library, the Joint House Department and Hansard, and having separate heads of those operations fitted into that department, would enable a more efficient management of the building structure than is the case at present. The departments directly responsible for servicing the two chambers would remain- the departments headed by the two Clerks- and would perform the role for which they and their officers are responsible. My proposal would have one other effect which I think would be beneficial to Parliament. It would bring the management of the remainder of the building, that is apart from the chambers and their immediate precincts, under the joint control of the two presiding officers. Apart from these two chambers, virtually all of the building is a service facility for all of the members of Parliament but there is a Une drawn to show that that half is for the Senate and this half is for the House of Representatives.
The standard of accommodation within the building differs materially when one side is compared with the other. The accommodation on one side of the building for 127 members of the House of Representatives, excluding the Ministry and some other office holders, is sub-standard at best. On the other hand the accommodation for 64 senators is relatively good and takes in a fairly substantial area. It is not true to say that senators occupy half the building because Hansard and the Joint House Department occupy accommodation on the Senate side.
The accommodation for members of Parliament ought to be in accordance with the functions that they carry out. I think the situation would be better generally if a senior administrative officer were responsible for the Public Service area of the Parliament and in charge of those functions at present covered by officers of varying rank and standing. Certainly this proposition is arguable and challenges the existing norm but
I believe that it would assist in the management of this building. In a new Parliament House I think it would be essential to place those functions under the control of one Public Service officer who would be directly responsible for advice to the Presiding Officers. If that part of the administration would constitute a problem I do not think it would be beyond the wit of men to solve it. It is usual for the Presiding Officers to be of a light political complexion and usually they are able to agree on matters affecting Parliament House where the interests of the two Houses are not directly involved.
I want to raise one other matter at this time because I believe it ought to be considered urgently. I refer to the secretariat of the InterParliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I raise this matter because I believe that the liaison of visits of parliamentarians from other countries, especially government sponsored visits from our near neighbours, will involve a far greater area of responsibility in the near future than they do at the present time. In Australia’s national interest they ought to be viewed as involving far greater responsibility. I think we should be encouraging and even sponsoring visits by parliamentarians from our Pacific neighbours and our near Asian neighbours in order to acquaint them with our system and our problems and to ensure that we have first-hand contact with them. This is in the national interest.
I think this purpose would be better served if we had within the Parliament an office of international relations to service the IPU secretariat and the CPA secretariat as well as to operate on a much broader basis. This would result in more uniformity. It would break down the present Senate versus House of Representatives proposition which tended to grow up because of the way in which things are allocated. More importantly, I think there will be a greater spread of responsibility for the international field than is the case at the moment. We have officers who are quite competent in those areas. Quite obviously they co-operate with one another when major conferences or other such activities are held in Australia. I think they ought to be operating out of a single office which has direct responsibility. In addition, there are other parliamentary organisations around the world to which we send delegations or to which we may send delegations in the future and they could be easier serviced from a central international bureau. Delegations now go to the Council of Europe but we tend to tack such delegations on to one of the other delegations. That is an area in which we have a very direct interest.
I raise that point at this stage because I have just been to Canada where that type of operation is carried out. All the parliamentary organisations with which Canada is affiliated are serviced through an international bureau within the Parliament. Such an arrangement provides a level of expertise and guarantees the Parliament the best possible service. Where the work load of one delegation is light another may have a heavy work load. I recommend this procedure to the Presiding Officers.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Everyone, or almost everyone, agrees that this Parliament does not work very effectively but no one does anything about it. It is not a matter of members working hard. The honourable member for Angus (Mr Giles) produced some very detailed figures showing how hard members of Parliament have to work. The fact is that we are not working very effectively. Some time ago a report on the new parliamentary committee system was brought into this House. It was a detailed study of the way in which committees might help to make this Parliament work more effectively. It was a unanimous report but nothing has happened. I am sure we are all aware that there are many matters which are not effectively covered by debate in this House. Too often they take the form of statement followed by flat contradiction and ending in personal abuse. There are many matters which, if they are to be considered effectively, must be considered by a committee from both sides of the House sitting around the table discussing matters, examining papers and taking evidence. It is surprising how often a proper and agreed decision will arise out of procedures such as that.
Why has nothing happened? It is not a matter of money, although I suppose a larger vote would be needed for committees if we wanted to make them effective by providing appropriate staff and research assistants. But it is not really a matter of money because the amount involved would be trivial in a Budget appropriating more than $8,000m for Commonwealth purposes. The fact is that governments do not want this House to be more efficient. Lord Acton once said that power tends to corrupt. I do not know whether he was right but one thing I am sure of is that power tends to make people resist scrutiny of their actions. That is an inevitable consequence for a government of whatever political complexion. Governments do not want the scrutiny of this House when they can avoid it. This matter is so important that I think this legislature has to seek ways in which in this area it can impose its wishes on the Executive. It is a matter which this House has to take seriously.
The report on the new parliamentary committee system, which is a radical restructuring of the present one, was tabled in this House in May 1976. At that time the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) said:
I give the House an assurance that there will be an opportunity to debate the statement which has been made … at a later stage, probably in the Budget session.
The Minister was referring to the Budget session of 1976. This is the Budget session of 1977, and that debate still has not been held. I ask the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) who is at the table to indicate to the Committee in his winding up remarks when it is planned to hold that important debate.
I do not want to canvass the conclusions of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System although I agree with its conclusions. The point I draw to the attention of this Committee is that we have done nothing about that report. We have established the Standing Committee on Expenditure, a committee which was examined by the Select Committee and specifically rejected by it. So we have done nothing to implement the Select Committee’s recommendations.
This debate is a good example of what is wrong with our procedures. We are examining detailed estimates but I am not planning to speak on them and I do not think any other honourable member has or will speak on them. The point is that this is not the appropriate venue or the appropriate method by which to discuss such things. To discuss the Estimates we need witnesses and documents and to be able to crossexamine witnesses. Here honourable members, perhaps helpfully, make speeches on general topics but they do not examine the Estimates. That role is being performed by the Senate, and being performed effectively. I do not resent that. I am not in favour of duplication by the two Houses but I think it is odd that this House should have abdicated so abjectly its responsibility for financial management. If we accept, as we appear to have, that this role is being performed by the Senate I have one suggestion to make: Ministers should appear before the Senate Estimates committees to give evidence of behalf of their departments. At the moment Senate Ministers who in the Senate are responsible for five or six departments appear before the Estimates committees and are of very little help to those committees. There is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent a Minister appearing before Senate Estimates committees and I urge the Minister for Productivity to suggest to his colleagues that they do so and, incidentally, to set an example, by doing so himself.
Like other honourable members I welcome the presence of Mr Speaker in the chamber for this debate. I take the opportunity, when he cannot rule me out of order, to put a suggestion to him. Question time in this House is ineffective. Its ineffectiveness is a great reflection on our real willingness as a legislature to examine the Government. The Minister’s technique, of course, is well known. If a Minister does not like the look of a question he is asked, he answers a different question, and there is nothing much which can be done about it, under our procedures. In the House of Commons the procedure is different. If a question is asked and is not fully elucidated, and it rarely is, supplementary questions are allowed until, in the opinion of the Speaker, the subject is exhausted. That, of course, gives great discretionary power to the Speaker and requires a Speaker who has the confidence of both sides of the House to implement effectively. I believe that our present Speaker has that confidence, and he should be allowed to exercise the power given by Standing Order 151 which states in relation to questions without notice:
At the discretion of the Speaker supplementary questions may be asked to elucidate an answer.
I take this opportunity to suggest indirectly to Mr Speaker that he consider discussing with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) whether he should not exercise that power freely, suitable arrangements being made to control the number of questions asked and the method of asking them. If that power were used, it would do a great deal to improve the quality of question time in this House and the efficient scrutiny by this House of the Executive.
– I agree with the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) that question time has become one of the most inefficient instruments of this Parliament, and that has been so for a considerable number of years. Like the honourable member, I recently heard far better performances in the House of Commons in the sensible use of question time than I do here. However, there is one point on which I will emphatically disagree with my friend: I do not believe the Senate should have any say in the financial affairs of this Parliament. This House long ago unfortunately did not face up to what should be its supreme responsibility. It is in this House, and in this House alone, that Supply can be initiated and it should be in this House, and in this House alone, that it is decided. What happened here on 11 November 1975 was a tremendous reversal of sensible constitutional practice in the 20th century and I will yield to no one in my views on that.
I too am pleased that Mr Speaker is present for I hope that never again in this Parliament will there be a repetition of what took place here the week before Parliament last rose. One of the things we are deciding here today is the appropriation for Hansard. I believe that Hansard should be a report only of the proceedings of this House in this House. For political reasons recently, honourable members voted to incorporate material in Hansard and I am glad that Mr Speaker took the sensible and practical view that the material could not be incorporated. In my view it was a travesty that honourable members, particularly on the Government side, seriously thought that it should be. We took the best part of a day on that decision and I understand that even in the adjournment debate later in the day it was sought to go through the travesty of reading the document into the record when Mr Speaker had earlier decided that it was not suitable for incorporation. If we in this Parliament want to get to the practice of the American Congress where speeches which are not delivered at all are incorporated in Hansard, let us be honest enough to say so. I candidly hope that we do not do that. I believe that Hansard should be the record of what happens in the chamber. I do not know whether anybody ultimately reads the stuff and I think that sometimes there is a lot of vanity in relation to what goes into Hansard. I think we ought to resist the increasing habit of incorporating into a speech material which is longer than the speech itself. We sensibly put limits on the length of speeches a long time ago, yet honourable members can make their Hansard contribution twice as long- I am not sure that it is twice as impressive- by the insertion of all sorts of documents, when many of them have been included in Hansard previously and most of the information can be found in the government Year Book.
I think the low number of members in the chamber at the moment is indicative of the situation. Once Question Time finishes, unless some lively occasion happens to be expected there is a great evacuation of members from the House, the majority of whom often never return that day. One of the reasons for this, of course, is the committee meetings. The honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) said that there were 191 members, which I take to be the combined number of members and senators, and that nearly every member has to be on at least a committee and a half if the committees which have been established are to have their membership requirements satisfied. It is far more difficult for us on this side of the chamber because the tendency is for a committee to consist of 10 peoplesix from one side and four from the other- or of 1 1 people- six from one side and five from the other. That certainly puts a greater weight on members in the House of Representatives. I happen to be on three committees- candidly, not because I want to be, but because my party would not have been able to fill the numbers on one of the committees if I had not decided to nominate. At least if I go on a committee I am a conscientious attender. I think the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) is aware of that. I often find that I have to make up a quorum for two committees at the one time, and that is not very easy.
It is about time those who have the responsibility of looking at the Standing Orders and at the hours of sitting realised that we ought to set aside one day or part of a day each week as a committee day and not an ordinary House sitting day. At least the committees could meet sensibly. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, of which I happen to be a member, has the right to meet when the House is meeting. But we are no sooner meeting than we are disturbed by either quorum bells or division bells. We on the committee do not have enough sense to give ourselves pairs. Again, that seems to me to be a rather silly way to face up to our responsibilities. Like my friend the honourable member for Isaacs, I believe that Parliament is still the best form of government yet devised for the democratic system. If we are to preserve it we have to make the institution work better than it is working. I suppose it works remarkably well in some respects, but it could work a great deal better than it does. In my view it does not require any constitutional changes to make it better; it requires changes in the institutional arrangements that currently exist.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-I call the honourable member for Phillip.
-On 22 September last, during the Grievance Debate, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) said:
Liberal and Country Party back bench members are acting disgracefully, individually as well as collectively, in order to divert attention from the real issues. Last Friday, 16 September, an article appeared in the Sydney Daily Mirror and the Adelaide News, written by Trevor Kavanagh, entitled M.P. Afraid After Row On Latham’.
He alleged that the story was a fabrication and was fabricated by myself. He further alleged that at no time was I threatened in any way by anyone in this Parliament. I did not fabricate the story. The scene, or to use the words of the honourable member for Adelaide, the action and the frenzied gesticulation by members of the Opposition amid much uproar were witnessed by many members on both sides of the House. It was a disgrace and a demeaning of the institution of Parliament. Mr Kavanagh is a Sydney journalist who is respected in journalistic circles and by members of this House as a person of great competence, integrity and accuracy. These latter attributes have been justifiably earned by him during the years. He is one journalist who checks his facts before going to print. There was no exception in this instance. Typically, the honourable member for Adelaide denigrated my wife on the basis that she gets stories put into the Sydney Sun. He never bothered to check with the Sun because he knew his statements were false. I warn him to desist from personal attacks on women, especially my wife. He stands condemned as a coward.
Debate resumed from 8 September, on motion by Mr Lynch:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The purpose of this Bill, as set out in the second reading speech of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch), is to provide legislative authority to meet a prospective deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund for this year.
This legislation will give the Government the authority to seek funds to meet its deficit at such times as it sees fit. Certain matters surrounding the borrowings of the Government and the financing of its deficit, I think, ought to be brought to the attention of the House and ought to be debated much more fully than will be the case with this type of legislation. The general economic management of the Government is, to say the least, doubtful and to put it at its worst, disastrous. During 1975 it was a regular practice of present Ministers to talk down the national economy at every possible opportunity. Now those Ministers in charge of the economy have created a situation of near disaster in the Australian economy, through general mismanagement and their inability to determine economic priorities and economic policy on the basis of rational discussion and the consideration of advice.
The facts are that Australia’s economic policies at the moment are based on a seat of the pants administration. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) makes decisions on the spur of the moment and announces them on the spur of the moment. The departments concerned are quite often not even consulted about major economic decisions. I am reliably informed that a private firm of consultants, which has very close connections with multinationals, has a greater influence on government economic policy than the Commonwealth Treasury at the moment.
I make a specific point relating to the Government’s loan policies. On two occasions in recent months the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made statements relating to future reductions in interest rates on government loans. It is coincidental that these statements were timed almost exactly with new Commonwealth loans at the existing rate of interest being advertised. The result is that people are given the impression that if they want to invest in long term securities they should invest in this loan because the next one will be at a lower rate of interest. Therefore they will not get the best possible rate. This happened on two occasions.
There is no evidence at all that interest rates will be reduced. I can suggest only that if a member of a stock exchange made a similar statement in respect of an issue that he was making he would certainly be investigated and would most likely be prosecuted, because it is a quite improper practice to seek to influence investment in Commonwealth loans by making statements which so far have proved to be false- statements that interest rates are about to drop. I will highlight just how serious these statements are by pointing out that a State Government authority m Victoria, when advertising its loan, includes verbatim a statement made by the Treasurer of Australia as an incentive for people to invest at this stage, because interest rates are about to drop.
There is at least substantial evidence that interest rates are not about to drop. The statements of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have been misleading. It may be that my statement is not correct, but there certainly has been no action on this matter. I consider it is an improper practice for a national Treasurer or a Prime Minister to be making statements which will influence people’s investment policy towards a particular loan unless such Ministers are prepared to give absolute guarantees that they will carry out those statements. It is not the first occasion on which that type of statement has been made by persons in the Government in an effort to influence a decision relating to the economy. We all remember that a similar statement relating to tax concessions was made by the Prime Minister immediately preceding the national wage case in March. Six weeks later he was telling this House that under no circumstances would the Government consider tax concessions as a trade-off for the unions withdrawing their claim for a wage rise based on indexation. That is one of the facts.
There has developed a practice by the Government of making statements, designed to influence tribunals and individuals, which have no relationship at all to the facts and which, if made outside this Parliament, would be criminal. There is no question that if one tried to sell debentures in a company, told people that this was the last opportunity they had of getting 10.5 per cent on a gilt-edged basis, and told them with the sort of authority that the Treasurer has, with no intention of carrying out that statement, one would be putting out a false prospectus. That is exactly what the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have been doing. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in its loan raising advertising is using the Treasurer’s words as part of its advertising campaign in order to fill its loan at an interest rate which is one quarter or one half per cent higher than the Commonwealth bond rate.
– Who is doing that?
-The Victorian Government is using the Treasurer’s words about a reduction in interest rates. I suggest that you look at the matter. If it were done by a private individual it would be looked on as being a false prospectus.
– The Government is not doing it.
-The honourable member was not in the House when I made my original remarks. The facts are that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister made statements to this effect almost immediately before opening a Commonwealth loan. They stated that there would be future reductions in interest rates for Commonwealth loans but not for this loan, the implication being: Get in now if you want the high rate of interest. Certainly it was an incentive for people to buy into that particular loan. At this stage I suggest that the statements have no real consequence as far as any particular reduction is concerned. If made by a private firm they would be criminal.
– We have to wait and see, do we not?
-I do not think that we do have to. The Government has made great play of the size and structure of its deficit and of the fact that it is going to be of a certain size. I think it ought to be pointed out to this House that there are wide discrepancies between the Government’s accounting methods now and the accounting methods used previously in arriving at the amount of the deficit and also that a substantial proportion of the reduction in government expenditure shown in the Budget has been achieved by transferring expenditure to other areas. For instance, in the past two years over $200m of government expenditure has been transferred from the Budget Papers to the Australian Telecommunications Commission in the form of separate borrowings. The borrowings have taken place but the Government has not shown them in its Budget Papers. It has claimed that there has been a reduction in government expenditure when there has not. It is only a cooking of the books or a change in bookkeeping entries.
The Opposition is not opposing this loan because obviously it is necessary to finance the deficit. But I suggest that it might be appropriate for the Treasurer, when he is available, to make a full statement on the economy which this House can debate at length. It is about time we had something other than ad hoc remarks from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or other Ministers about the actual state of the economy and what the anticipations are. It is important and relevant that a major economic debate should take place in this Parliament and that it should take place on the basis of a government presented statement. This Government seems a little shy to present such a statement.
– That is what the Budget is.
-That was presented two months ago. Even you altered that.
-The Loan Bill 1977, which is before the House tonight, is a usual Bill - I think that is the best way to describe it. It is a Bill of a type which has been introduced by governments for many many years. It does not, as the former Speaker, the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) claimed, represent an ad hoc process. The comments being made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and others in regard to interest rates have nothing whatsoever to do with this Bill. The Prime Minister quite correctly has forecast that the proper economic measures taken by this Government will eventually lead to a downturn in interest rates. This has nothing to do with this Bill or the fact that a loan is being put forward in which the public can invest.
The Government is drawing on this loan to enable it to borrow for defence purposes. As I have mentioned, other governments have done this in the past. But, by the same token, this measure does not authorise any additional defence expenditure. There has been legislation for this purpose in the legislative programs of successive governments. Honourable members opposite, particularly the honourable member for Corio, know quite well that their Government undertook exactly the same procedures. There is very little to say about this Bill except to say that it is a machinery-type Bill. It has to go through the Parliament. It will go through. I merely rise to support the Bill.
– I take the rather interesting point made by my friend the Government Whip, the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier), that the Loan Bill 1977 is a machinery-type Bill which ought to go through the Parliament. If I may say so with some historical significance, that is not the view which was taken some two or three years ago when a similar Bill came before the House. I draw attention to the title of the Bill, namely, ‘A Bill for an Act to authorize the borrowing and expending of moneys for defence purposes . One of the reasons why the wording in the title of the Bill is so carefully chosen is that borrowings for defence purposes can be made outside the mechanisms of the Loan Council.
I have heard quite a lot in recent times about attempts to evade the Loan Council. With some respect, this has been a matter of some historical significance. I am pleased to see the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), in the House; I was surprised that he was not here earlier. Candidly, I do not agree with some points about the difference between loan and capital expenditure which were raised by the honourable member for Mackellar. But the only reason why this particular measure comes before us is that it does allow us to allocate part of whatever funds might be determined in the course of 12 months and to say that these funds are for defence purposes and they do not have to form part of the allocation by the Loan Council.
There has been a lot of iteration about what is temporary and what is permanent, but as far as loans for defence purposes are concerned, these funds do not form part of the allocation by the Loan Council. This was the case in measures of this kind for at least the 15 years before a Labor Government came into office at the end of 1972 or the beginning of 1973. At that time, when this particular measure came before the House, instead of it being regarded as a mechanical measure it became the vehicle of obstruction, initially in this House in a craven sort of way because at least the then Opposition members of this House knew that they could not pursue the battle very far. But they chose to say: ‘Oh well, in view of the time-table we will fight the issue somewhere else’. They fought it in the other place.
I was the Treasurer at the time. There was a demand to supply answers to certain highly irrelevant questions. The matter was pursued with a great deal of vigour. I think one of the principal exponents of the objections was the lady who is now the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). It is intriguing, to say the least, to find that the matter is now regarded as merely mechanical. I never thought it was anything else, just as I regard the total presentation of the Budgetafter all, this is only part of the total presentation of the Budget- to be mechanical.
If one looks at the figures provided in Statement No. 1 headed ‘Summary of the 1977-78 Budget’ attached to the Budget Speech, one sees that estimated for 1977-78 are outlays of $26,656,000,000 and receipts of $24,439,000,000-a deficit internally of $2,217,000,000. Then one sees the rather vague item ‘Overseas Deficit’. With all respect to my former experts in the Treasury, I think some of them agreed with me that there was some difference in evaluating what is called an ‘Overseas Deficit’ when the balance of payments situation is different from one year to another. Nevertheless, the statement refers to a domestic deficit of $ 1,347m. But this Budget, does not explain any more than any other Budget explains, how that domestic deficit is to be encompassed. I suggest that there is some mystery about the overseas deficit. One of the ways in which it is to be encompassed, of course, is that there shall be public loans- borrowings from what is called the non-banking sector, as I understand the terminology. Candidly, when a Budget is brought down nobody has any conception about what that subscription is going to be or from what source it is going to come.
Since we are having a learned discussion on this point, I am pleased to see in the chamber my friend, I hope, of long standing because we have both been in the Parliament for a long time. I disagree with him on one point: I think there is a lot of difference between public accounting and private accounting. I can understand a man who wants to buy a domestic motor car having the choice of whether to buy a humble Holden or a grandiose Mercedes, but he would be foolish if, having bought his motor car, he did not set aside something year by year to buy the next one when he felt he wanted to do so. If he is affluent enough he does not have to bother. But the community as a whole does things year by year. For example, if a person is buying 100 motor cars every year over a period of years, it seems to me that the interesting thing is the way in which he ensures he has enough money year by year to buy the additional capital stock he requires. Whether it be done by depreciation, reserves or by any other means seems to me to be a technical argument rather than anything else.
If I may say so, it is in that regard that I differ from the opinion expressed by my friend who says that if certain things are put in what he calls a capital account as distinct from an annual income account, a deficit will not be created at all. That is very consoling, unless one looks at aggregate performances. Surely that is what a government has to do. If a government is building schools year by year, if it is building hospitals year by year, if it is building all sorts of other capital undertakings year by year and if all of those transactions are entered into an account and some kind of amortisation, some kind of interest rate, is worked out, that may be interesting from an accounting point of view, but I do not think that is the reality of capital as against annual consumption in a community.
What we have here is only part of this subterfuge. In fact, with all respect to the experts in the chamber, I hope it is not subterfuge. It certainly becomes subterfuge if an effort is not made to explain it honestly. If I may say so with all respect, there was a dishonest attempt when I was Treasurer to use this particular event- the annual provision- for that purpose. I can remember a former friend of mine, Mr Howson, who is no longer in the House, bringing in this sort of Bill quietly one day. I suppose that was as far back as 1965 or thereabouts. I must say that I offered no objection to it. I accepted it as being merely a technical part of the Budget exercise. But when the Labor Government came into office, it was a different story.
I must say that I listened with some interest today to Government supporters trying to pour scorn upon those people who endeavoured to make capital out of the Government’s difficulty with the exchange rate. Any government at any time in the future will have difficulty in determining what its exchange rate ought to be. I think it would be acknowledged by the honourable member whose history goes back a long time- it goes back like mine does, to the Depression days when, I think we had less knowledge about the realities of economic circumstances than we do now- that in the final analysis the setting of an exchange rate is an arbitrary decision rather than a precise mathematical one. I think it is unfortunate that we play hazard about what the exchange rate might be, because I believe that the number of people who can take advantage of changes in the exchange rate is very small when seen in the total context of an economy. But what they in contrast to the rest of us can gain is significant.
The Government should not play pure today in relation to what is happening in 1977 compared with what it did in 1973, 1974 and 1975. In the latter year it did what to my mind was the graveyard of democracy in that a place other than this gained ascendency in regard to where the financial decisions of his nation are made, and the Government betrayed any respect that it may now claim for trying to defend things in terms of decent constitutional usage. At no time was that better displayed than on the trivial occasions in 1974 and 1975, and even maybe in 1973. In many ways we got away with it in 1973 because I think there was at least acknowledgment in 1973 that because the Government had just been elected it was entitled to be extended the normal decencies and to be allowed to use the proper procedures. I would ask honourable members opposite, and particularly those Government members who were then in Opposition, to look at the kinds of trumped up questions that were asked of us, particularly in 1974 when what I rightly described as this mechanical issue- I agree with my friend on this point- came before us. Government supporters saw that point and the honourable gentleman in particular saw it. I suppose that he is responsible to ensure that under this legislation the sum of $1,1 00m is the precisely measured maximum amount. But I hope he knows enough to realise that even if the $ 1,100m is exceeded in one way, it will be boondoggled or accounted for in a different way.
I believe that in an economy such as the Australian economy, which is running at an aggregate of $80,000m per annum- that is what the gross domestic product will be; it is pretty close to it now- nobody can say with precision that it is better to have a deficit of $2.2 billion without allowing for the overseas account and $ 1,300m on domestic account. Can anybody on the opposite side of the House argue against that proposition at the moment? I said this during the Budget debate. The Government is prepared to spend $800m- it may have to spend more than that because it may not have estimated the aggregates correctly- on the unemployment benefit. If I may put it crudely, in reality, something like 90 per cent of government outlays comes from taxation. The payment of the unemployment benefit means that those who are working subsidise those who are not working. Can anybody argue that it would not be better, instead of paying people two-thirds of a wage for doing nothing, to pay them a full wage for doing something? I am pleased that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) acknowledges that.
Whilst I am not an active front bencher, I hope that I am an intelligent back bencher in the Labor Party. I find it rather intriguing at the moment to read a number of articles in overseas journals which refer to countries trying to pursue an incomes policy. An incomes policy is some attempt to keep a relationship between wages paid and available resources and the disposition between consumption and investment. I am sorry that I had to speak rather suddenly tonight. I did not expect this debate to come on so quickly. A Swedish economist has said that it is absurd in the Swedish situation- I submit that it is as absurd in the Australian situation- to think that variations in currency are any answer to the problems the country faces. I think it is about time that was acknowledged in this country. I also read recently a review by an economist of the National Westminister Bank. If I was speaking tomorrow I would have the reference with me. He said that looking at the British experience there is no warrant for suggesting that either excessive wage demands or labour militancy is responsible for the economic situation which the United Kingdom faces. I suggest that there are salutary lessons to be learnt.
The only favourable comment made by honourable members opposite on my performance as Treasurer is that at some time I said that an increase in one man’s wages may be to the detriment of another man’s employment. I think there is an element of truth in that, but I do not believe that that simple syllogism contains the whole truth. I have tried to suggest that this Budget offers no solution to the basic problems of the Australian economy. I believe that that is true. After all, the Bill we are debating tonight is part of this Budget. If the problems can be simplified- I am not too sure that they can be- as being only inflation and unemployment perhaps the Budget can offer some solution. I do not believe that there are simple solutions to those twin problems. Inflation is endemic in modern affluent societies. I hope that unemployment will not become traditional in them. But it will be traditional and increasingly significant if we do not recognise that changes are taking place.
I am afraid that nobody in the Press Gallery takes any notice of a speech unless the Press has had at least five hours notice of it and it is made by somebody called a shadow Minister or something equally insubstantial. Otherwise the Press does not report it. I do not believe that the unemployment in Australia at the moment is due to the substitution of capital for labour. That is the history of capital development. Surely the social problem is what to do with the people who have been made redundant by the machines which are taking their place? Surely everyone of us here knows that we would be a pretty primitive community if we relied on man power instead of horse power? Has not that been the history of economic development in the Western world? My reading of history indicates that there was an agricultural revolution before there was an industrial revolution and that there were differences in the industrial revolution as between one country and another. The industrial revolution occurred early in England and later in Germany, and it occurred in a different way in France. One of the horrible, odd realities of the end of World War II was that those countries whose economies had been destroyed by the war because they were not allowed to spend their affluence on armaments were able to re-equip themselves with new industrial machinery.
This is the kind of lesson everybody has to learn. The honourable member for Mackellar is like me: He is a grandfather now, so he is also a father. Anybody who is a father of young children ought to be concerned about the employment opportunities in the years ahead. They will not occur in factories as they did before. I looked at some figures the other day. I am sorry again that I cannot be precise, but I did not expect to speak at this time of the night. At the moment significantly fewer people in Australia are employed in the textile and footwear industries, but those people are producing just as much as was produced when the numbers were greater.
One only has to look at the aggregate of manufacturing employment in Australia today. I have referred to the Jackson report two or three times previously. If I interpret it properly it says that if Australian manufacturing industry is to hold the relative proportion of employment it now has and if it is to expand it will not do so internally; it will have to do it externally. I again ask honourable members on the other side of the House to nominate the areas where they can see potential expansion for exports of Australian manufactured products. I cannot. I am prepared to acknowledge my ignorance, but the Government side is supposed to have the wisdom. Given that it will be difficult and that the solution will be long term, where is the Government going to employ people? It was prepared to lay the blame for unemployment at our door when the figures got high enough. It did not worry about unemployment when the figures were increasing. When they got high enough it said that they were due to the terrible three years of Labor Government in Australia. That is nonsense.
The Australian economy is not the worst in the world. If one looks honestly at figures one will see that in recent times the period when it was at its best was in 1973-74. I say again with some modesty that after the first Labor Budget in 1973 the number of houses completed in Australia was the highest ever and the total amount of employment in Australia was the highest ever. One cannot take no great credit for that. In a country such as Australia, where the population is still increasing, there ought to be more jobs one year than in the previous year and more houses ought to be constructed one year than in the previous year. Perhaps there will be ebbs and flows according to birth rates, but at least the Australian economy is not the worst in the world. But if anybody is responsible for painting it as being the worst in the word it is honourable members opposite who wanted three years to repair the economy but who would not allow us 18 months to do our task. I repeat that there is not much that we began to do that has been reversed. There is a lot of what we began to do that has been slowed down, and the people of Australia are beginning to miss it.
Honourable members opposite had the years from 1949 to 1972, undeterred by numbers in either House, but they had no vision. They had no imagination. If I may say so, they had even slightly more talent then than I think they have now. But they are the people who are supposed to be facing up to these sorts of things. When Labor came out with this sort of legislation that is called a technical measure honourable members opposite did their best. They could not win here but they had a contrivance of numbers somewhere else. I repeat what I said in an earlier speech today that, in my view, this House negates its responsibility. After all, governments in Australia are won by the party that happens to have the most numbers in this House. We have negated our proper responsibility. When Labor came into office the upstairs place was used to deny what the people of Australia suggested the new government should do. I always find that it is from the other side of the House that the cries come about communism or dangerous forms of government. I believe that communism will come in Australia only when proper domocratic forces are denied the ability to do what the people of the country want them to do. Surely that is what the situation was.
Let me come back to the title of this Bill which is a Bill ‘to authorise the borrowing and expending of money for defence purposes’. It is only a subterfuge that such moneys expended that way do not have to go through the network of the Loan Council. What a song honourable members opposite made about certain things that did not even ultimately come before the Loan Council and what might have happened if they had done so? I think that honourable members opposite have to scratch deeper. They have to look more closely and examine more thoroughly what are the realities of Australia in 1977. In my view, the major problems that afflict the Australian economy in 1977- they were incipient in 1971 when honourable members opposite were in office, they were more evident when we came into office in 1973, and surely if they were unapparent to the obfuscated in 1971 they ought to be evident even to the most naive in 1977- are that changes are taking place in every economy that still calls itself western capitalist. They are changes in the structure and they are changes that will not be resolved by us unless we get past meagre political bickering.
– There are some things on which I would agree with the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) and some on which I would disagree. I hope that I will make that clear as I proceed. The Bill in front of us is to authorise the borrowing for defence purposes. As such it is not amenable to the Loan Council and stands outside the Loan Council framework. Nominally at any rate this borrowing will be part of the moneys necessary to cover the $2.2 billion deficit’ which the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) brought forward in his Budget. Whether there will be any reversal of that in the future, we do not know. Nominally this is what it is for. Even apart from any defence component there are capital works and capital advances to the States included in the Treasurer’s figure of $2.2 billion which he calls the deficit and which I think is more properly referred to as the public sector borrowing requirement
These capital works will be of the order of $3.5 billion to $4 billion. In other words, if one goes to normal accounting one sees that the Budget shows a surplus of about $2 billion which is wholly directed towards financing some part of the capital works- the rest of the capital works are to be financed by borrowing, of which this Bill before us for $1.1 billion might well form a part.
As I have said, I am not clear as to the details of the capital works included in the present Budget. Last year the capital works included were set by the Treasurer at $3,869m. He was good enough to give me a breakdown of that figure for last year and I seek leave to have it included in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
-The House will recall that I have on the Notice Paper question No. 1571 addressed to the Treasurer asking for similar details for the current Budget but so far it has not been possible for these details to be provided. I have no doubt that in due course they will be provided and we will be able to see the Treasurer’s own figure for capital works in this Budget corresponding to the $3, 869m for last year’s Budget. This capital component, by the way, includes all the State capital works. People perhaps do not realise that when we put into our Budget a figure of $2.2 billion-we call it ‘deficit’ but it is more precisely ‘public sector borrowing requirement ‘-it includes the capital works of the various State governments which for some obscure reason now appear as part of the Commonwealth deficit. It is mad, it is ludicrous, it is insane, but that is how the figures are done.
I take the point made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports that public accounting is different from private accounting. That is true, but if one is dunking of any normal type of public accounting one must look, as he said, at the overall figures and at the economy as a whole. What has happened is this: In the Australian economy people make individually the decision to save and to put aside some part of their current income. This is a decision which they make personally, and the aggregate of those savings is taken away from their current consumption. That means that their current consumption falls and we have to find a way of using those savings in capital works whether they be private or government, because if we do not we will have unemployment. In point of fact there is unemployment in the Western world and in Australia today because of this excess of unused savings. Our Australian unemployment is simply the smell of unused savings going rancid. That is all it is.
Any government which looked at the overall economy would find a reason and a compelling necessity to borrow on the local market because this is the way of absorbing the private savings which are at the present moment unused, going into the banking system, being mucked about by the Treasurer and the Reserve Bank and generally being taken out of circulation. These rancid unused savings are in point of fact the cause of the unemployment which we see today.
I am looking at the economy as a whole and looking at the overall picture as the honourable member for Melbourne Ports told us we should do. I am afraid- and I say this with all respectthat my friend from Melbourne Ports was brainwashed too much by the Treasury officials when he was Treasurer. I think our present Treasurer is suffering in the same way. What I say against our present Budget I would say against the kind of Labor concept which the honourable member who has just spoken- a former Labor Treasurer- brought forward. Although he thinks he is looking at the situation as a whole, in point of fact he is not doing so. Apparently he does not realise that, if we used these savings more effectively, we would not have unemployment because unemployment is simply the aggregate of excess personal savings. This is a very simple proposition, but it is true.
Of course, there is the double effect. What one withdraws from consumption not only reduces the actual consumption of the day but also reduces the propensity to invest because investment is made for consumption. This gearing is quite important in the whole of the economic process. So I say that we have to look at this matter as a whole. It is quite right for the Government to borrow these excess savings because this is how to get the economy going again. It is no use just taking the savings by way of taxation. If we take them in this way all we do is cut down the aggregate of demand because what people pay out in tax they do not spend themselves on some item of consumption. Their saving is made from the residue after the tax has been paid.
These are very, very simple propositions but I regard them as essential propositions because they are the ones on which the whole economy of the Western world is foundering. The Treasurer is quite right when he says: ‘I am only doing what overseas financiers tell me should be done’. But overseas financiers themselves have not done it to the same extent that our Treasurer has done it here. Overseas financiers are now having second thoughts and they are talking about reflation in Europe and America.
They now see that the measures they have been taking, the measures which they have wished on our unhappy Treasurer- our unhappy and uncomprehending Treasurer without an understanding of what it is all about who has applied them much more fiercely than they have been applied in Europe- are wrong. They are reversing them in the hope of checking the stagnation which is present in the economy of the whole of the Western world in the same way as it is blighting our economy.
So I regard this as a matter of major consequence. It is not, of course, that what is done in Australia will change the history of the world. Of course this will not be the case. We are a little people and our influence is minor. But at least here in our small way let us abjure the economic sins of the financiers overseas. While the
Treasurer is quite right when he says that he is taking the advice of overseas bankers he is wrong in taking that advice.
I cannot say too strongly that this is a major matter. Unless we do what I suggest, we will turn the Western world and Australia as part of it into the abyss of socialism and communism. This is why the free enterprise system is not being allowed to work. I believe it is essential that we should allow the free enterprise system to work, end this stagnation and get things going again.
Let me return to the Bill in front of us and speak about the money that is to be borrowed. I do not think the Bill states whether the money is to be borrowed locally or overseas. But this money may well form part of the loans which the Government is now saying it will raise overseas. I address my mind for a moment to the question of overseas loans.
A country has a balance annually of what is known as its current account. That balance involves crediting the exports and debiting the imports, crediting overseas earnings and debiting overseas payments. There are two componentsthe visibles and the invisibles. But put them together and they are the country’s current account for the year.
For the year ended 1976-77 we had a negative balance on current account. We went into the red by $1.9 billion. If we look at the figures to see how they are shaping up we find that this year we are to go into the red for $3.5 billion or more unless something is done. The figures are quite inexorable when one looks at their trend because we must remember that our overseas debit on current account last year was piled up under circumstances where there was stagnation in Australia and consumption and investment were low. Any recovery here will mean a bigger overseas deficit unless something is done.
We have to remember that company profits, including the profits of overseas companies are increasing. They are not Australian profits but belong to someone else. We also have to remember that when the Government borrows $2,000m extra or $3,000m extra it will be up for another couple of hundred million dollars in interest. All of these factors have to be taken into account.
I would say, looking ahead, that something has to be done. We can poultice the situation by means of foreign investment. But foreign investment has to be paid for in the end. Our negative balance- about half our deficit on invisibles; something like a $1.5 billion deficit on invisibles- is due to profits which have to be paid to firms which have come over and invested in Australia. They have been earning profits in Australia. If we encourage more foreign investment, we have to pay more. So private investment is not the answer to this. Public investment, that is borrowing $2,000m overseas, is a temporary means of staunching the outflow. Probably it is a better means than encouraging too much private investment but it still has to be paid for and one can think of it only as a temporary expedient.
Now, there are two alternatives in front of us. We can improve the balance of visible trade by increasing exports or decreasing imports.
How are we to increase our exports in the near future? We have no uranium available, unhappily. There is not much market for extra coal, iron ore, copper or tin. There is not much additional market for wool. There is not much market for wheat; there is almost a market for a little additional meat. What about sugar? Well, ask the captains of the ships going around Yokohama Bay. We cannot increase exports over the short term. There is no reasonable expectation of being able to do that.
We can cut our imports and this is the time for a drastic cut in imports which will enable us to employ locally and by getting throughput up we will be able to decrease the unit cost of local production. This is the time, overdue now, for a drastic cut in imports otherwise another $1.5 billion from our current account is going down the drain this year. Added to the $1.9 billion that went down the drain last year, say $3.4 or $3.5 billion for 1977-78. Unless something is done quickly the downward trend will steepen. So we can cut imports and perhaps we can increase exports a little. Perhaps we can think of a differential tax on foreign private investment in Australia. That would be a very drastic thing but it is possible. It certainly is conceivable. But something has to be done. We cannot allow this drift to disaster to continue.
I come back to this $1.1 billion which perhaps is part of our overseas borrowing. It is not a panacea but it is a band-aid performance which will help us over the short term. Over the short term probably it is the right thing to do but over the long term it is not good enough. Let us face up to reality. I accept absolutely the point made by my friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports that we should look at the Australian economy as a whole.
– I want to -
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr Jarman)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together.
-Mr Deputy Chairman -
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– The Government allows a couple of wet-behind-the-ears back benchers to speak on a censure motion -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member with resume his seat.
– But when it comes to the real business of the House, the discussion of legislation, it gags the debate. It gags the spokesman -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I warn the honourable member for Adelaide. He must obey the instructions of the Chair.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a matter of misrepresentation. Whatever I am in this chamber or elsewhere, I am not wet behind the ears. I will not have a jumped-up little accountant talk to me like that.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will not take risks by addressing himself to the Chair without getting the call. He will remain seated.
– I am sorry.
Question put. The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Hurford) proposed:
That progress be reported.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Before I accept that motion from the honourable member for Adelaide I will have to put the question that clauses 1 to 4 be agreed to. After that I will accept the honourable member’s motion.
Clauses agreed to.
Debate resumed from 15 September, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure in relation to this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill as they are associated 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? There being no objection, I shall allow that course to be followed.
-This debate encompasses a debate on two Bills, namely, the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill. This legislation arises from changes announced in the Budget to the rates of levy applicable under the Coal Export Duty Act and a change in the rate of excise duty on coal which was collected for application to the coal mining industry long service leave fund. The purpose of the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill is to reduce the rates of duty on coking coal from $4.50 to $3.50 a tonne on coal subject to the higher rate and from $1.50 to $1 a tonne on coal subject to the lower rate. This legislation is contingent upon an amendment made by the Government at the time of the last Budget to phase out the coal export duty levy over three years.
The Opposition opposes the legislation. It does so on the same basis as it did last year, namely, because the Government has not announced its intention to introduce a tax measure as a substitute for the present coal export duty levy. During the debate on this subject last year I took great pains to explain the attitude of the Opposition to the coal industry and to amplify in detail the Opposition ‘s view of the state of the industry. I also made it clear that the Opposition was of the view that the present coal export duty levy was indiscriminate in its application. I stated then:
Whilst the present levy was indiscriminate and unfair in operating across the board on all coal company profits, the industry is healthy enough to sustain a selective tax to increase the return to the Australian people.
Most observers will be aware of the good fortune of the coal industry over the last five years. Prices have risen spectacularly in real terms and some companies have reaped the whirlwind from efficient, large scale production. It is the view of the Opposition that because companies have been given a national asset to mine and export, coupled with the fact that some have managed to do it profitably, many companies can afford to return to the Australian people some of the benefits which commodity price movements have given them. The Government on the other hand takes the view that the companies most successful in this industry should be relieved of any additional tax burden. It is true that some of the marginal producers found the impost of the coal export duty difficult to manage, but some were able to tolerate it with absolute ease and still chalk up massive growth in their profitability. The Utah companies in Queensland between them paid over half the total collections under the duty and were able to increase their profits even with the impost of the duty. I refer to the company’s last annual report which points out that in 1975 the company’s gross profit was $ 100.9m when the coal export duty levy payable that year was only $ 10.8m. In 1976, despite an increase in the coal export duty from $ 10.8m to $75. 9m, the company was still able to increase its gross profit from $100.9m to $136.9m. This was a 35.6 per cent increase in its gross profit, although it had paid out an extra $65m in duty in that year.
There are other examples, although they are not as spectacular. How the Government can justify the phasing out of this duty on a company like Utah and not replace it with some secondary profits tax mechanism is absolutely beyond explanation. It seems that naked partisanship can be the only explanation. The Government has had a year since the presentation of the last amending legislation to devise and implement a secondary tax mechanism. If it had done so the Opposition would not be opposing this legislation. Not only has the Government not yet introduced a secondary taxing structure applicable to the coal industry but also it has made it clear that it is not even contemplating one. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have made it clear in recent times that any secondary profits related tax which may be introduced by the present Government will be applicable only to petroleum and uranium, completely exempting the coal industry.
The coal export duty levy may have been a clumsy mechanism but it did give an increment to the national wealth from the mining of Australia’s valuable coal reserves. I have given notice that a future Labor Government will certainly seek to apply a secondary profits related tax mechanism to the extractive industries. The tax would be carefully designed in consultation with industry so that the objectives of such a tax would be met without some of the distortionary effects which can arise from taxes which are ill designed and hastily imposed. However, some sections of the coal industry can afford to pay more than just company tax alone and, in my view, they should be obliged to pay more. No sensible person believes in penalising companies to the point where development is stymied or where exploration is discouraged. But there is a sensible medium in all things. Imprudent talk by industry leaders about confiscation policies do little to establish a sensible point of agreement between government and industry in relation to the nature and incidence of any new secondary tax.
Public opinion will eventually force this Government to abandon its overly protective attitude towards the coking coal industry. It is to be hoped that some of the more responsible elements in the Government will see the need for a proper sharing of the tax burden amongst those institutions in Australia that can afford to make a greater contribution to the nation’s wealth, so we get away from the situation which we witnessed in recent years in which the growth in tax income came only from the pay-as-you-earn category of individuals.
The Opposition supports the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1977, it supports the increase in the rate of excise duty on coal from 4.3c to 10c per tonne, and it supports the removal of the present duty of 1 .2c per litre on condensate.
-The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) is an enthusiast with respect to mining, and he is respected for being an enthusiast. I have always thought that he has tried to be fair insofar as his party would allow him to be fair. He has had to carry some lead weights in the saddle. The lead weights are put there as a result of his party’s policy and as a result of some of the conference decisions of his party. I want to deal with those matters because I was fascinated that he should mention at great length that his opposition to this matter rested only on the proposition that there was a failure to announce a compensating, secondary or super profits or resources tax on companies which will benefit by the abolition of the export coal levy. The Opposition, putting itself in the position of saying that it will not oppose this proposition if the Government would do something about taxes in other fields, fails completely to remember its policy on taxation and those upon whom it levied the tax rate.
Let it never be forgotten that the principal source of revenue from taxation when the Opposition was in Government- the honourable member for Blaxland was not responsible for this- was the taxation upon the ordinary person who had only the price of his own labour to sell. That was Labor’s policy. It is not sufficient to come into this House, to cry and to say: ‘If we were in government we would change. We would keep our tax policies low, but we would hit somehow or other those coal exporters who are able to mine and export coal and earn export income for this country’. Not for one moment does the Opposition retreat from the idea of a tax levy upon the coal industry. Basically it does not retreat from that position. In a practical manner and in a theoretical manner, that was a gross and a very grave error.
The Opposition forgets that those commodities upon which it imposed the tax are commodities which are subject to very large cyclical movements in price because they are subject to world market prices. It was all right to propose a levy upon coal when it was at the top of the boom, when the price had risen for a number of years, but when a tax is kept on that commodity and when one realises that the price of coal today, compared with its price a couple of years ago, is 1 5 per cent or 20 per cent below that price in real terms, what does one do about the tax which was imposed- a commodity tax, an export levy tax? Does one put it on and put it off from year to year? The idea of a commodity tax does not work. Apply it to coal- the down-swings in price are as great as the up-swings in price. Do it with copper- the oscillations in price are easily as great and as severe. Do it with sugar. Honourable members know what happens with sugar. Do it with the other products which are produced from commodities such as coal. I refer to steel. They are all subject to wide cyclical movements in price.
In practice and in theory, the idea of a commodity tax on these items does not work, has never worked and is not in Australia’s best interests. I am astounded that this proposition remains in a country which is short, and increasingly short, of export income. The debate earlier today concerned the negative balance on current account and the negative balance on the balance of payments. As soon as one talks about either of those matters one is talking about the capacity of a country to export. If one imposes a tax on those commodities which are responsible for getting one’s exports, one is flying in the face of any economic or social rationality whatsoever.
I am disappointed that the Opposition continues to adopt the policies that it has adopted. That is wrong. I instance what happened when this coal levy was first put on. It is not sufficient to say that it was merely intended to shoot at the Utah organisation. A lot of bystanders were caught in the grapeshot as well. In 1974-75, the year in which this new tax was put on, 12 of the great coal exporters in this country had returns on historical cost levels of below 15 per cent. They had no indexation; no bringing up to present value of their capital equipment. Yet they were to have this extra levy imposed upon them. That is against common sense and economic rationality.
I believe- I am disturbed about this-that I see once again the great influence of the policies of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this respect. He feels that we can hit the mining industry. He has said this ad infinitum. He has said that we can hit the mining industry repeatedly and it does not matter. He has said that after all it is not a great employer of labour; it is a very capital intensive industry; therefore it can be susceptible. People who make that kind of statement forget or do not understand that the exports of the mining industry enable wages to be paid to workers and profits to be paid to those who have invested capital in Australia’s great protected industries. In other words, it is a transfer from the export industries that enables wages to be paid, in excess of the value added as a result of production, to workers at the Adelaide motor vehicle plant of Chrysler Australia Ltd. lt is the export income earned from coal which enables wages to be paid, in excess of the value added as a result of production, to those employed in Australia’s great textile and apparel industries in Victoria. That is part of the necessary interconnection of Australian industry.
So, to pick out, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has sought to do repeatedly, and as has been followed by his party, an industry which is capital intensive and which does not in the first line of work have a large labour force, is to do irreparable harm not only to the people in that industry and to the people who have invested in it but to people in other parts of Australia whose returns depend upon exports earned far away from them. That applies particularly in States such as Queensland and Western Australia, parts of New South Wales and so on. It is a serious misunderstanding in which the Opposition indulges, and it is not to Australia’s benefit that the misunderstanding should be persisted with.
This country in future will have, and today has, if it is to achieve the economic prosperity which it has had, a limited ability to take in its own washing. It will not be gained from the rate of growth of its domestic market. It will not be able to generate a great rate of growth in terms of the production of its own industry or of the demands from its own industry. It simply means that in the long run the great generative industries in Australia will be the export industries. It is the transfer from those export industries which enables the massed work force in many of the large cities of Australia to be supported, and it is necessarily so. It is the lack of understanding of that proposition which ought to concern every person in this House. In this kind of circumstance the Labor Party reminds me of a suicide squad- it picks a target, faces inwards and destroys itself. It also destroys the Australian work force and its prospects. I had hoped that it would not indulge in this kind of ludicrous economic rubbish and nonsense. These matters have to be mentioned.
Two further matters in respect of the coal industry are important. One of them is the current seamen’s strike in relation to exports by Utah from north Queensland. Certain features of that strike ought to be comprehended and understood. One of the interesting features of the strike is that the rule that is being relied upon is known as the 40:40:20 rule, which is a recommendation of the International Labour Office which was never adopted except by some landbound African States. The rule is that 40 per cent of a country’s exports and 40 per cent of its imports should be transported in ships manned by seamen of that particular country. This applies to both the exporting and the importing country. Twenty per cent of those exports can go relatively free. The Seamen’s Union, as a general background to its negotiations is relying upon that principle.
The second principle upon which it is relying to generate the strike and the tragic set of circumstances for which it is responsible is that the Spanish seamen on those ships are not being paid sufficiently. It just happens that the union forgets to apply those principles in respect of, for example, Russian ships which transport goods to and from Australia. Russian ships have increased their transportation of goods to and from Australia from about 10 per cent to 20 per cent. The wages of their seamen are far below what is being paid to Spanish seamen. But what is a crime with respect to Spanish seamen is ignored with respect to Russian seamen, some of whom are paid a little over $80 a month.
-Order! I am having a hard job lining up what the honourable member says, although it is most interesting, with the customs and excise tariff Bills. I wonder whether he would like to tie in his remarks with the subject matter of this debate.
-I should be delighted to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker. As you will see in a moment, what I am saying is most relevant. We are talking about the export coal levy which, of course, applies to those companies which are exporting coal from Australia. One of the companies that has been in the target line has been the Utah Development Company, which has been trying desperately to export coal from Australia in order to earn export income. As you would realise, Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) mentioned at some length the Utah Development Company.
There has been a continuing inability to export coal from north Queensland because of a seamen’s strike which has been applied with respect to coal exports. That strike has relied upon two principles- the 40:40:20 principle, which has been misapplied, and a principle that has been applied in respect of Spanish seamen. What I was pointing out was that if the coal exports are to have any validity and any meaning whatsoever the industrial relations which are the necessary lubricant for those exports to be consummated have to be part of the consideration. I mention those matters in passing.
-Order! They might need lubricating, but the Chair does not. I suggest that the honourable member tie in his remarks more exactly to the Bills, which are not trade Bills but customs and tariffs Bills.
-I find it very difficult, Mr Deputy Speaker, to see how customs and tariffs Bills can relate to anything other than trade. Nevertheless, as you request, I shall return precisely to the Bill which is before the House and to the matter of the coal industry and the economics of that industry. The nature of this tax is foolish and will not serve Australia well. When it is said that the tax would be opposed only in certain circumstances and that country should impose instead a super-profits tax or a secondary tax, the Opposition needs to define its position in respect of each of those taxes. What does it mean by a super-profits tax or by a secondary tax? Those terms have never been defined.
Unless in the matter of taxation there are precise definitions people are afraid of whatever whim comes before them. Is the super-profits tax to be levied in place of the coal export levy? Is it to be determined on the rate of return on capital development, or is it to be determined instead merely on the rate of total profits? That would be the difference between Utah and the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. Is it a tax to be incurred as a proportion of the profits on turnover of a company, or is it a tax to be imposed when a $2 company happens to earn a $10,000 profit in a year? That has never been made clear. Unless there is some precision in terms of taxation, people do not know where they are going and as great a mistake will be made as was made when this tax was first imposed several years ago. Prices fluctuate and those determinants according to which profitability is applied in a company also fluctuate.
I take your advice with respect to the Bill before the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, and shall apply the few minutes left to me precisely to the coal industry. One of the companies which is now in the process of developing a mine in Australia is the BHP company. It will be developing a mine at Gregory, the coal from which, if my understanding of the quality of the product there is correct, will be subject to the coal export levy at the highest rate. When the BHP company develops that mine in Queensland I am concerned that it is developed not as a branch office operation but as a separate profit centre. When one lives in some of the outlying areas of the country one often finds a branch office mentality applied to that area. I hope that BHP in developing the Gregory mine will have regard to the unemployment that exists in Queensland in respect of engineers and will employ the maximum number of consulting, civil and other engineers from that State to work out what is to be done at the mine and the works. I hope that BHP will employ as its negotiators for coal exports people centred in that State and not merely people centred in Sydney or Melbourne where its principal operations lie. I hope also that its exports will be negotiated from that State. In other words, I hope that there will be maximum domestic ripple economic effects in that State from those operations within that State.
– You left out the freight rates in that State.
-No doubt it will be subject to appropriate freight rates in that State and the company is aware of that now, whatever those rates are. It might be said that that represents a secondary resources tax, and a very effective one too. It is a matter of working out whether this should be a branch office operation or whether it should be set up as a separate profit centre. I am sure that BHP has these things in mind. I hope that for the community in which it will operate that mine and that export industry the company will publish the details of the economic effects of its operations within that region and within that State.
As you are about to request, Mr Deputy Speaker, I bring myself back to the Bills. The Bills are designed to reduce a tax which was foolish and wrong. It was misconceived in time and in terms of its effects. The very fluctuations of commodity products mitigate and argue against this kind of tax. I leave honourable members with this last thought: Those who say ‘We will impose another tax- a super-profits tax- in place of this’ have the responsibility to indicate the ingredients of that super-tax which is to be imposed in its place. So far the ingredients of that super-tax have not been made known; they have been completely ignored. For example, were this to have been done with respect to iron ore, it would have been foolish. It has been foolish with respect to coal. With respect to sugar, it would have been just one step short of insanity. I suggest that this House should support, as it will, the assertion that taxes of that lond offend against every decent principle of taxation and certainly should not be applied to an export industry in a country which is having continuing and great difficulties in getting adequate exports to bring its current account into correct focus and correct balance.
-I rise to oppose the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill 1977 and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1977. I say to the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) that one of the most pressing issues that face this country at a national level is the crucial need to evaluate the national control, the rate of exploitation and the volume of export of perhaps the two most important hydrocarbons- coal and natural gas. I think the exploitation of both coal and natural gas, in particular, on the North West Shelf ought to be the subject of an inquiry by a joint parliamentary committee. We ought to act upon that now. I suppose that 10 years ago it would have been possible to discuss the coal industry- that is what we are doing tonight- in isolation from other sections of the mining industry. Today that is no longer possible because the coal industry is an integral part of the energy picture; it cannot be divorced from it.
I have said previously that for a number of years prior to the establishment of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1973 all major energy companies had been diversifying their interests. One must examine this problem and the reasons for it and the consequences of it in order to understand the present situation pertaining to the Australian coal industry and the merits of the export levy. We imposed the levy at the rate of $6 a tonne; in last year’s Budget it was cut to $4.50 a tonne; this year it is reduced to $3.50 a tonne; and the Government is committed to abolishing it in next year’s Budget. The Government says that the levy is misconceived. I ask the honourable member for Lilley: What are the real facts behind this issue? I think we realise that the greatest advantage to be gained by oil companies, as I have said before, is to become monopolistic as far as the supply of raw materials is concerned. The control of raw materials bars new entry into the industry and allows monopolistic profits to be obtained. It is economic sense, I suggest, that those companies must gain control over all energy sources if in fact they are to retain their monopolistic position. I thought that was rather self-evident.
– Monopolistic in an export industry?
– Yes, because that is crucial, and that is what the ball game is all about.
The necessity for the large oil corporations quickly to gain control of other energy sources was hastened by three major events. I suggest that the honourable member for Lilley cogitate on this. Firstly, oil company profits began to decline in the 1960s, partly due to increased competition. What was the competition at that stage? It consisted of independent companies. Secondly, the growth of environmental problems in the United States, Japan and Western Europe challenged the supremacy of oil so that oil was not in fact going to be the foremost source of energy. Thirdly, there was the problem in North Africa and the Middle East, which one could refer to as nationalism. Fourthly, and most importantly, I think, was the awareness that oil supplies would fall behind demand in the last quarter of the century. That only hastened the large companies to move into alternative sources.
I suggest to the honourable member and I suggest to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) who is at the table that Australia’s massive coal reserves are the present target for the large corporations. We have watched that for the last five years. The Minister at the table is perhaps more aware of that than anybody else is, since he is a former New South Wales Minister for Mines. What amazes me in relation to this measure is that the large reputable corporations throughout the world foresaw this problem five, six or ten years ago. They realised that coal would become the important energy source in the world energy picture. They predicated their policies on that basis. We failed to do so.
In the last week the results of a number of studies on the world energy outlook have been published. What do those studies forecast in regard to the demand for fossil fuels? They clearly indicate that the demand for coal is expected to increase quickly after the middle 1980s. I suggest to the honourable member for Lilley that the people who made that forecast have done their homework; he has failed to do so. A good example of that sort of forecasting is to be found in the report of the World Energy Conference which was released only a week ago. That could be coupled with the Cavendish Laboratory report. What do we find? We find that coal will be required in industry both for direct use and for making synthetic fuels, which is what I have said on many occasions. Also it will be required to balance the nuclear component in electricity generation. Those reports estimate that world coal demand in the year 2020 will be four to six times its present level. Does that indicate that there will be a decrease in coal prices? Do honourable members opposite believe that?
In that situation, the move into coal by the large energy corporations is perfectly obvious. I have said before- I will repeat it- that there is a deliberate strategy towards monopolistic control and that such control provides a number of benefits. We sought to structure that in advance in 1974. The first benefit is that these corporations can make profits by driving up prices. As the price of other energy sources rose they would be able to maximise their profits. Secondly, as coal is a likely source of oil or gas in the future, it would give the companies marketing flexibility. I would have thought that that was obvious. That is one of the reasons for the large corporations making Australian coal their target at the present time. Thirdly, it would tend to guarantee the stability of the companies as far as coal and uranium were concerned.
If the honourable member is not aware of it, let me point out that what obviously has happened is that both in the United States and in this country there has been a cornering of the large quantities of non-oil reserves. As I said before, we will be forced to follow these moves that have been made in the United States unless steps are taken immediately to prevent this country from losing control of its energy resources. I suggest that such American words as ‘divestiture’ and anti-trust’, which I can claim some credit for using in this House, will soon become household words in this country unless action is taken immediately.
I suggest that the case against foreign monopolisation of Australia’s coal industry is more than just nationalistic sentiment. In the case of export prices of Australian coal, foreign ownership has tended to undermine the traditional bargaining tactics of the New South Wales coal companies which have usually co-operated in negotiating the best possible price. If any man in this chamber knows what that means it is the Minister at the table. At least when we were in government we did what we could to rationalise the bargaining position of Australian coal companies in their dealings with Japan. Even the huge repatriation of funds could be small compared with future pay-outs after the removal of the coal levy. The honourable member for Lilley overlooked that point very conveniently. The case of the Utah company illustrates the hazards to Australia of foreign ownership of key energy resources. Why did not the honourable member tell the House that when Utah was first established in this country there had to be a hue and cry in Queensland before one cent of Austraiian equity was obtained in that company? If that public outcry in Queensland had not occurred, there would not have been one cent of Australian equity in that company.
In 1976 Utah sent back to the United States $90m; in the previous year it sent back $63m. This year it will be returning well over $ 100m to General Electric. Utah hopes to export, as I understand the situation, twenty million tonnes of coal when Norwich Park comes on stream. The saving of the $6 a tonne coal levy will then be worth a massive $126m a year to Utah. That is what this means. Is the Government seriously suggesting that we have no right to devise a mechanism by which the people get a fair return on their national asset? I have too much respect for the honourable member for Lilley to say that he does not consider that we should do something about that.
The rate and size of the transfer of funds to Utah shareholders has increased since General Electric took over the assets of the company. The latest figure which is the result of this levy on the Utah Milling Company suggests that Utah is paying out 90 per cent of its net profits in dividends which have jumped by 2,000 per cent since 1972. That company is already making 36 per cent on money invested. It is sitting on enough coal to more than maintain its coal export levels for 100 years. That is the minimum period. In spite of its huge profits, Utah’s basic philosophy is to undercut competition in coal sales. For example, its latest contracts with the Japanese steel nulls set a price of between $47.20 and slightly less than $49.00 a tonne for different types of coal. Two New South Wales South Coast producers, Bellambi and Kembla Coal and Coke, have recently negotiated prices of $52 a tonne for slightly inferior coal. It is not surprising that local companies resent Utah’s approach which amounts to contempt for Australia’s interests. There is no doubt about that. It is true.
We ought to realise that fact and acknowledge it. As long as the monopoly and control in this country escalate it will exacerbate the situation.
The situation has further deteriorated since foreign ownership bids by Esso and Shell were allowed to proceed. I repeat that only three local coal export ventures will not have significant levels of overseas ownership if the Conzinc RioTinto of Australia bid is also allowed to proceed. I repeat what I said in the House previously. The Japanese steel mills, Australia s largest customers, have also voiced their concern at the growing foreign ownership of Austraiian coal reserves. They know what will happen if it reaches the same proportion as it has in the United States and Canada. At least those countries have some foresight. We have very little. There are considerable disadvantages in Australia allowing its coal reserves to be dominated by foreign interests. This situation is being actively encouraged by this Government’s policy, including its reduction of the coal levy.
I have stated before and I forcefully repeat that the present Austraiian Government and particularly the Queensland Government have failed to recognise the real worth of our coal reserves, especially from the viewpoint of large corporations. Unless the Austraiian Government quickly comes to the realisation that our coal reserves are among the world’s significant energy sources and unless it prepares a national policy for Australia’s domestic energy requirements, the wealth of our natural resources will be of little consequence to this country’s needs both at a national and international level. We will have written off our options. If the national Government fails to regulate the use of minerals and energy in the national interest- at least this is what it is doing with this levy- multinational corporations will use them in the interests of their world wide, vertical and horizontal conglomerate structures.
Already in Canada and in the United States foreign investment in oil and gas has reached 90 per cent. Let us have a look at the level of foreign ownership. Twenty of the biggest oil companies control 94 per cent of the United States oil reserves. Eighteen of the largest oil companies produce 60 per cent of the natural gas. Sixteen of the 18 companies own oil shale reserves. Eleven companies own huge coal reserves. Sixteen have bought into uranium. I have repeatedly asked the Government and the people to recognise before it is too late- regrettably I think it is- that while we fiddle to try to balance the petty cash side of the national balance sheet, and at least this is one constructive attempt to do that, large energy conglomerates have deciphered the combination to the national bank vault; that is our rich national resources. That combination consists of a number of complex sequences which involve the rate of exploration, the level of exploitation, the degree of ownership and control and the volume of exports.
– As well as diversifying markets.
– On that combination rests in no small measure this country’s continued economic standard and the continuity of people’s wealth and their standards of living. Whatever may be said by the honourable member for Lilley, this country’s future progress will be determined on how it evaluates and exploits its resources. There is no question in my mind of what the election in 1975 was about. The machinations over the last 18 months have only confirmed that. What has happened and what has continued to escalate over the last 6 months have put it beyond any doubt at all. This Government’s policy, this action and this commitment to eliminate a levy which is one mechanism by which people can at least capitalise on the exploitation of what is, in fact, their asset can only escalate and strengthen the already high degree of foreign monopoly over this most important national and natural resource.
If honourable members want confirmation of that they should look at the penetration by companies such as Shell, Esso and British Petroleum. An odd statement was made in the House the other day by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) welcoming foreign governments which formulate subsidiaries to come in and take up rnining leases in this country. He applauds that but then condemns any government in this country, national or State, which seeks to do exactly the same thing. I find that odd, to say the least. I warn the Government now that it should take action urgently on two crucial issues- the level of control of coal reserves and the control of exploitation of natural gas deposits. These issues ought to be the subject of a joint parliamentary committee of inquiry. They ought to be acted upon now. I oppose the measure.
– I rise to support the Bills. In this cognate debate I intend to devote most of my attention to the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill. During the course of this debate certain speakers have indicated the extent of the levy, why it was introduced, its importance and what it was intended to do. I enter into the argument by giving a little of the history not only of the levy but also of the more recent coal developments in the central Queensland area in the Bowen Basin. A new technique has been developed, quite different from what has happened in the past. It does not involve underground rnining. It involves the stripping and the open rnining of the coal reserve. Let us go back just two years to when the introduction of the levy was effected in the 1975 Budget by the then Treasurer, Mr Hayden. It is interesting to note that at the same time the Medibank scheme was introduced as probably one of the great socialistic platforms of that Government. There is no doubt in my mind that the levy was intended partly to offset the projected cost of the Medibank scheme. Of course we know that the escalation of the cost of that scheme would have put us into hock for many years.. The present Government has altered the system but probably has not taken it far enough.
The fact is that those measures were introduced at the same time and, irrespective of what is now claimed about controls of reserves and of the resource itself, I believe that this was a platform of the former socialist Government and that the commodity tax, or as I call it, a resources tax on the coal was just meant to offset it. We have heard tonight that ten years ago was the time to act. If we go back ten years we can practically see the commencement of the coal development in the central Queensland area. For over 30 years those reserves have been known to exist. They have been used only once on a very limited scale. There was no Australian capital, no Australian company or no Australian individual interested in outlaying the risk capital to establish the nature and extent of the reserves. It was only the multinational company, Utah Development Co., at which much criticism has been levelled, that was prepared to come in. It was said that, after a hue and cry, Australian equity was allowed. Again there was no Australian equity available when the exploration was commenced. It was only at the development stage when reserves were proven and the markets were known that Australian capital could be sought.
– The unions want a cut out of it now. They did not have enough guts to get in at the start.
– I am not talking so much about the unions, although there is a problem in that area now. The fact is that the basic Australian investor was not prepared to take the risk at that time. The central Queensland coal fields have been known to exist. The new mining technique which is being used is greatly sought after not only throughout Australia but also throughout the world today. If we look at Queensland’s participation in this project we see that the State has control over the reserves. It has let out those reserves only a bit at a time in comparison to the total extent of them. At all times the State has had control. There was a hue and cry about rail freights but do we hear about that now? The rail freights on some of the later negotiations are as much as $4 to $5 per tonne. The royalties have increased. Yet we are told that it is Utah that is taking the money out of the place.
Let us look at that statement and let us talk in terms of profit. In the latest report of the company, for 1976, we see that the profit is $l37m. Certainly that is the profit in which there will be a 20 per cent participation by Australians once Norwich Park comes on stream. It is interesting to note the difference between the 1975 and 1976 reports. The sales increased by $185m but the profit increased by only $36m. If we look at the schedules in the report we find that despite a profit of $137m, $258m was left in Australia through direct income taxes, levies, freight and royalties. So who says that Australians are not participating?
-Plus all the salaries that have been paid.
– That is not including the salaries and wages of the men on the field and the taxes that they have paid. In an area that probably ran half a dozen head of cattle before, we have assets that comprise two townships with populations of over 7,000, port facilities that could be used in the event of any other expansion in trade, and the rail connections to the hinterland of very productive country. The former honourable member for Dawson indicated that that area, which is now tapped by this railway, has perhaps as great a potential for agriculture as any of the plains in America. That is the result of what Utah has done. Utah has opened up the country. If it had been left to Australian participation that coal would still be buried under the soil and the country would be carrying one head of cattle to 100 acres. That is what Utah has done, yet we do not hear this from the Opposition.
Honourable members opposite have also neglected to say that, once the levy has been removed progressively, the Australian participation will still be to the extent of 46 per cent of the tax that will be levied on it. So at least it is not a complete loss to revenue if we are to recover 46 per cent of it. I do not believe that this is a monopoly control of our resources, although I agree with the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) that we should be very concerned about future energy supplies within this country and how we fit into the slot of world participation in energy conservation. I agree with that. We have talked of large monopolies or large companies. The type of mining that is done within Queensland at the moment cannot be done by small companies. It is only the vastness of the operation that provides a profitable return. If we think in terms of a profit of $ 1 37m for the capital investment of those fields, I believe that Norwich Park is coming on stream only to keep faith with the Queensland Government and the Australian Government. Taking into account the infrastructure and the rail and port facilities, one would doubt at present operating costs and writing off the asset over the period of the lease whether it would return any profit at all to Utah. So Utah is participating in more ways than one. It is showing faith for the future.
But let us forget about Utah for the moment. Let us look at the chance of any fresh developments of those mines by companies large or small. The margin of $6 per tonne levy was in many cases the difference per tonne between an operating profit and a loss. There was no encouragement while that levy existed. There was no intention to remove it. There was no faith and no initiative by any other company to take it up. Now I believe that there are other reserves there that will be taken up predominantly by Australian capital. The Broken Hill Pty Co Ltd, CSR Ltd and a lot of other companies are interested. I hope that, whatever arrangements they make for equity holding, they can go ahead and mine this coal. We are not talking in terms of reserves of very short lived quantities. We are talking in terms of reserves that have not yet been fully established. We are talking in terms of a commodity that is badly needed overseas and that certainly helps in our export arrangements. For instance, $56 lm was generated just through Utah last year from these coal reserves.
Of course, we get back to the fact that Utah has proven a success in spite of the initial risk it took with the Labor Government that wanted to have some part of the action. I think it is fair to cite an attitude that prevailed within the Labor Party at that time. It has been suggested that a socialist is an unsuccessful person whose last chance is to get a share of what somebody else has. If ever there was a grasp by the socialist Government it was to get the money from the levy and to generate those additional funds for what was said to be for Australians but which was only to implement the Medibank scheme. A former speaker made a comment about the issues in the 1975 election. I believe that the levy was partly responsible for the result of that election. If it could be applied to coal it could be applied to any other industry that had a success record on the export market, even if only for a time or for a windfall profit. We saw the export levy imposed on beef at a time of great prosperity but it was not taken off by the Labor Government when that prosperity declined. The fear was that the levy could have applied to wheat and sugar. We have already seen the profitability of coal per tonne decrease and there was no suggestion that the commodity tax, or as I call it the resources tax, would have been reduced.
A previous speaker has also referred to the union problem. Certainly there are problems with the Seamen’s Union of Australia. I do not think that I can add anything more to what was said before. In respect of the total argument, who is to determine what is a fair equity as far as Australian participation is concerned? What is fair to Australians as far as the tax, the return and the development are concerned? Who is going to do it? I believe that only the multinational companies like Utah and certainly some of the big Australian companies will do it. But they will do it only with the incentive of the removal of this tax. I certainly support the Bill.
-The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) said that a socialist was someone who wants a share of what someone else has. It seems to me that another way of putting this proposition is to say that a socialist is someone who wants a share for the people from the exploitation of the people’s resources. This is the argument that the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) sensibly put forward this evening. In my view he put a very reasoned and rational case. He pointed out that, in this view, the Labor Government in its enthusiasm for the objective that I have stated imposed a tax which might have been indiscriminate to some degree in that it disregarded profitability and fell with even handedness over the entire coal mining industry. He put the proposition that the Government should try to redress this situation and should impose a tax or levy which has more rationale behind it.
The fact of the matter is that when this levy was introducted by the Labor Government it was designed to yield something like $U2m. Last year, even though the Government reduced the actual amount of levy, the yield was I think approxiamtely $121m. Even this year the estimated yield is about $90m, despite the fact that it is the Government’s declared intention to reduce the duty from $4.50 a tonne to $3 a tonne for high quality coking coal and from $1.50 a tonne to $ 1 a tonne for other coking coal. If this levy had been going full blast it could have yielded some $200m for the coffers of the Australian Government for purposes associated with the needs of the Australian community.
I think it is fair to speculate about the purposes to which such an amount of money could be put. I refer to the $90m that will be derived this year or the $200m which could have been derived if the levy had not been reduced. Let me tell honourable members opposite, as one who comes from a coal mining area and as one who represents half of the great city of Wollongong, that that city like the city of Newcastle is wreaking with deprivation in respect of all public services. The railway systems are antiquated. The services associated with the coal industry itself need massive upgrading. There is need in Newcastle and Wollongong for improved coal loading facilities. There is a need for better roads to carry the coal trucks to transport the coal. There is a need to electrify the South Coast railway system. There is a need to get the coal trucks off the roads. There is a need to upgrade miners’ superannuation. One could spend a long time enunciating the purposes to which the proceeds of this levy could be put in respect of the coal producing centres alone.
The fact of the matter is, of course, that there are many other needs to which the proceeds could be put. Let me mention, for example, the objective of converting coal to oil. I know that Professor Wen of the University of West Virginia stated in the Monash seminar recently that coal could probably to converted for $25 to $35 a barrel. I know that is expensive. It is something like three times the current Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries price. But there is no doubt that there is a need for some sort of start to be made in this regard. At the same seminar a senior projects officer of Shell suggested that a conversion plant costing $4,000m could produce between 50,000 and 100,000 barrels a day. There are many people who say that this fossil resource, limited as it is in deposit form, should not be burnt since it has so many other meritorious properties.
In the shon time available to me in this debate, I wish to make some mention of Utah and other companies which are overseas controlled and which are moving into this great bonanza area. We have talked about a tax on uranium. One wonders why the Government does not have the same kind of enthusiasm for a tax on coal. The honourable member for Dawson, the previous speaker in this debate, referred extensively to Utah. This company is only 10 per cent Australian owned. It is certainly the largest coal producer in Australia. It employs only about 2,700 people. This is not a large number when one looks at Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, for example, which employs something like 60,000 people. Its profit has increased 2,000 per cent since 1972. Last year its net profit was no less than $137m and of that amount $91m was repatriated to the United States of America. Members of the National Country Party seem to be proud that these rip-offs are being allowed to occur in Australia. This reduction of $1.50 a tonne in the coal levy in the 1976 Budget means an additional $25m which is to be repatriated overseas and the further reduction plus the increase in production this year means that next year’s profits will reach $ 1 80m.
I have been speaking cursorily about the Utah situation. But one can run through the whole scene and see the extent to which overseas oil companies especially are moving into the coal industry in Australia. The Shell company has been involved on a very large scale indeed with 37 per cent of Austen and Butta Pty Ltd plus unsecured loans up to $20m. Shell has 16.6 per cent in Theiss Industries. Also it has 49 per cent in a joint venture with Theiss in Drayton Deposit, New South Wales. It has a 22 per cent holding in Theiss-Peabody-Mitsui which owns the Moura and Nebo deposits.
The Wakworth Mining Pty Ltd operates parts of the Singleton lease. We find that this company is made up of the Costain organisation from Great Britain which holds 30 per cent ownership, the H. G. Sleigh company which owns 45 per cent, and the Mitsubishi Development combine which owns 15 per cent. Honourable members opposite will be gratified to hear that Australia through the T and G Insurance Company appears to have a 10 per cent equity in Wakworth Mining. The philosophy of the National Country Party seems to be one of crumbs from the rich man’s table- a ruthless rotten sell-out. Members of the National Country Party are acquiescing in this mealy-mouthed proposal which will deny the Australian people $200m in earnings. One can go to any dubious part of the world- to the Middle East or to Asia- and one will not find people selling their country out as cheaply and as recklessly as members of the National Country Party and of the Liberal Party and prepared to do in respect of our great coal deposits.
Australia has massive reserves of coal. Let me mention, if I may, one area of very great potential so far as coal exploitation is concerned. My colleague, the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), would be able to give further startling figures in this regard if he was given the opportunity to speak tonight on this Bill. I will mention something of the potential of the Singleton coal deposits. It is to this effect: The Hunter Valley deposits contain -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 10 March 1977 I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I was saying that there has been a survey of the Singleton coal deposits. The preliminary estimate of in situ reserves is that there are 45,000 million tonnes of coal of which 15,000 million tonnes has a cover of less than 200 metres and therefore has the potential of being mined by open cut methods, as the honourable member for Hunter points out. These deposits contain one of the largest and most accessible and concentrated resources in Australia. The resources are remarkable, even by world standards. By comparison, the Newcastle coal deposits can boast six or eight major seams that can be worked concurrently in any one area. The Hunter Valley deposits contain as many as 36 major seams in a given vertical succession capable of one open pit operation.
A single 12-mile lease in the upper Hunter Valley exceeds, in money-in-ground terms, the whole of the famous Rhodesian copper belt. It is equivalent to more than ten times the value of the Bougainville copper mine. It represents ten times the revenue from the Alligator Rivers province if all the seams are worked and sold. It is worth about one-third of the value of all the oil remaining in Saudi Arabia. In energy equivalent terms the upper Hunter Valley resource alone is ten times as large as all known resources of oil and gas, both on-shore and off-shore.
– That is in the electorate of Paterson, is it not?
-Well, it is in Australia. I am pointing out, particularly to members of the National Country Party, that Australia happens to be in a very privileged and advantageous situation. It is generously endowed with these great resources. It is important that this Government, and indeed any government of the future, look at these resources objectively with a view to ensuring that the maximum possible benefit is derived from them for the people of Australia. If we look at world resources we see that coal represents 150 years of energy consumption at the current world level. Australia’s coal reserves will last 350 years at the present rate of consumption.
It was put by the honourable member for Blaxland when discussing this legislation that it is designed to deprive the Australian taxpayers of something like $90m. That is the sum which would have been received in revenue this year except for the passage of this legislation. I put it to honourable members on the Government side that this legislation is a development which can only be regarded as undesirable. It is inevitable that this legislation will be passed this evening, but Australians of every political persuasion will be calling on future governments to examine processes whereby in the future some reasonable returns will be given to the Australian people as a result of the exploitation of this very great Australian natural resource.
-I call the Minister for Productivity.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, my short submission in connection with this very important matter which affects my electorate of Hunter -
-Order! The honourable member for Hunter will resume his seat.
– Are you going to debar me from speaking?
-Order! The honourable member for Hunter will resume his seat. The Minister for Productivity rose and he received the call.
– He nodded to me and I thought he signified that I should speak.
– I am sorry, but I am not able to interpret a nod.
– I did not nod.
– Are you not going to allow me to speak?
- Mr Deputy Speaker, this is one occasion when I did not nod to the honourable member for Hunter.
-The Minister for Productivity is not closing the debate. I call the Minister.
-On behalf of my colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), I wish to clarify one point in the second reading speech. The second reading speech contained an error. It said that the proposed reduction in duty on high quality coking coal was from $4.50 a tonne to $3 a tonne. It should have indicated a reduction from $4.50 a tonne to $3.50 a tonne. The Bill is correct. It is merely in the second reading speech that the error occurred.
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Macphee) read a third 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 Macphee) read a third time.
Motion (by Mr Macphee) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-This afternoon the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) asked me to withdraw some remarks I made about him. I then asked: ‘Can I give the facts?’ He said: ‘I would be happy if you did. ‘ I said: ‘I will do it on the adjournment.’ The facts come from the financial accounts of two companies, the first being Allan Walsh (Hornsby) Pty Ltd. The accounts are signed firstly by Ian Sinclair, as director, and one other making a certificate under section 162 subsection 10 of the Companies Act of New South Wales and also by Ian Sinclair as the principal accounting officer giving a certificate under section 162 subsection 12 of the same Act. The second certificate states that subject to the notes attached to the financial accounts they are to the best of his knowledge and belief accurate. I quote in particular note No. 5 which, under the heading ‘Losses by misappropriation’, states:
Following an examination of the company’s records for the year ended 30 June 1972 it has been ascertained that certain payments made during the year were paid without the knowledge or approval of the directors either directly or indirectly to or for the benefit of a person employed by the company. The aggregated amount of these payments for the year ended 30 June 1972 was $39,708.25.
The financial accounts, similarly signed by Ian Sinclair, for the year ended 30 June 1973 have the same note No. 5 headed ‘Losses by misappropriation’, and the last sentence of that note is:
The aggregated amount of these payments for the year ended 30 June 1973 was $60,502.92.
The financial accounts for the year ended 30 June 1974 also have the same note No. 5 under the heading ‘Losses by misappropriation’, the aggregated amount for that year being $27,402.82. The financial accounts for the year ended 30 June 1975 have the same note No. 5 under the heading ‘Losses by misappropriation’ and the aggregated amount for that year was $47,876.20. The financial accounts for the year ended 30 June 1976 have a note No. 4 with the heading ‘Losses by misappropriation’ and for that year the aggregated amount was $18,285.41.
Secondly, I quote from the financial accounts of Allan Walsh Pty Ltd. There too there are two certificates by Ian Sinclair as sole director and as principal accounting officer and attached to those accounts is also a note No. 5 under the heading ‘Losses by misappropriation’ in the same terms except that the aggregated amount for the year ended 30 June 1973 was $35,015.73. The financial accounts for the same company for the year ended 30 June 1974 have a note No. 5 headed ‘Losses by misappropriation’ giving the amount of $18,959.10. The financial accounts of the same company for the year ended 30 June 1975 also have a note No. 5 under the heading Losses by misappropriation’ giving an amount of $17,281.28 for that year. Sir, it is for those reasons, for those amounts which I have given, that I stated that the Leader of the House had been responsible for companies which had total misappropriations of a quarter of a million dollars.
– It is unfortunate that when a person -
– You are a bunch of -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Hunter will remain silent. I suggest to the House that during the time the Leader of the House is replying honourable members on both sides should remain silent.
– No misappropriate comments.
-Order! I will name the honourable member for Oxley if there is one more interjection from him.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whidam) is obviously in a very grievous plight. He is concerned about his own integrity and about the leadership of his Party. I am quite sure that it could be only in those circumstances and on that premise that he has resorted to publishing tonight accounts which have already been lodged with the Corporate Affairs Commission in New South Wales. Although the company is a proprietary company; although the matter is entirely personal; although the circumstances are such that the term ‘misappropriation’ has already been explained in public, it is also of interest that tonight the Leader of the Opposition very carefully avoided the words he used his morning. He said that I was an officer of a company which had misappropriated amounts to a certain quantum. This morning he alleged that I, in some way, had been responsible. I assure him and members of the House that I am not responsible. In no way have I been involved as he impugned this morning.
As it happens, my father was a chartered accountant who was, at a time, an auditor of the companies. The accounts did fall out of date, and I have publicly, in front of television, explained the situation to the Australian people whose credibility I prefer to that of the Leader of the Opposition. I have explained that as the accounts were out of date there were, therefore, some amounts which could not initially be identified. I have said in public that those accounts have been identified in that way. I add that this affair is exclusively the business of the shareholders of the companies, not of the Leader of the Opposition, not of the people of Australia. It is a proprietary company. There are three families involved. The honourable gentleman seeks to impugn against me and, as a result, against the Government, an integrity which is of the order of his own.
Fortunately the manner and behaviour of people on this side of the House does not stoop that low. In fact, the circumstances of this company are such that each member of the company has discussed the whole of the circumstances. It was because we felt it was desirable that the accounts be identified in this way- there are a number of elements which were uncertain- that the accounts were lodged exactly in that form. I believe that this attack by a man who holds himself as an alternative Prime Minister is about as low as any individual can hope to go in the House. I am quite prepared to accept responsibility for those statements which I signed. As, for the time being, I am executor of my father’s estate. I have little alternative but to exercise the responsibility that that places on me. As I have explained to the other shareholders, I am quite prepared to accept the responsibility within that family group and I will exercise that responsibility. It is not something of which I am in any way ashamed. I only hope that the honourable gentleman, were he to find himself in similar circumstances; would be prepared to stand up in the same way. I rather doubt that he would be man enough to do so.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of clarification. I seek your guidance. Was the honourable member for Oxley in order in embarrassing a senior Hansard official by going over and whispering something to him a little earlier in the evening?
– Order! There is no substance in the matter raised.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, what I said to the Hansard official was that the honourable member for Kennedy is not as silly as he appears to be.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
-In the last few weeks two very important policy statements have been made in this House. The first one, which was made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 7 September, said that rural industries should be compensated for the cost of high protection afforded to manufacturing industry. The second one, which was made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) on 22 September, said that people in remote and isolated areas have particular problems which are different from those of people in other parts of the continent and that in order to ensure that there is no critical disadvantage in this situation the Government is examining those government imposts which prejudice people in isolated areas to see whether they can be adjusted to bring those people into more relative equality with the position of people in urban Australia.
The recent rise in fuel prices, with which I am in full agreement, has placed the people in isolated areas in a very difficult position. I shall quote some prices. Last week the price of super grade petrol was 19c a litre. The lowest discount price in Sydney was 14.5c a litre. The price of petrol in Burketown, which is in my electorate, was 29c a litre-twice the price of the discounted petrol in Sydney. This discount petrol is paid for by the sweat of people in isolated areas. In my electorate there is no alternative means of transport other than that which uses petrol or diesel fuel. We do not have railways, except for the very few miles of railway line in the southeastern corner. The roads are bad. Everything must go in an out by vehicle. Fuel price rises mean that all prices rise in the whole area. During the wet season much of the area is cut off for five months. One can imagine the cost of stocking up on all commodities for that period.
In 1965 a petroleum products subsidy scheme was introduced. It was abolished by the Labor Government in August 1974 in one of the many actions that it took to disadvantage people in rural areas.
Mr Mc Veigh;By whom was it abolished?
-The Labor Government, whose members were responsible for the disgraceful affair that occurred just before I began to speak. We said when we came into power that there should be justice for all. It is not justice for all that people in Sydney should be able to buy petrol for 14.5c a litre and people in Burketown should have to pay 29c a litre for it. I believe that something should be done about that. I recommend that the petroleum products subsidy scheme, which is still on the statute book, be used. I believe that we should raise a small tax on petrol and distillate to help to pay for the price differential. I am informed that a tax of half a cent a litre would raise $100m a year. A tax of a quarter of a cent a litre would raise $50m a year. This amount could be used to reduce the price differential in the isolated inland areas of Australia.
The previous scheme did not completely equalise petrol prices. Prices varied from between 3.3c and 5c a gallon in those days. I believe that nowhere in Australia should the price of petrol and distillate be more than lc a litre above the city prices. This would cost about $50m a year, which would be covered by a tax of a quarter of a cent a litre. There is no public transport in my electorate, except for a very short length of railway track, but it is interesting to note that buses and trams in the cities of Australia are covered by the taxpayers for a deficit each year of $90m. The deficits of the railways of Australia are $500m a year. I make a plea for understanding and justice for rural Australians. I think it is essential that those areas which have no alternative transport be helped so that they do not collapse under fuel price rises. If we are to pay more than lip service to decentralisation we must do something about this matter. I appeal to all the city members of parliament, whose electorates have so much when the people in my electorate have so little, to support a fuel equalisation scheme.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. It being 11 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned till 2.15 p.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
am asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 24 May 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am advised that the review revealed the existence of a number of provisions in Federal and State legislation which were inconsistent with the Convention. These were as follows:
Australian Capital Territory
Apprenticeship Ordinance 1936-1968.
Masters’ and Servants’ Act 1902, as amended. (NSW legislation).
Apprentices’ Ordinance 1948-1957.
New South Wales
Masters’ and Servants’ Act 1902, as amended.
Apprentices’ Act 1969, as amended.
Apprenticeship Act 1964-73.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 1 June 1977:
Will he provide the lending statistics of major trading banks in Australia in respect of (a) total ‘personal loans’, (b) total newly approved overdrafts below $100,000, (c) total increase in approved overdrafts from below $100,000 to in excess of $100,000, (d) total new overdraft approvals over $100,000, (e) total reductions in overdraft limits below $100,000, (f) total reductions in overdrafts from above $100,000 to below $100,000 and (g) total reductions in overdrafts below $100,000 for each of the years 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1975-76.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Statistics are not available to enable precise answers to all the questions asked by the honourable member to be provided. However, the available information is set out below. All figures relate to the seven major trading banks.
Total ‘personal loans’. Statistics on new and increased lending commitments to persons are as follows:
The following figures show total new and increased overdraft lending commitments approved:
The following figures show total cancellations and reductions of overdraft limits:
The following figures show the actual level of overdrafts outstanding (including charge card balances ):
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, in 16 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
For further details of funds (including loans as well as grants) provided by the Commonwealth to the Queensland Government I refer the honourable member to the Budget document ‘Payments to or for the States and Local Government Authorities’, or its equivalent, for each of the years 1972-73 to 1977-78. Summaries are provided in tables 136 and 133 in the 1976-77 and 1977-78 editions of the document, respectively.
General purpose payments to the States (for example, the States’ income tax-sharing entitlements) are made for use by the States as they see fit. The question of any repayments to the Commonwealth because of short-falls in State spending therefore does not arise in the case of such payments.
In the case of specific purpose payments, Commonwealth payments to the States are administered in such a way that they be neither significantly in advance nor significantly in arrears of the State expenditures to which they relate. Repayments by the States to the Commonwealth are not, therefore, a common occurrence.
Payments and expenditures are monitored closely as they occur and any overpayments which may be made are recovered as they are identified, usually by means of reduced payments in later periods. No special tabulation is maintained in the central accounting records of the Department of Finance of amounts paid to States and not spent by them, or of the recovery action undertaken. It is standard practice that the net amounts paid to each State are verified by State Auditors-General as having been spent by the States for the purposes laid down, and in the manner specified in the terms and conditions attached to the Government payment.
As details of overpayments and recoveries are not recorded separately, extensive extraction of data from source documents held by departments responsible for each particular project or program would be required to provide the information sought by the honourable member. This work would be expected to show that there have been few instances of over-payments to Queensland and that those that have occurred have generally been small and promptly corrected. In these circumstances I have not asked officers to undertake the considerable work that would be required torovide a more detailed response to the honourable merrier ‘s question on all programs of assistance to Queensland; I suggest that if he has particular programs in mind he approach the responsible Minister for relevant information.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 16 August 1977:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 18 August, 1977:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 18 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Direct industry assistance takes the form of bounties and subsidies, reconstruction and adjustment schemes, contributions to research and promotion programs, price support and other payments to or for the benefit of industry. It includes also some outlays by Government departments and instrumentalities (e.g. Department of Overseas Trade, Department of Industry and Commerce and Department of Primary Industry) which provide many services either free of charge or for charges which do not recover fully the costs incurred.
The detailed table below shows net outlays on direct assistance from the Budget to manufacturing industry and agricultural and pastoral industries (i.e. after deducting amounts collected by way of industry levies and charges and repayments of loans). The table does not include direct assistance, such as export and trade promotion, which is not specific to either manufacturing industry or agricultural and pastoral industries. It will be noted that the annual totals for agricultural and pastoral industries are strongly influenced by the amounts of net advances or repayments in respect of wool marketing assistance; the significance of this factor can be seen from the following summary:
asked the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, upon notice, on 23 August 1977:
Since Britain joined the European Economic Community, what imports and exports have passed between the EEC and Australia, classified by years and by commodities.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as shown in the attached statistical tables prepared by the Department of Overseas Trade:
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 23 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The 9 groups in the quartile of highest effective rates are as follows: 2 1 8 Total other food products ( including total sugar) 2 1 9 Total beverages and malt 23 1 -232 Total textiles, yarns and woven fabrics 241 Total knitting mills 242 Total clothing 243 Total footwear 312 Total sheet metal products 32 1 Total motor vehicles and parts 322 Total other transport equipment.
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 25 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It has not been the practice to publicly disclose the actual number or details of persons employed in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
The Bureau has staff stationed in each of the capital cities of Australia whose task is to co-ordinate investigations into the import, export and trafficking in illegally imported drugs. It can and does draw upon other large numbers of investigative and law enforcement staff employed elsewhere in the
Department of Business and Consumer Affairs at such places as airports, wharves, etc., to assist in investigations.
The regional forces are under the control of a Northern Regional Commander, responsible for the overall coordination of operations in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory and a Southern Regional Commander, responsible for co-ordinating operations in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
One narcotics liaison officer is stationed overseas and it is shortly proposed to station another officer overseas. In addition staff in other overseas posts manned by the Department assist in gathering drug intelligence for use by the Narcotics Bureau.
In common with other law enforcement agencies monies are paid by the Narcotics Bureau for information relating to the suppression of the illegal drug trade and it has not been the practice to provide details of these payments.
Apartheid in South Africa (Question No. 1304)
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 25 August 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Department of the Special Trade Negotiation: Libraries (Question No. 1360)
asked the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, upon notice, on 6 September 1977:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 7 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In summary that answer stated that, on the expenditure side, it was not practicable to identify particular expenditure decisions and say that they derived directly and only from material provided in the Coombs Task Force report. On the revenue side, reference was made to the list of proposals in Statement No. 3 attached to the 1973-74 Budget Speech (pages 84 and 85).
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 13 September 1977:
With reference to his answer to my question No. 1251 of 18 August 1977 (Hansard, 8 September 1977, page 997) particularly his answer to part (2) of that question, and accepting that members of the Commonwealth State Committee inquiring into Sydney’s airport needs are entitled to privacy in respect of their private addresses, will he advise if those members who live in Sydney live in the northern, southern, western or eastern suburbs and, if in the northern suburbs, the north-western area, and, if in the western suburbs, the outer or inner western suburbs.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I do not think it proper for me to disclose personal information concerning New South Wales State Government officials. Consequently I can add nothing further to my reply to the previous question.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 13 September
Who are the members of the Participating Nursing Homes Advisory Committee, and what organisations or private interests do they represent.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Participating Nursing Homes Advisory Committee consists of representatives of private nursing homes and officers of my Department. The names of the members, and the organisations they represent are:
Representatives of Nursing Homes
Mr V. Hawkins Convenor, National Standing Committee of Nursing Homes Secretary, Private Hospitals’ Association of Queensland.
Dr N. Carne Assistant National Convenor of the National Standing Committee of Nursing Homes. Member, Private Geriatric Hospitals Association of Victoria.
Mr A. Einstein National Secretary, National Standing Committee of Nursing Homes, Executive Director, Private Hospital and Nursing Homes’ Association of Australia (N.S.W.).
Matron L. Blundell- Member, Private Hospital and Nursing Homes ‘ Association of South Australia.
Representatives of Department of Health
Mr M. Carroll First Assistant DirectorGeneral, Insurance, Hospitals and Nursing Homes Division.
Mr R. B. Rofe Assistant DirectorGeneral, Nursing Homes and Development Branch.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 14 September 1977:
To whom are Cabinet Minutes circulated.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In general Cabinet Submissions and Decisions are circulated to Ministers and to those officials who need to be aware of the contents.
am asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 14 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: ( 1 ), (2) and (3) What goes on in the Cabinet room is confidential to the Government. This has been the practice under successive governments including that led by the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 15 September 1977:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 October 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1977/19771004_reps_30_hor106/>.