31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– 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 petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the metric system and request the Government to restore the imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Jarman. Petition received.
Export of Blood to the Cook Islands
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we do not believe that the Minister for Health has the right to withhold supplies of blood which are donated unconditionally and in some cases specifically for Australian patients at Cook Island. Furthermore we believe that blood supplies to Australian patients in any country of the world should not be withheld as this life giving service is rightfully theirs as Australian citizens.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the ban on the export of blood to the Cook Islands Government Hospital be lifted immediately so that blood transfusions will be available to Australian cancer patients.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Lloyd. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we do not believe that a person’s freedom to choose their own doctor and treatment should be banished by pressure on the Government by the Australian Medical Association or any other body, nor that they should be deprived of the right to Medical Insurance rebate, to which they have been contributing for years.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that legislation abolishing health insurance rebates for treatment of cancer patients by Dr Milan Brych in the Cook Islands not be introduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Lloyd. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the citizens of Whyalla (electors of the Division of Grey) hereby respectfully showeth:
That we, the citizens of the City of Whyalla and representatives of all sections of the community, appeal to the Australian Government to exercise its necessary influence as a matter of urgency for the good of the City of Whyalla and its people in consequence of the considerable unemployment resulting from the closure of the Whyalla shipyard. This has undermined the confidence and expectations of the working force, their families, and the community in general. Most have a committed investment in the city and its future.
Massive investment has been made in Whyalla by government, industry, private enterprise and the citizens themselves. This requires that urgent action be taken to provide alternative employment, and industrial opportunities for the hundreds of people already unemployed. It is urgent that we arrest the erosion of the accumulated skills and expertise resident in the city.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
The good offices of the Federal Government be employed to expedite and facilitate the necessary contractual agreements for the establishment of a replacement railway rolling stock industry at Whyalla, together with such other projects as are submitted and recommended by the Premier’s Working Party, to reduce the impact of unemployment and to give the impetus needed to enable the city to continue to be a significant contributor to the economy of both the State and the nation. The attention and support of all Members of Parliament is sought for this urgent situation in Whyalla.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Wallis Petition received.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to a Government decision which ordered that a recommendation to award a computer contract to Facom Australia Ltd be rejected and new tenders called. Is it a fact that the order to reject the recommendation occurred because of the possibility of impropriety associated with a senior public servant joining the staff of Facom Australia Ltd? In a letter which the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Moyes of IBM Australia Ltd dated 1 7 January 1 978, it was stated:
After consideration of all the facts the permanent heads concluded that the proper procedures had been followed and that there had been no impropriety.
In view of this fact, on what grounds then did the Government reject the original recommendation?
– It was on the grounds that even though a special report to me had indicated no impropriety had occurred, the Government was determined to see that all people in Australia would know and understand that no impropriety had occurred. When there is a situation in which a senior officer of the Commonwealth Public Service who is closely involved in matters under discussion by that particular computer committee joins a firm that could become a successful tenderer relatively shortly before the tender is due to be awarded, obviously there is a situation which could give some cause for concern in the public mind. The Government was determined to pursue a course which would make it perfectly plain that there could be no cause for concern. I emphasise that it was not just a question of the Public Service or of the Government itself being convinced that there was no cause for concern: It was, in the Government’s view, also a situation in which there needed to be complete certainty in everyone’s mind that there was no cause for concern.
Because the Commonwealth Statistician was in some haste to get his computer, officials thought initially that it might be possible to ask the mainline tenderers whether they wanted to vary their tenders and to undertake a revision of the matter in that way. That course was relatively quickly put aside and the whole matter went back to taws. Tenders have been called again. I think there were three people on the computer committee. I should indicate in addition that the Department of Administrative Services had hitherto not been represented on that committee. The honourable gentleman will understand that that Department is the principal purchasing department for the Commonwealth and therefore in the Government’s view ought to be involved in major government purchases. So the Department of Administrative Services henceforth will be permanently involved in the work of that committee as it relates to the purchasing of computers for Commonwealth purposes. In addition to that, on this occasion an independent expert will also be attached to the committee in the assessment of the tenders as they now come forward for the ultimate awarding of the contract. Only a short while ago I told my Department that I would expect the report from the committee, when it ultimately comes to us, to be one that could be tabled in the Parliament, if there were any necessity to do so, so that everyone would be able to see what the result is and what is the basis on which the final decision is made, when it is made.
– Can the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations inform the House what the Government intends to do in relation to the Commonwealth Employment Service dispute involving the recruitment of non-Public Service staff?
-As the honourable member for Wilmot has mentioned in his question, the present bans imposed by members of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association result from the Government’s decision to recruit into the Commonwealth Employment Service people from outside the Public Service, as recommended in the Norgard report. Of course, the Government cannot tolerate the continuation of the present situation which is preventing that from happening. It is interesting to note that the Government was strongly supported in its attitude by the honourable member for Hindmarsh in this House last week.
I think I should explain to the House exactly what is involved here. The union has placed the bans on this recruitment on two grounds. The first ground is that of the composition of the selection panels which select the people from outside the Public Service. The union says that it should be represented on those panels. But the panels are composed entirely of members of the ACOA. They are experienced CES managers who are best able to make judgments on who are suitable applicants for the CES. So what the union is in fact saying is that it has no confidence in the judgment of its rank and file members to decide who should be recruited into the CES. I find that to be an extraordinary situation.
The union has further requested an appeal procedure against those people recruited from outside the Public Service. That has never been the practice when people from outside the Service have been recruited before, as is well known. What the Government and the Public Service Board put to the union- this has been made public in statements I made last week but it has not been put to the House and I think the House should be aware of it- was that in the case of those people inside the Service who either did not get an interview at all or felt they did not get a fair hearing at an interview there should be a review committee, on which the union could be represented to look into those two aspectspeople who did not get an interview or thought that they did not get a fair go. It is a matter of great regret that the union knocked that back as well. I think it was an absolutely fair and reasonable proposition. The CES needs the people to provide a service to its clients which both those seeking jobs and employers seeking to fill vacancies are entitled to expect. The Government will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that that occurs.
-I address my question to the Prime Minister. I refer to the report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships which the honourable gentleman tabled yesterday and which would have been in the possession of the Government for some 3 months prior to that date. I note that the report contains 5 1 1 recommendations. I leave aside some of the contentious recommendations and ask the Prime Minister: What action does the Government propose to take on some of the recommendations which would be deemed to be worthwhile and non-contentious, such as those concerning child abuse, discrimination against women, migrants, the handicapped, adoption and a national family policy? In view of the fact that the Government has had the report under consideration for some time, will the Prime Minister advise us on what progress has been made?
-A considerable part of the report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships refers to matters that would need to be implemented by the States if they were to be put into practical effect throughout the great bulk of Australia. I have already written to Premiers asking them for their views on the report and have indicated that we would want to be significantly influenced by the views of the States in relation to our examination of the report. The report has been published. I would expect considerable community debate on it. I have no doubt that at an appropriate time it would be proper and necessary for a significant debate on the report to be held in this Parlia- ment. i- ill* Government would wain to be in ct position of being able to assess the totality of community views and other views which would be put to it before coming to a firm decision on specific aspects of the report.
I appreciate the thrust of the honourable gentleman’s question in which he pointed to the breadth and width of the report and to the large number of recommendations. As the honourable gentleman knows, some recommendations would appear to be highly contentious. The thrust of his question was not directed to the contentious matters but was directed towards trying to make progress, as I understand it, in other areas. I believe that this is one of those areas in which maximum public participation and certainly taking account of the views of the States would assist the Government and this Parliament in coming to the best and most proper decisions in relation to the report.
-I preface my question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations by reminding him that many Australians, employers and employees, unionists and non-unionists, are very anxiously awaiting the setting up of the Industrial Relations Bureau. Is the Minister able to inform the House whether a date has been set for the beginning of operations of the Bureau?
-As the House will remember, the first Director of the Industrial Relations Bureau, Mr Linehan, took up his appointment on 3 October last year. Since that time the organisational arrangements that are necessary to enable the Bureau to carry out its statutory functions have been continuing. I am happy to inform the House that the arrangements have progressed to a considerable extent. The House will remember that the proclamation of the Act under which the Bureau operates can be made in stages as the Bureau builds up its staff to cope with its responsibilities. I am happy to say that I will be making an announcement later today on the stage which the present arrangements have reached. I will make an announcement on the takeover date of some of the functions which will come under the Bureau’s statutory responsibility.
-Is the Minister for Trade and Resources aware that at least one Australian coal exporting company has been forced to accept a reduction in price of $1.32 per tonne for export coal to Japan, reduced volumes of exports in its contract and a fixed price for two years? Is the amount substantially below prices previously obtained by New South Wales underground mines? Will the Thiess-Dampier-Mitsui negotiations adversely affect all future coal export negotiations with Japan? Finally, has the Minister received requests to halt export licences until a conference of all Australian coal exporters, the Government and trade unions is convened?
– I am not aware of any request to halt export licences for coal. Furthermore, I am not aware of any contract which has been signed for reduced prices or a fixed price over two years as has been suggested by the honourable member. However, I am aware that negotiations have been going on and that these factors have been brought up in the course of the negotiations. I think all honourable members would be aware that there has been some slackening in the international trade of commodities, particularly steel. This is having its repercussions on Australia as a supplier of raw materials to the Japanese industry. If Japan is unable to produce steel in the quantities being produced previously, it is not possible for that country to take the same quantity of raw material. That should be clear to any person. I had discussions with Japanese officials towards the end of last year. Mr Saito, the Chairman of Nippon Steel Corporation, assured me at the time that even though restrictions might have to be placed on imports of coal and iron ore by Japan, Australia would be considered favourably and that it would be the last country to feel the more severe impact of any restrictions the Japanese had to undertake. This was because our coal and steel industries had developed largely to meet the requirements of the Japanese steel makers. If too many limitations were placed on their capacity, they would not be able to continue to operate. However, in a few weeks time I will be going to Japan and having discussions with the Japanese steel makers. Of course, this matter will be brought to the forefront.
-I direct to the Minister for Industry and Commerce a question which in a sense is supplementary to the previous question asked by the honourable member for Cunningham. Is the Minister aware of reports that Japanese steel is being dumped on the Australian market at prices well below that of locally made steel? In view of the impact of these imports on domestic industry, has the Government considered asking the Industries Assistance Commission to examine this matter? Has the Minister had discussions with officials of Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd? Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s policy to give preference to Australian made products? Does this policy cover the use of Australian made products by all sub-contractors and contractors for Commonwealth projects?
-Of course, it is the Government’s policy to support Australian industry and to seek to redress those problems which industry is having in the short term because of economic difficulties, whether in Australia or because of the sluggish growth in world markets. In regard to steel, the honourable gentleman would be very much aware of the strong action which the Government is taking in the negotiations with the European Economic Community. I would mention in that regard- I think it is a matter of record- the correspondence which has been exchanged between the Prime Minister and Mr Jenkins, the President of the EEC. Apart from that, there are also the strong representations which the Minister for Special Trade Representations is undertaking with the EEC at the present time.
Although the honourable gentleman did not give any figures in regard to the domestic position, the thrust of what he was saying about the problems that the industry is suffering because of import problems is very much understood by the Government. For example, the market for sheet steel is reported to have contracted by about 25 per cent over the period from 1973-74 to 1976-77. Major sources of those imports would certainly include Japan and the Republic of Korea. The domestic market for welded steel pipes and tubes has declined also by about 30 per cent since the 1973-74 boom and the import share has risen from 4 per cent in the 1973-74 period to 12 per cent in 1976-77. Imports of stranded steel cable from Korea also are causing some concern to the local industry.
Given that background, as stressed and brought to my attention and the attention of the House by the honourable gentleman, in view of those market circumstances and the recent protectionist measures which have been taken by the United States and also by the European Economic Community, the Government certainly is reviewing the industry situation, particularly at the present time, to ascertain whether there is trade diversion from the United States and also from the European Economic Community to the Australian market which could be detrimental to the local industry. I have seen representatives of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. I will see representatives of the Lysaght company shortly. On the basis of those discussions the Government will then indicate whether any action can be taken at this time.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. Do retrenchments in the southern New South Wales coal fields reflect both the fall in steel production and the cost advantages enjoyed by Queensland open cut mines over New South Wales underground mines? Will consideration be given to the introduction of a price equalisation scheme and, if necessary, the use of export powers to sustain employment and to maximise the return on the enormous investment in New South Wales underground coal mines?
– Retrenchments in southern New South Wales coal fields are not the result of any disproportionate cutback as compared with Queensland mines. One of the things that I have made very clear to our customers and to the industry is that I want to see a pro rata export performance by the New South Wales mines, whether they be open cut or underground mines, as compared with the open cut mines in Queensland. From my information, that is occurring.
However, one problem that is causing a major disability in New South Wales is the inadequate port facilities. That is causing very great concern. There is absolute confusion in New South Wales as to where port developments will take place and as to what new mines will be able to be opened so that the large tonnages concerned, especially of steaming coal, will be able to leave New South Wales from deep ports. At the moment the two major ports are Port Kembla and Newcastle. Port Kembla is quite inadequate and, unless something is done about Botany Bay, Port Kembla will have to be expanded rapidly. There are some limitations on the capacity to expand that port to meet the demands in southern New South Wales. In addition, transport facilities are a problem. At the moment the coal industry is at a loss to know what are the policies of the New South Wales Government in relation to increasing the railroad capacity to enable those mines to expand. New South Wales certainly has the opportunities for expanding the coal industryparticularly with regard to steaming coal- but I am afraid that the industry is being hogtied by the indecisiveness of the New South Wales Government.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer to the negotiations which are now under way in Geneva and which are aimed at drawing up a new international wheat agreement. Is there any danger that such a new agreement could interfere with the ability of the Australian Wheat Board to negotiate freely sales of Australian wheat? If so, does the Government recognise the threat that this would be to our wheat trade and what does it intend to do about the situation?
– I can understand the honourable member’s keen interest in this matter because he represents a large wheat producing area. Discussions have been continuing for quite a considerable time about the possibility of negotiating a new international wheat agreement. Because of the way in which pressures were bearing down on the world market towards the middle and the latter part of 1977 it looked as if some emergency action would have to be taken. It appears now that if there is to be a new international wheat agreement it will probably emerge out of the multilateral trade negotiation discussions which will take place during the course of the year. The new international wheat agreement contains a new feature, namely, the possibility of stock holdings. When prices are low, countries are expected to accumulate stocks and as prices increase they are expected to release them. This is a new feature that I know America is particularly keen to introduce.
However, we do not want to be a party to any agreement that will place the Australian industry in a competitively disadvantageous position. We are very keen to ensure that none of our traditional markets is lost if we are to be part of a new international wheat agreement that has certain stock holding obligations. We have made this position very clear wherever we have had discussions, particularly in Geneva of late where work has been proceeding on this matter. I want to see an international wheat agreement but I also want to see one that does not prevent Australia from being able to maintain its traditional markets.
-I direct my question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that 15 per cent of all Australia’s total trade is with the United States of America? Is it also a fact that 70 per cent of trade transactions are carried out in United States dollars? Because of this, does the trade weighted index at present overvalue the Australian dollar by at least eight per cent as against the United States dollar compared with a currency weighted index? Will the Treasurer consider converting the trade weighted index to a currency weighted index so that a more realistic relationship can be established between the Australian dollar and the United States dollar?
-The question of the appropriate basket to be used for the Australian exchange rate was, of course, considered at the time of devaluation in November 1976. It was decided on that occasion to adopt a trade weighted basket for a number of reasons. The first reason was that in realistic trade terms a trade weighted basket gives a more practical reflection of the flow of trade both in and out of Australia. Secondly, in pure statistical terms, the data available to operate an exchange rate on a trade weighted basket is more readily available than would be the case in respect of a currency weighted basket.
The honourable member in the first part of his question asked whether the effect of using a trade weighted basket would be that a particular result would be achieved in respect of the relationship between the American dollar and the Australian dollar. I draw his attention to a section in the statement I issued some three weeks ago regarding the position of Australia’s external account. In that statement I indicated that because of fluctuations that had occurred in the level of the American dollar, in administering the level of Australia’s exchange rate, somewhat less than full effect had been given in recent times to the impact of those fluctuations on the level of the Australian dollar than would have been the case if full effect had been given to the operation of the trade weighted basket.
– I address my question to the Minister for Health who will remember issuing a challenge in May 1976 to the Australian Medical Association and the medical profession to introduce a voluntary system of professional standards of medical audit known as ‘peer review’. Is the Minister satisfied with progress by the Australian Medical Association and the medical profession in this matter? Can the Minister also confirm whether the Association recommends to its members higher fees than those set by the Medical Fees Tribunal which sets medical benefit fees?
– Yes, I do recall issuing a challenge in May 1976 on behalf of the Government to the Australian Medical Association to institute a system of peer review or voluntary professional standards of medical audit. As a result of that challenge the AMA joined with officers of my Department and investigated similar systems which are operating overseas. They reported back to Australia and organised a seminar in Sydney last year that was attended by various sections of the medical profession throughout Australia and boycotted by one notable section of it. I attended a session of that seminar. Some systems of peer review do in fact exist in our hospital system but we do not consider that sufficient. I understand that the Federal Council of the AMA will be meeting shortly and will analyse a response to a questionnaire that the AMA sent out to its total Australian membership. The Council will report to the Government and to the profession on the progress made to date. I have no doubt whatsoever that the leaders of the AMA and the leaders of the profession are conscientiously pursuing this objective. However, I am not so confident about certain other members of the profession.
I saw a statement by Mr Roper, the Victorian shadow Minister for Health, relating to the AMA charging practice in that State. One thought that he might have been a bit like Rip Van Winkle and had just awakened to the fact that since the early 1970s the AMA has circulated its members regularly on what it calls the AMA schedule of fees. Mr Justice Ludeke, whom we appointed recently to the Medical Fees Tribunal, with the cooperation of the AMA sets only the benefits that we would pay for services that the medical profession offers to the public. I am pleased to say that the AMA schedule of fees that has been circulated is closer now to the actual fee that has been set by the Tribunal than it was at any other time. However, the honourable member would know- indeed Mr Roper would know- that the Commonwealth Government has no constitutional power whatsoever to set doctors’ fees; the State governments do. He needs to bear that in mind. We have no power. All we can do is to seek the co-operation of the medical profession to abide by the fees which are set. I am informed by my Department that 65 per cent of medical services charged for are charged at the scheduled fee benefit rate. I call upon all the doctors in Australia to show some moderation in the way in which they charge patients at a time when the community generally is very concerned about escalating costs in Australia. This is not a new phenomenon; it has been going on for six years. Health costs in this country have risen by 225 per cent in six years, and most of that rise occurred while members of the present Opposition were in government.
Mr HAYDEN Is it a fact that since the Prime Minister intervened in the tendering processes for the Australian Bureau of Statistics computer contract in which Facom Australia Ltd was recommended as the successful tenderer, IBM Australia Ltd has fortuitously released a new computer series with greater computing power capacity? Would the Prime Minister agree that the seeking of further information by the Government will unfairly alter tenders and that this would destroy, to use his own words, the impartiality of tendering processes?
– It is clear to see the direction of the honourable gentleman’s mind.
– We are trying to find you out.
– It would be better if you found yourselves out. I would imagine that all computing companies are constantly trying to improve the main stream of their equipment. I have no idea of the state of operations of IBM, Facom Australia Ltd or any other computing company. If the honourable gentleman is suggesting that the appearance of propriety is preserved by a high official of the Commonwealth who was closely involved with computer purchasing joining the staff of a company which shortly thereafter was given a major contract, I am very surprised. It certainly appears-
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to impute motives to a gentleman who is not in this House?
– It is in order for him to do so, but I did not understand him to be doing so.
- Mr Speaker, your understanding of what I was saying was right. I was not imputing anything to anyone. As I have made perfectly plain on earlier occasions, there must be a very real concern not only that justice be done but also that justice be seen to be done. If the honourable gentleman is seeking to defend the proposition that the Australian public can believe that justice has been done in the situation which I have just outlined, I think he is once again misreading the temper of the Australian people.
-Is the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development aware of recent Press reports that the traditional Australian team colours may be changed for the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton? If these reports are correct, what authority has the Government to ensure that green and gold remain the traditional colours of our great national sporting teams, such as cricket, athletic, rugby league and rugby union teams, and that they will be the eventual representative colours of other sports, such as Australian rules, which at present have rather sectional, narrow and limited appeal?
-I am almost tempted to rule the honourable gentleman’s question out of order but, as it is capable of an answer, I will permit the Minister to answer it.
-Actually, I heard that the Collingwood team intended to change its colours to pink and white, but I will have to check that fact. The honourable member said that Australian rules has not had national representatives. That is not true. The Galahs team toured in 1966 under Harry Bietzel. The choice of team colours for the Commonwealth Games team is not a matter for the Government nor for me but is a matter for the Australian Commonwealth Games Association. I understand that a meeting was held in Sydney on 18 February at which the colours were decided. There is to be a marchingout uniform which will be blue and gold. I am told that these are Australia’s traditional ceremonial colours. It is important to note that there is a difference between the ceremonial colours and the competition colours. The competition colours will be the traditional green and gold. These colours have been worn since the first games were held in 1911. This decision is consistent with practice adopted at previous games, at which the colours of the marching-out uniform have been different from the colours of the competition uniform. I understand that the main reason for the difference is related to the visual impact of colour television.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. I refer him to a statement which he made on 12 February that the deficit will overshoot the budgeted $2, 200m mark ‘by several hundred million dollars’. Is it a fact that additional expenditures for the National Employment and Training scheme, unemployment benefit, homes savings grants and special assistance for the beef industry will add in excess of $300m to budgeted expenditure? Further, are there not shortfalls in revenue for items such as sales tax and customs duties and additional refund payments which will produce a shortfall in revenue of about $50Um? Does the Treasurer agree that, based on this information, the deficit will balloon by $700m or $800m, which would be $200m to $300m above last year’s result, and that this would place the Government’s strategy of reducing the deficit in a state of disarray?
– I made two statements on this subject, one a joint statement with my colleague the Minister for Finance and another during an interview with a well known Victorian newspaper. I indicated that the deficit of some $2,2 17m, as projected in the Budget of last August, would be exceeded. As I think the honourable gentleman will appreciate, it is not possible so many months in advance of 30 June to talk with relative precision about the final result. One must take into account shortfalls in expenditure which occur. In general terms I can inform the honourable gentleman that on the expenditure side there have been increases on account, I think, of most of the items that he mentioned. After the Budget specific decisions were taken by the Government in that area to relieve areas of need. I refer to the beef industry and the additional assistance in the area of aged persons’ homes. I think all honourable gentlemen would agree that decisions of that nature were both desirable and economically responsible. It is true that so far there have been shortfalls in the area of pay-as-you-earn taxation refunds and also in some areas of customs duty. In the latter area the shortfall has been a result in part of a relatively greater amount of import replacement having occurred than was projected when the Budget was brought down in August. There will be a situation in which there will be a larger deficit but it is not in any sense a matter of concern.
I point out that the financing of the Budget deficit is in a very comfortable situation. The level of non-bank takeup which, as the honourable gentleman will know, is the least inflationary method of financing a Budget deficit, has been extremely satisfactory and to date approximates about $ 1,200m which is some $300m to $350m greater than the level of non-bank takeup at a comparable stage last year. In no sense do the comments I have made or the alterations thus far to the projected deficit outcome represent an undermining or a defeat of the Government’s strategy. The Government has reaffirmed the need for maximum expenditure restraint. It has demonstrably reduced inflation in this country to single digit figures and although it would have liked the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to go a good deal further and seize the opportunity of granting no increase at all in respect of the December quarter wage case, it nonetheless is a matter of relative satisfaction to the Government that 55 per cent indexation was awarded yesterday. It demonstrates that with persistence the Government’s wages policy is achieving some comparative and sustainable success.
-Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that far too often the cost of innovations and changes to improve the beef industry or beef marketing is borne solely by the producer? Is the Minister aware also that genuine concern exists in the minds of producers of beef that, following the introduction of beef classification, the total cost of classification eventually will rest with them? Will the Minister give an assurance that, while consideration is being given to the technical problems of classification, equal consideration will be given to devising a scheme to ensure that its introduction will not be an added cost to the already depressed producer?
– I welcome the honourable gentleman’s new-found interest in a subject which is of profound concern to so many other Australians. He might well have found some part of the answer had he listened to similar responses in the last Parliament when, of course, his concern for this particular sector was not so pronounced. He might have found that classification is going to be very significantly supported by the Federal Government. We have already offered up to $6m to accelerate the introduction of classification into beef chains. Nonetheless, in the overall assessment of the honourable gentleman’s question, there is a fundamental problem about the way in which costs are borne by producers. The improvements that have been introduced, in killing chains and other improvements in every other phase of the beef industry have not brought to the producer anything like a fair return.
The Government is concerned that in comparison with primary producers in so many other countries, Australian primary producers seem to be receiving a reducing percentage of the ultimate customer dollar. In a comparison between prices in Australia and other countries, it is true that quite often prices here are somewhat lower than in other countries. But it is also true that of that price paid, too small a percentage is really reserved for the producer. In our rural policy what we are seeking to do is develop a circumstance whereby a farmer can be paid a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Many farmers work significantly longer hours than do most Australians. The formulation of our policies is designed to try to give them some recognition in relation to their labour input, their capital investment and their managerial skills which they also contribute significantly to their industry. I am delighted in the honourable gentleman’s newfound interest in this subject matter and hope that it might lead to an easier resolution of some of these fundamental problems for Australian fanners.
– My question, which is directed to the Treasurer, follows that asked by the honourable member for Bonython regarding the ballooning of the Budget deficit. I ask the Treasurer why it is that estimates made only six months ago did not anticipate the full impact of rising unemployment. Is it a fact that unemployment benefits were underestimated by as much as $200m, indicating a worsening of the unemployment situation? Further, do the shortfalls in revenue indicate that the state of the economy, at least with respect to unemployment, is much worse than the Government anticipated?
– I do not ascribe to the situation the inference of gloom that the honourable gentleman does. Whether a particular estimate made at the time of the Budget is, over the period of the full year, proved to be incorrect either slightly or to a substantial extent is not something that can be finally determined until the end of the financial year. I have already indicated in reply to the honourable member for Bonython that there have been variations which have been due, on the one side, to a series of specific Government decisions and, on the other side, to a shortfall in revenue. In part these were covered by some of the explanations I gave earlier.
If the honourable gentleman is concerned- as I accept he and all other honourable gentlemen on both sides of the House are concerned- about the question of unemployment, I would entreat him and his colleagues inside the Labor movement throughout Australia to take a different attitude to the inter-relationship of wages policy to the levels of unemployment in this country. This Government remains very strongly of the belief that there is a direct link between the level of unemployment and the level of wages. It is a direct link about which we have persistently argued in our submissions to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I think in comparative terms we have had rather more success in recent days than we have had on other occasions.
– Pursuant to section 41 of the Meat Industry Act 1964 I present the annual report of the Australian Meat Board for the year ended 30 June 1977.
– Pursuant to section 16 of the
Pig Meat Promotion Act 1975, I present the annual report of the Pig Meat Promotion Advisory Committee for the year ended 30 June 1 977.
– Pursuant to section 28 of the Legislative Drafting Institute Act 1974, I present the annual report of the Legislative Drafting Institute for the year ended 30 June 1 977.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Victorian Local Government Grants Commission on financial assistance for local government in that State. Due to the limited number available, copies of these reports have been placed in the Table Office and the Parliamentary Library. The determinations on allocations to local government authorities for 1977-78 made in this report have already been made available to honourable members from Victoria.
– Pursuant to section 58 of the Darwin Reconstruction Act 1975, I present the annual report of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission for the year ended 30 June 1 977.
– For the information of honourable members I present the monthly reports of the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund for October, November and December 1977 and January 1978.
– For the information of honourable members I present an exchange of notes between the Australian Government and the Government of the United States of America constituting an agreement regarding the management and operation of the Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station at Alice Springs.
– Pursuant to section 31 of the Atomic Energy Act 1953, I present the annual report of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission for the year ended 30 June 1 977.
– Pursuant to section 8 of the Education Research Act 1970, I present the annual report of the Education Research and Development Committee 1976-77, together with the text of a statement by the Minister for Education relating to the report.
-by leave-I present the official report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the South Pacific. A limited number of copies of the report is available from the Table Office.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The inadequacy of services for migrants particularly at a time of high unemployment.
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-
-Before dealing with the inadequacies of services for migrants, it would be as well to dispose of the suggestion that the level of unemployment amongst migrants is not as high as that amongst Australians. The Bureau of Statistics, in its Labour Force, May 1977 study, provides a table showing that whilst there was an unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent amongst Australian born people at that time, the unemployment rate was only 3.7 per cent amongst those born in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. At the same time for those born in the United Kingdom and Ireland the rate was 3.6 per cent. All that begs the question: When is a migrant not a migrant, or for how long and in what circumstances should someone born outside Australia be counted as a migrant, and when should such an individual be counted as an Australian? Clearly, whilst in some areas such as health services, welfare services or education, the cultural background of an individual is relevant throughout life, in the case of employment that should not be so. Thus, with time a migrant should become an integral part of the work force and suffer no disability by virtue of his birth.
On a superficial examination of the Bureau’s table, to which I referred a moment ago, that would appear to be the case, when in fact the real fate of migrants is far less encouraging. The same table reveals more telling truths in terms of the fate of migrants. For migrants who arrived in Australia before 1961, that is, 16 or more years ago, the unemployment rate was 3.2 per cent at May 1977. For those who arrived between 1962 and 1975 the unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent. That was already significantly higher than the rate for those born in Australia, whose rate of unemployment was only 4.2 per cent. For the group arriving between 10 and 15 years ago the unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent. For those migrants who arrived since January 1976 the unemployment rate was 1 5.4 per cent.
The figures I have given relate to males. The figures for females are worse. Compared with a 6.2 per cent unemployment rate for Australian born women, for the Italian, Greek and Yugoslav women the unemployment rate was 6.7 per cent, whilst for those from the United Kingdom and Ireland the unemployment rate was 6 per cent. For those who arrived fifteen or more years ago the unemployment rate was 5.1 per cent. For those women who had been here from 10 to 15 years the unemployment rate was 7.3 per cent. Of those who arrived between 1969 and 1975, 8.3 per cent were unemployed, and 22.4 per cent of the arrivals between 1 976 and May 1977 were unemployed.
Given the dramatic increase in unemployment to a record level of 445,000 today, all of these figures must now be worse, with the anti-migrant bias making the relative position of migrants who have been here for up to 15 years still more heartbreaking. The same study showed that age for age unemployment rates for those born outside of Australia were worse than for those born in Australia. In the group 15 to 19 years of age the unemployment rate was 15 per cent for Australian born people, but the unemployment rate for non-Australian born people was 16.9 per cent. The rate for Australian born people in the group 20 to 24 years of age was 6.5 per cent, compared with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate for those of the same age born overseas. This unfavourable comparison persisted for every age group.
The gross, undissected statistic gives a totally false impression. The truth is that recent arrivals in this country- that is, those who have been here for up to 15 years- are very much worse off in terms of employment possibilities than any group in Australia other than the only true Australians, the Aborigines, whose employment situation is an utter disgrace to all of the nonAboriginal invaders and colonisers of this continent.
Despite the current horrific rates of unemployment for all Australians, particularly migrants, the Government goes on blindly insisting that the rate of immigration should be substantially increased. The major rationale is that Australia’s work force lacks skilled personnel in particular areas and that these bottlenecks prevent employment of more skilled workers, but the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) produces no facts to prove his case. The fact is that the majority of settlers between 1960 and 1976 were not skilled workers- 52.2 per cent were dependants, 1 1 .2 per cent were unskilled, 16.9 per cent were semi-skilled and 19.5 per cent were skilled. Migration has enlarged the work force but, considered age for age, it has not raised the level of skills. This situation has allowed the development of what Pat O’Malley has called a ‘sub-proletariat’ of socially and economically disadvantaged migrant workers who perform dirty work, that is, work which is lowly paid, has poor job security and involves poor conditions.
Any increase in immigration does nothing to change the current situation and may indeed exacerbate it. While the Government insists on a large scale immigration program to meet the needs of industry, it does little to alleviate the continuing problems of migrants after their arrival in Australia. For migrant workers to carry out the vast majority of jobs in Australia they arc required by their employers to be fluent in English, particularly those applying for skilled jobs. Yet the study ‘A Decade of Migrant Settlement’ indicates that only 35 per cent of migrants have fluent or good English, and only 15 per cent of migrants from Mediterranean countries, excluding the Middle East, have fluent or good English. This survey concentrated on heads of households, predominantly males, so the figures are likely to be worse for other family members.
One can presume only that the Government, in its persistent drive to find skilled migrants, is seeking white Anglo-Saxons proficient in those jobs where a fluent command of the English language would be mandatory. If the Government is not limiting its recruitment to those migrants proficient in English, this would point to a desperate need for migrant education in full and part time English courses. In the last Budget $ 10.4m was provided for adult migrant education, an amount virtually unchanged in monetary terms from that provided in 1976-77, although it was much less in real terms when one takes inflation into account. This amount of $ 10.4m can be compared with $2 1.3m spent in 1975-76, the year of the last Labor Budget. There were some token increases in living allowances for migrants undertaking full time English courses. But the whole program remains scandalously inadequate. For example, in 1976, no more than 5,000 students a year received any assistance in English under government programs in Victoria, despite an expected intake of 20,000 migrants. In other words, the program was inadequate to cope with new arrivals, let alone the enormous backlog of migrants already here hoping for help with their English studies.
The editorial of the Age of 18 January 1978 suggested just how hard a time migrants are having in this current recession, particularly persons of non-English speaking origin. Their situation is exacerbated by the current economic recession because traditionally migrants have worked in manufacturing industries. There has been a loss of 30,000 jobs between February 1973 and February 1977 in the manufacturing sector. Technological and capital investment will continue to displace labour which has become predominantly migrant labour. These and other trends have made migrants particularly vulnerable as they are the persons most readily affected by economic recession yet least able to defend their interests and rights at such times.
The vulnerability of migrants at a time of high unemployment highlights the inadequacies of current migrant services. Yet it is at such a crucial time that the Government decides to transfer migrant services to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Such centralisation smacks of bureaucratic belt tightening at the expense of the migrant community. Is there a future for many of the innovative programs started during Labor’s term of office- programs under the Department of Social Security such as welfare rights, the Outreach program, telephone interpreter services and so on? How will migrants who need such assistance to obtain benefits and allowances to which they are entitled fare now that the Department of Social Security is no longer responsible for providing these migrant services? For example, in the current blitz on the eligibility of those receiving unemployment benefits, the migrant who loses his benefit is less likely to understand his right to appeal, especially as all the information relating to it is written in English.
Even before the centralisation of migrant services, many of these services suffered from a lack of funds which totally limited their operation. For example, the community interpreter service was given only $71,537 extra, or a total of $465,000, in 1977-78. Prior to the presentation of the Budget, the New South Wales service came to a halt because of lack of funds. These allocations meant that services had to be cut drastically both in New South Wales and Victoria. Training courses for interpreters and translators which have received only limited funding were dropped altogether. The ever increasing casework books of organisations dealing with migrant welfare amply illustrate the need for greater funding. Yet the Budget allocation of $655,000, if last year is anything to go on, may be underspent by more than $200,000. In other words, despite the increasing clamour from various migrant welfare organisations for more funds, for reasons best known to itself the Government has inhibited the Department of Social Security- now it is the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs- from distributing the funds theoretically available for grantsinaid. It is not that the demand is not there. The demand is there and even some funds are available. The Government will not let them out.
Perhaps ethnic radio could assist migrants with information about their rights and entitlements and in finding jobs. Providing such assistance to migrants is at present discouraged by the tight bureaucratic and political controls which are being imposed on the ethnic radio stations. The hostile climate is effectively inhibiting the full use of ethnic radio as a community service to migrants at a time when it could be vital. The Government has shown little concern for the high rate of return home to their countries of origin among migrants, particularly the professional and skilled- those groups which supposedly justify further increases in the rate of immigration. Surely the huge number of migrants returning home indicates the blatant neglect by the Liberal Government of the continuing needs of our migrant families. Is it not time we stopped using people as factory fodder, as tools of economic management, and developed a policy for migrants, not just an immigration policy. This implies not just bringing in migrants but the development of positive policies and services to deal with the problems and difficulties facing people who are coming or who have come to live in our multi-cultural society. In times of unemployment, not only are the calls on social services increased- proper interpreter services should be provided in all the offices providing these services- but also with the stress and insecurity are increasing demands made on health services. Proper interpreter facilities should be provided in all public hospitals dealing with migrants, both for a physical and psychological illness. A proper understanding of the cultural origins of a patient is essential if psychological services are to be effective. In other words, one could suggest that a case could be made out for setting up psychiatric units in order to treat psychiatric problems in particular ethnic cultural groups.
Policies for migrants could include an expanded pre-employment introduction course for migrants during which time they could be paid unemployment benefits without having to seek work while receiving English training and a general orientation for working and living in Australia. Instead, migrants land at the dock or arrive at the airport and by and large they have to look after themselves, particularly in terms of the jobs they seek. There are many records of migrants arriving in the country and seeking employment at the first factory which can give them work and putting up with conditions that they subsequently would refuse to put up with when they become more accustomed to the conditions in the country. But we take advantage of their ignorance by not providing them with any of these introductory services such as tuition or enlightenment on the conditions in this country and what they should expect when they work in factories in Australia.
A more constructive approach is needed in the areas of re-training and recurrent education, in job creation schemes that are both socially and economically useful and in the provision of English courses. We should pay bread winners undertaking these courses and provide child care for participants where necessary. In other words, we should be more concerned about re-training Australians, new and old, but in this example particularly new Australians, who, by virtue of changes in technology and the shrinkage of employment opportunities in manufacturing industries, find themselves out of work and unable to get jobs because they do not have the required skills. We should not be bringing people into Australia; we should be retraining those who are already here. The whole range of migrant services must be modified to ensure a humanitarian approach is taken to migrants and their problems. It is time we took responsibility for the people we have encouraged to migrate to Australia.
– I welcome the debate initiated by the honourable member for Maribymong (Dr Cass). I sympathise with him. I understand that he has nobody supporting him in this debate he has brought forward. The Government for its part, in marked contrast to the Opposition, places very great stress on the services provided to migrants and in considering the total policies relating both to the entry of migrants and to the integration of migrants once they have arrived in Australia.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity to explain to the House the arrangements which have been made between the Government and the Opposition in relation to speakers in this debate. It is not true, as the Minister has charged, that the honourable member for Maribymong has no support -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarsOrder! Is the honourable member taking a point of order?
– Yes, I am.
-There is no substance in the point of order.
– The arrangements were that there would be one speaker from each side of the House and only five Government members are sitting behind the Minister.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to take a further point of order. The Minister said that the honourable member for Maribymong had no supporters on this side of the House to speak in support of his case. If I were given an opportunity I would certainly support the honourable member for Maribymong and so would all honourable members on this side of the House. But it was the Government that decided there should be only one speaker -
-Order! No point of order arises. I call the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, let me clear up this point. In fact, the arrangements were made at the suggestion of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) during
Question Time. The honourable member for Maribymong has over recent times changed the approach of the Opposition in relation to its immigration policy. I do not know whether he has obtained the support of Caucus for his new policy, but I shall recount it briefly. He suggests that we should- I think I am using his words- cut immigration to the bone but in doing so we should continue the family reunion and refugee categories.
– That is right.
– I notice that the honourable member nods his head. He is very concerned because, he says, large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled people are being brought to Australia at a time of high unemployment. What he fails to appreciate of course is that the only unskilled and semi-skilled people entering Australia at the moment are those who come within the family reunion and refugee categories- the very categories that the honourable member wishes to continue.
In fact, the additional category- that of occupationally selected people- involves those people who have skills and qualifications (a) which are recognised in Australia and (b) for which there is a long term demand in Australia. Rather than adding to the unskilled or semiskilled reservoir in Australia, the employment of people falling within that category provides further job opportunities for the large group of people who cannot find employment in Australia at present. So the honourable gentleman’s own argument is a nonsense. He says that we should have fewer unskilled and semi-skilled people coming to Australia but that at the same time we should maintain the family reunion and refugee categories which are the only categories under which some unskilled and semi-skilled people are being admitted. The present intake is made up of 29 per cent in the family reunion category; 10 per cent in the refugee category; 6 per cent approved on compassionate and humanitarian — ,.~.A~. r— fl ^ ~* r . T about 1 A nar ,.ant from New Zealand; and 41 per cent in the occupationally eligible group.
Let us now look at some of the other arguments put forward by the honourable gentleman. He talked at some length about unemployment amongst overseas-born people. It is a fact that unemployment amongst the overseas-born, according to the quarterly labour force survey published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, has been declining. The decline has been in both numerical and percentage terms. The May 1977 labour force survey showed that 89,100 overseas-born people, or 5.5 per cent of such people, were unemployed. The August 1977 survey showed that 86,800, or 5.4 per cent, were unemployed. In November 1977 the survey showed a decline to 83,800, or 5.2 per cent, of the overseas-born work force being unemployed. That was in a period when the migrant intake had increased and the numbers of refugees arriving in Australia had increased quite significantly. I believe that the figures are a tribute to the resourcefulness of migrants in finding and keeping work.
The honourable member drew attention to the fact that those migrants, or overseas-born people, who have been in Australia for some time show a very much lower unemployment rate than do native-born Australians. I think that is a tribute to those people who have made Australia their home, have settled here and obviously have integrated extremely well into the Australian society. Naturally there is a higher unemployment rate amongst those people who have arrived recently. I have already alluded to the fact that a fair proportion of the recently arrived are refugees. One would expect that refugees might have difficulty in settling into a new environment and in finding work within that new environment. Here again I believe that the figures show that after a period of time refugees are finding work and are settling well into the Australian community.
The honourable gentleman referred to other matters during his address to the House today. He talked about a suggestion that the Government is in favour of a highly increased rate of immigration. He will know that under the Labor Party Government, in 1975-76, immigration declined to an all time low of 52,000 people- the lowest since 1947. Since that time the intake has been increased to just over 70,000 people. When we bandy migration figures about, we should keep in mind that the gross migrant intake is a very different figure from the net increase due to migration, because every year a significant number of people leave Australia on a long term basis or permanently. The honourable member for Maribyrnong also mentioned the survey report entitled ‘A Decade of Migrant Settlement’. It was a most significant survey. It finished in 1973. Obviously, as a result of the facts put forward in that survey subsequent governments have sought to overcome some of the deficiencies that were pointed up in the survey and have taken account of the findings in providing services.
The present Government has a strong record of support for migration and for migrants themselves. It demonstrated this at the earliest opportunity by the re-establishment of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. It should never be forgotten that the Labor Party- the party that suggests that it has some special affinity with migrants- when in government abolished the one department with which migrants come into contact initially and which has a special relationship with migrants following their movement to Australia and their subsequent settlement in Australia. The present Government reintroduced the Department of Immigration and expanded it to include ethnic affairs,, and subsequently has added other services to that Department- settlement services, telephone interpreter services, adult education services, et cetera.
As to migrant access to community services and social assistance programs, this Government has taken the initiative in developing the role of the ethnic media- a point mentioned by the honourable member- in informing non-English speaking migrants of the services that are available. A program to do this began in November last year and will conclude in March this year. It will have involved nearly 400 advertisements in 57 ethnic newspapers throughout Australia, at an estimated cost of some $79,000. At least 15 language groups have been covered by these advertisements. The advertisements set out in some detail the services which are available to migrants throughout the Australian community, and provide advice as to how migrants can contact the relevant government departments which will assist them. We have established the first Commonwealth Government financed migrant resource centres in Sydney and Melbourne. I suggest that those centres- one of them associated with a community voluntary agency and the other totally staffed by government employees- represent a marked initiative in the provision of additional services to migrants, individually and in organisations, in the form of a contact and reference point with which people can develop some affinity and to which they can go for assistance and additional information.
Through the ethnic affairs branch of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which as I have already mentioned this Government set up, we have brought together departments concerned with services to migrants. That came about as a result of the administrative arrangements made following the most recent election. We have established close and effective consultation with the States because, in marked contrast to the previous Labor Administration, we recognise the very real part played by State governments in providing services to the community, including the migrant component of the community. Since I became Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs I have had regular consultations with the appropriate State Ministers not only in respect of intakes but also in terms of services provided to migrants. While I am on that point, I point out to the honourable member for Maribymong, the spokesman on immigration and ethnic affairs for the Opposition, that in all instances all State Premierswhether they be on my side of politics or on the honourable member’s side- have supported a continued active immigration program. That is why I draw some attention to the fact that the policy which the honourable member has been expounding is in marked contrast to the policy which has been put forward by his political colleagues in the States. I wonder again whether the policy that the honourable member has put forward has the imprimatur of the Labor Party movement as a whole.
The Government has provided a great number of other services to assist in the successful integration of migrants into the Australian community. I mention just a couple of them because they have been referred to by the honourable member for Maribymong. The telephone interpreter service has proved to be a most significant initiative. I am very glad to be able to report that it was an initiative suggested by the McMahon Government, put into operation by the Whitlam Administration and extended by the subsequent Fraser Administration. I will be very pleased to open the next telephone interpreter service at Wollongong on Monday next. This is a service which will be continued and expanded throughout Australia. The honourable member for Maribymong particularly mentioned migrant education. For some time he has been bandying around figures which would suggest on first reading that the Govern-
——– DO— ———— O—————-
ment somehow has cut the funds available for migrant education. Unfortunately the honourable member really has not looked at the figures behind his statements. I have in front of me a comparison of the amounts spent on migrant adult and child education under the last Hayden Budget of 1975-76, as it has become known, and under the present Budget. Expenditure on the adult program in 1975-76 was $8,231,313 and expenditure on the child program was $21,814,753. A total of $30,235,066 was made available in 1975-76. In this Budget year, 1977-78, the amount for the adult program has been raised to $1 1,878,000, which is the largest amount of money ever spent in Australia on adult migrant education, and the amount for the child program has been raised to $26,005,500, which again is the largest amount ever provided. All told, a total of $37,883,500 has been funded this financial year.
Rather than perpetrating this myth that the Government has cut back on expenditure in the migrant education field I hope that following my explanation in the House today the honourable member and his colleagues will put before the public the correct figures because rather than decreasing the amount of money available in fact a significant increase in expenditure has been made by the Fraser Administration. In these, as in so many other instances, the present Government has demonstrated a continued and increasing concern to provide the sorts of services that migrants themselves are seeking. I conclude by stating one fact which should never be forgotten: Under the Labor Administration we saw a halving of the immigration rate and a doubling of the migrant unemployment rate.
Order! The Minister’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-The honourable member may proceed.
– Yesterday evening during a somewhat spirited adjournment debate the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) in a personal attack upon me, which he is entitled to make went rather far. He said:
The honourable member for Holt, who was rejected by the House of Commons, rejected by his constituency in London and rejected by the Conservative Party in Britain, migrated to Australia and somehow by accident wound up in this place.
I would like to correct what the honourable member said. First, the House of Commons does not reject anybody: Therefore, I was not rejected by the House of Commons. Secondly, I never represented a constituency in London and I was never rejected. I was defeated in an election campaign, though not accepted as a candidate. Certainly, I migrated to Australia. However, I did not come by accident to this House; I was returned to this honourable House twice by the electors of Holt, the seat which I now have the honour to represent.
Debate resumed from 23 February, on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This Bill seeks to grant financial assistance to the States in connection with the development and management of national water resources. The express purpose of the Bill is to establish machinery for the provision of Commonwealth financial assistance to the States for water resource projects. The projects at the moment, of course, are administered by the States as the States have over time developed expertise in the management of water resource projects. The Bill seeks to authorise the payment of up to $2. 5m in the financial year 1977-78. A similar Bill was introduced last year before the Parliament was dissolved and therefore it has been reintroduced. The Bill presented last year sought authorisation to expend up to $lm from Consolidated Revenue in the financial year 1977-78 on New South Wales flood mitigation projects. But during the election campaign the coalition parties promised $ 1.5m to upgrade the Gin Gin channel of the Bundaberg irrigation scheme in Queensland and the additional $1.5m is reflected in this legislation bringing the total maximum appropriation to $2. 5m.
The Opposition objects to the express purpose and not the nature of the legislation. This Bill envisages that there will be enabling legislation establishing the framework for the payment to the States of moneys provided under this legislation for water resource projects. Previously money was allocated on the basis of separate enactments which, of course, gave the Parliament the opportunity to debate each project. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) in his second reading speech said that the Government will table agreements and therefore the tabled agreements can be the subject of debate. We know that during the course of parliamentary business and debate legislation attracts much more scrutiny and attention from both sides of the House and officers of the Parliament. The Opposition and the Parliament generally would have a much greater opportunity to discuss and debate a particular water resource project during a second reading debate or a Committee stage debate than it would if agreements were tabled as proposed under this legislation. The Opposition seeks to have the legislation redrafted so as to provide for separate enactments for each project that is undertaken. I therefore move:
That all words after ‘ that ‘ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘Whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House is of the opinion that separate enactments should have been provided for each water resources project’.
The history of water resource projects under the Labor Government was indeed a happy one. But it is not a happy one under the present Government. On 3 May last year the Deputy Prime Minister and present Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony), in reply to a question on notice, said:
The present Government does not have a program of assistance to the States for water projects. It is of the view -
That is the Government is of the view- that new Commonwealth-State financial arrangements should provide greater flexibility to the States in ordering their own priorities in water resource matters.
On 17 August the Deputy Prime Minister made a statement which signalled the Government’s abdication from participation in new water resource projects. He said:
In the present difficult budgetary circumstances the Commonwealth will not be allocating funds for individual water resource projects.
As the former Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam), pointed out last year, the current Budget was the first Budget in 14 years which failed to allocate new moneys to new water resource projects. He went on to point out that in 1977, and now of course in 1978, the national government of the world’s driest continent, a continent wracked by flooding on its eastern coast, played no part in planning or financing new water resource projects for the first time in nearly a generation.
Contrast that with the performance of the Labor Government during its period of office. I might best illustrate the point by relating to the House the details of an answer given on 5 October 1977 to question on notice No. 1391 asked by the then Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. E. G. Whitlam. He asked what financial assistance was provided for each of a number of water resource projects by the Federal and State Governments in each financial year since 1968-69. The projects listed are the Emerald (Fairbairn Dam), the Bundaberg project, the Lower Dawson River weirs project, the Eton scheme including the Kinchant Dam, the Clare Weir project, the Proserpine flood mitigation project, the Ross River Dam and the Julius Dam. As an example, the Bundaberg project had nothing expended on it by the Liberals until 1970-71 when $1.9m was spent and in the following two financial years $3.2m and $4.4.m respectively were spent. Then the Labor Government came into office and a whole gaggle of projects were funded. For the first time the Lower Dawson River weirs scheme was funded in 1973-74 with $95,000 and in 1974-75 with $455,000. The Eton scheme received $387,000 in 1973- 74, $ 1.799m in 1974-75 and $ 1.999m in 1975-76. But in 1976-77 the allocation was down to $8 1 5,000. The same applies to the Clare Weir. There was no funding by the coalition parties; that began when the Labor Government came to office. An allocation of $100,000 was made in 1974- 75 and $349,000 in 1975-76. The situation was similar with other projects. The Proserpine flood mitigation scheme was first allocated moneys by the Labor Government in 1974-75 when it received $ 120,000. The Ross River Dam was first allocated funds of $ 1.4m by the Labor Government in 1975-76. It received nothing from the coalition. The Julius Dam had received nothing previously but in 1974-75 received $2m from the Labor Government of that time. The point I am making is that not only has the coalition been puny in the allocations to water resource projects but it is now also phasing out the kind of initiatives taken by the Labor Government throughout that period.
Another example is the question of water treatment for Adelaide, which is of course the driest city in Australia. The expenditure in this area was reduced from $9.7m in the 1975 Budgetthe last Whitlam Budget- and $9.4m in the 1976 to $6m in the 1977 Budget. God knows what will be provided in the next Budget.
Adelaide hoc been politely forgotten Across the .——– - —– 1—- - v - o————– - whole range of projects in the light of the statement last year of” the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony), whose Government does not have a program of assistance to the States for water projects, we do not see much hope for the grand initiatives of the Labor Government in this field. It is true that an additional $1.5m is being granted in this legislation to finalise the Gin Gin channel of the Bundaberg irrigation scheme. But that scheme involves a total accumulated expenditure of towards $20m and the $ 1.5m is to complete it. Of course that would not have been offered but for the fact that during the election campaign the coalition wanted to pull a few rabbits out of the hat. In Queensland this was a popular promise to make. In the legislation which was introduced shortly before the Parliament was dissolved there was no mention of the Gin Gin channel or the $1.5m. It has mysteriously crept in after the election campaign. While we support that expenditure, I indicate the shallowness of the Government’s attitude to this whole question of water resource management.
My party has had a continuing commitment of financial assistance to the States for a whole range of civil matters and works. Of course water resources was given a high priority among them. It is the view of this side of the House that this should be the case and that the Government should be initiating new projects. There is no point in talking about general purpose grants to the States. They will decide their own priorities and they will not always be the kind of priorities we would like to fix in this national Parliament. Hence we provide specific purpose grants. The Opposition does not want to surrender the right of scrutiny of those pieces of legislation by simply having the tabling of agreements. We like to keep our eyes on Mr Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland and, for that matter, the other State Premiers of Australia to see that they are doing the right thing and that they are not, for instance, using water resource moneys under this legislation to featherbed, say, a particular industry which might be requiring the Government rather than itself to pay for some water management program in a particular area. We want to see that the money is properly spent in the real management of water resources which are the responsibility not of any private individual or of any private company but of the State. Therefore we should like to see separate enactments for each new agreement.
All I can do is urge the Government to look much more sympathetically at the whole ques tion of water resources, and particulary it. should re-assess the Adelaide position so that Adelaide is not forgotten by the coalition in terms of the problems of water, salinity and the general problem of water supplies in South Australia, particularly in Adelaide which is of course reaching an acute stage. More funding must be made available to solve the problem. It just cannot be forgotten with this empty ploy of saying that this is a State responsibility. Lots of things were State responsibilities before the Whitlam Government was elected, but between 1972 and 1975 and afterwards it clearly emerged that a lot of things that we believed were the problems of the States were areas in which the Commonwealth became involved. Money was provided but of course management was left with the States. We saw a lot of progress which was not achieved previously because the money was not there. We want the Government to think harder about the question of water resources, to commit additional funds in the coming Budget and to nominate new projects for commencement in the budgetary year beginning on 1 July.
In conclusion, the Opposition does not oppose the spirit of the legislation but it proposes this amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill urging the Government to abandon the concept of one enabling piece of legislation for the tabling of agreements in favour of the previous practice of introducing separate enactments for each new scheme.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. I second the amendment.
– I am pleased to be able to talk in the second reading debate on the National Water Resources (Financial Assistance) Bill. 1978. At the outset I reject the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). He is seeking on behalf of the Opposition a separate enactment for each project under the Bill which would be considered in total if it were passed as presented by the Government. I think honourable members need to be reminded of the words of the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) in his second reading speech. He said that the Parliament will need to consider separately the appropriation of funds for the purpose of the agreements. So on each occasion that any project is to be funded this Parliament will have the opportunity to consider that appropriation in debate.
The other point which I shall develop in the course of my address is that the Commonwealth will continue to have that overview and indeed a degree of consultation which it has enjoyed in the past with the States. There is no necessity whatsoever to intrude a further layer into those sorts of consultations which have been successful in the past. The Minister for National Development explained the purpose of the Bill in his second reading speech. The provisions of the clauses are unambiguous. However, the introduction of the Bill gives us the opportunity to debate the subject of water resources in Australia.
Water as a resource is basic to every field of endeavour, whether it is agricultural, industrial or social. For example, if we are to consider a national land use plan we cannot ignore water. Mr E. G. Hallworth. in a paper to the fortyseventh congress of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science in Hobart in May 1976, considered a future land use policy for Australia and explained five aspects of land use which he considered should be developed or changed. Stating them simply, those five land use aspects were as follows: Forest production; methods for making better use of water resources; techniques for making better use of the rain where it falls; opportunities for avoiding loss of land-based production by the deliberate siting of new population centres in areas of low productive agricultural value; and wildlife resources. Each one of those aspects can be developed only if water is available as a resource to maintain a particular land use.
Clean, fresh water is required for drinking. Increased leisure time creates a demand for variation in recreational pursuits, many of which require water. I refer to things such as swimming, water ski-ing, bird watching and trout fishing. To create a decentralised urban community water is required. To develop some industrial undertakings fresh water in huge quantities is basic. The standard of living of men, women and children in Australia and in any developed society in the world will not be maintained, let alone developed, unless the management of water resources is conducted in accordance with regional and national policies on conservation and use. Many people argue that Australia has an abundance of land for exploitation. Some people will be happy to espouse any argument which permits a land use policy to develop in an uncontrolled, unrestrained manner, provided it is not next to their own home or property. They see no necessity for long term planning or restraint.
Yet we can read that vegetable growing areas near Melbourne, for example, have declined by approximately 30 per cent in acreage during the past five years. Market gardens are now being ‘developed’, to use that marvellous term which in the past has been translated to mean subdivision, developed high urban density, increased land values, hobby farms, higher interest rates and higher municipal rates. As a consequence of that development the vegetable growers for urban Melbourne move further away from those people for whom they produce. They are moving away from existing water resources. The market gardener is moving to less fertile soil. Consequently his costs are increasing, and accordingly the cost to the consumer is also moving upwards. Another consequence is that new sources of water are required each time urban development leapfrogs into rural areas. I submit therefore that there is a wastage of two resources- fertile and highly productive soil, and water.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced on 12 February this year that the State Premiers had been invited to nominate projects for consideration under a five-year $200m water resources program. That is hardly a phasing out, as the honourable member for Blaxland referred to it in his speech. These moneys will be used in part for water resource assessment and research. A project which may attract a grant or loan moneys under this Bill would include ‘the conservation of water resources or water environment’ and ‘the management of water quality’. Already a great deal of first class co-operative work on this subject is performed by the Australian Water Resources Council. The Council works within the framework of a statement approved by the Commonwealth and State governments which is appropriately entitled ‘A National Approach to Water Resources Management’. In view of the importance of this statement. I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
AUSTRALIAN WATER RESOURCES COUNCIL
A national approach to Water Resources Management
The conservation, development and management of water resources must take place in the broad framework not only of development and management of resources generally, but also of overall economic, environmental and social planning.
Throughout the developed world, economic merit has frequently been the principal criterion for the assessment of development projects generally. It will remain an important factor, since economic growth is needed to underwrite the diversity of goals of modern society. However, goals other than the production of goods have, particularly in the last few years, been given a new significance as some of the harmful effects of the pursuit of economic growth as the dominant goal, have become more evident.
It must be appreciated that over much of Australia rainfall is highly variable both seasonally and from year to year and that floods and droughts are characteristic of the Australian environment. Much of the interior is extremely dry and for the continent as a whole the average rainfall is low, the loss by evaporation large and the runoff small. Although parts of the coastal belt receive plentiful rain for much of the time, nonetheless these areas do experience drought. Because of these climatic limitations on the amount of water available extensive water conservation will be necessary for development and to maintain and improve the quality of life.
In the management of water there is abundant evidence of the interdependence of the elements of the whole environment. The damming of a river has a direct effect not only on the submerged area immediately upstream, but also on the characteristics of the river downstream. This may result in major changes, beneficial or otherwise, to the condition of the river channel, to lakes, swamps or other features associated with the river, to water quality, to the habitat of fish, bird and other wildlife, as well as to the various human activities, social and commercial, associated with the river. All our water resources- rivers, streams, lakes and aquifersand the ecosystems associated with them, must be managed in a way which as far as possible will provide overall enhancement of the environment. Furthermore, the management strategies adopted for Australia’s inland waters must give full consideration to the effects on estuarine and marine environments.
Water management is also closely associated with our social well being- the availability of adequate water supply and sewerage services is often used as a yardstick for assessing social development. There are however other less evident but important relationships. Laws and regulations determining rights to the use of water can affect the distribution of prosperity. Water is often a major component in programs for regional growth or stabilisation. The importance of water as a basis for recreation is already high and will undoubtedly increase. Social objectives, which may not be directly compatible with economic efficiency, must be given proper weight.
Hence it is particularly appropriate in the case of water resources projects that they are planned and assessed not only on the basis of the extent to which they influence economic growth, but also on the basis of their impact on social well being, on regional development, and on the environment generally.
Within this broad framework, a balanced approach to water resources management would include the following desirable goals (some of which may not be achieved quickly).
the provision of water supplies, adequate in quantity and quality-
to meet the needs of people throughout Australia,
to meet the needs of or stimulate primary and secondary industry in such a way as to be compatible with projected market outlooks for the commodities concerned; compatible with the resources and characteristics of the region concerned;
the development and management of water resources so that, where practicable and desirable, other purposes such as flood mitigation, power generation, recreation and wildlife conservation are achieved in parallel with the purposes referred to above;
the development of waste water treatment facilities in conjunction with water supply systems and the encouragement of recycling and re-use where appropriate;
the adoption of water pricing policies which enable water needs to be met at a fair and reasonable price, but which provide an incentive to all water users to avoid wasteful or environmentally harmful practices and which encourage the efficient allocation of resources;
the continued development of policies and practices, as far as possible consistent throughout Australia, aimed at achieving appropriate water quality objectives, and the highest practicable level of pollution abatement;
the adoption of the general principle that direct costs, or costs related to loss of amenity, attributable to pollution should be borne by the polluter. Although the immediate and full implementation of this principle may not be feasible, it is nonetheless a goal to be pursued;
the zoning of flood-prone land, with a view to its orderly management;
the maintenance of adequate undisturbed aquatic environments as reference areas and the preservation of appropriate wetlands for the benefit of native wildlife;
implementation of a program of public education aimed at ensuring a proper understanding of the factors affecting the development and use of water resources and a sense of responsibility in relation to these matters;
the encouragement of an active interest and involvement of the community in the planning and management of water resources.
In order to implement a continuing planned program in the water field, the following specific activities are proposed which in some cases will require close collaboration and consultation between the Commonwealth and State Governments, and the many other bodies with interests in this field:
continue the collaborative program of measurement and investigation of surface and underground water sponsored by the Australian Water Resources Council, and develop it as required in order to provide adequate basic data on the quantity and quality of Australia ‘s water resources;
accelerate the studies which have been initiated by the Australian Water Resources Council to determine, on a region-by-region basis, the quantity and quality of water likely to be available for use under man’s control;
undertake, as soon as practicable, such additional measures as may be needed to provide reliable data on water diverted from all sources (surface and underground), water actually used, and the quantity and quality of effluent in all sectors- municipal, industrial and agricultural;
d ) keep under review the possible merit of restructuring any existing water projects and systems with a view to achieving more effective use of resources in the light of changing conditions;
undertake projection of regional water requirements in appropriate areas for approximately 10 to 30 years ahead, taking into account requirements for domestic and municipal purposes, primary and secondary industries, power generation, recreation and wildlife habitat, and with due regard to the sensitivity of demand to various factors such as technological and social change and price;
collate the material outlined above in order to provide a picture of likely requirements in relation to the development, allocation and management of water for all purposes in the various regions;
develop programs in the water field, including the provision of sewerage facilities, and the handling of liquid wastes generally, by collaboration between governments or authorities where appropriate;
maintain a system of data acquisition, storage and retrieval in order to provide an adequate information base to meet the requirements of interested parties;
maintain a program of research, studies, dissemination of results, education and such other measures as may be required to enable the water management goals set out in this Statement to be achieved;
further develop systems for monitoring floods and droughts and assessing and minimising their adverse effects.
– At the twentieth meeting of the Australian Water Resources Council last year the members considered a number of current Commonwealth-State programs. For example, the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Commonwealth are jointly involved in the eradication of weed from the Gingham watercourse near Moree. Another joint project of major significance is the River Murray Working Party which is concerned with salinity in the River Murray. All governments which are signatories to the River Murray Agreement have now accepted the recommendations of the Working Party, and draft legislation is currently being prepared by each government to amend the Agreement. The Council has expressed interest in the findings and recommendations which they anticipate will come from the inquiry on water resources by the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. I understand that the inquiry will be taken up by the Senate within the next 14 days. It would appear, therefore, that State and Commonwealth governments and their respective instrumentalities concerned with water resources are cooperating in the development and implementation of a national water resources policy.
However, Australia has responsibilities at the international level. In March 1977 the Minister assisting the Minister for National Resources, the present Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann), led an Australian delegation to the United Nations conference held at Mar del Plata in Argentina. This conference was one of a series of international conferences concerned with the problems which mankind will face in the use of the world’s natural resources. Previous conferences in the series have been the conference on environment which was held in Stockholm in 1972, the conference on food which was held in Rome in 1974, the conference in Bucharest in 1975 which dealt with population, and the Habitat Conference held in Vancouver in 1976. The basic intent in conducting the United Nations Conference on Water was to allow nations to develop an objective policy for the supply of water for basic nutritional, environmental and health requirements of their people.
In addressing the conference the leader of the Australian delegation emphasised the importance of water in Australia, pointing out that more than 40 per cent of the Australian continent is situated in the tropical zone, whereas approximately two-thirds of the Australian land mass is arid or semi-arid. Further, only the coastline of the east, south-east and far south-west of Australia, and the whole of Tasmania have climates which provide a consistent water surplus. It was pointed out to the conference that Australia’s water authorities had developed a degree of expertise in many areas relevant to the developing countries and that, although Australia had much to learn from other countries, it was prepared to offer to the world its experience in the management and conservation of water. The conference passed a series of recommendations which are known as the ‘Mar del Plata Action Plan’. The plan records the following recommendation on national water policy:
Each country should formulate and keep under review a general statement of policy in relation to the use, management and conservation of water, as a framework for planning and implementing specific programs and measures for efficient operation of schemes. National development plans and policies should specify the main objectives of water-use policy, which should in turn be translated into guidelines and strategies, subdivided, as far as possible, into programs for the integrated management of the resource.
It will be seen that the program which I have incorporated in Hansard entitled ‘A National Approach to Water Resources Management’, which has been approved by the State and Federal governments, reflects the terms of that recommendation. With regard to the recommendations to be taken nationally, all delegations endorsed the objectives, policies and guidelines relating to the appropriate action for water development and conservation including the adoption of national water policy statements, the development of appropriate technologies, flood and drought loss management, environment and health, et cetera. Not surprisingly, the principal issue which created the greatest area of discussion centred Oil the regional aspects of shared water resources. Perhaps the most contentious international problem in this area at the present time is the difficulty being experienced by India and Bangladesh in the allocation of water from the Farraka Barrage on the Ganges. The delegates expressed hope that the International Law Commission deliberations on shared water resources would lead to conclusions which would assist all states facing the problems of sharing water.
At the international level the conference endorsed a study seeking the most effective mechanisms necessary to increase the flow of financial resources specifically for water development and management through existing organisations and instrumentalities. There was also lengthy discussion and emphasis on the need to establish, within the United Nations system, means by which water resource activities can be kept under constant review. It was decided to refer follow-up action to the Economic and Social Council, the Committee on Natural Resources and the regional commissions for inter-government co-operation which, in this area, would include the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific.
In relation to Australia’s representation at international meetings, the Australian Water Resources Council at its August 1977 meeting discussed some of the problems which were experienced in the past in determining the membership of the delegation making up the Australian party. The Council is currently establishing guidelines on the method and means of participation. I express a hope that those guidelines will ensure that Australia’s representatives at international conferences on water are selected for their expertise, their knowledge and their experience and not by some process of entitlement as of right because of a delegate’s particular standing in a Commonwealth or State instrumentality. It is a relatively minor, but, nevertheless, difficult area which must be resolved to ensure that only the best representation is sent to international forums on this subject. This Bill demonstrates the intention of this Government to protect our scarce water resources and to develop means by which those resources can best be utilised to maintain our present standards. Research into further development of water resources will also be possible by the use of funds provided by the Commonwealth Government pursuant to the terms of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House and reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Blaxland.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (4.7)-My colleague the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) has already pointed out the shocking record of Liberal-National Country Party governments when dealing with the quantity and quality of the water supply of our nation. It was heartening to hear him produce facts and figures to indicate clearly that the Whitlam Government was fully aware of the national importance of our waterways. It was most enlightening to note that the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) did not touch upon the facts or figures produced by the honourable member for
Blaxland. This is a clear indication that they cannot be refuted.
In referring to the Bill before the House, any member conscious of the facts would have to admit that it contains a great deal of callous window dressing. In his second reading speech, the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) said:
The main purpose of this Bill is to provide the legislative framework within which the Commonwealth will be enabled to make agreements with the States on financial assistance for water resource projects
One might well ask the question: What is new about this proposition? Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament, the Commonwealth has entered into agreements with the States on water projects. It has done so on several occasions. The Minister went on to say: … the Government is of the view that standing legislation of this nature is more appropriate to the requirements of a long-term program.
However, the Minister neglected to indicate what the long term program is. Admittedly, there was the election gimmick of $200m to be made available for a national water resources program, but that proposal is not contained anywhere in the Bill before the House. If one inquires further to see what this Bill is all about, one finds that its purpose is really to appropriate from Consolidated Revenue a mere $2.5m. If this Bill is any guide as to how that mysterious $200m is to be spent, it indicates that the sum will be spent over 80 years with the first $2.5m to be allocated this financial year through this legislation.
Referring to that part of the Minister’s second reading speech dealing with clause 3, which defines the range of projects for which assistance will be available to the States under this new so called enacting legislation, we see that it encompasses all aspects of water resource management for which Government assistance would be appropriate. Anyone who knows anything about our water supply would know that prompt and urgent Commonwealth assistance is vitally needed in all these areas. As the honourable member for Blaxland has pointed out already, instead of all this window dressing there should be some specific purpose Bills which can be debated in the House so that the States will know what co-operation the Commonwealth is seeking.
The honourable member for Blaxland has mentioned already the response of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), to a question on 3 May last year. He said:
The present Government does not have a program of assistance to the States for water projects.
The Deputy Prime Minister said also:
It is of the view that the new Commonwealth-State financial arrangements should provide greater flexibility for the States in ordering their own priorities in water resource matters.
This legislation passes the buck to the new CommonwealthState financial arrangements. How often does the Government use this dodge? As the honourable member for Blaxland has shown clearly the amount of money that was allocated for water resources projects under the Whitlam Government, why does not this Government come clean and show its figures so that we can make a comparison. This is what this Bill is all about.
The Government is putting up this new idea so that we cannot make a comparison and so that the agreement will be tabled in the House. We will not have specific purpose Bills that can be debated in the House but we will have some kind of an agreement tabled. If one reads the reports in various newspapers, it is quite obvious that the Government is well aware of the problems and the urgency of the problems. Why do we have all this window dressing? Why cannot we get on with some specific purpose Bills, something that will help the people in these irrigation areas to solve their urgent water problems.
I refer the House to a report in the Border Mail of Thursday, 4 August 1977 under the heading ‘River Charter Inadequate, says Anthony’. It stated:
The River Murray Commission’s present charter left it inadequate to cope with all demands on the river, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, said yesterday.
He said there was flooding, erosion, salinity and pollution and legislation would have to be introduced to alter the commission’s powers and structure.
Mr Anthony was speaking to representatives of the Albury, Wodonga and Tallangatta councils and members of the River Murray Action Group and Murray Valley Development League in Albury.
That is a clear indication that the Deputy Prime Minister is well aware of the problems facing our water users. If one wanted to go any further to see how urgent it is that some specific legislation should be introduced into this House or that some direct assistance be given by the Commonwealth, one has only to refer to Senator Webster’s speech in Mildura in 1977 when he pointed out that a recent report to the Australian Agricultural Council estimated a loss of yield of horticultural crops, including vegetables, in the Mallee zone alone. He made the point that the loss was worth $20m annually. I emphasise that in that small area which is dependent on our waterways $20m is being lost annually.
A lot of noise has been made today about the introduction of this Bill which will provide an amount of $2.5m. This gives some idea of how much this Government lags with regard to concern for the quantity and quality of our water. I do not think that we have whipped the real problem yet. An article in the Sunraysia Daily of 5 November 1977 illustrates just how serious is this problem. The article is headed ‘Salt Problem to Increase Unless Heavy Rain Falls’ and states:
Build up of salt in the water of the Murray River has reached an alarming level and is likely to get worse unless heavy rain falls in the catchment areas soon.
This was the opinion of the chairman of the Sunraysia Salinity Committee, Mr Eric Orton, yesterday following concern expressed by the chairman of the Lower Murray (NSW) Water Users ‘ Association, Mr Dudley Marrows.
Mr Orton, a former CSIRO scientist, said yesterday the salinity at the Merbein pumps, as published yesterday, was S00 parts per million total soluble salts . . . while the latest figure for Cowanna Bend, published Thursday, was 552 ppm total soluble salts . . .
Mr Orton said it was agreed the desirable maximum was 300 ppm at which concentration damage to citrus under overhead sprays was likely to begin.
You would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that if you were to visit the Sunraysia area the day after the sprays had been used on a hot day, there would be a lot of leaves on the ground. This is one of the big complaints of the people in the Sunraysia area, particularly in my electorate. They are asking for some system whereby they can get their water on demand so that they can work the sprays on the overcast days or in the night time. The salinity of the water is fast ruining all their land.
I think the saddest thing of all is the fact that Mr Orton received a letter dated 28 October from Mr C. G. Edwards, secretary of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources, which says that because of the dissolution of Parliament and the forthcoming Federal election, the Committee’s inquiry into Commonwealth involvement in water resources stood suspended until such time as the Committee was reconstituted and new members had been appointed at the beginning of the next Parliament. It is a very sad thing that because of the dissolution of the Parliament, nothing could be done about the water supply for these people. Mr Edwards said that it was expected that the inquiry would resume again in March 1978 and that he would provide further details when the Committee’s future program was agreed on. He said he was very sorry for any inconvenience this delay might cause. I can assure the House that many of the growers in my electorate are also very concerned and very sorry about the situation that has developed because of this inconvenience.
The growers have nothing against planning on a national level. They are fully conscious of the need for it. They have told me- and I know this applied long before I came into this Parliament because records were presented to me- that various committees have been to the area, have made investigations and have brought down recommendations as to what should be done to solve the problem of the salinity in the water. But what do we find? We see more and more expert committees investigating the problem and more and more recommendations being made, but nothing being done. There is general agreement that there is an urgent need for remedial action, particularly in regard to the tube mills in the Wakool-Tullakool area to which I referred the other night. The water table there is rising. The crops can be seen to be gradually dying back as the water rises, yet on the high ground there are lush crops. There is not doubt about it: Anyone, even someone without a great deal of experience in these matters, can see what was happening.
The same remedial action is needed in the Sunraysia area. The recommendations have been made. Some of the tube wells have been put in and some have not. What we want is for the Government to spend some of this money. Instead of it telling us all the time about the $200m that is going to be spent, we want to see some of this money spent. We want to see something done urgently. The people in the area want to know whether or not they have a future. They cannot wait for another committee; they cannot wait for another investigation. They cannot wait for the Government to decide what it is going to do with this $200m. The Government has all the reports in the world about this matter. It is time it did something about it.
The people in the Coomealla area in particular have asked me to put before the Government a suggestion that a loan be made available to them so that they can have the same system as in the Renmark area. In that area there is a special pumping system whereby the people can have the water at the time they require it. On a dull day they can order the water and spray the trees. They think that this system would carry them over until such time as some of these bigger schemes were implemented. But they want to impress upon the Government the urgency of the matter. We have had all the committee meetings and we have had all the expert committee investigations. I think it was in 1970 that Messrs Gutteridge, Haskins and Davey brought down a recommendation on this matter. They comprised one of the best committees that could be found at that time. Everyone agreed with their recommendations but there has been no implementation of their report. We ask the Government to give consideration to implementing some of the other things I have mentioned and to look at the Renmark system to see how this could be applied to the Sunraysia area and to the Coomealla district. Their water pumping system is on the blink. The people will have to spend some money shortly. The Government must see whether a loan can be provided to these people and whether something can be done urgently for our waterways.
-I am glad to join in this debate, but I must say I was surprised to hear the previous speaker, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick), referring to the National Water Resources (Financial Assistance) Bill as nothing more than window dressing. In fact I was really disturbed to hear him say this. In reply I would say that if this is window dressing then as far as I am concerned, the longer this Government keeps up window dressing the better because this Bill is good news for the electorate of La Trobe. I put it to the honourable member that what is good news for the electorate of La Trobe is good news for this country. I say that without any equivocation at all.
I congratulate the Government on this measure. I was particularly pleased that mention was made of this legislation in the policy speech. In fact I go so far as to say that in addition to tax cuts and certain other measures, this particular announcement was one of the highlights of the election speech. I congratulate the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) for having it included in the speech. I suppose that now I can ease up on him slightly with regard to representations and approaches I made to him during the course of the previous Parliament, not only individually, but in conjunction with the municipalities in the area, the Water Works Trust in the area and indeed individuals in the area. Coupled with that of course was the approach and the support I received from industry in the area.
It is a fact that in certain parts of the La Trobe electorate there are many constraints on industrial development. I remind the House that it is not without industrial development and growth that jobs will be created. It is a terrible situation when industrial development and industrial estates are held up simply because there are not adequate water provisions. Of course it is a far worse situation when residential development is held up because there are no adequate water provisions. There are delays in the development of land which should be and could be made available for housing simply because there is a delay in getting water and sewerage services. I know that this Bill is particularly related to water rather than sewerage but the two go hand in hand.
A situation has developed in recent years- I am not saying in the last two years or the last five years; I will be fair and say probably in the last seven to ten years- where the provision of reticulated water supplies has lapsed appallingly in the capital cities. We have heard a great deal in speeches delivered in this Parliament by people representing rural areas. They say quite rightly that the provision of irrigation waters and irrigation schemes is lacking and that more money needs to be spent on those things. We have heard that stated today. We also hear members of parliament calling for improved provision of reticulated water to rural towns and regional cities. That is fair enough. We hear speeches from honourable members requesting increases in funding for the provision of water to the metropolitan areas of our great capital cities. What we do not hear nearly enough, in my opinion, is pressure being put on all governments for the provision of funds to improve water supplies to the outlying areas, the fringe areas, of the capital cities. Because not enough pressure has been put on governments in that regard, funds for reticulated water supply systems in the outer metropolitan areas, the fringe areas of the cities, have not been forthcoming. That is why I make a plea in the House this afternoon to the Government of Victoria- honourable members would expect me to speak on the needs of Victoriato see that adequate provision is made for the supply of water to the fringe areas controlled either by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission or the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, to ensure that there is an immediate increase in the funds provided for water reticulation.
In my electorate of La Trobe are the shires of Sherbrooke and Lilydale. Both of those shires extend in area up to the Dandenong Ranges and the upper Yarra Valley. Hardly a member of this House would not have some familiarity with those areas. Yet the provision of water in those areas has been on a most limited basis. In fact, it is correct to say that for the greater part the only water that has been provided has been for fire fighting purposes and nothing else. Quite clearly, it is essential and basic that in areas of high fire risk there should be reticulation of water primarily for fire fighting. But, of course, it should go far beyond that. We have some of the most precious stands of native timber and vegetation in those areas. They need to be protected. But that sort of vegetation needs to be protected not only in the forest areas but also in those areas in which people have settled. Many more estates on which homes will be built have been established in the Dandenongs and in the areas adjacent to them.
Despite the fact that certain influential people would like to see an immediate halt to that development, despite the fact that certain influential people would like to see removed some of the houses already there, the fact is that a good deal of development has taken place and there will be more in the future on a quite substantial scale. I urge the House to consider the plight of the people who are settling in those areas. Many of them have families and many have young children. They do not have access to water supplies. In towns such as Belgrave one sees people queuing outside the laundromat waiting to be able to put their washing into one of the IS to 20 machines available. That is not because the residents in the areas do not have their own washing machines; it is simply because in certain months of the year they do not have sufficient water to operate those machines. I think it is an absolutely disastrous state of affairs. It is quite unreasonable to expect mothers with young children to drive- often they have to take the bus- to the local town in order to make use of a service such as that.
One. of the ironies is that in the electorate of La Trobe both the Silvan Dam and the Cardinia Dam are located. They are the two single largest water reserves in the Melbourne metropolitan area. The people of metropolitan Melbourne travel to those dams on weekends in order to picnic in the area and to appreciate the area. Yet the people who live in the area and who live adjacent to these dams are not supplied with any of the water. I know that members of the Opposition support me in this because they understand the situation. I can remember when the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins), who is trying to interject, accompanied me when I went to look at the area. He was appalled. He supports me when I state that we are calling on the Victorian Government when it is distributing the money which is being provided by the Federal Government to consider ensuring that the shires of Sherbrooke and Lilydale and the areas of Belgrave, Belgrave South, Silvan, Montrose and the areas which extend into the region of Mount Dandenong are provided with those funds for the purpose of improving and increasing their water supply. If that proposition is accepted it will represent the single most significant measure that has been taken in the Dandenongs for many years.
One can talk about roads, one can talk about other facilities that governments provide, but we are talking now about one of the most attractive areas in the country. It is certainly the most attractive area adjacent to a metropolitan area. We want people to have attractive gardens. The people in the Dandenongs work in their gardens with the dedication of professional gardeners. If we want to support those efforts and make it easier for them by taking the heartbreak out of trying to get plants and vegetation established, we should ensure that water is supplied.
There are two problems. One concerns the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which is the water supply authority for a good deal of the area encompassed within my electorate. Then there are certain water works trusts. In particular there is the GembrookCockatooEmerald Water Works Trust. I might say that the latter body has been putting pressure on the Victorian Government and the Victorian Minister of Water Supply to increase the amount of loan funds made available to improve the reticulation system. The Government could get back the money which is required, provided that the revenue is available. Once the water is supplied and people start contributing by way of rates, it becomes a perfectly reasonable business proposition. It is a good policy and it is good government to provide those loan funds to water works trusts. They are run very economically. They are run with the expertise of local people when it comes to the management of particular programs. They get very good value for the money spent.
So, on the one hand, we have those authorities. Then we have the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. My heart bleeds when I see how much the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works does not do. Considering the amount of money that is spent and the amount of money that is available to that authority for the supply of water, I believe we should be seeing better results. How the Board of Works could agree to put in certain mains in the Dandenongs area when it was known before the first sod of soil was turned that they could not possibly be adequate, not only for future development but for the development which had taken place initially, is quite beyond my comprehension. It is the sort of thing which irritates the residents in the area. I believe it is perfectly reasonable that they should be irritated by that sort of thing because they can see the misuse of public funds.
In addition, the Board of Works, in my opinion, does not operate nearly efficiently enough in the way it goes about its works programs. Also I challenge some of the criteria which it sets prior to agreeing to the extension of water reticulation systems. In the first instance, before it will do so the Board requires that something like 60 per cent of properties in a residential estate be developed. The other criteria is that there must be a return to revenue of 18 per cent from water rates on the total funds provided for the scheme.
In some parts of my electorate- I am thinking particularly of the area around Montrose- the soil is very poor, and literally nothing can be grown unless people are prepared to establish gardens and water them. Once that is done things grow quite well. It is really heartbreaking to move into a new home in an area which has been desecrated by developers. Timber, along with everything else, has been removed. The soil is third rate. People are trying to settle in and establish some sort of garden. Even if they cannot grow elaborate plants, bulbs and such things at least they can get shrubs going. The establishment of gardens changes the look of an area within 12 to 18 months. In five or six years it looks terrific. The situation is heartbreaking for people who have to cart water or pay for the local fire brigade to do so. I do not believe that in this day and age people should be subjected to these hardships any longer.
For those reasons I am particularly pleased the Government has taken steps to increase the allocation. I am looking to transfer to my colleagues in the State Parliament, irrespective of the political party to which they belong, any pressure that I can generate. We have a duty to the residents in the area to get together and to point out the serious situation which exists. In certain areas people are prepared to pay a charge additional to the normal water rates simply to see that the revenue comes up to the 18 per cent and meets the criteria for the Board of Works approval for a scheme. I think that shows that the request is more genuine than many of the other requests we receive.
These people are prepared to pay more in the short term to see that the criteria are met and that the scheme is approved. It is a simple fact that, although they would be paying more for their water rates if the scheme were approved- I am not necessarily advocating that- they are now paying an additional sum to have water carted.
This is not done every month of the year but is done in the critical months of the year. These people are left without domestic water for their households. They are left without domestic water to get a garden going and to do other things which many people in the metropolitan areas take for granted. In addition, these people are left with the most hopeless fire fighting provisions one can possibly imagine. This is occurring in a part of the country which has the most precious scenic assets to conserve. There is a lot of vegetation throughout the residential area.
– All it needs is a new government in Victoria, if things are that bad.
– A change of government in Victoria would not solve anything. I think it would be a step backwards. It would make more difficult my task of getting finance for the areas in my electorate which are so critically affected. That is why I am so pleased that the Government has agreed on this measure. I congratulate the Minister and the Government. I think this measure is thoroughly overdue. We are years and years behind- I say that not as a political statement- in providing money for water in these areas. The Minister has been through these areas with me. He knows exactly what I am talking about. I have driven him around the area. We have looked at these estates. We have discussed the problems with the people in these estates. I am delighted to be able to congratulate the Minister for having this measure included in the Budget allocation and for bringing the Bill before the House. I am looking forward to some action. I ask the Minister for his support when I make representations to the Government of Victoria to see that the money goes where it is required, and that is in the electorate of La Trobe.
-I think the only advice I can give to the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) is that while he is not quite sure which party in government in Victoria would do the most for him he should make sure a Labor government is returned at the next election. I am sure it would assist him with the provision of water resources to solve the problems. I have a particular interest in the whole question of water, apart from the fact that I drink it. It has been said that South Australia is the driest State in the driest continent. I have been re-elected to a redistributed seat which comprises 90.5 per cent of South Australia. I suppose I could coin a phrase that it is the driest electorate in the driest State in the driest continent. We have problems with water. I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would confirm that anyone would be hard put to find a running stream in that part of the State.
South Australia has a particular interest in water projects. The matter is of great concern. Let us look at some of the major problems that face South Australia. The South Australian Government has prepared programs. Certainly they are very costly, but if we are to get a decent water supply in South Australia the job has to be done and done as soon as possible. Let me refer to a few projects. First of all I refer to the metropolitan Adelaide water treatment plant which is estimated to cost in the vicinity of $ 1 50m. I mention also the water treatment project for the northern towns which will cost anything from $32m to $48m. There is also the rehabilitation of the River Murray irrigation area which will cost a further $53m. The River Murray salinity control programs will cost anything from $30m to $200m. The cost of the project is a bit of a stab in the dark. The Bolivar effluent utilisation scheme will cost $22m. The figures I have given are not up to date. If we take account of the inflation rate since these figures were compiled we find that the cost is a lot more.
South Australia cannot afford to carry out its programs on its own. One project with which I am concerned is water treatment for the northern towns- the three major towns of the northern Spencer Gulf area. With respect to the northern towns of South Australia served by the MorganWhyalla and associated water supply systems, we are aware that of the 13 cases of the fatal water-borne disease, amoebic meningitis, 12 have occurred in these towns. Although it was never proven that the water supply was involved, the facts are that not one case has been reported since the South Australian Department of Public Health called for chlorination of the supply to an extent which would ensure reasonable levels at the consumers tap. The very high chlorine dosage rates required to achieve this residual with unfiltered water make the water extremely odorous and unpalatable. The chlorine makes the water very corrosive. The water supply system as well as consumers pipes and fittings are being attacked. As a resident of the northern towns, I can confirm the truth of those remarks and the remarks relating to amoebic meningitis. Until a few years ago every summer the parents of children in the areas around Port Augusta, Port Pirie and Whyalla were concerned about the effects of amoebic meningitis. I referred earlier to the deaths which had occurred.
South Australia has always faced a problem. Prior to the World War it was mainly a rural State. Because of the industrial development during the Second World War there was a greater demand for water. The industrial development, including the shipbuilding, et cetera, in Whyalla, stressed the need for a regular water supply for the area. As a result, the Morgan- Whyalla pipeline was opened in 1 944 to provide a regular water supply to the area. Prior to that all the towns in the northern part of the State relied on their local water supplies. Some were of very poor quality and intermittent at times. With the increased secondary industry in South Australia we saw an improvement in the situation. At the time, Adelaide relied mainly on various nearby dams for its water supply. With the expansion of Adelaide, plans were laid to transfer water from the River Murray to augment Adelaide ‘s water supply.
The water from the Murray is of extremely poor quality and is not very palatable. Residents of most of the northern areas have fresh water tanks and hope that they can collect sufficient rain water from roofs for drinking purposes. The water is very sour and not of good quality at all. Prior to 1970, no serious consideration had been given to the filtration of the Adelaide water supply. But, in 1971 a report showed that it was feasible. It was decided to see whether ways and means could be found to filtrate the Adelaide water supply.
In 1973, during a State election campaign, the question of the filtration of the Adelaide water supply became a strong election issue. As a result, in 1974 the State Government decided, after an approach the then Federal Governmentthe Australian Labor Party-Whitlam Government- to see whether any assistance could be available from it to help the South Australian Government to carry on with its program. Of course, the then Federal Government had instituted a program to assist the States with their water reticulation programs. South Australia received some assistance and promises from the then Federal Government to provide the assistance to enable it to carry out that water filtration program for Adelaide. The fact that the Federal Government was prepared to give assistance for the filtration of the Adelaide water supply meant that South Australia, through its own resources, could take the necessary steps to consider filtrated water for the three northern industrial towns in addition to rural areas and other smaller towns.
The details of the Adelaide filtration scheme were submitted to the Federal Government following the election in 1973. The Whitlam Government undertook to fund the program in 1974. Work on the project started almost immediately following that agreement. The State Government could not proceed with the program until the Commonwealth Government agreed to provide the necessary funds. No time was wasted after the agreement was reached under which the Commonwealth would fund the program with $ 100m provided by grant and loan over a 10-year period. As a matter of fact, I think that one of the first plants to come into operation was the Hope Valley reservoir quite recently. It has been operating since last October. It is hoped that another one will come into operation during the latter part of next year.
Despite numerous approaches to the Fraser Government, the South Australian Government still does not know what the funding situation will be next year. The South Australian Government is not able to go ahead fully with the program that it had in mind because of the lack of Federal funding. This will have a serious effect on the previously planned rate of progress for the other four filtration plants needed to serve the metropolitan area. Other approaches made by the South Australian Government to the Federal Government did not receive very sympathetic consideration. Mr Corcoran, the Minister of Works in South Australia, made a statement following the announcement by the Prime Minister during the Federal election campaign that a sum of $200m would be made available for water resources programs. The Prime Minister stated in his policy speech.
We will improve city and country water supplies with a five year $200m national water resources program.
Mr Corcoran, in commenting on the Prime Minister’s announcement, had this to say in a Press statement: . . . on the surface this seemed to be a generous commitment.
But deeper analysis shows that instead of being a giver Mr Fraser is a taker . . .
The $200m equated to $40m a year over the next five years for all the States.
Where is the generosity in this intention when the expenditure on water resources activities last financial year was $77m?
Honourable members can see that there has been a considerable drop in expenditure. The Press statement continues:
The reduction of $37m is bad enough in itself but when the cost of inflation is added to that amount the fall in funding is drastic.
If allocations are made in line with population it will mean that South Australia’s share will be about $4m- a veritable drop in the bucket.
I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to consider that in the light of the program I read out earlier. Mr Corcoran went on to say:
South Australia had received $ 13.5m from the Commonwealth Government for water resources activities last financial year.
South Australia’s position is quite clear. Every year we need to be compensated in full for the cost of inflation just to maintain our existing activities- with no increase in activities allowed for.
Instead of that, under this seemingly generous program, we will get no compensation for inflation, and we will lose an additional $10m a year compared with what we received in 1976-77.
Mr Fraser’s intentions are obvious; pick out a nice round figure like $200m; it sounds good and spread it over a number of years which he hopes the public won’t remember anyway.
We still have no commitment from the Fraser Government beyond next financial year for Adelaide’s Water Filtration Program.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the whole issue is that the scheme included a job creation program. If those funds were made available, work could have been provided for an additional 750 men. But, of course, the State will not get the money. The amount provided by the Federal Government is nowhere near what the State Government is seeking. The result is that the programs set out by the South Australian Government will not get off the ground fully and certainly will not be completed before the turn of the century. This will be the case if the work must be done from the poor handouts that the South Australian Government is receiving from the Federal Government and from what the State is able to pay for from its own resources.
As I said earlier, I have a special interest in the water supply for the northern industrial towns. When the Labor Government made provision to assist South Australia, it raised the possibility of making available a water filtration scheme for the towns in the northern Spencer Gulf area. With the cut back in funds and the prospect that there will not be a great deal of money available in the future, this scheme drops further and further into the background. It will be quite some time before we have filtrated water in the northern part of South Australia.
The whole matter has caused some concern. It is causing a great deal of concern to the local government bodies in the area. The Spencer Gulf Cities Association, an Association of the councils around the Spencer Gulf area, met and discussed the question of the filtration of water. It has been raised on many occasions but it was raised again on this occasion. I am afraid that the hopes of the councils have been dashed by the miserly amount that has been included in this program- an amount of $200m to be spread between all the States over a period of five years. So the possibility of filtrated water being made available in the northern part of South Australia has been put back by the actions of this Federal Government in refusing to fund the State Government more than it has in the provision of water resources. It is obvious that only with the return of a Labor Government which is concerned more for the people will we see greater resources put into this area so that these projects can go ahead.
I feel that South Australia deserves a great deal of consideration. It is the driest State in the driest continent and as such South Australia has greater problems in respect to water than have most of the other States. I have mentioned that it is possible to travel by rail from the Victorian border to the Western Australian border with the River Murray being the only running water to be crossed. That gives honourable members an idea of the position of South Australia in regard to its water resources. South Australia is also the State hardest hit with salinity problems in the River Murray. However, I do not intend to develop that matter. I think that my friend, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick), has spoken on that matter previously and covered it quite adequately. But it is a fact that South Australia is probably the hardest hit of the riparian States in respect to the Murray River water and its salinity.
I am sure that the South Australian Government will play its part. It has quite large projects under way. But unfortunately, it will not be able to fund them fully out of its own resources. Although the State will play its part and put in its share of resources to carry out these programs, it cannot carry them out until the Federal Government comes to the party. South Australia, because of its geographical position, its rainfall and lack of rivers deserves special consideration from the Commonwealth Government. It certainly deserves greater consideration for assistance from the Commonwealth Government to provide the finance needed to carry out these projects. The commitment of the Labor Government allowed for the supply of nitrated water to the towns I have mentioned in the northern Spencer Gulf area to be considered in the near future. Unfortunately, the amount that the present Federal Government is providing will mean that South Australia will receive about $4m a year and those plans have dropped further and further into the background. I make a final appeal to this Federal Government to change its views on the allocation of money to assist the States in water resources. It should make further money available so that South Australia can proceed to ensure that it has decent and adequate water supplies.
-I rise to support the National Water Resources (Financial Assistance) Bill but certainly not the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition. The Bill is an example of what the federalism policy is all about. The Commonwealth is making a contribution with respect to a certain resource but is leaving the States to set the priorities and to assess how the funds will be spent. Apparently, it has not filtered through to the members of the Opposition that this is the case. Certainly, I want to place on record that I will not be supporting the proposition moved as an amendment by it. This Bill represents a fresh approach to the matter of funding water resources. It provides for a contribution of $200m over a period of five years; but it is not limited to that figure because, if the States make their contributionstheir fair contributions- and if private enterprise and councils also take up the cudgels in certain areas as we expect them to do, the total commitment to water resources over the next five years should be double or even treble the amount that is being set aside.
I take on board the warning of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), that, although a figure of $200m is being set now, five years hence that figure could change dramatically because of inflation. I hope that the Government takes the point that if there is a high inflation rate this amount must be reconsidered in the interim to make sure that the relative values are maintained. As was indicated by the previous speaker, Australia is a dry continent. After hearing him discuss the costs of obtaining water resources in South Australia, I suggest to him and to all other honourable members from South Australia that perhaps they ought to transfer the State elsewhere. That might be cheaper than to provide the funds required. Of course, in this debate there will be many parish pump comments. Before 1 finish speaking I hope to make some of my own.
We must look at the problem of water resources on a national basis. This Bill represents a fresh approach. It is an indication from the Commonwealth that it is prepared to do something- something that has not been done during the last two years. During the three years prior to that it was done through a rather ad hoc arrangement. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) raised a point in connection with the allegedly trifling amounts that have been contributed by this Government in the last two years. The honourable member forgot that during the last two years this Government was faced with a situation of great stringency brought about by the inflationary climate created by the Labor Government. What this Government was able to do, it did; but certainly it had been left a huge legacy of expenditure by the Labor Government. We have been successful in pulling down the inflation rate; and I think that is justification enough. Let me also say that during the last two years the Government met the commitments of the previous Government. It contributed $Sm towards the construction of the Kinchant Dam. The contribution towards the construction of the Monduran Dam was made pursuant to a commitment made by the Labor Government in which inflationary pressures that it knew would exist were not taken into account. This Government has met those commitments, and it has honoured other programs that were not in Bill form at the time the Labor Government left the government benches. The Proserpine River Trust is an example.
Water is our greatest asset. If that asset is not used today it is wasted for all time, quite unlike a mineral which can be left in the ground and dug up some time later. Every day that we fail to use our water resources is a day wasted in the development of this country. That is why I like to see the approach made in this Bill. It is something tangible on which perhaps we can hang our hats more certainly. Under clause 3 of the Bill, five aspects of water resources are defined. The first is conservation. The second aspect, that of management of water quality, is very important nationally. The capital cities are built on rivers which have been turned into national sewers. I believe that the management of water quality is a vital element that we should be looking at. It is certainly covered by this Bill. The other aspects are: The distribution and reticulation of water; the drainage and desalination of agricultural land; and flood mitigation. All of those are very worthy objects and they certainly will absorb more than the $200m to be provided by the Commonwealth plus the contributions of the States over the five-year period.
I draw the attention of the Minister- I am sure that he is already aware of it- to the fact that Australia can no longer afford such blunders as the Ord River Dam. I hope that the programs and projects are assessed properly and that they are given a proper priority. I hope that they will be presented to the Commonwealth in order of priority and properly assessed. As I said, with an amount of $200m available we cannot afford to make another blunder like the Ord River Dam.
We do not want the extravagances of bigger and better dams unless they are to be constructed in places where advantage can be taken of the infrastructure that already exists. We need to make sure that money is appropriated in order to preserve the assets that we already have.
The situations in Victoria and New South Wales have been mentioned already. I do not know how many billions of dollars has already been invested in those areas. Certainly some of the money provided under the Bill must be appropriated to make sure that corrective actions are taken in that regard. With all due respect to my friend the honourable member for Grey, the situation in South Australia seems to require attention. Perhaps some money ought to be directed there to maintain a standard for people who have established their living patterns in that area. Those are two aspects at which I think the Government ought to look. My hope is that we can preserve what we have but also provide development opportunities. One example is the Murray River. Another is the Burdekin River scheme in Queensland. That scheme has been mentioned in this Parliament for the last 30 years. The infrastructure is already there. The rivers on the east coast of Australia are, in the main, certainly fast flowing rivers. Flood mitigation is a very necessary and important part of this Bill.
The federalism policy is very important here because contributions- whether they are made by grant or by loan- are made in the form of financial assistance to the States. The States will always maintain their position as the owners of and the authorities that administer the watercourses and conservation programs. I believe that that is the correct attitude. Let me suggest an order of priority for the funds to be allocated. Those tasks and programs already undertaken but delayed or extended because of the pressures of inflation should be completed first. It is no good if dams are constructed but there is no reticulation or if dams and weirs are only half completed. Let us finish them. I am pleased to see that in this respect the Bill makes an appropriation of $2.5m, $1.5m of which I know will be provided, if not to complete a project, at least to make that project usable.
I wish to take up a criticism made by a previous speaker. The contribution towards the construction of the Monduran Dam is a necessary contribution. It was made not as a result of political pressures but as a result of the pressures from members in the last Parliament representing the electorates that adjoin the dam- Wide Bay and Capricornia. That was the only way in which that money was extracted. I do not believe that it was necessary for any political payment, if it was to be political, to be made, because the situation demanded that it be done. There are other programs. I will mention some in Queensland. Other honourable members have mentioned other projects in Australia. I have already mentioned the Monduran Dam. The Kinchant Dam west of Mackay certainly needs to be completed and it certainly needs an injection of more Commonwealth funds. Another project is the flood mitigation project at Proserpine, where the work will protect an established town and also an industry. More funds are required there to complete the job. The Clare Weir on the Burdekin River is another part of the irrigation plan and the reticulation of the underground water supply. Its completion also suffers because of a lack of finance as a result of inflationary pressures. The Ross River Dam Stage 2, which will make sure that the city of Townsville has its required water supply in the immediate future, certainly needs to be completed. These are priorities in the State of Queensland. They are just jobs to be completed. There would be similar situations thoughout Australia.
But never let the States forget that they also have an obligation. Their obligation is to match or to better the dollar for dollar contribution from the Commonwealth. We have heard today of the driest State in the dry continent of Australia. I turn my attention now to the wettest State in the continent. I understand that 60 to 65 per cent of the water resources of Australia are in Queensland. These resources are largely untapped and they certainly deserve some priority in funding. The balance of the water resourcesthe 35 to 40 per cent in the rest of Australiahave been managed to the extent of 80 per cent. There is only a 20 per cent gap. I have already indicated that funds should be allocated to maintain the management projects that already exist for that 80 per cent of the resources. I believe that Queensland must have a priority because of the fact that little has been dune in tapping vital resources in vital areas. In fact, no other State could make that claim. In addition, Queensland has shown the greatest potential for decentralisation. It is certainly the most productive of the States, as indicated by our good Premier, and I would not disbelieve him.
To give an indication of the value, I refer to my own Division of Dawson which produces seven per cent of the national export total and 30 per cent of the State total. So money should be diverted to this area which has a proven record of productivity. As I said before, there is a need for flood mitigation. Many of the rivers in Queensland are short but very swift flowing. Great damage has been done from Cooktown and Cairns in the north of Queensland down through the central coast in this regard. There are many examples of river trusts requiring funds for flood mitigation work.
This legislation could have been more definite in that an appropriation from the $200m should have been made for work on flood mitigation and flood mitigation alone. Already there is an acceptance throughout Queensland in particular, and I believe probably throughout the rest of Australia, that funds should be made available on the basis of a 40 per cent contribution by the State, 40 per cent by the Commonwealth and 20 per cent by local government. This would give the local people the opportunity to use their funds for the conservation of these vital resources. As I have said, perhaps a priority should have been given to allocating funds from the $200m for flood mitigation work. The money could be used by river trusts and an extra 20 per cent contribution would be made by local government. There is a grave need for flood mitigation work to be undertaken throughout the east coast of Australia. I hope that the States, local government and other bodies which could be interested under the terms of this legislation will not only match the contribution made by the Commonwealth but also perhaps will increase their contribution. Certainly I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought we could cope with the water situation throughout Australia without the States and others making an increased contribution which in any case would only affect the pressures that already exist.
I want to mention one project which has been referred to in this House for the last 30 years, and certainly in the Queensland Parliament for just as long. I refer to the Burdekin River project which has already been commenced in a small way. The residents of the area already have contributed funds from their own pockets to establish a scheme which although sufficient for the time being is not sufficient for the future. Proposals concerning the Burdekin scheme have been looked at and investigated for many years. Reports on the proposals have been lying on the shelves of libraries and gathering dust for years. The report of a State-Commonwealth investigation of the scheme, which is the latest and most important work to be carried out, was tabled in the Parliament in June of last year. At the moment the State is reviewing the situation. It has commissioned another survey to find the most viable alternative to the propositions that have been put forward.
The Burdekin Dam was described by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) during a visit he made to the area last year as the project in Australia which has the most potential to increase the productivity and wealth of our export industries. Because I come from this area I know what he says is true. I only wish that the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman), who is at the table, had visited the area. If I had known there was to be a change in his portfolio I might have applied pressure in that regard. But he is invited to come up to the area at any time to form the same opinion as the Deputy Prime Minister and I hold.
The Burdekin project has a proven infrastructure. The port of Townsville, a growing city in north Queensland, will need additional water for its population and the industries that will be manufactured around that central port. The smaller towns of Ayr and Home Hill are situated nearby. The area has the necessary road, rail and airways infrastructure to take advantage of what must surely result from a greater Burdekin scheme. If taken on, the larger dam of the Burdekin scheme would hold back 12 times the area of water held in Sydney Harbour. I have been told that possibly this would be the second largest area of water conserved by dams in Australia. The water that would be held back by a dam, whether it be the smaller or the larger dam, could be used profitably not only for the benefit of the people of the Burdekin, the people of Townsville and the people of north Queensland but also of all Australians. The area has a record of being able to produce the goods, whether they be rural products or mineral extracts. These goods, of course, are export earners for the Australian nation as a whole.
The people of the Burdekin are prepared to participate in the scheme. They have already indicated this by contributing over $lm to a reticulation scheme of their own. These people who know the benefits and the drawbacks of living in north Queensland are prepared to accept any challenge this Government or the State Government can issue to them. They are prepared to make the area even more productive than what it is. I have already produced figures to show that the Dawson electorate is the most productive division in Australia. There is another aspect which lends a little support to the claims of those people who support the Burdekin Dam project. There has been a growing feeling in north Queensland, although certainly not in the whole State of Queensland, which is increasing year by year that the term given to this area should not be ‘northern development’ but ‘northern neglect’. This Government could give an indication of good faith if as its top priority it allocated some funds out of the $200m on a regular basis over 10 years towards the development of the Burdekin scheme. The State Government could sponsor such a project as a north Queensland project. It has so many things in its favour in respect of flood mitigation, power supply and the provision of water for industry. Every aspect of the scheme can be used, and used profitably. I hope that the Minister at the table will jump at the opportunity of supporting the Burdekin scheme proposal that I am sure will come from the Queensland Government. In the meantime he is free to accept my invitation to visit this area. It has been my pleasure to speak to this Bill. I support it to the full and I certainly welcome the Government’s initiative in bringing it forward in this form.
– I support 100 per cent the concept of a national water resources Bill. However, I reject the Bill we are now debating in the form in which it has been drafted and I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) which states: ‘ whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House is of the opinion that separate enactments should have been provided for each water resources projects . . .
If I ever had any doubts about that amendmentand I never did- they were certainly dispelled by the speech made by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) who has just resumed his seat. Apparently the honourable member has not read the Bill thoroughly because he labours under the delusion that the States will set the priorities in respect of their water resource projects. I draw his attention to clause 4 which refers to an agreement between the State and the Commonwealth. It goes on to mention ‘projects approved, or to be approved, by the Minister’- that is the Minister in the Australian Parliament’and the appropriate Minister of the State, acting jointly; or projects specified in the agreement’. It also refers to amendment of the agreement. Paragraph (4) (b) states: the amendment of the agreement by a further agreement in consequence of such a review.
In other words, the States may set the official priorities but in the final analysis the Australian Government will decide which projects will proceed. In his second reading speech the Minister also said:
It has been the practice for assistance to the States to be authorised by specific purpose Acts. However, the Government is of the view that standing legislation of this nature is more appropriate to the requirements of a long-term program. Moreover, it will reduce the legislative load in the Parliament -
I repeat those words-
Reduce the legislative load in the Parliament without in any way restricting the flow of information or reducing the opportunities for debate.
I would question the last couple of words. The Minister went on to say:
A copy of every agreement with a State must be tabled in the Parliament. In addition, the Parliament will need to consider separately the appropriation of funds for the purpose of the agreements.
That sounds very good but if one cares to analyse the situation one realises that any Bill that comes into this House by its very nature must be debated by the Parliament- not only by this House but by the other place as well. There is no way that debate on the Bill can be avoided. But if a statement is brought into the House or a copy of an agreement is tabled there is no mandatory requirement that there be debate on them. Certainly they lie on the table and by inference they are open to the scrutiny of the Parliament, but it is the Government that controls the Notice Paper. If the Government does not wish to have the agreement debated in the Parliament, albeit that it is on the Notice Paper, that is where it stays. Frankly, if history is any teacher it stays close to the bottom of the Notice Paper. The Minister did qualify the statement. I repeat, he said:
In addition, the Parliament will need to consider separately the appropriation of funds for the purpose of the agreements.
The Minister did not say so in his speech but I take it from reading the Bill that he was speaking about the annual appropriations that come to this Parliament in August of each year. That is all very fine too, but the Minister knows as we all do that the time that is available in which to discuss those appropriations does not exactly allow sufficient opportunity to debate each of them in detail. I assume that a sum of money will be provided in the appropriations in August which will cover a multitude of projects. The Minister shakes his head. Apparently they are to be identified one by one. At least that will be a bit of a help. I agree with what was said by my colleague from Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick). This legislation is a piece of window dressing of the first order. It pretends to give the States some say in the matter. But if one reads the Minister’s second reading speech again one sees that all that it is doing is avoiding the Commonwealth Government’s financial responsibilities and ripping into the States and local government. In the second reading speech the Minister says that the financing is to be: . . . generally on a 2:2: 1 funding basis- Commonwealth, State and local government authorities respectively.
The Australian Government provides only twofifths of the funds for any project; two-fifths is provided by the State Government- that is on a dollar for dollar basis- but, for goodness sake, the local authorities are invited to contribute one-fifth. The Minister shakes his head. Perhaps he did not understand what he was saying when he made this speech. I point out that the Commonwealth has provided $17m since 1964-65 in grant funds to New South Wales for flood mitigation works for its coastal rivers, generally on a 2:2:1 funding basis.
– For flood mitigation.
-Yes. Is it intended that the Government shall not continue with this funding? I thought I heard the honourable member for Dawson saying that the Bill would provide an excellent opportunity for the States and the local authorities to contribute to these projects. The whole point is that we are dealing with a national water resources scheme. As I said when I began my speech, I laud the legislation on that basis. In my view it is not good enough for a country that is alleged to be a dry country- I am not sure whether that is true- not to have a proper scheme.
I think the Australian people are probably the worst harvesters of water in the world. They allow one of their natural resources, the water that falls on the land, to be wasted. Because our mountain spine is down the eastern coast of Australia, which has the highest rainfall, and because the mountains run north-south, the water, axiomatically, generally runs east or west. That which runs to the east flows freely into the sea. At times of flood I have flown along the coast of North Queensland and at Townsville and at other places for many miles out to sea the water is muddy. The Barron River from Cairns, the whole of Trinity Bay and the area far out to sea is discoloured with the mud that has been brought down from the high lands and washed into the sea. The fresh water that is essential for irrigation, drinking and a multitude of purposes is lost. Not far south of Cairns at Townsville in the tropical zone every year there are water restrictions. But the water that runs to the west of the mountains, that falls on the inland side of the mountains, winds up running through the channel country and eventually finds its way into Lake Eyre. It is probably a couple of years since I have flown over Lake Eyre but the last time I flew over it it was full of water- water that could not be used because it was contaminated by salt that is residual in Lake Eyre. However, had the water been harvested before it reached Lake Eyre it could have been made useful. It certainly flows through an area of Australia where no harm would be done if water were made available to the fertile land that is there.
The Commonwealth certainly should take initiatives in this area. In his second reading speech the Minister spoke of sustained initiatives by the Commonwealth to ensure the most effective development and utilisation of Australia’s water resources. I praise those words. I was disappointed by the honourable member for Dawson who seemed to think that his own State should have the deciding say in where water conservation or flood mitigation work takes place. If we talk about the honourable member’s State we have to talk about the man who is the Premier of Queensland, Mr Bjelke-Petersen. How could one trust a man like Mr Bjelke-Petersen if one is to negotiate with him where to build a dam or to do something else. Do not forget that this is the same man who during the recent election campaign in Queensland was not averse to going into electorates and saying blatantly to people- he has never apologised; he is proud of it- ‘If you do not vote for my Country Party candidate in this area you can forget about any more assistance from the Queensland Government.’ That sort of person, a political charlatan in Queensland, will now be able to say: ‘You will not get any money from me to get the works done but I will also make sure you do not get any Australian Government money’.
Consideration has to be given to this aspect. That is why I would like to see the matter taken away from people with a parochial, small minded and not altogether honest attitude, like the Premier of Queensland. If water conservation and flood mitigation are matters of national concern- I firmly believe that they arethey cannot be left in the hands of piddling, parish pump politicians like Mr Bjelke-Petersen. They must be brought to a national level. Whether he gets a vote in the area or his candidate is returned should have no influence whatever on whether a dam is built there if it is needed. For that reason I reject the proposition that priorities should be set by the States. Frankly, only three State Premiers in Australia can be trusted. If all State Premiers could be trusted that might be a worthwhile proposition, but while there are premiers in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia who could not be trusted in a crooked two-up game, how will we ever get development of our resources in the places where they should be developed? We should be doing away with that sort of nonsense and dealing with the question of national resources as a national decision in this national Parliament after proper debate and separate Bills being introduced to deal with each proposition. The honourable member for Dawson talked also about reducing the rate of inflation by not carrying out public works. I do not know whether that is what the Government has been up to. He indicated clearly that the Clare Dam near Townsville was not completed because the expenditure of funds required would push up the deficit, or some other crazy proposition. He was saying that because of some economic attitude of the present Government, particularly the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), which is not agreed with by anybody else in Australiaemployers, political and economic correspondents, and all the experts on this side of the House and least of all myself- one cuts back on public works somehow or another to balance this thing called the Budget.
Australia does not have a very great infrastructure. Let me digress for a moment. This does not have anything to do with water conservation. At Question Time today we were told that the loading of coal at two ports on the eastern seaboard of Australia- I think they were Newcastle and Wollongong- was difficult because they were not deepwater ports. The former honourable member for Cunningham has a scheme that would have made them deepwater ports but, for political advantage, those on the other side decided to denigrate that scheme and to denigrate the former honourable member, who was the greatest Australian that I have met. His love was for Australia and for the development of Australia but, for political advantage, those on the other side had him crucified.
That is the infrastructure about which I was referring. In that area it relates to ports and harbours. Surely flood mitigation and conservation of water are almost identical things. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) comes from a backward State. I should not say that it is a backward State- I love the people of Queensland- but at the moment it is badly governed. The honourable member would know that when there are heavy floods it is the land that suffers. The soil is carried away to sea by the river and can never be reclaimed. Of course flood mitigation must go on in such areas. No longer can we tolerate large stretches of the inland being inundated. The honourable member for
Maranoa and I have seen this in a wet year as we have flown across the continent. All the way to Darwin we have seen the inundation of the land by water which everybody hopes will recede and go away. For the next five years they wish it were back again. I know it is difficult to satisfy farmers. It never rains at the right time. To me, the present situation is absolutely ridiculous. If a national study were carried out and if the national resources of this country were applied to the conservation of that water and to the mitigation of damage caused by flooding the problem could be solved.
It is only a problem of engineering, and nobody can convince me that we do not have capable engineers in this country. We did have them until honourable members opposite disbanded the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. There we had the greatest collection of civil engineers in the world. They would have been delighted to get their teeth into and solve a problem such as this. The rest of the solution concerns only money. Those on the other side will say: ‘There they go. They are off on this mad spending spree again.’ None of them have looked at the multiplier effect of carrying out these public works. It is true that public money would be spent. Can honourable members opposite tell me of a private citizen in Australia who will build a dam unless there is profit in it for him? Of course it is public money that is used to build dams, schools, hospitals, highways, harbours and airports. If it were profitable for private enterprise to build them it would be building them. The only reason why the community builds them is that there is no profit to be made.
Of course it is public money that is spent on those things. Having designed the work and called for tenders, who will contract for the job? We do not have any construction teams in Australia. It will be private contractors who will apply for the job. They will buy their materials from private suppliers. The private suppliers will in turn engage labour to provide the supplies, and the contractors will engage labour to construct the project. Honourable members opposite should look at the multiplier effect of that and guage it against the 450,000 people whom they do not mind being out of work.
The amount of money provided in this Billcertainly it relates only to the end of June this year- is not large by anybody’s standard. Clause 7 of the Bill states:
Payments (including advances) under this Act during the year ending on 30 June 1 978, not exceeding in the aggregate $2,300,000 -
That amount would not build a mile of road- are payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is appropriated accordingly.
Surely somebody on the Government side will be sincere about this matter and say that the Government should cease all this nonsense about new federalism, which is simply a window dressing exercise with the Government saying to the States: ‘You can set your priorities within the State, but if we do not agree with them there will be a veto on them and nothing will be done anyway’. I am not in accord with that, but that is the way in which I understand the Bill. The honourable member for Dawson understands it differently. He thinks that the States will be doing the lot. As I have pointed out, it is just as well that we have a safeguard in the legislation against the political banditry of people such as Mr Bjelke-Petersen.
There ought to be a national water resources Act, but it ought to be setting up an authority similar to the Snowy Mountains Authority to solve the engineering problems associated with flood mitigation and water conservation. I reject the proposition that Australia is a dry continent. There are parts of the continent in which, for a variety of reasons even if there were lavish supplies of water, I doubt whether people could live. It is not feasible for people to be living all over the place, but certainly a lot more of the land could be made usuable if there were some conservation of the enormous amounts of water that fall on this continent and generally run to waste.
The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) referred to the problems which the people in his area are experiencing through lack of water in townships. In my electorate, which is now a vast rural electorate in which many primary producers live- they generally support me- there are growing up townships such as Sunbury, Gisborne and Woodend. The area does not have the advantage that Melbourne has- the Dandenong Mountains to the east. This is an ideal area in which to catch water. Most of Melbourne ‘s water is caught in the Dandenongs. The water that comes out of a tap in my house is caught some 25 or 30 miles away and carried through pipes to taps in my house. In the northwestern area of my electorate there are only the Macedon Ranges. Curiously enough, the rainfall there is not very high. The mountains themselves are not very high. So there is a difficulty in catching water of a standard and quality that is suitable for drinking and for domestic purposes for the areas of Sunbury, Gisborne and Woodend.
Again this is a problem that could be solved by engineers and by lavish application of money.
Our esteemed Premier of Victoria, Mr Dick Hamer, keeps telling the local councils in that area: ‘We would like to solve your problem, but we just do not have the cash’. His predecessor once came back to Melbourne after a Premiers Conference and said: ‘You do not have to worry about money. They have money running out of their ears up there’. Perhaps I should be addressing my remarks to my State colleagues so that they can go to the Premier of Victoria and say: ‘You should get your oar in because there is money up there to improve the water supplies in these areas which are badly in need of improvement’. Unfortunately the area is represented in the State Parliament by a Liberal Party member and so is poorly represented. It is for that reason, but also for other reasons, that the water supply for Sunbury, Gisborne and Woodend is not as good as it should be.
-The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) made one very true remark, and that is that we do not have water running out of our ears. He said that we should put our oar in. I am not sure what is up which at this stage, except the honourable member. He talked about private enterprise and about sub-contractors working on water conservation projects. Of course that is precisely what the Government wants. He seemed to have some quaint idea that this sort of process did not have a beneficial effect on the economy or that employment opportunities did not rub off. What can we do about it if the honourable member cannot understand that?
Government supporters are very happy about the introduction of this Bill. It has a certain amount of historic significance which we ought to remember. I believe that it was David Fairbairn who, when Minister for National Development, first proposed a national water fund for Australia. For a four or five-year period- I do not know the precise time- there was $200m in that fund. Some great projects were started out of that fund. I am not decrying the Australian Labor Party’s action in setting up the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. Out of that fund some great projects were built for this nation. I think of the Ord River scheme. I question whether it was a proper use of loan or taxpayers funds. Later I will raise that question in relation to another matter. I think also of the Dartmouth Dam. The honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick) properly mentioned the importance of these sorts of funds to South Australia and to the capital city of that
State, Adelaide. That importance is unquestioned. I will touch on it later. Thanks to the Premier of that State at the time, Mr Steele Hall, that funding was responsible for giving South Australia a 37 per cent increase in usable water.
Before we speak too much glib nonsense, as did my colleague the honourable member for Grey, about the lack of care by the Liberal Party for the State of South Australia, we ought to take into account one or two of those facts. The water resource fund was established by the Minister for National Development, David Fairbairn in his time and was not repeated by the Whitlam Government at any stage. An announcement was made recently that $200m would be provided for another national water resources program within which this particular Bill provides for the first of the agreements with the States. If we are talking about agreements with the States, let us take on board something which many members who have spoken in this debate have not realised- or, if they do, they will not admit it. I refer to the Press release of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on this matter, which stated:
The Prime Minister has written to State Premiers inviting them to nominate projects for consideration under the five year national water resources program.
It is anticipated that the Commonwealth will begin considering proposals from the States before the presentation of the next Budget so that the program can commence in 1978-79.
Therefore, it is not for us to say whether a variety of water establishments will be established in the Dandenongs. It is not for us to say whether the Commonwealth should substantiate a water scheme in Virginia in the electorate of my new colleague, the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett). It is up to the States to draw up their own priorities. If some States are so dopey and so lacking in foresight as to squander all their funds on, shall we say, a second Ord River, that is their funeral. I couple with my remarks the entire filtration plan for the city of Adelaide. If ever there was an over costly project, which was precisely and entirely a relic of the Whitlam Government era, it is this. All members were no doubt very impressed to see the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) hold up a glass of cloudy water some time ago during Question Time in this House but what members of this House did not realise is that it was the flusher of fresh water not coming down the Murray but down the Darling. On any analysis that was the most pure water South Australia has had for some time. Members might think that illogical. It looked cloudy but in fact it was very good water. It lathered well; it tasted good; and it was healthy water. This shows how silly some people sometimes get.
What has the South Australian Government done? The honourable member for Burke suggested that we keep an eye on Mr BjelkePetersen, the Premier of Queensland. I must say that from time to time I do so. But, to be completely fair, let us also keep an eye on Mr Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia, because he has put all his funds so far into a nonproductive scheme, when areas like the electorate of Grey and my new electorate of Wakefield, and the bottom of Yorke Peninsula are crying out for water schemes, where bores and basins are unreliable and where market growers in the area of Virginia in the electorate of Bonython are receiving no priority treatment at all. I maintain that those schemes are productive and would provide substantially further wealth for those States.
If the filtration scheme is to go through for the expenditure so far of approximately $ 150m- the exact figure escapes me- it will still only have merely touched the problem of the filtration of the Adelaide water supply; yet all the available funds spent recently in that State have gone for that purpose. Money does not grow on trees; even loan funds do not grow on trees. I think this Government is to be congratulated for putting forward this five-year scheme. I look forward to the Premiers of all States applying their schemes constitutionally and properly in a responsible fashion so that this nation can be made greater but not necessarily so that the entire population of Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide is given lollipop treatment through filtration of a water scheme. This must and should be a slow project and governments should not look for the entire sum at the taxpayers’ expense in a matter of two or three years.
There are other aspects to this matter that I wish to mention. By and large, I suppose, it gets back to the argument that has been condemned on one side of the Parliament today and supported by the other; and that is the matter of federalism. Schemes surrounding outer suburbs of capital cities of a comparatively small nature should, of course, be financed and built by State authorities. I imagine that what the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) has in mind and what the Government has in mind are matters of major importance that will come before this Government on application by State Premiers or State Ministers. It is in this area where I think the Government must be careful.
I was always highly suspicious of the Ord River Scheme and, being wise in hindsight, what a white elephant we now have on our plate. I say with deep respect to my colleagues from Western Australia: I do not believe that project was ever studied properly. I do not believe its cost effectiveness was ever established. Whatever we do, whether in the way of filtration plants, future Ord River schemes or a national monument of some sort- there is of course, an element of that in the Snowy Mountains scheme- let us make quite sure it is a proper use of funds and that the scheme is studied properly.
When I look back over the years at what I have said about and noted concerning water schemes that have been undertaken, if there is one thing I am pleased about it is the fact that computers came along in time to save South Australia from building the Chowilla Dam. It would have been a disaster. In a matter of three weeks, the Department and the Minister were able to discover what previously took four and a half years to work out. All sorts of variables were put into a computer and, through that mechanism which I, of course, do not fully understand, they were able at long last to come to a rational decision and to show people what would happen if water that was delivered from the Murray, very frequently high in saline content, had filled the Chowilla Dam which was a broad, shallow, enormous project. As a result of the evaporation from that dam and the consequent salinity in the dam, taking into account times when there was a draw on that dam for irrigation purposes and for water to allow my friend the honourable member for Grey and others to drink, imbibe and wash themselves, the quality of water would have been so bad in some areas that thank goodness techniques and technology had to come to our rescue and saved us from that disaster.
My plea to the Minister for National Development, who was responsible for this fine piece of legislation, is that we make quite sure that we undertake worthwhile, cost effective projects that will help build the national wealth and that have some logical expression behind them. I make no bones about the fact that at my age ecological and conservation matters take a lot of getting used to. The beauty of hills, it seems to me, is so often upset by works to provide for the supply of power or water or roads by governments. I would be hesitant to provide funds for that sort of purpose. But I would have no hesitation in providing funds for all sorts of outer suburban utilities if the need was established in the proper fashion. Before doing that, however, one would want to have a look at the past record of some
State governments as against others. For instance, it would be quite wrong in my view all of a sudden to produce another national sewerage scheme or water scheme for every capital city in Australia and leave State Governments that have made proper provision for these faculties over the years in a penalised situation. I should just like to emphasise two points. The Dartmouth Dam, the Keith-Tailem Bend water scheme and many schemes in South Australia owe their origins to this sort of water resources program. They are not forgotten by the people of my State. I hope that the Government, in conjunction with the Premiers, does the proper thing and produces some programs of worth that all of us can see and be proud of, as will be the rest of the nation.
– I should like to summarise the debate today and thank all honourable members who have contributed to it. I think that by all measures, this is a generous scheme- a scheme that we intend to make sure is implemented efficiently and for the benefit of the whole nation and one which is not, as happened particularly in 1972 to 1975, concentrated on any one State.
I should like to put the matter into context because several members of the Opposition have, naturally enough, I suppose, chosen to criticise the scheme. Some even called it a miserable scheme. But just to put its relativity into proper perspective, I remind members of the Opposition that the wonderful, generous schemes initiated by the Labor Government between 1973 and 1975 amounted to about $55m: This is a scheme that will offer the States $200m over a five-year period. I take up one of the points made by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite)- and I agree with him- that if inflation does get out of hand again, that $200m should be re-examined. I just make that point.
I take a couple of points made by the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) and the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). The first concerns the nature of the proposed Act and the second concerns the control we will be able to exercise through this Parliament. The honourable member for Blaxland was worried that because of this umbrella type legislation we would not have proper control in this Parliament over the moneys that were being spent on the various projects which would be brought forward as separate agreements with the States. I am surprised that a member of the Opposition should make that criticism because one of the most vaunted pieces of legislation offered by the Labor Government was the Urban and Regional Development (Financial Assistance) Act which the then Minister, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), brought in and under which his Department of Urban and Regional Development almost solely operated. So the initiative of this sort of Act has been well and truly tried by the Opposition.
I make a point about the appropriations. The honourable member for Burke expressed concern as to the appropriations for this Department of National Development. I can assure him that they will be one line appropriations which will list each of the projects the Commonwealth is funding. There is an added advantage there because instead of just being able to debate the project at the beginning when the Act is introduced, annual appropriations, indicating where this money is being spent, will allow all of the members of this place to be able to examine the progress of the project, to talk about it and to debate it. So I think the honourable member will find that there will be control. But more than that, there will be ample opportunities in which to be able to comment on the progress of the project itself.
As for control, I simply say this to the honourable member for Burke: I do not think he really understands clause 4. What we are doing, as many honourable members on this side of the House have said, is giving the States a chance to offer their priorities, their plans for meeting the water problems in their States. Under clause 4, the Commonwealth has the ability to examine each project, to be able to assess its worth, to be able to set it in a national priority and then to decide which of the projects of each State it can fund. That is why I began by saying in my speech that we believe we now have an ability to operate this scheme involving $200m, efficiently and with the national interest in mind. I hope that reassures those honourable members worried about control.
The honourable member for Riverina (Mr FitzPatrick) talked about salinity problems in the Murray River. I am surprised that a member of the Opposition should raise this matter because it was this Government which, in 1 977, decided at last to take some real steps to implement action to alleviate those very real problems in the River Murray system. I can say this to the honourable member for Riverina: I hope that in the near future we- the States and the Commonwealthwill be able to announce the consultants who will be working to recommend to the governments concerned with the Murray River system, immediate steps on an interim basis that can be taken to start helping the people who rely on water from the River Murray. After that, we will, as we have committed ourselves in our policy speeches in the last election, be taking steps to take real action to solve the River Murray salinity problem. I hope that reassures the honourable member for Riverina.
I wish to clear up a couple of other smaller points. Let us look at what is happening in connection with the Adelaide water supply. This Government has put up $2 8 m plus to help the Adelaide water scheme. That allows the South Australian Government to put up also some of the money it now gets under the generous tax sharing arrangements, to join with the Commonwealth in solving the problems that everybody recognises. As well, for the next financial year we have committed ourselves to a further $4.3m. This means that about $32.8m will be given to South Australia to improve the water treatment plants to overcome those very real problems in Adelaide. If the South Australian Government gives that scheme a high priority, under this new scheme, if it so wishes it can make bids to put even more money into the Adelaide water treatment scheme. There is wide flexibility. The offer is there for the South Australian Government to act on. I am sure that the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) will be approaching the Premier of South Australia and demanding that those problems which he has so skilfully described today are given high priorities by the Premier. I hope that reassures the honourable member for Grey.
I take up a point which the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Giles) and, I think, one other honourable member raised, and that is the Ord River scheme. I think that honourable members have been a bit harsh today on the Ord River scheme. I know that many honourable members have their doubts about it. But I think we should remember that this was a pioneering effort. It was a step forward to really try to go for something that, in a national context, would be a really great scheme. Problems have arisen. But I still think it is a bit hasty to make a final judgment on that scheme. I remind honourable members that the Federal Government, aware of the problems, has joined with the Western Australian Government in initiating a review of the whole scheme, to come up with recommendations as to what we can do. Sir Norman Young, who is heading that investigation on behalf of the Western Australian Government and the Commonwealth Government, will be reporting to us in about six months’ time. Hopefully we will still be able to make something out of the
Ord River scheme. So I ask honourable members not to be too hasty in their judgment.
I should like to conclude my remarks on this note: We have here a very generous scheme. It is one which I believe will bring great benefits to all the States, which will all have a chance to operate equally under the scheme. As honourable members have shown in their speeches during the debate, every member has a pet project for either his electorate or his State. This is the problem. But under this Act, each State can assess what it wants. The States can decide their own contributions, if necessary with local government. The matter will then come forward to the Commonwealth Government to assess and to make sure that all States benefit on a national basis. I can assure all honourable members that this legislation will go a long way towards solving the water problems of Australia
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Newman) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in addition to Mr Speaker, ex officio, Mr Gillard, Mr Peter Johnson, Mr Barry Jones, Mr Katter, Mr Martin and Mr Les McMahon be members of the House Committee.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in addition to Mr Speaker, ex officio, Mr Baillieu, Mr Bryant, Mr Jacobi, Mr Martyr, Mr Morris and Mr 0’K.eefe be members of the Library Committee.
Motion ( by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That Mr Lionel Bowen, Mr Clyde Cameron, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Hodgman, Mr Jacobi, Mr Jarman, Mr Lucock, Mr Scholes and Mr Yates be members of the Committee of Privileges, five to form a quorum.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That Dr Blewett, Mr FitzPatrick, Mr Gillard, Mr Goodluck, Mr Hodges, Mr Howe and Mr Ian Robinson be members of the Publications Committee.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in addition to Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Committees, the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, ex officio members, the following members be members of the Standing Orders Committee, five to form a quorum, namely, Mr Anthony, Mr Bryant, Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Giles, Dr Jenkins, Mr Scholes and Mr Young.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946, in addition to Mr Speaker, ex officio, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Corbett, Mr Barry Jones, Mr Jull and Mr Scholes be members of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Accounts Committee Act 1951, the following members be appointed members of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, namely, Mr Armitage, Mr Bradfield, Mr Cadman, Mr Connolly, Mr Barry Jones, Mr Lusher and Mr Martin.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the following members be appointed members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, namely, Mr Bungey, Mr Calder, Mr Humphreys, Mr James, Mr Keith Johnson and Mr Sainsbury.
Motion (by Mr Fife)- by leave- agreed to:
That, during consideration of the matter referred to the Committee of Privileges on 28 February, Mr Yates be discharged from attendance on the Committee and Mr Graham be appointed to serve in his place.
Debate resumed from 28 February, on motion by Mr Carlton:
That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to:
May it please Your Excellency:
We, the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to Our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.
-On occasions such as this when we have a general debate before the House, I always try to make some constructive suggestions to the Government about the direction of its economic policies or its social welfare policies. One does not have to be a member of this chamber for long to learn that speeches made here, however brilliant we may think they are, are of very limited value. That is why at all times there are not too many members in the House. Speeches made in here may have some value as political propaganda or for distribution to interested parties in our electorates, but they have little or no influence on government and I am sure are never read by Ministers. Really, it is an act of futility. The Hansard reporters are the only ones who have to sit here and listen to us. They make sure that our speeches become instant history.
If private members want to wield any influence in Canberra they have to do it outside the Parliament. They have to do it in Ministers offices, in their respective party rooms and, perhaps, sometimes on back bench committees. For that reason I want to use this debate to put forward a few views on the present role of Parliament, particularly of this chamber, and some suggestions for resurrecting the proper functions of the Parliament. I would like to speak about a particular sentence in the Governor-General’s address which many members of this House might regard as being rather insignificant. The sentence was:
Further development of the parliamentary committee system will be promoted and parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive will be enhanced by introducing legislation enabling the Auditor-General to conduct efficiency audits and report to Parliament thereon.
To me, this was one of the most significant sentences in the whole Speech. It raises the question of the effectiveness of this Parliament and its place in our democratic system of government. In particular, it raises the question of the relationship of the Parliament to the Executive arm of government.
I am very pleased that a number of members have decided to embrace this subject in the debate. The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr), the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates), the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) all referred to the need to enhance the role of the institution of Parliament. Regrettably, the major reforms of Parliament in recent years have been made in the Senate and not in the people ‘s House. Even last week some very notable contributions were made in the Senate. Senator Chaney put forward views on how further reforms should be instigated in the chamber. If senators still consider their chamber is in need of reform, how much further down the road do we have to go? I think that question was well answered by Professor Reid in an address to the 1978 Summer School of the Australian Institute of Political Science in January this year. Professor Reid is Professor of Politics at the University of Western Australia. I think of more significance is the fact that he was once an officer of this House. One could properly assume that he has a very positive view of the role that this House could and should have in the parliamentary process and in the process of democratic government. He said: . . . that the elected Parliament is a weak and weakening institution; that the Executive Government is the principal beneficiary of the Parliament’s decline; and that the Judiciary is tending to compete with the Executive Government in exploiting the Parliament’s weakness but it is having its own independence undermined through the initiatives of the Executive Government.
He also said:
The relative decline in the significance of Parliament has been evident for many years. The reasons are complex but they relate mainly to the Parliament’s lack of supporters (particularly in Canberra) and the lack of people or groups in Australia who will work towards its rehabilitation.
When he referred to a lack of supporters in Canberra, I am not quite sure to whom he was referring. Perhaps it was the public servants. Perhaps he was also referring to the fact that members of Parliament, particularly members of this House, have done little to enhance the reputation of this place or to promote the reforms necessary to strengthen the institution of Parliament. Professor Reid also said:
The problems of Parliament also arise from its inherent division; not only is it divided by the federal Constitution into two nominally powerful, and often conflicting, Houses: Each constituent House accommodates competing factionseach of which is usually divided between leaders and led. In addition, it is to the Parliament’s disadvantage that its official secretariat is fragmented into even more parts than the Parliament itself; and, following the Westminster-style of government, both Houses grant important priorities in debate and decision-making to Executive Ministers of State. The outcome has been that the more numerous of the two Houses- the House of Representatives- has become the captive of the Executive Government of the day and is now a sadly repressed and debilitated parliamentary chamber.
That is the situation according to Professor Reid. Sadly, what he says is quite correct, particularly his reference to the House of Representatives. All it is at the moment is a talking shop. Certainly, that has its uses but surely it is not the dominant function of this House. It is too well known to all of us that bus drivers who unload tourists into this place during the course of the year tell their charges that they are about to enter the only free circus in Australia. That is a very sad comment.
But I think it is one that has almost universal acceptance by the public at large.
I believe that the parliamentary aspect of democratic government should be dignified. If it is not, it will receive no respect; and, if it does not receive respect, one day it might not even exist. I believe that it will receive that respect only if it is seen to be a useful institution and it will be useful only if the Executive arm of the government respects it and allows it to perform as it is meant to perform. Once again, Professor Reid makes quite a relevant comment in this regard. He says:
If as a nation we are concerned about the declining reputation of our politicians and of the political processes we should ask ourselves whether the state of our Parliament has any influence on this condition. I believe it has. It is not that our parliamentarians are undignified, it is that the parliamentary-Executive relationship is such. By stripping our rank and file politicians of continuing responsibility in Parliament, particularly in the House of Representatives, the proceedings have degenerated into a continuous and elementary election campaign. Subtlety, diplomacy and verbal dexterity in Parliament will only develop in the context of parliamentary responsibility, not with parliamentary impotence.
If we fail to restore the power of this institution, I feel that we might as well forget about all our grandiose plans for a new and permanent Parliament House. All we will need is a room big enough to accommodate comfortably about 27 Ministers.
I am not saying that we do not need an Executive. Of course we do. We all accept this. I am not saying that the Executive and the Parliament should be locked in some kind of eternal conflict. But what I am saying is that a more powerful Parliament with better equipped members of Parliament should be able to improve government in Australia, thereby working in a cooperative and constructive manner with the Executive. In my opinion, we can achieve very necessary reforms in the relationship between the Parliament and the Executive with some very obvious changes. It is in this chamber that the reforms are most needed. First of all, parliamentarians need better facilities. I think that instead of always asking for higher salaries, perhaps we should ask for the things which will help us to do our jobs better. One of the things we need most to enable us to perform better as parliamentarians is staff.
I will give honourable members a few facts to support that contention. In 1 978, the Parliament had 188 members. The country has a national population of 14.1 million people. In 1949, there were 181 members- only 7 members less than the present Parliament- and the population of Australia was 8,000,000 people. Although the population has increased by 75 per cent the number of elected representatives has hardly increased at all. The implications of this on the electoral load carried by present day members of the House of Representatives compared with the electoral load of members in 1949 is quite obvious. If we as members are submerged by the effort of effectively looking after the needs of some 70,000 electors and perhaps an electorate of 100,000 people and and have only one secretary and one assistant to help us, how can we make an effective contribution to parliamentary matters, even if we had any power to monitor the Executive in this place? Perhaps this is one reason why the Senate has been able to devote more time to reforming its procedures. Our members may not have had the time. Our staff needs in this regard should be considered separately from the needs of senators. Although they work very hard, I sometimes doubt whether some of them would know a constituent if they tripped over one.
More importantly, why has the method of the operation of this House barely changed from Federation. Professor Reid makes this further point at the bottom of the fourth page of his speech. It is quite a lengthy document. I commend it to all honourable members. Copies of it are available in the Parliamentary Library. He says with regard to the operations of this chamber:
All of its legislative work is still conducted in plenary session where party contest and party discipline are strongest.
Not one Bill in 77 years has ever been referred to a smaller committee than the Committee of the Whole for a consideration at the Committee stage. The Senate has created the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. This has been operating for about 46 years. I would like to know why this chamber cannot do the same. Why should such a Committee confine its attention to subordinate legislation? I think that we should have a very serious look at this question. Why do we not have a series of legislative and general purpose standing committees such as those which operate in the Senate. Ours are too few and they are far to specific. We have heard the names of some of them being read out in the chamber tonight. A better use of the standing committees surely would enhance the status and effectiveness of this chamber as a legislative body with proposed laws being referred to these committees for inquiry and report.
In my short time in this place, I have worked on both a standing committee of this House and on a joint select committee. There is no doubt in my mind that away from the political diatribe of full plenary sessions of this House these committees respond more to principle and sound argument than they do to dogma and partisan politics. In these ways the procedures of this House should be changed in order to permit it to exercise its proper legislative function.
I refer also to our Estimates debates which we have every September. At present, these are nothing more or less than set piece second reading speeches. The only matters they never cover are the estimates of the departments under consideration. Surely this House should have estimates committees along the same lines as those used in the Senate. We are the peoples’ House and therefore we, as the representatives of the people- the servants of the people- should be able to question the public servants in this chamber under public scrutiny. Surely if, as is suggested in the Governor-General’s Speech, we will exercise our scrutiny of the Executive through reports of the Auditor-General, we will have to change our present procedures in this House. The fact that we have greater direct ministerial representation in this chamber should also reinforce the argument for a proper scrutiny of departmental estimates taking place in this House.
Why should such debates be confined to government departments? This was referred to by the honourable member for Hume last night. What about the commissions and boards we established? Why should statutory authorities escape the close and regular scrutiny of this House? If we, the members of this House, can successfully move to have procedures of our chamber changed along these lines we will be able to take full advantage of the opportunity given in this part of the Governor-General’s Speech to monitor properly and therefore perhaps exercise our control function over the bureaucracy and the legislation.
I wish to deal with another procedural matter. I would like to know why we do not have the chance to question the relevant Minister immediately after a major statement is brought down in this place. I had the good fortune to be in the House of Commons last year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought down his mini-budget. As soon as his speech was finished, he was immediately subjected to very intense questioning from both sides of the House. The questioning was spontaneous. It sought information. It was incisive. It was basically a search for clarification rather than for the gaining of political points. We have nothing remotely resembling this kind of spontaneous debate in this chamber. I think it would be very healthy if we did. If we could look again at the proper functions of this House- its legislative and control functions- and adapt our procedures to accommodate these functions properly, perhaps this chamber would become more than a place for permanent political campaigning and would again take its rightful place in our democratic system of government. It does not mean necessarily that the Executive will take any more notice of the Parliament or of this House than it normally does; but at least we would be taking a step in the right direction. It will not be easy to get the Executive to acknowledge and to respond to our endeavours to revitalise the procedures of this House.
Much is said about the corrupting influences of power. We all know the quotation: ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. It is a well worn dictum. I do not think it is totally relevant to this Government at this stage. What is relevant is another quotation from Oscar Wilde, who said: ‘Power is wonderful, and absolute power is absolutely wonderful’. Therefore, perhaps it will be a very difficult task to arrest this very pleasant function from the Executive. It will not be easy to restore to this House and to the Parliament the functions that the Parliament should more appropriately exercise. It is up to us, the parliamentarians, to instigate proper reforms for this House before we can expect a proper response from the Executive. This is something to which we all as private members should give very serious consideration. I am very pleased that in the short life of this Parliament to date so many members of the House have chosen to embrace this topic and to express their concern about this matter in this debate on the Address-in-Reply. I hope that this momentum will be kept up so that this Parliament, and in particular this chamber, can become once again a properly functioning chamber, so that we can have independence and so that we can have the strength that is meant to be ours in the parliamentary system of democracy that we enjoy.
– 1 listened with interest to the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean). I know how disenchanted he is with the Parliament. To some extent in this day and age that is a good thing, irrespective of the side of the House on which one sits. He seems to think that power lies in the Executive. If the honourable member ever became a member of the Executive he would be further disenchanted, because power does not lie even in the Executive. Power really lies in the corporate sector of this country; power really lies in the media of this country; power really lies in the bureaucracy of this country; and of course to some extent power lies in the Executive, but it is a very limited power. One of the reasons why the Executive, the Government, cannot solve the problem of unemployment is that it has neither the policies nor the real power to do it. I want to deal with the transfer of power which I believe is necessary if we are to solve the crucial problem of unemployment.
We can see from the Governor-General’s statement that the Australian people are to be subjected to another three years of cynical manipulation by the conservative forces whose representatives pack the Government benches. The Governor-General’s Speech included pious statements about ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’; about ‘expanding job opportunities’; about the ‘independence and self-respect’ of the growing body of people now dependent on social security because the economic masters- both in government and in the corporate sector- cannot and will not operate the economy in a way that will provide jobs and preserve the living standards of the work force of this country. In the past two years alone the purchasing power of the work force, particularly those people on average weekly earnings, has dropped by at least $ 1 6 a week. Such pious statements cover only thinly the real intentions of the most cynically antipeople, anti-labour, anti-progressive government this country has known since Federation.
While claiming to be interested in ‘choice ‘ and ‘freedom’, this Government is deliberately going about creating greater and greater inequality between labour and capital and between strong and weak. While claiming to be interested in giving the individual ‘greater control over his own resources’, this Government is deliberately setting out to make sure that those people who can do an honest day’s work as employees of someone else do not have left many resources over which to exercise control. While claiming to be interested in giving people a ‘greater measure of power’, this Government has taken up the task of making sure that the ordinary Australian people have less power-less economic power
A X 1 1
and less political power- than they have ever had since the Great Depression. While claiming to be ‘good economic managers’, this Government is reorganising the basic structure of the Australian economy to favour those powerful interests that have great influence on its policies and its parties’ finances. The $4m that helped to finance the Government’s election campaign came from the corporate sector. The Government is reorganising the Australian economy to the serious disadvantage of the entire work force and to the serious disadvantage of large sections of its traditional supporters in the business and rural sectors- the small businessmen, small farmers and small managers.
It is reorganising the Australian economy so as to reduce the public sector to a status from which it is unable to control effectively the anti-social, anti-worker and anti-national actions of the large corporations that now dominate the pattern of development of this country. The Government is reducing the public sector so that the people no longer will be able to obtain a reasonable ‘social wage’ in the form of public transport systems, urban renewal, regional development, housing, education, health, and welfare assistance for the disadvantaged and the unemployed. The hypocrisy of this Government is transparent. However, its tactics have been remarkably successful since it reorganised its forces in preparation for the onslaught to destabilise the Labor Government. The tactics have been successful to date. The propaganda machine has been working remarkably well, with invaluable assistance from the media owners in delivering the predetermined message to the Australian people. But the tactics are wearing thin. The hypocrisy is becoming more evident daily. The public suspicion of the sinister methods of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his cohorts is growing. The Government has failed in its efforts to find scapegoats in the trade union movement. It will fail in its current efforts to create greater divisions in Australian society between the different sections of the Australian work force, between men and women who work, between nationalities and between the old and the young.
On the economic front the system is not delivering and cannot deliver the goods. Again I challenge honourable members opposite to deliver the goods, to wipe away unemployment. They will not do it in the next 10 years, let alone in the next three years. This Government especially cannot deliver the goods as far as employment is concerned. No matter how this Government fiddles the figures, unemployment is the issue that ultimately will defeat it. This Government will never solve the unemployment problem because the forces to which it pandersthe forces of the corporate sector and corporate capital, with a large representation of foreign and externally orientated capital- are the very forces that are causing Australia ‘s serious unemployment problem. At the present stage of development the decision makers who determine the overall pattern of economic activity, both internationally and in Australia, are concentrated in the large corporations that generally operate on a transnational basis; that is, their production is organised across national boundaries and their markets are international. There has been a massive growth in the internationalisation of production since the Second World War. By 1973 the United Nations Secretariat estimated that in the capitalist world international production was valued at $400 billion, well in excess of the total exports of $350 billion. That is, the total output of the subsidiaries of the transnational corporations, and excluding the vast amount of production that still takes place at the home base of transnational corporations, is very much greater than the entire export trade of all capitalist countries. This is an extremely important development to understand when trying to determine the basic causes of unemployment. It represents a fundamental structural change in economies like the Australian economy that are supposed to provide the jobs.
The owners of capital are making decisions about production that are opposed to the interests of labour in all the developed national economies. The steady expansion in the industrial base that occurred for years- interrupted by depression and war and boosted by post-war reconstruction and consumerism- has stopped. This expansion once took up new labour; it provided jobs for young people. Now it does not. As the transnationals re-organise on a global scale they are concentrating their more labour intensive activities in isolated industrial estates in selected Third World countries. The countries are selected on political and strategic grounds. They are countries where the government of the day can generally control the populace and where effective trade unions have been defeated and in some cases crushed. They are countries which have their economies distorted, where production is not aimed at giving priority to meeting the needs of their own people and where first priority is given to producing for overseas markets.
Of course, some people in Third World countries do get jobs. But it is unrealistic to believe that vast numbers of the Third World ‘s peoples can be employed in this way. Also, this pattern of development means that in the longer term the people of the Third World will not be able to control their own resources, their own production and their own destiny. There is not a simple trade-off of jobs between the workers of industrialised countries and the people of the Third World. Rather, the transnational corporations have decided on their pattern of production to the disadvantage of both sets of people- people in our type of economy and people in Third World countries.
This re-organisation of production on a global scale has hit Australia in two ways. First, there is growing pressure to stop protecting the domestic industrial base. Australian-based companies, both Australian and foreign owned, are expanding overseas. The flow of foreign investment that Australia had come to depend on has dried up and has been diverted elsewhere. The industrial base is not expanding. The supply of new jobs has fallen off, for basic structural reasons. Secondly, and more significant for this country, Australia’s role in the integrated international economy has been redefined. Australia is to concentrate on its ‘international comparative advantage’ as a supplier of raw materials to the industrial complexes overseas. Our mineral exports as a percentage of total exports increased during the late 1960s to the early 1970s from 12 percent to 28 per cent. But during that period the size of the mining work force diminished from 1.4 per cent to 1.2 per cent. This puts even greater pressure on the supply of new jobs. The mining industry nowadays is highly capital intensive. Much of the equipment it needs is imported. So the number of jobs, both direct and indirect, associated with it are few- far fewer than the number of jobs associated with the same level of investment in other industries. Also, export industries are notoriously low tax payers. We cannot expect the Government to get vast amounts of revenue to put into public services and create an expansion of the public sector work force to compensate for the loss of job opportunities in the private sector.
Let me make it quite clear that I am not arguing for keeping the status quo, or for protecting industries as they now stand and stopping the development of Australia’s mineral resources. Far from it. What I am arguing against is allowing the present dominant forces to restructure the Australian economy in a way that suits their interests and at great cost to the Australian people in terms of jobs and public revenues. I am arguing for the pace and form of development in set of decision makers representing the interests of all the Australian people. I add here that special weighting ought to be given to the wishes of the Aboriginal people.
-The Minister says ‘Hear, hear’. It is about time he did something to stand up for Aboriginals and to make sure that they have some say in their own destiny. Anyone who has seen mining activity on Aboriginal land knows the way in which these areas have been raped. One only has to go to Weipa to see the way in which mining companies have raped traditional Aboriginal land and the degeneration of the Aboriginal people. I think it is disgusting that any civilised nation should have acted in this way in the 1960s or 1970s. The Aboriginals are the ones who suffer in a special way at the hands of the mining companies. They are the ones who feel most when the land is ripped up for its mineral wealth.
I would also argue that our industrial capacity should not be run down although the pattern of production should be changed. Our industrial structure is, or can be, an essential part of our control over our own economic destiny in a period of great instability in the international capitalist system. This is the old idea of having strategic industries for times when we cannot rely on anyone other than ourselves. Raw material markets are notoriously unstable and we cannot expect to rely on revenue from them to meet a big import bill.
Unemployment, the associated repression of the Australian workers and their organisations and the unemployed and progressive forces are the issues that will lead to the defeat of the conservative forces of this country and their parliamentary representatives. The Government has no honest, correct analysis of the causes of unemployment. I again challenge any Government supporter to prove that is not the case. This Government has no solution to unemploymentat least no solution that does not place an unacceptable burden of adjustment on the people least able to cope with that burden. What is required are far-reaching policies of changeto combat the real causes of unemployment; to shift power over decisions about production from the present centre to a new centre that will gear production to meet a more just and social objective. As consciousness grows within the Labor movement and the Australian people about the consequences to them of decisions now been taken by the power elite, no amount of propaganda, manipulation or repression will be able to prevent this conservative coalition giving way to a more democratic, more just, more equitable and more independent and self-reliant society. To achieve this we have to make sure that we unite all forces against this conservative Government. As a first step to working towards our objective we have to make sure that a Labor government is returned.
-Mr Deputy Speaker-
– This will be better.
– I hope the honourable member’s expectations are gratified. I concur entirely with the loyalty sentiments expressed so eloquently by previous speakers and I support the motion for the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech. I also sincerely congratulate all honourable members on this side and the other side on a successful return. I know how difficult it is to return to this place. Honourable members on both sides may take my return as a measure of my sincerity. They may take it that a criterion for a return to this place is that one needs real grit. Even to win preselection one must have real grit.
– You need numbers.
-That is true, but one needs true grit to win an election. I express my sincere gratitude to the electors of Swan for once again giving me their confidence. There was not such a great margin in the election result, but one vote would have been enough. Mr Deputy Speaker, I should also like you to convey personally my congratulations to the Speaker on achieving once again his high office. You may say to him on my behalf that I hope that he is a stern and as just a father to us all as he was in the last Parliament. The matter of new members always interests me. I notice that there is another one in this House tonight who is a member of the ex-political party secretaries union. I do not know whether there are any on the other side of the chamber but I know that there is one in the Senate. My colleague behind me, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton), is the distinguished exsecretary of the Liberal Party in New South Wales. I cannot claim to have been the secretary of such a great and powerful Party.
– Which was yours?
-Let the dead rest. Nevertheless I am pleased to see that there are still some people coming into this place from political parties. I think the gratitude of a party should always be directed to people who serve it well. I think my friend from Mackellar will serve this Parliament well. I would be interested perhaps a little later this evening to have some private conversation with the former Leader of the Opposition in Victoria, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), and perhaps his colleague the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) to find out whether they consider coming to this place is a promotion. In the State from which I come- I think my colleagues will back me up- there is a feeling that honourable members who are elected to Federal Parliament are perhaps being demoted. One has to be really somebody important to get into the Parliament of Western Australia.
On more serious matters, I regret that since the last Parliament we have seen the passing of some great men. William Charles Wentworth of course is no longer a member of this chamber, and that is a matter of some regret to me. I think the Parliament owes him a lot. He emphasised as long as he was here the security of Australia and more recently he was as much responsible as anybody here for making nuclear energy and everything associated with it far more acceptable to the people here and to people outside this place. I think of my friend Bert Kelly from Wakefield. I do not think his replacement is in the chamber this evening. I mean no disrespect to him. Bert Kelly was the great apostle of free trade but he was the apostle of compassionate free trade.
– The modest member.
-That is right, the modest member who writes his epistles each Friday in the Australian Financial Review. I commend them to honourable members. He did not want to destroy Australian manufacturing industryexcept slowly. I think we owe him something for pointing out some of the real difficulties that we have with the tariff system we have now. Of course from the other side of the House there was the honourable Kim Beazley who was known to us all for his very great compassion, his upholding of morality and his very great fight against abortion. I have always admired the stand he took on this issue. I may have something to say later on this subject.
The main problem in Australia at the moment is still the economic problem, and it is not specifically unemployment. Unemployment is only part of that problem. It is a grave problem but it is not the only problem. Inflation is still with us and thanks to the work of this Government it has been sharply reduced. Our immediate problem in Australia as I see it is in continuing to finance ourselves. If we compare the figures for last January with figures for the previous January we find that our exports are down, our imports are up, and we are in the red on balance of trade and on current account. The current account figure is about twice what it was last January. This is no particular blame on this Government. It is an indication of the times and the world markets. But it highlights the fact that we need more mining projects. I am aware that the mining sector is going to have a dip generally, but if we are prepared to go ahead with strength and confidence and to push uranium more firmly I believe we are on the way out of some of our troubles. Seven of our 12 top Australian companies are miners and I believe that we have to thank them sincerely because it is their exports which are keeping Australia solvent.
Who is trying to stop them? Who is trying its hardest to stop mining and send Australia broke? It is the Australian Conservation Foundation, an organisation about which I have had one or two things to say in the past. It is not just the Australian Conservation Foundation but also another organisation calling itself the Friends of the Earth. Now in Western Australia we have another organisation calling itself the Friends of National Parks. There is also the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy. In short, I regard these people as friends of the communists. If that statement does not start a racket on the other side of the chamber I will be disappointed. The Australian Conservation Foundation, regrettably, is still funded by this Government and is still under the chairmanship of Dr Mosley. It has decided to engage no less than Jack Mundey to cause even more disruption than he has achieved already. What does all this bode for Australia? Just listen to a report from a recent issue of the West Australian about an end to population growth through migration. Part of the article states:
High immigration was particularly destructive of social well-being in times of high unemployment in Australia.
The council -
Of the Australian Conservation Foundationwelcomed the condemnation by the Federal Labor spokesman on immigration, Dr Cass.
It figures, does it not? One wonders why this Government continues to fund such an organisation. I reckon the Opposition ought to fund it. It is doing a job for the Opposition. The article also states:
A new group headed by ACF councillor Mr Jack Mundey would work for improved social directions and communications between environmental groups, workers and employers’ organisations.
Over recent years we have all come to see just what this means. The article continues:
The council strongly condemned proposed expansion of bauxite mining in the Darling Range of Western Australia.
The ACF might join with conservation groups and authorities throughout the Pacific Basin to study the scope and effects of the chip-milling and woodpulp industry. The aim would be to find strategies for exerting adequate environmental controls.
We all know what that means. It looks to me as though it will be a sort of environmental Comintern, if one may borrow a phrase. The article continues:
The ACF would emphasise in its future campaign against uranium mining the questions of proliferation and safeguards . . .
To me this is just a catalogue of subversion. It seems to me that this strategy of despair and disaster is designed to smash the Australian way of life. How can we continue? I have pointed out the fundamental pillar on which our prosperity rests. These people are trying to destroy it and to send us all back to the caves. In my own State where there is unemployment as a result of the closure of certain nickel mines due to world conditions there is a possibility of some of those unemployed people being employed in the same area with a pilot uranium plant, but we find that the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy is organising to smash, to stop and to destroy this project completely.
Honourable members opposite cannot have it both ways. Either they want this country to emerge from some of its smaller difficulties into a new era of prosperity- the only way in which that can be done is by more exports, mainly mineral exports- or it will continue to face the difficulties which it is facing and the Government will continue to be blamed by the Opposition for those difficulties. Honourable members opposite are quite unrealistic. They always want to have it both ways. They must realise that they cannot. I say to the House, and I have said it before, that there is only one policy for this Government and this country on uranium, and that is to dig it up and to sell it. Thank heavens that is the policy in my electorate too. Otherwise 1 would not have been re-elected.
I compliment the Government on the new taxation provisions. They have been well received in my electorate. I challenge honourable members on both sides to wear off a bit of boot leather in their electorates and find out whether I am right. Walking around is the way in which I ‘farm’ the electorate. Some people give me hell, but not on matters about which my friends on the other side would be delighted to embarrass the Government. We discuss all sorts of domestic matters, even football or cricket. That is the way to get close to people. They know me. Of course, a lot do not agree with me. I do not agree with them, but I am still a member. I insist that it is one way of finding out what is happening. That is why I am quite emphatic that unemployment is not the main problem in my electorate. Indeed, projecting the whole situation, I do not believe that it is the main problem in Australia. It is a grave problem, but it is not the main one.
The greatest concern that is expressed to me by my constituents as I walk around talking with them is the breakdown in family life. They know what is going on in their streets, and they are able to point out to me the various difficult situations. They tell me that a lot of the difficulties are due to- let me express it simply- working mums. This is a problem to which we on this side of the House will have to devote some time. Indeed, honourable members on the other side have spoken privately to me about this matter. I am glad for their support and I am glad to note that some are saying it in the Parliament, because this is the place in which to say it. This is where we will be able to get something done. I do not know the final solution to this problem. I am concerned about yet another payout to encourage mother to stay home, but I wonder whether in the long run we might not save a lot of money by working out some system which would encourage mum to stay home. Honourable members opposite and honourable members on this side of the chamber know as well as I do that the fact that mum is not home is a basic cause of upset children who become misfits and juvenile delinquents in later years. I think we might save a lot of money by doing something about the problems initially, rather than having to pay the social costs later on.
Honourable members opposite know as well as I do that marriage breakdowns and all that follows can also be attributed to the absence of the wife from the home when the husband comes home. Sometimes she is gone before he goes to work. Just imagine the situation of kiddies who are sent to school, sometimes before 8 o’clock, who play unsupervised in school grounds. They are there sometimes until after 5 o’clock because there is no mother to come home to. I know that fortunately some go home and are welcomed by the mother. I am not joking about this matter. What I have to say is as sincere and as basic as I can possibly make it. This is not just my conviction. Honourable members should not think that I am trying to ram these convictions down their throats. This is what people say to me as I go from door to door. I commend that practice to the Opposition. If the Australian Labor Party wants to beat me in the Swan electorate it should pick as a candidate someone who will go from door to door, but it will not. If Labor picked such a person, he might win. However it picks someone who sits down in lounges, reads social treatises and talks sociological jargon. Such a candidate is starting behind scratch. He will never beat me. I am telling the Opposition how it can be done.
The people of Swan are not narrow minded, but they express concern also at the apparent departure of common sense from the education system and from the marriage laws. They point out to me that an enormous amount of Commonwealth and State money seems to be spent on an education system which is not achieving any better results than those that they can remember when they were growing up and which seems to put into the heads of the children ideas that education is something to round off a human being properly instead of teaching him how to take his place in the working world. One can understand why basic, common-sense, simple people are concerned about these huge Commonwealth expenses in education. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) may be greatly amused at what I am saying, but if he takes the trouble to go about his electorate he will find that the views expressed are exactly the same. He will find that people in his electorate are as concerned about this matter as are people in my electorate. Let me go a little further. People of both political persuasions without exception continually condemn these huge Commonwealth expenditures on education. I think that this is something at which we will have to look. Cost benefit is something that does not apply just to good accounting.
My electors are also concerned about the family law as it exists at the moment. I do not know whether my electorate is any worse than anybody else’s electorate. I have an enormous file on broken marriages. They cannot necessarily be blamed on the family law. I suppose that the endemic problem may have existed for years before that law came in, but the new Family Law Act has enabled marriages to break up easily. I understand that there is to be a review of the Act. I contend that we must seriously consider bringing back the element of fault. It is a most unfortunate and terrible situation that a wife can walk out on her husband, leave him with two or three children, go off with somebody else and then a very short time afterwards divorce proceedings can be instituted and carried through, resulting in the compulsory selling up of the family home and the division of the proceeds. Terrible consequences flow from this. I think that the Family Law Act is a complete failure. I am not being narrow minded about it. I believe that we have to reintroduce the element of fault and that we have to increase the time before divorce proceedings can be proceeded with. If we do not we will have more and more family breakdowns, and my files and the files of other honourable members will be filled with stories of unhappy people.
– Are not those two propositions contradictory?
– I do not think so. Finally, let me refer to one matter that I regard as most important- more important than anything that I have heard in any of the speeches in this Parliament since the session began. To me this is a problem and a tragedy. I am referring to the slaughter of between 60,000 and 70,000 young Australians every year. I am not talking about death on the roads; I am talking about death in the womb. It is a curious thing that some people think that killing whales is murder- I have seen those signs on the backs of motorcars; I do not know whether they appear on this side of the continent but we have plenty of them on my side- and that abortion is not killing. They say that vivisection is a heinous crime and that abortion is not. It is a topsy turvy world in which we live.
I think it is particularly disgraceful that government funds pay for most of the slaughter of young Australians in the womb. I do not have to emphasise or demonstrate that we are dealing with various stages of human life. That has been done by someone far more authoritative than I am. I refer to Justice Elizabeth Evatt. She was quite specific that in this regard we are dealing with human life. There was not any argument about it. She said that that was why it was such a serious problem. She continued, in a most incongruous way as far as I was concerned, to try to justify what I paraphrase as responsible killing. This is scandalous and it cannot continue. It is the greatest problem that we have in this country. We cannot expect that love, decency and good behaviour will ever come from any young Australians who survive this dreadful holocaust. The numbers are between 60,000 to 70,000 a year. They know that some parents have, for their own convenience, slaughtered their own children and in some cases the brothers and sisters of the children 1 am talking about, it cannot go on. I cannot understand how any government, be it State or Federal, can tolerate this state of affairs and I do not know how it can fund it. I ask all honourable members, out of the compassion that is in all of us, to see that we bring this dreadful practice to a stop. It cannot go on. This horrific situation is more than I can describe in the time that is left to me.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I must say at the beginning that, although I often disagree with the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr), I agree with him that family life is essential for the fabric of the Australian people. Mr Deputy Speaker, will you convey my congratulations to the Speaker on his re-election to the office of Speaker in the Thirty-first Parliament. Will you convey also my congratulations to the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) on his election as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees. I would be remiss if I did not say at the outset that Mr Millar and I were members of the Public Works Committee. It is a good Committee and the honourable member for Wide Bay was a very conscientious worker on that Committee. I congratulate also the Deputy Speaker in the last Parliament, the honourable member for Lyne, Mr Lucock, who held that position for 1 8 years. Like many of my colleagues, I was disappointed when he was defeated in that position. He was very considerate to me as a new member of the Thirtieth Parliament, along with other new members. He gave us the opportunity to learn the ropes, as the saying goes, and to put our case across. I ask you to convey my sentiments to the honourable member for Lyne.
I wish to congratulate newly elected members of the Australian Labor Party on their maiden speeches. I refer to the honourable members for Bonython (Dr Blewett), Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) and my friend from Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding). I also congratulate newly elected Government supporters to the Thirty-first Parliament. I wish them success and hope they have a short stay. I thank the electors of Sydney for the confidence they have shown in electing me to represent them as a member of the Australian Labor Party. Members of the Australian Labor Party worked hard for me in the last election. I thank my wife and family for all the help they have given me. Election time is the only time my wife and I come close to divorce. I have experi enced two elections in two years but I mil pleased to say, on the subject that the honourable member for Swan mentioned, that everything is right at home and I have no worries about divorce.
I think it might be worthwhile to describe the new electorate of Sydney which takes in many areas. It is a great place and includes the areas of Annandale, Balmain, Camdenville, Camperdown, Darlington, Darling Harbour, Dulwich Hill/Lewisham, Enmore, Erskineville, Forest Lodge, Glebe, Glebe North, Golden Grove, King, which is Woolloomooloo, Leichhardt,
Lilyfield, Livingstone, Marrickville East, Newtown East, Newtown, Kingston, Petersham, Phillip, Pyrmont, Pyrmont Denison, Redfern West, Rozelle, Rozelle East and Stanmore. They are branches of the Labor Party in my electorate. I am pleased to say that there are approximately 1,700 members of the Australian Labor Party in those branches. More people are joining every month. It is pleasing to see that it is a thriving Labor area.
The former electorate of Sydney included the areas of Rosebery, Beaconsfield, Erskineville, Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills, Paddington and East Sydney. I thank the people in those areas who supported me prior to the last election and who supported the Australian Labor Party at the last election. Those areas have gone to a very good member, the Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Lionel Bowen. He gained the majority of my old seat which makes the area a very good Labor seat. Both the seats are in the top bracket of safe Labor seats.
I turn now to the Governor-General’s Speech. I disagree with what that Speech claimed had been achieved by the Fraser Government in the last two years. When referring to the Government’s priorities, the Governor-General said these included: . . . To build on the progress we have made in the last two years, defeat inflation and unemployment, and restore full economic health to our economy.
The Governor-General said also:
My Government rejects the notion that there can be a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. It will continue to give the highest priority to reducing inflation, for only in this way can there be a sustained reduction in unemployment.
I do not say that I agree with those comments. I am merely quoting them. He continued:
My Government will continue to place a high priority on unemployment and training schemes, particularly those which increase young people’s skill, and enable them to take job opportunities as they arise.
Further, he said:
A wider spirit of participation and employee involvement in the work force will be encouraged so that employees and employers can co-operate to improve industrial safety, working conditions, job satisfaction and productivity.
I will deal with that point now. Last night I spoke on the adjournment debate about the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Sinclair) and his idea of kicking the trade union movement. Obviously, he has not read the Governor-General’s Speech. I do not know why he is in favour of kicking the trade union movement. How much more can it take before it starts to kick back? The time is coming when it will kick back. At the moment the trade union movement in Australia is exercising a great deal of restraint. The Deputy Leader of the National Country Party continues to make statements of the kind that I mentioned during the adjournment debate last night. My comments are in yesterday’s Hansard at page 260. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party heeds my words because yesterday his Leader, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), said apologetically that Australia is a good country, a lovely country, and that we must work together. How can people do that when they are continually kicked? Every time they try to get up someone stands on their heads and kicks them again. I can see the day coming when they will say: ‘Righto! It is on! ‘ Those comments lead into the matters on which I intend to speak.
The main issue is the decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission on wage indexation. The decision was brought down yesterday by Sir John Moore. Like my colleagues on this side of the House, I was appalled by that decision. The vagueness of the decision places future trade union support of the Commission on the question of wage indexation in jeopardy. The decision marks another fall in the living standards of wage and salary earners. What choice does the union movement have other than to go outside the boundaries of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and enter the jungle of collective bargaining? It appears very much that this is what it will have to do. It will have to start from scratch. What it receives will have to represent wage justice. It is a terrible way to be forced to act considering the state of the country, but the way trade union feeling is now, I can see a lot of industrial trouble ahead. The only reason why unions are keeping fairly quiet about this matter is because they are not going too well financially. But the day of action is coming. How much can they accept without kicking back?
The wage decision gives an increase of 1.5 per cent for people receiving weekly wages below $170 per week. Other employees will receive approximately $2.60 a week. The minimum wage of $120 a week has been increased by $ 1 .80 per week. When will the ordinary men and women in this country receive their just rewards? How can the family man and the working woman, majority of Australians, live under these conditions? The time must come when they will say that they will not accept this situation any more.
I refer to the speech on 22 February by the Treasurer, Mr Howard, which appears at page 47 of Hansard. The Treasurer said:
The people who reap the real benefits of these tax reductions. I believe, are those to be found in the middle income brackets. No longer does a person who earns $ 10,000 a year and who wishes by way of overtime or extra effort to increase that income jump into a much higher tax bracket by passing the $ 12,500 a year mark. In fact, the standard rate of taxation of 32c in the dollar remains constant until a person reaches an income of $16,000 a year. I think one of the very beneficial aspects of the taxation revisions which the Government has introduced is the extent to which, in that particular area, there will be greater incentive and greater encouragement for people to earn a higher income and to work harder.
What does the Treasurer understand about people receiving overtime? In this period of high unemployment, how many people would receive more than $16,000 a year? Today the average person receives $170 a week and up to $260 a week. The Treasurer’s income is much more than $16,000 a year. This point was very ably summed up earlier in the debate by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) when he said: . . . Labor Party members, having suffered an overwhelming defeat at the election, would be probably a little bent and not looking forward to the debates which will take place in the Parliament. I make one point quite clear on behalf of the Labor Party and honourable members on this side of the Parliament: Under no circumstances do we accept that the Government in spite of its majority, has a mandate to extend poverty, has a mandate to extend unemployment, has a mandate to extend family breakups, or has a mandate to promote greater drug dependence in the community. Those are some of the offshoots of high unemployment in this country.
What we should worry about is the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the Treasurer discussing matters which are completely over their heads. The point is, as was made tonight by members on the Government side, that we have to settle down and work as a team. But for some reason or other we get no encouragement from the Treasurer, from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations or from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who is the leader of the country.
Another point I make concerns the Government’s record on immigration. This was ably discussed today. It affects Sydney’s ethnic communities. There are people of different nationalities in the suburbs of Sydney and education is a big issue. Special teachers who can speak different languages and who can help migrant children are urgently needed. I am pleased that the New South Wales Government is sending teachers from the Australian Teachers Federation overseas on a grant. They will be able to gain a first-hand knowledge of the languages spoken by our migrant school children. I hope that the Federal Government will work with the New South Wales Government in trying to implement this scheme. The ethnic communities are made up of Italians in Balmain; Greeks, South Americans, Yugoslavs, Turks and Macedonians in Camperdown: Lebanese, Arabs and Italians in Rozelle; Italians and Lebanese in Annandale; Greeks, Italians, Lebanese and Yugoslavs in Leichhardt; Italians in Lilyfield; Greeks and Italians in Lewisham; Turks, Macedonians, Yugoslavs and Greeks in Newtown; Greeks in Petersham and Italians, Greeks and Portuguese in Stanmore. This is why I say it is essential that we try to get teachers who speak the languages of these people to give some encouragement to the youth of the county, a big majority of whom come from an ethnic background.
In respect of all federal programs affecting Australia’s migrant community the Government must reverse the policies of neglect which have been in force since it came to office. In particular, new and determined initiatives are urgently needed in migrant education, employment opportunities and job training, following two years of heavy cutbacks in government spending. Since the Labor Government’s last Budget in 1975, government finance for migrant education has been cut in real terms by 60 per cent. The Labor Government allocated $2 1.4m in 1975 while the last Lynch Budget provided only $ 10.4m. The effect of this immoral attitude is reflected in the educational and social deprivation of significant numbers of migrant families who are brought to this country and then virtually abandoned. Their only role, so far as the present Government is concerned, seems to be to fill the dirtiest, least skilled and most menial jobs which are unwanted by native-born Australians.
Migrant women especially work in many instances in appalling conditions in a work force in which they make up a full third of working -….. -….. -j——- -r - :~…..— -*——— o women. They are employed predominantly in manufacturing industry as unskilled or semiskilled labour. A total of 45 per cent of Italian women and 56 per cent of Greek women in employment work as labourers, production or process workers. This compares with only 9.2 per cent of native-born Australian working women. In most cases, however, these women are locked into this situation by economic necessity which in turn imposes enormous stress on the life style of thousands of migrant families. In the work force as a whole statistics show that migrants, both men and women, are the first to be sacked in times of recession and suffer a higher rate of industrial accidents, mostly because of language difficulties. The Fraser Government’s immigration policies acknowledge none of these depressing realities.
Many speakers from the Government side and from the Opposition side have discussed the question of unemployment. I think it is a disease. It is something we have to try to rectify. If the Government or the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations were to try to find a way to cure this cancer, a way to employ the youth of our country, I would be willing to help as much as I could. I am sure that the Opposition, too, would help. I believe that this should be an issue for consideration by a committee- an issue of trying to help. We have now reached the stage where a dog fight is going on. The Prime Minister has this dogmatic idea that inflation has to be controlled before unemployment.
-Who said that?
– Who said it? He said it. Every time he has discussed inflation and unemployment the Prime Minister has said that inflation has to be reduced before unemployment is rectified.
-Who said that?
– The Prime Minister, every Minister and every supporter of the Government.
– I issue a challenge to the honourable member. We are willing to help if this is made a committee issue. Let there be a full inquiry. The Fraser Government’s recent decision to direct all Department of Social Security investigators to concentrate on recipients of unemployment benefit is the latest of a series of contemptible measures to solve by deceit Australia’s crippling unemployment problems. Since first gaining office just over two years ago, the Fraser Government has savagely cut expenditure on unemployment benefits mainly by restricting eligibility and has fiddled with unemployment statistics in order to make the unemployment level appear much smaller than it actually is. The Government has carried out an insidious campaign to defame the unemployed and to create public acceptance of high levels of unemployment.
The major change in unemployment policy effected by the Government has been a revision of the work test resulting in benefits being denied to people who moved to areas where there was little prospect of employment; to people who made themselves unacceptable to employers by their appearance, attitude or dress; to people over 18 years of age who were not willing to move to areas where work was available; to people not possessing a birth certificate at least 3 years old; to people who were only willing to accept jobs of a certain kind; to skilled workers who had not found work within six weeks and who would not accept unskilled jobs, even though this involved a reduction in wages and status; to people who had been unemployed ‘voluntarily’ until a period of six weeks had elapsed; to school leavers until the next school year commenced and to those unemployed who failed to personally lodge their fortnightly income statements on time. In addition, in November last, the Government introduced the payment of unemployment benefits in arrears- a measure which meant that unemployed people had to wait up to six weeks after applying at the Commonwealth Employment Service office before the first payment arrived. As if all this has not been enough, we now find the Government cracking down even harder on the unemployed.
There is so much to say in this regard. I have discussed tonight with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) the possibility of incorporating a document in Hansard. It is a six page document on unemployment. He did state that he would grant me leave to incorporate it. I seek leave to incorporate the document in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
I very much appreciate being given this valuable opportunity to speak at this meeting this afternoon. I believe unemployment to be one of the most vitally important issues facing Australia today. The extent of unemployment and the level of attention being given to its alleviation is a cause of great personal concern to me, and I believe it to be a cause of great concern to most Australians. The fact that such a large number of interested citizens have devoted their Sunday afternoon to discussing the subject of the ‘human tragedy of unemployment’ bears testimony to this.
In recent months there has been a tendency for the media in general to direct attention away from unemployment because it has become stale as a news item.
No doubt, the Government’s recently proposed and actual cut-backs in the areas of social welfare, education, health, urban and regional development, and not to mention its handling of wage and tax indexation, industrial relations and the uranium issue, have had a lot to do with reduced media interest in unemployment. Nevertheless, the great danger of low media coverage is that public apathy towards, and tolerance of high levels of unemployment may set in.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Fraser Government has pursued this as a conscious objective, and for this reason, I believe it is paramount that unemployment is kept alive as an issue until it receives the governmental attention it deserves.
Mr Windschuttle has very thoroughly described the distressing effects of unemployment on the jobless, and the costs of high levels of unemployment to the community at large, and to the individual unemployment in particular. Mr Doust has spoken about the practical contribution being made by the church in tackling unemployment in one of Australia’s worst affected areas- Sydney’s Western Suburbs. The subject that 111 briefly speak about this afternoon is the contribution to date which the Fraser Government has made to unemployment and the measures which I believe the Government should take in the coming Budget to reduce the level of unemployment and to restore the integrity and self respect of the jobless.
Immediately after gaining office in 197S, the Fraser Government set itself three objectives in regard to unemployment. Firstly, it set about reducing government expenditure on unemployment benefits, by restricting eligibility. Secondly, it set about ‘fiddling’ with unemployment statistics in order to make unemployment seem as small as possible. Thirdly, as mentioned earlier, it set about an insidious campaign to create public acceptance of high levels of unemployment.
From all appearances the Government has achieved a measure of success in these objectives: Reported Commonwealth Employment Service figures are much lower than the actual level of unemployment; The Government has spent $33m less this financial year on unemployment and sickness benefits than it spent the previous financial year; and many people now believe that a large percentage of those on the dole are ‘bludgers’; that unemployment is a direct result of the unemployed’s actions, and that a pool of unemployed is a necessary tool for overcoming inflation.
It distresses me to think that we could soon reach the state of affairs in Australia, where those that are fortunate enough to still be employed are ready to slur and stigmatise the unemployed as ‘dole bludgers’ when the facts reveal that less than 1 per cent of the unemployed are cheating the system and that the vast majority of the unemployed are jobless through no fault of their own but rather as a result of deliberate government policy.
The Government’s campaign against the unemployed is an inexcusable and callous attack against the poorest members of our community and against those that are least able to defend themselves. The readiness of a number of Australian people to believe the Government is just as appalling. Very briefly, the major change in unemployment policy effected by the Government since it gained office has been a revision to the work test, resulting in benefits being denied:
To people who moved to areas where there was little prospect of employment; t– …i— nAn I.– - U.~- unacceptable to »m i To people who made themse» i-o unacceptable to win- ployers by their appearance, attitude or dress;
To people over 1 8 years who were not willing to move to areas where work was available.
To people without proof of identity;
To people who were only willing to accept jobs of a certain kind;
To skilled workers who had not found work within six weeks and who would not accept unskilled jobs, even though this involved a reduction in wages or status;
To people who had been unemployed ‘voluntarily’ until a period of six weeks had elapsed;
To school leavers, until the next school year commenced; and
To those unemployed who failed to personally lodge their fortnightly income statements on time.
The overall effect on the unemployed of this concerted attack by the Government has been the scaring away of a large number of people who are genuinely in need of the dole and who have a legitimate right to it, and the stigmatising of those who are forced to go on the dole.
Having dwelt on what I believe to be the shortcomings of the Government’s policy on unemployment, I would now like to offer some constructive and workable alternatives to this policy. In the time left to me I would like to outline what I consider to be a more desirable unemployment policy for a government to follow.
What I believe is needed first of all is a commitment by the Government to give highest priority to the attainment and maintenance of full employment. All people who want to work should be able to do so and its the Government’s responsibility to provide work for everyone who wants it.
The toughest of dole regulations won’t make people work if there aren’t any jobs available.
Secondly, I believe it is important that nothing, including the desire for higher national productivity and lower government deficit, be allowed to take precedence over a person ‘s right to dignified income maintenance by the Government when left without an adequate source of income.
Thirdly, there is an urgent need for a national inquiry into apprenticeship training. At the moment we have a ridiculous situation of thousands of youth crying out for apprenticeship training, and industry suffering from a serious shortage of skilled tradesmen and yet not willing to take on apprentices.
Fourthly, a project bank should be established which would assess the employment potential of useful projects and ensure that finance was readily available for them. It could provide adequate funds for local government bodies and other non-profit organisations to create employment and fund worthwhile projects in depressed regions.
Fifthly, a scheme should be organised which gives special incentives to employers to provide employment for certain groups- particularly school leavers and long-term unemployed people.
Sixthly, there should be more emphasis placed on retraining programs in order to overcome the increasing problem of structural unemployment.
The minimum retraining level aimed at should be 1 per cent of the workforce each year, in agreement with the OECD ‘s recommendations.
Seventhly, a program should be established which enables the teaching of English to migrants on-the-job or at training centres.
Eighthly, a system of comprehensive vocational training should be developed in order to overcome some of the problems that many young people experience in undertaking the transition from school to the workplace.
And ninthly, the Commonwealth Employment Service should be upgraded and made more effective and efficient in matching job seekers and jobs, and also redesigned to offer expanded vocational guidance and counselling services.
These are some of the more important changes which I believe should be carried out by the Government with haste. If they’re not, then I fear that the life of the unemployed will drastically deteriorate even further, and 7 per cent unemployed will not only become a reality next year but a way of life . . . thank you . . .
Speech by J. L. McMahon, M.P., for the Lyceum Platform Program, at the Wesley Central Mission, Sunday, 24 July 1977.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the House. In the short time remaining to me I shall make a few comments on the Government’s neglect of solar research funding. The Federal Government is spending 15 times as much money on atomic energy research as it is on solar research. In this year’s Budget $22 m was allocated to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission for research into nuclear energy, while a trifling $1.5m was provided for solar energy research.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-If my memory serves me correctly, at one time the British Broadcasting Commission in the United Kingdom had a radio program entitled ‘What a Week That Was’. I think perhaps I might be able to say that about certain aspects of the week that has just passed. I take this opportunity to claim the indulgence of the House to express my very deep appreciation to so many people in Parliament House- members and staff, attendants, car drivers and so many other people, including some members of the media- who have expressed their concern and their sympathy to me in regard to both matters that have affected me recently. I do appreciate those expressions of concern and I take this opportunity to express that appreciation.
As honourable members know the House is debating the Address-in-Reply to the GovernorGeneral’s Speech. It is a formal occasion, an occasion on which new members of the Parliament make their maiden speeches. I congratulate those new members who have made their maiden speeches. Although I have been a member of this House for some time I remember the occasion when I made my maiden speech, even though some honourable members might suggest that I would not be able to do so. The making of a maiden speech is an ordeal for any honourable member. I think the only consolation for members is that everyone else in the House has gone through exactly that same experience. I congratulate the new members on their maiden speeches. As I have said, it is a formal occasion when we speak in the debate on the AddressinReply to the Governor-General’s Speech. Yet it is also a very important occasion because it is an occasion when a government presents its policy for a new Parliament. It is the occasion when it presents a new policy to the people of the country. On that occasion the Opposition, as well as making certain comments in relation to particular aspects of the Governor-General’s
Speech, has an opportunity to put forward an alternative policy as an alternative government. As I read this Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General I noted certain comments in it. Of course, I agree with many of them, but I believe that certain aspects of it should give us cause for concern.
When I congratulated Mr Speaker upon his appointment to that office I made the point that, because in this Parliament the Opposition has rather fewer numbers than has the Government, there is a greater need to emphasise and to realise the role played by a parliamentarian, whether he is on the Government side or the Opposition side of the House. We should never forget that. As honourable members opposite know, I frequently do not agree with the views they express. Perhaps there have been occasions when I have not been sitting in that chair which you are currently occupying, Mr Deputy Speaker, when I too have transgressed the Standing Orders. On those occasions when I did occupy that chair it may have been a case of my saying: ‘Do not do as I do; just do as I say’. I might add also that when I did say that I had one advantage, and that was the numbers to support me.
As I said, it is really important that members of parliament realise the part that they play. I say to the media that it is all right for it to criticise members of parliament as much as it likes as far as their work is concerned but it should not, as so often happens, belittle parliamentarians when there is no justification for it. If we destroy this institution we destroy one of the basic foundations of the very existence and the progress of our country. I can remember speaking many years ago to a group of leaders in one of the newly developing countries. I will not name the country, but its leaders said to me: ‘We need for the progress and development of our country a one-party system. You can have the luxury of a two-party system in Australia because you have made progress’. Some people might disagree with that point of view, but let us accept it for the sake of argument. One of the leaders said: ‘We have so many problems, so many things that we have to do in this country, that we need one concentrated, united effort. Therefore we need the one-party system’. I said to this man: ‘I accept your argument, but do not forget that there is always one danger, and that is that with a oneparty system, with one man literally in authority, there is a danger that when you achieve that purpose, that fulfilment and that progress, the joys and privileges of power will become such that there will be a reluctance to hand that power over to someone else or to run the risk of that power being taken away from you ‘.
I think perhaps that we who operate in the Federal sphere should remind ourselves of that, because it has been said so many times- perhaps I should know it better than other honourable members at this time- that this is a numbers game. After all, whether one is in government or in opposition, as far as legislation is concerned it is a numbers game. Naturally enough the Government must put its legislative program into effect because it has the mandate from the people to do so, but I sincerely believe that we must never forget that the Opposition has a part to play. The Opposition must be allowed to play that part. to the maximum effect or the Parliament will suffer.
Having said that, I turn to that part of the Governor-General’s Speech which states:
They know our nation’s prospects are limitless, and that by working together Australians can overcome the great challenges of unemployment and inflation and restore our nation ‘s economy to full vitality.
I believe that to be true, but I also believe that perhaps there has not been sufficient emphasis placed in certain quarters- perhaps in many quarters- to remind each one of us that it is the responsibility of each one of us. It is the responsibility of big business; it is the responsiblity of trade unions; it is the responsibility of the media and of parliamentarians. It is the responsibility of every section of the community. I have been critical of the trade unions on a number of occasions, and I will continue to be critical when I believe that that is justified. However, there are times when big business has not played its part in contributing to our progress and development. I believe that the time has come when big business, as well as government which is also big business, must play its part also. The GovernorGeneral went on to say:
This Government’s economic policies will continue to be based on: Rigorous restraint of Government expenditure so as to provide for longer term expansion in the private sector.
I think that is an important point and I believe it must be given continuing consideration. I believe also that the time has come when we as a government must look at the contribution that we can make and should make to private enterprise by means of certain measures which only a federal government can introduce, that we must do so in a manner which will not increase the danger of continuing the inflationary spiral but which will contribute to the reduction in the unemployment rate and to the turning again of the wheels of industry. I believe we must look at that matter. The Speech continued:
My Government rejects the notion that there can be a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. It will continue to give the highest priority to reducing inflation, for only in this way can there be a sustained reduction in unemployment.
I agree with that statement. I believe that what I have just stated must be taken into consideration as well. I will have more to say about that point later. I believe that we have to give consideration to giving our primary industries a greater degree of assistance then we have in the past.
I have criticised our system of taxation. I still criticise it. I believe we are still overtaxed. Irrespective of the reductions in taxation rates, I still believe that Treasury should have a further look at the matter. I believe that one of the greatest factors contributing to economic stability is an overhaul of the antiquated taxation system in Australia. If we have that overhaul we will have a greater degree of justification for asking the moderate unionist to come to the party and assist us in holding down wages. I believe that the Labor Party must look at itself. I believe that at this time the trade union movement as such has not the confidence in the Labor Party that perhaps it had a few years ago. I believe that the moderate trade unionist is beginning to realise that there are too many extremists in trade unions and that there are too many men who are interested only in themselves and not in the trade union movement as a whole. I think that the Labor Party will have to examine itself and the unions to see what it can do about the situation.
– The unions have crippled that once great party.
-What my colleague, the honourable member for Kennedy, says is true. I have said it before, and I repeat it. In our political system we need a strong Opposition.
I want to make some comments about two departments within our government. One comment relates to repatriation and the other to immigration. I think it is a tragedy that there has to be a newspaper headline in many instances before we can get a common-sense approach to a policy matter in the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) knows my opinion of and some of my thoughts on the Department. I do not criticise any individual in the Department. I have received the utmost courtesy and the utmost assistance from those in the Department. At times a certain amount of logic and common sense should be used in an answer rather than a strict criterion put forward in administration. I know of individual cases in which people should have been allowed to enter this country but have found it difficult to do so. I also refer to the cases we have read about in our newspapers. If it is necessary for a headline to appear to achieve a result which shows some compassion, of course the headline is valuable. Why should the matter have to go to that degree before we get a common-sense and compassionate answer?
The other comment I make is that I hope that very soon consideration will be given to the portfolio of Veterans’ Affairs. It is unfortunate that the portfolio, with all its importance- it is fraught with Australian history- appears to have been tacked on to another portfolio. I am not in any way criticising the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Garland). He also has an important portfolio which relates to the European Economic Community. I will have something to say about that later.
-The RSL clubs are not happy about it either.
– As my friend and colleague the honourable member for Patterson says, the RSL clubs are not happy about it. Why should they be? We have said repeatedly that we will look after the men who defended this country. I do not say that we will not look after them. It appears that we are tacking this portfolio onto the tail end of a portfolio which is important in another sphere. I think that members of the Returned Services League and other people are justified in criticising the Government for the attitude it has adopted and in tacking this portfolio onto another one. I hope that in a very short space of time that position will be altered.
I will make one comment about the rural community. I want to link it with my comments on the European Economic Community. The Governor-General in his Speech said:
My Government believes that it is of vital importance to Australia’s interests that its rural community be strong and viable.
I hope that they are not mere words and that this Government will make that phrase effective. Too many times we have heard in this House about the importance of rural production, the importance of the primary producer and his contribution to the economic stability of this country. I am afraid that those words have not been of great benefit to the people in primary industries. We have done much for them, but there is a lot more to do. I am not optimistic about the Australian Rural Bank. I hope that it will prove a darn sight more effective than the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia which was the idea and baby of the late Sir Arthur
Fadden and which was almost destroyed. All the ideas and thoughts that Sir Arthur Fadden had about that bank were almost lost in the limbo of the lost. I hope that the same thing does not happen with the Rural Bank. I hope we get something which is effective.
A comment was made recently that the motor industry was in trouble. How much should be given to the motor industry? I say to secondary industry- I have said this a number of times here- that I am not against assistance being given to an efficient secondary industry. I have said it before, and I repeat it. Do not ask me to ask my people to make the contribution on their own to the assistance that is given to secondary industry. That is literally what has been asked of them for so many years. I sincerely hope that we will have effective legislation and measures to help them.
This brings me to the European Economic. Community. I made a brief comment on it when I spoke about the importance of Australia in world affairs. I said that a number of years ago in Malaysia I battled against Britain’s entering the European Economic Community. I said then that it was the worst thing that Britain could have done for itself, for Europe and for the rest of the Commonwealth. I believe that the stupidity of the European Economic Community will destroy Europe itself unless some of the present leaders in the European Community wake up to the reality of the situation. I believe that they are destroying themselves. Their economic policies and their rural policies have no sense and no future. I believe this is one of the things that the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) will have to put before the EEC with a great deal of force and effort.
I am delighted that the United States appears to be having some second thoughts on the matter and is gaining some common sense. The United States is putting a little pressure on the Europeans to get some sense in this matter. We have responsibilities in Australia. We also have problems in our domestic and international life. But I believe that, given the same capacity that this country has shown on many occasions, the same ability on the part of the people today as was shown by the early pioneers, this country will attain the future that it can and that it will be able to make a valuable contribution not only in the domestic sphere but also in world affairs.
-May I express through you, Mr Deputy Speaker Drummond, my congratulations to the Speaker on his reelection to that important position and also to the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) on his election to the position of Chairman of Committees. However, I must deprecate the reasons which have been bandied around this Parliament for the displacement of the previous Chairman of Committees, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) who has just resumed his seat. It has been said around the Parliament that he was too fair to members of the Opposition. I have not noticed this in his past actions. But even if he were too fair to the Opposition, he would be only carrying out his proper role as an occupant of the Chair, that is, to be fair to both sides of the Parliament- the Government and the Opposition. There are some Ministers of this Government who see no role for the Opposition in the operations of the Parliament. Noteworthy amongst those who think like this is the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) who is also Deputy Leader of the National Country Party. The honourable member for Lyne has paid the penalty for attempting to prevent the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party riding rough-shod over the Opposition.
It is said in the Bible- the honourable member for Lyne has occasionally read the Bible, particularly during his years of ministry in the Presbyterian Church- that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. The destroyers of the honourable member for Lyne, including the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party, will live to regret their actions. The honourable member for Lyne gave many years of dedicated service to the position of Chairman of Committees. The Parliament will be poorer for the fact that he no longer occupies that position.
This Government stands condemned for the blight which is prevalent in this country todaythe blight of unemployment. There was barely a word in the Governor-General’s Speech about it. He must have blushed when he read his Speech because, as I say, it contained barely a word about that section of the population- the 7.5 per cent VS1 LI1V population II 11U U1V r, obtain employment. Some 445,300 person were employed as at 31 January 1978 and that number is still rising and will rise further. In my electorate of Banks nearly 50 per cent of the people who are unemployed are under 2 1 years of age. Australia has the unenviable honour of having one of the highest ratios of youth unemployment rates to adult unemployment rates in the Western world. A recent survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that Australia ranked equal third in 1976 with Great Britain on this basis. Australia and Britain were third only to Spain and Italy in this ratio. What a tragedy it is to realise that that is the position.
How hopeless the outlook must be for those young people who after many years of schooling find themselves in a situation in which they cannot obtain employment. This Government must bear the blame for this tragic situation. No longer can it hide behind the subterfuge of blaming the previous Labor Government. This Government has been in power for over two years. Whilst it carries out its existing policies, unemployment will continue to rise. This Government has placed over-emphasis on the reduction of inflation. But at what a cost? It has resulted in misery and despair for a large section of our population. There is a widespread attitude that the unemployed are out of a job largely because of an unwillingness to work. What hypocritical cant it is to claim that. It is simply not true that, at the present time, there is a job for everyone who wants to work. It is the responsibility of society, and we are part of that society, to provide employment opportunities for all the members of society. This is a responsibility which has to be borne equally by all governments, both State and Federal, employers, trade unions and all of the people who are working together or who should be working together.
In my view, it is absolutely immoral for people willing to work but unable to obtain employment to be forced to live on an unemployment benefit which presently is below the poverty line. I urge this Government to raise the unemployment benefit to a more realistic level so that those who are receiving it as their sole source of income may be lifted above the level of poverty. I also call on the Government to expand its present programs for the training of young people in employable skills and to raise the quality of technical education facilities. It could well be that our system of education needs a complete rethinking. I know that education is a holy cow. If one criticises our education planners and our educators, it is almost classed as heresy. In my view, there is a greater need for vocational training at school and for a greater emphasis to be placed on trade training.
Every child cannot be an academic. Someone has to do the ordinary tasks which enable society to function. Somebody actually has to do the work, a thought that does not pop into the minds of many of the academics. I have found that there is nothing more frustrating than to be within the portals of a university speaking to academics. They live in their own little dream world. They never get beyond their own portals. Until such time as we can get some of these academics out into the real world- the world in which we must battle for something- I cannot believe that we will have any change in our education systems. The minds of academics are stereotyped. They think along one line and one line only- that we must be educating people to think. I maintain that people can think. Everybody is born with the ability to think. If a person does not have the capacity to think no type of education will ever make that person think. In many cases, in my view, education is absolutely wasted.
I believe it to be a great waste of resources to push a child or a person through 12 years of schooling, six years of which are at high school, cramming the brain with subjects that are of absolutely no use in a chosen vocation until at the age of 1 8 the person commences training possibly for a trade, possibly for an office job or possibly for an academic career. To my mind, this is a great waste of resources. It could well be that our present apprenticeship system needs to be changed. It is also a holy cow. But this would need the co-operation not only of the trade union movement; it would need also the co-operation of employers and governments. I honestly feel that we parents must also take our share of the blame in regard to education. Community attitudes are difficult to change. Parents of my age group who went through wars and depressions possibly pushed their children into academic careers feeling that these children would receive a greater monetary recompense. But I feel that too many parents for personal snob value- not snob value for the child but snob value for themselvespush little Johnny or Mary into educational pursuits which are beyond their mental capacity. I feel that this is a great danger to the child.
I have seen children- young men and young ladies- who have completed a course of education to obtain the higher school certificates. They have completed 12 years of schooling, six at the secondary level. But they received the greatest kick in the tail when the examination results were published because they did not have the intellectual capacity to do a course of education that their parents had pushed them into. That is a tragedy for the child. I would like to see an in depth study of our present educational system to see whether in the end result society is receiving value for its education dollar. It seems to me that there must be changes in our education system itself and that government moneys must and should be spent for the benefit of the nation -for the benefit of our children certainly- but not as it seems apparent today for the benefit of school teachers- a group which is treated as another holy cow.
I was very disappointed to note that the Governor-General’s Speech made no mention of any aid to developing countries, particularly developing countries in our region. By world standards we in Australia are living in an affluent society- even under a very conservative government. We have bountiful supplies of natural resources. We have the facility to become the natural granary of the Asian region. We have surpluses of most primary products. We have cattle in abundance, so much so that we shoot them rather than give them to countries with millions of starving people.
According to the results of a recent survey that I read, a total of 12.5 million people in the Philippines do not know from where their next meal will come and live a life of extreme deprivation. These 12.5 million people constitute 30 per cent of the Philippines national population of 43 million. How many people in Australia know even that the Philippines exists? We live here in our little enclave, and it takes a trip overseas to make us realise that in the world economy and in the world scheme of things we are non-existent. Fourteen million people live in Australia. London has more than 14 million people; so has Mexico City and so has Tokyo. Australia is just a drop in the international bucket. We are a sitting duck in the Pacific for any country that wants to knock us off.
On 23 March 1977 I spoke in this Parliament about the drastic situation of the people in Bangladesh. If we asked the average Australian ‘Where is Bangladesh?’, he would say that it was a race track somewhere up in the country. I spoke about the fact that each day many thousands of children in that country starve to death because they have no milk to drink. At that time tens of thousands of good productive cows in this country were being shot because there was no market for our cattle. That shooting is still taking place. What a tragedy- in a world in which we are living in comparative affluence and so many hundreds of millions of people do not know from where their next meal will come.
When I spoke of the tragedy of Bangladesh it did not create even a ripple in our national Press. We were too worried about whether Rocky Gattellari would fight next week, whether a horse had broken down or whether Pure Steel would win at the trots next Saturday night. We are living in a fool’s paradise in Australia, and one of these days we will regret that we have not played the role that we should play in world affairs. Maybe our reason for this is that basically we are all selfish. We were born selfish. Australians are probably more selfish than most other people, I think because we are very interested in clubs. In fact Australia has the largest membership of the biggest club in the world; that is the Jack Club. I could use a crudity, but I will not do so. The motto of the Jack Club is ‘Blow you, Jack; I am all right ‘.
Let me say this quite seriously: If we do not use the natural resources of this country for the benefit of all mankind, we do not deserve to keep the country. If we do not populate this country as we should, we will not keep it and we will not deserve to keep it. If we will not populate it ourselves, or through migration, we do not deserve to have it. Through lack of population Australia is perishing little by little. Perhaps it is imperceptible, but it is real. Australia is an aging, dying country. It is young in years, but population-wise it is dying. Our birth rate is pathetically low. Our intake of new settlers is minimal. Over the last seven years enrolments in primary schools have decreased by 1 1 per cent. Indicative of this position is the number of school teachers who are unemployed today. The reason they are unemployed is not that we have produced too many school teachers but that we have not produced enough children.
There was a word of sense in what was attributed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) recently, when he was reported to have said that more women should stay in the homes and produce children. But he denied making that statement, because today it is not popular to produce children; we have to give women their place in life, and that is out in the work force. How can a so-called Christian country such as Australia tolerate the mass slaughter of innocent unborn children that takes place today? I am referring to abortion. How hypocritical are those people who create a fear of the danger to life and limb in the future from the mining of uranium and yet do nothing about the preservation of the innocent unborn life. This century could well go down as the century of the double standard. Today the two-child family is the standard, and that is insufficient even to maintain our present population. The cry ‘populate or perish’ which was made many years ago in Australia is more urgent today than it ever was.
I now return to more mundane but no less important matters. A member of parliament has many disappointments, not so much with the electorate which is invariably right and deserves the government it gets- and the electorate deserves this Government. Members of parliament reflect the morality of the general electorate, the people who elect them. We cannot have any better member parliament than the person in the community. By all standards the standard of the member parliament in this country is fairly high. When I speak of disappointment, I refer to the disappointment I felt when it became known to me that a former Treasurer in this Parliament, the right honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch), was practising tax avoidance schemes for his own benefit when he should have been introducing legislation to prevent these rackets. Of course, this Government -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. That clearly involves an imputation against the right honourable member for Flinders by reference to the word ‘rackets’. Tax avoidance is not illegal; tax evasion is. The use of the word ‘rackets’ imputes to the right honourable member for Flinders improper, dishonest and illegal motives and it is completely out or order.
There is no substance in the point of order. I call the honourable member for Banks.
– Of course, this Government does not have a good record with regard to tax avoidance legislation. Between 1969 and 1972 I hammered the then Liberal-Country Party Government to introduce legislation to combat tax avoidance schemes- all to no avail. Australia had to wait until 1972, when a Labor government was elected for the necessary legislation to be introduced. But still more has to be done in this regard. Smart lawyers- the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) is a smart one- will always find loopholes in our income tax legislation. Maybe there is a need to make corrective legislation retrospective. Maybe there is a need for legislation to be introduced to provide gaol penalties for tax avoidance, as is done in the United States of America. Drastic measures are sometimes needed to correct social ills. Maybe the time for that is now.
– It gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate tonight and to respond to the Speech delivered by the Governor-General on 21 February. In that Speech the Governor-General mentioned a good cross-section of the achievements of this Government over the previous two years. He also outlined the strategies which this Government would adopt in the forthcoming three years. The Governor-General mentioned such things as the tremendous advantages flowing to the Australian people from the tax cuts implemented by the present Government and from the actions which we took to keep the rate of inflation down to almost manageable levels, realising and recognising that we have a long way to go in this field and expressing the determination of the Government to carry forward the policies which have proved so successful. Even today I took some heart when I read of the determination of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wage case. This decision augurs well for the policies of the Government in the coming months. The Government should receive credit for what it has done in this field.
The Governor-General also mentioned the rural industry in his Speech. He outlined some policies which the Government would implement in this area. In particular he mentioned the establishment of the Australian Rural Bank and fuel equalisation. I shall refer to some of these items during my speech tonight. I draw to the attention of this House the desperate plight of the rural industry in a large section of Western Australia and indeed throughout Australia. At present with the price of commodities not at viable levels and with ever-escalating costs of production many producers are being squeezed out of the industry. Many more producers are suffering very real hardships. To complicate matters a very large area of Australia has now experienced two years of one of the most severe droughts that this country has ever known. Two consecutive years of drought have prevented the growing of crops. People who depend on wheat and grain growing will face disaster unless in this third year they can borrow enough money to enable them to grow crops from which they will be able to recoup some of the losses they have suffered in past years. There have been losses of between five million to seven million head of sheep in the western parts of Australia and that alone will cause tremendous hardships for many years to come. It is not possible to breed five million to seven million sheep overnight. The price of beef has reached completely uneconomic levels and the outlook for this product is not good.
The cumulative effect of these disasters has resulted in severe unemployment in the rural areas of Australia. People have moved from the country districts in which they have traditionally worked and this has had an effect in small country towns on small businesses and shopkeepers who have depended heavily on a viable farming community for their existence. The movement of labour away from country towns is a trend that will be hard to reverse because even if the drought broke tomorrow and prices picked up a little many people who have found alternative employment in metropolitan and other areas would not be willing or able to return to their traditional place of employment. The farming areas and rural communities of Australia are in a period of severe downturn. Some business people- shopkeepers and manufacturers- in these areas are facing very real hardship.
Pastoral stations- not regarded as part of the normal farming community- throughout the vast area of Western Australia are in an even worse state. They have, by and large, faced three years of drought. Except for some periodic, spasmodic and localised rainfall there has been no relief from three solid years of very substandard rainfall. Some stations that have previously carried 15,000, 17,000 or 20,000 sheep or the equivalent numbers of cattle, today are down to 2,000 or 3,000 sheep. Such low stock numbers will not permit the owners to get a reasonable return in the foreseeable future. A vast pastoral industry is centred in the pastoral areas of Western Australia, western and northern South Australia and other areas, but because of drought, the employment situation and vermin such as dingoes, many people are being forced off their properties. In fact, it has been reliably reported that more than 30 per cent of the pastoral properties in the Pilbara area of Western Australia are today abandoned. As properties are abandoned pressure is put on adjoining properties which become the front line in the fight against drought, the dingoes and the existing hardships that go with these problems. Unless there is a period of substantially increased rainfall and reliable years and the provision of long-term low interest finance to farmers through the Rural Bank the pastoral industry will feel the effects of the present disastrous drought and low commodity prices for many years to come.
One possible way by which some of the hardships could be alleviated and people on the land returned to better times would be to restore tax deductibility for water conservation projects such as boring, dam sinking and the provision of pipes and tanks. Not so many years ago a 100 per cent tax deductibility was provided for these items in the year in which expenditure was incurred. Most of these items today attract tax deductibility of less than 10 per cent in the year of expenditure. This would be a major form of assistance.
I am pleased to see the Treasurer (Mr Howard) sitting at the table. I am sure that he recognises the hardship that is being suffered by people in the rural areas of Western Australia. I know that the Treasurer is a sympathetic man. I make a plea that the Treasurer and the Government seriously consider the restoration of a much higher level of tax deductibility for water conservation projects. This is a matter of grave concern throughout all of the inland areas of Australia. All the people of Australia will benefit from water conservation projects. All the people will benefit from the storage and utilisation of water. Earlier today we debated a Government proposal to grant $200m for use in water conservation projects throughout Australia. I put it to the Treasurer that an increase in the level of tax deductibility for water conservation items to at least 50 per cent and preferably to the old level of 100 per cent in the year of expenditure would do a great service to the rural community of Australia.
I am pleased to note that the Government has made a firm decision to implement fuel equalisation throughout Australia. A promise was made to this effect prior to the last election and I am confident that some action will be taken on this matter in the next few days. It has given me much pleasure to know that the Government, which gave this firm undertaking before it was elected with such a huge majority, will now carry out its promise. This is something for which I have been fighting ever since the old scheme was discontinued.
I am fully aware that the Premier of Western Australia has made a detailed submission to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) for assistance for a very large drought-declared area in Western Australia. The Premier has proposed some detailed, far reaching and helpful methods of assisting the people who live in that area. It is a huge area that is greater than the total area of New South Wales. It is contained in the outer farming and pastoral areas of the Murchison, the Gascoyne and the eastern goldfields areas. The people in t!i2.t area are suffering real hardship. J fully support that submission.
The question of fuel equalisation brings me to the question of energy conservation. Australians have enjoyed an energy-rich life ever since this country was first developed. The energy crisis and shortage throughout the world does not come home fully to the people of Australia at any time. We have not yet realised the severe implications of the crisis which faces Europe, North America and other areas. Because we are so fortunate with huge reserves of coal and other fuels, and now of course with uranium, it does not mean that we can turn our backs on the energy crisis throughout the world. We have noted that the exploration for oil has picked up dramatically around and within Australia. There has been intense competition for the permit areas for oil exploration off the west and north east coast of Western Australia. This has not been by accident. The previous Labor Government had declared war on the multinational companies, on mineral and oil exploration generally. It has taken us two full years to reverse the situation. The taxation incentives and special tax measures which were announced late last year by and large have been instrumental in attracting many world wide companies to the oil exploration scene within Australia.
Even though we have huge coal deposits in Australia we must press on and develop our just as huge and extensive uranium deposits. I am pleased that the people of Australia, and particularly the union movement, are now coming around to realising that they have a part to play in the development of that huge uranium province and uranium industry. I am not saying that it will create an enormous number of jobs. I think that has been well canvassed in the past. But the benefits to Australia are immense. The expenditure and construction phase of both the uranium and the petroleum industries in the next few years will have a marked effect on the Australian economy.
Keeping in mind all our good luck with energy resources I mention also what I regard as a hypocritical situation concerning energy and fuel. I refer to the emission controls on motor vehicles. I believe that the present emission controls on motor vehicles in Australian conditions are completely unrealistic. It is interesting to note that they have been brought about largely by three State governments- New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania- legislating to adopt the relevant conditions laid down in Australian Design Rule No. 27A, which is in fact almost a copy of the emission control standards laid down in the United States in i973 and now vastly superseded. It is also interesting to note that the pace throughout the world in adopting severe emission control legislation has been set by Japan and the United States. This legislation was brought about principally in an era when even those two countries did not really realise fully the significance of the shortage of oil and the impending crisis. The controls were also brought about because some 4,000 people died in a smog in London in 1952.
Conditions of that kind do not apply in Australia. Yet for some insane reason we have adopted the standards that have been laid down in Japan and the United States, which in themselves are contradictory and not consistent. Of the three State governments in Australia that have introduced this legislation, New South Wales for instance has opted for 0.64, 0.45 and 0.40 grams of lead per litre standards in metropolitan areas only, whereas in Victoria the standards are 0.60, 0.50 and 0.45 grams per litre. In Tasmania a completely different set of figures were adopted: 0.64, 0.55 and 0.45 grams per litre. So there is no consistency in this. But because a vast number of the motor vehicles in Australia are utilised in the eastern seaboard capital cities these requirements have had the effect of forcing manufacturers to build vehicles which comply with the emission control standards which would apply in Sydney and Melbourne.
I believe that even in Sydney and Melbourne we do not experience the conditions which forced the United States and Japan to implement such severe emission control legislation. In fact there is ample evidence that the possible health hazards from lead additives in petrol are so controversial that there is no simple answer. Nobody can agree that the standards laid down are either safe or are dangerous, or that they can be achieved by complying with. Australian Design Rule 2 7 A. To me the whole question is hypocritical. We ought to be designing vehicles for use under Australian conditions. With the present methods of emission controls we suffer greatly increased fuel consumption, greatly decreased motor vehicle performance and very doubtful benefits from the legislation. In fact there is ample evidence that the conditions laid down in Design Rule 27 A will not achieve the levels as spelt out by the various governments. I ask this Government to look seriously at doing something constructive about the emission control regulations on motor vehicles, easing those conditions and designing vehicles which would be specifically for Australian conditions.
Talking of motor vehicles, in the minute left I shall deal with roads. In Western Australia we have a sparse population but an enormous area and length of roads. When our Treasurer is formulating a Budget in this coming year I sincerely ask him to keep in mind that whilst we have a low population we generate an enormous amount of export income from commodities from Western Australia. I ask him to make greater and better provision of funds for roads within Western Australia in the coming year.
Debate (on motion by Mr Keating) adjourned.
Telephone at Coombah Road
Motion (by Mr Howard) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to draw the attention of the House tonight to a matter which I think is of concern and which ought to be of concern to honourable members opposite. On Friday of this week the Premier of Victoria, Mr Hamer, will open a rural sheltered workshop at Leopold just out of Geelong. The sheltered workshop has been under plan for some considerable time. It is the result of considerable efforts by members of the Geelong community. Karingal already operates a sheltered workshop and school in Geelong. It has been established for a number of years.
When the committee applied to the Commonwealth for subsidy assistance for the provision of machinery to enable its workshop to be fully utilised the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) indicated that it would not be allowed to register as a sheltered workshop with the Commonwealth until 1 July 1979 and thus would not be eligible for subsidy for machinery until that time. This matter has been taken up with the Minister by me, by Senator Grimes and by Senator Melzer, with the same result. The Minister has indicated that the Commonwealth did not know the centre was being constructed. I find that almost impossible to believe, especially as it was being constructed with the full knowledge and co-operation of the Victorian Government. My experience in these matters in which Commonwealth subsidies are involved is that there are some lines of communication between State and Commonwealth bodies.
Recently the Commonwealth even went so far as to seek to prevent the sheltered workshop provisions on pensions being applied to those who would be employed in this workshop on the ground that it was not a registered sheltered workshop recognised by the Commonwealth. That difficulty was overcome, and the Department of Social Security backed down on that question. At least the people will not be denied the pensions which they are entitled to receive and which I think this Government or any government should not even have considered seeking to deny them. But there still exists the situation of the subsidies for machinery. If the committee of the sheltered workshop spends the funds that it has, which will enable it to purchase the necessary machinery with Commonwealth subsidy, it cannot on registration some 15 months from now seek a refund of the cost of the subsidy part of the machinery.
The committee is in an impossible situation. A much needed facility has been constructed with the full approval of the Victorian Government and, I suggest, with the knowledge of the Commonwealth although the Commonwealth is now denying knowledge, and the committee is told by the Minister concerned that it must wait until 1979 before it can be registered as a sheltered workshop and thus apply under the Handicapped Persons (Assistance) Act for subsidy for purchase of machinery which is necessary in order for the organisation to be viable. If this is the sort of measure that the Government has in mind in order to cut corners on costing, I think that the Government ought to say that handicapped people desperately in need of sheltered workshop employment are the people whom it thinks should suffer. It is not a matter of a fixed sum of money. It is a matter of registration and acceptance of the fact that the sheltered workshop has been constructed.
On Friday the Premier of Victoria will say all sorts of nice things about how his Government, the Federal Government and everyone else are concerned about the handicapped, what a great thing it is that the committee has gone to this effort and has established this sheltered workshop and what a great benefit it will be to the community. This does not get past the fact that the committee will have to wait until July next year before it can purchase machinery on which to employ people. Those are the facts that I raise tonight. In the last Parliament the Minister told us that she would consider the matter. I think it is about time that she considered the matter and that the Government considered its position in respect of this matter. I think it is quite callous that a community organisation, in the full knowledge that subsidies are available, should be prevented from utilising facilities to provide employment for the handicapped because of a regulation which has nothing to do with the Act.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I draw to the attention of the House the situation in Western Australia in relation to road funds. I raised this matter briefly in a speech at another time, but I think that it needs elaboration. Western Australia’s sparse population and its very long roads create problems of which the Treasurer (Mr Howard) would be aware. It is good to see him sitting at the table, listening very sympathetically to the debate. Western Australia has been faced with ever-increasing problems because the percentage of total road funds provided in Australia has been deteriorating. We ought to look at factors other than population. We ought to look at things such as the amount of income and the benefits generated for Australia.
Communities in the Pilbara area of Western Australia generate some 1 1 per cent or 12 per cent of the total export income of Australia. They ship out huge tonnages of iron ore, but the people are living under fairly harsh conditions. They do not have a sealed road anywhere near them. The only sealed road goes up the coast to Port Hedland. There are no inland sealed roads in the Pilbara area. Those people pay huge amounts of money in income tax, sales tax, road maintenance tax and all the other taxes, but they do not gain the benefits of satisfactory roads in their area. They have to travel 400 miles over very rough gravel roads. At most times they have to drive with their headlights on in the daytime so that they can see out of the potholes. They cannot even enjoy a trip to the coast. Some of their children have never seen the sea. In those areas the temperature rises to about 48 degrees. Not long ago I took the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) to the Pilbara when the temperature reached 48 degrees Celsius. The Minister saw the situation there at first hand. I hope that some day the Treasurer will be able to visit some of the more remote areas of my electorate and see the difficulties under which the people live, particularly the difficulties caused by lack of sealed roads. We have a problem there. The Western Australian Government is trying to stretch the sealing of roads to the greatest extent depending on the funds available. Although the population in the south-east corner of Australia is deteriorating, people in that area are reaping the benefit of past, historic percentages. We should really be looking at where the development is taking place, where the action is, where the export income and export commodities of Australia are being generated and mined and we should be willing to put a little more of the percentage into those areas to alleviate some of the very severe problems of roads.
The Kimberleys area of Western Australia is completely cut off at the present time because there are no sealed roads in that area. The people have been without perishable commodities for some weeks now, and it will be at least three weeks and possibly six weeks before road transport gets anything through. I do not believe it is fair that a whole section of the Australian community should be completely cut off because we are not able to provide them with a sealed road and the return of a fair share of their tax money. That is the thing that is bugging most of the people in those remote areas. They are not frightened of paying their taxes. They fully realise their responsibilities and their obligations to support the total government budget of Australia, but in return they would like the return of a fair share of the tax money in the form of road funds and in other forms such as money to build air strips and taxation zone allowances. We are looking at a severe situation which will deteriorate if we continue to disburse the funds on the present formula.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I take up the theme that I heard this morning- I think it was the Treasurer (Mr Howard) who raised it- of the effect of wages upon inflation and the very desirable characteristics that would flow to the rest of the community if one could keep reducing wages to the point at which they vanished. The logical deduction from what he said would seem to be that inflation would also vanish. The interesting point is that the members of this Parliament are very keen to see that other people’s wages are depressed while, in proper honesty, accepting their just dues when tribunals decide the amount to which they think they would like to be accustomed.
– I do not regard this as a dangerous theme. I think that everybody in this community is entitled to a fair return for the work that they undertake. With some assistance from my friend the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), I must say, with regard to honourable members opposite and assessing the remuneration that they should receive, that I am prepared to support the principle of mercy rather than justice where they are concerned.
I want to deal with what is happening to the work force in Australia. One of the most insidious campaigns conducted for many years is the attack upon the real wage structure of Australia which has meant a consistent reduction in the living standards of the Australian people, the people in the work force who produce everything which we use. I cannot understand how anybody with any morality, including the Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Cabinet, can support this principle. I cannot understand what is wrong with the people of Australia that they wear this in any way; that there is not an instant revolt of revulsion against the decision of the Commission that came down yesterday. Of the last nine times on which the Commission has made a decision, eight decisions have been based on the assumption that the Commission should reduce the standard of living of people in the work force of Australia.
We are living in a community in which productivity is continually increasing. There is no doubt about the fact that the country is able to produce everything it needs with fewer people than ever before and it is a libel upon the work force to state, as has been stated often, that it will not do a fair day’s work for Customs fair day’s pay. I have statistics which I have worked out at various times which show exactly how in almost every area of human endeavour productivity has Customs over and above the number of people employed. I do not have time this evening to elaborate on those statistics but other people can do the arithmetic or I can make continual speeches on the subject knowing full well that there are a lot of slow learners in this place and I might have to keep that practice up every night.
It is interesting to note the way in which business corporations wring their hands about the serious state in which they find themselves. I have been doing some arithmetic on the return per employee. I know that businesses can decide their profit basis on return on capital, on assets, on capital funds employed in the business and so on. Generally speaking, the way in which businesses calculate profit is based upon the least favourable arithmetic as far as the size of the percentage profit is concerned. Let us take a rather different view of how the profit ought to be determined.
I refer to profit per employee and use as an example the banking system which has a high labour content. As far as I can see, profit before tax per employee, as shown in the last annual report of the Australia and New Zealand Bank, was $5,1 16. 1 guess that would be 70 per cent or 80 per cent of the actual wages paid to each employee; it is $98 a week. For the Bank of New South Wales the profit per employee is $7,255 per annum or $135 per employee a week. So it goes on. If we look at the relationship between paid up capital and the actual profit, the paid up capital of the Australia and New Zealand Bank is $65 and the Bank made a profit of $97m. It does not tell the world that it made a profit of $150m. Profits are based upon assets which are in the thousand million dollar class, if I remember rightly. 1 believe that this Government is pursuing a sinister and iniquitous program. I only hope that the community will realise what is happening. The rich are getting richer. The principal producers of goods and services in this country are being continuously deprived and I think it is a most disgraceful economic exercise.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I speak in this adjournment debate tonight to challenge comments which have bordered on the emotional from consumer and food industry groups concerning the increase in the price of domestic sugar currently being sought by the sugar industry. Conveniently for the critics the comments are not based on the facts of the actual situation but rather they belabour the arguments of half-truths and innuendo as has been suggested by honourable members opposite. I wish to place before this House tonight certain facts in regard to this application and also to counter some of the claims made by consumer and food industry groups.
The last occasion on which an application for an increase was made based on actual costs of production was in 1967. The price set at that time was $ 198 per net titre tonne of sugar from which, after payment of Sugar Board costs for refining, the producer and miller received $ 140 per tonne. Today, after the increases of 1974, 1976 and 1977 which brought the price to $260 per net tonne of sugar, the producer and miller receive only $150 per tonne. This $10 represents an increase over the 10 years of only 7 per cent. In this period the consumer price index has increased by 134 per cent. Most of the increases have been absorbed in the additional costs of refining and freighting the product after it leaves the hands of the producer and the miller. None of the increases sought since 1967 have been based on up to date production costs. The fact is that only modest increases were sought in the facet of excellent export prices to maintain only the net return to producer and miller.
In spite of this attitude the producers’ returns reduced from a figure of $140 in 1967 to a low of $126 in 1975, an actual decrease in that time of $14 per tonne. In the face of this fact I defy the Food Industry Council of Australia or the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations to sustain the criticism of greed which they have levelled at the sugar industry. The industry has been not only conservative in previous requests for increases but also responsible. When export prices were high it imposed no application of that high export price to flow to the domestic market.
In recent years the industry has endeavoured in the face of inflation to reduce all possible costs through mechanisation. The consumer has had the benefit of this improved productivity. The industry has been accused of hiding behind the embargo barricade. The fact not mentioned is that many of the industries currently complaining have been able to hide to some extent behind tariff barriers and behind the same embargoes. This price is heavily borne by the rural industries. Also the embargo barricade has given the Commonwealth Government the right to set the domestic price of sugar, which is the only rural product for which the price is so set by the Commonwealth. The fact is that the sugar-using confectionery and soft drink industries, during this period of 10 years when the basic price of the ingredient increased by only 31 per cent, increased the price of their own finished product by 160 per cent compared with a consumer price index increase of 134 per cent. Consumers should therefore ask themselves who has been the least responsible. The answer would be the manufacturers. Consumers should ask themselves who has been receiving the benefit over the past 10 years of an item priced below production costs. The answer is the consumers themselves.
To substantiate the current increase of 3 1 per cent this Government has requested from the industry current production costs as applicable to the 1977 season. These vary substantially from area to area and are not at this stage readily available for the season just completed. From production costs for the 1976 season, with cash inputs, a reasonable return on investment capital, a moderate return for the labour of some 7,000 producers, I could justify a production cost well in excess of the amount of $23 per tonne to the producer sought by the current application. Once again it is a story of food manufacturers trying to cover up their own inadequacies and inefficiences by blaming a rural industry. In addition, the consumer has not been given the facts by those industries in order to allow him to appreciate the low cost of yet another Australian rural product. I had hoped that the sugar industry would not have to suffer in the same way as other rural industries have suffered at the hands of Australian consumers and manufacturers. The dairying, fruit and beef industries are examples at present. While the debate proceeds and no decision is made, the producers and millers are being denied $lm per week for every week of delay.
-Firstly, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I congratulate you on your recent election to the offices of Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees. During the last two or three weeks, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced the appointment of a committee to investigate the pecuniary interests of members of Parliament and other persons in similar categories. The point I make tonight is that one of the categories which it is important for us to examine in this investigation into what kind of safeguards should be adopted should include journalists, especially the financial journalists of this country. I am pleased to see the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) in the chamber this evening because at one stage he was a financial journalist. He would be aware of the problems associated with this matter and of the possible advantages that financial journalists could gain from being unscrupulous. I am not suggesting for one minute that the honourable member for Macarthur was an unscrupulous financial journalist.
I refer to the fact that P & O Australia Limited appeared on the stock exchange lists on 19 January this year. That company was one of the first significant industrial floats for nearly 10 years. The price of the shares was $ 1 .80 each and the lucky investors enjoyed an immediate paper profit of 2 1 per cent, with the first sale of the day at $2.18. Apparently the shares have now stabilised at $2.22. The float has attracted considerable attention amongst the investing public and there was a heavy demand for the issue. The stock was hailed as an attractive investment. For example, the Bulletin magazine for which I think the honourable member for Macarthur worked at one stage as a financial journalist, saw considerable merit in the float and has not hesitated to point out to its readers the advantages to be had with P & O. The week before the shares reached the market or were first traded, the Bulletin said that net tangible assets worked out at $1.33 for each share. This was well below the issue price of $1.80, but the Bulletin suggested that P & O was more likely to be valued on yield than on net tangible assets and it concluded that: . . . on these figures investors can work out their own arithmetic, but the popular guess down-town is that P & O will come on somewhere around $2.30, which will put them on a yield of just under 7 per cent, or around the same yield as Ansett.
The Bulletin was obviously encouraging people originally to buy the shares but, more importantly at that particular time, to pay a significant amount of money above the issue price of $1.80 for the shares. What actually happened, when one looks at the share lists, was that the editor of the Bulletin, Trevor Kennedy, had bought 2,000 of the shares whilst the columnist, David McNicoll had 1,500 of these shares in his portfolio. I think it is wrong- there is a pecuniary interest involved- that people who own shares in a float push that particular float, no matter how justified that pushing might be. It has obviously turned out that the journalist on the Bulletin was fairly accurate in his final forecast when he predicted $2.30 a share and they are now $2.22.
I think it important for everybody concerned that other people, apart from members of Parliament, do not take advantage of special knowledge or special ability to push things when a personal profit is involved. I think it completely wrong for financial journalists to push shares if they own those shares, just as it would be completely wrong for parliamentarians to participate in allotting contracts or whatever to firms in which they have a pecuniary interest. I am sure that Mr Justice Bowen will deal with the question of pecuniary interests of members of Parliament. But I also think it is important that the question of journalists in general, and financial journalists specifically, be drawn to his attention.
– I take a few minutes tonight to raise in the House a matter which came to my attention quite recently and which I commend to honourable members and to the Government. I had the pleasure of a visit in my office of Mr K. W. Brown of Ferntree Gully which, of course, is in the electorate of La Trobe. Mr Brown is secretary of the Professional Cross Country Club of Victoria. In addition, he is a very active sportsman and had had a distinguished career in athletics. At an age when many people would perhaps be thinking of giving away competitive foot running, he remains a regular competitor.
I understand that the club to which he belongs intends to promote a relay race to be known as a city to city relay which will take place between Sydney and Melbourne. This will be a race consisting of teams comprising either amateur or professional runners. Each team would consist of eight competitors and would have at least one emergency runner, a team manager and, of course, the necessary backup reinforcements that would be required for a venture of this sort.
– Is it going via Canberra?
-I expect that the race will be direct between Sydney and Melbourne but if honourable members would like it to come through Canberra perhaps that suggestion could be considered. I think this will be a notable event on the athletic calendar of this country. The initiative these people are showing is very commendable. I recommend that honourable members take an interest in this matter.
In addition to teams of either amateurs or professionals, Mr Brown and his associates are very anxious that members of the armed forces consider entering teams in this event. As with other amateur teams they would be given special consideration concerning the number of representatives who would be allowed in each team. I have no doubt that they would be allotted some handicap allowance or some other provision to help to make them competitive in the race.
– Do you want a politicians team?
– The honourable member for Robertson suggests that a team from the Parliament may enter the race. I think that would be tremendously exciting and very well received by the sponsors of this race. Quite frankly, I think we have the talent in the Parliament to do so. I think that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) might well lead a team from the Parliament. I appreciate the suggestion of the honourable member for Robertson in the matter and I shall be glad to take it up with the Minister.
In conjunction with this, Mr Brown would be very pleased if the defence forces could see fit to lend some assistance by way of communications, logistic support, command operations and all associated factors. Of course considerable expense will be involved. I have seen projected figures and if the event is conducted on a thoroughly commercial basis it is likely that the cost will be something like $1,500 a team. But. if the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) could see fit to lend his support to the proposal, I believe it would be an excellent opportunity for the defence forces to foster relationships and cooperation between themselves and the community. It has all the possibilities of being an excellent project for them and one which may well do a great deal for the military forces’ recruiting programs which are conducted from time to time. I think it is an excellent adjunct to the ‘Life Be In It’ program and other programs which this Government has suggested and taken up. I thoroughly commend it to the Government.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) ( 10.50)- I raise tonight a matter which is of grave concern to parents, teachers and citizens in the remote parts of my electorate. I refer to the changed policy of the Australian Taxation Office in assessing the value of low rent housing, thus imposing a further slug on the school teachers in that area. In many remote country towns the citizens provide the school teacher with accommodation in order to compensate for the extra expense incurred by virtue of the fact that his home is in another town or a city. To encourage him to stay in a small country town the citizens and parents often club together and provide housing for him. I do not know very much about the low rent housing situation for school teachers in the Riverina but I do know that I have received several telegrams in the last few days from teachers in the area complaining about this matter.
I shall relate to the House some of the problems of which I was aware in the former Darling electorate. I had discussions on one or two occasions about this very matter with parents in a little town called Nymagee which is located about 60 miles from Cobar. That town does not qualify for the Zone B allowance, yet its provisions have to be brought in from Cobar which does qualify for the zone allowance. One can understand the price that has to be paid for commodities in Nymagee. The school teacher’s children are not able to watch televison out there. Of course, it is pretty difficult to keep school teachers in the area. When a school teacher does go to a town like that the people in that area are only too happy to provide him with cheap accommodation. That is only natural because they want their children to get a good education. They want a teacher of good quality. But, of course, the imposition of the extra tax on the teacher’s earnings will certainly remove this other incentive. I feel that mC children »» *11 suffer 11 AL, difficult enough to keep good teachers in these country areas. There is no doubt that educational facilities will be denied to the children who live there.
Another matter I wish to raise concerns the citizens of Ivanhoe approaching me and asking me to use my influence to ensure that a married school teacher was sent there rather than a single man because they wanted a teacher with children in order to improve the standard of the school. Apparently certain facilities are available to a school which has more than a certain number of pupils, whereas those facilities would not be available if the school had less than a certain number of pupils. That is how delicately balanced the situation is. It shows the importance of the school teachers in those areas. I ask the responsible Minister to give this matter urgent consideration and to see that some kind of concession or some consideration is given to those school teachers, because I can assure him that it is difficult enough to provide education for the children in those remote country areas. Certainly a school teacher has imposed on him a big penalty by living in an area which lacks a television reception and all these other amenities.
I want to touch on another matter which concerns the provision of a telephone at the Coombah Road House, which is known as the Halfway House and which is located between Broken Hill and Wentworth. I raise this matter tonight because someone sent me a message asking me whether I had given away the light to have a public telephone installed out there. During the last few weeks I have presented to the House petitions with many thousands of signatures on them. Prior to that, having had interviews with and requests from the Country Women’s Association, the Broken Hill Police and many other people in the area, I had taken the matter up with the Minister on several occasions. Unfortunately not much progress has been made. With modern technology and with the large profit that Telecom Australia is making, we hope that some consideration will be given to providing a telephone at the Halfway House. The road beside which it is situated is very busy, carrying a lot of traffic including many heavy trucks. I believe that in this day and age a telephone is warranted out there. I ask any honourable member who has been on that road to inform the Minister how remote the area is and to ask him to do something about the situation.
– I wish to bring to the notice of the House tonight the matter of the provision of a handicapped children’s allowance for a little girl who resides in my electorate. She is Priscilla Perrett of 26 John Street, Singleton. She is seven years of age and weighs 26 lb. She has undergone a hole in the heart operation. Her chest is wired and it has come out in abscesses. She has been denied the handicapped children’s allowance. In October of last year a lady doctor from the Department of Social Security visited that little girl at Singleton. She spent about a quarter of an hour with her and said to her parents: ‘Look, I am busy. I have to clear off to Sydney. I have some other patients to see’. She cleared off to Sydney, and Priscilla ‘s parents heard nothing further until the end of January when they were informed that the application for a handicapped children’s allowance had been rejected by the Department. Priscilla ‘s father is employed as a civilian employee at the Singleton Army camp, and his take-home pay is in the vicinity of $1 13 a week. They pay $50 a week rent, and the expenses incurred in taking Priscilla to the Children’s Hospital at Camperdown are eating up any funds that they have. They are in parlous financial circumstances.
I visited that little girl some weeks ago. If ever I have seen a handicapped child, it is that dear little girl. I immediately contacted the Department of Social Security, but I did not have success in persuading the Department to alter its decision. So I took the matter to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). A fortnight ago the Minister took up the matter with the Director-General of Social Security. He was requested to look into the situation to see whether a handicapped children’s allowance would be made available to Priscilla ‘s parents. That request was made a fortnight ago. Although I have made two or three inquiries through the Minister’s office about a decision being made on this matter, no decision has been forthcoming. I have been told that it will take at least a fortnight or three weeks before that happens.
This is a very serious situation and a ridiculous situation. I am asking that an immediate decision be made and that a handicapped children’s allowance be made to Priscilla ‘s parents. They are in dire financial straits. It is a serious situation. She is a dear little girl with a ton of courage. As I said earlier she weighs 26 lb and is seven years of age. Let us hope that what I have said in this speech will come to the attention of the Minister and the Director-General of Social Security and that some action will be taken to assist Priscilla ‘s parents.
Question resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 March 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780301_reps_31_hor108/>.