31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the people of Australia need and deserve a public library service of a high and uniform standard.
The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries clearly documents the inadequacies and inequalities of the present provision. Many Australians have no access to free public library service at all.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will announce at the earliest opportunity its support in principle of the recommendations of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries, and in particular those recommendations relating to the federal government’s funding role in public library provision.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Dawkins Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That on 13 September 1977, Steve Biko, President of the Black Peoples Convention died, aged 30, while being held incommunicado for questioning in detention without trial in South Africa:
That this is the twentieth death of a black political prisoner in similar circumstances in South Africa in the last 18 months; and the forty-fourth death of a prisoner while in police custody in recent years.
That Steve Biko had been held in detention since 22 August; and had previously been held for 101 days without trial; and in addition, was under a 5 year house arrest and restriction order;
That Steve Biko is the acknowledged leader of the black people’s resistance to apartheid, racial exploitation and injustice in South Africa, and that in this context his death in the hands of the white police must be regarded with grave suspicion;
Your petitioners accordingly request the Australian Government to register the strongest protest to the South African Government at the circumstances of Biko’s death and decline to accept the credentials of the new South African ambassador due to be appointed shortly.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Dawkins. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to renew for a further term of at least 3 years the States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1974-77, renewed for one year expiring on the 30th June 1 978.
The demand for dwellings has not slackened as the waiting list (all States) of 12,060 single and 4,120 couples as at the 30th June 1 977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 197S under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now the Governor of South Australia) which recommended additional funds to State housing authorities to meet the demand for low-rental accommodation in the proportion of $4 for $1 with the proviso that the States do not reduce their existing expenditure and
That the Act include married pensioners eligible for supplementary assistance and migrants as specified by the Seaman Report and that particular consideration be paid to the special needs and requirements of the prospective tenants in the location and design of such dwellings.
Furthermore, your petitioners desire to draw the Government’s attention to the hardship of many pensioner home owners caused by the high cost of maintenance.
The Social Security Annual Report 1976-77 shows that 24.6 per cent, or 283,000 home owning pensioners, have a weekly income in excess of the pension of less than $6 per week.
Your petitioners strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to establish a fund whereby loans can be made to means tested pensioners for the purpose of effecting necessary maintenance to their homes. Such a loan to be at minimal interest rates sufficient to cover administrative costs and to be repaid by the estate upon the death of a single pensioner before probate or upon the death of the surviving spouse in the case of married pensioners or where two pensioners jointly own the dwelling. Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received. by Mr Sainsbury. Petition received.
– The Minister for Transport will be aware of a problem in my electorate caused by the development of a giant oil slick off South Stradbroke Island. Can the Minister inform the House of the steps that are being taken to clean up this slick? What has been done to prevent a repetition of this situation? Has any move been made to reprimand the people responsible for it?
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. It is absolutely impossible for the Opposition to participate in Question Time when at least half the Ministers are missing.
-There is no point of order involved.
– There was not notification of it.
– The honourable member will resume his seat.
– We cannot ask questions of the Ministers if they are not here. What about sending out some messengers for them?
-Order! The House will come to order. If the honourable member for Port Adelaide persists in defying me in that fashion, much as I would regret it, I will be forced to name him.
– The release of oil by a ship passing up the Queensland coast will be deplored by all members of this House and by the public. A great effort is being undertaken now to apprehend the ship that was at fault. When I receive further information on that matter I will let the honourable member know. We are co-operating with the New South Wales Government under the national oil spillage plan to control and clean up the mess. A fairly comprehensive approach is being adopted. I assure the honourable member that every step possible will be taken to make sure that no residue is left to despoil that very attractive part of Queensland.
-My question was to have been directed to the Prime Minister but, in his absence, perhaps the Acting Minister for Trade and Resources can answer it. Did he hear the following report on this morning’s radio news:
Mr Anthony warned a meeting of Japanese industrialists of the dangers of protectionism in the present economic climate. He told the Federation of Economic Organisations that protectionism was a greater threat to world trade now than at any time in the last 30 years.
Does this represent a change, indeed one might even say a somersault, in Government policy?
-Order! The honourable gentleman will ask his question and not make comment.
– Is it not an extreme embarrassment in the light of all that his Prime Minister has said on this subject?
– I did not hear the report on the news this morning so of course I cannot comment on it. Perhaps I could make the point to the honourable gentleman that in trying to make comparisons it is easy to get matters out of context. I remind him that in the last four years, Australia has reduced its tariffs by 30 per cent right across the board. But more important than that is the amount of trade which flows over the tariff. If we look at that flow by countries that export to Australia, we find that it is quite a significant amount. I have had the opportunity recently of pointing that out to some of the European Economic Community countries. There are more methods of protection than tariffs. Before criticising a statement, it is necessary to examine the statistics to see what they cover, and to see what the total picture is, and not just pick out an aspect of it.
-The Minister for Post and Telecommunications will recall an announcement prior to the 1977 general election expressing the Government’s intention to extend the free connection radius of telephones from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres. Can the Minister inform the House whether it is the intention of the Government and Telecom Australia to implement this program without qualification and, if so, from what date the extension will apply?
-The Government did say before the last general election that among other measures to assist people in remote areas, it intended to extend the limit for the provision of free telephone line plants from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres. I am aware of this commitment and I support it. I shall discuss the implementation of the commitment with the Telecommunications Commission and be in touch with the honourable member after I have had those discussions.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has the Government prepared a model nuclear safeguards agreement? Is this agreement presently in the hands of a number of foreign governments? Will the Minister table the model agreement forthwith so that the Australian Parliament may be apprised of the approach that the Australian Government is taking with potential uranium customers?
- Mr Speaker, the question hardly requires answering because I have already indicated time and again publicly that we have forwarded model safeguards agreements to a wide number of countries.
– Well, will you table them?
– Well, wait a moment. I shall take your question seriatim. Just restrain yourself. I have already indicated in the media and elsewhere- in fact most of my statements have been made in here-
– Why not in here?
– Well, most of my statements are made in here but they seem to be so incomprehensible to members of the Opposition that they are not prepared to debate them.
The model safeguards agreement has gone to a great number of countries. As I have said publicly, discussions have already been held with the Finns. I do recall answering a question about the model safeguards agreement and the discussions entered into with the British last year in this Parliament. There have been official discussions with other countries, including the Philippines. I would expect these discussions with a variety of countries to continue over the months ahead. The model safeguards agreement mirrors, of course, the statement first made in the Parliament by the Prime Minister and subsequently by me, both here and elsewhere.
In respect of the question asked about the tabling of the safeguards agreement, I shall reexamine the agreement and determine whether it is wise, at this juncture, to table it. It does mirror the governing principles of safeguards that we have had before. I shall give consideration to the request made by the honourable member and reply to him in due course.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security inform the House as to what progress has been made towards achieving a reciprocal social security agreement with West Germany particularly as the absence of such an agreement disqualifies former residents of Germany who are now Australian citizens from receiving West German pensions and, as a consequence, imposes an unnecessary burden upon Australian taxpayers?
– The conditions under which West German pensions are made available to former residents of West Germany who are now living in Australia are primarily a matter for the West German Government to decide. In the absence of a unilateral decision on the part of that Government to make its pensions available to Australian residents who are not German nationals, the pensions could be paid in Australia if an appropriate reciprocal arrangement on social security were concluded between the two
Governments. The general question of Australian participation in reciprocal arrangements on social security agreements with other countries, including West Germany, is one to which the Australian Government is presently giving very serious and urgent consideration. Whilst the Government is not in a position to make any firm decision, we are pressing on with an examination of the case for agreements and related issues and the terms on which an agreement might be negotiated. As the honourable member for Henty would recognise, the issues are very complex indeed. They go beyond the question of paying pensions to people from other countries who are now resident in Australia. The matter is receiving very serious and urgent consideration. I am sure that the honourable member will make that known to the people who are concerned about the problem.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. I refer to the inquiry presently being conducted by the Industries Assistance Commission into light commercial and four-wheel drive vehicles and the widespread concern by importers and distributors at the implication of the Government’s intended policy to halve the level of imports, as implied in that inquiry’s terms of reference. Can the Prime Minister confirm that a further reference is to be sent to the LAC which contains terms of reference that imply that the level of heavy commercial vehicle imports is to be similarly reduced? Can the Prime Minister advise this House the dates on which he received suggestions on the terms of reference for both these inquiries from his personal adviser on Australian industry matters, Sir Brian Inglis, the Managing Director of the Ford Motor Co. of Australia?
-Order! The honourable member will be out of order if he pursues that line.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Will he table all written communications on these matters? Will he advise this House of the reasons for these additional references to the IAC when the Government has not yet released the final report from the IAC on the previous inquiry into commercial motor vehicles?
– The Government certainly does not intend, consistent with usual practice, to reveal the details of correspondence received by the Government in respect of matters which come before the IAC and the Government. So far as the two issues are concerned, the honourable member is aware of the reference which has been sent to the IAC on light commercial vehicles. That followed a number of representations from all sections of the industry. The Government in looking at the question recognised the need for an objective examination to be carried out of the issues involving light commercial vehicles. That examination is being carried out through the IAC and the Government will take its decision when that report is received from the IAC. The question of heavy trucks is before me and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I expect that a press statement will be issued by me and the Minister some time today or tomorrow.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Is the Minister aware of comments made yesterday by the Minister for Transport in New South Wales, Mr Cox, that the Federal Government was to blame for road funding difficulties in New South Wales and in particular for the New South Wales Government’s failure to provide assistance for cane roads in northern New South Wales? Will the Minister inform the House of the extent of the assistance provided to New South Wales for roads this year and, in particular, whether the Commonwealth has provided increased funds for rural roads?
-Before I call the Minister for Transport, I remind him that it is Question Time. The breadth of the question is such that it could permit a very long answer. I ask the Minister to co-operate.
-Clearly, the Minister for Transport in New South Wales is playing a political game. There is an old saying: If you are going to quote facts, quote all the facts. In terms of road assistance to New South Wales the facts are that whilst the overall Commonwealth increase in funds to roads throughout Australia was 8.8 per cent last year, New South Wales, out of the total level of funds, received an increase of 12 per cent. We did that because we felt that the New South Wales Government was falling down on its own job of funding road programs properly. That is the first point I make.
The second point I make is that we increased the level of funding for rural arterial roads by 1 7 per cent. We also increased the funding for rural local roads by 40 per cent. New South Wales has legislation that prevents it giving any money to local government for local roads. The New South
Wales Government finds it convenient to sit behind that piece of legislation. It uses it as an excuse for not helping local government to construct roads. In terms of the facts, Mr Cox has been less than honest with the State Parliament. From the time of coming back into government in 1975 I made it plain to all six State Ministers for Transport that I would leave it to them to set priorities for the allocation of expenditure of money on cane roads. If cane roads are not included in construction or reconstruction programs it is because the New South Wales Minister decided that they were not worthy of priority. The responsibility rests entirely with the State Minister.
– I remind the Prime Minister of his statement to this House last week that an independent assessor would consider new tenders for a computer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources. Has the Government yet appointed this independent assessor? If so, what is the assessor’s identity and background? Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to refute a report circulating in the computer industry that the assessor is a former employee of IBM Australia Ltd?
-This is a matter that is largely being handled by the Minister for Administrative Services. I will see what information can be provided.
– Will the Minister for Construction inform the House of progress and development in the construction of the magnificent $8m Antarctic base at Kingston, Tasmania, which is in the electorate of Denison, of the letting of work to private consultants in Hobart and of the impending calling of tenders for the construction of this major complex?
– The honourable member for Denison is a persistent advocate for the interests of his electorate and for the whole of Tasmania. Documentation for the project is very advanced. Already commissions have been let to private consultants to the value of around half a million dollars and they, the honourable member will be pleased to know, I am sure, are Hobart based. We expect to be letting contracts in the middle of the year and we expect there will be occupancy of the building in the first part of 1980. If I may have your indulgence Mr Speaker, I would like to say that the amount of untied grants going to
Tasmania this year has increased from S 1 86m to more than $200m. The exact increase is $28m. Contrary to what the Premier of Tasmania is saying at the moment, there is significant Commonwealth interest and investment in Tasmania.
-I refer the Prime Minister to recent newspaper reports that on Christmas Eve last year IBM announced a doubling of its equity involvement in its main Australian company by providing $15m and that it also added an extra $3m for a rental company in Australia in which it previously had an equity of only $ 100? Did these actions occur only two days after the Prime Minister telephoned Mr Moyes of IBM Australia Ltd to inform him that retendering for the Australian Bureau of Statistics computer was to take place?
-The Treasurer will answer the question.
– You are dodging it.
-I am not aware -
– Order! The Treasurer will resume his seat The level of interjections is beyond reason. I ask the honourable member for Chifley to cease interjecting.
– I am not aware whether the particular investment decisions of which the honourable member spoke were in fact made by that company on that date. All I can say is that if in fact investment decisions of that order were made either on that date or on any other date that is a matter to be welcomed and not to be condemned.
– I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether depositions relating to a conspiracy case in the Special Federal Court in Sydney late last year involving a Mrs Patricia Moylan were removed from that court without the knowledge or approval of the presiding magistrate? Who took this action and did it occur the day after the same depositions were unsuccessfully sought by counsel representing a Mr Frank Christopher Lawrence in similar proceedings in another court? Further, were both cases related to the importation of cannabis into Australia.
-I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. I am aware of the prosecutions in the Special Federal Court in Sydney that were launched against both Mrs Patricia Moylan and Mr Frank Christopher Lawrence to which the honourable gentleman referred. It is a fact that both cases relate to prosecutions concerned with the importation of cannabis. The other matters to which the honourable gentleman has referred are of a serious nature and I shall have them referred to the Attorney-General and report the details to the honourable gentleman just as soon as I can.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer to the statement he made in this House on 7 March in which he said that at the Cabinet meetings of 4, 7 and 8 November concern had been expressed regarding questions of propriety associated with the tendering process. Is it a fact that he also said that a committee formed as a result of those meetings had approved the issue of a letter of intent? How does he equate the view of the committee that the Facom Australia Ltd bid should be approved with the view that there may have been serious improprieties?
– I refer the honourable gentleman to the totality of the statement that was made to which he referred.
– I ask the Teasurer: Has the American dollar plunged to low levels on the Tokyo foreign exchange market? Is it a fact that a high percentage of Australia’s expansive trade with Japan is contracted in United States of America dollars? What effect will this have on our export income from Japan if we have not clauses in these contracts giving us protection against a downturn in the exchange rate? Can the Minister clarify this situation?
-The question calls for a detailed response and I shall take it on notice.
-In the last 12 months did the Prime Minister meet a Dr Lewis Branscombe and his wife? Is it a fact that Dr Lewis Branscombe is the chief scientist for IBM and also is scientific adviser to President Carter? Is it a fact that following discussions by Dr Lewis Branscombe with the Minister for Science, Senator Webster, an accelerated announcement was made for a $4.2m computer facility to be linked with the LANDSAT satellite facility that would be established at Alice Springs? In his talks with the Prime Minister and other Ministers was Dr Branscombe acting for IBM or for President Carter? In the discussions was it represented to the Australian Government that it might be inadvisable to award contracts for sensitive computer installations to Japanese companies?
– I do not think anyone has given me the warning to which the honourable gentleman has referred that it might be inadvisable to award computer contracts to Japanese companies. So far as the other pan of the honourable gentleman’s question is concerned, I would certainly have to refresh my mind. I meet many thousands of people through the course of the year. I have no recollection of meeting the doctor to whom the honourable gentleman has referred.
– I ask the Minister for Special Trade Representations a question supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Adelaide. In view of the approximate 80 per cent increase in protection afforded to Australian import competing industries by the effect of the 17’/2 per cent devaluation on ad valorem tariff, how does the Minister calculate that Australia has reduced its tariff protection by 30 per cent? Does he agree that the effect of changes to quotas substantially increases protection to Australian import competing industries? Does he also agree that small economies, such as Australia’s, inevitably pay a higher price for any comparable level of protection than do large economies?
– I think my colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs in an answer to a question asked last year indicated that there must be some balancing between competing interests within Australia. With respect to the results of devaluation, as the honourable member will be aware, some compensation details were announced in the House. In my answer to a question this morning I indicated that the amount of flow is important when one is talking about relative levels between Australia and other countries. This is a difficult matter because there are competing interests within Australia. I do not have the percentage calculation to which the honourable member referred in my mind so I will obtain that information and write to him.
– My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Despite the Budget target rate of growth for the money supply of 8 per cent to 10 per cent, its annual rate of increase has been only 5 per cent in the past year and a mere 4 per cent in the last three months. I ask: As we are now entering the period of seasonal money tightness, does this low rate of money supply growth mean that the Budget target rate of growth has been abandoned? Will the Treasurer inform the House whether this tight money policy has resulted from the Government’s desire to minimise the capacity of corporations to speculate against the Australian dollar? If not, what is the reason for the policy? Does he concede that the continuance of such a low rate of growth would be in direct conflict with the Government’s stated policy aim of reducing interest rates by two per cent across the board in 1978?
-The rate of growth of the money supply registered thus far does not represent an abandonment of the projection- a projection rather than a target- of between 8 per cent and. 10 per cent stated in the Budget. Thus far the rate of growth of the money supply records a lower level than might be thought to be consistent with a full year’s result of between 8 per cent and 10 per cent, basically for two reasons. The first reason is that we have been marginally more successful in reducing inflation than was expected at the time the Budget was brought down. In other words, inflation has fallen a little faster than was believed likely by the Government at that time. I would think that development would be wholly welcomed and not in any way questioned. Secondly, as the honourable gentleman will be aware, the reintroduction of quarterly company tax payments meant that in the month of November 1977 some $550m was withdrawn from the system, which otherwise would have been withdrawn during the seasonal rundown period to which the honourable gentleman referred.
I think if we take those two factors into account they give a very significant explanation of why thus far the figures on the rate of growth of the money supply indicate the situation to which the honourable gentleman referred. It does not represent in any sense a tight money policy. The Prime Minister and I have indicated already that the run-down period will, as is customary, be very carefully monitored and managed by the Reserve Bank. The Government, as is also customary, is in regular contact with the Reserve Bank regarding the rundown. The Prime Minister and I have both indicated that the Reserve Bank has a considerable armoury of weapons available to it to facilitate the rundown. I do not really believe that it assists the economic situation generally or an understanding of some of these matters for the honourable gentleman to introduce references to speculation against the value of the Australian dollar.
-Has the Prime Minister seen reports of advertisements which indicate that the New South Wales Government expects the New South Wales work force to increase at the least by 40,000 but certainly very slowly over the next three to four years? While conceding that Mr Wran has a vested interest in pessimism, can the Prime Minister indicate -
-Order! The honourable gentleman knows that he can seek information, not make comment.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Prime Minister indicate the generally estimated order of increase in the Australian employed work force, including New South Wales, over the next 18 months, to which the present Budget and the next Budget is and will be attuned, so that the nature of the New South Wales estimates can be seen to be both overstating unemployment and understating employed work force growth?
-The report from New South Wales would seem to be unduly gloomy. I do not know the premise on which it was based. If it is based on activities and policy decisions that will be made by the New South Wales Government, I suggest only that that Government should re-assess its own priorities and actions. So far as this Government is concerned, the Budget that will be introduced by the Treasurer, like the previous two Budgets, will be directed very firmly to a restoration of full economic health and the re-establishment of circumstances in which Australian industries can compete effectively, not only nationally within Australian markets but also internationally.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister that on Tuesday I asked him a question which referred to the uncanny similarity of four points of concern raised by Mr Moyes of IBM Australia Ltd in his personal letter of 2 December to the Prime Minister to the four points of the Australian Bureau of Statistics computer tender on which the Government Stores and Tender Board requested clarification from tenderers in three separate letters dated 18 January, 24 January and 6 February. I now ask the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his answer on that occasion in which he stated that ‘technical matters were handled by officials’? If so, did he or anyone on his behalf indicate to officials, either directly or indirectly, the manner in which he would like the matter handled by them? Was he surprised and, more importantly, was he concerned that the letters to tenderers from officials so closely followed suggestions put only in a personal letter to him from Mr Moyes of IBM?
-The technical matters were handled by officials and technical advisers. They were not handled by Ministers.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that there is an IBM memory typewriter in my electorate office which is leased? Did Mr Moyes ring or contact the Prime Minister to arrange that lease? Were tenders called? Was a certificate of inexpediency issued? Was the matter considered by Cabinet?
– I am well aware that the equipment in the honourable gentleman’s office is a matter of great and important national concern. I do not really know what procedures were followed in the purchase and supply of that equipment but I am quite certain that the well proven practices which have been used by successive Commonwealth Governments over many years would have been followed. I do not know what kind -
Opposition members interjecting.
-Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The honourable member for Robertson will remain silent. There are too many interjections coming from my left. A question has been asked and it is entitled to an answer. I call upon the Prime Minister to answer the question.
-The activities of the Opposition in recent times really have been designed to dredge in areas where it knows there is nothing to find. It is doing so because it knows that the actions which the Government took were based on the same assumptions and views which caused the Leader of the Opposition to indicate that the actions of Mr Harragan were improper and deserving of censure. It is perfectly plain that under those circumstances the Leader of the Opposition, I believe, would have acted as we have acted. What is concerning the Leader of the Opposition at the moment is that he wishes we had not acted in that way so that he could have attacked us on matters which he then would have regarded as improper and deserving of censure. The honourable gentleman is trying to establish circumstances which I think are strange indeed. We currently have under consideration future royal visits to Australia. I suppose that if I am seen talking to someone, whoever it might be, who is closely attached to the Royal Family, the honourable gentleman will say that the Government is planning to steal the Crown jewels.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister and refer to the Press report on 4 March that the Prime Minister had received an invitation from the Soviet Embassy in Canberra to visit Moscow. Whilst I am pleased that the Prime Minister is anxious to visit Moscow to improve his knowledge and understanding -
-The honourable gentleman will ask his question.
– In view of his well known attitude towards the Soviet Union -
-The honourable gentleman will ask his question.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has received an official invitation. Has the invitation been confirmed by Moscow? Was the invitation spontaneous?
– I have been advised that on a number of occasions the Russian Ambassador has spoken to our Foreign Minister about the possibility of my visiting Moscow. No plans have been made at this point. There have been some discussions but at this stage I have no plans to travel to any country this year. That is not to say that a visit will not be made but the direction of that visit will be orientated to the best service of the interests of Australia. It would be unwise for the honourable gentleman to make any assumptions about any visits to any country. The attitudes that I have expressed in relation to the policies of the Soviet Union originally in June or July 1976 have been echoed on many occasions since in more cogent and more powerful terms by the Foreign Ministers and the Defence Ministers in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in recent times by a fine editorial in the Melbourne Age.
Mr Armitage having addressed a question to the Prime Minister -
-Order! The honourable gentleman knows that no Minister has any responsibility for any statement made by the leader of the Australian Democrats. I call the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
-Mr Speaker -
– I rise to take a point of order. I was about to refer to a matter which does come within the province of the Prime Minister and a Minister in the Government.
-The honourable gentleman ought to phrase his questions in a better fashion. I call the honourable member for Port Adelaide.
-I ask the Acting Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations: Is it true that the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures on unemployment to be released tomorrow will not include as unemployed any person who has received payment for work done during the survey week for one hour or more? Is it also true that no additional figure will be given by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to show exactly how many people fall into that category? If both those things are true, would it not mean that the figures given by the Australian Bureau of Statistics would greatly underestimate the number of unemployed in Australia?
– I think the honourable gentleman should wait until the figures are announced tomorrow at 12 noon.
– Has the Prime Minister seen a report to the effect that the Federal Government has ordered Commonwealth public servants not to co-operate with the New South Wales Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking? Is that report correct? If it is not correct, will the Prime Minister ensure that the necessary action is taken to facilitate the production of evidence to the New South Wales Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking?
– I call the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– My attention has been drawn to the report referred to by the honourable member. I want to make it quite clear to him and to the House that no such instruction has been given by me or, to my knowledge, by any officer in my Department. On the contrary, the Prime Minister has made it quite clear that the Commonwealth will co-operate with New South Wales and South Australia, both of which States are conducting royal commissions into certain aspects of drugs.
The Prime Minister has indicated also that because the Commonwealth has under way a national royal commission into drug trafficking the most sensible means of co-operation would be between the royal commissioners. If, for example, New South Wales or South Australia requires assistance, evidence or information from the Commonwealth, the proper course to be followed is for the royal commissioners in those States to approach the national royal commission. That procedure was laid down in correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premiers of New South Wales and South Australia. I am sure that all honourable members will agree that that is the most beneficial way in which to ensure continuation of the high degree of co-operation which obviously is necessary.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Transport. In his recent discussions with Mr Freddie Laker, was a definite submission put to the Australian Government by Mr Laker for an air service between Britain and Australia? Has the Minister also seen comments by Mr Laker which indicate that he intends to go ahead and plan his service, even without the approval of the present Government? Is that possible? Does it really give the green light to Mr Laker to commence operating a cut price service between Britain and Australia?
-I think that Mr Laker has now been to Australia on three occasions. Either on his first or second visit he put before my Department a number of working papers on the sort of service he might be able to commence between Australia and the United Kingdom. He has said publicly that he has not yet filed an application to fly to Australia. He does not propose to do that until he sees the result of the international civil aviation policy review which is due to report to me on 3 1 March. He will then make a formal application to commence a service between Australia and the United Kingdom. Mr Laker has to receive approval to commence the service not only from me but also from the United Kingdom Government. As I understand it, he has made a formal application to the United Kingdom Government and it has deferred consideration of that matter for the moment.
To answer the honourable member’s question, it is physically and practically impossible for Mr Laker to commence a service to Australia, firstly, until he receives the okay from the British Government and, secondly, until he receives the okay from the Australian Government. Having had discussions with Mr Laker about his proposal, I have said publicly many times that I am greatly in sympathy with the suggestions he is making about low cost fares. But Mr Laker will have to wait until after 3 1 March for the Government to have an opportunity to consider, in a proper context, the many applications that are before it for non-scheduled services of the type Mr Laker proposes in the light of the present scheduled services to and from this country provided by a great number of international airlines.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. By way of preface I remind him that the Opposition has repeatedly over the past three weeks attempted to seek information from the Government on the tendering procedures for a computer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Trade and Resources. I ask again: Will the Prime Minister now table all files, documents and correspondence on this matter so that the Parliament can make a fair and proper assessment of the matter. Will he make available for perusal by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and me any documents which he claims are too confidential to table? Finally, who, if anyone, is guilty of improper conduct?
-The honourable gentleman knows quite well that he has been on a fishing expedition. If he thinks that the Government will assist him in that he is sadly mistaken. He knows quite well that he is hooked on his own statement that Mr Harragan’s conduct was improper and was deserving of censure. It was because the Government had a view about Mr Harragan’s conduct that it acted. The honourable gentleman is trying to have it both ways. He knows quite well that Mr Harragan’s conduct was not in accord with the high standard of ethics of the Public Service but then, because the Government acted in relation to it, he seeks to condemn the Government for having so acted. I venture to say that the Leader of the Opposition would have done the same thing himself as the Government has done in this matter; or are we to assume that the Leader of the Opposition, having said that Mr Harragan had acted improperly and having said that his action was deserving of censure, would have awarded the contract to Facom Australia Ltd? If that were the situation the Leader of the Opposition himself would have been deserving of censure.
– Notice has been received from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) that at the next sitting he will move:
That the Prime Minister be censured for his personal involvement and improper conduct in interfering with normal tendering procedures for the acquisition of computer equipment for Government purposes.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Bureau of Transport Economics entitled ‘Darwin and Northern Territory Freight Transport Study ‘.
– For the information of honourable members I present details of special flights by the Royal Australian Air Force for the period 1 March 1977 to 31 December 1977. Copies of this report are available from the Table Office.
– I inform the House that I have ascertained that His Excellency the Governor-General will be pleased to receive the Address-in-Reply at Government House at 5.30 p.m. today. I shall be glad if the mover and seconder, together with other honourable members, will accompany me to present the Address.
Notice of Motion
- Mr Speaker, may I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition proceed with his motion forthwith.
– It is private members’ day. The Opposition does not care about the back bench.
-Order! The House will come to order. The honourable member for Fadden will remain silent. Under the Standing Orders a Minister may declare a motion to be an issue of confidence, in which case it takes precedence over all other business until disposed of. The Prime Minister has indicated that the matter should be proceeded with forthwith. The procedure would be to suspend Standing Orders to allow the Leader of the Opposition to proceed immediately.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Howard)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving forthwith the motion of censure of the Prime Minister of which he has given notice for the next sitting.
Motion of Censure
– I move:
That the Prime Minister be censured for his personal involvement and improper conduct in interfering with the normal tendering procedures for the acquisition of computer equipment for government purposes.
In the past two and a half weeks the Opposition has been engaged in an exercise which has proved largely fruitless; of trying to extract from the Government justification for the improper behaviour of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the matter of the acquisition of a computer for Australian Government purposes. We have sought a proper accounting from the Government of the relationship between the Prime Minister and IBM Australia Ltd and, more specifically at the personal level, between the Prime Minister and Mr Moyes of IBM Australia Ltd. There is no dispute between us about Mr Harragan ‘s appointment to Facom Australia Ltd. The Opposition has, over many years, indicated clearly that it regards the acceptance of such appointments by public servants in somewhat similar situations as inappropriate. It has opposed them. It has proposed that there ought to be legislation to prevent that sort of thing occurring. The Coalition Parties have never accepted that principle until now, until they have landed themselves in deep trouble because of the personal style of government adopted by the Prime Minister. There can be no dispute that there is widespread public concern about the Prime Minister’s personal style of government administration, specifically in relation to this matter.
For instance, the editorial in the rather staid Sydney Morning Herald of 10 March said:
The suggestion that this and other documents (including notes of a conversation between Mr Fraser and Mr Moyes on December 22) disclose other reasons why Mr Fraser blocked the contract- apart from the stated one that justice must appear to be done- cannot be allowed to persist. The documents should certainly be tabled and any remaining doubt removed.
The Canberra Times of 14 March said:
The full facts of the Facom case must be exposed immediately. If they are as Mr Fraser says, publication of all documents and correspondence on the matter can only support his statement of last week; it alone is insufficient.
If the integrity of the system has been impugned it has not so much been through the Harragan appointment as through the Prime Minster’s own impetuous and inadequately explained intervention.
The Australian of 1 5 March said this:
There are some questions worth asking in this shoddy affair-
Mark you, it says, ‘shoddy affair’- remembering that $20m is only the opening prize and that the whole job will be worth something like $S0m or $60m when add-on services are included. The first is: How did IBM know that it had lost to F acorn when no announcement had been made; who told them? The second is: What REALLY prompted Mr Fraser to jump in and cancel the deal? On the known facts, the only advice he followed was the dubious tip-off from IBM; but it may be that ill-informed officials urged him to act.
The Australian Financial Review of 9 March said:
Mr Fraser ‘s righteousness would be more convincing if it were not so selective. It is he who has how changed the ground rules of tendering and he has done so only after approaches from IBM.
The things which the Opposition has been saying are being echoed in the community- and echoed powerfully. The trouble is that the unprecedented behaviour of the Prime Minister and his personal style of government are disturbingly reminiscent of some mid- 18th century head of State exercising absolute power. He treats Cabinet and his colleagues like people of fickle will and unlimited insight. Their role, in his view, is complaisance to his actions.
Let us consider the unparalleled intervention of the Prime Minister in this matter. He reopened tenders in February 1978. He reopened them 12 months after they had closed. Cabinet was not involved in the exercise. Presumably he will send it a post card at some later date and let it know what has been happening. He claims that he is worried but he certainly waffled between 23 September of last year, when he said he first became concerned about the matter, and 2 December. And why did the sparks fly after 2 December? The significance of 2 December is that he received his personal letter from Mr Moyes of IBM. If only the community bodies in this great country, the small businessmen, mayors and chairmen in our cities and towns, Aboriginals, education and welfare bodies, and so on- the little people- could galvanise such a response from the Prime Minister with one simple uncomplicated letter, as IBM cares to describe it.
Let us see how IBM made the sparks fly. Look at the sequence of events adopted by the Prime Minister. He moved promptly to revise the tenders. Then three different modifications went out to the main frame tenderers on 18 January, 24 January and 6 February- two days before he peremptorily moved to terminate the whole process. Thirdly, IBM got one week’s start in a tight program which allowed only one month between the advice going out and the tenders being received. The IBM company received a letter on 17 January, and it came from the Prime Minister. It said:
Of course if you wish to vary your existing tender on the basis of these clarifications the Government will be prepared to consider your proposition.
The other main frame tenderers did not receive that sort of advice for another week. It was 24 January 1978 when the Australian Government Stores Supply and Tender Board sent out this letter: . . . if . . . you should wish to vary your existing tender on the basis of these clarifications the Government will be prepared to consider your proposition.
So we had even at that early stage one week’s start for IBM in this rather competitive race. The modifications effectively became a new tendering arrangement. Let me again quote from the letter that went out on 6 February from the Stores Supply and Tender Board: … it is open to you, subject to the specifications which have been issued, to vary the whole of your existing tender, including, if you wish, new or updated equipment and systems now available or which you may now judge more appropriate.
This is where this curious style, this personal flamboyance, of the Prime Minister in conducting government on a person to person basis instead of through the proper procedures, becomes demonstrably clear. It is remarkable that a Prime Minister should take it upon himself to intervene in these processes and through his influences apply pressure which results in what is effectively an open go- open slather. And who is going to be most advantaged by this? Of course, it would seem to be IBM Australia because it would appear to have been in the happy position of having new equipment which was being brought into operation. The interesting point is that those three letters of 18 January, 24 January and 6 February effectively cover the outline of the four points which are in Mr Moyes letter of 2 December to the Prime Minister. We have quoted from that before in this House and the Prime Minister has confirmed the accuracy of it. Fifthly, and finally, the Prime Minister suddenly moved and cancelled the amended tendering processes which he had initiated- and initiated on his own unilateral decision. He certainly brought in the Treasurer (Mr Howard)- the new Treasurer- and the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) who are two tried and reliable cronies of his; tried, true, unquestioning people who had been elevated to the top ranks according to the Peter principle. There was no trouble there. The matter certainly was not taken to the Cabinet. What has arisen is an unequalled hodge-podge of confusion, incompetence and tender concern for IBM. You would not run a suburban Boy Scouts thrift shop the way the Prime Minister has been conducting this affair.
Let me move on and look at the Prime Minister’s justification for his strange and not credible behaviour- post hoc exculpation on his part. He first of all said that it was because of the way in which Mr Harragan took his appointment with Facom Australia. We have indicated our feelings on that but the point is that the Prime Minister made this a key justification for his unusual action. But in a letter of 17 January, when all of these matters were well advanced, he indicated to IBM that there was no impropriety in the procedures and indicated clearly that he was satisfied of that. Later in February, in a telex, he said to Mr Kobayashi, of Fujitsu Ltd of Tokyo, the parent company of Facom Australia:
As I have already stated, Mr Harragan ‘s personal integrity is not under question.
That is not an aspect that loomed large in his considerations of this matter. The next justification the Prime Minister gave was that the modifications for which he had been responsible were ‘unfairly altering the basis and balance of tenders’. There is no one else to blame for that but himself. He sought to blame the Public Service. He sought to condem Harragan. Harragan does deserve criticism for what he did, but what he did was no more inconsistent than what had been done by a lot of other people before in the Public Service who had moved to the private sector under conservative coalition governments. Presumably Mr Harragan thought that he could continue the principle. The real issue is that the Prime Minister shifted ground at this point and said that the modifications to the tendering processes were ‘unfairly altering the basis and balance of tenders’. He did that by his own unwise intervention, an unparalleled and thoroughly improper intervention, in this matter. Finally, he has had the gall to stand up in this House and say that the permanent heads he set up in a committee of three advised him to cancel the tenders. Of course they did. They advised him after his disruptive, elephantine frolic in computerland had caused so many problems and after he had modified the tendering process to a point where it would have been completely improper- and conceivably against the law, certainly against the proper standards of conduct -for the matter to have been persisted with any more.
The Prime Minister also gave as a justification an assertion that conflicting representations were made to him by IBM on 7 February and Facom on 8 February. We know what Facom said on 8 February. I requote what it said:
Facom has accepted this timetable for the submission of the requested supplementary data and feel it to be in the public interest. We request your current reconfirmation that the submission date of February 1 3 will be enforced.
Facom was not happy with the decision but it was prepared to live with it. It was prepared to work within the new guidelines which clearly were designed to disadvantage mainframe tenderers except IBM. What did IBM say if its letter was in conflict with that of Facom? Clearly IBM was not happy. It did not want the matter to go on. What did IBM want? Let me remind honourable members what IBM sought in its letter to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has acknowledged already in the Parliament that the letter I have is a correct copy. He has pointed out that we probably picked it up when it fell from the back of a truck driven by that well-known Treasury officer. Is it Mr Williams or Mr Moore? I must apologise; I am never quite sure of names in such cases. IBM said four things in its letter. Firstly it said:
The system should be supplied by a single vendor. In a system of this complexity it is not sufficient to identify a prime contractor to integrate other vendors’ products.
In other words, IBM had the wind that Facom was going to get approval for this contract. IBM thought: ‘Knock them out on any ground. Knock them out on the ground that they are not as big and completely integrated as IBM’. The second part of the letter stated:
The system should be built with proven products. The nation’s planning capability should not be put at risk by a major experiment.
In other words, IBM can be relied on. It is safe, sure and reliable- and completely unscrupulous. The third factor in the letter was:
The major software components should be standard products from the successful vendor. Australia has enough projects which illustrate the expensive delays and in some cases ultimate failure caused by the decision to design and implement unique software systems.
IBM was seeking to drum up spectres to haunt anyone who might consider that someone else is as big and as integrated and as long established as IBM. The fourth point in the letter was:
The successful vendor should have an existing support structure which demonstrates its capability of successfully completing a project of this magnitude. The expertise of individuals, the management capability, the training programs and the necessary support facilities can only be acquired through many years of managed growth. IBM will need all of its 25 years of Australian experience to step up to this project.
In other words, there is no room for new comers. They are the four points raised by IBM Australia. The subsequent modifications to tenderers in
January and February very much reflects the influence of IBM in this matter. So much for the advice of technologically qualified people. It would seem as though there were some sort of prescience between the people who framed the subsequent letters advising of the modifications to these tendering processes and perhaps Mr Moyes, or, perhaps, even more directly, the Prime Minister. We are not convinced. Our suspicions rise and the doubts in the community are fed by the evasiveness and the prevarication of the Prime Minister on this very important matter.
Other strange circumstances related to this matter have yet to be aired adequately in this House in order to justify the complacency of the Government and settle the concern outside. There is the modest participation of the modest Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), the last Treasurer. What was his role in this? All that we have is a gratuitous comment, I presume not meant to be helpful from the way in which it was presented and couched, and the Prime Minister’s statement in passing. We cannot establish what Mr Lynch ‘s role in a key way was in this matter. He refuses to come clean, to use terminology so beloved to him in 1975. Perhaps he is too pre-occupied with his final examinations to become a member of the Victorian Real Estate Institute to give us full information on this matter.
There is the role of the current Treasurer who was urging on 5 January that Facom should receive approval to supply the equipment. I am not qualified, nor is anyone else in this House, to deliberate with dogmatism on the tightness or wrongness of that. However, it seems to me, on the performance of the Treasurer to this point, that he is a man of some integrity at least. I would prefer to believe he is a man of considerable integrity. He would not be recommending that Facom should receive this contractual arrangement unless he was satisfied that all of the proprieties had been adhered to. Why is the current Treasurer out of step with the Prime Minister?
Of course there were the Cabinet committee meetings on the second, seventh and eighth of November. According to the Prime Minister, concern was supposed to have been expressed by the members of those Cabinet committees on the dates on which they met. In fact he also confessed that following the meeting of the Cabinet committee on 8 November, a committee of Ministers was formed which subsequently recommended that a letter of intent to Facom be approved. That is a strange set of circumstances; for experienced Cabinet Ministers allegedly to be worried about the propriety of the tendering processes and at the same time happily proposing that one of the tenderers receive the contract without any apparent questions. Was something unjust, unfair or even dishonest? That is the implication running through the Prime Minister’s statements in this regard. The implications go well beyond Mr Harragan. It seems rather strange for the Ministers to harbour these doubts and yet to recommend that the whole procedure should go ahead and that Facom should receive a letter of intent.
The Prime Minister sought to claim that he was the victim of a Public Service bungle. He suggested that the Public Service neglected the ethics involved in Mr Harragan taking up an appointment with Facom. Perhaps there was a neglect of ethics. But I suggest that first of all, as the Prime Minister indicated subsequently, the Prime Minister found the Public Service findings quite acceptable. One presumes that he read fully the determination and was accordingly convinced that it explored all of the areas of responsibility in this matter. He did, after all, draw up the terms of reference. The officers concerned were prestigous people in the Public Service, not that prestige alone is important. But one does not become a prestigous head of a Public Service department in this country unless one is competent and has a proven record of reliability, integrity, proper conduct and experience- all those important things that go to make a successful head of a department. No one would be tougher but more competent and fair and honest than Sir Arthur Tange, a member of this committee. Yet the Prime Minister has seen fit to impugn the standing of the members of that committee.
The fact is that it is not the Public Service that needs a code of conduct; it is the Prime Minister. It is the Prime Minister’s conduct and propriety that are at issue, not those of the Public Service. The Public Service has been made a convenient whipping post in this matter. If the committee did not explore widely enough the matter of ethics in Mr Harragan’s taking up his appointment it would presumably have been because it followed the old Liberal principle in such matters: Spoils to the fleet footed and the strong. Perhaps they believed that principle would prevail as it always had with governments of the ilk of the Prime Minister.
The real questions are not about Mr Harragan, not about an alleged discredited and unreliable Public Service but about the Prime Minister’s personal style of government; about the way in which he conducts affairs of state of the greatest magnitude and importance at a personal level; the way in which presumably he is prepared to extend priviliged favours to those who have his ear. The relationship between the Prime Minister and IBM appears to be scandalous and only the Prime Minister can remove that appearance. IBM is not Simon Pure as the Australian Financial Review pointed out this week and as has been pointed out in the United States of America for a long time before. It appears that if one wants action from this Government one needs to belong to privileged institutions.
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired. Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. For a fortnight now the Opposition has been anxious for the Government to table all papers relating to the IBM computer contract.
– You are muck raking.
-It is not a muck raking exercise. The honourable member is on the back bench and he will stay there for a good reason.
This morning Facom Australia Ltd held a Press conference. The Chairman of that company, Mr Bathgate, one of the Melbourne establishment and normally one of the Government’s supporters, was astounded at what this Government did. The Government talks about integrity and open government- but is frightened of the truth. Facom is prepared to have all the papers tabled and the invitation from the Opposition for the past fortnight was that the Government should do so. The Government should tell the people of Australia the truth. The censure motion is not about a tender; it is about the personal conduct of a Prime Minister who in the normal course of events should have no worry about or any relationship at all to any tenders. Why is it that the Opposition has been denied access to all the information? Why is it that an innocent man named Harragan has been blackguarded every time a question on this subject is answered on the basis that he did something improper?
Clearly we have evidence that Mr Harragan was one junior member of a group of six officers who recommended the acceptance of the Facom tender. Did he influence the other five? Are they all guilty men as well? Why do we not get this matter in its proper perspective? Did not the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), as was a proper arrangement, have senior public servants investigate the matter? He received advice that there had been no impropriety by Mr Harragan. He confirmed that in a letter to Mr Moyes. The only people who get information from the Prime Minister are Mr Moyes and IBM. We get nothing in the Parliament despite our requests. Why did the Prime Minister write a letter to Mr Moyes on 17 January saying that there was no question of impropriety, the whole question was one of viability, and four questions had to be raised? These are significant matters we want to have highlighted here today.
In our view Facom would have won the contract in the normal course on the merits of the situation. Because of the Prime Minister’s involvement it looks very much as though IBM was to be the favoured company from as far back as September last. We see a whole system of machinations, correspondence, consultations and representations over a period of six months to 9 February when everything was called off and the process was started again. Are we honestly to accept that the Prime Minister really thought that the matter should not have proceeded and then suddenly he had some advice and his officials said that it would be all right to proceed, and then all of a sudden again without any warning the deal is all off again? There were no representations by Facom or IBM to that extent. This is confirmed by their independent advice. We noticed that Mr Moyes issued a statement last Thursday evening in which he clearly said: ‘We were surprised when the Government decided not to go ahead with the tenders. We were prepared to go ahead and we were anxious that the information be dealt with on 13 February.’ Facom had its Japanese representative flying back from Japan on the basis that it would go ahead. So the position was that both tenderers were prepared to comply with the extraordinary state of development and all of a sudden tenders were called off.
We have had no explanation of that despite the statement made by the Prime Minister to this House- and what an extraordinary statement that is. In it the Prime Minister spent a lot of time dealing with one day, 22 December. I understand that on 22 December the Prime Minister was at Nareen anyway; he was not in Canberra. The real issue is a statement the Prime Minister made saying that when he got the letter from Mr Moyes arrangements were made. Did he make the arrangements for Mr Moyes to come to Canberra on 22 December? Did he make arrange- & ments for him to see the appropriate heads of departments and for them to prepare a report? He admits that on the same day as Mr Moyes saw these departmental heads the Prime Minister received a report. So it must have been a verbal report. When the Prime Minister was asked whether he saw Mr Moyes in Canberra on 22 December he refused to answer the question. Mr Moyes made some reference and gave us some help by saying that he telephoned the Prime Minister prior to Christmas. Everybody is anxious to say that that happened only once. So we are left in the position in which the only information this Parliament can get is from Mr Moyes that on 22 December, apparently after he saw the heads of the departments, apparently after the heads of the departments had verbally reported to the Prime Minister, Mr Moves was able to telephone the Prime Minister at his home at Nareen.
Do honourable members honestly think that that is the true position? Would Mr Moyes not have known all the time what he could do, what the arrangements were? Here we see the final result. The Prime Minister stated on 7 March that he subsequently spoke to Mr Moyes- he did not say by telephone or personally- and indicated to him that retendering seemed appropriate. So Mr Moyes was the first to know on 22 December that there was not much chance of existing tenders being proceeded with. We see another peculiar part of the Prime Minister’s attitude to this matter. He decided that he ought to talk to his Cabinet colleagues. They convinced him that he should not be so ridiculous about the situation and that he could not carry on in that fashion. Cabinet decided that tenders ought to be proceeded with. So there was this conflict- Mr Moyes and the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, on one side and the Cabinet on the other. That was the situation and that is the reason why the Prime Minister again had to change his mind from what he told Mr Moyes verbally on 22 December to what he wrote to him on 1 7 January. In his letter he said: ‘You will have an opportunity- an extraordinary thing in public life- to vary your tender’. But the Prime Minister did not tell any other tenderer that.
As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) said, no other tenderer got a letter on 17 January. Other tenderers got letters on 18 January, which did not mention this fact. They got letters on 24 January and it was not mentioned. But on 6 February a further extraordinary way this Government carries on business was displayed. There were three letters to the tenderers and the last one said: ‘Of course you can offer new equipment’. Is it a fact that IBM had new equipment available which it did not have when tenders closed in February 1977? Is it a fact that it had its new equipment available for the tender which is now open but did not have it available for the tender in February 1977? Is this retendering not a special privilege given to IBM? Would that not have been the background context of the conversation between the Prime Minister and Mr Moyes on 22 December in which the Prime Minister said: ‘Oh, well, we will call tenders off and you can start again’?
That obviously would have been as a result of agitation, representation and suggestion by Moves that tenders should be called off so that IBM should have the opportunity to re tender and submit new equipment altogether. It is confirmed for the first time in the letter from the Department of Administrative Services on 6 February that every other tenderer could submit new equipment. But IBM knew it from a personal letter from the Prime Minister on 17 January. These are the suspicious circumstances that we want to have highlighted in this Parliament. We have now reached a situation in which if the Government needs new computer technology and equipment, which it would do, in future tendering processes both companies would be suspect because of the Prime Minister’s involvement in this case.
In the future nobody could safely say that Facom or IBM ought to get any contracts because of the undue influence they might have on the Prime Minister. That is why we say our Prime Minister has to be censured. If one is leading a nation and has the expertise of the Public Service and independent high officials one must take their advice or give a reason if it is rejected.
In every case raised Mr Harragan has been exonerated. In every case IBM has been implicated.
That is the situation we now face. The Prime Minister today is virtually a representative of IBM because all his actions have been taken in accordance with that company’s desires. This is unfair and unreasonable to other tenderers. The Opposition holds no brief for other companies, but the public interest is alerted to the fact that Facom has called a Press conference this morning to talk about what it feels is the problem. That company was prepared to go ahead with a reassessment of the situation with new variations and new viability as recently as 8 February. IBM intended to do the same. No explanation has been given to this Parliament as to why the Prime Minister suddenly decided to abandon the whole project. That seems to be very suspicious. It certainly helps IBM if it can submit a new tender.
We are well aware of the fact that the Press, particularly Laurie Oakes from the SunPictorial, made inquiries on 8 February as to whether the Prime Minister had carried out certain actions in respect of those tenders. Because the Press and other media- good luck to thembecame involved in this issue, it would appear that the Prime Minister panicked and tried to call the whole deal off. The Japanese Ambassador is concerned about the matter and we say that he has seen the Prime Minister. No doubt telexes that the Prime Minister has sent to the Japanese have mentioned the fact that the issue was not a question of the impropriety of Mr Harragan; it was a question of the viability of the project and the matters that have been raised. So it is spurious to try to show any impropriety on the part of Mr Harragan. If it is done on that basis, surely the background of Mr Moyes, the representative of IBM, should be looked at. But we are not here to discuss that.
We are here to discuss the conduct of the Prime Minister and why he should be censured. No Prime Minister would have acted in the way the present Prime Minister has acted under the given set of circumstances. The whole matter could have been resolved clearly by the Minister responsible for the awarding of the contract, whomever he may have been. Nobody would have taken umbrage at that. The Prime Minister himself would have been perfectly entitled to say: ‘I acted on the advice of officials and I accept their advice’. That is a reasonable proposition to put before a Parliament, but the present Prime Minister cannot do that. The issue is quite clear. The officials said that there was no impropriety. Until 9 February both tenderers said that they would go ahead with the situation. Suddenly this Prime Minister has had to say: ‘I am frightened of the publicity resulting from my intervention. I am scared of it. I will not give any documents to the Parliament. I will not answer any questions from the Opposition. I will not tell the Australian people what I really did ‘.
This involves a multi million dollar contract -it is in excess of $20m- so we are not dealing with small money. There is a public interest in this matter. The Government is the trustee of public funds. The people, the Press and the Parliament are entitled to know how those funds are allocated, and that they are allocated on a proper basis.
– That is why we call tenders.
-Yes, that is why we call tenders. That is why we do not vary tenders, particularly when personal representations are made. Just because the honourable member is associated with the establishment in Melbourne is no excuse. Why is it that because a person writes a letter to a Prime Minister, he receives special privileges, he is able to talk to the Prime Minister and he achieves the results he wants? That is why the Opposition is concerned. Honourable members on the Government side of the House ought to be concerned. As far as we are concerned the Cabinet counts for nothing. The Government parties count for nothing. The Prime Minister intervenes personally to do what he thinks should be done. The rules of democracy in this country do not allow for one-man rule, they do not allow for one-man patronage and they do not allow for one-man circumvention of Cabinet. It is on that basis that the Opposition has moved this censure motion.
This matter could have been finished in one day if the Government had been prepared to table all the information and if it had been prepared to answer questions. But the Government is one of secrecy and one of guilt. It is hiding behind the fact that something improper has been done. In the Opposition’s submission it is the improper conduct of the Prime Minister. He deserves to be censured. Many people in the past have made representations but this matter is the most obvious. If one represents a wealthy multinational company and has a personal identification with the establishment, one could have the ear of the Prime Minister. This is no way for us to allow government to carry on. The Opposition feels clearly that when the Japanese Ambassador makes representation by way of complaint to the Prime Minister surely the matter should be aired to the satisfaction of the people. Is it not proper that when one sends telexes and writes letters, one adheres to the context of what is being discussed and should not have another flow of information on a verbal basis as to what should be done.
We were never given any information of the details of the conversations between the Prime Minister and Mr Moyes. The Prime Minister could table the notes of those conversations. We have never been able to obtain the letter written by Mr Moyes. But we received a copy of the reply from the Prime Minister which shows clearly that something would be done about a variation of tenders. It is clear that the letters and correspondence written to the other tenderers did not give them the same opportunities as were given to IBM. It is for that reason that the Opposition moves this censure motion. We challenge anybody on the Government side to table all the papers now. I think that should be done. I believe that all the files associated with this matter should be shown to every member of the Parliament and the Press. Until the Government does that it remains guilty of deceit and secrecy and it deserves the condemnation of this House. Until it is done the Prime Minister himself is not fit to lead the Government.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) have raised nothing new in this debate. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition seems to be unaware of some of the things that his own Leader has done over the last two or three weeks. He said that the Opposition has not been shown a certain letter. I rather think that the Leader of the Opposition at one stage sought leave to table that letter in this Parliament and that he has been asking questions reading from the letter. So I suggest that the two gentlemen confer on what information they have or do not have.
The Leader of the Opposition summed up this debate and the circumstances surrounding it in his first sentence or two. He said that the Opposition had been involved in a largely fruitless exercise. It is a fruitless exercise because the Leader of the Opposition knows full well that it is just muck raking according to its traditional habits of mind. It knows full well that this Government has behaved with the greatest standards of propriety, and it resents that. It resents it because it knows that when it was in power it was unable to do so. It could not do so because of the way in which it went about the business of government, day after day, week after week. We have only to remember what the Leader of the Opposition did when he was Treasurer, the kind of Budget he introduced and what he said about it. For what it did in government the Labor Party and all involved with it will be besmirched with shame to the end of their parliamentary careers.
The Leader of the Opposition said there is no dispute about Mr Harragan. But the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that Mr Harragan is innocent and the Leader of the Opposition said that what he had done was improper and was deserving of censure. Whom are we to believethe Deputy Leader of the Opposition or the Leader of the Opposition? It was the Leader of the Opposition who said that what Mr Harragan had done was improper and that it was deserving of censure. I have just read a statement issued on this matter by Facom. It ignores the critical facts. It ignores the fact that Mr Harragan was in possession of knowledge about tenders from respective companies and that it would well have been possible for him to provide some of that information to competitors. That aspect was not examined by permanent heads. The ethics of the proposal were not examined by permanent heads. To suggest that Mr Harragan did not influence other members of the interdepartmental committee on this matter is not the point. It is irrelevant.
The real point is: What communications had there been? I know that the company says that there had been no communication with Mr Harragan before 25 August 1977, but of course that is what would be said. It is the appearance of the matter that led to concern from the outset. It is the appearance of the matter that led to the Secretary of Cabinet suggesting in October that a totally new IDC should be convened. I venture to say that if the Opposition had had the problem of handling this matter, it too would have recalled tenders. That shows the plain and blatant hypocrisy of what it is doing at the present time. The Leader of the Opposition sought to indicate that the Government had not been concerned about ethics in relation to the Public Service. The procedures that my Government has introduced in relation to Ministers and ministerial staff and the conversations I had with the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration in January 1976 were directed to formulating a code of behaviour for the Public Service. A Cabinet decision in September last year directed the Public Service Board to examine this matter and to report further to the Government. It is this Government which has acted in this way. The previous Administration talked about these matters but did not act. It did not do anything at all to establish such a code.
The Leader of the Opposition says again that the Government should table documents. He knows quite well that any document that could be tabled could not reveal the total story without revealing commercial information which companies, and not just the two other companies concerned, gave to this Government and which they had every reason to believe would be given to the Government instrumentalities in confidence. If the Opposition wants to break that situation open, if any one company wants to break that situation open, that is not the attitude that the Government takes and it is not the attitude that the Government will adopt. I emphasise again that those officials dealing with this matter and the Government were seeking to meet two objectives- the urgent need of the Bureau of Statistics for a computer and, at the same time, to solve the problem caused by Mr Harragan’s resignation. It is because of that that officials advised there should be a shortened tender procedure. That was their advice and it was as a result of that advice that letters were sent to companies in the early part of this year. It was as a result of that advice and queries coming from the companies and a conviction that officials had, as reported in my statement, that that procedure would favour IBM that led to a recommendation from three senior permanent heads and the subsequent decision by the Treasurer (Mr Howard), the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) and myself that the matter should go again to full tender as the only proper way to handle this matter.
Again the Opposition is dismayed because it knows the Government has behaved in a proper manner in relation to this matter. It was on advice that these decisions were made. The statement I made to the Parliament makes that perfectly plain. It is also perfectly plain that because a number of Government departments were involved in this matter, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the statement which was made was referred to senior permanent heads and to the Australian Statistician for advice as to its accuracy. None to whom it was referred indicated that there was other information that ought to be included that would alter the thrust of the statement. If anyone has misled the House during this fruitless exercise, to use the description of the Leader of the Opposition, it is the Leader of the Opposition himself. In relation to the matter in 1973 concerning IBM and his relationship with IBM, he said very plainly that he had given an instruction to his Department that the matter should stop because he regarded it as wrong. He did not tell the Parliament at the time and if he had really regarded it as wrong, why did he make sure in June of that year that certificates of inexpediency were issued and the order placed with IBM? He said he had regarded it as wrong but he still went ahead with the order a few days later. He said also a few days ago that he had issued an instruction to his Department that that matter should end. He was challenged to produce some evidence and he rang senior public servants to see whether they could remember whether an instruction had been issued. He knows quite well that the people he rang could not remember any such instruction having been issued at any time. The Leader of the Opposition was censured last week and he misled the Parliament in relation to this matter.
– A point of order, Mr Speaker.
– The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. Does the Leader of the Opposition wish to raise a point of order?
– I want to respond to the umpteenth misrepresentation.
-That is not a point of order.
- Mr Speaker -
-The honourable gentleman will have an opportunity later to make a personal explanation. I call the Prime Minister.
-Mr Speaker, let me repeat the charge. The Leader of the Opposition rang somebody to see whether there was any recollection or evidence that would indicate that he had issued such an instruction. According to the record of conversation he was advised that there was no recollection of such an instruction having been issued. There is the strongest evidence that the Leader of the Opposition misled the House in relation to that matter. If he had issued such an instruction, if he had regarded the matter as so improper as he tells us now, but which he did not say in 1973 when the matter was being probed by the then Opposition, I am quite sure he would not have awarded those contracts to IBM without going to tender. If he had regarded it as improper, if he had issued an instruction, he would have called open tenders as anyone should do and as we have done in these circumstances. I am prepared to say that there is some honour in the honourable gentleman and that if he had had those views at that time the matter would have gone to open tender and not to IBM, as the honourable gentleman directed.
This matter has absorbed too much of the time of this House. This is the third time there has been a substantial debate in relation to this matter. Again the Opposition says that what Mr Harragan has done has been done before. If this had occurred before- in the recollection of the Government’s advisers there is no similar instance when somebody has been plucked out of the heart of the government purchasing machinery and then employed by a company which might well be a successful tenderer- if it is improper, if it is deserving of censure, is that any reason to let it continue? Is it any reason to take no action? I should have thought it all the more reason to take action to make sure that that practice should cease, to make sure that matters which the Leader of the Opposition and myself, but not the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, regard as improper, as deserving of censure, should cease.
The Leader of the Opposition criticises the Government for giving an open go in the awarding of tenders. What is so wrong with giving an open go to all competitors, whether it is Facom, IBM or many of the companies that will be in the swim for the contract? It is no wonder the Leader of the Opposition is concerned about this matter. He does not want an open go. He did not want an open go in 1973. This is the proper way, the fanway: Let tenders be judged on their merits as they ought to be. There is great hypocrisy in what the Opposition is saying and doing. I have no doubt that the motion moved by the Opposition will be dismissed. But the motion that was moved a week ago against the Leader of the Opposition was not dismissed. It has been demonstrated that the Leader of the Opposition misled this Parliament in relation to earlier matters. The Government is concerned for the complete integrity of the Government’s tendering system, not only the reality of the integrity but also the appearance of that reality. That is why, as a result of this matter, my Department and the Public Service Board on their initiative, determined several weeks ago that there should be reexamination of the procedures in relation to decision-making on these matters. I fully endorse, on behalf of the Government, the decision which the Departments took and a report will be given to the Government in relation to this matter.
I can say only that if the Leader of the Opposition had wanted he could have made the same decision and reviewed the procedures. Did he ever make any attempt to review procedures? Did he personally ever make any attempt to have a code of ethics established for public servants in circumstances which he regarded as improper, in circumstances in which a particular company expert accompanied his own team on a visit overseas? If he did make such an effort, so be it. But if he did make such an effort he did not carry it through. I know that the former Leader of the Opposition and the present Leader of the Opposition are discussing certain matters between themselves. If they discussed this matter at the time, the government of the day took no action. It was left to this Government to discuss the matter of the ethos and ethics of the Public Service with Dr Coombs and at the same time to instruct the Public Service Board in September of last year to draw up a code of ethics which could be examined.
This is a fishing expedition. The Leader of the Opposition made two statements yesterday that were wrong and demonstrated to be wrong as a result of investigation. Enough time has been spent on this matter, and enough time has been taken in the Parliament. We need only to look at the statements of the Leader of the Opposition. He knows he has been engaged in a fruitless exercise. He said so. He has been spending a great deal of the time of this Parliament on that exercise. It shows the barrenness of the Opposition’s views on a number of matters of major concern to this Government and to the people of Australia. They include the problem of unemployment, the profitability of manufacturing industry, and matters of international trade. The Opposition has been wasting the time of this Parliament on other matters when there are major matters which should be concerning the Opposition. We come back to the simple statements of the Leader of the Opposition that Mr Harragan ‘s actions were improper, that his actions were deserving of censure and, if I had wanted to put it in my own words, I could not have done it as sharply, succinctly and shortly as that. That is why the Government acted.
-I call the honourable member for Blaxland.
-The Prime Munster (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has failed to exonerate himself-
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
-The question is that the question be now put. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’, to the contrary ‘no ‘, I think the ‘ayes ‘ have it.
– Not one Minister will defend the Prime Minister. Not one Minister will speak on his behalf.
-The question now is that the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition be agreed to. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’, to the contrary ‘no’, I think the ‘noes’ have it. Is a division required?
– A division is required.
-The House will divide. Ring the bells.
The bells having rung-
Mi SPEAKER-The House is dividing on the substantive motion moved by the Leader of the
-I put that question and the Opposition did not call for a division.
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister from making a statement, without limitation of time, on the employment prospects for Australia ‘s unemployed.
I move that motion because the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) invited it during his contribution in the debate on the motion of censure.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the honourable member for Port Adelaide be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-For the information of honourable members, I indicate that the Leader of the Opposition has not been counted with the noes. Is the motion seconded?
-I second the motion. I find it quite strange that the Government is afraid to discuss in this House unemployment and the ramifications of unemployment.
– Because today is Grievance Day, I move:
That the honourable member for Corio be not further heard.
The House divided ( Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put:
That the motion (Mr Young’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– For the information of the honourable members I present the 1977 report of the South Australian Local Government Grants Commission on financial assistance for local government in that State. Due to the limited number available, copies of this report 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 South Australia.
– Pursuant to section 30 of the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act 1 967 1 present the annual report of the Council of the Canberra College of Advanced Education for the year ended 31 December 1976.
For the information of honourable members I present a report entitled ‘Families and Social Services in Australia’, together with the text of a statement by the Minister for Social Security relating to the report.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report by the Industries Assistance Commission on Bottle Washing Machines (Developing Country Preferences).
Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, Mr Speaker. There are several matters to which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) referred in his address this morning to Parliament which were directly related to myself. The first concerned my contacting public servants towards the end of last week as to their recollection of the period when we were in Government and I was Minister for Social Security in 1973 when certain officers of the Department of Social Security went to Canada.
I spoke to two people who served us in the Public Service in that period. The first person recalled the incident, recalled my concern and indicated that if he were to go beyond that he would want to have access to the relevant files to refresh his memory so that his recollection would be reliable. He was also mindful of certain responsibilities he had as a public servant in this matter, serving another government. He volunteered that point himself. The second person indicated that he had a very clear recollection of the incident and at the time believed that I had over-reacted in being so firm in my objections to a representative of IBM Australia Ltd being associated, in Canada, with officers of the Department of Social Security, and thought that I was being excessively harsh in indicating that that sort of thing should cease and should not happen again. Both of these people are prepared to state these facts publicly if that is required. Furthermore, I repeat what I said last week: I am very happy for all documentation on this matter to be made public and I wish the Prime Minister would do the same with documentation relating to the current matter.
I observe next the impropriety of the Government having public servants in the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security working until the early hours of the morning one day last week checking on the files of the Labor Government to see what they could dredge up.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is going beyond his personal explanation.
– The next matter concerns the assertion by the Prime Minister that the Labor Government, and specifically myself, had done nothing about a code of conduct for the Public Service. It was in May 1974, 1 believe, that the Scott report was tabled in this Parliament. Among other things, it specifically dealt with the very matter we have been discussing in this Parliament today and on earlier occasions about the conduct of public servants and their taking up appointments in the private sector. On two occasions the proposals of that report and legislation dealing with it were rejected by the hostile conservative coalition majority in the Senate. I remind the House that we also set up a Royal Commission into the Public Service.
Finally, the other matter which the Prime Minister raised can be best attended to by quoting his remarks on 7 March 1 978. He said:
The real issue is whether a senior Government official was in a position to give confidential information and provide support to a particular tenderer.
There is no evidence that this occurred.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that view on many occasions, including the time in February when he sent a telex to Mr Kobayashi of Tokyo. I merely mention that because today he sought to go beyond that and at least infer- I thought he did more than that- that the integrity of Mr Haragan was at stake in this matter. He has previously said that it was not. If he believes that it is, there should be a thorough inquiry.
-Mr Speaker, I seek to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) misrepresented me. The Prime Minister said that I, as Prime Minister, had done nothing about the evil -
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. I seek clarification from the Chair. I ask under what circumstances the honourable member for Werriwa was involved in the debate and therefore could have been misrepresented?
-The point raised by the Minister for Transport has great merit. A person is not entitled to make a personal explanation at the closing of a debate if he has not participated in that debate. But I shall hear what the honourable member for Werriwa has to say and see how he connects his personal explanation with the Standing Orders.
-Mr Speaker, I believe I can answer that matter immediately. The Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the former Leader of the Opposition- meaning me- had done nothing about this evil of key public servants resigning to take employment with Government suppliers. So the Prime Minister did mention me specifically. I was misrepresented by him. I have, therefore, sought your permission to make a personal explanation.
– I will permit the honourable member the indulgence.
-The facts are that on 25 September 1973 I announced my Government’s decision to appoint an independent committee to review the procurement activities of the Australian Government. On 21 November 1973 I appointed the committee.The committee was chaired by Sir Walter Scott, C.M.G. It was asked to submit its report by 28 February 1974. It sought and was given an extension of time. It gave me its report on 31 May 1974. The committee made specific recommendations on this matter. They will be found in recommendation 24 on page 98 of the report as printed by order of the House. The committee’s recommendation that there should be an Australian Government purchasing commission set up by statute was adopted by my Government. The Bill went through this House. It was defeated in the Senate. After a lapse of 3 months, it went through this House again and was again rejected in the Senate. Also, my Government appointed a royal commission into Australian Government administration.
– I raise a point of order. I seek guidance from the Chair whether the honourable gentleman is debating the question rather than speaking to the point of order.
-The point of order raised by the honourable member for Higgins is, in my judgment, correct. The honourable member for Werriwa is going beyond the bounds of a personal explanation and he is debating the matter.
- Mr Speaker, I do not wish to debate the matter but I do wish to refute the incorrect and gratuitious charge that I had done nothing about it, and I want to give the other reference. I was the Minister who countersigned the Governor-General’s commission of 6 June 1974 setting up the Royal Commission into Australian Government Administration. That Royal Commission also made recommendations on this very matter, and they were presented in August 1976. Mr Speaker, you will recall that yesterday I asked the Prime Minister whether the Government had made any decisions on the Scott report and the answer was:
The honourable gentleman - meaning me- . . . referred to a report provided to his Government in May 1974. 1 shall examine aspects in relation to that and see what I can advise the honourable gentleman.
It is for those reasons and on the facts which I have given, that I say I was misrepresented by the Prime Minister when he said that I had done nothing about this matter. If he looks at questions on the Notice Paper, he will see that I certainly have done something over a long time.
-Order! The honourable gentleman has made his personal explanation. He will resume his seat.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
National Water Resouces (Financial Assistance) Bill 1978.
Territory Authorities (Financial Provisions) Bill 1978.
– As it is now past the time provided for grievance debate, Order of the Day No. 1 will not be called on.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The serious threat to peace in the Middle East involving Australian lives and government property in Beirut.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
-Mr Speaker, there is no doubt that the Australian Government and the Australian people are deeply concerned at the events which have occurred in the Middle East in the last few weeks. The extraordinarily treacherous attack which occurred in Israel by terrorists has brought sorrow and anguish to her people. I would suggest that it has done the cause of the Palestinian people irreparable harm. It has made the task of the more moderate people on both sides even more difficult.
This morning I visited the Ambassador of Lebanon, Mr Yazbek, and the Ambassador for Israel, Dr Elizur, in order to obtain the best possible news I could on the situation as it exists. It is not my business ever to discuss in public or in the House what those in the diplomatic service say to me in private, but I think I can say right now that there are about 25,000 to 30,000 Syrian troops in and around Beirut who are part of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon. I think that having listened to the reports that came in this morning one could estimate that the force that Israel has sent into South Lebanon is probably of about 25,000. Therefore, it is obvious to anybody that a war in the Middle East could occur not by any deliberate desire but by confusion and by accident. As I speak now, there are thousands and thousands of refugees fleeing the south of Lebanon to the north and this will cause another refugee problem in and around Beirut itself.
As one looks down the years, one cannot help but regret the fact that good men in the Middle East who have tried to assist both sides have lost their lives either through terrorism or just by becoming exhausted through their efforts to try to find a reasonable solution to the problem. President Carter of the United States and President Sadat of Egypt have gone out of their way in the last five to six months to try to bring back the harmony and peace that belonged to the Holy Land. We hope that the incident that occurred last week in Israel and the situation that is now developing in South Lebanon will not deter the United States Government, or the Israeli Government or the Egyptian Government from proceeding on the road to peace because that is the most honourable road that they could follow and that is the most honourable road that they should follow. Alas, I am sorry to add that many people on both sides have become prisoners of their own psychological problems. It is not the many men of goodwill on both sides but it is the few who are on the extreme wings of both sides who make the situation so difficult to resolve. There is no doubt that United Nations resolution 242 prepared and tabled by Lord Caradon in 1967 offers the best opportunity for peace in the Middle East.
Recently the Australian Government has taken account that there is a Palestinian problem and it just cannot be overlooked. Therefore, the Australian Government quite correctly has adopted resolution 242. However it is very, very difficult now for the Israeli Government to believe that its agreement to a self-governing and self-ruling Arab Palestinian state all down its West Bank will result in a viable situation. It will need the great faith of the Australian nation to try to make this come about. The number of Israeli casualties in the last war was dreadful.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– We are continuing our debate of a matter of national importance. I feel rather like King Agad of the Old Testament who trod delicately and I will continue to do so. Having been brought up in a school in the Lebanon, having lived in Egypt and Libya, considering that my wife is the god-daughter of Adil Arslan of South Lebanon, and also having friends connected closely with the Israeli Government, honourable members will realise how careful I am being. I hope now that the situation will be taken very seriously. I think that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) should be encouraged, without delay, to be quite certain that emergency communications have been opened between President Carter of the United States and President Brezhnev of the Soviet Union. I say this for some good reason. There is a danger of a confrontation between the forces of Syria and the forces of Lebanon because this morning the Syrian Government offered to give air cover over Lebanon. That, in itself, could lead to certain dangers.
I hope that out of all this some good will come but now I have to say something to the House after about 25 years work in the Middle East. It is an undeniable truth, an undeniable situation. I do not see how any peace settlement can arrive in the Middle East unless it is underwritten and supported by an agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. However brilliant Mr Herman Eiltz, the United States Ambassador in Cairo, however good the United States Minister for Foreign Affairs, however brilliant Mr Stoltfuss in the Gulf, and however wonderful the diplomats, it seems to me historically impossible to hope for any solution unless the Soviet Union is brought into the discussions. Therefore I hope that we in this country, because of our traditional way and our image throughout the world of fair play, will try not to take sides. Secondly, surely, if we do take sides, we will prejudice and damage the great work of our Australian servicemen in the Royal Air Force unit operating over Sinai and our Commonwealth police units working throughout the Middle East.
I would have thought that it would have been wrong for anybody to try to attempt to say which side is right or wrong. When evil things have been committed, it is no good trying then to say that one side is right or wrong. What I say is this: Men of goodwill throughout the Middle East must combine because surely the triumph of evil is certain unless good men work for justice. I think that there is very little more that I can usefully say at this moment because the situation now is very dangerous. All I can do is repeat what I have said before: In the circumstances I think that the Prime Minister should be encouraged to see that emergency communications are opened without delay between the Soviet Union and the United States. I hope that on another occasion the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) will make quite certain that the House has proper time to allow honourable members to fulfil their duty in this place and discuss matters relating to peace. Wherever there is conflict in the world there should be Australians ready and willing to talk and work for peace. Therefore I hope that this matter of national importance which I have brought before the House has been of some value to the Parliament and the people.
-While I share the concern of the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) about the hostilities that have erupted in the Middle East as a result of the senseless murder of 37 Israelis last Saturday, at this stage I doubt that the lives of Australian nationals are seriously threatened. It would appear that the action taken by Israel has been confined to the southern portion of Lebanon where I would imagine there are few Australians. No one can tell, in an explosive area like the Middle East, whether the situation will escalate. I suspect that it will not and that the Israelis will withdraw fairly soon. Whether Australians are threatened or not we should all be concerned at the recent eruption that has occurred, and we should be doing everything in our power to see that peace is restored as quickly as possible.
The present conflagration has its genesis in the events of last Saturday. A small contingent of Palestine Liberation Organisation terrorists made their way ashore near kibbutz Ma’agan Mikhael 56 kilometres north of Tel Aviv. After the killing of a young girl they made their way to the Tel Aviv-Haifa road where they commandeered a couple of taxis heading south towards Tel Aviv. They fired at passing pedestrians. Then they stopped a bus, shot at passengers, and ordered the 15 to 20 survivors back on board. They then commandeered a second bus and once again shot and killed passengers. They then drove towards Netanya junction where they went through a road block. They went to Hertzliyya where they were finally stopped. Hertzliyya is on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. They finally blew up the bus. In toto some 37 Israelis were killed and 82 wounded. This was described by the PLO as a military operation. I can only describe these terrorists as a murdering band of thugs who take as their victims civilian men, women and children. Once again they have struck at the heart of Israel and its citizens.
This pattern of ^discriminate killing of civilians has been maintained ever since the attempted establishment of the state of Israel. It is impossible in a debate of this nature to recount the hundreds of incidents that have taken place even during the past 30 years but let me recount a few of the more heinous of these crimes.’ In April 1974 three PLO terrorists seized a school in the town of Maolot in northern Israel near the Lebanese border and murdered 22 children and six adults, including a soldier. We all know what happened at Munich- 1 1 Israeli sportsmen were killed at the Olympics. There were the horrors of Kiryat Shimona and Lod Airport. One could go on recounting the events ad nauseum. The majority of rational, humane people in the world have been horrified at the senseless, brutal and cowardly murders. Had the attacks been aimed at military targets or military personnel it is possible that there may have been some sympathy, even some admiration for the courage of the combatants, but it takes a sick, twisted mind to applaud the slaughter of innocents. Unforunately, in Australia and other parts of the world we have a few sick, twisted minds.
There are those who would argue that despite the horror of the PLO slaughter Israel should not have retaliated. Sincere as these people may be, I ask them seriously: What would Australia have done if at regular intervals bands of terrorists landed on Australian shores, assassinated our men, women and children, and then retired to the sanctuary of a friendly neighbouring country? Australia at first would demand that the country in which sanctuary was being taken punish the offenders or at least stop them. If that failed again and again there is no doubt in the world that Australia would take unilateral action. No government in the world would tolerate the non-stop indiscriminate murder of its citizens and not take some punitive action. If I hear another person say, as the interviewer did last night on This Day Tonight, that somehow this is the Judiac tradition from the Old Testament of ‘an eye for an eye, or tooth for a tooth’ I will, to put it bluntly, throw up. I cannot think of any Christian, Moslem or Jewish nation tolerating this sort of situation.
Let one thing be clear. The Israeli raid is not a raid against Palestinians or Lebanese. The PLO has well-trained, well-armed paramilitary forces sheltering in armed camps deliberately surrounded by civilian population in southern Lebanon. Israel’s action was to eliminate these bases once and for all. What is so sickening, so nauseating, so completely unbelievable is that there are some individuals and nations who are absolutely mute when the PLO commits one of its acts of terror and who hysterically condemn Israel’s retaliation as aggression. I have no doubt that these people will fall over themselves ignoring the PLO and condemning Israel. Because of my loyalty to the Australian Labor Party I shall resist the temptation to say what I think of Mr Hartley and his nauseous performance on This Day Tonight last night.
– Not I.
– Did you have something to say?
– I would be happy to say it.
– Let it suffice that I dissociate the Australian Labor Party from anything he had to say. His view is not the view or the policy of the Australian Labor Party. He stated:
The Israelis don’t care about the lives of their own people. If they can reject one Palestinian demand they would be prepared to wipe out half of Tel Aviv to achieve that end.
He also had the gall to compare the activities of the PLO with the heroic Maquis operations against the Nazis during World War II. What he said is an insult to every member of the Australian Labor Party and to every citizen of this country. Mr Hartley and his handful of supporters speak for no one but themselves. They are also in total conflict with ALP policy. To those who argue that Israel should sit down and negotiate with the PLO I remind these well meaning people of the covenant of the PLO and the statement made after the Six Day War in 1967 at the Khartoum Conference. I repeat that it stated there would be no peace with Israel; no negotiations with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no abandonment of Palestinian rights.
How do you negotiate with someone whose prime objective is your obliteration? How do you negotiate with someone who says that no matter what you may concede he will not accept anything less than the annihilation of you and your country? The people who support the PLO are not arguing for a peaceful solution in the Middle East; they are supporting the elimination of a nation at best, and genocide at worst. The PLO has as its objective the completion of the grisly objective started by Hitler. There is nothing to negotiate. There is no one to negotiate with. Those who are genuine supporters of peace would be applauding and supporting the initiatives taken by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the response by the Prime Minister of Israel, Menahem Begin. They would be urging both sides to continue to seek compromise positions so that the long awaited peace that we have all fervently prayed for would become a reality.
For obvious historical reasons I was one of those who doubted that the Egyptians wanted peace but when President Sadat made his magnificant gesture by offering to go to Jerusalem to address the Knesset I wrote to the Egyptian Ambassador in Canberra and asked him to convey my heartfelt congratulations to the President of his nation for his courageous gesture. This was a real breakthrough. This still remains the great chance for peace. This was the first time that any Arab leader- let alone the most important leader in the Arab world- had indicated publicly that he accepted Israel’s presence and was prepared to sit down and to negotiate face to face with the Israelis. I am also one of those who believe that the Israelis would have been better off not establishing settlements in the Sinai even though I recognise some of the fears they have concerning the possibility of a post-Sadat Egyptian regime- or for that matter a Sadat regimemaintaining a military presence in the Sinai.
I am thoroughly convinced that eventually the West Bank will have to be totally independent of Israel so that the Palestinians have a homeland of their own. Whether that homeland is a separate entity, part of Jordan or joined in a federation with Jordan, is yet to be determined. I would not be so presumptious as to suggest from this distance what will be the ultimate solution. However we should be pushing the parties to discuss every possible alternative. Impressed as I was with President Sadat’s initiative I think his demand that Israel accept all his demands just on his assurance that there will be peace is a little too difficult to accept. One of the major reasons for Israel’s action in the southern Lebanon is simply that assurances of other people’s intentions are not enough.
From the very establishment of the state of Israel no country- not even the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally- has been able to guarantee Israel’s security. In 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and on hundreds and hundreds of occasions when Israeli citizens and settlements both at home and abroad have been under attack, the only nation that could or would come to their rescue was Israel itself. Every time one of these murderous attacks takes place the rest of the world expresses sympathy for the dead Israelis and deplores the action of the PLO- but it does nothing. In fact a considerable number of nations who ought to know better or ought to be depended upon to take moral positions sit on their backsides and say nothing. Who else but Israel has taken or will take action to see that these constant attacks do not take place? In the absence of any action by any other nations Israel alone is forced to act as the policeman. Let us not forget how Russia, one of the countries which originally voted for the establishment of the state of Israel, has been the major supplier of military hardware that has enabled the PLO to remain a force in the area.
I make the point that there is a great deal of difference between supplying sovereign nations with arms and supplying terrorists in other countries with arms to attack another sovereign nation. Let us not forget as well the relationship of other Arab nations with the PLO. In September 1970 King Hussein destroyed thousands of Palestinians who were threatening to topple his regime. In the last couple of years Syria has killed many thousands of Palestinians after their invasion of Lebanon. In recent weeks there have been clashes between Egyption forces and the PLO over the murder of Egyptian editor, Yousef Sibai. The PLO is almost as detested by the Arab nations as it is by Israel. It is an internal threat to many of the Arab countries. I conclude by quoting from an article by someone with whom I have had the pleasure of dining, Mr Ari Rath, editor of the Jerusalem Post. The article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. I think it makes a lot of sense. It is headed: ‘PLO outrage explodes a myth and gives peace efforts a push’. Mr Rath states:
For, in a sense, the cold-blooded killing of innocent Israeli civilians, women and children by Al Fatah desperadoes was aimed against both Israel and Egypt. If anything, it has dispelled, once and for all, the myth- entertained by many Western countries- of a so-called more ‘moderate’ Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership under Yasser Arafat.
Israel ‘s massive military action against PLO terrorist bases inside Lebanon is not likely to affect the Middle East peace process and one can expect it to be regarded as a limited, local operation with specific military aims, anticipated criticism in the Arab and Western Press notwithstanding.
It is an irony of fate that it was President Sadat of Egypt who had to point the way for the US, Western Europe, Australia and many pro- Western nations in Asia, Africa and America towards a more sober and realistic assessment of the true role which the PLO has been playing in the Middle East.
Some of Mr Sadat’s recent pronouncements on the PLO’s murderous character and designs were often similar to Israel ‘s- unfortunately largely unheeded- voice of warning.
For these are the new political realities in the Middle East which were created by Mr Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem last November; any Arab leader who is prepared to embark on a genuine peace initiative in the Middle East, based on the full recognition of Israel and her vital security needs, must repudiate the destructive designs of the Arab rejectionist front of the PLO and Gaddafi kind.
The sooner this lesson is learned by all concerned, the closer we will come towards a peaceful settlement in this strife ridden part of the world.
Later he states:
For some reason, world public opinion often tends to apply certain double standards when it comes to preaching to Israel this kind of self-restraint which, if heeded, could only be taken by the PLO as surrender to its terror tactics.
There were no calls for self-restraint when the Syrian Army fought mercilessly against PLO-E1 Fatah units in Lebanon, as these seemed to threaten President Assad’s hegemony over Lebanon.
The world, with Washington in the lead, also fully understood King Hussein’s massive and often ruthless battle against the Arafat-led PLO back in September 1 970.
I commend the honourable member for Holt for raising this matter of public importance. Perhaps we were not in total agreement but I do hope that in the days and weeks ahead the nations of the world- Russia, the United States of America and Australia- will do everything they possibly can to bring the parties to the negotiating table and to create the peace that we have all longed for in the Middle East.
-The discussion is concluded.
-I present the First Report of the Publications Committee.
Report- by leave- adopted.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, I present the Forty-first General Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave-In tabling this report I take the opportunity on behalf of the Public Works Committee to pay tribute to its former Chairman, the Hon. C. R. Kelly, for his dedication and untiring efforts during his long service to that Committee. He had a real understanding of the workings and the value of the Committee’s bipartisan role, representing as it does all political parties from both Houses of Parliament.
Appendix A to the Report details the reports presented by the Committee during 1977. The proposals were most thoroughly examined by the Committee not only to assess the overall public value of the proposed works but also to satisfy itself as to the need for the projects. This is the only Committee that inquires in depth into government expenditure before the expenditure actually is incurred. Despite the best intentions by departments in detailed investigations to foresee and to overcome possible criticisms of proposed works, the Committee has been able to detect weaknesses and on occasions designs have been modified. In the case of the Katherine South Primary School the scope of the proposal was reduced, resulting in a saving of some $78,000. In the case of the Wallgrove Animal Quarantine Station, at the suggestion of the Committee the grooms’ accommodation was redesigned, saving some $22,000. Other savings that have not yet been costed fully are likely from the Committee’s inquiries into the Antarctic Division’s headquarters and the Royal Australian Air Force bases at Point Cook and Edinburgh. In summary, the Public Works Committee continues to function effectively as the watchdog of the Parliament over public works expenditure.
-by leave-I rise simply to pay tribute- tribute is probably not the proper word- to Bert Kelly who for many years was Chairman of the Public Works Committee and under whom, for a time, I served as Deputy Chairman. While I was Chairman of that Committee and he was Deputy Chairman he was always a tower of strength to me. He always saw things in a way that was quite appropriate. He not only saw things in terms of the dollars and cents involved in a building but he also had a knack of inquiring into the actual need for the building. I suspect that some departmental witnesses who have appeared before the Committee will be pleased to know that he has retired from the Parliament because he really kept them on their toes.
He also had a great understanding of people and in every hearing with which I was associated he always inquired from the most humane level or, to use his expression, from the point of view of the ordinary bloke. As he kept telling us, he was only a poor ignorant farmer. He always drew the best contributions from witnesses. The Committee will continue to function but I am quite sure that the wisdom that Bert Kelly brought to the inquiries and his patience with witnesses will certainly be missed. They will be missed by me because I have been associated with him for so long. I am sure that the present Chairman, the honourable member for Canning (Mr Bungey), will follow those traditions laid down by the Honourable Ben Kelly- not that I am a traditionalist, but I think they have been proved effective. I just wish to express my gratitude to him on this occasion.
– by leave- I report to the House on behalf of the Government on progress in negotiations between Australia and the European Communities, better known to us as the EEC. All aspects of our relationship with the EEC are important. But the special aspect of that relationship which is causing great strains between Australia and the EEC is that of trade. A united Europe is a potent force in world affairs and for world peace. Australia has traditional ties with Europe that cannot lightly be set aside. We must work to an improvement of relationships. Yet unless Europe yields on trade, anger and frustration will be predominant on Australia’s part.
Trade- access to overseas markets- is vital to Australia. We are efficient producers of agricultural products. By ‘efficient’ I mean that Australian primary products are genuinely low cost and high quality without significant government subsidy. Yet the EEC is denying us the opportunity, the right, to compete in its markets. Worse, the EEC is disposing of the surpluses caused by its policies at heavily subsidised prices on third markets in which we would otherwise sell our products.
Let me put some dimensions on the problem. The EEC is the biggest trading bloc in the world. It has a population of 260 million persons. It accounts for about 40 per cent of world trade. Total extra EEC imports in 1976-77 on a ci.f. basis were $166.4 billion of which $A2.3 billion was from Australia. Total extra EEC exports on a f.o.b. basis were $149.3 billion of which $A2.6 billion was to Australia. While we have a favourable trade balance with some member states, we have a trade deficit with the EEC as a whole measured on a consistent f.o.b.-f.o.b. basis of some $A826m. When account is taken of invisibles the situation is even worse. We have a current account balance of payments deficit with the EEC as a whole of $A 1,941m. The Government is not arguing for bilateral balancing in trade with the EEC. Australia is a multilateral trader. But we are concerned at the imbalance- and the growing imbalance- of trading opportunities.
When the EEC was expanded from the original six countries to its present nine countries by the addition of the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, all Australians expected trade in our agricultural products to suffer. All acknowledged the need for us to seek new markets. That we have done and that we shall continue to do. But nobody on either side of the House anticipated the severity of the effects on our trade with the EEC. And surely nobody thought that the EEC would compete with us through its heavily subsidised agricultural surpluses in those new markets to which we have turned. I think it is true to say that Australia is the country worst affected by the enlargement of the EEC and its common agricultural policy. It should not be forgotten that half our exports are agricultural products.
The decline in Australia’s access to the Community’s domestic market for food products is well illustrated by the following figures. In 1972-73 Australia exported 427,000 tonnes of sugar, 32,200 tonnes of butter and 110,000 tonnes of beef to the EEC. The application of the EEC’s common agricultural policy to United Kingdom imports has wiped out our trade in sugar and butter to the EEC. Moreover by 1976-77 our exports of beef as a result of the imposition of increasingly protective mechanisms under the common agricultural policy had fallen to about 10,000 tonnes. Our main exports to the EEC are basically wool and minerals which, because they are not available in sufficient quantities from EEC sources of supply, do not face significant trade restrictions in the EEC. There has been some growth in exports of these products in recent years, but they do not provide a sufficient base for development of proper trading relationships with the EEC. We cannot accept the argument that growth in these areas should be acknowledged to offset losses in our trading opportunities in agricultural products. It cannot be regarded as fair trade when almost all our many agricultural products are excluded from the largest trading bloc in the world.
So far, our concerns have focused on agriculture. But there are ominous developments elsewhere. The EEC has taken measures that could have the effect of excluding steel imports except from countries that negotiate an agreement on prices and quantities. The Commission of the EEC has under consideration a subsidy on domestic steaming coal of about $12 per tonne. This commodity is produced cheaply in Australia and is one which we look forward to exporting to the EEC countries in growing quantities. What other exports may be involved? How far will these development go? Returning to agriculture, the policies of the EEC are based on unrealistically high domestic support prices underwritten by high variable levies on imports- usually amounting to de facto embargoes- and export subsidies. Such support prices are generally set well in excess of the ruling world market prices in order to maintain the incomes of the least efficient producers. Because the system is open-ended, there is nothing to stop efficient producers in the EEC from considerably expanding their production to take full advantage of the high support prices. The price support systems of the EEC are relatively inefficient at supporting the incomes of farmers in the greatest need as the benefits they confer are also available to efficient producers.
Under such a system it is hardly surprising that the EEC finds itself with what has been called mountains of beef and butter and lakes of wine. In 1977 EEC stocks of beef, butter and wine were 424,000 tonnes, 500,000 tonnes, and 21.7 million hectolitres respectively. As a result of EEC support policies that have increased domestic production the net export availability of sugar in the EEC could be around 2.5 million tonnes in 1977-78. Under the EEC’s agricultural system the rest of the world finds itself with great problems of restricted access and unfair competition.
These policies force up the price of food to the EEC consumer, despite the concern of most governments of the member States about inflation. They drive down world prices of commodities, in some cases well below economic costs. For instance, the EEC’s subsidy on malt last year drove us out of markets in which we would have competed on normal commercial terms. The EEC’s export subsidy on sugar is more than sugar’s world price. Such subsidies disturb and disrupt world trade and the marketing opportunities of more competitive exporters. They make it impossible for competitiors to pursue rational investment policies- witness the plight of our beef industry following world encouragement to export- and they work against the EEC’s desire for security of supply when its domestic production, through drought or other adversity, fails to meet its demand. They cost EEC taxpayers enormous sums of intervention buying, storage and loss selling and force the EEC’s consumers to purchase food at higher prices than they would otherwise have to pay. They have shifted the burden of adjustment in agriculture to efficient producers outside the EEC and they have greatly reduced the efficiency with which the world ‘s agricultural resources are put to use.
These are the substance of our concerns. What can we do about them? The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) tell us it is all too hard. They say we will not get our beef or our steel into the EEC. They say we should therefore give up the EEC as a market. We might as well put our heads in the sand. As a government we cannot and will not ignore the world’s largest trading bloc. We cannot ignore heavily subsidised competition in new or developing markets. We cannot ignore the spread of special measures by the EEC beyond agriculture into steel and perhaps steaming coal, possibly zinc and who knows what next. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition give us only counsels of despair. They are essentially negative.
The former Prime Minister tells us he discussed a ‘framework agreement’ in Brussels. He tells us nothing about his advocacy for Australia and our problems. We are ready to be convinced that a framework agreement would be of real benefit to Australia. But we seek substance and not formalities. We are getting on with the job of improving trading opportunities for our exporters. Let me remind the House of what has been done. In June last year the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) agreed with the President of the EEC Commission, Mr Roy Jenkins, that there should be wide-ranging discussions between the two parties about the totality of relations between Australia and the EEC with a view to a better understanding and a more meaningful trade and commercial relationship. As an indication of Australia’s real commitment to these discussions- conceived at the highest political level- and to their satisfactory outcome, the Department of the Special Trade Negotiator was established in July 1977 and my predecessor, the Treasurer (Mr Howard), had first discussions with all the member States and the Commission of the EEC in September and October last. He left with the Commission of the EEC a Note setting out Australia’s proposals on beef, sheep meat, dairy products, canned and fresh fruit, export subsidies, tariffs on processed mineral products and international commodity arrangements. He tabled that Note in Parliament on 1 November 1977.
The Australian Government signalled its continuing determination after the 1977 election by establishing the Ministry of the Special Trade Representative. Additional significance was taken on by linking its portfolio responsibilities with the role of Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Resources. In the last few weeks, in my role as Minister for Special Trade Negotiations, I have visited the Commission of the EEC and several member States- Denmark, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom, the timing of the election making it preferable to visit France later. Denmark has a particular significance as President of the Council of Ministers until mid-year. I took up Australia’s general concerns in each capital. I emphasised to Ministers and Commissioners the desperate situation of the Australian beef industry, accentuated by the drought, and stressed that the worsening of the industry’s position added to the urgency of the proposals put in October. I told Commissioners of the grave disquiet that the measures on steel had caused us. I made it clear that Australia does not want endless debate. We want meaningful results. We want to resolve our present problems and we want to lay the foundation for a fruitful and continuing dialogue. We want to foreclose the possibility of shocks and jolts to our relationship like those on steel.
I was well received in Brussels and elsewhere. Discussions were direct and courteous. In Brussels I had fruitful discussions with the President of the Commission, Mr Jenkins, the VicePresident concerned with external relations, Mr Haferkamp, the commissioner concerned with agriculture, Mr Gundelach, the commissioner concerned with energy, Dr Brunner, the commissioner concerned with industry, Viscount Davignon, and the commissioner concerned with the Community budget, Mr Tugendhat. I was impressed by the seriousness with which each of them approached Australia’s concerns. I am heartened by their attitudes but do not suggest for a moment that we should not continue to press our case consistently and with vigour. I do not expect all our problems to be dispelled overnight. Rather, I see a continuing period of hard negotiation to redress the present imbalance of trading opportunities and to head off future problems. We know there are forces within the Community working against the excesses of the Common Agricultural Policy. But we cannot rely on them to bite deeply or quickly. We must act firmly and decisively now.
Our approach has been confirmed by the support expressed by wide sections of rural industry, most harmed by Community action, and now by the steel industry. I have also been heartened by my recent discussions with Ambassador Strauss in Washington, the United States Special Trade Representative, who confirmed to me the United States Government’s intention to press strongly in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations in Geneva for improved market access into the EEC for agricultural products, including, most importantly, beef. In that connection my role as Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Resources will involve me in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. While we are looking to the solution of our problems with the EEC in bilateral discussions, we recognise that the resolution of some of those problems will be in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
We must make progress with the EEC, not for selfish reasons, not for narrow interests, but because it is vital that the stand we take on trading relationships rejects the notion of isolationism and gives reasonable market access to efficient competitors. We and the EEC must bear in mind that our ability to provide an expanding market for the EEC’s exports is largely influenced by the EEC’s willingness to provide reasonable access for our imports. It is noteworthy that while the EEC has virtually closed its doors to, amongst other things, our cheese, we are importing 4,000 tonnes of its heavily-subsidised cheese each year.
While we have seen our own trading opportunities in the EEC market for food products virtually eliminated, we have continued to allow reasonable access for EEC products to the Australian market. I ask: How long can anyone expect such a situation to endure? How long can it be before we react? There are limits to patience and understanding. It is fashionable in the EEC and domestically to criticise Australia as being protectionist against the EEC’s products. I strongly reject such criticism as being relevant here. Let us look at the facts.
Exporters from the EEC face comparatively few restrictions in the Australian market- only a narrow range of Australian imports of interest to the EEC are subject to tariff quotas or import licensing. Even where such restraints exist arrangements generally have been made to allow imports to be maintained at levels comparable with those which prevailed in the years immediately preceding their imposition. That we have not erected barriers to trade on the scale of the
EEC’s Common Agricultural Policy can be seen from the growth in our imports from the EEC. Between 1972-73 and 1975-76 over imports of manufactures from the EEC increased by 67 per cent, from $Al,212m to $A2,024m. By contrast our exports of foodstuffs to the EEC have dropped by more than 80 per cent over the past four years.
A comparison between passenger motor vehicles and beef provides a graphic illustration of the relative openness of the Australian and EEC markets for sensitive products. Australia allows imports of completely built up passenger motor vehicles up to 20 per cent of the market. The only reliable access arrangement under which Australian beef producers are allowed to compete on normal commercial terms in the EEC market is limited to less than one per cent of total Community consumption. On a whole range of commodities, Australian producers of food products are virtually excluded from the Community market.
The point is that tariffs are not the only protective measures available and, what is more, it is the amount of trade that flows over the tariff, or other measures, that is the true determinant of the protectionism or otherwise of a country or trading bloc. All these matters and the proposals left by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) I have arranged to take up with the member states and Commission of the EEC in April, possibly extending into May. It is probable that the EEC Commissioner concerned with agriculture, Mr Gundelach, will be visiting Australia in late May or June. If he decides to make a visit we would welcome him warmly and strive to advance with him in the improvement of relationships.
I emphasise that our approach is not negative or, on the other hand, one of boundless optimism. We recognise that our negotiations will be hard and that they will be long; but we will not withdraw. We will work to establish a continuing dialogue with the EEC that will place Australia ‘s trading relationship with the EEC on a wider, sounder and more equitable footing. 1 present the following paper:
Australia’s Trade Relations with the European Economic Community, Ministerial Statement, 16 March 1978.
Motion (by Mr Fife) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
– This is a most dismal and disappointing statement by the Minister for Special Trade Representation (Mr Garland)- a 10 1/2 page statement about nothing. The Opposition has been criticised in part of it for what it has been saying. However, what it has been saying has been patently clear for years. The Government has had this outdated philosophy that it can penetrate a market against a very professional group merely by having a Minister appointed for that purpose. The Opposition is thoroughly confused. We do not know whether the Minister is the Minister for Special Trade Negotiations or the Minister for Special Trade Representations, or why his title was changed from Minister for Special Trade Negotiations. There is a confusion in terms.
The Minister was very anxious to spend a fair part of his speech talking about the Opposition. Let me remind him and his colleagues of what the Opposition did when it was in office. When the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) was Prime Minister and went to Brussels in 1974, I accompanied him. In our negotiations with the European Common Market we suggested and it was agreed that Australia and the European Common Market would negotiate a framework agreement for commercial and economic co-operation when Canada and the European Common Market had concluded their negotiations on such an agreement. There is clear evidence of that.
– What is the use of it?
-The Minister asks: What is the use of it? He clearly makes the point in his speech that there is no use having a framework agreement even though Canada has done quite brilliantly and concluded its agreement in July 1976.
– Canada does not seem to think so.
-I am hurting the Minister a bit, but I ask him to allow me to make my speech. He must remember that it is my time. When on 15 September 1976 the honourable member for Werriwa asked the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony)- he was then Minister for Overseas Trade- what progress his Government had made in concluding a framework agreement between the European Economic Community and Australia, such as Canada had been able to consummate, he replied:
No negotiations have commenced or proceeded in this area. We have strengthened our political relationships with the European Economic Community and if it seems appropriate to have a unilateral trading arrangement with the EEC we will proceed to have one; but at the moment we have not seen the advantage to Australia in such an agreement.
The Minister has confirmed that again today. That is a remarkable shift in position when compared with the position expressed on 27 May 1977 when the honourable member for Werriwa, the then Leader of the Opposition, asked the Deputy Prime Minister what progress was being made. Mr Anthony replied:
During my visit to Brussels I had discussions with 2 principals of the European Economic Community . . . During the course of my discussions with him he suggested that there would be advantage in a bilateral agreement between Australia and the EEC giving Australia assured access for raw materials. His concern was principally with coal and uranium and he felt that this would be of advantage to Australia, I was very keen to have the matter further examined by officials to see what the possibilities were of arriving at some sort of agreement. During those discussions I suggested that while looking at the whole question the possibility of agriculture being included in such a bilateral agreement also could be examined. However, after talking with Mr Hijzen who is the Vice-Minister for International Trade the suggestion received a negative reaction once the question of agriculture came up and I have since learned that Mr Brunner has retracted somewhat his keenness to have bilateral agreement between Australia and the EEC. However, I am of the opinion now that there would be advantage to Australia in having a bilateral agreement.
That was the reply given by the present Deputy Prime Minister. The point I make is that the Government, by all means, should use its best endeavours and talents to obtain markets for Australian products. The Government knows what we endeavoured to do when we were in government. We sought to set up an overseas trading corporation. In fact, we introduced legislation which would have had that effect if passed. That legislation was opposed vigorously by the National Country Party, part of the then Opposition’s rump organisation. It obviously swayed the Liberal Party into believing that it should not tolerate such a venture. The present Deputy Prime Minister, who at that time was one of the leaders of the Opposition and representing the National Country Party, said in this Parliament: ‘We will not approve of this legislation; it is a legislation designed to enable you to deal with your commie friends’. Because the then Opposition adopted that attitude the legislation was defeated in the Senate.
I think the Government now favours such a corporation being set up. The Minister is now talking about the need for that sort of body. Why should he not talk about the need for it? If the then Opposition had encouraged the approval of that legislation and the establishment of that corporation at that time we would now be in the position of being able to take advantage of the many outlets through which we could negotiate for the sale of our products. Quite clearly the Government knows that the rural community is in dire straits. Rural producers- I am talking about the beef field, the wool field, and other areas of primary production- are walking off the land en masse. There has been a complete depression of primary industries in Australia. Australia has the most efficient and best producers of food in the world but we cannot market our products. The Government knows why.
When we as a government went to the European Common Market to talk to the professionals there, it was made patently clear that there would be no penetration of their markets because such a move might affect their political standing. They were very interested in protecting their farmers. Why was that? The reason was that their farmers vote for them, and that was made clear. For years Government Ministers have been asked in this Parliament Dorothy Dix questions about whether there will be an improvement in the marketing of beef in the European Common Market. The appropriate Ministers- I am not referring to the present Minister for Special Trade Representations; I excuse him- stood up and said: ‘Yes, things might get better next month, next year, or perhaps next decade’. Let us not fool the people. Those of us who have taken part in these sorts of negotiations know very well that there is no opportunity to penetrate that agricultural field for the reasons that have been stated.
I will put the position on the record. We discussed the matter with Sir Christopher Soames, who is well known to the Minister. He said to the then Prime Minister the honourable member for Werriwa, and myself: ‘I am very sorry at the attitude we take but we hang our heads in shame when you talk about beef. Does it do our beef producers any good to know that the honourable Sir Christopher is hanging his head in shame? What are the facts of the situation? He went on to indicate clearly that political considerations were involved. Our beef fellows would delight in getting half the price that producers in Ireland and Great Britain receive, as the Minister would know if he went to those countries and looked into primary production there. Yet the Minister spoke today as though he has some hope. Of course, he has got to justify his portfolio and in that endeavour we wish him well. But the way things are going he could well be the Minister for Travel. He is travelling to the European Common Market frequently just to butt his head against the wall. I make that point clear.
– Are you opposed to that?
-I am opposed to the Minister acting in a way contrary to that in which we asked him to act.
– No, the travel part.
-As long as the Minister goes to people who have something to sell. I understand that he looked at a few other things as well, but it is not for me to comment on that matter.
– Come on! Be fair!
-I am talking about a serious matter. If the Minister is interested in trade he should be more active in that field than he is. All he has done is to deliver a IOV2 page speech which tells us nothing.
– Tell us.
-We can tell the Minister later. The Minister knows what happened in relation to the trade representations. The officials who went with him know that also, as well as of the action which had to be taken to encourage a certain response. Let us leave it at that. The point I make is that the Minister should go to areas where we can sell our products. He is continually going back to an area which is not prepared, and which is on record as not being prepared, to do anything about buying our products. What is worse still, the Minister has failed lamentably in negotiating trade agreements similar to those negotiated by Canada. Yet the Minister still says today that he does not see any merit in that sort of activity. New Zealand is making much better progress than we are in finding new markets and finding outlets for its beef. It is doing it on an intelligent basis.
– That is misrepresentation.
-Misrepresentation? It is not. I spoke to the New Zealand representative yesterday. If the Minister wants to accuse him of misrepresentation he can do so but it is quite clear that New Zealand is doing very well for its beef producers and others in finding new markets. The Minister did not mention manufacturing industry once in his speech. I am astounded to think that when he talks about trade negotiations he does not talk about export markets for our manufacturing industries. The Minister talks about unemployment in this country but how do we find solutions to that problem unless we can achieve some balance in our trading situation? The Minister made an oblique reference to cheese. I am advised that the Government has had a reference on certain aspects of importing cheese before the Industries Assistance Commission for many years but has failed to do anything about the situation. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), who I think knows something about that matter, has just walked into the chamber. We are saying to the Government: ‘By all means find new markets but what is your philosophy? What is your policy in relation to those actions we are encouraging you to take? ‘
The Government is still suggesting, in answers to questions asked, that, for example, it might be able to get better quotas in the Japanese market for our beef products. The Government knows very well that the Japanese impose a tax on beef they import. Beef which is imported by Japan for 65c per lb can be taxed up to as much as $5 per lb. In fact that is done. So why does not the Minister make a statement which clearly indicates that he is aware of other avenues and other alternatives which exist? Such avenues and alternatives do exist, particularly in relation to rural products.
It is very clear that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other countries are interested in obtaining beef and other food products on the condition that we take some of their products in return. What is the Government doing to explore that possibility? The advantage of having an overseas trading corporation would have been that government to government trading could have occurred. But the Government has failed miserably and it has convinced people in this Parliament that it is making good efforts. The record shows clearly how it has failed. One notices, for example, that our exports of beef to the European Common Market totalled 100,000 tons in 1973. That figure dropped to a miserable 10,000 tons in 1977. Our steel exports totalled 596,000 tons in 1976-77.
– Is that manufacturing?
– Not to the extent which the Minister would like to think that I am talking about. The present problem is that steel producers in the European Common Market are working at about 60 per cent or 70 per cent capacity. They will not allow us to penetrate that market in those circumstances. What the Government has to understand when it is considering steel production and other matters in this country is that it has to look at such things as plant, investment, efficiency and production. How is it that steel produced in Japan, for example, is cheaper than ours? How is it that Japanese companies can pay their employees more than we pay our employees? The problems of large scale production have to be understood, particularly if export markets are available. The Government thinks that it is making some progress because it can send a representative to the European Common Market for discussions. That is all that the statement delivered by the Minister is about. When we face facts we realise that no indication was given to us 3Vi years ago that we would be able to penetrate that market. Why would the Government expect to make any progress when the evidence is against that occurring? Although the Government can see that Canada and other countries are making progress by negotiating agreements, it denies that that is the situation.
I suggest to the Minister that next time he makes a statement to the House he should try to be a little cheerful and should indicate areas in which he has been able to make some progress. It is not much use just expressing the platitude that trade is vital to Australia. We all know that. Why can we not improve our trade prospects? Why have we failed? Why does the Government remain married to the philosophy that perhaps one day we will be able to sell to Great Britain because it might come out of the European Economic Community? It is not open to the Government to make that sort of statement. That option is not available any more. As I have mentioned, there are political consequences flowing from Japan’s protection of its primary producers, which is greater than that offered by Australia. The Government has objected to that protection and we support that objection. In world multitrade negotiations it is said cynically that there should be less protection. That usually means that countries want to protect their own producers but want to see whether they can put producers in other countries out of business.
Let us make our positions very clear. There are exemption provisions in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade arrangements. If a country was clever enough to negotiate its own arrangements before GATT came into existence, those arrangements are exempt. The United States of America was able to do that to protect a lot of its industries, but poor unfortunate Australia was not able to do so. We are often pilloried for being too protectionist, yet we are perhaps not as protectionist as some of the big world powers. In summary, the Minister’s statement clearly indicates that there are two philosophies in regard to trade. The Opposition would establish an overseas trading corporation. It would be able to find new markets, particularly for our primary products. I do not know whether the Minister was here in 1974 when we made the suggestion and when we had an agreement. The present Government has failed, and even today the Minister says that he does not see any value in the agreement. What hope is there for the Australian producer if the Government adopts this sort of attitude? The Government has two years left in office to see whether it can improve the situation. I suggest that next time the Minister makes a visit he should try to present a better report.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hyde) adjourned.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Bounty (Polyester-Cotton Yarn) Bill 1 978.
Control of Naval Waters Amendment Bill 1978.
Australian National Railways Amendment Bill 1978.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the borrowing power of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation to enable it to borrow, with provision for the Commonwealth to guarantee repayment, moneys for the purpose of promoting the sale and consumption of apples and pears and apple and pear products. Currently the Corporation has the power to borrow for the purpose of promotion of fruit traded by itself. However as the Corporation does not trade, its activities in the promotional field are wholly in respect of fruit marketed by others. This means that the Corporation is unable to borrow funds to finance these promotional activities.
The Corporation is funded by both a levy on exports of fresh apples and pears and a levy on apples and pears used both for processing and for sale on the fresh fruit market. Experience in 1977, the first year of operation of the levy on domestic sales, revealed that as the now of funds to the Corporation is seasonal, moneys were not available in sufficient amounts to meet the expenditure on promotion during the peak periods. The export promotion activities of the Corporation are conducted over the period May to July and the main domestic market promotion is timed to coincide with the period of peak availability of fruit which is from March to July. The flow of revenue to the Corporation is not substantial until later in the year, resulting in difficulty being experienced in meeting accounts presented during the first half of the year. The Corporation does not have sufficient reserves of funds to meet the situation.
Extension of the Corporation’s power to borrow moneys for promotion purposes will obviate the problem of seasonality of money flow and enable the Corporation to plan more adequately its program of promotional activities in the knowledge that it can, if necessary, cover the cost with borrowed funds until such time as the proceeds of levies are available. As in the past, the powers of the Corporation in respect of borrowing will be subject to ministerial approval. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the House at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday, 4 April next, at 2. 1 5 p.m. unless Mr Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
– I move:
I think that honourable members are aware of a number of proposals that have been put before the Standing Orders Committee and before the parties on the general question of alternative days and hours in which we might consider the business of this place. Those honourable members in particular who live in the more remote parts of Australia feel that, by being here for three days a week for a period of three weeks on and one week off, there is not sufficient time to attend to the problems within their own States and within their own electorates. From time to time we have tried various alternative sitting arrangements, and the proposal now before the House is one of those alternatives.
The pattern which is now proposed need not necessarily be seen as being permanent. It is a trial pattern. The Government puts it to honourable members to see whether it is practical for their needs. Whether it meets the needs of the officers of the Parliament and parliamentarians will be the criterion for determining whether we should try it again in the Budget session. It is now proposed that after Easter, for the remainder of this period of sittings, the House should adopt on a trial basis a pattern of two sitting weeks and two non-sitting weeks. Tuesday to Friday of the first sitting week and Monday to Thursday of the second sitting week are proposed as the sitting days. It is proposed that on the fourth day of each sitting week- that is, Friday in the first sitting week and Thursday in the second sitting week- normally the question ‘that the House do now adjourn’ be proposed at 4.30 p.m. and that the adjournment debate may then take place until 5 p.m., if so desired, or until 5.10 p.m. if a Minister wishes to respond to matters raised in debate. At the conclusion of the autumn period of sittings the Parliament should make an assessment of the extent to which the revised pattern meets the needs of this House better than the conventional pattern.
I commend the proposed sitting pattern on a trial basis. It is proposed that the pattern shall operate from 4 April 1978 until the House rises for the winter recess. I think that we are all aware that, whatever pattern is set, it will not meet the wishes of all honourable members. However, I commend the idea as a trial. As one who was in this House when this pattern was tried on an earlier occasion, I must say that it does not fill me with any great joy to think that we are going back into that pattern. I found that the two weeks sitting was commendable but that by the fourth day of sitting honourable members generally found themselves under some stress. It was more difficult to maintain a quorum in the House. In my view, the degree to which serious consideration could be given to matters was somewhat impaired. Therefore I give the assurance that if other honourable members find, as I did on that earlier occasion, that it does not suit their convenience I will support that view. In the meantime I commend the proposal as a trial in this chamber.
-The Opposition, in all good faith, is prepared to cooperate in trying out this proposal in the terms as explained by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair). There is obviously a need to try this system out on a trial and error basis. Nobody believes that we have struck the jackpot, as it were, up to this moment in setting desirable hours for members of Parliament. I suppose it would be very difficult to find any industry in the whole of Australia where people are expected to perform so late at night. Eleven o’clock adjournments, which we have now, certainly represent a great improvement on what we had in previous years. But it is still a most unreasonable form of behaviour and it is good to see some experimentation taking place. It is not that that particular problem is affected by these proposals; what is affected is the travelling time of members, ministerial staffs and others. Of course it is possible that expenditure on travel could also be affected.
The Opposition has the utmost sympathy for people who have to travel to far off places. I suppose it has never crossed the minds of many members of the public that there are members of parliament who sit here very late on a Thursday evening and who have to rise early on a Friday to fly to Perth, only to have to return again on the Monday after engaging in a heavy weekend program in their electorates in the case of members of the House of Representatives, and in their States in the case of senators. Of course that applies also to members whose electorates are in the remote parts of Queensland. It is all right for Tasmanians; they get it easy. It is just a hop, step and a jump from Canberra to Tasmania. The same applies to Sydneysiders and Melbournites. But there are people who have great difficulties with travel. So we are going to try out this process of sitting for two successive weeks and then having a break.
I know there are some honourable members who would be tempted to ask: ‘Why are we sitting at all?’, because there is a great deficiency of substantial legislation on the Notice Paper. I prompt the Leader of the House to come to appreciate that we do not want to see a mockery made of the parliamentary institution in any way. There is a tendency for this Government to take its big majority for granted and to play on that fact by not engaging in any useful reform at all. At present the Notice Paper is most uninspiring. We want to come into this chamber to debate the real problems of the people of Australia.
– You did not do too well this morning, though, Les.
-Well, I am not too sure that the Government did too well this morning, either. I know that the Government was anxious to get that particular issue closed down today as it has wanted to do ever since the computer issue has been before the Parliament. I think the Government is very lucky- and the Leader of the House has raised a significant point indeed- in that the computer issue might well be closed down now for two weeks as the Parliament goes into recess, according to these proposed new arrangements. It is very fortuitous for the Government because we could easily have got to the situation where the Government was being pursued by the Opposition on an issue about which there was extreme vulnerability. What better device could the Government use than simply to say: ‘Under the new Standing Orders we have to close down the Parliament for two weeks: Thereupon we hope that the issue will be buried’. I know full well that the Government is relishing the implementation of this proposal at this particular time because it is certainly under great pressure from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) about the computer matter. We do not want to see the parliamentary institution mocked in that way. This is a pretty important aspect to take into account. We do not want this device to be used for the purpose of enabling the Government to escape scrutiny in respect of matters that are vital to the proper functioning of government and the wellbeing of the people of this country.
What has to be realised is that when we have this successive four-day sitting week arrangement, members will encounter some difficulties in their constituencies. Even those honourable members whose constituencies are close to Canberra will find that they have inadequate opportunity to see people. They will be returning to their electorates on Friday evening so there will be no opportunity to interview people in their electorates on the Friday as has been the case, and then they will be back again in Canberra on the Monday so there will be no opportunity to see people in their electorates on the Monday. In that situation honourable members can keep people waiting for two successive weeks. I am not sure that that is the most considerate thing to do. I do not believe that the Leader of the House, in proposing this new system, is tending to treat the constituency at large with contempt. But people will have to understand that as a result there will be those periods when members will not be available.
We are to try out a new process, though fairly intrepidly. I hope it works to our advantage but I can assure the Leader of the House that we will be watching him carefully because we are not going to stand idly by and see this system used in such a way that the Government is able to shovel all its controversial stuff into the closing hours of a two-week period and then adjourn the Parliament so that the Opposition cannot get a fair go in discussing matters. When all is said and done, this Government has numbers which, if it has any intelligence at all, can be manipulated to its considerable advantage. The Government does not need other devices as well. 1 simply say to the Leader of the House that in accepting the co-operation which is extended by the Opposition in this matter, he ought to realise that we will be watching carefully to ensure that we are not deprived of debating opportunities because of the implementation of this process. If we find exploitation of that kind, we will be moving to revert to the old arrangements or at least to get the Parliament meeting more frequently. I think everybody can see the great danger whereby with the Parliament in recess for these intermittent two-weekly periods the Opposition could be deprived of the opportunity to scrutinise the activities of this Government. With those words of warning, on behalf of the Opposition I again signify our co-operation which we certainly will extend in this experimentation period.
-I should like to commend the Government on its flexibility in this matter. It seems to me that, at the moment at least, there are certainly different ways in which the operations of Parliament are being looked at and assessed. We are discussing one of those ways at the moment. I know that each honourable member has different problems. Those from different States might have the same problem. But each of us has to try to organise his parliamentary life around the sittings of the Parliament which obviously is the most important aspect of his job.
I know that when Parliament is sitting on the three weeks on, one week off basis, it often becomes difficult to do the sorts of things one feels one ought to do in one’s electorate during the limited time available. As honourable members know, with the sittings of committees often on the Mondays and /or on the Fridays of sitting weeks, it leaves only the one non-sitting week a month in which honourable members can do something constructive in their electorates. I know in my case that it often takes the best part of that week to catch up with paper work and with the people who want to see me in my office. That probably cuts down to only a couple of days the opportunities that an honourable member in an electorate like mine has to travel the distances necessary to visit the towns he has to visit.
I am looking forward to the opportunity to try out this new procedure. I think in my case it will allow me adequate time to do in the two nonsitting weeks what it has not been possible to do in the one non-sitting week a month and that principally is to get on top of the administrative work, the paper work and other office work and spend a significant amount of time out in the electorate talking to constituents which, again, is a very important part of a parliamentarian ‘s job.
I do not know how an assessment of whether the scheme has been successful will be made at the end of this trial period- whether a plebiscite will be taken to determine whether members prefer the new system to the old system- but 1 hope adequate consideration will be given to the views of all honourable members as to whether the experiment has been a success and ought to be continued. I think the general view of members of the National Country Party is that the experiment ought to proceed. We commend the Government for bringing it forward and we wish it success.
– I wish to say a few words on this matter. I heartily endorse the Government’s initiative. I was not going to speak until I heard the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) mention the problems faced by members of parliament who have to travel long distances between their electorates and this place. I congratulate the honourable member for mentioning this matter because there are many people in the eastern states who do not realise the problems that members have in travelling long distances to Canberra every week. Indeed many of our constituents are surprised to learn that we work in this place three weeks out of four weeks. They quite often do not realise that representatives of electorates in Western Australia have to travel between Perth and Canberra each week that the Parliament sits. That does impose a great burden on members. It certainly creates problems in their family life if they do not have understanding wives and children. There are other aspects to be considered.
Other problems are involved. One is the financial consideration. I do not regard that as a prime consideration. However, the air fare to transport me to and from Canberra each week is $510- a total of $1,530 for air fares in a three-week sitting period. Under the new system of sitting two consecutive weeks, there will be a 50 per cent saving in travelling costs for all members and senators travelling between Perth and Canberra.
The two-week sitting period will mean that we will be able to spend the intervening weekend in Canberra, devote ourselves to researching government policy and do the kind of work that often we do not have the opportunity to do when we are back in our electorates. More importantly, all the travelling that we do between Perth and Canberra is done during the day. It is done in normal working hours. It is not done in the dead of night. This travel involves about 10 hours a week. We are just sitting on our backsides in aeroplanes and are not doing constructive work. I am pleased to see that the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) acknowledges that Government policy does require close scrutiny by backbenchers at all times.
More importantly, I think that this new proposed sitting schedule will allow members to rationalise their very limited resources much better than previously. The proposed two-week sitting and two-week non-sitting system will mean that in the two weeks members spend in Canberra they will be able to devote themselves almost entirely to their parliamentary duties and in the two weeks they spend in their electorate they will be able to devote themselves almost entirely to electorate problems and give constituents the kind of attention that hitherto we have not been able to give them.
Under the former three-week sitting and oneweek non-sitting system we found that much of our time in Canberra was spent dealing with constituency matters because we had only one week in every four in our electorates. We found also that the one week we spent in our electorate was devoted substantially to parliamentary work. There is a saying in this place that people in Perth do not care what you do in Canberra and people in Canberra do not care what you do in Perth. Well, I think that attitude is regrettable. I hope that that kind of attitude does not prevail in the minds of honourable members. I am sure that, under the new scheme that has been proposed by the Government, each member of this House will be able to serve his electorate better and will be able better to fulfil his duties as a member of the Parliament. I congratulate the Government for bringing forward this proposal. I think this initiative is a very valuable innovation for those members of Parliament, especially all Western Australians, who have to travel so far every week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
The Academy will comprise: Accommodation, including messing and staff facilities for military and civilian staff and cadets; academic facilities to cater for the faculties of arts, science and engineering; central administration and military education facilities; a stores complex and a marine facility for training and recreational purposes; indoor physical fitness centre, and other sporting facilities; and site works and engineering services.
The military accommodation and mess buildings are to be constructed to the Defence Services scales and standards. Academic buildings are to be constructed in accordance with space and cost restraints established by the Universities Commissionnow the Tertiary Education Commissionand will be provided in accordance with accepted university standards. The buildings will generally be two or three stories in height and roofed with coloured metal decking. They will be reinforced concrete structures with precast concrete panel or concrete masonary walls, except for the indoor sports centre, which will be steel framed and the cadets accommodation which will be load bearing masonary construction. The administration building, the main lecture theatres, the computer centre and the library will be air-conditioned along with limited other special purpose areas. Other buildings will be appropriately heated and ventilated.
The estimated cost of the proposal at February 1977 prices was $49m. On the basis of the current materials and labour indices applicable to the Australian Capital Territory the estimate is now $52.8m at February 1978 prices. I table plans of the proposed work.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, as you will appreciate, honourable members are always at a disadvantage when matters of this nature come before the House. As a former Minister for Housing and Construction, I realised that I had the advantage of presenting to the House enormous documentation about which honourable members did not have any understanding other than what I had said in support of the motion. This is quite at variance with other practices that we have in this Parliament. For example, when Ministers make statements two hours notice is given. In matters of this kind we engage in a procedure of passing references on to the Public Works Committee for investigation. Great expenditure is automatically incurred as a result of the House passing a motion such as this. But we have very little knowledge of the proposals other than what the Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay) spells out when he speaks in support of the motion.
Just before I changed portfolios and went from Housing and Construction I was proposing to introduce a new scheme. I take this opportunity to commend to the Government that consideration might be given to making more information available at an earlier stage prior to the motion being moved in the House. One of the factors that would interest me in connection with this matter is the manner by which the proposed construction could possibly be affected by staff ceilings that have been imposed in the Department of Construction. I do not know what stage the planning has reached, how far documentation has gone, whether so far everything has been achieved by departmental resources or whether, if those resources are so inadequate it has been necessary to engage outside consultants. I think it is very important for the Minister to indicate the extent to which planning will be carried out and the technical services will be provided from the traditional Public Service area and the extent to which they might have to be supplemented from outside the Public Service.
It would be interesting to know also what proportion of the estimated cost of $52m of the Academy has been spent on estimates and plans to this preliminary stage. Is the Public Works Committee simply inquiring into a proposal that is virtually a fait accompli inasmuch as there has already been so much expenditure that we just have to go ahead with the proposal? What commitments have been made to consultants and the like? I am not at all satisfied as to the adequacy of the information that has been given by the Minister. I would be appreciative if some light could be thrown on the points that I have raised.
– in reply- In the first place I will reinforce what the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) has just said. Nothing could be more democratic than having this matter referred to a parliamentary committee for examination. That is all that we are doing today. I would like to see many other projects which are funded from the Commonwealth Budget referred to a parliamentary committee. I would like to think that the honourable gentlemam would support me in that view. But that is another matter. The fact is that this project is being referred to a committee of the Parliament for public scrutiny. I do not think anybody could have any possible criticism of that process.
The honourable gentleman mentioned a number of things. He said that he thought that there could be some problems and delays as a result of staff ceilings. I assure the honourable member that staff ceilings are difficult to live with but they will not make any difference to this project. We have been working on the project now for a couple of years. I forget the exact period. An initial interim planning committee was set up which involved people from all walks of life, such as university people and people from my Department and from the Department of Defence, who were interested in this area. That committee, to my knowledge, has been planning for this academy for at least two years. Public statements have been made. A public statement was made when it was announced that the Government had decided to build the Australian Defence Force Academy. I do not think that the criticism levelled at us by the honourable member that not enough material was available was valid. I will certainly have a look at that aspect. There may by some substance in the suggestion that we could have more information available more readily and earlier. That could be possible. On this occasion, however, as on many occasions, that is not possible. The time factor involved is very tight.
If the Public Works Committee, after examination, supports the building of the project, we hope that the Parliament decides during this sitting to proceed with the work. Here again, I do not think the honourable gentleman could be critical. Nothing could be more democratic than this Parliament’s deciding whether the work goes ahead. If the Public Works Committee recommended against the project the chances are that it would not proceed. We think there is a fair chance that the Committee will recommend in favour of it. It is highly desirable that the project be approved during this sitting of the Parliament. We want to call tenders before winter. Earth works are obviously the first job to be done. I accept that it may be possible for more information to be given in advance of matters being referred to the Committee but I reject the criticism in this case. This is one project which should not have drawn any criticism. It has been subject to public scrutiny by all of us for several years. I am not sure of the date when an announcement was made but I think it was last September or October. There was adequate Press coverage. I thank the honourable gentleman for his suggestion and will certainly have a look at it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 8 March, on motion by Mr Fife:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not oppose this legislation but does seek to amend it. This legislation is a consequence of a promise made by the coalition parties during the last election campaign. I will take the time to point out how that promise has been abrogated in the clear intent of the legislation. Basically, the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill is designed to subsidise freight differentials in the transport of petroleum products. The scheme will subsidise freights so that country consumers will pay no more than 4c a gallon of the transport costs. The scheme is estimated, roughly, to cost between $35 and $36m. It is virtually a reintroduction of the scheme which operated up until 1974 at which time it was cancelled by the Labor Government. The scheme is now introduced with the intention of limiting the freight costs for the carriage of petroleum products to rural areas in Australia.
The Bill has a number of novel features. One is that distributors must enter into an agreement with the Commonwealth to pass on the full benefits of the subsidy. In other words, they cannot just absorb it into their cost structures and therefore inflate their profits. Of course what can happen is that any discounting which is presently taking place can be varied so that a distributor can absorb the benefits of the subsudy and thereby reduce the benefits of any discounts by the amount of the subsidy. However, this scheme is not the scheme promised by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). This is important inasmuch as it is a sleight of hand on the part of the Government to have promised something and not honour that commitment. Let me read from page 11 of the Prime Minister’s policy speech. Under the heading ‘Petrol Price ‘ he says:
Immediately after the election the Government will take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country, without adding to city prices.
For a start, this Bill does not attempt in any way to equalise prices; it is but a subsidy for transport costs. The Prime Minister continued:
This will be done by subsidising freight costs outside the metropolitan area on motor spirit, aviation fuel, automotive distillate and power kerosene. In effect, it will reintroduce the country freight differential scheme abandoned by the Labor Government.
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than one cent per litre (4 cents per gallon) above city prices -
That is a commitment to effect a 4c differential between city prices and country prices. This Bill does not do so; it is only a subsidy for transport costs. The policy speech continues: . . . and to less than half a cent per litre (2 cents per gallon) in the life of the new Parliament.
It was stated that the scheme was estimated to cost around $10m in 1977-78, around $31m in 1978-79 and around $50m in the three years. The point is that the Prime Minister has broken another election promise. This man, who is now famous for wilfully and wantonly breaking election promises, has broken an important election promise to rural Australians- a promise to equalise city and country prices within a limit of 4c a gallon. This scheme makes no pretention whatsoever to do that. It is only a scheme to subsidise freight costs. Really there is no such thing as city prices. The Bill does not attempt in any way to deal with the discounting of petroleum products in rural areas.
I suppose many honourable members are aware of the fact that in many cities petrol is retailing at less than wholesale prices approved by the Prices Justification Tribunal. In that sense there is no such thing as a city price. Because the Bill is silent on the question of the discounting of petroleum products, not only in rural areas but also in the cities, it in no way can effect an equalisation between city and country prices to within 4c a gallon or anything else. All it does is subsidise the cost of transport beyond the point of 4c a gallon.
The Bill does nothing about the root cause of the problem; that is, the inadequacy of the distribution system in country areas of Australia. It does nothing whatsoever about refining capacity, petrol discounting, or the petroleum marketing and distribution industry. It is simply a band-aid proposal by the Government to try to drag back some votes in rural Australia. If the Government wanted to look at such a scheme fairly it would look at all the questions of distribution and marketing. Then if it wanted to act in a manner which was equitable for the rural community it would probably introduce something like zone allowances and things which are equated to taxable income through the taxation system and not a move such as this proposal which of course could provide for a subsidy going to the largest consumers of petrol in rural Australia- the large companies like Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd and Comalco Ltd which could be beneficiaries under this scheme.
It is true that under the legislation the Minister can decide otherwise and exclude some companies from the scheme, but by and large there is no equity in this measure. The benefits will go just to those who use the product, no matter what is their economic situation. That is not to say that there is not some justice in rural people being advantaged by a subsidy in terms of transport costs, but the point is that this scheme does not apply equitably or fairly. Also, I think it needs to be remembered that the Government’s bona fides on petrol prices for rural Australia do not stand up to scrutiny. Last year it made the decision to increase the price of petrol in Australia by Ilea gallon. The beneficiary of that by and large is Esso-BHP in Bass Strait. It will receive what virtually amounts to an untied grant. Esso and BHP will have their group profits inflated by the amount of the subsidy, the only clawback. being payment of company tax.
As we are well aware, in each of the next four years there will be a 10c a gallon increase in the price of petrol. So between last year and four years’ hence there will be a 50c a gallon increase in the price of petrol and other petroleum products in Australia generally, but particularly in the countryside where the costs of fuel on agricultural inputs are harrowing for the farming and grazing communities. Therefore, rather than the Government having a sympathetic approach to rural Australia in terms of transport costs it has grossly inflated them to the almost exclusive advantage of Esso and BHP with some of the other smaller producers taking the balance of the funds made available by way of the increase in the price of crude oil. So much for the Government’s crocodile tears about rural Australia and its attempts to assist the people there by subsidising freight costs.
The other important fact which needs to be remembered is that this subsidy will rarely go to the large provincial towns. Because of the large volume throughput of the large centres the unit costs per gallon of distillate or petrol are reduced. Unless freight costs transcend 4c a gallon no subsidy is paid. Most provincial towns like Orange and Bathurst in New South Wales, Rockhampton and Townsville in Queensland and Geelong in Victoria will get nothing from this scheme whatsoever. Of the 10,000-odd locations throughout Australia other than in the capital cities where there are distribution points for petroleum approximately only 52 per cent will receive a subsidy on motor spirit, mainly because of bulking of fuel which results in low transport costs per unit cost or per gallon. In only one-third of the locations or about 3,300, will the subsidy be more than lea litre and in only 25 per cent of the locations will the subsidy be between 0.1c and 0.9c a litre- that is half a cent to 4c a gallon.
So the Government is not doing much for rural Australia when one gets down to the crunch. The big provincial towns will get nothing. Places where there are fairly large gallonage throughputs because of bulking and the reduction of unit costs, unless the costs are beyond 4c a gallon, will receive nothing. In only 25 per cent of cases will the subsidy be between 0.1c and 0.9c a litre. In only one-third of the locations within Australia will the subsidy be more than lc a litre. So the Government has taken much more on the one hand with an increase in the price of crude oil than it is giving on the other by way of this miserable, shabby scheme which is being reintroduced exclusively for the advantage of the National Country Party and some of the elements of the Liberal Party which hold rural seats throughout Australia. Let us make that point abundantly clear.
We did not hear the Prime Minister during the election campaign trumpeting the fact that petrol costs will rise by 50c a gallon throughout Australia. The only reference to petrol was a reference to an equalisation scheme for freight. When the Bill finally comes into the House it does not even provide that; it provides only for a subsidy of transport costs beyond 4c a gallon. So shame on the Prime Minister and the Government for such a blatant deception and for breaking yet another clear election promise. There are a number of other aspects of the scheme which the Government has introduced. It shall be beyond ministerial control to unmake the scheme without the approval of both Houses of Parliament. Presumably this provision has been introduced into the legislation so that a successive government cannot remove the scheme or vary it by ministerial action without the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
– Like the Labor Party.
– The honourable member should also remember that two can play that game. Before the last election the Government rushed in with a 10-year extension of the agreement with the United States of America communication bases and before the 1972 election the then Government rushed in with a 7 -year extension of the two-airline policy. The Government is trying to continue to tie the hands of successive governments, to deny them their proper administrative prerogatives.
– It is not rubbish at all. It is as plain as day. We on this side of the House are not lacking in ingenuity to do the very same things to the Government. So do not think there is anything novel about it. Two can play that game. Let us make this point clear. It is a government’s role to decide upon the validity of these schemes or otherwise and it ought to be a government’s role to unmake them if necessary. We on this side of the House share the traditional view about the Government’s rights in money matters. Honourable members opposite do not, as they demonstrated by the refusal of the passage of the 1975 Budget. We think this provision in the Bill is improper. While the procedure resembles the procedure for the passing of regulations where they are laid on the table and are either agreed to or disallowed I still believe this matter ought to be within the prerogative of the Minister and not the Houses of Parliament as such. At this point I move:
The Government has taken money from rural producers and people in the rural community by way of massive increases in the price of crude oil. The sole beneficiaries of that action are two of the largest companies in Australia. The Government has now introduced a Bill which is a clear abrogation of an election promise to make the differential between city and country petrol prices no more than 4c. In that sense the Government has failed to implement what was a clear election promise. In the Bill it has done nothing to improve the adequacy of the existing petroleum marketing and distribution system and it has blatantly disregarded advice tendered by the reports of the Collins Royal Commission on Petroleum. All in all, it is a very sad performance on the part of the Government if this is the best of which it is capable in trying to give some measure of justice to the people who live in distant areas and who live under the hardships or, as they say, the tyranny of distance from the capital cities.
I commend to the House the Opposition’s amendment and I urge Government supporters at least to be honest enough to admit that the scheme is not a reflection of the promise thenparties made at the last election; it is an abrogation of a clear election promise. It does nothing to solve the real problems at hand. The scheme in itself does not give any advantage to the large provincial cities of Australia. It gives advantage only to those very distant locations beyond the provincial cities and then only in small proportions. In not more than 25 per cent of those locations will there be a subsidy of lc or more a gallon. Big deal! So much for election promises! Rural Australia can make its own value judgments about the Government’s bona fides in purporting to assist it. I conclude by urging the House to give careful consideration to the value and justice of the Opposition’s amendment.
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-This piece of legislation brings to the House the fulfilment of a promise made by the Government during the last election campaign. It is the reintroduction of the program scrapped by the Labor Party when it came to office. It was one of those programs on which it got someone to advise it how it could make so-called savings. In doing so it penalised country people and country industry throughout Australia. It was an incredibly bad decision taken in the early days of the Labor Government and one that the Labor Party has regretted ever since. It was one of the prime measures that caused complete disenchantment in country areas and the realisation that that Party did not understand the problems of rural life. This Bill will mean that between areas there will be a difference of no more than 4c a gallon in the freight element of fuel cost. As the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) pointed out, this will not mean that there will be a difference in cost of not greater than 4c a gallon between each area and each outlet.
It is a significant step forward in alleviating the difficulties of country areas. The cost of production in country areas is much greater because the difference between city and country fuel prices might be as great as 40c or 50c a gallon. It would seem that, if we intend to provide a stimulus to depressed areas, this is the sort of stimulus that spreads equitably into those areas of production, those areas that contribute to employment and those areas that contribute to our export earning capacity.
On behalf of Government supporters I commend the Government for the swiftness with which it has moved to introduce this measure and the farsightedness that it has shown in not only bringing forward this measure but also in making it impossible for a future government to dismantle such a measure by an administrative act, as was done previously. Any proposed changes to the legislation or any attempt to dismantle it will have to come before both Houses of the Parliament. I think that is reasonable and proper and that it shows the Government’s commitment and firm intent to support country production, not only primary production but also increasing secondary production and production in mining areas.
– It is respect for the parliamentary system.
– As the Minister said, it is respect for the Parliament. It is the proper way to do things. One of the flaws in the previous administration was the fact that it considered that it could do everything by administrative action. It did not like to bring legislation before the Parliament because people would find out what it was doing. That is not the intention of this Government. This measure shows good intent because it cannot be changed unless everybody involved knows what is happening. I think this is one problem in the total area of fuel pricing policy within Australia that the Government has moved to alleviate. If there is not a complete difference of not more than 4c a gallon throughout Australia, one must refer to the Prime Minister’s words when he has called on oil companies to review their pricing policies and the differentiation they make between city and country areas. Other factors contribute to the difference which is greater than the freight element. I have mentioned to the House that we need to promote the important Australian industries that help pay our way in the world. The cost of fuel is a most significant part of the cost of production. From figures which I have seen the element of fuels of this type compared with the total energy scene contribute by far the greater part of the cost. Therefore if one is looking at the cost of energy and the penalties that people are paying for it, one must applaud the Government’s decision.
The one aspect of this Bill that I would like to see varied is that which concerns the application of a freight subsidy on heavy oils. I notice that in his second reading speech the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) said that products to be covered by this scheme will include motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate and aviation fuels. That is commendable because they are all important fuels. I would like to bring to the Government’s notice that, if one refers to the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum in Australia, one will see that distillate and fuel oils each represent 19 per cent of Australia’s consumption of petroleum products. It seems to me that under those circumstances a subsidy on the lighter fuel elements would seem to place stress on their use in remote areas.
If one is to consider the investment of industry and’ of governmental and semi-governmental bodies, one would realise that many of them depend or like to depend on the use of heavy fuels so that they have a low cost fuel. I think that the fact that these heavy elements are not included in the Bill is a slight detriment to it and that it works somewhat against the Government’s policy of fuel conservation- a policy that has been announced and is starting to move forward by the actions of both the Minister for National Resources (Mr Newman) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony). The transport industry is a major user of petroleum fuels. However, we should not neglect the use that is made of heavy fuels by secondary industry in decentralised areas and the growing demand for heavy fuels from mining industries.
It would seem that if those industries are gearing up to the use of light fuels, that may not result in the best use of fuels within Australia. The Industries Assistance Commission report dealing with crude oil pricing which was brought down in 1976 details various techniques that may be use by government for the conservation of fuels. The Government has concentrated a major part of its policy on supporting important areas of production but the second aspect of the petroleum industry and attention to petroleum products is in the area of oil producers, oil refiners and retailers. One has only to gain an assessment of the Australian production of crude oil- where it comes from and the cost of its production- to realise that there is a need gradually to upgrade the returns received by Australian producers so that they can bring on to line some of those secondary sources of oil. Australia’s production rate of its own fuel is falling. The total complement that we provide ourselves is now 70 per cent but that will fall to 30 per cent by, roughly, 1985. To maximise the use that we can make of our own oil, the secondary sources need to be brought into production and some sort of encouragement is needed for producers so that they will consider it worthwhile to make the investment necessary further to exploit Australian oil.
The fact that we will be buying more and more fuel from overseas is another reason for us to conserve our very precious supplies of very high quality oil. Australian oil is very high quality oil and it is something that many countries would like to have. There is also a need at the moment for further massive investment in Australia by refiners. I suggest to the House that those investors, those oil refiners, need to take note of the changing sources of oil that they will be using in the next five to seven years and the fact that they will be using oils which are not as clean and whose chemical content is quite different from that of our indigenous oil. I hope their investment will be geared in such a way as to make full use of all by-products of imported oils and also to be able efficiently to deal with the refining of those oils.
In the retail industry the selling of petrol and petroleum products is an area which has suffered some distress over a period of time. Retailers have faced difficult circumstances, such as discounting practices. They have faced the problems of inbuilt rent schemes and subsidies for people giving discounts and all sorts of unusual practices that are not generally considered commercially satisfactory. If any section of the industry is disadvantaged, it would seem to me that the retail industry in Australia at the moment is suffering a quiet considerable disadvantage. I think that one need only to refer to the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum to see some of the difficulties faced by retailers at the moment. That report details evidence given by retailers that practices of discriminatory pricing, unusually rent arrangements and undesirable subsidy payments obviously are working against the large group of selfemployed small businessmen. Some companies have even adopted the practice of proceeding to the Prices Justification Tribunal seeking an increase in price of, for example, 5 per cent, achieving a 3 per cent increase and then applying only a one per cent increase to their products, at the same time being involved in a price cutting war with a competitor.
It would seem to me that it is very difficult to get to the facts and figures within the oil industry. It is my contention that this matter should be opened up as quickly as possible, more quickly than is happening at the moment. Australia should be moving to a world parity price for its crude oil so that some of these undesirable features can be lifted out of the market and refiners can engage in true competition without interference and without false structures which have been put there by government. It would seem to me that there is an obvious advantage for companies seeking to maximise their market share by taking advantage of the low price they pay for indigenous crude. The fact is that the more indigenous crude they use, the more they will be allocated. If we move to a world parity price we will have fairer, more competitive factors working in the refining market and in the production of petroleum products and byproducts. If that were to be done I think that many of the problems that now confront the retailing industry would be overcome. One cannot but be concerned when one reads from the Voice of the Transport Worker dated October 1977 details of some of the arrangements made by ACTU/Solo and the people who are responsible for the delivery of its fuel. I refer to a note which is attached to a memorandum written by Mr Bob Hawke to the Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union in Newcastle. Mr Hawke says:
N.B. The product is not to be delivered -
He is talking about petroleum productsby agents/contractors to ACTU/Solo service station sites
Mr Hawke precludes the opportunity for agents or contractors to deliver to the sites. I suggest that this may intrude into the area of restrictive trade practices. I think it is very serious if those sorts of factors are at work in the petroleum industry. They disjoint the benefits to consumers. They disjoint the profits being made by a huge number of hard-working small businessmen, businessmen who often are penalised by decisions over which they have no control.
I commend the Government and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs for the establishment of the Oil Industry Council in which the Minister has drawn together all parties experiencing these problems with a view to resolving these problems by sitting at the conference table with gloves off and with complete frankness discussing some of their joint problems. Should that conference and the series of conferences planned not overcome the problem, I suggest to the Government that we need to look to raising the price of Australian crude to world parity.
This increase could perhaps be effected by charging a Government levy on top of the price now received for Australian crude, but because that would impose upon the consumer a large increase in the price of petroleum, the avenue of excise reduction should be used to balance the increase. I am sure that if the Government were to examine the details of this proposal it would find that there are sufficient funds to introduce such a measure and at the same time iron out many of the difficulties in the industry. The Minister has set up a consultative arrangement which is very important to the stability of the industry. I think the areas that need to be assessed by the House and by the Government are the areas of price, services or facilities, in which discrimination may be imposed on small businessmen.
All in all I compliment the Minister and the Government for the work they have done on the first step towards bringing some sense and fairness into the petroleum industry in Australia. I know that the huge and massive rural industries, both primary and secondary, will benefit greatly by the decision. It goes a long way towards removing some of the discrimination that people must face due to their remoteness. It will go a long way to breaking down some of the difficulties they have competing on world markets. I hope that as we move into other areas, such as pricing arrangements for fuel, we will resolve the problem in such a way that all consumers, both city and country, will have a choice in price and product which is based on a reasonable profit for all involved right down the line. I hope that we will get rid of some of the discrimination and poor practice that has been obvious in the industry and that, having achieved that, the ultimate objectives of this Government of stability, progress, increased production and an increasingly beneficial way of life to all Australians will be achieved.
– I support the amendment which concisely sets out the pitfalls and deficiencies in this legislation. I take this opportunity to restate them. The amendment states that the legislation ‘fails to implement the election promise of the Government to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country’.
– That is not what it says.
– It is. The amendment goes on to state that the Bill ‘fails to improve the adequacy of existing petroleum marketing and distribution system in country areas’. The Bill does not tackle that problem at all. Finally it states that the Bill is ‘silent on the defects in the system outlined in the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum’, which this Government has chosen to ignore.
At the end of his second reading speech on this Bill, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) stated:
The proposed subsidy scheme will substantially benefit large numbers of Australia’s rural citizens whose economic activities and general wellbeing are so heavily dependent on the availability of reasonably priced transport and machinery fuels.
Let me make some constructive criticisms on that claim. Few Australians would object to the scheme. The Opposition will not oppose it. The question that must be asked, however, is whether the objective is achieved in the best and most economical way by this legislation. That is the important question. Unfortunately, the answer is no. The system of petrol freight subsidy chosen by the Government is riddled with anomalies, as was the old scheme. The anomalies were obvious in the previous scheme so the Government has no excuse for not rectifying them. It appears that the only substantial change to the old scheme is that the termination of the scheme must now be approved by both Houses of the Parliamentpresumably for the benefit of a future Labor Government!
Any government should be wary of taking action which affects the structure of petroleum pricing. The Royal Commission on Petroleum in its fourth report detailed the problems of cross subsidisation, price discrimination and over capitalisation which plague the petrol market. The Commission concluded that the ‘structure of pricing is just a mess’. In fact, it is a chaotic hotch-potch. It is regrettably on this foundation that the rural subsidy scheme is to be built. So, another complication is to be added to an already irrational petrol market.
After the refusal of the Government to come to grips with any of the general problems of petrol pricing, it is not surprising that the Government also has refused to tackle the anomalies of rural petrol pricing. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), I regret to say, instead have blamed ACTU-Solo and other small city-based discounters for high rural petrol prices. That has been their thesis. In the light of these allegations which foreshadowed the introduction of this Bill, it is worth recalling the comments of the Royal Commission on city versus country pricing. I suggested in a previous debate that very few honourable members in this House have taken the liberty of studying relevant reports. The fourth report of the Royal Commission quoted evidence which was given by Mr J. B. Leslie, the managing director of Mobil Oil Australia Ltd. The report quotes Mr Leslie as saying:
The historic wholesale pricing structure understates country selling costs versus capital city areas. This is because some country selling expenses, such as agents’ commissions and coastal transportation expenses to outports such as Townsville, are averaged with capital city costs when determining prices.
The report then stated:
Mr Leslie considered that this situation gave a distorted incentive to invest in metropolitan motor spirit retail outlets. Data provided by Shell indicates the country ‘subsidy’ in the metropolitan price is about lc a gallon.
The Commission has recognised that the distorted wholesale pricing structure for petroleum, which was in existence long before ACTU-Solo began operations, is the root cause of excessive petrol prices and the city consumer also is paying more than the justified cost. The Government has had this information in its possession for two years. It has chosen to ignore it. If country consumers already are being subsidised by city motorists to the tune of lc a gallon, how can the Prime Minister and his Deputy blame city-based retailers- discounters- without tackling the more fundamental problems of over capitalisation and cross subsidisation which are the real causes of expensive petrol throughout Australia? This failure will result only in dearer petrol for city motorists. I would have thought that was logical. This proposal can do nothing to bring cheaper petrol to the country or to reduce the cost of the petrol subsidy scheme.
If the Government were genuine in its desire to reduce the cost of petrol marketing it would establish an independent agency to resolve the deep-seated problems of the petrol industry, as was recommended by the Royal Commission. However, honourable members opposite choose not to do that. They believe in the old Tory cliche: ‘Leave it to the market forces and it will resolve itself- in other words, self regulation. I suggest to honourable members opposite that in the fields of insurance, brokerage, corporations and securities, self regulation has proved an irreversible disaster. It is completely hypocritical of the Prime Minister and his Deputy to accuse, as they have done in the last fortnight against all the evidence, oil companies of conspiring against country motorists. They have ignored the many substantiated allegations of oil companies conspiring against their own employees and motorists at large. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs knows as well as I do that the oil industry from refining to output is totally controlled by oil companies. This is the area which the Government has to tackle but it is not prepared to do so. It is a tragedy for Australia that the present leadership is either completely ignorant of the circumstances of the oil industry or is completely subservient to it. The details of the Bill now under discussion suggests that it is both.
The petrol price subsidy raises the fundamental problem of any tariff protection or subsidy measure. Distortions to the economics of rural industry based on an artificial cost for petroleum will inevitably result from the subsidy. It is the Government’s duty to ensure that undesirable structural changes within rural industry and rural transport do not occur as a result of these distortions. We have seen enough of these problems in highly protected manufacturing industries. The existence of a subsidy for rural petrol needs can perhaps be justified in view of the large subsidy to the cities of Australia for public transport. However, there is no justification anywhere for the misplaced use of such a valuable energy source as petroleum. At a time when Australia is facing an ever-increasing petroleum import bill, any measure which could increase the nation’s petrol consumption must be thoroughly examined first. The subsidisation of the motor spirit requirements of essential primary production and for people living in rural-based towns is not a concern for conservation. In fact, one would assume that the subsidy will reduce the costs of farm production which should ultimately benefit all Australians through lower prices or a more stabilised rural industry.
As the subsidy scheme is very broad in its application there will be some encouragement to waste petrol. Firstly, the largest payout of the subsidy scheme when it comes into full operation will not go the rural industries but the large inland cities such as Canberra, Broken Hill and Toowoomba. That is as I understand it and I assume that it is correct. If that is the case the Government ought to look at it and study it. While subsidies to cities such as these may be desirable, the petrol subsidy scheme is not an efficient and economical means of achieving it. Secondly, the scheme also will subsidise leisure activities and this is another aspect which the Government has failed to look at. The previous scheme also failed to take it into account. The Eyre Highway from Adelaide to Perth provides a good case study of the side effects of the petrol subsidy scheme. Between Ceduna, and Norseman, a distance of about 800 miles, there is very little rural industry- practically none at all - which would benefit from the petrol subsidy. In the area between those two towns, however, petrol costs 26c to 28c a litre; that is, $1.18 to $1.27 a gallon. The freight differential is approximately 9c to 16.5c a gallon under the subsidy scheme. In the case of an average leisure vehicle which returns 1 5 miles per gallon, the subsidy for a one way trip from Norseman to Ceduna would be between $5 to $10.
Obviously heavy vehicles operating between Adelaide and Perth would be subsidised to a much greater extent than that. Clearly subsidies of that extent would have an effect on transport economics across the Nullabor. With the sealing of the Eyre Highway, the volume of heavy traffic on that road has increased already by almost 100 per cent. Frankly, I think the Government ought to indicate whether it believes that heavy fuel subsidisation for road freight on that route, in competition with the Australian National Railways, is in the best interests of the country. We ought to ponder on that question. Is it in our best interests?
– Are you running railways, or what?
– No, it is not a question of running railways; it is a question of the conservation of fuel and the best use of it. The granting of the subsidy in that area of Australia certainly does not achieve that end. We should be pleased that increasing numbers of Australians are taking advantage of their leisure time to travel across Australia but we may well ask whether the taxpayer should heavily subsidise such travel. That is a reasonable question to ask. Is that the right way to go about applying a petrol subsidy? I suggest it is not. The matter deserves further consideration.
A general and undesirable effect of the fuel subsidy is the reduced incentive to rationalise transport costs. That subject obviously was not given detailed analysis by the Government. I assume it was given no consideration at all. That aspect of reduced incentive does not apply to rural production where there is no reasonable alternative to the use of fuel. In the transport area, however, the greatest benefit will go to people in the most remote locations. The fuel subsidy will hide the real cost involved but that cost will still have to be met. It may be desirable to encourage decentralisation in some very remote areas but in other areas there may be little logic in encouraging settlement. The general effect that any subsidy has in hiding real costs is largely unavoidable.
The particular form of this subsidy scheme has its anomalies. Honourable members should cast their minds back to the time when the old subsidy scheme was in operation. At that time these matters were of less consequence because Australia was producing most of its own crude oil needs and the world crude oil was a plentiful and cheap commodity. Whether we like it or not, that era of cheap oil has gone. The burden of that changed situation will have to be carried by the city and country consumers. Automotive distillate is included under the scheme whilst fuel oils are excluded. The figures in relation to the previous rural subsidy scheme for 1972-73, which was the last full year of operation of the scheme, show that about half of the subsidy was spent on distillate.
It is apparent that many of the mining companies in remote areas have converted their operations from heavy fuels to distillate. The inclusion of distillate in the list of products which qualify for an allocation of indigenous crude oil is another factor which could encourage that change. I suggest it is a serious misallocation of resources, however, to use refined products in cases where fuel oils may be suitable. The Government ought to look at that aspect very seriously, critically and urgently. The Industries Assistance Commission made note of that point in its comments on the allocation formula. The Government should indicate what action it will take to prevent this misallocation of resources which will be reinforced by this subsidy scheme.
Perhaps the main criticism which can be aimed against the Government’s approach to price equalisation concerns the way in which it has abdicated its responsibilities in administering the scheme in favour of the oil companies. Under the scheme the transportation costs on which subsidies are based are supplied by the oil companies concerned. Independent cartage contractors and fuel agents are able to transport fuel for less than the amount of the freight differentials currently applied by oil companies. Oil companies are also using contractors in order to lower freight costs but they are not passing on those savings. The Minister has said that the Prices Justification Tribunal will scrutinise transport costs but that it will do so only on the basis of submissions from the oil companies.
I ask the Minister: Will the Tribunal take the lowest cost quoted by an oil company or will it determine transport costs independently? Do I take it that additional submissions to the Prices Justification Tribunal will be permitted? For instance, will such an assessment or analysis be restricted only to submissions received from oil companies, or will the Automotive Chamber of Commerce be permitted to make submissions to the Prices Justification Tribunal on that aspect? Will the Prices Justification Tribunal take independent submissions before it makes its analysis and judgment?
I also ask the Minister this question: What monitoring mechanism is to be structured in the calculations made by the Prices Justification Tribunal or the Department? How will the situation of a service station on the border of South Australia and Western Australia be monitored, for instance? Who will account for the number of litres it claims to have sold each month? How is it proposed to ensure that there is no fiddling of the books, as it were, by a firm, located in a remote country area and which qualifies for the subsidy, which claims an exaggerated number of litres sold? How is it proposed to reduce the subsidy paid to that same firm operating in the metropolitan area which does not qualify? What mechanism has the Minister provided to meet that situation? In addition, will the Minister say whether the Prices Justification Tribunal will periodically review costs, apart from increases in subsidy, as requested by the oil companies?
Another difficulty encountered with the administration of the subsidy scheme is the fact that it is based on inland transportation costs rather than on total costs. That has been a thorn in the side of those involved ever since the scheme was created. There are about 40 bulk storage facilities on the Australian coast but the cost of transport to those facilities is not to be subject to subsidy because the prices charged by oil companies at those storage facilities are the same as those charged at capital city ports. That situation, which also applied under the previous scheme, is clearly anomalous. Obviously major costs are involved in transporting fuel from capital city refineries to depots such as those to be found in Cairns and Townsville in Queensland and Broome and Geraldton in Western Australia. Because those costs will not be subsidisedthat is not the situation pertaining to inland delivery costs- oil companies may find economic advantage in using less efficient inland modes of transport rather than coastal shipping. What has the Government done to meet that contingency? I assume it has done nothing.
Anomalies such as that again highlight the chaotic state of petrol pricing. Numerous examples from the old subsidy scheme could be cited to illustrate the anomalous basis on which transport costs are determined. This is one example from Western Australia and where are the elected representatives from Western Australia: Yalgoo, Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra are on the same rail link and each centre is a little further distant than the other from Geraldton. Yet the transportation cost to Meekatharra is, for some reason, less than that to the other three towns. Perhaps that could be explained to me. Even if transportation costs could be regulated by the Government- there is nothing to suggest that the Government would take that action- other cost components are not considered by the subsidy scheme. The existence of higher transportation costs by itself does not justify the price differential because higher transportation costs might be offset by lower retail costs. That might depend on the volume of petrol involved, for instance. It invariably does.
We come back again to the fact that until the Government ensures that economic marketing and distribution of fuel takes place in Australia, the Australian public will continue to pay excessive prices for petrol. There is no question at all about that. That is what lies at the heart of the problem. The freight subsidy will merely redistribute part of that burden. It cannot reduce the overall cost of petrol marketing. In fact it may increase it. The Government can achieve a cost reduction only by reform of the petroleum industry and by the rationalisation of petrol reselling. The Government’s price equalisation scheme will bring some benefit to people living in rural Australia but it will impose a corresponding cost on the taxpayer.
It is my contention that a more important task for the Government is to reform the entire Australian petrol market, thereby bringing benefits to all Australians and savings to the taxpayers.
In conclusion let me say with all the sincerity that I have that this nation is rapidly reaching a crisis state in terms of its hydrocarbons, and particularly oil. There is an urgent need for this Parliament to set up a joint select committee. It is the only committee that this Parliament can form which has the statutory power to obtain the commercial facts, statistics and data that are needed so that a balanced evaluation can be made. As long as the Government relies- it is perfectly entitled to do so- on committees outside this Parliament it will never obtain the information it wants. I urge the Minister to give this matter urgent consideration.
-This Bill will amend the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Act 1965. That Act provided the legal basis for the petroleum products subsidy scheme. The aim of that scheme was to reduce costs of certain petroleum products in country areas by direct Commonwealth subsidy. The eligible products were motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate and aviation fuels. The scheme was abolished by the Australian Labor Party Government in 1974. Honourable members will recall that about that time the then Prime Minister, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) was telling rural producers that they had never had it so good. Following the abolition of the scheme, it will be recalled that the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) during the last election campaign promised that after the election steps would be taken to reintroduce the scheme which would subsidise freight differentials involved in transporting eligible petroleum products from refining ports and seaboard terminals to the country sales points.
The House will be aware that freight costs are a substantial element of the relatively high prices paid by rural consumers. This is particularly the case in the more remote areas. It is clear that at this stage of Australia’s development a more equitable pricing of fuel must assist in overcoming the problems caused by the enormous distances that have to be covered to reach people in outlying areas. This scheme will subsidise country freight differentials to the extent that country consumers of products covered by this scheme will pay a price which includes no more than 4c per gallon of the transport costs. In other words, this Bill will mean that in the case of a freight differential of, say, 10c per gallon the consumer will pay only 4c and the remaining 6c will be covered by the Commonwealth subsidy under the scheme.
In the case of my electorate, in Kingscote on Kangaroo Island the subsidy will be about 0.7c per litre on motor spirit, 1.7c per litre on power kerosene, 1.1c per litre on distillate, 3.2c per litre on aviation gasoline and 3.6c per litre on aviation turbine fuel. In the case of Kingston in the south east, the subsidy will be about 0.2c per litre on motor spirit. Those figures that I have mentioned are only provisional. They have yet to be finalised. The freight differential subsidy will be based on costs submitted by individual oil companies to the Prices Justification Tribunal and accepted by that Tribunal. The scheme, because of constitutional requirements, will operate by means of grants made by the Commonwealth to the States pursuant to section 96 of the Constitution. These grants will be in amounts equal to moneys expended by the States in subsidising sales of eligible products by oil companies and other registered distributors.
As I have already stated, the original scheme which was introduced in 1965 was terminated by ministerial action in 1974. In other words, the Labor Minister at the time terminated the scheme without reference to this House. We were concerned that such should not be the case again. Therefore I personally was pleased to see that proposed section 4 (2) of the Act provides:
Except as authorised by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister shall not revoke, or otherwise terminate the operation of, a scheme formulated under paragraphs 1 (a) or (d), whether or not the scheme has been amended.
Clearly this scheme is of great significance to rural consumers of petroleum products and we considered that it ought not to be capable of termination merely by ministerial action without reference to the Parliament. Therefore, that section to which I have referred provides that, except as authorised by resolution of each House of the Parliament, the Minister shall not revoke or otherwise terminate the operation of the scheme.
It is most important to make the point at this stage that, whilst this Bill will allow a scheme to subsidise the freight component of fuel delivery to country areas, it will not automatically mean that country consumers will be able to purchase fuel for the same price as city consumers.
Honourable members will be aware that at present in city areas fuel is available at numerous discount fuel outlets at about 15.7c per litre for super grade petrol. At the same time in most country areas and, I understand, in the whole of Tasmania, such discounting does not apply. The PJT has set a maximum wholesale price of fuel of about 17c per litre and yet the retail price in Adelaide, as I have stated, is about 15.7c per litre. This is more than lc less than the maximum wholesale price. We have to ask ourselves why and how the oil companies can supply at a price so much below that which they convinced the PJT was reasonable. Mobil Oil Australia Ltd at the moment has applied for a further increase of 0.54c per litre.
Clearly, the availability of fuel from retailers in most areas of major capitals at well below the maximum wholesale price indicates substantial cutting of margins by both retailers and oil companies, but such cutting of margins does not seem to extend to most country areas. There is a great deal of confusion as to how the oil companies can continue to discount and as to the reason for the enormous discounts available in city areas. It could well be that the price of petrol is really too high, and this enables the oil companies to give such large discounts. This is certainly supported by the evidence that discount fuel is available at so many outlets in the capital cities. If this argument is accepted, perhaps we have been paying too much for fuel in the past and the PJT has not been given all the evidence.
Another argument is that discounting is possible because of the lower costs of distribution and handling in the city due to the larger volumes of fuel which go through city outlets. But if the oil companies adopt this latter argument that their costs of selling in the city enable them to discount, what exactly are the savings? We are still left with the question of why they did not discount before. In either case it would be greatly beneficial to the people of Australia if they would disclose the real facts as to how much more it costs to service the rural areas. Clearly, if they apply the maximum wholesale price as recommended by the PJT to country areas and at the same time are prepared to supply fuel in the city areas at retail prices well below the wholesale maximum price, there is a need for some explanation. Country people argue, with some apparent justification, that they are the only ones paying the full price for petrol.
– Except in Hobart.
-And in Hobart. Therefore they wonder whether they may be paying more than just the freight differential and the increased supply costs involved in the lower volume country areas. What I am really asking for as far as country Australia is concerned is a detailed breakdown of the cost of supplying petrol in the city and the cost of supplying in the country. The Government is to be commended for subsidising the freight component of delivery of fuel to the country. I believe that it is up to the oil companies to justify the difference between the city discount retail price, or even the average city price, and the country price. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is currently trying to resolve this problem with the oil companies.
– And he is doing a good job too.
– Well, I hope that he can get to the bottom of the problem for I assure him that country people and petrol retailers hope that he can find some answers. I support the Bill.
– I support some of the remarks of the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) regarding the differences in petrol prices between country areas and city areas. There certainly is a great difference and what the honourable member for Barker has said is quite true. I hope, however, that he will support the Opposition’s amendment because the amendment goes further than the proposed legislation. The amendment refers to the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. Many of the matters raised by the honourable member for Barker are explained pretty fully in the Royal Commission’s report. The Royal Commission went into the matter quite competently. In his second reading speech the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) said: -
The proposed scheme will subsidise country freight differentials to the extent that country consumers of products covered by the scheme will pay a price which includes no more than 4c per gallon of the transport costs.
I think it is very important to remember that the subsidy applies only to the 4c a gallon of the transport costs. The Opposition has moved an amendment because we feel that the legislation does not go far enough. We are not opposing the legislation because we realise that the question of petrol prices in country areas at present is a big problem. We certainly do not oppose the general content of the legislation in that it does bring some relief to some country people. The amendment also refers to the fact that the Government has remained silent on the defects of the system as outlined in the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. I feel that the amendment deserves the full support of this
House and I certainly hope that it gets that support.
All we have heard from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) about trying to overcome these problems is his appeal to the retailers to play a fair game as regards petrol prices. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) made mention of this fact. I am sure that if the Government had really looked at the report of the Royal Commission it would have seen the way out of the problem. It is up to the Government to act.
As was mentioned by the honourable member for Barker, many areas will receive no subsidy whatsoever. At a later stage I shall elaborate on some of the areas that will not receive assistance. It is admitted that in the more remote areas there will be some assistance. I can cite many areas in my electorate that will be assisted by this subsidy. It will certainly lighten the load that people in such areas had to carry because of petrol prices.
Another matter mentioned in the amendment concerns the equalisation of petrol prices. During the general election campaign, the word ‘equalisation’ was thrown around quite often. The Prime Minister originally used the phrase ‘equalisation of petrol prices’. This scheme certainly does not equalise petrol prices; it goes nowhere near to doing so. All it does is give some subsidy on the transport costs of getting petrol to country areas. That the Government is not bringing in a full fuel equalisation scheme is another broken promise of the Prime Minister. If we refer back to the last Parliament we find quite a number of broken promises.
Recently I attended a local government conference at which two main items were discussed. In both cases they concerned broken promises by this Government. One of them related to the provision of television services in rural areas. The Government had promised television reception in those areas within 12 months but of course when the election was over that was found to be an empty promise. The people will have to wait for much longer than 12 months. The other item, which was submitted by quite a number of constituent councils of this association, was the question of fuel equalisation. Like everybody else, the councils had read the statement that the Government would introduce a fuel equalisation scheme. Of course, items on the agenda referred to the Prime Minister’s statement regarding that scheme. It is obvious that those people will not be satisfied with this particular scheme.
Another matter that stands out in the legislation I am sure that the honourable member for Barker will agree with me- is that none of the major country towns receives any assistance. Among the towns in my electorate which will receive no assistance are Burra, Cleve, Cummins, Lock, Peterborough, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Quorn and Whyalla. A large number of the smaller towns also will receive no subsidy. It is quite interesting to note that there is a State National Country Party member in my electorate of Grey. He has what is a reasonably large state country electorate. But no areas in his electorate, with the exception of possibly one or two, will gain any subsidy whatsoever. In Kimba, in the far north-western corner of his electorate, the subsidy will amount to 0.2c a litre or about 8.5c a gallon. Honourable members can see how much assistance that will be for that National Country Party member. I am sure that he will be greatly disappointed that the scheme applies in a limited way only. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a list of the subsidies payable per litre on motor spirit in each State.
The list read as follows-
SUBSIDY PAYABLE PER LITRE ON MOTOR SPIRIT
New South Wales
No subsidy- Bathurst, Bellbird, Berrima, Bowral, Canberra, Cessnock, Coolangatta, Eden, Eureka, Goulburn, Lismore, Lithgow, Nowra, Ruthven, Singleton, Swansea, Taree and Tharwa. 0.1 to 0.5- Adaminaby 0.3, Albury 0.1, Araluen 0.4, Batemans Bay 0.3, Bombala 0.5, Bredbo 0.2, Braidwood 0.4, Broken Hill 0.4, Casino 0.1, Coffs Harbour 0.2, Cowra 0.3, Glen Innes 0.3, Grafton 0.3, Gunnedah 0. 1 , Hay 0.4, Inverell 0.5, Cootamundra 0.5, Kew 0.1, Moruya 0.3, Mudgee 0.3, Narrabri 0.4, Narranderra 0.5, Nimmitabel 0.2, Orange 0. 1, Tamworth 0.2, Wagga 0.5, Yass 0.2 and Young 0.5. 0.6 to 1-Balranald 0.6, Booligal 0.4, Condobolin 1.0, Dubbo 0.6, Gilgandra 0.9, Junee 0.7, Leeton 0.6, Parkes 0.7 and Walgett 0.9.
Above 1- Bourke 1.3, Cobar 1.2, Minindee 1.5 and Wilcannia 2.0.
No subsidy- Ballarat, Bendigo, Buninyong, Coban, Colac, Fernhill, Gelnarmeston, Horsham, Port Fairy, Tallarook, Terang, Timboon, Warrnambool, Yarra. 0.1- Ardmona, Arnold, Benalla, Boon, Cobram, Dookie, Dimboola, Echuca, Glenorchy, Jeparit, Kaniva, Kyabram, Milawa, Nhill, Rochester, Rutherglen Shepparton, Stawell, Wodonga and Yackandandah. 0.2 to 0.9-Beulah 0.5, Corryong 0.8, Irymple 0.6, Kerang 0.5, Lakes Entrance 0.3, Merbein 0.6, Mildura 0.6, Orbost 0.3, Ouyen 0.6, Swan Hill 0.3 and Walpeup 0.6. 1.0 and above- Matlock 1.0 and Omeo 1.3.
No subsidy- Ambrose, Ayr, Bundaberg, Cairns, Childers, Eton, Gatton, Halifax, Ingham, Innisfail, Lucinda, Mackay, Maryborough, Mia Mia, Nambour, Rockhampton, Sarina, Townsville, Victoria, Weipa and Yeppoon.
1 to 0.5-Clare 0.5, Esk 0. 1 , Goondiwindi 0.5, Goonvella 0.5, Herberton 0.1, Killarney 0.4, Maroochydore 0.1, Ml Morgan 0.2, Nebo 0.1, Noosa 0.4, Toowoomba 0.3, Tully 0.2 and Warwick 0.4. 0.6 to 1.0- Bowen 0.9, Brigalow 1.0, Charters Towers 0.7, Dalby 0.6, Gympie 0.7, Pampas 0.9 and Proserpine 0.6.
Above 1- aramac 3.9, Barcaldine 2.7, Blair Athol 1.5, Charleville 2.6, Cooktown 1.2, Cunnamulla 2.7, Eidsvold 1- Andamooka 1.2, Kingaroy 1.2, Longreach 2.7, Mt Isa 2.8, Normanton 3.6, Roma 1.4, Springsure 1.9 and Winton 2.4.
No subsidy- Ardrossan, Bern, Bordertown, Burra, Cleve, Chowilla, Clare, Cummins, Gluyas, Jervois, Kapunda, Kingston SE, Lock, Loxton, Mallett, Moonta, Millicent, Mt Gambier, Naracoorte, Penola, Peterborough, Pinnaroo, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Quorn, Renmark, Struan, Tailem Bend, Victor Harbour, Waikerie, Wallaroo, Whyalla and Yamba. 0.1 to 0.5-Cradock 0.1, Hawker 0.2, Iron Knob 0.3, Kimba 0.2, Robe 0.2, Streaky Bay 0.4, Wannamunna 0.2, Wolseley 0.2 and Yunta 0.3. 0.6 to 1.0-Ceduna 0.8, Glenorchy 0.8, Leigh Creek 0.8, Thevenard 0.8 and Tarcoola 1 .0.
Above 1- Andamooka 1.5, Oodnadatta 1.5 and Penong 1.1.
– The honourable member for Barker also spoke about the difference in petrol prices. I fully agree with the points he made. He mentioned that in Adelaide petrol is 15.7c a litre. I purchased petrol in Adelaide the week before last and paid 15.4c a litre. In the north of Spencer Gulf area, people are paying in excess of 2 lc a litre- that is an area which will be receiving no subsidy. However, those differentials will still apply. In the West, for example, at Ceduna in the far west of South Australia, the price rises to as much as 23c-plus a litre. Of course it will receive a small subsidy- 0.8c a litre or about 3Vic a gallon. But this will not mean a great deal. It will still leave the prices at Ceduna, even with that subsidy, far and above the Adelaide prices. As I have mentioned, it is certainly nowhere near what could be called ‘price equalisation’ of petrol price.
In referring to the differences in prices, one notices that the question of discounting petrol prices does not come into the legislation at all. Until such time as these matters are taken into account, I do not consider that we can talk about any equalisation of prices. In many cases I strongly believe that the country dweller is in some way subsidising the cheap petrol prices paid in the cities. As I have said, the people in Ceduna pay 23c a litre while the people in Adelaide pay just over 15c a litre. The difference is about 8c a litre, which means a difference of 32c to 34c a gallon between Ceduna prices and Adelaide prices. This scheme, of course, is very limited in its application. Although it will assist many areas, it will certainly be a disappointment to the very many people who expected to see some sort of decent scheme which would reduce their petrol prices.
I again refer to the amendment because the amendment refers to the Royal Commission on Petroleum. That Royal Commission made very many recommendations. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Government is prepared to act on the recommendations and information contained in the report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. I think the report gives a pretty detailed study of the industry. It points out the factors in the industry that are hidden and explains why there are differentials in the price of fuel. The terms of reference of the Commission read, inter alia: . . . the Commission is required to inquire into and report upon:
If we could solve some of those problems, I am sure we would be well on the way to ascertaining why differential prices exist in Australia today. Under the heading ‘General Observations’, the report goes on to state:
The single most distinctive feature of the industry in Australia is that its evolution and development has been almost untouched by the rational and integrated policy requirements of government. This policy vacuum is matched by the paucity, in the public domain, of published material which seriously analyses the industry’s problems.
Again, I think the report points out one of the major problems. The Government does not know what is going on because the development of the industry in Australia has gone ahead without any government regulation. There is not a great deal of published material available on which an investigation can proceed.
For its fuel supplies, Australia is largely in the hands of foreign oil companies. Of the nine major oil companies operating in Australia seven are overseas companies. The remaining major companies- that is, Ampol Petroleum Limited and H. C. Sleigh Limited- together supply about 18 per cent of the market. It is quite obvious that Australia is in the hands of some of the most powerful oil companies in the world when it comes to the supply of fuel to Australia. It is true that some major companies are British owned or European owned and that they supply about 43 per cent of our motor spirit. There are also four United States corporations operating in Australia which supply about 38 per cent of the market. All told, the small operators apart from the Ampol and Sleigh companies supply only about three per cent of the market. The Commission in its conclusions makes the point that six out of the seven biggest oil companies in the world have entered the Australian market. The report states:
What is in world terms a small market is divided up amongst nine major companies, all of which have adopted identical marketing styles. To take one example, Amoco entered the market at a time when there were already excessive numbers of service stations and excessive capital outlay in retail marketing. It entered the market by building more service stations and investing even more capital in the market. It entered at a time when the interests of international oil companies in retail markets resulted from a desire to have outlets for as much crude oil as possible. If there were, after the introduction of solus marketing, competitive forces at work, they were not sufficient to prevent not merely excessive investment by the existing marketers, but the entry of further investment of new marketers.
Again one of the problems is that no attempt at rationalisation within the market is made to enable a reduction in costs so that fuel can be sold to Australians at a reasonable price. The proliferation of outlets and over-capitalisation have meant that the Australian purchasers are paying higher fuel prices.
Let me deal with some of the matters that the report mentions. Earlier I mentioned solus trading. The report states:
According to Shell, immediately before the introduction of solus trading, there were 1 1,035 reseller outlets in Australia. By 30 June 1 966 there were 2 1 ,29 1 operative reseller outlets in Australia.
Solus trading commenced in 1951. These facts support the argument that we have far too many outlets and that this helps to add to the problems which we face in the distribution and retailing of petrol. Another problem we are facing is the fact that many of the companies which supply Australia with motor spirit are international companies. These companies are able to take advantage of tax havens overseas. I refer to what is known as ‘vertical integration’ amongst companies. The companies buy their oil overseas and they own the ships that transport the oil. The cost of the product is inflated to cover transport charges in bringing the oil to Australia. The Australian authorities found after examining this matter that the inflated freight charges which are tacked on to the price of the oil resulted in higher priced petrol in Australia. Again this is the sort of activity that makes the position much more difficult.
The report also talks about brand images. We all know the sort of advertising that goes on in respect of the different brands of fuel declaring the additives contained in the fuel, claiming how much better a particular brand of fuel will make a car go and so on. Under the heading ‘Brand Image: Differentiating the Undifferentiable’ the report reads:
Technically, there is a wide scope for variation in the characteristics and quality standards of motor spirit. Motor spirit is a blend of many hydrocarbon compounds. However, the cost of distribution in Australia has led the marketers to distribute by means of product exchange arrangements whereunder one company will draw a large part of the product distributed under its name from the refinery of another company. Thus Australia-wide only 40 per cent of motor spirit sold by Shell retail outlets is refined in Shell refineries, though Shell incorporates its additives into motor spirit, before sale under its brand name.
The report goes on to say:
When motor spirit is collected by a road tanker from the terminal or other supply point for delivery to retail outlets, the marketing company under whose brand name the product is to be sold, may introduce a small quantity of some ingredient, usually a detergent, peculiar to the motor spirit sold under its brand. The range of possible additives is extensive . . . The improvement over the common specifications of motor spirit can only be marginal.
These are a few of the matters which are mentioned in the Royal Commission’s report. For the reasons I have outlined, I feel that this legislation, although it will give some assistance to people in some of the more remote rural areas, is inadequate because many people will miss out completely and there will be some disappointments. In view of the points that I have just referred to in the Collins Royal Commission report, I feel that the amendment deserves support. The second part of the Opposition’s amendment reads: . . . the Bill:
I suggest everybody should have a closer look at that report. Whilst we are not opposing the legislation, we urge that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr
Keating) should receive the support of the House.
Address-in-Reply: Presentation to Governor-General
– In order that I may present the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency, the Governor-General,” at Government House, I shall suspend the sitting until 8 p.m. I would be glad if the mover of and the seconder to the motion, together with all other honourable members would accompany me to present the Address.
Sitting suspended from 5.14 to 8 p.m.
-I inform the House that, accompanied by honourable members, Mr Speaker waited today upon His Excellency the Governor-General at Government’ House, and presented to him the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency’s Speech on the opening of the first session of the Thirty-first Parliament, agreed to by the House on 1 5 March 1978.
His Excellency was pleased to make the following reply:
Thank you for your Address-in-Reply which you have just presented to me.
It will be my pleasure and my duty to convey to Her Majesty the Queen the Message of Loyalty from the House of Representatives, to which the Address gives expression. (Quorum formed).
– I rise to support the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill. I am quite sure that all members of the coalition parties will agree that no greater imbalance could exist than that which is seen in the huge disparity in prices of petroleum products between rural areas of the nation and metropolitan areas. Without expanding any economic reasons, a substantial case can be advanced on social equality grounds for reintroducing this price equalisation scheme. Acting on the Coombs task force report, the Australian Labor Party Government destroyed the petroleum products subsidy scheme that had been introduced by a coalition government in 1965-66. That action has resulted in increasing the cost of fuel by up to 35c a gallon above the price paid in metropolitan regions of Australia. It has resulted in significantly increasing the input costs of our rural sector and the transport industry on which the productive industries so heavily depend. The rural sector uses 19.5 per cent of the total refined petroleum produced while the transport sector uses 21.3 percent.
The purpose of the former petroleum subsidy was simply to reduce the fuel prices in nonmetropolitan areas to levels closer to city prices. The scheme incorporated an arrangement whereby the Government agreed to pay inland transportation costs in excess of 3.3c a gallon. The primary purpose of this Bill is to reduce the prices paid for certain petroleum products by consumers in country areas throughout Australia. Products that will be covered by this scheme are motor spirit, power kerosene, automotive distillate and aviation fuels. This scheme will subsidise freight differentials involved in transporting eligible petroleum products from refining ports and seaboard terminals to country sale points. These freight costs constitute a substantial element of the relatively high prices paid by rural consumers in the more remote areas for various petroleum products. The proposed scheme will subsidise country freight differentials to the extent that country consumers of products covered by the scheme will pay a price which includes no more than 4c per gallon of the transport costs. The program is to operate by means of grants made by the Commonwealth to the State governments pursuant to section 96 of the Constitution. The freight differentials to be subsidised are based on costs submitted by individual oil companies to the Prices Justification Tribunal and accepted by that Tribunal. Rates of subsidy are to be calculated by deducting from these differentials that part of the freight cost to be borne by consumers, namely, 4c per gallon or approximately 0.9c per litre.
The previous scheme was terminated by ministerial action in 1974. That is the reason why our Government has now introduced a clause into this Bill which will not allow this to happen again. It will now require action in the two Houses of this Parliament to terminate the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Act. The Government considers that a scheme of such great significance to rural consumers of petroleum products should not be terminated by ministerial action alone but only by its reference to the Parliament. Accordingly this Bill before the House provides that except as authorised by resolution of each House of the Parliament the Minister shall not revoke or otherwise terminate the operation of this scheme. It should be appreciated that the proposed Australia-wide scheme is directed solely to subsidising freight costs in excess of 4c per gallon. Therefore, it will have no effect on the prices of petroleum in the metropolitan areas and other areas where freight differentials do not exceed the 4c per gallon subsidy margin.
The subsidy scheme will benefit substantially large numbers of Australia’s rural citizens whose economic activities and general well-being are so heavily dependent on the availability of reasonably priced transport and machinery fuels. I think it is important that we recognise that this Bill is only one part of the policy of this Government and future action it may wish to undertake in relation to the oil industry. It should also be understood that this measure will assist all users of petroleum products in rural areas where a 4c per gallon freight cost is exceeded. The benefit will be felt by primary producers, business people, transport operators, people using their vehicles for pleasure and of course the many tourists who come into our rural communities.
I think it is fair to admit that the previous scheme was, and possibly this scheme is, open to criticism on several grounds. Firstly, the transportation costs on which subsidies are based are in fact supplied by the oil companies themselves. Although in the past there were several small reviews associated with changes in the distribution systems, the overall subsidy data was initially determined in 1965 and reviewed only twice- in 1969 and in 1973. I believe that the data was established on the basis of the four lowest company quotations of cost. Unfortunately when the previous scheme was established it became apparent that the companies did not possess accurate cost data and the overall subsidy structure may therefore be questioned. Secondly, the subsidy then and now was based on only inland transportation costs rather than total costs. At that time there were only 39 bulk storage facilities on the Australian cost. Deliveries to these facilities were not subject to subsidy largely because the oil companies themselves charged the same price at these coastal bulk storage facilities as at metropolitan ports. This is somewhat anomalous since obviously major costs are associated with the delivery of fuel from refineries to depots such as Geraldton, Cape Lambert and Broome on the Western Australian coast and similar ports in Queensland such as Cairns, Townsville and Port Alma. However, because these costs were not subsidised, whereas inland delivery costs were, the oil companies may have been and I am sure were encouraged to use less efficient coastal delivery routes. Certainly one could question the overall pricing structure, but it was far from simple to determine the realistic cost figures.
The third criticism that could be made is that, assuming that the cost data supplied by the companies was correct, it is far from certain whether the costs were necessarily incurred. Since transportation costs of fuel are closely related to the quantity transported, I am certain that the subsidy scheme was supporting an inefficient distribution system because it gave no incentive to oil companies to reduce costs of distribution. Of course, as I have already explained, basically the same argument applies to the present scheme.
Finally, the previous scheme may well be criticised on the grounds that it dealt only with transportation costs. The overall price structure was not analysed to determine whether the presubsidy local prices were justified. The mere existence of higher transportation costs certainly does not justify the existence of a price differential because in some cases the higher transport costs might be offset by lower retailing costs.
It is certain that the rural consumers throughout Australia today are being charged excessive fuel prices. The need to scrutinise the total distribution system is apparent from an analysis of direct sale costs. Unfortunately a dissection of marketing costs in the rural and urban areas is not available but I have data from different wholesale markets as they stood in 1972. 1 think we can all appreciate that prices have increased substantially since then. However, at that time inland transportation costs to primary producers amounted to $12.42 per tonne or 4.1c a gallon, which is more than three times the average cost of supplying the overall retail network. However, analysis reveals that the combined costs of agents’ commission, field representatives and installation in depots associated with supplying primary producers was $17.76 per tonne or 5.8c per gallon compared with the Australia wide figure of only $4.30. These figures alone indicate the excessive burden being carried by users of petroleum products in rural areas, particularly those isolated from distribution points and ports.
The Industries Assistance Commission report on crude oil pricing stated that price rises will add significantly to the many difficulties currently being experienced by many Australian industries as major users of fuel whose ability to pass on cost increases is limited. These people will be affected most. Our Government has already given incentives for oil exploration. If we did not do this and if we did not seek to attract exploration and drilling companies back to Australia, we would shortly have been faced not only with higher price rises of the order of cents but also with rises that would double our fuel costs in a few years. Australia has been supplying up to 70 per cent of its annual oil usage. As this percentage has been decreasing expensive imports have been proportionately forcing our fuel costs higher. The advantages of being able to supply a major proportion of our oil needs was a direct result of our Government’s policies. The loss of valuable technology and expertise and the fact that exploration companies are going away from Australia’s shores to other countries are directly contributable to a total lack of understanding by the previous Labor Government in removing concessions and incentives from the industry.
It is imperative that the Government take further positive action in line with the report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum. It is also imperative that this action allow the exploitation of our potential oil reserves. However, it is essential that Australians receive their petroleum products at the cheapest possible price. An international comparison of prices at the retail level would suggest that petrol is cheap in Australia. This is misleading as the Australian tax content of motor spirit is considerably less than that in other countries. For example, in France the price less tax and duties is 23.93c a gallon; in the United Kingdom it is 23.58c and in New Zealand it is 25.9c. However, in Melbourne the price ex-tax is 32.4c a gallon and in Sydney it is 32.1c a gallon. A major explanation of the differences in ex-tax prices probably lies in the cost of retailing. As was pointed out in the report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum, released in the first part of 1975, at a time when Australian and New Zealand currency, tax and motor spirit prices were near parity, the cost in New Zealand of retailing to the motorist from service stations was 1 1.38 per cent of the ex-tax price of 56.2c a gallon. In Victoria it was 44 per cent of the ex-tax price of 65.4c a gallon and in New South Wales it was 42.8 per cent of the ex-tax price.
Australian distribution costs are even more starkly highlighted by the following figures: In 1974 the approved retail margin in New South Wales was 10.9c a gallon to which, of course, had to be added any rental charge. This additional rental has been estimated at as much as 7c a gallon, with the result that the true retail margin in New South Wales is nearly 18c a gallon. In New Zealand the retail margin is only 6.3c a gallon- approximately 35 per cent of the New South Wales margin. Despite the high retail margins for the distributing of petrol in Australia, there is no evidence that excessive profits are being earned in retailing by the companies concerned, the lessees or independent retailers. This is because retail margins are accompanied by high distribution costs. Some years ago a form of trading developed in Australiathis was mentioned by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis)- through contracts in which dealers agreed to sell one brand of motor spirit only. As a direct consequence of this, the number of retail outlets increased from approximately 11,000 in 1951 to 21,000 in 1966. This trend has continued since. The proliferation of retail outlets is, I believe, largely responsible for the high cost of retail distribution in Australia. An analysis of marketing costs reveals that the cost of marketing through a 50,000 gallon a month station is only 62 per cent of the cost per gallon of selling through a 25,000 gallon per month station. It should therefore be possible to reduce prices by up to 10c per gallon if we ignore the effects of inflationary costs during a rationalisation process. Such rationalisation processes would also assist service station proprietors to improve their profitability which, in general terms, has become unrealistically low throughout Australia and, I believe, has created severe hardships for many retailers involved in the petroleum industry.
The rural sector today is virtually dependent on petroleum fuels. Primary industry is export orientated to the extent that approximately 60 per cent of its produce is exported and it does not have the ability to pass on input costs. The whole trend of agriculture since the war has been towards capital intensification. The general lower standard of farm prices has been countered by increased productivity over the years to the extent that today the rural industries basically are dependent on petroleum fuels. The House will be aware that in the United States of America and Canada- our two major competitors in agricultural trade- the on-farm price of automotive distillate and gasoline is below the Australian on-farm price although the prices for crude oil in both countries is approximately twice the price of crude oil in Australia. This indicates that radical changes must be made to rationalise distribution and overcome major inefficiencies in petroleum retailing which would reduce both rural and urban costs. Incentives must be allowed to companies in the search to find and develop local potential. Rural people cannot be expected to produce the bulk of the nation’s export earnings while being penalised for their geographical position.
A noticeable trend towards decentralisation is developing. The growth of both Sydney and Melbourne is slowing and we in the Government have a basic responsibility to assist this trend. The Government clearly is giving energy and energy policy a high priority. Initiatives in respect of taxation, oil pricing, gas, uranium, investment and export controls represent a major effort in tackling our energy problems and opportunities but there is a long way to go yet. The refinement of technologies to extract, process and deliver energy from conventional sources must continue. Two examples of what is required in the Australian context are the technology to explore and to develop in off-shore deep water and new methods of oil recovery from deeper waters.
The development of some of our nonconventional energy sources to the commercial stage appears to be just around the corner. Of these, coal liquefaction and solar energy promise some exciting prospects. We are investigating with West German industry the conversion of coal to oil in Australia. While this process holds some promise of commercial success we must examine other technologies for liquefaction which could contribute to our fuel needs later this century. In the past, Australia has been a world leader in solar energy technology but we need an increase in our research and development effort. The implementation of this measure, the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill, will have a significant impact on fuel costs for those who at present pay excessive penalties for their isolation. We will further reduce this penalty during the life of this Parliament by subsidising freight costs to within half a cent per litre of the average metropolitan price. I support this Bill and reject as nonsense the amendment moved by the Opposition. After all, it was the Opposition’s action when in government which removed the equalisation scheme from our statutes in 1972.
– Honourable members may wonder why I, a representative of an urban electorate, am speaking in this debate.
– You have no one else.
– It is not that we have no one else. It is the other side which has no one else. I looked at the list of honourable members from the Government side who were proposing to speak and found that I had to look very low down on the list before I saw any honourable member from Western Australia, particularly an honourable member from a rural electorate in Western Australia, who was prepared to speak on this measure. I am not surprised that they are a bit coy about speaking because frankly this legislation represents a dreadful sleight of hand on the part of the Government. In December last year we were promised something which the Government then called a fuel equalisation scheme. Even that was wrong because what it really meant was that it was going to introduce a fuel price stabilisation scheme.
Let me read the actual words of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 21 November 1977 leading up to the December election. He said:
Petrol prices in country areas will be reduced to within a cent per litre of the normal city retail price without any increase in city prices as a result.
That sounded fair enough and pretty straight forward. In other words, the Government was going to act to ensure that the difference between city prices and country prices was no more than lc per litre. However, we now find that we have not a fuel price equalisation scheme or even a fuel price stabilisation scheme but something which is being called a freight subsidy scheme. Let me read an extract from the second reading speech of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife). He said:
Honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister, in the course of the last election campaign, stated that prompt steps would be taken after the election to implement a scheme which would subsidise freight differentials involved in transporting eligible petroleum products from refining ports and seaboard terminals to country sale points.
Even that is a misrepresentation because it is not what the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister said that the Government would introduce a scheme which would reduce to within lc the difference between the price paid for petrol in the country and that paid in the city. He said nothing about a freight subsidy scheme, which is what the Government has now introduced. In his second reading speech the Minister went on to say:
The proposed scheme will subsidise country freight differentials to the extent that country consumers of products covered by the scheme will pay a price which includes no more than 4c per gallon of the transport costs.
That sounds the same as what the Prime Minister said in November last year but, of course, it is not. It is nothing like what the Prime Minister said. In order to confuse us and to confuse everbody further- country people, city people and members of parliament alike- the Prime Minister referred in his speech to prices of petrol in terms of cents per litre whereas the Minister referred in his speech to cents per gallon. It always has been a favourite trick of LiberalNational Country Party governments to confuse people.
– Can ‘t you convert?
– Yes, I can convert but the results are not the same. People may think that a price differential of lc per litre is equal to 4c per gallon. Probably the honourable member for Kalgoorlie thinks that that is the case. Of course, it is not the case. The fact is that lc per litre is approximately equal to 4.5c per gallon. In order to make it perfectly simple for the honourable member for Kalgoorlie, I elaborate by saying that 4c per gallon equals less than 0.9c per litre. So in that regard we can see that a further delusion is being perpetrated by the Government.
The second sleight of hand involved in this scheme is to be found in the Minister’s second reading speech where he said that the Government ‘will introduce a scheme to reduce the price paid for certain petroleum products by consumers in country areas throughout Australia’. That sounds fair enough too. That sounds as though country people throughout Australiathat is, everyone living in country areas in Australiawill pay less for their petrol products as a result of the implementation of this apparently great government initiative. I must confess that I am not one who is prepared to take the Government at face value so I thought I would check out the situation to see what it involved for Western Australia, since none of the Western Australian Liberal Party representatives from rural electorates were prepared to tell their constituents exactly what a dreadful scheme this is. For this purpose I chose towns from all the rural electorates throughout Western Australia. This is what I discovered. The amount of freight subsidy which will be paid at the towns listed is as follows: Albany will receive nothing; Bunbury will receive nothing; Busselton will receive nothing.
– They are delivery points.
– Here is one for you.
-Order! The honourable member for Kalgoorlie will not interject. The honourable member for Fremantle has the right to be heard without interruption and he will address his remarks to the Chair.
– The honourable member for Kalgoorlie ought to contain himself because I have a couple of beauties to mention for his benefit. The amount of freight subsidy for these towns is as follows: Carnarvon, nothing; Derby, nothing; Esperance, nothing; Geraldton, nothing.
– They are delivery points.
-Order! I requested the honourable member for Kalgoorlie not to interrupt. I ask him to observe my request or I will have to take action.
-I continue with my list: Kalgoorlie, 1.1c; Karratha, 0.8c; Moora, O.Sc; Northam, 0.3c; Port Hedland, nothing; Narrogin, 0.5c; York, 0.7c. So, far from the situation being that consumers in country areas throughout Australia will benefit, we find that the benefit will be confined to very small parts of Australia. In other words, a very small number of consumers indeed will benefit from the scheme, and not, as the Government and its Government supporters try to tell us, consumers in country areas throughout Australia. The bulk of the country people in Western Australia will receive no assistance from this scheme whatsoever. That is the second point I wanted to make.
My third point is this: I thought I would like to see the extent of assistance provided under this scheme in areas which do receive some support. I wanted to know whether the Prime Minister’s promise would be given effect to by the Government and whether in fact country consumers in Western Australia would pay no more than lc above that paid by people in the city of Perth. I had a look at a few country towns- some of the ones I have already mentioned- and I found, for instance, that in Carnarvon the current price is 22c per litre. After the introduction of this scheme it will still be 22c per litre. In Esperance the current price is 21.9c per litre and after the introduction of this scheme it will still be 21.9c. In Kalgoorlie we find that the scheme will partially work. The price now is 22.3c and it will be 21.2c after the introduction of the scheme. In Northam the price is 21.8c now and after the scheme is introduced it will be 21.5c. At Port Hedland it is 2 lc now and it will be 2 lc after the introduction of the scheme. In Narrogin it is 22.5c and it will be 22c after the introduction of the scheme.
In those towns, which I say are representative of the towns in which the bulk of country people live in Western Australia, we see that the price after the operation of the scheme will be between 21c and 22c per litre. That compares with prices in metropolitan Perth which range from 19.7c down to 16.4c. Even if we take the top Perth price of 19.7c per litre, we find that country people in many country towns will be paying 2.3c per litre more after the introduction of the scheme. That is more than double what the Prime Minister said it would be. Honourable members will recall that he said that the difference would be lc per litre, and in fact it is 2.3c per litre. When that is converted into cents per gallon, which the Government has done in the second reading speech so I think it is fair for me to do it also, we find that people in most of these country centres will be paying 10c per gallon more than people are paying in metropolitan Perth. That is a far cry from the promise which was held out to country voters prior to the election last year. That is comparing rural prices and the top city prices.
Now let us compare rural prices with the lowest of the city prices. I have said that the lowest city price is about 16.4c per litre. As a result of this scheme there will still be a difference of 5.6c per litre between country prices and the lowest city prices. To put it into the old fashioned vernacular used in the second reading speech, people in country areas will be paying 25c per gallon more as a result of this scheme which purports to be a fuel equalisation scheme- or at least it purported to be a fuel equalisation scheme at the time of the last election.
– You have never lived in the bush.
-As a matter of fact I have.
– You do not understand the costs of it.
-I do understand costs. I am just telling the honourable member what they are. I am sure that the people of Kalgoorlie will be delighted to know that, as a result of the introduction of this scheme, they will still be paying 25c a gallon more than constituents of mine are paying in Perth- and this purports to be a fuel equalisation scheme. Even if we take the honourable member’s point and even if we say that as a result of this scheme the people throughout the Kalgoorlie electorate will be paying similar prices -
– Half the benefit is in my electorate.
Order! The honourable member for Kalgoorlie will have an opportunity if he has not had an opportunity to participate in this debate. I ask him to cease interjecting.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would like to draw to your notice the fact that I do not have the opportunity to participate in this debate, and half of the benefit of the scheme is in my electorate.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– There certainly is not, because I do not think that the honourable member for Kalgoorlie actually wants to participate in this debate. I agree with him that there will be a substantial benefit for people in places like Halls Creek, Pannawonica, Meekatharra and so on. But even if we take it that the people in Meekatharra and Halls Creek are going to pay no more than people in Carnarvon or Kalgoorlie, they will still all be paying 25c a gallon more than the lowest prices which my constituents have to pay- and this after we had a scheme which last year at least purported to be a fuel equalisation scheme.
The worst aspect of this legislation is not only that it does not do what it purports to do and that in fact it tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the country people generally- but also that it does not even get to the real problem which is confronting the industry at the moment. The figures which I have cited reveal two important things: Not only is there a great disparity between petrol prices in the city and petrol prices in the country, but also there is a great disparity between prices within any one capital city. What we have to accept is that this problem will never be solved until the Government is prepared to take on the major oil companies. It is not enough for the Prime Minister and for the Premier of Western Australia and his Minister for Labour and Industry simply to blame the discounters for the problems which beset the retail petrol industry. Discounters are only able to survive, are only able to operate, because of the chaos which continues to beset the retail marketing of motor spirit. What those critics of the discounters forget is that the activities of those discount operations has saved millions of dollars to motorists, particularly those in metropolitan areas.
I do not subscribe to the view that metropolitan motorists ought to be privileged in relation to their country counterparts. But what I do say is that this legislation which is being introduced will do nothing to get to the root problems which have brought about this situation. The problems have been caused almost entirely by the pricing policies of the major oil companies. Honourable members will recall that some years ago the major oil companies had control of crude oil at the well-head. When they had that control of crude oil at the well-head, they had a vested interest in maximising their sales because they were taking their profits at the well-head. Therefore the more they could sell as a result of pumping the oil out of the ground, the greater would be their profits. As a result of recent actions of the Middle East countries, of course the major oil companies no longer controlled the crude oil at the well-head. So they now have a vested interest in maximising their margins at the retail end.
What did we have in the past as a result of the oil companies trying to maximise their sales? We had the oil companies pursuing a policy of having a petrol station on every street corner. Now as a result of changes in their economic situation we have had the opposite happening with the oil companies pursuing, rather belatedly, a policy of rationalisation at the retail end in order to cut the costs of retailing and therefore maximise their profits. They are doing so without regard to the interests of the owner-operators or their lessees or managers or whoever else is involved. They do not care if as a result of maximising their profits they squeeze out a lot of petrol station operators who perhaps have given a lifetime of service to the industry. They are not interested in the welfare of those particular people. All they are interested in is reducing the number of service stations in order to maximise their profits.
Everybody accepts that the number of service stations has to be reduced. The fourth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum made that perfectly clear. Also the Australian Automobile Chamber of Commerce accepts that there has to be a reduction in the number of service station outlets. They recognise that the policies pursued by the oil companies in earlier times were entirely wrong. They also realise that an uncoordinated, indiscriminate method of reducing the number of outlets will only disadvantage their members.
What has to happen is that the Government has to take a firm hand in this whole question and ensure that as a result of the necessary rationalisation which has to occur at the retail end of the market, the dealers, the operators and so on are not the ones who bear the brunt of this very necessary development. Until the Government is prepared to take on the major oil companies, until it is prepared to get to the real root cause of this problem, until it is prepared to take on the oil companies over their pricing policies, not only are the dealers and the petrol station operators likely to be the losers but also motorists everywhere will continue to be ripped off.
-The Bill itself is not controversial but, because there is such a variation in the price of petrol throughout Australia today, makes the Bill difficult to explain and difficult for the people of Australia to understand, particularly those people who are paying a far higher price for petrol than those people in the densely populated areas of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. I can understand why the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) feels upset tonight because he has not the opportunity to present to this Parliament the reason why the people of Kalgoorlie are paying a high price for their petrol which is having an adverse effect on their economy because of the high costs involved in the transportation of the goods and so on. He knows the reason. He knows that the people of Perth are paying a good deal less for their petrol. He knows that there is unfairness, a discrimination in the market place and that is the reason he is upset tonight. My colleagues from Tasmania, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr), understand why I get so upset about this petrol situation because we realise that in Hobart which is not a country area- it is a capital city- the people pay 23c a litre average. Yet in Melbourne people pay 15.7c a litre average, and in most capital cities in Australia the price would be approximately the same. So, the people of Hobart are paying 30c a gallon more than people are paying in other capital cities.
– What is in this for you?
-That is a stupid question. I will continue with some of your points later. In fact, this higher price for petrol is costing the economy of Tasmania $13. 9m. Yet the representatives of Tasmania come into this Parliament and fight for about $2m in apple subsidies. We fight for this and we fight for that. The people of Tasmania who are listening tonight are paying $ 13.9m for petrol. Yet people ask me to be calm, cool and collected in respect of what is occurring in the petroleum industry.
– It still does not solve the problem.
-The honourable member for Melbourne Ports should not say anything.
-Order! The honourable member for Franklin will address the Chair and not be sidetracked by interjections. I suggest that honourable members on my left cease interjecting.
-That interjection did not worry me at all.
-Order! The honourable member for Franklin will not take any notice of interjections.
-The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is sitting at the table. I feel sorry for him because he is trying desperately to introduce a scheme which in theory and in principle will assist the country people of Australia. I do not want to attack the oil companies tonight but if we consider a relevant city price we find that there is not a relevant city price. The price varies from city to city. Unfortunately this good scheme that the Government is trying to introduce in this legislation is unfair insofar as we are not able to pinpoint a relevant city price. Therefore, unfortunately, this legislation is not going to benefit the people whom we would like it to benefit. The reasons are very difficult to explain. There are Opposition supporters who tonight will support an amendment. But I ask those honourable members whether they are going to face up to their constituents, for example in the Melbourne area, and say to the people there: ‘You have had it so good for 10 years. You have had discount petrol for 10 years, whereas the rest of Australia virtually has been subsidising the people in Melbourne’.
– They have had it easy.
-They have had it easy. Are those honourable members going to say to those people that they should pay higher prices for their petrol and that the other people in Australia, including those in the country areas and Tasmania, should pay less? I mention that before I continue with other aspects. The real point is that there is inequality. Some things that have been presented by oil companies have not been in the best interests of the Australian public. Unfortunately, we are discussing good legislation that has been spoilt because there is no relevant city price. The variation is causing the problem. I am going to cross the floor tonight to vote with the Opposition. I will sit by myself. I will sit over there and say to myself that in principle I am voting against the oil companies which have caused so many difficulties.
– Oh, don’t do that.
-No, I am sorry, I have to. The oil companies have penalised the people of Tasmania for too long. It is about time that somebody said to himself that there is a chance of showing some principle. There is a chance to sit on the other side of the House tonight and vote against the oil companies just to indicate that we will not let what is happening in Tasmania continue. We have allowed the oil companies to have their way far too long. It has cost too many people too much money. Tasmania has the highest cost of living in Australia and it has the lowest wages. Yet, unfortunately, it is being penalised because of the high prices for petrol. The oil companies say to me: ‘Bruce, it is the market forces prevailing’. The oil companies are charging the maximum wholesale price in Tasmania. They are decentralising. They are getting the best out of Tasmania. Yet they are moving their office facilities out of Tasmania to Melbourne and Sydney and leaving Tasmania to starve. They are not providing opportunities for young Tasmanians to work within their industries. The oil companies are leaving us yet they are charging us through the neck. They have the audacity to say to me: ‘You are being critical of the oil companies’. I am not. I am talking about being fair. We have to be fair to Tasmania. If we do not do so tonight- I know my two Tasmanian colleagues will support me- we will not have the opportunity to do so again.
I think about the 16,000 service station proprietors in Australia who are trying to employ people and who are trying to do the best for the economy of Australia. I am afraid that slowly but surely they are being eroded. Slowly but surely they are being discriminated against. I believe that the oil companies have to contribute to the restructuring of the oil industry in the best interests of all Australians. That is the very reason why I will make a move in principle tonight. I challenge the Opposition, in fact all honourable members from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, to remember that when they vote tonight they virtually will be saying that people in their cities are paying too little for their petrol and that they should be paying more in order to subsidise the poor people in Tasmania and in the country areas who have been penalised for too long.
Honourable members talk about the fourth report of the royal commission. It is obsolete. It is absolute nonsense to talk about it. I spoke about it two years ago and I said then that discount petrol was available only in Melbourne. But slowly and surely it has spread to every State in Australia. ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pry Ltd and the other jobbers are only parasites of some of the smaller oil companies who sell to them at a price well below the wholesale price so that they are able to sell far below the retail price normally charged. Where do the profits of ACTU-Solo go? I ask honourable members to consider that carefully when they vote tonight. Do honourable members remember the cent that was to be paid to the New South Wales Labour Council until the Transport Workers Union was able to transfer the petrol? When honourable members vote tonight they should remember that quite clearly. When we vote tonight we are voting for Tasmania and also the country areas. That is the important thing. The legislation that is going through tonight shows that we are trying to give the country people an opportunity to be able to purchase petrol at a price that is fair and just. We hope that after we make a -move tonight the people of Australia and the oil companies will understand that we mean business. That is important. It takes a small State like Tasmania to bring that out into the open. This superficial politicking has been going on for too long. This matter is important to our economy.
I have spoken on the petroleum industry on many occasions. I think that about IS months ago, prior to ACTU-Solo entering the market in New South Wales, I spoke about discount petrol. I think Opposition members realise tonight that I have hit upon a point that we have been trying to hit upon for many years. If we all work together constructively we will be able to overcome the problems within the oil industry. It is about time that we started to work together. We all know what is going wrong. We have heard superficial speeches tonight. Honourable members have said that we should touch on this and touch on that but we all know that the present situation is wrong and unfair. We know that it is causing undue controversy and undue problems to certain areas of Australia. Together we can overcome it. We can start talking to the oil companies and say that we are the bosses, not them, and we can dictate terms in the best interests of all people. That is the important thing.
I do not think I need to continue my speech. The people of Tasmania have been subjected to too much unfair trading for too long. Tonight I hope that they realise that we are trying to fight for the people of Tasmania and also the people in the country areas; that we are trying to make certain that the oil industry is restructured in the best interests of all people. Hopefully, in the long term, everybody will realise this precious resource should be contained and controlled in everybody’s interests.
– I rise to join this debate almost at the invitation of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). I represent an inner urban electorate in the heart of Melbourne. I am bound to say that I have a genuine response to the statements made by the honourable member for Franklin. The reality is, as all members of this Parliament know who come from any of the major centres, and Melbourne is one, that there is no such thing as a city price. The honourable member for Franklin is quite right. In the short drive from my home in Richmond to the Parliament of Victoria one passes two or three petrol stations that are involved in discount practices. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) who is nodding his head, knows from experience of his own area that there can be tremendous variations in prices by virtue of discounting. I think initially that the honourable member for Franklin was inclined to say that this is really a question of Tasmanians against the rest of Australia.
– Are you talking about the bush areas?
– I know a lot about the bush areas. I spent a lot of the time going around the bush areas in my State. People who live in rural Victoria have been ripped off by the oil companies in Australia and will continue to be ripped off, just like the electors of the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) who, unlike the honourable member for Franklin, chooses not to get up in this House and make a speech but tries to make a speech by way of interjection. I will be interested to know whether the honourable member for Kalgoorlie will be taking the same principled stand as his colleague.
This matter is very simple. The House is being asked to decide whether it supports the amendment that is before it. At least one honourable member from the Government side who represents a State that is grossly affected will support the amendment. I would like to know whether the honourable member for Kalgoorlie, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom), the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) and the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman) share the view of their colleague. We are in an interesting situation. There are two Ministers who presumably sat in Cabinet and approved this legislation coming into this Parliament and who will be casting their votes against the interests of the people of Tasmania as they are perceived by the honourable member for Franklin. I agree with his argument. The issues were put succinctly by the honourable gentleman.
This Government has had many requests for a royal commission to bring out the facts over the years from the automobile chambers of commerce, from all those people who are concerned with what is occurring in the oil industry in Australia. It is essentially a question of whether this Government is prepared to see that some equality is provided to consumers living in rural Australia, whether it will provide that sort of equality or whether it will simply- as the legislation that comes into this House does, and that is all it does- provide essentially a freight subsidy. Honourable members opposite know that the promise made to the electorate by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is not fulfilled by this legislation. He promised the people of Australia that immediately after the election the Government would take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country without adding to city prices. That statement is clear and unequivocal. Honourable members have to ask themselves whether this legislation achieves that result. Without the proposed amendment this legislation does not go anywhere near achieving that result. This legislation provides a scheme which is designed to subsidise freight differentials in the transportation of petroleum products. That is the first thing it sets out to do. The second is that it will subsidise freight costs so that country consumers will pay no more than 4c a gallon for the transport costs.
The scheme is estimated to cost between $3 5 m and $36m. It is hoped that the distributors will enter into an agreement with the Commonwealth to pass on the full benefits of the subsidy. But this is not the scheme that was promised to the people of Australia by the Prime Minister. That is the point that has to be understood by all those rural consumers who are entitled to say, as has been said in this House by at least one honourable member supporting the Government, that it does not do that. For that reason he is supporting the amendment proposed on behalf of the Opposition. The Prime Minister promised to equalise city and country prices. There is no uniform city price anywhere in Australia. Perhaps it would have been better if the Prime Minister and the Government had first of all instituted a royal commission into the whole operation of the oil industry so that the real nature of that industry and the exploitation of the Australian people by the large oil companies could have been properly examined. Then, on the basis of whatever findings were found by that commission, this Parliament could have introduced legislation which would have provided equality in terms of prices between rural and metropolitan users.
This scheme does not provide equality; it only subsidises freight costs in a very limited way. It does not equalise prices at all. This Bill is a bit like the tactic that is used by some retailers who put advertisements advertising cheap commodities in the centre page of a newspaper. When one goes into the store one finds that the commodities are not worth buying but once one is through the door one might buy something else at a higher price. This legislation does not solve the problem confronted by the average user in rural Victoria, Tasmania or in any of the major rural areas of the Commonwealth. It ought not to be forgotten that this Government increased petrol prices by Ilea gallon this year and will increase the price by 10c a gallon in each of the next four years by raising the price of Australian crude oil. What benefit did that give to the average Australian motorist? None at all. But it was a considerable subsidy to the oil companies. It represents over $ 1 50m in profit to the oil companies.
In my own State, Esso-BHP that operates with a monopoly in Bass Strait, will benefit. That single action of the Government is to put $1 10m in its pockets. It is an extraordinary action of any government in one move to say to Esso-BHP: ‘We are going to take legislative action which will provide you- without anything else happening, without your sinking a single extra oil well or producing a single extra barrel of oil- with an increase in profit of $ 1 10m a year’. But his House is now expected to agonise over a piece of legislation which passes at very best only marginal benefits to country consumers. What expense are we talking about? An amount of $3Sm to $36m. That shows the priority and the attitude of this Government when it has to take a stand against the oil companies. Compare its actions in terms of the interests of the oil companies as against Australian consumers. Apart from the $110m profit to Esso that legislative action of the Government represents an increase of $42m profit to Western Australia Petroleum Pty Ltd. This means that because six-sevenths of our oil industry in Australia is owned by overseas companies, 90 per cent of that $150m will be going out of Australia.
I want to bring the House back to the interesting question that now confronts the Government. It has a simple choice. It can adopt that amendment that is before the House and in doing that it would at least recognise the nature and the dimension of this problem and move into a position where it could take further action to deal with it. But if we pass this legislation in its present form, using the sort of rhetoric and the arguments that are presented in the second reading speech then in fact we are simply perpetrating a confidence trick on the people of Australialargely on the rural consumers. It is a confidence trick directed at the people of Australia. Again, while I commend the action taken by one supporter of the Government from Tasmania who has found his conscience on this matter -
– They cannot disagree. They get the sack. The Deputy Whip got knocked off today.
– One lives dangerously in the presence of the Prime Minister’s knife.
-Order! I invite the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to address himself to the Bill.
– I will address myself to the Bill but I am certainly entitled to say that members of the Government parties live very uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister’s knife.
-You are not entitled to respond to interjections.
– I am entitled to make that statement, sir, and I make it.
– Frank Crean did not act like that.
– That is so, he represented his seat far more adequately than the honourable member who has just interjected and behaved himself with far more honour and principle in this House than the honourable member has thus far shown.
– I invite the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to address himself to the Bill.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. An honourable member is speaking from outside the chamber. Is he entitled to address the Chair from outside the chamber? The honourable member is outside the chamber and is speaking in the House.
-The point of order is well taken. I call the honourable member for Melbourne Ports.
– I challenge the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman).
– Where is he?
– I think he has been so moved by the conscience of one of his colleagues that he has decided that the best place to be is outside this chamber. At least the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) chooses to remain. I challenge the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr).
– He is a good member.
– I want to know whether he shares the view of his colleague about the future of Tasmania. I challenge the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom). I challenge the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman).
When this legislation was being discussed in the Cabinet, as it must have been, surely those young Ministers would have been prepared to say that this legislation is a fraud on the people of Tasmania and that they would not have a bar of it. I realise it is a bit dangerous to disagree with the Prime Minister but surely they were prepared to take the view which has been expressed so eloquently in the House tonight. That is what has been said in this House by a supporter of the Government. We, and particularly the people of Tasmania, are entitled to know whether there is only one member of the Liberal Party in Tasmania who has the courage to stand up to the Prime Minister. Is there only one member of the Liberal Party in Tasmania who is prepared to say: ‘I will not be a party to it. I will not have a bar of this degree of blatant misrepresentation. ‘
– We have five out of five down there.
– I have not heard from the honourable member for Kalgoorlie during the course of this debate. It is very easy to make speeches and get your name in Hansard by way of interjection. I challenge the honourable member for Kalgoorlie to get up in this House and tell us what benefits flow to the people of Kalgoorlie from this legislation because that is what the honourable gentleman and the people of Kalgoorlie were promised by the Prime Ministernothing more, nothing less.
– Sit down and I will have a go.
– The problem with the honourable gentleman is that he does not use petrol; he sniffs it. The honourable gentleman is entitled to tell the people of Kalgoorlie -
-Order! I request the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to withdraw that statement about the honourable member for Kalgoorlie.
-The honourable gentleman has not requested me to withdraw it.
– I am requesting you to withdraw it. I am doing it from the Chair because those people who know about petrol sniffing would take that as a very serious allegation against any person. I ask you to withdraw that comment.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, on the basis of your knowledge and the honourable member’s lack of knowledge, because he does not object, I will certainly withdraw it.
– I feel that the honourable member is withdrawing in bad grace.
- Sir, never let it be said that I treat the Chair with anything less than full grace. One is entitled to ask of those members who will cast their votes tonight, having been told by members of the Opposition- we are used to the fact that they do not believe us and do not accept our arguments- and having been told by one of their colleagues that what they are doing in casting their votes -
– I did not say that at all.
– What the honourable gentleman indicated was that he would vote for the amendment, and properly so. I commend him fork.
– That is me, not the others.
– All I can say is that the honourable gentleman has a perception which certainly is higher than that of at least two members from his State who are members of the Cabinet. They do not see the same argument.
– You are politicking.
– I am sorry to offend the susceptibilities of the honourable gentleman but the reality is that there comes a time in this House when members representing rural electorates are entitled to speak up- I commend the honourable gentleman for it- on behalf of the interests of their electorates as they perceive them. On this occasion it happens that we share the view of the honourable gentleman. The amendment states very clearly that this legislation does not fulfil in any way the promise that was made to rural Australia in terms of equalising the price of petroleum products between city and country. It is as simple as that. All we are saying is that if it is good enough for the Prime Minister to say on the hustings to the people who live outside major regional centres that this Government will equalise petrol prices, the legislation should reflect that promise. It is as simple as that.
– Remember that you will have to face the electors in Victoria.
– Let me place my position on the record so that everyone understands it. As far as I am concerned the people in Victoria -
-The people in Melbourne, in my electorate, are Australians and are entitled to challenge the oil companies on their exploitation of those reserves and their exploitation of people living outside metropolitan areas and they ought to be taking the lead. That is my position and I make no apology for it. This legislation perpetrates a fraud on every consumer who lives outside a major metropolitan area. The best thing the Government can <lo with this legislation is to take it away, have another look at it, and bring back legislation which gives every Australian a fair go. It will not do that because it is afraid to take on the oil companies that at the moment exploit not merely the Australian people but also our resources. They particularly exploit those people who live outside metropolitan areas.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I appreciate the fact that the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Dean) has forgone his opportunity to speak in this debate and has allowed me to say a few words. Approximately half of the benefits of this legislation will benefit the people of the Kalgoorlie electorate. I was very disappointed to hear the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) engage in muck-raking and delve into the depths of dirty politics rather than talk about the facts.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to a point of order. I find offensive the claim that I engaged in muck-raking. I ask the honourable member to withdraw it.
-There is no substance in the point of order, but the honourable member for Kalgoorlie might care to rephrase his statement.
-I deplore the fact that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports took such an unsavoury personal attitude in this debate, because this is a very serious matter. It involves people whom the honourable member for Melbourne Ports would have no opportunity of understanding. He would not understand the traumatic situations and the hardships faced by those poverty-stricken people who live in outback and inland areas of Australia. I also appreciate the comments of the honourable member for Frankliin (Mr Goodluck) who tonight put very clearly some of the problems as he sees them in relation not only to Tasmania but to all areas of Australia. There is no question but that the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) misrepresented completely the situation in relation to this fuel subsidy legislation that we are debating tonight. Almost all the areas he mentioned were points of distribution. They are ports around the coast of Australia; ports which, in fact, enjoy the lower price of petrol; ports which will not be subject to any freight subsidy because there* is no freight charged from port to port. There is no question at all that the honourable member for Fremantle completely misrepresented this situation. He fails utterly to understand the high cost of living in areas like Wiluna, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing and Laverton.
– What about Carnarvon?
-I could quote a long list of centres within Western Australia. There is no doubt at all that the honourable member fails utterly to understand the problems faced by these people.
– Tell me about Carnarvon?
-There is no question at all that the subsidy scheme for fuel within Australia will benefit a large number of people throughout Western Australia.
– How many?
– It is no good saying -
-The honourable member for Kalgoorlie will resume his seat. While the honourable member for Fremantle was speaking I endeavoured to protect him from interjections. I ask him to extend the same courtesy to the honourable member for Kalgoorlie.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I think I have a right to defend myself against -
– If the honourable member feels he has been misrepresented he will have an opportunity to make that point later. I call the honourable member for Kalgoorlie.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am quite certain that I have not misrepresented the honourable member for Fremantle because he is concurring with every word I say. This legislation, which initially will subsidise the freight charged on fuel to the extent of approximately 4c a gallon in isolated areas of Australia, is only the first step in the Government’s policy to bring the price of fuel in inland and isolated areas to within 2c a gallon or half a cent a litre of the normal retail price of petrol in metropolitan areas. I appreciate the action of the honourable member for Herbert in allowing me to take the time allotted to him tonight. It is significant that when the scheme is implemented the price, for example, of aviation fuel in the Townsville area will be within .56 of £ cent a litre of the cost in metropolitan areas. In Tully it will be within 2c a litre and in Mount Isa it will be within 2.8c a litre. I want to make this point quite clear because this will be of immense benefit not only to the electorate of Kalgoorlie but also to all rural electorates of Australia. It is a matter that has been of great interest to all the rural electors of Australia and it is significant that it will not penalise the metropolitan electors. It will have no effect on the metropolitan prices of fuel throughout Australia. In fact, it is clear that the discounting which is presently taking place throughout Australia will continue to take place. We must be mindful, however, of the profits and problems associated with discounting in the metropolitan area. But we are not talking about discounting in the metropolitan area; we are talking about freight subsidies for the rural areas of Australia.
The price of fuel in the rural areas of Australia flows into the price of almost every commodity in those areas. The farther out one goes, the higher the cost of the commodity, the higher the cost of production. Whether that commodity is going to the outback or whether it is produce that is being sold in the metropolitan area, there will be immense benefit from the fuel equalisation scheme. It is part of the Government’s total approach to the energy problem. It is only one small part of the picture and it is very significant that the Government has taken this step which was part of its election promises. This Government will keep its promises. It has a track record of keeping its promises. The fuel subsidy scheme, as announced in the election policy speech in 1977, is today being implemented. Honourable members must remember that some of the oil companies have no intention of servicing country areas. They never have and they never will. Because of that situation other oil companies are faced with the prospect of ever-diminishing returns and the possibility of being forced to withdraw from country areas.
There is no way that we can or should equalise totally fuel prices applicable in the retail markets in the metropolitan areas with the prices in the retail markets in the most remote areas of Australia. In my electorate, for instance, there are areas in which people presently pay in excess of 30c a litre or $1.30 a gallon. Honourable members can take it whichever way they like. That price would appear to be necessary at the retail outlet to allow that retailer a fair return on his outlay. Without some assistance there is no possibility of the normal retailer bringing his price to the same price as applies in metropolitan areas. The scheme which has today been introduced by the Government, will bring fuel prices in rural areas to within a reasonable limit of metropolitan prices. There is no question at all that this is an immense benefit to the rural producer. It will be of immense benefit in containing costs of commodities in rural areas. It will be of tremendous benefit to the ordinary average consumer in rural areas. Honourable members who live in metropolitan areas, particularly members of the Opposition, have no concept of paying $1.50 a gallon for fuel and of the effect it has on the everyday costs of living. Honourable members opposite have no concept of an average wage earner living on the basic wage in a very remote area having to travel hundreds of miles to obtain basic commodities and the most basic facilities; having to travel 200 miles to receive medical attention or to pick up his mail. Honourable members opposite have mail shoved into letter boxes but some people have to travel hundreds of miles. It is not uncommon for them to have to travel 300 miles to pick up their mail.
– That takes petrol.
-That takes petrol. The concept of having to pay in the vicinity of $ 1 .50 a gallon for fuel is out of the grasp of people like the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) or the honourable member for Melbourne Ports and others who live in metropolitan areas of the eastern seaboard. They have no idea of the total cost of living and the hardships that are suffered by people who live in remote areas. This equalisation scheme, which will bring fuel within their grasp, is a remarkable and significant form of assistance. Members of the Opposition would have no worries at all about forcing pensioners to pay $ 1.50 or $2 a gallon for fuel.
– That is another question.
– I happen to live in that area and to know those people. I have experienced those conditions for many years. I have lived in that area for 28 years. I have seen more breakfast times than breakfasts.
– Wipe your eyes. You are a hypocrite.
-That is more than the honourable member for Melbourne would have seen.
– He is laughing.
– He is laughing about the situation. There are poor people in this country. There are people who have experienced hardships.
- Mr Deputy Speaker -
-Does the honourable member wish to take a point of order?
– Yes, I do.
– I do not wish the honourable member to take a frivolous point of order.
– Is it in order for the honourable member for Kalgoorlie to make us all sick?
-That is not a point of order.
– He is fly blown.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I take exception to that remark.
– I did not hear the comment that has been objected to by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. If it was offensive I ask the honourable member for Melbourne to withdraw it.
– I do not know what I am supposed to withdraw.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your intervention on my behalf. It is clear that Opposition members are advertising their ignorance of this subject and the fact that they fail utterly to understand the tremendous costs faced by people in outback areas and the tremendously traumatic position in which they are placed. They fail to understand the benefits that this legislation will bring to people living in metropolitan areas. This legislation means that people in rural areas will be able to deliver their produce, their vegetables, fruit and eggs, at a greatly reduced cost than they have been able to do till now. When honourable members who live in metropolitan areas, although they fail to understand the situation, next travel on holidays there will be savings for them because they will be able to buy fuel at lower prices. When they travel into rural areas on holidays and enjoy the remarkable scenery and our magnificent holiday resorts, they will be able to buy fuel at the equalised price. Perhaps next Christmas when they are travelling on holidays, towing their caravans around Australia or travelling along the Eyre Highway, they will be able to buy fuel at a lower price in those areas than they can buy it today.
This legislation is very significant to people in those areas who are trying to eke out a living despite the present high costs. The benefits of this legislation are immense. It may very well mean the difference between staying in business and going out of business for people in the pastoral industry throughout much of Western Australia. I support this legislation wholeheartedly. I implore the House to pass it by an absolute majority because it is vital to the people who live in these areas and depend on fuel so much. They are relying on getting lower fuel prices. This Government on which they depend has a much better track record than the Opposition in looking after and assisting the people who live in remote areas. I implore the House to pass this Bill so that the people living in my electorate and other remote electorates throughout Australia, particularly the electorates of Franklin and Herbert, can enjoy the benefits that this legislation will bring.
– And Eden-Monaro.
-And Eden-Monaro, as my colleague has said. The legislation will be of immense benefit to these people. I completely reject the Opposition’s amendment because it fails utterly to realise the benefits that will flow from the legislation.
Mr DAWKINS ( Fremantle)-! wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. During his speech the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) said that I had misrepresented the scheme and failed to understand it. The point I make is that I do understand the scheme and its benefits to people in remote areas. What I said was that people in Carnarvon and Port Hedland will derive no benefit at all from this scheme and will still be paying at least 10c and up to 25c a gallon more than people in Perth even after this scheme has been implemented.
-The performance of the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) at best can be described as shabby. This evening he has consistently interjected throughout contributions to this debate from speakers on this side of the chamber. He continues to interject and, if he interjects during my contribution, I will ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to take firm action to either remove him from the chamber or make him cease interjecting. His contribution was not in any way representative of the problems that the people in his electorate face. His electorate does not have a monopoly on hardship, nor do country people have a monopoly on hardship. The Opposition is well aware of the hardship faced by people in country areas and is sympathetic to them but they are not the only people who have difficulties. It is the efforts of people such as the honourable member for Kalgoorlie to divide the Australian community into ‘us’ and ‘them’ that causes many of the problems we as a society have. His heart-rending appeals would be much more admired if he had the courage of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) to stand up and declare himself on a point of principle. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie, as do numerous other honourable members opposite, knows that this legislation is a fraud. It does not in any way implement the clear undertaking given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) during the last election campaign. Let us recall the words of the Prime Minister just prior to the election when speaking in respect of petrol prices. He said:
Immediately after the election the Government will take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country without adding to city prices.
That undertaking rests on the basic assumption that there is a city price which can be clearly identified and which will be uniform within cities within a State and, hopefully, across the nation. That is not the case. Nowhere in the Bill is there a definition of a city price. All those who sit opposite, excluding the honourable member for Franklin, know that very well. However, in deference to the Prime Minister and the all powerful oil companies, they are prepared to ride along and participate in presenting a fraud to the people of Australia, and even to their own constituents. I move to the second part of the Prime Minister’s promise. He went on to say:
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than lc per litre or 4c per gallon above city prices and to less than half a cent per litre, 2c per gallon, in the life of the new Parliament.
– Hear, hear!
-Again the honourable member for Kalgoorlie interjects. Again he indicates the dilemma that faces Government supporters. They know what this Bill really means. They know what the Prime Minister’s promise was. The Bill merely subsidises the freight differential in the carriage of petroleum products so that any freight costs over 4c per gallon will be subsidised.
– Have you ever been to the bush?
– That was not the Prime Minister’s promise. His promise was to equalise petroleum prices between country and city. I suggest that first of all we should define a city price. Within any city there is a wide range of prices.
At the core of this problem are the marketing practices and malpractices of the oil companies. We all know very well the substantial funds that have gone from oil companies to the political slush funds of those who sit opposite.
– What rubbish!
-Certainly the Prime Minister presents a policy but in effect it is sleight of hand.
– You do not know anything about it.
– It appears to be something that it is not. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek your protection from the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. He is determined to prevent debate on this subject.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member will continue his speech, and the House will come to order.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I find the remark which was just made by the Government Whip most offensive and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– I rise to take a point of order. There is nothing offensive about a remark from me that it was the Opposition when in Government which withdrew the petrol equalisation scheme. There is nothing offensive at all in that; it is the truth.
-The honourable member for Bendigo will resume his seat.
– When the truth becomes offensive -
-Order! The honourable member for Bendigo will resume his seat or I will take action. I call upon the honourable member for Shortland to continue his speech but this time without interruption.
– The point I was making was that at the core of the issue are the marketing procedures and malpractices of the oil companies in Australia. We all know of the substantial funds which have flowed from those companies to those who sit opposite election after election. Those funds helped to put many honourable members opposite in the Parliament. Surely those who sit opposite will not now vote against the best interests of the oil companies. But the honourable member for Franklin -
– I rise on a point of order. If the honourable member for Shortland cannot tell the truth he has no respect for this House.
-Order! The honourable member for Bendigo will resume his seat. There is no point of order involved. If he takes frivolous points of order I will take action.
-It seems, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Government Whip is determined to defy you. It can only reflect that he also has had a liquid tea.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, is that now a frivolous point of order?
-Order! The honourable member for Bendigo will resume his seat.
– Make him withdraw.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I put it to you that the statement just made by the honourable member -
-Order! The honourable member for Wilmot will resume his seat. I am sure that on reflection the honourable member for Shortland would wish to withdraw the statement he made about the honourable member for Bendigo.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, there are many forms of liquid tea. If the honourable member concerned chooses to interpret the comment in a particular fashion and if it upsets him, I withdraw it. The point I am trying to make is that the marketing malpractices of the oil companies are the core of the issue. For the Government to talk about equalising city prices and country prices of petrol is simply to talk about a fantasy because there is no such thing as a city price.
I go on to deal further with the legislation. As we said, the Prime Minister made a very clear promise to take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country without adding to city prices. But this legislation provides for a subsidy to cover that freight differential by limiting the difference in price to 4c per gallon. I reinforce the remarks made by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) and subscribe to the validity of those remarks. Of the 10,000 locations in Australia, only 52 per cent of them will receive any subsidy. In addition, few of the locations in that 52 per cent are in provincial cities. Further examination shows that in the case of only 33 per cent of them will the subsidy be more than lc per gallon. So, in effect, what we have here is a complete and deliberate misrepresentation.
It is to the credit of the honourable member for Franklin that he has recognised the deception perpetrated by the Government. He has recognised that he has a Prime Minister whose word cannot be trusted at election time or at any other time. We on this side of the House challenge the Tasmanian colleagues of the honourable member for Franklin, if they are as interested as he is, if they are not prepared to support the differential in pricing being applied by the oil companies to the detriment of Tasmania, to join with the honourable member as men of principle and to support the amendment. All too often we hear pleas from honourable members opposite about transport costs and about the disadvantage that transport costs place upon people who live outside the metropolitan areas.
– Quite right.
– The honourable member for Wilmot says: ‘Quite right’. At least he knows something. Transport costs affect everybody and the price of petroleum is a major element in the transport cost structure. If we are to do something substantial for people who live outside the metropolitan areas, to enable them to get their products to market, to enable them to get their exports to the seaports, to enable them to have the necessities of life brought into their locations, we have to examine closely the equity of transport pricing. Under this fraudulent scheme the fundamental factor is that the subsidy to be provided by this legislation will not result in equity because it ignores the basic requirement -it ignores the need to define and to set out a city price for petrol.
As I said, a range of different prices exists in any city in Australia. If Melbourne, through pressure applied by the consumers, is able to force the oil companies into acting- let me put it very gently- as free enterprise organisations, if Melbourne is able to convince the oil companies to enter into a climate in which more competition takes place, then good luck to the people of Melbourne. I thought honourable members who sit opposite were more interested in competition and free enterprise. But it is not the responsibility of the people of Melbourne to implement an orderly system of petroleum product marketing in this country; that is the responsibility of this Government. It is running away from its responsibility by putting forward legislation such as that which we are debating.
-Obviously the honourable member supports the discrimination against Tasmania. If the honourable member for Wilmot is happy to say that he supports discrimination against the people of Tasmania and all that that entails in regard to the cost structure of Tasmanian products and the burden that that places upon Tasmania in getting its products to the mainland, he ought to stand up and say so. It is the responsiblity of the Government to create an orderly system of marketing. The reason why it does not do so is very clear. It is in the pockets of the oil companies.
More than two years have elapsed since the forth report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum was presented to this Parliament. For more than two years the Government has had more than ample opportunity to look at the recommendations of the Commission, to look at the equity which is involved, to establish an energy agency in this country, and to see that there is equity in the distribution of petroleum products and the pricing practice that goes with it. We in the Opposition, in moving the amendment put before the House by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), recognise the failure of this legislation. For the benefit of honourable members opposite I will read that amendment.
– We know it.
– Some honourable members opposite would not be able to read. It states:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that the Bill:
implement the election promise of the Government “to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country”, and
improve the adequacy of the existing petroleum marketing and distribution system in country areas, and
is silent on the defects in the system outlined in the 4th Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum ‘.
In essence, the Government is running away from the problem. By this very legislation it is compounding the problem and all of the difficulties and inequities associated with marketing petroleum products in this country. The legislation is a fraud and it reflects the association of the Prime Minister not only with IBM Australia Ltd but also with the oil companies. The Bill is a fraud. It deserves to be rejected and the amendment deserves to be carried.
-We have just heard from the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) a great deal of emotional rhetoric which means absolutely nothing. In order to bring some common sense back into the debate, following the piffle we have heard so far tonight, I think we should define very clearly what the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill is all about. The honourable member for Shortland failed to recognise that there is a distinction between the freight component of transporting fuel to country areas and the pricing arrangement which is determined by the fuel companies. That is essentially what this Bill is all about. The Bill is designed to equalise the freight component, the cost of transporting fuel to country areas. In that respect I fully support the Bill.
The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) in his speech earlier tonight made the point very clearly that the oil companies are far from blemish because of the pricing arrangement which they have entered into throughout the length and breadth of this country. In his campaign to get the oil companies to enter into a responsible and reasonable pricing arrangement, I give the honourable member my full support. What we have to keep very clearly in our minds is that this Bill is not about pricing arrangements, either wholesale or retail; it is about the freight component of transporting fuel to country areas. I would be remiss in my duty to the country people in the areas encompassed by the electorate of Wilmot if I did not give this Bill my full support because the Bill is about the disadvantaged people in the country areas, not only in Tasmania but also throughout the length and breadth of Australia. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), the honourable member for Shortland and their colleagues have said: ‘We do not give a damn about the country people in Australia. We will tax them up to the hilt. We will do everything we can to pull them down’.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A political debate is one thing; misrepresentation is another. I have never said that. The honourable member is misrepresenting what I said.
-Order! There is a proper course for the honourable member to take if he feels that he has been misrepresented.
– I repeat that the purpose of this Bill is to bring to people in country areas some fair and equitable method of fuel pricing. As the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) said earlier in this debate, this is a fuel freight equalisation Bill. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) has shown quite rightly in his speech and in other actions he has taken before the Bill was introduced his concern that there should be a lowering of fuel prices for the people of Tasmania. I give him my full support in that regard. The record of the oil companies has been far from unblemished, as we have seen from the way in which they have discounted retail prices for the people of Melbourne and Sydney to the detriment of the people of Tasmania. But there is a distinction between the pricing arrangements that the oil companies make through their retail outlets and the nature of the Bill.
What the Government is trying to do, step by step, is to reduce the price that country people have to pay for fuel. An essential component of that price is the freight cost of transporting the fuel from the urban areas to the country areas. That is what this Bill is all about, and we should not forget it. In considering this measure let us not only think about fuel prices and the freight component for transporting those fuels to country areas; let us also think about what the Australian Labor Party did while it was in Government. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) has moved an amendment to the Bill which the Opposition claims would have the effect of reducing fuel prices in country areas. But what did Labor do when it had the opportunity in government? It wiped the fuel equalisation scheme. That showed Labor’s consideration for country people. I do not think that the people of Australia will ever forget that.
I am quite certain that people in country towns of my electorate and in the country towns in other parts of Australia will never forget what the Labor Party did to them while it was in government. Essentially this Bill is concerned with freight equalisation costs. The Government made it quite clear in its election promise that, step by step, it would reduce the price of fuel to country people. This is the first step in that process- reducing the freight component of fuel costs. The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) and the Government have been in continuous negotiation with the oil companies in order to reduce the price that the fuel companies charge not only in country areas but also in urban areas throughout Australia. What is wrong with that? The Labor Opposition seems to be saying: ‘For God’s sake, do not do anything until you have the whole thing wrapped up’.
We believe that we should provide whatever relief we can in regard to fuel prices that are paid by country people step by step when we have the opportunity. It is true that now we are relieving one component of the cost of fuel. Later, when negotiations have been completed by the Minister, I am quite certain that the Government will be bringing forward other measures that will reduce the fuel costs even further. I compliment the Government on doing that. I think that the Government ought to take cognisance of what the honourable member for Franklin said. He brought to the notice of this House the fact that for a long time fuel companies in this country have been exploiting certain areas of Australia to the benefit of other areas. In Tasmania we are all too conscious of the discounting arrangements that occur in the metropolitan areas of Melbourne and Sydney and in other big centres in Australia. The discounting operations in those centres must be paid for by the smaller areas and, in particular, by Tasmania. We are also conscious of the efforts that the Government is making through negotiation with the fuel companies to alleviate that problem. This Bill is concerned with freight equalisation as opposed to the equalisation of prices that are charged in the wholesale or retail outlets.
Tonight when honourable members consider whether or not they will vote for the politically biased amendment moved by the Labor Opposition they should not lose sight of the fact that the Government is doing its damndest to reduce fuel costs payable by country people. The Government realises that it has further to go, but it recognises the plight of country people and by this Bill it is taking the first step of reducing the freight component. I thank the Government for that. If the Labor Opposition were concerned about the interests of country people it would join the Government in giving support to this Bill.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr), said that I and other members on this side of the House were against rural Australia. The Opposition is not opposing the Bill but is supporting the amendment. The amendment points out that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has failed to introduce legislation in line with his election promise.
-I want to reply to what the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) said in his rather ungenerous comments about the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). I am surprised that the honourable member for Wilmot does not see the situation in the same light as the honourable member for Franklin sees it. He seems to rely on the absolutely pious and, I think, completely misplaced hope that later on the Government will do something that will improve the situation. He recognises that the present Bill is a palliative but he says: ‘Surely we will get something more out of it.’ There is no reason to assume that we will get anything more out of it because this is a completely superficial- a contemptibly superficialpiece of legislation which deals only with the superstructure of the problem and does nothing to look at the sub-structure of the problem, the base causes of the inequity in the motor fuel industry in Australia.
Let me remind the House what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said in his policy speech just before the election last year. His words were:
Immediately after the election the Government will take action to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country, without adding to city prices.
This will be done by subsiding freight costs outside the metropolitan area on motor spirit, aviation fuel, automotive distillate and power kerosene. In effect, it will reintroduce the country freight differential scheme abandoned by the Labor Government.
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than lc per litre (4c per gallon) above city prices and to less than half a cent per litre (2c per gallon) in the life of the new Parliament.
But let us remember this: Because of the way in which petroleum products are distributed in this country- that is to say, very largely by bulk- it is quite clear that of the 10,000-odd places from which petrol is sold, 52 per cent will not be affected at all by this subsidy because the amount of freight cost is less than 4 per cent. In other words we have a gesture. The Government says that above 4c there will be a subsidy. If there is a 5 c cost, the Government will provide an effective subsidy of lc. The problem with this is that there is no attempt really to equalise prices because there is no attempt to alter the differential base of metropolitan and country fuel prices. In the cities of the ‘Bermuda Triangle’, as Lang Hancock would call it, there is no uniform base price. In many outlets the city price is far less than the wholesale price approved by the Prices Justification Tribunal. The result is that it has been calculated that there will be no subsidy for 52 per cent of the 10,000 locations throughout Australia and that only about one-third will have a subsidy of more than lea gallon.
Let us look at the situation of petrol prices as they affect the whole country. Last year we had a petrol price rise of 11c a gallon. It is expected that there will be a price rise of the order of 10c a gallon for each of the next four years. So the point is that the Government is really talking about saying to the people in the country: ‘Look, it is all right. Some, perhaps as many as 2,000 or 3,000 outlets, will have a subsidy that in some cases may be more than lc a gallon. Mind you, at the same time we are prepared to jack up the petrol price by about 50c a gallon’. It is absolutely absurd to pretend to the people of Australia that here is a gesture that will really effect some substantial change. To say to the people of Australia, ‘This is the Bill you are looking for, this is the Bill that we promised back in November 1977 to equalise the price’ indicates that it is an absolute hollow sham; merely a contemptible gesture with no substance to it whatever.
– A carrot for the donkey.
-It is, as the honourable member for Capricornia says, merely a carrot for the donkey. I do not believe that the people of Australia, the people of Tasmania or the people in rural areas will believe that it is a serious gesture or that it is intended as a serious gesture. The Bill introduced by the Minister is entitled the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Amendment Bill. It really ought to be called the ‘States Grants (Esso-BHP) Subsidy Benefit Bill’, because that is what it is. The fuel industry in this country is one of the great rip-off areas of the Australian economy. It is a terrible thing, particularly for those who come from Victoria, such as the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) and myself, to realise that the prime culprit in handing over Australia’s assets to Esso-BHP was the former Victorian Premier, Sir Henry Bolte. Instead of getting fuel locally produced at a reasonable economic price, we are paying the penalty for pricing policies that were really adopted by Sir Henry Bolte. I should draw attention to the amendment ably moved by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) in which he points out that the Government:
is silent on the defects in the system outlined in the 4th Report of the Royal Commission on Petroleum ‘.
I draw attention briefly to that report of Mr Justice Collins delivered to the Parliament in April 1976. In Part XVII-‘A System of Administration’, Mr Justice Collins says:
The oil industry, Australia-wide, is in need of reform in areas which have been described elsewhere in this Report. They may be summarised as follows:
. A re-structuring of the pricing system;
There is nothing whatever in this Bill to really restructure the pricing system. It merely deals with the surface. When the honourable member for Wilmot was speaking earlier- I notice that he has left the chamber- he failed to recognise that the system was ineffectual, too small and a mere makeshift expedient which deals, as I said, only with the superstructure and not with the substructure. To say that this will solve the problem merely by saying ‘Well, we hope that there will be better legislation later on’ is like taking an aspirin: One feels less pain at the time, but it does not relieve the cause of the disability. I continue with the areas in need of reform as summarised by Mr Justice Collins:
In all these areas, the Commission recommends that a system of public administration should be introduced at a national level. In all of them there is a body of opinion in favour of such intervention.
We do not hear from that body here tonight. We do not see anybody with the exception of the honourable member for Franklin, whom I believe has acted courageously over this matter, get up and talk about the need to rationalise the fuel industry.
– Oh, no!
-Let us hear from the honourable member before this debate concludes tonight. The report goes on:
In the area of service station rationalisation, it is generally acknowledged that a program must be adopted and it is recognised by some of the oil companies themselves that this can only be done under government supervision.
Do we really see this Government taking an active interventionist role in the fuel industry? Do we see it taking the fuel industry on? Of course we do not. The Government lies in the same bed with the fuel industry. The last thing it is going to do is do anything that will threaten the power of the ‘Seven Sisters’ in Australia. Indeed, the Government is a willing collaborator with them. The report continues:
Some of the functions which the Commission suggests the Agency should undertake are quite new.
They certainly would be new.
Do we see this in this Bill, this slender Bill which the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), who is at the table, blushed to have to introduce to the Parliament? I continue with the functions:
Do we see this in the Bill? We can hold the Bill up to the light and we can not even see it printed in invisible ink. It is not there. This is just a matter of temporising, of fooling around with the whole nature of the petroleum system. It is not something to tinker with; it has to be dealt with at the base. I continue:
Well this is not a restructuring of the pricing system: It is a mere re-allocation of the icing on the cake, to spread it around a little bit up at the top and they say to the people: ‘Well it’s sort of what we promised you’. Then we will find all sorts of eager advocates of Government policies going around to their constituents and saying: ‘Look, it’s all right. We know that this Bill doesn’t mean much but more is on the way’. And if the people were to ask: ‘How do you know more is on the way?’, they would say ‘Well, the Government wouldn’t promise what it did in 1975 and not deliver. Otherwise we might get to the stage of thinking that the Prime Minister and senior Ministers were not honest, were not truthful, that sometimes they pulled the wool- or the oil- over people’s eyes’. I continue with the functions:
Do we see that in this Bill? Of course we do not.
Such a program would make sure that people get the best value for money out of their fuel.
I turn to the matter of fuel conservation. One of the most disappointing things about this Government has been its absolute failure to bring down a rational policy on energy conservation. We know, for example, from the Green Paper on Energy that was prepared by the Victorian Government and from papers such as the ‘Efficient Use of Energy’, the paper produced by the British Ministry of Energy and Technology, and from a book with precisely the same titleEfficient Use of Energy- produced in 1974 by the American Physical Society, that there is a great need to persuade people how to get better energy value for money in the fuel that is wasted, particularly in transport. It has a very high degree of waste amounting to nearly 50 per cent of our total fuel needs. Whilst people are induced and cajoled to buy more and pay more, we do little to persuade them to get the best value for money out of their energy dollar. I think it is scandalous that this Government, in the face of a well-recognised energy crisis, is doing nothing to persuade the people that there ought to be a rational national energy policy. That is why again I say that this Bill is superficial and facile in the extreme. It is a contemptible gesture in the direction of some kind of equalisation without really going to the base. The other functions read:
In the report Mr Justice Collins repeatedly lashed at the organisation of the petroleum industry in Australia, and it is a positive pleasure for me to be able to join in the attack as well. I do urge the House to support the amendment so ably moved by the honourable member for Blaxland and to ensure that this Government will, before this session is completed, bring down a Bill that really attempts to solve the problems of the fuel industry in Australia in a more comprehensive way instead of tinkering at the moment and giving what appears to be a pretended benefit but which in fact to the overwhelming bulk of the people who live outside the metropolitan area amounts to utter triviality. Then this House will have something of which it can be proud. We can bring down comprehensive legislation along the lines recommended by Mr Justice Collins. It is extraordinary that this important report has not been given the consideration it deserves. I hope that before this session is over we will see a Bill which does implement the recommendations.
-The legislation which is before the House tonight is of considerable importance to all Australians and it has a particular reference to Tasmania.
– How many of your constituents will benefit?
– Honourable members who have been away from this place for a while and then return seem to come back with all sorts of illusions of grandeur. I noticed that the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) who spoke immediately before my colleague the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) rose, could not resist even being criticial by interjection of the honourable member for Franklin when he endeavoured to put what I thought was a pretty valid point of view.
We have a most extraordinary situation in the Parliament tonight in that the legislation which is before the Parliament has never been put forward by the Government as a cure-all for all the problems which have been confronted by those who are dependent on the petroleum and fuel industry. In particular the legislation- and one must be frank about this- does not give any substantial assistance at all to Tasmania. Nor does it give assistance to a number of other parts of Australia.
– Including my electorate.
Mr HODGMAN The honourable member keeps interjecting. He is one of those people who always like to hear the sound of their own voice and never want to listen to anybody else. This legislation does not assist a number of areas. The fundamental point that I make in this debate is: What does one do when one finds legislation, which quite frankly is deficient as far as one State is concerned, and one is confronted with the most hypocritical and deceitful amendment that one could possibly imagine could be put forward by the Opposition? I was not listed to speak in the debate but I am not prepared to remain silent while a colleague of mine -
– You cannot.
-You cannot remain silent either. You could not keep quiet in the Victorian Parliament and you cannot keep quiet here. I suggest that you should go back to the courts. You were a very good lawyer in Victoria -
-Order! I invite the honourable member for Denison to return to the subject matter of the Bill.
– We will return the compliment.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will cease interjecting.
– It is very appropriate that the honourable member for Wills is sitting next to the new honourable member for Melbourne Ports, a former member of the Victorian Parliament and a former member of the Victorian Bar. I commend -
-Order! I have invited the honourable member for Denison to return to the Bill. I do not think the antecedents or the previous experience of honourable members on either side has anything to do with the Bill.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Your wisdom and impartiality compel me to come back to the point I was endeavouring to make before I was interrupted by my colleagues on the other side of the House. I was about to say that it strikes me as one of the greatest acts of hypocrisy that I have seen in any parliament, State or Federal, when we get a phoney confidence trick put forward in the form of an amendment by the other side purely to take advantage of the genuine and sincere concern of not one but several Government supporters. As a matter of fact, honourable members opposite do not like to be reminded that I crossed the floor in the last Parliament on a matter, as did my colleague the honourable member for Franklin, and voted with the Opposition. The interesting point, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that before a vote is taken one thinks that suddenly one had become the most popular person in Canberra. One walks across Kings Hall, walks down the passages and is beamed at by Labor members who say: ‘Good to see you are going to be with us; good to see you are going to vote with us’. But the moment the vote is taken you are about as popular as a pork chop at somebody’s picnic. I will not say whose because Mr Grassby or somebody may. accuse me of making a racist statement. I simply want to make the point as bluntly as I can that this Bill is deficient -
– My colleague from Swancan I respond to a helpful interjection which has come from my side of the chamber?
-A11 interjections are disorderly. I suggest that the honourable member return to the subject of the Bill.
– I agree they are disorderly. My colleague from Swan, if I might say this with respect, is one of the less disorderly members in this chamber, but the point he has made by interjection is that he invites me to be subtle. To be quite frank, let me say that the honourable member for Franklin is to be commended by every member of this chamber for the fight that he has put up on behalf of consumers of Australia. He has shown more interest in the price of petrol in Tasmania than has the entire State Labor Government and all State Labor members. I believe that in the campaign that he has waged he has brought to the forefront to the Government, to the Parliament and to the nation a problem which is peculiar to our State.
– Why do you not help him?
– I was about to say to the honourable member for Adelaide, who is another one of those people who like the sound of their own voice, and I say this also to others: How can they be so hypocritical, how can they be so deceitful, as to try to create a situation in which they, not caring one damn about Tasmania, try to get this man to cross the floor? Quite frankly, what the Opposition is doing is repeating the Labor Party’s stock game of playing politics with decent and honourable members who sit on this side of the Parliament. My own view is that, as I have said, the Bill is deficient. I was astounded to read in the Press the other day that Senator Walsh, a person who to my knowledge has never shown any interest in Tasmania, a person who has never been to Tasmania except when he tries to get votes for people -
– I have never seen you in Tasmania. In fact, I have never seen you anywhere except here. I say to the honourable member with all due respect that Tasmania gets a lot of friends when the Labor Party is in Opposition. Labor supporters love Tasmania but as soon as they get into office they forget it.
– What did the honourable member for Newcastle say?
-As my colleague the honourable member for Wilmot reminds me, we will never forget the statement by the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). He said: ‘There are more votes in Newcastle than in the whole of Tasmania’. The former Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam), came down and actually referred to our State as northern Antarctica, talked about two-headed weddings, and then wondered why Labor lost five House of Representatives seats.
I cannot tolerate or accept the hypocrisy of those members of Her Majesty’s supposedly loyal Opposition who are trying to create a situation in which they can use a decent, honourable and sincere member of this House for their own cheap short-term political gain. I am prepared to say in this chamber what I said to my colleague and friend from Franklin outside this chamber a few minutes ago. If the amendment before the House had been moved by anybody other than the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), if it had one ounce of sincerity in it, I would be prepared to support it. But I will tell the House why I am not prepared to support it. It is cheapjack, a confidence trick and a sham. I am prepared to say before this nation to my colleague from Franklin: You are worth better than to be conned by the Labor Party and to be conned by somebody like the honourable member for Blaxland.
– Please do not explain.
-The talkative former member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly -
– Another ex-leader.
-The other side of the chamber is Uttered with ex-leaders. We will see the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) disposed of very shortly. After his performance today, his days are numbered.
– We want him.
-We want him? I am sorry. Will honourable members opposite please keep him? I can only say that the impression on this side of the House was that the betting was 6 to 4 on that he would not see out Easter Tuesday as the Leader of the Opposition. If he hangs on as Leader, by the skin of his teeth, perhaps the Labor Party will get its just deserts. Let me come back to the Bill. My friend the former Leader of the Opposition in Victoria is a trained Leader of the Opposition. I assure him that he will have a job on the other side of the House for many years to come. We need trained and experienced leaders for the Opposition. There are three at the moment. One is present and two are absent.
-Order! The honourable member for Denison advised me that he was returning to the Bill. I suggest that he do so.
– I am coming back to the Bill, sir. Anybody in Tasmania who has studied the Bill does not need Senator Peter Walsh to tell him that basically it does not assist our State. But as my colleague the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) has pointed out, there are two parts to the problem. This Bill tackles one part of the problem. The second part of the problem is the subject of an inquiry which I am told- I accept the truthfulness and the integrity of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), who is at the table- is fast coming to a conclusion. The Parliament can expect that there will be a report and recommendations in the very near future.
The fact of the matter is that out of some 400 distribution points in Tasmania the number which will qualify under this Bill is comparatively small. I have to ask myself a question. Before doing so I say in passing that because I am talking of Tasmania the Labor Party members opposite immediately have lost all interest. When I was talking generally they were prepared to interject, yap and make a noise. Immediately one starts to talk seriously about Tasmania they lose interest. They are interested in Tasmania only at election time. They are interested in Tasmania only when they think they can come down and con the south islanders to vote for them. But they fell flat on their faces in 1975 and 1977. We are waiting for them in 1980 with a considerable degree of enthusiasm. They are not interested in Tasmania.
Because this legislation does not specifically help Tasmania and because this is one part of a two-pronged attack to bring back fair petrol pricing to Australia, why should we be put into the situation of having to say to the rest of Australia that it will not get any benefit under this legislation because we will vote against it? I suppose that if one wanted to be purely selfish and parochial one could very well take that view. The point has been made -
– That is a nasty way to talk about Tasmaina.
– The honourable member, who left the chamber and has come back again, cannot resist interjecting. The point has been made that there are people who will benefit under this legislation. Does Tasmania take its bat home and say that because it does not get as much under this Bill as it would like we are not prepared -
– They are not going to get anything.
-That is not true. It is not true for the honourable member for Corio, a great friend of Tasmania, to say that we will not get anything. It is not like the honourable member to make statements which are not true.
– Tasmanian towns are not even listed in the towns to benefit.
-We have had a look at that list. If the honourable member looks at it he will find that Tasmania is mentioned. He will find it down towards the back, but, nevertheless, it is there. The honourable member could read the list of all the distribution centres, as I have done. My colleague from Franklin has read it. My colleague from Wilmot has read it. If anything proves the cant hypocrisy of the so-called friends of Tasmania on the other side of the House it is that sort of interjection. The point that I am coming back to is this: I am -
– You are not game to support the honourable member for Franklin so you abuse people.
-My record in this Parliament for crossing the floor is better than yours. I have at least crossed the floor; the honourable member has never done so. Until he has, he should not talk to me about doing so. On another issue, about which the honourable member for Corio is well aware, I stood almost alone in this House against my entire parliamentary colleagues in the Government parties. I am proud of it.
– Why do you have to tell lies in the Parliament? You have not got an argument.
– The honourable member is caucused and cactused, he is everything.
– You are not game to defend your own electorate.
-The honourable member for Corio will cease interjecting.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I should not permit myself to be interrupted by a caucus cactus.
– I ask that that remark be withdrawn.
-The honourable member for Corio has asked for a withdrawal of an offensive remark. I ask the honourable member for Denison to withdraw.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
– I raise a point of order. The honourable member is telling lies in the House and he should not be allowed to get away with it.
– I take a point of order. I ask the honourable member for Corio to withdraw the remarks he made about the honourable member for Denison on several occasions. Every honourable member on this side of the House heard them.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member for Denison is entitled to request the withdrawal of a remark that he finds offensive. It is not for another honourable member to ask for such a remark to be withdrawn. I have asked the honourable member for Corio to withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw it, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is unworthy- I do not refer to the honourable member for Corio or to any other member specifically- of honourable members opposite to pretend that they are interested in Tasmania and have a commitment to it in view of their past track record. If this legislation was so discriminatory and biased against Tasmania I might take a different view. But the view I take, quite frankly, is that honourable members opposite are playing cheap and shoddy party politics. It hurts me, it rips into me, that honourable members opposite choose to play politics with a member of this House who, above all others in this place, has the greatest record for honesty and sincerity.
The honourable member for Franklin stands unique in this Parliament. On this matter I do not believe that the issues are such that he should walk across to the other side. If he does so, he will still be my friend and I will still respect him. But for honourable members opposite to use him, and to play the great hypocrites and to engage in such cant hypocrisy- they are a band of rabble who do not give a damn for Tasmania- is absolutely typical of the sort of treatment we have come to expect in our State from the Australian Labor Party. If I thought I would gain one thing for Tasmania by walking across the floor, as I walked across the floor last year on another matter, I would do so tonight. I am not going to do so because I will not be used by cheapjacks like the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who put up a phoney amendment and tried to create a situation -
-Order! I think the honourable member for Denison knows that he might get away with certain remarks that are used generally, but I believe that when he uses the word ‘cheapjack’ specifically about the honourable member for Blaxland he should withdraw the remark.
-Out of respect for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I withdraw.
– He has a big mouth in Parliament but has no guts outside.
– I will see the honourable member outside any time. The last time one of his colleagues invited me to meet him in Kings Hall he shot through as soon as we got there. He would not come out of the members’ bar for three days. I will see the honourable member any time anywhere. I ask him to name the place and the date.
– I rise on a point of order. It is a gross abuse of the Standing Orders of this House for the honourable member to use those terms and to issue those invitations. I suggest that they be withdrawn.
– He did not mention your name.
– The remarks do not have to be directed towards me. If the honourable member knew anything about Standing Orders he would know that it is grossly -
-Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will resume his seat. I bear in mind the point of order taken by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports but I remind the House that two honourable members made those types of remarks. I invite the honourable member for Denison to get back to the Bill.
– If the honourable member for Melbourne Ports wants to be the referee he can get into the act that way. I just want to say, getting back to the Bill, that if I felt for one moment that it would help Tasmania and that the State would benefit I would cross the floor and vote against the Bill. I will not do so for one reason.
– You are not game.
-The honourable member is a smarty too. Mr Deputy Speaker, the honourable member is prepared to interject and to say to me that I am not game.
– I suggest that the honourable member ignore the interjections and return to the Bill.
-Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will treat those interjections with the contempt they richly deserve. If I felt for one moment that there was any sincerity in the amendment moved by the Opposition I would support it. But there is not. But the one fundamental reason why I shall not cross the floor -
Opposition members interjecting-
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I am reluctant to make the point but I make it again: The next time I can pick up the newspaper and see that somebody stood up in the Australian Labor Party Caucus and opposed every member of his own party or that he crossed the floor then I shall be prepared to say: ‘Brother, we are on equal terms’. But none of the honourable members opposite has the guts to cross the floor or to stand up in his own party room and speak out against members of the party. I have done both of those things. When honourable members opposite are big enough to do them we can talk turkey. The reason why I will not cross the floor is that this legislation, inadequate though it is, is one part of a two-part program. I am prepared to trust the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, who is at the table, and the Government to respond to the call by the honourable member for Franklin. I am prepared following that to make a judgment as to whether the Government has responded to its election commitment in bringing justice for all people who use petrol in Australia.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-It is always sad in this House when one sees honourable members from the other side of the House get up and big note themselves. They always say: ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’. They are great ‘I men’. The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) is such a man. He talks in the singular. When he gets a little more humility and understanding of the problems he might turn into a person of some substance. The issue involved that concerns me is the fact that the honourable member advocates violence. He offers to meet people outside. He is a man who threatens violence and that in itself is to be condemned.
The proposed amendment is not the amendment of the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating); it is the amendment of the Australian Labor Party Opposition. The honourable member for Blaxland has moved it. The proposed amendment states that the Bill fails to implement the election promise of the Government ‘to equalise the price of petroleum products between city and country’. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on page 11 of his policy speech under the heading ‘ Rural ‘ stated:
The scheme will bring country prices down initially to less than one cent per litre (4c per gallon) above city prices and to less than half a cent per litre (2c per gallon) in the life of the new Parliament.
I stress that the word ‘prices’ is involved. That is the issue. It involves prices. In country areas the price of petrol is sometimes 20c a gallon above the price in the cities. I do not want to speak much longer because we want to take a vote tonight. Therefore I shall conclude with those remarks. It is this fact which is the basis of the Labor Party amendment moved by the honourable member for Blaxland. I ask honourable members who really believe in a fair go for people living in country areas to vote with us on this issue.
– in reply- I can understand the widespread concern amongst members of the Australian Labor Party Opposition at the introduction of this measure into the Parliament because it represents yet another fulfilment of the Government policy from the last election. Not only does it represent the fulfilment of a promise, but it also represents the righting of an injustice done by the former Government when, by the stroke of a Minister’s pen, a subsidy, a benefit to hundreds of thousands of people living in remote areas of Australia, was taken away. During the course of the debate the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has been attacked for not fulfilling his election undertaking. I say to the House deliberately that this measure fulfils the undertaking of this Government given at the last election.
-Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I require that the question be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– This legislation represents the fulfilment of an election undertaking given by the Prime Minister. Honourable members opposite have been careful when quoting from the Prime Minister’s policy speech not to quote the relevant section. When dealing with this subject the Prime Minister said:
This will be done by subsidising freight costs outside the metropolitan area on motor spirit, aviation fuel, automotive distillate and power kerosene. In effect, it will re-introduce the country freight differential scheme abandoned by the Labor Government.
That is what we have done. We have reintroduced with this measure the differential scheme that was abandoned by our opponents whilst they were in government. I understand, as does the Government, the concern that has been expressed, by honourable members on the Government side of the House in a genuine way and by some Opposition members in a hypocritical way, about the pricing policies of some petrol companies and distributors. I am bound to say that the discounting policy pursued by some has been brought about by the pricing policy of oil companies and some distributors who have not made any attempt to get cut price petrol into country areas. In my view they are concerned only with metropolitan areas. They certainly would not be able to supply at the same discount prices if they were supplying petrol over the whole of Australia.
This debate has been in two parts. Some honourable members have spent some time dealing with the measure before the House. Others have talked about this question, about price policy in the oil industry. Two undertakings were given by the Government during the last election campaign. The first was the introduction of this measure and the second was the calling of a conference of all parties in the oil industry to discuss pricing policy and other marketing aspects of the industry. That undertaking has also been fulfilled because the first session of that conference was held the week after the election. There has been a second session and the third will be held on 31 March. Following the conclusion of that conference, which I am chairing on behalf of the Government, it will be my responsibility to prepare a report coming out of that conference and a series of recommendations which I hope will overcome a lot of the problems that have been raised here tonight.
The Government is conscious of these difficulties. It is conscious of the discrimination in prices across Australia and it is determined to do something about it. Insofar as Tasmania is concerned I say that I recognise the special problem that is confronted by that State. As a matter of fact, it has been the subject of communication between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Tasmania. Only last month the Prime Minister telexed the Premier of Tasmania and offered to arrange a conference between officials of the Commonwealth and officials of the State of Tasmania and representatives of the oil industry to see whether the problems peculiar to Tasmania could be overcome by such a conference. I have no doubt that the Premier of Tasmania will accept the offer from the Prime Minister, but I am bound to tell the House tonight that to date the Prime Minister has not received a response from the Premier. I believe that the Premier will respond and that the conference will take place, I feel confident that if such a conference takes place some good will come from it.
I conclude by reminding the House that this measure is in accord with the Government’s undertaking. The result of the implementation of the scheme that will flow from the passage of this legislation will be to restore to people who live in remote areas of Australia the freight subsidy based on the freight differential for the movement of petroleum products. This will assist greatly in overcoming the hardship that was caused when the Labor Government, by the stroke of a pen, removed a very worthwhile subsidy from people living in remote areas.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Keating’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. ( Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
-My comments relate to clause 4 of the Bill. I refer the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) to that section of his second reading speech in which he stated:
Before such distributors may be registered they must enter into an agreement with the Commonwealth that they will pass on to consumers the full benefit of subsidy received in respect of all sales made at the locations in the schedule.
The Bill is silent on that point. What assurance can the Minister give us in relation to that section of his speech? I take it that the people registered under this new proposal will, in fact, be the major suppliers- for all intents and purposes the wholesalers of the product- the major oil companies and anyone else who carries on a wholesaling activity. The speech seems to say that it will be up to the wholesalers to pass on to the consumers the full benefit which they have received. In that context is a consumer a retailer or a final purchaser? It is important to make that distinction. It has been pointed out to me by people who are knowledgeable about the industry that even if the full benefit of the subsidy were passed by the major wholesalers, the major oil companies, to the retailers, there are no guarantees or requirements that those retailers would pass on the benefit to the final users, the purchasers of the fuel from retailers through normal service stations.
Given that in many instances the amount of the price reduction brought about by the subsidy will be very small, how do we know that the retailers will, in fact, pass on the benefit of the subsidy? I do not want to cast any aspersions on the integrity of the retailers. But in an atmosphere where there are frequent increases in wholesale prices a retailer may not even know that the cost of freight had been subsidised and, therefore, the wholesale price reduced. Unless someone were to bring it to his attention he may not even know that there had been a reduction which he was supposed to pass on to the final consumer. In any event, if the amount were very tiny the retailer may not think it worth while to make the necessary adjustment to the mechanisms on his pumps.
There is another point. Many of the retailers operating in remote country areas are already operating at margins below retailers who operate in the main metropolitan centres. They may take this as an opportunity to increase their margins to something closer to the level which operates in the metropolitan areas.
– Claims for subsidy may be made only by oil companies and other distributors registered under the scheme which will be promulgated after the passage of this legislation. Before such distributors can be registered they will be required, as pointed out by the honourable member, to enter into an agreement with the Commonwealth that they will pass on to the re-seller the full benefit of subsidy received in respect of sales which are entitled to subsidy. The honourable member and the Committee will be aware that the Commonwealth does not have price fixing powers. These are powers that are exercised by the States but, as I have indicated, we will require by agreement that the freight subsidy be passed on to the re-seller. The subsidy rates will be well publicised.
– I would like to make some reference to clause 3. The extraordinary kind of legislative power that is given to the Minister so that once a scheme is formulated by a Minister he has the force of legislation -
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Fife) read a third time.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the report of the Industries Assistance Commission on commercial motor vehicles, parts and accessories.
-Two weeks ago, I made a statement to the House on measures that were to be brought into operation progessively to improve the security of Parliament House and the safety of people in the building. A similar statement was made in the Senate by the President. At the time I told the House an officer had been appointed to co-ordinate security measures throughout the building. This position has been filled temporarily during the past fortnight by a parliamentary officer. It was clear at the outset, however, that Mr President and I needed to have the benefit of advice on these matters from a person who not only had a sound appreciation and knowledge of the Parliament but also had first hand experience in protective security arrangements.
I now wish to inform the House that the President and I have approved the secondment to the parliamentary service of Mr William Worth, a former senior officer of the Australian Public Service, who will be known to many honourable members on both sides of the House. We are fortunate in having an officer of Mr Worth’s calibre to assist us in these matters. We are anxious to see the measures already announced implemented as quickly as possible. A good deal of preparatory work has already been done. One major measure- the pass system- should be operational by the time the House resumes after Easter. It is clear that, in a building that is used in such diverse ways as Parliament House, some difficulties and inconvenience may be experienced in the initial stages of the implementation of the new arrangements. I trust that all members will recognise this situation and assist the Presiding Officers in their resolution of these difficulties as they become apparent.
-by leave- Thank you for your statement, Mr Speaker. The Opposition is well aware of the problems of security in the present day environment and the problems presented by the structure of this building. The Opposition has mentioned that it is anxious to preserve the rights and privileges of members. I know that you would agree, Mr Speaker, that that would be the foremost aim of all honourable members. The rights of people who wish to see members also should be preserved.
In that context I express the Opposition ‘s complete support of the appointment of Mr Worth whom we regard as an officer of the highest standing. He is well known to honourable members on both sides of the House. He has extraordinary integrity and a capacity to understand the most difficult matters. I do not think we could have made a better appointment. I think that the Opposition will present no difficulties at all because Mr Worth is the type of person who guarantees an efficient operation. In that respect we welcome your judgment and that of the President.
Apparently individual honourable members feel that some minor diffiulties still have to be discussed. If that is so, I think the appropriate course may be, with the permission of the House, to refer those matters to the Privilege Committee. Having made that minor comment, I indicate that we fully support the statement. We are very anxious to co-operate in implementing the course of action which has been outlined. I think that in the interests of having an efficient Parliament I can guarantee that the Opposition will not be posing any difficulties in relation to those matters that might present a problem. We welcome the fact that the President and you have seen fit to inform us about what is happening. My leader is well aware, of the situation and I am making these remarks with his endorsement.
– I appreciate the comments made by the honourable gentleman.
-by leave-Mr Speaker, I ask that members of the House be told what is involved and that they be given an opportunity to discuss it. I personally strongly object to the measures being introduced by you. I have raised my objection in the chamber previously. Similar objections have been made by other honourable members. Because of the time at which this statement is made no opportunity is available to discuss it. I draw your attention in particular to sections 49 and 50 of the Constitution and the practices and privileges of the House of Commons which flow therefrom.
I believe it is proper and responsible that honourable members on both sides of the Parliament be informed of the reasons for and the background to this action. I am particularly concerned about this matter in the light of the article attributed to you which was published in the Melbourne Herald on the 7th of this month. It could be interpreted as being an intimidation of the House. It carries the headline: ‘Terror comes to Canberra’. No evidence is advanced to support that headline. I am particularly concerned. I do not think that the measures should be proceeded with until members of the House have had an opportunity, firstly, to be informed and, secondly, to be consulted.
– by leave- I thought that it would not be necessary for me to make a contribution to the debate but in the light of the remarks made by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris), who has just resumed his seat, I thought that I ought to place on the record that you, Sir, have the complete support of the Government in this matter. It is a very serious matter. As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has pointed out on previous occasions, and as you also have pointed out, the measures proposed are for the safety and well-being not only of members of the Parliament but also of all people who work in the building as well as those who visit it. Obviously there could be some small problems in the early stages but I am sure that with understanding and support from all members of this chamber you and your officers will be able to provide appropriate protection and arrangements which will be beneficial to all.
-Thank you, Mr Minister.
-by leave- I join the debate to support the views expressed by some of my colleagues on this matter and to express my concern, with great respect to you, Mr Speaker, and to the Chair, about an article which was attributed to you in the Melbourne Herald. The article carried the unfortunate heading: ‘Terror comes to Canberra’. If there are clear and discernible threats to the safety of members of the Parliament or the staff of the Parliament they ought to be identified. I would invite you, sir, to do that with some particularity. I have no doubt that from the high and responsible position that you hold you will be deeply conscious of the basic privileges of all members. They are not matters that can be just cast aside lightly. The right of honourable members to free ingress and egress to and from this place is something, sir, which has unfortunately been raised as a result of the opening of Parliament. Members who were entitled to pass freely to and from the chambers in this place were delayed and impeded in their passage, and, sir, within the Westminister tradition that does raise serious matters of privilege.
The fart is, sir, that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) might take a view about security- a view that he is entitled to have- and you might share that view. That is no reason why those of us who do not quite share that view should be placed in a situation in which we are just simply told that procedures will be adopted and that you, sir, will take steps on our behalf. The question of my rights as a member of this place- they are no greater and no less than the rights of other members- has been raised. With great respect to you, sir, it is your prerogative and your duty to uphold those rights and to uphold them in terms of the traditions of the Westminister system. They just cannot simply be lightly cast aside because the Prime Minister is concerned to perpetrate an exercise.
-Order! If the honourable gentleman continues in this fashion I will have to deal with him. I am not treating him as a new member in this place because I know he had many years service in another parliament. I object to his remarks. I will be forced to take action if he continues the imputation that the security measures which I and the President have taken have been dictated by the Prime Minister.
– I did not say that, sir. I would not be taken to say that. I say- I say it with great respect to the Chair, but I am bound to say itthat I believe you share that view. I do not say that you were intimidated. I would not say that for one moment.
– I have given the honourable member considerable indulgence. He is not in order at the moment, according to the Standing Orders. I made a statement, and I have allowed others to make statements. If the honourable gentleman wishes to make a specific point he may do so.
– The specific point I ask you to heed is that I believe the question of the security of this Parliament is something about which all honourable members ought to be in agreement, consulted about and involved in.
I would suggest that the proper and appropriate process would be to refer these recommendations made by you and the President to the Privileges Committee of this House because I believe that there is safety in the numbers of this House and that there is safety in a Privileges Committee. I believe that you, Mr Speaker, would be doing yourself and this House a great service if whatever security measures were taken enjoyed the confidence of all honourable members. I am bound to say, again with great respect to the Chair, that I, for one, am unhappy about the way in which these measures simply have been introduced. I believe it is a matter of great importance. I believe that whatever security measures have to be taken ought to have full regard to the very important privileges and rights that are attached to this Parliament. I am fearful that we may allow those rights to be eroded, with the best of intentions and with the best of attitudes. Those rights had to be fought for over many years and over many centuries. I would ask you, sir -
– What rights are you talking about?
– I am talking about the rights of all honourable members to enter freely this place and to move around. I ask you, Mr Speaker, to refer these matters to the Privileges Committee because I genuinely believe that this matter ought not to be either a matter of disputation or a matter about which any honourable member has any reservation. Already reservation has been expressed to you by honourable members on this side of the House, many of whom hold far more significant positions than I do. I ask you, sir, to take cognisance of them.
-Order! I will hear no further honourable members on this matter at this stage. The House is always in control of its own procedures. If it wishes to -
– I rise to a point of order, Mr Speaker. When will you hear other members on this matter?
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. I will hear no further members on this matter. The House is always in control of its own procedures. If somebody wishes to bring forward a substantive motion it is within the capacity of any honourable member to do so. As to whether debating time will be made available, that is in the hands of the majority.
However, I want to make a couple of points myself in relation to what has been said. In the first place I regard my duty to the parliamentary system and to democracy in this country very highly. I have been aware that I have an important responsibility to balance the right of people to visit, see and hear the proceedings in this chamber without let or hindrance. I am also conscious that within the parliamentary democracy it is fundamental that people who are elected to come here and serve and those people who serve the members and senators must have security or they will not be able to fulfil the functions for which they were elected. It is a delicate balance. For that reason I have been very anxious that there be no greater inconvenience than is absolutely necessary for the level of security which we would wish to have. I am bound to say that even with the level of security which we have now adopted there will be risks entailed for all members of the Parliament. It is impossible to eliminate risks except by quarantining members or totally excluding access for the public. I was not prepared to do that and neither was the President.
What we have now adopted is, I think, a sound system. I ask for the co-operation of all members in making it work. There will be inconveniences to members but there will be no hindrance to members. Members will be identified by all the attendants and will be allowed to walk free, as they ought to be. If there is any hindrance to members that will be corrected. The pass system will be instituted so that all persons legitimately in the building will have the same freedom of movement as they have hitherto had. I would like all honourable members, and this applies also to senators, to co-operate to the fullest extent.
I do not propose to refer any of these matters to any committee for I and the President have to accept a responsibility and we have done so. Simply because we are presiding officers we are answerable to our chambers. I am answerable to this chamber and I am the servant of this chamber. If the chamber directs me in any way I will accept that direction. In the meantime I will exercise my responsibility as I think it proper. I call the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs.
– I ask the Minister to resume his seat. I overlooked the fact that the honourable member for Hughes had raised with me the matter of a personal explanation. I call the honourable member for Hughes.
-I claim to have been misrepresented and desire to make a personal explanation.
-The honourable member may proceed.
-It has been brought to my attention that a very serious accusation has been made against a parliamentarian by the name of Johnson, and extensive media coverage is now in progress. The matter is the subject of very great conjecture in the Press gallery. I simply rise to say that there are three members of this chamber whose name is Johnson, spelt the same way as mine. They are the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) -
-The honourable gentleman will explain to me how he has been misrepresented.
-I want to indicate the nature of the problem. Yesterday morning a shadowy figure was alleged to have assailed a police car in the precincts of Parliament House. He sought to get into the car. He was apprehended by the police. He sought to elude the police and as a result there was altercation. I do not know whether an arrest has been made. The story is about to break and I simply want to say that I am assured by the honourable member for Burke that he is not involved. I certainly am not involved. I am told that -
-Order! Is the honourable gentleman indicating that he is not the person involved?
-Nor is the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Roger Johnston) involved, although his name is spelt with a ‘t’.
-The honourable gentleman is entitled to make a personal explanation on his own behalf but not on behalf of his colleagues. The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-Being one of the other Johnsons in this House, I should like to associate myself with the comments made by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). Last night and the night before I was neither near the motor car nor apprehended by police -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you should afford me the opportunity to clear my name in this matter and to accept the delegation -
-The honourable gentleman says that there are rumours and that he is not the subject of those rumours. That has been made clear. We have to wait for the enthralling episode of the rumours.
- Sir, I want to say that the honourable member for Hotham is not involved either. He asked me to speak for him, as did the honourable member for Burke.
-The honourable gentleman knows that he is entitled to make a personal explanation on his own behalf and not on behalf of any other honourable member.
– But I want to add -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, the pass system which you have accepted on our behalf is a matter of your decision -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
Land Purchases in Victoria
Motion ( by Mr Fife) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to make some brief comments on the Victorian land deals inquiry. I shall confine my remarks to the Pakenham land purchase. In discussing the purchase of the Duncan land at Pakenham, Sir Gregory Gowans criticised the degree of surveillance by the then Minister for Housing, Mr Dickie. Sir Gregory said in his report that the Minister was the watchdog for the community and the Treasurer relied upon him to act as such. I shall quote briefly from that report. Sir Gregory said:
With a purchase as large as the Duncan acquisition, the appropriate standards of ministerial responsibility could hardly be regarded as satisfied by an assumption by the Minister that all requirements had been met which the Housing Commission thought necessary and ascertaining whether a valuation had been obtained supporting the price and then making a quick calculation as to the purchase cost of a block on the basis of the price.
All that the submission (to the Minister) itself had said as to the suitability of the land for development referred to its location.
Nothing was said as to the expected costs of development or the possibility of their being abnormal.
One would expect a system of procedure which would demand that this be done or that the risk of some inquiry about it would be encountered.
The point I want to stress deals with the matter of location. At the time of the purchase of the Pakenham land I was Minister for Urban and Regional Development and an inquiry was in progress, the report of which has been tabled in the Victorian Parliament.
Motion ( by Mr Fife) proposed:
That the question be now put.
A division having been called for and the bells having been rung-
-The question now before the House is: ‘That the question be now put’. The ayes will pass to the right of the chair and the noes to the left. Order! The honourable member for Holt will be seated.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable member for Holt should not be crossing the floor.
– The honourable member for Holt will return to the left of the Chair.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. Contrary to Standing Orders, the honourable member for Holt has just left the chamber. I submit that the Serjeant-at-Arms should immediately bring him back to the chamber and sit him on this side of the House where he sat originally as the tellers were being appointed.
- Mr Speaker, the honourable member for Holt was outside the chamber.
– The honourable member for Chifley remembers the occasion when the same thing happened to him.
– Yes, but I did the right thing.
– Yes, you voted with us.
– I did not defy Standing Orders.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. When the honourable member came into the chamber, he sat on the left of the Chair. As people have said by way of interjection, when the honourable member for Chifley was caught in a similar situation he was counted as being on the side on which he first sat. The honourable member for Holt is in exactly the same situation.
- Mr Speaker, can the tellers have your advice as to whether the honourable member for Holt is to be counted with the noes?
-Order! The honourable member for Holt will be counted with the noes.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. When the bells stopped ringing, the honourable member for Holt was not sitting but standing behind the seats. I ask you: Does that not exclude him from being counted in the voting? He was behind the seats, sir.
- Mr Speaker, I speak to the point of order. That was not the case. The honourable member for Holt sat in the seats normally occupied by National Country Party members prior to his rising and leaning over the back of the bench.
-Order! The fact is that I called honourable members to pass to the right or the left of the Chair. The honourable member for Holt was to the left of the Chair within the parliamentary area. I asked the honourable member for Holt to return to the left of the Chair and he did so. Quite clearly, the honourable member for Holt did not want to remain there. Under the circumstances, the honourable member for Holt will be counted with the noes in the tally sheet.
– I take another point of order, Mr Speaker. Despite what the honourable member for Melbourne said, when the bells stopped ringing, the honourable member for Holt was standing behind Dr Jenkins. In future will any honourable member who decides to abstain from voting by sitting in the back benches, be included in the voting? Will you give a ruling, please, Mr Speaker?
- Mr Speaker, could you explain to the people in the gallery why we put pieces of paper on our heads when addressing you during division so that they will not think we are stupid?
- Mr Speaker, I realise that it is very difficult from the chair to keep an eye on the chamber all the time, but sitting here and looking across the chamber I was aware that the honourable member for Holt was standing behind Dr Jenkins in the Speaker’s gallery and not in the chamber proper at the time the division was called. I am sure that the honourable member for Scullin will verify that fact.
– With respect, Mr Speaker, the time and space relationships described to you are incorrect. After the bells had ceased ringing, the honourable member for Holt reached the back of the seat behind me and addressed himself to three Labor members, including myself, on the matter of the security cards that were being issued. I have no responsibility to control the honourable member for Holt.
- Mr Speaker, may I suggest that you ask the honourable member for Holt where he was.
-No (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
-Order! The result of the division is: Ayes 63, noes 28. The question is therefore resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
-The House stands adjourned until Tuesday, 4 April, at 2.15 p.m. unless Mr Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
House adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 23 February 1978:
If so, does the Minister or his Department have any knowledge of the incident; if so;
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
I have no knowledge of an incident as reported. However, if the question refers to an occasion when the Prime Minister was in a Ferrari motor car, the Commonwealth Police Commissioner has supplied me with the following information-
Nursing Homes in Electoral Divisions of Hughes and Cook (Question No. 20)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1)to (4)-
am asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It is also relevant to observe that a number of other important Commonwealth activities, in such fields as education, child care, Aboriginal affairs and the environment were first the responsibility of the Prime Minister of the day but are now in other portfolios.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
What were the total number of first preference votes and the percentage of votes for each political party in each State and Territory in each House at the elections on 10 December 1 977 (Senate Hansard, 30 March 1976, page 897).
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The information requested is contained in the Australian Electoral Office interim publications ‘General Election for the House of Representatives 1977, Result of Count of First Preference Votes and Distribution of Preferences’, and ‘The Senate Election 1977, Result of Count of First Preference Votes and Distribution of Surplus Votes and Preferences’.
The Chief Australian Electoral Officer sent copies of both publications to all honourable senators and members last month.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
What was the number of informal votes in each electoral division at the elections for the House of Representatives and Senate on 10 December 1977.
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The information requested is contained in the Australian Electoral Office interim publications ‘General Election for the House of Representatives 1977, Result of Count of First Preference Votes and Distribution of Preferences’, and ‘The Senate Election 1977, Result of Count of First Preference Votes and Distribution of Surplus Votes and Preferences’.
The Chief Australian Electoral Officer sent copies of both publications to all honourable senators and members last month.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
What advertisements have been placed in ethnic newspapers and on ethnic radio to inform citizens of Cyprus and Malta and other Commonwealth countries that, after 6 months’ residence in Australia, they are not only eligible but also required to be enrolled as voters and that, under Australia ‘s system of compulsory enrolment and voting, they are subject to the same penalties as Australian citizens for failing to enrol and vote. (Hansard, 5 October 1977, page 1627 and 27 October 1977, page 2535).
The provision of information to citizens of Commonwealth countries, including those from Cyprus and Malta, who are now living in Australia is tied in with a general campaign by the Australian Electoral Office to inform eligible voters of their rights and obligations.
In the 10 days immediately preceding the close of the electoral roll on 10 November 1977 for the recent elections, ethnic radio stations 2EA and 3EA were provided with material on citizenship and enrolment. The material, translated into 26 languages, including Greek, Turkish and Maltese, was broadcast frequently in that period.
The broadcasts emphasised to the citizens of all Commonwealth countries aged 18 years and over, and who had been permanent residents of Australia for at least six months, the requirement to enrol for and vote at Federal elections. Listeners were asked to contact the Australian Electoral Office if they were in doubt about the requirements and to contact the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs if in doubt concerning their citizenship.
In respect of the Greek and Turkish broadcasts listeners were reminded that Cyprus is a Commonwealth country and that Cypriots living in Australia permanently and otherwise eligible are required by Australian electoral law to enrol and to vote even if they have not taken out Australian citizenship. Similar comments relating to Malta were included in the Maltese broadcasts.
As far as newspaper advertisements were concerned there was, prior to the elections, a general enrolment advertising campaign in the major daily newspapers and in the ethnic press including Greek and Turkish newspapers. Advertisements referred to the obligation of all persons who were British subjects, or had the status of British subjects, to enrol and to vote.
Since the elections, station 3EA has continued to broadcast enrolment information in ethnic languages and this arrangement has now been extended to station 2EA. During the week commencing Monday, 6 March, broadcasts have commenced in Greek, Turkish and Maltese and these will give further assistance to Cypriot and Maltese citizens.
Arrangements have been made with Australia Post to have a poster on enrolment displayed at Post Offices in areas where there are large numbers of migrant groups. Posters are also on display at Immigration and Australian Electoral Offices. The poster lists the Commonwealth countries whose citizens, if now resident in Australia, are required to enrol and to vote.
As a special service to persons of Cypriot and Maltese origin the Australian Electoral Office during September to November 1977 provided an officer each Saturday morning at the main shopping centre in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville in order to provide information and answer electoral and enrolment enquiries.
A multilingual pamphlet on electoral matters is being prepared by the Australian Electoral Office for distribution to every new citizen shortly after the grant of Australian citizenship. This will also be made available for general information to ethnic groups including those representing the Cypriot and Maltese communities.
Will the Minister give, as the Minister responsible for the Electoral Act in 1970 gave, the names of the members of the Ministry in the House of Representatives who lodged returns of their election expenses after the last election. (Hansard, 23 September 1970, page 1573.)
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
I refer the honourable member to my answer to Question No. 200 asked by him in respect of the 1975 election (House of Representatives Hansard, 30 March 1976, page 1 162).
That remains the position.
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided me with the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The Committee of Inquiry into Government Procurement Policy, chaired by Sir Walter Scott made 39 recommendations.
Broadly speaking, the recommendations can be divided into three (3) categories. Firstly there are those which relate to the setting up of a Purchasing Commission as a statutory authority. The Government did not adopt these recommendations as it did not consider the establishment of a statutory body as either necessary or appropriate. The Purchasing Division of the Department of Administrative Services has, however, incorporated the staff of the former Department of Supply, Contracts Branch and of the Australian Government Stores and Tender Board and become the central disposals authority as Sir Walter Scott’s Committee envisaged the proposed Commission would do. Consideration is also being given to whether or not additional purchasing responsibilities should be assumed by the Division.
Secondly, there are recommendations which deal with the revision of current purchasing policies, practices and procedures and the co-ordination of these to form a code of practices for general Commonwealth use. The Government saw merit in the Committee’s recommendations in this area and the Department of Administrative Services is developing a standard code of purchasing practices in consultation with other Departments
Thirdly, there is a number of recommendations directed at improving liaison on procurement matters between Government Departments and Authorities and their supplying industries. The establishment of a ministerial Government Purchasing Committee and the recent complete overhaul of arrangements for giving preference in Government purchases to Australian-made goods, attests to the Government’s interest in these matters. Recommendations by the Committee in regard to standardisation and simplification of procedures and documentation are under consideration in the Department of Administrative Services.
Boards of Foreign-owned Mining Companies: Australian Component (Question No. 109)
am asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
How many foreign-owned mining companies have achieved a majority of Australians on their boards.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am advised from information available to the Foreign Investment Review Board, that of the 20 principal mining companies in Australia with majority foreign ownership, seven have a majority of Australian citizens on their boards. A further three companies have boards on which Australian citizens have an equal number of positions with foreign nationals, with the remaining ten companies having a majority of foreign nationals on their boards.
am asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
What were the date and terms of the ministerial direction that the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission is not permitted to purchase land in metropolitan areas, or for the prime purpose of housing. (Hansard, 8 November 1977, page 3 177.)
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
This direction was given by the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Cavanagh, in a letter of 27 May 1975 to the Chairman of the Commission, and a summary of it appears on page 4 of the Commission’s 1974-7S annual report. The actual terms of the direction are as follows:
Since land for housing purposes can be obtained through Housing Associations and the Housing and Personal Loans Fund administered by the Aboriginal Loans Commission, the Land Fund should not as a general rule provide land for purely housing purposes. Similarly, land in urban areas can in some cases be acquired through the above sources and through Aboriginal Hostels Ltd. For this reason and because provision of urban land may prove a substantial drain on the resources of the Land Fund, I do not wish your Commission to proceed with any purchases of land within the metropolitan area of any capital city except after consultation with me, through my Department as to the most appropriate source of funding for such purchase.
am asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
Which registered medical and hospital benefits organisations furnished the Permanent Head of his Department with their annual accounts and statements for 1 976-77 later than the due date of 30 September 1977, and on what date did each do so (Hansard, 19 April 1977, page 97 1 ).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
Will he restore the rate of subsidy that prevailed under the Whitlam Government for school dental services in areas where Aboriginals are the majority of the school children.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Eligible Aboriginal children together with other school children are currently receiving free dental care including dental health education under the Australian School Dental Scheme. This coverage is progressively expanding with the continued development of the Scheme.
The Commonwealth has allocated $24.5m in 1977-78 for the School Dental Scheme on the basis of meeting 75 per cent of capital costs, 75 per cent of the operating costs of the dental therapy schools and 50 per cent of the operating costs of the clinics. The balance of these funds is provided by the States. I feel that this is very generous in the light of the current economic climate.
In the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth meets all of the costs of providing dental care for Aboriginals through the dental services provided by the Commonwealth Department of Health.
Aboriginal Affairs in Northern Territory (Question No. 199)
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 23 February:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 28 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 March 1978:
Has his Department instituted a policy of exchanging senior personnel for a limited period with those of similar status and standard in the private sector or State Government Departments; if not, why not.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Exchanges of staff both professional and clerical have been under consideration by my Department on various occasions over recent years. However, due in part to difficulties associated with aspects such as staff ceilings and release and replacement of staff no proposal has yet proceeded to finality. New arrangements for staff ceilings for officers on exchange have now been instituted and I am hopeful that appropriate exchanges can now be made, in the interests of officers of my Department and the public and private sectors generally. Negotiations are currently being conducted with the Public Service Board for this purpose.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 7 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
New South Wales………. 24
South Australia……….. 10
Western Australia………. 11
Northern Territory………. 1
In addition, one women’s refuge in Victoria receives Commonwealth assistance under the Homeless Persons Assistance Act, and two in the Australian Capital Territory are funded through the Capital Territory Health Commission.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 7 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) ( a) My Department arranged travel for 69 of its staff and for 3 1 staff from other Departments who were seconded to the secretariat servicing the Meeting.
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 7 March 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) No officer from my Department or any authority under my control had occasion to travel from their home base to another location in order to provide services in connection with Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 7 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 7 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cost information in the detail requested is not available. All expenditure has not yet been brought to account and in many cases suppliers have not yet submitted their final claims. At this stage the total cost of the Meeting, excluding compensation to business houses arising from security measures, is expected to be in the order of $775,000.
On the details requested by the honourable member, the following information is available:
1 ) An interim payment of $ 1 36,000 has been made to the Hilton Hotel. The Hotel has not yet rendered its final claim.
Claims from other hotels-motels in Sydney totalling $19,661.78 are in the process of being paid. All accounts have not yet been lodged.
3 ) Accounts have not yet been lodged.
Payments to date total $1,842.79. Other accounts have yet to be rendered.
149 telephones, one teleprinter, six telex, five facsimile, and one picturegram services.
Standard rates are to be charged, except for 2 telex services provided free of charge by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission.
7) to ( 10) Accounts have not yet been received.
Compensation payments are still under consideration.
Compensation for Victims of Sydney Hilton Bomb Explosion: Compensation for Shopkeepers
-On 22 February 1978 (Hansard, page 32) the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) asked me a question without notice regarding compensation for victims of the Sydney Hilton Hotel bomb explosion. I undertook to treat the last aspect of the question as being on notice.
The following is in answer to the honourable member’s question:
Compensation being paid to shopkeepers by the Commonwealth is for loss of profits as a result of the closure of their business premises, on security grounds, for the duration of the Conference. It is not for losses incurred as a result of the bomb explosion but arises from a specific security decision. As I mentioned in my answer to the first part of the honourable member’s question, compensation arrangements for the victims of the bombing come within the provisions of the State workers’ compensation legislation. Payments will, therefore, be determined by the appropriate State authorities. The Commonwealth Government is, however, establishing a Trust Fund for the education and general benefit of the children of the Council workers killed in the explosion as an indication of the Government’s concern for their families.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 March 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780316_reps_31_hor108/>.