31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
The Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned members and ex-members of the Citizens Forces of Australia respectfully sheweth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray
Your honourable House take appropriate action to resume the award of the several distinctive and historic Reserve Forces Decorations and Medals to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Citizens Military Force (Army Reserve) and Citizens Air Force. by Sir William McMahon, Mr Falconer, Mr Porter and Mr Scholes.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That 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 30 June 1978.
The demand for dwellings has not slackened as the waiting list (all States) of 12,060 single and 4,120 couples as at 30 June 1977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 1975 under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now 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 their dwelling. Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cadman, Mr Morris and Mr Uren.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petitioners certain citizens of Australia respectfully showeth the urgent plea to appoint and call our Nation to establish and observe a National Day of Prayer to Almighty God seeking His deliverance of our Nation from all the evil forces oppressing our Nation in these days.
Our action recognises and accepts God ‘s promise expressed in the Second Book of Chronicles, chapter 7, verse 14.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that God’s Word would be observed ‘If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and will turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land. ‘
We believe that God affirms this promise in the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, verses 1 to 14.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cadman.
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-
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Everingham.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble Petition of undersigned licensed CB radio operators respectfully showeth-
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that CB radio licence fees be reduced to $10 per licence holder and that CB radio be allocated the American 40 Channel system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Newman.
-Has the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs ordered a full inquiry into an incident involving a government supporter attempting to bring goods into the country illegally in a Foreign Affairs bag? Can the Minister give a full report on this matter?
– Some little while ago my attention was drawn by the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs to the fact that a member of Parliament- a member of another chamber- did have goods forwarded to him. I think the goods were handed to a Foreign Affairs official overseas and they were subsequently forwarded to the member in a diplomatic bag. The diplomatic bag was opened by Foreign Affairs officials in the ordinary way and a Customs officer’s attention was drawn to this matter. The matter has been dealt with in the ordinary way. The goods have been seized.
– Were they drugs?
– No, they were dirty linen.
– No, they were not. The goods were seized in the ordinary way and to the best of my knowledge no other action has been taken and no other action is likely to be taken. I have not caused any special inquiry to be conducted. The matter was merely drawn to my attention by the Department because the person concerned happened to be a member of Parliament.
– Has the Treasurer been informed that the notices of disallowance are being issued under section 5 1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act disallowing Curran-type claims to tax deductions except in the case of geniune traders? As this inevitably means that the loss to revenue will not be great -it will certainly not be great relative to the unproven astronomical estimates given outside the House- can he inform the House why the policy which he favours, or says he does, of let the law prevail is being applied in the Gortontype case and is not being applied in the Currantype case?
– I welcome the question from the right honourable member for Lowe regarding this matter. It should be made plain to the House that the right honourable member for Lowe has publicly indicated in respect of one of the amendments embraced in the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill that he disagrees with the decision taken by the Government. Let me make it plain at the outset of my answer to the question that the Government makes no apology for deciding to include in this Bill the retrospective striking down of the so-called Curran schemes. As I understand the situation, it is true that the Commissioner of Taxation has disallowed certain claims for losses generated under the so-called Curran schemes. The extent to which that has occurred and the reasons for which that has occurred are ultimately matters which lie within the administration of the Commissioner of Taxation. As the right honourable member would know the Commissioner of Taxation is vested under the Income Tax Assessment Act with authority to adminster the legislation.
The right honourable gentleman makes the assumption- it is implied in his question-that the result of the disallowances made by the Commissioner will be successful because that is the only basis on which he could say that the particular loss to revenue which may be involved in respect of these schemes would not be large. I take the opportunity again to remind the House that the Government has decided that the dimension of the loss to revenue involved in these schemes, the character of the schemes and the fact that many people entered into these schemes in circumstances in which they could not honestly assert that the schemes might not be the subject of retrospective legislation mean that in the Government’s view this particular scheme and the Government’s decision regarding it, represent a special case. Estimates of the revenue involved have been given by people in the professions. The official advice to me from the Commissioner of Taxation is that the amount of revenue lost runs into hundreds of millions of dollars.
The right honourable gentleman drew attention to the situation concerning the so-called Gorton-schemes. As he undoubtedly knows, the proposition which has been put to the Government in relation to those schemes is that the Government should alter the law retrospectively to the period of eight or nine years ago so as to relieve people who might ultimately, depending upon the result of proceedings which are currently before the High Court, be found to be liable for the payment of gift duty. As a matter of common equity, if the Government were to accede to that request it would be necessary for the Government likewise retrospectively to relieve and make refunds to people who had made gifts during the same period and who had paid gift duty on those gifts. The Government would be obliged in all common equity to refund the amount of that gift duty which had been paid during that period. The right honourable gentleman suggested that the law should take its course. I believe that the correct method of responding in relation to the Gorton schemes is to allow the law to take its course and for the current proceedings before the High Court to be determined.
I am aware that in a number of cases there is the possibility of some hardship being involved. That is a matter at which the Government would be prepared to look closely and in relation to which it would listen to submissions that were made to it. Regrettable though the circumstances may be for some people involved in those particular schemes, the fact remains that if, in order to achieve some kind of equity in respect of a limited number of people, a retrospective relief of duty were to be made, it would be necessary in the interests of that same equity to refund duty which had been paid by other people who at least had the opportunity of entering into those schemes but who took the conscious decision not to do so and who, as a result, had to pay the amount of gift duty assessed on their gifts.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. I refer to the proposed meeting between the Australian Government and the representatives of the Queensland Government on the matter of the rights of Aboriginals on the Aurukun and Mornington Island reserves which was supposed to occur today. I ask the Prime Minister: Has that meeting occurred? What progress can he report? When will he or his representative be making a full statement to the Parliament on this matter? When can we expect appropriate legislation to be introduced?
-The honourable gentleman makes a number of assumptions, a number which may not be accurate. The discussions have begun. The discussions will continue. At the appropriate time a report will be made.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of statements in the media this morning by a Mr Graham McCamley, President of the Cattlemen’s Union of Australia, calling action by sheep producers in South Australia and Western Australia, reckless and irresponsible and berating graziers and their organisations for antagonising the unions? Can the Minister advise the House whether or not the Government supports the Federal Executive of the Cattleman’s Union in its current policy of appeasement of the Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union in this dispute over the right of graziers to supply vital overseas markets with sheep or cattle?
– I do not think an issue confronting the Australian rural community has united farmers, graziers and pastoralists throughout the country to a greater degree than has the present sheep export dispute in South Australia and Western Australia. It is a circumstance which quite demonstrably, in a manner which apparently has not emerged before, has brought together the fairly diverse attitudes of the larger sheep men and the smaller sheep men right throughout the country. It happens to coincide with another national move which leads towards the possible unity of the principal producer organisations in every State of Australia, at both the State and the Federal level. That move, of course, is wholeheartedly supported by the Federal Government. In that circumstance I find nothing short of incredible the fact that the representative of one other organisation is disuniting himself and his organisation from the producers and other producer organisations and apparently allying himself with those who are interrupting the free flow of exports.
It is quite true that the union concerned has on a number of occasions expressed attitudes about livestock exports, although not peculiarly sheep. It is equally true that the livestock producers have been concerned that some restraints for example, in weight, per shipment and in the number of shipments have applied to cattle. It is true also that live sheep exporters have been concerned about any interruption to their trade. I think it ill becomes any producer organisation to seek to ensure that, perhaps through some untoward sweetheart agreement with the trade union movement, it will be able to continue to gain the respect of those whom it purports to represent. I believe that the very strong stand the Government has taken behind the livestock producers in seeking to have the bans Lifted and to restore the free movement of livestock to countries around the world is the sort of action that has in contrast, far wider support amongst not only the rural community by also all Australians. I am extraordinarily disappointed in the statement made by the gentleman, if it was in fact as reported, and would trust that every Australian producer would take note of the degree to which, when the chips are down, that organisation does not seem to be prepared to back the rank and file of those whom it purports to represent.
-I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I refer him to the fact that he is on record as saying that he always wishes to have justice appear to be done. In that context I ask the honourable gentleman: Does he consider it just that there should be an independent inquiry by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General into the allegations made by the honourable member for Fadden and others? Is it not a fact that any inquiry conducted by those gentlemen is an inquiry where the officers would be reporting to the Government itself and it would be very much the situation of the accused sitting in judgment on itself?
-Order! The honourable gentleman should not argue the question. He should seek information.
-Accordingly, I ask the Prime Minister what protection will be given to witnesses such as Mr Coleman and Mr Carige on the basis of any evidence they give, when they have not the protection of a judicial inquiry? In view of those facts, and the fact that the proposed witnesses would not have any immunity, will the honourable gentleman now reconsider the situation and set up a full judicial inquiry where witnesses will have the benefit of such protection and where any allegations would be subject to the test of cross-examination.
– I have nothing to add to what I said about this matter last night, but I am surprised at the honourable gentleman. The Solicitor-General has an independent statutory authority. The present Solicitor-General is an honourable person. He was appointed by the previous Administration and I find it very strange indeed that the honourable gentleman, whatever he may think about Ministers of this Government, should cast doubts on his integrity.
– I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs: Has his attention been drawn to Press reports concerning the presence in Angola of Cuban and Soviet troops and advisers? Does the Minister have any information on this matter? If the reports are correct, what is the Government’s reaction to the presence of foreign troops in Angola?
-The Government is, of course, aware of reports about continued interference by Cuban troops and Soviet advisers, socalled, in Angola. According to these reports, Cuban troops have killed many civilians in the course of recent attempts to wipe out so-called right wing opponents of the present regime, and there have been other reports that the Soviet Union has established a camp to train guerrillas for operations in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zaire. It is no secret that in Angola there are large numbers of Cuban troops- according to recent estimates, about 18,000- and also some Soviet advisers. Also, it is clear that there are some training camps for guerrillas, although probably not on a large scale.
As I have said before, the Government supports peaceful and negotiated solutions to the problems of southern Africa and has on a number of occasions condemned violence and terrorism. So far as the major thrust of the honourable member’s question is concerned, I want to state succinctly and clearly that in the Government’s view, the Cuban and Soviet military interference in the affairs of countries of the region has not advanced the cause of peace one iota.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether there is any truth in reports that in August 1974 the Australian Broadcasting Commission increased the paid recreation leave of its General Manager to five weeks a year and that at its meeting in February 1975, after noting the General Manager’s assertion that he then had 78 days accumulated leave, it decided to grant him special permission to breach the strictly enforced rules of the Australian Public Service Board that accumulated leave in excess of eight weeks shall be forfeited by providing that, upon his retirement, he would be entitled to a cash credit for his leave entitlement for his last year of service, plus untaken credits brought forward from the preceding year and, in addition, half of all untaken recreation leave accummulated in respect of earlier years?
Does the right honourable gentleman realise that if these reports are correct, the General Manager could retire at 60 years of age in October 1981 and, even if his present salary of $37,000 were frozen at its present level, could collect a lump sum of $27,000 for annual leave alone, to say nothing of untaken furlough? Does he agree that if this precedent remains unchallenged it will not be long before Public Service organisations demand the same entitlement for all public servants? Will he act to see that furlough, as well as recreation leave, is taken within two years of its falling due?
-On the advice that I have been given I think the generality of the information contained in the honourable gentleman’s question would appear to be correct. The Commission has approved annual credit of five weeks’ recreation leave for its General Manager and a payment in lieu on retirement for leave accruing but not taken in the last two years of service, together with half of any accumulated balance for the previous years. I note that the honourable gentleman referred in his question to matters which took place in 1974. If my recollection is correct, he fought quite vigorously against similar situations when he was in another position at that time.
The Commission also directed the General Manager to clear his accumulated credits as much as possible and as soon as possible. The General Manager receives the same furlough entitlements as public servants. The Government has been concerned about a variety of conditions applicable to the operations of statutory authorities. As a result of that concern a working party under the chairmanship of Mr Collings, a former Commissioner of the Public Service Board, has been appointed. It held its first meeting in February of this year. I am advised that its report will come into the hands of the Government later this month. I think there is much to be said for the application of standard terms and conditions for similar types of government employment. The Government will be looking forward to that report with a degree of interest.
-The Minister for Defence announced to the House in October 1976 that he would introduce legislation to establish a Defence Force Academy. What progress has been made in this matter?
– I am glad to inform the honourable member for Ryan that I propose, with the approval of the House, to introduce the legislation tomorrow. This matter represents a very long journey over quite a number of parliamentary vicissitudes. At long last the legislation will be before the House for its consideration. With the approval of this House and the other place I would also propose that the Academy should bear the name of Casey University. It seems to be a singularly apt name for such an academy to bear. I thought at first that it may appear as an expression of admiration- partisan admiration; the prejudice of admiration and affection on my part- for one whom I had the honour and pleasure of serving in this House. If I may say so without being prissy, I think this country has been too tardy in recognising those who have served it politically on both sides of the House. There are very few Australian Prime Ministers whose names are recalled other than by an electorate, a suburb or, indeed, a street. I think most of us would settle for a lonely lane. I put my own views to one side and recall the words used by my honourable and learned friend, the honourable member for Werriwa. On 1 7 August 1 976 in this House he said of Richard Gardiner Casey:
He was a man of unquestionable integrity, high principle, singular urbanity and personal charm, with valuable gifts as a diplomat and politician. No criticism one could make of him, even on this occasion, can alter our judgment of him as a great Australian.
He went on to say:
There were many firsts to his credit- the first Australian overseas diplomat, liaison officer to London, Minister to Washington; the first Australian to serve as Minster in a British government; the first Australian to be a colonial governor; the first Commonwealth life peer. He had fought at Gallipoli. He became an audacious flyer. It is a career not likely to be repeated in our time for it belongs essentially to another age. Yet the best things about Lord Casey will be valued in any age and his achievements will be of lasting importance. He was above all and in the best sense of the word a man of fundamental and abiding decency.
I adopt that language in every particular. I hope that the Parliament and the Commonwealth of Australia will be proud to see that the Academy will bear the name of Casey.
-Mr Speaker, I just wish to observe that, with the Minister for Defence wishing to be involved in a lonely lane, it is not only the right honourable member for Lowe who has ‘a fire burning warmly down below’, as the Minister for Defence observed a few weeks ago. I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that in the Queensland Parliament this morning, the Minister for Mines, Energy and Police answered a question from the Opposition Leader, Mr Burns, in relation to the cost difference in the establishment of a power house at Millmerran instead of at Tarong, reporting that the Millmerran power house would cost $2 5 9m less that the Tarong power house approved by the Queensland Government?
Can the Prime Minister provide any details of statistical and other technical information referred to by the Queensland Minister for the Queensland Government, allowing it to complete its decision on this matter? Will the Federal Government be responsible for any funding to the Tarong power house in Queensland, as the Minister for Mines, Energy and Police has indicated that the cumulative annual charges, including the effects of assumed future inflation, of the life of the Millmerran power house is $8,745m-a difference of $259m? Will any Federal Government department review this decision to ensure that the Queensland Government has made a decision that is in the economic interests of the people of Queensland and Australia?
An incident having occurred in the Gallery-
– I bet the Prime Minister wishes that he could get rid of that gentleman as easily as that.
-Order! The wave was to me. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
– Perhaps his fire was starting to burn rather warmly, too. Further, I ask: Will the Federal funding, if any, be on a loan or grant basis? Finally, if on a loan basis, will the Australian Government consider applying conditions to ensure that there will be economic use as distinct from political misuse of these funds by the Queensland Premier?
-The honourable gentleman has obviously forgotten where he is.
An Opposition member- So has Bjelke.
– Order! It is out of order to interject from the visitors ‘ gallery.
– It was a member of the Opposition, Mr Speaker.
– I apologise. I call the Prime Minister.
-The honourable gentleman has obviously forgotten where he is. The question he asked would have been entirely appropriate if he were in the Queensland Parliament. I have no doubt that shortly many of his colleagues will wish that he were there.
-I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Has the Prime Minister seen reports of Colorado’s ‘sunset’ laws whereby all government agencies and authorities are automatically disbanded after a number of years? Can the Prime Minister tell the Parliament whether there are any plans for this Government to follow the example set by Colorado and other States in the United States of America as regards ‘sunset’ laws?
– I have heard of the ‘sunset’ laws of Colorado. They are an interesting and novel innovation. I can understand sunset laws operating in the way that I am advised they operate being necessary in a State or a country where a government has an inability to control the growth of the Public Service or the growth of the bureaucracy and an inability to make decisions to end commissions and bodies which serve no useful purpose. I do not know whether that is the background to the innovations that were introduced in Colorado as recently as 1976. It will be intriguing to watch how the experiment works.
We have no current plans to introduce such laws, although I can think of some circumstances in which I could see considerable advantage arising if certain bodies were automatically to go out of existence. It also needs to be noted that during the term of office of this Government, for the first time in the history of Federation in Australia, the number of Commonwealth public servants has actually fallen by a very significant amount. There are now some 30,000 to 40,000 fewer people in the Commonwealth Public Service than would have been the case if the recruitment guidelines that were in force during the time of our predecessors had continued. That has indicated a rigid control over government expenditure and the staff ceilings imposed on Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities. That policy will continue. Any suggestions that it will not should be put aside. Against that background, I doubt that there is an urgent necessity to introduce ‘sunset’ laws, although I believe that one or two States within the Commonwealth of Australia could be advantaged by the introduction of such laws.
– I refer to the inquiry that the Prime Minister has initiated into allegations regarding the Queensland electoral redistribution. Is it the Prime Minister’s intention to take the same action against the Minister for Finance as he took against the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications and present Minister for Special Trade Representations of asking him to stand down from the Ministry when an inquiry was being undertaken into allegations concerning him?
-The honourable gentleman apparently is unable to remember what he said last night.
– Is the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, who has ministerial responsibility for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, aware that the episode of /, Claudius scheduled for screening in Melbourne on Sunday 16 April contains a particularly nauseating incident that goes far beyond all reasonable tolerance and good taste? As Sunday evening is an especially popular time for family viewing, will the Minister take action to suspend that episode or at least have the offending segment deleted?
– As has been often said in this House, these matters are matters for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I will indicate to the ABC that the honourable member has asked this question in this place. Indeed, questions on this subject have been asked by a number of people in various places throughout Australia. I have informed the ABC of that. The ABC has informed me that it has considered these questions and decided that the episode should go ahead.
-Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the Premier of Queensland has yet surrendered? If so, what are the terms of the peace treaty?
– I do not think that I would want to go further than to say that at the moment that the Premier of Queensland made it perfectly plain in a Press conference this morning that he is here to co-operate.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Trade and Resources. What options are available to the Government to guarantee the rights of exporters to export? Can the trade and commerce powers given to the Commonwealth under section 5 l(i) of the Constitution be used as the authority for legislation to protect exports? Does the Government agree that the present situation of industrial disruption in relation to a wide range of rural exports particularly cannot be tolerated not only in the sectional exporting interest but more importantly in the overall national interest?
– I am not here to canvass what various options are available to the Government. The Government will have to look at these options as circumstances arise. But what is very clear is that the Government has a responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that the normal processes of exporting take place in this country. It is quite intolerable to imagine that a sectional group or interest, union or whatever else it may be, can disrupt that trade. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will ensure that the laws of this country are upheld to see that trade takes place and that sectional interests are not persecuted. I cannot think of anything more selfish or lousy than what has been going on in South Australia and Western Australia when people have been deprived from getting a reasonable income for what they produce. The Government will stand by these people to see that the exports take place.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade and Resources. The right honourable gentleman will recall that last Wednesday he indicated that while in Japan he had been assured that Australia would maintain its share of the iron ore requirements of the Japanese steel mills. Is this the same assurance as the Premier of Western Australia received while he was in Japan? If so, did the Premier receive any additional assurances? Does this assurance imply that under the current circumstances Australia’s sales of iron ore can be expected to fall substantially? Does this explain the gloomy predictions made by Hamersley Holdings Ltd last week? Finally what will be the employment implications of a fall in sales from the Pilbara?
– I am interested to hear the honourable member’s reaction to and concern about the employment situation in Western Australia. We have shared this concern for some time. However, apparently the honourable member and some of the unions he supports have not been very concerned about the employment security of people of an area in which a continuing spate of strikes has prevented the use of Australia’s export capacity and to a degree undermined our reputation as a reliable supplier. Let me assure you, Mr Speaker, that Australia can look forward to maintaining its share of exports to the Japanese market. Whilst our total volume of exports to Japan may be declining we will not be losing any of these exports to any other country. It would be quite wrong if some other country were to get some advantage over Australia through a lower export rate. Australia has been the largest and most consistent exporter to the Japanese market during the present decade. Japan depends upon Australia for about 49 per cent of her iron ore requirements. Australia exports something like 80 per cent of its iron ore to that market. So both countries are interdependent on one another. I believe the assurances given to me and to Sir Charles Court, the Premier of Western Australia, that Australia will maintain something between a 49 per cent and 50 per cent share of the Japanese market, will be upheld.
– I address my question to the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that AUS Student Travel Service Pty Ltd sells exclusively Trans-Australia Airline tickets for domestic travel and offers travellers a discount of 25 per cent? Is it a fact that to qualify for this discount a person needs to produce only an Australia Union of Students identity card available to anyone for a modest sum rather than producing a campus identity card available only to a genuine student? Is AUS Student Travel paid commissions by TAA in the form of airline tickets rather than cash? If so, what is the annual value of such tickets? Is this the mechanism used by AUS radicals to move around the country offering their rent-a-crowd facility to all takers? Is AUS Student Travel an accredited International Air
Transport Association organisation? If not, how can it have a scheme of arrangement with Qantas Airways Ltd or even sell Qantas tickets? Finally, have Qantas or TAA lent money to AUS Student Travel?
– The honourable member for La Trobe has raised a number of very important questions which bear on the problems that AUS Student Travel Service Pty Ltd has been involved in recently, namely, its operations, the debt that it managed to get itself into and its capacity to get itself out of that debt. The honourable member will know that an arrangement has been entered into by the airlines which are owed money to try to assist AUS Student Travel Service in its difficulties. It is a fact that AUS Student Travel Service is not an accredited travel agentthat is the first point- but there is nothing peculiar about that. There are hundreds of nonaccredited travel agents throughout Australia and AUS Student Travel Service happens to be one of them. AUS Student Travel Service issues special tickets which are honoured for travel by Trans-Australia Airlines and some of the international airlines. As I understand it, on these tickets seven of the AUS Student Travel Service executives are given the right to travel free of charge in the discharge of their duties as executives of AUS Student Travel Service. They are able to secure seats only when there are empty seats on an aircraft. The honourable member also raised the question of the cost of such travel last year. I am advised that the value of these free tickets last year was some $5,700.
An honourable member- Each?
-That is the total cost. We should not exaggerate the position. The 25 per cent discount is available to all university students and students of other tertiary educational establishments under 26 years of age who present an identity card which must be purchased from TAA or Ansett Airlines of Australia. My understanding is that students have to present proof that they are bona fide students before they can purchase that identity card. TAA has advised that it does not accept any other card and has instructed AUS Student Travel Service accordingly. I am advised that TAA carries out at airports regular checks of people travelling on the reduced rate and, if there is any misuse of the system, action is taken against the offenders.
– I ask the Prime Minister Is it a fact that he requested from Ministers a statement of their financial affairs in 1976 and 1977?
Did he note in those statements that the former Treasurer had maintained a particularly profitable business association with a Mr Leake through 1976 and 1977 whilst he was still Treasurer, in spite of the former Treasurer’s assurances to Parliament in 1977 that the association had terminated in 1967 or 1968 and his later assurance on the same day to the honourable member for Werriwa that it had terminated in 1 974? If the Prime Minister was aware of these facts, why did he not require a full and accurate disclosure of them to be made to the Parliament by the former Treasurer, and if he was not aware of them was it because he had not received a full disclosure from the former Treasurer?
-The honourable gentleman knows that this matter had been dealt with already in very great depth and detail. He also knows that a statement has been issued, that Mr Stephen Charles, Q.C., has independently examined these matters and advised me and that on the basis of that advice I issued a Press statement.
Mr Jull proceeding to address a question to the Minister for Defence-
-Order! The honourable gentleman is not entitled to ask a question about political activities for which the Minister bears no responsibility in the House. The question is out of order.
– I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications whether the Government is planning to issue television licences. Is the proposed charge to be $140 for a colour television set? When does the Government plan to introduce this imposition on the people of Australia?
– I will permit the question but the Minister may choose not to answer it. It asks for an announcement of policy and the question strictly ought not to be asked.
-If it is a matter of policy I wish someone would tell me because I have not heard about it
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has Cabinet made a decision as to whether the Australian Agricultural Council decision on stage 2 of the national dairy plan will be accepted or deferred, or whether some other more equitable plan for the manufacturing sector of the dairy industry will be negotiated?
– I have undertaken to meet on Friday with State Ministers responsible for agriculture and I have no doubt that there will be some discussion about the prospective stage 2 arrangements. The Federal Government has been most concerned at the overall economic decline in the dairy industry. This has been compounded by reduced butter sales in Australia and the competition that the European Economic Community, through its Common Agricultural Policy, has applied in Third World markets. That has affected particularly sales of skim milk powder, whole milk powder and casein. The overall position therefore is that in order to help dairy farmers the Federal Government has introduced underwriting to help to maintain dairy farmers’ incomes. In view of the conflict between States on the arithmetic of the national aggregate entitlement and the individual State aggregate entitlement, the Federal Government is putting to the States for consideration an arrangement which would see a percentage of underwriting on manufactured milk products, being an alternative means by which future production could be restrained. In other words, after a determination of a volume of production in relation to a base period, it would be possible, by setting a level of underwriting related to, for example, 90 per cent of production on the base period, for the same type of production constraint to be applied as was intended within the stage 2 arrangement but in a way which would be totally equitable between each of the States. This would mean that each one of the manufactured milk products could be identified as being in greater or less demand. In some instances there might well be a production figure generating an entitlement for underwriting above that base figure. In others it would be significantly below. The flexibility that that would give should encourage production of those dairy products which are economic. The Government is still considering a basis by which this could be effective as an alternative to the stage 2 arrangement and hopes that the States will see it as a worthwhile way of overcoming what seems to be a hopeless impasse in the divisions between Victoria and every other mainland State.
– My question to the Minister for Transport refers to staff shortages at the Melbourne Flight Service Centre and the heavy overtime being worked at that location. I ask the
Minister: Has his attention been drawn to departmental advice which describes conditions as being in an ‘operationally hazardous situation’ which could have serious consequences for the Department and the officers involved should an accident occur as a result of an error on the job or should a road accident occur involving officers proceeding to or from work? Is it a fact that in a recent incident it was found that an aircraft flight data strip had not been prepared and that there could have been fatal consequences? Further, is it a fact that a recent departmental study also showed that there was a need for the appointment of a further 1 1 flight service officers to the unit? Will the Minister give an assurance to the Parliament that he will take urgent action to see that staff levels are raised to the number necessary to ensure that there will be a complete restoration of proper safety standards at the Melbourne Flight Service Centre?
– Since I assumed responsibility as Minister for Transport I have said time and time again that I am not prepared to put up with any condition that would lead to the view, as implied in the honourable member’s question, that air safety in any sense or shape is in some jeopardy. I am not aware of the circumstances referred to by the honourable member involving the Melbourne Flight Service Centre, nor am I conscious of any report coming to me drawing my attention to it. I shall have an investigation made of the matter. If the allegations made by the honourable member are correct, they are quite serious. I shall view them as being serious and take the appropriate action.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the monthly report of the Darwin Cyclone Tracy Relief Trust Fund for February 1978.
– Pursuant to section 19 (2) of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act 1970, I present the annual report of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board for the year ended 30 June 1976, together with the text of a statement by the Minister for Science relating to the report.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Melbourne Ports moving General Business Notice No. 2 standing in his name.
In addressing the House on the need to bring forward General Business Notice No. 2, 1 refer you, Mr Speaker, to the nature of that motion. It is essentially a no confidence motion directed towards the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the former Treasurer and present Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) and concerns their failure to maintain the integrity of ministerial office. The Parliament has been treated virtually since the Parliament first met to a series of questions on this subject which on all occasions have been evaded by both the Prime Minister and the former Treasurer.
A question dealing with ministerial integrity goes to the whole function, capacity and integrity of the Parliament. One cannot attack the integrity of a Minister without attacking and putting at issue the integrity of the Cabinet itself. Once that issue is raised, under the Westminster system of government the matter ought to take precedence over every other matter. That is a long established principle of the Westminster system of government. The matter not only should take precedence but also should be resolved by vote. We should not allow a situation to exist in which a notice of motion couched in such terms goes on to the Notice Paper, stays on the Notice Paper and is virtually ignored by the government of the day. For those reasons, I believe that the House ought to adopt the motion I have moved. I do not believe that we can allow issues which are relevant to this House to be ignored. Mr Speaker, I believe that from your knowledge of the traditions and practices of the Parliament, you will agree that the question of the integrity of ministerial office in the final analysis is a matter for decision and positive vote by this House. It is not a matter -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the honourable member be not further heard.
-Before I put the question, I remind the honourable member for Melbourne Ports that the motion needs to be in writing.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-I rise to second the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders that has been moved by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), which would enable -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the honourable member for Lalor be not further heard.
-Order! The honourable member for Lalor will resume his seat. The honourable member might care to sign the motion as seconder.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Mr Holding’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. ( Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Message received from the Senate intimating that it had agreed to the amendments made by the House of Representatives to this Bill.
– I move:
Mr Speaker, as honourable members would know, a parliamentary luncheon for the Head of State of Western Samoa is scheduled for tomorrow. Rather than have the bells ring at an hour which might well interrupt that official function, it was felt that this motion should be introduced now.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, might I also mention that the Government has decided that the House will continue to sit until 1 1 p.m. on Thursday night. The normal adjournment motion will be put at 10.30 p.m. and the House will rise at 1 1 p.m., instead of, as was originally suggested, a 4.30 p.m. adjournment with the House rising at 5 p.m. Those arrangements apply for this week. I put honourable members on notice of those arrangements.
-Does the honourable gentleman propose to amend the Sessional Orders in relation to this matter?
-For that purpose, Mr Speaker, yes.
-Mr Speaker, there is no objection to the motion which has just been moved in relation to the sitting times of the House tomorrow. The Opposition has been agreeable to the experiment, as proposed by the Government, in relation to the House sitting four days a week for two weeks and then rising for two weeks. But the Government has now given notice, as we reach the end of this sitting week, that the House will sit on Thursday night and that means that members have to make last minute changes to their schedules.
We realise that these sorts of things are likely to happen. We are trying to co-operate with the Government in getting some sensible and more sane sitting hours for the Parliament, but we hope that the notice just given by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair), amounting only to about 48 hours, does not become a regular feature. People have made arrangements to attend functions or meet other commitments on Thursday evening of this week. Now they have to make other arrangements because of course their first commitment is to be here in the Parliament. But I do say that we on this side of the House are trying to co-operate with the Government in trying to bring about more rational and sensible sitting hours of the Parliament.
-(3.42)-I support what my colleague, the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), has just said. At various times in the past we have had fairly lengthy consideration in this Parliament of this question of meeting times and so on.
-Order! I anticipate that the honourable gentleman will be speaking about the Thursday night sittings.
-No, Mr Speaker. I am speaking about the arrangements for the meeting times tomorrow, which is the matter now before the House.
– I shall allow the honourable gentleman to speak in relation to the motion regarding tomorrow’s sitting times.
– This haphazard rearrangement of times upsets a great number of things. Tomorrow there is to be an important function in Parliament House. I think it is important that we pay proper respect to the people who visit us in this way. I personally think that we would probably be better engaged in being with the Head of State of Western Samoa, and enjoying a good luncheon together than in being in this place and being treated by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) as though we really were not here. His behaviour, as far as the House is concerned, is about the most disgraceful I have experienced in 22 years in this place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s intention to impose higher health care costs on the sick.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-The Opposition has raised this matter of public importance because it believes that the Australian community as a whole has been lulled into a false sense of security by the discussion paper on paying for health care which was presented in this House on, I think, 15 March. We debated the paper a couple of weeks later. According to information we have received in fact another paper has been prepared and presented to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who is, of course, very keen to impose quite significant changes on the present method of health care finance, and secret decisions have already been made by the Prime Minister, by Mr John Stone from Treasury and by Dr Sax, formerly of the Department of Health. The proposition which has been accepted by the Prime Minister- and knowing the Prime Minister the proposition will undoubtedly be imposed on the Government- is the introduction of what are called front-end deductibles, the abolition of bulk billing and a forced rise in hospital charges. I am most concerned with the question of front-end deductibles.
– What is your source of information?
– My source of information is the committee of which the honourable member is chairman. I know that that committee is unhappy about some of the decisions which have obviously been made by the Prime Minister. I hope that with the help of members of that committee, and with the help of such organisations as the Australian Medical Association and the health funds, there will still be time to persuade the Prime Minister, even if he wants to go ahead with the things he wants to do, that he ought to v/ait and see just what kind of information is available to support the changes he intends to introduce. We know and I think the Minister for
Health (Mr Hunt) knows that insufficient statistical information is available to indicate just what will happen.
I shall outline the proposals for the benefit of those honourable members who have not followed the discussion on health care costs to the same extent as others. On the subject of front end deductibles the Government will say to the funds- this would certainly include Medibank Private and possibly Medibank- that contributors will have to pay the first $50 or $100 of their medical expenses. The contributors will not get a refund of the first $50 or $100. The reason why I am giving those alternative figures is that I do not think the Government has made up its mind whether the amount will be applied on a contributor basis or to the individual member of a family.
I think this is a completely wrong approach to the whole subject of health care and health care financing. The approach is wrong from an economic point of view. It will mean that there would be a financial disincentive to would be patients to seek early advice to prevent expensive and debilitating fully established physical or psychiatric illnesses from occurring. I think of the checks for diabetes, hypertension, glaucoma, breast cancer, Papanicolou smears for cervical cancer, immunisation and all the other kinds of preventive medicine that we encourage from an economic and medical point of view. The introduction of anything that will discourage people from taking advantage of those aspects of preventive medicine is wrong. The proposal would discourage families from seeking advice about early symptoms. It would especially discourage the poor families and the large families which are being maintained on a comparatively low income. If these people were told that instead of being able to receive medical treatment for a couple of dollars per consultation, as they can at present, or for nothing in those cases where the doctor is bulk billing they would have to pay $8, $9, $ 12 or $ 14, depending on whether the treatment was charged as a consultation or a visit and depending on the State in which they reside they may decide that a visit is not necessary. These amounts of money are relatively large for those people.
I remember what happened when I was in medical practice and I was dealing with children suffering from measles or some other common complaint. Measles is the most obvious example. The vast majority of children with measles will recover from that condition and no specific treatment is necessary. A proportion of children will have complications, such a chest infections, ear infections and possibly encephalitis. But it is wrong to put the onus on the mother or father of the child to decide whether to have that child completely checked at the appropriate time and pay $10 or $14 for that to be done. As I suggested earlier, that is a significant proportion of the total amount of money going into certain families. A large number of people will wrongly decide- I emphasise the words ‘wrongly decide’- that they will not obtain treatment for a child. The child may then contract a significant chest infection, such as pneumonia. I know this happens only in occasional cases. It may reach the stage of bronchiectasis We know that a large number of children with that disease suffered firstly from one of the relatively minor virus diseases of childhood, of which measles is one of the most common. The Government ought to think very carefully and ought to obtain advice from those who have some medical knowledge before it permits this type of change to the system.
I am speaking not only on behalf of the Opposition but also, I think, on behalf of other organisations. I was pleased to receive from the Australian Medical Association, which does not often agree with me, a statement which arose from its Federal Council meeting which concluded on 1 April. The summary of the statement reads:
There is no ‘crisis ‘ in health care spending in the sense that the situation is out of control.
I will not quote the whole of the statement. I will quote it selectively. It continues:
There is not yet sufficient detailed information about how Medibank Mark II is working to justify a further major overhaul of health insurance arrangements at the present time.
That is the point I made when discussing the original paper presented on health care financing. The AMA went to say:
Changes introduced without adequate information could be disastrous.
In particular, no change should be made in health insurance arrangements which would discourage access to general practitioners, who provide the least costly, most widely used health services to the community. ‘Front end deductibles’ and other limitations on the payment of benefits would largely destroy the purpose of health insurance and should be resisted.
The statement finishes with a threat which hopefully will have an effect on the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his attempt to ride roughshod over the advice he is receiving from the Department of Health. Referring to cooperation between the AMA and the Government the statement concluded:
But co-operation will become increasingly difficult if the present basic type of health insurance scheme, which has received the support of the AMA since before 1953, should suddenly be virtually dismantled.
I hope the AMA will continue in this vein and will let this Government and especially the Prime Minister know that the front end deductible proposition which has been accepted by the Prime Minister is not a suitable way of dealing with any problem that may exist. The Government has the problem of balancing its Budget. The Prime Minister believes that this is the most important thing to this country. The burden should not fall on the sick of this country.
Let us look briefly at the important issue of health care costs. Basically, health care costs are shared in three ways by the community. Payment can be made by the individual patients attending doctors or receiving treatment in hospitals and so on. Payment can be covered by insurance where a patient insures himself privately and thereby distributes the risk amongst other insured people. In that case the insurance company pays for the treatment. Thirdly, treatment can be paid for by governments. Basically, such payments are made by the Commonwealth Government but in some cases they are made by the Commonwealth and State governments. But, after all, the State governments receive most of their money from the Commonwealth Government. The Government is attempting to move the cost of health care across to private sources. I ask for leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which I have prepared dealing with the proportion of health care costs paid by Commonwealth, State and local government and private sources in the pre-Medibank years, during the one year- 1975- 76- that Medibank was in operation and the first year of post-Medibank, that is, 1 976-77.
The table read as follows-
– I also seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which shows payments for health care from private sources in the current year and the previous two years.
The table read as follows-
Payments for Health Care from private sources- $m
1975- 76……… 1,218
1976- 77……… 1,976
1977- 78……… 2,200 (estimate)
-The table shows that the amount of money coming from private sources has increased from $l,218m in 1975-76 to an estimated $2,200m in this financial year. More than $ 1,000m of the cost has been transferred to private sources during the last two years. I put it to the House that there is no way of setting a level of deductibles which would act as a deterrent without resulting in substantial hardship for many who seek medical care and advice. That is the important point. This may not be a deterrent to people on the salaries received by members of parliament. It may not stop us from seeking medical advice and so on and then going on to more expensive things. It is important to remind the Government that the original health care which the patient seeks from the general practitioner is by far the cheapest aspect of the whole process. The point to make is that what is not a deterrent to someone on my salary can be a quite substantial hardship to people who most need medical care and advice.
I put it to the Minister for Health, who is at the table and who I think is aware of the difficulties associated with proposing any worthwhile changes to the present system, that because of a lack of statistical information we do not know what would happen, what effect certain changes would have, who would be affected, what the effect would be on different groups in the community and by how much the cost would be reduced if in fact we asked people to pay the first $50 or the first $100.I draw the Minister’s attention to paragraphs 142, 148, 149 and 150 of the paper presented by his Department. I think I have raised important points. I appeal to those outside the Parliament, and that includes especially the Australian Medical Association and to some extent even the funds, to exert pressure on the Government to prevent the Prime Minister from introducing changes which will adversely affect the health care of the nation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The Government has not taken any position whatsoever in respect to any modifications that the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) may have in his mind. The honourable member must be clairvoyant. I am not aware of any pre-determined view of the Prime
Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) or any other Minister at this stage. The Government has not yet made any decision on the options that are available to it to continue the downward trend in the rise in health costs that has occurred in Australia during the last six years. Of course, health costs have exploded by 225 per cent in that time. The major part of that rise was incurred during the irresponsible term of the Whitlam Government. The largest increase was 36.6 per cent the year before Medibank became operative. This was due to the great explosion in wage costs across Australia and no doubt a number of other matters. Nonetheless, the great explosion took place at that time. A record increase took place in the level of doctors fees. Let no one say that the Whitlam Government was hard on the doctors of Australia. It is a fact of life that the then Government stuffed the doctors’ mouths with gold while the doctors kicked it in the teeth. There was a 55 per cent rise in doctors’ fees in about 18 months under the Whitlam government. So let no one say there was not a sweetheart agreement or some arrangement to try to get the new Australian Labor Party policy on health insurance into operation.
The modifications have brought about a slowing in the rate of acceleration of health costs in Australia. As I said a moment ago health costs increased by 36.6 per cent in the year before Medibank was introduced. They increased by 27.1 per cent during the year Medibank was introduced. In the last financial year to 30 June 1977 they increased by 19.7 per cent. The Government is not bragging or boasting about that. It cites those figures to show that there has been a moderation in the rate of acceleration of health costs in Australia. The Government expects the figure to be much lower for 1977-78 because of the great changes that it has made to the pathology charging system in this country. The House will remember that the Government set up a committee of inquiry under Dr Sidney Sax. That committee was made up of representatives of the Royal College of Pathologists, the Royal Society of Private Practising Pathologists and the Australian Medical Association as well as representatives from State health administrations. These people were brought in to conduct a full scale inquiry into pathology costs in Australia. The modifications that have been made undoubtedly will be reflected in much lower medical costs in this country during 1977-78.
At present we are coming to grips with problems associated with computerised axial tomography, or CAT scanning, which is another high technology apparatus that is available to diagnosticians in this country. Therefore this Government is well aware of the problems of and the necessity for such equipment. One of the great pushes to health costs in this country of course originates in the hospitals where 55 per cent of our health costs exist. The Government has entered into new cost sharing arrangements with the States in respect to health costs incurred in hospitals. We found the agreements with the States that were drawn up by the former Government to be invalid. No doubt these agreements were hastily drawn up on bad legal advice. I do not know who was the Attorney-General at the time but the advice was ‘b’ awful. No doubt the agreements were invalid because the States were not prepared to rest their muscle against the advice we received from our Attorney-General. New agreements were entered into with the States to try to bring about some cost containment. Commonwealth-State committees have examined the various forward estimates for 1977-78. The Commonwealth Government has decided to impose an even greater restraint upon the hospital system of this country by reducing those estimates by 5 per cent.
It is true that there have been difficulties, but by and large the responsible hospital administrators and the State ministers have seen the value of the discipline that is being exercised by the Commonwealth to try to come to grips with extravagance. After all, they are not spending hospital money; they are spending public money that is coming out of people’s pockets by way of taxation, by charges or by some other means.
– Deductibles wouldn’t help.
– I will be talking about deductibles shortly. However, we have seen the great surge in the health costs reflected as a percentage of the gross national product. For instance, in 1 973-74, 5.92 per cent of the gross national product was spent on health costs. In 1 974-75 the proportion was 6.83 per cent; in 1975-76 it was 7.38 per cent; and in 1 976-77 it was 7.67 per cent. It is true that the Government had to do something about the rising health costs because if it had not the opportunity for expenditures to be made in other vital and important areas would have been crowded out. The alternative was to increase taxation and slug the Australian people even more than they have been slugged in recent years in this area.
– You are not decreasing total expenditure; you are just moving it across.
– We are trying to make sure that the dollar that is spent on health care is wisely spent. The money that is being spent on health in Australia is not necessarily improving the morbidity or the mortality rate in this country. The honourable member for Prospect as a medical practitioner would be the first to admit that.
There is no area with a greater appetite for expenditure than the health area, and this throws enormous responsibility on governments, State and Federal, and on the medical profession and the providers of health care to make sure that the decisions they make, whether outside or inside the hospital, are made against the background of some cost consciousness. If we do not achieve this we will crowd out opportunities for expenditure in other important social welfare, education and job creation areas. It is a responsibility that I as the Minister for Health in the Fraser Government accept with some degree of satisfaction because I know that if we come to grips with it there will be further resources for more important areas of expenditure in the community. I do not say that I want the area bled dry or the juice squeezed out of the rind.
The honourable member for Prospect made quite a lot of the system of front-end deductibles. It is true to say that we have not yet a really accurate statistical profile from the time when changes were made on 1 October 1976 to be able to make some of the more radical changes that have been put to us by people who have written to us and are referred to in some of the options spelt out in this paper. There is a whole range of options including co-insurance- we have a type of co-insurance in Australia now- co-payment, front-end deductibles, indemnity payments, exclusion of benefits arrangements, maximum limits, catastrophic insurance and no-claim bonuses. A whole range of options has been put to us by various committees, professional people and the hundreds of individuals who have written in. Certainly some changes to the present arrangements need to be considered, in view of the changes that were made to include nursing home cover in the health insurance arrangements. However, it is true to say that we do not yet have a complete profile. We are doing everything in our power to get it.
One of the reasons we have not got that information is that prior to 1 October 1976 a number of funds, including one of the major funds in Australia, did not even keep lists of their membership. The Government has made it a condition of registration that funds provide to the Minister or to the Department of Health the statistical information that we require from them to enable policy decisions to be made and proper reviews and evaluations of the health insurance system to take place.
– We tried to do that in 1974 but you knocked it back in the Senate.
– I was not the shadow Minister for Health then but I guess that what the honourable member for Prospect has said is correct. However, he must admit that that was done in the context of quite different circumstances. The changes that we made were necessary for the new modified system which we introduced under which health insurance funds have a much greater percentage of the business. I have been very understanding of the problems that the funds had and, indeed, that my Department had in the changeover on 1 October 1976 and I have not really dropped the sledgehammer on anybody’s head over the provision of statistics, but I have made it clear to the health insurance funds that I want statistics provided now. They have had sufficient time to get their machines operating and to provide the Government with the new data that is necessary to enable it to do a proper evaluation and review of the health insurance system.
One of the reasons we made public this discussion paper on the paying for health care produced by the Hospital and Health Services Commission was to enable discussion and debate to take place both inside and outside this Parliament. I welcome the opportunity that the honourable member for Prospect has taken to put forward the views of the Opposition in relation to front-end deductibles and other matters which he raised today.
– What about the secret paper submitted to Fraser?
-The honourable member for Prospect has made so many assumptions and guesses about what the Government is going to do that he apparently sees in the Prime Minister’s mind things that I cannot see. I know that the Prime Minister, and the Government, have kept their minds open and following the review will make a decision based on the information available. I do not know what is the Australian Labor Party’s policy on health. I am disappointed that the honourable member for Prospect did not spell it out but he will need to do it before too long. One would have expected the honourable member to put forward at least a broader view of the Labor Party’s policy on health insurance but perhaps he did not feel disposed to do it at this time. I can assure him that there is no way that this Government will penalise the poorer section of the Australian community. We support wholeheartedly these important words in the discussion paper: . . . medical care is of such vital importance to so many in the community that it should be financed on a basis which removes financial barriers that could impede access to essential care. The central problem is that if increases in expenditure continue unchecked, a critical situation could develop and result in arbitrary curtailments of both supply and access.
This is a problem which is bugging most Western countries that are struggling with the problem with which we in Australia are struggling. Already we have taken some very substantial steps to try to come to grips with the problem. We have asked the Australian Medical Association and the medical profession to accept peer review as a concept. I am pleased to say that I believe they will do so. We will seek to establish utilisation review and accreditation of hospitals in Australia. We are undertaking a complete review of the health insurance system using the statistical data as it becomes available. We are looking at no-claim bonus arrangements and at widening the contribution of patients who receive in excess of certain incomes. There is one guarantee that I can give the House and the nation and that is that the Government will not sit idly by and watch the mounting health bill in Australia consume our social welfare dollar to the extent that it has done over the last six years. The changes that we have made already have put us half-way down the road.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-There were one or two things that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) had to say that demand a reply. He and other honourable members know that expenditure on health in Australia runs at a level comparable with such expenditure in other countries within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. I think the Minister suggested that towards the end of his speech. Presumably those countries have seen a similar pattern of cost escalation from the 1960s into the 1970s. The Minister also knows, and on other occasions would be quite happy to admit, that the 36.7 per cent explosion in wage costs in 1975-76 about which he spoke was clearly related to a policy decision- certainly of the Labor Government but it was long overdue- to give equal pay to women. We all are aware that a very high percentage of people who work in hospitals are women. The effects of that decision certainly flowed into hospital costs, but it was a decision which was long overdue. The Liberal Party, if it had been concerned about women, would have taken that step many years ago. It took the Australian Labor Party to identify that need for the thousands of women in hospitals across Australia and move to meet that need.
The Minister also referred to the escalation in doctors’ fees. I make it clear that that escalation in doctors’ fees had nothing to do with the policies of the Labor Government. Indeed, the Labor Government did take steps- steps which this present Government has done much to dismantlefor the first time in what one might call Australia’s modern history, to establish a basis on which doctors’ fees could be restrained. The doctors could see that coming so they moved to make some gains in advance of the period that was coming. They certainly did receive exorbitant rises and their salaries moved to a level which in many respects is fundamental to the current health crisis in Australia.
I think it is worth going back to that paper on health care that we were debating just two weeks ago. The very important and basic point that that paper made is that if we seriously want to look- I do not think the Minister for Health really wants to look- for the primary cause of the uncontrolled escalation of health costs in Australia we should not look to the sick, the ill and the ordinary men and women of this country but to the medical profession itself. On this point the paper is crystal clear. That point is made again and again throughout that document. Members of the medical profession are at the heart of the system. They largely determine demand on health resources in terms of the lack of constraints that operate upon them. The doctors inhibit the operation of conventional market forces by their excessive devotion to the notion of professionalism. They insulate themselves from the normal supply and demand factors which operate in relation to the provision of other services.
It seems clear to me that whatever else this report on health care costs said, it was clearly and strongly that the basic causes of escalation of health costs were not related to the attitudes of ordinary people. Ordinary people do not treat the doctor’s surgery or the hospital as pleasant or attractive places to go to; they go there because they understand that something is wrong with them and then they are in the doctors’ hands. Perhaps only 20 per cent of total health costs are related to visits to general practitioners. If the Government is going to introduce- as we believe it may well be going to introduce- a front-end deductible scheme, people in the community would have to pay a much larger sum- perhaps $50, $100 or $150-before they move into the area in which they are insured. They would face a much wider gap.
However it is dressed up by the Governmentknowing the Government’s past record it will dress it up- the introduction of that scheme would discriminate against the people who are sick, the lower income people who, perhaps for the first time in the modern period, currently are able to go to a doctor and to get reasonable service. We ought not to say too much about rising health costs as though sometimes costs are not justified. I think of the services that are provided in my electorate by community health centres. They are the most important innovations that have occurred in communities like Preston and West Heidelberg in perhaps 50 years. I think they are worth every cent that is spent on them. Sometimes when we talk about escalation of health costs we forget that there were things wrong with health care in Australia, things which the Labor Government moved to do something about.
– Tell us about the deficit.
– It is not a business.
– I am happy to speak about the deficit. The deficit is moving along pretty well under this Government, is it not? Look at what the Government has cut back. Look at the deficit now. It is rising while the Government is cutting back on basic services that the communities of Australia, such as the people in my electorate, basically need. The honourable member can talk about deficits as much as he likes. This Government looks for the cheapest way out. It has got itself into a very difficult position. It has created the greatest muddle in medical administration in the history of this country. The Minister can talk about new agreements with the States. We know the realities of the situation. When Medibank was dismantled about 55 per cent of people were allowed to move out of that basic form of insurance. What did that mean? It meant that once again we had the burgeoning of all those private funds, all of them involving huge administrative costs. What was worse, after all those people had left the system even Medibank itself cost more to administer than it had cost before. This Government is involved in an awful muddle in the area of health. It does not know what to do.
The discussion paper contains some suggestions which I hope the Government will take seriously. The Minister for Health intimated that at least some of the suggestions that were made in it might be taken seriously. I think the Government ought to take seriously the whole question, not only of peer review, of doctors creating a situation where they keep an eye on one another and in a sense on the costs that are being generated, but also the need for a rigorous system of cost control in our hospitals. It is not just a question of the scanners that are being bought at $750,000 a piece; built into the whole of a modern hospital system is a technology and an approach to costs which bear no relation to the benefits involved. Why is it that in the health field we do not have the degree of cost benefit analysis that is built into other areas of government expenditure?
Basically at the root of our problem in Australia in relation to health costs is the fact that health care operates as a business in which people are involved in order to make money, to build wealth and power. That is the fundamental problem with which this Government will not come to terms. It will not recognise the fact that if we are seriously to do something about health costs in Australia we have to do something about taking out the profits, about making it possible for health services to be delivered without people getting a rip-off, without people earning $70,000, $ 100,000 or $ 125,000 a year. I think the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) pointed out in a previous debate that it is not only the payment that goes to the individual doctor that is of concern but the whole generation of additional costs which are built into a system where the doctor is the front room entrepreneur for a health system which is designed to increase costs along with capacity. We have too many hospital beds in Australia, although not so much in the public health system. In 1976-77 the largest increase occurred in the private hospital system.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I am fascinated by the approach of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) in proposing this matter of public importance for discussion. It amazes me that he can predict what the Government will do when the Government has made no decision whatsoever at this stage. In answer to an interjection of mine he said that he received his information from the Government members Health and Welfare Committee. I suggest to the honourable gentleman that the Health and Welfare Committee does not know what the Government is going to do. So I am fascinated at the amount of speculation that is going on throughout this debate. Indeed, the very wording of the subject matter of this discussion, namely, ‘the Government’s intention to impose higher health care costs on the sick, ‘ is based on speculation. I would have thought that the honourable member for Prospect, who has been a member of this House for a number of years now, would have realised, whether his Party is in government or our parties are, that there is only one thing of which one can be certain in this place and that is the uncertainty of it. To list this matter of public importance for discussion today, to speculate on what the Government might do, is sheer nonsense.
I should like to say one thing in relation to what was said by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). The Government has been concerned, and continues to be concerned, about the level of deficits. If any member of the Opposition cares to look at the Budget Papers he will find that in three years the Labor Government incurred an accumulated deficit of nearly $9 billion. It accumulated a deficit of $6 billion in two years. There was a deficit of $2,500m in 1974-75 and of $3,585m in -
– What is your deficit this year?
– This Government inherited -
– You have a bigger deficit in two years than we had in three years.
-I shall read the figures. The deficit was $2,500m in 1974-75. In 1975-76 it was $3,500m.
– How much does that add up to?
-That adds up to $6 billion.
– You said $9 billion.
-That is right. In the next year -
– In the next year you were in government.
-That is right. The point I am making is that this Government inherited deficits in excess of $6 billion after two years of Labor rule. In our efforts to decelerate the rate of inflation and the rate of deficit, we are now having abuse hurled at us from the Opposition. The Labor Government created that situation but the Opposition is not now prepared to accept any blame for it. I return to what the honourable member for Prospect said. Instead of telling the Government that it should increase health costs, which escalated under the Labor Government, he should endeavour to persuade his own profession to contain its costs and the increases that it desires.
I shall look at the situation in a different way. I suggest to the honourable member for Prospect that the Labor Opposition is on a merrygoround in the debate on health. As recently as 23 February the honourable member for Prospect listed a matter of public importance for debate in this House. It was entitled ‘The failure of the Government to deal with rising health costs’. On the one hand he talks about his and his party’s concern about rising health costs and on the other he complains about the Government’s intention to impose higher health care costs on the sick. We had three and a half hours of debate on this subject in this House last week. I believe that all the options in relation to the Sax report were then canvassed. I suggest that the honourable gentleman and his party should find out exactly where they stand on health costs and health care. I think the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) raised that very point with him, that is, that the Opposition’s policy is very much in tatters.
The speculation by the Opposition continues. What will the Government do? The options are there. The honourable member talked about front-end deductibles. Bulk billing could be abolished. There is the no claim bonus system. There is catastrophical disaster insurance.
– What are you supporting?
– I am not prepared to say at this stage what I am supporting. Does the honourable member expect me to show my hand? Let us look at the underlying inference in the listing of this matter of public importance, that is, that this Government is not compassionate. I assure honourable members that that is nonsense.
Let us look at the past record of the Government in this area. In this House only yesterday the Minister for Health answered a question in relation to how much of the pension was left for pensioners in nursing homes. What did the Labor Government do in that respect? It reduced the amount of money left for the pensioner who is unfortunate enough to be in a nursing home. It reduced the amount from $6, which was established in 1972 by the Liberal-Country Party Government, to $4. We have now increased that figure to $7. It will be 12Vi per cent the pension in future.
– That is not true. It is for one month of the year only.
– It is true. The facts are there for all to see and know. This Government has indexed pensions. The Labor Government talked about the unfortunate people, the low income earners and the pensioners. This Government has an excellent record in relation to pensioners and repatriation recipients. We have indexed pensions. We have built senior citizens centres. We have provided subsidies for welfare workers. We introduced the States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act, the aged or disabled persons accommodation program, the Aged Persons Hostels Amendment Act and the family allowance scheme. The family allowance scheme is one of the greatest benefits of all time to the Australian family. The Labor Government stuck with the old system. When we came into office we introduced almost immediately the family allowance scheme. A family of four people receives $20.50 per week. That money goes to the wife of the family to look after the children. This Government is a compassionate government. The Labor Government knocked out the home savings grants scheme. We reintroduced it to enable young couples to purchase their first home and to bridge the deposit gap that makes it so difficult for them to do so.
The Liberal and National Country Parties have demonstrated on many occasions both in the last two years and in their previous 23 years of government that they are concerned for little people. Let us get away from the idea that the Labor Party is the only party which has any concern for low income earners and disadvantaged people. The record is there for all to see. This Government has done more than a Labor government would ever have done. It is an economic manager. Despite what the honourable member for Batman (Mr Lowe) said and despite the interjection from the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) that it is not a business, the management of the economy is a business. The Labor Government sent the country broke. As I said earlier, it had a deficit of $6,000m.
-You said $9,000m.
-The figure was $9,000m because the carry-over the following year was such that the Government could not decelerate the deficit rate any further. Inflation was around 1 7 per cent to 20 per cent. The Labor Government encouraged the wage grab, which helped to increase the rate of inflation. Our record in government is good. We introduced the tertiary education assistance scheme. We gave assistance to secondary students from low income families.
– What has that got to do with health?
– It all has to do with health. Benefits cannot be concentrated in one area and left to run riot, which the Labor Government allowed. If Opposition members look at their own record they will not be so critical of this Government. I sugget that the user has to pay something in relation to health costs. There have to be identifiable costs. People cannot be mollycoddled from the cradle to the grave. That sort of philosophy is promoted by the Labor Party. The idea of the socialists is to have people eating out of their hands all the time. We want the people to stand on their feet and do something for themselves. We do not want them mollycoddled from the cradle to the grave, as the Labor Party wanted in the past and will want in the future. We want people to stand on their own feet and be self-sufficient. We also support the present health scheme. It is heavily subsidised by government. In excess of $7 billion is spent annually on the health costs of this nation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Staley, and read a first time.
– I move: That the Bill be now read a second time.
Honourable members will recall the substantial amendments that were made late last year to the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, including the transfer of the power to license broadcasting and television stations from the Minister to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. The amendment represented the principal changes to the administrative structure of broadcasting recommended in the report of the Inquiry into the Australian Broadcasting System, which is known as the Green report, and decided upon by the Government.
This Bill seeks simply to remedy a minor error in the transitional provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Act 1977 and to add a provision to those transitional provisions that should have been included at the time. Specifically, this Bill seeks to amend section 33 (2) of the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Act 1977 to allow the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal the choice, under the transitional provisions, of renewing Broadcasting and Television Licences for three years or such lesser period of not less than 12 months as the Tribunal thinks justifiable following a public inquiry, or of renewing broadcasting and television licences in any other case for periods of less than one year. The purpose of this transitional provision is to allow the Tribunal flexibility in renewing licences in the administrative changeover period.
Under the principal Act, the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942, the Tribunal has the power to renew such licences for three years or such lesser period, being not less than 12 months, as the Tribunal thinks justifiable. In addition, this Bill makes allowance for review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of decisions by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, under the transitional provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Act 1977, to renew broadcasting and television licences for less than the full three year-period or to refuse to renew a broadcasting or television licence. There is a similar avenue of appeal against such decisions under the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942. I commend this Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 6 April, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Cooperative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill 1978 which is now before the House provides a loan guarantee for the substantial sum of $4.Sm to assist Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd, which is a meat processing cooperative operating in Victoria and registered as a co-operative under the Victorian Co-operatives Act. The sum of $4.5m is half of the total loan of $9m which is being obtained by the co-operative to pay off its creditors who are owed $14m. The co-operative apparently has reserves of $5m odd, which is sufficient to make up the balance. The other half of the $9m not guaranteed by the Commonwealth is being guaranteed by the Victorian Government. The two governments are undertaking this action at the request of the directors of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Society which wishes to prevent the receiver from selling the business, which he has almost succeeded in doing. Indeed, the receiver has called for tenders and has accepted an offer by Protean (Holdings) Ltd which tendered $ 10.25m, an amount sufficient with current reserves to pay off creditors and to pay shareholders 60c in the dollar. The receiver’s acceptance of that tender is now being challenged in the Supreme Court of Victoria by the directors of the society. The loan guarantees being provided by the Victorian and Australian governments are an integral pan of that challenge.
The second reading speech delivered by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) was quite a bland statement which made the legislation seem very run of the mill. He told the Parliament little of the background to this matter. We believe that the Parliament should be made aware of the rather turbulent history of this co-operative society and of other relevant matters before voting on the legislation. So I intend to provide that information. It is, in fact, a story of a brave and visionary attempt by some 10,000 Victorian farmers to break the dominance of big, mainly multinational, meat processing companies by providing their own meat processing facilities. It is also a story of bandits, one armed with a gun and one armed with a ballpoint pen- the latter being by far the most venturesome. It is a story of trading difficulties, of apparent commercial naivete by a federal authority, of a curious lack of interest by the Victorian Government in a major scandal, and of substantial optimism by the current Federal and Victorian governments.
The society was formed in 1959 by some 10,000 Victorian farmers. It gradually extended its activities to the point where it became a sizable meatworks operating in the export and local markets. However, by 1968 it had run into trouble and was placed in receivership by its major creditor, the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd. Within a few months an arrangement was agreed to whereby a Mr Leslie Phillip Smart of the accounting firm of Marquand and Co. in Melbourne was appointed as administrator. The society then seemed to recover from its difficulties. By June 1970 it was trading profitably. By 1973 its profit reached $lm, and in 1974 it paid its first dividend for a long time. In that year also the co-operative emerged from receivership and the administrator, Mr Smart, who was aptly named, became managing director.
At the same time the society sought to expand its operations by buying the Bendigo and Ballarat abattoirs which belong to the Victorian Inland Meat Authority, a statutory authority established by the Victorian Government. But in order to purchase those abattoirs and to expand operations at its existing Brooklyn plant in West Melbourne the society had to borrow money. It obtained that money- some $6.4m- from the
Australian Industry Development Corporation. However, in loaning that money, the AIDC set down various conditions to be accepted by the society. In accepting those conditions the society made a tragic mistake. The conditions insisted on by the AIDC were intended to ensure the financial viability of the enterprise, but they had quite the opposite result.
The AIDC insisted, firstly, that the society be taken out of receivership; secondly, that Mr Smart be made managing director; and thirdly, that its rules be changed to enable the AIDC to appoint four of its seven directors. The idea of those conditions was thus to ensure that Mr Smart was left very much in control, as clearly the AIDC did not trust the board of directors adequately to manage the enterprise. As Mr Smart as administrator had brought the society out of receivership into an apparently profitable position the AIDC strongly believed that the best thing that could happen for the society was that he be left in charge. To ensure that the directors did not cause him too much bother, provision was made for the AIDC to appoint four of the seven directors. AIDC insisted that the rules of the organisation be changed to enable that provision to be introduced. If any of the seven directors then looked like interfering too much Mr Smart would be able to threaten them with displacement by AIDC nominees. In fact, the AIDC did not appoint any directors, more is the pity, for if it had it may have found out what was going on. Instead it effectively deprived the board of powers of control over Mr Smart who was appointed chairman of directors as well as managing director. He was effectively in sole control of the enterprise. By insisting on that arrangement the AIDC ensured the eventual financial relapse of the enterprise, because what it had done was to give sole control to a man who, it appears, had already embezzled almost $lm from the society’s funds and who fully intended to embezzle some more.
Between 16 November 1971 and 28 June 1974 when he became chairman of directors with virtual sole control, Mr Smart had made 10 payments in varying amounts to his accounting firm, Marquand and Co., which in total siphoned off $525,000 from the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Society. In the same period he had paid out $335,000 in four payments to a firm known as Lanifer Nominees Pty Ltd, a nominee company appointed by Marquand and Co. of which he and other members of the Marquand firm were also directors.
– Are these matters sub judice?
– Four other such payments totalling $132,000 had also been made to Mr D. G. Langlands, an associate of Mr Smart, and to two other companies prior to 28 June 1 974, making a total of $932,000 which had been paid out of the society’s funds, without the knowledge or the authorisation of the directors, before Mr Smart became managing director at the insistence of the AIDC for reasons which were well based.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, in order to assist the House in proper consideration of this legislation, I ask you to make a decision on whether some of the material in the honourable gentleman’s speech may not possibly be caught by the sub judice concept.
-In respect of what?
– Some of the allegations that the honourable member has made about the activities of the gentleman concerned -
-The Minister is raising a question of sub judice. I did hear an interjection raising that question. I am not clear about whether the matters raised by the honourable member are matters of legal action at the moment. If the honourable member for Gellibrand would like to make a submission on that point, it might assist the Chair.
– Nothing that I am saying in respect of the activities of Mr Smart has not already been said to this stage in another place, namely, in the Victorian Parliament.
– I think it is a question or whether there are legal proceedings in relation to it.
– Precisely, and I wish to address myself to that point. Furthermore, there are no legal proceedings, to my knowledge, continuing at this time in relation to charges against any particular person.
– If that is the case, the honourable gentleman’s transgression, let me say with respect, is even greater. If in fact there are no current proceedings- I am advised that there are; that is why I raised the matter- or if proceedings have been completed to the benefit of the person concerned, I think it is very poor that the honourable gentleman should have made those allegations.
-Order! The Minister’s point of order did not concern whether the honourable member’s action was poor. It was on the question of sub judice. A discretion is allowed the Chair in a sub judice issue, and it is obvious that I cannot uphold the honourable member’s point of order.
-There are no charges with respect to the matter that I have mentioned against the person whom I have been discussing.
-Apart from the charges you have made.
-Order! The honourable member for Gellibrand will be permitted to proceed without interruption.
– Four days after his appointment as chairman of directors, with virtually sole power to run the society, Mr Smart made another payment to Marquands of $170,000, and by 13 May 1975 had increased the total of such payments, to Marquands and others, to $1,862,000, in 35 separate payments. At the same time it is alleged that Mr Smart was being paid $50,000 a year for his duties as managing director and had a life insurance policy worth $2m- also paid for by the society.
Just exactly where the money channelled into Marquands and Lanifers went from there is not entirely clear from the evidence so far available, but there seems little doubt that quite a substantial amount of it was paid to two firms known as Regal Publications Pty Ltd and Iken Holdings Pty Ltd, both of which were closely connected with a Mr Maxwell Newton. Both Mr Newton and his wife are directors of Regal Publications. A Mrs Newton is also a director of Iken Holdings. Both of these companies received payments of Co-operative Farmers and Graziers money directly from Mr Smart, as well as indirectly through Marquands and Lanifers. Mr Newton was at that time publisher of the Melbourne sex and sensation Sunday rag- one hesitates to call it a newspaper- the Sunday Observer and, also, through Regal Publications, I understand, was the publisher of various pornographic magazines. To such purposes were the funds of the society being channeled by a man who, at AIDC insistence, was effectively, and unknowingly of course, in sole control of the enterprise.
Whether Mr Smart ever intended that any of this money should be returned to the society is a question yet to be resolved, but at the very least his actions appeared highly suspect. In any case, it seems that Mr Smart had no power to make any loans of the society’s funds, at least not without the approval of the board, and the board claims that it never knew of these payments. Furthermore, the complete collapse of the Maxwell Newton companies meant that the money was totally lost. Marquands and a Mr D. G. Langlands, an associate of Mr Smart, were left with some 900,000 useless shares in Regal Publications, which had apparently been allocated by Mr Newton in return for the funds channelled into his enterprise.
As was inevitable in these circumstances, the society ran into financial trouble again in 1975 and was again placed in receivership by its principal creditors, the AIDC, in June 1975. Very soon thereafter, the Receiver took legal action against Mr Smart, but the matter has still not come before the Victorian Supreme Court. After a great deal of prodding, the Victorian Government ordered near the end of last year an investigation by the Company Fraud Squad of the Victorian Police and that inquiry is still continuing.
Thus, almost three years after Mr Smart’s dealings became known, there have been no court proceedings, no public inquiry and no prosecutions. Perhaps I should add that the Company Fraud Squad was first called in 1976 to look into Mr Smart’s activities by the Victorian Farmers Union, which alleged that Mr Smart had changed the designation of cheques amounting to $80,000 for agricultural marketing, and had transferred them to Maxwell Newton companies as well; but apart from a report by the Victorian Corporate Affairs office to the Victorian Government in September 1976, no further action has ensued. The President of the Victorian Farmers Union, Mr Jim Heffernan, is a director of the Society.
The last episode in this saga of financial strife and misappropriation of funds occurred in February of this year, when bandits grabbed the payroll and took $110,000 from the society- as though it was not already in enough trouble! This raises an interesting side issue regarding white collar crime versus the more conventional sort. Undoubtedly the police would have taken immediate action to apprehend the payroll thief, but no action was taken to prosecute or even investigate the disappearance of $ 1.8m for more than two years after the event became knownand still there has been no action by the Government on the matter, except for the Company Fraud Squad investigation. The situation now is that the Receiver, as I indicated earlier, has called for tenders to purchase the business and has received and accepted an offer to pay $ 10.25m by Protean (Holdings) Ltd a company which, I understand, owes a few years’ rent to the Richmond Council for the use of abattoirs in that city. The directors, however, strongly oppose the selling of the business and have pressured the Victorian and Australian governments to come to the rescue with a loan guarantee.
Before voting on this Bill the House should, I believe, have been given by the Government some assessment of the future commercial viability of this enterprise. Because of its history of misappropriation of funds, it is difficult to assess what are its chances of survival, but it is also difficult to feel terribly optimistic. The meat processing industry is a ruthless cut-throat game in more ways than one and requires substantial business acumen, which has not been greatly in evidence in this company’s past. Furthermore, little is known of its recent trading history, while under receivership. The Victorian Premier said recently that it had made a profit of $ Im in the seven months to the end of January of this year, but that seems a fairly incomplete basis on which to decide to risk $9m of taxpayers’ funds. Perhaps this Government knows more about its financial situation through the AIDC, but that organisation, as the major creditor, is responsible for placing the society in receivership, and presumably supported the sale to Protean by the Receiver, as that sale will ensure the return in full of the $6.4m it loaned to the society. From such actions it would appear that the AIDC is not terribly optimistic that, by leaving its funds in the society, it could expect it to trade out of its troubles and make good the loan. The new arrangements will, of course, provide for full repayment of AIDC’s loan, but a substantial risk will still lie with the Commonwealth.
A further cause for doubting the viability of this scheme is that the society will be faced with the need to pay $ 1 m a year in interest on the $9m it is now to borrow, at an interest rate of 12.75 per cent. After paying its creditors, the society will have working capital of less than $lm, so it will need to make substantial profits if it is to meet the interest bill and pay back the $9m in the three years stipulated in the Bill as the maximum period for the loan guarantee. Whilst wishing the enterprise well, one could be fairly confident that in three years we will be asked to extend the guarantee for a further period. Particularly is this so in the light of the meat market in this country at present. As every honourable member knows, the meat industry is in great trouble, with many abattoirs short of work- even leaving aside the shortage created by the present industrial dispute over live sheep exports, a phenomenon which is in itself a reason for reduced work in the meat processing industry.
Accordingly, we on this side of the House have substantial reservations about the future of this enterprise, although we would certainly wish to see it succeed. A further reason for being concerned about the possible doubtful future of the enterprise is that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) has foreshadowed a possible reference to the Prices Justification Tribunal of a wide-ranging inquiry into meat marketing. If such an inquiry were to be sent to the PJT and that body were to find that the charges of meat processing works were too high and should be reduced, this would certainly reduce the economics of the operation and make the future of this company even more doubtful. However, we also believe that the value of the works may well be in excess of the $ 10.25m that has been offered by Protean. Indeed, it has been claimed elsewhere that the value is as high as $20m or more. To sacrifice the works for $10.25m would mean that the 10,000 shareholder farmers in Victoria would receive only 60 cents in the dollar for their shares and therefore incur a substantial loss on their investment.
The Opposition does not oppose the Bill but we consider that the conditions attaching to the loan guarantee in clause 5 of the Bill should be strengthened. I will therefore be moving amendments in the Committee stage to add two additional conditions, firstly, to enable the Commonwealth Government to be represented on the board of directors and thus have a continuing overseeing role in the enterprise and, secondly, to provide that the Victorian Government establish a full-scale inquiry into the reasons for the financial difficulties of the enterprise so that all the facts can be known. Finally, it is pertinent to make a couple of observations on a Bill such as this on the need for proper guidelines to be established for the bailing out of companies and on the operations of the AIDC. At the moment the Government is propping up a number of companies. At this moment there is a Bill listed on the Notice Paper to prop up the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd, in Tasmania, as well as this co-operative. We do not necessarily object to such procedures but surely the Government should establish some overall policy guideline in relation to such action. At the end of February the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) said it was not the Government’s job to bail out every company that got into trouble. On the other hand, we have a number of Bills coming forward to do precisely that.
The people of Australia are entitled to know on what basis the Government decides which companies are to be supported and which are not. Is it just a matter of who has the best contacts, who has the best telephone line to the Prime Minister and who has the most political clout? In the case of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers organisation the Prime Minister was reported initially to be against giving any aid but changed his mind when a delegation came to see him. This is clearly an unsatisfactory way for the Government to operate. In relation to tenders we have already seen that it is unsatisfactory and now it is apparent regarding assistance to industry. We really seem to be heading toward oneman government. There seem to be a couple of operational lessons to be learned by the AIDC. Firstly, before lending money to companies surely it is a prudent exercise to insist on a full independent audit so that the AIDC can be sure it knows exactly what it is getting into. I am not aware whether this was done in the case of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Organisation. Surely, if it had been done, Mr Smart would have been found out at that time and the AIDC would not have got itself into the situation that later developed. It would also have assisted the co-operative. I assume only that it had not been insisted upon by the AIDC at that time.
Secondly, it is surely unsatisfactory for the AIDC to insist that one man have virtual sole control, as it did in this case. It would have been far better if the AIDC had insisted that its four directors be added to the board of seven to keep a watchful eye on the operation rather than to try to hamstring the board by threatening any dissident director with replacement if he challenged Mr Smart in any way. In conclusion, the Opposition does not oppose the Bill but will move to amend it in the Committee stage.
-I strongly support the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Limited (Loan Guarantee) Bill. Approximately 10,000 livestock producers scattered throughout Victoria, eastern South Australia and southern New South Wales are vitally interested in the success of this legislation. They are the shareholders in the Cooperative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd. I am a shareholder, to the extent of 100 shares. Like the other shareholders, I purchased those 100 shares to help to establish an abattoir and meat company wholly owned and operated by livestock producers. I venture to say that few, if any, shareholders purchased their shares as a profitable investment in monetary terms. Rather they bought them as an investment in servicing an industry in which they conducted their business.
The Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd has certainly had an up and down business history. Many honourable members look on primary producer cooperatives with great caution. However, I must point out that there are many success stories concerning primary producer co-operatives. The Australian Fertiliser Company immediately comes to mind. As many honourable members will know, this co-operative is the sole manufacturer of superphosphate and other fertilisers in Victoria. It sells its product under the famous tradename of ‘Pivot’. This co-operative has survived a very difficult trading period during which we saw its competitors, namely ICI Australia Ltd and Cresco drop out of the fertiliser manufacturing indusry. There are many other highly successful primary producer owned and operated co-operatives. One of the great problems experienced by these co-operatives is management. Primary producers in the main are experts in their own enterprise but do not have the training and expertise to operate in present day commercial practice.
The Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd was formed in 1958-59. In 1968, after nine years of operation, the co-operative went into receivership. However, in the following year, 1969 a scheme of arrangement was approved by the Supreme Court of Victoria. Under this scheme the co-operative raised $700,000 from its shareholders and Mr Leslie Phillips Smart, a senior partner in the firm of chartered accountants Marquand and Co., was appointed administrator. Mr Smart had experience in the meat industry and the co-operative was able to trade itself into a strong financial position. The cooperative decided to expand and its members agreed to purchase the Bendigo and Ballarat abattoirs from the Victorian Inland Meat Authority. The purchase of the works and equipment was to be financed by the Australian Industry Development Corporation to the extent of $6.3m. Under the terms of the loan the AIDC reserved the right to appoint four directors. However, I am informed that this was never done. Instead, one or two officers of the Corporation attended every co-operative board meeting. Another stipulation under the terms of the loan was that Mr Smart would be appointed chairman of the board and would also act as managing director. This placed Mr Smart in a very strong position.
On 13 June 1975 the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd went into receivership. The following month Mr Smart resigned from all positions in the co-operative because of ill health. I understand that an examination of records in the Prothonotary’s Office of the Victoria Supreme Court shows that from November 1971 to May 1975 a series of loan payments were made from co-operative funds to a subsidiary of Marquand and Co. The final payment of $200,000 in May 1975 brought the total to $1,863,000. 1 understand that the co-operative board knew nothing of these payments and that the AIDC did not know either. I also understand that the payments were illegal under the Victorian Co-operatives Act. A total of $1,863,000 was syphoned out of the co-operative’s funds! No wonder it went back into the hands of receivers.
The co-operative has continued to trade under receivership and showed an operating profit for the period ended 28 June 1977 of $1,138,729 and a net profit for that period of $931,735. 1 am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would agree that these are remarkable figures. However, the Australian Industry Development Corporation, as the major lender, has asked that the receivers accept an offer of $ 10m from Protean Holdings Ltd for the only remaining co-operative works at Brooklyn. This would enable the receivers to pay the Corporation out.
Following a meeting of over 600 co-operative shareholders held at Bendigo on Friday, 24 February, and attended by the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier), Mr Jim Heffernan, President of the Victorian Farmers Union, and Mr Jack Gilmore, Chairman of the Co-operative, travelled to Canberra and put the case before the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and other Ministers. It is as a result of these discussions that this Bill is now before the House.
I should like to quote from the auditor’s report for the period ending 28 June 1977. The report was signed by Mr F. K. Alfredson of Arthur Anderson and Co., chartered accountants, 330 Collins Street, Melbourne. It states:
In my opinion, however, the amount of $1,138,729 shown as operating profit for the period ended 28 June 1977 in the accompanying profit and loss account is a true and fair view of the operating profit for the period.
I should also like to quote from the receivers and managers report for the period ending 28 June 1977. The report is signed by J. M. Hilliard and D. A. Crawford, joint and several receivers and managers. It states:
The trading activity at the Brooklyn Works, which is now the only one owned and operated by the Society, consisted of the operation of a service works. The killing capacity has been increased over that available during the previous year. The favourable conditions resulted in the generation of a positive cash flow, and subject to a continuation of the past year’s trading conditions, the Receivers and Managers believe that the Society is capable of trading out of its difficulties subject to the adoption of a reasonable Scheme of Arrangement providing for the repayment of secured and unsecured creditors.
The Bill empowers the Treasurer (Mr Howard) to guarantee the repayment by the Co-operative society of one half of the principal money borrowed by the Society, that is, up to $4.5m. The Treasurer may not give this guarantee unless the Treasurer for the State of Victoria gives a similar guarantee for the repayment of the other half of the principal money. It is important to realise that the Commonwealth Government will not provide any money unless the Co-operative fails.
It is vital that the Treasurer use his powers, as set out in the Bill, under the Conditions of Guarantee. Not only should officers of the Australian Public Service have access at all reasonable times, but the Commonwealth Government should be represented on the board of the Cooperative, filling at least two seats. It is vital to the livestock producers throughout Victoria and neighbouring States that Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd be saved from liquidation. I commend the Bill to the House.
-I rise to support my colleague, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I echo his sentiment that we do not oppose the Bill in practical terms but that we do have great reservations about the Bill as it stands. I think it is basically a case of our kindness, our compassion for farmers in Victoria, ruling our hearts because there are a great variety of reasons for saying that this loan, to be guaranteed by the Government, is shot through with possibilities of disaster. I note with interest that the honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron), along with a lot of other farmers, is a shareholder in this Co-operative and I sympathise with him, basically because of his blind optimism. I have been involved with the meat industry for 25 years and I have seen many similar organisations fail along the way.
– Thanks to your workers.
-It is not thanks to our workers at all. The honourable member for Mallee, as a member of the National Country Party, should refer to an acknowledgement by the Victorian National Party that farmers are not really capable of handling business in the big, hard business world. That statement is not easy to deny. It has been made, in fact quite recently. The honourable member for Mallee should check with his Victorian State counterparts about it. That is the reason why organisations such as this have failed. It is not because of any want of desire to succeed, but. merely because they do not have the expertise in the business world to handle problems.
We are talking about a $4.5m guarantee from this Government to support the loan which is sought by Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd. We are talking about an enormous amount of responsibility and we, as an Opposition, have to act as watchdogs in this place and see that the Government invests this money wisely. I should like to warn the Government of the dangers which are inherent in this exercise. On 28 February, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) suggested that the Government did not see its role as being the guarantor of survival of individual companies that find themselves in trouble. That is exactly what is happening in this case and, as the honourable member for Gellibrand has pointed out, it has also happened in some other selective cases. I agree with the honourable member for Gellibrand that definite guidelines should be set up by this Government as to which companies are entitled to support from it. As it is now, it seems like there is a random selection of companieswhoever has the closest contact with the Government or with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has the greatest chance of having his company propped up. I do not say that as any criticism of the honourable member for Indi because, as I said at the start, we really do sympathise with farmers who have invested their money in this company and we would love to think that it could work.
The Co-operative was set up by the farmers in 1959 because they believed that massive profits were being made by wholesale meat companies and processors. I think the record would suggest that that is not the case. There would be plenty of opportunities for the people who did invest in this organisation to look up the records of some of the public meat companies and see that the profit ratings were not all that flash.
The record of the Co-operative as a business venture is deplorable. In that 10-year period it went into receivership twice. Because of the Cooperative’s lack of control over the person who became its managing director, money was channelled into other companies and away from the Co-operative, to its detriment, so that in 1974 the Co-operative found itself $6.5m in debt. The Australian Industry Development Corporation, probably to its eternal regret, bailed the Cooperative out. In 1975 its total debts were $12m, of which $6.5m was owed to the AIDC. That cannot be explained away by the fact that Mr Smart, in conjunction with Mr Maxwell Newtonit sounds like a Max Smart operation: The old ‘channel the money out the back door’ trickmanaged to knock off just over $lm. But what happened to the balance of that $12m? It obviously disappeared because of lack of expertise in the job that was being undertaken.
I believe that the honourable member for Indi stated that the company was now trading profitably. If it is, why is the AIDC so very anxious to get out? Why is it anxious to throw away for $10.25m a works which is allegedly worth $25m?
– That is a good question.
-Yes, that is a good question which I should like to see answered and which I am sure the people of Australia would like to see answered. I would hope that the AIDC, if it is responsible for bailing the Cooperative out, would have greater business expertise in its own ranks than to throw away something that could possibly return all the money to shareholders. As it is now, if the works are sold, the shareholders will get a return of only 60c in the dollar. We on this side of the House do not want to see that happen. Regardless of what Government supporters might think, we do have compassion for farmers in their plight. Regardless of the fact that we consider this to be a very optimistic exercise by the Government, we are prepared to support it with the very idealistic view that we would like to see farmers get this support even if we have to risk this sort of operation to do so.
The history of the meat industry in Australia is littered with similar cases of farmer-oriented or producer-oriented co-operatives being formed, and I quote the Prime Minister’s words ‘to give the farmers an independent voice in the marketplace’. I can mention a number of such cooperatives in New South Wales of recent history. There was the rural producers co-operative and the producers direct meat co-operative which started with a great flourish and aimed to set the wholesale meat industry afire. These cooperatives lasted a very short time and, as is usual, left behind the shareholders funds. It appears to me that the reason for this was that the co-operatives were just not capable of handling the job. Their job is to produce the stock. It is a job for somebody else who has expertise in a particular area to turn their stock into money. I caution the honourable member for Indi and say that unless a great deal of supervision and management is given to the Co-operative once it starts back in opertion, presuming it will, its destiny will be reflected in its history. There have been two receiverships in 10 years and there is a history of disasters in similar operations throughout Australia. Unless a great deal of difference is made in the operations of this set-up and a great deal of new management expertise is introduced, I am afraid that it will be again looking disaster right in the face.
There have been plenty of examples of privately-owned works operating at great profit. I can mention three or four in New South Wales which are operating as service killing works with a certain amount of trading and which have made a great success of their job. Conkey and Sons of Cootamundra is one example. The Midco Co-operative Meat Society on the North Coast of New South Wales is a producer oriented company which has been going for decades and which, under very tight and close supervision, has made a great success of its operation. A Victorian company, Petersville, has taken over an abattoir at Berrima in New South Wales. Under the very skilful management of the gentleman who handles the meat end of its operations it will be a great success. There is no doubt about that. The co-operative of which the honourable member for Indi is a member could learn from the lessons of those companies. Under tight management and with proper supervision these establishments can work profitably, but the supervision has to be proper and the management tight.
The honourable member for Gellibrand foreshadowed some amendments which will be moved at the Committee stage. I was pleased to hear the honourable member for Indi refer to some of the provisions of the amendments when he spoke about management control of the board. The sum involved of $4.5m is a great deal of public money. The Opposition insists that the Government exercises a great deal of care in ensuring that this money is well protected. This money belongs to a large number of taxpayers in the community who are earning low incomes and who, by paying taxes, are investing in the government purse, which is now to be used to prop up something which probably should never have been formed, which was no doubt formed with a great deal of optimism and which has now failed.
– You have not got the faintest idea how it was formed.
-I think I have some sort of idea of how it was formed. It was formed by 10,000 farmers who thought they were being ripped off by people in the middle and who decided to kill their own and trade their own. It is a good example of how badly they judged the situation.
– That shows how little you know about it.
-I have managed to exist in the field for 25 years–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman) Order! If the honourable member for Parramatta and the honourable member for La Trobe wish to have a discourse they should do so through the Chair.
-The only concern of honourable members on this side of the House is to see that the $4.5m that is about to be invested in this operation is invested responsibly. The honourable member for Gellibrand pointed out that once the loan is negotiated and the debts are paid the Co-operative will have a working capital of $lm. It will be looking at the probability of having to find $20,000 a week or $ lm a year to service the loan. It will take a fair effort to get a return of 100 per cent on the working capital, but that is what the Co-operative is looking at doing. To believe that the Co-operative can prosper is really to believe in miracles, but honourable members on this side of the House are very optimistic. I feel that if more honourable members like the honourable member for Indi, who has a Scottish background and who would have a canny business sense, were involved in the operations of the Co-operative, with better control and better supervision, it could perhaps pay off. We are not opposing the Bill for the very good reason that we are anxious to ensure that the farmers in Victoria who have invested in this Cooperative get some sort of chance.
I believe that last November the Prime Minister telexed all the Premiers, including the Victorian Premier, suggesting that an urgent inquiry take place into the meat industry. To my knowledge no action has taken place to this stage. I would like to think that the Government will pursue this course of action and that it will put pressure on the State governments to ensure that a proper inquiry into the whole operation of the meat industry takes place so that we will not see this sort of disaster occurring again and so that some sort of rational control takes place under the Federal Government. This large industry needs to be placed in proper hands.
-Such as the AMIEU?
-I heard an interjection about the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. Some of the members of the National Country Party fail to realise that the job which the members of the AMIEU do is not the most congenial in the world. I suggest that they should go to an abattoir and look at the work that some of these people do. For decades in Australia the AMIEU and its members have been responsible for turning the farmers’ livestock into money. No matter how hard the farmers try, they cannot take 100 bullocks to a bank and pay them into that bank. The livestock has to be turned into cash. It is high time that the producers realised the part played by the people in the middle, the wholesale butchers, and the people who are at the working end of the stick. The honourable member for Gellibrand referred to the meat business as being a ruthless, cutthroat business. It is a cut-throat business; that is true. The members of the AMIEU who have done all the less than congenial tasks over the decades have managed to turn the Australian producers’ stock into cash. That is what the producers live off. Members of the National Country Party should not decry the work of the members of the AMIEU.
– And the abattoir workers are getting a higher percentage of final returns than anybody else.
-Order! The honourable member for Murray will have an opportunity to speak later in the debate. I suggest to him that he cease interjecting at this stage.
-I am proud to admit that as well as being a former chairman of the Wholesale Meat Traders Association of New South Wales I am a member of the AMIEU. I have found no conflict of interest. Members of the AMIEU, the producers and the wholesale butchers in the middle are all looking to the meat industry for a living. The health of that industry depends on co-operation from them all. I hope that honourable members on the National Country Party benches as well as those on the Liberal Party benches realise that an effort is being made by the Labor Party to see that some co-operation is given to the country people in their period of distress. These are good reasons to suggest that this is a bad venture by the Government. I agree with the honourable member for Gellibrand that in three years the Co-operative will be asking for an extension of this loan. I should like to think that the Government would grant it. I have some confidence in the success of the operation. But it can succeed only if the Government keeps a strict watch over it. I assure the Government that the Opposition will be keeping a strong eye on the Government to see that this investment by the Government in this Co-operative- presuming it occurs- is closely supervised to make sure that the taxpayers money is protected. I hope that in the end of the period concerned we will be able to see that by good husbandry and good management the Co-operative is back on its feet and trading profitably and that the Government’s money has been returned.
– I am delighted and I know that my colleague the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) is also delighted that the Federal Government has announced its preparedness to assist the continued operation of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd’s meatworks at Brooklyn. I, like the honorable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron), acknowledge that I am a shareholder of this Co-operative and a holder of debenture stock in the company. The primary producers who provided some of the capital for the commencement of this Co-operative have indicated by their action then and their decisions now to continue that they are not in the slightest concerned about the return upon their investment, except in regard to having some influence upon the processing and manufacturing section of their industry.
This works, which was established as a joint shareholder venture, provides the only continuing co-operative alternative to the meat slaughter arrangements in Victoria and, indeed, Australia. At a time when the marketing of meat is coming under increasing scrutiny it is essential that these alternatives be preserved. In circumstances where the works were operating profitably as a service it was inconceivable that the receivers found it necessary to offer the works for sale.
The Brooklyn meat works is one of the largest and most modern in Australia. It is essential that it continues to operate in the overall interests of the industry on a profitable basis. On 8 February and again on 9 February I wrote to Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), calling for their intervention and assistance in this matter. I wrote seeking the Government’s intervention in the sale of the Cooperative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd at Brooklyn. I did this in an attempt to negotiate alternative arrangements that would protect fully 10,000 primary producer shareholders and to ensure that the producers were able to exercise some influence in their industry.
This co-operative was placed into receivership in June 1975. Since that time it has traded successfully. This has been achieved by contract killing arrangements which have seen a $5m trading surplus. As well as this $5m surplus, there have been payments of $460,000 on interest commitments and devaluation differential payments with an additional $259,000 being used to continue to upgrade the works. Despite this and a reasonable certainty of an increasing upturn in the meat industry a tender by Protein (Holdings) Ltd of $ 10.25m had been accepted for an abattoir whose rebuilding value could well exceed $22m. It was the Australian Industry Development Corporation which, in 1975, kept this business intact However, it is the AIDC, which was established in 1970 to encourage the development of Australian industry, that recommended that this tender be accepted and secured creditors be paid in full. The AIDC, as the major creditor, has recommended this action based on its judgment that it would be a sound commercial practice. However, I contend that the AIDC must bear major responsibility for the present financial position of CF and G for the following reasons: It insisted that the administrator, Mr Smart, be given extraordinary powers over the co-operative’s management to the extent that he was in fact and in law the virtual dictator of the entire enterprise thus enabling him, without the knowledge of directors, to make from the cooperative’s cash funds loans totalling nearly $2m to certain business enterprises which are now insolvent. This loss of $2m was largely responsible for the appointment of the receiver in 1 975.
The AIDC also appointed watchdogs who were supposed to keep check on Mr Smart and his management of the co-operative but they failed to do so. It has already been pointed out that Mr Smart as chairman of directors of Cooperative Farmers and Graziers caused cheques to be paid to Iken Holdings Pry Ltd, International Pacific Corporation Ltd, D. G. Landlands and Regal Publications Pty Ltd in breach of trust and in breach of his duty as chairman of directors of that society. The AIDC also encouraged Mr Smart to embark upon a costly and uneconomic expansion of the co-operative’s activities. This was financed largely by massive loans from the AIDC at high interest rates. Having thus materially contributed to the financial disaster into which the society was plunged in 1975, the AIDC washed its hands of the whole matter and by exercising its power under its mortgage it was going to recoup its money at the expense of completely destroying a producers’ co-operative.
These details were submitted to the Prime Minister by me and by other honourable members and to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). In discussions that I had with the AIDC I tried to put forward a scheme of arrangement which would assist this co-operative to continue to operate. I asked the Government to use any powers open to it to assist the AIDC in arranging the financial assistance necessary to save the CF and G co-operative from disintegration. I am now very happy that the Commonwealth offer involves the sharing of a guarantee up to an amount of money needed to ensure the continued effective commercial operation of the service works over the next five years. We appreciate that the Victorian Government has also now accepted its responsibilities to Victorian producers in a manner similar to that of the Commonwealth. The joint efforts of Commonwealth and State would seem a happy resolution to what would otherwise have been a tragic outcome of this very worthwhile endeavour.
As stated in the second reading speech of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) the purpose of this Bill is to authorise the giving of a guarantee of up to $4.5 m in respect of the repayment of the principal of a commercial borrowing of up to $9m for three years by Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd. As I have already pointed out, the Government of Victoria provides a similar guarantee of up to $4.5m. CF and G has arranged a borrowing of $9m for three years on satisfactory terms and conditions. The borrowing, together with other funds, will enable the creditors to be paid in full. The society will be required to enter into agreements with the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, the Treasurer of the Government of Victoria and the lender with respect to the proposed borrowing and the guarantees will be conditional upon approval of both governments of a management restructuring plan to be submitted by the society. These requirements are designed to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth and Victorian governments. To that end there is a requirement in this Bill that officers of the Australian Public Service will have full access at all reasonable times to the financial accounts of the society when authorised in writing by the Commonwealth Minister for that purpose.
CF and G has, I believe, met every requirement of this Bill and all matters relating to its future administration have been resolved. These in particular include changes at board level and in its continuity of operation. The amendment that has been moved on behalf of the Opposition contains one proposal with which I could have some sympathy. But I cannot understand how we at the Commonwealth level could pass a law in this Parliament directing a State government to carry out an investigation into the criminal aspects of the reasons as to why this company went into receivership. However, 1 must be critical of the Victorian Government’s lack of action on the criminal aspects of this case.
– Quite irresponsible.
-As the honourable member says, it is irresponsible that the fraud squad was asked in 1976 to investigate the situation in regard to a misappropriation of funds from the agricultural marketing section of the Victorian Farmers Union but no action has since been taken. There are many things that one could say about matters affecting the marketing of meat in this country as they relate to a Bill such as we have before us. But I refrain from doing so because I believe it is most important that this Bill pass through both Houses of this Parliament today. Such a course of action will allow the Supreme Court proceedings to continue tomorrow in Melbourne in the confidence and knowledge of our Government’s guarantees. I commend the Bill to the House and I congratulate the Government on its response to this issue. The passing of this Bill will confirm the view of 600 shareholders who were able to meet in Bendigo on 24 February with little prior notice that their interests and the interests of Victoria’s meat producers are best served by stopping the proposed sale of this co-operative works.
– in reply- Very briefly I would like to thank the Opposition for its expression of support for this legislation. I appreciate the comments that were made by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) about the unfortunate history of this co-operative. I think one thing has to be said for the record, namely, that the performance of Mr Smart, the person who has been the subject of much comment in this debate, prior to I think 1974 when he was appointed managing director of the company, had not given rise to grounds of concern. I am advised that the Australian Industries Development Corporation at that time expressed the view that he should be so appointed. I appreciate that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) indicates that he agrees with me that that was the case. It is true that a lot of people were unaware of what was going on. That is a regrettable situation and I do not seek to repudiate some of the remarks that have been made on that subject.
The Government has decided to intervene in the manner outlined in the legislation. Of course, it is ultimately for the Victorian Supreme Court to decide whether the sale to Protean (Holdings) Ltd goes ahead. That is a matter entirely for the court and I will say no more upon that subject. The Government has decided to intervene because it believes that this co-operative represented the bringing together of the aspirations of a large number of people in a significant rural area of Australia. This is an attempt by the Government to respond to their aspirations. It was initially a very bold experiment by those people. It is very easy for people to pick off an exercise such as is being undertaken by the Government and criticise it on certain grounds and I suppose that some of those criticisms can be effectively made. However, the fact remains that to the large number of people concerned in this part of Australia- I understand that there were 10,000 people involved and this is extremely large by any standards for co-operatives in Australia- the establishment of the Cooperative represented something of a new era for their industry. For the first time they had their own abattoirs and for the first time they felt that they had a very effective and direct stake in controlling the fortunes of their industry.
To them certainly and, I believe, to a large number of Australians it would be a sad thing if that enterprise which represented their aspirations were to pass out of their hands not because there were not some real prospects of the enterprise being successful from the trading point of view but because of some very unfortunate events which are alleged to have occurred and which have been canvassed during the course of this debate. I appreciate very much what the honourable member for Gellibrand said about the need for the Commonwealth Government to keep close watch because of the commitment of the Commonwealth in terms of the guarantee given in respect of the activities and management of the Co-operative. The conditions of guarantee which are contained in clause 5 of the Bill enshrine the concern of the Commonwealth in this regard. I conclude by saying that the Government is pleased to be cooperating with the Victorian Government in jointly guaranteeing the loan. I thank the House for the expressions of support which the legislation has received.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to move two amendments to clause 5 which reads:
For the purpose of the protection of the financial interests of the Commonwealth, the Treasurer shall not give a guarantee under section 4 in relation to a borrowing of moneys by the Society unless-
a like guarantee is given by the Treasurer of the State of Victoria on behalf of that State in respect of the repayment by the Society of one-half of the principal moneys in relation to the same borrowing;
the moneys are borrowed for a period not exceeding 3 years and on such other terms and conditions as the Treasurer is satisfied are reasonable;
undertakings to the satisfaction of the Treasurer are given that, so long as the amount borrowed remains unpaid, officers of the Australian Public Service will have full access at all reasonable times to the financial accounts of the Society when authorized in writing by the Minister for that purpose; and
such other conditions as the Treasurer thinks necessary are fulfilled.
Turning to the first amendment, I move:
After paragraph (b), insert the following paragraph: ‘(ba) the articles of the society are amended to provide for representation of the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors until the amount borrowed is fully repaid; ‘
Because of time restrictions I will keep my remarks brief. The Opposition has moved this amendment because we feel that sub-clause (c) does not give nearly enough protection to the Australian Government’s possible investment of $4.5m in this enterprise. Sub-clause (c) provides for the Australian Public Service to have full access at all reasonable times to the financial accounts of the society. We feel that this will enable the Australian Government only to keep a watching eye on what is happening to the society from time to time and not to participate in the business decisions which are crucial to deciding how the enterprise will operate. Merely being able to inspect the books means that the Government will be able to find out whether the enterprise is going bad but it will not enable the Government to assist the enterprise by being involved and assisting in the making of business decisions. We have heard from other speakers in the debate and it has been mentioned elsewhere that one of the reasons for the failure of this enterprise was that the farmers running it lacked experience in the meat processing business. That is not a criticism of them and it is something which even representatives of the National Country Party in the Victorian Parliament have conceded.
The Opposition has moved this amendment because we think that it would be of great assistance to the future viability of the enterprise if the Australian Government were able to appoint to the board of directors of the Co-operative- I do not think there would be any objection from the board of directors- its representatives who had knowledge of the meat processing industry to assist the board to make the right decision, to keep the business afloat and to ensure that the $4,5m which potentially the Australian Government has at risk in this enterprise is protected.
-In speaking in favour of the amendment, I suggest that this is an opportunity for all honourable members to look back with the advantage of hindsight. I was involved in discussions which took place on an earlier occasion when the Australian Industry Development Corporation granted funds to the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd to enable that co-operative to participate in the management and running of the Ballarat and Bendigo abattoirs. It ought to be pointed out that that came about as a result of representations, in which I was also involved, to the Federal Government at that time when those abattoirs were faced with closure and virtually hundreds of employers in the Bendigo and Ballarat regions who had a skill and a capacity in the meat industry had no alternative viable forms of employment. The reason the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers was involved in this situation was the very high reputation that Mr Smart, the principal leading light in the Co-operative at that stage, enjoyed with the AIDC.
What subsequently occurred is a matter of regret to everybody. Funds which were granted to the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers for the purpose of providing it with fiscal liquidity- running any sort of meat works is a fairly seasonal occupation and is not always easy in regional areas- were then borrowed under circumstances which I think demand real investigation by the Victorian Government. Undoubtedly the shareholders of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers were taken for a ride in respect of some of the activities that took place then. Funds which were made available through the AIDC, with the best intentions and with the approval of all honourable members in this House to enable two regional meatworks to continue to operate, eventually found their way into the hands of a private operator, and I suppose that the only connection they had with the meat trade, in the way in which they were eventually used, was that they were related to pornographic material. We should learn from that. It is not a light undertaking when the Commonwealth gives a guarantee. Virtually we are giving the guarantee of the taxpayers of Australia to this venture which, with the best will in the world, will start off with not inconsiderable financial problems. Therefore it is not unreasonable to suggest that what is proposed in the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) should be a condition attached to the guarantee. It would provide no hardship in the actual operation of the cooperative.
I point out that if that simple precaution had been taken in the past Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd may not be in the situation in which it now finds itself. Therefore, I hope that this Bill has a speedy passage. I hope the amendments proposed commend themselves to the Treasurer (Mr Howard). I believe it is tremendously important, for reasons that have been advanced from both sides of the chamber, that the Co-operative be placed in a situation in which it is able to continue in the market-place. It is also important that two important regional meat works in Victoria, at Bendigo and Ballarat, ought to be able to operate in the market-place independent of a company like Protean (Holdings) Ltd which operates an abattoir in my electorate and which is involved in litigation about payment of rent to the Richmond City Council.
– It is also condemned, is it not?
– No, it is a very modern abattoir but there has been a long standing dispute about the amount of rental that ought to be paid. I hope that the Parliament on this occasion will not merely give its moral support to the continuation of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd and not merely give the guarantees that are necessary; I hope also that we will act as prudent businessmen and see that the mistakes that have occurred in the past will not occur again in the future. I hope the Commonwealth will provide the sort of business capacity and expertise which can be made available to see that the guarantee being given on this occasion- I believe properly given- at least is backed up with business acumen and business capacity. If such expertise had been present on the last occasion, as I pointed out, it might well have meant that the Co-operative, instead of being in the situation in which it finds itself today, would have been a viable and prosperous undertaking.
– Briefly, in response, I cannot disagree with the reasons behind the proposed amendments but for a couple of reasons which I shall outline the Government is unable to accept them. There is the initial point that one of the proposed amendments is perhaps technically at fault. It may be that before the money is fully repaid the Commonwealth’s liability is removed because it is possible that if the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd gets into a healthier financial position the Commonwealth guarantee can be discharged. I think the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) understands that the presence of a person from the
Commonwealth on the board of directors after such time as the Commonwealth has ceased to have any contingent liability by virtue of the guarantee would necessarily be an arguable proposition. I also suggest that the alteration of the articles of the society brings in the question of whether alterations of that nature accord with the relevant State legislation, because the body in question is registered under the laws of the State of Victoria. I do not know that this Parliament, at very short notice, should be inserting an amendment of that order.
I do not agree with the honourable member for Gellibrand and the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) that the provisions of clause 5 are inadequate. The provisions of clause 5 specify, in sub-clauses (a), (b) and (c), a number of conditions which must be met and sub-clause (d) provides that such other conditions as the Treasurer thinks necessary must be fulfilled. I am advised that the board of the Co-operative is being restructured in such a way that it will not be lacking in commercial expertise. As I said at the outset, whilst I cannot dissent from the motives behind what the Opposition has said or what prompted the Opposition to promote this amendment, the Government sees some technical and procedural difficulties in the amendment and in any event believes that the concerns of the Opposition, which the Government substantially shares, are fully met by the provisions of clause 5.
That the amendment (Mr Willis’) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
-The second amendment which has been circulated in my name and which relates to clause 5 is a condition of the granting of the guarantee. I move:
After paragraph (c), insert the following paragraph: ‘(ca) the State of Victoria appoints a full-scale inquiry into the operations of the Society in order to ascertain the precise reasons for its current financial difficulties; and ‘
What the Opposition is getting at here is that the society known as the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd was, as I mentioned in my speech on the motion for the second reading of the Bill, the subject of the misappropriation of funds to a substantial degree. There have been many calls for an inquiry into the whole episode, none of which has been granted by the Victorian Government, except, as I have also mentioned, the investigation which was commenced by the company fraud squad of the Victorian Police at the end of last year and which is still continuing.
The calls for such an inquiry have come from a diverse group. The directors of the society themselves have called for such an inquiry. They wrote to the Premier of Victoria in June 1977 asking him to set up an inquiry because they were terribly disturbed about what had happened to their society and wanted to know fully why it had reached the stage it had reached under the managing directorship of Mr Smart. The Victorian Farmers Union has also supported the call for an inquiry. It wrote to the Premier in September 1977 seeking such an inquiry. According to a statement made by a member of the National Country Party in the Victorian Parliament, the Under-Secretary of the Premier’s Department himself called for such an inquiry to be established in a letter he wrote to the Registrar of Co-operative Societies in November 1977. Members of the National Country Party in the Victorian Parliament have themselves sought on numerous occasions the establishment of such an inquiry. As far back as May 1977 they were seeking the establishment of an inquiry to find out exactly what has been going on but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Similarly, members of the Australian Labor Party in the Victorian Parliament have also sought an inquiry without success.
We feel that it should be a condition of this loan guarantee that such an inquiry be established. We do so for two reasons. Firstly, it should be established for reasons of simple justice. Surely to goodness the people who are most involved- the 10,000 shareholders of the society, who are mostly people who cannot afford to lose any money- have a right to know exactly what has happened and to understand the full ramifications of the matter. They are entitled to know whether there was mismanagement apart from the operations of Mr Smart or whether he was solely responsible. Therefore, on the basis of simple justice, there is quite clearly a need for an inquiry. An inquiry by the company fraud squad is not enough. It will find out whether a crime has been committed and whether a prosecution ought to ensue, but there may be many other things which the shareholders would like to know and which they are not going to find out simply from an inquiry by the company fraud squad.
There are commercial reasons that are relevant to the actions of honourable members in this Parliament. We are being asked to provide on behalf of the Australian taxpayers a possible amount of $4.5m to the society without knowing in detail what has happened over the last few years. We simply do not know the extent of any mismanagement. We do not know how much is attributable to Mr Smart’s operations and how much is attributable to other factors. Those are things we ought to know. They ought to be put in the position of being found out before we concede to the loan guarantee and put the taxpayers money at risk to this degree. There are important reasons for insisting on this amendment. I also point out that the amendment is, in our view, a feasible amendment. It is open to us to make this a condition of the guarantee. It is no problem. We are simply saying that if this loan guarantee is to go through the Victorian Government has to abide by the condition of establishing an inquiry. It could do so tomorrow. There is no real problem. There are many ways in which it could do so. For instance, it could simply order the Registrar of Co-operative Societies to establish an inquiry. It could establish a judicial inquiry. Perhaps there are other ways. This is a feasible proposition. There is no problem about it whatever. We have moved this amendment believing, for both the reasons I have mentioned, that this is the most appropriate course of action.
– I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I back up every reason which he has advanced in proposing this amendment to the Bill. It is clear that this Government will involve itself in a guarantee of $4.5m to support a business which has already failed twice in 10 years and which has a long history of adopting some very disappointing business procedures. It would appear to me to be a responsible action by the Committee to see that Victoria appoints a full-scale inquiry into the operations of the society known as Cooperative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd. Such an inquiry would not only ascertain the present financial situation of the society, which appears to be clouded with a certain amount of mystery and, to some extent, intrigue but also would be a vehicle for suggesting the best way in which the company could trade itself out of its difficulties.
The full ramifications of the trading of a society such as this which is involving itself not only with the killing of stock but also with the trading of meat and the sale of the byproducts may well determine which is the best way for the company to operate. It would be my guess that the inquiry would determine that the fact that the society acted in the form of a middleman in marketing the stock of the producers was probably one of the basic reasons for its failure. This is certainly the pattern that has been followed by similar organisations. The ones which have failed worst are the ones which have involved themselves as middlemen. It might well be that the abattoir side of the operation- the killing of stock on a contract basis and the sale of the byproducts and the tallow- may well be the answer to a maiden’s prayers. It may well be the way to put the society back on the path to success. For that reason alone I think the suggestion that the Victorian Government should appoint a full-scale inquiry should be followed. I have great pleasure in supporting my colleague’s amendment.
– The Government does not completely disagree with the expressions of concern that have come from the Opposition about the management of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Ltd and the circumstances surrounding it, but it cannot accept the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) for the very simple reason that he is asking this Parliament to double guess a decision of the Victorian Parliament regarding the exercise of powers within the province of the Victorian Government. I do not think that any Federal parliament in a Federation ought to lend itself to that sort of practice.
– It is because he is a centralist. He is not a federalist.
-He may well be. One should look at the merits of this situation. I am informed that there was a debate in the Victorian Parliament on 8 March regarding this matter. On that occasion the Opposition in the Victorian Parliament called for a full-scale public inquiry to be established. I put it to the Opposition in this place that that is the right forum wherein to determine whether there should be an inquiry under Victorian legislation into a body which operates under that legislation in respect of conduct which is covered by Victorian law. In my view it is not the business of this Parliament to double guess that decision of the Victorian Government. In fairness to the Victorian Government, I should state that I understand that on that occasion the Victorian Premier, Mr Hamer, said that the Victorian Government was not opposed to a public inquiry in principle but thought that at that time it was inappropriate for a number of reasons. One of the reasons that he mentioned was that the Victorian company fraud squad, as the honourable member for Gellibrand pointed out earlier in the debate, had been already inquiring into the reasons for the difficulties being faced by CF and G. Also there was an understandable concern as to whether the conduct of the public inquiry at that time might prejudice some of the commercial considerations which were under way at that time regarding the future of the company. As I am sure the honourable member for Gellibrand is also aware, there are proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court, which were initiated by the receiver against the former managing director of the company, to recover some $2m in a civil suit.
In those circumstances, I do not think the decision of the Victorian Government as to whether there was to be a public inquiry was wholly unreasonable. I think the decision of the Victorian Government on that occasion was a reasonable one. Frankly, if the situation is reached where it is respected that in a federal system of government some things generally belong to the States and others belong to the Federal Government, it really is not conducive to the proper operation of that system to have one or other of the parliaments double-guessing the other.
– It should be a condition of the guarantee.
-The honourable member for Gellibrand interjects that all he wants it to be is a condition of the guarantee. But the only way in which it could become a condition of the guarantee would be for the Victorian Government to reverse its previously stated position on this matter. Quite apart from whether that might involve some additional delay in relation to the matter which could possibly prejudice the speedy dispatch of the proceedings before the Victorian Supreme Court, we would still be faced with the situation of the honourable member for Gellibrand asking this Parliament to use its authority in one area to exercise leverage to bring about a change of mind by a State government in another area, which is normally and quite properly within the province of the State Government. I think it is a bad principle. I say that without disagreeing with some of the strictures about what may have occurred that have been made by the honourable member for Gellibrand, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) and the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown) during the course of this debate. Frankly, I believe that there are matters which are within the competence of the Victorian Parliament to decide. If indeed the Victorian Government made a mistake on that occasion, the remedy lies, frankly, if one puts it to the extreme, with the electors of Victoria and with the Victorian Parliament itself. If the situation is reached where the powers of this Parliament and the capacity of this Parliament to do certain things are to be used as leverage to bring about changes in areas in relation to which other parliaments have authority, I think we will have a very bad principle.
-The proposal before the Committee calls for an inquiry. I think it should be understood that the Victorian Government has denied an inquiry. That has been stated by Mr Harm, a spokesman for the National Country Party in Victoria. The Victorian Government is afraid that people in high places in Victoria will be revealed as trying to destroy the society. In fact, we are dealing with a guarantee of $4.5m. We are discussing whether or not this Parliament is to authorise a guarantee of $4.5m to a company. The Victorian Government has known for two years of the illegal activities which got the company into trouble but it has not acted on that knowledge at all. There must be reasons for that. If the sums of money are to be advanced or made payable, we have the right at least to ask whether or not the Victorian Government’s house is in order, because it would seem that it is not in order.
An examination of the Victorian Government’s record reveals that is has consistently refused to conduct inquiries into matters in relation to which there have been considerable doubts about its integrity. Only when public pressure has forced such inquiries has the Victorian Government given in and held them. At the moment it is withholding a report on the Victorian Housing Commission because it knows that the release of that report will mean the end of Mr Dickie. Of course, there is determination to keep him in office irrespective of what he has done.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member will confine his remarks to the amendment.
– As far as this particular piece of legislation is concerned, for a government to say, as the Treasurer (Mr Howard) has said, that it is reasonable to deal with a guarantee of $4.5m, which this Parliament and not the Victorian Parliament is putting up, without requiring the Victorian Government to inquire into the affairs of the company -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! If the honourable member for Bendigo will cease interjecting I might be able to get the honourable member for Corio to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– I think it is quite irresponsible of the Government not to make itself fully aware of the management and other problems associated with the company. If it were suggested that moneys of this nature be made available to some of the less popular organisations in this country, honourable members opposite would be on their feet demanding to know exactly where, why and how the funds were to be used.
Those conditions would certainly be placed on any guarantee proposed to be given by a Labor Government. The Victorian Government’s reputation for cover-ups is becoming increasingly well known. By refusing to accept this amendment, the present Federal Government is participating in that form of cover-up.
-The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) obviously has not even read the Bill. There is a provision in the Bill which allows the Treasurer to impose such further restrictions as are required. Furthermore, the honourable member for Corio was casting aspersions by talking about the Victorian Government’s cover-up in relation to this matter. The Victorian Government is an equal partner with the Federal Government in providing a guarantee- they are not providing the money- to a loan. The Victorian Government has not been involved in this matter before now. Why does not the honourable member for Corio realise what he is talking about? He should get his facts right before he starts lambasting the Government. He does not even know what he is talking about. The whole point is that the State Government–
– Will you give me a guarantee for $4m?
-Put a zip in that gully trap over there. The whole point is that we understood from what the Opposition said that it would support the Bill as long as it contained a proviso in relation to a State government over whom we have no control. That is the case irrespective of whether the proviso relates to the socialist State Government of South Australia or the true blue Liberal Government of Victoria. We cannot make a proviso in relation to the States, even though the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) seems to think that it is technically all right for us to include in the legislation such a stipulation. Of course, we could put such a stipulation in the Bill. If the Victorian Government says ‘No deal’, the Opposition says that we can then withdraw the guarantee which it claims it intends to support. Honourable members opposite should just use their nous a little bit. We, as an equal partner with the Victorian Government, are guaranteeing support for something which will do a tremendous amount of good and keep an industry going. The honourable member for Gellibrand in particular should be anxious that this Bill be passed so that the people involved will again be provided with jobs. Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman. I suggest that we finalise consideration of the Bill.
-Mr Deputy Chairman -
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier ) put:
That the question be now put.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
That the amendment (Mr Willis’) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Howard)- by leave- read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Debate resumed from 6 April, on motion by Mr Anthony:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The new International Sugar Agreement, which this proposed legislation ratifies, is one that has now come into being. It is interesting to note that the former agreement expired as far back as 1973. Whilst recognising that it is important to have some international regulation of commodities such as sugar, the Opposition is very critical of the negotiations that have taken place, culminating in an Agreement which, in our view, will not guarantee stability in the industry. We are very mindful of the fact that our former colleague, Dr Rex Patterson, was able to negotiate on a long term set price basis the guaranteed delivery and export of Australian sugar in quantities that had not been attained prior to that time. They were substantial quantities and the price was attractive. There was some stability in the industry. But let us place on record that it did Rex Patterson little good when it came to the elections. He was defeated not because of the work he had done but apparently because of some suggestion that somebody else could do the job better.
I wonder what cane growers will think now because this Agreement will mislead the Australian cane growing community and all those associated with Australian sugar production. Not the least important aspect we must look at is the statements made by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony). I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in October last year the Deputy Prime Minister issued a statement about the International Sugar Agreement. He said that it represented a breakthrough and that it would help the economy and the sugar industry. He said:
The agreed price range of 1 lc to 2 lc, equivalent to$A220 to SA420 a tonne, will mean a lift in returns to the world sugar industry of the order of $2,000m when measured against the prevailing world price which has been as low as $A155.
The fallacy of that statement is that there is no guarantee of price in this Agreement. That is the first weakness and we are not able to understand why the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister responsible for the Agreement, would so mislead the Australian community and the Australian sugar growers as to suggest that there is a guaranteed minimum price. That is the basic weakness in this document. In his Press statement the Deputy Prime Minister went on to say that the Agreement must be seen as:
We argue to the contrary. We say that the Minister has failed. The proper thing to have done was to negotiate a minimum price; to guarantee some stability. It is completely misleading to be issuing statements and making speeches that the Agreement will provide a great lift to the world sugar industry. We are debating this legislation in the knowledge that at present the price of sugar is about 8.3c a lb- well below the minimum of 1 lc. There is no assurance in this Agreement that there ever will be a guaranteed minimum price.
Let us look at the facts. The European Economic Community has a stockpile of sugar estimated to be at least 600,000 tonnes. It is not prepared to sign the Agreement. The basic principles established under the Agreement are for a floor price of 1 lc lb and a ceiling price of 21c lb, United States currency. It is hoped that the price range would be maintained by quotas but if the big sugar holders in the world are not to be party to the Agreement how are we to maintain the price? If we look at the present evidence we see that the price is well below the minimum and is in fact dropping. Another factor which I think is important is that anticipated production in 1978-79 will be about 90 million tonnes, with only a marginal increase in consumption. There will be at least 4½ million tonnes of surplus raw sugar which, if added to the existing stockpile, which I am told is 25 million tonnes, will mean that at least one-third of estimated annual consumption will be in stockpile, a surplus. Is it any wonder that under these conditions the world price has remained where it is, at about 8.3c lb, with very little prospect of moving up to this El Dorado minimum of 1 lc lb. It is important that the price set under the Agreement should not trigger off the movement of sugar out of consumption into stockpiling when the minimum price position is reached. It should move into consumption when the ceiling price position is reached.
Why are the cane growers and the sugar producers being so misled? Unless we can get the EEC to join this Agreement you have a basic fundamental weakness. The Government has specially appointed a Minister to negotiate with the EEC. The Deputy Prime Minister himself has been to the EEC on many occasions, urging and negotiating on the basis of what would be best for the Australian producer. We ask: What is the value of those negotiations? In the Producers Review of February 1978 Mr Tazelaar, a representative of the EEC, said:
I want to defend the question that the European Economic Community has increased its production.
He took the view that it was as important for importers to limit their sugar buying as it was for producers to limit their exports. Mr Tazelaar insisted that the strong EEC policy of 1973-74 had encouraged growers to expand production. Defending that attitude, he said that he doubted whether the Community would enter into the International Sugar Agreement even if it was agreed to by some other countries. So, as recently as February of this year, the spokesman for the sugar producers in the EEC said that the EEC had gone into expanded production, that there was a surplus and that he doubted very much whether the EEC would enter into the Agreement. If we look at the mechanics of this Agreement we find that the International Sugar Agreement sets out what has been agreed to by those who signed it- that there would be basic export tonnages and that there would be an agreement by those who would import those tonnages. The great defect, the great weakness and the thing that cuts the Agreement into ribbons from the point of view of being effective is that there is no obligation on the part of people who are signatories to the agreement as importers that they buy any sugar. There is no guarantee that they will buy it at any particular guaranteed minimum price.
The Australian sugar producers are being misled by the Deputy Prime Minister. He says what a great thing this agreement is, that it guarantees a quantity and it virtually guarantees a price. That is the inference drawn from his remarks. These assertions fall to the ground for the reasons I have mentioned. The free market forces of supply and demand clearly show that the price of sugar is now 8.5c lb. Last week the price was 8.62c lb, so there has been a decline. With that large stockpile I have talked about there is very little chance of any improvement. The Opposition wants to make it clear that whilst we are not arguing against the need for an International Sugar Agreement- we have no’ choice- we claim that the Deputy Prime Minister failed to negotiate a guaranteed minimum price. He failed to guarantee to the Australian cane growers that there would be some stability in the industry. The underlying weakness of the Agreement is that the signatories can effectively control world sugar prices. This is one problem. If they say that they are going to buy from some other source there is no guarantee that they will buy at a price that will be attractive to the Australian producer. I am told that this situation could have been predicted as far back as 1976 on the basis that at that time Cuba was not a party to the Agreement covering the supply of sugar on the international market. It is now a party and has an export quota approximately the same as Australia’s 2.3 million tonnes or thereabouts. That affected the market. Also it was known that the EEC was expanding its production and had a surplus and was not likely to join the International Agreement. So, it is wrong to talk about this Agreement establishing a price range of 1 lc to 21c lb. It does nothing of the sort. It gives no price at all. While the Deputy Prime Minister says that it is the intention to stabilise prices at around 14c to 15c per lb, he admits the Agreement is for only 10c per lb. But that is not a guaranteed price either. Even though the Parliament has only now been given the opportunity to debate this ratification, the Government has already signed it, so it is a fait accompli.
Why is it that we have been misled about this being a guaranteed price? Why is it that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) have failed in their negotiations? If we had a Rex Patterson doing the negotiating, would not the result have been different altogether? The facts clearly show that. We would have been negotiating long term agreements that were specific in their content.
– You are getting parochial.
-I am not getting parochial, Mr Minister. We just wish to make it clear that you must not mislead the Australian people about fundamental weaknesses. We say that there is no chance, either at present or in the near future, of getting even 1 lc per lb. As I have said, the world market price is below 9c per lb. The fact is that the world market is likely to remain depressed. Perhaps that explains why the
Deputy Prime Minister has made no attempt to offer any timetable for improved prices.
The Deputy Prime Minister said in his second reading speech that at the price level of around SUS0.14 or SUS0.15 per lb it is considered that efficient producers will obtain reasonable levels of returns. Of course what he did not talk about is the refusal of the European Economic Community to sign the Agreement, thus creating a very real threat to its effectiveness. The Deputy Prime Minister himself concedes that the European Economic Community is the world’s largest trading bloc and the world’s largest producer of sugar. He admits that the European Economic Community is currently in the process of dumping some three million tonnes of sugar on world markets.
As long as the European Economic Community is determined to go its own way the International Sugar Agreement can never guarantee a minimum price. The absence of the European Economic Community from the list of signatories is particularly disappointing in view of the close attention, time, energy and expense that the Government has devoted to wooing that market. For eight months we have had the spectacle of first Mr Howard, the present Treasurer, and then the Minister for Special Trade Representations running backwards and forwards to Europe, cap in hand- boys sent on a man’s mission- in a vain attempt to persuade the Common Market countries to treat Australia sympathetically. But we have not had one positive result from those efforts. We all know that this Government prides itself on treating all negotiations with other governments as confidential, but on this occasion at least it might let the Parliament and the sugar growers share the secret with it. What has the Government achieved? All we get from the Deputy Prime Minister, in his second reading speech, is a faint expression of peevishness. I quote his own words:
I hope chat the EEC will promptly reappraise its position, with a view to enabling it to negotiate appropriate terms of accession to the Agreement by accepting disciplines and obligations comparable to those assumed by all other sugar exporters.
But that hope is in vain. I have already quoted to the House the statement by the European Economic Community Market spokesman, as recently as February this year, that the European Economic Community would not sign the Agreement. The production of member countries of the EEC has risen and they have a surplus. The EEC is going to be able to deal on the world market on a free basis and not be bound by this Agreement.
The Deputy Prime Minister made much of the fact that the United States, for the first time in recent years, is a member of the International Sugar Agreement. But how firm is that membership and how firmly can the United States be expected to withstand the pressures of its domestic sugar lobby? This is particularly so, Mr Deputy Speaker, when one realises that the main sugar producers are in the State of Georgia. You would well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the President of the United States is from the same State. You would be aware of the fact that there is strain on that domestic market.
The Australian Financial Review of 10 April had this to say:
On soft commodities, market analysts are showing more concern for the sugar price because of problems implementing the new International Sugar Agreement and continuing calls to protect US and European sugar industries . . . Reimposition of US sugar import quotas may trigger massive stock-piling by domestic refiners to assure supplies.
In today’s Australian, there is a report from London which states:
Sugar producers have been angered by the way they see U.S. policies moving. They have been strongly critical of the increased tariff barriers imposed against imports of sugar into the U.S. from primarily poor Caribbean and Latin American producers. The signs that more restrictions are being contemplated by the Administration have galvanised some producers into further attacks on U.S. policy over the past week.
How much of that information has been given to growers in Australia? Our production this year is estimated to be about 3.5 million tonnes. Under the International Sugar Agreement, Australia’s quota was of the order of 2.3 million tonnes. That is the amount expressed in the Agreement in what is called Annex 1 . But of course there was a further agreement only three months after that and it reduced our quota by 15 per cent. There is a further factor and that is that the quota will again be reduced by a further 2.5 per cent if sugar does not maintain a minimum price in the first 75 days of trading under this Agreement. If these two quota reductions do not force the price up- and they will not- then the International Sugar Council will consider further restrictions.
But what do we do with the surplus that we will have? The Deputy Prime Minister has not made that clear. He takes comfort from the fact that Australian growers will be able to borrow from the International Monetary Fund- that is the stock financing fund- to finance the extra storage costs. But again he is no more specific than that. He has not told the growers that the loans available under Article 53 of the Agreement may not cover the entire costs of holding the sugar. That is the position we face now.
The fact is that in 1973 we had the solution to this problem because Rex Patterson negotiated special long term contracts. What is not being appreciated properly now is that our present socalled economic managers have agreed to include the figures of a basic export tonnage under the International Sugar Agreement without any guaranteed minimum price. Not only do growers not know, from what the Deputy Prime Minister has said, what the storage arrangements will be, but they fear that a considerable proportion of their crop will be left as what is called standover cane instead of being milled or being a peak crop. Perhaps it could be harvested as second grade with subsequent loss of income. The grower, having poured labour and investment into that crop, faces the prospect of seeing it sit idle in a field, rendered completely unproductive. The fear in Queensland particularly is that 40 per cent of the crops will be left in the ground. So the grower faces either extra storage costs or a significant part of his crop lying useless. Concurrent with this problem is the fact that crushings will be the lightest for 15 years. There will be a shorter harvesting period with the mills taking only the allocated peak crops.
The Deputy Prime Minister has pointed out the importance of the sugar industry to the Australian people. He said that 100,000 people are directly or indirectly involved in the industry. Yet the Agreement negotiated fosters unemployment because of the failure to implement a minimum price. This unemployment is occurring already. I am told that in Mackay, for example, mill staff have agreed to work a four-day week rather than see 20 men retrenched. As for the cane growers themselves, unlike most other primary producers, they are tied to a particular mono-culture and cannot diversify into other forms of agriculture to offset the effects of a disastrous government policy. This Agreement will ensure lower incomes to growers facing increasing costs. The current year is looming as a disaster unless steps are taken to provide utilisation of excess crops. The International Sugar Agreement penalises the most efficient producers from improving their basic export tonnage. One-third of their income potential has been negotiated away.
In summary, we have two weak links: The failure of the European Economic Community to become a member of the Agreement and the Government’s non-recognition of the problems that cane growers are facing. What the Deputy Prime Minister is really saying to the cane growers is this: ‘We have negotiated a great new sugar agreement. We are going to sell less of your sugar without any real guarantee of a better price. Certainly we cannot specify when you will see an improvement in the price at which we are selling your sugar. Also, we cannot tell you how much you can borrow for the extra storage we are imposing on you- or we are not prepared to do so. Nor will we tell you at this stage how much sugar you have to leave in the ground. But believe me that is all you have to do. Trust me and I will guarantee stability’. That is not good enough. The facts clearly show that the costs of the storage in the ground can be perhaps as high as one cent per lb more than the amount that will be recovered from the international sugar arrangement.
What is the solution if there are additional costs because of continual storage? We know that the solution before the present Government is to increase the present domestic price of sugar. I am told that the present domestic price is about $260 per tonne. The arrangements are, although the Government will not admit it, to have two hikes in the price, each of about $40 per tonne. There will be one very soon and one in September. That will be done to quieten the growers. The Government will say: ‘Look at what we have done for you? Despite the problems you have concerning no guaranteed price on the international market and the fact that you have to pay for increased storage over and above what you can borrow, we have arranged an increase in the domestic price for you’. Of course, that will affect a fair amount of the domestic industry as well as the costs have to be passed on to the consumer. There is no guarantee that the level of employment will be maintained because the quantity of sugar purchased may not be maintained. The Government has a problem in this respect and it will escalate. Next year when the growers ask the Government about the increased storage costs they are having to meet the Government will say: ‘We increased the domestic price of sugar for you. So what are you complaining about?’
The statistics are interesting when one is looking at what has happened because of the failure to plan. In 1976, because of the nonsense about saying to the people in the sugar production business that everything was rosy, because of the failure to look at the fact that the European Common Market was expanding its production and the Soviet Union had expanded its production and because of the failure to recognise the fact that Cuba was coming back into the international market and was no longer going to maintain its exclusiveness with respect to the Soviet Union, we did not have the courage to tell the growers of Australia that there would be an over supply. If one looks at what is called the assignment of hectare quota in relation to Queensland one will find that some 28,000 hectaressome 56,000 acres- of extra sugar cane production was encouraged in 1976. We have the disastrous situation now of no guaranteed price existing at any stage for those people. We think it is wrong in principle that there should be this misleading of the people.
The Government again has shown its complete lack of foresight in matters of trade. It has demonstrated an inability to face up to the harsh realities of the present position. Like the beef situation, we always seem to be having all our eggs in the one basket, to use a common expression. Not only are we hoping without real basis that the European market will not cancel out much of the potential but also we are assuming that all other signatories will play the game. World trade is done on the basis that a nation does the best it can for itself. We have let our own people down. It is fine to sign an international agreement, but we should have said that because of what has happened to us, including the fact that we have expanded our production, we want a greater quota and we want a guaranteed minimum price, otherwise the agreement counts for nothing.
As honourable members know, recently we had to re-negotiate the arrangements with the Japanese downwards. Why? Because the Japanese millers were able to buy supplies from other sources and therefore force the price down. But the Japanese quota still obtains to some extent because of the wisdom of Dr Patterson at that time. He did not negotiate the terms of the agreement but he did negotiate the overall sale. He did so also with China and Malaysia. Again, the price in the Malaysian contract has had to be negotiated down. Because of our production of about 3.3 million tonnes, because of the fact that we have to keep back some 17Vi per cent of that and pay for the storage of it and because the domestic consumption is about 0.8 million tonnes, we are left with a surplus of some substantial amount and the cost factor for the storage of that surplus will have to be looked at very keenly indeed. For the reasons, I have mentioned I move:
That is a summary of the situation. If one looks closely at the articles which make up the Agreement one cannot find an obligation to buy any quantity of sugar or an obligation to pay any set price for that sugar. That is the fundamental weakness. It has put all our growers in jeopardy. Unless we get that position clear by negotiation we are just making Australian growers available to the rest of the world for use as and when the rest of the world desires. If the world can get its sugar at a cheaper price elsewhere it will do so. If it can force the price of Australian sugar down it will do so. At present our growers receive a sugar price of about 8.4c per lb, which is well below the expressed millennium of $US0. 1 1 per lb. The agreement becomes mere fiction and of no value at all unless there are obligations in it concerning a guaranteed minimum price and a guarantee that a set quantity of sugar will be purchased. It is for those reasons that we say that the Government has failed. The Minister should come out into the open and tell the growers of the problems. The problems are on the doorsteps of the growers in northern New South Wales and Queensland. The growers have to face up to the fact that while there is purported to be an international sugar agreement it guarantees them no stability in the industry. Worse still, the oversupply virtually means that many of them will face disaster. Those Ministers who state that they are doing well should be able to substantiate that. They have failed to do so. For the reasons I have outlined we condemn the expressions made in relation to the international agreement. We recognise the concept that it is good to get some sort of commodity control, but in all other commodity controls there has always been some guaranteed minimum price. This is one agreement that is obviously favouring the importers against the Australian producers. For that reason the Opposition is very critical of the Government’s negotiations.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
-I am disappointed with the contribution made to the debate by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). I mention that because I hold him in very high regard, as I do the gentleman he talked about, that is, the former honourable member for Dawson, who, during the latter part of his period in Parliament was Minister for Agriculture in the last Labor Government. I must correct some of the statements that have been made. The main one is that there was misrepresentation by the Government of the situation under the International Sugar Agreement. I have in my hands three annual reports for the 1977 season. They come from the Proprietary Sugar Millers Association, the Queensland Cane Growers Association and the Australian Sugar Producers Association. Each of those reports gives a fairly full summary of what is the situation with the International Sugar Agreement. Bearing in mind that these are only annual reports, one can imagine that supplementary reports have been given to the cane growers from time to time. The general realisation by the producer would be that the prices referred to are attainable prices and are not meant to be guaranteed prices as is indicated by the fact that some three months after the commencement of the Agreement the prices still have not stabilised at the figure of $US0.1 1 per lb. I believe I speak for the industry in Queensland and northern New South Wales when I say there has been no misrepresentation in this regard and that the farmers are quite sure of what the situation is. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith criticised failure to do this and failure to do that. Might I just say as someone who has been associated with the sugar industry for some 20 years that one only has to turn back a producer’s mind 12 years to the disastrous years of 1965 and 1966 when there was no international sugar agreement, no long term contracts and sugar was selling on the export market for $24 a tonne. Although the Agreement sets out nothing special it means that it is better for producers to try to sell 2.35 million tonnes on the export market at even 8c a tonne than 2.6 million tonnes for half that price as they did in 1 965-66. 1 agree with the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith that there is no indication in the Agreement that these prices will be attainable in the short term. In fact it is freely mentioned that if these prices are attained by the end of 12 months that will be an indication that the Agreement is working.
Mention was also made that the industry in Queensland and northern New South Wales is not in a happy situation. I agree with that. The industry at the moment is agonising over many things. It is agonising over the fact that producers have to cut production this year although they were given a warning that this would be necessary in September and October of last year. They had the opportunity voluntarily to cut their crops by using less fertiliser or by doing less work on their cane. Some did and some did not. But there will be agonising while the export price stays low. There will be agonising while the domestic price does not increase in the way they have sought over the last four months. Producers are agonising over the change in the method of determining a peak.
Mention was also made that 40 per cent of the crop could be left in the ground in Queensland this year. I cannot take that as a realistic figure because even on last year’s crop which was almost a record the over-supply situation was not 40 per cent but, based on the total industry, about 20 per cent. I believe that this year’s crop will be smaller than it was last year. So it is not absolutely correct to talk in terms of 40 per cent of the crop being left in the ground.
I have the highest regard for Dr Rex Patterson as a man who knew the sugar industry. He was the Minister who negotiated the 1973 renewal of the International Sugar Agreement which was formed in 1968. But this Agreement did not come to fruition. It is perhaps fortunate in the short term for the Australian industry that this happened. A lack of supply on the export market shot prices up and it only needs a million tonnes deficit on the export market to make the difference between a small price and a boom price.
The mechanisms that were mentioned in connection with long term contracts were not the answer to the over-supply situation to which all countries contributed. Certainly while international sugar agreements will come in very handy for Australia, particularly in regard to the present 2.35 million tonnes quota, they were not the answer to rectify the over-supply situation which we are now facing. Certainly we are looking at the moment at a four months in-store supply of sugar which is about twice as much as we would like to see. Only the mechanisms supplied by the International Sugar Agreement may correct the situation by the end of this year or a little longer.
Again I speak for the sugar industry. I have spoken to representatives of the industry as recently as this afternoon and none of the major industry organisations finds any complaint in this regard. As a member representing 40 per cent of Australia’s sugar growers I regret the fact that the prospects of the industry are not as good as they were 12 months ago. However, producers look to the International Sugar Agreement with some hope. As I have pointed out, no guarantee has been given that the conditions set out in the legislation will be reached in the short term. Therefore I welcome the negotiations. I welcome this Bill which confirms the Agreement that has already been signed. This Agreement is different to the one negotiated in 1968. That Agreement was not renewed in 1973 because the quotas were based on the fact that storage was required.
The agreement is aimed at establishing a price range between $US0.1 lc and $US0.21c per lb. The quotas are at the expense of the over-supply or the surplus situation which went into No. 2 pool recently. The storage will be at the cost of the Australian industry. But these are sacrifices the Australian industry is prepared to make in order to make sure that the undertakings of the International Sugar Agreement are achieved.
The world price in January 1974 started at $ 142 per long tonne. But by the end of the year it had risen because of an under-supply situation to $650 per tonne. By 1975 the price was down to $ 1 28 and currently it fluctuates at about $ 100 per tonne. So in this climate it was absolutely essential that something should be done. The Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) has been criticised because the European Economic Community was not included in the Agreement. Again I agree that this must be one of the big question marks and one of the doubts that anyone has about this Agreement. While the EEC is outside of the Agreement, and is the largest producer of sugar in the world with some 10.8 million tonnes in 1976, the situation remains delicate. If anyone can tell me how one tells a Frenchman, a German or someone else to negotiate an agreement he might transmit this information to the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) who is overseas trying to negotiate with that same market at the moment. The Minister for Trade and Resources took a situation and improved upon it because this Agreement was doomed to failure one month before it was reached. Certainly our quota of 2.35 million tonnes was not reached without a heck of a lot of hard negotiation and hard bargaining. Australia receive the second highest quota of any country. Therefore work has been done in the interests of the industry and I am certain the industry appreciates it.
The Agreement has been successful in that the United States of America has been included. Originally the United States intended to stay outside of the Agreement. If it had done so the Agreement would have been absolutely useless. It is bad enough for the EEC to be outside the Agreement. However, the fact that the United States is in the Agreement is certainly another indication of the hard and successful negotiations that were conducted. There has been talk about a tariff situation as far as America is concerned. I do not believe that has any significance for the International Sugar Agreement and pricing. That is a domestic arrangement as far as America is concerned. We talk of long term contracts. These long term contracts will still be successful even though the International Sugar Agreement is in operation.
I would again like to bring up the point that if we are negotiating we should do so at a time and in accordance with the circumstances. The long term contracts engaged in during 1 973 and 1 974 resulted in a successful price. But I remind the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith that two of these contracts had already been in the course of re-negotiation. Those negotiations could have collapsed. However, this did not happen because of the swift and good negotiations not only by members of government, both State and Federal as well as the Japanese and Malaysian governments, but also by the industry itself. The International Sugar Agreement is the product not only of hard negotiations of government but also hard negotiations by an industry which has built up a reputation for quality and reliability and this is what the Australian industry stands for at the moment. That is why long term contracts were negotiated and renegotiated at a lesser price and why the International Sugar Agreement stands where it does.
I mentioned that the International Sugar Agreement will be at the expense of the Australian grower. In 1 975 Australia produced 2.855 million tonnes of sugar. In 1976 that figure increased to 3.296 million tonnes. For the last season- that is 1977- the figure was 3.342 million tonnes. We have to reduce this to 2.8 million tonnes, so there is a sacrifice to be made by the grower, the person in the field, and also by the miller, the producer. It is the lowest figure in any of the last three years. Our quota of 2.35 million tonnes was again the amount required to at least sustain and keep the peaks that were already allocated. I am sure that that quota was negotiated at some expense with a lot of hard toil.
Storage also is an expense and I wish to give a little of the history of storage. The industry in 1974 voluntarily levied itself to the extent of $50m for storage purposes out of the price it was then receiving on a favourable market. In the following two years the industry put aside another $10m. So the industry has contributed $60m of the current estimate of some $ 1 1 8m that is required for storage facilities. The balance of the money will be provided not by way of grant from the Government but by way of loan and this loan will be repaid in the fullness of time. It is an industry which has looked after itself and therefore deserves the protection that this International Sugar Agreement will give. There has been talk of a pricing mechanism, and in this respect the levy on sales is 0.28c per lb. This is meant to be the amount which will supplement the exporting countries for the cost of storage. I believe that this figure is in the vicinity of $30 per tonne of sugar stored, and it is expected that $20 of this $30 will be sufficient to finance the interest on the loans obtained from the various sources and to pay the producer and miller for the crop that year. The balance of $10 hopefully will cover storage costs. Already the industry has levied itself and is on the loan market, so it is reasonable to expect that the $30 will cover interest charges and the cost of storage.
These are the penalties and this is the way in which the industry has gone about trying to protect itself. Some $1 18m is required to complete the storage facilities which include the Bundaberg storage terminal, the Lucinda storage terminal which has still to be completed, and the storage terminal at Mackay which has yet to be commenced but which has to be completed in time. This industry in Queensland, as with any rural industry, finds that a restriction on it means a restriction on the community and the people who live in that community which is there basically because of that industry. I have no doubt that the restrictions we have talked about tonight, that is, the shortage of funds, will be reflected through these communities over the next few years until a reasonable price is obtained.
I take this opportunity to transfer the attention of the House from the International Sugar Agreement to the other problem which is somewhat connected with it, the domestic price. I spoke in the adjournment debate in this House on 1 March 1978 and drew attention to the claims being made by consumer and industry organisation about the greed of the sugar industry in seeking the price of $80 per tonne mentioned by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. I have had correspondence from these organisations in which they frankly admit that the producer and miller are worthy of some consideration. Part of the letter which the Australian Council of Soft Drink Manufacturers wrote to me states:
Information already published makes it quite evident that the real problem facing growers and millers is not that domestic prices are too low but that refining and distribution costs are too high.
I put a question mark against that statement. The letter continues:
It is because of this that payments (per tonne) to growers and millers have risen by only 4.7 percent between 1967 and 1977 . . .
Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to name any industry, manufacturing or rural, in Australia that has coped with such a small percentage increase in the price received for its product and has been able to survive, in spite of the fact that the consumer price index has increased by 134 per cent in those 10 years. The sugar industry has been able to do this because it has turned to mechanisation, because it has funded research facilities and because of the efficiency it has achieved through the cutting of costs and the raising of quality under proper supervision and management of the industry. Certainly the methods which have been used in the past to prune costs and keep on-costs as low as possible cannot be expected to work in the future. These people are prepared to admit that. They do not mention that whilst the income to the sugar industry as a whole has increased by 3 1 per cent and only 4.7 per cent of that has gone to the grower and millers, the industry has incurred cost increases of 164 per cent. I can remember as a child that a two lb loaf of bread and a pound of sugar cost the same. Today one can buy 3 lb of sugar for the price of a loaf of bread of the same weight. So when people talk in terms of an industry being greedy and getting at the public they certainly are not referring to the sugar industry in which these events have occurred over the 30 years that I can remember.
The third item over which the industry is presently agonising is the domestic price. The industry late last year asked the Government for an increase in the domestic price and its documented case based on certain aspects was placed before the Government. The Government called for additional information on producer and miller costs. The last occasion when these costs were taken into account was 1967. The industry has not sought large increases in the domestic price. It has been content to take lower increases because of the export price. In view of the figures which I can supply for the 1976 season- the costs for that year together with a reasonable increase of, say, 10 per cent in the consumer price index, and taking into account the cost of the farmer’s own labour and a lower than normal return on capital investment- the amount of $23 per tonne which the farmer is now seeking is not too much. In fact it is probably a smaller return on investment than anybody in the manufacturing world would normally anticipate.
At a time when the industry is looking to the International Sugar Agreement for some improvement in the price of sugar, I ask the Government to look carefully at the application which the industry has made in respect of the domestic price. I can substantiate the fairness of the claim. The industry has been subsidising the consumer in Australia certainly in the last 10 years and now when it needs an increase in the domestic price it has sought it. I hope that not only the Government but also consumer groups will recognise that over this period the industry has subsidised the consumer and that organisations such as the Australian Council of Soft Drink Manufacturers and Coca Cola will appreciate that if they had kept their costs in order to the same extent and had mechanised to keep costs within reason, the price of their products would not be so great now. Ironically one of the greatest on-costs in the soft drink and confectionary industries has risen by only 3 1 per cent in 10 years. This is a major cost to these industries. Yet there has been an increase of 164 per cent in the consumer price index.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to add a few remarks to those made by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bo wen) and to support the amendment which he moved. At the conclusion of his second reading speech the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said that he was satisfied that with its present membership this Agreement offers the Australian sugar industry the prospect of more prosperous and stable years ahead. Unfortunately I cannot share his optimism and I know that there are many people in the industry who cannot share it. In addition there are many people in Queensland who do not share his optimism. I can conclude only that the Minister is very easily satisfied or has a misconception of the real problems confronting the industry or is hiding the facts about the industry from the producers. Reading between the lines and taking account of some factors which the Minister has omitted to mention, I can find many reasons for the industry being far from satisfied that there are prospects for more prosperous and stable years ahead. It seems to me that the optimistic predictions of the Minister for Primary Industry can come about only if certain events eventuate.
These in fact are very unlikely to come about. I should like to refer to just some of them. The Minister has made a number of public statements about the sugar industry recently and some of them are worth recalling. In the Sydney Morning Herald of 2 December 1977 he was reported as saying, without any equivocation or doubt:
When the sugar agreement started to operate the market would tighten and sugar prices would begin to rise.
I do not know on what basis he said that. I do not know what he means. Usually when one says that a market is tightening it means the product is getting harder to sell. But that apparently is not his interpretation. He said: . . . the market would tighten and sugar prices would begin to rise.
It is just a bald statement without any rational argument as to why prices should rise. Throughout the Minister’s speech there seems to be a hopeful assumption that the 11c per lb floor price represents some sort of a guaranteed minimum price. It represents no such thing. It is merely a price below which sugar, under the Agreement, will move out of the market into stock in certain circumstances. Conversely, the ceiling price is merely a trigger price to indicate that sugar should move out of stock and on to the free world market in certain circumstances. While the Minister claimed that the International Sugar Agreement would lift the return to the world sugar industry- note that he said the world sugar industry- by about $200m, the Australian Financial Review of 7 October 1977 noted very pertinently:
He did not detail the effect of the agreement on the Australian sugar industry.
He deliberately avoided, in his speech and in statements, being in any way specific about the precise effect of the Agreement in hard cash on the Australian industry. The Minister was very ready to point out in his second reading speech that the 37 sugar exporting countries and 11 sugar importing countries which have signed the International Sugar Agreement account for 84 per cent of the free market sugar trade. What he did not point out and what he should have pointed out, and what is much more pertinent, is the fact that the free sugar market, which excludes the European Economic Community, comprises less than 20 per cent of the total world trade in sugar. The implication of course is that the Minister expresses the pious hope that the tail will wag the dog, that by their 20 per cent representation the people who have signed the Agreement will in some way be able to control the world sugar market price and to manipulate the market in a way which will ensure that the price will rise. There is no way that this can happen. The EEC is seen as the nigger in the woodpile. The Minister is saying: ‘If only it would make decisions in our interest instead of in its own interest’. We know that this does not happen. It has not happened despite all the running about of our trade envoys all over the world, despite the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) going to Europe to talk to the EEC and despite Ministers going off to Japan. We have to face up to the reality of declining world trade in commodities and act accordingly and tell our producers what is the real situation.
There are some long-standing relations between the EEC and other European countries with many of the sugar exporting countries such as those in Africa, Mauritius and the Carribean These relations will not be distorted or upset by countries which have signed the International Sugar Agreement because they represent only a minority of the world sugar trade, only 20 per cent. There is no way that those people can dictate the world price of sugar.
The Minister, in expressing pious hopes about the future of the industry, makes no reference to the fact- it is a very ominous fact- that the trend in world trade is towards more restrictive trade, higher trade barriers and more protection for primary producers. This is the case whether we talk about the EEC, Japan, the United States of America or Australia. This Agreement that we are discussing tonight represents an effort to restrict the open market in order to try to stabilise sugar prices. I wish to quote from an article which was just handed to me. The headline reads: ‘Sugar hit by Soviet re-selling’. The article states:
World sugar prices fell yesterday in response to reports that Russia had resold substantial amounts of white sugar bought earlier in the season to traditional outlets.
All the indications are that the market is declining rather than rising. I do not think there is any real basis at all for the Minister to make pious statements and to express pious hopes that everything in the garden will be wonderful just because this Agreement has been signed.
It is interesting to note that the Queensland Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Sullivan, obviously does not share the optimism of our Minister. In the West Australian of 28 February this year he was quoted as saying that the Australian sugar industry would have to face major financial burdens after the negotiation of the International Agreement. At least one Minister is bening a bit more realistic about the true position in the industry. Another significant point which the Minister did not make in his second reading speech is that in the past two years Australian production has been between 300,000 and 400,000. tonnes in excess of the production, the disposal of which is provided for under this Agreement. There is no indication of what will happen to this excess production.
There is no provision in the Bill to accommodate any adjustments in production in the industry or any measures to reduce the production to a marketable level. There is merely a pious hope that something will happen to cause the price to rise. I do not know what will cause the price to rise. The Minister made no reference to the reality of today’s price which is only slightly in excess of 8c per lb. The whole thrust of this speech seemed to be to try to convey the impression that once we sign this agreement the 11c per lb represents some sort of minimum price. As I have said, it is no such thing at all. How is this Agreement, which controls only 20 per cent of the market, going to bridge the gap between the 8c per lb and the 1 1 c per lb on a falling market? Much of the production outside the International Sugar Agreement countries is held up by all sorts of supports and subsidies, particularly in the EEC, and the trend is for these supports and subsidies to be increasing rather than to be broken down.
I believe that the Minister and the Government at large are guilty of grave sins of omission in presenting this Bill to the Parliament and to the industry. These omissions are set out in our amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time. The amendment states that we deplore the Government’s failure, firstly, to secure a larger basic export tonnage as established under paragraph 1 of Article 34 of the Schedule; and, secondly, the failure to inform the cane growers that the loans available from the Stock Financing Fund under Article 53 may not cover the entire cost of holding stocks of sugar. The Minister has deliberately avoided coming to terms with quantifying the possible cost of storing huge quantities of sugar. The amendment states, thirdly, that we deplore the failure of the Government to announce any specific arrangements in the event of the loans from the Stock Financing Fund being less than the cost of storage. These pertinent questions have been avoided. Fourthly, we deplore the failure to acknowledge that the $US0. 1 1 per lb quota trigger price is not a guaranteed price and that the present world price is well below, and likely to remain below, $US0. 1 1 per lb.
The sugar industry is a major industry in Australia and particularly in Queensland. It employs large numbers of people and huge amounts of capital. It is extremely important so far as our balance of payments is concerned. It is one of our major earners of export income in the primary production field. The people who are in the industry are locked into it, the same as people are in all primary industries today. They do not have the option of getting out of the industry and going into other forms of employment because under this Government’s policy there are no other avenues of employment. They are stuck with the industry. They would be better able to survive if the Government were honest about the position, told them of the real situation and came up with propositions much more constructive than the sort of proposals embodied in this Bill. I strongly support the amendment proposed and recommend it to the House.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 10 April on the following papers presented by Mr Staley:
Public Broadcasting Planning- Guidelines for Phase 1 - Ministerial statement, S April 1978- and on the motion by Mr Anthony:
That the House take note of the papers.
-In my speech yesterday, until I was choked off at 10.30 p.m. by the adjournment debate, I was giving qualified endorsement of the statement on the development of public broadcasting by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley). I want to summarise the reasons for my qualification. Firstly, the Government has failed to take sufficient lead in working out a National Information Policy, that is, a comprehensive outline of the rights of Australian residents and citizens to access to information in a form which can benefit them. In my view, we should begin with a general statement of information policy and then move to the particular- a paper such as this ministerial statement- rather than the other way round. However, I appreciate the anomalous situation in which the Minister may well find himself with regard to the experimental licences which were set up under the Wireless and Telegraphy Act. They have to be regularised and brought in. It could be that this is why we are getting the cart before the horse.
Secondly, we can infer that the Government divides the mass media into two categories. The first category is dominated by market forces only, that is, the commercial sector and the second category is not subject to market forces, that is, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the proposed public broadcasting stations. I am concerned that this statement could be used by an unsympathetic Minister- for example, the previous Minister for Post and Telecommunications, who is now Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson)- to reduce any pressure on the commercial stations in the first category to diversify programs or to provide any stimulating programs for ethnic groups, women, children and young people. Even more alarming, it could lead to the view that the ABC should leave minority interests- for example, serious music and discussion programs such as Broadband- to public broadcasting and that the ABC could be cut back to being a pale imitation of the commercial networks. In my wild imaginings I sometimes think of the possibility that an economy-minded Minister, not the present Minister, might well say: ‘There are six ABC orchestras. Why do we need more than one? Surely we can rationalise the whole system and have the one orchestra shuttled round the nation?’ He could even say: ‘Why do we need the provision of fine music at all? People can play instruments at home if they want to. They can listen to frequency modulation radio from the music broadcasting societies. Why does there have to be a public contribution?’ I do not want to pursue that reductio ad absurdum too far, but I am sure that the Minister appreciates the dangers. I have no fear while the present Minister holds his office.
Thirdly, I have said that most mass media had failed to accept responsibility for shaping and training taste. It is inevitable that commercial radio should reflect the ethos of capitalism and that turnover and immediate economic response are decisive in determining program policy. Short term considerations outweigh long term ones and the great artistic tradition which has shaped western culture has been ignored. As I started to say yesterday before I was cut off, not everybody is moved to tears by the French Post
Impressionists in the Jeu de Paume but to those who are the memory can never be effaced. Our commercial media often gives the impression that any appeal is wasted unless it is aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator. Immediate appeal and long term satisfaction are not the same thing.
Fourthly, there is an implied criticism of the commercial sector in the Minister’s statement. I had hoped that the Minister would have gone further with a firm recognition that radio and television, whether government or commercial, represent guaranteed access to an irreplaceable resource- the people’s time. This right of access, which is recognised by the conferring of a licence under government auspices, should be seen not just as an opportunity for commercial exploitation but as a form of trusteeship. Where the maximisation of profit is the primary goal, the potential audience is inevitably equated with the market. We believe that ‘audience’ ought to equal ‘community’. Licences and their re-issue should be subject to the signing of a performance contract. The re-issuing of licences should be dependent on adhering to the terms agreed to when the licence is granted. If licensees do not like the terms of the licence or they feel that they cannot fulfil the requirements they should go back to the licensing authority and either seek a variation of the terms of the performance contract or hand the licences back. As the Minister knows, some commercial licence holders, particularly in the television field, have lied like the proverbial troupers about what they would do when they got the licence and once they have got it regard it as being like a Spanish marriage- once they have the licence it will never have to be taken from them.
There are two other things on which the Minister might comment if he is to reply to this debate. I know that the Special Broadcasting Service was set up as a result of an amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Act in December 1977 and that a board was set up under the chairmanship of Dr Slovsky. I also know that Neil Hutchinson of the ABC is a member of it. I do not understand where it fits into this matter. I should have thought that the Special Broadcasting Service would have rated a mention. I understand that a Federal experimental transmitter licence is being sought by the Australian Telecommunications Commission. The Minister might have said something about this matter. I understand that it will produce experimental programs. If so, I hope the Film and Television School will be involved in helping to prepare these experimental programs. It has available studio space and a very high degree of talent. Finally, I hope the Minister will look at a product called ‘Instant World’, which is a report on telecommunications in Canada by the Canadian Department of Communications in 1971. It seems to me to contain the germs of what we ought to have in a National Information Policy.
– I compliment the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) on the statement he has made of the broad principles behind the proposed development of public broadcasting in this country. The Minister should be very pleased with the nature of the debate that has followed his statement. In fact, it has not been a case of total support from this side of the Houseperhaps he will not be quite so pleased about that- and it has not been a case of total opposition from members of the Opposition. I hope that other Ministers will take more opportunities to present statements of principle to the House so that honourable members can express themselves, perhaps not in such a party political partisan way, at a stage in the development of policies when it is possible to make an individual contribution. That is what is happening in this debate. The Minister addressed himself to a fundamental question when he said:
The problem for government of course, is the extent to which the system can, or should, be regulated. Where does sensible planning and policy implementation finish, and totalitarian control start?
The airwaves are public property, as the Minister stated very clearly, and governments must have a role in protecting the public interest. But I have found that there is confusion amongst many members of the public as to what is the role of government. Honourable members might remember that a year or so ago there was some controversy about a proposed restructuring of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Indeed, my name was mentioned in despatches from the party room as being one of those who wanted to see some changes made to that original intention. I will not comment on the accuracy or otherwise of those despatches from the confidentiality of the party room, but I was interested to note that afterwards I got many letters and telephone calls of congratulation from people who said ‘Good on you for sticking up for the ABC, or ‘Thanks for protecting the ABC, and other messages of that nature.
I was fascinated to find though, at later stages when other issues arose, such as the management decision to transfer Terry Lane, or to transfer some program from one time slot to another, or perhaps to abolish a program, that many of the same people wrote to me: ‘Couldn’t you have used your influence to put Terry Lane back on the air or to have fixed up that programming change? “They did not realise the obvious inconsistency in what that were saying. On the one hand they were saying, ‘Thanks for protecting the independence of the ABC, and on the other hand they were saying, albeit in not such blunt terms, ‘Please use your political influence to bring about a particular program change within the ABC. I shall return to one aspect of this matter of the regulation of broadcasting a little later.
The Minister outlined the various categories of licences which will apply to public broadcasting. Firstly, there is the category E licence for educational bodies; secondly, the category S licence for special interest groups; and, thirdly, the category C licence for community groups in particular geographical areas. I shall concentrate particularly on the need for that third category of licence- the category C licence- for community groups in various geographical areas. The outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, a large part of which I represent, I think can accurately be described as a wasteland in terms of communications systems.
– The deprived east.
-The honourable member for Lalor had his deprived west; I can perhaps talk about the wastelands of the east. I point to a problem that we have in the area extending from Nunawading, through Ringwood, Croydon, Lilydale and up to Healesville. That area has a very basic gap in communications services. Naturally enough the major metropolitan television and radio stations want to carry news and to put over programs which have an apeal to the whole metropolitan area. They do not want to pick up community news or information about community groups in any particular part of the Melbourne metropolitan area which may not have very broad appeal for the total listening audience.
As far as newspapers are concerned, the Press is basically the major Melbourne metropolitan Press. One does not find the daily or thriceweekly newspapers which medium to large sized provincial centres have. One does not find the local radio and television stations to which any medium sized country town would have access. In that respect, while local newspapers of the throw-away type are published on a weekly basis, they do not fill the gap. In terms of communications, I think it is fair to say that the outer eastern suburbs of Mebourne which have a very large population, are worse served than any moderately sized country centres. So there is in that type of area a very basic need, I believe, for a low powered station to service the local population.
I want to deal with the way in which that station is to be regulated in terms of its programing policies. In fact I do not believe that that will produce a very great problem for governments. We have had many complaints about some of the public broadcasting stations which have been operating to date. One gets complaints about particular groups controlling the licence or, in the case of ethnic radio programs, a particular faction in an ethnic community getting control of the hour’s time slot for that particular ethnic community and putting over propaganda which is divisive in its nature and which produces tensions within that ethnic community. That is a problem that we face, I think, and with which we have yet to deal properly in relation to the category S licence, if I can put it that way, because it seems to me that those complaints of bias and of promoting divisiveness can apply potentially to category S licences which are designed to service special interest groups covering a broad area.
I believe that in the case of the category C licence that problem is unlikely to arise, or at least it is unlikely to arise to any major degree. Any local community radio station will be dependent very much on local community groups, municipal councils and local sponsors. Let us take, for example, the situation of the local newspaper. A local newspaper cannot produce the sort of journalism that one finds in the Melbourne Truth or in the Sunday Observer or newspapers of that nature because local newspapers fundamentally are dependent on the goodwill of their local communities and the sort of feedback they get from them. They depend on the secretaries of the local sporting bodies coming in on a Monday morning and handing over the sporting results. If they were to publish for a couple of weeks in a row a nude female on page 3 to try to boost circulation, they would be likely to have a line-up of angry mums from the local area outside the editor’s office saying, ‘Look, we are trying to raise families in this area’.
What I am saying is that there is that natural contact with the local community and, indeed, there is reliance on the local community to provide it with information and news that it can publish. So it would be, I believe, in the case of a low powered radio station servicing a particular local area. It can maintain its programing capacity only if it has the goodwill of the local community, and it can maintain the goodwill of the local community only if it is broadly producing material which is representative of the local community, its interests and its aspirations and, in fact, if it gives everybody a fair go.
The Minister did not quite outline what he meant when he contrasted in his statement sponsorships with normal advertising material, spot advertising material. I expect what he means is that in these public broadcasting stations it will be possible for a sponsor to have his message put across by the announcer saying, ‘The following quarter hour is brought to you courtesy of Joe Bloggs, your friendly local butcher’, or ‘The following municipal information is brought to you by the Croydon City Council’, or giving some brief message of that nature. That would be better than people having advertisements pounded into them. Of course, the local sponsors, who would essentially be local people, organisations, business people and so on, would also exercise some degree of regulation over what is put across by such local radio stations. In that sense there would be a system of self-regulation which, I believe, would solve most of the problems that have usually been brought up when public broadcasting has been discussed.
The other point I particularly wanted to make is that there is a need to ensure that there is the widest possible access by a whole range of groups to any station that might be set up. One of the complaints I heard after 3CR in Melbourne was granted its licence, for example, was that there were many other groups which had applied for that licence but which may not have actually wanted a complete licence to themselves; they would have been happy with two hours a day or even two hours a week. But the system was such that they had to get together a group to put in an application for a radio licence and have the total management of that licence.
So I draw attention to the need for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to try to ensure that in considering applications for licences it takes steps to see that everyone who has a legitimate claim to some sort of access does indeed have access. I would like the Tribunal, for example, to exercise some discretion in suggesting to certain groups which put forward submissions that they might get together and combine their efforts or that the group which is allocated the licence is given the licence on the basis that certain other groups are brought into the program planning. In that way I think that many of the groups which have a legitimate claim but feel that they have to put up a submission for an entire licence, that they will have to manage by themselves, will in fact be able to have what they want- the degree of access that they need- without having the complete responsibility of managing the radio station. In fact, many of the groups which have applied for these experimental licences in the past have not, I believe fully appreciated the effort needed to keep a station on the air.
I have had only a little to do with the odd political broadcast, and a few interviews here and there, but I know from some scripting and preparation that I did for a 10-minute radio spot for several weeks that, in fact, I put about two hours work into just getting together the basic material for 10 minutes on air. Therefore, many of these groups which are on a community or voluntary basis often do not appreciate the real effort needed to keep the show rolling, to get the material on air and keep it going. I believe, therefore, that a great degree of flexibility on the part of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal is needed to ensure that all of these groups with a legitimate claim to access to broadcasting facilities are accommodated in some way.
I finish on the note on which I started. I compliment the Minister on the statement that he made, and I look forward to future statements from him as broadcasting policy develops.
-I would like firstly to echo the compliments paid by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer) to the able statement on public broadcasting by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley). Indeed, I think I could say that it is the only stimulating statement to have emerged from the Government benches in the past six weeks.
It consists of three major elements. The first seeks to outline the general assumptions and philosophic principles upon which the Government’s overall approach to broadcasting planning and development will be based. The second element is in regard to the general strategy and objectives of the Government in relation to public broadcasting, one of the three sectors into which broadcasting in Australia has been divided. The public broadcasting segment has been defined by the Green Report as applying to those stations operated by non-profit organisations and licensed to serve a defined or special interest section of the population.
One of the problems that we on the Opposition side have, and that I certainly have, with the statement is that it is limited to one of the three sectors and that there are problems therefore in judging its full applicability. Also, of course, some of the general philosophical principles will be properly understood in their working only when we see the rest of the Minister’s statements relating to commercial broadcasting and to national broadcasting. The third aspect of the statement relates to the detailed guidelines for the planning of public broadcasting in phase 1 .
I want to deal with the philosophy first and then with those detailed guidelines. I think perhaps that ‘philosophy’ or ‘philosophical principles’ is putting it a bit high. It may be a bit exaggerated. There are certainly a lot of tensions within that philosophy, as I shall suggest in a moment, but I suppose that we in the Opposition must be thankful for small mercies. In the arid intellectual wilderness of this Government’s legislation, even a collection of ideas is something of an oasis. Indeed, as someone suggested, if most members of this Government’s front bench were struck by an idea it would probably prove fatal.
It is also a very welcome statement in the sense that the hiatus which has characterised public broadcasting since 1974 has now been ended. Perhaps the alleged non-musical fiddling of the previous Minister distracted him from the concern for public broadcasting, but it is a matter of concern that for three to four years now we have had 20 or more bona-fide applicants waiting for public broadcasting licences.
Turning to the philosophy, there are problems with it. However the first thing that should be said is that we on this side of the House appreciate very much this very strong statement of broadcasting philosophy, which clearly indicates the role of government in broadcasting planning. As the Minister points out, broadcasting is inextricably linked with matters of national policy. A number of major reasons for that strong link are given. The first is the need to ensure that public information is free; that expression is free. That is the first reason for government intervention.
Secondly, as the Minister points out, broadcasting is a medium of communication which is a valuable national resource. Thirdly, he points out that the spectrum itself is a scarce resource. Fourthly, there is the simple necessity for government regulation in order to prevent chaos. Perhaps even more important from the Opposition’s point of view- this point is made later in the Minister’s statement; it certainly underlies my whole philosophy for broadcasting, and it is stated in the Green Report- the airwaves are a public property, not a private asset. The implication is that to grant a broadcasting licence is to bestow a privilege, not to recognise a right. It is a privilege which those who represent the public, and the public itself, are entitled to withdraw if it is abused.
These are very fine theoretical principles. How far does the Government intend to evolve a policy based on these assumptions? One of the first worries is that the notion of free enterprise is smuggled into the Minister’s key statement on his basic approach, even though I believe it can be argued that in many cases a commitment to freedom of expression and to freedom of enterprise is a commitment to two principles which may prove incompatible. One has only to read the various reports on the subject both here and overseas to be reminded of some of these incompatibilities.
Certainly, to date in this country the commercial sector has contributed little to that range and diversity of opinion which, according to the Minister, is characteristic of genuine free expression. Again I read from the statement:
We believe that the Australian broadcasting system should aim for diversity and quality as an overall objective and also to cater for and reflect the widest possible spectrum of information, opinion, values and interests in Australian society.
The implications of that statement for many of the commercial licensees in this country is significant. Indeed, if that is to be the Government’s philosophy, the licences of many of them may be in serious jeopardy.
But the major problem with the philosophy as expressed is that it presents a statement of overall objectives for the system as a whole, but the details of the statement relate to only one of the three sectors, namely, public broadcasting. The Minister has deliberately eschewed from the statement reference to the national and commercial sectors. These have been neglected, quite deliberately, in order to permit a concentration on public broadcasting. This means that it is, first of all, difficult to judge the adequacy of the philosophy as a whole.
Secondly or, if you will, conversely, it is difficult to judge the details of the public broadcasting system when they represent only one segment of the Government’s strategy. As we do not know the other elements of the approach, and have only the details for public broadcasting, some of these details, as I shall show, are difficult to judge.
The most important weakness that flows from this deliberate limitation is the overlap problem; that there is clearly an overlapping between public and national broadcasting and between public and commercial broadcasting. If I may suggest some of these overlap problems: How is the minority interest role of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to be affected by the development of public broadcasting, as indicated in the statement? What exactly is to be the role of the ethnic stations? Are they to be part of public broadcasting? Are they to be part of a national broadcasting sector or- and there were some signs of this towards the end of last year- is there to be a fourth sector, a distinctive ethnic sector?
Again, the public broadcasters are to play a major educational role. How will this affect one of the major tasks, in the past at least, of the ABC. I refer to its educational role. Again, there is the quality music provision of the ABC. How is that affected by some of the provisions for special types of stations in the public broadcasting field? There do seem to be a whole series of overlapping problems here about which it is difficult to make judgments until we see a fuller statement. Because the present statement is restricted the technical question of sharing facilities is ignored. Certainly, in some rural areas there might be much to be said for commercial, national and public broadcasting amalgamations- that is, in some sense the three groups working together using a single technical facility. Again, that sort of issue can be judged only when we have a fuller statement before us.
Now let me look at the detailed guidelines presented in relation to public broadcasting. I think that firstly the Minister is to be congratulated on the sensible, functional categories into which public broadcasting has been divided- educational, special interest and community groups. I think the important thing here is not so much the division but that the groups have been treated elastically, fluidly and imaginatively. The Minister pointed out quite clearly that these are not to be prescriptive; they are indicative. They are not intended to be mutually exclusive; there could be combinations. I am certain that that kind of approach will be much appreciated by the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia. I think we should welcome this kind of approach to the categories indicated in the statement.
Secondly, the statement pointed out that in Phase 1 there will be only three medium coverage FM stations for public broadcasters in each capital city. In one sense that is pretty generous because insofar as I understand the situation, during Phase 1 there will probably be a maximum of about nine FM frequencies available in each capital city and three of these is a fair share for the public broadcasters. One thing that worries me is that in this statement Phase 1 is pretty indefinite. It is dependent on a technical assessment of available FM frequencies. Unfortunately, the engineering division of the department is notoriously conservative. Indeed, I feel that without some real pressure Phase 1 could simply hamstring the rapid development of public broadcasting in Australia.
This brings me to some of the problems of the engineering division of the Ministry. Let us take the American example of the Los Angeles area where at the moment there are some 60 stations, approximately 40 of which are on the FM band. Quite clearly one can argue that the Los Angeles approach has been too permissive. I notice in the Minister’s statement a reference to the overpermissiveness of some American decisions. If that situation of some 40 FM frequencies is too permissive, I think equally the Australian situation is too restrictive, as envisaged in Phase 1 , or at least it is too slow to recognise and to realise the technical advances overseas. I think there can be little doubt if we compare the Australian situation with most European situations and the American situation that technical developments are lagging and that this generation is being denied the range and choice of FM frequencies that should be available in an advanced industrial society.
Again, I think the engineers have been slow to open up the AM band. By making all AM stations directional we would offer far more opportunities on the AM band. I recognise that if we adopted that kind of policy it would require expensive modifications to existing station transmitters. If the Government is committed to the belief that broadcasting should ‘cater for and reflect the widest possible spectrum of information, opinions, values and interests in Australian society’, those who have had an advantage for many years should be required to adapt their transmitters to offer more opportunities on the AM band as an addition to the developments I mentioned on the FM band.
I turn now to another issue which seems to me a worrying one, that is, the invidious exclusion of political parties. Political parties will not be issued with public broadcasting licences. On the other hand churches will be issued with them; they are certainly not excluded. All other sorts of pressure groups may get them but the group not permitted to have them is political parties. It would be perfectly awful if one had to listen to a Liberal Party station all day. No doubt honourable members opposite would agree that if we had a Labor Party station pouring out information all day that would be equally obnoxious. In order to have a party balance all the frequencies would be eaten up. If all the parties were to get some representation, there would be no frequencies left. However, multi-party stations are common in a number of overseas countries. That is, there is sharing of a single facility and sharing of air time. I think that to single out political parties as against all other pressure groups and institutions in society is somewhat invidious.
Finally, there was much to admire in the theory of the statement but the real issue is: ‘Will these possibilities be achieved in practice?’ Because of some decisions made last year I think there are still dangers in departmental technical planning and social planning controls. That is, as the statement said:
The Minister will call for applications for one or more public broadcasting licences for a service area.
That power that has existed in the past in relation to commercial radio- the social planning power in the Department; the technical power- may, if we are not very careful, cautious and alert, vitiate any real adjudicatory power for the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. I am sure that all people interested in public broadcasting want to see the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal have a real and effective power, with its decisions made in public. That is where the decisions about the allocation of licences should really be made. I would like to see the department limited tightly to simply a technical role. I am worried that these departmental powers might politicise the handling of public broadcasting licences as departmental power has in the past politicised commercial licences. I think that would be a tragedy and a fatal flaw in the high ambitions of the Minister.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to express my appreciation to all honourable members on both sides of the House for what has been one of the most constructive and intelligent debates I can remember on a matter of social policy in this House. I will certainly study the comments made by members on both sides and give them the consideration I think they deserve. I do not want to make offthecuff comments about a number of them because I think some of them have far reaching application. A very important part of my approach is to take these comments away and see whether they are worthy of incorporation at some stage into the system as it evolves.
I say to the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) that to come out with a statement on public broadcasting before one has been able to lay out a statement for the system as a whole is in a sense to put the cart before the horse. This comment was made by the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett). I understand their concern that we have had to put the cart before the horse. There was one overriding constraint and that was that there were a number of stations licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and they run out of time in August this year. Therefore, it was quite crucial that we should set guidelines in this area of public broadcasting and make a considered statement in time for people to be able to apply because, to take up one of the points made by an honourable member who spoke in this debate yesterday, it is of course expected that those who presently have licences and put a great deal- (Quorum formed). Mr Deputy Speaker, before the quorum was called I was indicating that it was necessary to make an urgent statement on public broadcasting because of the licences issued under the Wireless Telegraphy Act which need to be renewed by August this year. I would only add in this area that in some ways it is a good thing, I think, that I, as the Minister newly responsible, have a somewhat greater opportunity to consider the issues before pretending to lay out the statement for the whole of the system in the sort of detail which will enable it reasonably to stand the test of time.
I take very seriously the point made by the honourable member for Lalor about the need for these different elements of the system to be truly complementary so that we do not see the situation develop where emphasis on public broadcasting, and some of its virtues, could lead to the waning of quite crucial present aspects of the national sector or the commercial sector. I think that the honourable member understands my own feelings about that and I probably need not harp on the matter.
Likewise, I understand that concern of the honourable member for Bonython about overlap problems. There are, of course, areas where the systems do over-lap. I also take on board the comment made by the honourable member for Bonython about technical assessments and the need for the government of the day not to be overly conservative about technical matters which of course can strain the system unnecessarily. I think I said in the statement that I saw phase one as being as short as possible and that I hoped we would soon be in the second major phase of the development of public broadcasting.
I think that Australian broadcasting has been greatly aided by recent developments and the decision towards the end of the days of the last Liberal-Country Party Government prior to 1972 to move to FM broadcasting. There was also the licensing of certain public stations throughout Australia under the previous Labor Government. In particular, I mention the commissioning of the report on public broadcasting by the then Minister for the Media, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), which I thought was a good report and which was of great assistance to me in considering the issues involved. So in short, I think this has been a very useful debate. I thank honourable members for their remarks and I look forward to future such occasions.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed from 5 April, on the following paper presented by Mr Peacock: ‘Croatian Embassy’- Ministerial Statement, S April 1978- and on motion by Mr Fife:
That the House take note of the paper.
-The Government has indicated that it will introduce legislation which will have the effect of preventing organisations from pretending that they represent the official embassy or mission of another government in this country. I hope that the debate will not concentrate on any particular ethnic group. The ministerial statement is headed ‘Croatian Embassy’ but really the legislation is designed to deal with general problems. It is not directed at any particular group. It has arisen because in Canberra one particular group of persons has established what it calls a ‘Croatian Embassy’.
I should like to make it quite clear to the House that I have the utmost respect for the Croatian people in general in Australia. They are extremely hard working people. They have contributed a great deal to Australia. I make it quite plain that I have nothing but contempt for those extremists in our community, no matter from where they come, who adopt methods of violence, coercion or oppression which are contrary to our laws and to our way of life. Some years ago I became involved with the Croatian community in Sydney when I was asked to represent a large number of Coatian people who had been subjected to the infamous Murphy raids as they were called. Most of those people were charged with offences which were subsequently dismissed by the courts. From memory, the great majority of those offences were dismissed.
– But they were all New South Wales offences.
– Some were not dismissed. Those persons were, in the main, simply ordinary citizens who had been caught up in the hysteria of the times. They were persons who, by association only, had come under notice. In this country we do not have a charge of ‘guilt by association’. It was a tribute to the magistrates that in cases which were summary offences- and in most cases they were summary offences, because I think the police thought that that was the best way to get a conviction- there were acquittals.
– New South Wales law or Federal law?
Order! I call the honourable member for Prospect to order.
– Bob Askin persecuted them.
– It was well known at the time that the New South Wales State Government had agreed with Commonwealth authorities to assist the Commonwealth in making these raids. The New South Wales police had been made available and the raids were made by State police but they were co-ordinated and conducted under the auspices of the Commonwealth authorities. Many different groups of police from many different parts of the police force were used. The breaking squad was used to set it up in the main and the consorting squad and the vice squad were also used. All the most senior policemen in New South Wales were used. A large number of innocent persons were subjected to dawn raids, to arrest and imprisonment, and, on the figures, the overwhelming majority were found ‘not guilty’.
– They were ‘not guilty’.
– Some of them were found guilty but the overwhelming majority of people arrested during those raids were found not guilty.
– And the others were framed by the New South Wales Police.
– The honourable member for Prospect keeps interjecting. He obviously has some deep-seated prejudice against the Croatian community. For that he must be seriously condemned. He obviously has been talking in broad terms. He is sitting on the other side of the chamber cackling over a matter that is very serious. The oppressions of people, through no fault of their own and no blame of their own, are being outlined in this chamber and all we get from a Labor member is derision and laughter. I consider that this is a shameful way to act in this chamber.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. It is quite clear from my interjections that I was supporting those particular Croatians against the persecution by the New South Wales police force under the Askin Government.
-Order! There is no point of order. I suggest that the honourable member for Prospect cease interjecting. He has been doing so unceasingly. I call the honourable member for St George.
– If the purpose of the honourable member is to play politics and to blame either the State Government or the Federal Government over a matter where the deepest and most important human rights are involved, then I should expect that this House and the nation would certainly reject his approach and would heap shame upon him.
This particular legislation is designed, firstly, to ensure that Australia’s responsibilities under international law to protect the dignity of diplomatic missions are upheld. Secondly, it is designed to further our policies towards the ethnic communities in Australia, and thirdly, to ensure that our relationship with Yugoslavia is maintined on a proper footing. Self-styled embassies which trespass on the sovereignty of recognised members of the international community constitute a provocation to the State whose sovereignty is challenged. Those selfstyled embassies exceed the bounds of legitimate dissent and expose the host country internationally to charges of irresponsibility.
I assume that the Government was aware of indications that other groups in the community might seek to repeat this activity. We could then have had a proliferation of various co-called embassies or missions. Such a proliferation would obviously have lead to severe pressure on the Government from various sources to apply the terms of the international convention which binds Australia. I refer to Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which has the force of law in Australia under which there is an imposed duty on Australia to prevent the impairment of the dignity of a diplomatic mission accredited to this country. It might be asked why there is a need for special legislation. The Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act of 1967 contains articles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations- notably article 22- and gives force of law in Australia to the Convention, but it does not confer on the Government sufficient powers to deal with spurious embassies. Article 22 places a general responsibility on the Government to prevent any impairment of the dignity of the missions but gives no authority for action to be taken to close establishments falsely representing themselves as diplomatic missions. Therefore, specific legislation is required.
The second main consideration relates to the Government’s policy on the ethnic communities in Australia. It has been well said on many occasions that this Government encourages the development of the culture of ethnic groups. The ethnic groups have developed tremendously in a few years. Most, if not all, of the well known ethnic groups in Australia have, in the past few years, developed very significantly within the Australian community. The Government is determined to ensure that there is not a proliferation of the feuds amongst communities that sometimes take place in the countries from which those persons have come. We want to encourage the maximum amount of co-operation and communication within this country of those ethnic persons.
The Australian Government and the Australian people do not object to the free expression of political ideas, but it is offensive to this country if individual persons purport to be representatives of a non-existent foreign state and seek to represent Australian citizens of a specific ethnic origin. As the Minister stated in his speech, the proper representative of Australians of Croatian origin, as of any other origin, is the Australian Government and no other group. The Embassy could only confuse and do a disservice to the Croatian community, which is a community that I have previously praised and will continue to praise. It could confuse people, particularly newly arrived persons from Yugoslavia, and could prejudice relations between Croatians in Australia and Croatians in Yugoslavia.
The third consideration is Australia’s relations with Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia is a most interesting country, as many honourable members would know. There is a considerable degree of autonomy for its States. Indeed, the movement toward decentralistion is commendable in that it has met the aspirations of different groups in that country. The central government realises that people are best able to handle their own affairs at a lower level and the lesser degree of imposition of centralised control has been found to work. I remind honourable senators that to some extent this is the type of policy that the present Australian Government has on federalism. It has a policy of ensuring that decisions are made at a lower level of the community. There is, of course, a difference in that Australia is basically a free country. Yugoslavia, although it is said to be developing human rights programs, is still a communist country. However, it is developing areas of profit sharing and other economic issues. Although there is a degree of autonomy, there is no doubt that Yugoslavia is an entity. It has existed for many years. Its stability in a very unstable world is of great importance internationally. The Australian Government has good relations with Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia is not a member of the Warsaw Pact. Western governments generally see Yugoslavia’s independence and integrity as an important factor for stability in Europe.
The Yugoslavian Government would have a legitimate complaint against an Australian government which did not fulfil its obligations under the Convention and do something about another embassy which purported to be an official embassy. The Yugoslavian Government does not and obviously would not allow Croatian state embassies to proliferate in other countries and the Australian Government does not recognise such an embassy. This situation is different from the situation of the Rhodesia Information Centre. I do not intend to go into that matter in any depth. That is a matter that will yet come before this Parliament. This situation is also different from the situation of the Latvian consulate in Melbourne. That is a different case. In 1931 the Republic of Latvia, with the authorisation of the Australian Government, appointed a consul. The consul continued to exercise his functions following the subjugation of the independent Republic of Latvia in 1 940, an event which gave no grounds for any change in respect of Latvian consular representation in Australia. The Australian practice in this regard is the same as that of other Western governments.
It is to the credit of the Government that, although it has clearly stated that it will introduce legislation, it has appealed to the persons running the Croatian Embassy to be reasonable and to close their activities without the need for intervention by the authorities. That is not to say that the legislation will not be brought in. It certainly will be brought in. Let me emphasise that this will be general legislation. It is not aimed at any specific ethnic or community group; it is aimed generally at ensuring that no false representations are made by various groups. I call upon those persons who are running this Croatian Embassy to realise that they have now gone as far as they can go with their public display, that the game is over and that they should peaceably and sensibly close their Embassy and continue to go about their business of assisting, if they wish, the Australian Croatian community by the ordinary activities and ordinary means by which they look after the welfare and the problems of their members in Australia.
We all know that the ethnic communities have difficult problems in Australia. I also appeal to the persons concerned to give away the potential divisive action that their activities could have within the Croatian community in Australia and within those communities that have come from Yugoslavia. The Government is to be commended for its actions. Finally, I make it perfectly plain once again that the Croatian community in Australia is amongst the finest of the communities that have contributed to our national welfare. This Government recognises that point. I am sure that all honourable members recognise it. But we call upon the specific persons running this Embassy to take heed of Australia’s obligations, to close its activities and to allow members of the Croatian community in this country to continue to develop and contribute to the welfare of Australia as a whole.
– Whilst agreeing in principle with the sentiments expressed by the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), I support this move with some reservations. I take up the theme that the honourable member for St George raised. In the few minutes of speaking time I have tonight I would like to place some remarks on the record. The honourable member referred to the bounds of legitimate dissent. I think that we need to be very careful about how we go about stopping people putting up signs or calling themselves anything they care to call themselves in this country. For instance, this country seems to be fostering Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province and so on. It puts up with a thing that calls itself the National Country Party and another that calls itself the Democratic Party which perhaps has no relationship with democracy or anything else.
I remind honourable members that once we start on the path of suppression of what we ordinarily would reckon to be reasonable dissent or reasonable propagation of a point of view we are on the slippery downward path to the final suppression of all sorts of things. I did not intend to speak on this matter in this way until I took note of the events that have occurred in Brisbane over the last few days. People actually have been arrested and charged for singing hymns on Crown land. That is incredible, but it has happened and it is happening continuously. There has been a progressive deterioration of our rights and our tendency to protect our rights. I remind honourable members opposite that I have no sympathy whatsoever with the general political situation of the Croatians and I have no sympathy whatsoever with the Government of Rhodesia, but I have a great deal of reluctance to suppress people circulating whatever views they like. I feel that we should all consider these things together. What does the existence of the Croatian Embassy matter? How far do we have to take the sensitivity of other people’s feelings? What if someone put up a sign called the Queensland Embassy in London, New York or anywhere else? What would we do? Would we care? Of course we would not. Take these things together: The Croatian Embassy, the Rhodesian Information Centre, the Queensland street situation and the Timor radio. We have a very serious diminution of civil liberties in this respect.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to raise a matter that I believe is of considerable importance to the House. It goes to what I regard as the circumstances which constitute a serious diminution in the processes of the Westminster tradition as practiced not merely in this Parliament but in all parliaments which follow this tradition. I refer to a circumstance in which notice of motion is given or any honourable member desires to move a motion which constitutes a no confidence motion in any Minister of the Crown. It is the established procedure in all parliaments operating under the Westminster system that such a matter can be called on immediately at the whim of the Government. But certainly as a matter of practice it is not called on in that way by arrangement; it normally is called on as a matter of urgency usually on the next day of sitting. That is a well established practice. It is a well established procedure which operates in all parliaments.
This is a matter of concern because 1 have discussed it with honourable members who have been in this place for much longer than I have. However, none of them can recall a situation in which a motion which is virtually a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and a former Treasurer couched clearly in terms of no confidence is not merely ignored by the government of the day, but the government of the day, which has the numbers, in my view improperly uses those numbers to prevent any debate at all. That, on any view, constitutes a serious erosion of the prerogatives of this Parliament.
I simply want to say that a motion cast in those terms in my view cannot be moved lightly or wantonly by any member of this House. It is a serious matter, it has to be dealt with seriously and it ought to be resolved by vote of the House. I have asked myself why this Government using its numbers in this House wants to act in that way, a way without any precedent at all. But the situation is much more serious than that. If we look at what has happened we will see that the former Treasurer resigned under circumstances that were quite spectacular. He undertook to the people of Australia that he would as soon as possible make a full public statement in respect of the matter and the place where that statement ought to be made is here in this Parliament. But what has occurred? The statement was made to the Press. The Prime Minister says he is satisfied with that and from that day there has been no statement to this Parliament. Questions on this issue asked from this side of the House have not been answered.
I want to say, having looked very closely at the statement and comparing what the former Treasurer says to the Press with the facts as I believe them to be from my observations, that of course there is no penalty attaching to any Minister of the Crown who wants to say anything he likes to the Press, who wants to lie to the Press. But there is very considerable penalty attaching to any Minister of the Crown once he stands up in this Parliament and gives an explanation and is bound by the due processes of that Parliament. This is what should happen if this Government has not thrown out the door the principle that Ministers should tell the truth and give a full and frank account. That has not occurred.
It is one thing for the Prime Minister and the former Treasurer to run scared on this issue. It is another thing completely that they use their numbers to adopt procedures which are a disgrace to this Parliament. If such procedures were adopted by any local council an inquiry would be instigated by the appropriate State Minister for
Local Government. It is one thing for the government of the day to have the numbers. But in my view it is a matter of the deepest concern if that government uses its numbers to prevent a debate where it is frightened that the facts will emerge. The Government is frightened that the Prime Minister and the former Treasurer will be exposed for statements they have made to the Press which are mendacious and cannot stand the light of examination. That is bad enough. But their use of numbers to prevent any debate at all in this Parliament involves a gross abuse of the forms and procedures of this House. I protest it and all members of the Opposition protest it.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-We have just heard one of the most impassioned speeches made by any member of the Opposition in this Parliament. I should say to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) that really and truly none of us is losing any great amount of sleep over the fact that he is terribly disturbed that the Government did not see fit to take up his motion this morning. I realise that the honourable member would not be very well acquainted with the situation in which he raises a matter which he believes to be important to the Parliament and the government of the day does not suddenly leap out of its seat, accept the proposition he puts forward and see that it is debated there and then. But I gather that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports does not exactly carry the weight in this Parliament that he carried or sought to carry in the Parliament from which he came.
– He was a dead weight.
– The honourable member is ungenerous enough to say he was a dead weight. I believe the honourable member for Melbourne Ports made an extremely important contribution to the Parliament of which he was previously a member. If my observation is correct it was he almost alone who kept the Liberal Government in power for some 15 years in that Parliament in which he played such an auspicious role. The fact is that the honourable member cannot seriously expect to come into this House as nothing more than a relatively insignificant backbencher and suddenly think that for no good reason the government of the day will take up every matter he wishes to discuss in the House, take it off the Notice Paper out of order and suddenly call upon it to be debated.
Of course, the honourable member overlooked the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr
Malcolm Fraser), and the Minister to whom he referred have made very full and substantial statements to the Parliament in regard to the matter he raised. In fact I would even go so far as to point out to members of the Opposition who are singing like a lot of canaries at the moment that the matter raised by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports was a substantial element in the last election campaign. I can recall going around the electorate of La Trobe during the 1977 election campaign and seeing posters put up on windows and other obscure places alluding to the particular matter that the honourable member seeks to raise in this House. This matter was an extremely important element in the Labor Party’s campaign during the December election. In the electorate of La Trobe it was probably one of the more substantial issues upon which the Labor Party u” d its campaign. The area had been so well represented that the Labor Party had no other matter on which to rest its case.
The fact is that the Opposition gave tremendous weight to this particular matter. It is also a fact that the Opposition got the greatest mother and father of a hiding it has ever had in a Federal election save the one in 1975. Therefore we on this side of the House are not really all that disturbed if the honourable member for Melbourne Ports is out of sorts as a consequence of the fact that the Government did not take up his motion this morning. If this matter had been raised by a front bench member of the Opposition or indeed by a member as notable as the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) maybe the situation would have been different. When matters of such eminence are raised by Opposition spokesmen the Government will look upon them with the regard that should be accorded to them. However, when the honourable member for Melbourne Ports raises these extraordinary matters in the House and particularly when he gets up and shouts at us for interminable periods advocating a particular cause, all I can say is that we on this side of the House think that there are more important questions for this Parliament to be discussing and more important matters that should be the everyday business of this Parliament and of this Govenment. So long as we are elected to government we will see that the business of this Parliament is concerned with specific issues that are of the greatest relevance to the people whom we represent. If it so happens that the honourable member for Melbourne Ports cannot identify with those issues we feel sorry for him.
– I understand that the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) who has just spoken belongs to the Melbourne business establishment. It is no wonder that capitalism is on the verge of collapse. He has been in the House for 2Vi years and is yet to make a contribution which has been noted by this House. He must be the original lightweight in a pack of lightweights. I want to mention, in my role as spokesman on sport for the Opposition, two incidents, both of which have occurred in Melbourne over the last couple of weeks. One concerns a soccer match -
– What do you know about Melbourne? You do not know where it is.
-I know that if it is where the honourable member for La Trobe comes from it is a good place to stay out of. The first incident occurred last Sunday at a soccer match between Fitzroy and West Adelaide. A referee was attacked by a crowd of some dozens of people after he had allowed the match to go on for a couple of minutes past full-time. The Melbourne Sun states that he was punched several times on the head and body before collapsing to the ground where he was repeatedly kicked. After he had been taken to a dressing room five spectators burst through the door of the room. He was king hit and finished up with a broken jaw. I am not really surprised that the honourable member for La Trobe is giggling about this sort of thing, because he spends most of his time in this House giggling inanely like an idiot. I am sure that he will explain to his electors in La Trobe that he approves of the punching of referees. We will see what they have to say about it.
I asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) to come into the chamber tonight. I do not know whether he cares to comment on this matter which I think is something that ought to be stamped out of Australian sport immediately. I notice that there is the possibility that a heavy fine of possibly $1,000 will be imposed on one of the clubs. I suggest to the soccer association in Victoria and to the Australian Soccer Association that we do not want to see this sort of incident in Australian sport. Ideally what ought to happen is that the teams be warned that if this type of thing happens in the future they will be kicked out of football altogether. That is one way to deal with it- just tell them they are no longer in the soccer league.
The other matter I wanted to raise also concerning sport is the battle going on in Victoria over Sunday football. I find it quite staggering that a government decides what sport will be played in a city or in a State on Sunday. It is not as though the Victorian Government is saying that sport cannot be played on Sunday because quite an amount of sport can be played on that day. In fact, the soccer match to which I was referring was played on a Sunday and other soccer matches and Australian Rules matches are played on Sundays.
– Is this a Federal matter?
– No. It is not a Federal matter but it concerns me in my position as Opposition spokesman on sport. It is a matter of some concern. I think it is outrageous that a government should try to determine what sport can be played in a State on Sundays. I think it is an infringement of the civil liberties of Victorians that they should be told what sport can be played in that State on Sunday. Frankly, I do not know why they take any notice of the State Government. I would have thought that if the State Government allows other sports, such as Victorian Football Association matches and soccer matches, to be played on Sundays the thing to do would be to go ahead and play other football matches and see what happens. I suggest that the Victorian Government would do absolutely nothing about it. I think it is an outrageous infringement of people ‘s civil liberties and is something that ought to be condemned by this House and the Victorian Parliament.
– I want to speak tonight on two matters concerning Tasmanian employment and the need for protection of a Tasmanian industry which, if it goes to the wall, will add 1,000 people to the list of unemployed in my State. I refer to the timber industry which has been the third most significant primary industry in Tasmania for many years. I do not believe that any honourable member on either side of the House wants to see the Tasmanian timber industry go to the wall. I do not believe that any honourable member on either side of the House wants to see 1,000 people added to the list of unemployed in my State of Tasmania. I feel compelled to speak out even though this matter is presently before the Industries Assistance Commission because a decision adverse to Tasmania on the question of tariff duty for dressed timber imports could have such a dramatic and devastating effect that any member of parliament who failed to speak up and at least bring his views to the attention of the LAC and the Parliament would be failing in his duty.
I speak on this matter with the support of my Tasmanian colleagues. We have been concerned over a period about what is happening to the timber industry and the threat not only to the Tasmanian timber industry but also to the Australian timber industry as a result of increases in imports of dressed timber and of the likelihood of a reduction in tariff duty. The present situation is that the tariff duty payable on dressed timber imports which come into this country is 22.5 per cent. Submissions have been put to the IAC that that tariff should be reduced to 15 per cent. I contend not merely that it should be not reduced but that it should be increased to 50 per cent. I put that submission to the House with the support of the Tasmanian Timber Association and all other Liberal members from Tasmania in both this House and the Senate.
– I am glad you qualified it.
– Honourable members opposite ought to listen to the facts before they condemn out of hand a suggestion that the tariff ought to be increased, as I am suggesting, by more than 200 per cent. Four years ago the value of imported mouldings from Malaysia and the Philippines was $300,000 a year. This year it has risen to $4m and Tasmanian business is down 80 per cent because of those imports. In other words, as a direct result of increased imports of timber mouldings from Malaysia and the Philippines, Tasmania has lost 80 per cent of its business over the last four years. Only one week ago we saw in the electorate of Braddon, which is so ably represented by my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom), the closure of a timber business employing some 60 persons. Indirectly, the number of people affected by this closure would be well over 100. I speak with some little authority on this matter. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) would know–
– After all, you are a log.
– What a stupid, facetious, idiotic, twit-like comment from somebody who pretends to be concerned about unemployment. I am talking about saving 1,000 jobs and the best that the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) can do is come in here tonight and lairise in an impromptu speech about soccer and Sunday football. I think that 1,000 jobs are more important to this Parliament than any of his interjections and as far as I am concerned, I will speak whenever I believe that jobs in Tasmania are involved. I very much regret that the honourable member chose to make such a smart alec comment on this occasion. He is capable of doing much better things in this Parliament. Of course, his attitude is typical of the attitude of the Australian Labor Party to Tasmania, that is, do not give a damn about Tasmania except at election time and do not give a damn about how many Tasmanians lose their jobs. That attitude is the reason the Labor Party lost five Tasmanian seats in 1975, five Tasmanian seats in 1977 and will lose five Tasmanian seats at every election until the year 2000. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sorry that I digressed but that inane sort of interjection is typical of the Labor Party’s completely callous attitude to the employment situation in Tasmania.
As a matter of interest, the honourable member for Robertson might like to know that I am supporting, with one qualification, a submission put by the State Labor Government of Tasmania to the Industries Assistance Commission last week. It said that the tariff should be increased to 25 per cent; I say, and the Tasmanian Timber Association and my colleagues say, it ought to be increased to 50 per cent in order to protect jobs and to give an opportunity for the sort of recovery in the timber industry referred to in the Callaghan report. I do not believe that that report has been read by a single member of the Australian Labor Party. It puts forward the proposition that we can get back to full employment in our State.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable members ‘s time has expired.
-I rise in support of the honourable member for Melbourne Pons (Mr Holding) over the question of the motion of censure of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the former Treasurer, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch). I believe that the remarks of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) were simply not worthy of him, or perhaps, after due reflection, they were worthy of him. I believe that it is an affront to the Parliament to leave unresolved on the Notice Paper a censure motion against two most senior Ministers. The question of confidence is a question which needs to be tested.
– At the ballot box.
-It is tested not only at the ballot box. If it were to be tested at the ballot box we would have an election not every 18 months, as we have been having in the last five years in Australia, but every week. The point is that between election times the Westminster system suggests that whether a government deserves to govern is, normally speaking, except when a Labor government is in, left to the determination of the lower House of the Parliament. Therefore, if the Government does not like the motion it should use its numbers to remove it. It should not just leave it on the Notice Paper and say: ‘Yes, we know that there is more than a suspicion of impropriety, more than a suspicion of reprehensible conduct; what we intend to do is just ignore it and sidestep it’. I believe that there is a very powerful prima facie case and that it is utterly contemptuous of this Parliament to leave that case unresolved. I note that when the right honourable Minister, then the Treasurer, was forced to walk the plank by his loving leader during the course of the Federal election the Prime Minister wrote to him in these words:
In a quieter non-election atmosphere I believe these matters can be properly resolved to meet this objective in a manner satisfactory to me as Prime Minister and to my commitment to the Australian public and which will enable your return to the Ministry as Treasurer.
In other words he was saying: ‘You give me all the facts and if you satisfy me with all the facts you will be reinstated as Treasurer. ‘ But the Minister is not the Treasurer. Even the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) knows that. So there was something. That means either that, with the loyalty to his associates that so endears the Prime Minister to us all, the Prime Minister changed his mind or the Prime Minister did to the right honourable Phillip Lynch what the right honourable Phillip Lynch did to Sir Billy Snedden at an earlier time of Liberal Party history. We would like to know why that statement that presaged the return of the right honourable member for Flinders as Treasurer was repudiated.
– I would rather not know.
-I can understand the attitude of the honourable member for Hindmarsh, a saintly old parliamentarian in his last term in the Parliament who wants to go out with his idealism unshattered and untarnished. What he does not want is to realise the kind of bucket that can be dropped in this Parliament by finding out exactly what was in that 30-page document that the right honourable member for Flinders submitted to his leader. We know what the Australian Financial Review remarked on 19 December in an editorial headed: ‘Sanitised Lynch document is not good enough ‘. It states: . . . it is not even the original Lynch document of 30 pages plus 20 pages of attachments sent to the Prime Minister. It is a sanitised version specially prepared by accountants, lawyers and Liberal backbenchers, which excludes the detailed argument of the Lynch case and the fact that Mr Lynch, before the lands affairs blew up, set forth in letters to the Prime Minister what he saw as the parameters of ministerial public disclosure.
Mr Lynch was prepared to live with his full version being published, but Mr Fraser apparently was not.
We have never had a disclosure in this House. We do not know what was in the document. If this is a responsible parliament, if this Parliament is to adjudicate on the matter of confidence, we ought to see the papers.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am afraid the previous speaker, the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones), did not pick a box with me, but never mind.
– Was that a joke?
-No, not really. It is meant to to be a light hearted remark.
-Order! The honourable member will address the Chair.
– Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have a very serious matter to speak about and I am pleased to see that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife) is at the table. He is a very good Minister. He has a difficult problem in trying to restructure pricing within the oil industry and in this task he deserves the assistance of everybody in the House. On both sides I think there is an appreciation of what the ordinary service station proprietor in Australia does. There are some 16,000 of them working every day to provide service to everybody. Just because they wear overalls, and have grease on their hands sometimes, people think that they are not as important as some of the people in the other strata of business people that we deal with. But to my way of thinking they serve a useful purpose, a great purpose, by providing the assistance that one requires for the running of a motor car. Some people consider their car far above their house, and sometimes, unfortunately, far above their wife.
The 16,000 service station proprietors in Australia may each employ two or three people. They require the moral support of everybody in this Parliament. But unfortunately oil companies forget that these 16,000 proprietors mean something to the economy of Australia and are human beings trying to make a living in this difficult economic situation. For that very reason the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs is charged with the grave responsibility of trying, in the best interests of this Parliament and of all
Australians to restructure the industry so that once again there is fairness in the marketing of petroleum products in Australia.
Some people in Tasmania have said that I have intervened in the oil industry to try to bring down the prices. The oil companies have grasped hold of the idea that they can create a devious situation by saying to some dealers: ‘If you discount we will give you a kick-back so that you can create a chaotic situation where one dealer cannot compete against the other’. This is just an example of what is occurring all over Australia where we have a disparity in the price of petrol. Ordinary human beings are thrown to the wolves, unfortunately, by some of the large multinational companies in Australia. It is shameful and it is something of which we should be aware.
Tasmania has had stable marketing for many years. It has had a secure roster system and each person who is involved in the industry has been able to make a fair and just living. Service station proprietors have been able to employ people in a fair and just way. They have been able to give the public of Tasmania a respectable service, something that is sometimes forgotten by cut price petrol dealers. Over the last few years the oil companies have decentralised. They have moved all their management and key personnel out of Tasmania. They have left it as a shell- I mean that not as a faux pas. Now they have realised that the eyes of Australia are on Tasmania. We are saying that they are charging too much for petrol. So to overcome that shameful situation they are trying to create a chaotic marketing condition in which they throw one man against the other. The oil companies could go to my good friend along the aisle and say to him: ‘We will give you petrol at X amount less than the wholesale price and you discount to create the volume’. They do not care about the other poor devil on the corner. They do this unjustly–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! It being 1 1 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 3 p.m. or such time thereafter as Mr Speaker may take the chair.
House adjourned at 1 1 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: ( 1 (2), (3) and (7) Expenditure incurred on advertising in:
asked the Minister for Environment. Housing and Community Development, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
am asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 February 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: ( 1 ), (2) and (3 ) The honourable gentleman was present at the luncheon and could no doubt recall what was said. There are no current plans for South African members of parliament to visit Australia.
am asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 February 1 978:
Between what dates did Mr Keith Compton Gale provide assistance to the Liberal Party in the preparation of Industrial Relations Policy (Hansard, 1 6 August 1 977, page 290 ).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have nothing to add to my previous answer on thissubject.
am asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
To which International Maritime Consultative Organisation conventions, International Labour Organisation maritime conventions and Brussels conventions has Australia become a Contracting State since he presented on 18 November 1976 a report on the working and administration of the Department of Transport for the year 1975-76 (Hansard, 24 August 1976, page 517, 6 October 1976, page 1605 and 24 February 1977, page 508).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Since 18 November, 1976, the only convention falling within the categories mentioned to which Australia has become a contracting party is the Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organisation (INMARSAT).
am asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
What arrangements have been or are being made (a) to establish seabed boundaries and (b) to determine off-shore petroleum exploration permits between Australia and Timor following his announcement on 20 January 1978 that the Government had decided to accept East Timor as part of Indonesia. (Hansard, 26 October 1972, page 3380 and 1 December 1976, page 3094).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Draft Constitution for a World Parliament (Question No. 186)
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– 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:
It became apparent soon after the Budget was brought down that the deficit for the year would be considerably greater than that budgeted for. The most important contributing factor here was the likelihood that the increase in average weekly earnings would fall well short of the 22 per cent assumed for purposes of estimating pay-as-you-earn income tax receipts from this source.
On the outlays side too, though to a lesser extent, there were indications that expenditures on some activities would exceed the Budget estimates and increase the likely deficit. In particular, expenditure on unemployment benefits was running at much higher levels than had been allowed for in the estimates.
Against this background the outlook by mid-year was for an overall deficit of $4,500m or higher.
The fact that this outcome did not eventuate was due partly to the fact that company tax and other individuals (non-PAYE) income tax receipts turned out to be higher than had been estimated but, more particularly, to the immediate and successive steps taken by the incoming Government to restrain growth in outlays
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 1 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to the answer provided by the Prime Minister to Senate Question No. 1 1 16 (Senate Hansard, 9 November 1977, pages 2397-8).
Department of Social Security: Expenditure on Travel and Subsistence (Question No. 260)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 1 March 1978:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 2 March 1978:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
The Government has also decided that the Income Tax Assessment Act should be amended so that all benefits received under the scheme would not be counted as income when determining the amount of entitlement for Tax Zone A or B allowances.
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 2 March 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Australia is a party to all the major treaties which deal with different facets of terrorism. These are the 1963 Tokyo Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts committed on Board Aircraft; the 1 970 Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft; the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation; and the 1 973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons Including Diplomatic Agents.
We have also supported the International Atomic Energy Agency proposal for a convention requiring States to take strong action against any crime including terrorist activity, involving nuclear materials or facilities. We are aware of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism to which the Report on the Middle East of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence refers. The Convention, however, is only open to accession by member States of the Council of Europe.
Australia has been very active in recent United Nations debates on terrorism. We were one of the early co-sponsors of a Resolution on the Safety of International Civil Aviation (Res. 32/8) which, among other things, appealed to States which had not become Parties to the Tokyo, Hague and Montreal Conventions to do so. In the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly Australia has supported the Federal Republic of Germany’s proposal for a draft Convention
Against the Taking of Hostages. We co-sponsored at the 3 1 st session of the General Assembly the Resolution setting up an Ad Hoc Committee to examine the German proposal.
At the regional level, Heads of Government attending the Commonwealth Regional Meeting in Sydney from 13 to 16 February, agreed to explore ways in which their respective countries could enlarge collaboration, both regionally and internationally, in combating terrorism. We were pleased with the decision to establish an ad hoc working group to pursue such efforts.
I appreciate the honourable member’s concern with the growing problem of international terrorism and wish to assure him that Australia will continue to give full support to all constructive measures to curb it.
asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice, on 7 March 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 8 March 1 978:
What sum was paid by his Department, or by Departments formerly encompassing the functions now performed by his Department, to each airline for air travel within Australia during 1976-77.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Department of Trade and Resources was created on 20 December 1977. The figures provided below refer to expenditure incurred by the former Department of Overseas Trade.
TAA, $90,920; Ansett Airlines, $42,455; MacRobertson Miller Airlines, $3,608; East- West Airlines, $453; Airlines of NSW, $221.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 8 March 1978:
What sum was paid by the Department of Education, or by Departments formerly encompassing the functions now performed by the Department of Education, to each airline for air travel within Australia during 1 976-77.
– The Minister for Education has provided the following reply to the honourable member’s question:
Payments in 1976-77, as shown in the accounting records of my Departments, for air travel within Australia to airline companies which have been issued airline licences under the Air Navigation Act, are set out below. The amounts do not include payments made to air charter operators or to those charter companies who have been granted exemption from the provisions of Air Navigation Regulation 203 to enable them to operate scheduled air services.
The figures are provided for my Department, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Schools Commission, the Commonwealth Teaching Service, the Curriculum Development Centre and the ACT Schools Authority.
TAA, $1,119,148.97; Ansett, $930,071.84; Airlines of NSW, $8,547.00; East-West, $6,736.70; Airlines SA, $739.46; MMA, $99,589.72; Connair, $99,700.00.
asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice, on 8 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 8 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1)1 have seen press reports that Liao Cheng-chin in an address to a meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Peking on 28 February 1 978 said: ‘The United States must sever its so-called diplomatic relations with the Chiang
Clique, withdraw all its armed forces and military installations from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits area and abrogate its so-called mutual defence treaty with the Chiang Clique’. (2), (3) and (3) Australia on 21 December 1972 recognised the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China and acknowledged the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China. This was accepted by the Chinese Government and remains the position of the Australian Government.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 9 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) The following arrangements presently apply between the Australian Wheat Board and the various State bulk handling authorities concerning:
a hiring charge.
Queensland- Other grains and seeds are charged a rate per tonne (based on historical value and throughput figures) to cover capital, operating costs, etc. The revenue earned is deducted from the total costs of the State Wheat Board, with the balance being the charge against wheat.
New South Wales- Basically the same as Queensland.
Victoria- Basically the same as Queensland.
South Australia-The Australian Barley Board has erected its own storages in barley producing areas. When wheat storages are used there is an arrangement whereby a charge per tonne is levied by the State built handling authority and credited against the costs applicable to wheat.
Western Australia-Total costs for the handling and storage of grain are divided by the weighted tonnage of each grain handled.
There is presently a significant variation in handling and storage costs from State to State, which is disguised by the
Australia-wide pooling of those costs. The new basis would provide more directly to growers information about the cost of their own State’s bulk handling system. They would therefore be able to ensure that there is greater accountability for the operation of the system and the erection of storages, having due regard to the criteria both of cost and efficiency.
A disadvantage of the new basis could be that in a year of low production in a State a grower, for that reason, would face a higher per unit charge for handling and storage than would apply with a national pooling arrangement, which tends to dampen the effect of seasonal variations in throughput within a State. This problem is recognised and consideration is being given to ways of mitigating it.
Enrolments in Universities and Colleges of Advanced Education (Question No. 628)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 14 March 1978:
What was the enrolment of (a) each Australian university and (b) each Australian college of advanced education in each year since 1972.
– The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 14 March 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Under the Urban Public Transport Agreement $8,067 was provided to Western Australia as two-thirds of the cost of a bus-only lane at the northern end of Adelaide Terrace to give buses priority access to the Causeway roundabout. This measure has facilitated bus travel time savings of up to 8 minutes.
A further bus lane is under construction in Sydney from Darlinghurst to Randwick at an estimated cost of $320,000 of which the Commonwealth will provide two-thirds under the Urban Public Transport Agreement.
Bus priority treatment for Brisbane Bus priority investigations for Western Corridor in Brisbane
Bus priority lanes in Melbourne Bus operation study in Adelaide Bus priority at isolated signals and signal systems in Sydney
Bus priority lanes signalling systems in Melbourne Bus priority traffic management measures in Perth.
Further details of these studies are set out in The Transport (Planning and Research) Act 1974 Report of Progress to 30 June 1977 recently tabled.
Compensation for Incapacity resulting from Recreational Activity (Question No. 679)
am asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice, on 15 March 1978:
Have there been consultations with the State departments of sport and recreation concerning the proposal in the report of the National Committee of Inquiry on Compensation and Rehabilitation in Australia, tabled on 10 July 1974, that persons incapacitated as the result of recreational activity should be supported by the National Rehabilitation and Compensation Scheme; if so, on what occasions and at what levels have there been consultations, and what has been the outcome of the consultations.
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows:
There have been no consultations, at any level, between the Commonwealth Department responsible for sport and recreation and Sport and Recreation Departments in the States on the matter of compensation for persons incapacitated as the result of recreational activity.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 April 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780411_reps_31_hor108/>.