31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
The CLERK- Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That Item 6469 of the standard Medical Benefits Table is the means by which payment is made for the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every year.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Item 6469 is removed from the standard Medical Benefits Table.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony, Mr Falconer and Mr Dobie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. A petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That withdrawal of government benefits under schedule 6469 for first trimester abortion would discriminate against and disadvantage the least privileged in our society.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, should:
Under no circumstances withdraw government benefit under schedule 6469 for first trimester abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances.
The continuance of the mean’s test on pensions causes undue hardship of them.
We call on the Government to immediately abolish the means ‘s test on all Aged Pensions.
To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that All Australian Citizens will retire with dignity.
Acknowledge that a pension is a: ‘right and not a charity’. by Mr Dawkins.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
We mothers of Penrith and the outer Western Suburbs feel most vehemently that a childrens hospital should be established within this area, operating on the same principles as Royal Alexandria Hospital, Camperdown, allowing mothers to remain with their children for the duration of their hospitalisation. If a childrens hospital were not feasible then we would submit that Nepean Hospital should be extended to provide these facilities.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
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 the 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 the 30 June 1 977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 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 the dwelling.
Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the existence of a system of double taxation of personal incomes whereby both the Australian Government and State Governments had the power to vary personal income taxes would mean that taxpayers who worked in more than one State in any year would:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that a system of double taxation on personal incomes be not introduced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the citizens of Australia totally reject communism and call upon the Government to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Shipton.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Maryborough, Victoria, respectfully showeth: that money spent on armaments could better be spent on food and health programs in third world countries; on education and the eradication of illiteracy and poverty; that Australia should support complete world disarmament at the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Disarmament;
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Short.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the township of Warburton in the electorate of McMillan respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia per medium of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications give all directions to ensure the installation of all equipment necessary to install CTAS or such other means to produce television viewing for the citizens of Warburton.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned residents of Mossman Gorge Mission Portions 1 1 and 67 Parish of Victory, County of Solander a Reserve set aside for the benefit of aboriginal inhabitants of the State- respectfully showeth:
That in making the Declaration (4 above) the Minister also takes necessary steps and actions to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Viner.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state’.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government initiate a national family policy and use the concept of family impact statements as a means highlighting family needs.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Wilson.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) left Australia yesterday for discussions with the United Nations in Europe. He is expected to return to Australia on 22 June. During his absence the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will act as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the House censures the Prime Minister for failing to require consistent standards of proper conduct from his Ministers; his complete reluctance to defend his Government’s policies in debate in the House; his failure to properly discharge his responsibilities to the House; his interference in matters of public administration which should have been administered impartially; his lowering of public esteem of the office of Governor-General; his extravagant self indulgence in the matter of his personal overseas travel; and his erratic and undesirable style of personal control over the Government.
- Mr Speaker, I suggest that the proposed motion be dealt with now.
– I seek leave of the House to move a motion to enable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) to move forwith the motion of censure of the Prime Minister of which he has given notice for the next sitting.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving forthwith the motion of censure of the Prime Minister of which he has given notice for the next sitting.
– I move:
The House censures the Prime Minister for failing to require consistent standards of proper conduct from his Ministers; his complete reluctance to defend his Government’s policies in debate in the House; his failure to properly discharge his responsibilities to the House; his interference in matters of public administration which should have been administered impartially; his lowering of public esteem of the office of Governor-General; his extravagant selfindulgence in the matter of his personal overseas travel; and his erratic and undesirable style of personal control over the Government.
The first session of the Thirty-first Australian Parliament is now drawing to a close. In 48 hours the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will take his carpetbag, and his caravan of personal staff and officials, and depart for overseas. It will be his eleventh trip abroad in 27 months. It is the Prime Minister’s only record of achievement that grows more impressive with the passage of time. Eleven weeks ago, on 9 March when this House was debating the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech I said, frankly and openly, that we on this side of the House did not trust this Government; that we did not trust this Prime Minister. Our distrust has not been misplaced. This Government cannot be trusted. The man who leads it cannot be trusted. Events in the intervening weeks since I first put our distrust on the public record sustain our conviction. Today I go further. This Government is not merely one that cannot be trusted. It is dishonest -dishonest in the sense that it proclaims the highest standards, mouths the highest ideals. In truth, it revels in deception and misrepresentation. It embraces the lowest standards of conduct. It is a government of dishonesty, of deceit, of arrogance and hypocrisy, of double standards and insensitivity, of posturing toadies. It is a Government of lies; of little lies and big lies and, most often, stupid lies. If truth were hard cash this Government would live in rags and the Prime Minister die a pauper.
The Government’s record speaks for itself. In 1975, after manipulating the big lie to gain power, the Prime Minister promised a government of responsibility and integrity. He spoke of probity, of sound and honest management, of proper standards in public life. He pledged to switch on the lights for all Australians. The reality makes an obscenity of the rhetoric. The Prime Minister is determined to keep us all in the dark. He campaigns against so-called public waste and extravagance and at the same time he indulges, at public expense, in private privilege and a sure sense of the trappings of office. In the midst of a worsening recession and the highest unemployment in 40 years the Prime Minister finds nothing incongruous in spending $250,000 of public funds on renovating his official residence, another $20m in buying and refitting two VIP jet aircraft for his personal use on overseas travels, or taking a retinue of some 20 personal staff and official advisers on his wanderings abroad. The expense might well be justified in more normal circumstances. It cannot be justified in the current economic climate. That the Prime Minister cannot or will not understand this is symptomatic of the distorted sense of values and public morality that pervades his Administration.
There is one standard for the Government and its sectional interests and another for the rest of the community. It exemplifies the Prime Minister’s conduct. He orally endorses the proper conventions, the correct standards of public behaviour, whilst in practice he flouts them all when it suits his political ambitions or his personal whims. He preaches national unity and public austerity, yet he pursues a code of political conduct and a ministerial lifestyle that is as divisive and destructive of the national will on the one hand as it is extravagant of the public purse on the other. When confronted with the evidence of these double standards, with the wilful damage he is causing the Australian community, the Prime Minister simply dismisses them, denies them. His facility to blandly ignore, or not see, what is going on around him is monumental. So is his intolerance of criticism. To challenge Government policy, however substantial the argument, or to question Prime Ministerial pronouncements, is tantamount to attacking motherhood. Dissent, in the vocabulary of the right honourable gentleman, is a dirty word.
Mr Speaker, we have all seen the lengths to which the Prime Minister will go to avoid public scrutiny of his policies and his conduct; the extremes he will adopt to seek to evade accountability. Question Time in the House has become a joke. It is not a forum for the explanation of policy. It is a contest between Ministers to see how little information they can give in the most verbose fashion possible.
The Prime Minister’s public dealings with the media are no better. These are not opportunities for public examination. Either they are conducted over the telephone to the senior management of the country’s newspapers or they are contrived, manipulated exercises in the privacy of the Prime Minister’s office.
The Press Gallery cannot recall when the Prime Minister last called a general Press conference. The reason, of course, that Press conferences are forbidden is that the Prime Minister will not submit himself to public scrutiny. He will not answer questions. To avoid answers he avoids questions. To avoid questions he avoids allowing opportunities at which questions can be asked.
The same strategy is applied to the Parliament. Questions are ignored. Debates are dismissed as of no consequence. Parliament, to the Prime Minister, is an irritant that is barely tolerated. The Opposition can well understand why the Prime Minister operates a closed Government. He has much to hide; much to be evasive about. In the past two and a half years three Ministers have resigned, one has been sacked, one has been suspended, one is the centre of an inquiry involving the operations of two family companies and alleged misappropriation of some $250,000, another has impaled himself on the public admission that he might have lied to the Parliament, while yet another has lost clear and obvious control of his Department.
This has been an incredible parliamentary session. It seems almost that no week has gone by in which some new scandal, some further excess in ministerial impropriety, has not surfaced. The Prime Minister has discovered it is much simpler to make lofty assertions about integrity and proper standards than it is to impose them on his own Cabinet. Six Ministers have been involved in one grubby affair or another of varying degrees. All save one- the unfortunate Senator Sheil- remain in the Ministry. His sin did not involve improper or illegal conduct, but rather an embarrassing personal trait; he could not hold his tongue. It is an apt comment on this Government’s standards that a Minister is banished for talking out of turn, while improprieties of much greater significance are excused or rationalised.
There was the case last year involving the business affairs of the then Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr Lynch). Here we saw the Prime Minister act with great determination, not to resolve the case but to get it firmly out of sight on the eve of an election campaign. It was not this Opposition which brought forward these serious questions about the Treasurer. They came from an official inquiry established by the Liberal Government of Victoria. We are still waiting for answers in this Parliament to many of the questions raised by this matter.
Why did a land speculation company offer such an extraordinarily generous deal to the Lynch family trust, a deal which covered the cost of the trust’s investment after only the first stage of a three-stage program? What was the final profit to the Lynch trust from its involvement in these land deals? On the facts available, that profit would appear to be of the order of 500 per cent. Why does the sparse documentation available to the people of Australia on these matters reveal so many discrepancies in basic fact? Why is the former Treasurer so reluctant to reveal the nature of his association with Joseph Henry Jones? Under persistent questioning in this House since last October, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party have refused to submit these issues to informed scrutiny. For 7 months we have been asked to accept the Prime Minister’s judgment of the case on information he refuses to disclose. The record of this Government and this Prime Minister offer no reason why such an assurance should be accepted on such a basis. Mr Lynch was forced to resign as Treasurer and was denied the opportunity to return to that portfolio.
We are entitled to know why some Ministers are treated differently from others when the propriety of their actions is challenged. Where is the high-toned righteousness the Prime Minister brought to this House in July 1975 when actions of the former Labor Government were in question? Let me remind the House of the words the right honourable member for Wannon used at that time. He said:
If the Prime Minister wants to sack one Minister for one particular act, why does he not sack another who has acted in the same way?
The Prime Minister could be asked the same question concerning the actions of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). Again, it is an example of the convenience of double standards. The results of the 1975 elections were not even complete when the first serious allegations were made against senior members of his Government. The honourable member for Curtin, the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland), then the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, was accused of electoral malpractice. The Minister was forced to resign his portfolio and face those accusations in court. The point of that case was that Liberal Party emmissaries, in the Minister’s presence, offered a bribe to an independent Senate candidate in the hope of securing second preference votes. The ploy did not succeed and the magistrate, after hearing the case against Mr
Garland, ruled that in his opinion a jury would be unlikely- unlikely, mind you- to convict. The magistrate ‘s action remains a subject of dispute amongst eminent legal authorities. The honourable member for Curtin, however, was restored last year to Ministerial office after a respectable absence. He is now the chief instrument of the Prime Minister’s campaign of harassment against the European Economic Community.
Then there was the extraordinary spectacle made of Australia by this Prime Minister over the appointment of an Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Having branded the position a pointless sinecure when it was created by the Whitlam Government, the Prime Minister chose to restore it to respectability within weeks of last year’s elections. To the dismay of even his supporters, the Prime Minister resurrected the post as a pay-off to Sir John Kerr, the GovernorGeneral forced from office because he had become a symbol of division in this nation. The mass media and community spokesmen needed no prompting to arrive at a near-unanimous denunciation of the Prime Minister’s high-handed dismissal of clear public sentiment. The Prime Minister was forced to suffer the final ignominy of Sir John Kerr himself recognising that the position was untenable. There could hardly be a clearer demonstration of his total insensitivity.
The honourable member for Wentworth, Mr Robert Ellicott, was the second law officer of this country, the Solicitor-General, before he entered this Parliament and the Fraser Government. Last year, he resigned as Attorney-General because he could no longer tolerate the steamroller tactics of the Prime Minister in Cabinet. Mr Ellicott resigned on a point of principle- the principle that the Attorney-General has certain statutory responsibilities as first law officer which are his alone. The way in which they are exercised may not be dictated by a Prime Minister and a Cabinet subservient to a Prime Minister. The Government has produced no effective response to the chronicle of events put to this House by the former Attorney-General in his speech of resignation. It has, however, returned the honourable member for Wentworth to the Ministry in the junior portfolio of Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory.
In March last year the then honourable member for Hotham resigned from the ranks of Government supporters and the Liberal Party. He told us in this House that he felt, as one committed to true liberalism, that it would be an act of hypocrisy to stay. He listed his disagreements at length. They included the Liberal Party’s preoccupation with the interests of big business and the intransigence of the Prime Minister on such issues as industrial relations and uranium. In October, there were two more defections: Firstly, the former honourable member for Mackellar, Mr Wentworth, after 28 years as a member of this House and, secondly, the former honourable member for Tangney, whose disillusionment with the Fraser brand of liberalism arrived much quicker. Mr Wentworth subsequently offered us a succinct commentary on the result of last year’s elections. ‘The Government had won’, he said, by successfully dodging the real issues’. ‘The Government’s strategy in covering up was brilliant,’ according to Mr Wentworth. It is still covering up. Dr Richardson offered a widely held backbench view of this Government in action. He said:
In the Party room, members are politely listened to and then the Government does what it wishes. I gain the impression that Cabinet Ministers are listened to and then Mr Fraser does what he wishes. We have come closer in this country to a presidential style of Government than ever before in our history . . .
In recent weeks, honourable members have been treated to the clear revelation that the Minister for Defence has lost control of .his Department, the biggest spending unit of the entire Government and one of critical importance to our international relations and our national security. The facts are now on the public record. Neither the Minister nor the policy areas of the Defence Department was informed, over a period of years, of American proposals to install a new satellite communication system at North West Cape. So much for the reality of joint control of that base. Yet still we have had nothing from the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister to indicate that action is being taken to rectify the obvious faults that led to this fiasco.
Also, there is the matter of the Australian Postal Commission ‘s land purchase at Bundall in Queensland- This issue raises serious questions about the conduct of the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson), formerly Minister for Post and Telecommuncations and, more recently, Minister for Finance. The account given to the House is so riddled with errors and inconsistencies that it can be regarded only as an attempted whitewash. The simple fact is that, on the evidence available, a friend and political supporter of the former Minister made a windfall profit of $40,000 by buying, and immediately reselling, land to the Postal Commission when he had an assurance that the Commission wanted it.
It has not been only the actions of members of the Ministry and the government back bench which call into question this Administration’s standard of behaviour and fitness to hold office. The Prime Minister’s own highly questionable conduct in the IBM /Facom affair brought before the public the standards that apply in this Government when it comes to the cosy arrangement that influential sections of big business have with conservative governments in this country. It is almost beyond belief that a Government could acquire a record like this in a mere 2Vi years. It is hypocrisy on the grand scale for this Government, having acquired such a record, to continue to preach its propriety and rectitude. Yet his record, this continuing self-righteousness and humbug, are totally consistent with the way this Government came to power.
While the Prime Minister intensifies his stranglehold at the centre of power he shows less and less interest in genuinely practising the principles he is so fond of preaching. There seem to be no limits to the Prime Minister’s selfindulgence in the exercise of power and the acquisition of the trappings of power. And, this from a man who, only three years ago, was accusing the previous Government of being controlled by an inner junta. This Government is richly deserving of censure, and those who surround the Prime Minister know it and must know it as well as he does.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion of censure of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), because it goes to the very point of what this Parliament is all about. This is the tenth week of sittings of this Parliament, and throughout the whole of those ten weeks we have been having to raise before the people of the nation the deficiencies of the Prime Minister, particularly, and the Government in general. As has been said by my leader, they really amount to quite a catalogue in a very short space of time. We have the spectacle now of the suggestion that Cabinet submissions of national importance should not be disclosed to this Parliament. I advert immediately to the fact that there is a proposal to reduce tariffs by 40 per cent. The Prime Minister immediately intervened personally and telephoned responsible executives of the Australian Financial Review saying that he did not want any revelation of that matter; because it was in the national interests that it be not revealed. Is it not that typical of the whole affair?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) is overseas at the moment- one would think to debate our cause on the question of disarmament throughout the world. But have we ever had any discussion on disarmament? Not at all. Will the Foreign Minister be allowed to discuss that matter? I suggest not. The Prime Minister has now indicated that he will be handling matters concerning disarmament at international meetings. These are the matters to which the Opposition wishes to refer. We reflect the views of quite a fair segment of the Australian people. Is it not about time the Government faced up to the fact that it should be acting as a complete executive and not as a one-man band? Is it not a fact that the Australian people, who are expecting some confidence, some efficiency and some integrity from the Government, have received nothing at all?
Let us look at the litany of events. If we look at the situation from the point of view of the Government we find that it has a massive majority. The people returned it on the basis that it said it could handle the affairs of Australia so much better; but, as the Leader of the Opposition has noted what a tragic record it already has and in such a very short space of time. We said, and we applaud the fact, that if a government has the mandate of the people, that ought to add to confidence and to unity. But what was the very first action of the Prime Minister? He appointed the former Governor-General to a position in the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. That action divided the nation again. Public opinion polls clearly showed that 70 per cent of Australians deplored that decision. It was a payola proposition, done on the basis of a pay-back for favours previously granted.
We have already had the spectacle of what happened to us in 1975. In 1977 an election was held 12 months before its due time, with no reasons ever given. That is the first time that has ever happened in this nation. That was just the start. Then we had the proposal that the Parliament assemble in about the third week in February. Suddenly we had a special Commonwealth Conference of Ministers, specially arranged a week before. It was stated: ‘It will set the stage for our Prime Minister to perform’. But what really flowed from that we do not know, except the tragedy of the Hilton bomb disaster. Anybody in his right mind would know that the conference should never have been arranged in that area of Sydney. Everybody knows the stupidity that then followed from that disaster, with the military being called out to patrol the highways. To suggest that that was warranted because somebody of importance had a meal at some select residence in Bowral is contrary to the dignity of the Australian nation.
Then we come to some more fundamental matters, such as the IBM Australia Ltd- Facom Australia Ltd proposition. I am told that even at this stage a new tender has not been called for the necessary computer complex. It is a most important matter. We have already had the Crisp report stating how we need better statistics. The evidence shows that our statistics are very weak indeed. I am told that they do not even cover the monthly production index or monthly retail prices, that there is an unreliable import prices index, and other inadequacies of that nature on matters which would be basic to the Department of the Treasury. That information we do not have. No further progress has been made towards getting worthwhile assistance in that regard. Why is that? It is because the Prime Minister again intervened personally to assist a man who thought he was not getting a fair deal because the contract was going to IBM- the company the Prime Minister wanted to get it. Why could that not have been left to the appropriate Minister? Why is it necessary that the Prime Minister always intervenes in these matters in this way, with disastrous results?
Again, we find the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) going overseas, coming back and giving us reports. But it appears clear that he is acting on directions from the Prime Minister. As we have said in the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s announcement from Nareen or somewhere else as to what he thinks has happened in the European Economic Community has embarrassed the special trade negotiators. They did not except this sort of criticism from the Prime Minister, allegedly on the basis that the special trade negotiations’ were being delayed when, in fact, the Prime Minister himself already knew that they were being delayed.
We have had this sort of conduct throughout a mere 10 week period. At present we have the spectacle of a judicial inquiry taking place into what happened in the electoral redistribution in Queensland. We did not raise the matter. The Prime Minister’s own supporters raised it. They said that it was a dishonest distribution. Those were the words used. When we asked for a judicial inquiry on this basis it was denied as not being worthy of investigation. Luckily, the investigation is taking place. It shows a most sinister influence permeating the whole of the bureaucracy. It shows a government able perhaps to influence distribution commissioners.
We had the outstanding disclosure in the Senate last Friday by Senator Withers, the Minister for Administrative Services, who said that he had misled the Parliament. It is important that these matters be brought to book. It is important that these Ministers be removed from their executive responsibility. If this is the situation it is important that we say to this Parliament now: ‘How can the Government continue with a Prime Minister who is so ignorant of the necessities or the rectitudes of what should happen; how can it be a responsible government when the Prime Minister fails to take any action against any of his Ministers?’ We can name three or four Ministers who at the present time are under either judicial review of some other review because of the suggestion that undue influence has been exercised, particularly in relation to the Taxation Department and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). There again we see the suggestion of influence being used.
What I want to say to the Parliament today is this: The Prime Minister should not be going overseas at this time or at any other time in the immediate future. This is his 1 1 th trip in some 30 months. It looks as though Parliament is just a mere exercise of posture. Nothing is being done to restore the confidence of the Australian people. The economy is getting into an even deeper and deeper mess. The level of unemployment is still increasing. Day after day the Opposition asks the Government: ‘Why can’t you do better?’
Let me refer to the Aurukun and Mornington Island problem in which we are anxious to promote the cause of the Aborigines of that region. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) went to Queensland on the basis that he would represent the Commonwealth Government. But as soon as he made representations he was immediately repudiated by his Prime Minister. The Opposition moved an amendment to legislation before the House to define clearly Aboriginal reserves in Queensland. However, the Government said it would not accept that amendment. Having taken this stand the way was immediately left open for the Queensland Government to alter its laws to remove the definition of ‘reserves’. When this was done the Prime Minister said: ‘Oh, well I predicted that that would happen. I foreshadowed that that would happen, but we have another counter-attack in mind’. Where is the counter-attack now?
All that has happened in respect of this disaster is that the Queensland Government has legislated in respect of what is to happen to the Agorigines at Aurukun and Mornington Island.
It is on the Queensland Government’s terms that the future of these unfortunate people will be decided. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs sit back and say: ‘That is too bad. We cannot do any more about it but we are still negotiating. We are still talking to them.’ These are the problems that the Opposition wants to bring to the attention of the Australian people. It is not good enough that this country has a ministry so ignorant of the needs of the people that it can treat this Parliament as a temporary measure. Members of the Ministry appear here for a time, answer a few questions if they want to and then go overseas to discuss what they consider to be the situation.
We have raised some very important matters here in the ten-week period that the Parliament has been sitting. As I say, they go right from the period of Kerr up to the present time. The present problem is the 40 per cent tariff reduction. In answer to a question I asked the Prime Minister on Friday as to what it would really mean if we were to have a 40 per cent tariff reduction, I was told that it is not very significant, that the average tariffs are about 10 per cent and if we take 40 per cent from them we will find over a period of 8 years that it would be about only a half per cent reduction. That is not the true position at all. The true position is that the average tariff protection is as high as 20 per cent and in some special individual cases it could well be about 30 per cent. If we look at this matter from the point of view of a 40 per cent tariff reduction as against that figure we can find over a period of 8 years a reduction in tariffs of some 12 per cent or 15 per cent. This is the Government which talks about confidence in industry and about an investment-led recovery. This sort of suggestion is not raised in the Parliament but is raised in the Cabinet room where a quick decision is made today so that the Prime Minister can gallop off overseas, without telling this Parliament anything, and say: ‘Look, I have a very favourable decision here from my Cabinet. Admittedly the Parliament knows nothing about it, the Australian people know nothing about it, but if I can do this will you give Australia access for agricultural products?’ Is this any way to run an open government?
When we talk about freedom of information legislation, which we have not yet seen, we do so on the basis that the Parliament and the Australian people would be informed about what is happening and the likely effects of decisions being made by our government. The people should have full access to the information and decisions made by a government so they can make further representations and so they can influence the back bench members, as weak as they are, to determine what should be happening in this Government. Of course, if one is on friendly terms with the Prime Minister, if one can telephone him at Nareen or make personal , representations to him by telephone on Christmas Eve, one will get results. However, if it is something that is very important to the national economy we will not hear about it. If it is very important to our foreign affairs policy we will not hear about it either.
The Leader of the Opposition asked: Why is it that this Government has lost so much confidence so quickly? I suggest that it is because of the decisions which have been made within a short period of 10 weeks. Who was responsible for those decisions? I would say it was the Prime Minister and nobody else. His Ministers count for nothing. If they make suggestions, they are overruled. Government policy is the Fraser idea on how to run this country. It is for that reason that the gallup polls clearly show that the majority of Australians do not Favour the Prime Minister’s style of government. How can they? It is a government of incompetence and a government of corruption, when one considers the specific matters outlined by the Leader of the Opposition. If the Government were responsible for the mandate it was given it would have a clear idea where it was heading with the economy. It would have a clear foreign policy that it would be able to espouse. On the subject of foreign policy, we are the only nation to give de facto recognition to the government of East Timor. When asked a question about it in this House the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that he would find out whether any other governments were giving de facto recognition and would write a letter about it. Is this the way to run a responsible government? Is this the way for a government to answer questions which are of major significance to the Australian people?
To summarise this censure motion we can itemise a number of matters. We can commence with the Kerr affair. Then there are the IBMFacom problems, the Aurukun and Mornington Island disaster, the disastrous CHOGRM conference which was held in Sydney, problems generally with trade and who will carry on the trade negotiations, and problems with foreign affairs in particular. The Opposition believes that the Parliament today should at least get some answers. If there was corruption and undue influence in Queensland why has not the responsible Minister been removed from office pending the outcome of the inquiry? If a Minister has misled the Parliament why has he not been removed from office? If disarmament in the world is of such major significance why have we not debated in this Parliament the question of what our stance is on the many matters that affect the disarmament conference? Is it not appropriate that the Minister responsible for that matter ought to be able to arrange such a debate?
We have advice that the Prime Minister is anxious to go to America to address the United Nations and that he is pleading for an invitation from President Carter to meet him. I understand that the President is too busy, but that is not surprising in view of the report he would have got from the Vice-President, Mr Mondale, on what the Vice-President thinks of the Australian Government, the Australian economy, and the personality that has intruded itself into the efficiency of government. If the Prime Minister has discussions with the Vice-President surely he should be able to indicate to him that there is some confidence for the future, and not indicate that he will run a very tight monetary policy and could not care less what happened to unemployment as long as he gets the inflation rate down. That approach is completely contrary to that of the Carter Administration. So the Opposition says to the Australian people today that they should have a quick look at this Government and at the Prime Minister. This Parliament has been sitting for only 10 weeks, yet these are the matters that we already have had to raise. What of the future? This Parliament has already gone one-sixth of the way through its term. What a disaster it will be if the remaining five-sixths of the term reveal the same standard as the first one-sixth has revealed.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden), who opened this debate, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) do neither themselves nor this Parliament any credit whatsoever in what they have said and what they have sought to pursue. Once again, both the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have pursued matters which are not in the mainstream of concern of this nation and they have avoided the main elements of policies which affect the Australian people. They have also done this in terms and in ways which in many cases are completely and utterly false- and they know that they have done so.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition indicated that there had been no major statement on foreign affairs. It is only a short time since the
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) made the best and most forward looking foreign policy statement that this Parliament has ever heard. The honourable gentleman also said that as a result of a number of things it was no wonder that the Australian people and the polls do not like the Government and the style of the Government. Well, I suggest that there is only one poll that counts in any country and that is the one taken on voting day. On the last two occasions the results have been reasonable although there are still too many honourable members in seats on the Opposition side. If we look at the last Morgan gallup poll we find that the Labor Party, under this glorious, scintillating Leader, has a popularity rating of 39 per cent while the Government has a rating of 50 per cent. If the Opposition wants an election on that basis, we could have one and remove a few of the Labor members from this Parliament- and that would be doing a public service to this nation. The result will be the same at the end of the three year term when the next election is due.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, knowing them to be false- unless the Leader of the Opposition keeps secrets from him; and I have no doubt that he might because I have written to the Leader of the Opposition on this mattermade scurrilous accusations about the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) in relation to certain taxation affairs. I shall read a paragraph of a letter from Mr W. J. O’Reilly, Commissioner of Taxation, and then seek leave to incorporate the letter in Hansard. The paragraph reads:
As you know, the Minister has taken these matters up with my office. They are not all yet finally resolved and how they will be resolved is a matter between the companies and myself. I therefore agree with the views you have expressed in your letter. If it is necessary to say it, I add that the Minister has not sought to use his personal position to influence official decisions. These have been, and will be, made according to the law as applicable to the established facts.
Mr Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate that letter from the Commissioner of Taxation in relation to those matters.
The letter read as follows-
26 May 1978
In your letter of 26 May 1978 you wrote about the resolution of certain tax matters concerning some companies with which the Minster for Primary Industry is associated and comment about this that you have received from the Leader of the Opposition.
As you know, the Minister had taken these matters up with my office. They are not all yet finally resolved and how they will be resolved is a matter between the companies and myself. I therefore agree with the views you have expressed in your letter. If it is necessary to say it, I add that the Minister has not sought to use his personal position to influence official decisions. These have been, and will be, made according to the law as applicable to the established facts.
There are some technical comments I should perhaps make. If there has been a misappropriation by a person employed by the companies there would be nothing untoward in a tax deduction being allowed for the amount misappropriated. Section 71 of the Income Tax Assessment Act provides:
You will note that the deduction is by law allowable in the income year in which the loss is ascertained, not in the year in which it actually occurred. For the deduction to be available there must be conclusive evidence that the amounts misappropriated were treated as assessable income of the income years in which they were originally received. To the extent that recoveries of misappropriated amounts are made the effective deduction is reduced by inclusion of the recoveries as assessable income as they are received. In a case where there is full restitution the effective deduction therefore becomes nil.
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, knowing the substance of what was contained in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, comes forward and tries to suggest that the Minister has used influence improperly. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also indicated that the Australian Government was the only government that had given de facto recognition to East Timor. I am advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs that the Association of South East Asian Nations countries and the United States have also done so. So there are four instances in which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in a speech, deliberately and knowingly sought to mislead the Australian people. I believe that much else of what can be said by both the Leader of the Opposition and his Deputy is in the same category.
The Government welcomes the opportunity to discuss the record of the Government. The summary by the Leader of the Opposition of what he had said is in fact in indictment of the Labor Party’s tactics throughout this session. It is an indictment also of the depths to which the Australian Labor Party has sunk under this new, scintillating Leader of the Opposition- this belly-aching Bill’ as a friend of the former
Leader of the Opposition nicknamed him. All that members of the Opposition can do is thrash around with innuendo, half truths and misrepresentations, as I have indicated. They have nothing to contribute on the central issues of concern to the Australian people. Even at Labor’s unemployment seminar there was obviously nothing to contribute to the central problem of concern to many thousands of Australians at this time. Apparently some members were saying that they should not be having a seminar; that they needed to get some policies of their own.
The disastrous economic policies that they pursue would lead to a repetition of the Whitlam years. We find that in 1972, when Mr Whitlam took office, inflation was 4.5 per cent. When he left office, with the Leader of the Opposition, as he now is, as Treasurer, inflation had reached 17.5 per cent. We all remember this famous statement of the Leader of the Opposition:
Any government can bring down inflation quickly and by almost any amount it cares to name.
He said it was an easy thing. He went to great length in his speech to say that that statement was hedged and qualified and did not really mean what it said.
– Read the next sentence.
– Oh, the next sentence. That is fine. In the same speech he stated:
It’s relatively easy in the short-term for a government to raise tariffs, hand out subsidies or reduce inflation.
That statement was absolutely unqualified. Since he said that his inflation target was 10 per cent- it was, in fact, 17.5 per cent- it is perfectly plain that the Leader of the Opposition, the then Treasurer, had no intention pf attempting to reduce inflation. He said that it is relatively easy to raise tariffs. He might also have said that it is relatively easy to lower tariffs by 25 per cent across the board at one time’ even though the then Prime Minister had a report in his hands indicating that that would create tens of thousands of unemployed people and would establish the circumstances in which many Australians would be in difficulty for a considerable period ahead. All honourable gentlemen in this House know that there is all the difference in the world between that proposal and the proposal of the major industrialised nations for a reduction in tariffs that would start in 1980 and would be spread over eight years. For many countries it would involve a tariff cut of about 0.5 per cent a year. There is no similarity between the two proposals in any sense, shape or form.
We need to remember that the Australian Labor Party was the party of unemployment.
The Leader of the Opposition has made it perfectly plain that he favours free trade without gaining any reciprocal access overseas for the products of Australia’s mines, factories and farms. That would lead to more unemployment. We need to understand that during the period of the Labor Government Mr Barnard was sacked, Senator Murphy was sacked, Mr Cope was sacked, Mr Crean was sacked, Dr Cairns was sacked, Mr Cameron was sacked and Mr Connor was sacked. In one year alone unemployment rose by 200,000. Youth unemployment doubled. We need to remember the industrial disruption of that time which did grave damage to Australia’s export industries and to our capacity to gain contracts. In those years people had a doubt as to whether we could supply as a result of industrial disputation. Now, as a result of the industrial policies of fairness, justness, reasonableness but, where necessary, firmness, pursued by my colleague industrial disputes are at a record low for 10 or 11 years. In those circumstances there are much greater prospects for Australian industry and Australian economic success.
We remember when the previous Administration sought to govern without appropriation. When this man, the Leader of the Opposition, was Treasurer, he sought to blackmail the banks of Australia to finance the affairs of government at a time when the Government could not get its appropriations through the Parliament. A meeting of non-Labor Premiers and members of the then Opposition branded that action as a major step in taking Australia towards a dictatorship. The architect of that proposal was the present Leader of the Opposition. He sought to rob the banks, the savings of the people, to finance the illicit affairs of the then Australian Labor Government.
Labor failed to require proper standards of Ministers. It failed to defend its policies. The then Prime Minister’s method was to blame others or to sulk overseas. Labor failed to discharge its responsibilities to the House. This Government, more than its predecessors, has protected the privileges and rights of the Parliament and of individual Australians, wherever they may be, against bureaucratic decisions. Labor interfered in matters of public administration. It would not leave loan raisings to the proper Treasury authorities. A Minister and a department under the direction of the Minister were deliberately pursuing loans overseas and seeking to by-pass the normal authorities in that regard. These are men of notoriety. By their debate today they remind this House and this nation that they are men of notoriety.
I think it would be well worth turning to the affairs of this Government to show what a difference its policies have made to the nation. But in one particular matter I would like to point out a difference in what has occurred, because it is important. The Leader of the Opposition has made statements and also statements of the same quality have been made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen). If they, ignoring the present security circumstances, requirements and advice, have a situation in which any Federal Minister or I or a visitor from overseas, as has happened, were subject to a terrorist attack- and let them understand that the bomb that went off at the Hilton Hotel was let off -
– You put it there yourself.
-Mr Speaker, I believe that that remark deserves the greatest condemnation of the Parliament.
-Order! I ask the right honourable member to resume his seat. I did not hear the remark.
-He said that I put it there myself.
-I ask the honourable member who commented to the effect that ‘he put it there himself, to withdraw.
- Mr Speaker, I made a comment to the Prime Minister that he put it there himself. If it upsets him, I will withdraw.
-Order! The remark is grossly unparliamentary. I ask the honourable member to withdraw unqualifiedly.
– I withdraw, Mr Speaker.
– If I had known it was the honourable member for Shortland who had said that I would not have asked for the remark to be withdrawn because to have some concern about an opinion I first need to have some concern about the man. There is one simple thing of which we are all aware every day and which indicates that the circumstances in security matters are changed. In this very building you, Mr Speaker, very properly, have taken certain precautions in relation to security. People have to wear their passes, their badges, and that indicates a changed circumstance. In relation to the Hilton Hotel let me make one or two points plain because this needs to be done.
– You will have martial law one day.
-Order! I call on the honourable member for Hughes to withdraw that remark.
– Withdraw what?
-I ask the honourable member to withdraw the remark.
Opposition members interjecting-
-I do not intend to repeat the remark. I ask the honourable member to withdraw it.
Opposition members interjecting-
-I ask honourable members to be quiet. I think it would be desirable, in the interests of the honourable member’s dignity, if he withdraws all the remarks.
– I will be happy to.
-The honourable member will state that he withdraws.
– I withdraw, Mr Speaker.
– It ought to be known- I think it is probably known and understood by a large number of honourable members of the House- that there are entrances from two streets to the Hilton Hotel. The side where the bomb went off was that side that had been planned to be used to welcome all visitors. Because of a demonstration of a peaceful kind against Mr Muldoon earlier in the afternoon it was proposed to change the entrance and the welcoming for Mr Muldoon and for the Indian Prime Minister to the other side of the hotel. Let me only say that the bomb went off a very few yards from the place where I would have been welcoming the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Prime Minister of India at 5 o’clock that afternoon. I am advised that nobody knows the nature of the detonating device used in that particular bomb. There is no reason to assume that it was not aimed and targeted; no reason to assume that is was merely an indiscriminate weapon of terror. If honourable members opposite are going to play politics with these issues they will only degrade the Parliament and degrade themselves before the Austraiian people.
Let me turn to the positive policies of this Government. We have had remarkable success in reducing inflation. In this country we have had remarkable success in getting to a situation in which inflation has been reduced more than it has been in most member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Now people overseas and in Australia are beginning to look to Australia with a real degree of confidence. Greater strength in the share market over recent weeks is confirmation of that. I suppose this Leader of the Opposition who wishes to have nothing but doom, who wishes to cry down the economy, who seeks to attack and destroy its strong points at every moment, is very disappointed in that. But that is one of the achievements, one of the pointers to success, of the policies of this Government. At the same time we have got Government expenditure under control. (Extension of time granted). The expenditures of this Government are under control whereas, as we know, under the previous Administration they increased by 46 per cent in one year, the year in which unemployment increased by 200,000.
In addition, Mr Speaker, industrial relations, to which I have already referred, under the guidance of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) have shown very marked improvement. We have done what the Australian Labor Party could never do- we have established a permanent statutory forum in which there are consultations about industrial relations matters between management, labour and this Government on a regular basis, a forum in which industrial legislation is discussed with the three bodies concerned before it comes into this Parliament. We know what the previous Administration did. There was a non-statutory tripartite conference and the Minister of the day abolished it. He did not want discussions between the parties concerned.
In the matter of tax reform, the record of this Government stands without equal in the history of Australia. I point to tax indexation to protect people from increased taxes as a result of inflation, and to the historic tax reforms introduced in the last Budget and applied from last February. There have been changes to company tax law, changes to stimulate mining, investment and development in this country, and there has been the historic social reform of family allowances, something the Labor Party never even thought of.
As to the protection of civil rights, we have seen the appointment of the Ombudsman and the establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The freedom of information legislation will be introduced into this Parliament during this week or next week, and will lie in the Parliament over the winter recess. In the area of the protection of civil rights against a large and, as some would see it, an increasingly powerful bureaucracy this Government has done more than any in the history of Australia to protect the rights of average Australian men and women against bureaucratic decisions of one kind or another.
We have established confidence in the economy and that will grow as our policies continue. We have pursued uranium development, recognising national and international obligations, with care, with concern, but with as much speed as has been possible in the totality of the circumstances. Indeed having in mind the variety of groups whose competing interests needed keeping in balance, having in mind the obligations placed upon us by the Fox Royal Commission, I believe very great progress has been made in the year since that report came down.
In foreign affairs, Mr Speaker, I would venture to say that in many parts of this world Australia ‘s reputation stands higher than at any time in Australia’s history. It was an historic moment when Australia initiated the movement for regional meetings of heads of Commonwealth countries. I know quite well that the Leader of the Opposition sought to belittle that and say that it was a matter of no great concern, that it was forced, that it should not happen; but the interesting thing in that meeting was the way in which the great giant of India and the small island states of the Pacific in many practical matters were able to see an identity of interest, and the four working and consultative groups being established as a result of that will have given ongoing thrust to the work of that regional group. There was an eagerness to have a time and place set for the next meeting. I know quite well there had been some doubts before the meeting began, but as the meeting proceeded those doubts certainly disappeared.
Australia has taken again an historic step in moving away from the B group of countries and seeking to bring the developed and developing world closer together in relation to matters concerning the common fund. We believe that if there is to be a sensible, sane trading system, there needs to be greater equality for all nations. It it not good enough for the major industrial countries to make arrangements amongst themselves; it is not good enough for them to make arrangements that effect industrial tariffsmaybe 40 per cent of their exports but perhaps only 5 per cent of our exports and a smaller percentage of the exports of many developing countries.
There needs to be equality in whatever comes out of the multinational trade negotiations, and whatever I am doing overseas over the next few weeks, Mr Speaker, will be directed to that purpose. I believe it is an important one. It has been made plain that on my return the Prime Ministers of Singapore and of Malaysia will be interested to hear the outcome of the discussions that I will be having. In addition to that, I believe the totality of the discussions will be useful. We will be able to consult about our common interests and concerns. Visiting Japan to talk about those same broad international issues of economics and trade has placed Australia- Japan relations on a new footing and taken them a significant step forward. It was Japan that indicated its wish to make sure that broad international issues are a significant part of the agenda for joint ministerial discussions when they take place on future occasions- the next occassion will be late in June of this year- and that the bilateral matters which are very important are not pushed aside, because it is recognised that there are major international matters of concern where there is an identity of interest between Australia and Japan.
In Torres Strait what do we find? We find that an agreement was made to the satisfaction of Papua New Guinea. The agreement protects the Torres Strait Islanders and it can be said from the outset that it is satisfactory to the Commonwealthindeed if I might say so, it is satisfactory also to a significant part of the Commonwealth. But what did our predecessors do? They talked about it, they created furore about it, they created difficulties and argument about it and made it all the harder to come to a proper resolution. We have achieved that. There is significant agreement between ourselves and Papua New Guinea which leaves both sides content. The Opposition has done itself no service in moving this motion. The one fact it has made plain is that it has provided an opportunity to give an outline of the significant advances in policy that have been made by this Government. At the same time, the Opposition has allowed the opportunity for a significant reminder of its own past and present attitudes and characteristics.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
- Mr Speaker, I ask that questions be placed on the notice paper.
– Pursuant to section 37 of the Austraiian Apple and Pear Corporation Act 1973 I present the report of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation for the period July 1 976 to December 1 977.
– For the information of honourable members I present a report by the Bureau of Transport Economics entitled ‘Mainline Upgrading: Evaluation of a Range of Options for the Trans- Australia Link’.
Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable member wish to make a personal explanation?
– Yes. During the reply of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to the debate which has just finished he said a number of things which were quite wrong in fact. He said that at the end of 1975 the rate of inflation was 1 7 per cent. In fact, it was 14 per cent and falling. He said that I favoured free trade without seeking reciprocal access to markets overseas. That is not true. I am on record on many occasions, and the written record is available, stating that I am opposed to free trade but on the other hand I will not accept protection at any price. There has to be restructuring in the Australian economy, but that should proceed according to a clearly conceived plan which is available to, and understood by, the public. Furthermore, I am equally on record as pointing out that the weakness in the trade negotiations affecting this nation is that we do not seek to -
-The honourable member is now debating the matter.
– If I could make the point: We do not seek often enough to exploit our purchasing position- for instance, the $ 1,000m replacement fighter aircraft purchase- to ensure that reciprocal markets are provided for this nation. The Prime Minister said that I was the architect of a program designed to rob banks of funds for the illicit affairs of the Labor Government. That is totally untrue. I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard two letters: One from me to the Prime Minister of 25 May 1978, which deals in some detail with the affairs of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) the other from the Prime Minister to me, dated 29 May 1 978, responding to that earlier letter. I believe that the letter that the Prime Minister had incorporated in Hansard today is inadequate in the absence of this sort of information.
-Is leave granted?
– What is the honourable member seeking to do?
– I am seeking to incorporate in Hansard the letter that I sent to the Prime Minister on 25 May 1978, which deals with the family companies of the Minister for Primary Industry. I am also seeking to incorporate the Prime Minister’s letter of 29 May 1978 in response to my earlier letter. I am seeking to incorporate them in Hansard on the basis that the letter that the Prime Minister had incorporated today is inadequate in the absence of these communications.
-Leave is not granted.
– I ask that the letters be tabled.
– Is leave granted to table the documents?
-Leave is not granted.
-I seek leave to make a brief personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. In the Indonesian newspaper Sinar Harapan of 19 May and in the Indonesian Times of the same date I have been seriously and grievously misrepresented although the publications are read many miles from Canberra and even further from my electorate of Denison, I, and I believe of any other member of the Parliament -
-The honourable member will state the misrepresentation.
– Yes, I shall. Mr Speaker, because your indulgence does not permit me to debate the entire article -
-The honourable member will state the misrepresentation or resume his seat.
– I am about to do so, Mr Speaker. I turn immediately to the specific statements referring to me. In one article it is said that I wish to help terrorists. In the other article it says:
Mr Hodgman wants to defend terrorists.
Neither of those statements is true and I strongly resent both of them. My total opposition to world-wide terrorism is well known to all honourable members. A reference to General Business Notices of Motion Nos. 1 and 12 clearly repudiates the Indonesians’ propaganda lies on this matter. Finally, I have never supported, nor will I ever support, terrorists or acts of terrorism anywhere. The attempt to smear the people of East Timor and brand them terrorists is beneath contempt.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969,I present the reports relating to the following proposed works:
Redevelopment of airways facilities, Adelaide Airport, South Australia.
Off-shore, high security animal quarantine station at West Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands; review of fifth report, 1 973.
Ordered that the reports be printed.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The urgency of full Australian support for international disarmament and arms control initiatives and the failure of the Government to inform the Parliament on these matters.
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-
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put-
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 26 May, on motion by Mr Groom:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Uren had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that
the Commonwealth Government should meet the cost of rental rebates to a minimum uniform level agreed to jointly between the State and Commonwealth Governments;
rents charged for Housing Commission dwellings should be set
for persons with incomes up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings at not more than 85 per cent of the rates of rental on the open market, and
for persons with incomes in excess of 135 per cent of average weekly earnings at the rates of rental on the open market;
the interest rates charged for Home Purchase Account ‘on lent’ to other lending authorities should rise in line with capacity to pay;
the Commonwealth Parliament should have the opportunity annually to debate the appropriation to determine the progress made on the spirit of the understanding contained in the Bill;
the Housing Authorities in co-operation with the Commonwealth should develop a strategy as part of overall urban and regional planning to ensure a social mix in housing estates as well as ensuring that public housing tenants have access to social and cultural amenities and job opportunities; and
the Commonwealth should provide sufficient funds to Housing Authorities to ensure that a target completion rate of 15,000 dwellings a year to overcome the backlog on the Housing Authority waiting lists can be met ‘.
-The Housing Assistance Bill 1978 was introduced by the Government to provide for the new Commonwealth-States Housing Agreement. It is one of those Bills that appear in the Parliament from time to time and illustrate so clearly the difference between Government supporters and supporters of the Australian Labor Party in their attitude to housing and to home ownership in this country. A number of basic questions should be asked when it comes to a debate on housing. Do Australians want their housing opportunities controlled by a bureaucracy in Canberra? Do Australians want policies which prevent opportunities for them to purchase their own homes? Alternatively, is it in the best interests of the Australian people to have access to flexible, efficient public policies relating to housing which actively promote home ownership? I think the choices are perfectly clear. They are the sorts of choices which electors in this country take into account at Federal and State elections.
Last December the Government put to the people in its policy speech the undertaking that it would negotiate a new welfare housing agreement with State governments. In the Budget a sum of $390m has been allocated to the States for 1977-78 for the purpose of housing. Not surprisingly the Opposition has taken great exception to this Bill. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) referred earlier to the results of a recent gall up poll which showed that since the December election support for the Government had increased and support for the Opposition had decreased quite dramatically. I suggest that it is Bills of this nature which make the distinction between support for the Government and support for the Opposition so dramatic.
We have heard Opposition spokesmen reply to the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) on this Bill. Let me illustrate briefly what was said by the Opposition shadow Minister. I think his remarks can be summarised in this way: A great deal more money should be spent on welfare housing. That is a thought with which I think we can all identify. He went beyond that and claimed that money provided for housing should be used to rev up the economy in a thoroughly artificial way. In short he said that there should be a return to the big spending days of the Labor Government between 1972 and 1975. He called for a return to the grandiose spending plans which got this country into such difficulties during that period, difficulties which resulted in massive deficits and massive inflation rates. Those difficulties are reflected, of course, in the escalation in building costs during that period. The Government’s spending also resulted in dramatic increases in interest rates charged on home loans.
Above all else, interest rates made it so extraordinarily difficult for people on lower incomesthat is, the people who find support through welfare housing programs- to meet the demands made by housing authorities for interest and capital repayments. Interest rates also made it difficult for State housing authorities to charge what we would regard as a reasonable rental rate, which meant that rent payments had to be increased by those authorities. The Labor Government’s spending program also resulted in an enormous increase in the demand on taxpayers. We all know that the Australian Labor Party is a high tax party. It has said this on occasions and has illustrated this when in government. The Labor Government had an almost insatiable demand for taxpayers’ money, for people ‘s money, to use for its grandiose plans and pipedreams. The Australian taxpayer, the Australian voter, has come to recognise that this position cannot be sustained in the interests of the country or in the interests of economic recovery.
Particular attention has been given to housing policies since the Liberal-National Country Party Government has been returned to office. The homes savings grant scheme was amended in the previous Parliament. Some 20,000 grants worth a total of nearly $ 15m have already been approved under the scheme, and a further $20m is expected to be provided during the current financial year. The Housing Loan Insurance Corporation legislation was amended so that it can insure up to 100 percent of loans to assist private buyers. The Government has taken a series of other initiatives in the housing field. It has set up a special inquiry to advise it on the impact of building and other regulations on the cost of home building, to inquire into the efficiency of the present land development process and to make a review of the total housing market. The results of those inquiries will be used for a range of new and modified policies which the Government will be introducing during the course of this Parliament to promote home ownership. The Liberal-Country Party Government over the many years it has been in power has traditionally promoted home ownership in this country. The record achieved until 1972 is one of which I think every Australian can be justly proud. Seventyfive per cent of Australians owned or were buying their own home up to that time. That figure subsequently dropped dramatically. It dropped for the reasons that I gave earner- a Labor government made it so extraordinarily difficult and demanding for an individual person to meet repayments and interest demands on housing loans.
The people whom the Labor Government claimed it could best represent- the low income earner, those people whom we might say are the battlers of this country- were the people most disadvantaged by the escalation of building costs and interest rates which occurred in the traumatic days between 1972 and 1975. This fact is on the record. The Bill is a major reform in national housing policy. It has resulted from the most intensive negotiations and discussions between the Federal Minister and respective State housing Ministers.
I congratulate the Government, and I am pleased to support this legislation because once again it gets us back on the path by which more and more people will have access to welfare housing programs on just terms. One of the main criteria in this program will be that help from government housing sources will go firstly to those in greatest need. There are many anomalies in the present welfare housing arrangements. Everybody on the Government side of the House knows about them, and I would like to think that members of the Opposition know them as well. However, in view of the fact that members of the Opposition are contesting this legislation perhaps I ought to make these points a little more clearly. It is a fact that the people who were the beneficiaries of welfare housing programs have in some instances been in a position to make repayments in excess of that required by existing contracts. The flexibility built into this legislation is such that a State housing authority will be in a position to require a household whose income. increases, to increase its repayments to the authority. Nobody can reasonably take exception to that as a principle, particularly when it is realised that as a result of such people making increased repayments State housing authorities will be able tt> extend the range of people to whom they will be able to offer their services. We should remember the remarks made by the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty regarding the approach to welfare housing. That Commission’s report made it abundantly clear- as did the report on housing of the Priorities Review Staff- that there were a great many instances of people in welfare housing -
– There was a lot more in both reports than the Government is carrying OUt
– If the honourable member would like me to refer to references in the report on housing by the Priorities Review Staff I would be pleased to do so but I do not think that he will appreciate that because to do so will make it perfectly clear that that report iri some elements of its approach to .housing introduces the most socialist concepts* that can be imagined. If the honourable member wants to be aligned with that approach I will gladly accommodate him but I think his colleague sitting beside him might not appreciate it.
In relation to this Bill the Opposition is saying that State housing authorities apparently cannot be trusted to execute satisfactory, meaningful and efficient welfare housing programs. This Government contests that view directly. It is because they can be trusted that provision has been made for very considerable flexibility to be given to State housing authorities in the approach they will take to welfare housing. There has never been a time when it was more important for public money, whether it be for housing or for any other program, to be used efficiently and in an innovative way to ensure that the best use is made of those . funds, I would be surprised if there is an Opposition member here , todayheavens above, there are only two of three in the House now- (Quorum formed). I know the Opposition does not like -to hear Government supporters talking about home ownership because it is so dramatically and. dogmatically opposed to the concept of home ownership which the Government is promoting in the legislation which is before us. Who, other than a socialist, would take the attitude that all decisions regarding welfare housing programs should be made in Canberra? Who else would take the attitude that there should be no flexibility between States or within States on how welfare housing funds can best be utilised. This Government takes the view, and will not swerve from it, that present circumstances require the most efficient use of funds and the most innovative approach to welfare housing that can. be adopted. In Victoria the State housing authority is about to undergo a major reconstruction to ensure that in the services it will be offering it will be making the best use of funds. The Victorian Government is to be congratulated for taking this step. It is leading the States again and it is leading them in a way in which I, as a representative of Victoria, can be proud.
– It always has helped housing.
– As my friend has said, the Victorian approach to home ownership in welfare housing leads the States without exception and has done so for many years. This approach is a basic tenet of Liberal philosophy and it is a crying shame that the level of home ownership in Australia has been allowed to fall away in recent years, bleak years which saw the most devastating consequences for people seeking to purchase a home. It is all very well for the socialists to talk about what happened ki Sweden where such a large percentage of the population is renting homes instead .of buying homes. What they do not say is that in 20 years the. government in Sweden has made it so dramatically unattractive for individuals. to own their own home because the financial consequences of owning or buying a home are far beyond what most people can afford. That is the reason home ownership fell away in Sweden. That is the syndrome on which the Labor Opposition is hung up at the moment. It is the reason the Labor Party is objecting to this Bill. This legislation is the most far reaching reform in the approach to welfare housing that this country has seen.
-Let me reflect for a moment on some crf the remarks of the previous speaker, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu), particularly his remarks in relation to home ownership. It is not the view oh this side of the House that home ownership ought not to be supported within the Australian community as one of the goals of a national housing policy. However, among the objectives set out in the second reading speech of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom)- a trivial speech which did not go into the policy objectives of the Government ip any detail whatsoever- there is not a single reference to. the situation of tenants. They do, as the honourable member for La
Trobe suggested, represent a very significant proportion of the Australian population.
We on this side of the House are not suggesting that home ownership is something which ought to be reduced, which ought to be eliminated within the Australian context. We are suggesting that it is about time that security of tenure was available to people who do not get the so-called security of tenure through home ownership or so-called home ownership through the process of purchasing a house which is, as the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) suggested, increasingly taking a greater and greater proportion of people’s lives and more and more of their resources. We believe that the people who do not opt for that form of tenure, the people who are prepared to rent, ought to be given some kind of security. When they are on low incomes, they ought to be able to depend both on security and on a measure of support from the Government. If, in the post-war period, we as a society agreed that home ownership ought to be supported, then we have also agreed in that post-war period that the Government has a responsibility, through its public housing program, to support people on low income, particularly low income renters.
If we look at the Housing Assistance Bill and the agreement which is contained in it, what strikes one is the complete imbalance in terms of the Government’s interests as between home owners and renters. Certainly there are some moves in relation to home ownership which ought to be supported. Of course the critical problems facing potential home owners are the price or the cost of house and land package. These problems are increasing in terms of charges and difficulties in finding housing which is in a convenient location, with access to the full range of services and amenities. The Bill increases the proportion of Commonwealth funds to be paid into the home purchaser’s account. It also provides for the escalation of interest rates, as has been described earlier. There is no doubt that what has been a declining amount of money from the Commonwealth Government to the States in terms of grants- a drop of 14 per cent the year before last and 1 1 per cent in this current year- shifts the balance. With this legislation there is a bit more money going to home owners than to renters. But the bulk of what will be provided in addition will be through the revolving nature of the funds- funds will move backwards and forwards between co-operatives and between purchasers more rapidly than they would under normal circumstances.
There are various problems that one can mention in relation to the home ownership sections of the Bill. First of all, there is the increased use of the private sector for home building purchase, which means that the Government, because of the kind of ideological blinkers that the honourable member for La Trobe displayed so obviously, is not prepared to use the State sector to construct the housing that is to be built under these arrangements for home owners, even though, obviously, economies of scale would be involved. The Government is not looking at the whole basic structure of costs: It is playing around with interest rates and with methods of repayment which distribute the load at various points of people’s lives, on the rather dubious assumption, as made by the honourable member for La Trobe, that people’s incomes always rise. That is an extraordinary assumption? People’s incomes at different periods of their lives can change in various directions. In a time of economic recession there are many people who look forward to seeing their incomes expanding. I instance in particular those who are currently on the dole and who have no income. It seems to me that that assumption which runs right through the background documents, which is present within the Minister’s speech and which is present in the legislation, that people’s incomes tend to rise is a very questionable assumption.
Secondly, the Government is to provide this money through co-operative societies. Again, in this Bill and in terms of the background papers, there is not a sentence, not a line of justification for this expanded use, this increased use of cooperative societies. No one suggests that some research has been done to evaluate the way in which co-operative societies are to use their money. What happens? We find that cooperative societies will receive additional funds and that the means tests which applied in the past are to be removed so that the States and the co-operatives have much greater flexibility. According to some authorities- Michael Jones of the Australian National University, for example- in the past co-operative societies in fact did not use their money in a way which was to the advantage of the people on the lowest incomes; they tended to try to avoid giving loans to people who, for example, did not have a significant amount of money for deposit. They tended to try to spread their loans in a way in which they could make the maximum number of individual loans. They tended to be influenced by social relationships and networks of contacts. They did not always operate in what might be regarded as a fair and equitable way. In fact Jones says:
Allocating funds under the co-operative society loans must be one of the last remaining areas of middle class patronage, rivalled only by the activities of the private health funds.
Jones may be wrong, but at least the Government could establish a more obvious commitment to ensuring that its money goes to the people for whom it is intended. There appears here to be evidence of a double standard when one considers the attitudes which are expressed with respect to renters of public housing.
Thirdly, the Government’s measures will do nothing to set restraint on the total cost of housing which, as has been demonstrated earlier in this debate by the honourable member for Reid, is the key problem facing low income groups wishing to purchase houses. It is also open to question that the real income of low income groups rises in the way that has been suggested. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that the cooperatives will be prepared to accept the various kinds of income gearing, such as deferred interest repayment, variations in repayment in the case of hardship. That last point is very interesting. I cannot see the co-operatives looking at that measure with a great deal of support.
Finally, the agreement purports to add to the stock of housing for home purchase by freeing commissions to sell whatever proportion of their rental housing stock they choose to sell, providing they sell for cash at market prices or replacement cost, with access to home purchase assistance funds. This, I believe, ignores the fact that tenants may have already paid off the historic cost of public housing as renters and are therefore required to pay an arbitrarily determined market price at escalating interest rates which do not reflect the costs to State housing authorities. Thus this policy represents a case where the poor will, at least, be subsidising the poor, if not subsidising the higher income earners. Further, it can be argued that because of the tendency for established house prices to rise with increased middle income demand in the established suburbs, the commission will be under pressure to sell off even more of the stock it owns in those areas because of the potential capital gains involved. In other words, the commission itself will be contributing to a process whereby lower income people are increasingly being displaced from the central areas of large cities and indeed are moving more and more to electorates such as that of the honourable member for La Trobe. If one looks at the latest unemployment figures, one finds that the highest rates of unemployment are now in the outer fringe suburbs rather than the inner suburbs. That seems to me to be unfortunate. It does not seem to me to be a process that the Government ought to be encouraging. I think there is a real danger that in the selling off of commission property, the property that will be sold off will be property that has strategic importance in terms of the social policy objectives of the Government, if indeed the government of the time has such objectives- and with this Government I doubt that very much.
The sections of the agreement which deal with rental housing contain what I believe to be- and I agree with the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) in this regard- the class bias of this Government. Paragraphs (ii) and (iii) of the preamble set out the Government’s aims, which are to provide adequate rental housing for those in the community who are deemed to be in need of Government assistance at a price which is within their capacity to pay. Paragraph (iii) contains the following words:
To exclude from eligibility those not in need, to minimise continued availability of assistance to those no longer in need and to accord benefits which are designed so that assistance being provided is related to particular family’s or individual’s current economic and social circumstances.
Section 16 of the agreement sets out what the Government is proposing. I believe that these proposals, which a large number of people would perhaps regard as quite progressive, are in fact conservative proposals. They reflect the conservative philosophy of this Government. They are proposals that ought to be resisted. Indeed, the Government is to be warned that there are sections of my electorate which contain high percentages of housing commission tenants who will indeed resist these poposals
I think this point should be made with respect to those aspects of the Bill and the agreement which relate to rentable property: The Government is intent on reducing the stock of publicly owned rental housing despite the fact that in Australia we have one of the smallest proportions of public housing, as a percentage of the overall housing stock, of any country in the Western world. I do not mind if the honourable member for La Trobe rejects the view that we ought to have a relatively large public housing stock. We do not even have to argue that proposition. Approximately five per cent of the housing of this country is publicly owned. That is a trivial percentage. The percentage of new housing built by the public sector in any one year is small, certainly less than 1 5 per cent in any State. That is not a major percentage. The Government is moving towards cutting into that percentage. It will do this first of all by charging higher interest rates for Commonwealth money and, secondly, by reducing the total allocation of funds to the States for housing. We have seen that in successive years. I am sure that we will see it again in this year’s Budget. It will reduce the proportion of funds that must go to rental housing. It will remove all restrictions on the States against selling public housing, previously rental housing. It will encourage the use of funds allocated for rental housing for purposes such as research, urban renewal, joint ventures with co-operative enterprises and any other purposes, including special housing needs or innovative practices, whatever that may mean.
I believe strongly that State housing authorities ought to be encouraged to be more creative and innovative. State housing authorities- I speak particularly of my own State of Victoriahave been totally reactionary in their approach to housing. Their record is abysmal. One could run through a whole series of criteria and one would have to regret their operations in those respects. But it is no solution to carve into funds allocated for rental housing to provide a whole series of services which ought to be provided out of the Commonwealth Budget and which are not being provided currently because of the savage cuts being made by this Government into the Department ‘s budget. It is sheer tokenism to provide for research in this area in addition to that provided by the Australian Housing Research Council. It is absurd to cut into rental funds for urban renewal projects which cover a wide range. Innovation ought to exist in rental housing as a matter of course. Separate funds ought not to be provided in the legislation.
Thus, the Commonwealth through this part of the legislation will reduce the total allocation of funds for rental housing. The program is being developed without the establishment of any clear guidelines and with the Government providing no justification for what must be regarded as one of the most savage attacks on the low income housing sector in the post-war period. At a time when waiting lists for low income rental housing exceed more than 100,000, the Government is cynically reducing the housing stock available for this purpose. Perhaps the Government is not cynically reducing the housing stock but if that is the case the Government ought to prove it. Certainly on our observation of the legislation it seems that the Government is chopping into rental housing funds. This is an extraordinary reactionary government. Historically, so-called Liberal governments have expanded income support programs in times of economic hardship. This Government does the reverse. It is not a
Liberal government in the classical sense. It is a tory government. In its obsession with home ownership it has in this Agreement written off as of no consequence the 30 per cent of Australians who live in the rental sector.
Clause 18 (1) of the Agreement suggests that the rates at which rents are payable by tenants of rental housing shall be determined by the States which, when making any such determination, shall have regard to a policy of generally relating rents to rates of rental in the so-called open market. The so-called open market is another vagary which has been written into this legislation. Clearly it has not been researched or established. What is meant by the open market? There are many housing markets in any city. Does this mean that the rents will be related to the housing market that operates closest to where a particular set of Housing Commission flats might be located? Are the rents for a few flats that have been located at Balwyn in Melbourne to be related to the rents of the other houses in that rather wealthy area? Is the market that operates in West Heidelberg to be the market that is closest to Latrobe University or is to be the market that operates when one moves over towards Preston and the industrial areas? This is an absurd concept. It is not spelt out or justified.
It is incredible that a government can bring in important triennial legislation with no justification and basis for what amounts to fundamental changes and a movement of the country’s housing policies away from assumptions which have been accepted for 30 years. We need to consider change. I am not an opponent of change but I believe that the changes that are currently being recommended have been dreamed up by isolated economists and academic institutions which would not know a Housing Commission estate if they saw one. I believe that their views ought to be considered very critically. We ought to have the opportunity to analyse them. That is what we do not have. That seems to me to attack the very basis of what a parliament is all about.
There are many other points I should like to make if I had time. I should like to talk about the whole area of rental rebates. An extraordinary proposal is emanating from the Government. We will have both market rents which are annually determined- we should remember all the various markets for which market rents will have to be determined- and a rebate system. Available figures indicate that in a time of economic hardships rebates are already rising at a very fast rate. It was about 10 per cent last year. Now there will be another great escalation in housing rebates to catch up with the market rents. We have created an extraordinarily complicated administrative system which is designed to deal with the people who are the equivalent in housing terms of the dole bludgers.
The Henderson report referred to the 70 per cent of people who were living on housing estates and who ought not to have been there because they had higher incomes. But they were not rich people, as the Minister suggested in his speech. They were simply people who were somewhere between poverty and average weekly earnings only in the particular week that they were visited by the Henderson surveyors. It is extraordinary that the Government is to single out these people, many of whom have established social relationships and ties. They live on estates where they have built up work patterns. They are to be moved towards market rents. Of course they will get rebates if their income necessitates them but that is not denned by the Government. Apparently the Government has not done any research on rent rebates that it sees fit to show to the Parliament. It cannot estimate what the return will be. It cannot tell us what will be the relationship between the return and the administrative costs. This legislation is bad. It is vague. It challenges the authority of the Parliament I look forward to dealing with some of these matters in greater detail at the Committee stage of the Bill.
-The opportunity to participate in this debate is greatly appreciated for two reasons. Firstly, it allows the National Country Party to endorse the aims and objectives of the Fraser- Anthony coalition Government with regard to housing. Secondly, it allows me to build on the excellence of the argument advanced by the previous speaker from our side of the House, the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu). To my mind his contribution was most impressive. It spelt out quite clearly our aims, hopes and aspirations for the housing needs of Australian people. I believe that his speech stood in stark contrast to that of the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). I remind the honourable member for Batman that he belongs to a party which commissioned a priorities review on housing which had as one of its objectives the levying of an imputed rent on home ownership in Australia. That party also had a Minister for Housing who, in an endeavour to contain costs in Australian housing, said in this House that we would have to make houses smaller. We would have to build smaller houses with smaller rooms. They were the aims and objectives of the Australian Labor Party to which the previous speaker belongs. He needs to be reminded of that.
I take the honourable member to task for one or two of the comments that he has made. I was somewhat disappointed that a person in this chamber would describe as bad, legislation which gives to the States of Australia great flexibility and great control while charging them with the responsibility of adequately housing the people of Australia. I believe that a member of the Labor Party who says that legislation designed to improve the housing situation in Australia is bad is recreant to the trust that has been placed in him. I was upset to read his comment about economies of scale. The Labor Party wants to herd the people of Australia into a close environment without allowing them the opportunity to have a particular type of house of their own choice, built in a locality that they deserve and desire. The people do not want to be thrust into a situation solely because of economies of scale. The economy of scale, as the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) has pointed out, is not the only factor in considering the housing of the underprivileged people of Australia. As the honourable member quite rightly saysand I appreciate his support- the poor underprivileged people of Australia are not to be herded into one big compound of housing commission homes. Rather they are to be treated with dignity and given the privilege that they so richly deserve as people of Australia. They are to have and should have access to housing designed for individual people.
Shelter has always been one of the fundamentals of society. Man, in order to protect himself and his family, has attached great importance to it. In fact he has gone without to provide protection from rain, cold, heat and wind. A study of the development of housing over the world is a fascinating one. Today we are participating in a further episode of the history of housing. We have developed many techniques to make housing more comfortable, more attractive and more lasting, but there always has been the problem of finance for housing. This Bill- this CommonwealthState Housing Agreement- seeks to help in providing the means for those most in need to obtain a home, be it owned or rented. As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the mechanics of the Bill are simple; there is to be limited and rather minimal interference with the States. But the engine behind the legislation is purring over with concern, with a relish for the preservation of ‘ human dignity and an in depth appreciation of the problems of people in need. We are battling for the forgotten and neglected people. It is an integrated policy, not merely the picking up of the pieces and its effects will be long standing and revolving. By helping in one area the legislation will automatically remove the pressures in another place.
Under the legislation the States have the responsibility to set the guidelines for allocation of the funds. The position will be continually monitored by the Commonwealth Government which will allocate funds after a consultation with the States for each of the three years of the Agreement. It is pointed out that last year approximately $400m was allocated to the six States. It is to be hoped that sufficient sums of money will be allocated to the States to allow them to fulfil their responsibilities to the various people who are nominated and described in the legislation.
It is appropriate to indicate in this debate that there has been a levelling off in the cost of dwellings. The Australian Bureau of Statistics index on house building materials showed that for the 12 months ending March 1978 there was an increase of 6.6 per cent compared with a rise of 11.9 per cent in 1976-77, 13.5 per cent in 1975-76 and 21.2 per cent in 1974-75-during the reign of the present Leader of the Opposition, the honourable W. Hayden, who was then Treasurer. The building industry has been very conscious of the need to keep cost increases to a minimum and to my mind has played a significant role in the trend towards a moderation of prices. The health of the housing industry is directly related to the health of the economy as a whole, and now that the economy is on a stable footing it is to be hoped that there will be a brake on any increases in home building costs.
In the State of Queensland there are approximately 4,000 applications for rental housing still outstanding. It should be pointed out that over the years Queensland apparently has been discriminated against in the allocation of Commonwealth funds for housing when considered on a per head of State population basis. New South Wales has obtained $25.58 per head; Tasmania $58.52 per head; Western Australia $30.87 per head; South Australia $45.30 per head and Victoria $25.45 per head. Queensland has obtained only $18.47 per head. It is to be hoped that this anomaly can be corrected so that Queenslanders, like all Australians, will have the opportunity of obtaining either rental housing or home purchase finance consistent with the opportunities which prevail in the other States.
This legislation marks a great achievement in Commonwealth-State relationships. Many laudatory remarks have been made by State Premiers, and State officials too, about the basis of the legislation which grants the States autonomy. They can use their funds as they see fit and there is virtually only one stipulation placed on them, and that is that at least 40 per cent of the funds made available must be allocated for home purchase. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Batman, drew the attention of the House to the remarks of the honourable member for La Trobe about incomes continually increasing and he pointed out the difficulty that would arise should the incomes of people decline. This is provided for in the Bill. Should this happen the States can make the necessary arrangements to overcome the problem. Quite obviously the honourable member has not read the Bill.
In a society where great emphasis is placed on having a little bit of Australia that one can call his own the provision that 40 per cent of the funds must be made available for home purchases is most worthwhile. Unfortunately there are still present in our society many people’ who endeavour to influence and manipulate the lives of people by controlling their housing through in effect being their landlord. If a family owns a house the members of the family virtually have some independence, some little castle, as it were, to which they can retire secure in the knowledge that no one can knock on the door and throw them out in the street. We on our side of the House believe that society does benefit by having a strong community based on a sense and a purpose of belonging; that there is a confidence in existence through owning one’s own home rather than being treated merely as a tenant. Strong, sturdy Australian citizenship has its base in contented families which treat their houses as their homes.
The States, in setting their priorities, it is hoped, operate schemes which give the maximum benefit to needy people. There are many schemes which can be tailored to meet the particular requirements of people in certain areas scattered all over the various States. Interest rates are being related to the long term bond rate and in the final analysis the maximum interest rate will be 1 per cent below that rate. We may find that people, when they approach this question of rental, will tend to move out of housing commission homes and purchase their own homes, for a variety of reasons. This will allow more accommodation to be made available to those in need. This illustrates the excellent flexibility in the Bill.
Too often in the past we found that people with relatively high incomes were occupying houses at a low rental simply because they obtained access to this housing when their wages were relatively low. They stayed in these homes and often people with large families, people from broken homes and people who were on the poverty line were unable to obtain this rental accommodation consistent with their capacity to pay. The Bill removes that anomaly. The Henderson poverty inquiry revealed that 132,000 housing commission rented dwellings, or 72 per cent, were occupied by people with incomes equivalent to 120 per cent of the poverty line. At the same time, 86,000 families and individuals below the poverty line, out of a total of 146,000 with incomes less than 120 per cent of the poverty line, were renting privately. It was also found that a significant number of age pensioners are in need of housing assistance at present, with some 14 per cent of single age pensioners and 8 per cent of married age pensioners estimated to be living in very sub-standard accommodation. The State housing authority waiting lists indicate that there are about 12,200 applications for single pensioner accommodation and about 4,200 married pensioner couples seeking accommodation.
Funds lent to the States by the Commonwealth for a period of 53 years will be on-lent by the States for periods usually of the order of 30 years. There will be a considerable increase in these funds because of the opportunity for people living in housing commission homes at the present time to purchase these homes- the resultant purchase price will be used for the provision of more finance- and because of the escalating rate of interest applicable to the scheme. In on-lending to the various agencies the States will charge an escalating rate of interest commencing at 5 per cent in the first year and increasing by one-half per cent in each subsequent year until a rate equivalent to one per cent below the long term bond rate is reached. The rate of interest will not remain fixed for the remainder of the life of the loan but will vary in relation to the long term bond rate from then on, which should enable end borrowers to benefit from any reduction in the bond rate. Adjustments will then occur similar to movements in the private market.
A typical example can be given by the repayments on a $25,000 loan over 30 years, with interest commencing at 5 per cent and increasing at one-half per cent until one per cent below the long term bond rate is reached, assuming there is a management charge of three-quarters per cent. We find that in year one of the scheme the repayments per week will be $33.91; in year two of the scheme, with the increased interest rate, the weekly repayments will be $35.73; in year three, $37.55; in year four, $39.37; in year five, $41.18; in year six, $42.97; and in year seven, $44.75, and repayments thereafter will vary with movements in the bond rate.
Indicative of the opportunities that will be given to people to purchase their own homes is the flexibility of the total agreement with the States. The States will be able to provide funds on an escalating interest loan with interest geared starts for the lowest income borrowers at approximately 5% per cent, while others might start at 6lA per cent or Vh per cent, depending upon incomes. In allocating their assistance the States will be encouraged to have regard to family income, size of house and assets of the intending borrower.
Another scheme will be the one called the deferred interest repayment scheme wherein moderate income earners can obtain a loan at nonconcessional rate but have interest repayments deferred in the initial years of the loan. Under the income geared loans scheme some borrowers can obtain a loan and the repayments be based on, say, 25 per cent of income, thus finalising the loan early if income improves dramatically. Young married couples, under the high start loans scheme- that is, where both are workingcould make high repayments in the initial years, and then follow this by lower repayments if one partner ceases work.
Under the second mortgage lending arrangements outlined in the Bill people would be allowed to obtain a smaller loan for the purposes of a second mortgage. Under the variation in repayment in case of hardship arrangements a facility would be made available to reduce repayments if for some reason- for example, unemployment or incapacity- a family’s circumstance worsens. I remind the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) that what he was concerned about is covered in the arrangements of the Bill.
The aim and hope of many Australian families to own their own home is certainly brought within the reach and grasp of ever so many people. Under the rental policy branch of the legislation the main aim is to provide adequate rental housing for those in the community deemed by the Government to be most in need of assistance, and to provide rental accommodation within their capacity to pay. The levelling mechanism for this will be the rental rebate scheme.
The rental is related to the income of the tenant consistent with the tenant’s other family pressing circumstances and commitments. The Commonwealth and the States have played a part in the provision of rental accommodation under the various Commonwealth-State housing agreements. As at 31 December 1977 the total stock of dwellings was 208,805 having increased from 193,464 from 30 June 1975. The new arrangements for rental will have a tendency to move persons out who have the money and consequently to bring people in who have not the money. We believe that is excellent government policy. The latter class of people are the ones we are out to help because they need help, and simple justice, we believe, demands that they be helped.
It is most fitting indeed that the problem of pensioner housing has been brought under this new scheme. Particulary is it pleasing to note that funds will now be made available for married pensioners. The aged represent a growing proportion of our population. The number of aged persons is expected to increase by about 30 per cent over the next 15 years. These people, of course, face very particular problems. It .is not simply a matter surely of providing a house or a flat for them. The care of the aged involves providing a wide range of accommodation and ensuring integration with health and welfare services. Because of their years and possible lack of mobility, these very special people need housing in certain areas close to all the essential services so necessary to keep them free from worry and concern.
There are many of our elderly people who prefer to live in aged persons homes or hostels, but there are many people who prefer to live in their own homes, be it owned or rented. States will be assisted in meeting their responsibilities in this area by virtually an open cheque arrangement from the Commonwealth Government. They will be able to provide funds for the building of self-contained flats or home units specially designed to meet the needs of the aged and invalid pensioners; they will be able to buy and convert or lease existing dwellings in an appropriate range of locations or they will be able to assist local government or, importantly, voluntary bodies which wish to provide accommodation for rental to pensioners in their local communities and home environment.
All areas of the community, therefore, are involved. Certain local government areas in Australia dc provide housing and we now have a situation where voluntary welfare bodies can participate in the allocation of funds. I would hope that the State Governments, in arranging their priorities in this important area of pensioner housing, will give some special help to people who live in their own homes but who do have difficulty in meeting the running expenses necessary for the repair, painting et cetera of such homes. Quite often we find many distressing cases of extreme personal hardship and anxiety when people do not have sufficient funds left over from their social security payments to do such simple things as repairing a broken window or door.
Quite obviously, if we do wish to help those most in need we must particularly respect the wishes of those people who want to remain in their own home in which they have spent a lifetime, which holds a treasure chest of memories for them, and it would be appropriate, now that we are spreading the umbrella of assistance to all people, that these people also come within the area of special assistance in the way of a grant or a weekly payment to help meet the cost of repairs and painting.
This agreement has been reached only because people of goodwill have been prepared to ascertain the problem, sit around the table, work out the appropriate compromises, and then in a spirit of Christian charity and fellowship to go out to the market place and help people most in need with assistance geared to the period of the need. This Bill in association with the Government’s other -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The question of housing, or rather the lack of housing in Australia today, is one of the most important issues facing the Australian people. The most worrying fact about this legislation is that we do not know how much finance the States shall receive for government housing. I suppose we must wait until Budget time to find out just how much further the States will be squeezed in this area that the Government chooses to call welfare housing. It is of no use for Government members to deny that they have viciously pruned Federal grants in this area.
In Labor’s last Budget in 1975-76 some $364.6m was allocated to the States for the housing commissions and terminating building societies. In the 1976 Liberal-Country Party Budget $375m was allocated, a rise of just 2.8 per cent. In the 1977 Budget $390m was allocated, a rise of 4 per cent over the preceding year. According to the consumer price index, the total inflation rate between September 1975 and
September 1977 was 26.8 per cent so it can be clearly seen that housing grants to the States have been cut by 20 per cent in real terms in just 2 years. What this really amounts to is a concerted attack on the role of the State housing commissions as instruments to build houses for workers.
It is a pity that the rate of increase in housing construction by the various commissions until 1955 has not continued. Let me remind the House again that in that year of 1955, 23 years ago, a national total of 18,000 houses was constructed by the State governments- 22 per cent of the combined private-public total of 82,000 dwellings. In 1977-78 when the total allocation was $375m, the pitiful total number of dwellings completed was 11,439, just 7.9 per cent of the national total of 141,000. It is a shocking indictment of the housing policies of this Federal Government that in the premier State of New South Wales only 3,428 commission dwellings were completed in 1976-77. At that time, there were 26,735 families on the waiting list. This is only the tip of the iceberg, because anyone earning more than 85 per cent of the national average wage, subject to certain conditions, is not eligible for commission accommodation. At this rate, the last family of that list will be accommodated in 1986.
The situation is equally as bad, if not worse, in Victoria where only 2,531 dwellings were completed in 1976-77 and there are 20,359 families on the waiting list. Of all the States, it appears that the situation is worst in Victoria where there was a significant reduction in the number of private dwellings completed in March 1978 compared with March 1977. The figures were 1,771 and 2,258 respectively. As the Housing Industry Association points out, in Victoria the downward trend in housing construction continued throughout the March quarter. The moving annual total for commencements in the March quarter also continued to decline and is now some 20 per cent below the rate of one year ago. Again in Victoria, the number of new loans from all lenders approved either to build or to buy new houses in the month of March 1978 fell by 26.2 per cent from savings banks, 3 per cent from trading banks and 1 1.6 per cent from permanent bunding societies.
Against this gloomy background for the housing industry, the Opposition surely is entitled to demand that substantial extra Federal funds be injected into the State housing commissions. Naturally, this sort of slump in the housing industry is contributing greatly to the present recession. From a national total of 402,500 unemployed, the Commonwealth Employment Service at the end of April 1978 listed 17,609 males and eight females as unemployed skilled building and construction workers, and only 673 unfilled vacancies. The Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia records show that 18,846 skilled building and construction workers are unemployed nationally, 6,382 of them are in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, and 4,400 are in Victoria. There are at least 10,000 fewer people unemployed today in the building and construction industry than there were one year ago.
It is a national disgrace that in the middle of a recession only 141,000 new dwellings in Australia were completed in 1976-77. One could understand a national slump in housing construction if there were literally no real demand for housing, if there were shortages of skilled labour, if there were shortages of building materials and so on. This is not the situation. As I have shown, some 20,000 skilled building tradesmen are receiving unemployment relief Possibly another 15,000 building and construction labourers also are unemployed. Factories, brickyards, timber yards and warehouses are stacked with unsold building materials. I conservatively estimate that at least 300,000 families are waiting for housing. Many of them currently are paying exorbitant rents or are living in substandard dwellings. That means that there would be 100,000 families on the government housing commissions’ lists and at least 200,000 families looking for loans from banks, credit unions and building societies to build their own private dwellings. This means that approximately threequarters of a million people, counting wives and children, now are waiting for proper housing in this country. We have the workers, we have the materials and the need exists, but this Government lacks the housing policy dedicated to solving this urgent national problem.
To illustrate what I am saying, let me give an example of what is possible even in an adverse situation. In 1946, post-war Britain was suffering a real housing problem. One in three houses was damaged or destroyed during the war, and at least Yi million new dwellings were required. Unlike 1978 Australia there were real problems to surmount. There were shortages of skilled labour since full demobilisation of the armed forces had yet to be achieved and there was an absolutely crushing shortage of materials. The difference was that the British post-war Labour Government possessed the will to tackle the problem. By 1948 the Housing Minister, Aneurin Bevan, announced that 278,000 dwellings were completed in that year- 278,000 dwellings completed in the most adverse situation. In the period of the Labour Government, 1946 to 195 1, Britain, in the main, achieved its post-war housing reconstruction of more than 1.5 million dwellings. It was probably in a better housing situation that at any time since the 18th century Industrial Revolution. That is what happened in five years under a Labour Government.
Here in Australia in the last five years some 740,000 new dwellings have been completed. Only 8.2 per cent of them were completed by the government housing authorities. What an indictment of Australian housing policy! In times of stress in 1946, a beleagured and damaged nation considered its first priority to be its own people’s housing needs. On the other hand, this Government wastes the energies and skills of its workers and condemns the homeless to desperation.
There is one other point I should like to make in the comparison between post-war Britain and Australia in 1978. In 1946, Bevan chose local council authorities as his building instrument against great criticism that they would fail. The Chifley Labor Government also had to forge an instrument to satisfy our demand for post-war housing- a demand that private enterprise could not meet. He chose the States. They were his instrument. Thus the State housing commissions were created. Like Bevan ‘s council authorities they did not fail either. At least they were as successful as Commonwealth funding would allow during the 1950s and the 1960s. Over a period of 30 years a great and successful housing construction machine has been created.
It will be a national tragedy if this Government succeeds in winding down and destroying by stealth and denial of finance such an instrument that alone, in these days of high inflation and high interest charges, can satisfy the aspirations of so many working class families. Let the Government state here and now, in this debate, that we will have no more penny pinching in funds to the commissions. Let the Government pledge at least an extra $200m on last year’s finance to the States for housing. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) pushed his Bill through to catch the tax dodgers. Let him now distribute some of the largess from those funds to build houses and to stimulate economic recovery. This year’s Budget outlay probably will be about $2 9,000m. Surely the Government can spare another couple of hundred million dollars for housing to the States. It would be only 0.7 per cent of the whole total Budget outlay. I comment on the removal from the Agreement of the limit on the number of housing commission dwellings that may be sold and also on the proposal to ensure that 40 per cent of a State’s allocation must go to private home builders by 1980. Obviously this new policy is again designed to move housing resources away from the control of the State housing commissions. One can understand the desire of families, which have rented housing commission accommodation over a long period, to purchase what is in fact their home. However, there is another side to the story. The policy of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party is that:
The primary responsibility of the Housing Commission is to provide housing for rent and not for sale. It is essential that the majority of Housing Commission dwellings be retained for the benefit of people who will need public housing in the future.
Honourable members should keep those facts in mind. Housing commissions clearly ought to build up stocks of dwellings. But, if existing dwellings are to be sold, then the price should be replacement value, not market value. It would be incorrect for State authorities to receive profits which have been paid for by workers on inflated home and loan values. The other point is the suggestion that 40 per cent of future finance should be directed to private home building. The view of the Opposition is that if that does occur it should be directed through the terminating building societies. The housing commission should get on with the job of constructing rental accommodation and let the Federal Government give the housing commissions enough finance to achieve a target of at least 15,000 dwellings a year, as is set out in the Opposition’s amendment. I have no objection to 40 per cent of the Federal Government’s allocation going to terminating building societies for private construction as long as the remaining 60 per cent is sufficient to achieve those aims. I note that the Commonwealth no longer requires that eligibility for housing commission accommodation be restricted to persons earning not more than 85 per cent of national average earnings. The Schedule reads:
The conditions of eligibility of persons for rental housing assistance shall be determined by the State . . .
So, it is passing the buck to the States once more. In New South Wales the present position is that eligibility is dependent on the applicant having earnings of not more than 85 per cent of the national average wage, together with allowances for children. I ask permission for a short table, showing the extent of allowances for children in New South Wales, to be printed in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– Although it is now the prerogative of the States to determine their own means testing for housing commission accommodation one would expect that since the waiting list is so long, and Federal finance is so pitiful, the Labor States would probably continue to impose a means test similar to the one set out in the table I have incorporated in Hansard with an extra $2 1 a week allowed for the first child and another $25 a week allowed for a second child of a different sex, and so on, as shown in the table. However, the Minister must accept that it is essential to increase the income ceiling at least to the national average wage- perhaps to the national average wage plus 15 per cent, with similar allowances for children as now apply in New South Wales. That depends on extra Federal Government finance, for it can apply with fairness only if the total allocations are increased dramatically.The Government must do that. The Government should also accept section (b) of the Opposition’s amendment, which reads:
Rents charges for Housing Commission dwellings should be set (i) for persons with incomes up to 1 35’ per cent of average weekly earnings at not more than 85 per cent of the rates of rental on the open market . . .
As the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) pointed out, the Opposition does not like the idea of so-called market rents being charged for Government housing, even with a system of rebates for lower income earners and pensioners. The honourable member for Batman handled this aspect well but I shall just go over it briefly. What is meant by the market rate? How is it determined? Is it determined by the inflated rents charged by private housing and apartment entrepreneurs? Is it determined by the investment return rate required by massive original land costs and interest rates? Surely the task of Federal and State governments is to meet the massive demand for housing by providing it at the lowest possible rents. As the Government should be in a position to develop land and to build houses at a lower cost than private enterprise, why should there be this obsession that rents on Government housing should be moved up to the artificially high levels set by a private market, basically on what the market will bear? In the private market, in the main, rents are exorbitant because there is an extreme housing shortage caused by the Government’s economic policy. In effect, it is a Catch-22 situation.
In the last few minutes available to me I point out that the Opposition is far from happy with the escalation of interest rates proposed in the Agreement. I shall not read out the rates because all honourable members are familiar with them. They start at 5 per cent and rise by half a per cent each year until they reach one per cent below the prevailing bond rate. Let me instance the case of a young couple who have borrowed money from a terminating building society and moved into a home. Then, six or eight years later, just at about the time when their children are going to school, they find that the interest rate to be charged on the loan is one per cent below the bond rate. If $20,000 is still outstanding on the loan that young couple is paying from $160 to $180 a month again. If the young couple is on a wage at about $165 a week, the situation would be that the take-home pay would be $125 a week of which $45 would go to so-called welfare housing, leaving them with a miserable $80 a week. The Government had better have another look at its interest rate policy. The Opposition does not think it is very good at all.
In conclusion, I point out that the Government must reverse its policies aimed at the eventual destruction of State housing commissions. The Opposition considers that is what the Government has in mind in the long run. The Government should forget about the destruction of State housing commissions which are mighty Australian home building instruments. The State housing commissions have been in existence and have forged ahead for more than 30 years and much good work has gone into them. The Opposition urges the Government not to cut back on finance to the State housing commissions but to expand that finance. What is wrong with $200m in excess of the allocation made to the States last year being provided for public housing? That sum must be available in order to build a minimum of 15,000 houses for workers a year. The people of Australia will have no doubt that the Government stands condemned if it continues to try to assassinate the State housing commissions and to make insufficient finance available to housing for workers.
-The Housing Assistance Bill 1978, is an effective demonstration of the Fraser Government’s commitment to the provision of adequate housing for the people of Australia and of encouraging the widest possible enjoyment of home ownership. Before directing attention to the Bill I pay a tribute to the man who- more than any other man probably made the greatest individual contribution to Government housing policy in Australia. That man had a strong influence indeed on this legislation and on the Commonwealth and State’ Housing Agreement to which the legislation gives effect. That nian is the late Alex Ramsay C.B.E., General Manager of the South Australian Housing Trust’ from )949 until his untimely death last Thursday, 25 -May, at the age of 63.
Alex Ramsay is regarded around Australia as the father of public housing policy. He was certainly one of South Australia’s most distinguished public servants and humanitarians. He was Sir Thomas Playford ‘s right, hand man in planning South Australia’s post-war ind us.tralisation and providing housing for its workers. Under him, the South Australian Housing Trust provided nearly 100,000 residences for more than 400,000 people, that is, about one-third of the present population of South Australia. Under him the Housing Trust earned the reputation of being Australia’s most efficient public housing body. For several years before entering this House I knew Alex Ramsay through his family. I became more closely associated with him over the past two and a half years.
– He was a very nice man.
– He certainly was a. very mee man, as the Minister for Health has said. He had a remarkable reputation. Oyer the past two and a half years I was more closely associated with him through his association with the South Australian Housing Trust’s role in the development of Noarlunga, within the Kingston electorate. Apart from his obvious ability, his most striking feature was his humanity and kindliness. He was ever ready with a kindly word of encouragement or advice during conversation. Occasionally he would relate with glee one of the’ stories about the negotiations by himself and Sir Thomas Playford with unwilling landowners for land required by the Housing Trust in its early days.
Notwithstanding the heavy demands of such a senior position, Alex Ramsay still devoted time to numerous voluntary organisations. Over a dozen such organisations benefited from his experience, usually to the extent of a term as chairman or president. His ability was recognised far beyond South Australia. He served as chairman of the Australian Housing Corporation and was highly respected by senior staff of the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. Indeed, he was involved in the Commonwealth-State meetings which drafted the new Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to which this Bill gives effect.
Many of the principles which Alex Ramsay espoused are, as a result of the significant role he played in those negotiations, enshrined in this legislation. It is therefore, -in a sense, fitting that this legislation is being debated on a day when many people have gathered in Adelaide to pay tribute to the lifelong contribution of Alex Ramsay to others. I am pleased that the debate on this Bill, which bears his imprimatur, affords me the opportunity to pay tribute to him and to offer my condolences to his wife and family.
Turning to the legislation before the House, unfortunately I find it “difficult to be so kind in my remarks about the comments of the honourable member for Reid and shadow Minister for Urban and Regional Affairs (Mr Uren) on this legislation. The contribution that was made to the debate by the honourable member, who was a Minister for Housing in the Labor Government, was appalling in its lack of substance and lack of logic.
– We have not heard anything from you yet.
-I will ignore those rather rude interjections. If the honourable member had been listening he would have been aware that for the last five minutes I have been paying tribute to one of the greatest men involved in public housing in Australia. I would have thought he would have paid due credit to that fact.
– Let us hear something about housing now.
– If the honourable member will wait a few moments, he will hear it. My comments apply also to the amendments which the honourable member for Reid has moved. He would seem to be merely making criticism for criticism’s sake. His suggestions in no way improve the provision of housing for those in need. They simply substitute heavy-handed centralist dictatorship from Canberra for the co-operative relationship with the States which has been developed as part of the Fraser Government ‘s New
Federalism. I had certainly hoped for better from one who is the shadow Minister.
The honourable member said that this legislation would in no way reduce the backlog of families waiting for Housing Commission homes, that under this agreement we would build fewer houses than we built in 1977. That remains to be seen. What needs to be recognised in the provision of public sector housing is that in recent years costs have increased massively. To take account of that the Government has initiated an inquiry into the costs of housing. That inquiry will bring down recommendations designed to ensure that the maximum number of houses will be built with available funds. Perhaps the honourable member for Reid could also help out in this regard with his union colleagues. There is no doubt that militant unionism has been one of the contributing factors to the tremendous increase in housing costs- to the extent that now builders’ labourers are paid higher wages than are many skilled tradesmen, especially among metal workers.
The honourable member for Reid also claimed that the new housing agreement would increase interest rates at a time when the Fraser Government was boasting that it intended to reduce interest rates. What he needs to acknowledge is that since the 1973-74 agreement the long-term bond rate, as a result of the economic mismanagement of the Whitiam Government, has increased substantially. If we look at the relationship between the interest rates that were being charged under the old agreement and those to be charged under this agreement, it will be seen that it will give a far better deal to the States as regards interest rates. Under the old agreement, the long-term bond rate was about 6.5 per cent. Interest rates were 4 per cent for rental finance and 4¥i per cent for home purchase. Thus, the difference between the longterm bond rate and the interest rate charged was 2 per cent or 2¥i per cent. Under the new agreement, the long-term bond rate is 9.2 per cent and, with the interest rate of 5.2 per cent that is to be charged, the gap will be 4.7 per cent. That is, the gap between the interest rate being charged by the Commonwealth to the States and the long-term bond rate is more than double that which operated during the period when the scheme initiated by the Labor Government was in operation. Therefore, it is absolute nonsense for the honourable member for Reid to suggest that we are increasing interest rates in that sense.
– They are up.
– Yes, but honourable members have to bear in mind the comparison between the interest rate being charged and the long-term bond rate. That is the figure that one must look at. The honourable member for Reid also opposes the concept in this Bill of increasing rentals to a market-related level. He claimed that this would create a great deal of hardship within our community, and moved an amendment which would result in the Commonwealth Government meeting, to a minimum uniform level, the cost of rental rebates.
The honourable member for Reid should be reminded that, in the initial negotiations on the agreement, this kind of proposition was offered to the States. At that time the States rejected it in favour of the continuation of concessional interest rates. They chose to retain those rates instead of receiving a subsidy for market-related rents. However, negotiations are continuing and it is quite possible that if agreement is reached with the States a subsidy to a certain level will be provided by the Commonwealth Government.
The honourable member for Reid also claimed that the movement towards marketrelated rents would substantially increase the total expenditure on rebates. It may well do so, but that does not mean that it will increase the net cost of subsidising the housing of occupants of public sector housing. The combined effect of the concessional interest rates and marketrelated rents charged to those on incomes sufficient to be able to afford them will mean that the overall cost to the State Government of providing such housing will be less. Even if the amount provided by way of subsidy may be more, they will recoup more because of the charging of market-related rents. Also, of course, costs will not be so great because the concessional interest rates will be retained.
The honourable member also suggested that the rents charged for Housing Commission dwellings should be set by the Commonwealth at 85 per cent of the rental rate on the open market for those with incomes of up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings. He justified this by saying that the concept of market rent had an artificial meaning; that, in fact, the level of market rents had been increased because of the limited amount of rental housing that was available in the private sector; that this had pushed up rents; and that the Commonwealth was at fault for not providing sufficient housing finance. Once again, this is criticism merely for the sake of criticism. It offers nothing constructive in that regard at all. Clearly, the aim of the proposed 1978 Housing Agreement is to provide adequate rental housing for those members of the community who are deemed to be in need of government assistance, at a price that will be within their capacity to pay.
The basis of the rental part of this agreement is the operation of the rental rebate system in association with market-related rents. Rental rebates are designed so that the rent paid is related to the income of the tenant and to other family circumstances. The concessional interest rate of 5 per cent on funds advanced to the State is the means by which they are able to alford to grant rebates. The subsidies inherent in this concessional interest rate, however, are not intended to subsidise the rents of those who are no longer in need, those who can afford to pay market-related rents. What the honourable member for Reid is suggesting is that the Commonwealth Government should impose a means test to determine who can and who cannot afford market-related rents. Once again, he wants heavy handed Canberra control of that means test, whereas the agreement and the legislation provide the States with flexibility to determine, on the basis of thenown situation and circumstances, what that means test shall be. Of course, as we are aware, situations and circumstances vary from State to State. Therefore it is appropriate that the State governments should have the right to determine the level at which assistance in the form of a rental subsidy should be provided and the level of income of people who should be required to pay market related rents.
– The Minister is agreeing with you on that.
– Yes, I am glad to see that the Minister is in agreement. Of course, he knows, as I know, that this is a significant piece of legislation which will provide benefits to people in the low income area.
– In his heart the honourable member for Reid agrees too.
– Of course he agrees. He is only playing politics, and we all know that too. The other significant factor is that the rental policy will be one of market related rents. The States are not required to charge the rent that the market will bear. Therefore if through the factors that the honourable member for Reid suggests, the rent that the market will bear is higher than he believes will normally transpire because of some sort of artificial shortage, the State Government can take account of that in assessing what is an appropriate market related rent. So it is the market related rent that is required to be charged and not the rent that the market will bear. That is a point that bears remembrance.
This proposal is justified, particularly on the grounds of the evidence that was presented to the Henderson poverty inquiry. The evidence showed that on the one hand some 146,000 people who lived around the poverty line were not assisted by State housing authorities while on the other hand some 132,000 people who were well above the poverty line lived in public housing and gained concessional benefits in terms of rent. Under the State rental policies that had applied, substantial inequities had developed between differing groups of tenants. Tenants no longer in need paid rents well below private market rates and recent public tenants in some States paid substantially higher rents than longer term tenants. That is why this change to market related rents has been initiated.
The policy will be progressively implemented, and the hardship that the honourable member for Reid suggested will occur will not occur because of this progressive implementation. It is also worth noting that the States have already moved towards this situation. The New South Wales Government was the first State government to implement the policy from 1 July 1 977.
Clearly, the States have resented the Commonwealth dictating an inflexible means test. This is what would again transpire if the second paragraph of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid were accepted. The individual States are better able to judge their priorities and relate to this particular circumstances and regional needs within the general framework of the Commonwealth guidelines provided in this legislation. In fact, the assistance which will be provided in the form of rebates on the basis of the charging of market rents will mean that many lower income families will pay substantially less than 85 per cent of the market rate which was suggested as being appropriate by the honourable member for Reid. His amendment would introduce an element of inflexibility which the States would not be prepared to accept.
The honourable member for Reid then referred to the charging of interest rates by the Commonwealth Government, which is required of the State authorities, for on-lending for home purchases. Interest paid on money lent to purchasers for the purchase of welfare housing will increase by half of one per cent a year until it reaches one per cent below the long term bond rate. The honourable member for Reid claimed that this rate of increase in the interest rate is too steep. He also claimed that it will mean a weekly repayment increase of some 5 per cent each year. Apparently his mathematics have changed. Last September he released a Press story in which he claimed that weekly repayments would increase by 10 per cent per annum. I wonder which of his calculations are correct. He also said that this may well be possible with the current rate of inflation but that people would have severe difficulties in meeting these repayments if inflation were to fall to a level of 3 per cent or 4 per cent. He therefore suggested in another paragraph of his amendment that interest rate increases should be geared to capacity to pay. Of course, the first thing he needs to remember is that if the rate of inflation falls to 3 per cent or 4 per cent, as it most definitely will under the policies of this government, the long term bond rate will also come down. Therefore the half of one per cent increase a year will reach a ceiling within one or two years. So the increases in weekly repayments which the honourable member claims will have to be made will not occur when inflation falls to 3 per cent or 4 per cent because the long term bond rate will follow down that rate of inflation. The other factor is that when inflation falls to that level the cost of living will also fall. Therefore the real household disposable income of families will increase and that will also reduce their hardship situation.
The new policy in which there is no restriction on the number of houses allowed to be sold, provided they are sold for cash at market value or replacement cost, will mean fair treatment for all because concessional home loans will be available to tenants on the escalating interest rate principle on the same terms as those wishing to buy private houses. The policy also means that housing authorities will be able to replace dwellings that are sold so that a run-down in rental stock does not occur. Under the previous Agreement the States had sold off assets and therefore created a continued demand for Commonwealth funds. Of more than 300,000 dwellings constructed under previous agreements, only 170,000 were left for rental to needy families. The new policy, by ensuring that public housing is sold at market cost for cash, will ensure that there is a continuing fund available to ensure a continuing stock of rental housing for the poor while still maintaining our objective of encouraging home ownership.
To meet this new demand the Agreement allows for flexible lending practices to individuals so that those on lower incomes will have a variety of means of meeting their repayments. Despite the fact that interest rates will increase by half of one per cent a year there are a variety of flexible repayment schemes possible under the new legislation to assist those on low incomes. These variable schemes will provide far greater benefit than would a fixed rate of interest for low income earners.
The legislation provides the opportunity to maximise both home ownership and home rental opportunities for those on low incomes. The amendment moved by the honourable member for Reid would in no way enhance those opportunities. As I have said, it is mere criticism for the sake of criticism and mere political point scoring. I oppose the amendment and support the legislation.
Order! The honourable gentlemen’s time has expired.
-We have just listened to the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) express his rather Utopian view of the Liberal Party. It is a pity that he did not read his speech before speaking this afternoon. If he had done so he would have seen the complete nonsense of it all. It has nothing to do with reality- that is all that is wrong with it. I think the honourable member expressed the view that home ownership will be made easier by selling houses to housing commission tenants at market cost for cash. That is a terribly simple operation these days. I do not even know what ‘market cost’ means. We can talk about the cost of a house when we put it up and its market price now, but what on earth is the market cost? The honourable member for Kingston gave a rather odd apologetic speech for the Liberal Party and his Government. He used terms which have become part of the mythology of Australian politics. He talked about the heavy-handed centralist dictatorship. He was, of course, speaking about the Labor Government of 1972 to 1975, the Government which initiated innovative schemes in schools and introduced the Australian Assistance Plan and self-determination and selfgovernment for Aboriginal people on their land.
The honourable member talked about militant unionism putting up the cost of housing. It would not be a bad idea if he went off and found out exactly what has happened to the labour cost in housing. Over the last five or six years it has diminished as a proportion of the cost of housing. Then the honourable member talked about the long term bond rate. I am always intrigued with that term. Apparently the long term bond rate is an objective force in the Australian economy over which humanity and governments have no management or control. Who sets it? The honourable member can explain that to me afterwards. Then he spoke about interest rates. He said that interest -
– What are you talking about? I don ‘t think you know.
– I think that we can explain that to the honourable member afterwards but not in the time that I am allowed in this debate. It is obvious that I would have to explain it two or three times. The honourable member used this wonderful terminology- it is hardly terminologyand said that interest rates are not increasing, although he did admit that they would be going up. I am lost as to what that means. He spoke also of market related rents and things such as that. No social area is more beset with nonsense than housing, particularly when it is what might be termed public housing or publicly-owned housing. There is no policy on housing; there is no philosophy on housing. We on this side of the House admit that we are searching for a philosophy. We have to make a completely new analysis of the social and economic situations and of the financial structures that we can put behind housing. In 1972 we inherited the formula which had been used since 1945 under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. This was an advance on the previous system established in the late 1930s but we all must now look for a new approach to housing. What on earth do we mean by such terms as market-related rents’, ‘economic rents’, and family income as related to rents ‘?
– We will give you a lesson later.
– I know what the honourable member would do. He is one of the apostles of private enterprise and exploitation, and of grinding people down. So I know what he would do. We are always searching for a magic formula but there is none. The objectives which the Government has spelt out, of adequate housing for all, of home ownership for all income groups and of ensuring economic conditions which will permit a stable and adequate building industry, are laudable. However, how far do this Government’s economic policy and the housing policy of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) go towards achieving those objectives? They do nothing. The fact is that the achievement of housing for all people is further away than it was even 10 years ago, and certainly three or four years ago. There is nothing in this legislation which will guarantee it or improve the situation.
The Australian scene is clear enough. It is true that all Australians probably would like a home of their own, a spot of their own, by whatever means make it easy to them to get hold of it. The most desirable system we have had- it has been amended a bit- was the original Defence Service Homes Scheme, or the War Service Homes Scheme as it was known up until not so long ago, which created the opportunity for people to achieve home ownership in the most flexible way. They could do what they wanted with the housing and, as the great proportion of the funds for the scheme came from public funds, the Government was able to provide finance at very low interest rates. That system has been under constant and persistent attack for a long while. There are all sorts of reasons why that system ought to be maintained.
I regard home ownership, or the occupancy of a piece of property and a home which we can call our own and with which we can do what we like, as a fundamental social need. The size of the house is something to which we have paid very little attention. As houses have become more complicated inside they have generally speaking become smaller inside. As we put in more power points, more refrigerators and more heating we reduced the size of the house. The house in which I was born some time back had fair sized rooms of 15 or 16 feet square with ceilings of nine feet or 10 feet. Of course, it had nothing much else. However, as time has gone by we have got down to rooms measuring nine feet by 10 feet in Government houses- in all sorts of houses- as an average second or third bedroom. We have also reduced the capacity for privacy inside the modern home because of the size and structure of the home and the way we use the space.
We are beset with all sorts of odd emotive attacks upon the system by people who like to call themselves planners. We talk about the suburban sprawl. This has always intrigued me. In Melbourne the great planners in the Housing Commission who talk about the suburban sprawl said that we should put up blocks of flats. Now such places tower all over Melbourne and Sydney and elsewhere and people are living 21 floors up. However, the people who designed these buildings went out to live at Warrandyte, Mount Eliza and places like that. They made sure that they were not part of the system. We talk about the waste of resources because people have a half or a quarter acre of land or a 60 foot land frontage, but as life goes on, as society changes and as we have more leisure and all the things that go with the reduction in working hours and the demands of working times upon us, the more space we need around us. There are people who disagree with that but in general that seems to me to be the objective of most people I know, no matter what their wealth or station.
Apart from the few little extras that go into houses, generally speaking most Australians are not ostentatious about housing. They need plenty of space and they need privacy, comfort, security and the services that go with housing. Has this legislation done anything to assist in that direction? No. This is not because of the technical machinery of the legislation but because of the philosophy behind it, as it was expounded by the honourable member for Kingston who spoke about market rates and all that nonsense.
Let me pause for a moment to look at the question of interest. I am regarded as a slight heretic on this side of the House on the question of interest but, disregarding the basis upon which interest is generally calculated as part of the economy, the fact is that interest rates have become a generator of inflation and not a product of it. When we put up interest rates five years ago it was part of the economic theory of the timeand still is- that interest rates had to be closely related to inflation rates, but the fact is that once interest rates rise to 7 per cent or 8 per centhonourable members can do their own calculationsthe cost of the money, particularly for housing is often greater than the cost of bricks and window panes and other materials. We have to find new techniques of handling that problem.
I want also to speak this afternoon as the former Minister for the Capital Territory because I can bring to the notice of honourable members my experience of the Australian Capital Territory housing system. For the benefit of honourable members, most of whom come into the place and go out again at a rate of knots, the Australian Capital Territory housing system is a very large system, particularly in view of the size of the population. It is nearly as large as the operations of the Western Australian Housing Commission. There are 11,000 units, including flats, in the system and rents this year will gather in about $20m. The maintenance of the dwellings will cost approximately $4m and the cost of administration will be about $2m or $3m but this cost is not easily determined. The interesting question is what has been the capital outlay since the system started in 1924 or thereabouts. I would think it would be about $ 150m. It is hard to determine the outlay exactly because back in the 1930s the figures were buried too deeply in Budget papers and elsewhere. What is the capital value of the dwellings today? It is at least $350m. Apart from that, the system has made loans to about 20,000 people. So when we look at formulae and talk of market rates and so on let us consider what we are really talking about. One of the great problems as I see it is that we are inclined to look upon a house as having an easily determined life. It has no such thing. There are houses in my electorate -
– It depends how well they are looked after.
-And it depends of how they are built. It is remarkable how long houses will stand. For instance the most humble houses in this city are those in the Causeway. They were put up in the 1920s at a cost of $1,463 each. The rent on an average house in that area that is still occupied, but not many of them are now, on rough calculation has amounted to $6,800. What is the economic rent of those places as a piece of investment?
I shall cite another example of what might be called the long life of houses. There are houses in my electorate that were built during the Depression in the 1890s. At that time they were empty so people were paid five shilings a week to live in them. They now sell for $25,000 to $30,000 and are let at $40 to $50 a week. So what are we talking about when we talk about terminating loans, amortisation and all the rest of it? I think these are irrelevant to a public housing, commercially operated policy. I cite a couple of examples of the better class of house, those which were built in the 1930s in this city. For example, a brick house in Griffith cost $3,668 at that time. We have collected over $ 1 3,000 in rent on that house so far. I know of one in Ainslie which cost $4,337. So far we have collected over $13,400 in rent. What does that house owe us? We have collected about three times the capital outlay over that period. What are those houses worth now? They are worth at least $30,000 each. As a matter of fact, considering their location and their proximity to the city, they are probably worth more. I have given a rough estimate.
– Who owns all these houses?
– They are your houses.
– They are publicly owned houses. They are part of the Canberra rental stock. The honourable member owns them. He has one fourteen-millionth of them, and so have 1. 1 am pleased to be a partner in the ownership with him.
– If we are not careful, the Irishman will pull them down and take them away.
-That is right. If we are not careful, the honourable member will pull them down and do something else with them. So the same thing applies to the whole system. Victoria has about 36,000 units; Western Australia has about 14,000 units. I looked at some of the figures a while ago in an attempt to determine the actual capital investment, the maintenance cost per house, the actual rental return, and so on. It is a remarkably difficult piece of arithmetic because the housing commissions of the States are not much more informative than are our own documents. Generally speaking, it costs about $2.50 a week maintenance in most of the public housing systems of Australia.
I remind honourable members of the situation in Canberra. I suggest that we give over these formulae, and that we do not talk about economic rent. What on earth has rent got to do with a person’s income? The rent ought to be low enough so that no matter what a person’s income is, he can afford to live in that house. When a person buys a pound of butter or a motor car or anything else, he is not asked what his pay is. We do not allow the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd to run a market rate on its steel. That is why we have a Prices Justification Tribunal. If BHP were to say: We can get better money for our steel if we reduce our production to 5 million tonnes from 6 million tonnes’, we would drop on them like a tonne of bricks. Of course that would not happen. In this city, because of the way in which the Gorton Government handled the land, because of the shortage of houses in use and because of some of the things that were done, an artificial shortage was created. So rents rose, and the people in the system- Treasury officials and such like- said: ‘Look, the market rate is such and such. That is what you should charge ‘.
I think we should bring to this problem the kind of commercial expertise that members whom I see opposite me claim to have. We should put up our houses on the same basis as we do anything else. We should look at them as a continuing investment of equity capital. That is what so much of private enterprise does. BHP does not pay interest or dividends on all the capital employed in that company; neither does CSR Ltd, although we do get a lot of advice from its general manager as to how we should run the country. So when we invest our equity capital in this way, we should determine what is a reasonable term and, if one likes, what is a reasonable profit
In the Australian Capital Territory, what is a reasonable profit? Let us say that about $150m has been invested in this housing. There are about 10,000 units and 10,000 into $150m is about $ 1 ,500. So one might say that in Canberra, somewhere between $25 and $35 a week a year rent will give a reasonable return on the capital investment, the repayments and all the rest of it. This year, because of the system we have inflicted upon people, we will collect about $20m in rent, I should think. There is probably a total return, a total profit from Canberra housing, of about $10m. That will be concealed, of course, because notional rates of interest are charged. It will be said that this money was appropriated by the Treasury- these are words that have been used to me- to the Department at 6 per cent interest. Of course it was not. It was appropriated by the Parliament out of revenue for the housing system. I do not see any future in private investment in rental housing, except in certain luxury areas. It would seem to me that we have reached a stage where it is unproductive, relative to other areas of investment. What we should set out to do is to build as many housing units as we consider are needed and in such places as we think are appropriate. We should let them at a rent which would give us what I would call an amenity rent, which gives a reasonable- if I could use that word again- ‘profit’, rather than talk about interest rates, dividends and anything else.
I hope that honourable members will think deeply about this question. It was my responsibility for two years in this city, which is probably more richly endowed as far as the incomes of the people are concerned than most other cities. I believe that we have not applied ourselves intelligently to this question. I return to the way in which I started: What is a reasonable rent on a house in the Causeway that is still being let? Under the system here, it has still to be let at so much amortisation, so much interest and so much this and that. Yet we have recovered about four times its capital cost in rental payments. We have paid perhaps less than one-third of that amount on maintenance on it. We have an asset which might have been worth, say, $1,400 50-odd years ago but which is worth $10,000 now. The land on which it sits is probably worth about $10,000 today. Yet we still look for these magic formulae. I do not give any credence whatsoever to the ideas of market rates or economic rents; nor do I attach any faith whatsoever to the magic of the bond rate. The honourable member for Kingston would probably agree with me in this regard. The bond rates, as are all such interest rates and other things, are manmanaged techniques.
– They reflect the rate of inflation.
-They do not have to reflect the rate of inflation. They have not always reflected inflation. They did not in 1951 or 1952, and in the 1930s they did not reflect deflation either. So in the last few years they have suddenly had some magical attachment to the inflation rate. Well, that will not work either. We have tried it and it did not work. The Government is keeping on with this formula and it will not work. Let us bring some common sense, some ordinary commercial nous to the business of supplying houses for people and forget such terms- I hope I am not offending anybody when I say this- as welfare housing and things like that. We are not dealing with the deserving poor; we are dealing with ordinary Australians who are entitled to a decent home, with proper security and an opportunity to purchase it when they so desire.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Uren’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr J. L. Armitage)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Clause 1 to 20- by leave- taken together.
– I shall confine my remarks to clauses 6 and 15. Clause 15 relates to the annual report of the Minister. I want to stress how necessary it is to debate the subject of housing each year. Previously, a Bill appropriating funds for housing was introduced each year. The House could debate it. With the present legislation that is not the case. Clause 1 5 states:
The Minister shall, as soon as practicable after the end of each financial year in the period to which this Act applies, cause to be laid before each House of the Parliament a report relating to (a) the operation of the agreements . . .
I want an undertaking from the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) that in tabling that report he will make a statement which will allow the House to debate the housing situation. Unless he does that the Parliament will not have the ability to review annually the housing situation in the States. I should like the Minister to give me that undertaking when he replies.
I now refer to clause 6 which relates to the advances to the States. I remind honourable members who are not paying attention that it is a few minutes before our evening meal. We are in the Committee stage of the Bill. We will deal with the Agreement at some length. Later we will deal with the Schedule to the Agreement. This is the only opportunity that the House will have to express its opinion on the respective clauses of a
Bill which will stand for the next 3 years. Therefore, I would have thought that more attention would have been paid by honourable members.
– We are spellbound.
-The honourable member said that he is spellbound. That shows the arrogance of the people who do not live and have not lived in State welfare housing. They have little understanding of the serious problems that exist in welfare housing. That is why we are greatly concerned about this matter. I refer to clause 6 which deals with advances in accordance with an agreement each year. Let me examine the amounts of money that have been made available under the Agreement. In 1973-74, when the Labor Government was in office, $2 1 9m was advanced. That amount represented 1.79 per cent of the overall Government outlays. The following year advances on housing were increased to $385m which represented 2.16 per cent of Government outlays. It can be seen that in 1974-75 there was a substantial increase in advances for housing finance. The amount of money being made available this year is estimated at $390m which represents only 1.46 per cent of Government outlays, so there has been a substantial drop in the amount of money being made available in the area of housing in real terms. If we are to overcome the serious problems faced in welfare housing then the Government itself must make more money available. A table I incorporated in Hansard in the second reading debate sets out the amounts available and the percentage of overall Government outlays. As I said, in 1974-75 an amount of $385m was made available, repayments on advances amounted to $191m and interest rates accounted for $88m. So a net amount of $278m was provided in 1974-75. Taking into account the inflation level for the 1966-67 financial year, at implicit price deflator levels the amount made available is worth $ 139m. There was actually an 81 per cent increase in 1974-75 on the amount made available in the previous year.
In gross terms this year an amount of $390m is being made available. After taking into account repayments on advances amounting to $2 7m and interest rate repayments of $ 133m the net funds being made available this financial year total $229m. At 1966-67 constant prices an amount of only $79m is being made available this year. Taking into consideration the decrease in real money terms there has been a drop of about 49 per cent in the amount of money being made available for housing. There has been a decrease in the purchasing power of the money that is being made available for welfare housing as can be seen by comparing the amounts made available for the year 1974-75 and the amount being made available under this legislation.
It does not matter what Government supporters say. Based on the real value of money today the amount that is being advanced for welfare housing is a deplorable situation. The serious problems facing welfare housing will not be overcome unless this Government makes more money available. That is why I specifically wanted to refer to clause 6 and clause 15. More money should be provided under clause 6. 1 believe also that the Minister for the Environment, Housing and Community Development should give us the right under clause 15 to debate this issue every year so that we can illustrate the shortcomings that exist in welfare housing. This Government’s priority in respect of all government spending and all public sector spending has been one of cutting back and the area of welfare housing is no exception. It is a broad POliCY of this Government to maintain Government spending at a minimum. Therefore, those people on low incomes, those people who are living in housing settlements are the people who in the long term will suffer.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Before the sitting was suspended remarks were being addressed to clause 6 of the legislation by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). In his remarks at that time he referred to expenditure of money on housing by the Commonwealth Government in recent years. This repeated some remarks that he made in his speech in the second reading debate and reinforced virtually the same points that he was making on that occasion. He made the point that in 1974-75 advances of Commonwealth money for housing as a proportion of total Commonwealth Government expenditure were 2. 16 per cent but by the current financial year, 1977-78, this had fallen to 1.46 percent.
In drawing attention to that, the honourable member for Reid was implying that the blame for this reduction in expenditure lay with the Fraser Government, that it had been initiated by the Fraser Government. But if we look at the table which he himself has had incorporated in Hansard, we find that the major reduction in expenditure during that period was in the 1975-76 Budget, when in fact from the peak of 2.16 per cent, advances for housing as a proportion of total Commonwealth Government outlays fell to 1.67 per cent, that is, a fall of 0.49 per cent in one year. In the subsequent two years of the Fraser Government the expenditure, as a percentage of total Government outlays, has fallen only a further 0.21 per cent, that is, about 0. 1 per cent per year compared with 0.49 per cent in that Hayden Budget of 1975-76.
It needs also to be remembered that that reduction in 1 975-76 occurred in a year when overall expenditure increased by 23 per cent, whereas in 1976-77 and 1977-78 expenditure overall has increased by only about 10 per cent in each of those years. So, notwithstanding the fact that there was overall quite a significant increase in spending in that Hayden Budget, housing money as a proportion of the total was cut back by about one-half per cent. Yet in two subsequent years when the overall increase has been much less, the cut-back has been a far smaller percentage.
The second point which the honourable member for Reid tried to make in relation to this clause concerning expenditure was that on 1966-67 prices- that is, converted to constant prices- net new expenditure had fallen from $139.3m in 1974-75 to $79.6m in the current financial year. He again ignored that the great bulk of that decline took place in the 1975-76 Labor Budget, a decline to $ 102.1m. That is, in real terms, a decline of $37m in that one year. In the subsequent two years of the Fraser Government the total reduction in funds in real termsthat is, at constant 1966-67 prices- has been only $22m. So in the one year 1975-76 in real terms the Labor Government reduced spending by 26.4 per cent whereas over the subsequent two years combined the Fraser Government has reduced spending by only about 20 per cent.
So when we talk about expenditures, as we have been doing in relation to clause 6, we need to remember that if we are going to lay the blame for reductions in expenditure on anyone, then the great bulk of that blame must be laid at the feet of the Labor Government and that Hayden Budget of 1975-76 particularly when, as we recall, that Budget was not really a Budget of restraint in that it increased spending by 23 per cent whereas the two Fraser Budgets since then have been Budgets of restraint, increasing spending overall by only 10 per cent in each of those years.
– It is very interesting that the bureaucracy which used to give me information and work for me when I was a Minister is now giving information to and writing the answers for the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman).
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. The honourable member for Reid is suggesting that the bureaucracy is writing these answers. Those answers I derive directly by looking at the honourable member’s own table. No one advised me on those answers.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)There is no point of order.
– The honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) thinks we live with Alice in Wonderland. I happen to know how things move and how things tick, and I know the efficiency of the bureacracy which used to work for the Department of Urban and Regional Development. The trouble with bureaucrats is that they do not know what is going on within the Cabinet room. Despite all that has been said about the amount provided in the Hayden Budget brought down in 1975-76, it was only 1.67 per cent of overall government expenditure and was still far in excess of the amount of money made available this year which is 1.46 per cent.
The overall strategy and our intention when we framed that Budget in August 1975 was that if building had not lifted in the private sector, if unemployment worsened in the construction or in the housing sector, we would stimulate public sector housing in the second half of 1975-76. I say to my former bureaucrats and to the honourable member for Kingston that they should look at the amount of money that was made available in 1974-75 Budget under the Labor Administration. It was not $385m; it was a much lower amount. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), who was then the Minister for Housing, joined in consultation with myself and the then Treasurer to seek an additional amount of money because if men and materials were available we would make more money available. Therefore we were not bound in. The then Minister for Health, now the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham), endorses my remarks because he was a member of Cabinet. We said at that time that if the private sector had not picked up and if both men and materials were available we would provide that money, and that is what we did.
All I am saying to this Government now is that both men and material are available. There are many, many thousands of people unemployed. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) this afternoon cited the actual number of workmen unemployed. We have materials under-utilised; we have men under-utilised. It is about time that this Government gave a stimulus to the public housing sector. I am making it quite clear that the actual percentage of government expenditure made available has fallen. It was 2. 1 per cent in 1974-75. If you like to go back even further and look at the relevant figures when this Administration was previously in office, in 1970-71 some $142m was made available for welfare housing and that was then 1.74 per cent of government expenditure. The following year it was 1.76 per cent and the following year it was 1.70 per cent. Those were all years under the administration of a conservative government. Now it is 1.46 per cent. What I am saying is that this Government has given public housing a lower priority. If we look at the total number of houses being built we find that only 7.9 per cent of them are being built by the public sector. When the conservative government headed by Sir Robert Menzies was in office, 22 per cent of all housing was built by the public sector. Now, the figure is less than 8 per cent. That is the point I am trying to make.
I am trying to bring out the fact that this Government has downgraded its contribution to welfare housing as a proportion of public spending even though public spending overall has been cut by this Government. The Opposition is saying that if we are to provide a stimulus for the Australian economy we should provide it through public sector spending, through building public sector housing. As I have said, if the Government adopts our amendment it will increase the amount of money available for housing. It will increase the number of homes being built by the public sector, from 1 1,400 to at least 15,000. That will represent an increase of more than 25 per cent. The economy can take it. It is an under-utilised economy. The building industry is an under-utilised area of the economy. It needs a stimulus. There are 100,000 families on the housing commission waiting lists. The young honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman), in his pious way, put forward the proposition, on a statistical basis, that we are meeting these needs. I ask him to look at the number of houses that are being built. Why is it that in 1955 the Government was able to build 18,000 when the population was much smaller?
– Because we had a higher migrant intake.
– Now we have the situation in which the Government is building less than 12,000 homes a year. The honourable member for Chapman has said that fewer migrants are coming to Australia, but never before have there been so many people on the housing commission waiting lists. There are 100,000 families waiting for homes. How long will it take for them to be housed?
It is important that attention is drawn to clause 6 and to the fact that more money should be made available to the public sector. The Australian Government should make more money available to the State governments so that they can meet the housing needs of the people of the States. That is what the clause with which we are dealing is about. The young honourable member for Kingston put forward fallacious figures and misinformation. He demonstrated a lack of understanding of the bureaucracy.
– I have not talked about that.
– He comes in hook, line and sinker. I know what the bureaucrats do. The honourable member for Kingston should have the wisdom, when speaking about bureaucracy, to say -
– It is misrepresentation.
-I know it is all right for the honourable member for Kingston to put that view, but we are a political party and there are political aspects of this matter which he does not understand. He should become wiser in this matter before he gives information such as that to the Parliament. I am asking the Government, under clause 6, to make more money available to the States so that they can build more houses. Secondly, I believe that the matter should be reported each year to the Parliament.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I just want to raise one question.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 1 to 17- by leave- taken together.
-I wish to comment particularly on clause 16 of the Schedule which picks up the objectives set out in the preamble to the Schedule. Basically one ought to be able to say positive things about this clause because it opens up the whole question of the way that funds provided by the Commonwealth might be administered. One has to say that in the area of rental housing in the public sector administration has been a key problem. Earlier in the debate I referred to problems associated with the administration of the Victorian Housing Commission. I recognise that the records of some other State housing authorities, particularly that of the South Australian Housing Trust, have to be viewed in contrast with what has taken place in terms of housing authorities in other States. But, if one takes a particular State, one has to recognise that for the past 15 or 20 years the State of Victoria has had an appalling record of administration. It has been possible to draw attention to a whole range of problems in relation to that administration.
One worries a great deal about what one hears said in positive terms by the Government about flexibility. Flexibility for the Victorian Housing Commission and for the Victorian Government has meant licence to do things which it ought not to have been possible to do in the name of a State housing authority, and to administer affairs in a way that in many respects has been thoroughly regrettable. One could give a whole series of different examples. The fact that there has been a significant decline in the number of units constructed by the State housing authority in the seventies in Victoria was much related to the essay that the authority went into in terms of high density housing. When it received funds and was able to administer those funds in relation to the acquisition of land the Gowan report thoroughly documented a whole series of disasters that occurred. In terms of environmental planning, estate planning and the whole paternalistic nature of that authority and its relationship with it tenants, it has a bad record. One does not imagine that the Victorian Government, given more flexibility, is likely to mend its ways- quite the contrary. The more flexibility the Victorian Government has had in the housing area the greater capacity it has had to go on to what could be described only as housing disasters.
One of the difficulties of the Commonwealth Government in its approach to housing, which has been reflected in this debate, is that the Government, as opposed to a department, does not have any particular interest in housing policy. Honourable members have seen that reflected also in the area of health policy. The Government is interested in cutting costs and chopping back funds; it is not interested in policy development. What appears in clause 16 is a whole series of options or alternatives which coexist. To take but one of them, it is suggested in (e): to enable housing to be let to such charitable bodies and other organisations as are approved by the State Minister for the provision of assistance to disadvantaged persons;
That seems to be quite contradictory to the fundamental argument that was advanced in favour of the movement towards market rents and rebates, in that we were going to enable people on so-called higher incomes to move out of housing estates and they were going to be replaced by the really poor. That was what Mike Jones was talking about in Housing and Poverty in 1 972. That was what the Priorities Review Staff was talking about in 1973. That is what the Henderson Commission of Inquiry on Poverty was talking about. But, what do we find? We find a part of the Bill which is clearly giving a government flexibility to allow the kind of people that a State housing authority ought to be housing as its first prioritythat is what the Government says it is doing- to be dealt with on a charitable basis. The Commonwealth is providing funds for voluntary agencies so that they, perhaps in an even more paternalistic manner than the State Housing Authority can provide the kind of religious based charity services that have been associated with homelessness for so long.
Another option that the Government has apparently thought about, but not sufficiently to make any commitment, and which is just thrown in as one of the options, though it is not discussed in the Minister’s speech, is the suggestion that voluntary, non-profit, charitable or other housing management bodies or groups, as approved by the State Minister, could be used. Examples of that type of group, perhaps positive examples, are the cost rental housing associations which have been developing recently in Victoria and which have received some support from the State Government.
Again, I think that is an option that ought to be considered, but has the Government, has the Department, evaluated those experiments? Has it seen what has been the result? Has it established that those associations are more successful in providing housing, in managing housing in a way which is less paternalistic, less bureaucratic, in providing a form of administration and, indeed, an efficient alternative to a public housing authority? I do not think that research has been done. I believe that option remains there simply as an option.
It seems to me that the Government is beginning to recognise certain problems associated with the administration of public housing. So this legislation opens up various options; but it does not indicate how those options are to be evaluated, what the relative priority may be between one option and another, or how those options fit into any overall strategy. The whole issue of planning is related in this section. One has to recognise that the very basis of planning in the urban areas is related to land. The former Opposition, now the Government, has opposed bitterly at both Federal and State levels the creation of land commissions, and has reduced those commissions to much smaller bodies than they might be, by not making available the funds that are necessary.
– Justifiably so.
-That kind of structural reform has enabled your State of South Australia to sell land more cheaply, in better locations, than has been possible in any other State. The absence of a commitment to that kind of structural reform results in the kind of trivia that we see in this legislation- potentially important but trivial in the way in which it is developed and set up. Paragraph 16 (2) (j) of the agreement talks about undertaking and participating in joint ventrues co-operative enterprises and so on, in order that public housing developments may be integrated with private housing and achieving a desirable socio-economic mixture of housing. That clearly is an extraordinarily important area and one to which I would hope the Government has a sense of commitment. If that is the case, why has the Government rejected the amendment which suggested that the objective ought to be basic to any intelligent housing policy? This is a government which attempts to separate the whole question of housing from its planning, from its land and from its environmental context. It is a government which sees housing in abstraction, fundamentally, from those contexts, so it favours a form of housing in which it is possible for people to surround themselves with an appropriate environment in terms of their own quarter acre. It does not look at housing in social terms. It does not look at it in terms of its possibilities as a positive force for change.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– What an inconsequential speech by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe). I am moved to suggest that the honourable member was giving a diatribe, not on the Schedule but on some strange philosophical attitude that he has to the issue of welfare housing. He was at great pains, in discussing the Schedule, to criticise the Victorian Government’s performance on housing. He does less than justice to the Housing Commission of Victoria which has been to tremendous pains to provide for the housing needs of the citizens of that State. I contest the remarks that the honourable member made, by responding that I can think of no State housing authority that has devoted more attention, more research, more innovation, to the particular needs of the people of its State, in regard to housing both for purchase and rental.
It is an unquestioned fact that the Victorian Government has a distinct preference that Housing Commission homes and flats should be available for purchase, as opposed to rental. The honourable member contests that view. I respect his position because it represents the attitude of the Austraiian Labor Party on these matters; but the Victorian Government, through its Housing Commission, in recent years has left no stone unturned to endeavour to provide the greatest possible number of homes for purchase by the people of Victoria. Only one thing has stood in the way of that ambition. I refer to the agreement between the Commonwealth and the State that was brought in between 1972 and 1975 by a Labor government. That effectively outlawed any goal of, or determination by, the Victorian Government to provide that in excess of 30 per cent of Housing Commission homes be for purchase. For the first time we have before us a Bill which provides the kind of flexibility that I would recommend to all honourable members, one that is unquestionably supported by the people of Victoria. I specify that State because the honourable member for Batman has referred to it.
The Bill specifically provides for what we believe to be the fulfilment of the ambition of the people of Victoria- to purchase, to own a house of their own. If the Opposition wants to contest that view, so be it, but I want on record in this Parliament which side stands for home ownership, and which insists that homes for rent be provided. Whatever the justification may be- I know that honourable members opposite go to all sorts of esoteric limits to try to justify their stand on homes for rent, rather than for ownership- I suggest that it is not acceptable to the people of this country.
– I wish to raise a point of order. At no point in my speech did I say anything about home ownership or rental -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- That is not a point of order. If the honourable member wishes later to claim to have been misrepresented, he has the right to do so.
– I have merely been responding to the honourable member and illustrating what nonsense the Opposition generally has been uttering in regard to the Bill.
– Oh, sit down!
– The honourable member for Hughes, a previous Minister for Housing who introduced the most centralist housing legislation this Parliament had ever seen, has the gall to interject- this at a time when he should hang his head in shame, rather than interfere with the proceedings of this chamber.
The point of this legislation which the Opposition has refused to acknowledge, and which during the course of this debate, it has consistently contested, is that the legislation introduced by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) in this session provides for the most flexible, the most logical and the most innovative approach to welfare housing that this Parliament has ever seen. Members of the Australian Labor Party are prepared to contest that point. What is acknowledged by the States is that this is the sort of legislation that they have been seeking for years. Yet, the honourable member for Reid, speaking for the Opposition, contests the legislation all the way down the line. He says it is biased and bigoted. He makes all sons of other criticisms of it. What the honourable member for Reid and members of the Opposition should understand is that this legislation has been sought and approved by the governments of every State of the Commonwealth, whether they be Liberal or Labor.
– What about Vance Dickie and his land deals?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-
Order! The honourable member for Burke, who has only just arrived, might wait and listen to the speech for a while.
– I have been here for a long time listening to this tripe. I have been provoked into saying what I am saying.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Burke will resume his seat.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, how indebted we are to the honourable member for Burke.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I take a point of order. The honourable member is trying to justify his criticism of the former agreement by saying that this Agreement has been approved by all the States. Does he not know that the last agreement- that is the Labor Party agreement- was approved by all the States.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no point of order.
- Mr Giles, I am not a person to be distracted by Opposition comments, but perhaps the honourable member for Burke will tell us why his Government bought land in the parish of Yuroke near Craigieburn which is in the heart of his electorate? Perhaps he can tell us why his Government bought 326 acres of land for $1,485,000 which had changed hands a short time previously for $187,000. Perhaps he will tell us about that.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. Perhaps the honourable member for La Trobe can tell us why the Victorian Government -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no point of order.
– . . . bought land for millions of dollars at Pakenham and other places, at Sunbury in my electorate and at Melton.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. I warn him. The honourable member for La Trobe will kindly return to clauses 1 to 1 7, if he can.
-I will be pleased to do that, Mr Giles. It is just that when interjections like that one come out and when one realises that the Labor Government was taken for $1.5m on a block of land, that one begins to wonder why members of the Opposition question what else has been happening.
– That only happened at Sunbury in Victoria? What about Melton and the rest of the places.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will remain silent and resume his seat.
– Stop him being provocative and give me some protection.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! This is no way to conduct the business of the Committee and the honourable member for Burke knows it. The honourable member for La Trobe will return to the clauses under consideration or I shall ask him to resume his seat.
-I will leave the matter of those disastrous land purchases behind me for the moment. The reason the Government is supporting this legislation so vigorously and the reason it stands four square behind the Minister in this regard is that this is the best arrangement for housing that has yet been introduced into this Parliament.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Mr Deputy Chairman-
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clauses agreed to.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-Is it the wish of the Committee to divide clause 1 8? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-This sub-clause reads:
The rates at which rents are payable by tenants of rental housing shall be determined by the State which when making any such determination shall have regard to a policy of generally relating rents to rates of rental on the open market.
This is important because it deals with rebates on market rentals. As a result rents will rise and this is what prompted us to move earlier that a person with an income up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings should not pay more than 85 per cent of the rate cf rental on the open market but that those earning above 135 per cent of average weekly earnings could pay market rentals. We feel that this is a reasonable proposition because this legislation poses grave difficulties for people earning up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings, or around $270 a week. That may seem a lot but if those people are living in Sydney and Melbourne and are forced out of Housing Commission rental homes they will find it extremely difficult to get a loan to purchase a house and in many cases will find it extremely difficult to afford the rent asked on the open market.
Let us consider a loan of $35,000 to purchase an average home in the western suburbs of Sydney, and a similar situation would apply to Melbourne. Metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne are the two crisis areas in Australia because they are where most of the people live. A person earning up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings would find it extremely difficult to meet the repayments of a loan. The average price of house and land in the western suburbs of Sydney is $35,000. These people therefore would have to get a loan of $30,000, but most people with incomes up to $270 a week would not be able to meet the criterion that repayments on the loan be no more than 25 per cent of their monthly earnings. For that reason we believe that it would be better if the Government accepted our suggestion that people earning up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings should pay only 85 per cent of the market rental, and that those people earning in excess of that should pay market rentals. We know that already the rental rebate system is of growing concern but it will be of more and more concern because the States are being forced by the Commonwealth to move their rents upwards.
Let me give honourable members some idea of the extent of this. In Queensland in February 1978 rents rose on average by 42 per cent over their level 19 months previously. This was the result of most significant increases in the number of tenants receiving rebates and, therefore, in the total cost of rebates. From the end of September 1977 to the end of April 1978 the number of tenants receiving rebates grew from 3,500 to 5,800, an increase of 66 per cent. The annual cost of rebates rose from $2.4m to $5. 75m, an increase of 140 per cent. The proportion of rented dwellings which attracted this rebate rose from 23 per cent to 41 per cent. The philosophy behind this agreement is to try to raise revenue within the State housing commissions and to some extent- I am not knocking this- it is a commendable proposition because if the housing commissions can build the basis of their revenue it will be a good thing. However, the provisions of the legislation in this respect are a little extreme. Honourable members know that today there is a problem with people who want to buy their own homes because in most cases they have to buy on the open market. Families with a single income of up to $270 a week find it extremely hard to purchase a home. The effect of this legislation will be to place enormous pressure on those people. It will force them out of housing commission homes and out of the private market. They will find it extremely difficult because of the artificial market rental which exists. It is a phoney situation.
What is the situation with regard to market rentals? It is a false market. Due to the economic policy of the Government there has been not much private sector investment in rental housing. In many cases, particularly in metropolitan Sydney, flats that were available for rental have now been subdivided and are being sold on strata title. There is a problem in cities such as Canberra, in State capital cities such as Sydney and other cities which absorb a great number of young people from the country. These people band together in groups of three or four and sometimes more and come to the cities after they leave school. They pool their income and rent a home. That rental is then an artificial rental and it forces up rentals generally. All this is being done on the open market and a phoney private market rental is achieved. We find then that rentals for public sector housing are forced up to that level. I know that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) is not responsible for housing in the Australian Capital Territory, but in Canberra last Sunday there was a strong protest meeting held against government rentals being increased. The Government, which is in charge of rentals in the Territory, did not merely move to encourage the States; it showed them the way. Nowhere in Australia has any authority increased public rentals more than the Fraser Government has done.
Rentals in the Australian Capital Territory come under the administration of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott). I have a Government flat in Canberra. I am not saying that I cannot afford the rental increase but I am in that sector which earns above 135 per cent of average weekly earnings. Under this Administration, I have seen my rent go from $80 a month to $ 1 72 a month in the last two years. The same situation is occurring for people renting houses from the State housing commissions. This Government is saying that the Agreement was entered into by all the States, but the Government forced them into it. The rational position is that people earning up to 135 per cent of average weekly earnings should pay not more than 85 per cent of the market rental. People earning above that amount should pay the full market rental.
– I respond briefly to some of the remarks made by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). Perhaps beforehand I should make a couple of general comments on the debate so far because I have not previously had the opportunity to do so, mainly because of the commitment I had to attend a Ministers’ conference on Friday. I wish to associate myself with the remarks made earlier by the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) when he paid the most sincere tribute to the late Alex Ramsay for his remarkable contribution to housing in Australia. I also wish to associate my Department with those remarks. Mr Ramsay was certainly a man with a great expertise in the area of housing. He was also a man of great integrity. I know that he will be very sadly missed by honourable members and also by many members within the Commonwealth Public Service.
I also make the general comment that I am grateful to honourable members from both sides of the chamber for their well-informed debate so far on this issue. I think the debate underlines the importance that honourable members on both sides see in housing in Australia and demonstrates the significance of the legislation that we now have before us. I refer to the question that has just been raised as regards clause 18(1) in the Schedule to the Bill. It relates to the question of rental, and relates the rental in the housing sector to the market rates- the rates pertaining in the general market. I think the honourable member for Reid would acknowledge the principles behind that provision. The Government intends that assistance in this area should go to those most in need and that it should go to them at the time of greatest need. I think all honourable members involved in the debate would acknowledge that that is a sound principle. Under the rental program, people will pay rents related to income until their rents become marketrelated. Of course for pensioners and those in real need, the rebates will apply.
The honourable member for Reid referred to the amendment that was moved earlier. The proposal that was suggested by the Opposition in many respects is similar, at least in effect, to the requirements of the Agreement itself. The Agreement requires the States to charge a rent related to market rent to those no longer in need. For example, the present policy in New South Wales is to charge a rent of 80 per cent of market rates. That, of course, is also consistent with the terms of the Agreement. As I have said, rebates are provided for those in need. In many cases, this results in rents much lower than 85 per cent of the market rate for lower income families. So, in effect, what the Opposition is seeking to achieve would be achieved in any event. I believe that the amendment would introduce an element of inflexibility which I do not think the States themselves would accept.
-I would not disagree with a lot that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) has said. However, I think he is one who is inflexible in insisting that the Government moves to market rentals. I am saying clearly that there should be some protection at an intermediate level. That protection is not there at the moment. If people are forced into higher income brackets, there will be difficulties. I know that the Minister does not live in metropolitan Sydney or metropolitan Melbourne, but he has to catch up with a lot of these things, such as the social problems that exist in those places. There are grave problems.
– I have lived in Melbourne.
-I am glad that the Minister has lived in Melbourne. But things have changed greatly there particularly after the blunderings of the land problems that occurred in Melbourne. This caused rising land prices and rising housing costs in Melbourne. In most of the areas of Melbourne now, a person is lucky to be able to buy a new home for $30,000 or $35,000. The same situation applies to the western suburbs of Sydney. It is a very difficult area as regards social amenities, living conditions and so on. People who live several miles away from a railway station still have to pay $35,000 for their house. To get a loan to buy a home costing $35,000, probably over a 25-year period they have to pay in excess of $270 a month. Most people cannot manage. I know that there was a built-in protection once in this housing sector to the effect that people borrowing up to 85 percent could register for a Housing Commission loan and people borrowing up to 95 per cent could get a loan through the terminating building societies, or through the advanced section of the Home Builders Account. But that situation has now been wiped. The onus is now on the States. The States now have to determine what the means test will be as regards the Home Builders Account if they get a loan from the terminating building societies. They can vary it if they make an application.
I am making a plea on behalf of a great number of people who live in areas where most of the housing is being built in Sydney, and particularly in the western corridors of metropolitan Sydney and the south-western corridor, that people in that income bracket, and in housing commission homes, not be forced out on to the private market. Mistakes have been made, and I am not saying that they have been made only by the Australian Government. They have been made by other governments as well. The private rental market in Sydney is at an extremely artificial level. It will take a long time and intelligent policies to get it down. In my view, it is the Government which is being inflexible. In principle, we are not disagreeing with the revenue that can be accrued to these public housing sectors. If they can gain more, well and good. But one of the problems we have to face is that if more people, say those able to pay the market rental or a reasonable market rental on housing commission homes, are forced out, somebody with a lower income will come in in their place.
– Come on, Tom. Fair go.
– This means that more and more people will be paid a rent rebate. That means there will be a greater burden on this public housing sector. That is the thing about which I am concerned. I know that the Government Whip is in an extreme hurry to get this important piece of legislation through this chamber. But we have to speak now. It is the only opportunity we have to deal with this Bill.
Sub-clause 18(1) agreed to.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-The question is:
That the remainder of the clause be agreed to.
-Sub-clause 18(2) reads:
Rental rebates are to be granted to tenants who are not able to afford the rent determined in accordance with subclause ( 1 ) and the Commonwealth and the States will jointly seek ways of establishing a uniform approach to the calculation of such rental rebates.
I do not want to go over the arguments which I have just put forward to honourable members, but the position that we put forward is that the Commonwealth Government should meet the costs of rental rebates to a minimum uniform level agreed to jointly between the States and the Commonweath Government. It seems to me that it is a rational proposition. The Australian Government meets welfare payments in all other avenues. So why does it not meet such payments in the case of housing? I know that the argument has been advanced by honourable members opposite that this proposition was put to the States. I know that this proposition was put to the States and that the States rejected it. But what the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) did not say was that the Commonweath sought to increase the rents for welfare housing to the long-term bond rate. After all, it is not unusual for those on the conservative side who hold that philosophy to take that point of view. Prior to 1972 there was a period when rents were related to the long-term bond rate. I feel that the Commonwealth should take up this proposition.
Again I ask the Minister to give serious consideration, now and in the future when reviewing this Agreement, to the Australian Government meeting the costs of rental rebates in a uniform way. Under the present Agreement pensioners in different States will be left with a different amount of money on which to live after paying rent. Some States will not be as sympathetic and understanding as others to pensioners or people who are entitled to rent rebates. There will be variations between the States. I believe that there should as least be a uniform minimum rebate. If the States wished to pay a greater rebate it would be easy for them to do so.
– I shall reply briefly to the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). He has raised two issues on this clause. One is the cost of rebates; the other is the question of a uniform rebate. He suggested that the Commonwealth should bear the cost of rebates. The point I make is that the source of revenue is the same when one analyses it. It is money that comes from the taxpayers. I do not see any difference. The real issue he raised is that of uniform rebates. I certainly see merit in that suggestion. The Agreement annexed to this Bill requires the Commonwealth and the States to seek ways of moving towards a uniform system of rebates in Australia. Unfortunately, during the period of negotiation for the Agreement it was not possible to reach an agreement on a uniform system. This is a complex area. Each State operates its own system. There are problems. For example, how does one define income? What allowances should there be for dependants? These are the sorts of issues involved. Work has started at the official level to find some solution to these problems. Recently a two-day conference in Canberra looked at these issues and we hope that some good will come out of that. I am optimistic that at some stage in the not too distant future we will have a uniform system of rebates in this country.
Remainder of clause agreed to.
Clauses 1 9 to 25- by leave- taken together.
– I want to relate my remarks to clause 25. In part it states:
The clause then provides that the rate of interest will be not less than 5 per cent and that it will increase half of one per cent each year. Basically I feel that this increase is too steep. I should like to see more flexibility in the clause. I think that agreement should be reached and that the Commonwealth should not insist on the steep increases. The Commonwealth itself could be more flexible. It should not stipulate that the increase should be one half of one per cent at the end of the first financial year and that it should increase one half of one per cent each year to one per cent below the long-term bond rate. The States should determine what interest rate they are able to offer on loans. There should be flexibility. I understand that the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development has worked out some different schemes. For instance, instead of the interest rate on loans commencing at 5 per cent plus three quarters of one per cent for administrative costs, in some cases people earning between 95 per cent and 135 per cent of the average weekly earnings may be able to commence a larger loan at a higher interest rate. The package deal might then be a better proposition. I understand that the Department has thought through such propositions and that it will be putting them to the States. All I am saying is that instead of an arbitrary increase of half of one per cent each year there should be some flexibility across the board. In the long term this would be better. I know the principle that the Government is trying to keep in mind. It is extremely difficult for people to get a foot on the rung of the ladder of home ownership. It has become more difficult each year. It is for that reason that I feel that the amendment moved by the Opposition to the motion for the second reading of the Bill was a reasonable proposition.
– I should like to make two comments on clause 20 for the benefit of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom). I ask him to take note of them and perhaps convey my concern, if justified, on the operation of the Agreement, particularly clause 20. The first point is that in some cases in Victoria the form of election given to an applicant for a housing commission home does not clearly state whether that person will be a rental applicant or an ultimate purchaser. There have been such cases in the Warragul district and a great deal of confusion has run through the minds of a number of people. They thought they would be in a position to purchase their home. They thought that they had an option to purchase when, in fact, they were only renting their home. This has caused heartache for some people in that area. I do not know whether this problem is widespread but it needs to be looked at.
I should also like clarification in relation to sub-clause (2) of clause 20. It relates to the determination and implementation of the policy with respect to sales of rental housing. It provides that the sales of dwellings will be at market value. In determining market value there seems to be some confusion in that tenants who carry out improvements on their property are thereby disadvantaged if they purchase the property. A tenant may be given the opportunity to purchase his own home after he has been renting it for a number of years. Like most Australians he may have carried out improvements on his property. He may have erected a carport, a pergola or sun screens which form part of the fabric of the home and are not classed as chattels. If clause 20 (2) (a) means that he has to buy the home at market value he would have to buy the very improvements which he has carried out to his home. If this matter is relevant to this clause it needs clarification. Representations have been made in the past in relation to this particular problem. Tenants desirous of purchasing their home have been worried that the improvements they have carried out may be taken as part of the ascertained market value.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 26 to 34- by leave- taken together and agreed to.
Remainder of the Schedule, including the Preamble- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Groom)- by leave- proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I will make my remarks brief. It is important in debating an important Bill such as this to mention the death of Alex Ramsay, a former general manager of the South Australian Housing Trust for nearly 30 years. We on this side of the House express our gratitude for the work carried out by Alex Ramsay. He served under many governments in South Australia including the Playford Government, the Walsh Government, the Hall Government and finally the Dunstan Government. Everyone who has been involved in either housing or urban and regional affairs knows the great service that he has given in every aspect. It was my great privilege when I was a Minister in the Whitlam Labor Government to appoint Alex Ramsay as chairman of the Australian Housing Corporation. In 1972 Alex Ramsay was the chairman of the Habitat Committee which presented Australia’s case to the Habitat conference at its meeting in Vancouver in late 1972. He was also a member of the South Australian Land Commission. On behalf of all members of this House I pay respect to the public service that Alex Ramsay has given in the fields of housing, Region use and urban affairs. The sad thing is that he died such a young man at 63 years of age. On behalf of this side of the House I express to his family our sincere sympathy.
-I will not take up more than a minute of the time of the House. I support the sentiments that have been expressed by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) in relation to Alex Ramsay. Alex Ramsay presided over the South Australian Housing Trust at a time when it was the envy of every State in the Commonwealth, in the early days of his job. Admittedly there was a heavy subcontracting system that possibly made it successful. One could debate whether that was right or wrong. The fact was that those early Playford days the Housing Trust produced houses of quality and at a rate with which no other State of the Commonwealth could compete. I think the honourable member for Reid is right in drawing the attention of the. House to the fact that Alex Ramsay is no longer with us. I would like this side of the House because I knew Alex Ramsay personally and well.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments.
Clause 3 (Interpretation).
Senate ‘s amendment No. 1 -
Before the definition of ‘Alligator Rivers Region ‘or ‘Region’, insert the following new definition:
Administrator of the Northern Territory’ means the Administrator of the Northern Territory acting with the advice of the Executive Council of the Northern Territory;.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
After the definition of ‘appointed member of the Committee’ or ‘appointed member’, insert the following new definition: appropriate Aboriginal Land Council’ means such Aboriginal Land Council established under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 as the Minister delares by instrument under his hand to be the Aboriginal Land Council responsible for the Alligator Rivers Region for the purposes of this Act;.
Senate’s amendment No. 3-
After the definition of ‘Co-ordinating Committee’ or Committee’, insert the following new definition:
Director of Territory Parks and Wildlife’ means the person holding office as the Director of Territory Parks and Wildlife under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1976 of the Northern Territory or, if a person is acting as the Director, the person so acting;.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 4-
In sub-clause (1), paragraph (b), leave out ‘and’ (second occurring).
Senate ‘s amendment No. 5-
In sub-clause ( 1 ), after paragraph (b), insert the following new paragraphs: (ba) 2 members appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the Administrator of the Northern Territory; (bb) one member appointed by the Minister on the nomination of the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council; and’.
Senate’s amendment No. 6-
In sub-clause (S), after ‘nomination of, insert ‘the Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council, or on the nomination of.
Senate’s amendment No. 7-
In sub-clause (S), paragraph (b), after ‘the’, insert ‘Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council, or the’
Senate’s amendment No. 8-
In sub-clause (2), after ‘nomination of, insert ‘the Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council, or on the nomination of.
Senate’s amendment No. 9-
In sub-clause (2), after ‘and ‘, insert ‘the Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council, or’.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 10-
In sub-clause (6), after ‘nomination of, insert ‘the Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Aboriginal Land Council, on the nomination of.
Senate’s amendment No. 1 1 -
In sub-clause (6), paragraph (b), after ‘the’, insert ‘Administrator of the Northern Territory or the appropriate Land Council, the’.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 12-
In sub-clause (5), after ‘1976’, add ‘or the operation of any similar provision in a law of the Northern Territory that confers functions on a person similar to functions conferred on the Ombudsman by that Act ‘.
The Supervising Scientist shall consult with, and shall have regard to the views of, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife in relation to any matter arising in the course of the performance of his functions that concerns the functions, powers or duties of the Director.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 13-
Leave out the clause, insert the following clause:
The Supervising Scientist shall-
consult with, and have regard to the views of, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife in relation to any matter arising in the course of the performance of his functions that concerns the functions, powers or duties of the Director; and
consult with, and have regard to the views of, the Director of Territory Parks and Wildlife in relation to any matter arising in the course of the performance of his functions that concern the functions, powers or duties of the Director or the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission established under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1 976 of the Northern Territory. ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 14-
Leave out the sub-clause (5), insert the following subclause:
cause a copy of any report furnished to him under sub-section ( 1 ) or (3) to be laid before each House of the Parliament within IS sitting days of that House after the report is received by him; and
cause a copy of every such report furnished to him on or after 1 July 1978 to be furnished to the Minister of the Northern Territory who is responsible, or principally responsible, for the administration of matters relating to parks and reserves in the Territory as soon as practicable after the report is laid before a House the Parliament.’.
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
These amendments arise from the agreement reached in Darwin on 10 May as a result of discussions with the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and the Northern Land Council. Honourable members will know that some concern had been expressed about the role which the Northern Territory should play in the developments that are planned in the Alligator Rivers Region as a consequence of the Government’s decision to proceed with uranium mining in the region. Two major decisions of the Government are to proceed with the establishment of the Kakadu National Park and to make special arrangements for the supervision of environmental protection measures in the region. The Bill to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act will facilitate the establishment of the Kakadu National Park, and this Bill with which we are now concerned- the Environment Protection (Alligators Rivers Region) Bill- will establish the environment protection arrangements. The amendments now introduced to this Bill underline our recognition of the role of the Northern Territory in respect of powers and functions of the Supervising Scientist to be established under this BUI.
The amendments give statutory recognition to the Government’s earlier statements that the Northern Territory Government will be represented on the Co-ordinating Committee to be established under this Bill. They also provide for the Supervising Scientist to have regard to the views of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission and for reports prepared by the Supervising Scientist under clause 36 of the Bill to be provided to the appropriate Minister of the Northern Territory. I am sure honourable members will agree that these are very proper and responsible proposals in the light of the constitutional development of the Northern Territory, and I commend them to the Committee.
-The Australian Labor Party still opposes this Bill, although it is not opposed to the Senate’s amendments which in effect have been moved in Committee by the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) because as we see them they are somewhat similar to the amendments that we moved. These amendments now make it law that there will be on the Co-ordinating Committee representatives of the Northern Territory and representatives of the Northern Land Council. The Opposition moved a slightly more extensive amendment. We have no opposition to these amendments. However, we are still opposed to the Bill as part of the uranium package, and we will be dividing on the question.
-The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) has emphasised that he was being responsible. I think this is probably one of the most irresponsible decisions that has been taken. The Minister knows, as anybody who has been to the Alligator Rivers Region knows, that no matter what they do and no matter what amendments are brought in, the mining of uranium will destroy that area and that environment. Not only that; the whole lifestyle of the Aboriginal people living there will also be destroyed. These amendments are seeking to white-wash the problems that exist but no amount of white-washing will hide them. It will be a grave tragedy not only for the area that is directly affected but also for the inter-related areas. As the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) has said, we on this side will oppose the legislation at all stages. We will join with people in opposition to the mining of uranium.
This is going to be an extremely long struggle. It is far from over, I believe the Government’s whole policy will be fraught with problems as it goes on because it has not been well thought out. It has departed in so many ways and in so many principles from the report of the Ranger inquiry both environmentally and from the point of view of the principle of sequential development.
Mines will be able to develop but irrespective of whether that is done by Pan-continental or by Ranger, they will both be struggling because there is a great deal of economic pressure and competition as a result of the dwindling world market for uranium. We know that internationally the nuclear power industry is in grave difficulties because of the cancellation of proposals for new nuclear power stations. The latest fear of the Uranium Mining Companies is that the industry might go ahead with the fast breeder. If some countries do go ahead with the fast breeder, the amount of uranium now needed to drive conventional nuclear power stations may not be needed. So on all fronts there are problems for this Government on such an important issue, and this amendment that the conservative forces of the Northern Territory are supporting in an effort to uphold their sovereign powers, is only another small concession to those conservative forces.
I feel that in the long term the thing that will defeat uranium mining in this country and in other countries is the whole economic situation in the northern hemisphere. We know that whereas there was exponential growth in the 1950s, the 1960s and the early 1970s, there has been a flattening out of the world economy and there is not now the same demand for energy. As a consequence, even nuclear component companies like General Electric and Westinghouse of the United States, which supply 90 per cent of the world nuclear component industry, are in difficulties. The one thing that will defeat the whole business of uranium mining in this country is the economic situation in the northern hemisphere. The question of greed arises. There will not be the expected profits in it. Even the cost of building a nuclear power station is becoming so expensive that it is becoming extremely difficult to meet. The real costs in the nuclear power industry must be considered. Take, for example, the cost of enrichment. Instead of the cost of enrichment being paid for and subsidised as a part of the war machine, the real economic cost will have to be borne by the nuclear power stations and it will make nuclear power so much more uneconomic compared with other forms of power generation.
The real cost of the disposal of nuclear waste must be taken into account. What will be the cost, even if we find a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste? What will be the cost to store nuclear waste for at least a quarter of a million years? This Government and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) are confused. What did the Prime Minister say when dealing with this question of nuclear waste? He said that there was no problem in storing nuclear waste. At the same time he said that the Government’s policy was opposed to reprocessing of nuclear waste. Those who know anything about this issue know that the first thing to do with the so-called waste disposal proposition- vitrification- about which the Prime Minister said there is no problem, is to reprocess your nuclear waste. You have to take out the plutonium. You have to take out the unused uranium. If you did that, then if it was safe you could put it into vitrification. But the Government has said that it is against reprocessing of its nuclear waste, so even if it sells our uranium to any country it has not agreed at this stage to allow reprocessing. Therefore there is no answer to the question of nuclear waste disposal.
Even if there were, what would be the cost involved? Let me examine the situation in the United States. The United States has 74 million gallons of toxic liquid waste that it does not know what to do with. The United States has not recycled it yet.
– Where did you get those figures?
– The honourable member asked where I got those figures. They are available in the official documents, if he wants to know. I can inform him that 74 million gallons is the amount of toxic liquid waste from war experimental plants in the United States. The United States once had three reprocessing plants but they have all been closed. There is no answer to it in the richest country in the world. That is their real problem. Recently a congressional committee brought down a report which warned against the dangers of nuclear waste. Yet our Prime Minister says the problem of nuclear waste has been solved. These are the unresolved problems. These are going to be tremendously costly economic problems for those people who want to continue with nuclear power stations, if they can.
In the long term I believe that the moral issue will certainly stop it. The environmental aspect should stop it.
-The moral issue is not all one way.
– The Aboriginal question in this country should stop it. The young honourable member who interjects should consider the third recommendation -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The Committee is considering amendments. Admittedly it has been a little hard to keep up with the paper work involved. The proposal has to do with supervising scientists who consult with the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the Director of Territory Parks and Wildlife and matters pertaining to that. I wonder whether the honourable member might get closer to the amendments, as we have set aside the Bill already.
-I accept your guidance, Mr Deputy Chairman, but in the whole question of nuclear relationships everything is interconnected and the whole purpose of the Supervising Scientists is to try to make the environment a better place to live in. All I am saying is that interrelated with the environment is the fact that the third recommendation of the Fox report was that the nuclear power industry and uranium mining was interrelated with the whole question of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and that in itself is a threat. We opposed the second reading of these Bills. We opposed them at the third reading. We are opposed to the mining of uranium in this country.
-I would have thought that the Australian Labor Party would have appreciated the fact that people in the Northern Territory have rights. They have the right to consider, to discuss, to consult and to co-operate in relation to their own affairs. They are the rights which the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory recommend should be conferred on the people of the Northern Territory. The honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) was chairman of that Committee and I was the deputy chairman. The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), in his complete madness in attacking the Commonwealth Government’s policy to mine and to export uranium, seems to have overlooked the fact that the people of the Northern Territory live in an area of 520,000 square miles. Let us face it, the Northern Territory comprises one sixth of Australia.
– It is miles that count now, is it?
– No. It is a very great area. It is in the forefront of Australian affairs. The honourable member for Reid denied that the people of the Northern Territory have any right to have any discussion or consultation about their own affairs. He is carried away with his specific policy on anti-uranium mining.
– He did not do that at all.
-AU right, the honourable member for Reid is entitled to that view. Whilst he is entitled to that view, he is not entitled to deny Territorians their rights. For heaven’s sake, they live in the Northern Territory and they put up with a lot, including members of the Australian Labor Party, and other people going up to the Northern Territory telling them what to do. This discussion concerns amendments.
– To which clause are you speaking?
– We are discussing the amendments to these uranium Bills. I am not talking about any clause at all. I am talking about this matter. The former Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Reid, did not discuss these amendments. The honourable member for Hughes should not try to pull me into gear. We have before us the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill. We are discussing the amendments to this Bill. We are not talking about any clauses. Clause 33 of the Bill deals with the functions of the supervising scientist. The amendments state that the supervising scientist shall consult the Director of National Parks and Wildlife. That provision was contained in the original Bill. Now he shall have consultation or discussion with the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. Why not? As the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) who is sitting at the table, knows only too well people in that Commission have the experience and the ability to handle parks and wildlife. This is what these amendments are all about.
– We have no objection to that.
– I known that the Opposition has no objection to that. But the honourable member for Reid did not discuss these amendments whatsoever. We were charitable enough to let him rave on. After all, he did not mention the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill, nor did he mention the Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Bill which refers to this matter.
– We are not debating that.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! That Bill is not one that is subject to the current amendments before the Committee.
– I am sorry, Mr Deputy Chairman, I thought they were being dealt with together.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- We are dealing with the three Bills which concern the Alligator Rivers Region.
– I am sorry. This is the Bill I picked up off the table and this is one of the Bills which appears to be under discussion.
– You picked up the wrong Bill.
-They were on the table. If they are on the table, then surely they relate to this debate.
– We are only discussing the clauses which -
-Mr Deputy Chairman, will you sit this interjector down?
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. Obviously there is confusion in the Committee at the moment as to the Bills which are before us. The fact is that they are not listed on the business paper which comes out as a guide to honourable members. It seems to me that in view of the contention made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory that the wrong Bills are on the table you may like to give us some explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Hughes will resume his seat. There is no way that a Bill returning from the Senate can be mentioned on the business paper. Surely the honourable member for Hughes realises that. I ask him to stop wasting the time of the Committee. I call the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman. Now we get to the principal -
– What are the Bills? I take a point of order. Mr Deputy Chairman, obviously there is confusion between you and the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! There is no confusion in my mind at all. The honourable member for Hughes will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
– You can let him talk to any Bill you like. He is on the wrong track.
-I am discussing the amendments from the Senate which are on the table and which refer to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1978.
– I raise a point of order. As I understand it, we are discussing the amendments introduced by the Minister to clauses of the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill. At this stage that is all we are debating.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -That is true. I call the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
-I thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman. I imagine that some honourable members are interested in the conservation of wildlife in the Northern Territory otherwise they would not be speaking on the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! I think I had better make it quite plain. For the convenience of the Committee I point out that amendments have been distributed covering three Bills, the first one of which is the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill, which we are now debating. But we are not debating the second or third Bills.
– Well, I shall speak later when we deal with the other Bills.
-I rise to support and to enlarge upon the remarks made by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). He dealt with the matter in terms of general principles. I shall restrict my remarks to the rather specific provisions of the Bill. I shall deal with the views of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) and also of the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom), that now these Bills have come back amended from the Senate, somehow everything will be all right. There are no problems so we can go ahead and mine uranium to the satisfaction of the Minister. Presumably as a result of some deal made by the Government with representatives of the Northern Territory, everybody will be happy.
I assure the Minister and the honourable member for the Northern Territory that honourable members on this side of the House share the views of the honourable member for Reid. We certainly are not happy. We do not believe for one moment that a Bill which is little better than a public relations exercise and which purports to protect the environment of the Alligator Rivers Region will achieve that commendable objective.
– You moved a similar amendment.
– I point out to the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who is sitting at the table, that he had an opportunity to explain and to enlarge upon these amendments. I doubt that he understands them. I ask the Minister: What do these precious amendments that he has dropped on the Committee achieve? Let us examine them. Let us look at the original Bill. No one believes for one moment that the Bill, by creating the concept of a supervising scientist, will protect the environment. If one looks at the history of this region and at the boundaries that have been drawn, one realises that they have been drawn for one purpose only and that is to enable the Government to fulfil its objective of uranium mining.
– The honourable member for the Northern Territory can say nonsense. He talks much about the people of the Northern Territory. I remind him that there were people in the Northern Territory before the dominant group that are there now. I am speaking of the original inhabitants, the Aboriginals. I know that the honourable member is concerned about them and that he is concerned about their views, but if one looks at the original area which was being considered as being encompassed by the national park area, the Alligator Rivers Region, there is no way that one can rationalise that concept with the boundaries as they are now conceived. I do not have time to take the Committee through all the steps involved, though I should be happy to spend some time with the honourable member for the Northern Territory, and I have no doubt that he would be happy to spend some time with me. I say simply to him that if one looks at the boundaries as they have been drawn one sees that they have been drawn essentially as an exercise in compromise. The overwhelming position of the Government was what it was about with uranium mining. The Government was so concerned about that aspect that it rode completely roughshod in other aspects of this legislation over the positions of the States and even now there is not a State in the Commonwealth -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! Would the honourable member resume his seat for a minute. It is not easy for the Chair either but as I understand it the Bill deals with Supervising Scientists. The amendments moved by the Senate primarily concern the jobs that Supervising Scientists have to do. The Committee is perfectly entitled to look at whether the role of the Supervising Scientist is correct, incorrect, baloney, a public relations exercise or anything else. What I want to discourage the honourable member for doing is debating the second reading in principle. That is what he has been doing for a few minutes, as I think he will agree.
– To round off the remarks I simply want to make on this point. Just as all the States, whether Liberal, Labor, or National Party controlled, are concerned about this package, I would suggest that if the honourable member for the Northern Territory believes that by the amendments the Northern Territory will really have any effective say, rather than simply being involved in a public relations exercise, then he is somewhat naive. Let us look at the role of the supervising scientist. The Government, which is so concerned about the protection of the environment, takes the view that was put in the Fox report. It is a significant and important position. The Government would consider clearly that it was a job of considerable responsibility and would advertise throughout the world in order to get someone of eminence whose reputation both as a scientist and as one having concern for the environment is well known and publicly established.
– I must take a point of order. These matters have no relevance to the amendments before the Committee.
– The Committee is talking about the Supervising Scientist.
– Yes, his salary and so on. I think the honourable member should be relevant to the subject matter.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The Chair is rather privately delighted that the substance of the debate has returned to supervising scientists, whether it relates to salaries or otherwise. I ask the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to continue his logic into the area of the amendments.
– I am doing my best- with everybody’s assistance.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I realise that you are doing your best.
– If that is what the Government was concerned to do, it could have been done. That was not what was done. What occurred was that someone was plucked out of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The Committee is talking about the role of the supervising scientist and the amendments deal with that. The supervising scientist was plucked out of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. All honourable members know that the role of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, since its inception, has been to encourage the development of uranium mining. I have never met the gentleman concerned but I do not believe that the Government was genuine in its appointment of the supervising scientist, if the Government is saying that this man sees his role as protecting the environment as against the interests of the uranium miners. Perhaps I might return quite specifically and more narrowly even again to the enthusiasm shown by the honourable member for the Northern Territory who believes he has derived some great benefit from the amendments. If honourable members look at clause 33 they will see what supervising scientists have to do in terms of considering the position of the
Northern Territory. That is what he was waxing eloquent about -
– Who was waxing eloquent?
– I was probably being more charitable to the honourable member than he deserved. I could have said that he was being boring. Whichever way one looks at it, by the clause the Supervising Scientist has to ‘consult with, and have regard to the advice of. That is like me having a conversation with the honourable member for the Northern Territory. Once I have had a conversation with him and consulted with him I can say that I have had regard to his views but that I think they are all nonsense. That is the great concession that the honourable member for the Northern Territory now believes has been won for the people of the Northern Territory. What nonsense. I concede that there are a couple of people who have been appointed to the supervising committee who will render a valuable service but I think if we are being honest about it we will say that what the honourable member was really concerned about was not that those persons would have any real regard for the protection of the environment but that they would have a slice of the cake, whether yellowcake or otherwise, from the profits that come from uranium mining. I doubt that they will get much of that but let not the Committee or the people of the Northern Territory be confused. They are confused if they believe that their rights have been preserved any more than have the rights of the people of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland or anywhere else. If one views the amendments as part of the total Government package, what the Government is concerned to do is to mine uranium. That is what the Government is about and it does not really care about anything.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I shall be brief. I wish to answer one of the comments made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory who suggested that there should be consultation with the people of the Northern Territory. I do not think anybody on this side would disagree with that. In fact if honourable members look at the Opposition’s original amendments they will see that the Opposition suggested a wide ranging number of areas for consultation. The Opposition is happy to see this improvement. The important thing that needs to be remembered, with all due respect to the people of the Northern Territory, is that the question of uranium mining is not just a question for the people of the Northern Territory to decide. It will affect the whole of Australia and the whole world. It is true that the Kakadu National Park is located in the Northern Territory as is the Uluru National Park. I believe these things are -
– Am I getting a lecture on this, when I was unable to discuss it?
-No. I am dealing with the clauses in the Bill, which relates to the Alligator Rivers Region.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-The honourable member is not entitled to deal with the clauses in the Bill. The Committee is considering the amendments.
– I am sorry, I am dealing with the amendments. The honourable member for the Northern Territory raised these points. It is important to remember that the questions of the Kakadu National Park and supervising scientists are national questions that are not just restricted to the people of the Northern Territory. I do not want to canvass the whole range of amendments and the Bill. I spoke for some 30 minutes on the Bill when it was presented before.
-The Opposition has been disturbed about the whole question of the appointment of the Supervising Scientist. The proposed amendment relates to the conditions of that appointment or to the conditions under which he is to work. The situation is that the Supervising Scientist was an employee of the Atomic Energy Commission. People who are impartial on this issue are greatly concerned about that. I might say that the Supervising Scientist involved himself in the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. At pages 249 and 250 of the second report of the Ranger inquiry we find the following:
A strong body of evidence demonstrates a widespread lack of confidence in the Atomic Energy Commission as the final arbiter of standards for the proposed mining operations, and as monitor of them. This is in part because it is proposed that the Commission be actively engaged as an entrepreneur, and in part because one of its ordinary roles-
– I wish to raise a point of order. This sort of comment is totally irrelevant to the amendments before the Committee. We are concerned with the question of the Supervising Scientist consulting certain people, with the Supervising Scientist sending a copy of his report, it having been tabled in the Parliament, to the relevant Minister in the Northern Territory Government. Those are the specific issues with which these amendments are concerned. If we are to become involved in the way in which the
Supervising Scientist is appointed, his past history and so on, we will be here not only all night but all week as well.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)-I uphold the Minister’s . . .
-How can the Chair uphold him when it has not yet heard me on the matter?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The honourable member has not heard what the Chair has to say yet either. I ask him to resume his seat for a moment. In my view, the Minister is perfectly correct: It has nothing to do with the Atomic Energy Commission. Quite frankly, the Chair does not know anything about the background of the Supervising Scientist. What it knows is that the Supervising Scientist, according to this amendment, consults the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and the Director of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission and what have you. That is as far as the Chair knows. It is hard for the Committee because perhaps we are learning more about the relevance as we go along. We must try to be relevant.
– On the point of order: Clause 33 provides that the Supervising Scientist ‘shall consult with, and have regard to’. Surely if an amendment encompasses the provision that a supervising scientist shall consult with and have regard to, one is entitled to presume that that opens up the question of the capacity to consult, the capacity to have regard to, and capacity in that sense just does not go to the question of scientific qualifications or knowledge. It goes to matters of prejudice, of background, and of belief. I would submit that, having regard to the fact that we are dealing with the role and duties of the Supervising Scientist, it must be perfectly open to an honourable member to address the Committee, within the framework of those claims, on the basis that the proposed amendments cannot be achieved because the Supervising Scientist in our view- concerning which we wish to address the Committee- would not be able to carry out those functions. That is the way in which the argument is put. It would be, with great respect, an unduly narrow view which would say that that argument could not be put to the Committee.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I thank the honourable member for Melbourne Ports for his help to the Chair in this matter; but because the Supervising Scientist is a man, does not mean that we can discuss everything that men do. I would be horrified if the honourable member were to think me too narrow in any way, but the Chair must be at least more narrow than lj the honourable member’s liberal interpretation. I call upon the honourable member for Reid.
-The whole point that I am trying to make is that the Supervising Scientist concerned was an employee of the Atomic Energy Commission.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I think the honourable member has made that point.
– He did give evidence before the Ranger inquiry. I am trying to quote the words of the Commissioners on that subject. I think that it should be heard by the Committee. It will take but a few words to finalise the quotation. I repeat, there is disquiet on the part of people who gave evidence about how impartial they would be if they were involved in the business of uranium mining. The position of the Supervising Scientist was not advertised. He was appointed internally, by the Government. We know that there has been a struggle within the bureaucracy; that the Department for Environment, Housing and Community Development in many cases lost out to those under the administration of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), the growth sector. This is why there is so much disquiet about this appointment, about the role of the Supervising Scientist. It is for that reason that I draw the attention of the Committee to the remarks that I have made. The quotation concludes:
That is a reference to the Atomic Energy Commission. An ex-employee of that Commission is involving himself in this position of the Supervising Scientist. There should be great disquiet about the whole attitude that is being adopted. More should be known about the problems that have occurred within the Government. The position of the Supervising Scientist should have been advertised nationally. Because of the grave, unresolved problems relating to the environment in the area concerned, the gentleman in question should never have been put in that position. One has only to read the first and second reports of the inquiry to realise the grave, unresolved environmental problems that remain in the area, and the grave responsibility that the Supervising Scientist would have. That is why there is so much disquiet on this side.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I call on the honourable member for Hughes.
-Mr Deputy Chairman -
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O ‘H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative
Amendments agreed to.
Adoption of Report
Motion (by Mr Groom) put:
That the report be adopted.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Consideration of Senate ‘s amendments.
Senate’s amendment No. 1 -
After paragraph (e), insert the following new paragraph: (ea) by inserting after the definition of “Territory” in sub-section ( 1 ) the following definition: “Territory Commission” means the Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission established by the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1 976 of the Northern Territory; ‘; and “.
Section 6 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting subsection (2 ) and substituting the following sub-section:
Senate ‘s amendment No. 2-
After proposed sub-section 6 (2), add the following new sub-section:
Land in the Northern Territory, other than land in the Uluru (Ayers Rock- Mt Olga) National Park or in the Alligator Rivers Region as defined by the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, shall not, without the consent of the Territory, be acquired by the Commonwealth for the purposes of this Pan if it is land that is dedicated or reserved under a law of the Territory for purposes related to nature conservation or the protection of areas of historical, archaeological or geological importance or of areas having special significance in relation to Aboriginals. ‘
Section 1 1 of the Principal Act is amended-
Senate’s amendment No. 3-
After paragraph (a), insert the following new paragraph: (aa) inserting in sub-section (3) “(including the Territory Commission and the Chairman of an Aboriginal Land Council established under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976)”after”person”;’.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 4-
In paragraph (f). proposed paragraph 1 1 (10)(d), leave out and, in the case of the plan of management in respect of a park or reserve, wholly or partly within a prescribed area, shall, not later than the date of publication of the notice in the Gazette, serve a copy of the plan and of the notice on the relevant Chairman’, insert but, where the plan of management is in respect of a park or reserve wholly or partly within the Northern Territory, he shall, at least 14 days before the date of publication of the notice in the Gazette, serve a copy of the plan and of the notice on the Territory Commission and, if the park or reserve is also wholly or partly within a prescribed area, on the relevant Chairman ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 5-
After paragraph (f), insert the following new paragraph: (fa) by inserting in sub-section (11) ‘(including the Territory Commission and the Chairman of an Aboriginal
Land Council established under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976)’ after ‘person’; and’.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 6-
In paragraph (g), proposed sub-section 11(14), leave out a prescribed area, he shall cause a copy of his suggestions referred to the Director with the plan to be served on the relevant Chairman, and the Chairman may, ‘, insert the Northern Territory, he shall cause a copy of his suggestions referred to the Director with the plan to be served on the Territory Commission and, if the park or reserve is also wholly or partly within a prescribed area, on the relevant Chairman, and the Commission and, as the case may be, the Chairman may, ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 7-
In proposed paragraph ll(21)(b), leave out the proposed paragraph, insert the following paragraph:
in a case where he has made alterations to the plan under sub-section ( 1 9)- a report specifying the alterations and setting out any views in respect of matters to which the alterations relate expressed by the Director and, in the case of a plan of management in respect of a park or reserve wholly or partly within the Northern Territory, by the Territory Commission and, if the park or reserve is also wholly or partly within a prescribed area, by the relevant Chairman. ‘.
Clause 1 1.
Section 16 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting paragraph (a) of sub-section ( 1 ) and substituting the following paragraph:
Senate ‘s amendment No. 8-
Leave out the clause, insert the following clause:
by omitting paragraph (a) of sub-section ( 1 ) and substituting the following paragraph:
to administer, manage and control parks, reserves and conservation zones; ‘; and
by adding at the end thereof the following subsection:
In relation to the performance of his functions and the exercise of his powers with respect to a park, reserve or conservation zone wholly or partly within the Northern Territory, the Director shall, from time to time, consult with, and have regard to the views of, the Territory Commission and, if the park, reserve or conservation zone is also wholly or partly within an area for which an Aboriginal Land Council has been established under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1 976, the Chairman of the Council. “. ‘.
After section 1 7 of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted: 17a.(1)
Senate’s amendment No. 9-
In proposed sub-section 17E(5), line 25, at end of proposed sub-section, add ‘or the operation of any similar provision in a law of the Northern Territory that confers functions on a person similar to functions conferred on the Ombudsman by that Act’.
Senate’s amendment No. 10-
After clause 1 4, insert the following new clause: 1 4a. Section 1 9 of the Principal Act is amended-
by omitting paragraph (b) of sub-section (1) and substituting the following paragraph: “(b) co-operate with a State or the Northern Territory or with an authority of a State or of the Northern Territory in formulating and implementing, “; and
by adding at the end of sub-section (3) “or of the Northern Territory ‘ ‘. ‘.
Senate’s amendment No. 1 1-
After clause 1 8, insert the following new clause: 1 8a. Section 36 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-sections: “(3 ) The Government of the Commonwealth-
shall, from time to time, consult with, and have regard to the views of, the Administrator of the Northern Territory in relation to the performance of functions and the exercise of powers under this Act by officers of employees of the Territory or of an authority of the Territory; and
may make arrangements with the Administrator for the performance of those functions and the exercise of those powers by such officers or employees. “(4) The Director may make arrangements with the Head of a Department of the Public Service of the Northern Territory, or with an authority of the Territory, for the performance of functions and the exercise of powers under this Act by officers or employees of the Department or of the authority, as the case may be. “(5) An arrangement under this section shall not be inconsistent with any law or with any agreement between the Commonwealth and an Aboriginal Land Council established by the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 or between the Director and any such Land Council. “(6) The references in paragraphs (3) (a) and (b) to the Administrator of the Northern Territory shall be read as references to the Administrator of the Northern Territory acting with the advice of the Executive Council of the Northern Territory. ‘ ‘. ‘.
Section 71 of the Principal Act is amended-
Senate’s amendment No. 12-
In paragraph (c), proposed sub-section 71 (3A), lines 33 and 34, leave out ‘does not have any force or effect to the extent to which it is inconsistent’, insert ‘has effect to the extent to which it is not inconsistent ‘.
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
These amendments arise from the agreement reached in Darwin on 10 May, to which I referred when I introduced the amendments to the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill. Following the discussions in Darwin, the Government is pleased to see that there is agreement on the way in which the Park should be managed, respecting the rights and responsibilities of both the Northern Territory Executive and the Northern Land Council. The amendments represent the agreed proposals. The amendments provide that the Director of National Parks and Wildlife shall consult with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission in respect of the preparation of the plans of management for parks and reserves declared under the Commonwealth Act in the Northern Territory. Provision is made for the Commonwealth to consult with the Northern Territory and to make arrangements with the Territory in respect of the performance of functions -
-Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. It is now 10.30 p.m.
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– It is now 10.30 p.m.
– It was not 10.30 p.m. when the honourable member took his point of order. I caution him against such precipitate behaviour. It now being 10.30 p.m., I shall report progress.
-I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I require that the motion be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
-The Committee will resume.
– As I was saying, provision is made for the Commonwealth to consult with the Northern Territory and to make arrangements with the Territory with respect to the performance of functions and the exercise of powers under the Commonwealth Act by officers or employees of authorities of the Northern Territory. The rights and interests of Aboriginals are recognised in arrangements that may be made under these proposed sub-clauses by providing that such arrangements shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of any law, including, of course, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, nor with any agreement between the Commonwealth and an Aboriginal land council. Honourable members will appreciate that the land comprising stage one of the Kakadu National Park is to be granted to Aboriginals under the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. Land is then to be leased to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and is to be proclaimed and managed as a national park.
There is also a provision in the Bill which places the Northern Territory in a position similar to the States. Sub-section 6 (2) of the principal Act provides that the Commonwealth cannot acquire land for the purposes of the principal Act without the consent of the State, where such land is already reserved under State laws for conservation purposes. The Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mount Olga) National Park and the Alligator Rivers Region are excluded from the operation of this provision because the Commonwealth has already established national park interests in these areas. These amendments are a recognition of the emerging independent status of the Northern Territory and I commend them to honourable members.
-Our concern with these amendments is with regard to the Gimbat and Goodparla leases. I do not wish to make a speech on the matter. My remarks are more by way of a question to the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom). As the Minister knows, the second Fox report recommended that the Gimbat and Goodparla leases be acquired and eventually added to the Alligator Rivers Region or the Kakadu National Park. I understand that the proposed amendments of this Bill now mean that that cannot be done without the permission of the Northern Territory. That is our major concern with these amendments. As I have said, we dealt with the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill in greater detail during the second reading stage before it went to the Senate. I ask the Minister to answer that question for honourable members on this side of the chamber, because as I understand it, Goodparla, which I think is Sir William Gunn ‘s property, has been offered to the Commonwealth for a certain price. But nothing has been done to acquire that property. A figure of $134,000 has been mentioned. I do not know whether that is correct. But it concerns us that under this legislation the matter will now revert back to the Northern Territory and will no longer be within the domain of the Federal Government.
-Most of the amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill are not being opposed by honourable members on this side of the chamber, but we do oppose amendment 2 to clause 4. That amendment reads:
Land in the Northern Territory, other than land in the Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mt Olga) National Park or in the Alligator Rivers Region as defined by the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, shall not, without the consent of the Territory, be acquired by the Commonwealth for the purposes of this Part if it is land that is dedicated or reserved under a law of the Territory for purposes related to nature conservation or the protection of areas of historical, archeological or geological importance or the area having special significance in relation to Aboriginals. . . .
We are greatly disappointed in that amendment. The Government might have noticed that we on this side of the chamber took a different position in relation to the six Bills which were previously before this chamber with respect to this matter. We did not oppose the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill when it was previously before this chamber, although we did seek to amend it at the second reading stage because we wanted to see the creation of a Kakadu National Park. We also wanted to amend another Bill, which dealt with Aboriginal land rights. Even though we had certain criticisms about those two Bills we did not oppose them outright.
We are concerned that we have seen a whittling down of the functions of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service by this Government. Whenever the interests of nature conservation and national parks have clashed with other interests- whether they be the development interests of States, the bureaucratic interests of Federal departments or the interests of developers, especially miners- this Government has put national parks last. This amendment constitutes another body blow to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This Government has emasculated the whole concept of national parks. It does not believe in the protection of the national heritage for future generations of Australians. We have to make this very clear. The purpose of this amendment is to put an end to the declaration in the Northern Territory of national parks controlled by a responsible and expert national management authority. In fact, if elements of the National Country Party have their way it will mean an end to the declaration of national parks in any real sense in the Northern Territory. I stress that point.
What does this mean? There is a number of splendid areas of national significance which are worthy of consideration for declaration as national parks to be enjoyed by all Australians. I stress that these areas are not covered by the exclusions in the amendment which I have read. I refer in particular to the MacDonnell Ranges in Central Australia. This is an area of prime conservation importance, an area which conservationists for many years have been putting forward for dedication as a national park, an area of unique beauty and spectacular scenery. This is an area which should be managed for the benefit of all Australians. This should be done by the National Government, by the administration of the National Parks and Wildlife Service under our legislation. However, the effect of this amendment may well be to prevent this area achieving national park status for a long time. It means that local development interests will override national conservation priorities in regard to the future of the MacDonnell Ranges, particularly if any minerals are found in that area. If any minerals are found in that area we can bet our bottom dollar that this Government will exclude that area and that area will be raped and ruptured as has happened to so many other parts of Australia.
This amendment will introduce particular difficulties when it comes to the protection of Aboriginal land. The past year has seen significant development of trust and understanding between Aboriginals in the Northern Territory and conservationists. A great deal of understanding has been built up between those two sectors of our community. This has been achieved by, on the one hand an understanding by the conservationists that much of the land of conservation significance in the Northern Territory is rightfully owned by Aboriginal people who have shown their skills as conservationists over many thousands of years and, on the other hand, a welcoming by Aboriginal people of the interest of conservationists in the protection of Aboriginal lands. Unfortunately, the same trust and understanding does not exist between the traditional Aboriginal landowners and the Country Party-Liberal Party majority in the Northern Territory. It is in favour of growth. It is not in favour of national parks to that degree. Its members are extremely conservative and reactionary in some cases. This was clearly demonstrated when the Northern Land Council reacted strongly against the proposition that the Kakadu National Park be controlled by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. That is what the Assembly wanted. Mr Yunupingu, Chairman of the Northern Land Council, said:
They have never in the past proved themselves that they are capable of running any parks and wildlife in the Territory.
Those are his words. He also suggested in relation to Kakadu that the Aboriginal people would prefer to have no national park than to have a national park controlled by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly itself. We will quickly find that the effect of this amendment will be that land of conservation importance throughout the Territory which is Aboriginal land will not become a national park despite the wishes of traditional Aboriginal owners that their land become a national park in the true sense of the term. It will not become a national park because they have no trust in the management authority which is in the control of the
Country-Liberal Party in the Territory. They can have no trust because of the poor record of the Country-Liberal Party in its attitude to environmental and Aboriginal matters.
This Government’s approach to environmental protection is one of complete ad hockery. It has abdicated responsibility. It has shown that it will sit back and let the States fight amongst each other for development in the absence of strong national guidelines for environmental protection. It is sad to see national conservation priorities subverted by local development interests, particularly in the Northern Territory. This Government is, in short, selling out to the development interests as it wants to sell out to those in the Northern Territory. That is our concern. We will vote against the amendment because of our suspicions and because of the attitude of the Aboriginals towards them. We think that this amendment is a grave, regressive decision.
– I shall respond briefly to the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). (Quorum formed). Mr Chairman, I was attempting to explain why the concern expressed by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) was without foundation. I refer the honourable member to the wording of the new clause 4 (3) in the amendment, which states:
Land in the Northern Territory, other than land in the Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mt Olga) National Park or in the Alligator Rivers Region as denned by the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Act 1978, shall not, without the consent of the Territory-
So the area excluded from that definition is the Alligator Rivers Region. If honourable members look at the area covered by the Alligator Rivers region, as denned in the Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill and the map at the back thereof, they will see that Gimbat and Goodparla are within the Alligators Rivers region. Therefore, the question of consent does not apply to those leases.
– I would like to know who wrote the speech delivered by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) in regard to this amendment. He is so far away from the point that he is displaying a complete ignorance of the matter. I would not say that of the shadow Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). I would say it of the honourable member for Reid. Apart from the honourable member for Reid’s attack on the Country and Liberal Parties in the Northern Territory -
– You mean the DLP. Do you mean the DLP?
– Order! The honourable member for Chifley will cease interjecting.
-Luna Park again. I ask the honourable member to keep quiet. He is a yapyap. Apart from the attack on the CLP, the honourable member for Reid has stated that the authorities in the Northern Territory are completely incapable or incompetent of running or do not want to run national parks in the Territory. He forgets the reputation of the Northern Territory Reserves Board, which ran the Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park before it became -
– Do you support the DLP?
- Mr Chairman, will you quieten this object next to me.
-Or the NCC.
– Order. The honourable member for Chifley will cease interjecting.
– All I am saying -
– Order! The honourable member for Chifley will resume his seat.
-Mr Chairman, I wish to raise a point of order. All I was saying was that the honourable member for the Northern Territory supports the National Civic Council.
– Order! The honourable member for Chifley will resume his seat and will not engage in the practice of taking specious points of order. I call the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
– I was trying to point out that the amendments to this Bill give the Northern Territory Administration the right to some say in the management of the Kakadu National Park. The objection that has been raised by the honourable member for Reid is that Territorians have no expertise, knowledge or ability to manage their own affairs. In actual fact, they have every ability to do so and they have proven this in the running of what is now known as the Uluru National Park and was formerly known as the Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park. The Territorians could do this in respect of the Kakadu National Park. They have done it -
– Is not the Country Party controlled by the NCC now?
- Mr Chairman, please protect me from this nonsense.
– Order! I ask the honourable member for the Northern Territory to resume his seat. The honourable member for Chifley persists in interjecting. If he is intent on defying the Chair, I will have to deal with him.
– The honourable member for Reid seems to be concerned with the fact that the Northern Territory Administration would be unable to administer and look after the national heritage and the national parks -
– Or the National Civic Council.
– I will put you out myself if you are not careful. Now, just watch it.
– Are you threatening me?
-Mr Chairman on a point of order, the honourable member for the Northern Territory just threatened me in the precincts of this Parliament. Are you going to call him to order?
-The remarks of the honourable member for the Northern Territory were not heard by the Chair.
– The Chair should have heard them.
– The Chair would hear the remarks if there were fewer interjections from my left.
– You were too busy talking to the Clerk.
– Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will contain himself.
– I was saying that the honourable member for Reid was stating his concern, his main concern. I take it that he was speaking on behalf of his Party. He said that he was, but I am sure that he was not. I am certain that the shadow Minister in these matters, the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) who is sitting at the table would well know that the Northern Territory Administration has the ability to look after Simpson’s Gap and the MacDonnell Ranges. These are the reserves and the parks in the MacDonnell Ranges which the honourable member for Reid said the Territory has no ability to maintain and administer. Has he been to Simpson’s Gap? Has he seen it? Does he know how well it has been administered? Has he been to Red Bank Gorge? Has he been to Ormiston? No, he has not. Yet he stands up in this place, opens his great mouth and makes a speech that has been written by someone with a great imagination. It is a completely political speech. It has nothing to do with the looking after and the administration of these parks, which the Northern Territory has already proved it can do. The Northern Territory Reserves Board has proved that it is capable of doing this and the Commonwealth Government has recognised it. The Government has realised the ability of the Northern Territory Administration, through what is now known as the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, to look after the parks. The Commonwealth Government has recognised this ability. Why is the honourable member for Reid on his feet saying again and again that the people of the Territory and the Administration are unable to do this? He is just playing straight politics in this.
– Yes, it is a shame because someone has spread a furphy that the people of the Northern Territory are unable to run their own affairs. I do not think the leader of what purports to be the Opposition in the Northern Territory would agree with him. I am certain that if the Northern Territory Opposition were in government it would consider that it could run the Northern Territory and the national parks. The honourable member is completely wrong in what he has been saying. He has been misrepresenting the facts about the Northern Territory and about the Territory’s ability to run its own affairs. He has been attacking the Commonwealth Government which has realised that the people in the Territory are capable of running their own affairs. He is saying again and again that they are not able so to do. Can he produce any evidence to support his claim that the Northern Territorians cannot run their own affairs that they cannot run their parks and wildlife? I advise him to go to some of these places and find out for himself.
– It is about time they got rid of you.
– I warn the honourable member for Chifley.
– The person next to me, whose mouth is clap-trapping -
-Mr Chairman, I raise a point of order.
– Order! The honourable member for the Northern Territory will resume his seat. I call the honourable member for Corio.
– He is out of his seat.
Mr Scholes- It might be that if the honourable member knew the Standing Orders he would keep quiet. My point of order is that the honourable member for La Trobe has been interjecting without stop during the whole of the speech of the honourable member for the Northern Territory, and I think you should deal with him, Mr Chairman.
– I call the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
– What about the honourable member for Chifley? What has he been doing throughout the whole of my speech? I say to the Committee and especially to the honourable member for Reid that I think the honourable member is being carried away by his own uranium policy when he attacks the Territorians and says they have not the ability to run their affairs and should have no say whatsoever. He says that this Bill diminishes the powers of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. That may be right, but the people in the Northern Territory who have the real knowledge and the ability to administer these things are the members of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Service. I think that the national body would be very ill advised indeed if it did not use the people who are on the spot, who know about these parks and who know these things.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired
– I have listened to this debate and I feel that the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) put an entirely incorrect emphasis on and deliberately misinterpreted the provisions of the legislation that are under review. I believe that he misrepresented the attitude expressed by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). The honourable member for Reid has a reputation throughout this country for consistently demonstrating concern for the preservation of Australia’s culture and for the wellbeing of the Aboriginal people. He certainly demonstrates regard for the quality of the reserves in the Northern Territory. On previous occasions the honourable member for the Northern Territory has conceded the great merit of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In fact other honourable members present in the chamber at this moment could vouch for me when I say that at meeting of committees of this Parliament at which evidence has been given, he has eulogised the work of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
In the clause which is before us at present, we simply have a prohibition on the Commonwealth moving in with its National Parks and Wildlife Service without having proper regard for the consent of the Territory Parks and
Wildlife Service. The honourable member for the Northern Territory ought to know that there is a capacity on the part of those two authorities to work together. If there is no capacity for them to do so, this legislation is without any merit at all. It seems to me to be useless for the honourable member for the Northern Territory to stand up here, deliberately disparaging the quality of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and those officers who loyally devote themselves to the fulfilment of that service. Their obligations in the future will be even greater than they have been in the past. I think it will be an extremely bad start to this legislation if those officers are to receive this kind of discouragement and this kind of disparagement. I ask the honourable member to reconsider his attitude. There are enough problems with regard to the clauses of this legislation, which honourable members have bypassed to some degree because some of the points were raised in connection with the previous legislation, the Environment Protection ( Alligator Rivers Region) Bill.
I refer honourable members to a technical point. I will not belabour it. The wording of amendment 7 (b) is as follows: . . a report specifying the alterations and setting out any views in respect of matters to which the alterations relate expressed by the Director-
It is not even grammatically correct. It seems to me that, after the word ‘relate ‘, the word ‘ as ‘ has been left out. If that word were inserted the subclause would read: to which the alterations relate as expressed by the Director-
They are very crudely and hurriedly drawn up amendments, no doubt moved by some wellintending senator, but the Government has got itself into a great mess with this conglomeration of legislation because it is so desperately anxious to run roughshod over the Aboriginal people, and over the Territory Wildlife Service or the Commonwealth National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Government would not care what got in the way; it just wants to reef that uranium out of the ground as quickly as it possibly can.
Now I want to refer to amendment No. 8. Here, in my view, is one of these very unworkable provisions. It says in part: the Director shall, from time to time, consult with, and have regard to the views of, the Territory Commission . . .
The Territory Commission here means the Territory Wildlife and Conservation Commission. So we have two authorities at work here and doubtless they can be authorities that are jealous of each one’s particular role in respect of these functions. The same kind of problem emerges, Mr Chairman, as you would be well aware, in amendment No. 1 1 where once again we have this terminology. In this case provision is made for the Government of the Commonwealth from time to time to consult with and have regard to the views of the Administrator of the Northern Territory in relation to the performance of functions and the exercise of powers under this Act. It just seems to me that we have provisions here that are quite unenforceable, quite a ridiculous bit of terminology setting out a set of intended circumstances which cannot possibly eventuate in any effective way.
It would make sense to me if in respect of this process where we have to ‘consult with and have regard to’- but probably not really take any notice of the views of the other authority- we might start with some kind of register as to what kind of topic is going to be discussed. Perhaps there ought to be some process where one identifies the points that are at issue. It would make some sense to me if one even recorded the conversation. But I think we will have this great ambiguity. One authority will be contending that it was raised and the other will be saying it was never raised. One authority will be saying that this view was put and the other one never registered that it was put.
So there will be, I believe, a running sore in effect- an unending wrangle between these authorities. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) has raised this previously in the course of the evening. One can establish quite easily what will happen in giving effect to all this. There will be consultation but there is no properly defined requirement as to how one has regard for the things that have been raised.
I believe that the Minister ought to go away and take a look at this legislation/To my mind, it is the most mangled and the most meaningless legislation, that has ever been brought into the Parliament since I came here 23 years ago. All it demonstrates is the incessant desire of this Government to get on with the business of selling and hawking uranium around the world, regardless of the consequences. I think a very serious likelihood is that we will develop bad relations between Commonwealth authorities and Territory authorities, and I for one regard that as a bad thing.
I am sure the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) would readily acknowledge that I, like him, have spent a great deal of time in consultation with Northern Territory authorities. I am not one who recklessly sets aside the views and attitudes that they have, but I am very concerned to have regard for the possibility that at this time when we are talking about Statehood, when we are talking about handing over or expanding the powers of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, the Government should bring in such sloppy legislation as this.
– Can you not understand it?
-You do not even know what it is about. You have spent the night in some bemused state -
-Order ! The honourable member for La Trobe will not interject. He has no right to speak when he is not occupying his proper place in the House.
-I do not want to hold up the Committee. It seems to me that the Parliament is degenerating. I know that the Parliamentary Draftsmen cannot be blamed for the quality of this legislation. It was taken away and amended in another place. Many amendments have been made to the Bill which has already been dealt with here tonight. This Bill has 12 amendments. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) has come into the House without any proper exposition. The only instruction he really understands about the amendments to this Bill that have come from the Senate tonight is that he has to get them through before the House rises. They are his riding instructions. As one concerned for the environment, concerned for the Aborigines and concerned for the relevant government instrumentalities I indict the Minister as being ministerially responsible at least for the most inadequate legislation that has come into this Parliament for many years.
– I wish to express my concern in respect of the second amendment which has come from the Senate. If one looks at the arguments that have been advanced the only thing that can be said for the amendment is that it extends to the Northern Territory the provisions that exist in section 4 of the principal Act. I think it is time that the Committee paused and considered the actual terminology not merely of this clause but also of the section in the principal Act. I remind the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) that when the original Bill was brought into the House it was passed with less than one and a half hours debate. I understand the reasons for that. It related to the Government’s anxiety to get the Bill through.
Clause 4 is simply an extension of the original section in the 1975 Act. In 1975 the sorts of arguments that now exist in this community dealing with the preservation of Aboriginal sites and the development of areas for national parks did not loom as large in the community as they do now. I would think that all members on both sides of the chamber would say that this whole question of national parks and Aboriginal land rights will be a continual and increasing issue for this Parliament, the Government and future governments.
If the Commonwealth is saying that we acknowledge that in the States and in the Northern Territory there is a body of knowledge and experience in respect of administration of national parks, so be it. That seems to me to be something that ought to be properly recognised by the Commonwealth. But that is not what this clause does. This clause goes to the question of the sovereignty of the Commonwealth. That is the problem. I invite the Committee to consider the seriousness of this matter. This is not an argument which I apply to the Northern Territory as such; I apply it to the clause in the Bill. The Commonwealth is virtually abrogating a very serious area of its sovereignty in respect of the States. It might well be that in a State or in the Northern Territory, the area with which this Bill deals, there is existing legislation. It might well be that there is an existing administration.
What is important is that the Commonwealth, given the pressures which generate not merely on this Government but which will generate on future governments on the whole question of the preservation of areas of historical, archaeological or geological importance, should not by its own act exclude its own jurisdiction. Let it be understood that what is occurring in this legislation is that all any State of the Commonwealth has to do- the amendment includes the Northern Territory in this area- is to say that it has legislation. If a State knows that the Commonwealth is intending to move, to properly move, in respect of this matter all it needs to do is to pass some legislation and then say: ‘Well, the Commonwealth cannot move to carry out its objectives in these areas of historical, archaeological or geological importance or in areas of significance to Aboriginals because we have passed a Bill’. There has never been such an abrogation of sovereignty.
I have been deeply involved in the past in arguing that on not enough occasions has the Commonwealthnot merely this Government but former governments- adequately conferred with the States on a whole range of issues. Certainly, national parks is one of those areas. I make the point that it is one thing for the Commonwealth to confer and to establish joint structures pulling together the body of knowledge that undoubtedly exists in all these areas, but it is another thing entirely to protect the sovereignty of this Parliament and the sovereignty -
– All one has to do is to look at the history of the very vexed area of Aboriginal land rights. In the course of the last 3 months we saw this Government, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner), adopt one position and pledge support to Aboriginal people in terms of their right to self-determination, but, after a series of not very sophisticated manoeuvres, they were forced to back down completely by one State government. I do not believe that the duty to confer and to consult with the States that is imlicit on the Commonwealth extends to producing legislation of this kind which gives any State and the Northern Territory the right virtually to exclude the operation of the Commonwealth. What the provision does is perfectly clear.
– You have said that three times.
– I have to say it three times in order that people as stupid as the honourable member for Mallee will understand it. If he wants me to speak in pidgeon or even in simpler language, I would be delighted to indulge him.
– Even I could understand after three goes.
– I am doubtful about the honourable gentleman’s capacity to understand anything.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) The honourable member will ignore interjections and proceed with the amendments.
– That is the point I want to make. I think it ought to be placed on record that for this reason there is concern on this side of the House. This provision simply extends a principle which was ill-conceived in the original Bill. It is badly drafted and I believe it will create great problems in the future. It is part and parcel of the total package of legislation that will cause very considerable problems of interpretation in the future.
– I will not keep the Committee long. I should like to refer to the theme which the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) was developing. It appears to me that the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) seems to think that the States have great sovereign power and that we should not have a great suspicion about the conservative National Country Party and Liberal Party forces in the Territory.
– I take a point of order, Mr Chairman. We are discussing amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Bill. This has nothing to do with the ideas of the honourable member for Reid on political affiliations in the Northern Territory.
– The Chair will observe that requirement.
- Mr Chairman, I am dealing with the people who will administer this Act. After all, the Country-Liberal Party has a majority in and controls the legislature in the Northern Territory. It is the concern of the Aboriginal people and of people generally across this nation that we should not extend powers to such conservative forces and governments at this stage. Part of the amendment states that land shall not, without the consent of the Territory, be acquired by the Commonwealth. That is clear. It says that action cannot be taken without the consent of the Territory- without the consent of the awful conservative forces that now rule the Northern Territory. Surely we have had sufficient experience. We have seen what has happened at Aurukun and Mornington Island with the conservative forces in Queensland. Why should we not be suspicious about the same conservative forces in the Northern Territory? The Government has sold out the conservation groups and the Aboriginal people.
The Government has protected itself only insofar as the Ayers Rock-Mount Olga National Park and the Kakadu National Park in the Alligator Rivers Region are concerned. They are the only two areas in which the Government is protected. Henceforth it shall not, without the consent of the Territory, acquire for any purpose any part whatever. The legislation provides that the Government cannot make any decision, as the honourable member for Melbourne Ports has said. Under this amendment the Government has given away its sovereign power to these people. It is interesting to note that the Minister did not give any details about the concern in regard to using the MacDonnell Ranges as a national park. I give this example: The Government may want to make that area a national park. The conservationists may have the arrangements set up. There may be an agreement with the Australian Government about making the MacDonnell Ranges a national park. What could happen? Some type of mineral might be found there. It might not be uranium, just a rich deposit of some mineral. Members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly have stated that they believe in growth for growth’s sake. That would be their policy. Other parts of the Northern Territory are unique and beautiful.
I had the privilege of being the Minister responsible for setting up the National Estate inquiry and for establishing the Australian Heritage Commission. So I know something about these areas and about national parks and places of beauty that the honourable member for the Northern Territory has seen. It is about time that we in this Parliament had some understanding of the matter and gave some protection as far as growth is concerned. In relation to an earlier amendment I spoke about the struggle going on within the ministries of this Government. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) is one of the very junior Ministers. He is not in the Cabinet. He has no real political muscle. Who are the Ministers with the real muscle? The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) who is a National Country Party Minister certainly has an enormous amount of influence on the questions of and decisions on whether there shall be growth or whether mineral mining comes before national parks. We have to start to equate these matters. With a unique, beautiful place we sometimes have to make the decision whether to mine. I instance that great historical judicial decision of Mr Justice Hope who had to determine whether to permit the demolition of the angophora forests in order to mine the $56m worth of wolfram underneath. Of course Mr Justice Hope made the decision that those angophoras could not really be valued. The same situation may occur in other places of great beauty. Mr Justice Hope led the inquiry into the National Estate, and I am pleased that a man of his calibre is now chairman of the Heritage Commission of New South Wales because we need sensitivity, understanding and men of foresight to protect our heritage.
This amendment shows a narrowness of attitude. It sells out to party politics. It is the little men with power who have the control of the parties opposite. The Government parties are controlled by enormously conservative people. The National Country Party elements have certainly made particular Liberal members toe the line and it is about time some of the young backbenchers, who I know are men of principle, stood up to these awful conservative forces that are squeezing them out. The Opposition did not want to oppose all these amendments, but in view of what has happened in Committee, I think that when the vote is taken it will have to oppose everything.
– I again make some brief remarks. (Quorum formed) Both the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the honourble member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) have adopted classic centralist arguments because what they have really been saying is that no State and no Territory is capable of managing a park. If we analyse their argument, that is what they are saying. They are not expressing any concern for the Aboriginal people and are certainly not expressing the views of the Aboriginal people because in fact they have agreed to these amendments.
– Who said that?
-The Northern Land Council, which represents the Aboriginal people in that area, has agreed that this is a proper provision and it has supported it. It is not a question of sovereignty, as was suggested. All the Government is saying is that if a Territory has established a park or a reserve we should not then extend our park or reserve and take over that area. What is wrong with that? As I say, it comes back to whether the park is being properly managed. States and Territories are capable of managing parks.
– It is not a question of management. Under the amendment- I refer to the clauseland will not be acquired without the consent of the Territory if it is land dedicated or reserved under a law of the Territory. One can reserve land under a law of the Territory without having any effective management at all. At least, if the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) is going to tell the Committee the meaning of these provisions he ought to get it right. The simple fact is that he ought to know that, time and time again, legislation is passed through Parliament, huge areas are reserved and no management at all is involved. We can have an argument about the efficiency of management, but I did not join issue on that. In fact, I specifically pointed out to the Minister that there is a vast body of knowledge in all States on the management of national park areas that ought to be consulted and involved. I fully concede that, as do honourable members on this side. We do not concede- obviously the Minister does not understand what his own amendment does- what is sought in the amendment, which states that without the consent of the Territory the Commonwealth cannot acquire for the purposes of this park land that is dedicated or reserved under a law of the territory for various purposes. We are dealing with dedication or reservation. If the Minister knew anything he would know that land can be reserved and dedicated, without any administration being brought into existence. At least when the Minister is informing the Committee he should get his arguments right.
– The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) seems to be taking exception to the fact that Northern Territorians will have a say in their own affairs. These Bills have to do with national parks and wildlife conservation. The national parks, as declared in the Northern Territory, are Uluru and Kakadu. Various other parks in the Northern Territory were mentioned en passant by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). When he mentioned the Macdonnell Ranges he encompassed a considerable number of them. There are numerous parks in that area. Surely people in the Northern Territory should not have the Commonwealth Government coming in and acquiring everything that looks like a park or a wildlife area. It has already declared two of the major areas as national parks. The Territory has proved that it can run those parks, and all other parks. Therefore, as a Territorian, I consider that we should not have people like this citizen from somewhere in some suburb of Victoria telling us what we in the Territory should be doing with our land. We have rights the same as he has. I might ask him to go there- although he might get another hit between the eyes from an Aborigine, which is what he probably deserves- and look at the Tanami wildlife park. The Aborigines and the Territorians, should have the right to administer and control those lands. They are not national parks.
-Briefly, one point has been reiterated ad nauseam by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) in relation to the proposed amendment to add new sub-section (3) of section 6. What he has deliberately omitted to do is to state the purposes. Section 6 of Part II- Parks and Reserves of the Act states in sub-section (2) speaks of land:
Reading sub-section 10 in the context of the object there, if the Territory or the State have reserved or dedicated land for those purposes, I respectfully agree with the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) that it is npt unreasonable for the Commonwealth to say that it will not acquire land without first consulting the State or Territory and that it will acquire land only after it has the consent of the State or Territory. The purpose of the Act is to make provision for and in relation to the establishment and management of parks and reserves. There is a joint responsibility between the Commonwealth and State in relation to sub-section (2) and a joint responsibility in some cases, if the area is in a Territory which is what proposed sub-section (3) deals with. I find the amendment quite in order. It is an example of federalism in practice. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) is very reluctant to concede that this factor is capable of solution. He made the specific point that there has not been sufficient consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the State governments or, in this case, in proposed subsection (3), the Territory. This is a classic example of the States and Territory being given the opportunity to consult before acquisition for the purposes set down in section 6 of the Act. I respectfully submit that this is a provision which answers the whole problem of consultation before acquisition.
That the amendments be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I want to point out that as far as I am concerned the behaviour tonight of those on the other side of the House is a declaration of war.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.44 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
am asked the Minister for Veterans ‘ Affairs, upon notice, on 22 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) Decisions broadly in line with the recommendations of Mr Justice Toose include-
Decisions by the Government which are not in accord with the Report ‘s recommendations include decisions:
Consideration of the remaining areas covered in the Report is continuing and the Government will make further announcements as decisions are taken.
Use of Animals in Toxicity Tests (Question No. 209)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 28 February 1978.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) Yes. However although theirs are the largest, the National Research Council and the Medical Research Council are not the only bodies that provide funds.
Given the total number of laboratories, about four years would normally lapse between assessments of a particular laboratory.
Scientific papers in the journals of all organisations supported by government grants are required to state that experiments involving animals complied with the Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines. Of all the journals likely to carry papers relating to animals there are only two (veterinary) journals not subject to this requirement but these have voluntarily accepted and consistently applied it.
The Council recently undertook to revise the code of practice and established a special working party to prepare a guide for research workers engaged in the use of animals for experimental purposes. It aims to:
The Code will also include a bibliography and an appendix of relevant legislation relating to animal experimentation.
The title of the revised code, the printing of which is imminent, is ‘Code of Practice for the Use of Animals in Research in Australia’ and supplies are expected to be available later this year.
The Council has already approved guidelines for experiments on animals as set out in the Statement on Animal Experimentation. Copies of this statement are now included in the application kits for the various NH & MRC awards. Applicants for project grants are required to certify that their experiments will be carried out in accordance with the principles outlined in the Statement.
The revised Code of Practice is based on the Statement and is designed as an informative guide for the research workers engaged in the use of animals for experimental purposes.
While the registration of laboratories in Australia is a matter for individual States the recommendations of Council concerning the desired standards can be expected to be generally observed.
am asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 5 March 1 978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Discussions have been held by the National Health and Medical Research Council on this matter and the Council recommended:
Discussions between AAEC and ARC on the disposal of medical and industrial wastes have taken place but no recommendations or decisions have been made.
Tribunals Associated with Department of Productivity (Question No. 726)
wn asked the Minister for Productivity, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) (i) United States of America
Atomic Energy Authority.
In the United States of America both functions were formerly the responsibility of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The functions were separated in October 1974 with the creation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Agency (ERDA). In October 1977 ERDA was amalgamated with various other bodies to form the Department of Energy.
Production of Oil and Gas from Coal (Question No. 939)
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 13 April 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The quantity of recoverable coal in each of these reserves is estimated at greater than 200 million tonnes. A number of mining companies have been granted Authorities to Prospect in these coal reserves.
Brown coal reserves of conversion potential are mainly located in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. Total recoverable reserves, in excess of 10,000 million tonnes, are owned by the State Government of Victoria.
Ministerial Travel Overseas (Question No. 1023)
asked the Minister for the Capital
Territory, upon notice, on 3 May 1978:
Has he travelled overseas since 1 1 November 1 975.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice, on 3 May 1 978:
Has he travelled outside Australia by aeroplane or ship since 1 1 November since 1975.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 8 May 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 9 May 1978:
Who have been the successive Chairmen of Trustees of the Australian War Memorial from 1945 to date and for what years.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed that the successive Chairmen of the former Board of Management and Chairmen of Trustees for the Australian War Memorial since 1945 have been:
The Australian War Memorial Act 1962 provided for the former Board of Management to be replaced by a Board of Trustees.
The Chairman of the Board of Management was appointed by the Governor-General. During the period 1945-52 the position was held by the Minister for the Interior until 1952 when the Australian War Memorial Act 1952 provided for the election of the Chairman by the members of the Board.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 10 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice, on 9 May 1 978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Department of the Northern Territory is responsible for the administration of the Northern Territory- an area of 1.3 million square kilometres- and the information sought by the honourable member is as follows:
1 ) One hundred and three.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs upon notice on 9 May 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 May 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780529_reps_31_hor109/>.