31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned 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 Dobie, Mr Martin, and Mr Neil.
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 Animal Welfare Societies are disadvantaged by sales tax and by donations not being tax deductible.
Your petitioners urge that donations to Animal Welfare Societies be recognised as being eligible for Income Tax deductibility and that Animal Welfare Societies be recognised as charities qualifying for exemption from Sales Tax.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Roger Johnston.
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:
The Queensland Legislation regarding Aurukun and Mornington Island is not in accordance with the Agreement of 1 1 April; and state it is necessary that the Federal Government honour its promise and acquire the land for the Aboriginal people.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Federal Government honour its promise and acquire the land for the Aboriginal people.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Roger Johnston.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned, citizens of The Monument, do humbly beseech the Honourable Member for Kennedy, Mr R. C. Katter, to hear this petition on our behalf to forward same to the Federal Government Parliamentarians:
We, the citizens of The Monument, are very proud of our precious township and have come to regard it as our home over the 2½ years of its existence. Even though this town was built by the Company we believe we have succeeded in making it a model town consisting of a wide spectrum of nationalities, living together harmoniously.
In personal income tax. The only contribution by any level of Government has been the supply of two school teachers. The continuation of The Monument as a town will be of benefit to the area both economically and socially. What would these citizens have been worth had they been on the dole?
There is speech after speech given in Parliament as to the state of Australia’s northern defences and how Australia needs to populate the north. Well, Mr Fraser here we are living and liking it in the area in question- we are about to be deprived of house and home and we are going to have to travel thousands of miles to relocate and find jobs in areas of poor employment opportunities. Where does the Government stand in this respect?
The Federal and State Governments have assisted various big foreign companies e.g. Mary Kathleen Uranium, Queensland Nickel, the Motor Vehicle Industry and Mt Lyell- big multinationals. Here we are out in the middle of North West Queensland with one of the last few remaining Australian companies. What do Governments give us- The Cold Shoulder? How can this be allowed to happen?
When the Federal Government encouraged BH South Limited to commence phosphate mining operations was it not the intention of the Government to encourage people to come to this area for employment. Where does the Government stand now?
BH South Limited asked the Federal Government for assistance to continue operations until an inquiry could be held into the phosphate rock mining industry. The Government has seen fit not to comply with this request. Why does the Government give $200,000 towards the cost of redeveloping the Suez Canal Zone. Where does the Government stand?
The continuation of The Monument as a town would contribute to the Governments decentralisation policy, or are the citizens being nominated by the Government to become the next recruits to the ‘Dole Bludgers”? And we hasten to add that our industrial record stands at one and a half days lost to industrial action in2½ years of operation.
The Government is insisting on 85 per cent local content in the Australian Vehicle Industry. Why doesn’t the Government insist on a reasonable percentage of local phosphate rock for the fertiliser industry.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that BH South Limited be assisted to continue phosphate mining operations to enable the survival of The Monument.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Katter.
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 State Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1974-77, renewed for one year expiring on the 30th 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 30th June 1977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing 1975 under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now Governor of South Australia) which recommended additional funds to State housing authorities to meet the demand for low-rental accommodation in the proportion of $4 for $1 with the proviso that the States do not reduce their existing expenditure and
That the Act include married pensioners eligible for supplementary assistance and migrants as specified by the Seaman Report and that particular consideration be paid to the special needs and requirements of the prospective tenants in the location and design of such dwellings.
Furthermore, your petitioners desire to draw the Government’s attention to the hardship of many pensioner home owners caused by the high cost of maintenance.
The Social Security Annual Report 1976-77 shows that 24.6 per cent, or 283,000 home owning pensioners, have a weekly income in excess of the pension of less than $6 per week.
Your Petitioners strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to establish a fund whereby loans can be made to means tested pensioners for the purpose of effecting necessary maintenance to their homes. Such a loan to be at minimal interest rates sufficient to cover administrative costs and to be repaid by the estate upon the death of a single pensioner before probate or upon the death of the surviving spouse in the case of married pensioners or where two pensioners jointly own 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 Government’s continued procrastination on the introduction of lower international air fares is causing confusion and concern within Australia’s travel industry and amongst Australia’s air travellers who were postponing overseas travel in expectation of the reduced international air fares.
That the Government’s decision not to make available to the public the Report of the Review of International Civil Aviation Policy was further compounding the confusion and uncertainty and was denying Australians right to access to information on the options available.
That the Government’s policy of secrecy was suppressing public debate on the issue and was adding to the impression that the Government was reluctant to allow Australians access to lower priced international air fares.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
The Report of the Review of International Civil Aviation Policy be released and the introduction of reduced international air fares be no longer deferred in order to end the confusion and concern of the travel industry and the public. byMrWallis.
– I address my question to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it a fact that a number of Ministers took a decision in October of last year to suppress certain information concerning the redistribution of Federal electorate boundaries in Queensland? Is it also a fact that the Minister for Administrative Services subsequently misled the Parliament in answering a question on this matter in the Senate last November?
– I take a point of order. I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker. I thought the matter about which the question was asked was sub judice and part of a royal commission.
– When evidence given at a royal commission has been published and a question is asked about that evidence it is rather difficult for the Chair to say that the media is able to report it and comment on it but the national Parliament is not. On the other hand, I think it is perfectly proper for the Minister asked the question to indicate that he chooses not to answer it as he does not wish to say anything that may interfere with the deliberations of the Commission. I will allow the question.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me help as to how I should answer this question. Certain evidence has been given before the Royal Commission. The hearings were completed last night. The findings will now be prepared and recommendations will be made by that Commission. Until those recommendations are made I have no comment to make.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Is the right honourable gentleman yet able to give the House any information as to the outcome of the Prime Minister’s discussions with President Carter’s special trade representative, Mr Strauss, concerning the prospects of the United States importing more beef?
– I am very pleased to answer this question because I have received information this morning that a decision has been made by the United States Administration to permit a substantial increase in the quantities of beef to go into the United States. I understand that the President of the United States will make an announcement on the actual figures shortly. I do not want to address myself to the figures that are likely to come forward, except to say that the figures that have been suggested do indicate that this is equivalent to a major new market for Australian beef exports and it means a major new market at top prices.
It can radically change the meat situation in Australia. It has the potential of bringing into balance the supply-demand situation, which means that beef producers may have a chanceand I only say may have a chance- of getting prices which are reasonable and equitable to them as comparable Australian producers. This, of course, will have consequences on domestic meat prices and I hope that, if people have to pay higher prices for meat, they recognise that the beef producers of this country have been on a very low income or in a negative income situation for about three or four years. It is most pleasing that we have the opportunity now of exporting more beef. It will be a quota arrangement, I am told. That quota will apply to the second half of this year. If one takes it on an annual basis, whatever figure comes out will mean quite a substantial difference.
I have noticed a lot of carping criticism in the newspapers in the last few days about the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. Let me say that his efforts in talking to the President’s special inflation adviser and international negotiator, Mr Robert Strauss, and the result of this decision to increase quota more than compensate for a Prime Minister’s visit right round the world. This is a major achievement and one for which I think beef producers in this country will be grateful for a long time. It does verify statements that I have been making during the course of this year that America’s voluntary quota restraints have been too restrictive and have had the effect of increasing beef prices in the United States. We are fortunate in that if the United States is to increase its global quota we are in a position immediately to meet whatever that quota might be; and of course, it has the advantage of helping the Australian beef industry to try to get itself out of the quagmire of disastrously low prices that it has been in for the last few years.
-In directing my question to the Acting Prime Minister I refer to the advice tabled in the House on 7 April by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General relating to the electoral redistribution in Queensland. Will the right honourable gentleman acknowledge that as at 7 April he had advice himself that Senator Withers, his ministerial colleague, had made direct contact with the Chief Electoral Officer relating to the change of name of the Gold Coast electorate in Queensland? Is it further a fact that in January last the Minister for Administrative Services told the Acting Prime Minister that he had–
– When was that?
-In January last. Did he tell the Acting Prime Minister that he had contacted Mr Pearson and that in reply the right honourable gentleman had said: ‘So what?’
-Order! I think the nature of the question is an examination of the Acting Prime Minister in a way that runs the risk of making it appear that the Royal Commission would take into account matters which were not evidence before the Commission but debate in this chamber.
-I will put it another way. In relation to matters stated in January last by the Minister for Administrative Services, did the right honourable gentleman have a conversation with his ministerial colleague in which his ministerial colleague advised him that he had contacted Mr Pearson, the Chief Electoral Officer, suggesting a change of name for the Gold Coast electorate in Queensland?
– The Opposition continues to try to prise out of me comments regarding the findings -
– Facts, not comments. You are responsible to this Parliament for those facts.
– If the honourable member who interjects is so brilliant in his knowledge relating to these affairs, why did he not go before the Royal Commission and give information? Of course, he has no evidence.
– I have not the facts. The Commission gets the facts, not me.
-Order! I ask the Acting Prime Minister to resume his seat. This matter is not going to be advantaged by loud interjections. A question has been asked which I have permitted. I ask honourable members on my left to hear the answer in silence.
– I repeat what I have said previously: I do not intend to comment about these matters. I have not been involved with them myself. If the Royal Commission had felt that I had information that would help it in reaching whatever findings it might reach, it would have asked for me to appear before it.
-I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to rule on the point of order that the matters now raised have nothing to do with the Commission but have everything to do with whether this Parliament was given information on or about 7 April or 10 April that was correct. I have requested information from the Minister as to what he knew of the position as at 7 April or 10 April, and his answer should be related to that and have nothing to do with the Royal Commission.
-I have permitted the question to be asked, but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition well knows that although a question is ruled in order and may be asked, the answering of the question is within the discretion of the Minister.
-We will have to agree to differ if the honourable member keeps claiming that it has no reference to the Royal Commission. These dates and facts have been debated before the Royal Commission during the course of the past week and I am not going to enter into that debate because it has no relevance to me.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I ask: What progress, if any, has been made towards the implementation of the Government’s election promise to provide an ethnic television service?
-Let me say that the Government regards its commitment to introduce an ethnic television service as a very important commitment. It has asked a group of officials to advise Ministers and the Government parties on the ways in which an ethnic television service could be introduced in this country. I remind honourable members that there are not a lot of precedents from around the world because this is a trail-blazing venture. What has happened so far is that the officials have been drawing up a list of options for the consideration of the Government and the Government will soon be invited to look at those options. I would make it quite clear also that we will ensure that full consultation is undertaken with ethnic communities. This does not mean just a few selected representatives. It means that we will be interested in the views of ethnic communities throughout this country.
– Did the Acting Prime Minister attend a meeting on 17 January this year where information was given by Senator Withers that he had made contact with Mr Pearson concerning the name change of a Federal electorate?
– If it pleases the honourable gentleman, I have no recollection of being present at any such meeting when such matters were discussed.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the announcement this morning by the Acting Prime Minister that the United States is now prepared to receive additional quantities of beef, can the Minister advise whether, if other countries which may be offered a quota of this amount cannot supply the meat, Australia will be in a position to supply extra quantities to make up the global quantity which the United States is now prepared to accept?
– The honourable gentleman will be aware that, for some time, we have been anxious to try to find markets. The availability of meat in Australia is such that we felt we would be able to service them but, unfortunately, the prices available in most alternative markets to the preferred markets- that is, the United States of America, Canada and Japan- have not been satisfactory. Indeed, my colleague, the Minister for Special Trade Representations, has been endeavouring in his discussions with the European Economic Community to see whether we might be able to reopen access to that market. Additionally, sales have been concluded to other countries but not at a price level that has been satisfactory. As a result of that low price, the diversification has reached the peaks that have been set in the last few weeks. The Australian beef industry certainly has the capacity to supply other markets. Although in Australia there has been a decline of nearly four million cattle from the peak in cattle numbers, there are still a lot of cattle, particularly in the northern part of the continent, which are available especially for the frozen beef trade. One aspect is of concern: I would hope that those people who are involved in the industry right through to the point of shipment co-operate in order to ensure maximum returns to the Australian community. Over the course of time considerable industrial disputes have affected the capacity of meat works to kill cattle to meet orders. Not only do those industrial disruptions prejudice returns to the men involved but they also affect Australia’s capacity to meet orders when they are capable of being negotiated. Accordingly, the whole question of our being able to meet additional markets lies not only in the availability of beef, for that is certainly sufficient to meet any expected demand, but also in the preparedness of those people involved right through the chain- slaughtering, handling and shipping- to co-operate in order to ensure the maximum possible benefits for Australia and for those people involved in the Australian meat industry.
– I address a question to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it a fact that for a period of three months from mid-January there were almost weekly meetings held at the Lodge at which senior Ministers, including the Prime Minister, discussed allegations of ministerial misconduct? In view of the serious nature of public disclosures on these matters, will the Acting Prime Minister assure the House that these Ministers, including himself, will appear before the Royal Commission to respond to allegations of a ministerial conspiracy to subvert Parliament and the Royal Commission? Will he inform the Prime Minister that he should return to Australia immediately to respond to these matters before the Royal Commission?
-The Leader of the Opposition is obviously now making himself the laughing stock of Australia. We have all been prepared to sit back and see him perform during his first parliamentary session as Leader of the Labor Party and hope that he might give some sort of inspiration to a declining Labor Party which seems to be riddled with ali sorts of problems, such as whether it will follow the course of socialism being followed by the trade union movement. The Labor Party seems to be quite leaderless at the moment. I hate to say this, on the last day of this session, but when we compare the performance of the Leader of the Opposition with that of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition is in a very secondary position. He cannot be much encouragement to his Party. When we hear questions like this being asked at Question Time by the Leader of the Opposition we realise that he is harping and carping. He is scraping the bottom of the barrel. He cannot bring up any decent national policies but tries to make implications about the behaviour of Ministers and secret meetings. It just shows how desperate members of the Labor Party are to present themselves to the Australian public. All I can say is that the Leader of the Opposition is really not displaying himself as a very credible alternative Prime Minister of this country.
-Can the Minister for Health advise the House whether he and his Department has the matter of dangers associated with the use of the chemicals 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D under close scrutiny? Is his Department carrying out any special investigation into these chemicals? Is he aware of the concern expressed and stance taken by the Queensland Minister for Health, and that the South Australian Government has set up a special committee to investigate the possible link between the use of the chemicals and birth deformities?
– The concern of the Queensland Government, the South Australian authorities and the Victorian Minister for Health about recent suggestions that there is a relationship between the chemical weedicide 2,4,5-T and human birth defects has been conveyed to me. Top scientists in this country, through the National Health and Medical Research Council, and in other parts of the world have been investigating for some time the suggestion of a link between congenital defects in humans and 2,4,5-T. To the present time none of those investigations has established any link between the chemicals involved and congenital defects. But I am sufficiently concerned to respond to the wishes of the Victorian Minister for Health, Mr Houghton, in particular, who rang me last night about the issue, and to ask the National Health and Medical Research Council to undertake a reexamination of all the additional evidence that may be available to it. I understand that the National Health and Medical Research Council will be meeting in Adelaide next week. I have been having discussions with the chairman of the Council and he informed me this morning that he will refer this matter to the Council for consideration. The Council has a sub-committee of scientists eminent in this area who are quite competent to re- examine all the available evidence.
I noticed in one of the newspapers that I read this morning that the honourable member for Prospect said that my attitude to this matter was depressing. I hope he was misquoted. Until this morning I have not really expressed one view or another on the issue. I did call for a report from my Department. I have read a lot and I have heard quite a lot through the media about suggested links between congenital abnormalities and 2,4,5-T. I have consistently received reports from my departmental advisers that there is no established link between the two. However, because of more recent expressions of concern I feel that it is absolutely imperative now that people who are highly qualified to give an opinion should re-examine the whole issue. I notice that the Victorian Government has decided to take -
-Order! I ask the Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.
– Do you mind if I finish my sentence, Mr Speaker?
-I am asking the Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.
– I just wanted to finish my sentence because there is a lot of public interest in this serious matter, particularly in the State of Victoria. The Victorian Minister has indicated that he will withdraw 2,4,5-T from use in State Government departments until such time as an inquiry by the National Health and Medical Research Council has been completed. That is the current position.
-I direct a question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that Australia’s underlying level of foreign reserves- that is, excluding official borrowings and gold revaluations- has fallen in each of the last five weeks and that in the last 40 weeks increases have been recorded only 1 1 times? Is it also a fact that in the same 40 weeks the Australian dollar has been devalued by stealth by 4.8 per cent and that contracted borrowings by the Australian Government have amounted to more than $2, 000m this financial year alone? To overcome the weakness of the balance of payments problem, does the Government intend further to devalue the dollar by stealth and to seek more loans overseas? If so, what is the target that the Government has set forks borrowing programs overseas?
– The honourable gentleman, like other honourable gentlemen, would have available to him statistical information published from time to time by the Reserve Bank of Australia regarding this country’s international reserves. I do not propose here or elsewhere to engage in comments upon movements so far as those reserves are concerned over and above what I said in February of this year concerning this country’s external account, and I certainly do not propose to make comment in this
Parliament of the particular kind invited by the honourable gentleman regarding the exchange rate of the Australian dollar.
-Is the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs aware of recent reports which suggest that the Prime Minister’s address to the United Nations special session on disarmament indicated a significant change in government safeguards policy relating to the production of fissionable material? Can the Acting Minister assure the House that there has been no such change in this very important area of government policy?
– I can so assure the House. There has been no change in Australia’s safeguards policy on reprocessing and high enrichment of material which we supply. The Prime Minister clearly expressed the Government’s policy in two statements to this House, one on 24 May and the other on 25 August. This policy governs material supplied for peaceful purposes. The proposal that the Prime Minister was talking about was for a halt to the production of fissionable material for weapons purposes. That is an entirely different matter. It relates essentially to the military reprocessing and enrichment plants of the nuclear weapons states which, under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are not required to be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.
The international discussion among nuclear weapons states which the Prime Minister has endorsed could lead to a recommendation that these states agree to convert these facilities to peaceful uses and place them under safeguards. International agreement in this sphere would place a limit on the quantity of fissionable material available to the nuclear weapons states for weapons production. Thus it would be a more effective way of halting the nuclear arms race. It would be a further barrier to the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries by preventing the development of untested nuclear weapons. The suggestion of an early discussion of this proposal is therefore entirely consistent with the well-established Australian policies of support for the cessation of all nuclear testing in all environments and support for measures which will eventually lead to nuclear disarmament.
– Has the attention of the Acting Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations been drawn to the public opinion polls that indicate that 85 per cent of Australians believe that the unemployed should work for their benefits? Leaving aside the question of such benefits being a right and that such an imposition would be a contravention of International Labour Organisation conventions, will he tell the Australian people again that the introduction of job creation schemes has been rejected by the Government on the grounds that for any useful jobs to be created the cost would be four times the benefits paid?
-Order! The honourable gentleman is debating this issue. He is entitled to seek information. I ask him to ask a question or resume his seat.
-I will ask the question. Will the Acting Minister point out the impracticality of having 400,000 people sweeping up leaves?
– It is interesting to receive a question about unemployment from a member of the Opposition- a member of the Party which, when in government, created the worst unemployment in Australia since the great Depression.
- Mr Speaker, I rise to take a point of order. I asked a question about unemployment benefits. The Minister’s remarks have nothing to do with this subject. I asked a serious question about a very serious matter in Australiaabout 400,000 people who do not have a job.
-Order! No point of order arises. I call the Minister.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. I submit that there is relevance between the fact that unemployment exists and how people who are unemployed are to be put back into the work force or how they are to be treated between now and when they are put back into the work force. If unemployment did not exist at the level that exists today, the honourable member for Robertson would not be asking this question. It is well known to honourable members and, indeed, to the people of Australia that it was the Labor Government which when in office took policy decisions that created the unemployment levels that exist today. This Government, in the relatively short period that it has been in office, has taken decisions in the economic areas and in the business areas to recreate jobs and to create a climate conducive to employment. It ill becomes the honourable member for Robertson and any other Opposition member to ask a question of this nature when, I submit, they are the guilty men.
I want to emphasise while I am on my feet that the Goverment is extremely concerned about the level of unemployment and it is taking positive steps in this area to recreate the conditions in the community generally and the confidence in the business community that will lift the level of employment. Further evidence of our efforts in this field will be given when the Treasurer presents his Budget in August of this year. Each Budget -
-Order! I ask the Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.
-I will, Mr Speaker. Each Budget that has been introduced by this Government has been designed to lift the level of confidence in the business world and to make it possible for employers to soak up the unemployment created by our political opponents.
– Will the Minister for Health ensure that if health insurance funds make an application for increases in premiums for medical insurance the estimated 46c a week family reduction is passed on to the contributor? Is it likely that some funds may have to increase premiums for health insurance notwithstanding the 10 per cent reduction of medical benefits payable?
– The changes in health insurance previously announced by the Government should mean a saving- I repeat the word saving’- of 46c a week to the individual insurance funds in respect of each contributor. I expect all funds to take this into account fully in assessing their present insurance rates. In fact, I have instructed my Department to ensure that the full flow-on benefit to contributors is effected. However, I am informed that this does not necessarily mean that all funds will reduce their premiums by 46c as such. I understand that some funds have had a higher usage rate of their medical tables than they had anticipated which could well result in an application for an increase in their medical tables.
– Without bulk billing.
-This has nothing to do with bulk billing. My Department will ensure that in every case where a health insurance fund makes an application for an increase in the premium payable on the medical table, the 46c on average- that is, the calculated difference between the present benefit and the smaller benefit that is payable as from 1 July- will be taken into account and will be passed on to contributors.
– My question also is directed to the Minister for Health and refers to the Government’s decision to increase from $2 to $2.50 the patient contribution for pharmaceutical benefits items. Is the Minister aware that one of the by-products of this will be that those items for which the Goverment now pays chemists an amount of between $2 and $2.50 will now become much more expensive to the patient as the dispensing fee charged by the chemists will increase? Is the Minister aware that such common items as Penicillin capsules and tablets for children, Butazolidin, Mogadon, Fergon and many others will now cost well over $3? Does he know how many items will be affected?
– I cannot give a detailed answer to the honourable gentleman. I shall obtain the information and shall make sure that he receives it during the course of the day.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In answer to a question I previously asked in this House the Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that the projections for France relating to the use of nuclear sources for electrical energy were that by 1985 France would be 60 per cent dependent on nuclear energy for generating its electrical power. In view of this startling revelation, is the Minister in a position to inform the House of comparative figures for other industrialised nations regarding the use of nuclear energy in the future?
– One of the principal areas of difference between the Government’s approach to the whole matter of the utilisation of Australia’s uranium resources and that which is advanced by some of our opponents is that we see uranium as a means to help to overcome the critical shortage of energy to meet energy requirements in an energy-hungry world. There is no doubt that in a number of countries the use of nuclear power is becoming more and more significant. There is no doubt that a country reliant upon nuclear power for its energy needs obviously would have the greatest reluctance to place its sources of supply and its nuclear industry in jeopardy. There are safeguards to check that nuclear material in peaceful use is not diverted to the manufacture of weapons. Australia ‘s policy is particularly stringent in that respect.
With respect to the detail of the figures for which the honourable gentleman has asked, I refer him to a document entitled Nuclear Fuel
Cycle Requirements, which was published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency and is dated February 1978. This document contains projections on a regional basis, which show for example that by 1985 on present trends the nuclear share of electrical capacity in OECD member countries will be 20 per cent in Europe, 1 7 per cent in America, 14 per cent in the Pacific region and 18 per cent on average. In other words, already there is a very significant dependence on nuclear energy in order to meet the needs of the economies of most of the countries of the OECD group. If we include non-OECD countries, the share of nuclear energy in the electrical capacity of the world is estimated at 16 per cent by 1985. Of course, outside those figures the Soviet Union and other eastern European countries also have large nuclear power programs. Figures for those countries, while not included in these figures, could well lead to an indication that the percentage share of nuclear energy in electrical capacity will be greater than the 16 per cent to which I referred a moment ago.
So it can be seen that the extent to which Australia can get its uranium exported and contributing towards this generation of nuclear energy is significantly going to help the power needs of an energy-hungry world. Therefore, I think that suggestions that there should be anything but an acceleration of our development of our uranium resources need to be put properly in perspective.
– My question which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry is in relation to plant breeders’ rights, now known as plant variety protection. Is it a fact that Austalian plant breeders have been attempting since 197 1 to get the Commonwealth Government to introduce legislation to provide for plant variety protection? Has the Australian Government received legal advice that it is within its constitutional power to introduce such legislation? Did the Australian Agricultural Council, at its meeting in August 1977, give support to the proposed legislation? In view of the benefits which will flow to Australian agricultural and horticultural industries, will the Government bring down the necessary legislation in the forthcoming Budget session?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for the question. I believe quite strongly that there needs to be legislation in this area. There is no doubt that the development of new plant varieties can bring tremendous advantages to all Australians. By producing new varieties we are contributing towards producing species which can generate greater productivity under our own agricultural conditions as well as creating a vehicle by which significant exports can be obtained. The Australian seed industry would, I believe, contribute very significantly as a result to Australia’s export earnings. Unfortunately, as in so many other fields of agriculture, the capacity of the Federal Government is restricted by the degree to which State governments have significant powers within their own State borders. Western Australia has lodged a strong objection to the Commonwealth proceeding without some form of complementary legislation. Accordingly, whilst it is true that there was an earlier agreement to proceed with national legislation, the States now are suggesting that we ought to change that procedure and look to a form of complementary legislation.
I am hopeful that, by the time the Australian Agricultural Council next meets, these differences can be resolved. Whether or not I will be able to introduce legislation in the Budget session is in doubt. Certainly it is the intention of the Government to proceed in this area as soon as possible. There is no doubt that the overwhelming advantage of plant variety protection legislation will not be just for the development of new plant varieties but to everybody involved in agriculture.
– My question, which is directed to the Treasurer, concerns an article in the Australian Financial Review which states that the Australian/United States dollar rating has been classified as triple A. What consequences does this have for economic management?
– Before the Treasurer answers the question, I point out that the question is ambiguous. Does the honourable gentleman ask what consequences there will be from the fact that this information was published in the Australian Financial Review or from the fact that the Australian dollar has been given a tripple A rating? I think the Treasurer needs to have that information. I leave it to the Treasurer to interpret the question.
-My attention has been drawn to an article in, I think, the Melbourne Age which referred to a report from the Morgan Stanley banking group regarding Australia’s international credit rating. The honourable gentleman is correct to draw the attention of the House to this reference by that reputable group to this country’s international credit rating. I think it is important, when honourable gentlemen from both sides of the House, particularly the other side of the House, talk about the extent to which this Government has borrowed funds to supplement its reserves, to recognise just what an outstanding credit rating this country has in international financial markets. The truth of the matter is that this country has been able to secure terms for its international borrowings which are the envy of other countries which would like to have a similar classification. This country’s credit rating is extremely high. Its triple A rating, as mentioned by the honourable gentleman, is thoroughly deserved and indicates strongly international investor and economic confidence in this country.
– Has the attention of the Acting Prime Minister been drawn to the recent report of the International Energy Agency which confirms authoritative predictions of a world liquid fuel crisis in the 1990s? Is he further aware that the parliaments of the United States of America, the European Economic Community and the United Kingdom all have policy committees to monitor and report upon their fuel and energy needs? Whilst 1 am grateful to the Attorney-General for intimating that he will set up a parliamentary committee to monitor the Family Law Act, I venture the proposition that fuel and energy has a far higher priority than the Family Law Act. As the critical problem of fuel and energy will be no less acute -
-Order! The honourable gentleman must ask his question.
– I am coming to that, Mr Speaker. Have a bit of patience. As the critical problem of fuel and energy will be no less acute in this country -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-I direct my question to the Treasurer. He will be aware that total government capital expenditure within Australia has been in some decline over recent years.
– I take a point of order. The honourable member is now giving information, which is against the Standing Orders. Will you, Mr Speaker, apply them in the same way as you applied them to the honourable member for Hawker?
– There is no point of order. The honourable member for Lilley will start his question again.
– The Treasurer will be aware that total government capital expenditure within Australia has been in some decline over recent years compared with recurrent expenditure. As it is clear that capital expenditure can have a greater impact multiplier effect on economic activity in the private sector and on the demand for labour, will he undertake at the next Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting to make these facts known to the State Premiers and Treasurers as well as seeking to make an appropriate Loan Council total target?
– I am aware of the argument advanced by the honourable member for Lilley and the propositions which surround that argument with regard to Budget policies and other policies. I do not think it would be appropriate for me, at a time when the Government is reaching its decisions in respect of the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council, to respond further to the honourable gentleman’s question. The type of argument that is implicit in his question will be kept in mind when the Government is reaching decisions on its approach to the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council.
-Can the Minister for Defence repudiate General Stretton ‘s claim that his conversation with the Chief of the General Staff was secretly recorded and that the tape was tampered with in Watergate fashion? Does the Minister approve of the practice of recording the conversations of senior officers? Does he believe that the use of such tapes should require the consent of the parties concerned?
– I assure the honourable gentleman and the House that I do not approve of the clandestine use of tape recording machines. My clear understanding is that the General to whom he referred was informed in the most specific of terms that the conversation he was having with the then Chief of the General Staff was being taped and that he clearly understood that fact. As evidence that he understood it, he thanked the then Chief of the General Staff for taping the conversation.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Veterans ‘ Affairs. Is it a fact that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, currently servicing thousands of Australian ex-servicemen and women, will not reach its peak workload for a few years yet and that therefore its national importance is increasing rather than decreasing? If these facts are correct, what is the Government’s reaction to claims that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs is losing significance, that it could be reduced or even abolished, and that it does not warrant its own Minister?
– I thank the honourable member for Denison for his question. I believe that the preamble to his question is correct, that is, that the peak workload for repatriation matters is yet to come. I can also say that this Government firmly believes in having a veterans’ affairs department. There is no question about that. In fact, we made that clear right from our return to office in 1975 and after the receipt of the Toose report into the repatriation system. As evidence of that fact my colleague the present Minister for the Northern Territory will be taking over the Veterans Affairs’ portfolio as from July of this year.
I can only take the honourable member’s question as being directed to a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday when he was engaging in a debate on, I think, the Ministers of State Amendment Bill 1978. 1 think it was an important speech. Certainly I found it an astonishing speech. I think it would be well for the nation- particularly ex-servicemen and exservice women- to note what the Leader of the Opposition said in that speech. The Leader of the Opposition made two points very clear: Firstly, that he did not believe that there should be a department of veterans’ affairs and, secondly and more importantly, by inference that if he ever had the opportunity- heaven help the nation if he did- to take charge of the government of this country he would abolish the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. That is the clear inference that must be taken from his speech. As the Leader of the Opposition is sitting silently, which is most unusual for him these days, he affirms that by his silence.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. It concerns those public radio stations presently licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and due shortly to come before the Broadcasting Tribunal for licensing hearings. Will the Department of Post and Telecommunications be allowed to pass on to the Tribunal reports of complaints received about those stations right up to the time of the hearing? If so, would this put complainers at a considerable advantage over people who wish to make commendations and who, under the provisions of the Act, must meet a deadline some six weeks or so before the hearing?
– I will check the precise cut-off time for the registration of complaints with the Tribunal which might come via the Department and let the honourable member know. I would point out that the process of public inquiry, which is a new feature of the grant of licences, is a very important part of the Government’s approach to the grant of licences by the independent body so authorised, the Broadcasting Tribunal.
– Has the Minister for Primary Industry seen newspaper reports indicating that there will be a fall in world wool supplies next year? Can the Minister say what effect this will have on the Australian wool industry insofar as stocks are concerned and the general effect on returns to wool producers? When does the Government plan to announce the wool floor price for the coming wool season?
– I have seen such a newspaper report. I understand that the Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation made a statement in the United Kingdom and in addressing the International Wool Textile Organisation in Munich in which he commented about the degree to which there should be, as a result of an interaction of supply and demand, fairly favourable conditions applying for wool throughout the 1978-79 season. I believe the overall result will be to the benefit of not only Australian wool growers but also the Australian economy. As I have remarked in this House on another occasion, in the current wool selling season wool has once again achieved preeminence amongst Australian commodities in the value of our exports. In other words, wool is again taking Australia very much into a position of helping to solve the overseas balance of payments difficulties. At the same time, wool does suffer from the competition of synthetics and it is hard to know to what degree price rises will be sustained. The present market indicator of 309c a kilogram clean is significantly above the present reserve price, which is 284c, and indicates the overall strength of the market. Unfortunately, there is still not the demand at the superfine or fine wool end of the fibre that one would like.
However, on the Australian Wool Corporation predictions, the whole of the wool market scene looks very sound for the year ahead. The decision on next year’s wool price reserve will be taken at the end of this wool selling season. I know that the Australian Wool Corporation and the Australian Wool Industry Policy Committee have already had discussions on this matter, and they have both discussed the issue with me. However, no decision will be taken, and indeed no recommendation will be made to the Government, until the wool selling season is closed. It is very good to hear the Chairman of the Australian Wool Corporation projecting future market conditions in the way that he has and I hope that that, allied with the improvement in expected returns for the beef industry, augurs very profitable conditions for Australian primary producers next year. Of course, this contrasts markedly with the nonsense carried on by the Leader of the Opposition in his motion yesterday.
-I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this will be the last day in the Press Gallery for Jack Fingleton, who has been a member of the Press Gallery for more than 25 years. He will be remembered by people older than I am as a great cricketer with great skill and courage during the bodyline series of the 1930s. I hope that the House will join with me in wishing him a very happy and long semi-retirement
Honourable members- Hear, hear.
– The Leader of the Opposition has given notice that at the next sitting he will move:
That this House censures the Government for entering upon a conspiracy to mislead the Parliament and the Australian public in relation to the information given to the Parliament by Ministers on the matter of the last electoral redistribution.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I have only just heard the censure motion but I would query whether or not it runs in any way contrary to the proceedings and purport of the Royal Commission that has been constituted by this Parliament. I suggest that this House is not in a position to take action of that sort at this time when a Royal Commission has to complete its deliberations, in particular because this is the last day of the sitting of the Parliament and therefore the matter cannot be dealt with until the House resumes, unless it is dealt with now. I suggest that the motion should be considered very seriously in relation to the terms of reference of the Royal
Commission and I suggest also that it is outside the Standing Orders as the matter is sub judice.
– It is perfectly understandable why the Government would want to avoid debating the issue.
-Order! I will not permit the Leader of the Opposition to attribute motive to the point of order raised by the Leader of the House. He has raised a point of order and I will hear the honourable gentleman on the point of order.
– If one looks at the terms of the motion, which is a motion of censure against the Government, one will see that it refers to the House being misled as a consequence of a conspiracy which was consciously set upon by senior Government Ministers- the Government is mentionedand the Prime Minister is implicated. The succession of evidence that is available establishes that beyond any doubt, and I would expect that if the Government had any sense of honour it would want to debate this matter forthwith.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not debate the matter. I have looked at the terms of the notice of motion and, in its terms, it is not out of order. My recollection of the Standing Orders, without refreshing my memory, is that it is a matter for the Government to make an announcement at a time the Government chooses as to whether it will take the matter as a motion of no confidence. If it does, the motion will have priority over all other business.
– In those circumstances, I wish to inform the House that I accept the notice of motion given by the Leader of the Opposition as a motion of censure of the Government for the purpose of Standing Order 1 10.I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the Leader of the Opposition to move forthwith the motion of censure 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 (Mr Hayden) moving forthwith the motion of censure of which he has given notice for the next sitting.
– I move:
This is a most serious charge which has been levelled against the Government.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the Leader of the Opposition be not further heard.
The bells being rung-
-Order! The conversation between persons in the Gallery and honourable members will cease.
That the Leader of the Opposition be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I second the motion. On 7 April this House was given information.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith be not further heard.
– Time will be given to the Parliament to debate the Royal Commission report. I believe it is out of order for us to consider it at this time.
– I rise on a point of order. In answer to what the Minister just said, the matter that we are now attempting to raise in the Parliament is what happened in this Parliament. It has nothing to do with the Royal Commission. The evidence given to the Parliament is what we want to discuss. That is the reason for the allegations of conspiracy and misleading of Parliament. This has nothing to do with the Royal Commission. On that basis, perhaps the Minister will revise what he has proposed and allow us to debate the matter.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.
– There is no substance in the point of order.
– There is no substance, but there is plenty of truth.
-Order! The Leader of the House moved a motion and then continued to speak to it. He did so with my indulgence. I allowed the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to speak, also with my indulgence. I must now ascertain from the Leader of the House whether he wishes to proceed with his motion.
That the Deputy Leader of the Opposition be not further heard.
The House divided. ( Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden )
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
An Opposition member- Sit down, you clown.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
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 wish to raise a matter of parliamentary privilege with you. Succinctly, it is that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has committed a breach of parliamentary privilege by entering into a conspiracy with other Ministers to mislead the Parliament on the matter of the last electoral redistribution. I draw your attention to what is stated at page 1 4 1 of the 19th edition of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. In the paragraph headed ‘Conspiracy to Deceive either House or Committees of either House’ it is stated in the final sentence:
Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees of either House will also be treated as a breach of privilege.
I now wish to quote what is stated in Standing Order 95 and Standing Order 96. Standing Order 95 states:
Any Member may rise at any time to speak upon a matter of privilege suddenly arising, and he shall be prepared to move, without notice, a motion declaring that a contempt or breach of privilege has been committed . .
Standing Order 96 states:
A matter of privilege at any time arising shall, until disposed of, or unless the debate on a motion thereon is adjourned, suspend the consideration and decision of every other question . . .
The main thrust of the argument that there has been a breach of privilege is that the Prime Minister had been well aware for some time of the circumstances whereby Senator Withers misled the Senate and the Parliament. It is clear from the pattern of evidence, which is extensive and available from public sources, that the Prime Minister maintains stoney silence in spite of the fact that, if he had divulged his own knowledge on this matter, findings by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), who clearly was misled as a consequence of that, and the Solicitor-General, who equally was misled on this matter, in reports dated 9 and 15 February respectively on allegations made by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) about the last electoral redistribution would have been substantially different. There is important material detail referred to in, for instance, the report of 9 February made by the AttorneyGeneral. It states:
There is indeed no evidence of any communication with them -
Them’ being the distribution commissioners- outside the statutory procedures.
I think that it was only yesterday- it was certainly within the last few days- that the Attorney-General pointed out in the Senate that it was not until the period between 10 April and 23 April of this year that he became aware of Senator Withers’ approach to Mr Pearson, the Chief Electoral Officer of Australia, and the circumstances that followed from that.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order. Whilst I would accept that in raising a matter of privilege certain matters need to be raised to canvass the argument, I submit that the matters the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) is now raising are matters which could well have been debated before the Royal Commission. There is a royal commission extant covering an identical area with respect to electoral redistribution. I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that if he wants to advance arguments with respect to a question of privilege he needs to relate his case specifically to that cause and not to matters which are at issue outside this Parliament and which are not before us in the matter that he is now raising.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a counter point of order. It is very simply, that I am seeking to establish that the Prime Minister, by his silence when he had full knowledge of the behaviour of Senator Withers, create d a situation in which the Attorney-General was misled and accordingly arrived at findings which would have been obviously quite different from those which he did arrive at and which he submitted in a report on 9 February and confirmed on 15 February. These reports were subsequently presented to the Parliament as a rebuttal of allegations made by the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the honourable member for
Bowman (Mr Jull). Senator Durack has made it clear that he was not aware of the circumstances of Senator Withers’ approach to the Australian Chief Electoral Officer in September of last year; nor was he aware that the Prime Minister was aware of this at least as early as 17 January of this year and probably earlier- in October of last year- when clearly the conspiracy was formalised. Senator Durack made it clear in the Senate yesterday -
-Order! The honourable gentleman is not entitled to use the word conspiracy’.
-With respect, Mr Speaker, I would seek your guidance. It says in Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice:
Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees . . .
We are arguing and earlier moved a censure motion against the Government on the basis that a conspiracy has taken place and that we are in a position more than to allege, but to mobilise the evidence which substantiates this beyond any doubt. That is why the Government is taking the unprecedented action of seeking to suppress any discussion on this matter in this Parliament. The Government is guilty.
-Has the honourable gentleman concluded his submission?
– I was speaking to the point of order.
-The point of order raised by the Leader of the House is partially correct. I uphold part of it, that is, that the Leader of the Opposition must confine his remarks to the issue of privilege and must not argue the issue relating to any matters which are before a royal commission.
– I am not seeking to relate the matters to the Royal Commission, although I acknowledge, as you acknowledged earlier, Mr Speaker, that it would be very difficult not to merge along the edges of some of the matters raised at the Royal Commission because inevitably some of those matters impinge directly upon this Parliament and establish that the Parliament has been misled.
-I have given a ruling. I ask the honourable gentleman to proceed with his matter of privilege.
-Mr Speaker, I shall relate the evidence which in my view establishes that there has been a breach of privilege on the part of the Prime Minister. It is incontestable that on 17 January this year- that is the first occasion we know of, but I suspect it was much earlier than that- the Prime Minister became aware that Senator Withers had made direct communication with the Chief Electoral Officer of Australia and that the purpose of his -
– What is your evidence?
– Newspaper reports.
– From what?
– From newspaper reports of evidence which has been given.
– To the Royal Commission. So you are debating the Royal Commission?
-Sure, but this matter relates to the misleading of this Parliament. The Parliament has been misled. Let me try another tack. On 4 November last year in the Senate Senator Withers said:
I have never telephoned Mr Coleman about the naming of electorates. I have been asked why the names were changed. I do not know.
-The honourable gentleman is now canvassing evidence given before the Royal Commission. I ask him to direct his attention -
– That is not right. I am quoting what Senator Withers said in the Senate on 4 November. There was no royal commission then. I am sorry I did not make it clear enough.
-I apologise. The honourable gentleman is speaking about matters referred to in the Senate. I ask him to return to the issue which he is raising as a matter of privilege and not to use the privilege procedure as a method of debating a separate issue. If he does that he will endanger the whole question of privilege.
-Mr Speaker, may I put it to you that it is impossible not to explore some of these issues if one is to substantiate the argument that the Prime Minister has conspired with other Ministers to mislead the Parliament. For instance, there is evidence that a succession of meetings was held, almost weekly, from the beginning of this year involving senior Ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair).
-Order! I do not want to interfere unduly with the presentation of the matter by the Leader of the Opposition. I ask him to resume his seat for a moment. I must point out to him that a question of privilege of a member of parliament or of a parliament relates to the question of whether a member of parliament is being prevented from carrying out his duties as a member of Parliament.
-Let me come back to the points I was trying to make earlier. Those reports of 9 and 15 February were submitted to this Parliament. I am sorry, perhaps I should have said that first and then worked back. I thought it would be better to commence somewhere near the beginning and to work to that point to establish the credentials of this argument. That report, which was tabled in the Parliament, stated:
There is indeed no -
– You are not making specific allegations.
– If the honourable member does not mind, I am trying to talk to the intelligent people in this place, which would exclude him.
-Order! I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that he should concentrate on his argument. Interjections should cease.
-The report of 9 February from the Attorney-General and Mr Byers, the Solicitor-General, which was tabled in this Parliament on 10 April with the report of 15 February stated:
There is indeed no evidence of any communication with them -
That is, with the Commissioners- outside the statutory procedures.
In fact, there is evidence. The Minister for Administrative Services has confessed that in fact there was such communication. He was responsible for it. So if the Attorney-General had known that, it is quite obvious that the comment which I have quoted would not have been included in the report which was submitted to the Government and tabled in this Parliament. It is equally obvious that the conclusions would have been materially different. More than that, it is equally obvious that the Opposition would have been much more concerned- if we are not worried about the Opposition being concerned about it, the public and the media would have been alarmed- to have discovered that at an inappropriate time the Minister for Administrative Services made these approaches. This is what we are saying. Those reports were tabled in the Parliament on 10 April. The Prime Minister knew at the time that the reports were tabled that the statement I quoted was materially wrong because at least on 17 January, in the presence of witnesses, and on two subsequent occasions he was made aware of this communication.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition is now canvassing events which took place in the other chamber. He is talking about arguments and knowledge within the capacity of the AttorneyGeneral. He is talking about actions and statements made by the Minister for Administrative Services. To the degree to which those matters are involved, they are not the responsibility of this chamber. I suggest therefore that those matters are quite outside any question of privilege which might pertain to matters of this House. The honourable member for Blaxland should just sit down and be patient.
– I will not sit down.
-The honourable member for Blaxland will sit down.
– The assertion of the honourable member for Oxley is that the Prime Minister, as I understand it, and other members of this chamber have in some way misled the Parliament and hence have been party to a conspiracy. I suggest that that therefore requires the presentation of only evidence pertaining to this chamber. Matters pertaining to the other chamber are not matters for this House, nor can they be concluded within this matter of privilege.
-I call the Leader of the Opposition. Is he speaking to the point of order?
-Yes, Mr Speaker. The Minister for Primary Industry is dead wrong again. I am relating this issue directly to the Prime Minister who is Leader of the Government. We must see the Government as a corporate whole, although I do not want to become involved in the question of whether we should be discussing the Senate. I am talking about the Prime Minister. It is clear that the Prime Minister, as head of the Government on this most important matter about which he has been involved in extensive continuing discussions, in arranging for the presentation of this report in the Parliament knew, as the evidence establishes beyond any doubt, that the report was based on wrong and misleading information. The Prime Minister in doing this was responsible for a conspiracy with other Ministers with whom he was meeting and discussing this matter, to mislead the Australian public and to mislead this Parliament. It is a clear case of deception. It is a clear outrage against the privilege of this Parliament. It goes to the very top of government. It reaches beyond the most senior Ministers to the Prime Minister of this country. This is a very serious matter, Mr Speaker.
– I raise two points of order, Mr Speaker. The first point of order is that it is a serious breach of privilege of this House to raise a matter before this House as a breach of privilege when it is not. I refer you, Sir, to page 162 of Erskine May ‘s Parliamentary Practice. The passage upon which I rely states:
Frivolous complaints of breach of privilege are discouraged in the Commons by a resolution of 1 1 February 1768 (which prescribes that if a complaint is adjudged groundless, costs and expenses may be awarded to the person complained of).
My respectful submission is that in this case what the Leader of the Opposition is endeavouring to do -
-Order! The honourable gentleman has not made a point of order.
– I suggest with the utmost respect, Mr Speaker, that my point of order is that, as you are well aware, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia provides that privilege in this House, until this Parliament legislates to the contrary, is the privilege which applies in the House of Commons. The Leader of the Opposition should be warned that if this question of privilege is adjudged groundless he may be subject to an order to pay costs and expenses to the Prime Minister for raising a frivolous point of order.
-There is no point of order.
– Our case is simply this: The Prime Minister set about a course of conduct which he knew would mislead the Parliament. It is clear that it was his ambition that we should not have full information on matters related to the behaviour of the responsible Minister in electorate matters. If we had that sort of information not only this Parliament but also the Australian community would be gravely concerned. Accordingly, it is argued without any embarrassment at all, because the evidence is so substantial, that the Prime Minister has conspired to mislead the Parliament. He alone was not the respository of this information. There was his colleague the Minister for Administrative Services. There was certainly the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) and undoubtedly the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Primary Industry, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and perhaps even the Attorney-General had at least some knowledge of these matters. It is clear that in October last year there were discussions about this matter and the Prime Minister was implicated in them. Decisions were taken that allegations had to be ignored and evidence suppressed. The relevant evidence in this matter is that the Prime Minister was well aware that the reports which were prepared by the Attorney-General and the SolicitorGeneral following complaints by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) and which were tabled in the Parliament on 9 February and 15 February were misleading. I repeat that it is a very serious matter for the Prime Minister to have been well aware, for Vh or nearly three months, that the report of 9 February was wrong when it said-
- Mr Speaker, I suggest, if you are following Erskine May at page 141 that the documents do not have to be just misleading; they have to be proved by the Opposition to be forged, falsified or fabricated documents.
– That is right.
– Take it steady for a moment. If the Leader of the Opposition intends to produce evidence that those documents are falsified and forged -
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. He is speaking to the substantive issue. I am still hearing the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the matter of privilege. I must hear him before I hear contrary arguments.
– I repeat the point I had partly developed: The report of 9 February 1978 prepared by Senator Durack as Attorney-General and Mr Byers as Solicitor-General would not have said that there is no evidence of any communication with the Electoral Commissioners outside statutory procedures. The communication did take place. Those reports were tabled in the Parliament some three months later despite the fact that the Prime Minister knew nearly a month earlier, presumably when the reports were supplied to the Government, that they were wrong and based on false information in that, inadequate information was knowingly provided. Some three months later they were still wrong when the Prime Minister sought to dilute the atmosphere of concern in this place about serious allegations raised by the honourable member for Fadden- a supporter of the Government, not the Opposition- supported by the honourable member for -
-Order! The honourable gentleman now is arguing the issue.
-I raise a point of order. The provision concerning conspiracy on which the Leader of the Opposition relies relates quite clearly to persons who are not members of the House.
-Order! I will deal with the matter of whether or not there is a prima facie case of breach of privilege after the Leader of the Opposition has concluded.
- Mr Speaker, there are only a couple of other points I want to make. I ask you to bear in mind the points I have made. There is clear evidence that in October -
-The honourable gentleman has made those points already.
– I was helping you to recall them. There was no evident determination on the part of the Government to be forthcoming on this matter. There is this misleading element in the report of 9 February of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General perpetuated in the Parliament on 10 April. That is the crux of the argument that the Parliament has been misled. But it goes beyond that. In fact, it was not until 22 April, if my recollection is correct, that the Prime Minister decided to set up a royal commission. This is important because it was on 2 1 April that an official acknowledgement, perhaps not the first one, was sent to Senator Durack on a ministerial letterhead by the Minister for Administrative Services acknowledging that he had had this communication with the Chief Electoral Officer. That was only done some three weeks after Mr Pearson, the Chief Electoral Officer, reminded Senator Withers of his obligation. The Prime Minister acted the following day and announced a royal commission. He did not do so before and he was reluctant to act in this manner until then. It is still significant that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission were extremely restrictive and did not include members of the Government.
-The terms of reference of the Royal Commission are not relevant to the issue of privilege.
– With respect, I suggest that the fact that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission were so restrictive is further evidence of the conscious determination of the Prime Minister to limit as much as possible the opportunity to explore this matter properly. The terms of reference were restricted to the Electoral Commissioners and the Minister for Finance. They did not include the man who was at the heart of this matter, Senator Withers; nor did they include the Prime Minister and these other senior Ministers in the Government. These matters are highly relevant and I suggest without any hesitation at all that there has been a conspiracy to mislead the Parliament -
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable gentleman now is making about members of Parliament assertions and allegations which have no substance.
-I uphold the point of order. The Leader of the Opposition will cease doing so.
– That is the case that there has been a breach of privilege. The Prime Minister, who holds the highest office in the country, has, in an unprecedented way, crudely and consciously with premeditation sought to mislead the Parliament. Having set himself on that course, he persisted with it until he was forced, step by grudging step, to make decisions.
-The honourable gentleman need not argue the matter.
– I regret having to raise this matter as a matter of privilege. We could have debated this matter if Government supporters had any confidence in their own honour. They do not. They know that they are collectively guilty in this matter. They know that their case cannot stand.
- Mr Speaker, on a point of order -
-The Leader of the Opposition has concluded.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to speak to the issue of privilege.
-I will not call the right honourable gentleman for a moment. The Leader of the Opposition has raised an issue of privilege. He has not moved any motion in relation to it. I need to consider the question and I draw the attention to the House to Standing Order 95 which states:
Any Member may rise at any time to speak upon a matter of privilege suddenly arising and he shall be prepared to move, without notice, a motion declaring that a contempt or breach of privilege has been committed, or referring the matter to the Committee of Privileges;
Standing Order 96 states:
A matter of privilege at any time arising shall, until disposed of, or unless the debate on a motion thereon is adjourned, suspend the consideration and decision of every other question:
The issue that arises here is twofold. Firstly, is there a breach of privilege?
– I have moved a motion. I did so at the beginning of my comments.
-The question that arises here is whether or not there is a breach of privilege. The second question is whether or not it amounts to a prima facie case of breach of privilege and, therefore, should take priority over all other business until disposed of. The Leader of the Opposition informs me that he has actually moved the motion. I was not aware of it. Is there a record of the motion?
– I moved the motion at the beginning of my comments. That might not have been understood. It states:
That the Prime Minister has committed a breach of privilege by entering into a conspiracy with other Ministers to mislead Parliament in the matter of the last electoral redistribution.
-Does the honourable gentleman so move now?
– I second the motion.
– The Leader of the House wishes to speak to the motion.
- Mr Speaker, I would like to speak to the motion now.
- Mr Speaker, briefly and strictly in accordance with the facts, I submit to you what has happened in the Parliament in the chronological order of events. On 4 November last year, the Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers) said, as a fact, in the Senate that he had had no contact with the Chief Australian Electoral Officer or any of the Distribution Commissioners. On 26 May this year, the Minister said in the Senate that he may have misled the Parliament at that time because he had made contact with the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Pearson. It is relevant to this House that on 7 April this year the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) arranged through his own Minister to table in the Parliament the advice he had received from the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and the Solicitor-General. That is a document of record. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) indicated, it said that there was no evidence of any communication with the Distribution Commissioners. That is not in accordance with the facts as we now know them.
The only defence for the Government would be that it did not know that fact on 7 April. There is strong evidence now that that was not the position. The matter was debated on 10 April in this House. The only factors available for the Parliament to consider were the matters which had been considered by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. It is very significant that yesterday in the Senate the Attorney-General said that he first became aware of the representations made by his colleague on or about 10 April. That is the same day as we were discussing the matter in this House. It is also a matter of record that on 10 April we were discussing the matter in this House at about 8.23 p.m. -
– I take a point of order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is repeating in essence what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition. I refer you, Mr Speaker, to the heading ‘Conspiracy to Deceive Either House or Committees of Either House’ which appears on page 141 of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. I should like to read the paragraph to make the point that such a breach of privilege concerns conspiracy by persons who are not members of the Parliament.
– I shall deal with the substantive issue at a later point.
– With respect, Mr Speaker, may I be heard on this one point? If Erskine May is correct that the matter concerns conspiracies by persons who are not members of the Parliament, what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is now saying is totally irrelevant.
-The honourble gentleman will resume his seat. I shall make the decision whether there is a prima facie case of a breach of privilege, as I am bound to do under the Standing Orders, when the time arises. In the meantime, I will not prevent any honourable member from raising an issue of privilege. Whether he is correct remains to be seen.
-When I was interrupted I was making the point that the AttorneyGeneral had said that he was not aware of any representations made to the distribution commissioners on 10 April. That is a very significant date for this House because that is the day we were debating in this House an opinion of the Attorney-General that there was no evidence before him -
-The honourable gentleman is repeating the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition. I have already been apprised of them by the Leader of the Opposition.
-I appreciate your point but I was not aware that you were apprised of the fact that yesterday in the Senate the Attorney-General said that he was aware of this matter on 10 April. I did not know that that fact was before you. If you want me to tender that statement. I shall do so. Perhaps you have not had a chance to address your mind to this matter because it was adverted to in the Senate only yesterday. The significant point is that on 10 April, when this House was discussing what appeared, to be the evidence given to the Attorney-General he himself knew that his opinion which was given to this House was incorrect and misleading. I do not know whether it has been put to you before, Mr Speaker, but the Attorney-General would be included in the group of Ministers to whom the Leader of the Opposition referred. There was a course of conduct which leads to the fact that this House was being deceived. In other words, if on 10 April we were informed of what we say the Attorney-General then knew we would not have debated the matter in the fashion in which we debated it. There would have been a judicial inquiry immediately on 10 April. There was no judicial inquiry until 24 April. It is misleading the House to suggest that on 10 April there was no other evidence. I make this point quite succinctly. It has now been established by the independent evidence of Senator Withers and Mr Pearson that the Parliament was misled. For that reason prima facie involved in thé deception of this House were the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and certainly the Minister for Administrative Services. That is enough to get the alleged crime of conspiracy considered. It is prima facie evidence. We ask you to consider it, Mr Speaker. We ask you to look at the facts submitted to this House by the Government and further identified in evidence by Senator Withers. In our view, these facts are enough to establish a prima facie case.
~-This matter is being raised and the language of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) was in such a form to contravene completely the resolution that was just passed by this chamber. A good deal has been said about the personality of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the actions and knowledge of Ministers of this Government which is not substantiated by facts before this House. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that newspaper reports give certain indications upon which he now calls on this House to take action. I suggest that all the evidence has been tendered before the Royal Commission to a very large degree. One area in which there seems to be some dispute is in respect of an answer that was apparently given in the other chamber yesterday by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack). There is no evidence before this House that the Prime Minister knew of any of the facts before 10 April or even on 10 April. The purpose of this motion is not genuinely to canvass the privileges of this place. The point of order raised by my colleague, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), has substance. The whole intention of the Opposition is to try to cast doubt upon the meaningfulness of a Royal Commission that is currently inquiring into these matters.
It is true that it was found, as a result of evidence tendered, that it was desirable to ensure that no stones were left unturned and that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission should be extended. They were extended by this Government on two occasions, intentionally and deliberately, so that there would be no suggestion that any matters raised before that Royal Commission could not be canvassed by His Honour, Mr Justice McGregor. Mr Speaker, the purpose of this motion is to suggest in some way that your own responsibilities and those of this chamber will take pre-eminence over a Royal Commission pursuing an inquiry into very much related fields. I believe that no question of privilege has been raised by the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, the motion should be defeated. In terms of the evidence before this House the whole question is a matter of hearsay. It is not a matter of fact. The honourable gentleman referred to a number of newspaper reports, most of which are matters which have been canvassed before the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission itself is pursuing extensive inquiries into the whole matter. The tactic of the Leader of the Opposition is to try to use the procedures of this House to legitimise an exercise that has no substance whatsoever.
– I take up the point raised by the Leader -
– I move:
-Under the Standing Orders I would not accept a motion that an honourable member be not further heard while he is moving a motion which he is entitled to move or while he is seconding the motion. That applies to the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. But it is a course open in relation to any other honourable member speaking to the motion. It is a course available in relation to the honourable member for Blaxland. But I ask the Leader of the House not so to move at this stage because I called the honourable member for Blaxland to find out whether he wanted to raise a point of order or whether he wanted to speak to the motion. He obviously wants to speak to the motion. I think it is time that I indicated my attitude to the House. I have a duty to ascertain in my own mind whether there is a prima facie case of a breach of privilege. If I so find, the motion takes precedence over all other business until it is disposed of. On many occasions, I have adopted the practice of deferring such a matter so that I could consider it and decide whether a prima facie case existed. I do not find it necessary to defer the matter in this instance because I am convinced in my own mind that no issue of privilege arises.
The fact is that for an issue of privilege to arise the matter concerned must relate to the conduct of a member’s duties as a member; it must either seek to influence him or it must, on the other hand, attempt to prevent him from raising issues or voting as he chooses. It is a very precious privilege that we all possess so that we may be not concerned about fear or favour. Therefore the question of privilege has to be guarded very strenuously by the Presiding Officer. I believe that on this occasion there is no issue of privilege arising.
I have been directed by the Leader of the Opposition to a paragraph headed ‘Conspiracy to Deceive either House or Committees of either House’ at page 141 of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice. The Leader of the Opposition read the final sentence only but I will read the paragraph. It states:
It has already been seen that the giving of false evidence, prevarication or suppression of the truth by witnesses while under examination before either House or before committees of either House is punished as a contempt; and that persons who present false, forged or fabricated documents to either House or to committees of either House are guilty of a breach of privilege. Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees of either House will also be treated as a breach of privilege.
In relation to the reliance that the Leader of the Opposition puts on that paragraph- and it would only be upon that paragraph that he could rely, for I am not satisfied that there is any breach of privilege in terms of interfering with the exercise of a member’s duties in the House- it does not apply in this case. That is designed to deal with persons who are not members of the Parliament and, specifically, to deal with matters of evidence that are put before committees or the House.
I should point out to the Leader of the Opposition that if there is a complaint raised by any member of the House as to the conduct of a member within the House, it is open to the honourable member to take the courses of action available to him under the Standing Orders. Earlier today the Leader of the Opposition attempted such a course of action. In fact, the Leader of the House, using the forms of the House, prevented discussion of the matter. Really I think it is obvious that the honourable gentleman has raised the question of privilege in order to ventilate what he wished to say but was unable to say on the previous motion. I have been patient in listening to him but I now rule that there is no prima facie case of breach of privilege. That means that the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition can be disposed of now, either by being put to the vote of the House, or being adjourned, or some other method being adopted. I call the Leader of the House to move for the motion to be put or for the matter to be adjourned, or whatever other course he chooses.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
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.
– For the information of honourable members I table a statement by the Public Service Board regarding action taken in relation to the report of Messrs R. J. Perriman and G. P. Temme into the case of Mr W. F. Toomer. Mr Toomer has been, since January of this year, employed as a quarantine officer at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne. It is to be hoped that the move to Melbourne will signal a turning point in Mr Toomer ‘s relationship with his Department.
– For the information of honourable members I present a supplementary report of the National Population Inquiry entitled ‘Population and Australia- Recent Demographic Trends and Their Implications’.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 16 of the Stevedoring Industry Acts (Termination) Act 1977 I present the report of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority for the period from 1 July 1977 to 26 February 1978.
– For the information of honourable members I present the annual report of the Australian Survey Office for the year ended 30 June 1977.
Mr Speaker, I seek your indulgence to make a personal explanation. I claim to have been misrepresented.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-During Question Time the Minister for National Development (Mr
Newman) said that I proposed last night that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs should be abolished. I said no such thing. If you will bear with me, Mr Speaker, I said that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs was being administered as a part time responsibility by a Minister who spent most of his time outside this country and, accordingly, it was being administered from the other side of the world. I said that there was no justification in those circumstances for having a full time Minister and that, with the termination of the Northern Territory portfolio in the very near future, instead of providing the portfolio of Veterans’ Affairs as a full time responsibility to the incumbent of the Northern Territory portfolio it would be a very good opportunity to save the taxpayers’ money by reducing the size of the Ministry.
-Mr Speaker, on the sixth of this month I commented on a statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his speech on disarmament to the United Nations. I said that he had announced a major change in the safeguards policy. I said that nuclear fissionable material is either highly enriched uranium or pure plutonium and that the Government had hitherto said that it wished to approve all such enrichment or reprocessing but that the Prime Minister had said that, from this point on, he would have a complete prohibition. In his speech to the United Nations the Prime Minister said that Australia welcomed the prospect of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and that ‘such a treaty would be reinforced by an international agreement to halt production of fissionable material for nuclear weapons’. I said at that stage that, if the Prime Minister meant what he said, it was a major change in Australia’s safeguards policy. Today the Government has said that I misunderstood, because the Prime Minister did not mean to make any change in the safeguards policy. Of course, he did not say that to the United Nations. He said that he favoured a halt in production, which is a complete prohibition. It now appears that what he said in the United Nations was not what he meant.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-The Minister for Health ( Mr Hunt), in answer to a question from an honourable member opposite at Question Time today, referred to a newspaper article in yesterday’s Melbourne Herald where I was alleged to have said that I found him depressing. Whilst I do not necessarily disagree with that, what I said to the newspaper was that I had asked a question on 8 May arising out of a Four Corners program shown during the previous weekend where an officer of his Department representing the National Health and Medical Research Council had performed rather badly in regard to questions dealing with pesticides. I said that in reply to my question on 8 May the Minister had said that he would provide me with a fuller answer. When asked about the matter yesterday by the Melbourne Herald reporter, I said that I found it depressing that the Minister had not yet given me a fuller answer on the question of the use of these pesticides.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
States Grants (Urban Public Transport) Bill 1 978
Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2 ) 1978.
Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1978.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1978.
Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1978.
Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1 978.
Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill 1978.
Aboriginal Councils and Associations Amendment Bill 1978.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday, 15 August at 2.15 p.m., unless Mr Speaker or, in the absence from Australia of Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Committees shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
-Mr Speaker, may I express a point through you to the right honourable Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) concerning the times of meeting? As I understand, in the next session we will resume on a three-day week basis. From our experience in this Parliament it would be worthwhile giving some serious consideration to a full debate here at some stage after the resumption of business so that all members can contribute to it in order to determine whether there is a more rational way in which we could use the time of the Parliament and the time of members. On my calculations it is 178 days since the last election. Today is the thirty-ninth day of meeting; so we are meeting for about a quarter of the time available. I take it that most members of the Parliament, like myself, feel at this stage that we have been meeting every day since the election but we still have not done as much as we would have liked to have done.
Therefore apart from the legislation committees, which I hope will be adopted by the House shortly, we ought to give more serious consideration directly to the form of meeting, the times of the day we meet, and the rest of it. I would think at the moment that we are probably meeting less than most other deliberative assemblies of a national sort, such as we are, and that is a serious reflection on the way we are running the place. I think it is also a part of the pattern of thinking in the community which is making the Parliament appear irrelevant to the people. I hope the right honourable gentleman will follow my advice on this matter and get the Parliament to sit down and deliberate on it. In case he finds it a bit too difficult to handle the matter himself, if he wishes I will draw up the schedule for him.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That leave of absence be given to every member of the House of Representatives from the determination of this sitting of the House to the date of its next sitting.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has been here for a long while and therefore he is given some dispensation from admonition for behaviour that other members are not given, but I ask him not to carry that privilege too far.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-On behalf of the Publications Committee sitting in conference with the Publications Committee of the Senate, I present its report entitled ‘Inquiry into the Publication of Commonwealth Acts, Statutory Rules and Legislation of the Territories’.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-by leave-This is the fifth special report which the Joint Committee on Publications has presented to the Parliament since Standing Orders were amended in 1970 to give the Committee investigatory powers. It is the second special report which has been presented during this Parliament. The inquiry arises out of the Committee’s concern regarding the delay in the publication of Commonwealth Acts, Statutory Rules and other Commonwealth and
Territory legislation. It finds that the availability of most Commonwealth legislation in a readable updated form is in a most unsatisfactory state. I give the House examples: Very few pamphlet reprints of Acts and Statutory Rules, as amended, have been produced since 1973; the latest issue of the annual Acts volumes relates to 1974; the last issue of consolidated volumes of Statutory Rules covers the period 1901-1956; the latest volumes of consolidated laws of the Australian Capital Territory cover the period 1911-1956.
I could go on further; however, I think the point has been made. It is almost impossible for members of parliament, the judiciary, members of the legal profession and the individual citizen to be aware of the Commonwealth legislative provisions which exist in this country. The Committee regards this inquiry as one of an interim nature and at a later date will undertake a more complete investigation into further .matters which relate to the Commonwealth’s legislative publishing program. The Committee felt that, as a first step, it was more desirable to report the current parlous situation to the Parliament and to make recommendations designed to set in motion action to improve the situation.
In the short time available to the Committee it interviewed officers from the Attorney-General’s Department, who are responsible for the Commonwealth legislative publishing program. In addition, officers from the Australian Government Publishing Service presented evidence on production and selling procedures. The officers from the Attorney-General’s Department advised that in the near future they intended to publish consolidated volumes of laws of the Australian Capital Territory, consolidated volumes of Statutory Rules and some annual volumes of Acts and Statutory rules. For reasons which are more fully explained in the report, the optimism suggested in the Department’s publishing program was not shared by the Committee. The officers explained that they were having difficulty in filling vacant positions within its publications branch. They also stated that new procedures at the Government Printing Office which required additional proof-reading contributed to the delay.
The Committee is of the opinion, however, that the delay in publishing the Commonwealth’s legislative program is mainly due to the lack of forward planning. The Committee has made recommendations designed to rationalise the publishing program of the Department and laid down what it feels to be a satisfactory publishing timetable. This is to be found in paragraph 16 of the report. Basically, the Committee has asked that greater priorities be attached to the reprinting of Acts and Statutory Rules when substantial amendments have been made. Also, the Committee has suggested that, in future, all consolidated volumes of legislation, whether they be Acts, Statutory Rules or laws of the Territories, be produced on a regular basis at fiveyear intervals. The Committee is aware that the Department with its present establishment will have difficulty in meeting this suggested timetable, and therefore, it has recommended that a Public Service Board review of the branch be undertaken to ensure that appropriate resources are allocated to the Department to enable the Department to adhere to the Committee’s recommended publishing timetable. In the interim, it suggests that a task force of officers be employed to overcome the present backlog.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Attorney-General and officers of his Department, and officers of the Australian Government Publishing Service, for the prompt assistance which they provided to enable the Committee to complete this inquiry. Finally, I draw attention of the House to the support and diligence which I received from the Committee in completing this inquiry. Without this, the investigation which was carried out at such short notice would not have been possible. I would like also to attract the House’s attention to the fact that two members of the Joint Committee, namely, Senator Donald Cameron and Senator Tehan will not be with the Committee after 1 July, due to their retirement from the Senate. I wish to thank these gentlemen for the support which they have given me and the Committee over the years. I wish them well in their retirement. I believe it is worthy of comment that this inquiry was commenced only a fortnight ago. I wish to place on record my thanks to the secretary, the Deputy Usher of the Black Rod, Mr Tom Wharton, who of course operates as secretary of this Committee in only a part time capacity. I commend the report to the House.
-Before I call the honourable the Treasurer (Mr Howard), I have to remind honourable members, especially because the previous speaker was on my right, that it is against the Standing Orders to move between the person who is on his feet addressing the House and the Speaker in the Chair. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) tried to comply with that requirement and fell over the rail. But other members seem to be quite unaware of the standing order and I just want to draw their attention to it. It is a courtesy to the member who is on his feet speaking.
– by leave- It is now just over two years since my predecessor announced the Government’s foreign investment policy in a statement to this House dated 1 April 1976. In the light of experience gained in that period, it is timely that the policy be reviewed. The Government recognises that, despite Australia’s high level of domestic savings, we will continue to require overseas capital to assist in the development of our industries and resources. A primary objective of the Government’s policy remains therefore to encourage foreign investment in Australia. It is against this central consideration that the Government has undertaken a review of foreign investment policy. The Government has decided that there should be no fundamental changes to the basic objectives of the policy, as announced by my predecessor. In arriving at this decision the Government has been mindful of the fact that the present policy has achieved widespread acceptance from the business sector, including both Australian and overseas companies, and from the Australian community at large. This has led to the establishment of a stable investment climate in which overseas investors can plan their future operations in Australia.
Nevertheless the Government wishes to relax procedural requirements wherever experience has shown this to be possible. Accordingly, the Government has decided that forthwith: Firstly, proposals for foreign investment in new projects will not require government approval under the foreign investment guidelines unless the project involves an investment of $5m or more- this does not apply to investment in the financial sector and uranium; secondly, in the case of investments coming within the scope of the Foreign Takeovers Act, the Government will not normally seek to intervene if the assets of the company being taken over are less than $2m, unless there are special circumstances or the business is in the financial sector or some other area where special considerations apply; and, thirdly, individual real estate acquisitions of less than $250,000 will no longer require approval.
The Government has also referred for detailed legal study certain possible amendments, essentially of a technical kind, to the Foreign Takeovers Act. The principal proposal under consideration would remove the need for compulsory notification to the Government of acquisitions of substantial shareholdings in Australian companies, many of which do not change the ultimate ownership and control of the enterprise, being corporate re-arrangements, and acquisitions of shelf and shell companies, which are of no policy significance. It was never intended that the Act cover these proposals. Repeal of this provision, section 26, would eliminate a large number of proposals which are currently notified as a technicality but which are not subject to action under the Act. It would not reduce the Government’s capacity to examine takeover proposals which would result in a change in control. The possible legislative amendments will be the subject of further detailed examination by the Treasury in conjunction with the AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
I turn now to another aspect of the foreign investment guidelines which the Government has had under examination. We have been assisted in our consideration of it by recent consultations with a number of companies and have taken into account the range of views expressed. The Government’s policy is to welcome opportunities for Australians to participate in the ownership and management of foreign-owned companies operating in this country. A number of largely foreign-owned companies have expressed a willingness to increase the level of Australian ownership in their operations. Some have already achieved significant levels of Australian ownership.
A concern which has arisen under the present policy is that, short of a company becoming majority Australian owned and Australian controlled, it remains unable to develop a new mining project on its own within the Government’s guidelines so far as the mining area is concerned. The guidelines provide that there be, as a general rule, at least 50 per cent Australian equity and joint Australian /foreign control, although there is provision for flexibility. This reduces the incentive for foreign-owned companies to embark upon the long-term objective of introducing majority Australian equity. It may be some years before the level of Australian equity could be increased to 50 per cent. Even then, unless a company were Australian controlled it would not normally be able to develop a new project in its own right within the existing guidelines. The Government does not believe it is in Australia ‘s interests that foreign companies which are already substantially Australian owned and which are prepared to introduce majority Australian ownership should suffer such a disability. It believes that Australia can gain from the development of jointly Australian and foreign-owned companies which bring together in partnership the skills and resources of overseas interests with Australian investors.
The Government has therefore decided to modify the existing guidelines in a manner which will enable partly Australian-owned foreign companies to proceed more easily with their investment plans, by providing an incentive to them to increase Australian ownership. The modifications, which I am announcing today, are designed to provide a framework for the ‘naturalisation’ of” foreign-owned companies over a period of time. The broad arrangements are consistent with the Government’s policy of administering the 50 per cent guidelines flexibly, with provision for the gradual phasing in of Australian equity. These modifications do not affect the policy in relation to uranium projects or the requirements of the Foreign Takeovers Act. In announcing these modifications, the Government is in no way suggesting that companies should feel that they are expected, or have an obligation, to proceed to Australianise. I emphasise that it will be for individual companies to decide, on the basis of their own commercial judgments, whether they would wish to do so.
A company wishing to take advantage of the benefits available under the arrangements will be required to meet certain pre-conditions: Firstly. a minimum 25 per cent Australian equity; secondly, amendment of its articles of association to provide for a board a majority of which are Australian citizens; and thirdly, a public commitment to increase Australian equity to 5 1 per cent subject to agreed understandings between the company, major shareholder interests and the Government, and regular discussions with the Foreign Investment Review Board on progress towards achieving 51 per cent Australian ownership. A company as outlined above which achieves 5 1 per cent Australian ownership and has an Australian board would be classified as a naturalised company. It would be able to proceed with new projects in its own right, in partnership with an Australian company, a naturalised company or a naturalising company, within the Government’s guidelines for new projects. However, a naturalised company would, in the absence of special circumstances, be precluded from undertaking a project as a joint venture with a wholly overseas-owned company, as this would involve a departure from the 50 per cent guidelines.
A company in the process of naturalisation would be given prior credit for achieving 5 1 per cent Australian ownership and would therefore be able to proceed with a new project on the same basis as outlined above. The Government would expect the naturalisation process to take place primarily by way of new share issues to Australians to fund new projects and expansions, rather than by takeovers which will remain subject to case-by-case examination under the Foreign Takeovers Act. The rights of a naturalising company would be withdrawn should it not adhere to the agreed understandings. A company wishing to participate in these arrangements would be required to reach an understanding with the Government on practical arrangements for achieving 5 1 per cent Australian ownership. The Government does not believe that it would be realistic to impose a strict timetable because of commercial considerations outside the company’s control. As part of the arrangements there would need to be a general understanding with the major shareholder interests of the company on the process of naturalisation and the exercise of voting powers in re,spect of the Australian business.
I would make it clear that the Government remains of the view that the objective of 50 per cent Australian equity in new mineral projects is a reasonable one. It will continue to administer this policy flexibly to ensure that new investment is not prevented from proceeding where Australian equity capital is not available or Australian participation in the circumstances of a particular project is not commercially practicable. This policy has to date served well Australia and foreign investors alike. It has created a favourable climate for foreign investment while providing opportunities for Australians to participate in new projects. The Government believes that the changes which I have announced today are consistent with its desire to encourage foreign investment in this country while at the same time preserving the fundamental elements of the existing policy. I add that we will be keeping policy in this area under review in the light of experience and changing circumstances.
I turn now to the question of exchange control. As part of the overall review of factors which could inhibit foreign investment in Australia, the Government has also examined the present exchange control procedures impinging on capital inflow. It has concluded that basically the present procedures are appropriate and serve essential policy purposes. Nevertheless, a number of decisions have been made which will streamline the exchange control procedures. The Government has decided that the embargo on overseas borrowing for periods of less than 6 months and certain related indirect forms of overseas borrowing is no longer required in present circumstances and the embargo will therefore be suspended as from 9 June. This will include the suspension of: firstly, the embargo on non-resident deposits with a maturity of less than six months, placed with banks, finance companies and other financial institutions; secondly; the restrictions which prohibit nonresidents from investing in fixed interest securities with maturities of less than six months; and, thirdly, surveillance over movements in intercompany indebtedness. Companies which are indebted to related companies overseas will no longer be required to furnish certificates to the Reserve Bank related to variations in such indebtedness.
The Government has reviewed the present arrangements whereby the Reserve Bank does not grant exchange control approval to a foreign investment proposal until after the Treasurer has decided that there is no foreign investment policy objection to it. In future, foreign investors who submit applications to the Reserve Bank that satisfy exchange control requirements will be able to receive exchange control approval in advance of foreign investment approval by the Treasurer. The exchange control approval will be subject to the condition that any necessary foreign investment approval is obtained. The effect of this change in the procedures should be to minimise delays to the foreign investor. At present, decisions taken on exchange control and foreign investment matters are subject to the provisions of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. The implications of using the provisions of this Act in relation to exchange control and foreign investment matters will be reviewed in the context of the review of the Act which is taking place at present. The result of the review will be announced in due course. In commending the statement to the House, I thank the honourable member Gellibrand (Mr Willis) for his courtesy in agreeing to a short abridgement of the time normally available to the Opposition in respect of these statements. I present the following paper:
Foreign Investment Policy and Exchange Control Procedures- Ministerial Statement, 8 June 1978.
Motion (by Mr Fife) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
– I am pleased that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) is happy that there has been an abridgment of the time available. I wish I had had a bit more. However, we were preoccupied this morning. The Treasurer has been kind enough to acknowledge that there has been a fair degree of bipartisan support on the matter of foreign investment guidelines. I recall clearly when the Government introduced its guidelines in 1976 the debate which followed. It seemed to me that in some ways on both sides there were some participants in the debate who were beating at each other with rubber sticks. I did not see a great deal of difference between those guidelines which we introduced in late 1 975 and those which were presented in 1976. Perhaps that observation is more relevant to the nature of political debate in this country than the substance of matters which are applied in administration.
I wish we had more time to debate this matter because there are implications in this statement which we find a little worrying. Perhaps the Treasurer might be kind enough to reflect on these matters. The spirit of what is being proposed is, of course, entirely acceptable. The spirit as enunciated is that the Government seeks to create a situation where a greater Australian equity holding will occur in enterprise in this country and that there will be a policy whereby there will be a reduction in the proportion of foreign control in certain industries. That is the implication of these guidelines. What the Government is really doing, however, in effect, it seems to me, because of weaknesses in the methodology which is being used, is to back well away from the 50-50 requirement which had been explicit in the guidelines of both the last Labor Government and the present Government. It has moved to a situation where effectively it becomes a 75-25 per cent holding- the 75 per cent being overseas or foreign holding. If there were explicit guidelines which clearly defined time scales when that 25 per cent Australian equity could be increased to 50 per cent Australian equity, there would be much more enthusiasm for what has been proposed than is evident from the Opposition. I draw the Treasurer’s attention to page 7 of his statement where he said:
The Government would expect -
I stress the use of the word ‘expect’ rather than require’, according to clearly laid down guidelines with discernable time scales:
We would not only expect but we would require that the naturalisation process should take place, not primarily, but exactly by way of new share issues, and that that should be achieved within a certain time scale. As the guidelines stand at the moment, we .find them altogether too vague, too unspecific’, in these important matters. There can be no total satisfaction in the country that such a large proportion of Australian enterprise is foreign owned and that this is growing. I recognise the benefits that come from foreign investment and I have made my view on that matter, as have most of my colleagues, clear enough often enough. But we should not lose sight of the fact that there are also costs which are involved in foreign investments and we are paying a fairly substantial cost right now.
Foreign investment is not coming into the country in quantities which we would prefer. The Government obviously would prefer this- so would I- because it would ease the pressure on our balance of payments. It is not coming in in those quantities yet, at the same time, net invisibles, flowing out of the country, are flowing out at quite disturbingly high rates. For instance, in 1975-76 the rate was about $2,500m. The next year it was over $3,000m. It looks like being something of that order this year. It would appear that a great deal of capital is being repatriated and not a small amount of these repayments are servicing the debt on past investments. It is flowing out in appreciable quantities. So capital is not coming in but is going out as a cost for investment in earlier stages, and that in turn is putting pressure on our balance of payments. So, I repeat, it is not unalloyed joy to have foreign investment coming into the country over the long term. There are problems.
It is therefore desirable that there ought to be a policy designed to maximise Australian participation in holdings in companies established in Australia. That I believe is what the Government wants to achieve, but I do not believe that it is tight enough for the community to feel any satisfaction about the proposals. I know that people in business who have criticised these proposals have some self-interest, but so too do certain business interests which have supported them. I note that there is a number of important Australian companies that are obviously very concerned about these new guidelines. I am not overwhelmed by the arguments of the Broken Hill Pty Company Ltd because I suspect that that company has been sheltering for too long behind various forms of comfortable protection. I am not thinking just of tariffs, but in various ways. It has become a fairly inefficient steel producer. On the other hand, I am quite impressed by CSR Ltd as an Australian enterprise which gives every sign of being an efficient organisation, well conducted, expanding to the benefit of the community within this country. I do not believe we can just write off their reservations.
We could quickly achieve a much greater proportion of Australian holding in foreigncontrolled organiser companies or enterprises in this country if we harnessed the support of the Australian Industry Development Corporation so that it could take out shareholdings forthwith or in a fairly short time in a foreign-controlled organisation and then progressively release these to the market as new expansion took place in new enterprises undertaken by that particular foreign-controlled organisation. That seems to me to be something that ought to be explored. Perhaps rather than moving away from the 50-50 rule that we have at the present time to this sort of vague, non-specific, too-open-ended set of proposals, we would be better off if we had some sort of registration process; that is, special exemptions are provided for certain companies established in this country, which are substantially foreign owned, and which want to engage in investment in new development in the country, the exemption being that once registered as such they are able to proceed very much as the Government is proposing in these new guidelines. But I am concerned about the blanket nature of the guidelines which have been put forward. We must accept, in my view, as our fundamental position that we have to explore all opportunity to enlarge the stock of Australian companies able to take on new development projects in this country. We need to do some practical things about that and one of the ways which has appealed to the Labor Party- we proposed this in our last election campaign manifesto- was that there should be a major, high level, comprehensive inquiry into the capital market in this country. It is riddled with all sorts of restrictions. It is a fragmented sort of market.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for the luncheon adjournment, I was making the point that in my view there is a need to have an inquiry into the structure and operation of the Australian capital market. I say that because the question in my mind is this: What is the problem when we are talking about foreign investment? Is it a shortage of capital or is it a problem involving our external account? The evidence quite clearly is that it is a weakness in our external account. More than 90 per cent of the resources used- manufactured or raw- in the development of the infrastructure of a major mineral development project are provided domestically. It is not a matter of mobilising resources from overseas but rather credit resources overseas. They are very largely required, given the structure of our balance of payments, to meet pressure on our balance on current account.
If government were to borrow more overseas on its own account and borrow less domesticallythis would call for a restructuring of the domestic capital markets- there would be no need to sell out the resources of this country on a perpetual basis to foreign investment. Government could borrow on a shorter term basis. There would be clear welfare implications as a result of such a change, especially in the housing area. Adequate responses could be developed to changed circumstances so that people did not suffer. That is why we need an inquiry into the structure and operation of the Australian capital market. I said that there is no real shortage of domestic capital, especially at the moment. The Sydney Morning Herald of 1 9 December stated:
The AMP Society has an investment problem on a large scale- it has almost $500m to invest in 1978 but is having difficulty in finding suitable investments.
The Treasurer, on the ninth page of his statement, refers to changes in relation to restrictions on overseas borrowings and that is further evidence of that.
I will move away from that area and make some observations, in the short time remaining for me to speak, about the actual statement. These remarks will concern matters that worry the Opposition. On the second page of this statement, in dealing with certain principles the Government has enumerated, the Treasurer said:
Proposals for foreign investment in new -
The emphasis is on ‘ ne w ‘- . . projects will not require Government approval under the foreign investment guidelines unless the project involves an investment of $5m or more.
That seems to me, on the face of it, to be quite compatible with corporations expanding by discrete operations at a limit of up to $5m at a time. This sort of incremental development would subvert the principles that have been enumerated. The Opposition is concerned about the generous ceiling of $250,000 that will apply in respect of real estate acquisitions. Further points are enumerated on the sixth page, of the Treasurer’s statement. The pre-condition for a company wishing to draw the advantage of the changes would be a minimum 25 per cent Australian equity. That really is a derogation of principles which have been adopted largely on a bipartisan basis so far. If the change that the Government is talking about takes place, that is well and good. But on the face of it, especially in relation to the third point on this page- that a public commitment is required of companies to increase Australian equity to 51 per cent- the Opposition feels concerned that the objectives set could be subverted by a company dragging its feet and that we might evolve a never-never sort of system.
The second point made on the sixth page of the statement refers to the amendment of the articles of association of a company to provide for a board of which the majority are Australian citizens. That does not mean a great deal. We would hope that Australians would show a greater predisposition towards an Australian outlook and Australian aspirations. But that does not necessarily follow. I mention these things to indicate that alone, or even collectively, they do not give the sort of reassurance that the Government seems so firmly convinced that they do, that is, that Australian equity in projects can be accelerated by this process. For example, the Treasurer said in his statement:
A company which achieves 5 1 per cent Australian ownership and has an Australian board . . . would be classified as a naturalised company.
But a very small proportion of ownership in a large corporation these days is able to control that corporation. That is why 50 per cent ownership, or I think it is 45 per cent ownership collectively in the hands of an overseas person or persons, was regarded as overseas control. There is no definition of the word ‘control’ in the Treasurer’s statement. It is not unreasonable that the Opposition should have some worry about how we control the destiny of this country.
The Opposition has worrying reservations about this proposal. We have not had enough time to consider it. As legislation will be required, we would expect by the time of its introduction to have had more time to consider the matter. We sincerely trust that the Government will not seek to proceed in some provisional, and therefore improper, way in the absence of that sort of legislation. What we really suspect is that this is further evidence of major policy undertakings being made on the run by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The rush is because he wants to say something overseas and is prepared not only to risk the bipartisan nature of the attitude towards foreign investment which has been developed by this Parliament but also the confidence that has developed behind the guidelines enumerated by an earlier Labor Government and laid down almost in mirror fashion by the present Government in 1976. I agree with the Treasurer when he says that the Government has been mindful of the fact that the present policy has achieved widespread acceptance. This new set of guidelines accordingly could cause problems. The Opposition prefers the existing guidelines.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The need for this House to uphold the principle of human rights and freedom for all people and accordingly to condemn any nation which denies human rights to its people or to any individual.
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-
-No individual should be deprived of his rights or his freedom in the terms in which they have been defined by a number of international charters and treaties and, in particular, as they were defined 30 years ago, on 10 December 1948, when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the resolution which is now known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is significant that the debate today is being supported by all political parties in this chamber. I would like to outline generally the history of the development of human rights over the last 40 years. The honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) will develop those arguments. I wish to record at this stage that unfortunately many honourable members on this side and on the other side of the House will not have an opportunity to speak in this debate. I include the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), a very even-handed man, who has taken an approach on human rights in this chamber.
We should not turn away from any opportunity to influence the leaders and people of a country that does not respect human rights. If by peaceful means, by complaint, by public identification, by criticism or by example we can break down the bigotry, prejudice or denial of human rights in another country, we must act accordingly. It is now accepted internationally that by so doing a country is not unjustifiably interfering in the affairs of another soverign state. Indeed, it is recognised that we have a responsibility to so act. The events prior to and during the Second World War had a substantial influence on the awareness of and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the preparation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 26 signatories to the declaration of the United Nations made on 1 January 1942 expressed their commitment that complete victory over their enemies was essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.
At Dumbarton Oaks in 1 944 the leaders of the governments of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America met and agreed upon proposals to establish an international organisation to replace the League of Nations and which was to be called the United Nations. The conclusions reached at Dumbarton Oaks included the belief that the United Nations should ‘facilitate solutions of international economic, social and other humanitarian problems and should promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedom’. The Charter of the United Nations which was subsequently adopted refers to the problem of human rights in its preamble and in a number of Articles. For example, in the preamble the peoples of the member nations expressed their determination ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small’. Article 56, when read with Article 55, provides that ‘all members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organisation for the achievement’ of a number of objectives which ‘the United Nations shall promote ‘. The objectives include the following:
Universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
As I stated earlier, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted as a resolution of the General Assembly on 10 December 1948. Accordingly, 1978 represents the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of that resolution. It would be appropriate to highlight the terms of the Declaration. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the terms of the Declaration.
The document read as follows-
THE INTERNATIONAL BILL OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 2 17 A (III) of 10 December 1 948
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Chaner reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
The General Assembly
Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, binh or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-selfgoverning or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
Everyone has, the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
– Whilst some of the language in the Declaration is a little outdated, the whole tenor and concept and the principles therein embodied are as relevant in 1 978 as they were in 1948. It is also sadly true that many nations have failed to abide by the principles which are enunciated in that Declaration. Honourable members will be aware that the preamble to the Declaration provides that ‘the peoples of the United
Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights’. It then proceeds to state in clear and unequivocal terms the rights which every member of the world society should enjoy. It is worthwhile quoting Article 1, which states:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
The Declaration is not an international bill of rights. The decisions taken in 1947 and 1948 were not to spell out one international bill of rights but to have a number of instruments to define and state a bill of rights applicable to all nations, the first of which was the Universal Declaration of Rights.
The other parts of the international bill of rights are the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the international covenant on civil and political rights and the optional protocol to the international covenant on civil and political rights. They were adopted by the General Assembly and open for signature, ratification and accession on 16 December 1966. The covenants, which are binding on all governments which accept them, expand the principles stated in the Declaration in greater detail and provide mechanisms for implementation of the several principles in the Declaration of Human Rights.
Australia ratified the economic, social and cultural covenant in December 1975. It came into force in this country on 10 March 1976. We have not yet ratified the covenant on civil and political rights. On 28 September 1977 the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) addressed the thirty-second session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In the course of his address he stated:
The question of human rights is too important a matter to be dealt with in terms of rhetoric and gesture; too important to be subordinated to political manoeuvre or made a matter of public relations.
It is related in the most direct way to questions of human suffering, human dignity and freedom. It we cannot take it seriously we would be better to stop talking about it at all.
On 9 May 1978 the Foreign Minister made a statement in this House on foreign policy. I was pleased to hear the Minister refer in the course of that statement to the thirtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Minister went on to say:
The Government is conscious that we have not yet ratified the covenant on civil and political rights. This is a matter we hope to rectify- like most things, human rights begin at home. New legislation will shortly be introduced to give effect to the Government’s election commitment to establish a human rights commission relating to Commonwealth laws.
In an article in the Dyason House papers published by the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs the author advanced five reasons why Australia should sign the civil and political covenant. Briefly, those reasons are as follows: Firstly, the importance of human rights in the interrelationship of people throughout the world. Secondly- perhaps the most fundamental of all- that Australia must be seen to be concerned within its own country before it examines the state of liberty in other nations. An example of that is the status of Aborigines in Australia in 1978. Their contact with the white people of Australia has devastated so many of them. I think it is time that we had another look at the position of Aborigines generally in this country. Another example is in very close proximity, namely, the action of the New South Wales Government in continuing to close its eyes to the denial of basic human rights to Noel Latham of Broken Hill. By their blanket refusal to give him justice by granting to him the right of appeal to a court of law the Premier and the Government of New South Wales must stand condemned in the eyes of the citizens.
A third reason is that the covenant is now becoming a litmus test for governmental sincerity over human rights. As at January of this year 45 nations had ratified the covenant. It is becoming evident that any government which does not ratify the covenant will have its credibility challenged if it seeks to make comment on the human rights issue in other countries. Fourthly, we are now represented on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. This is the first occasion since the mid-1950s on which Australia has been so represented. Finally, Australia cannot have a member on the Human Rights Committee unless we have ratified the covenant. Since 1948 much has been done to implement the terms of the human rights covenant. For example, the International Conference on Human Rights at Teheran in 1968 substantially advanced the cause of human rights in the world. This was recognised at the twenty-third session of the General Assembly of the United Nations when it was resolved that the conference had made an important constructive contribution to the cause of human rights and that its results should be translated into effective action by all states, by the competent organs of the United Nations and by other relevant international agencies and instrumentalities.
Over the past 30 years the United Nations General Assembly has considered and passed a number of resolutions on a wide range of subjects using the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights as its basic reference. For example, there has been action on the problems of discrimination, the status of women, the right of asylum, the administration of justice, freedom of information and so on. The Universal Declaration has also been quoted extensively in considering particular issues which arise in states. One such example relates to the practice of apartheid in South Africa. For example, in December 1963 the Security Council made the following urgent request:
The Government of the Republic of South Africa to cease forthwith its continued imposition of discriminatory and repressive measures which are contrary to the principles and purposes of the Charter and which are in violation of its obligation as a member of the United Nations and of the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Government of the Republic of South Africa has done nothing to lessen the impact of its apartheid policy. I refer to the overwhelming evidence of the continued application of apartheid in South Africa, which I outlined to this House on 8 March 1978. Notwithstanding South Africa’s position, the influence of the original Charter of the United Nations and more particularly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and the proclamation have been significant. It is evident that many states still choose to ignore the terms of these human rights documents and to deprive their citizens of one or more of the basic human rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled. Many examples of this are contained in the annual report of Amnesty International for 1977. Honourable members will recall that that organisation was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize. The Commonwealth parliamentary group of Amnesty International is comprised of members of this House and members of the other place and those members are from all the political parties. They work to have men and women released from prisons where they have been incarcerated because of their beliefs, colour, ethnic origin, language or religion. It should be emphasised that Amnesty International supports no one who has used or advocates violence and under no circumstances are these basic tenets waived or ignored.
This Parliament has been engaged in the defence of human rights and the propagation of the belief in freedom and in rights for all people. For example, in October 1977 the sub-committee on human rights in the Soviet Union of the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence widened its initial terms of reference to include the following: . . human rights in the Soviet Union bearing in mind Australia’s support for the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the final act of the Helsinki Agreement.
We have recently witnessed the sentencing of Yuri Orlov, one of the group formed in 1 976 to promote observance in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of the Helsinki Agreement following the 1 975 signing of the Helsinki Declaration by Mr Brezhnev.
One of the co-founders of the Helsinki group in the USSR, Ludmila Alexeyeva, in the paper The Orlov Defence ‘ stated:
From the beginning the Soviet authorities knew exactly what we were doing. On 13 May 1976 Orlov was interrogated by the KGB about the formation of the group. He was told that no one could doubt that the Soviet Union was sincere about the implementation of the Helsinki Declaration and he was warned that the formation of the group was unconstitutional. Orlov rejected this warning and stated that it was absurd to suggest that a group designed to promote the undoubted policy of the Soviet Government would be unconstitutional.
It is now well known in every democratic country that the Russian authorities saw fit to sentence Orlov to the maximum penalty for his so-called unconstitutional behaviour. The sub-committee on human rights in the Soviet Union will shortly prepare a report on the subject of human rights in the USSR. I respectfully suggest that every member of this House should read that report thoroughly.
The Ukranian Dr Leonid Pluysh appeared before the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and gave evidence publicly. Honourable members will recall that Dr Pluysh was a leading mathematician who was arrested for his human rights activities and for his efforts imprisoned for approximately four years in a psychiatric institution. I refer honourable members to that part of the evidence which will be published in the report of the Committee. Another example of the actions of parliamentarians is the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. I refer honourable members to the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Council in a number of cases. Because of the time factor, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a document dealing with one such case, the case of John Marie Seroney of Kenya, as an example of the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in this area.
The document read as follows-
Case No. KEN/0 1 -JOHN MARIE SERONEY-KENYA
Sources of communication:
Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
b ) Outline of the case:
It emerges from the evidence that Deputy John Marie Seroney, Vice-Speaker of the Parliament, was arrested on15 October 1975, in the precincts of Parliament. He has been detained since then without charges and without having been brought before a court, under the provisions of the Preservation of Public Security Act. On 9 October, while presiding over a sitting of Parliament, he refused to call Deputy Martin Shikuku to order since he considered that the latter was stating only obvious facts.
This case, which the Special Committee examined at its first session (February 1977), was the subject of a report to the 120th and 121st sessions of the Inter-Parliamentary Council and of unanimous resolutions by it.
At its 121st session, the Council unanimously approved the affiliation to the Union of the Kenyan InterParliamentary Group. In the resolution it then adopted concerning Deputy Seroney, the Inter-Parliamentary Council urged ‘the Kenyan authorities not to delay the release of Deputy John Marie Seroney any longer’.
Report on the implementation of the resolution adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 12 1st session:
The Secretary General has contacted on various occasions
the President of the Kenyan Inter-Parliamentary Group,
the Minister of Foreign Affairs and (iii) the AttorneyGeneral of Kenya, and has transmitted to them the report of the Special Committee and the resolution of the Council.
Reply of the Kenyan authorities:
By letter dated 9 January 1978, and entitled ‘Human Rights of Parliamentarians’, the President of the Kenyan Group informed the Secretary General that discussions had been started between the Group and the authorities, and that he would keep him informed in due time of the progress made. When this report was issued, no such information had reached the Secretariat.
f) Decision of the Special Committee:
The Special Committee,
Recalling the contents of its two previous reports to the Inter-Parliamentary Council on the case of Deputy John Marie Seroney,
Referring to the resolutions adopted on this case by the Inter-Parliamentary Council at its 120th session (15 April 1 977 ) and at its 1 2 1 st session ( 30 September 1 977),
Referring to the provisions of Chapter V of the Constitution of Kenya relating to the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and particularly Article 83 thereof which sets limits to derogations which may be brought into operation under the Preservation of Public Security Act; Section 3 of the Kenya National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act; the provisions of Articles 2(1) and 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified by Kenya on 1 May 1972), and the provisions of Articles 9, 11(1) and 1 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
Convinced of the arbitrary nature of the detention of Deputy John Marie Seroney in view of the above provisions,
Considering that the Kenyan parliamentary, governmental and judicial authorities have not responded to the request for release made by the Inter-Parliamentary Council,
Recommends the Inter-Parliamentary Council to:
Urge the Kenyan authorities to release Deputy John Marie Seroney at the earliest possible date;
State its firm belief that the Kenyan Parliament, as a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, will use its best endeavours to secure the release of Deputy Seroney.
– We in Australia can play a much greater role than we have in the past in ensuring that more nations subscribe to and practice human rights. Until we take a much more active role as a nation and as individuals, through organisations like Amnesty International, we cannot really claim standing in the world as a country fully committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its covenants.
– I rise to speak in support of this matter of public importance. I endorse the words of Robert Shelton which appeared in the Saturday Review. He stated:
Most amazingly, the ninety countries known to hold political prisoners run across all sociopolitical lines. There is nearly as much use for the jailer of ideas in the ‘ free world ‘ as there is in the Communist Bloc. The supposedly idealistic emergent group of Third World nations is not only not immune to the jailing fever but also is in fact heavily into the business of locking up dissenters. In many such nations, to paraphrase the German military theoretician Karl von Clausewitz, the imprisonment of dissenters is simply the continuation of state policy by other means.
I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard charts, ranked by nation, showing a comparative survey of freedom and giving details of political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House in the United States.
The document read as follows-
Notes to the Table 1 The scales use the numbers 1-7, with 1 comparatively offering the highest level of political or civil rights, and 7 the lowest. A plus or minus following a rating indicates an improvement or decline in the rating since the last survey. A rating marked with a period (o) has been changed since the last survey due to revaluation by the author. This does not imply any change in the country. For further information on the scale and survey see Freedom at Issue, January-February 1973, p. 2ff. 2 A free state is designated by F, a partly free state by PF, and a not free state by NF. 3 A positive outlook for freedom is indicated by a plus sign, a negative outlook, by a minus, and relative stability of ratings by a zero. The outlook for freedom is based on the problems the country is facing, the way the government and people are reacting to these problems, and the longer run political traditions of the society. A judgment of outlook may also reflect an imminent change, such as the expected adoption of a meaningful new constitution. 4 Formerly the French Territory of the Afars and Issas. 5 Formerly Cambodia.
-I want to talk in particular about the Bhutto trial because I believe that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, currently under sentence of death in Pakistan for conspiracy to murder, must be regarded as the outstanding single case of a political prisoner in the world today. He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and of Oxford University, is a barrister, Foreign Minister of Pakistan from 1963 to 1966, founder of the Pakistan People’s Party and a democratic socialist who said that his policies were ‘along the lines of the British Labour Party and Willy Brandt’. After being imprisoned in 1968-69 under the military regime of Field Marshal Ayub Kahn, Bhutto’s party won the elections of 1970. After East Pakistan rose in insurrection with Indian support and was recognised as independent Bangladesh in December 1971, the Pakistani Military Government fell. Bhutto became President of a reconstituted Pakistan from 1971 to 1973 and later held the position of Prime Minister from 1973 to 1977. In 1977 he won another general election which his opponents claimed was rigged and in July 1977 a bloodless army coup overthrew the Bhutto Government.
Early in 1 978 Bhutto and four others were sentenced to death in Lahore by a full bench of five judges. Bhutto and two others were condemned for conspiracy to murder and two others for murder. The allegation was that Bhutto had arranged to assassinate Ahmed Raza Kasuri, an Opposition member of Parliament, culminating in a machine gun attack on his car in Lahore on the night of 10 November 1 974 by two members of the Federal Security Force, a trigger-happy para-military group. The intended victim escaped unhurt but his father, Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Khan, died of his wounds. A document entitled ‘Summary of Judgment in Murder Trial State v. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and others’ published by the Government of Pakistan sets out an account of the trial. It makes disquieting reading. The prosecution seems to have thrown out a very wide net, as is generally the case in conspiracy charges, with the result that two of the seven originally accused, both members of the Federal Security Force, turned State’s evidence in order to incriminate the others.
The document sets out a series of somewhat unconvincing propositions, of which this seems a fair summary.
He accused the judges of bias, protested that the trial was held in camera and after the withdrawal of his counsel ‘since he had other professional business to attend to at Sargodha ‘-one can only wonder what it was- denounced the conduct of the court and refused to defend himself. The judges, fearlessly rejecting the adage that no man ought to be a judge in his own cause, took the view that the trial was exemplary; that his actions proved that Bhutto was a liar, confirmed his guilt and invalidated his defence.
I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard sections 23,31,32 and 33 of the Lahore High Court Summary of Judgment which illustrate the points I have made.
The document read as follows-
-I thank the House. It is not a convincing document. No direct evidence whatsoever is published in the report linking Bhutto with the murder. This gives rise to the presumption that Bhutto’s trial, conviction and death sentence are the carrying out of an essentially political sanction, rather than a normal civilian criminal trial. I hope that the President of Pakistan will exercise both judgment and mercy and commute the death sentence on Z. A. Bhutto. I hope that all honourable members share this view and that the Australian Government will pass on these views to the Government of Pakistan
I do not believe in human infallibility- my own or anybody else’s. However, a reading of history shows how often actions which can seem completely justified at one time may seem hollow and irrational in hindsight. I have little doubt that Mr Bhutto did terrible things, as do all politicians with supreme power. I am not here to condemn him or to condone what he has done. But we should all give pause to the way in which essentially political judgments are carried into execution. Australia is in no position to take a self-righteous posture on the subject of human rights. It is less than six years since young Australians were serving sentences of two years in gaol for matters of conscience while others who protested on a matter of conscience- the Vietnam War- had their civil liberties interfered with. Since my friend the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) made some reference to the Noel Latham case, it is worth pointing out that that case began when one man was sacked by Latham without any right of redress. When we examine Latham’s case, we should look also at the case of the man who was sacked.
The position of civil liberties has improved somewhat in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and most eastern European states in recent years but there are some disturbing examples to the contrary. The recent trial of Yuri Orlov and the sentence imposed on him have damaged the Soviet Union because it appears that Orlov has been tried for the holding and disseminating of unpopular opinions, something with which we in the Australian Labor Party are all too familiar. Similarly, the long harassment of
Dr Andrei Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a man of very great eminence and notable moderation, has caused harm to the USSR, as has the compulsory detention in psychiatric institutions of political dissidents. The greatest danger to human rights in our quarter of the globe is unquestionably in Indonesia. It is estimated that the total number of TAPOL- that is a contraction of Tahanan politik: political prisoners- in Indonesia is somewhere between 55,000 and 100,000. 1 draw the attention of the House to a report given to the United States Congressional Committee on International Relations by representatives of Amnesty International in which the following evidence was given.
Amnesty International estimates that there are more than 53,000 political prisoners in Indonesia and that, in fact, a more accurate total is probably 100,000. They were arrested after an attempted coup in 1965, when a number of middleranking army officers tried to destroy the leadership of the Indonesian Army and assassinated six senior army generals.
Amnesty International found that only 800 of these people had undergone any form of trial. The report continued:
The Indonesian Government has given up long ago trying to establish before the courts that the tens of thousands of untried prisoners were in any way personally involved in the attempted coup of 1965. In the eyes of the Government their only offence was that they were once members of a trade union, a peasant association, a cultural association, or of some organisation which was operating legally during the period of the Sukarno administration and which was subsequently proscribed by the administration of President Suharto because it was regarded as Communist or left wing.
The majority of these prisoners have never been members of the Indonesian Communist Party, This fact has been readily conceded in private conversations with Amnesty International by leading Indonesian officials. Even regarding those who have been members of the Indonesian Communist Party, it is now clear that the Government has no intention of establishing in the courts that they were personally involved in the attempted coup.
Honourable members will recall that in January 1975 Amnesty International sent a distinguished Australian deputation under the leadership of Mr R. E. McGarvie, Q.C., who is now Mr Justice McGarvie of the Victorian Supreme Court. The deputation came back with a very disquieting report. Other countries are similarly involved. The situation in Chile, Uruguay, South Africa, Iran, North Korea, South Korea, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Cuba and Kampuchea also gives rise to very grave concern.
This is a problem that ought to affect all people irrespective of political persuasion. It is a human question which affects us all. I quote one more example. Very recently Amnesty International has been organising a world-wide campaign for the release of 15 young Argentinians seized in Buenos Aires over Easter. The 15 people include three doctors, a teacher, a metal worker, two building workers, a carpenter and two maids. They have not been seen or heard of since their sudden arrest by Argentinian authorities. Most of them were arrested on Easter Day as they left San Juste Cathedral in Buenos Aires after attending a special Mass for another political prisoner. One of the doctors- Jorge Eurman- was shot while being arrested at his surgery. The 15 people come from a slum settlement in Buenos Aires, Complejo 1 7, which has been trying to improve its conditions by self-help building projects.
One of the terrible things about these matters affecting human rights is that they remind us that the State can be and often is a destructive force fuelled by a passion for orthodoxy and uniformity. Imprisonment and exile are common forms of political control but they are not exclusive. Conformity can be enforced in other ways such as selective reporting, selective trivialisation of what is reported or total omission of what reasonably ought to be reported. The power of the State is enormous. Not only does it have the power of life and death but it also has the power to confine, to deprive of liberty and to send into exile. It has the power to deprive of the right of fair trial, to suppress and silence fair reporting, to falsify truth by mutilating the historical record, to ridicule or isolate, to deprive of employment or the means of economic support and to deprive of the right of communication.
I often remember the story that was attributed to Mr Gomulka when he was secretary of the Communist Party in Poland. Somebody said to him: ‘Why do you spend so much time improving conditions in the prisons?’ He said: ‘Given the history of past secretaries of the Communist Party in Poland, any man in my position would be extremely unwise not to improve the conditions in the gaols’. That is absolutely right. Perhaps the best thing I can do in conclusion is to remind the House of the words of the English metaphysical poet, John Donne. They will be very familiar words to many honourable members but they deserve to be remembered. They remind us of the universality of our humanity. We cannot destroy, hurt or damage individuals anywhere in the world without destroying the whole cause of humanity. John Donne said:
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)The discussion is concluded.
– I move:
Honourable members will be aware that it is the Government’s intention that responsible selfgovernment be conferred on the Northern Territory from 1 July 1978, as signified in the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill and associated legislation which was recently passed by the House. As the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory and its successor, the Legislative Assembly, were created by the Commonwealth Parliament, it is appropriate that a gift should be made by this Parliament to the Legislative Assembly. Following my suggestion, the Presiding Officers have agreed that the gift be in the form of a mace to be presented to the Legislative Assembly by a delegation from this Parliament. A mace brought into use with royal approbation or presented by royal direction is regarded as having great significance. With this in mind this joint address from both houses of the Parliament is commended for consideration by honourable members.
– The Opposition associates itself with the conferring of self-government on the Northern Territory. The symbolic presentation of a mace is appropriate. I say that in the context of the debate we had in the Parliament as to whether the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly will have the desirable democratic autonomy that should be associated with that symbol. In our view the legislation makes the Legislative Assembly a little subservient to administrators and governments generally. I appreciate the sentiments expressed by the Government. The Opposition joins in wishing the Assembly every support and encouragement in the problems of selfgovernment.
In Australia we are still developing towards our own independence. It is important that we establish reliability and confidence in all segments of our nation. Where communities are striving to benefit the national interest the best way to help them is by delegation of responsibility to them. We hope that the future of the Northern Territory will be one of the great contributions to the national effort. Today’s expression by the Government is worthy of support.
– I would very much like to support the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Adermann) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) in this motion. In so doing, I mention that on such an historic occasion- the legislation will come into effect on 1 July -I would be remiss if I did not recall the efforts that have been made by Territorians in the past to bring about a semblance of self-government and to achieve a say in their own affairs, which have virtually resulted in the self-government legislation which has passed through this place and I would hope would pass through the Senate this afternoon.
Really, I am on my feet to say how glad I am that this motion has been put to the House- and I hope it will be carried unanimously- and to mention the great stalwarts of the Northern Territory who fought continually, regardless of their party affiliations, for the people of the Northern Territory to have a say in their own affairs. I start with the late Mr Justice Ward, who was a tremendous Territorian. Regardless of all else, he fought for people in the Territory to have a say in their own affairs. His actions transcended his party politics. I do not throw any insult at any of the people on my right–
– You are a long way left of me, and thank you for the cue. In this place they are on my right. But please do not treat this matter lightly. Mr Justice Ward was not only a great Labor man in the Northern Territory but also a great Territorian. He fought until his death for this development. In fact he advanced the argument further. He said that there should be virtual statehood- complete self-government. He fought for that cause constantly.
I have mentioned the late Dick Ward. I mention also Ron Withnall, an independent member of the Northern Territory legislature since its inception. He has supported neither one party or the other. He has fought straight down the line for self-government and self-expression for the people of the Northern Territory.
Then there is Dr Letts, who lost his seat at the last Territory election, but who spent a great deal of time fighting for this cause, regardless of the local politics of the situation. I think that is probably why he lost his seat. He spent time seeking to bring self-government into being. Of course I must refer also to the present Majority Leader in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Mr Everingham. I mention these persons- there are many others who have backed them up- because they are the ones who have fought for recognition of the people of the Northern Territory as an entity, as a collection of people, and not as second class citizens, for that is what happened for many, many years. I am very thrilled to be able to speak to this motion. I hope to be at the presentation of the Mace.
-On one occasion at least I can be on the same side as, and give full support to the remarks of, my colleague from the Northern Territory -
– He is on your left.
– He is on my left and on your left.
-That is right. The honourable member for the Northern Territory has his moments in which he needs correction and even fewer moments when he does not need correction; and this is one of them. I pay a tribute to some other people, one of whom was here when I came to the Parliament, Mr Jock Nelson, who was the member for the Northern Territory, as I understand his father was before him.
– Did they actually fight for selfgovernment?
-That is right. Mr Jock Nelson, for instance, put up a long campaign simply to get the right to vote in this House, which was part of our platform for a long while. I am a firm believer in representative government. I wish the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory well in its deliberations and I hope it will carry into those deliberations the principles upon which the parliamentary system is built. We want to remember that it was the parliamentary system, based primarily upon the English system, which created the answerability of Ministers to the representative assembly and which abolished slavery. An Act of the British Parliament did that; and it was one of the great dramatic humanitarian movements of history. The parliamentary system, because of its accessibility, its responsibility and so on, 1 think is the only hope for reasonable government in a troubled world. 1 hope the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory will develop along those lines.
I speak here this afternoon, as I have no doubt honourable members will be surprised to know, as one who has probably had a longer association with the Northern Territory than almost anybody sitting in this House at the moment.
– I was up there before you were.
– I was up there in 1 944 with the Australian Army. I have been going backwards and forwards to the place ever since. Sometimes I have been welcome; sometimes I have not.
– I was then overseas, fighting in the war. Do not try to short-change me.
– I thought you went there after the war.
-I went up there in 1939. 1 left to fight the war before you ever went to the Northern Territory.
– Oh, good. I pay a compliment to the honourable member for the Northern Territory. He has had long and distinguished service, sometimes in grievous error and sometimes, as I say, in due process of justice. This is an important occasion. However, I do hope that in setting this path for the Northern Territory we are not creating more troubles inside the Australian constitutional situation. We are a much less effective federation than, say, Canada or even, I think, the United States of America because great areas of conflict have developed between ourselves and the so-called sovereign States. I hope that the honourable member for the Northern Territory will bring some ‘soothing syrup’ to relieve the troubles that are bound to develop between the people of the Northern Territory and the people in Canberra who happen to be responsible for the Government of this country.
So, to reiterate what I had to say, there are people whose names cannot be remembered now but who have carried the Northern Territory forward over all these years. I pay a special tribute to my former colleague, Mr Jock Nelson, who was the member of this House for the Northern Territory for so many years and was an ardent advocate of equality, politically speaking, of the Northern Territory in this place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 7 June, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Dr Klugman had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to exclude (a) the concept of optional deductibles, (b) the banning of bulk billing arrangements for medical services, other than those provided to eligible pensioners and their dependants and (c) an increase from $2 to $2.30 in the patient contribution for a pharmaceutical item, and be reintroduced immediately to include the other measures ‘.
-Last night, I had spoken for less than a minute when the debate was interrupted. As I was saying then, when the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) spoke, he was a bit upset and he implied that them members of the Labor Party did not agree that there should be a subsidy provided in the National Health Amendment Bill for isolated people. I might say that I agree with that provision and the Labor Party agrees that it should be there. I must say, too, that my colleague, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick), has been worried about this matter for the last two or three years. He has had discussions with the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the Treasurer (Mr Howard) on some taxation reductions. In my electorate of Sydney there are many hospitals, and the honourable member for Riverina has talked to me about the possibility of a reduction for the people who go there from his electorate, and this would apply to people from many other country electorates also. I believe it should be possible for people from the country who are looking after children or close relations who are ill to get some out of pocket expenses. It costs them many thousands of dollars if someone in the house is sick. I congratulate the Minister for introducing that benefit. I think he has done a remarkable job. Later on in my speech I will be attacking other aspects of the Bills, but in fairness to the Minister I thought I should let him know my thoughts on that matter.
I support the remarks of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) in opposing the changes in the health scheme. The Opposition has proposed two amendments and last night we spoke against the Bills. The first of the three Bills under discussion is the Hospitals and Health Services Commission (Repeal) Bill which repeals the Commission established in 1 973. The former Chairman of the Commission, Dr Sidney Sax, has taken control of the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat which is to coordinate and absorb most of the functions of the Commission and its relationship to the Department of Social Security. We on this side of the House think that Dr Sax is a good man who has done a good job. We think that he will do a good job in the Secretariat and we congratulate him.
The National Health Amendment Bill 1978 proposes four major changes. Firstly, it proposes the introduction of travel and accommodation allowances to residents of isolated areas requiring a professional service by a specialist more than 200 kilometres from the person’s residence. The travel allowance will be the cost of approved travel less a patient contribution of $20, and there is also provision for an overnight accommodation allowance of $15 a night. That is the provision on which I congratulated the Government in my opening remarks. Secondly, the Bill provides that private funds will be prevented horn entering into bulk billing arrangements other than for eligible pensioners and their dependents, that is, those eligible for fringe benefits including the pensioner health benefits card. At present the permissible total income is $77.85 for single pensioners and $ 1 3 1 .80 for a married pensioner couple. The Bill also provides for an increase from $2 to $2.50 in the patient contribution for each pharmaceutical benefit item, and I will be saying more about that later on in my speech. The honourable member for Prospect has moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill in the following terms:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to exclude (a) the concept of optional deductibles, (b) the banning of bulk billing arrangements for medical services, other than those provided to eligible pensioners and their dependants and (c) an increase from $2 to $2.30 in the patient contribution for a pharmaceutical item, and be reintroduced immediately to include the other measures’.
The third Bill being dealt with in this cognate debate is the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1978. It is to amend the original Act so as to provide that certain persons- Australian residents overseas and overseas residents in Australia having foreign health cover- will be exempted from the health insurance levy and will be ineligible for benefits. It provides also for the exclusion of certain health screening services from payment of benefits. The Minister will be able to exclude payment of medical benefits in respect of medical services rendered by a person specified in the Gazette, such as Milan Brych, to Australians temporarily overseas where the Minister is satisfied that the person is not a proper person to render such services. Under the Bill, Australian Capital Territory hospitals will be brought under similar cost sharing agreements as those applying in the States. Provision is also made for the rectification of an anomaly which could have enabled doctors attending standard ward patients to charge a fee for service. There will be a reduction of the level of benefits payable under the Act from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the schedule fee and an increase of the maximum gap from $5 to $ 10 a service. This will not apply to fees received for the treatment of eligible pensioners. Bulk billing for Medibank for all except eligible pensioners will be abolished, and I will be saying more about that later. Provision is made for persons covered by optional deductible schemes to be exempted from payment of the levy. The Opposition has foreshadowed an amendment to the motion for the second reading of this Bill in the following terms:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to exclude (a) reduction of the level of benefits from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee, (b) the abolition of bulk billing for all except eligible pensioners and their dependants and (c) the introduction of optional deductible schemes, and be re-introduced immediately to include the other measures’.
I might say, because this is a cognate debate, that for the chronically ill, the poor in our community, the family man and his wife and children, the migrants and the Aboriginals that the changes being made by the Government to the system that has operated for the last 18 months or two years represents a retrograde step and will save only approximately 1.5 per cent of total medical costs. The Minister has been told by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to make these savings because of the Budget deficit. We all know that this is the fore-runner of a black* Budget in August. I have always had respect for the Minister for Health, but I think that this is a case where he did not have the numbers in Cabinet. I put a case to the Minister in relation to domiciliary nusring care for a couple of elderly people, one of whom was 85 and the other 89. We discussed the matter and the Minister agreed that if it were possible he would do something about old people and their dependants. In the case to which I referred there were two daughters looking after the women. I am pleased to say that the Act is being changed to give everyone of 1 6 years of age and over an opportunity to receive the benefit. Again, I congratulate the Minister for that, but I am very perturbed that he had to take these other steps because I think he is a humane man. However, as 1 have said, he has not got the numbers and he has to do what he is told.
When questioned by the honourable member for Prospect about the injustice to the needy of the proposed scheme relating to the abolition of bulk billing and of the future changes to the national health scheme, the Minister stated that the medical profession would show compassion for individuals in needy circumstances. Under the heading ‘Doctors Charging More’, a report in the Sydney Sun on 25 May 1978 states:
A recent survey by The Sun found that 80 per cent of doctors in all suburbs were charging above the Government recommended fees.
On the average, doctors in the northern suburbs charged the highest at $9.70, but some as high as $ 1 1 .
The doctors’ fees were even higher than those recommended by the Australian Medical Association which was $9.40 for a standard visit to a general practitioner.
Doctors in the inner city areas were found to be charging the lowest average at $8.60.
However, the lowest consultation fee was charged by a western suburbs doctor at $6.50.
The survey also found that 50 per cent of doctors ignored the recommended fee of $14 and AMA’s own recommendation of $13.20.
We found one doctor in the southern suburbs was charging $30 for a visit- $16.80 more than the AMA’s recommended fee.
The AMA said that doctors were not obliged to charge the scheduled fees set down by Mr Justice Ludeke, which were mainly for the benefits of funds to set their refunds.
The AMA claimed today low income groups and the chronically ill faced hardship following yesterday’s changes to Medibank.
Large families would also be adversely affected, the AMA warned.
The Association’s general secretary, Dr George Repin, said the changes could also increase health costs in the long run.
The Minister believes that the medical profession will accept a reduction in profits as a result of reducing the benefit from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the fee charged. I have outlined a survey conducted by one newspaper, and there are many other examples around New South Wales, which indicates that 80 per cent of doctors in all the suburbs around the electorate of Sydney are charging above the recommended fee. As the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) said when the Minister was discussing the proposed charges, the Minister believes in fairy tales. There is now to be no bulk billing except for pensioners and their families because some doctors have made great financial gains from bulk billing, thus interfering with the system. But the Minister cannot name those doctors. I ask the Minister, who is in the House at the moment, to bring the matter out into the open. If doctors are interfering with the system and fraudulently taking the Commonwealth Government’s money, I think we should name them. The Minister has agreed to give the people of Australia a fair go. The people who are listening to this debate today should write to him telling him which doctors are not carrying out their jobs and which doctors are not agreeing to bulk bill.
In many instances throughout New South Wales- it must be so in all States- signs are displayed in doctors’ reception rooms which state, in effect, that a patient who has no money will not be looked after. I know many people who do not have ready cash to pay doctors’ fees. I remember what happened one Saturday when one of my first three children had influenza. I rang a doctor and he said that he would call in to see the child later. When he did not arrive I rang him at his home. He had forgotten about me. He said that he had had to go out. He is entitled to go out just as politicians are entitled to go out. He came to my place at approximately 8.15 that night. By then my three children were sick and he asked for fees for treating the three of them. I will never forget that. In those days, before decimal currency, I had to pay approximately £1 1 to the doctor and the prescriptions cost £3 10s. to fill. Luckily I was able to borrow £20 from my mother and father the next day. But many people do not have ready cash and many people cannot get credit. I wish that in those days I had as much credit as I have now. As members of parliament we are given credit because, I suppose, we will receive superannuation when we retire. Credit is usually available to most people at the wrong time. Will we be allowed to use our Bankcards to pay doctors’ accounts? Will we be allowed to use other credit cards? The way things are going, I think the goose that lays the golden egg has been worked too hard. I think the people will reject any further approaches by doctors for increases in fees.
The AMA must be one of the strongest unions in Australia if not the world. If a deputation from the trade union movement asks for wage justice the National Country Party and the Liberal Party say a few words about what is going on and claim that the unions are breaking the country, but they do not stand up to the AMA. The AMA must have the greatest lobbyists of all.
– They are crook.
– I would not say that they are crook because I do not know about that. Some crf my friends are doctors and they are remarkable people; they worry about the little people and the people who are sick. Some 600 students in New South Wales who completed their Higher School Certificate last year undertook medicine at university. I think it costs approximately $40,000 to $50,000 to put a medical student through university, but when he graduates he seems to forget where he came from. There will come a time when doctors will pay dearly for this because I think the people of Australia will reject their demands. At the conference of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party at the Sydney Town Hall last Saturday the Leader of the Australian Labor Party (Mr Hayden) stated:
The Government is determined to cling to its view that living standards must be cut, that those in need should be abandoned in even greater numbers.
The Government is forcing the union movement towards confrontation with its policy that real wages must be reduced and wage rates compressed further.
It continues to hack away at Medibank, a Labor innovation which removed the fear of sickness from countless thousands of Australians.
Let me say this plainly; Labor will restore Medibank.
It remains one of our highest priorities.
Consistent with responsible handling of the economy, the restoration of Medibank as a universal protection for all Australians will be achieved as quickly as we can manage it.
It is a commitment we will not back away from.
At the conference of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Lionel Bowen, said:
Health care will undoubtedly be a key issue once again at the next election. It is a matter deserving close attention before the next Federal Conference.
Certainly, this Government has reduced Medibank to a confused mess. Remember Malcolm Fraser’s pledge in his 1975 policy speech?
We will maintain Medibank and ensure that the standard of health care does not decline. ‘
In half a year he tried to kill Medibank!
Two weeks ago the Government took its latest step to maintain’ Medibank and health care. It abolished bulk billing, thereby disadvantaging the unemployed, the low income family, the person on sickness or special benefits, the supporting mother and many pensioners. A total of 676,000 people on social service benefits can now expect to have to pay cash in advance when they visit their doctor.
Not only that, they will have to pay up to a dollar more per consultation.
The abolition of bulk billing and the reduction of rebate from 85 per cent to 75 per cent will have the effect of placing community health centres without salaried doctors in an almost untenable position to provide effective primary health care.
By 1980, the National Health Scheme will again be in tattersas it was before Labor was elected to Government on the promise of Medibank in 1972.
Health care goes well beyond health insurance. But guaranteeing that doctors will have no bad debts does not necessarily mean proper care for the sick. Labor’s program of community health services was a highly effective one where we were able to implement it. This Government has done little to expand that service. It is a course of action a future Labor Government could apply vigorously.
What effect will the cost changes in regard to health insurance have on Aborigines? Many Aborigines live in the electorate of the Deputy
Leader of the Opposition- that is, KingsfordSmith and in my electorate of Sydney. An article from the Sydney Morning Herald entitled Health services for Aborigines fear effects of cost changes ‘states:
A deputation from the services told the Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, on Tuesday that abolition of bulk billing, reduction of the benefit rate from 85 to 75 per cent of scheduled fees, and increased charges for medicines would have serious effects on Aboriginal health and the operation of the services.
I am pleased to say that the Minister has stated that he will examine the effect on Aborigines of cost changes. The new changes are likely to cost the Aboriginal Medical Service at Redfern most of the $100,000 it expects to raise from medical fees in 1978-79. It could be in trouble with regard to keeping its services going. I know it is doing a remarkable job in that locality. I am pleased to say that the Minister is willing to allow it to continue bulk billing until he makes a decision.
– Until we have made alternative satisfactory arrangements.
– Until he has made alternative satisfactory arrangements. The national cost of health care is $7,000m and the Commonwealth’s share of the bill is $3,000m. This change to the scheme will mean a cost saving to the Government in a full year of $24m. The Government did not worry about the cost of the VIP aeroplanes it decided to purchase.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– r think this debate on health care costs reflects the contradictory attitude of the community generally and the general nature of the debate that is taking place in the community. Some people are saying that they are opposed to the increasing percentage of the gross domestic product, or their incomes, being devoted to paying for the escalating health care costs. Before I go on to the contradictory part of their beliefs, I want to acknowledge the success that the present Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has achieved through the Medibank Mark
II arrangements of October 1976. For the first time in several years of continuing inflation he has been able to slow down the rate of increase. That is no mean achievement. Some people are saying that we can not afford to devote an increased percentage of our income, national or individual, to health care costs, and something must be done about it, but when the Government does something about it the Government is roundly condemned for doing it. That is the impossible contradictory situation that I believe any Minister for Health would have to face at present.
I believe also that, if the Australian Labor Party was still in office, by now it would have introduced modifications to the original Medibank concept because of the escalating cost factor built into it. One can look for supporting evidence of that in the very cautious statements made by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) in which he stopped short of saying that the Labor Party would automatically and immediately re-introduce Medibank as it was known. So when one listens to the criticisms made by the Labor Opposition one can speculate with some interest as to what it would have done had it still been in government.
I commend the Minister on the result of the review that the Government and the Cabinet have undertaken with Medibank. For some time there were all sorts of wild assertions and rumours about the Parliament that there were to be massive transfers of health care costs from the government sector to the private sector, to the patient. This has not occurred. I think that the Opposition is rather disappointed about all this because it has stolen its thunder and the extravagant claims that it was making have failed to materialise. I believe that the Minister has achieved a good balance between long and short term modifications. He has made it quite plain that before any more significant alterations can be made to Medibank the Government will have to have more information on which to base its decisions. I want to quote from a ministerial statement made in May entitled ‘Health Care Costs Control Program’ in which the Minister for Health stated:
Accordingly the Government has decided to seek the authority to obtain and analyse information from and about the health insurance system in greater depth. As well, a number of specific pilot surveys covering usage and costs of health services in individual areas will be undertaken. This action, together with a basic review now under way on the health data available for policy evaluation, will provide the Government with a more accurate information base which is an important requirement of a continuing review.
Until an improved data base becomes available the Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance system.
I believe that is a most important recognition. So many of the decisions that have been made by both forms of government in this House have been based on less than adequate knowledge. I think the longer term proposals announced by the Minister are really more significant than the short term ones and that they will be more significant and important in cost containment. I think they have been overlooked so far in this debate. The Minister mentioned in that statement that he will be discussing with the Health Ministers of the States various ways of better controlling costs in hospitals. It is in hospitals that the major cost of our health care system lies. He talked of a more accurate classification of beds and patients- I want to return to that subject later- and of proceeding on an accelerated basis with the accreditation of hospitals.
Over 12 months ago he laid a challenge before the Australian Medical Association to do something about peer review in the medical system. My understanding of the recent AMA Congress in Sydney is that the AMA has accepted that challenge and will on a self-regulatory basis introduce a peer review system. That is a tremendous breakthrough in the containment of costs and, I believe, the more accurate quality control systems in this country at doctor level. I believe that this breakthrough is a credit to the Minister and to the AMA. However, I believe that if there is a failing by the profession to carry out this undertaking a government of either political persuasion will be forced to do what those doctors fail to do.
The discussion paper on health care by Dr Sax forms the basis for the Government’s review and the amendments which are now before us and I believe that the decisions made by the Government largely follow the recommendations of that document. In the medical area and in relation to the major decision which has been announced and which we are debating, the 75 per cent to 85 per cent rebate level, the question of identifying health care costs at the patient level is stated clearly by Dr Sax as an important issue. We are criticised for increasing this gap but we have to look only as far as New Zealand to see in that country- a country where some of us may think there is a greater degree of socialised medicine, of an egalitarian approach to health care- a far greater patient contribution gap for ordinary medical services. That fact is either not known or is conveniently overlooked by those who contradict us at this time. The Minister in one of his Press statements summarised what he hopes to achieve by these changes. He said they were designed to:
I note that another aspect of medical payments, the doubling of the patient gap from $5 to $ 10, is not referred to in the amendments proposed by the Labor Party. In other words, the Labor Party agrees with doubling the gap from $5 to $10. Logically, if it did not agree it would have included that point in its amendments. So it should agree. If one compares the average wage at the time that the $5 gap was introduced some eight or nine years ago with the average wage now one will find that $5 at that time was probably a higher percentage of average weekly earnings than $ 10 is now. The first of the two exceptions to which I referred in relation to Dr Sax is the provision of optional deductibles. I do not believe that he is necessarily opposed to that but he certainly is opposed to the provision of front-end deductibles. The private health insurance companies and the AMA are also opposed to, and I must confess that I am concerned about, the provision of front-end deductibles. However, I am reassured by the Minister that he has specific criteria which will have to be followed by the health funds before any approval is given for a front-end deductible scheme. That gives me some reassurance.
One curious and I believe damaging aspect of the Labor Party’s proposed amendment is the statement that it would not allow optional deductibles. It means they would effectively prevent those people in our community who do not believe in the payment of medical benefits for the termination of pregnancy from being given the freedom of choice to opt out of it or to gain membership of a scheme that gives them that option, which I believe they have every right to expect. I wonder whether the Labor Party Caucus has really discussed that point and whether it is aware of all the implications. I would be interested to know whether such people as Mr Stewart, Mr Keating, Mr Martin or even Mr Les McMahon would be completely in favour of a scheme which prevented a significant percentage of the Australian population from having the freedom and the right to opt out through private health insurance of the payment for a medical benefit or rebate for the termination of pregnancy when they on moral grounds do not believe in it.
– They are entitled to the option.
– I agree with that. The honourable member for Maranoa is quite correct. In Australia we have a plural society. I believe that it is right for those who do not see the termination of pregnancy in the above terms to have the right to be covered for the termination of pregnancy- abortion. But there is a significant percentage of our population which does not believe in it. I want once again to commend the Minister for providing that freedom of choice, which I believe should be there for those Australian citizens who do not believe in the provision of medical benefits for abortion, to opt out of paying for it. I think that is one of the commendable features of the amendments which have been introduced. I only hope that the Australian population at large will become aware of the attitude taken by the Labor Party in denying that freedom of choice to a very significant percentage of the population which is very upset by the fact that at present it is forced to pay through the private health insurance funds for the termination of pregnancies which it on moral grounds cannot support. I only hope that the electorate will become fully aware of the Labor Party’s attitude.
One other side effect is that the amendments proposed by the Labor Party would actually increase health insurance costs. On a number of occasions I have heard Labor supporters say that costs are increased because of the provision of cosmetic surgery, that that is an automatic payment at present. One of the other benefits that I see of optional deductibles is that such provision would allow funds to put up schedules which do not include cosmetic surgery and hence should reduce the cost of the premiums for those funds. The other exception is in relation to gap insurance where there appears to be a contradiction. Reducing the rebate or increasing the gap from 15 per cent to 25 per cent brings home to the patient to a greater degree the actual cost of health insurance services that he is incurring while at the same time gap insurance is allowed to continue. I must confess that that concerned me also until I was told in fairly blunt terms that there was no legal way by which the Government could completely block the provision of gap insurance. If this involved only health insurance people, perhaps the Government could; but one must consider the whole range of possible insurance arrangements, including State insurance companies which would not necessarily go along with a request from the Commonwealth not to cover gap insurance.
The other curious aspect of the Labor amendment is that members of that Party are against increasing the patient contribution for pharmaceutical benefits from $2 to $2.50. 1 well remember 1975 and the Hayden Budget which increased the patient contribution gap from $ 1 to $1.50. That was a 50 per cent increase as opposed to a proposed 25 per cent increase. They were all in favour of a 50 per cent increase- a 50 per cent slug, if you like- on the ordinary person going along to obtain his national health scheme j.r ascription; yet now they are opposed to an increase of half that size.
– Politics; they are playing politics.
– I agree. That increase was far more significant than this proposed one. Let us look at the increase in the consumer price index in the two gap periods. Between November 1971, when the coalition Government increased the contribution to $1, and September 1975, there was an increase of 48.66 per cent in the consumer price index. So Labor can argue that its increase in the patient contribution more or less matched the increase in the consumer price index. However, the difference between when the patient contribution was last increased and now is 22.9 per cent. This is not taking account of the last quarter so the actual difference would be very close to 25 per cent. It would appear to me that both Labor when in government and we now in government have done virtually identical things. Seemingly it is right to criticise when in opposition things done when in government. According to the amendment that must be the case.
I now move to one of the other great innovations of this series of measures; namely, the isolated patients travel and accommodation allowance. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) covered this completely last night. He spoke from his great experience of the needs of people in isolated areas. I make the point that this has been National Country Party policy for a number of years. The present Minister had it included in the joint government policy for the last election. At last it is a reality. It is the most significant recognition that I can think of to cover one of the many disabilities faced by country people. I emphasise that this is only one of the disabilities country people face with regard to the provision, cost and proximity of services. When one considers some of the complaints made by people in this House and outside about reducing the medical benefits from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the schedule fee, increasing the maximum patient contribution from $5 to $ 10 or increasing from $2 to $2.50 the maximum amount that approved chemists may charge for the supply of a pharmaceutical benefit, these are insignificant compared to costs faced by rural people, particularly in isolated areas, for services. I believe the Minister has overcome this disability well. He has done it properly. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and others have acknowledged that rather than do it through the tax system-because that really does not help the people on low incomes- he has done it on a grant basis. To be eligible, a person must be referred for specialist treatment more than 200 kilometres distant. He will pay only the first $20 of the fare and will receive a maximum accommodation allowance of $15 a night. What is significant is that there is provision to pay for the accommodation of a person who is obliged to accompany such a patient. I think in particular of the mother who has to accompany her sick child to a distant city.
There are some other implications for rural health in the Minister’s statement. One concerns long-stay pensioner patients in hospitals. In some cases payments to such patients will no longer bc on a hospital basis- the Medibank basis- but on a nursing home basis. This has particular significance for patients in country hospitals, particularly small country hospitals. The Minister for Health is very much aware of this situation because he has many of these types of hospitals in his own electorate. I ask the Minister to adopt a flexible and cautious approach to this problem. In Victoria this proposal is of particular concern to the Bush Nursing hospitals. We have to ensure that no injustice results to patients because of their transfer to a nursing home category, especially if there is no nursing home bed available within a distance of 150 kilometres. In many cases it will be better to administer this on a patient basis, particularly in very small hospitals, than on a ward basis. Even if it is done flexibly, considerable problems of a financial and managerial nature will be created for many small country hospitals. I know the Minister is very much aware of this aspect and I remind him of the need to keep this uppermost in his mind when he is discussing these matters with the State Health Ministers.
I return to my original point: The community in Australia cannot have it both ways. People cannot on the one hand claim that taxes are too high- that somehow or other the individual should be allowed to retain a bigger disposable income than he has now- and on the other hand criticise health costs to which too high a percentage of the tax dollar is going, especially as health care is a highly paid labour intensive area. People must accept that the Government must respond to the high charges and make changes. I believe that on this occasion the Government has acted moderately. Australia will continue to have one of the best and most accessible health care systems in the world. People will still have a reasonable freedom of choice and the basic universal health care coverage will be retained.
– There are, as members on both side of the House have acknowledged, considerable benefits coming forward in the series of Bills we are debating but, of course, as the Minister has conceded, there are areas of concern too. He has even, I would say, conceded certain concern in similar areas to those at which the Labor Party amendment is directed. I want to analyse some of these areas of concern in the light of the stated aims of the amending legislation. It is said to increase competition and innovation and to deter over-use but, as the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) has admitted, there is not enough data collected to establish to what extent this will be achieved by these measures. In fact, in some respects the reverse may occur. The simplest, example, I suppose, is where there is an increase in the so-called deterrent charge, the gap- the amount paid direct out of the patient’s pocket when he seeks medical care. We have to look carefully at what this extra charge will deter. On the one hand it may deter over-use; on the other hand, it will certainly deter legitimate use by persons of limited means. This was the principal concern not only when Medibank was introduced but also when the system of national health insurance was launched by Sir Earle Page- the very scheme which the Labor Party modified with the introduction of Medibank by making it more universal and more equitable.
The only figures that I have seen referred to an area in Canada where some of these deterrent charges were applied and removed. Assessments were done before and after by a series of doctors practising within the scheme. They were asked to assess in their view what percentage of under use occurred with the imposition of the deterrent charge in the case of people who ought to be going to a doctor and what percentage of over use occurred when the deterrent charge was removed. The average estimate of those doctors was that where a deterrent charge was applied, something like 2Vi per cent under usage occurred. People were deferring or delaying the consultation of a doctor when they really needed to see a doctor. When the deterrent charge was removed, the percentage of over use was estimated at 1 lA per cent.
Let us weigh what that gains the Government. It has gained a four per cent saving of costs by applying a deterrent charge. However, most of that saving is made in respect of people who ought to be receiving treatment and who feel that they cannot afford it or who are trying to save the cost. The long-term costs of this position were not assessed and it is very difficult to assess them. With very little data coming forward now under the modified Medibank- Medibank Mark 2- it will be a lot longer before any data of that kind will be forthcoming so that people can form some assessment whether this deterrent charge really achieves cheaper health care or better health care, or whether it has the reverse effect. The mere acknowledgement by all political parties in this Parliament that the majority of the load of health care costs ought to be carried by the community or ought to be under a scheme of national insurance surely is an acknowledgement that it is far better to run the risk of over use by subsidising the majority of these costs than to run the risk of under use that will occur if they are not subsidised. What percentage of subsidy ought to take place is a matter of judgment and it is the sentiment of the Opposition that the 85 per cent refund of standard fees- not the 75 per cent refund- is far more equitable, far more practicable and, of course, is the only one acceptable to the Australian Medical Association in certain cases.
I pay a brief tribute to Dr Sax, to the Hospitals and Health Services Commission and the people who work with him, not only in the field of national health insurance but also in the fields in which they first entered the federal scene. The Hospitals and Health Services Commission was not concerned with health insurance but with other functions within the Department of Health. It was my privilege as Minister for Health, after appointing that Commission, to work closely with Dr Sax and his colleagues on schemes such as the community health program which has given a new dimension to public health concern and involvement in Australia. Dr Sax’s ability, expertise and great capacity have been acknowledged by his increasing involvement in the field and he has now been appointed to a completely new policy secretariat dealing with health and welfare. Dr Sax left the Republic of South Africa for reasons which will strike a cord of sympathy in many of us. South Africa ‘s loss is Australia ‘s gain.
The subsidy paid in respect of travel and accommodation costs- within 200 kilometres- for people from isolated areas who must travel to see a specialist or to have medical treatment which they cannot receive in their area has been endorsed by the whole Parliament. I pay a tribute again to the Department of Health which, while I was Minister for Health, assisted me to call wide-ranging discussions and conferences on the problems of rural health. The Department produced reports, after I and other Ministers were dismissed from office, on the matters of health transport and rural health. I feel that they contributed greatly to the working out of this formula to assist patients with travel. One belief in the mind of the then Labor Government was that it ought to be doing something along those lines. I commend the present Minister for Health for having done so. Of course, we can all regret that it was not done sooner.
Of course, many other areas of health care have been left uncovered. In the three short years of Labor Government, although we introduced subsidies in areas that had formerly been neglected such as the provision of artificial limbs, renal dialysis, colostomy appliances, hearing aid batteries for pensioners provided without charge and many other services, we were unable to achieve some objectives. But I think that this proposal represents a further step forward. I do not think that it is the last one that can be taken in this direction.
I strongly urge the Minister, when he is negotiating with the States, that he point out that this travel arrangement will take substantial loads off State governments. In my State of Queenslandand I have no doubt in other States- provision is made for free travel on State railways and, where there is a strong enough medical indication, by aeroplane for specialist care for patients who cannot receive that care in their local public hospital. The States ought to have it brought home to them that, if the Federal Government is to pick up the tab to the extent that it is in respect of these travel costs, this action will greatly relieve the State treasuries and that some offset expenditure ought to be forthcoming. If not the whole amount that will be saved, at least some of it should be spent in other areas. Not only would the patient who has to travel to receive treatment benefit by perhaps having a wider range of choice of doctor but also the load removed from the State public health system would be acknowledged by the States so that they could provide other services with the money saved. Perhaps that money could be spent on some of those services that the Labor Government was unable to introduce during the three short years of its administration. I refer to matters such as the provision of splints, surgical footwear and other appliances which are available in a very limited way to patients in public hospitals only in the State scene. If the Federal Government is to step in and take over some of these costs from the States, it is good enough for the States to take over some of the costs that have been borne 100 per cent by patients, other than patients in public hospitals. In fact, many of the services are not available even to patients in public hospitals.
One of the areas of concern that I had when we set up the committee to look at health transport costs was the matter of ambulance transport. I urge the Minister not to delay too long in following up that matter. At the moment, there are two areas of concession only from the Federal Government to the user of an ambulance. They both relate to tax deductions which benefit only the person who is on a high enough income to pay tax. They benefit most those people who have the highest incomes and are taxed the most. There is tax deductibility for outright donations to ambulance services. Contributors to ambulance services receive no credit for that kind of contribution which makes them a member of an ambulance scheme and entitles them to use ambulance services, unless they happen to opt for one of the Medibank extras or one of the optional areas of cover provided by private health funds which are not subsidised by either State or Federal governments. In other words, the only subsidy that is coming from the Federal level in respect of ambulance services is that made by way of tax deduction for voluntary donations. The Queensland Government meets half the cost of ambulance services. It matches on a dollar-for-dollar basis money which is raised privately or from contributors.
I strongly suggest to the Minister that this is an area which does cause hardship, and not only for the people who use the ambulance services. Some of these people are pensioners who are too proud to ask for time to pay or to ask for some concession in respect of an ambulance charge which is many times the cost of a taxi service. Indeed, in many cases this puts great strain and hardship on ambulance committees which have to raise funds by conducting benefit functions, raffles and so on. I believe that the day has arrived when the Federal Government ought to put its shoulder to the wheel and contribute something towards ambulance services.
The funding of chemists was taken up during the Whitlam years. We took up the matter of the inequity of the extra payments given to isolated pharmacies. I think I suggested to my advisers at the time- the Minister might well take up this possibility- that there ought to be some sort of points system whereby a chemist is credited for the hours of service he provides- the hours his shop stays open, his availability after hours, the availability of delivery services to people who are unable to come to the pharmacy, or whatever. I realise that it might be difficult to carry that points system to its logical conclusion.
I think that before very long we will have to ask pharmacies to do some kind of peer review, such as the Minister mentioned with respect to doctors, so that an assessment can be made of the quality of care a chemist is giving, particularly in the area of counselling. If chemists really did what their code of ethics suggest that they should do- in fact in many cases what the statutory provisions state that they should do- I am sure that this would do far more to slash the frightening and dangerous level of drug use and the very costly drug bill of this country than any other single measure. Chemists should make it clear to patients how to use drugs properly, whether prescribed or not. They should explain painstakingly to a patient and make very clear in his mind his responsibility for his health as it relates to his use of drugs, whether prescribed or not.
As the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) rightly said, hospital costs are the major cause of escalation in health costs. I want to nail the insinuation which was made by many supporters of the Government that a major proportion of the growth of health costs was due to the introduction of Medibank or due to the Labor Government. Certainly the major percentage of escalation occurred during the time of the Labor Government but let us not run away from the reasons for this. Let us look at those costs. One honourable member on the Government benches interjected to claim that the escalation in health costs was due to wage increases. If there was one sector of the Australian community which was underpaid and overworked for more years and more scandalously than any other sector when Labor came to power it was that of the nurses and nurse trainees. We moved swiftly to overcome this. We introduced equal pay for the sexes. These two factors, more than any other, greatly escalated hospital health costs. We make no apology for that. We think it was a legitimate increase in hospital costs.
There have been other escalations in costs which are still occurring and which will occur increasingly in the future. With new technology we face the rapidly escalating cost of modern medicine. I submit that the main thing which ought to be done about this is not to provide more of the same. We have seen repeatedly in the care of Aborigines, in the care of North American Indians, in the care of groups of people of all ages who are disadvantaged in North America and elsewhere, that the provision of more of the same, when health costs are going through the ceiling due to modern technology, does nothing to improve health. It only improves the incomes of the professionals.
In the Whitlam years we introduced a measure which was a radical departure from this by promoting the community health program and other programs of its kind, such as the school dental scheme, family planning grants and so on. But basically the concept was that we ought to be funding preventive services, early intervention services, shop front and home care domiciliary services by the sorts of teams which usually are available only after entering the doors of the hospital. Physiotherapists and other types of health aids and professional people ought to be out in the community where the general practitioner is. The general practitioner should not be left on his own with nothing but a telephone and a prescription pad to achieve access to the other resources of health care teams. The community itself is the key factor, not the professionals. There ought to be community health care committees and regional administration should be made the responsibility of the representatives of that community. I believe that unless the Government moves more in that direction and less towards fiddling with systems of payment it will do nothing to stop the escalation of health costs.
The matter of abortion charges was raised by the honourable member for Murray. He suggested that the Australian Labor Party would not give people free choice in this respect. We do not object to free choice at all. What we object to is a blank cheque. Nothing in the proposal for deductibles which the Minister has announced spells out whether the proposal will refer to abortions, cosmetic surgery, front end deductibles to which the honourable member for Murray objects- or whatever. It is for that reason that we want the proposed removed, not because we have any specific attitude on the matter of abortion. The honourable member for Murray suggested that if we do not provide that free choice the funds will be forced to charge more. That is wrong. Without abortions the costs will rise.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr LLOYD (Murray)- I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, grieviously, Mr Deputy Speaker. The honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) alleged in his concluding remarks that I claimed that the costs of health funds would rise because of abortions. I did not say that. I was referring to cosmetic surgery. The point I was making on abortion was that the Australian Labor Party, by moving its blanket amendment which seeks not to allow any optional deductibles- it might or might not have meant to refer only to the front end deductible section of optional deductibles- in effect seeks to prevent freedom of choice for that significant percentage of the population which does not believe in paying for abortions from private health insurance funds.
– in reply- In closing the debate on the motion for the second reading of this Bill I thank honourable members who have participated. Some very interesting points have come forward. It was quite obvious that the Opposition, predictably, supports the attractive aspects of the proposals but opposes those aspects which will impose additional responsibility upon the people who use the services. Some honourable members opposite have said that the proposal to widen the gap- to reduce the benefit to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee- will in fact only hurt the patients and will not really go to the source of the problems. They said that basically doctors are the people who initiate all the services- that they are the ones who make the decisions and who admit people to hospitals.
Perhaps on the surface that might appear to be correct; but I cannot completely agree with the contention because in many instances the doctors, particularly in some of our country areas and in some of our suburbs, will be affected by the reduction of the benefit. Clearly in many cases the doctors will receive only the benefit; they will not receive any cash payment, nor will they receive what is represented by the gap. So to some extent the doctors will be expected to make a contribution and certainly will be taking a reduction in income in certain circumstances. As I have said to the House on other occasions, I would expect the medical profession to treat each case on its merits and where hardship obviously exists one would expect it, on ethical grounds alone, to accept the benefit and not demand cash before service is rendered. I will be continuing to have talks with representatives of the profession. In all my discussions with them I have not had any view put to me that is contrary to that as being their general approach to professional conduct.
Much has been said about the role of doctors as part of the Australian community. A lot of people quite unnecessarily engage in doctor bashing. We know that there are members of the medical profession who abuse the system but we must remember that there are people in any profession who will abuse the system. It would be very unfortunate if we were to adopt the attitude that, because there are certain people in a profession who flagrantly abuse the system, the whole of the profession is bad. I cannot accept that view. I think that the changes that have been made- they are not basic changes; they are changes of degree- will impose additional responsibility on doctors as members of the community. Undoubtedly the medical profession will react to the attempts the Government is making to achieve a more responsible use of resources and services in this country. No government can stand by and see health costs explode at the rate of 225 per cent in a six -year period and not attempt to come to grips with the problems. I do not suggest for one moment that the answers we have provided in these minor modifications are the complete answer to the problem. In fact, no Western country has yet been able satisfactorily to deal with an escalating health cost system. But we are making a valiant attempt.
The changes made by the Government on 1 October 1976 quite clearly have resulted in a greater appreciation of the health cost problem in the community. I believe that they served to expose the health cost problem generally. They made people more mindful of the problem. When most of our health costs were buried in Consolidated Revenue it was very easy to ignore the fact that health costs were rapidly exploding. The only direct effect on the individual was, of course, the effect of rising income tax. By making the changes that we made on 1 October 1976, quite clearly we have exposed the problem to the people. The people can appreciate the problem of health costs. I think this is terribly important from the public’s point of view. I think it is also terribly important from the point of view of the providers of health services. Since that time the Government has had many discussions with State governments. There have been meetings at the ministerial level. There have been numerous meetings at the officer level relating to the operating costs of hospitals. Already there is some indication that the mechanisms we have set up to achieve a budgeting process for meeting half the net operating costs are in fact working. It is clear that both the Commonwealth and State governments have recognised the dilemma and the need to constrain costs where possible without reducing the level of effective services to the Australian community.
Nonetheless, one does not undertake this sort of task without causing some opposition, concern and protest. But this Government is not in the position of being able to let the whole thing go and of witnessing the crowding out of its opportunity to meet expenditure in other very important areas of public concern. There is a great challenge facing this Government and the community. I believe that we are facing up to it. There are those in the community who have said that the proposals do not go far enough. To those people let me say that a complete review is still in process. The Government has attempted to gather as much data and statistics as is available to it. I expect a better profile of statistics to be available to the Government in the next few weeks.
I would like to reply to some of the comments that have been made, particularly in respect of nursing homes. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) sought an understanding from me that the Government would take into consideration the very real concern that exists in the minds of some pensioner patients now in public hospitals and other pensioners who apparently believe that if they are admitted to hospital now they will have to pay out some of their pension. In view of those representations, I feel that it is necessary for me to reiterate the Government’s intentions in relation to the accommodation in hospitals of long term patients who would normally be under nursing homes care if nursing home accommodation were available to them. The first point is that this is not a new policy. Pensioner patients have contributed from their pensions to board and lodging in registered private nursing homes for many years. During the terms of previous Liberal-Country Party governments, a pensioner in a nursing home registered under the National Health Act retained over $6 a week of his or her pension for personal needs. When the Australian Labor Party came to office this amount was reduced to $4.20 a week. Opposition members should face up to that fact when they are referring to this matter. In 1976 the Fraser Government increased the amount of pension retained by the pensioner for personal needs to over $5 a week. Since then the Government has further increased the amount to $7.20 a week. This year the Government went further by indexing the amount the pensioner retains from his or her pension to 12.5 per cent and ensuring that this amount will not fall below $7.20 a week. In State government nursing homes larger amounts are retained by pensioner patients who also generally make contributions to their board and lodging from their pensions. The Government will take these varying amounts into consideration when negotiating with State governments to rationalise the use of expensive hospital facilities.
Some States have shown a disposition to apply the same rules to nursing home patients in State nursing homes as apply in their own State public hospitals. The Government would take that into account also. The present situation has arisen because of a mal-distribution of nursing home beds. Where there are either no nursing homes or special facilities to care for frail aged people, the hospitals have been providing care for such patients. The average public hospital bed occupancy rate throughout Australia is only about 66 per cent. There is therefore little point in building unnecessary additional nursing homes while unused capacity exists within the hospital system. There is general agreement between the State Health Ministers and me that positive action should be taken to regularise this situation by reclassifying the long-term patients in public hospitals whose situation is similar to that of nursing home patients. The need to reclassify such patients has been recognised for some time and has been the subject of discussions at the Australian Health Ministers Conference over the past few years. In addition, the Committee on Care of the Aged and the Infirm, in its report issued in January 1977, considered the subject and reported that nursing home type patients in public hospitals should contribute to their upkeep in the same way as do patients in nursing homes.
The Government agrees with this proposal as part of its overall policy of reducing the rising costs of hospitals which, as I nave mentioned on previous occasions, are by far the most costly component of health care. That is the first point. This is not a new policy but a move to regularise the situation of nursing home patients who happen to be in public hospitals. It is a recommendation from an expert committee. It has been agreed to in principle by State Ministers from both parties.
I repeat that where it is possible to use excess hospital capacity to care for nursing home type patients it makes good sense to utilise these facilities to care for these people. However, it was neither logical nor equitable for nursing home type patients to be making their patient contributions to board and lodging while similar patients in hospitals were not being classified in a similar category. The principle of patient contribution towards board and lodging in nursing homes is not new in its applicaton to nursing home patients. Therefore, application of the policy within the hospital system cannot be regarded in any sense as a radical departure from the practice of many years standing provided that it is applied with care and consideration of the needs of the aged people, as it will be.
The second point is equally important. In view of the attempts to confuse the whole issue which are regrettable, there is a clear distinction between nursing home type patients to whom I have just referred and other pensioners. I make it quite clear that the proposals I have repeated will not affect pensioner patients who require to enter hospital in the normal way for illness, injury or other treatment. These patients will be treated as normal hospital patients. They will be entitled to receive hospital treatment as long as they require it. They will not be required to contribute part of their pension towards their care and accommodation. I emphasise that the assessment of the patient’s medical condition as reported by the doctor actually treating the patient will determine whether he or she continues to require hospital treatment or is reclassified as a nursing home type patient.
The important point is that the responsibility for deciding whether a patient is to be reclassified as a nursing home type patient will, in the first instance, rest in the hands of the doctor who is treating the patient. At some length I have endeavoured to put the record straight in respect to some of the rumours that have emanated from radio station 3AW in Victoria and have terrified a lot of pensioners throughout the State into believing that if they become ill they will have to contribute their pension to get medical and surgical treatment in a hospital. That is a lot of rubbish. I regret that the person concerned, whose name is Paul Barber, has indulged in a campaign to scare unfortunate people in such a manner.
– Is he going to retract it?
-I doubt that he will. He is out on a limb on the issue. I have spoken on a talk-back program with him. I have tried to put the record straight. I hope that no pensioner in Victoria or anywhere else will be deluded by scare tactics designed to promote the cause of individual people in the community or for political motivation. I am very sad that so many people have been disturbed by that action.
– This has nothing to do with the Bill.
– It has a fair bit to do with the way in which people have acted. Time is getting on. It is obvious that many honourable members want to get home. There are so many other things I could have said. I conclude by saying that if any honourable member has any further questions he wishes to put to me he should not hesitate to come to me but not today.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Klugman’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (The Deputy Speaker-Mr A. W. Jarman)
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)There is no point of order.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Mr LES McMAHON (Sydney)-I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr LLOYD (Murray)- I wish to make a personal explanation.
Labor Party who may be concerned that the Labor Party amendment was so worded.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. As the spokesman for the Labor Party, the implication seems to be that by opposing front-end deductibles we take some stance on abortion. We no more do so than the Government does by preventing people who belong to Medibank from opting out of abortion -
-And I am sure that the Government does not take any -
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. Unless a member can show where he is personally misrepresented there is no cause for him to make a personal explanation.
Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 3 (Interpretation).
-This clause is the first of a number of clauses which deal with the introduction of deductibles. 1 will not speak again to the other clauses. I indicate that the Opposition opposes clauses 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 15, some of which deal with deductibles. I would quickly like to summarise the Opposition’s argument on the question of deductibles. Before doing so- because during the division there was all this confrontation dealing with one particular aspect of deductibles- 1 would like just quickly to state the Opposition’s point of view.
– The honourable member is required to address himself to clause 3 exclusively.
– Well, clause 3 deals with the definition of deductibles and bringing in with deductibles what are called approved medical benefits plans within the meaning of section 72E of the Act. One of the approvals which the Minister indicated in his second reading speech is likely to appear in the guidelines will be the question of a fund being able to say that it eliminates cosmetic surgery- I have forgotten what the item number is for termination of pregnancy- and so on.
Can I say quite clearly that the Labor Party does not take a postition on this, as I said during the debate, any more than the fact that Medibank will not exclude termination of pregnancy indicates that this Government supports abortion. It could no more be said or I would no more argue that this Government supports abortion because it continues to pay for terminations of pregnancy for those who are covered by the Medibank levy than the Government could argue that we support abortion because we oppose the introduction of deductibles for other people.
As I understand it, one group in particularone medical benefits fund- because a large proportion of its members or, for all I know, all its members have strong conscientious reasons for opposing terminations of pregnancy under all conditions, feels that its members should not have to pay for them. As I understand it, the secretary or manager of that group has said that during the last six years the fund has only paid for three terminations, so it is not a big issue. But I certainly have no objection to a private organisation, a private group, any more than a private club or any other private organisationafter all, one is not forced to belong to it- laying down certain rules saying that terminations of pregnancy should not be paid for. My criticism of the Minister is that, I think in response to a question referring to this particular deductible, he made the point that the medical benefits contributions of the funds should be reduced. With all due respect, the actual cost to the funds is greater if a pregnancy progresses to full term than it would be if it is terminated. I do not know what doctors charge these days for the termination of a pregnancy, but I presume that it is something of the order of $100 or $120. Certainly the charge for a pregnancy and confinement, with six to ten days in hospital, would be about $ 1 76 for the doctor plus the cost of hospitalisation, depending on the category the patient is in. I do not think that this is an important issue, but I make it quite clear that the Opposition does not have a view on it.
Let me deal now with the deductibles- the more important deductibles because they affect many more people- that are being introduced in clause 3. Again, I should like to say that the Government has foreshadowed the introduction of guidelines. I do not believe that those guidelines can be sensible. A paper was presented to the House some two weeks ago which was to be the basis for these changes. On page 69 of the paper, dealing with deductibles, it is stated:
Unfortunately, no information is available to determine exactly what size of deductible within tolerable limits would begin to have an important effect on the demand for medical care.
It is quite obvious that the Government will be working in the dark on this question. The Minister has said that in a few weeks time he will be able to bring in further legislation because he will have more information. 1 will be interested to see what kinds of changes the Government will introduce. Obviously this information is not available at the present time. I understand that, although we have discussed this legislation today, there is provision for this and other clauses to be proclaimed at a later date. Perhaps the information will be available by then.
The main objection of the Opposition to the introduction of deductibles is that persons who are healthy, persons who are relatively well off, youngish people, single people to a large extent, will opt for the deductibles. In addition to obtaining the benefit of a lower contribution rate, if something does go wrong they can claim their actual health expenditure arising from these deductibles as a tax deduction. Persons who continue to belong to the fund and have full cover cannot claim their contribution as a tax deduction. I do not think that is fair because it imposes a further burden on people who are already handicapped- large families, those with sick people in the family, people in the older age groups and the very young age groups who need medical or hospital attention more often. I should have thought that this Government, because it often talks about helping only the very needy, concentrating whatever resources the community can spare by way of taxation on the very needy, would have taken the opposite point of view. If those people who have a lower risk are given the chance to opt out the net result will be that those who have greater risk will have to pay greater contribution rates. That is the only way that insurance companies can operate.
To summarise the position of the Opposition, we feel that discriminating in favour of those who rarely need medical treatment and against those who need it often should not be the purpose of any national health scheme worthy of the name. Whether the Government admits it or not, it is toying with the idea of moving further and further away from the concept of universal health insurance towards a system of partial insurance which will place an unfair financial burden on those most in need of medical care. It is back to the bad old pre-Medibank days when uncertainty reigned supreme, and I think that that is the most important point in our opposition to deductibles. I have indicated that the Opposition opposes this clause, as it opposes the other clauses I have mentioned, but that we will not take the House to division because of the ridiculous method we have of dividing which takes up a lot of rime. However, we indicate our opposition. That should be clearly recorded in Hansard.
-I wish to say a few words on the clause relating to the option this legislation gives to health funds to exclude benefits for abortions from their benefit .tables. This option is certainly a step in the right direction. People who have a strong moral objection to contributing towards abortion benefits through a fund will be able to join a fund which does not pay those benefits. However, my concern about the matter goes further. One believes that abortion is either morally right or morally wrong. I believe that it is morally wrong. In my opinion, abortion is murder, nothing less. I have to make my position on the matter clear. It is that I will seek an early opportunity to bring the abortion issue to a vote in this House.
I realise that this Bill is not the vehicle for an abortion debate. I also realise that we as a Federal Parliament cannot legislate against abortions as such except in the Australian Capital Territory. Such legislation is a matter for the respective State Parliaments. What the Federal Parliament can do is to ensure that no taxpayers’ funds, at least those collected federally, are applied to payment or part payment for abortions. I imagine that there may be problems with private health funds, which are funded 100 per cent by their contributors, in making it illegal for them to pay benefits for abortions from contributors’ funds. The option now available is probably as far as we can go with the private funds. But there is certainly no problem in relation to abortion benefits paid by Medibank as far as this Parliament is concerned. After all, Medibank is the vehicle by which public funds pay for abortions.
Another reason for the necessity for a debate on abortion is the availability of the report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships. That report puts a figure of 60,000 on the number of abortions carried out in Australia each year. That figure implies that millions of dollars are being paid each year by Medibank and the private funds for abortions. The benefits for an abortion and its associated anaesthetics are in excess of $100, or in excess of $6m per annum in total. A significant proportion of that $6m is paid by taxpayers through Medibank for abortions. I am concerned about this situation and I believe that this Parliament ought to debate it, at least in respect of the use of taxpayers’ funds through Medibank. I do not wish to open up the whole abortion debate at this time but I make it clear that I believe the Parliament ought to go a great deal further in the area of antiabortion legislation. As a first step, it should ensure that no public funding of abortions is permitted. I will be seeking an opportunity to raise the question in the House during the Budget session.
-Let me say, first of all, that I wish to congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) that in arguing the issue of optional deductibles he has argued for the basic principle on grounds primarily of efficiency and cost reduction. Unlike some of his colleagues, he has not sought to pervert the argument about the principles with which we are concerned. The Labor Party, in opposing optional deductibles, is opposing the principle on the grounds that it compromises the equity of our schemes and threatens their universality. If we can maintain the argument at that level, that is the problem both sides face, rather than some of the perversions that have been introduced in the last half hour.
Let me say that the dilemma of front end deductibles is one of how to make them sufficiently attractive to pull people in without at the same time imposing very heavy costs on those who wish to remain in a full cover within a scheme.
The Blue Cross organisations in the United States of America have experimented with a range of optional deductibles in recent years and increasingly they have moved to abandon them because of this dilemma. It is clear from the Minister’s guidelines that he does not want to make optional deductibles too attractive because that would create problems. So there will be limits on how far companies can go with their deductibles. I think it is this basic dilemma that has made many of the private insurers rather unhappy at the moment.
Secondly, deductibles produce a problem of equity. It is quite clear that there are two groups in the community who, on the whole, can take a risk with deductibles. They are the healthy and the wealthy. The healthy can take the risk. They can gamble on maintaining their health and therefore can take a deductible scheme. The wealthy can also take the risk because if something catastrophic happens at least they have considerable resources to meet the payments. On the other hand, the poor and the sick should in a sense be encouraged not to opt for deductibles. There is a danger for the people who are sick or likely to be sick and of course there is a major danger for the poor if they take out a deductible. But if we encourage many people to take up such schemes, universality would be threatened. If deductibles are made attractive and become terribly successful, if they attract both the poor and other people who take risks with illness, universality may have to be compromised. People may be so attracted by the deductible that they take the risk. As Mr Moon from the Voluntary Health Insurance Association of Australia said, these people take a gamble. It is an extremely dangerous gamble because it may leave them in a very severe financial situation.
For these three reasons I think there is a major problem, a major dilemma, for the private insurers. They have to try to work out a scheme which is attractive but does not place too great a burden on them if they desire full cover. Secondly, there is a major threat to equity because the deductible scheme will really attract the healthy and the wealthy, reducing their costs but placing higher costs on the poor and the sick. Thirdly, there is a problem that if the scheme is made particularly attractive it might compromise the universality of health cover in this country. Those are the reasons why we are worried and concerned about optional deductibles. I hope we can maintain the argument about those principles and not in the way in which I think it has been distorted in recent minutes.
– I would just like to respond to those speakers who have addressed themselves to the question of deductibles, particularly to the comments of the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) who quite rightly raised the issue of universality and the dangers inherent in developing a front end deductible type system to confer inordinate amounts of personal patient contribution in return for a very substantially reduced premium. The ultimate result of that, if it were carried to absurdity, would be to destroy universality and the community rating principle in health insurance. So quite clearly one has to be very careful not to allow guidelines to be such that they could in fact distort community rating and also the principle of universality of cover. I think the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) yesterday raised the point of what would happen if a health insurance fund offered a $5,000 deductible. He asked how I, as Minister, would react to that proposition. I would plainly consider it to be unacceptable to allow such an example to be within the guidelines. We would be looking to a health insurance organisation maintaining full non-deductible basic tables where it wishes to offer a reasonably attractive optional deductible table.
– They have to offer the full deductible?
– Yes, in fact I would be taking the general view that where an organisation wishes to offer a basic optional deductible table, it could continue to offer and operate a full basic table. The only exception to this system would be where the optional table was equivalent to the full basic table with minor exclusion from benefit of a small number of scheduled medical services, or perhaps restricted to a limited category of services. I am referring, of course, to the obvious applications that the Government is likely to receive with respect to certain items. I will certainly be determining these issues and it will not be open season for the health insurance funds to adopt the exorbitant plan that was cited to me as an example.
I shall conclude by saying that most of the debate on the issue of deductibles seems to have revolved around the concept of front end deductibles; yet there are quite a lot of possibilities with respect to rebates and back end deductibles, for the want of a better word. A back end deductible could be considered where, at the end of a financial year, a person could be eligible to receive a rebate if a certain number of services had not been availed of during that year. We have talked about the deletion of items as a form of deductible. I think a very much more important possibility is where a fund might offer, as a result of the flexibility that is offered to it, a deductible as an incentive to contributors to adopt healthy life styles. Those people who choose not to smoke, those people who choose not to drink alcohol and those people who choose to adopt a fairly sensible life style could use a deductible scheme. How on earth a health insurance fund could administer such a proposal I do not know, but I understand that some health insurance funds are investigating the desirability of offering such tables.
What I think is very important is that this proposal will offer the opportunity for innovation. It will offer the opportunity for experiment and it will offer the opportunity for evaluation. Some countries have adopted the principle. The United States is one such country. But very limited research material is available to us and I would hope that some pilot studies could be carried out from time to time. At least we have provided the opportunity for them. We will be watching them very closely and monitoring the results. They could provide some very useful information on the direction that health insurance should take in the years to come, not only in this country but also other Western countries.
Clause agreed to.
-This clause, which refers to the travel and accommadation allowance, is probably the only welcome aspect of the Bills that are before us at present. Whilst we know that it will be of great advantage to people in rural areas, I think it is probably a sugar coating to cover the less acceptable provisions in these Bills. A number of approaches have been taken to this matter over the years by me, by my friend the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Fitzpatrick), and no doubt by other members representing country electorates. They all realise what a problem it has been for people living in country areas to receive medical attention and what a disadvantage it is when the cost involved in receiving that attention is taken into account. It is a fact that in many cases the cost of getting to medical attention is far and above the actual cost of that attention.
As I represent a large country electorate, this problem has been brought to my attention forceably on a number of occasions. I could quote some quite tragic and traumatic experiences of people living in country areas. These people are not very wealthy but they are put in the position where they have to travel to Adelaide for specialist treatment at regular intervals. The financial burden placed on those people is considerable. As I say, people have raised this matter with me on many occasions but I am afraid I have not been able to give them much assistance because to date no government has been prepared to recognise the problem. In the representations I and other members have made in the past we have suggested that possibly the way in which the people could be assisted would be to allow the cost incurred in receiving this attention to become a tax deduction.
Here again I would agree with what the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has done in this case in providing for the Government to pay any amount over and above a certain figure- it is $ 1 5 a day for accommodation and $20 a day for travelling expenses. It is probably a much better and more equitable scheme. There would be a lot of inequity in the situation regarding taxation deductions. The lower wage earner, who was not paying a great deal of tax in the first place, still had to pay the medical expenses incurred. So the amount by which he could benefit from any taxation allowance that was granted to him because of medical expenses incurred would not be a great deal. We feel that this scheme certainly is a little easier to operate and it is a little more straightforward and more effective.
In referring to the people who live in the rural areas this legislation is not referring just to farmers. It is also referring to the people who live in country towns and, in many cases, provincial cities that are more than 200 kilometres from the capital cities. This Bill will help quite a few people in my own electorate, including the railway employees along the east-west railway line and the central Australian railway Une to Alice Springs as well as the people in the isolated opal mining towns of Coober Pedy and Andamooka and the people in the Eyre Peninsular area and other areas distant from the cities. I commend the Minister for including this provision in the Bill. Again I say that of the four Bills before us I feel that this provision is the only one which can be commended. There are some pretty obnoxious provisions in the remainder of the legislation.
Although this clause is of advantage to the people in country areas, I do not think that the remainder of the legislation will be of benefit to country people generally. I think that the contents of this legislation clearly indicate the ideological difference between the manner in which the Opposition approaches these questions and the manner in which the Government approaches them. We know that right from the word go people on the Government side of the chamber- the members of the Liberal and National Country parties- have opposed the Medibank concept. It was first devised in the late 1960s. They opposed it hotly during the 1969 and 1 972 elections. I do not think that basically they have ever changed their opposition to it. The people endorsed the Medibank proposals in 1972 when they elected the Labor Government to office. In the years following the 1972 election the Liberal and National Country parties were divided on the issue. Honourable members will recall that when the Medibank legislation was introduced into this House the Liberal and National Country parties had divided views on the matter. The Country Party finished up by crossing the floor and voting with the Labor Party on this matter. The first Medibank proposal was introduced in 1973. We saw the opposition it received from the people who are now on the Government side of the chamber and we saw the opposition the proposal received from the then Opposition in the Senate, which took a hard line and endeavoured to stop every proposal which the Labor Party put forward. However, because the legislation had been introduced and rejected the required number of times the Labor Party was able to introduce its Medibank proposals after the double dissolution in 1974. When the legislation was reintroduced after the 1974 double dissolution it was allowed to be passed. Of course, one of the problems that we faced was that our Medibank proposals were to be financed by the imposition of a levy on taxation.
– Order! The honourable member for Grey is getting well away from the terms of the clause.
– I am relating my remarks to the fact that we spoke earlier about the advantages to country people of the travel and accommodation allowances and saying that I think there will be disadvantages to the country people. I am trying to relate my remarks to the advantages and the disadvantages in relation to the effect of the legislation on country people. I outlined earlier the advantages to country people of the travelling and accommodation proposals, but there are other matters concerning health which will affect them. During the course of the Labor Government’s reign it introduced proposals to create community health centres. About eight of those community health centres were established in the electorate of Grey. The three that come to mind, the three largest, are the ones at Coober Pedy, Port Lincoln and Ceduna. The changes to the bulk billing arrangements and the various other proposals contained in this Bill will have an effect on these community health centres. The one at Port Lincoln employs seven doctors. Right from inception those doctors have bulk billed their patients. Today I had the opportunity of talking to them about what they think of these proposals. They are hotly opposed to them. They feel that they will send up their costs enormously and that the cost of administration will increase greatly. They are not very impressed with them.
I spoke also to certain people at Ceduna about these proposals. The people of Ceduna are country people who would probably gain some advantage from the proposal concerning travel and accommodation allowances. A great proportion of the people at Ceduna whom the doctors are treating are unemployed Aboriginals. There is very little work for Aboriginals in that area. The people there are very concerned as to what will happen if these proposals are implemented. It is felt that unless the people of the area have the money in their pockets they will not come in for medical attention. It will be a shame if this happens because confidence has been built up in the provision of attention by the doctors at the community health centre in this area. It is felt that this confidence will be of no avail if the people will not come in to receive medical attention. These people are quite definite about this matter. They have written to the Minister about it. They feel that if the local people do not come into the community centre it will lose half of its effectiveness. This will be the result of the Government’s decision over bulk billing. The person running the centre at Ceduna has written to the Minister about this matter. I have told him that it is probably of no avail; that the Government will push all the legislation through today and that as from a date to be proclaimed bulk billing will be done away with.
The scheme that the Minister has indicated will overcome the problems of people who may not have the money in their pockets and who are not well off economically seems to be a very vague scheme. It relies on the co-operation of the doctors and one wonders if all the doctors will co-operate. Although most doctors show compassion towards the people who are ill and who do not have the money in their pockets, there are still some doctors about who are not quite so compassionate.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (Matters to be taken into account by Committee and by Minister).
-I would like very briefly to indicate our opposition to the clause. It again deals with organisations which are proposing to operate the optional deductibles plan. I have already gone through the position regarding the termination of pregnancies but it has just been pointed out to me by one of the Opposition members that maybe it is not clearly understood. I cite as an example the position concerning the Hibernian Society because it is one of the hospital and medical benefit funds that have applied to operate an optional deductibles plan. A woman who belongs to the Hibernian Society does so on the understanding that she will no longer be paid for the termination of a pregnancy. That is fair enough. But the Government is being hypocritical about this matter. It knows very well that if a woman who is a subscriber to the Hibernian Society wants to have a pregnancy terminated all she has to do is allow her financial standing with the Hibernian Society to lapse some weeks before she decides to have that termination. Payment for that termination will then be picked up by Medibank because as soon as one becomes unfinancial in a private fund one is automatically covered by the Medibank levy. So nobody takes any risks. I indicate to the feminists, the women who are getting all excited about the fact that their members will not be paid for the termination of a pregnancy if they belong to a fund which bans payments for such terminations, that if they want to terminate a pregnancy all they have to do is indicate quite clearly that they are no longer financial members of a particular fund which excludes payments for the operation. As soon as their financial membership of that organisation lapses they are covered by Medibank.
– That means that the Liberal Party members and National Country Party members are a pack of phoneys.
-No, I am not saying all of them, but some of them who have raised it.
– Most of them are.
-The ones who raised it. There are only two or three who have raised it. I think most of them realise as well as we do that this is not the big issue on the question of deductibles. The women who are excited about not being able to get paid will be able to get paid by just dropping their membership of a private fund. It will then be picked up by Medibank and, of course, the opposite argument applies to those who want to feel that they are not contributing in a voluntary sense to the payment for termination of pregnancies for conscientious reasons and therefore they want to join a particular fund which does not cover that contingency.
– So if the Government was fair dinkum it would extend it to Medibank.
-I am not urging the Government to do that. I do not think that is indicated. I want to conclude by indicating clearly that we oppose clause 5 but we will not divide the House on it.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 (Registation)
-Again, exactly the same argument applies. It introduces the question of optional deductibles. The Opposition opposes the clause but will not divide the House on it.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 (Conditions of Registration).
-In addition to some reference, as I understand it, to the question of optional deductibles in clause 7, paragraph (c) of sub-clause (i) prohibits bulk billing for any except eligible pensioners in the case of private medical funds. Whatever argument can be put up for the elimination of bulk billing, I do not agree with its elimination for private funds and I will raise that point in a broader context on the next piece of legislation where it applies to Medibank patients. As far as private patients are concerned, if this Government believes that bulk billing costs extra money, it is fair enough to knock it out of Medibank where the taxpayer pays for it, but in this case the Government is imposing a condition on a private fund to eliminate bulk billing. We all agree that we do not have enough information on it, whether it is beneficial or the opposite, as far as health insurance and health care costs are concerned. If a fund is prepared to continue bulk billing, obviously it must believe that it has benefits from that fund ‘s point of view and the fund is mainly concerned with financial benefits. We would get some sort of figures from them.
I emphasise that there would be no cost involved to the taxpayer because it is a proposal by a private fund. That particular private fund is not subsidised as far as medical benefits are concerned. So why should we say that we will no longer register a fund if that private fund of its own volition decides to continue with bulk billing? I would like to get a reply from the Minister on this because it seems to me to go in some ways to some of the so-called fundamental beliefs of the Liberal Party, certainly the fundamentally stated beliefs of the Liberal Party that we ought to have competition, free enterprise and alternatives. Why eliminate that alternative? When it does not cost the taxpayer anything, why not allow the funds to do exactly that?
– In reply to the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), in giving consideration to questions relating to bulk billing- indeed, its abolition- the Government felt, once the decision was taken to abolish bulk billing for all but pensioners and their dependants, that it would not make sense to abolish it for Medibank and leave it available for the private health insurance funds.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 (Provision of services by organisations).
-Again I indicate that this clause deals with deductibles. The Opposition opposes the clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 (Guidelines for medical and hospital benefits plans).
-Again, this clause deals with optional deductibles. The Opposition indicates its opposition.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10 agreed to.
Clause 1 1 (Interpretation).
-Clause 11 deals with the increase in patient contribution from $2 to $2.50 for pharmaceutical benefits. I asked the Minister a question this morning about the problem in addition to the straight-out problem as the ordinary member of the public sees it- that he will now be paying 25 per cent extra for his pharmaceutical benefits. I asked the Minister this morning how many items are affected, and he has been kind enough to give me an answer this afternoon indicating that about 220 items will no longer be available as general pharmaceutical benefits as from 1 July 1978 with the increase in patient contributions. The point that I want to raise, which has not received any publicity outside, is that on an item which at present attracts a refund to the chemist of between $2 and $2.50, when this Government increases the charge to $2.50, the item is removed from the list of items for the general public! The net result of that is not a charge of $2.50 or, for example, $2.14.
Let us take a specific example- Mogadon tablets. For 25 tablets the present refund to the chemist on filling a prescription is $2.14. That will become a charge to the patient of somewhere between $3.07 and $3.37 instead of the present $2 after 1 July 1978. The reason for that is that the Government, because it is a large contractor with pharmacists, gets a special discount in dispensing fees and mark ups on prescriptions which are issued under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The dispensing fee is increased to $2 when it leaves the pharmaceutical benefits list and the mark up increases. As I understand it there are some chemists who charge a 33 per cent mark up, some 50 per cent and some 66 per cent. To a large extent it varies with the amount of competition in the area and according to the type of area. That is why I say that, as I understand it from a friend who is a pharmacist, the increase will be to $3.07 or $3.37. That is a significant increase, from $2 for a prescription to over $3.
It will apply to a large number of items. The Minister says 220 items. I have not gone through the list completely but I have picked out some of them. One of the important ones is, for example, penicillin for children, in tablet and capsule form. At present the refund to the chemist is $2.27. The payment by the patient, or the mother of the child who receives the medication, is $2. That will now go up to about $3.50 or more. That is a huge increase in the case of a child who is suffering from a fairly chronic condition. I agreed with the Minister yesterday- I am not sure whether it was during the debate on the Bill or in reply to a question- when he emphasised that doctors can give prescriptions for a month in the case of chronic conditions. Many doctors do not take advantage of that. I repeatedly receive letters from people about this matter. I have even gone to the trouble of photo-copying the appropriate page of the pharmaceutical benefits booklet so that when I reply to people who write to me on the matter I can show them just what they can ask their doctor to do. It is important to realise that amongst the 220 items affected are mogadon, lomotil fergon, rectinol, and amitryptiline type of tablets such as tryptanol, clinistix, some antihistamines, eye ointments, many cortisone ointments, butazolidin and, as I said earlier, penicillin tablets and capsules for children. I state again that this will represent a great imposition of extra cost on people who are already bearing extra cost because of the other changes which the Government is introducing as from 1 July 1978. 1 think it is important that members of the Australian community be aware of this and do not blame the chemists for what will happen. There is a tendency on the part of the Government to try to blame chemists for the result of this move. I assume that it is too late to ask the Minister to postpone the proclamation of this clause in the legislation. I strongly indicate the opposition of the Australian Labor Party to this clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 to 14- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 15 (Consequential amendments).
– I very quickly indicate that this clause deals with deductibles. The Opposition opposes the principle of deductibles and therefore opposes this clause and the Schedule to the Bill.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 6 June, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Yesterday when speaking to the legislation I foreshadowed an amendment which I now move. I move:
Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to indicate clearly that whilst the Opposition has moved the amendment, it will not force the House to a division on it.
-Is the amendment seconded?
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I second the amendment.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 5 (entitlement to medical benefits).
-Clause 5 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill deals with the particularly obnoxious proposal to increase the amount of each bill that a patient or a contributor to a health fund must pay. The Government has conceived the brilliant concept of reducing the medical benefit payment from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee, and also to increase the maximum contribution for each service for which the scheduled fee is charged from $5 to $10. The effect of this will be to add 90c to the patient contribution for a standard general practitioner consultation, $1.30 for a home visit by a doctor and $2.60 for a specialist consultation. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) may think that- I use his words- ‘this remains a small additional direct patient contribution’. But I remind him that $2.60 can be very important to a low income earner with a net income of between $ 100 and $ 1 20 a week.
I also remind the Minister that many doctors and specialists charge more than the scheduled fee. Cases have been drawn to my attention where patients have been charged $100, $200 or even $300 in one instance, more than the scheduled fee for major surgery. If the Minister is really serious about containing health costs, he should be seeking to control these parasitic doctors and specialists who seek to earn exorbitant incomes from’ the misfortune of major illnesses.
I think we ought to ask ourselves the reason for the Government’s actions. The Minister says that this will deter people from using health services unnecessarily. But how does one judge in the early stages of an illness whether a consultation is necessary? At any rate, the Minister has pointed out that people who wish to obtain additional insurance cover as a result of this decision will be able to obtain it anyway through the supplementary tables of the private health organisations. That is the position. People who can afford to do so can take the extra cover; people who cannot afford to do so can take the risk. There will be no deterrent for the rich, but obviously there will be a significant deterrent for those people who cannot afford to pay.
– I support my colleague, the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West), in opposing the principles embodied in clause 5 of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill. The explicit objection is not so much to increasing the moiety or to increasing the maximum; I think the objection relates to the fact of this increase coupled with gap insurance on the one side and the abolition of bulk billing on the other side. In the pursuit of efficiency and cost cutting the Government has produced a highly inequitable proposal. The gap insurance provisions will enable those people who can afford gap insurance- those people who work for the private insurers- to cover the increase. At the same time bulk billing will be abolished and many sections of social security beneficiaries those estimated 800,000 people who do not lit into the definition of eligible at the moment- will suddenly have this increase imposed upon them. So the efficiency proposals are highly inequitable and will enable the well-off to cover themselves with gap insurance, which almost certainly will now be extended. On the other side, the abolition of bulk billing will throw many poor people into the situation of having to pay these increases.
A further feature of clause 5 which worries me is the implication of proposed new sub-section (2a) (c). We note that under that provision eligible pensioners who will still be able to benefit from bulk billing will receive a medical benefit of 85 per cent. I have worries, therefore, about what will happen to the ineligible poor people. Some weeks ago the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) was rather confident that the medical profession would be prepared in those cases to accept 75 per cent as full payment. It seems to be indicated in the Bill that in the situation of bulk billing 85 per cent will be demanded. Will doctors accept 75 per cent of the fee from the ineligible poor- those people who do not qualify for bulk billing- or in fact are doctors not prepared to accept that lower figure? Does the fact that 85 per cent is mentioned in this clause mean that the optimistic hopes of the Minister will not be realised in relation to the ineligible poor- all those people on social security benefits who do not come within the definition of eligibility?
– I oppose the Health Insurance Amendment Bill. When I spoke on this Bill earlier, I left out a few matters. I appreciate having the opportunity to mention them now. After months of dallying about cutting health costs the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has come out with new proposals which smack of elitism. The Government’s proposals are long on good intention but short of substance. The new proposals show that the Government is not thinking of the health of Australians but is thinking only of its own deficits. Doctors have nothing to be joyous about with these new proposals. As we know, even the Australian Medical Association is divided on this issue. Doctors will be affected by the number of patients who will no longer avail themselves of the services of doctors. By cutting medical benefit rates from 85 per cent to 75 per cent and by increasing from $5 to $10 the maximum patient contribution the Government will force us to pay more for our health.
The national health bill is $7,000m and the Commonwealth’s share of the bill is $3, 000m. The cost saving to the Government under this new scheme for a full year will be $24m. The Government has a miserable system of priorities. It decides that two VIP jets costing $30m to $40m are much more desirable than having a health care scheme for all Australians. The cost of saving $24m will be offset by a cost of $7m to complete the elimination process of bulk billing, so the net saving to the Government will be $17m- a mere 0.5 per cent. The Government’s abolition of bulk billing for all people except pensioners from 1 July is a retrograde step. It will constitute a telling blow to people in the low income bracket who cannot afford to pay for more than basic coverage for medical care. It will severely disadvantage middle income earners, low income earners, the unemployed and the pensioners who have already suffered bad cuts in their fringe benefits and health cards.
The proposal of deductibles will benefit only the healthy young and the very rich. The gap insurance plan is weakening the arguments of the Government as costs will be greater and the low income earners will not be able to afford to take out insurance on the gap. As stated in the 1976-77 report from the Health Commission which was released three weeks ago, the average cost of each medical bulk bill was $2.70 cheaper than individual accounts. In the electorate of Sydney over 56 per cent of practising medicos bulk bill and in New South Wales over 15,000 bulk bill. If doctors enforce the ‘pay now’ rule we will have a shambles. If the public has to pay cash on the spot to receive medical treatment, mothers with children, pensioners, low income earners and the chronically ill will be unable to see their doctors as their costs will be too high. The casualty departments in the State hospital will once again be flooded. The State hospitals will be unable to cope with a new flood of patients and State governments will be responsible for remedying that. Consequently doctors who bulk bill will find themselves in trouble too because most of the beneficiaries who are now eligible for bulk billing will no longer be eligible and the doctors will lose their patients as the cost will be beyond the reach of the Australian public. It will deter people from seeing the doctor and the health of generations of Australians will be jeopardised. Doctors should come out and support the opposition of the Australian Labor Party to these new proposals. People who use doctors ‘ services most will have to pay more and people who use them least will pay less. I should like to ask the Minister a question relating to a statement he made on 24 May, which is recorded in Hansard as follows:
The change in medical benefits is expected to lead to a reduction of 46c a week, family rate, in medical insurance contributions, reducing the average rate to $4.54 a week. In this connection, I would point out that it is a matter for the funds to calculate changed rates of contribution and to then apply to me for approval. This will, of course, take a little time, but applications will be processed as quickly as possible once they are received. In approving changed contribution rates, I will naturally take into account that the reduced benefits are operating from 1 July this year.
I wanted to ask this question of the Minister this morning at Question Time, but I was not called by Mr Speaker. I ask the Minister whether he recalls making that statement, as well as the following statement:
The reduction in the percentage level covered by medical benefits and the increase in the patient gap is expected to lead to a reduction in medical insurance contributions.
I further ask the Minister whether he is aware that in a letter circulated by the General Manager of Medibank to all Medibank staff he stated in the last paragraph:
I regret that I do not see us as being able to offer any reduction in medical insurance rates from 1 July 1978 as a result of these changes.
Can the Minister explain the miscalculation on the part of the Government?
– I want to formalise the opposition of the Labor Party to this clause which reduces the benefit from 85 per cent to 75 per cent and increases the maximum gap for those doctors charging the scheduled fee from $5 to $ 10 per item. I think it is important to emphasise the fact that this gap is applicable to each item. If a person has an operation a number of items could be involved. There is the item for the surgeon, the item for the assistant and the item for the anaesthetist. The surgeon may in fact perform a number of operations and, as I understand it, there is a $ 10 charge for each item. I am not a supporter of fee for service surgery in public hospitals, certainly not in private hospitals, and therefore I cannot get terribly excited about it. If people are silly enough to opt for fee for service surgery, perhaps they deserve to pay $50, $60 or $100 from now on as their contribution. I think they ought to be warned about it and perhaps it will encourage them to enter hospitals as standard patients.
The other point I want to emphasise is a point I made earlier. For some reason the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) either did not hear it or pretended that he did not understand it. It is the point that this really means an increase in the levy. The Government has been emphasising that it has not incresed the levy. But the real cost of the levy has increased. Until now for the 2.5 per cent levy which we paid we recieved a refund of 85 per cent. From now on it will be a refund of 75 per cent. We will receive about 12 per cent less. Therefore, obviously, the levy should have been reduced had the Government wanted to keep the refund at the same rate. In passing I would refer also to the Government’s hypocrisy- although I do not necessarily oppose this matter. It trumpeted very loudly at the introduction of this legislation that doctors would cooperate with the Government and treat eligible pensioners, as defined under the Act, for 75 per cent of the fee. I note that in the legislation which was finally introduced yesterday, the medical benefit will still be calculated on the basis of 85 per cent in the case of eligible pensioners.
– Up to 85 per cent.
– It is up to 85 per cent. The Minister says that he will now start to negotiate with the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Optometrical Association and the Austraiian Dental Association- I think they were the three bodies he mentioned- to get them to reduce the rate. I would be interested to see what kind of organisation would agree to a reduction when the legislation provides for a higher figure. Obviously neigher the AMA nor, for that matter, any of the other organisations would agree to a lesser figure once the Government has legislated for a figure of 85 per cent. They would be fairly silly if they did. They are supposed to represent the interests of their members and I have no doubt whatever that they will continue to collect their 85 per cent. The Opposition does not object to that; it objects to the fact that the rest of the population will not be able to receive the same refund.
– I will reply firstly to the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) who stated that the Opposition opposes the principles embodied in this clause. Governments of all political persuasions have supported the principle of a gap and of the benefit not being paid in full. In fact, between 1953 and 1970 the gap between the medical benefit payable and the usual fee charged never fell below 30 per cent of the fee. When the Whitlam Government was in office it set the benefit at 85 per cent of the scheduled fee and the gap was left at $5. The $5 gap goes back to 1969. Eight years have passed. If we make a calculation we will find that the appropriate gap is in fact $10. Clearly the principle has been embraced by all parties. I think the reason for the gap has been to encourage a sense of personal responsibility in respect of the way in which both the providers and users of health care use these services.
The matter to which the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) referred concerns a letter from the general manager of Medibank to State managers. I am not aware of the letter but if Medibank is faced with the prospect of increasing its medical benefits premiums, obviously it would be because it set its premium levels too low the last time it reviewed its medical table. One thing is certain: When the benefits registration committee of my Department examines any application from Medibank Private it will be treated in the same way as any other fund. My Department will make certain that Medibank Private, indeed any health insurance fund, confers upon the contributor the benefit from what the Department has calculated to be on average a 46c per week family reduction in the health insurance premium rate.
Clause agreed to.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Payroll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Message from the Deputy of the GovernorGeneral recommending appropriation announced.
-I present a report from the Standing Orders Committee relating to sessional orders for the operation of legislation committees.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-The report of the Standing Orders Committee, which I have just presented, concerns the adoption of sessional orders to provide for the operation of legislation committees on a trial basis. Members of the Committee found difficulty in resolving the question of when legislation committees should meet. The three proposals considered by the Committee have been included in the report. The Committee recommends that, subject to the House reaching a decision on sessional order No. 9, action be taken to adopt the proposed sessional orders.
Notice No. 1- Government Business standing in the name of the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair), incorporates proposal No. 2 for sessional order No. 9, together with the remaining 18 sessional orders recommended by the Committee. I would suggest therefore, that debate take place on the motion of which the Leader of the House has given notice. In view of the Committee’s problem with sessional order No. 9, it would be proper for any member who would prefer one of the alternatives to move an appropriate amendment. I commend the report to the House.
by leave- During the months immediately ahead, the main trading nations will be making decisions which will be of crucial importance to the future of the international economy and world trade. The Tokyo round of trade negotiations which began in 1973, is now entering its final stages. The United States of America is aiming for an outline package of decisions by midJuly. By the time the Parliament resumes, therefore, decisions will have been taken which will be of far-reaching consequence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they could set the climate within which international trade will be conducted for the rest of this century. If the negotiations achieve their objective of reducing barriers so that world trade can continue to expand, they will have made a major contribution to the further growth of the world economy and to the raising of living standards in both the developed and the developing countries. On the other hand, if the negotiations fail, there is a serious risk of a world-wide retreat to protectionism. That is what happened in the 1930s and it would be a tragedy if it were to happen again. It is in Australia’s interests, as a country heavily dependent on world trade, to avoid that outcome. We also have a responsibility, as a member of the international community with a special opportunity to understand the interests of both industrialised and developing countries, to do all that is within our power to make the negotiations a success. If they are not, it will not be for any want of trying on our part.
Australia was one of the foundation members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and for 30 years has been amongst the strongest supporters of its principles. As one of the world ‘s most responsible trading nations we have participated in all the GATT rounds of trade negotiations to date. A principal source of disappointment to Australia has been the failure of these GATT rounds and GATT itself to come to grips with all the problems of world trade. Whilst world trade has grown, its benefits have been unevenly distributed. In the Government’s view, the world economic and trade situation is at a critical point. That is why we believe that all countries have a responsibility to seek every avenue to support the continued growth of world trade. There is no section of the Australian economy that does not benefit directly or indirectly from a buoyant world trading economy. Our mineral exports are dependent on the major industrialised nations being able to find expanding outlets for their products. Our objective of a strengthened and more export oriented manufacturing sector geared to our abundant natural resources depends on the availability of a growing world market, particularly in Asia. We have the ability to supply larger quantities of agricultural products to meet the needs of growing numbers of people with improving standards of living. Thus it is not a question of a trade-off between the manufacturing and agricultural sectors. All sectors of the Australian economy stand to benefit from a favourable outcome from the negotiations; equally all would suffer from a major setback to world trade.
Although the multilateral trade negotiations had their genesis in a period of unparalleled prosperity, the subsequent changes in world economic conditions have given them a much different practical and psychological significance. If the MTN do not achieve their objectives the great global effort to free up trade will have left many of the participants in them less than satisfied. Disappointment at such an outcome would undoubtedly encourage the emergence of beggar my neighbour’ policies round the world. The world trading situation would go into decline with all the consequences that has for both the Western and the developing worlds. If this were to happen there is little doubt that Australia as a trading nation would be a net loser. The Government is therefore determined to do all it can, consistent with fairness on all sides, to make the MTN work.
In line with this attitude the Government has decided that Australia should engage fully in every aspect of the negotiations. The negotiations are the most wide-ranging and comprehensive ever undertaken. They are not concerned solely with tariffs. In fact tariffs are becoming increasingly less signficant in many countries’ protective systems. The structure of the negotiations reflect this fact. Apart from tariffs, the negotiations are concentrating on non-tariff barriers both as they apply to specific products and in terms of codes, covering such things as standards, import licensing and customs valuation. The adequacy of GATT to deal with current and prospective trade problems is also under examination. Not the least amongst the questions being addressed in the negotiations is that of special and differential treatment for developing countries where this can be provided.
We have so far stood aside from the formula approach adopted for the negotiation of reduced tariffs on industrial products. Our decision to do so was not taken lightly. It followed agreement among the major industrialised countries, reached in the face of strenuous Australian opposition, that negotiations in the agricultural sector, unlike those on industrial products, should take place on a selective item-by-item basis. The Government took the view that it was entirely appropriate for Australia to adopt a similar itembyitem approach on industrial products and we have made offers on that basis. I am bound to say that, in a negotiating sense, that decision has been well vindicated by developments to date. The offers of concessions so far made to Australia on agricultural products provide little or no prospect of growth for Australian exports.
Nevertheless, for the reasons I have already mentioned and having regard for the determination expressed by the United States that a significant liberalisation of agricultural trade should be achieved in the MTN, it is clear that the Australian stance must be predicted on an assumption that the negotiations will bring benefits to all participants. The Government has therefore been examining closely the implications of adopting the formula approach to the reduction of industrial tariffs taking into account its policy objectives of encouraging the development of a more efficient and productive Australian manufacturing sector in the long run while avoiding short run economic and social disruption. This examination showed that with apropriate exceptions and safeguards the formula approach could be applied in a way which is consistent with the policies outlined in the Government’s White Paper on manufacturing industry.
In the light of these considerations the Government has decided to issue a challenge to the leading participants by upgrading the Australian offer. We will challenge them greatly to improve their own offers, particularly in regard to trade in agricultural products. Subject to full reciprocity and appropriate safeguards Australia will offer to negotiate within the framework of the industrial tariff formula. It is important that it be clearly understood that the use of a formula is merely a convenient way of settling a basis for negotiation. It is an approach which, if it is to be implemented, must be reciprocated if not in this part of the negotiations, then somewhere else. A fundamental principle of the negotiations as stated in the Tokyo declaration is that they should advance on the basis of mutual advantage and reciprocity. Reciprocation can come in two ways- by upgrading offers or scaling down offers.
Most of the developed countries participating in the negotiations including the United States of
America, Japan and the European Economic Community have already decided to adopt a formula approach to the reduction of tariffs on industrial products. The formula is intended to achieve a trade weighted average reduction of 40 per cent in the tariffs on these goods which are denned as all the goods, other than agricultural products, falling within chapters 25 to 99 of the Tariff Nomenclature. This overall reduction is to bc made in eight annual steps beginning in 1980.
There are variations as between countries in the way in which the formula will be applied. The details ;i re confidential to participants but some information is available publicly. The United Slates, for example, is obliged under its Trade Act to exclude products that are subject to emergency import relief action. Canada has announced that its offer is subject to conditions including the possibility of excluding some items. Japan has also announced that its offer is subject to exceptions, lt can be expected that to the extent that some countries depart from the strict application of the formula, other countries will make compensating adjustments during the course of the negotiations. Similarly the offer by Australia to adopt the formula approach will be subject to conditions of this kind appropriate to our circumstances including the following:
We reserve the right to vary the offer at our discretion if less than full reciprocity is gained.
We will specify a base date that will mean that credit is given for the 25 per cent and subsequent tariff cuts.
We will except from tariff reductions items subject to temporary protection.
We will modify the formula for items where tariffs have been increased since 1973.
We reserve the right to rationalise and simplify the tariff.
The offer must, of course, be on the understanding that the existing GATT provisions which allow countries to apply temporary protective measures, such as temporary duties and quantitative import restraints to prevent serious disruption to domestic industries, will be continued on an acceptable basis. The practical effect of all of these conditions is to enable Australia to make adjustments to or withdrawals from its offer during the negotiations. No government participating in the negotiations is committed to implementing offers if, in the light of the circumstances of the time, that action would not be in the nation ‘s overall interests. This is a consideration which goes beyond the particular question of reciprocity.
I reiterate that Australia’s offer is firmly premised on full credit being given for the 25 per cent and subsequent tariff cuts. Australia claimed this in Tokyo in 1973 as the basis of its participation in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. We cannot accept, as has been argued internationally, that Australia should be penalised because it was one of the few countries in the world to make any substantial reductions in tariffs since the Kennedy Round. I have already mentioned that reductions under the formula approach are to be made in eight annual steps beginning in 1980. This, taken with the tariff reductions Australia has already made, means that, even if the offer were to be implemented in full, any further cuts will be much less on average than the overall formula figure of 40 per cent. Moreover, in those circumstances, current tariff rates for most items would not have to be reduced before 1984 or 1985.
Australia’s assistance machinery will continue to operate during the negotiations. As already mentioned, products which are subject to temporary protection have been excluded from the offer and further exceptions will be made where the Government considers temporary protection is warranted following the normal inquiry by the Temporary Assistance Authority or the Industries Assistance Commission. Recommendations in reports received from the IAC on matters other than temporary protection will be considered by the Government in the usual way and adjustments made to Australia’s offer if the Government considers this is warranted.
I must emphasise that there are significant differences between the adoption of this formula approach and the July 1973 across the board tariff cut of 25 per cent:
It is an offer and not a commitment to cut tariffs at this point.
Reciprocity will be required for any further cuts which are implemented.
Quite apart from the question of any further reductions, the 25 per cent and subsequent tariff cuts will now become subject to reciprocity.
Any cuts will be phased in small steps over a period of years.
The reciprocity requirement will ensure that the only conditions under which implementation will take place will be those that will bring overall economic benefit to Australia.
Important opportunities for Australia’s future development structure would flow from a successful outcome to the Multilateral Trade Negotiations. In a world with a growing demand for resources Australia stands in an advantageous position. Though our population is small, the nation possesses large resources in its pastoral and agricultural industries, its developed and potential reserves of minerals and energyproducing materials, and the yet un-tapped resources of its surrounding seas and continental shelf. This situation implies new opportunities for our industries to serve world markets.
In its election policy statement the Government foreshadowed various measures which will assist Australian manufacturing industries to take advantage of these opportunities. These included export incentives, a review of industrial research and development and action to encourage the development of export industries processing Australian raw materials. Comprehensive export incentives have already been announced and action is proceeding on the other commitments. The Government is convinced that, in adopting this approach, Australia is supporting the continued growth of international trade which is so vital to the improvement of the standard of living of the people of developed and developing countries alike. I present the following paper:
Australia and the Multilateral Trade Negotiations- Ministerial Statement, 8 June 1 978.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) introduced into the House a statement by the Government on multilateral trade negotiations, Australia’s attitude, and the proposals which will be submitted during what I imagine will be the final stages of these negotiations, which will be concluded in mid-July but which, as a matter of interest, have been proceding for some five years. I suppose it is significant to mention that although the negotiations, certainly by this Government, have been proceeding for two and a half years we have only now got a statement on the position.It would have been fairer to the Australian people and to the Parliament if a statement had been made a lot earlier than this. From consideration of the contents of the statement, it does not have in it the material we have been seeking for some time. In a nutshell, the statement indicates that the Australian Government will agree to a 40 per cent reduction in tariffs. That is a substantial reduction. But there are qualifications; there are conditions; there are all sorts of hedges that suggest that a 40 per cent tariff reduction may not be as great as it appears on the surface.
I wish to refer to some matters in the statement that I think are worthy of comment. It begins by saying that the Australian economy will benefit from a buoyant world trading economy. With that we agree. The point is then made that we should be orientating our markets towards Asia. With that we wholeheartedly agree. But over the past two and a half years there has been no direction, no incentive, no factual result which would show clearly that our markets are being orientated towards Asia. One would have thought that the statement could have indicated clearly how the Government was going to encourage that sort of trading objective. Again, if one looks at the question of what we are doing in these negotiations, we see that Australia is very concerned about the agricultural sector, and so we should be. For some time now the Opposition has been making the point that our primary producers have no guarantee of a market for their produce. In our view, they are amongst the most efficient producers in the world but they get the worst prices because we have the worst method of marketing those types of resources.
It is significant that during the dinner break an announcement was made of a good breakthrough with a beef contract with the United States of America. That is to be applauded, but it was known certainly last week that it would happen. The messages coming from the United States clearly indicate that food prices have been escalating very rapidly. In the last 12 months the index has increased by 23.8 per cent and the beef price has made a substantial contribution of about 6 per cent to that increase. The reason for that ought to be made clear to our own producers. At the present time there is a problem with the beef producers in the United States being unable to meet demand because they have reduced their herds. There is a buoyancy in that market now but it will not last for all time. It is clearly set out in the statement that it is within what is called the ten-year beef production cycle. It must be made clear that there could be further preventive tariff measures by the United States, particularly at the time of the congressional elections when they want to protect their primary producers. There is no guarantee that any country will allow its producers to be denied protection.
On page 3 of the statement it is stated that the Government is anxious to guarantee negotiations in the agricultural sector. In that respect, we should look at what has happened to our agricultural producers in the past. When we went to the European Economic Community in 1975 to plead a case for our beef producres, all that members of the EEC could say was that they were sorry, they admitted they had done wrong, but they had no intention of rectifying that wrong because they were going to look after their own producers. The Opposition has been saying for some time- and I think it proposes to guarantee that it can be done- that we should get some co-ordination into our production, particularly in the primary area. We could get some stabilisation for the beef producers. Obviously that could happen if we could get together the producer and the person who has the benefit of marketing that product. I make the submission that at present our beef producers are being ripped off by the middle man, the non-producer.
When talking about trade negotiations and the lowering of tarifis, it is significant to raise the question to which I have just referred and in the same breath to refer to what is happening in the United States in relation to sugar arrangements. The swing of the pendulum is apparent. The United States has not ratified the International Sugar Agreement because of difficulties in Congress. Those difficulties have occurred because of political difficulties with about 1 1,000 sugar beet growers in one State. Those growers are anxious to get an even better price and the United States Government is not able to ratify the International Sugar Agreement because the Congress is trying to give the growers a better price for their sugar and more protection. That is a normal political action in terms of world trade at the present time and indicates that we could well be up against many protective devices.
The Opposition believes that we should get into the position of discussing these matters on the basis that our producers clearly understand where the markets are now and where they will be for the next five years. If we can enter into arrangements on that basis, so much the better. Of course, the real sleeper in this statement is what is to happen to our manufacturing base, and that we do not know because the statement does not address itself to that question. As a Labor Government we were castigated- in fact we could almost say that we lost an electionbecause we reduced tariffs by 25 per cent. It was said that we had no regard for what was going to happen to our work force. Let me make it clear that when we reduced tariffs by 25 per cent it was at a time of very buoyant economic conditions and full employment, and advice was given to the government of the day that about 20,000 jobs might be affected. It was felt that that could have been handled in the type of economic conditions then prevailing. Now more than 420,000 people are unemployed, there is a severe downturn in the economy, over 20 per cent of people under 21 years of age are without a job, and there are 60 applicants for every one unskilled vacancy. It cannot be said that the conditions are in any way parallel.
While we understand and say that world trade should be encouraged, that we want to help the underdeveloped countries, in the same context we have to look at what we are doing to our own people. On page 4 of the statement the Minister states that he wants to avoid short-run economic and social disruption. We say the same thing. The one defect in that statement is that the Minister does not say how he is going to do that. If one looks at the manufacturing base for the last two years in which the Government has been in office, the number of people in that sector has been reduced by a further 70,000. It is clear that there is going to be a continual rundown, and that is the problem about this statement. The Government states that there are going to be some safeguards consistent with the policies outlined in the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry. The Government has not announced one policy matter as a result of the White Paper on Manufacturing Industry. The Jackson Committee clearly was in favour of a policy of establishing a benchmark for tariffs-in the manufacturing industry and a slow progression towards that benchmark whereby people in the manufacturing base would know clearly where their future lay.
At the present time, can we imagine an investmentled resurrection in the manufacturing economy if there is going to be less tariff protection, and that is virtually what has been said? Can we imagine people investing in the manufacturing industry on that basis when they do not really know how it is going to affect their industries? Nobody on this side of the House can see that happening. Of course there has to be structural change, and we accept that, but the people have to know where it will be, how it will be planned, what it will do to their businesses and, from our point of view what it will do to employees. In fact, it is very important now for the Opposition to develop brand new policies on the question of manufacturing industry. They have to be developed on the basis of close consultation between the trade union movement, particularly the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the appropriate employers who are interested in structural change; they must be developed on the basis that there are markets for the products; and they also ought to be export oriented.
Some fundamental policies are allowed, but they are not mentioned in this statement. They come in the form that, of course, the Government has announced what it will do. As I said, nothing that we can readily identify has been announced. Again the statement makes the point eventually that what we are about is a reduction of 40 per cent in tariffs. The statement then mentions that there are qualifications by stating that We will reserve the right to vary the offer’. Next, in the classic of all time the statement adds that: We will specify a base date that will mean that credit is given for the 25 per cent reduction’. In other words, the Government will take credit for the 25 per cent tariff reduction which was introduced by the Labor Government. Throughout the world members of this Government have been saying how good that 25 per cent reduction was and have been taking the credit for it. But back here in Australia they say what a damnable measure it has been. It says that any Labor government that considers tariff reduction should be thrown out. This is the sort of duplicity and hypocritical action that we seek to identify this evening.
Admittedly, we have had to bear the political repercussions of tariff reductions. People are still saying that they do not really know why we took that action. The advice given to us at the time was on the basis that the reduction could be made in a buoyant economy. It was never thought that it could have been made in a slackening economy or in an economy on the downturn. As the statistics that I mentioned earlier show, we are now in the depths of a recession.
After looking at some of the statistics which I will give briefly, we are very concerned about what this tariff reduction means. I asked the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) what a 40 per cent tariff reduction will mean. He said that it will mean about half a per cent reduction a year because average tariffs are only about 10 per cent. That is not the position, and that has been admitted even by the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland). In a letter to the London Times on 1 8 April this year, in answer to another letter, he said that Australia’s tariffs were averaging about 14 per cent. That figure is about 50 per cent higher than the figure given by the Prime Minister.
How is the average figure obtained? The last Industries Assistance Commission report shows that in the all industrial products the average tariff on dutiable imports is 26n per cent. Let us look at the effect of a 40 per cent reduction on that average figure. As I have identified in questions in this House, the electrical industry, the printing industry and the heavy machinery industry have a tariff protection of more than 30 per cent. Admittedly, that protection is very high. If the average is to be decreased by a 40 per cent tariff reduction, I submit that quite a substantial indentation will have to be made into that protection. That might have to be done but the industries should be told about it. More than 100,000 employees work in those three industries alone. They must be concerned that that could happen. Certainly there would be no investment-led recovery in any of those industries as a result of their profitability.
– No, but there will be in other industries.
-The honourable gentleman admits the position that I have given. Can he identify the other industries? That is the first point. I make these points because I am talking about social terms and social consequences. Despite the reduction in employment, it is admitted that there has been a substantial increase in profitability in a number of industries. Despite the reduction in the employment level in the textile industry, profits have increased enormously. But at times it follows that the financial resource allocation is being altered to give more profits to companies that do not need them while the unemployed work force is increasing.
Let us look at the unemployed work force from the point of view of how those unemployed persons are situated in relation to their occupations and the sector from which they come. The highest ratio of unemployed persons- 23.2 per cent- is in the manufacturing base. In other words, it is the most vulnerable sector. With 23.2 per cent of the unemployed, it is the highest. By occupation the proportion of total unemployed persons- 37.3 percent- includes tradesmen, production process workers and labourers. Those are also the vulnerable occupations. That is the point we are making. We do not mind governments making offers as to how they can improve world conditions but surely they ought to be able to tell the Australian people what those offers mean in factual terms. It is wrong, misleading and incorrect for the Prime Minister to say: ‘It does not matter: nothing will happen until 1980 and then it will only mean a reduction of half a per cent a year’. The reduction will be effective at a much greater rate than that. Certainly we can trade as a nation but we have to do it only if we know what we are about. Ad hoc decisions should not be made. The United States of America has made offers to us, but we do not know what they are. Apparently in the Multilateral Trade Negotiations we have been making offers, but we do not know what they are. No evidence was given in this statement.
On this last day of the parliamentary session, belatedly a statement was delivered at a quarter to six this evening to tell us that the tariff reduction will be of some benefit. The statement mentioned that it was an offer, not a commitment. Nobody in his or her right mind could say that it is not a commitment if the offer is accepted. It will be binding; it will not be able to be altered once it has been accepted in the future. This is a matter of serious concern to the Parliament and we object strongly to the fact that the statement mentions none of the matters that we want to see debated here. What it will do for future employment -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hyde) adjourned.
– I move:
Time limits on report:
Each question before the Chair-
Minister or Member in charge- periods not specified
Any other Member, two periods each not exceeding 10 minutes.
Report from legislation committee, recommittal and adoption:
Third reading, passing, etc.:
Immediately prior to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) making his statement to the House, the Speaker presented to the Parliament a report of the Standing Orders Committee. In that report, he drew specific attention to one clause which, within the motion which I have just moved, had been seen in several alternate forms by members of this place. As honourable members will notice, the Government has opted for the intermediary version which provides:
A legislation committee shall meet as soon as practicable after its members have been nominated but shall, unless otherwise ordered, meet during the suspension of the sitting of the House arranged for that purpose.
The point that I wish to make is that the Government feels that in this initial stage we need to try to accommodate to the maximum the new forms which will flow from the introduction of legislation committees by adjourning the House for that purpose. Perhaps I might say a bit more about that later.
The purpose of this motion is to establish sessional orders for the operation of legislation committees. Let me emphasise that sessional orders which are designed for modification and adaptation of circumstances prove that the form in which the motion is now moved is not suitable for the requirements of members of this place. Adoption of the motion will represent a further stage in the Government’s determination to make this Parliament more effective and better adapted to modern needs. For democracy in Australia to be effective, Parliament must be effective. As parliamentarians we must make sure that our activities and interests do not become remote from the needs of the people. These principles have guided the Government since it came to office. The record shows that this Government has consistently examined and brought forward innovations in Parliamentary practice and arrangements. At the same time, we have been careful to see that the best traditions of the parliamentary institution are retained. We have preferred to move deliberately, testing new ideas against experience. It is worth recording some of the more important changes in Parliamentary arrangements over the past two years.
Firstly, in April 1976, some four months after taking office, the Government moved to establish an expenditure committee. That Committee has already demonstrated its effectiveness as an instrument of parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive. Flowing from the Government’s concern to promote the efficiency of the public sector, the Auditor-General will commence efficiency audits as soon as the necessary legislative authority is obtained. A Bill to amend the Audit Act to provide such authority is to be introduced in the Budget session. Reports of these audits will be provided to the Parliament as they become available, assisting it further in its task of scrutinising the administration of public funds. Secondly, as a matter of principle, announcements of Government decisions are made in the Parliament where this is practicable. Thirdly, on 25 May, the Prime Minister (Mr
Malcolm Fraser) informed the House of a procedure the Government will follow in future to make sure that the Parliament is kept informed of the Government’s decisions on reports of parliamentary committees.
Fourthly, draft guidelines for officials appearing before party committees, and on access by members of parliament to public servants, were announced on 9 December 1976. Those drafts have been the subject of some discussion, and final guidelines should be settled shortly, and announced to the Parliament. But honourable members will have noted that, in accordance with the new guidelines, there has already been an increase in the availability of officials to party committees. Fifthly, the Government will also table, early in the next sittings, guidelines on appearances of officials before parliamentary committees.
Sixthly, the Government will make use, in appropriate cases, of the technique of letting Bills lie on the table to assist public comment and discussion of them. Seventhly, Ministers and thendepartments have been encouraged to supply explanatory memoranda with Bills. The Government has under study whether there is further scope for improvements in these arrangements. Eighthly, in the important area of parliamentary privilege, the Government has supported moves to review existing arrangements and the terms of reference for a joint select committee to undertake this task are currently under discussion. All these reforms have served to enhance this Parliament.
The next major reform which the Government wishes to see is the subject of the present motion. The Government proposes to establish as soon as possible a system of legislation committees in this House, as provided for in the sessional orders. Honourable members may recall that, on the last day of sitting of the last Parliament the Prime Minister expressed the hope that early in the next Parliament legislation committees would be established in this House. At that time, and since then, the Government has been closely studying the matter. I now announce the results. The Government is conscious of the need for this House to examine in greater depth much of the legislation which comes before it. The matter has been discussed within the Government parties for some time. By establishing legislation committees, it is hoped that this can be achieved without requiring Parliament to sit even longer hours than at present. It is also hoped that members of legislation committees can and will examine bills in a relatively non-partisan manner.
Those honourable members who have served on Parliamentary Committees will know that such an approach is achievable. The experience at Westminster, and in the Canadian House of Commons, has been that such an examination can significantly improve the quality of legislation enacted by the Parliament. A further benefit of the proposed new system is that honourable members would have more time to consider Bills. It is presently common practice for the House to proceed directly from the second reading debate to consideration of the Bill by the Committee of the Whole. Under the new sessional orders, there would be a break between these two stages while the Bill was under consideration by the relevant legislation committee.
Iri moving this motion may I pay tribute to the work done by the government members’ Parliamentary Reform Committee, chaired by Senator Chaney, particularly the sub-committee, which was chaired by a member of this House, the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde). The proposals in which the sub-committee was closely involved represent practical arrangements which I am sure can improve and enhance the workings of the Parliament. The main features of the new system, which will be given effect to by the proposed sessional orders, are as follows: The legislation committees will be in addition to the present Committee of the Whole procedures. Initially the Government envisages two committees being appointed. The sessional orders will provide that each will have been 13 and 19 members. The chairman of each committee will be appointed from Mr Speaker’s panel of chairman of committees. Membership of the committees will also reflect the relative strengths of the parties in the House.
I interpolate here that the Government would intend that about half of its nominees would be appointed on a continuing basis. Membership of the other half would rotate. This arrangement will enable an assessment to be made of the advantages of the system and will ensure the continued involvement of a group of members in legislation committee work. It is understood that the Opposition proposes to adopt a different arrangement in respect of its nominees. The quorum for each committee will be 10, excluding the chairman. The Minister, or in the case of a private member’s bill, the member, will be in charge of the Bill and will thus be one or the members of the relevant committee. The Government does not propose, in the first instance, to refer to these committees any Bill recognised as being of a highly political character. However, it will see that the committees receive a suitable mix of complex and more straightforward Bills. The Committee will be required to report in respect of each Bill by a specified date. As far as possible, the procedures of the committees will follow those of the Committee of the Whole. It is not intended that the committees will hold hearings or otherwise take evidence. Members of this House who are not members of a committee may attend and participate to a reasonable extent in debates. They may move amendments in committee but they may not vote. When the committees have reported to the House, any members will then be able to propose further amendments to the Bill.
The committees will meet at times other than when this House is sitting. That of course is the purport of the difference in clause 9 to which the Standing Orders Committee report referred. The Government believes that at least at this stage we should attempt to operate the new system while the House is adjourned and yet during what would normally be sitting times. For that reason the sittings of this House may be suspended while legislation committees are sitting. I understand that honourable members opposite have a different view on this matter. They would prefer that the House be able to continue to sit while the committees are meeting. That entails a real difficulty. If that were to take place, under our present Standing Orders the functions of the legislation committees could be seriously disrupted by quorums or divisions. I acknowledge that at some appropriate time we may need to amend our Standing Orders in order to allow that to occur. At this stage I believe it is more important that we develop a new system which can be tested, and, if necessary, modified and then finally prepared in such a way that it can operate on a continuing basis. It is our opinion that were we to modify the Standing Orders for the purpose of having the House sit at the same time as the legislation committees there would be such a dramatic change in the conduct of the affairs of this House that frankly it would not justify the legislation committee experiment.
To my way of thinking one of the fundamental problems is that whereas the Government would need to meet quorum calls and meet division calls to ensure that the votes were carried, the Opposition members would be in a position of being able to continue in the legislation committees. A vote in the House could be taken without their presence. That, of course, would prejudice the effective and efficient operation of the legislation committees. It is true that perhaps for the time being the numbers on this side of the
House might enable that particular circumstance not to occur.
– Only for the time being.
– No, that situation will continue for a good time. I was really only thinking of the present circumstances. As the honourable member knows, circumstances do vary from Parliament to Parliament. What concerns me is that we should find a way to make a new system work. The Government does not agree with the Opposition’s view that the House should sit while these committees are in process. It believes fundamentally that the system that we are now proposing is worth the experiment. I believe that if the legislation committees meet during the special adjournment of this House we will be able to see whether the system will be worthy of continuation.
The committees’ proceedings will be open to the public and will be recorded by Hansard. It is proposed that the new system be set up on a trial basis, as all honourable members will need the time to gain experience of the new arrangements. Accordingly sessional orders, rather than amendments to the Standing Orders, have been prepared in consultation, as you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, with the Standing Orders Committee. They are now submitted for consideration by this House. As experience of the sessional orders is gained it may be that variations or adjustments will be found, to be appropriate.
The new arrangements I have outlined are to be seen as further moves being taken by this Government to expand and enhance the role of the Parliament in this country. In particular we seek to develop further the system of committees in this House and the role and capacity of members of the House to play a significant part in ensuring that the legislation which is passed by the House reflects their views and the contributions which they wish to make on behalf of those whom they represent. I commend to all honourable members this initiative to improve further the operations of the Australian version of the Westminster parliamentary democracy. I commend the recommendation to the House.
– The Opposition agrees with most of what has been said. As has been indicated, this proposal arose from a suggestion in the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System on which we were properly represented.
– We set it up.
-We set it up. It was clearly indicated that there is scope for legislative committees. We want to assure the House that we will co-operate. The recommendation of that Committee was that there be a legislative committee on a trial basis- I understand that that is the Government’s present proposition- and that we alter the sessional orders. It is very significant that when it was first suggested- this is where we disagree- it was proposed that a legislative committee shall meet as soon as practicable after its members have been nominated at a time to be determined by the chairman of the committee. We do not want to downgrade the Parliament but it is very clear that committee meetings can be held while Parliament is in progress. The Opposition gives an undertaking, and our Party decision supports it, that we will grant pairs and that there will be no divisions of the type that would embarrass the Government while committees are in progress. We think this matter is that important.
At present members of this Parliament are working very hard indeed, despite some suggestions that we do not. Honourable members in this House work about 80 hours a week in the cut and thrust of the parliamentary forum. If we are to suspend a fair segment of the parliamentary week for committees to meet, what will that do to the Opposition? Have a look at the situation from our point of view. The committees will have only 13 members at the most, nine of whom will be from the Government side and four of whom will be from our side. At the most there will be two committees functioning so we will have eight members engaged in that work. It is admitted that the Government would have approximately 20 of its supporters so engaged. In addition to that it would have the executive of the Ministryat least another 20 of its supportersengaged in its work. So the Government would have 40 people fully engaged in its work and the Parliamentary process would have to wait until the House resumed sitting. I do not think that is fair and reasonable or democratic. As one could see today from the point of view of democracy in action, there was no real time wasted by having to use the parliamentary procedures to raise matters of national importance.
Surely we are not going to put the committee situation into the position where it will supplant the work of the Parliament. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) said, quite properly, that work is being done now by committees, such as the Standing Committee on Expenditure. But the sittings of this House are not suspended at present and those committees are doing very splendid work indeed.
We welcome the proposition that there should be two legislative committees. We will have eight members involved in their activities. There would be 30 of us left from the point of view of the Opposition. We think it would be most appropriate- in fact it might help the Governmentif we were to continue the parliamentary process here by debating Bills that are not contentious or Bills that are so contentious that there is no point in their going to such a committee. In that respect I want to advert to something that the Leader of the House- not in any deliberate way- did not advert to, that is, if there is a dissentient voice as to whether a matter goes to such a committee it will not do so. So there has to be some co-ordination at the outset. We make it clear that we would be anxious to indicate our position. It arises only at the second reading stage. Our position as to whether we felt there should be committee work would be made very clear. If we do not think there should be any committee work the whole exercise would be pointless, but if we do think it is worthwhile, and that we do in the main, we would certainly cooperate with the Government. We would not embarrass the Government from the point of view of calling divisions and we would grant pairs. But to suspend the sittings of the House to enable these committees to meet is contrary to the whole principle of parliamentary democracy. This is the one forum that we have as representatives of the people. In my view the members of this Parliament cannot work any harder. Those members of this Parliament who live in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and other areas fly thousands of miles a week. I do not know of anybody in the democratic world who works as hard as the Australian parliamentarian. That should be said, because it is often thought that we do not do anything at all. But should the sittings of the House be suspended to allow committee work to be performed? In the main committee work means discussion in a very detailed manner of the issues involved in relation to clauses of a Bill. One does not really get to discuss the fundamental principles. The Government has already made up its mind to introduce the legislation. The principle and the rationale of the legislation has been decided. We are dealing with the words by which that principle is being implemented. There will not be a major change on the Government’s part if it has made up its mind on that principle. But effective work can be done from the point of view of human rights, civil rights, and the liberties of people. Oppositions would be anxious to promote those sorts of amendments. It would not be the major thrust of the Government’s legislation that we would be looking at; it would be merely the refinements that the Government might accept. The Bill still would have to come back into the House for ratification.
It would be of utmost advantage to the Government for its work to be put through the Parliament with the Opposition discussing it and debating it, agreeing or otherwise, and at the same time have committees work on the details of the Bill to which there could be some agreement. It would mean a much faster flow of legislation. The Opposition would be in favour to a man on all the issues that are fundamental to it. But the Government could not reasonably expect the Opposition to agree to a system in which at the most eight members of the Opposition are to be involved. Going back to the first principle, by all means let the committees meet as and when the Chairman determines, but the Opposition does not agree to the suspension of the sittings of the House to enable them to do so. We do not want to be difficult about this matter. We want to co-operate. But I do not think any supporter of the Government would think that it is fair and reasonable to suspend the sittings of the House while a committee- limited as it is; worthwhile as it is- is deliberating. It could mean that virtually five or six hours a day would be taken out of a parliamentary sitting day if the sittings of the House were suspended.
The proposition is that the House resume its sittings, but at what hour? At 10.15 at night. Virtually the whole day would be wasted if he had to wait for committees to report to us. The Opposition works very assiduously on legislation introduced by the Government. We have an expertise of our own that we avail ourselves of in order to enable us to decide whether we agree with it. Our own members already have divided themselves into compartments in which they exercise their expertise. They are very mindful of the fact that they could really make a contribution very quickly to committees. But they could become bogged down on the basis that they are not going to get any agreement on clauses or words. This could go on for hours. Therefore, the rest of the House would be in suspension and most of the Opposition and many supporters of the Government would not really be able to perform their parliamentary duties.
It is for those reasons that we go back to the first principle. We agree with committees. We will co-operate with the Government. We will grant pairs. We will give the Government every consideration from that point of view. That is a party consideration that we have debated. Really what we want is for this House to continue to sit for the three days a week or more that the Government finds necessary. I think the real issue, without trying to raise any old skeletons, is that there are not enough rooms in this place to enable more than two committees to sit and if we were to have more than two committees we would have to use this chamber because there are no other rooms available. That is not good enough from the point of view of parliamentary democracy in this country. Let us have just one committee.- If we have to find room, surely that can be found somewhere else in the building. But let this House keep going. Surely the sittings of this House should not have to be suspended because we want to use this chamber as a committee forum for about 1 3 members. It will look dreadful, anyway, and if one listens to the discussion that goes on in committee it will not be enhanced by the results of that, either.
My point is that the Parliament represents.the people of this country. They come here to look at it; they want to see it in action. They do not want to see a detailed discussion on what might be termed a minute matter in regard to a Bill. The Opposition in the main- 99 per cent- supports the proposition, but we disagree with the Government on the question of suspending the suitings of the House. I would like the Leader of the House to reconsider the position. I move this very clear amendment:
That proposed Sessional Order (9) be omitted and the following be substituted:
A legislation committee shall meet as soon as practicable after its members have been nominated at a time to be determined by the chairman of the committee. ‘.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. We will not set the House alight on this issue because we recognise that it would probably be very difficult for the House to make a decision on the matter tonight, but it is important that we place it before the Parliament. Firstly, I think it is important and it is urgent that the House adopt the procedures laid out. Whilst, as my colleague the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) has said, the Opposition disagrees on the suspension of the House during the sittings of the legislation committees, we agree that it is more important on this occasion that we get started on this operation. The objectives, as I see them, are to bring a closer scrutiny to legislation, which can be done around the table by smaller committees proceeding in a manner distinct from the ordinary procedures of the House. We are all accustomed to such deliberations and practices and that scrutiny is very important. But I believe that the operations of this Parliament now have to get round to a consideration of the economy of time. It would seem to me that we are not saving any time, and I regard that as the most important matter as far as the Parliament is concerned at the moment, by suspending the sittings of the House while we go into legislation committees. If we go into two legislation committees perhaps we will save a little time, but I can think of no real reason why, at the time the legislation committees are deliberating, the House should not be able to proceed with discussion of the policy reports which come before us from time to time.
One of the great disadvantages of the development of our work over the last seven or eight years has been the inability, often through time and sometimes through government attitudes, to discuss policy questions. There are none of the continuous effective debates that we had a few years back on such matters as foreign policy, education and other great matters of moment. It is important that we adopt the procedure that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has outlined. I think, too, that it will create an expansion of opportunities. I say to the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) that the House is not in any situation tonight to have a proper debate on the matter in the way in which we sometimes do with regard to the Standing Orders. So I hope that we will ensure that the trial nature of this proposal is tested effectively after we have been going for perhaps five or six weeks in the next session and that the matter then will be brought up for deliberation by the whole House when everybody is available to discuss it.
Before I sit down I would like to add to the list of honourable members whom the Leader of the House thanked for the work they had done. Those on this side of the House have been a part of it. As I recall, it was about four or five years ago that the committee of inquiry into the parliamentary committee system was established. As I recall the position, at that stage Mr Scholes, the honourable member for Corio, was the first chairman of the Committee and Dr Jenkins, the honourable member for Scullin, was the subsequent chairman. The other members of Parliament who served on the Committee are listed in the report. I would like to pay a tribute to those honourable members who worked hard and long on this Committee and with due patience for the necessity to change the parliamentary system.
This is one occasion on which honourable members on this side of the House are on side with the Government with respect to the general principles we are after.
– I am beginning to think we must be wrong.
– I think that on the law of averages even the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party can say that he must be right one out of 10 or 15 times. I think that this is it. Our parliamentary system is under challenge. Representative government is under challenge. Countervailing forces in the community, both in Australia and abroad, are in continuous .array against us. Anything that we can do to make the system more effective or to make honourable members feel that they are being more effective and to make the members of the community believe that the Parliament is the effective government of the country will be to the advantage of our democracy. In this instance, I am certain that the objectives we were pursuing originally will be better assisted by the House not suspending itself when we go into committee. I recognise that the rule the Leader of the House has placed before the House gives some sort of opportunity for the House to continue by special resolution of the House while the committee is in process. My experience would be that that would be pretty difficult. Operating from this side of the House as I do, I have not very often had the full support of honourable members opposite, no matter how much righteousness has been on my side. But you never know; this may be the beginning of a new spirit in which there is understanding that righteousness and infallibility do not always lie with the members that happen to win the majority of votes placed in the ballot box at an election.
There is a good deal of talent on this side of the House to contribute. I hope that in the consideration of legislation Ministers will be more able to accept amendments which are put by any honourable member and that there is a” greater input by the average backbencher member of Parliament than has hitherto been possible. The Opposition would like to record its view in the appropriate way in the House without forcing the vote to a division or anything of that difficult and dangerous nature. We would like an assurance from the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party that early in the new session of Parliament we will have a thorough examination of the position to see if it is possible to take things a step further.
– I want to say two things to the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen). First of all, I say that the Opposition has co-operated with and encouraged this enterprise. I believe that it will work for that reason. The committee system has no opportunity of working effectively unless there is a bipartisan approach to it. The chance that the functions of the plenum will be usurped by the committees to the detriment of the Opposition really does not exist because matters can be referred to the committee only by leave of the House. If honourable members opposite feel that the Opposition is being treated unfairly, the Government will not receive leave to refer the matter to the committee. That was a request put to the Government by the Opposition and we acceded to it. I believe that in that spirit the committee system will succeed. We are determined that it will succeed and I believe Opposition members feel the same.
I do not agree with honourable members opposite who say that the members of the public wish to see the Parliament. That is not really what the members of the public are worried about. They are worried about good sound legislation. Surely this is an opportunity for an Opposition of whatever colour to contribute to sound legislation and to improve it. I submit for that reason that the position of any Opposition is enhanced. We could have committees meeting in gravel pits without any procedural orders and provided there was sufficient goodwill they would succeed. If there is no goodwill from both sides of the House, they have no chance of succeeding. Their success depends entirely upon that goodwill.
– I think that the Government is being a little timid in respect of this matter. The Opposition wants to see the committee system work for the very reasons that the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) wants to see it work. I agree that the Parliament is a bit of a circus much of the time. Very few people, iri terms of the total Australian electorate, come to see how we behave or misbehave. Ultimately we are judged on what comes out of the place. I think that the Government is being timid because the Opposition’s grizzle is only that if the Government sets aside the time it is suggesting for the committees, we will have much less time- it could be one day ‘ each week -
– It is a trial.
-I agree that it is for a trial. But I think that the Government could have been a little more adventurous for a trial and still allowed the House to sit.
– We want flexibility.
– I ask the Minister to wait for a minute. While the committees are meeting, nowhere near half the members of the House will be involved in them. As we all know, very few honourable members attend in the chamber most of the time that we meet in serial fashion. We could still afford to be considering many of the mechanical business that we still must go through. Often the Opposition is not disagreeing with it. But honourable members on this .side nf the House want to make speeches just us honourable members opposite want to make a pm.nl. There is no controversy in this. We do not have divisions on such matters. It would nol he difficult to ensure that quorums arc not called and that we do not have divisions in that time. No one would suffer because we have said already that we will provide pairs. So there is no advantage to the Opposition trying to catch out the Government. For these reasons. I thought that the Government would have found it more practicable to do this.
What worries me is that in this trial period we might still fall behind with much of the urgent legislation. Then the Government will bc despairing and saying that the system will not work in the same way I feel that the trial period for the two-week on two-week off sitting program for the House did not succeed. In my humble opinion we did not continue wilh this system for long enough. In the few weeks that we were trying it, it was all disruption. I feel myself, as do a number of my colleagues on this side of the House and some honourable members opposite, that this system might have worked if wo had allowed it to settle down. I am afraid that during this trial period for the committee system, we will slip back with routine work which could have been dealt with in the way that an honourable member suggested. For example, the House could sit during meal times to cope with the business.
– Hear, hear!
– I hear agreement from the Government side. In that same fashion. I think that what I am suggesting to the Government would ho worth the effort. Finally. I state with all duc respect that I think this chamber is the v. wrong place for a committee to meet. We will still feci too far away from one another. I can think of three or four other rooms which are smaller and more intimate where we could all sit around the table, not necessarily with all the Government members on one side and all the Opposition members on the other side. We could sit around the table in the way that we do in parliamentary committees in a higgledy-piggledy way. Honourable members tend to forget their party allegiances and for a change use their brains.
– That is what the Government is afraid of.
– Hopefully, that will be the result of this committee system. I am sure that is what the Government means to happen, despite the interjection. I am sure, with all due respect to the Government, that without any loss of face it could accept the amendment because I think it would make the experiment well worthwhile. I agree that it would still be an experiment. I am anxious about how the Government will react when it suddenly finds that it is miles behind in its legislative program at the end of the session.
-I think that this is an important change that has been introduced. I wish to refer to an important point in clause 5 which deals with procedures in legislation committees. I feel strongly about this matter. I think that there can be some benefit coming out of these committees to persuade us to rational argument and to have some intelligent compromise reached or possibly even realisation on the part of the Government occasionally that some intelligent propositions can be put forward by the Opposition. What I object to is that the procedures observed in the committee of the whole shall be followed with very few exceptions. It worries me that, in effect, the committees will be limited to two set speeches. I think it is an excellent idea to have a time limit. Is that right?
– There will be no time limit.
– Can you speak any number of times?
– You can speak any number of times.
-I withdraw my opposition.
– But we do not withdraw our amendment.
-I will be very brief in my remarks. I want to say as the Opposition Whip and as one who supported this general idea in the Australian Labor Party meeting that as I see the position, the Opposition is being very co-operative. I hope that the cooperation we are extending will be acknowledged and will receive some kind of response from honourable members opposite. I have heard the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and other honourable members talk in such a cooperative way about the processes of the Parliament and the way in which we should all work happily and harmoniously together. I have no doubt that a lot of people outside the Parliament who support my Party will take the view that we are bending over backwards to make this system work- a system in which many of these people have lost faith. They will believe that the Labor Opposition is a lot more co-operative about facilitating the work of the Parliament today, in the lifetime of this Government, than was the Opposition when the Labor Party was in office. It seems to me that we are being very fair in this matter. We are hoping to–
– Do not introduce politics into it.
-The point I made when the matter was before our party meeting was that a great deal of legislation and a great variety of topics are coming before the Parliament now. This was not the case in bygone days. An enormous human resource needs to be accommodated and there is a need to change the system. We acknowledge all the difficulties and problems involved. I just hope that there might be some recognition on the part of the Government that an element of co-operation is in evidence at present which was not in evidence in the past. I hope that there will be some positive response to this. I hope that the Government will not take fine points- under the Standing Orders it is possible to take fine points. No doubt the Government will say that we have had an opportunity to thrash out issues in the legislation committees so why do we continue the debate in the House et cetera. In view of the tolerance which has been displayed by the Opposition I make the point now, as we are in an experimental period -
– And in a friendly mood.
-We are in a friendly mood indeed. Under these circumstances, I make the point that I hope that our situation will be understood. The procedure is under review. There will be a day of evaluation and the chickens might come home to roost if the Government exercises the tendency it often displays to take advantage of the good offices of the Opposition.
– in reply- It is certainly the
Government ‘s intention to try the new legislation committees in all forms, shapes and sizes. In view of the assurances given tonight I am not averse to trying them in such a way that perhaps we might on one occasion be able to have two committees meeting while the House is in session. But I am not prepared to lay down the procedures in that form so that it would be obligatory to operate in that fashion. It is for that reason that I have moved the motion in this form. We shall try operating the committees in a number of forms under Sessional Orders. If changes appear to be needed we certainly will be prepared to consider them.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill that I now bring before the House contains further measures to counter tax avoidance and to improve the equity and balance of the income tax system. It also contains legislation designed to encourage investors to put capital into the production of Australian films. Honourable members will recall that just two months ago I introduced a number of major amendments directed against prevailing tax avoidance practices. I spoke then in a general way about the problems that are posed by tax avoidance arrangements and I have since had occasion to put the Government’s position on the matter and to underline the seriousness of our intent to strike these arrangements down. I shall, however, speak first about the policy initiative concerning capital investment in Australian films.
Capital Investment in Australian Film Rights
The proposal to change the income tax law in this respect was foreshadowed in the policy speech for the last general elections delivered on 21 November 1977 and the key points of the changes were outlined in a statement that the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) and I released on 27 April last. Underlying the proposed changes is a belief that if investors could deduct their capital investment in Australian film rights over two years instead of, as at present, over a much longer period of up to 25 years, there would be greater investment by Australians in the production of Australian films. There are obvious tax benefits in a quick write-off of capital costs and, when this new concession is taken together with other assistance such as that provided through the Australian Film Commission, the Government can justly claim to be lending significant support to the Australian film industry and to all engaged in it.
The concession for capital investment in Australian film rights will be implemented by amendments to the provisions of the income tax law that have, since 1956, allowed otherwise non-deductible capital costs of acquiring industrial property rights used in the production of assessable income to be written off over specified periods. For copyrights, which are the relevant property in this context, the costs have been subject to a tax write-off over 25 years, or any lesser period for which the rights subsist or are held. The amendments now proposed will- in relation to rights in Australian films first used for income producing purposes after 21 November 1977- substitute two years for 25 years as the basic write-off period. The longer period will, however, remain for those who wish to use it.
The Minister for Home Affairs will have the responsibility of determining which films are to be classed as ‘Australian films’. The Bill proposes that an Australian film will be one that the Minister certifies has been, or is to be, made wholly or substantially in Australia and is a film with a significant Australian content. It will also include a film that the Minister certifies has been, or is to be, made under an agreement between government authorities of Australia and another country. The Bill contains extensive guidelines for the determination of when a film has a significant Australian content. In amending the relevant provisions, it is necessary also to guard against their misuse for tax avoidance purposes and the Bill contains measures to that end, effective after 27 April 1978, the date on which the amendments were foreshadowed. The antiavoidance measures are directed against arrangements to secure excessive deductions by inflating the cost of rights or by deflating their sale price when they are disposed of.
Current Year Losses
In terms of space- 43 of its 68 pages- the present Bill is mainly devoted to amendments dealing with current year losses that I announced in this House on 7 April when introducing the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 1978 and that are now expressed to be effective as from that date. Honourable members will recall from my earlier speech that these amendments are to employ and adapt the well-settled principles governing the deductibility by companies of losses sustained in prior years. In the relatively uncomplicated case, the adaptation will mean that, where there is a point within a year of income at which there has been a more than 50 per cent change in beneficial ownership of the company as at the beginning of the year, the net losses sustained by the company in the period before the change will not be available to be offset against the net income of the period after the disqualifying change, unless the company has carried on throughout that income period the same business as it carried on immediately before the change. Similar principles are to apply where an income period of a year precedes a loss period of the same year.
The point of these amendments, as of the provisions governing deductibility of prior year losses, is to prevent income earned by a company under the proprietorship of one set of shareholders being diminished for tax purposes by losses sustained under the proprietorship of a different group of people. The proposed amendments are undoubtedly complex. This is due to the effort that has been made to spell out, in the great variety of factual situations that can exist in practice, how the current year losses provisions are to operate and to guard against the new provisions being themselves made the subject of tax avoidance arrangements.
Much of what is in the measures stems from the necessity to modify provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act that are constructed for application to a year of income as a whole so that they can be applied to separate periods that make up a year. Moreover, the measures must be capable of effecting this modification where a company that has suffered a disqualifying change in shareholdings gets its income or deductions via a partnership or its income through a trust. Of course, the legislation has to comprehend situations where there is more than one disqualifying change in shareholdings in the course of a year and a mixture of loss and income periods.
Here too, I refer honourable members to what I have said on earlier occasions- in this instance in my second reading speech on 7 April last and in a subsequent statement that I released on 7 May. The proposed amendment under this head is yet another legislative attempt to prevent companies that engage in dividend stripping from achieving double benefits. The double benefit, where it arises, is represented by the freedom from tax of the stripping dividend conferred by the rebate on inter-corporate dividends plus a deduction for the loss on the sale of the stripped shares after their value has been reduced by payment of the dividend.
A provision was enacted in 1972 with the purpose of eliminating this double benefit. It specifies that only so much of a dividend received in a straight-forward dividend stripping operation as exceeds the cost to the stripping company of the shares to be stripped may qualify for rebate. That provision is now being amended, effective from 7 May 1978, to make it applicable where a third company, or a trust, is interposed between the company to be stripped and the stripper. The cost of the shares or interests in the interposed company or trust will be offset against the amount of stripping dividend otherwise eligible for rebate. Also effective from 7 May 1978 will be an amendment to the new anti-stripping provisions being introduced by the Bill brought down in April. These new provisions strike at the practices whereby a company receives the stripping dividend but an associated entity suffers the paper ‘loss’ on the purchase and sale of the shares to be stripped. Whilst they guard against a company being interposed between the company to be stripped and the stripper, they do not cater for similar interposition of trusts. That gap now is being closed.
Branch Profits Tax
The Government also proposes by this Bill to give form to the proposed branch profits tax on the taxable income of non-resident companies that was foreshadowed in a statement to the House by the Minister Assisting the Treasurer (Mr Viner) on 4 November 1977. As indicated then, there is a lack of balance in our tax system as between foreign companies that carry on business in Australia through a subsidiary company incorporated or otherwise resident here, and those that conduct their business through a branch of a company resident, for tax purposes, in another country. In each case, taxable income is computed in the same way and bears the same rate of company tax- now 46 per cent- but whilst the profit remittances of the subsidiary bear dividend withholding tax, there is no further tax in respect of ‘remittances’ of branch profits to head office or of dividends paid to foreign shareholders out of those remittances. The additional tax proposed to be levied on taxable income of non-resident companies is being introduced to redress this lack of balance. It will be at the rate of 5 per cent of the taxable income of the branch. The tax is being levied in this form because it is impracticable to impose a tax on ‘remittances’ of branch profits.
In striking a branch profits tax rate of 5 per cent of taxable income, the Government has aimed to achieve, as closely as is practicable, a reasonable balance in the Australian tax liabilities attaching to profits of foreign-owned subsidiaries and branches, bearing in mind that, in both cases, the companies are likely to plough back some of their profits into further developments in Australia. In last year’s announcement of the branch profits tax, it was indicated that the tax would not fall on dividend income of branches, nor would it apply to film royalties, shipping profits or insurance premiums taxed under special provisions. These exclusions are made by the Bill. Representations made to the Government since the time of that announcement have led to one additional exclusion. This concerns the profits of non-resident life assurance companies that are allocated towards bonuses and other payments due to Australian policy holders. The Government has accepted the point that, if the tax were placed on these profits, it would effectively be borne by Australian policy holders and not, as intended, by the company or its overseas shareholders, if any. The Government has decided that the tax will apply to that part of the 1977-78 tax year falling after 4 November 1977, and to subsequent years. Although the branch profits tax takes the form of a rate increase, it is in essence a new tax. Hence it would be inappropriate to make it retrospective in effect by applying it to the full 1977-78 tax year. Before concluding my remarks on this subject, I mention that, whilst the basic application of the branch profits tax is provided for in this Bill, the Income Tax (Non-Resident Companies) Bill 1978 that I shall shortly introduce will formally declare the rate of the tax.
Private Companies in Liquidation
I come now to measures designed to meet representations from the liquidators of private companies that the undistributed profits tax provisions of the income tax law are so structured as to cause unreasonable delay in the final winding up of private companies in liquidation. An example may be the best way of illustrating the point. Let us say that a private company has earned a taxable income in the first four months of an income year and its liquidator wishes to make an immediate distribution of the income to shareholders, and to wind the company up. The problem is that he must wait six months until May of the income year to effect the distribution because only the dividends paid in the prescribed period of 12 months commencing two months before the end of the income year can be taken into account for undistributed profits tax purposes in relation to the year. To overcome the difficulty, liquidators in this situation will be enabled by the Bill to make a qualifying distribution to shareholders before the commencement of the prescribed period.
That completes my remarks at this stage on the main features of the present Bill. All of its provisions will, as usual, be explained in a comprehensive explanatory memorandum. It has not, however, been practicable to complete the memorandum in time for introduction of the Bill. It will be made available to honourable members shortly. I mention at this point that, as might be expected, the Government will not be seeking passage of this Bill until the Budget sittings. Given the complexity of much of it, I think that there should be ample opportunity for interested people to examine it and comment on its technical features. These will, in any event, be subject to review by officials during the recess. The Government plans to bring still further income tax amendments before the Parliament early in the Budget sittings. It seems appropriate that honourable members and others who wish to study the present Bill during the recess should also have notice of other proposals that the Government will later be asking the Parliament to adopt. In addition to the measures I now proceed to outline, these later changes will include the legislation against avoidance through prepaid interest, pre-paid rent and similar schemes that I spoke of in a statement on 1 9 April 1 978.
Foreign Tax Credit System
The point has been made that recent tax measures by the Government are hasty improvisations and that the Government ought to be bringing forward remedial legislation of a more general kind. This is an option open to the Government and one that will, as evidenced by the significant changes I now outline, be exercised. These changes concern the income that Australian residents- people and companiesderive from sources in another country. Shortly stated, it is proposed to tax this income, subject to credit for the foreign tax that has been paid on it. When the Commonwealth income tax was introduced, it was on the basis that Australian residents were taxable only on income from within Australia. Over the years, there has been a movement to make foreign-source income of Australians taxable, but it remains the fundamental position that Australian residents are not taxed on significant categories of overseas income.
The position is in fact a hotchpotch. As a result of amendments made in 1941 and 1947, Australian resident individuals are taxed here on dividends from overseas, credit being allowed against the Australian tax for any foreign tax imposed on the dividends. But, because the rebate on inter-corporate dividends applies to dividends from overseas as well as to dividends from within Australia, foreign dividends received by Australian companies are tax-free in Australia, and this is so even if both the dividends and the profits out of which they are paid are not taxed in the overseas country of source. Another rule introduced in 1967 applies to interest and royalties from another country on which foreign tax is limited by a double taxation agreement. These are taxable in Australia, subject to credit for the foreign tax. The credit system of relief applies also to income, other than salaries and wages, from Papua New Guinea. All other foreign source income of Australian residents is exempt from Australian tax if it is subject to tax, no matter how negligible, in the country from which it is derived.
The Government considers that such outdated, and inconsistent rules cannot be retained. The fact that major elements of the foreign source income of Australians are not taxable in Australia seriously prejudices the equity of the tax system. Two Australians with the same total income can pay markedly different amounts of tax because one gets his income from Australia and the other from overseas. There may even be an incentive for the diversion of economic activity away from Australia to places where the level of tax is lower than it is in Australia. Most significantly, the present rules lend themselves to tax avoidance through the diversion of income to low-tax or no-tax countries. The Asprey Committee has recommended that Australia introduce a credit system of taxing foreign source income of Australian residents, and this lines up with the practice of most major developed countries. Accordingly, with effect from the beginning of years of income or substituted accounting periods commencing on or after 1 July 1 978 the basic rule will be that all foreign source income of Australian resident people and companies will bc taxable in Australia. However, the Australian tax on that income will be reduced by credit for foreign tax according to rules that I shall later outline.
Many Australians travel and work overseas for relatively short periods. As often as not, the level of the foreign tax is about the same as the Australian tax, before credit, that would be payable on the income if it were taxed here. Whether or not that is so, the Government feels that it would impose unnecessary complexity and difficulty on ordinary salary and wage earners to require- that their foreign salaries and wages be dealt with under the credit system. At the same time, it is necessary to guard against avoidance practices that would remain if the existing exemption for foreign source salaries and wages were to be -fully retained. Accordingly, it is proposed that foreign source salaries and wages which are taxed in the country of source will continue to be exempted up to a maximum of $10,000 per annum, Amounts in excess of this will be subject to Australian tax. with credit being available for the foreign tax paid on the excess. The exempted amount will be taken into account for the purpose of determining the rate of tax applicable to the taxpayer’s assessable income.
To return to the main features of the proposed credit system, a credit will be allowed for a tax imposed at one or another government level in the country in which the income is derived if the tax is one comparable with the Australian income tax. The foreign tax must have been paid and must, ordinarily, be a tax for which the taxpayer was personally liable. Credit will, however, be allowed for tax paid on a person’s income by another person, such as an agent or trustee.
As is the case under credit systems generally, the credit for foreign tax paid in respect of a year will be limited to the Australian Tax on the foreign source income of the year and for this purpose the Government proposes to adopt the most generous of available methods by calculating the limitation on the basis of the aggregate foreign-source income of the taxpayer.
Dividends received from abroad by Australian companies deserve a special word. The basic rule will be that once such dividends are made effectively taxable by withdrawal from them of the rebate on inter-corporate dividends, a credit will be allowed for any foreign dividend withholding or other tax paid on them. In addition, a credit for the underlying company tax on the profits out of which the dividends are paid will, on what is known as a ‘gross- up’ basis, be allowed to Australian companies that have a more than portfolio investment in a foreign company. This credit will provide a direct recognition of the payment of any foreign company tax on those profits and will, at base, be allowed where the Australian company has a direct 10 per cent or greater shareholding in the foreign company.
The credit for ‘underlying’ tax will be extended beyond the underlying tax paid by the foreign company in which the Australian company has a direct 10 per cent or greater interest to include such tax paid by a foreign company one further stage removed, if the Australian company has, through the first tier company, at least a 10 per cent shareholding interest in the further company. To guard against avoidance, the relevant 10 per cent or greater shareholding must have been held for at least 12 months prior to the date of declaration of the dividend for a credit for underlying tax in respect of that dividend to be allowed.
There will, of course, be a number of more technical features of the credit system and, unfortunately, there will be both a need for further safeguards against avoidance as well as a degee of complexity in the legislation necessary to implement it. The Government does not shrink from that, having regard to the greater good that will come from the system’s contribution towards tax equity and the reduction in avenues for avoidance. We are announcing our proposals at this stage so that taxpayers concerned will have an opportunity to plan for the pending introduction of the credit system.
Foreign Source Income of Trusts for Australians
I refer now to another structural change that has as its principal purpose the prevention of tax avoidance by the use of trusts through which to derive foreign-source income. As the law stands, Australian residents can defer, or even escape altogether, the payment of tax on foreign source income of trusts accumulated for their benefit. The present situation, which the Asprey Committee has described as ‘unacceptable’, results from a High Court decision some years ago to the effect that the trust provisions of the income tax law have application only to Australian-source income of trusts. Until recently, the decision had not given concern. However, because of the tax avoidance possibilities and’ the plain interest of tax advisers in avoidance through international activities, the Government has decided that corrective measures must now be taken.
The scheme of the amending legislation is to be very close to that recommended by the Asprey Committee. Under it, the existing trust provisions will be extended to the foreign source income of trusts that qualify as Australian resident trusts and also to the share of foreign source income of non-resident trusts to which an Australian resident beneficiary is presently entitled. The effect of the rules relating to resident trusts will be that, generally, the world income of such trusts, like the world income of resident individuals, will be liable to tax in Australia, either in the hands of the beneficiaries or the trustee. Income will be treated as taxable under the trust provisions to the beneficiaries or the trustee according to whether, under the trust deed or for other reasons, beneficiaries are presently entitled to the income. A resident trust is to be one of which at least one trustee is a resident, or which is managed and controlled in Australia.
Income flowing to a resident beneficiary from accumulated foreign source trust income not taxed in Australia while accumulating, for example, such income derived by a foreign trust, will be taxed in the hands of beneficiaries when received by them. Appropriate anti-avoidance rules will prevent beneficiaries escaping tax on a technicality that the amount or benefit is not received as income. In keeping with the basic principle of taxing non-residents only on Australian source income, a non-resident beneficiary presently entitled to foreign source income of a resident trust will not be taxed on it. In addition, provision will be made to refund the appropriate amount of Australian tax paid on accumulated foreign source income of a resident trust which is ultimately distributed to a beneficiary who is beneficially entitled to it and who, when the income was derived by the trust, was not a resident of Australia. Appropriate credit will be given under the new foreign tax credit system for foreign tax paid on foreign source income which is taxed in Australia to a trustee or beneficiary. As an aid to administration, a trust carrying on business in Australia or deriving income here from property and which does not have a resident trustee is to be required to have a public officer in Australia responsible for ensuring observance of the trust’s taxation obligations, in the same way as a company.
I add that the partnership provisions of the income tax law are to be amended so as to remove any possible doubt arising from the court decision to which I have referred as to their application to partnership income from sources out of Australia. These amendments to the trust and partnership provisions of the income tax law will apply to the 1978-79 and subsequent years of income. I commend the present Bill and the Government’s plans for future tax reform of a most important kind to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill formally imposes, at a rate of 5 per cent, the branch profits tax to which I referred earlier in some detail in introducing the Income Tax Agreement Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978, which creates the liability to the tax. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is related, but only in a formal way, to the proposed branch profits tax. -Its sole purpose is to make it clear that the Income Tax (Companies and Superannuation Funds) Act 1977 is not the Act imposing the Branch profits tax and I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This also is a formal measure related to the proposed branch profits tax mentioned earlier. Its sole purpose is to make it clear that the Income Tax (Rates) Act 1976 is not the Act imposing the branch profits tax and I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 (Persons entitled to medical benefits).
-Clause 7 abolishes bulk billing for Medibank patients. In the piece of legislation that was passed earlier by this House the Government abolished bulk billing as a condition for registration in regard to the private funds, but here we are dealing with Medibank patients. I would like to read an editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. The Sydney Morning Herald is a newspaper which does not normally support the Opposition, but on this occasion we have convinced it of the merit of our case. I feel certain that the Minister is also convinced of that. It is a pity that the author of this legislation is overseas and is probably not reading the editorials of the Sydney Morning Herald. The editorial is headed ‘Bulk billing queries’. It reads:
When the Federal Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, announced his latest package of changes to the health insurance system a fortnight ago, he had little to say in justification of his announcement that direct (or bulk) billing arrangements were to be abolished, except for people entitled to pensioner health benefits. He merely said that the move was designed to reduce fraud and the over-provision of health services. It was part of his broad plan to control the rapidly rising costs of health care.
Since then, criticism of the decision to abolish bulk billing has mounted- and with good reason. To begin with, Mr Hunt was forced into the damaging admission that the move would cost an extra $7m- a strange way to cut costs. Then it was pointed out that, although some fraud had been found in the bulk billing process, it was relatively easy to detect. In addition, it was seriously questioned whether the process had been responsible for over-use of medical services. There is some evidence that the exact opposite is the case.
On what, then, does the Government base its decision? If Mr Hunt has facts to back it, he should produce them. He has at his disposal a commissioned report on bulk billing, but so far has refused to release it on the ground that it is an internal working document. That is simply not good enough. There are now serious doubts whether the decision can be justified, and four Sydney doctors have gone so far as to see Mr Hunt and put their arguments to him. They report that they have had a good hearing.
Their case is impressive. It points to those who will be badly hit- migrants, large families, Aborigines and the unemployed. It claims that many will be deterred from seeking early treatment and thus will need hospital treatment later on at much greater expense. And it maintains that the geographical pattern of general practitioners will be distorted. The Government says it is concerned to help those who cannot help themselves. It is? Why, then, make life much harder for the unemployed, Aborigines, migrants and large families?
That is the full editorial of the Sydney Morning Herald today. I think it expresses the point of view which we have expressed and which I expressed last night. I did not think the Sydney Morning Herald had read my speech last night. It certainly did not give it any run in its news pages.
But I am quite happy if it uses it as the basis for an editorial. I appeal to the Minister for Health that clauses 7 and 9 of this Bill, which deal with bulk billing by medical practitioners and optometrists, not be proclaimed.
- Mr Chairman, can we take those two clauses together?
– That is the only reference I will really make to them, if it presents difficulty. We oppose clauses 7 and 9, which seek to remove the bulk billing arrangement.
– The Committee would have to take clauses 7, 8 and 9 together.
– It would be difficult because we oppose clause 7, agree with clause 8 and oppose clause 9. So I think it would be easier to go along in the way we are going. Clause 2 of the Bill, which has just been considered by the Committee, provides that proposed sections 7 and 9 shall come into operation on a date to be fixed by proclamation. Hopefully that date will not arrive. I think that it is important for the Minister really to be sure that what he is doing here is worthwhile. Once the Government has done it, it will be very difficult to revoke its decision and to change what it has done. I am sure that the Minister has some reservations and that these reservations have been emphasised or made greater still by some of the submissions he has received since he actually introduced this legislation or referred to it in a speech last week.
There has been no evidence whatever, apart from general slogans about abuse, which could in any way have been taken as significant enough, worthwhile enough, to lead to this very significant change in the method of carrying out health insurance and paying for health care. I have been pleasantly surprised, as a member of the Opposition who does not get many telephone calls from medical practitioners or pharmacists supporting our view, by the number of them who have contacted me over the last week. They all feel strongly about this matter. Again I appeal to the Minister, in his reply about clause 7 or clause 9, to give us some undertaking as far as the proclamation of these two clauses is concerned. The Opposition will not divide the Committee but indicates its very strong opposition to these clauses.
– Firstly, I want to make it perfectly clear that the Government has taken quite a firm decision in respect of the abolition of bulk billing for all but pensioner patients and their dependants. I must quote from the report that was produced by the Hospitals and Health Services
Commission, which quotes Dr Cummins as having said:
The one system most devoid of incentives to induce efficiency in the production of health care services and to encourage economy in the consumption of those services happens to be bulk billing.
There is quite a body of thought that believes firmly in that. Nonetheless the Government does recognise that bulk billing confers very real advantages on low income families, to ethnic groups and to Aboriginal communities and the Government will certainly not abolish bulk billing until satisfactory arrangements have been made. That was embodied in my statement.
We are investigating what alternative arrangements need to be made, for instance, for the Aboriginal medical centres. There is one well known centre at Redfern, for instance, that has been financing its operations to some extent out of bulk billing to Medibank. It does get grants from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs but it has in fact been employing salaried doctors and they have been bulk billing for services rendered to those patients and then the benefits have been coming back to help run the medical service. Quite clearly this is a practice that we cannot allow to continue. The service needs and requires funding and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, and I, as well as our departments, are in discussion at the present time to ensure that alternative funding arrangements are made. The Government has taken a firm decision but has also made it quite clear that bulk billing will not be abolished until satisfactory alternative administrative arrangements are made to replace bulk billing for all but pensioner patients and their dependants.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 8 (Medical Service Outside Australia).
-May I raise one point on this clause? The Opposition does not oppose clause 8, which deals with the Minister declaring in the Government Gazette that a person is not acceptable because he has not got the training or because proper medical or surgical facilities are not available to him. When such a person is practising as a medical practitioner in an overseas country Australians temporarily resident in that country shall not get refunds. The clause is aimed obviously at Milan Brych in the Cook Islands. The only point I wish to emphasise on behalf of the Opposition is that, although we do not disagree with the aim of the legislation, it is terribly important that people receive adequate warning before they leave for the Cook Islands that they will not get a refund.
As I understand the second reading speech of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), once the Gazette publishes the name of a person who is no longer acceptable as a prescribed person, in other words as a medical practitioner for whose service a patient is entitled to a refund, 30 days warning will be given. There ought to be a method of notifying people and ensuring that if the person is carrying out some son of practice which takes more than 30 days, as Brych may be doing in the Cook Islands, the time is extended. This would ensure that people who are already there would not be harmed.
– I will take the point aboard and see whether that is possible.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 (Common form of undertaking).
-This clause deals with bulk billing for optometrists. The Opposition indicates its opposition to the abolition of bulk billing in this case as it did for medical practitioners.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 6 June, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-I do not want the House to have to go into Committee on this Bill but I wish to make two points. The Opposition supports the propositions in this legislation which looks at the matter from the Treasury point of view and corrects some anomalies, although some still exist. I am sure that other honourable members have received letters from persons who have been recently married or for some reason, having been married already, still take out separate health cover. One takes out a health cover with a private fund and the other is covered by levy. They get a shock at the end of the year when, even though the wife, say, has been covered by a private fund, the husband receives an assessment at the family rate when they have no children. I think that sort of anomaly ought to be avoided. It ought to be possible for married people to take different sorts of cover. The husband may want to take one form of cover and the wife another. The difficulty would arise in the case of children because it would be possible for people to pay only a single levy under those conditions. I know that it is difficult. It was an anomaly that was brought in by the Government’s introduction of the new system back in October 1976.
The other point I wish to make relates to the question of declaring that persons do not have to pay the levy if they are overseas visitors to Australia and belong to an overseas health fund which gives them adequate health care cover in Australia. One of the interesting points that raises is what is adequate health care cover, because it varies from State to State. In answer to my question on notice No. 843, the Minister’s reply on 1 June showed that the different States charged different amounts of money. My question asked:
Are visitors to Australia charged for treatment as hospital patients in recognised public hospitals? If so, what is the daily charge?
Obviously whether one has foreign health cover that is adequate depends on the charges, and the charges vary from State to State. Basically, the States subsidise overseas visitors, charging them only $40 or $60 a day. Remarkably enough, a State which I do not usually support in this House, the State of Queensland, is the only one that actually charges what it ought to charge; that is, the daily average cost per in-patient for the previous financial year in the hospital concerned. That seems to me to be a reasonable proposition. I think that the Northern Territory does something approaching that but no other State does it, including the Australian Capital Territory. The same situation applies as far as compensation cases are concerned.
The Minister may well have difficulty in coming to a conclusion about what is adequate health care cover. I know that Australians overseas have that difficulty when they have a cover from the Medical Benefits Fund, let us say, with an entitlement to $40 a day. If they are admitted to a hospital in Europe that country charges them the actual cost of a hospital bed. In Holland and West Germany, which are the only two examples I can give with certainty, the cost of a hospital bed is the same as it is here, about $140 a day. Australian visitors to those countries who are admitted to hospital are charged $ 1 40 and get a refund of only $40. The West German and Dutch governments and hospital authorities are well aware of this and insist that, for example, if a patient goes in for a appendicectomy, he must pay $1,000 before he enters hospital to ensure that he will not disappear back to Australia without having paid his fee.
That is very difficult for many Australian visitors overseas, and I therefore urge the Minister to look at the problem of Australians having what is really inadequate cover for hospitalisation because we subsidise hospitals to such a large extent. Secondly, I ask the Minister to look at the charges imposed by the States on people covered by foreign health schemes to ascertain whether the States should collect the full cost of hospitalisation. After all, the deficit is being picked up by the Australian taxpayer.
– I will take note of the point.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 6 June, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 12 April, on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Bill before the House is for the establishment of a Maritime College at Launceston. It is the final stages of a project which was first announced on 3 December 1974 by the Australian Labor Government. On 10 June 1975 Prime Minister Whitlam announced that the College would be located in Launceston. Later that year the Labor Government introduced a Bill designed to give effect to that decision and for the establishment of an interim council for the College. That Bill lapsed on 1 1 November 1975. In 1976 new legislation to establish an interim council for the College was passed and received royal assent on 1 1 June 1976. In announcing the decision in 1974, the then Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), noted that the decision was in accord with the principal findings of the Commission of Inquiry into the Maritime Industry. The Commission set up in 1974 concluded among other things that:
There should be a central maritime college, set up as part of a college of advanced education.
The Commission went on to state that the college should be located ‘close to a major centre of population with shipping and fishing operations’. The Bill is welcomed by the Opposition; it is a long overdue measure. The decision to locate the College near the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education and near the city of Launceston with a broad harbour and closeness to the sea carries through the Commission’s expressed wishes. The report went on to state:
The report continued:
Moreover, it is doubtful that the present standard will continue to attract the type of men whose knowledge allows them to adjust without great effort to changes in the type of shipping and cargo handling that are developing.
Clearly, the Commission saw the College as the means for overcoming these limitations and gaps which exist in the present system of maritime education. The main purpose of the College’s courses will be to train deck, engine and radio officers to Department of Transport standards for the Australian merchant fleet. It is also expected that the College will provide for higher educational studies to a degree course level, this being one of the reasons for locating the College near the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. The site provides College students with the opportunity to carry on theoretical study, while at the same time allowing a fair degree of practical work.
Until now Australia has been without one tertiary institution to provide such training. This has been at a time when there has been a dramatic change in the operations, technology and nature of goods carried. Like nearly every industry, the shipping industry is becoming more technical and is placing heavier emphasis on the use of specialists. In general shipping alone, accelerated technical change has meant that tramp and cargo liners of years ago have been replaced with ships designed to carry cargo in vehicular, containers and barge loads. Cellular container vessels, Ro/Ro- roll-on, roll-off- and lash carriers- lighter-aboard-ship or barge- now carry Australia ‘s cargo trade which was once carried in ships with sails.
These developments have only emphasised and added to the need for improved maritime education. Other countries have been actively pursuing maritime education for a number of years already. There are at present some 20 nautical colleges currently operating in the United Kingdom offering courses for deck officers and cadets. California has had a maritime college since 1929. The college is situated on a 67 acre site on San Francisco Harbour and offers courses leading to a bachelor of science degree in nautical science or marine engineering. The New York nautical school dates back to 1874. These are in addition to some five United States Naval Service Academies. There are also some five nautical colleges operating in France.
Yet it is worth while noting that the benefits of mariners with such an education will extend to all Australian shipping- costal, international, and fishing. The Bill before the House provides the College with a permanent Council. It also represents a step towards bringing the College together in one building and in one city. Courses have already been held in Melbourne and Sydney. The College building is expected to be completed by 1979, so that it can commence admitting students for the 1 980 academic year. It is hoped that the College’s Principal, Captain D. W. Walters and key staff will be located on the College site at Newnham by the end of the year. The significance of the College to Australia ‘s maritime industry is clearly shown by the number of applicants for the position of principal. When the position was advertised, some 100 applications were received. More recently advertisements appeared in our local newspapers for senior positions at the College including business manager, assistant academic registrar, librarian and buildings officer.
The Bill, as the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) pointed out, will allow for the appointment of senior academic staff to proceed. Some staff, I notice, are being sought from all over the world. It is envisaged ultimately that the College’s courses will range from three-year degree and diploma courses to two-year associated diploma and certificate of technology courses. The degree courses will provide basic training for those wishing to move to senior positions in the maritime industry, covering the academic qualifications needed for certificates of competency, including training in subjects, such as commerce and management, not covered by certificates of competency. Short courses which I understand are to be offered will cover areas such as tanker safety, survival, specialised hazardous cargoes, fire-fighting, ship-handling, pollution control, management and fishing technology. They will range from a few days in length to a few months.
I am also encouraged to see that the College will offer short refersher courses for mariners already on current service in the shipping and fishing industries, and in the marine and port authorities, to allow them to keep pace with modern technological advances. The College will allow us to train our mariners at home and will check the situation as pointed out in the maritime industry report where some 30 per cent of our merchant marine crews and some 50 per cent of the officers are trained overseas. The development of an Australian Maritime College coincides with an increasing number of spillages of oil at sea and an increasing need for additional expertise in the handling of such occurences. I want to emphasise that the decision to establish the Australian Maritime College was taken by the Whitlam Labor Government. However, it is pleasing to see that there is a bipartisan attitude to the establishment of the College.
In speaking to the Bill, it is important to give consideration to the number of Australians presently employed on Australian ships, the opportunities presently available for the training of entrants to the industry and the state of the Australian shipping industry. As at the 30 June 1977 there were 3,795 sea-going berths available. If we add to this number, those seamen who would have been on recreation leave, sick leave, standby or roster at that date, the direct workforce is something in excess of 8,000. Analysis of the 3,795 sea-going berths shows that they comprise: 133 masters; 340 certificated deck officers; 407 certificated engineer officers; 270 uncertified engineer officers, which includes electricians, et cetera. To this must be added deck crew including 1,206 able seamen, apprentices and deck boys, 392 engine room ratings, that is, greasers, donkeymen and others, 685 catering department staff of stewards, cooks and, surprisingly, one stewardess, and finally 362 miscellaneous staff comprising crew attendants or ………:– , radio officers and shipwrights. The grand total is 3,795.
As I said earlier, these sea-going berths attract a total direct workforce of something in excess of 8,000. Criticism is often made of industrial action by sea-going unions to secure a greater participation by Australian manned ships in our export and import trades. Much of the criticism is based on misinformation and given that Australia is an island continent distant from most of its major markets and suppliers the criticism is short sighted and against the national interest in terms of long term economic security and defence needs. The reasons for the unionists’ actions are quite clear. They recognise the advantages to our balance of payments if greater utilisation can be made of Australian vessels with a consequent reduction in outgoings on invisibles such as freight and insurances. They also see declining employment opportunities for their members resulting from the world wide trend to larger, more sophisticated and automated ships needing smaller crews. In the decade 1964-1973 the number of Australian ships fell by 23 per cent. However, gross tonnage rose by 9 per cent and deadweight tonnage rose by 1 1 per cent. At the same time there is little opportunity for new personnel to enter the shipping industry despite the fact that in the same 10 years there has been an increase of 15 per cent in the numbers employed due mainly to improved leave conditions since 1 964.
The Australian National Line told the Summers inquiry that the ratio of applications to annual deck cadet positions available was 10:1. The other four companies who employ deck cadets seem to be able to fill their vacancies easily from casual inquiries. The inquiry found also that 10 out of 12 of each year’s cadet intake represent the ANL’s cadets. The 1977 annual report of ANL shows that of its total seagoing personnel of 2,081 only 100 comprised apprentice deck or engineer officers spread over all periods of training, that is, less than 5 per cent.
It is appropriate briefly to note the method of entry of other seafaring personnel. Marine engineers come from two general sources, that is, trade based or cadetship. However, because of the present requirement for workshop experience it is not possible for engine room ratings to progress to marine engineer positions. Electricians are recruited from a trade based background, namely, electrical fitters and likewise shipwrights must have first served their time in their trade. In respect of radio officers 90 per cent are not employed by the shipping companies but by Amalgamated Wireless A’asia Ltd which provides radio officers and supply and service radio equipment under contract. There are limited training courses available to those wishing to number in the remaining 10 per cent of radio officers.
Recruitment of deck and engine room ratings is normally at the deck boy and engine room junior levels. There are few opportunities and boys are selected after interview by a panel comprising representatives of the Department of Transport, the shipowners and the Seamens Union. For cooks, the Navigation Act requires that before a seaman can be rated as a cook, other than an assistant cook, he must have reached a prescribed age and had certain experience, including sea service. Surprisingly there is no requirement for cooks on Australian ships to hold formal qualifications or are there any specialist marine training courses for ships ‘ cooks in Australia. Finally, the criteria for employment of stewards are that the applicants must have had previous experience as a steward or in similar work or have an apparent aptitude for the work. As with cooks there are no formal training courses in Australia for stewards. Some years ago the Government recognised the oversupply of labour to the shipping industry thus entry is tightly controlled by the Chief Mercantile Officer of the Department of Transport through the General Register of Seamen.
In my remarks I have not mentioned the entry of overseas seamen to the Australian Register despite the fact that a large proportion of personnel, particularly officers- as I mentioned earlier, 50 per cent- have been drawn from overseas. I have dealt only with the entry and training of Australians because the function of the Australian Maritime College will be to train Australian seafarers. I am concerned however, at the number of seamen the Minister in another place has indicated to be the total expected enrolment at the College. Recently, he has forecast 500 trainees and obviously this is based on exclusion of any entrants to the industry from overseas. This can be seen from paragraph 2.3.1. on page 68 of the Summers report. If the Minister’s forecast that in excess of $25m will be expended on the establishment of the College- this figure includes simulators and associated equipmentAustralia will need to expand its shipping industry on a sequential basis. That certainly is not the policy of this conservative Government.
As a nation we need to examine our shipping industry and identify those areas in which with properly selected vessels we can be competitive. The Australian National Line has shown on the Australia-Japan liner trade that our ships operating at Conference rates and Australian standards can be quite profitable. Responsible comparisons of shipping costs are extremely difficult to make because of the paucity of accurate information made available by shipping companies. The
Government’s opposition to greater use of Australian ships is based on distorted claims in respect of crewing and accommodation costs and old fashioned ideology. Mr N. K. Aggawal of the Department of Transport at a seminar in Sydney last year analysed the annual costs of operating a 72,000 hypothetical dead weight tonnage bulk carrier on long term charter operating between Australia and Japan as follows: Debt service charges, 60.0 per cent; insurance, 5.4 per cent; manning costs, 17.0 per cent; repairs, maintenance and administration, 1 1 .4 per cent; and overhead expenses, the balance of 6.2 per cent. Mr Aggawal said on that occasion:
The major cost problem for the Australian shipping industry stems from the lack of institutionalised credit facilities developed by other shipping nations as indispensable to meeting the long term financial and investment needs of shipowners . . .
By comparison ANL’s 1977 annual report shows vessel manning as 16 per cent of total expenditure, a continuing decline from the 21.5 per cent of a few years ago. Crewing costs then are an important factor in total shipping costs, but a minor one. I am confident that the manning scales could be further reduced by negotiation if consensus could be developed between government, the unions and shipowners on an expanding role for Australian ships in our trades.
We need to remember too that in Norway, because of the special facilities made available for the financing and purchase of ships, the shipping companies make their money not from the actual freighting of goods but from the profit on sale of the vessel at the end of a 10-year life term. We on this side of the House believe that more Australian ships with smaller crews will create more jobs for Australians than does the present stand-off attitude of the parties concerned. Last year I inspected the AnN Australia at Kobe and the Selwyn Range at Newcastle dockyard. Both ships were almost completed. I took the opportunity to compare their crewing accommodation with that of the 20-year-old Lake Boga. May I say that there was no comparison. If those who complain of the accommodation standards of new Australian ships took the trouble to have a look at the level of accommodation and realised that the main determinants in constructing a ship are the weight and the nature of cargo and the engine required to power that vessel they would find the accommodation to be placed on top of the superstructure, on top of the hull, is one of the minor factors to be taken into account.
If those who complain of the accommodation standards in ships have a look at the quality of accommodation, they will see that, given that seamen spend half of their lives at sea, their ship becomes their home and that the current standards are comparable to those of an ordinary motel room in Canberra which I am sure honourable members opposite do not regard as luxurious, for three or four nights a week, claims of socalled luxury accommodation afforded seafarers are arrant nonsense. I suspect that the Minister questions my reasoning about structure and determinants in the nature of designing a vessel. I will repeat them for him. The important point to determine first is what one wants to carry and the distance over which one wants to carry it. That then determines the volume and capacity of the vessel. Then one has to select an engine to power the vessel. They are the main determinants. Accommodation is a much lesser factor in the construction of the vessel.
Mr Deputy Speaker, from the Summers inquiry report it is obvious that training facilities for Australian seagoing personnel are inadequate and outdated with restricted opportunity for entry to the shipping industry and with little or no emphasis on management and commercial skills. In fact the Principal of the College, Captain D. W. Waters, pointed out last year that the principles on which much of the present certificates of competency are based were derived from the British Navigation Act of 1850 and its 1854 consolidation. He said:
Our present system is thus based on principles established in the mid-nineteenth century, and this explains why our training curriculum is more narrowly structured and examination orientated, than those of many other maritime countries.
Hopefully this will be remedied by the updated courses to be provided by the College and by the amendments to the Australian Navigation Act in respect of competency certificates and qualifications now under consideration by the Department of Transport.
The establishment of the Australian Maritime College at Launceston will be a new and important industry for Tasmania and a major facility to improve the efficiency and saftey of the Australian shipping industry. It represents the fulfilment of an undertaking given by the then Minister for Transport in 1974 and Prime Minister Whitlam in 1975. As I said earlier, it also represents the bipartisan attitude in this place and, as I detected, in another place towards the project. I emphasise again that to achieve utilisation the College must be linked to an expanding and increasingly efficient Australian shipping industry. The Opposition wishes the College success in its operation and a speedy passage to the Bill.
– I thank the previous speaker for his comments. I will make mine rather brief because we have two northern Tasmanian members in the House tonight- the Minister for National Develpment (Mr Newman), representing the electorate of Bass, and the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr). From the outset I want to say. quite clearly and concisely that thank goodness the parochial attitude that prevails in Tasmania goes out the door tonight. I could easily have got up and said that Hobart is the. far better port and that is where the Australian Maritime College should be, but I am not going to do so. The College is to be in Launceston. It will be of great benefit to the city of Launceston and to the men and women who in future will sail our ships and be involved in the College.
The purpose of the Maritime College Bill is to establish the Australian Maritime College at Launceston as a corporate body. The Bill stipulates in detail the functions and powers of the College and provides for a council to govern the College and administer its affairs. As a college of advanced education it will be subject to general oversight by the Tertiary Education Commission. The College will be concerned with the education and training of maritime and fishing industry personnel. It is the only college in Australia to be established solely for this purpose. Since the College is being established to serve Australia-wide needs, the Government intends that it will develop standards of education and training which will be acceptable at international level. The Bill provides the necessary framework for the College to achieve this aim under the guidance of its governing council. The council will be appointed and its membership announced as soon as possible after the passage of this legislation.
The College will develop into an important educational institution in Australia. It is to provide maritime-related education and training for people who wish to become, or who are, officers of merchant or fishing vessels. The College will have as its principal role the instruction of fishermen, an industry which is vitally important to Tasmania as well as to Australia. It will also provide a major new industry. It will employ over 200 staff and it will have more than SOO students, plus 100 temporary students at given times. This is important to Tasmania because its industries are decreasing. Industries are leaving Tasmania. The fact that we will have 200 people there plus 500 students over a period of time will generate income and assist the service industries in Launceston. Those people will find Launceston a delightful place to be in.
Honourable members should be aware that Tasmania is steeped in maritime history. It was discovered in 1642 by Abel Tasman and since that time some of the most remarkable explorers that have ever circumnavigated the world have come to Tasmania. I believe they have left in every Tasmanian a trace of a love of the sea. It is imperative that the College be in Launceston because it will be of extreme benefit to the State for the economic reasons thai I have mentioned. But more, it will give Tasmania another industry- an industry that the Tasmanians will love.
– Do not forget that the newly proposed economic sea zone increases the importance of the College.
-That is most important. The economic reasons that I have mentioned are important. I do not know whether honourable members are aware that Tasmania is approximately 190 miles wide and 180 miles long. It is between the 40th and the 43rd parallel of the Southern Hemisphere. Launceston, with a population of about 120,000, is, I repeat, a delightful place. It is situated at the confluence of the North and South Esk rivers and is the second city of Tasmania. It is surrounded by beautiful land and is near beaches. It is best known as the birthplace of the plan to found Melbourne in 1835. John Batman returned to Launceston after buying 1,600 acres of land on Port Phillip Bay where Melbourne is today. It is most significant that it is only 150 miles from Melbourne.
I commend the College to all honourable members and would like to give the members from Launceston the opportunity to express their views tonight. I am not adopting the parochial attitude that it should be in Hobart. I think tonight it should be in Launceston and for that reason I give them the opportunity to talk in this House and tell the people of Launceston the reason why and what it will do to the economy of Tasmania.
– I would like to thank the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) for the bipartisan approach that the Opposition has taken to the Maritime College Bill during all stages of its passage through the House as well as prior to its introduction. I would also like to thank the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) for his condescending attitude in agreeing that Launceston is the best site for the Australian Maritime College. The people of Australia, and particularly those in
Tasmania, should thank the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman), the Minister for National Development, for the way in which he conducted the lead up to the College and the way in which he has conducted the BUI through this House. The honourable member for Bass has spared no effort in his endeavours on behalf of the people of Bass to get the College located in Launceston. They have been successful.
This matter was first brought to light in the heat of the 1974 Bass by-election when both of the major Parties made a promise that the Maritime College would be sited at Launceston. Since his election to this place the honourable member for Bass has worked very enthusiastically to ensure that the Government honoured its promise. This Bill brings that promise to fruition and we will see the Maritime College located at Launceston. Irrespective of where the College is sited, whether it be at Launceston, Hobart, or any other place in Australia, we should acknowledge that it represents a major step forward by the Australian Government. This Government is looking to the future of the maritime industries of Australia and the additional training that crews will need. It is a very far-sighted approach by this Government and I am delighted that the Opposition has approached the Bill in such a bipartisan manner.
We need only look at the increase in technology, in this day and age, not only in relation to merchant shipping but also fishing vessels, to understand why there is a great need to have crews of all capacities additionally trained. They must be trained in the technology they will face when they are on board vessels. We in Tasmania are particularly conscious of the need for increased training in view of some of the maritime catastrophes that have happened in recent times. I think particularly of the disaster involving the Blyth Star which capsized off South West Cape and, more recently, the disaster when the Lake Illawarra collided with the Tasman Bridge. These illustrations exemplify the need for people serving on board vessels to be properly trained. They need to understand modern technology and navigation. I think the College will play a very important part in training crews for the future to serve on the Australian coastline.
I think that the establishment of the Australian Maritime College will have a particular impact on the blossoming fishing industry around the total Australian coastline, As the honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) mentioned earlier in the debate, Australia will declare a 200-mile economic zone around the Australian coastline. This will open up an enormous new fishing capacity for the Australian fishing industry. In this respect, we need to realise that if the Australia fishing industry is to move into the trawl fisheries which are available in enormous quantities those people who will be serving at sea will need to man vessels of a far greater size than they have in the past and will need to be trained specifically to utilise the industry fully. The Maritime College will be particularly important in training those people.
I might say also, perhaps in contradiction to what was stated by my friend the honourable member for Franklin, that I think the siting of the College on the Newnham campus is particularly appropriate. We should understand that the College will be sited adjacent to the Tasmanian college of advanced education at Newnham and that there will be a joint usage of the facilities of both the Tasmanian college of advanced education and the Maritime College. I think that this demonstrates the far-sighted thinking of those people who have sited the college at Newnham. We should have joint usage of the facilities which are available at both colleges.
In conclusion, I would like to say, as my friend the honourable member for Franklin has said already, that the impact on the economy of Tasmania will be quite significant. The honourable member mentioned that there will be 200 full time staff at the College, together with 500 full time students and 100 part time students. In Tasmania we view the College as being an industry which will have an impact on the economy of northern Tasmania in particular and Tasmania generally. I think that this move, viewed together with the siting of the Antarctic base in Hobart, represents a major step forward by the present Government in decentralising government services and extending the opportunity to Tasmania to help its economy by siting the Public Service and Australian Government services in the State. I am particularly pleased that the maritime training centre will be located at Beauty Point, which is in my electorate. It will have an enormous impact on that area of the Tamar River. We are conscious of the need to boost the economy in the area because of the downturn in the fruit industry over recent years. The siting of the training centre at Beauty Point will give an enormous boost to the area at the mouth of the Tamar River.
I congratulate the Government for proceeding with the introduction of this Bill. I congratulate the Minister for National Development, for the conscientious way in which he has guided it through the Parliament. I am delighted at the bipartisan way in which this legislation has been accepted by honourable members on both sides of the House.
– in reply- I will not take up very much time of the House but I would like to summarise the debate that has taken place tonight. I would also like to associate myself with the general thanks that have been expressed by the two honourable members from this side of the House who have spoken in the debate about the bipartisan approach that has been taken on this matter, both in the other place and in this place. I thank the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) for that. Points have been made about the importance of the Australian Maritime College to the maritime fleets in this country and the fishing industry in general. I will say no more about that. I would like to make one point about the progress that has been made in the establishment of the College. The original Act was passed in June 1976. Since that time, steady progress has been made in getting the establishment of the College moving. For that we should thank the Department of Transport, the Department of Education and, in particular, the Minister for Education, Senator Carrick.
Since June 1976 an interim council has been appointed. Land has been purchased at Beauty Point and negotiations have taken place in respect of the Newnham site. We have seen the administrative back-up for the interim council proceed. A principal has been appointed and short courses have been conducted already. Senior academic posts have been advertised worldwide. The point I am making is that already the reality of the Maritime College is there. It is happening now and it will continue to happen in the future. The work will culminate in 1980 with the first courses actually being conducted at the Newnham site. By 1984 the College will be in full bloom. As other honourable members have mentioned in the debate, at that stage approximately 150 to 200 staff and 500 students will be attending the College.
This College will be important nationally to our maritime fleets and our fishing industry. More than that, it will be very important to Tasmania, particularly Launceston. Tasmania suffers great difficulties in maintaining employment opportunities. Manufacturing industry is passing through hard times. The Government’s initiative in establishing the Maritime College in Tasmania has great significance because of the benefits that it will bestow on the island. It will establish extra jobs for the people of Tasmania. The presence of the students who will come to the College and the staff who will teach at the
College will have ramifications far beyond the confines of the College itself. Other jobs will be created in retail businesses and other service industries. I have great pleasure in being associated with this Bill and in seeing it go through its final stages. The establishment of a permanent council for the Maritime Council represents an important milestone in its evolution.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Newman) read a third time.
Australia’s Relations with China-Botany Bay Development- Acceptance of Gifts by Ministers- Transport Facilities : MacKellar Electorate- Payments to Local Governments- Trade Unions- Coal Loader in Port Kembla District- Telephone Services to Remote Areas
Motion (by Mr Newman) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-For a few moments this evening I would like to refer to Australia’s relations with the People’s Republic of China. Normally it would be possible for honourable members to take part in a debate on foreign affairs lasting some considerble time. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) recently spoke for some 75 minutes in the Parliament about foreign Affairs, but for some unknown reason it has not been possible for us to have a major debate on foreign affairs, which is a matter of regret. When an honurable member visits another country as the guest of the institute of international affairs of that country it is only good manners and courtesy for him upon his return to Australia to say something to the Parliament about what he discovered and learnt in that country and to point out the valuable things that have occurred in our relations with that country over past years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ambassador of the People ‘s Republic of China, Mr Chou Chiu-yeh, for inviting me and my wife to go to China and spend 10 days in that country observing the changes that have taken place there over the last 10 or 20 years.
In 1956 I went to China with the first mission of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Therefore, I was in a good position to be able to observe the changes that have occurred in China over a number of years. I must tell the House that they were remarkable. The whole of the railroad system has been reorganised completely. Remarkable changes have been made in the petrochemical industry and in many other manufacturing industries in China today. They were all so kind enough to allow me an opportunity to talk to Mr Hua, the Director of the Institute of International Affairs, and to Mr Li, the Vice-president of the Institute. It was interesting to see how seriously China takes defence. Remarkably, I walked into a shop where my hosts pressed a button and the whole noor disappeared. My wife and I were taken for a walk for two and a half miles under the city of Peking to observe and see at first hand China ‘s defence in the event of a nuclear war.
I was impressed too with the view of leading experts in international affairs in China when they said that the Western world today does not appreciate the threat posed by the Soviet Union through its activities in Africa. It is therefore very good news that recently at the United Nations China decided that she too should be consulted about the changing pattern of world events. Any country in the world which thinks it can conduct foreign affairs without consulting the People’s Republic of China is indeed making a mistake. People who think they can do so cannot classify themselves as statesmen.
It was a pleasure to visit the University of Peking and to hear about the damage which had been done by the Gang of Four, who thought that learning was nonsense and that passing exams was a joke. Amazingly, these people taught children to believe that their elders were of no consequence. The Gang of Four did nothing other than keep the Chinese people in a complete and utter revolutionary confusion. Therefore, how could the Chinese people advance and continue to make their way in the world with a series of revolutions? We can do nothing but congratulate the Chinese People’s Government in realising that they are now anxious to establish themselves, to work with the rest of the world and to improve China’s technology.
I noticed an enormous contrast in their hydroelectric industry and their agricultural industry. In the ten days I spent there nothing was more, impressive than the way in which the Australian governments under both the former Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, and the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), had improved relations. We can be proud of our relations with China. We hope that the Chinese people agree with us and want us to work together. I seek leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard a Press release by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), which is an important document.
The document read as follows-
VISIT TO CHINA
The visit which I made to the People’s Republic of China between 25 April and 4 May had two main purposes- to maintain and develop contact and communication between the Australian and Chinese Governments, and to explore the prospects of increasing and diversifying an economic relationship which is highly important to both our countries.
These two purposes are, of course, inter-related.
The good political relationship which has been developed between China and Australia has under-pinned a substantial growth in trade.
Australia is now China’s fourth largest trading partner and China was Australia’s fifth largest export market in 1977. In three and a half days of intensive discussions which I had in Peking with the Ministers of Foreign Trade and Commerce, the Acting Ministers of Finance and Metallurgical Industry, the Vice Chairman of the State Planning Commission, and most particularly with Vice Premier Li Hsien-Nien, the approach throughout was frank, friendly and businesslike.
The Chinese Government regards the Prime Minister’s visit in 1976 as having been a great success and is pleased with the reception which the National People’s Congress Delegation, led by Vice Chairman Ulanfu, received in Australia last year.
Indeed in 1977 China sent more high level visitors to Australia than went from here to Peking- an unprecedented development in our relations and an unusual fact in China’s relations with any country.
The Chinese Government is aware, as a result of my visit, that the Australian Government had noted the significance of Chinese high level visits to Australia in 1977 and fully reciprocates China’s interest in the maintenance of contact and dialogue at a high level.
My discussions with Vice Premier, Li Hsien-Nien, took place against this background and were therefore able to deal with a wide range of subjects in a candid way.
We noted that as countries with different governmental and social systems we do not see eye to eye on all matters, and specific areas of disagreement which had been canvassed two years ago during the Prime Minister’s visit were again discussed.
The discussions were open and relaxed, reflecting our mutual interest in clarifying understanding of the other’s positions and in keeping in proper proportion the matters on which we agree and the matters on which there is disagreement.
Amongst the views and interests we share are that there should be global and regional power balances, that no one country should dominate the South Pacific, South East Asia or the Indian Ocean, that ASEAN ‘s concept of a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality in South East Asia has this as its objective, and that ASEAN can make an important contribution to regional stability and warrants our continuing support.
China sees global balance and regional stability as being in its interests because it is seeking to direct the energies and talents of its vast population into the monumental tasks of modernisation.
Despite its great achievements the People’s Republic of China is very aware that it is still a developing society.
The Chinese leadership frankly acknowledges that it faces a multitude of uncertainties in moving along the road to becoming a developed society.
These include problems of resources allocation, the balance between food production and population growth, employment of the work force as agriculture is progessively mechanised and more labour saving devices are adopted in industry, gearing the educational system to the requirements of industrial growth, preserving self-reliance while looking more to other countries for machinery and technology and instituting incentives for production without impairing principles of equality.
The timing of my visit to China was connected with the plans for China’s modernisation which were announced by Premier Hua Kuo-Feng in his report on the Government to the National People’s Congress on 26 February.
This statement has not attracted the attention it deserved in Australia and should be the starting point for examination of our future relations with China and the opportunities open for developing them.
Premier Hua Kuo-Feng announced that China has embarked on programs which aim to take it to the forefront of world economies by the turn of the century and he announced with some specificity ambitious targets to be achieved by 1985.
Included among the objectives of the ten year plan for achievement by 1985 are: a ten per cent annual industrial growth rate allocation of 60 per cent of government expenditure on economic construction a steel production target of 60 million tons per annum or 2.4 times last year’s production rate development of 120 large scale plants, including ten iron steel plants and nine non-ferrous metal plants.
Indeed, as I have already described it in China, the Chinese have now embarked on their second long march.
If China succeeds in the aims it has set for itself for modernisation, or makes substantial progress along this road, the implications will be significant for the world and for Australia.
The program and the policies of Premier Hua Huo-Feng’s Government have opened up new opportunities for the development of closer relations between China and Australia at the government level, at the commercial level, and in the highly important area of technical exchange.
The Australian Government has already indicated in practical ways its wish to strengthen links with China by encouraging people to people contacts through its cultural exchange programs and, most recently, by its decision to establish the Australia-China Council, by financial support of scientific exchanges and by taking the initiative in arranging with China programs of potentially great importance to both countries to exchange experience and expertise in the fields of agriculture and minerals production.
The Chinese Government has made clear the value it sees in these exchanges and has also, in a direct way, informed me of its requirement for natural resources from Australia in addition to technology and plant equipment.
I received assurances at the top level from those directly concerned in both Peking and Shanghai that as long as prices are competitive, China will import considerably larger quantities of iron ore on a long term basis from Australia, which it looks to as its main supplier.
China will require significantly increased quantities of iron ore to meet its steel production targets and has indicated that Australian ores are suitable for blending with domestically produced ores.
During my visit to Shanghai I inspected unloading facilities and was informed of plans for construction of a new port unloading area to handle the expected increase in iron ore imports.
China is an important market for Australian iron and steel. I was assured by Chinese authorities that although China planned to rapidly increase its own production of steel the planned rate of production would be insufficient to meet their needs. I expect that there will be continuing export opportunities for Australian iron and steel in the Chinese market.
Apart from iron ore and steel I discussed the possibility of the export to China of other Australian minerals and nonferrous metals, including aluminium, copper, lead, zinc, nickel and mineral sands.
My visit to China also opened up prospects for Australian industry in new fields.
China is interested in acquiring advanced mineral and metallurgical technology and in developing its infrastructure to support its modernisation program, in this regard Australian techniques in the extraction of minerals, their transport from the mine and the construction of deep harbours are of direct relevance to China ‘s conditions.
It is possible that further official exchanges will indicate other areas of opportunity for Australian consultancy expertise.
The Chinese Government informed me that it now seeks to buy patents and this removes an obstacle which has existed in the past to the sale of advanced Australian technology.
I am confident that much Australian technology is suitable for China’s conditions and requirements, an obvious example being our agricultural machinery.
In this context it is relevant that China’s agricultural modernisation objectives include: achievement of 85 per cent mechanisation in all major processes of farm work by 1 985 a four to five per cent annual increase in agricultural output over the next eight years.
Australia manufactures a full range of agricultural equipment and it was indicated to me that there are good prospects for use of Australian technology and equipment in the further mechanisation of China ‘s agriculture.
Accordingly, Australia will be giving high priority to its participation in the agricultural machinery exhibition which is to be held in Peking prior to the end of 1978.
Plans are also under way for an early exchange of missions between China and Australia which will initiate an ongoing program of exchanges of agricultural expertise and information.
My discussions with Chinese leaders also covered in some detail the question of people to people contact.
It is a remarkable fact that Australia ranks second only to Japan in the number of tourists visiting China.
Around 4,000 Australians visited China last year and I was informed that some 10,000 will be visiting China in 1978.
China has an overall plan for tourist numbers including quotas for individual countries, and the very significant increase in the number of Australians visiting China reflects the importance China attaches to our bilateral relations.
The possible involvement of Qantas in servicing the big increase in tourist traffic to China was discussed.
There are other indications of growing people to people contact.
For example, our teachers and students in China on government exchange programs, some of whom I met, and over 20 teachers directly recruited by the Chinese authorities, are making an important contribution to better understanding.
My first task on my return will be to report to my colleagues on my discussions in China so that appropriate consideration can be given to follow up action.
I will also consult with industry in order to ensure that industry leaders are fully aware of the significance of China’s long term plans for modernisation and of the opportunities and challenges for participation by Australian industries.
The potential for increased trade with China, combined with the recently announced arrangements for expanded export incentives should provide a stimulus to business expansion in Australia.
It is appropriate that I should put on record in Australia as I have expressed directly to my Chinese hosts, my appreciation of the warm reception which I received in China ‘s three major cities and of the positive and practical approach taken by Chinese leaders in all my discussions.
I return from my visit to China with a heightened awareness of the scope which exists for the further development of Sino-Australian relations.
9 May 1978
– I thank the House for its attention. I am grateful for being able on this occasion to give an address for a few moments about our relations with China. I hope they will proceed amicably.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In the very near future Botany Bay in Sydney will become a battleground as a by-election takes place following the retirement of Sir Eric Willis. As a Federal member from that region with an electorate bordering on Botany Bay, I want to sound to honourable members who are listening in the House tonight and to whoever might read the Hansard record of the debate just a word of counsel and warning about the very grave consequences which are at stake in this election campaign. In recent times we have heard from the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) a contention that the State Government has made a mistake, that the State is suffering from an inability to export coal because of the Government’s failure to develop Botany Bay. I am sure that that attitude would be echoed by the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), who I see in the House at present.
It is true that there is a bottleneck of coal. The ships are stacked up outside Port Kembla, another area which is a neighbour to the electorate which I represent. Of course, this situation is related to the fact that there is a crisis in the steel industry. Instead of coal being used for steel production in Australia a great effort has been made to stimulate the export of coal and to upgrade its export from this country. Naturally, the port facilities are maximised in their utilisation.
I make the point that it is the Liberal Party in New South Wales- I do not say the Liberal and National Country parties because the National Country Party does not know what the matter is all about- which has taken a very deliberate decision in respect of this matter. The Liberal Party in New South Wales is the firm upholder of the idea that Botany Bay can be sacrificed and jettisoned as if there is no other plan. I want to sound out some of the consequences. If the byelection takes place and brings about a result which is anti-Labor or anti-Wran it could be regarded as an imprimatur to go on with the development of Botany Bay as a coal loading port. That is not begging the question at all, as I think the honourable member for Macarthur and the honourable member for St George who sit opposite will agree.
There will be three storage silos, each with a capacity of 47,000 tonnes. Eventually 35 silos will be stacked up in Botany Bay, each as high as 17-storey buildings. They will be serviced by 23 trains with open waggons each day. Open elevated wharf conveyors will pour coal at the point of discharge at the rate of 8,000 tonnes an hour or 25 million tonnes a year. There will be a heavy emission of coal dust over the St George area and, indeed, over parts of the Sutherland Shire, depending on how the wind is blowing. There could be intolerable noise, possible disruption of rail passenger services and the like. This is the real issue which is at stake in the State election which is to take place there in the very near future.
I want to let the people know that it is the Australian Labor Party which is saying that Botany Bay has been ruined too much already with the runways, the development of the oil refinery facilities and all the rest. It is a little Mecca for the people from the great surging metropolis of Sydney. For God’s sake, save what is left of it. The Liberals in the St George electorate are anxious to make a quid for the people who buy out Australian coal reserves and are prepared to jettison any bit of Australiana. I am simply making the plea to the parliamentarians here and to the electorate that they might have regard to the fact that Botany Bay was the birthplace of this country. We do not want the natural features which are left and the very nice bit of suburbia which is the St George area and the Sutherland Shire around Botany Bay to be destroyed.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have just listened to the speech by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). Although I agree with him about Botany Bay being a beautiful area which we must preserve, I must correct some of his claims, which were entirely incorrect. First of all, Botany Bay is not in the area of St George. I have the greatest admiration for my colleague the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil). If the honourable member for Hughes would look at the electoral map he would find that the water in Botany Bay is part of the electorate of Barton, so he is wrong about that for a start.
Let us turn to another claim he made. Let us go back to what happened prior to the New South Wales Labor Government coming into power. Before it came into power in New South Wales the Liberal Government conducted exhaustive environmental studies on the development of Botany Bay. I can assure the honourable member for Hughes and anyone who is listening tonight that I endorse the suggestion that any development in Botany Bay must be environmentally acceptable. Botany Bay is a beautiful place and it must remain so. I will do all in my power to make sure that it does. Before the last State election in which Mr Wran came to power he promised the people that he would stop any work on any port development in Botany Bay and institute an environmental study. The study took a mere few weeks and when the Wran Government came to office the development went ahead. After promising the people that he would stop any development, Mr Wran went ahead -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable gentleman virtually is saying that I have made statements that are untrue. The Premier has decided that there will be no coal mining at Botany Bay.
-The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no substance to the point of order.
– The honourable member for Hughes is only politicking. Before it came to power the Wran Labor Government of New South Wales promised the people in the area that all work would cease until an exhaustive environmental impact study had been carried out. That study was a fraud. It took a mere few weeks and off again went the development of Botany Bay. The honourable member for Hughes stated at great length that if the coal loader was established there, it would throw dust all over the area. I do not want the coal loader there either. Honourable members should bear in mind that the plans for that coal loader provided for it to be enclosed in a vacuum situation. There was to be no coal dust. But look at what has happened. Look at what the Premier of New South Wales has done now. He has decided that the coal loader will be situated at Port Kembla but what the honourable member did not tell the people is that all the rail trucks that go to Port Kembla must go through the electorate of St George and through my electorate of Barton. They will spill coal dust everywhere. I do not think that the people of the area will wear that.
We do not want Mr Wran putting all these rail trucks over the railway lines at Tempe, Rockdale and all the other stations. We do not want the coal dust. Mr Wran has hoodwinked the people of the area. He is putting more dust into the area, as a result of his action, than would have occurred before. I will be watching the development at Botany Bay very closely. I have the interests of the Bay at heart. I have lived there for 35 years. I do not want to see it destroyed and I am not going to let the Premier of New South Wales, with his harebrained schemes, put coal dust on the people in my electorate of Barton. I know that the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) will not allow that to happen to his constituents either. I do not think that Mr Wran will be returned as Premier. I sincerely hope, for the sake of the people of New South Wales, that he is not. I know that if it does happen that he is returned the coal loader will be developed straight away and the people in the area will suffer. I think that the people of the area are awake to this. They are a wake-up to Mr Wran and to the honourable member for Hughes and that this will not happen.
-I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
-Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker.
-I ask the honourable member to resume his seat. The honourable member for Shortland has a most persuasive argument to convince me that he was on his feet. I call the honourable member for Shortland
-My remarks this evening relate to the question I asked of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) yesterday in relation to the acceptance of gifts by Ministers of the Government and the abandonment of the guidelines on this matter. I refer honourable members to pages 3150 and 3151 of yesterday’s Hansard. At the conclusion of my question, I asked:
Finally, where is the gold bracelet recieved as a gift for launching the Australian Progress and what is its value?
The Acting Prime Minister replied that he did not know who launched the Australian Progress. He then asked who launched it. I replied:
I think it was your wife. I am not sure. I will check.
The Acting Prime Minister went on to infer that I was in some way demeaning the recipient of the gift. He said:
It is clear that anything that comes to the honourable member’s mind is good enough. It does not matter whose name he damages in the process.
I did not use anybody’s name; nor did I demean anybody’s name or character. I asked the question following an answer I had just recieved from the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I had asked the Prime Minister who was the recipient of a gold bracelet presented as a gift for launching the Australian Progress. I reject completely the inference of the Acting Prime Minister yesterday. He did not answer the question. As it turned out, when I had a chance to check I found that the recipient of the gift was the Prime Minister’s wife. That did not concern me at the time I asked the question.
– You did not know.
– I did not need to know. I was concerned only with the gift received by the person who launched the vessel. I did not want to mention the name of the person involved. I did not do so. I reject completely the inference of the Acting Prime Minister. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that this Government, when in Opposition, waged a virtual crusade against the acceptance by Ministers of gifts, their location, their disposal and their value and the cost of overseas travel by Ministers of the then Government. From the answers given to me by the Prime Minister it is clear that there has been a complete abandonment of the Prime Minsiter’s own guidelines. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to say in reply to a question that Mr Whitlam said something in November 1975. The fact is that the guidelines for the acceptance, valuation and disposal of gifts recieved by the Prime Minister, Ministers of the Government and their families in association with their duties were laid down in March 1976. It is useless to pretend that the guidelines have any value, any impact, are in any way open to scrutiny if the recipient, the location, the value and the method of disposal of gifts are not available for public examination.
In addition the Prime Minister replied to a question I had asked of him with regard to the advisability of acceptance of free travel by Ministers. In his answer to question No. 426, the Prime Minster stated:
It is expected, however, that Ministers not accept for themselves or their families, offers of free overseas travel from commercial sources, whether the commercial activities involved are connected directly with Ministers’ responsibilities or not.
That was a direct repudiation of the statement issued by the office of the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) in January of this year. At least the Prime Minister has been clear and forthright. We on this side of the House reject completely the abandonment of the guidelines and we call on the Government to adhere to its own guidelines on the receipt and disposal of gifts.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sorry that I perhaps, overshadowed the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris). I did not observe that he was standing at the table. I apologise for having almost usurped his right to speak. I think that this evening, when we are all about to depart until the Budget session commences, there should be a certain measure of goodwill in what is said in this House. Therefore I am able to make a small acknowledgment in relation to a matter I raised on an adjournment debate about two months ago. At that time I raised a matter which was of great concern to my electorate of Mackellar- the question of the provision of adequate transport into the electorate. I drew the attention of the House to what I thought was a very bad decision by the New South Wales Labor Government to stop the construction of all inner urban freeways within the city of Sydney.
Unfortunately that decision still stands but I am happy to report to the House that there has been some small concession on the part of the New South Wales Government in that with regard to the area in which the State Government had purchased over 40 per cent of the properties necessary to construct an adequate freeway- the Warringah Expressway- into the electorate of Mackellar, it has now reversed its decision to sell that land. Had it sold that land, it would have been an irrevocable decision. It would have been impossible for future Liberal governments within the State of New South Wales to construct adequate transport facilities into the electorate. This is a concession not wrung easily from the Premier of New South Wales. In fact it required quite a considerable publicity effort and a meeting of and a visitation from mayors and presidents of the municipalities and shires within the northern region. They were able to prevail, I am happy to say, on the New South Wales Government and stop it from selling off this land. Unfortunately, the Minister for what passes for transport in New South Wales, Mr Cox, has made a statement that although the land will not now be sold there is no positive plan as to what will be done with it. An investigation will now be held to decide what is the next step.
I suggest that the New South Wales Government has to face up to the fact that in Australia, with an urban and suburban population which is rather spread out and where the economics of public transport are generally bad, it is essential to provide adequate facilities for private motoring. Private motoring, whether by petrol engines, diesel engines or electric engines in the future, will stay with us for very many decades. I believe that it is totally short-sighted of the New South Wales Government to deny this proposition. Within the electorate of Mackellar- in fact, within the whole of the shire of Warringahthere are only three avenues from Sydney, via the Mona Vale Road, the Roseville Bridge or the Spit Bridge. There is no train service, nor is there any likelihood of any railway ever being built because the economics of railways do not apply to the sparse population of that area. Therefore, there is a pressing need for the New South Wales Government to make forward provision for roads which will provide the necessary space for the number of vehicles that will carry people into that area.
The population of Australia is not growing at the rate we previously thought it was growing at. The recent statement by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) has made that clear, at least over the next triennium. Therefore, there is not that overwhelming fear that we will be totally inundated with the motor car. As a matter of practical economics, we have to face up to the fact that adequate expressways must be provided within our major cities. They must certainly be a matter of immediate policy concern within Sydney for the New South Wales Government.
-As an alderman of the Parramatta City
Council, I am very disturbed by the shrinkage in the percentage of the personal income tax levied by the Federal Government and transferred to local government.
– It is better off than it was before.
-Don’t you believe it! Contrary to the popular mythology surrounding Commonwealth payments to local government, grants will have shown a real decline for the third year in succession at the end of this year when measured by the 1975 experience. That rather puts to sleep the theories oft propounded by honourable members on the Government side that grants to local government have kept pace. They have not kept pace. They have gone backwards. As an alderman I know that probably better than honourable members opposite do. This situation appears to be ignored by the Commonwealth Government which has often reiterated its commitment to continued financial support.
The 1978 Federal Budget is a critical one for local government. The real decline in Commonwealth funding, compounded by the restraint in rate collection which local government at the request of the Commonwealth has adopted, has resulted in an unavoidable and increasing gap between revenue and expenditure. The Fraser Government has promised to increase the share of personal income tax to 2 per cent during the life of the current Parliament. I quote from the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in 1977. This is one of the many unfulfilled promises:
A further increase of united grants to local councils is planned for the benefit of local ratepayers. The Government’s objective is to move towards an allocation of up to 2 per cent of personal income tax collection for local governments.
The truth is that that has not happened. If grants increased to 2 per cent we would be very pleased but this would be too little too late. The 2 per cent is needed now if the services delivered to people direct by local government are not to be diminished.
Local government also requires a definitive statement that this tax share will be coupled with additional full compensation for any further loss of specific purpose grants. Actually, the 2 per cent requested is a very modest amount. A new public finance study identifies an expenditure sharefall in local government for the current financial year of 4.3 per cent of income tax. Local government recognises that the present national economic situation is such that it cannot expect more than 2 per cent in the forthcoming Budget.
However, the case for the immediate implementation of the Government’s promise of 2 percent is totally irrefutable.
I think it is important to look at the categories of service delivered by local government throughout the nation. They include public works and services, recreation facilities, council properties, car parking, health and welfare, fire prevention, town planning, inspection licensing, tourist promotion, libraries, et cetera. Sir Billy Snedden who is not exactly an unimportant authority said at a meeting of local government councillors in Melbourne in 1974:
The rating system not being a growth tax offers little flexibility in endeavouring to match the current substantial cost increases. In fact many councils have reached saturation point in their rating capacity.
I am sure that all of us as ratepayers will agree with that. It is unreasonbale to expect property owners to bear the full burden of people related services. Local government is facing a new era of demands for increased and new services. These new demands have far outstripped local government’s ability to pay. The situation is critical. In the last year of Labor’s administration in 1 975 it made 2.89 per cent of income tax available to local government. All we are asking on behalf of local government is for the availability of 2 per cent of tax revenue to local councils- the most direct instrument of government in the nation. That figure of 2.89 per cent included funds allocated for the Regional Employment Development scheme. If we take the component for the oft-condemned RED scheme away from the grants to local government, the proportion is still 2.34 per cent of the previous year’s income tax revenue. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask the Government to think about giving local government a 2 per cent share. We are all ratepayers. We all put our garbage bins out each week. I guess we all wonder how the council do the work they do for the money we give them.
– We put ours out twice a week.
-The honourable member is very lucky. We put ours out twice a week in Parramatta but we are one of the most advanced and forward thinking councils. I suggest that the Government should immediately implement a scheme whereby 2 per cent of tax revenue this year will be transferred to local government so that it can get on with its job. I am sure that it is a job we all appreciate.
– I raise tonight an alarming example of an extortion racket, a union ripoff. Large amounts could be involved. This abuse by some union officials at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings is an attack on the freedom of individuals to carry on business and an attack on the liberty of the subject. At the recent Australian Furniture Fashion Fair held at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings, standholders were preparing and building their stands. Apparently officials from the Operative Painters and Decorators Union and the Building and Industrial Workers Union checked all people working on stands to see whether they were union members. If they were not members and did not join up, they were told that work would stop. They were given the opportunity of joining the Painters and Decorators Union for $43 and the BWIU for $37. This is union blackmail.
I am told this is not the only show at the Exhibition Buildings at which these standover tactics are used. There are over 20 exhibitions planned at the buildings in 1978 and one. can assume by taking an average number of stands and a proportion of shows that a total figure to the order of $ 100,000 could be involved. What the unions are after is the money, the fast buck. Officials visited standholders every half hour to check that only union labour was involved. The threat is that, if one does not pay up the show will not go on.
– That is right.
– The honourable member for Parramatta said: ‘That is right’. He is proud of it. He ought to be ashamed of himself. They are clever enough to stay away from shows like the recent yachting show because clubs and other community type organisations are involved. I imagine they will be at it again before the next motor show.
The are subtle. They attack in those critical days just before the show. I understand that other unions could be involved and I have reports that the Amalgamated Society of Joiners and Carpenters is involved. If a family business is involved it makes little difference. Family companies can have one director work free but the rest have to join up or else. If a small business has four or five people working on a stand a blackmail payment can be over $200. This is an attack by unscrupulous union officials on small businesses- businesses which at the time of that show were just recovering from the crippling power strike and looking for new business.
Businesses are not allowed to prepare, paint or erect their own stands. They cannot even do it themselves. The next thing will be that if we are mowing our own lawns they will want us to join a union. It is a disgrace that this is happening in the centre of Melbourne. I call on the Trades Hall Council and responsible union officials to have this disgraceful behaviour stopped. I am sure that responsible union officials and unionists alike would be as horrified as I am of this frightful behaviour. I say to responsible unionists that this is what irresponsible union officials are doing in their name; they are bringing the union movement into contempt.
I call on responsible unionists to recognise these corrupt actions being done in their name. I call on them to remember them at union election time. I ask the rank and file to exercise the opportunity this Government has given them, under our secret ballot legislation, to get rid of these sorts of officials that give unions a bad name. I also call on employers who are threatened to stand up and take action under section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. This is the type of abuse of power by union officials that brings the union movement on the whole into disrepute. I call on responsible unionists to act.
– I rise tonight because ever since I have come to this House I have been sickened by the attempts of a number of Government backbench members, including the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume), to turn the needed construction of a new coal loader in the Port Kembla district into a political football. Once again I note that this evening they have been up to their same old tricks. I have been prompted to rise to try to educate these people. If they listen for the next four minutes they might learn something about the coal loader situation in the Wollongong district.
It is true that there is a need for a new coal loader on the South Coast of New South Wales. There has been for a number of years. The Wran State Labor Government has already lifted the capacity of the Port Kembla loader by one million tonnes, from five million tonnes a year to six million tonnes. It did this in the last two years. It was originally thought that this loader might be constructed off-shore but that decision was changed for a variety of reasons. Now it is to be an on-shore loader. I agree with that decision and I will tell the House why.
For some time there have been plans- in my view the plans are wrong- to alter the whole harbour construction at Port Kembla by constructing a very large off-shore loader. This involved linking the five islands by means of an underwater breakwater. I reason that if an off-shore loader were constructed it would mean that the whole thrust of future harbour development in Port Kembla would irreversibly be towards an off-shore harbour development. I say that for the simple reason that the sea, when there are heavy swells and so on, will make that off-shore loader, without the appropriate breakwaters, unusable for at least three or four months of the year.
If one is opposed to that sort of environment destroying proposition, as I am, obviously one would be in favour of the construction of an onshore loader inside the Port Kembla inner harbour. For that reason I totally agree with the decision of the Wran Labor Government to construct the loader not at Botany Bay- Government supporters can forget about Botany Baybut inside the inner harbour at Port Kembla.
As I have said, there is a very great need for this loader to be constructed with the utmost speed. One of the main problems associated with this project is the transport of coal. Let us look at how the coal is being transported to Port Kembla. At the moment the coal from the north, particularly from the major mine at Coalcliff, is being transported by rail, but the coal that comes into the area from the Burragorang Valley, the new mine at Westcliff and also the South Bulli mine, is carted by road. That means that every day some 1,000 road trucks lumber through the heart of Wollongong and we do not like that very much. So there are a number of needs associated with this new coal loader at Port Kembla and I will briefly outline them.
First of all there needs to be a new rail line constructed from the tablelands to Port Kembla. There needs to be an overhead conveyor at South Bulli to make sure that the coal from South Bulli gets to the main Illawarra line. And last but not least, the stock piles need to be covered to stop wind blown dust polluting the City of Wollongong and Port Kembla.
It would be a darn sight better if this Government had meaningful financial discussions with Mr Wran at the Premiers Conference in several weeks time about the funding of these operations rather than allow its supproters to get up in this Parliament and try to turn the issue into a political football for their own personal political gains in their electorates. That is what the honourable member for Macarthur does. It is very likely that the coal loader at Port Kembla will be constructed by means of a levy on tonnage throughput but I do not think that would be an appropriate means of financing the railway line and the upgrading of the new roads to the tablelands. I think that at this stage the Federal Government had better come to the party.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I want to speak tonight on an election promise which has not been honoured by the Government. I quote from the election speech by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 21 November 1977. He said:
Other measures to assist people in remote areas will include extension of the limit to provision of free telephone line plant from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) said at the same time:
The provision of free telephone line plant, which we previously extended to 12 kilometres and which Labor reduced to eight kilometres, will now be extended to 16 kilometres.
I quote now from an answer given by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) to the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter) on 2 May 1978. He said in part:
There is a difference between myself and the Commission over the nature and extent of the Government’s commitment made at the last election where the Commission believed that the promise to extend the free line plant entitlement from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres should be with respect only to those areas which are programmed for conversion to automatic within two years or where there is already an automatic exchange. The Government’s view is that the commitment should be fulfilled without qualification. I have put that view in writing to the Chairman of the Commission, and I await a reply.
I quote now from the charter of Telecom Australia. Telecom is responsible to: . . plan, establish, maintain and operate telecommunication services within Australia and has a duty to perform those functions in such a manner as will best fit the social, industrial and commercial needs of the people of Australia. To the extent that it considers reasonably practicable it is required to make its services available throughout Australia to all who reasonably require them.
The Telecom position is that only lines which are due to be connected to automatic exchanges within two years should qualify for the Government’s electoral promise. In fact, the Government’s promise was quite unequivocal, as the quotes from the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister make clear. I believe there is a matter of grave principle involved in this problem. Telecom is an independent statutory authority but it appears that the Minister and the Government have no authority over it so far as government commitments are concerned. There was an unequivocal commitment to extend the free line entitlement from 12 kilometres to 16 kilometres. That commitment has not yet been honoured. It is being withheld by Telecom.
I think it is time that the Government took a very firm look at the duties and responsibilities of Telecom. I believe that Telecom is overly influenced by the needs of the metropolitan areas of Australia and is neglecting the needs of the isolated and remote areas of Australia.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until Tuesday 15 August at 2.15 p.m., unless Mr Speaker, or in the absence from Australia of Mr Speaker, the Chairman of Committees shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated
asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 5 May 1978:
What was the total estimated number of persons (a) employed and (b) unemployed in the construction industry in (i) Australia and (ii) each State and Territory during each month since January 1977.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following tables provide statistics on employed and unemployed persons in the construction industry during each month since January 1 977 for which data are available.
The data presented to cover ‘unemployed in the construction industry’ are the number of unemployed persons registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service for employment in occupations related to the construction industry. The occupational categories covered in this instance are skilled building and construction workers, builders labourers and other building and construction workers.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 June 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780608_reps_31_hor109/>.