31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– I move:
With the death of Pope Paul- the spiritual leader of the world’s 700 million Roman Catholics for the last 15 years- the world lost a great religious leader and a messenger of peace. In many ways his papacy came in an unique age. It coincided with an upsurge of the ecumenical movement and far-reaching and fundamental changes in society throughout the world. It was an age, too, of challenge to the traditional spiritual authority of the Church.
Pope Paul sought to maintain the essential body of doctrine of his Church, and to uphold its institutional character. He saw his duty as being to steer a middle course within the Church, between those elements calling for change and those who defended continuity. Pope Paul handled these challenges calmly and wisely, with moderation, tenacity and courage.
Pope Paul made strenuous efforts to encourage the ecumenical movement for Christian unity. He actively encouraged contact and fraternity within Christianity and between the major world religions. He sponsored ecumenical meetings for Christian unity, held numerous meetings with leaders of other churches, and looked forward to the eventual resolution of disunity.
Pope Paul also will be remembered for his important reforms to the organisation and structure of the Church. The implementation of the Vatican Council’s decision to allow celebration of the mass in the vernacular was an historic event of his reign. There were important changes initiated by Pope Paul in the field of international affairs. He strove tirelessly for world peace and for higher ideals in the conduct of world affairs.
Under him, the Vatican enhanced its already high stature in international diplomacy. It became a notable contributor to conferences such as those on world food problems, population, humanitarian law in armed conflict, and security and co-operation in Europe. Foreign policy concerns of the Holy See under Pope Paul included: Disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; improvement of social welfare; assisting the development of the poorer countries; evolution of relations with Marxist regimes; and a desire to expand official communications with the communist, Islamic and Asian world to ensure maintenance of freedom of Christian observance. He emphasised peace as the most essential need of our time, and this was reflected in his innovation of the observance of 1 January as the world day of peace.
I recall with warmth and appreciation my private audience with Pope Paul only last year, during which he gave expression to his concern for and promotion of peace amongst all the world ‘s citizens, and expressed at the same time a special concern for underprivileged developing nations. Pope Paul travelled widely, disregarding risks to his person, and became the first reigning Pontiff to visit all continents. We remember the affection generated by his visit to Australia in 1970. It was during his reign that Australia opened diplomatic relations with the Holy See. These have proved of great value in the conduct of Australia’s foreign affairs. Mr Speaker, Pope Paul was a man whose great strengths and personality became clearer the longer he remained Pope. His death saddened this country. It is a supreme loss for his Church and a real loss for all mankind. I commend the motion to the House.
– The Opposition joins with the Government in its expression of condolence at the death of His Holiness, Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul VI began his reign in the shadow of his predecessor. Pope John was not an easy man to follow in office. As well, Pope Paul reigned at a time of change both within and outside the Church. His efforts to protect the Church from the radical changes occurring outside while at the same time in a sense allowing for those changes, earned him the respect of the world. Pope Paul, in fact had become known for his compassion towards all men long before he became head of the Roman Catholic Church. His relentless efforts during World War II to aid displaced persons and political prisoners, and the impartiality with which he dealt with diplomatic representatives of all nations, won him much admiration.
In the critical days at the end of the War he served as the liaison between the Holy See and the Americans sent to Italy to establish the Catholic relief services. After the War he continued in his efforts to relieve the suffering of the homeless. Pope Paul never lost sight of the role of his Church in the international sphere. He reigned with great dignity during a period of considerable turbulence and change in international affairs. Not without sympathy I noted the problems he had to resolve in Vatican Council arising from differences between the progresives and the conservatives, or, as popular idiom might have it, between the left and right wings of the Council.
Among the more notable achievements during his regin was the celebration of mass by Roman Catholics in their own language, replacing the traditional all-Latin mass. Pope Paul was a healing Pope. The rift between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church- the Great Schism of 1054- was healed. The Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches came closer together. As spiritual leader for 15 years of 600 million people, his influence in the cause of peace and wise counsel helped shape the events of our time. He will be remembered too for his heartfelt appeal to the United Nations- ‘No more war; never again war’. The sense of loss in the Catholic Church caused by the death of this compassionate and gentle man will be shared by all Australians.
– I would like to associate the members of the National Country Party with the expressions of regret made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) on the Death of Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul died in the 1 5th year of his pontificate. In those 15 years, he experience developments and changes which no Pope before him had seen. Pope Paul’s reign saw not only great changes in his own Church but in the views and standards relating to many facets of life. He had to face up to many difficult and controversial issues and he did so with courage and resolution. He fought for the improvement of social welfare and development. He travelled widely to promote peace and goodwill. He visited not only christian countries but also opened up communication between the Vatican and communist countries. Pope Paul travelled to many countries throughout the world, and in Australia in 1970 he was greeted warmly by people of all faiths. His Australian visit was the first ever undertaken by a Pope. It contributed to bringing closer together Australian Christians and church leaders- an objective Pope Paul pursued throughout his time in office.
During Pope Paul’s 1 5-year reign, there were challenges by many Roman Catholics throughout the world to some of the centuries-old principles embodied in the activities and dogma of the Church. His determinaton to face these challenges firmly and without equivocation won him great respect, if not always agreement. One of the principal achievements of Pope Paul was to arrange the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul worked tirelessly to re-unite the whole Christian Church. He will be remembered for important changes within the Church, for his untiring efforts and contributions to peace and for his humanitarian understanding of world problems and conflicts. Prior to his death, he asked that no monument should be erected to him, but Pope Paul established his own monument in the 15 years of his office. The world is saddened by his death.
– On my own behalf and as a member of the Catholic community in this country I want to join with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) in expressing my deepest regret at the death of His Holiness Pope Paul VI. Pope Paul VI will long be remembered for what he did as head of the Catholic Church over a period of some 15 years and for what he sought to do in so many different areas during the whole of that period. In a world of massive change, His Holiness sought to place continuing emphasis upon the need for morality. He was an outstanding churchman, a great spiritual leader and a man of peace. I take this opportunity to join with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in expressing my sympathy.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honourable members standing in their places.
-I thank the House.
-I inform the House that on 3 1 July 1978 I received a letter from the Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam, A.C., Q.C. resigning his seat as member for the electoral division of Werriwa. I have this day issued a writ for the election of a member to service the electoral division of Werriwa in the State of New South Wales to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of the honourable gentleman. The dates in connection with the election were fixed as follows: Date of nomination, Friday, 1 September 1978; date of polling, Saturday, 23 September 1978, date of return of writ, on or before Friday, 27 October 1978.
-I wish to inform the House that His Excellency the Governor-General has advised me that, in reply to a joint address concerning the presentation of a mace to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory, Her
Majesty the Queen was pleased to direct that a mace be presented by and on behalf of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory to mark the conferring of responsible selfgovernment on the Northern Territory.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships and especially its Recommendations-
Therefore the Parliament has a responsibility to the families of Australia not to adopt this controversial Report and its Recommendations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Parliament will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take no measures concerning the Royal Commission on Human Relationships Report that will further undermine and weaken marriage, child-care or the family which is the basic unit of our society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Sir William McMahon, Mr Carlton, Mr Fitzpatrick, Mr Gillard, Mr Graham, Mr Hunt, Mr Charles Jones, Dr Klugman, Mr Lucock, Mr O’Keefe and Mr Stewart.
To Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petitioning of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners strongly oppose the removal of No. 6469 from the Medical Rebate list.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lynch, Mr Bourchier, Mr Falconer, Mr Garland, Mr Roger Johnston, Dr Klugman, Mr McLean, Mr Short and Mr Viner.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That Item 6469 of the standard Medical Benefits Table is the means by which payment is made for the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every year.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Item 6469 is removed from the standard Medical Benefits Table.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ellicott, Mr Howard, Mr Les Johnson, Mr Ian Robinson, Mr Short, Mr Staley and Mr Stewart.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament Assembled. The Petition of the Undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances.
The continuance of the Mean’s Test on pensions causes undue hardship to them.
We call on the Government to immediately Abolish the Mean’s Test on all Aged Pensions.
To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that All Australian Citizens will retire with dignity.
Acknowledge that a pension is a: ‘Right and Not a Charity’.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hyde, Mr Martyr, Mr Shack and Mr Viner.
The Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned members and ex-members of the Citizens Forces of Australia respectfully sheweth:
The Reserve Forces of Australia have been recognised by the present Government as a valuable- and costeffectivecomponent of the Defence Forces. Anomalously, whilst the Government is actually supporting recruiting for these Forces it has imposed and continued this deprivation which as foresaid has depressed the morale of the Citizen Forces.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray.
Your Honourable House take appropriate action to resume the award of the several distinctive and historic Reserve Forces Decorations and Medals to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Citizens Military Force (Army Reserve) and Citizens Air Force.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Aldred and Mr Hayden. Petitions received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because television and radio:
They therefore need stonger control than other media and the existing standards need stricter enforcement in both national ABC, and commercial sectors.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Government will amend the Broadcasting and Television Act, in relation to both national and commercial broadcasters, to legislate:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Baume and Mr Lusher.
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 flight training ground simulators were not generally available when Section 119(a) of the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935- 1973 was drafted and in consequence, by not being specifically mentioned, were excluded and;
That by reason of sales tax being included in the costings of pilot training charges for such simulators the cost of pilot training is higher that it would otherwise be and;
That because the use of ground training simulators adds considerably to the safety of and effectiveness of training and to the quality and efficiency of pilots in Australian skies and;
That while several large Australian commercial air transport organisations have imported such ground based simulators as ‘general aircraft parts and equipment’, the Act as presently framed effectively discriminates against small, general aviation pilot training organisations who cannot so do, thus being forced to unfairly pay heavy sales tax;
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
The Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935-1973 be amended to include exemptions for flight ground simulators, together with all other types of parts and equipment for aircraft.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Lucock and Mr O’Keefe.
To the Honorable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully say that we are concerned about the discrimination which exists against the children of those parents who are in receipt of the Supporting Parents Benefit in comparison with children of Single Parents who receive the Widows Pension. Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament take immediate steps to ensure that this year’s budget allow for Lone Parents to be given the right to receive a pension with the same benefits as are given with the Widows Pension, and we also request that Parliament take immediate action to instigate one (1) category of Lone Parent Pension to eliminate the discrimination currently experienced.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Porter and Mr O’Keefe.
Pre-school Centres: Subsidies
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
A Petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Minister for Social Services, requesting that Federal funding to the States for the purposes of subsidising pre-school centres, be restored to the real levels of value that were experienced prior to 1976, and that all attempts to erode the real value of the subsidies be resisted at every opportunity.
And your petitioners, as in dury bound, will ever pray, by Mr Lionel Bowen. Petition received.
To the Honourable Mr Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled.
We the undersigned protest very strongly with regard to the press reports that a means test will be put on the Family Allowance. We feel our allowance should be indexed as are all other Social Service payments, not reduced to make it ever more difficult for the women of Australia to make ends meet in regards to the needs of our families.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, by Mr Lionel Bowen. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
We, the undersigned citizens and/or taxpayers of Australia, speaking for ourselves and on behalf of the many who cannot become citizens because of their inability to speak English, request the House of Representatives to give immediate attention to the totally inadequate provision of English classes for migrants by the Australian Government.
Our intention is to impress upon the House that inability to speak English means discrimination- discrimination in the field of employment, in education and in social and political life.
And your petitioners, in duty bound, will ever pray, by Mr Lionel Bowen. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we believe that the Minister for Health should support the principle that Australians have the right to seek Immunotherapy treatment for Cancer and that we support any moves to expand research into, and the setting up of Clinics for Immunological management of Cancer within Australia.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that all support be given to the establishment of Immunotherapy Clinics in Australia thus giving Australian Cancer Patients a choice in the management of this disease.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr N. A. Brown. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned electors of Australia respectfully showeth that we humbly pray:
That we protest against the threatened deportation of Chilean people from Australia, considering the threat to their safety if they are forced to return to Chile. The estimated number of persons missing in Chile is 2,300, excluding the thousands of recognized political prisoners in Chilean jails.’
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Clyde Cameron. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth:
It would be a disgrace to the fine spirit of these heroes if we thought of saving their lives. ‘
Major Kamiya the prosecutor at the Japanese Court Martial who made the above comment went on to say, inter alia-
These heroes must have left Australia with sublime patriotism flowing in their breasts and with the confident expectation of all the Australian people on their shoulders.
As we respect them, so we feel our duty of glorifying their last moments as they deserve, and by doing so the names of these heroes will remain in the hearts of the British and Australian people for evermore. ‘
A specially commissioned March called ‘The Forgotten Heroes’ was played for the first time by the Band of the New South Wales Police Force.
Your Petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to approve the conferring of the medal on the men of ‘Jaywick’ and Rimau’ on behalf of the people of Australia to honor the memory of these gallant men so that future generations of Britain and Australia will know and admire what these men did and their memory will remain in the hearts of the British and Australian people for evermore.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Carlton. Petition received.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
A petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That withdrawal of Government benefits under Schedule 6469 for first trimester abortion would discriminate against and disadvantage the least privileged in our society.
Your Petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, should:
Under no circumstances withdraw Government benefit under Schedule 6469 of first trimester abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Dr Cass. Petition received.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled, this humble petition of the citizens of Western Australia will showeth that the undersigned are shocked by the reported decision of the Federal Government to enforce legislation to give powers to impose a tax on residents of subsidised accommodation.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the House takes note of our strongest objection to this proposal.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cotter.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Everingham.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: the humble petition of the undersigned concerned citizens respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, should ensure:
THAT the Commonwealth Government adopts the recommendations of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads for the funding of rural local roads and urban local roads in New South Wales for the triennium 1 977- 1 980.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr FitzPatrick.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hayden.
Broadcasting: Radio 3CR Melbourne
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That radio 3CR Melbourne, be made to adhere to the required standards of broadcasting, as laid down for all other radio stations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will enforce the required standard of broadcasting as laid down for all other stations, on community radio 3CR call on Federal Government to legislate against incitement to racial hatred and violence.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Holding.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the proposed changes to the Health Insurance Act discriminate against the poor and sick.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Medibank is restored to its original status as a universal health care fund, and to withdraw the changes to health fund legislation currently being processed.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hunt.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That they oppose the construction of any additional reactor at the Australian atomic energy establishment at Lucas Heights in New South Wales.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned citizens of the Commonealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Les Johnson. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Les Johnson. Petition received.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That as Section 44 (iv) of the Australian Constitution declares that ‘any person who holds any pension payable during the pleasure of the Crown out of any of the revenues of the Commonwealth shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives ‘, persons in receipt of Social Security payments including aged pensioners seem to be barred from nominating for Parliament unless the pension is surrendered. We request that the Attorney-General be asked to give a ruling on the eligibility of persons in receipt of Social Security payments to nominate for Parliament without having to surrender their pensions.
That in order to retain the living standards of citizens in receipt of the Age, Widow and Invalid Pensions that the respective Acts of Parliament be amended to provide for the indexation of entitlement to Health Benefit card and other fringe Benefits, and for the indexation of the following subsidies: Domiciliary Nursing Care Benefit, Funeral Benefit and Rent Subsidy, such indexation to be retroactive from the last adjustment, and that in particular, Funeral Benefit payments be increased immediately to $500.
That in order to maintain the health and mobility of elderly people, we request that the National Health Act and the Health Insurance Act be amended to include, under Medibank Standard health insurance cover, physiotherapy and chiropody costs incurred by Aged Pensioners.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Barry Jones.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we are most strongly opposed to the taxing and or removal of any or all of the Child Endowment currently due to Mothers of Australia.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Morris Petition received
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Australia in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Public Library Services of Western Australia are inadequate both in quality and quantity and that the burden of provision is placed too heavily upon Local Government. Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will ensure the implementation of the Recommendations of the Report of the ‘Committee of Inquiry into Public Libraries’ as a matter of urgency.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Shack. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned (electors of the Division of Grey) respectfully showeth:
That there is a possibility that KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will be given notice by the Australian Department of Transport to terminate its service to and from Australia. Your petitioners therefore humbly that as KLM have provided this service for fourty (40) years that no action be taken by the Department of Transport to terminate such service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Wallis. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state’.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government initiate a national family policy and use the concept of family impact statements as a means highlighting family needs.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Wilson.
– I inform the House that on 7 August 1978 Senator Withers ceased to be Minister for Administrative Services, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate. On the same date Senator Durack was appointed Minister for Administrative Services. Senator Carrick has been appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate and His Excellency has approved his appointment as Vice-President of the Executive Council. Senator Durack is also Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate. On 4 July the Minister for Special Trade Representations, Mr Garland, resigned the portfolio of Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for the Northern Territory, Mr Adermann, was appointed to it. Mr Adermann will continue as Minister for the Northern Territory until 1 October during the first three months of self-government in the Territory, after which it is intended that the portfolio will be abolished and its residual functions included in the portfolio of Home Affairs.
– I ask the Minister for Finance: Did he give evidence to the McGregor Royal Commission that on three separate occasions, including 17 January and 23 April, Senator Withers, in his presence, told the Prime Minister of his telephone conversation with the Chief Electoral Officer about a change in the proposed name of the Gold Coast electorate? Does the Minister recall those occasions as clearly now as he did when he gave that evidence?
-I gave evidence before the Royal Commission. If the Leader of the
Opposition and other honourable members want to read all that evidence I point out that there are about 100 pages of it in the transcript. I have nothing to add to the evidence I gave.
– The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations will be aware of the substantial reduction in telephone services, particularly for subscriber trunk dialling and people in country areas such as in the electorate of Macarthur as a result of the current dispute between the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association and Telecom Australia, and the very great effect that this is having on the community. As the matter has become confused by a host of accusations, will the Minister advise the House what are the facts of the dispute?
– I welcome the honourable gentleman’s question because I feel it is high time that attention was focused on the facts of the dispute rather than on the apparently clouded public relations exercise in which the union has been engaging in the last couple of days. I say that because I am not surprised that the union would try to obscure the real issues involved.
In answering the honourable gentleman’s question it is necessary to go back over some recent history. On 30 June the Australian Telecommunications Employees Association imposed work bans in three States in an attempt to press its claims for promotion of some of its members without the qualifications necessary for them to gain that promotion through the normal internal structures of the Australian Telecommunications Commission. For the Commission to have agreed to those demands would have meant abandoning the necessary qualifications standard. The dispute was the subject of proceedings before Commissioner Clarkson on a number of occasions before it was adjourned indefinitely, and it needs to be understood why it was adjourned indefinitely. The reason was the refusal of the union leaders to accept a working document prepared by all parties to the dispute as a basis for examining the classification structure of the Telecom Australia staff. On the recommendation of the federal executive of the union, the work bans and industrial disruption were then widened. At the time of the union ‘s action Commissioner Clarkson said:
It seems to me that if you -
That is the union- persist with the action which your members are now engaged in that you are inviting a confrontation . . . While you have got the bans on you are dosing the doors; nobody else is; and the simplest and most effective way of getting this dispute fixed is to lift those bans.
Those were the words of Commissioner Clarkson a couple of weeks ago. He concluded:
All in all, the situation is a mess, the quickest and easiest way of cleaning up the mess is to lift the bans.
Last Friday Commissioner Clarkson again sought to convene discussions. He proposed, inter alia, a 2 1-day cooling-off period. That evening Telecom communicated to the union its general acceptance of this proposition. The next day the Federal Executive of the union decided to reject the Clarkson proposals in the full knowledge of the Telecom general acceptance of them. That was made public before Commissioner Clarkson yesterday.
I would like to emphasise that Telecom has acted responsibly at all times and has sought to have this dispute settled through the proper processes available to it. On the other hand, the union has rejected any attempt to negotiate and has chosen to revert to strike and ban action designed to impair the effectiveness of the nation’s telecommunications network. I would like to say that the Government supports Telecom in the action it has taken, following the normal negotiating procedures. It has taken all reasonable steps to resolve this dispute.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. The Minister is reading from a document. There are many pages to it. It looks like a prepared text. He is reading from a speech rather than answering a question. The tactic is obvious- it is to limit the number of questions that the Opposition wishes to raise on a rather embarrassing topic to this Government.
-There is no point of order. I ask the honourable gentleman to resume his seat.
-Mr Speaker, it was important to quote verbatim some of the material that I have given the House because it was from transcript- and that I have done.
-I ask the Minister to continue his answer.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think it is also important to note that officials of Telecom have repeatedly assured the union that there would be no retrenchments as a result of the installation of the new equipment.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. As the Minister is quoting from the document, I ask that it be tabled.
-I will ask the Minister to do that at the end of his answer.
– I have no objection whatever, Mr Speaker.
- Mr Speaker, I raise a further point of order. It is consistent with your rulings that Ministers be short in their replies. This is obviously not a question without notice. The Opposition would make time available to the Minister after Question Time to make a statement. The Minister is now taking up precious time of the Question Time period. Your rulings have always been that Ministers should make their replies short. The Minister has been speaking now for over five minutes.
-I call the Minister.
– Finally, Telecom has assured the ATEA that it would facilitate the training of its members to reach the new standards which would enable them to get the higher classification that they have been claiming. So the inconvenience caused by this dispute rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Federal Executive of the ATEA, as indeed Commissioner Clarkson has pointed out. It is high time the union stopped clouding the issue and sat down to negotiate a settlement of the dispute in the proper area- and that is the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I am sure the reply will be more brisk and to the point than the last answer.
Government supporters- Oh!
– Well, let us see.
-The Leader of the Opposition will ask his question.
-Does the Minister recall whether he was present at a meeting of Ministers at The Lodge on 23 April, as stated in evidence before the McGregor Royal Commission? Does he recall Senator Withers informing that meeting that he had telephoned the Chief Electoral Officer suggesting a change of name for the proposed electorate of Gold Coast?
– Yes, I was at the meeting to which the Leader of the Opposition referred and I recall Senator Withers raising the question of his communication with the Chief Electoral Officer on that occasion.
– So you knew too.
-There was no secret about that. It was presented before the Royal Commission.
-Does the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs recall my question without notice on 1 3 April this year concerning the role of the Uniting Church in Australia in the new local government arrangements applying to the Aboriginal communities at Aurukun and Mornington Island? Does he recall, in reply, giving an assurance that as self-managing authorities, the communities would be in a position to seek the assistance of whomever they want? In the light of the forcible ejection of advisors from a recent meeting between the Queensland Premier and the Aurukun Council, can he say whether the Queensland Government is adhering to the original agreement? Is the Minister now in a position to repeat his assurance that the communities will be self-managing authorities and be able to seek the assistance of whomever they want?
– I recall the honourable gentleman’s question and the answer I gave at that time. The Government’s position with regard to that matter is the same now as it was then. We have a firm commitment to see that these communities can become self-managing communities under the local government legislation. Over recent weeks I have maintained continuous contact with my counterpart in this regard, Mr Hinze, the Minister for Local Government, to iron out difficulties that had arisen and to see that the legislation has an opportunity to work.
As to the specific instance referred to by the honourable gentleman arising out of the visit of the Queensland Premier to Aurukun last week, I am assured that my officer, Mr Kaufman, was not forcibly ejected. I cannot speak for the other gentleman, Mr Purcell. The position is that the communities, through their shire councils, are in a position to employ whomever they wish to advise them and work for them in pursuance of their self-management functions under that local government legislation.
-I ask my question of the Minister for Finance. I direct his memory to the evidence he gave before the McGregor Royal Commission on 6 June last where he indicated on 3 occasions that the then Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Withers, had told the Prime Minister, in his presence, of a conversation with the Chief Australian Electoral Officer in respect of the change of name of the Gold Coast electorate. I refer the honourable gentleman to the evidence where he said:
I can clearly remember a meeting on 23 April -
This was the last of the three meetings to which he referred-
I ask the honourable gentleman whether his recollection is still accurate and whether the evidence then given is in accordance with the present situation?
-In answer to the honourable member I repeat that the evidence was sworn evidence given at a royal commission. The record of that evidence has been read out correctly. I have nothing to add to that evidence.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. In view of the present world price of sugar, which remains very seriously depressed in spite of a recent price increase, can the Minister indicate what action the Government is taking to try to bring about some improvement in the world sugar market?
– There has been very great concern about the lowering of the world price of sugar, particularly since we negotiated an International Sugar Agreement last year with the hope of improving the price. The main reason that the price has not responded has been the delay in the United States ratifying the International Sugar Agreement and the European Economic Community not becoming associated with that Agreement and restraining its exports to the world market. This year the EEC has given approval for 2.9 million tonnes of sugar to be exported with an export subsidy in excess of $700m. This, of course, is having a very disruptive effect on the world price and the operations of the International Sugar Agreement.
While in Geneva I had discussions with senior officials, both of the United States Government and the EEC, and asked that they take appropriate action. I also spoke to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to obtain the support of the developing countries, which are greatly concerned, so that they may use their influence and pressure. I also called a meeting of the International Sugar Council executive so that it might confirm its desire that America and the EEC take action. I believe that all of these steps are leading to a situation where the American Congress will ratify the Agreement. This probably will not take place until next month. If it does not ratify it, I believe that will have very serious consequences for the International Sugar Agreement, for
UNCTAD, for the integrated commodity program and for the Common Fund. So it is very important that the United States ratifies it and that the EEC becomes a member.
-I direct a question to the Prime Minister. I refer to the findings of the McGregor Royal Commission on the impropriety of one of his Ministers. When did the Prime Minister first become aware that Senator Withers had telephoned the Chief Electoral Officer suggesting a change of name for the proposed electorate of Gold Coast?
-At an appropriate time the report will be tabled and at an appropriate time a statement will be made about it.
– Make it now.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle has interjected constantly today. I warn him to cease interjecting.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In view of the fact that the families of some of my constituents have lost their lives in bombardment by the Syrian forces in Lebanon and in view of the fact that three relatives of my constituents are in Lebanon and cannot get to the international airport to fly back to Australia, despite their being Australian citizens, will the Minister inform the House of the situation in Lebanon and advise what these Australian citizens should do to get to the airport?
-From the honourable member’s question it appears that some of his constituents are visiting Lebanon. If he will give me the specific information about those constituents and their relatives to which he has referred, naturally I will have inquiries made. I recall discussing with officers of my Department last month the desirability of warning Australians about travelling in Lebanon. This tragedy has been recurring for some time now. The ceasefire that came into effect on approximately 10 August appears at present to be holding, but the reality is that it is one of a series of ceasefires that have collapsed since the outbreak of major fighting in February. The latest accord may have a better chance of success since it reportedly contains provisions aimed at a disengagement of forces within the city of Beirut. The Australian Embassy, which is in West Beirut, has been keeping the Department fully informed of developments on a day to day basis. Naturally the Government welcomes the ceasefire and hopes that in the interests of the inhabitants of Beirut law and order can be restored and a peaceful political settlement arrived at as soon as possible.
I ask the honourable member to give me details of the matter he has raised specifically and I shall have investigations made to ascertain what we can do. His concern for his constituents is a by-word amongst Government members, and I reiterate that we share the concern for not only his constituents but also people in the wider community who have suffered grievously and tragically in Lebanon.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the sworn evidence of the Minister for Finance, which the Minister confirmed today, that Senator Withers told the Prime Minister on 1 7 January of his telephone call to the Chief Electoral Officer regarding the change of name of the proposed electorate of Gold Coast? Does he deny the accuracy of the Minister’s evidence?
-The honourable gentleman could not have heard what I said a moment ago. At an appropriate time the report will be tabled and at an appropriate time a statement will be made about it.
-Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware of a report on the Australian Broadcasting Commission news this morning that President Carter has stated that he will not allow any further beef imports into the United States this year and that there will be no unrestricted flow of beef into the United States next year? Can the Minister advise the House whether this announcement will mean a cutback in access for Australian beef to the USA? Will any new restrictions apply to the additional quota that Australia gained earlier this year?
– I do not think that any issue affects the profitability of the Australian meat industry more than the question of access to the United States market. Hence the reported statement by President Carter at Columbus, Missouri, yesterday and its implications for future levels of Australian beef imports in to the United States is of profound concern to Australian producers and certainly to the Australian Government. Indeed, since the so-called Bentsen counter-cyclical proposals passed the United States Senate and were referred to the House Ways and Means Committee the Government has been particularly concerned to ensure that there is understanding by the average consumer in the United States of the level of imports into that country. In fact it represents only about 7 per cent of the domestic consumption. Yet to a country such as Australia such imports are quite critical in being able to maintain overall national and international economic programs. In the multilateral trade negotiations, at which Australia has been led by the Deputy Prime Minister and supported by the Minister for Special Trade Representations, Australia and the United States have generally taken a line stressing the necessity to include agricultural products with industrial products in any conclusions reached with respect to a lessening of trade barriers. Therefore it seems paradoxical that within the United States itself people should be making statements which suggest the need for further restrictive legislation, particularly pertaining to agricultural products.
As far as the level of United States imports is concerned, it is true that recently there has been an increase of 200 million lb in the restraint levels for this year. That will increase the actual quotas to the highest point ever. But against that it needs to be said that in 1972 and 1973, when no quotas were applied, the level of Australian beef exports to the United States was even higher. So the prevailing level of beef imports, although somewhat better than the position in preceding years, is certainly not as satisfactory as it was in 1972 and 1973. Of course this has a very marked effect on the prices paid by American consumers and, in an election year in that country, one would hope that members of the Congress would be concerned to listen not only to the American cattlemen but also to the American consumers. I understand that there has been some reduction in the prices paid on the average for beef consumed in United States households since the relaxation of imports but it is still true that price levels there are significantly higher than they are anywhere else in the world.
From the Australian producers’ point of view, the Australian Government is pursuing every possible course to ensure that no further restrictive legislation is imposed by the United States Congress and, certainly, that before any such legislation is passed the American Administration realises the implications for its own country, for the negotiations that the United States is pursuing in the MTN and for countries such as Australia which are so heavily dependent upon continued access to the United States market. I believe that the American Administration generally is conscious of many of these forces. Through visits to the United States by individual Ministers and approaches by representatives of the Australian Government, we are trying to ensure that there is recognition not only by the American Administration but also by members of the Congress and the Senate of the implications of any new moves to restrain beef imports to their country.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that in the discussion of the McGregor Royal Commission’s report on 8 August the Prime Minister told Senator Withers: ‘You are in trouble’? Is it a fact that Senator Withers responded: ‘You mean, we are in trouble’? Is the Prime Minister aware that this widely reported account of their conversation was disseminated to journalists by Senator Withers in a series of briefings last week.
– I refer the honourable gentleman to my previous two answers on this subject.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. In view of the crash of a light aircraft at Essendon, which led to considerable loss of life, and the near collision off Sydney of two Boeing 747 aircraft, can the Minister inform the House what action has been taken to ensure Australia’s continued high standard of air safety?
– Officers of my Department automatically swing into operation as soon as incidents, such as those mentioned by the honourable member, occur. The Air Safety Investigation Branch began an immediate investigation and it will eventually report to me on each of those incidents. Insofar as the general question of air safety is concerned, I am able to tell the House that in terms of statistics- mark you, statistics are never satisfactory to those people who are involved in incidents of this nature- the fact is that there has been a declining trend over the last 10 years in incidents of this nature. In terms of manpower of the Department and funds made available for expenditure in areas which fall within my responsibility, each year I have made sure that, despite budgeting difficulties with which the Government might be faced, appropriate funds are found for the continuance of a program of maintenance of air safety. In fact, I have said on occasion after occasion that I am not prepared to prejudice air safety because of budgeting difficulties. If the honourable member waits until tonight’s Budget he will see that an appropriate amount of money has been made available for air safety and for the maintenance of air facilities. Incidents of this nature are a very vexed problem. When the reports on these incidents come to hand I will, of course, table them in the Parliament.
-I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I would like him to answer it now. It refers to the McGregor Royal Commission. Why did the terms of reference of the McGregor Royal Commission drafted under the supervision of the Prime Minister’s office and announced on 24 April exclude any reference to the involvement of Senator Withers in the electorate name change, which was known both to the Prime Minister and to the Attorney-General at that time and which was later found to be an act that was improper?
– I again refer the honourable gentleman to the previous answers on this subject.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Can the Minister confirm reports that agreement has been reached between Australia and Great Britain on the level of a discounted air fare, possibly $570? If so, when will that fare be officially announced? Will the fare be restricted to travel on Qantas Airways Ltd and British Airways only? Because of some confusion in the travel industry when will the full report of the International Civil Aviation Review be available to the Parliament?
– The negotiations with the British Government in respect of cheaper air fares in and out of this country have been proceeding very satisfactorily. The British team returned to the United Kingdom about a week ago to report to the Government there. The next step is for me to arrange for negotiations to be undertaken with other countries of Europe, Asia and America that have airlines coming in and out of Australia. A team will be leaving for America towards the end of this month. There have been a number of reports stating that for some reason the Australian Government has got the axe into KLM, JAT, Lufthansa, UTA and, I suppose, Alitalia. A great number of representations have been made to me, particularly about KLM.
As I have said, the facts are that we will be sending a team to negotiate with the Dutch Government and other governments of Europe within the next couple of weeks. Those governments can make their own judgments about the proposals that we have. I point out to the House that on a previous occasion when there was an opportunity for KLM to pick up a cheaper air fare which British Airways and Qantas had negotiated and agreed to, KLM showed no interest in that particular air fare. Therefore, I am unable to make a judgment as to whether KLM will be interested in the sorts of proposals that we have before us. A great variety of figures has been chosen by media writers and others speculating about the air fares. I can confirm for the honourable member that the figure chosen will be of great interest to the members of the Australian travelling public. It is certainly much cheaper than any fare available today. However, I am not able to disclose the actual figure because it is part of the negotiations and it would be improper for me to confirm a figure that as yet has not been conveyed to other governments. I know that the honourable member will understand my sensitivity on that point. I hope to be in a position to table at an early date the report of the International Civil Aviation Review.
– I direct a question to the Deputy Prime Minister. I refer him to his statement on the PM radio program of 10 August, namely:
The first I knew about the name change question was when the Attorney-General reported it to us- I think the Prime Minister and myself. All I know is that I was aware of the question of the name change when the Attorney-General reported it to us.
On what date did the Attorney-General report on the change of name of the Queensland electorates to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister? Was this prior to the establishment of the McGregor Royal Commission?
-As the Prime Minister has said, he will be making a statement on this matter. With respect, that will give a satisfactory answer to the question.
– On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I submit that the Deputy Prime Minister was asked what he knew. It is beyond the comprehension of this House to imagine that the Prime Minister would be able to indicate all that is in the mind or not in the mind of the Deputy Prime Minister.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no point of order.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Is the Government aware of reports that the Russian Navy may gain access to the naval base facilities at Cam Ranh Bay on the coast of Vietnam? Would he agree that such access would affect seriously the strategic balance in the South East Asian and Pacific region?
-During the course of the Vietnam war the United States of America built up a major sea and air base at Cam Ranh Bay which was one of the major naval installations, certainly in the Pacific theatre, and I believe that it is a major naval installation by any standards in the world. Concern has been expressed from time to time since the end of the Vietnam conflict that Russia might gain access to Cam Ranh Bay as a major addition to its own shore based facilities, thus enormously increasing the Soviet Union’s strategic reach into the Pacific and linking up the Soviet facilities at Vladivostok and in the Indian Ocean. Of course, we know that the Soviet Union has a great capacity to maintain ships at sea for long periods and can reach into any part of the world from its present facilities. But another major land based facility at Cam Ranh Bay would enormously increase the Soviet Union’s capacity to reach out with great strength.
This Government has been concerned for the maintenance of balance in the Indian Ocean. We have been concerned for the maintenance of balance, albeit at the lowest possible level. But activities of recent times by the Soviet Union have not given us great cause to be confident that the Soviet Union shares that particular objective. In addition, the countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations have policies designed to make sure that the military activities of the major powers do not impact on the region. We have always supported the ASEAN nations very strongly in that objective. I am quite certain that the ASEAN countries would not want to see additional incursions of any kind that would upset the present situation. A major development at Cam Ranh Bay by the Soviet Union would be such a development.
In addition to that unsettling factor, we have the fact that the move would inevitably tend to push Vietnam towards closer and closer links with the Soviet union in contradistinction with its relations with China. That would impose additional stresses and strains on the region which it could well do without. All in all, in terms of stability and strategic balance, there is nothing whatever to commend such a movement of Russians into Cam Ranh Bay. It would upset the balance of the region, it would unsettle the politics of the region, and it is a move that would need to be condemned. I think it is symptomatic, knowing these concerns and knowing very much that they are shared by the ASEAN countries, that they have a concern about the future directions of the policies of some countries, even though in recent times there have been encouraging moves and encouraging developments which I think ought to be applauded. They are concerned about events such as those to which the honourable gentleman drew attention that could lead to instability.
I think it is worth noting that the Leader of the Opposition indicated during one of his recent excursions overseas that in his view such a move would not involve any instability whatsoever. I can only say that that is typical of the view that has been taken by the Leader of the Opposition and by his predecessors over a great many years- that an extension of power and influence by the Soviet Union does not create instability. I wonder how many countries in Africa or how many observers of Africa one could ask that question of and get the same kind of answer. That kind of attitude in relation to the extension of the Soviet Union’s influence needs to stand in stark contrast with the Opposition ‘s general criticism of the efforts of the United States whenever that country undertakes initiatives designed to maintain balance. We know quite well the arguments about North- West Cape which have been going on for a long period- arguments that have been revived in the last couple of years. We know quite well its opposition to the development of facilities at Diego Garcia. I think it is just as well that not only this House but also the people of Australia should be reminded from time to time of the natural inclinations which are carried through from past Leaders of the Opposition to this particular Leader of the Opposition. If this Government has to make a choice, in blunt and plain terms, between naval facilities under the control of the United States and those under the control of the Soviet Union, I guarantee that we would prefer those facilities under the control of the United States. We do not wish to see an extension of major facilities under the control of the Soviet Union that would upset the strategic balance and which would, at the same time, be viewed with great disfavour by ASEAN countries and which would lead to the possibility of political instability of a very serious kind.
– I move:
I move this motion out of necessity. It is obvious-
-I interrupt the honourable gentleman. The motion has to be in writing.
- Mr Speaker, I might be able to help the honourable gentleman. I would be delighted to make a statement about the Royal Commission report forthwith.
– Yes, but will you allow me time to reply forthwith?
– We will allow the honourable gentleman plenty of time.
-That is excellent.
-Does the Leader of the Opposition wish to seek leave to withdraw his motion?
– Yes, indeed. I understand that the Prime Minister will make a statement. He is such a devious man that I would like to make sure.
– I would like to make a statement.
– Will the Prime Minister do it? Senators Withers cannot trust him; why should I have to trust him?
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. Is leave granted for the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw his motion?
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent, firstly, the Prime Minister forthwith presenting to the House a copy of the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Matters in Relation to Electoral Redistribution in Queensland in 1977 together with certain related documents and, secondly, the Prime Minister moving a motion in relation to those papers and debate on the motion proceeding forthwith.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Matters in Relation to Electoral Redistribution, Queensland 1977, and maps Nos. 1 to 4 attached to the report.
I also present the following for the information of honourable members:
A copy of a letter dated 21 April 1978 from the former Minister for Administrative Services to the Attorney-General; a copy of a letter dated 23 April 1978 from the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General to the Prime Minister; a copy of a letter dated 24 April 1978 from the Chief Australian Electoral Officer to the AttorneyGeneral; a copy of a letter dated 11 May 1978 from the Attorney-General to Mr Justice McGregor, a copy of a letter dated 1 1 May 1978 from the Attorney-General to the honourable member for Fadden; and a copy of a letter dated 12 May 1978 from Mr Justice McGregor to the Attorney-General.
It may be helpful to honourable members if I briefly set out the key events leading up to the setting up of this royal commission. Allegations were made by the present honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) on 21 December 1977 that one of his parliamentary colleagues had had an undue influence on the redistribution in that State. It soon became apparent that the person to whom the honourable member was referring was the Minister for Finance (Mr Robinson).
I discussed this matter on 1 7 January with the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Administrative Services and it was decided that a meeting should be held in my office on the following day attended by me, those two Ministers, and the honourable members for Fadden, Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and Bowman (Mr Jull). As a result of the meeting on 1 8 January, and with the agreement of the Minister for Administrative Services and the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), I requested the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General to examine the complaints which had been put forward. The honourable member for Fadden had a lengthy document, which he showed me briefly, about his allegations. He did not leave a copy with me but agreed to discuss it with the Solicitor-General.
I rang Senator Durack to tell him what happened at the meeting, and at my request Senator Withers, as the responsible Minister, reported further to Senator Durack on the matter. The law officers’ advices of 9 February and 15 February were referred to by Senator Withers in the Senate on 28 February. In summary, that advice was that the matters complained of neither required nor warranted Government action.
The issue was raised again on 7 April. On that day the law officers’ advice was tabled after the honourable member for Fadden had again adverted to his allegations. The honourable member for Fadden referred to some statutory declarations which were additional to the material the Attorney-General and the SolicitorGeneral had previously considered.
There were several discussions between Ministers on 10 April at which both Senators Withers and Durack were present, to decide what action should be taken and it was again decided that this additional material should be submitted to the law officers for further advice. On the same day, the original memoranda of advice of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General were incorporated in Hansard.
On or about 11 April the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Pearson, read the memoranda for the first time in Hansard. After discussing the matter with Senator Withers, he spoke to the SolicitorGeneral. Mr Pearson informed the SolicitorGeneral that in mid-September Senator Withers had discussed with him the naming of the electorate of the Minister for Finance and that at Senator Withers’ suggestion, Mr Pearson had spoken to the chairman of the Queensland distribution commissioners, Mr Coleman, on this matter.
The Attorney-General was informed of this orally by the Solicitor-General on 14 April. Senator Durack approached Senator Withers who confirmed what Mr Pearson had said. Senator Durack then told me on 16 April of the telephone conversations between Senator Withers and Mr Pearson, and between Mr Pearson and Mr Coleman.
Now let me make one point quite clear. This was the first occasion on which I became aware of Senator Withers’ intervention. While not reflecting in the slightest on the evidence of the Minister for Finance, I have absolutely no recollection of the matter being raised in any previous discussions. It is also fair to say that in his evidence to the royal commission, Senator Withers has no clear recollection of raising the matter with me on 17 January, nor has there been any suggestion that the matter was raised in the lengthy discussions Senator Withers and I had with the honourable member for Fadden. If I had had any relevant information relating to the inquiries of the law officers, eitheron 1 8 January or 10 April, I would have referred it to them. I state that categorically and absolutely.
Both the Attorney-General and I were concerned that this information, which was clearly relevant to the allegations against the Minister for Finance, was not made available to the law officers in January and as a result their original advice was deficient. There were further discussions between Ministers on 17 April. On the following day I left for Japan. From there I requested that a report of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General be ready for discussion upon my return.
On 2 1 April, Senator Withers wrote to Senator Durack confirming details of the telephone conversations and his reason for making them. Mr Pearson also wrote to the Attorney-General supporting Senator Withers’ letter. Both these letters have been tabled. On 23 April, a meeting was held at the Lodge of a number of Ministers to consider the report from the law officers which I had sought to expedite while in Japan. This report resulted from the Government’s reference to the law officers of additional material on 10 April. The report was incorporated in the letter dated 23 April which I have tabled and advised that further investigation was required and that a judicial inquiry would be preferable. The Ministers agreed that a royal commission should be appointed forthwith, so that the allegations could be examined fully and publicly.
The Ministers discussed proposed terms of reference and the precise form was settled the following day and is set out in the letters patent of 24 April. The letters patent referred specifically to the change of name of the electorate and were quite wide enough to allow all the relevant evidence to be heard, and I emphasise that point as one of substance. It was not unnatural that as the only allegations which had been made concerned the Minister for Finance and the Queensland distribution commissioners, then, as to the commission’s findings, the terms of reference referred to those persons for these were the matters in Ministers’ minds. These were the matters subject to examination. The telephone conversations of Senator Withers and Mr Pearson were raised at the meeting.
The Attorney-General’s advice on 23 April was that in his view these telephone conversations were not contrary to the Electoral Act, a view subsequently confirmed by the royal commission, but constituted evidence relevant to the charges against the Minister for Finance and should come forward at the hearings of the royal commission. Ministers agreed with this advice. As soon as the royal commission had been appointed, the Attorney-General arranged for papers to be made available to counsel assisting the royal commission including details of the telephone conversations between Senator Withers and Mr Pearson, and between Mr Pearson and the chairman of the distribution commissioners. In this way, the AttorneyGeneral made absolutely sure that the details of the telephone conversations would be disclosed in public evidence before the commission.
All the Government’s actions, it can be seen, were prompted by a desire to have all the facts brought out at the royal commission. Allegations were then made, supported by statutory declarations, relating to alleged statements by the Minister for Finance on the Government’s decision on uranium mining. The Government decided that the terms of reference should be widened to cover the uranium allegations and revised terms of reference were drafted by the law officers. New letters patent incorporating the revised terms of reference were issued on 10 May.
The following day and before any evidence was heard by the commission, the AttorneyGeneral wrote to the royal commissioner indicating that the Government was willing to extend his terms of reference further if any matters came to his notice indicating that in the course of the redistribution any person had acted improperly or in breach of a Commonwealth law. On the same day, Senator Durack wrote to the honourable member for Fadden urging him to place before the counsel assisting the royal commissioner any further material he had which supported his allegations. I have tabled these two letters from the Attorney-General, together with His Honour’s reply on 12 May.
On 15 May, Mr Pearson, and on 22 May, Senator Withers, gave evidence before the royal commission about the telephone conversations. On 26 May, Senator Withers answered questions in the Senate directed to whether he had misled the Senate in statements he made on 4 November 1977 concerning the naming of the McPherson electorate. On 28 May, a meeting of a group of Ministers and officials from my Department and the Attorney-General’s Department met to consider the situation.
In accordance with the Government’s policy throughout this matter, as reflected in Senator Durack ‘s letter to Mr Justice McGregor of 11 May, to have all allegations of illegality or impropriety in the course of the McPherson redistribution fully heard and determined, Cabinet decided on 30 May to have the terms of reference widened again so that the royal commission could make a finding on whether any breach of the law of the Commonwealth or any impropriety had occurred on the part of any person in the course of the McPherson redistribution.
I now turn to the findings made by the Royal Commission. Mr Justice McGregor entirely exonerated the Honourable Eric Robinson of allegations concerning the Queensland redistribution. His Honour said:
No breach of a law of the Commonwealth or impropriety occurred in the course of the redistribution in 1977 of the State of Queensland into Electoral Divisions for the election of Members of the House of Representatives, including the change of the name of a proposed division from ‘Gold Coast ‘ to ‘ McPherson ‘ by reason of
anything said or action taken by or on behalf of the Honourable Eric Robinson;
any action taken by (he Distribution Commissioners or any of them as a result of anything said or action taken by or on behalf of the Honourable Eric Robinson; or
any communication by the Distribution Commissioners to the Honourable Eric Robinson.
On the issue of allegations about statements made by Mr Robinson on uranium, the Commissioner reported:
On 26 July 1 977 at Beaudesert in the State of Queensland, the Honourable Eric Robinson made a statement concerning the likely decisions of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the mining or uranium in Australia to the following effect-
The Government will be making a decision about mining and export of uranium early in the Budget session which commences in about three weeks’ time.
If the Government is satisfied that all interests requiring protection can be protected, I would expect the Government to authorise mining and export of uranium.
This was a statement to which no exception can be taken. Accordingly, I wrote last week to Mr Robinson asking him to resume his portfolio as Minister for Finance. The Royal Commission similarly exonerated completely the Chief Electoral Officer and the three Queensland Distribution Commissioners. The Royal Commissioner thus concluded that the drawing of the boundaries of the McPherson electorate was carried out without any illegality or impropriety on the part of any person.
With respect to Senator Withers, the Royal Commissioner found that the Minister had done nothing illegal, but that in respect of his involvement in the naming of the electorate, in the words of the report:
The action of Senator the Right Honourable R. G. Withers constitutes impropriety within the meaning of the Letters Patent dated 30 May 1978. Senator Withers used his position to further a political purpose by an approach (not open to members of the public) to the Distribution Commissioners. That purpose was not made known to them, and it was foreign to the matters which were proper for their consideration. Had the Commissioners been made aware of what was behind the approach, they would not have entertained it.
However, believing they were being invited merely to correct an error on their part, they went along with the suggestion which was put to them. Whilst Senator Withers did not seek to influence, or influence, the Commissioners in any way about how they should perform their duties of distribution of the Electoral Divisions in Queensland, he did seek to influence them, and he did in fact influence them, through an intermediary, as to something which they proposed to say in their Report, that is to say, the names which they tentatively attached to two Electoral Divisions. What he did, having regard to the purpose with which he did it, in myjudgment constitutes impropriety.
Mr Justice McGregor thus found that an impropriety had been committed not because of Senator Withers’ act of communicating with Mr Pearson about the name of the electorate but because of ‘the purpose with which he did it’. The Commissioner exonerated the Chief Electoral Officer who was a party to the same act but who did not have, in the judgment of the Commissioner, and was not aware of in the view of the Commissioner, the motive which the Commissioner found to be the real reason for Senator Withers’ telephone calls.
Senior Ministers considered carefully what should be done in the light of this finding and of the judge’s definitions of impropriety. We had no doubt that our first and foremost responsibility was the maintenance of the high standards of propriety set and maintained by this Government. We were of the view that we had no option but to accept Mr Justice McGregor’s report and accepting it had inevitable consequences in respect of the finding of impropriety. In coming to decisions on these particular matters, it was necessary to have in mind the answers given by Senator Withers in the Senate on 4 November and 26 May in the light of the evidence which emerged at the Royal Commission and the findings of the Commission. As I said in my statement when the report was released on 8 August:
The community rightly demands a high standard from the Ministers of the Government.
The judgments on Ministers are more exacting and sometimes more harsh than the judgments which might be passed on those outside the sphere of public life.
If these high standards were not upheld, the people’s confidence in Government- a confidence which is fundamental to Australian democracy- would be undermined.
The Government has an obligation to uphold them even though the cost can be and is in this instance, a high one.
Thus on 7 August I recommended to His Excellency the Governor-General that he should determine Senator Withers’ appointment as Minister for Administrative Services.
Throughout this whole matter, the Government has consistently acted to have the allegations examined by the law officers, and then, in their recommendations, by the Royal Commission. Twice, when new allegations and issues were raised, the Royal Commission’s terms of reference were widened. The totality of the Government’s actions was designed to elicit all the facts on the allegations which had been made. I remind the House that the terms of reference were sufficiently wide to encompass findings in respect of any other Minister, public servant or person. The decisions we made were difficult and not without pain. Senator Withers has a fine record as a Minister and as Leader of the Government in the Senate. It is with a considerable sadness that matters have concluded as they have. Senator Withers’ energy, ability and experience will be greatly missed by the Government.
– If the impropriety committed by Senator Withers is so serious that he should be peremptorily dismissed from ministerial office by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) then the Prime Minister too should stand down. The Prime Minister is as deeply implicated in this matter as Senator Withers. The events associated with this affair cannot be dismissed in the way the Prime Minister has suggested today. The Royal Commission report deals with only one narrow aspect which, despite its importance, is one of the lesser concerns of this Parliament. The central issue for this Parliament and for the community at large is the conduct of the Prime Minister, not of Senator Withers. The evidence given before the Royal Commission, not just its report, raises many serious questions which must be answered before the Parliament can discuss the matter in a meaningful way. The Prime Minister obviously is seeking to avoid these questions and to avoid meaningful debate. He is hoping that he can bury the issues beneath the weight of publicity for the Budget. He is terrified of the mounting tensions within the Government parties. He is terrified of the challenge to his own position.
– That was last week ‘s script.
– Whistling in the dark to prove you are brave will not reassure anyone. In the tactics he is attempting today the Prime Minister is demonstrating his contempt for this Parliament in the same way that he demonstrated it over this affair throughout the first half of this year. Let me state now that we are not prepared to let the matter rest at this point. We intend to raise it tomorrow, the day after and next week, and after that again if it is appropriate. This matter is going to continue to haunt the Prime Minister, and properly so. We are being asked today to whitewash a conspiracy. We will have no part of that proposition; nor, we believe, will the Australian people. Events and facts already on the public record challenge the basic credibility of the Prime Minister and his Government. They challenge the fitness of the Prime Minister and his Government to hold office. It is absurd to suggest that they can be brushed aside with a statement that ignores the fundamental issues and attempts to paint a tainted government as the virtuous defender of probity in public life. I repeat: We do not intend today to explore fully all of the matters that concern us on this issue. I reaffirm that we will be raising this matter tomorrow, and the Prime Minister can prepare himself for that, the day after that and next week too. It is our belief that the Prime Minister has established by his conduct in this matter that his behaviour is not the behaviour of an honest man. He ought to resign.
Let us look at some of the matters we will be exploring in the course of the next few days. How can the Prime Minister ignore the statement of the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) in this Parliament on 3 November last year? Whatever differences the Opposition may have with the honourable member for Lilley, it concedes his integrity and his determination to serve a principle. He is not a double dealer; he is not a dissembling representative in this Parliament. He is also not given to exaggeration in an effort to make a case, least of all a case that is damaging to his own team. On 3 November 1 977, the honourable member for Lilley said: . . I am of a mind that the redistribution in Queensland was a dishonest redistribution. I am certainly of a mind that section 21 of the Act was not adhered to in that redistribution. To put it bluntly, I believe that some cheating went on.
That is, the distribution commissioners- got a message from on high, perhaps by way of a telephone call.
That is prescient in the light of what has transpired. There was no guesswork there. But backbenchers already knew the felony that was afoot on the part of the top people in government. The honourable member for Lilley continued:
But they made a significant change in names such as has not occurred before in redistributions . . .
It was improper conduct; corrupt conduct. The former Minister for Administrative Services was party principal to it and Mr Big was the Prime Minister who knew all along of the implication of the Minister for Administrative Services. Now no one is going to suggest seriously to me that any comment from a senior member of the Government, with the standing and respect that the honourable member for Lilley enjoys bipartisanly in this House would be ignored and that the Prime Minister would fail to make some sort of inquiry when such a serious and damaging allegation was made against the Government of which the honourable member for Lilley, who was previously a Minister in a conservative government, is part.
There are the statements of the Minister for Finance- sworn testimony before the Royal Commission- that on 17 January, 23 April and some time in between, with other Ministers present, Senator Withers on three occasions told the Prime Minister of his implication in this matter. The Prime Minister is seeking in the House today to tough it out. No one believes him when he says that he took no notice of the allegations of the honourable member for Lilley and no one will believe him when he suggests that he cannot recall at all the serious statement of the Minister for Finance. It is a case of convenient amnesia. He seeks a tabula rasa of the guilty man wanting to make a fresh start, but he has gone too far. We cannot let this matter rest here. I ought to mention in passing that the Prime Minister complained that the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) did not leave a copy of the document- the basis of his allegations- with him when the honourable member raised the matter. We all know why. It is because the honourable member for Fadden said- this is on public record- that if he left it with the Prime Minister it would be put through the shredder. His own team does not trust him. They are late arrivals at this position. We could have advised them earlier not to trust him. The Prime Minister said that on 16 April Senator Durack told him of Senator Withers’ intervention and that this was the first time he had heard about it. He has this case of convenient amnesia afflicting his recollection until that day.
But let us not quibble about that today because we intend to explore these matters further. Let us settle on his admission of today. If he really stands by that then there are serious implications flowing from that statement which require a defence from him. Why is it that the Prime Minister set up terms of reference for a royal commission of inquiry on the night of 23 April- a week later- which specifically excluded consideration of the role of Senator Withers in this matter? The role of Senator Withers went right to the heart of the complaint of the honourable member for Fadden. Honourable members will recall that the complaint was that the name of the electorate of Gold Coast, as proposed, was improperly changed to that of McPherson, and that that was a very significant change. Indeed the royal commission makes that clear, as does the evidence of Sir Alan Hulme, the evidence attributed to the Minister for Finance and the evidence attributed to Mr Sparkes, the State President of the National Country Party in Queensland. The Prime Minister knew that complaints were being made that improper conduct was responsible for that change of name. He knew that it was Senator Withers who was responsible for the improper intervention. He was aware, however, that while his backbenchers knew there had been an impropriety, they were, perhaps wrongly, blaming the Minister for Finance and not correctly blaming the Minister for Administrative Services. So, secure in the knowledge that the Minister for Finance could not be found guilty of something done quite wrongly by the Minister for Administrative Services, the Prime Minister set terms of referencethat was his responsibility in administering the Royal Commission Act- which specifically excluded the Minister for Administrative Services. The honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for Lilley and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) all knew that something wrong had been done, but they got the wrong man and they were going to be played for suckers by the Prime Minister who set down limited terms of reference. The royal commission would have found nothing if it had not been for the persistence in this House of the honourable member for Fadden, of the Opposition and of the Press in this country. They exposed the quite improper behaviour not only of Senator Withers- he is the scapegoat in thisbut also of the Prime Minister, who used Senator Withers in the hope that he could keep some scars off his own political hide. The Prime Minister has to answer the question: Why was it that he limited the terms of reference, knowing full well that limiting them in the way he did wouldhopefully on his part- preclude the proper finding of guilt of the Minister for Administrative Services? The Prime Minister never recognised what a clumsy witness the former Minister for Administrative Services would prove to be. The dog that went in to bark ended up biting itself.
There is another matter raised by the Prime Minister which causes a great deal of concern here. It reflects again the tendency of the Prime Minister to put the stiletto in the hand of someone else to do the back-stabbing within his own party. He proposed to Mr Justice McGregor that, if he considered fit, he ought to expand the terms of reference for the inquiry. Now that is a very happy arrangement, if one can get Justice McGregor to be foolish enough to take the responsibility to expand the terms of reference to net the Minister for Administrative Services. One anticipates what the plot was. There would be sympathy for Senator Withers later from the Prime Minister but as for now his attitude would be: ‘Stiff luck old boy, you cannot trust those judges. They do not know when to stay bought. He extended the terms of reference on you’. But it did not work out that way. The Prime Minister had to do his own dirty work again and, as you know Mr Speaker, he is not loath to do his dirty work when it will serve his own particular interest.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. If I heard the Leader of the Opposition correctly, he suggested that a member of the judiciary had been bought. If that expression were used, I suggest that it is totally contrary to the practise and rules of the Standing Orders of this place. Therefore it should be withdrawn.
– I did not suggest that. I suggested that the thought might have been harboured in the mind of the Prime Minister. Certainly his behaviour suggests it and if that is so, it is offensive.
– I did not understand the Leader of the Opposition to allege that the judge had been bought. I understood him to be making an allusion to that possibility.
– The reason the Prime Minister came somewhat clean today in the House- he is a long way from being lily white, and I think that task is impossible on his record in this Parliament- is that he was forced into a corner by the private briefings the former Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Withers, was giving the Press about a week ago.
-Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat. I have allowed the debate to proceed in a quite different fashion from that which a motion that the House take note of the paper would usually encompass. I remind the honourable gentleman that under Standing Orders he is not permitted to make the sorts of allegations he is making, without a substantive motion which goes to the character of the person against whom he is making the allegations.
-We will be doing that this week.
– Quite, but this is a motion which is being debated now, not later this week.
– I thought you would welcome the news, actually.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. There is no point in those smart remarks to the Speaker when he is calling attention to the Standing Orders. If the honourable gentleman does it again, I will have to ask him to withdraw.
-Senator Withers has disclosed that on 4 August he spoke to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said: ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the Royal Commission has exonerated the Minister for Finance, , our colleague, Eric Robinson’. No doubt Reg Withers said: ‘What is the bad news?’ The Prime Minister said: ‘The bad news is that you are in trouble ‘. To that Senator Withers replied: ‘ We ‘re in trouble.’ That is the evidence, among many other matters of fact, which we intend to explore in this Parliament.
Senator Withers has implicated the Prime Minister in this matter. In his new political newsletter entitled The Laurie Oakes Report, Laurie Oakes, the Prime Minister’s favourite author, has pointed out that Senator Withers lifted the lid on the Prime Minister in these private briefings to journalists about a week ago, with about 20 journalists present taking notes. According to the report Senator Withers pointed out to the Prime Minister that he would be in trouble for being conveniently unable to recall the evidence of the Minister for Finance about Senator Withers’ statement on 17 January, and Fraser replied that he would deny this. According to the report Senator Withers then said that that would be tantamount to accusing Mr Robinson of perjury, and Mr Fraser said that he would say he had no memory of this event. The Prime Minister has shifted some ground but he is trying to stick on that. It is our intention to budge him from it. I reassert that the behaviour of the Prime Minister is not the behaviour of an honest man. He should not be in this Parliament.
– The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) today has made a statement setting out the facts relating to the findings of the McGregor Royal Commission concerning serious allegations that had been made -
Opposition members interjecting-
-Order! The Deputy Prime Minister is entitled to be heard in silence. I ask that interjections should cease.
-The Prime Minister has made a statement regarding the serious allegations that had been made concerning the redistribution in Queensland relating to the electorate of McPherson. I believe that that statement shows clearly that the Government has acted properly and reveals all the facts related to this situation. Today the Opposition and, to a degree, the media have tried to present the whole situation dramatically but 1 think it is fair to say that the view of the Australian public is one of massive indifference since the Prime Minister announced the Government’s decision relating to the findings of the Royal Commission. I suppose it is a fairly common thing for those who sit in this place and for those who look down upon us in judgment to see our actions as being a lot more important and significant than they really are. Nevertheless, we would be wrong to fail to recognise, as did the Sydney Morning Herald in an editorial of 9 August, that the issue involved in the matter we are now discussing is one of principle.
The principle, of course, is that Ministers are expected to act not merely in accordance with the law but in accordance with standards of ethics and conduct of a high order. When a royal commission declares that a Minister has acted with impropriety, there is no alternative but for the Prime Minister to ask for the Minister’s resignation or, if necessary, to remove him from the Ministry. The Prime Minister must take this action no matter what he or his ministerial colleagues or anyone else for that matter might think of the findings of the royal commission. The Prime Minister must take this action no matter what the degree of guilt involved and no matter what the political and other consequences of his action might be. When a finding of impropriety is embodied in the report of a royal commission the Prime Minister is left in the most unenviable position of having to embark upon a course of action which allows no half measures. As a journalist in the Press Gallery put it, there is no way you can have a half hanging even though the crime may not be a hanging one. When the
Prime Minister is a man who has consciously and properly set great store on integrity and probity in government, there can be no doubt whatever as to the course he must follow.
Perhaps it would be worth taking a couple of minutes to ask ourselves what the consequences would have been if the Prime Minister had not responded to the findings of the Royal Commission in the way he did. The criticism which the Opposition has already directed at the Government would be nothing compared with its criticism if the Prime Minister had failed to take the course of action he took. Yet today honourable members opposite are desperately trying to manufacture other issues, to imagine conspiracies and what have you. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) says that he will continue to bring up this matter day after day, month after month. If he does I think it will show the inadequacy of the Leader of the Opposition in coping with his job. The matter has been resolved properly and clearly and, I believe, to the satisfaction of the Australian people. When this matter became an issue of significance about 10 days ago there was a question in the minds of some people as to whether the Prime Minister should accept the findings of the Royal Commission and take the course dictated by those findings. Certainly there was a great deal of concern and sympathy for Senator Withers. When I became fully aware of the Royal Commission’s findings- as I was away from Australia I did not know of them immediately- there was no doubt in my mind as to what must happen. I made it quite clear to the Prime Minister when I spoke to him from Manila late in the afternoon of Monday, 7 August, that I could see no alternative to what the Government proposed to do and what I fully supported. This should give the lie to the suggestion that I changed my attitude after I returned to Australia on Wednesday of last week or that I was in some way concerned about the attitude of my senior colleagues. These suggestions, which have been reported in a most irresponsible manner in at least one newspaper, are absolutely without foundation or truth. If the Prime Minister had not done what he did there would have been very serious and firm grounds for criticism of him. A royal commission is not established lightly. Its findings are not to be regarded lightly. To do so would be to weaken public respect for the standing of royal commissions as a means of inquiry. To disregard the findings of a royal commission which has been asked to examine specific allegations of malpractice would be to throw into contempt not only the commission directly concerned but future commissions as well. The Opposition and the media would have a real field day claiming, as they would have every right to do, that a government that ignored the findings of a royal commission could not be trusted to respect the findings of any future royal commission it set up.
Every time in the future a government found it necessary to set up a royal commission for one reason or another, the opposition immediately would raise the cry that such action was a farce because the government could not be trusted to respect or act on the findings of a royal commission. The Australian people would have every reason then to be suspicious of the integrity and trustworthiness of the government and the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister failed to take such a course. I hope that those people who, with me, feel very deeply for Senator Withers will bear these things in mind. The question which arises now, according to the Opposition and the media, is why the Prime Minister and other Ministers, if they knew in April or on some earlier date what Senator Withers had done, did not act on the information at the time. Mr Speaker, as you probably know, I had some difficulty recalling with precision what happened on particular dates, or what I learned about particular matters and when. If I inadvertently misled anyone in regard to these matters, I apologise.
The question now directed at me is why, if I learned in April of Senator Withers’ phone call to the Chief Electoral Officer, I did not immediately react as some people are saying now I should have reacted. The Prime Minister has told the House that he first became aware of this matter of a phone call on 16 April. To the best of my recollection I became aware of it the next day. I have to say, quite frankly, that when I learnt of this matter, apparently on 17 April, I was not seized with a sense of outrage, a feeling that something sinister or improper had occurred or a belief that Senator Withers had done something which demanded immediate action on the part of the Prime Minister. Perhaps I should have experienced these feelings. Perhaps it is true to say, to borrow some words from an editorial in the Melbourne Age, that a judge’s conception of propriety is rather stricter than that of the average politician; but the fact is that I did not react as some people now tell me I should have reacted.
On 23 April the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) said that he did not see Senator Withers’ actions as contravening the Electoral
Act, and of course the Royal Commission confirmed that view. But because the information was relevant to the inquiries about the Minister for Finance Ministers decided on 23 April that it should be made available to the Royal Commission. This decision was made one week after the Prime Minister first became aware of Senator Withers ‘ phone call. In that week the Prime Minister was in Japan. To suggest in these circumstances that there had been a cover-up is clearly nonsense. The fact now is that the Royal Commission has found that Senator Withers acted with impropriety not because of what he did but because of the purpose with which he did it. That is the finding from which there is no escape. Many people who discovered after the event that they had some wisdom about the matter are now asking why we were not sensitive enough at the time to recognise the significance of Senator Withers’ action. As I have indicated recently, I did not see any great significance in the electorate name from the point of view of my party. As the chairman of my party in Queensland, Mr Sparkes, said to the Royal Commission, while it was possible the party might have stood a candidate in the electorate such a decision was improbable. He pointed out that there would have been some reaction at the electorate level from people wanting the party to contest the seat but that our normal understanding is not to oppose ministerial colleagues.
In summary, the following points should be made: The Government set up a Royal Commission to investigate serious allegations about an electoral redistribution as it related to the electorate of McPherson. This was seen by the Government as the most satisfactory way of dealing with this matter. A royal commission provided for an examination at the highest level. As soon as it was established the royal commission was advised of Senator Withers’ contact with the Chief Electoral Officer and of the message that was conveyed to the distribution commissioners as a result of that contact. There was no evasion or cover-up on the part of the Government. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission were widened twice to ensure that relevant matters could be examined and findings made. As we know, the most important findings were that there was no breach of the law or impropriety in regard to the redistribution in Queensland in 1977 involving the Minister for Finance, the distribution commissioners or the Chief Electoral Officer. But the Royal Commission also found that an action of Senator Withers constituted impropriety. Those were the findings, and the Government accepted them.
What then was the Government to do? The Prime Minister could not flinch from the resolution of the issue. There was no room for expediency. The principle was clear cut. The Prime Minister and the Government had either to accept the findings of the Royal Commission and act as such acceptance demanded or to walk away from the high principles of government which the Prime Minister has steadfastly demanded and achieved. All of us on this side of the House are saddened by the consequences which had to flow from acceptance of the Royal Commission’s findings, but there can be no doubt whatever that the Government’s decision is in the best interests of the good government of Australia. I believe that the Australian people accepted the decision because it was the right decision. Above all else the people of this country want to see integrity in their leaders. They want to have confidence in their Prime Minister and their Government. Any decision other than that taken by the Government quite rightly would have created doubts about the integrity of the Government.
I believe that the statement made by the Prime Minister today and the decisions and actions taken by the Government clear up this matter once and for all and that there should be no doubts at all in the minds of the Australian public, although I know that we will never convince some people in this House. If the Leader of the Opposition wishes to continue to raise this matter day after day he will show his gross ignorance and futility.
– The excuse given by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) is not accepted by the Opposition and could not be accepted by the people of Australia. The one excuse given is that the Prime Minister has no recollection of the matter. Can we trust the prime ministership of this nation to a person who suffers so much from lack of memory? Let us bear in mind the deceit and deception practised by this Government today. The Prime Minister read from a prepared statement of which he gave the Opposition no notice at all, let alone the usual two hours notice. The speech made by the Deputy Prime Minister, which was also a prepared speech, was read out on the basis that members of the Government knew beforehand what they were going to say. We should give credence to what Senator Withers said in a briefing would be said. He pointed out that if the Prime Minister were to disown the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) that would amount to saying that the
Minister for Finance was guilty of perjury; and, as to what the Prime Minister would say, Senator Withers said that the Prime Minister would say that he had no memory of the 17 January conversation. It was remarkable perception on the part of Senator Withers that he could give out that information 10 days before we heard it in this House. Ignorance is no excuse. Failure of recollection is no excuse.
Let us consider the evidence given to the Royal Commission by Government people. The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr Pearson, was extremely concerned by what he read in Hansard. He read in Hansard something that he knew was a deception. He knew that it was appropriate and proper that Senator Withers and others should be telling the chief law officers what had occurred in the conversations that Senator Withers had had. Obviously we would not have had any idea of what transpired but for Mr Pearson. Being an honourable man, Mr Pearson was convinced that he should tell the truth about his conversation with Mr Coleman as a result of which in the Queensland redistribution the name of the proposed electorate of Gold Coast was changed to McPherson.
The change had the utmost political significance. If the name had been changed from McPherson to Gold Coast the National Country Party would have been allowed to contest the seat. We must bear in mind that the Minister for Finance had won the seat from the National Country Party some years ago and that Party was very anxious to get it back. The appropriate message was given to this House by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) when he indicated clearly that it was a matter of the utmost political significance that by changing the name of a seat in Queensland a threecornered contest would have been invited. That is what this matter was all about. Do honourable members believe that Senator Withers, a senator from Western Australia, on his own initiative would suddenly take a keen interest in the changing of the name of a Queensland electorate? That would have been done because he was prompted to do it on the basis that unless it was done the Minister for Finance would face a contest with the National Country Party which was anxious to get the seat back.
What is the evidence given to the Royal Commission by the Minister for Finance? As recorded on page 1687 of the transcript of evidence, in answer to a question from Mr Gleeson about a meeting in the Prime Minister’s office he said that he could not be specific about the date but would make it clear that Senator Withers had raised the matter with the Prime Minister three times in his presence. He said that he thought one occasion was the day before 18 January, because that was the day of the Cabinet meeting, and that there were two other occasions after that. The Minister for Finance said that the matter was raised three times, and the Prime Minister has said that he has no recollection! Can we honestly believe that? Is that the truth that the Australian people will swallow? We come to the position that if the Prime Minister knew on 1 7 January that Senator Withers had acted improperly it was his duty to sack Senator Withers on that day. There has to have been a cover-up because no action was taken. A further complication arises when one looks at the evidence of Senator Withers. What did he say to the Royal Commission? He said that a number of meetings were held. As far as he was aware the matter was certainly raised in January and it was raised with the Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister still has no recollection. Senator Withers said:
There were a number of meetings about this whole vexed business … I think we had six or seven meetings over a period of months.
Six or seven meetings were held but the Prime Minister still cannot recollect it. This is the point. Senator Withers was asked about who was present at those meetings. He replied that a group of Ministers were at The Lodge and the change of name was taken up following what had been disclosed by Mr Pearson. If these six or seven meetings were held at The Lodge, surely the Prime Minister cannot say that he has no recollection of them. Senator Withers was then asked who was at one of those meetings. He replied that the Prime Minister was there, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) was there, Mr Sinclair was there, Mr Nixon was there, Mr Street was there and Senator Durack was thereand I think Mr Robinson was there. Senator Durack is the Attorney-General.
This is the point; there had been a number of meetings at The Lodge and at the Prime Minister’s office from about 1 9 January onwards. They seemed to be occurring almost weekly. Are we to accept the statement given today that the Prime Minister knew nothing of this matter? Nobody could possibly believe that to be the true situation. Nobody could accept it as being the truth. It is fundamental to democracy in this country that we should be able to say to the people of Australia that we have fair distributions, that everything is honest and above board and that we guarantee that our electoral commissioners are not subject to any influence. The Electoral
Act states this very thing and it makes it a criminal offence if anybody attempts at any stage to influence the commissioners outside the procedures of the Act.
I remind honourable members to look at the advice given to the Prime Minister by the Solicitor-General, Mr Byers, and the AttorneyGeneral, who seems to be under a cloud because of the evidence that has been given to the Royal Commission. That advice makes it very clear that the matter involved section 22 of the Electoral Act. That section prevents any unsolicited tender, outside the procedures pf the Act, designed to influence the determination of the Commissioners in the performance of their duties. An unsolicited tender of information was made through Mr Pearson. The advice continued:
Although it may be difficult to say that the offence-creating provisions such as section 1 70 apply to section 22 of the Act, we do not doubt that a breach of the section is likely to give rise to criminal liability . . .
This is not a matter for a court of petty sessions in which one can plead guilty and hope to be let off on a bond. Influencing electoral commissioners for political advantage is the basic point to consider. If the Prime Minister is a man of honour, he would be able to say: ‘I knew about this matter in January but I made a mistake; I should have taken action then but I did not’. But he came in here today and said: ‘Look, I knew nothing about it’. That is the easiest way out. I do not know what the other Ministers are going to say. Have the six or seven other ministers had lapses of memory too? Did they know nothing about the matter? What about the AttorneyGeneral who knew about the matter and apparently did not advert to it in his advice to the Prime Minister? It was left to Mr Pearson to tell the Commission on 15 May about the conversation. When he did so other people suddenly had to come clean.
Let us go back to the terms of reference for the Commission which the Prime Minister said were so wide in the first instance. Normally they would have encompassed the matters that related to Senator Withers but they did not do that at all. They were drawn up by, among others, the Attorney-General who had full knowledge of the conversation that had taken place between Senator Withers and Mr Pearson. They were drawn up in such a fashion that they were aimed solely at the Minister for Finance. He was the one person mentioned in those terms of reference. The terms of reference were:
That is the position. In no way were the terms of reference going to encompass Senator Withers. They were aimed at the Minister for Finance, perhaps because it could be thought that the evidence would be covered on the basis that Mr Pearson would not tell the whole truth about that conversation. That is the fundamental error of the statement made today. Mr Pearson told the truth about what happened. We in the Opposition say, and the people of Australia should know, that Ministers, including the Prime Minister, were all involved in this conspiracy to cover up, to gain political advantage from a change of electorate name, and they tried to make out that it was innocuous. It was not innocuous in Queensland. The Commissioner has found that it is a matter of the utmost political significance. The Deputy Prime Minister adverted to the evidence given by the National Country Party. It made it very clear that it was very unhappy with the Liberal Party in Queensland. It was very upset that Mr Small, the Country Party candidate, had been opposed and defeated in the election. Background evidence was presented as to what was wrong if the name of Gold Coast was to remain. It would have meant that a Minister of the present Government could have been in jeopardy in a contest. That is why influence was exerted.
One other most disquieting matter ought to be looked at by any responsible government but it will not be looked at by this Government. I refer to the reference by the Royal Commissioner to an exhibit which is called a ‘political analysis’. The political analysis originated in the office of the Minister for Administrative Services and, by his direction, was forwarded to the commissioners in Queensland before they finished their deliberations. Could there be anything more scandalous or more criminal in its content than that sort of action? It was called Exhibit AAH. On the front of the exhibit are the following words:
We are sending a copy of our analysis for each State to the Chairman concerned . . .
It was signed ‘R. G. Withers’. The political analysis was given to the commissioners to show how the distribution was really going to assist the Government. There was no need to worry about it. The conclusions in the document state:
The Division of McPherson into two seats has created an additional safe . . . seat (Gold Coast). The position in the other nine non-metropolitan divisions is almost unchanged . . . Oxley has been somewhat strengthened . . .
Under the proposed boundaries, as at present, the position of the N.P. is less favourable than that of the L.P. The N.P. would lose three seats . . . in a uniform swing of 4 per cent as against the L.P.’s one . . . There is, however, the possibility, albeit unlikely, that the N.P. rather than the L.P. might win McPherson.
Given the creation of an additional safe . . . seat (Gold Coast) and the slightly improved position of the L.N.P., in the metropolitan area, it appears that the redistribution favours the coalition parties as against the A.L.P.
What about honest government? That was sent by the Minister who deserved to be sacked on the first count and who should never be returned to office on this count because of the political analysis given to the commissioners showing what they were doing to favour the Government. People expect commissioners to be above any influence. The Electoral Act guarantees that they should be away from any such influence and the Royal Commissioner himself was not at all impressed with this sort of evidence. The political analysis showed that a redistribution would be less safe or safer for a government. How in the name of fortune could this evidence be given to a commission? The Royal Commissioner said:
I consider the questions of advantage or disadvantage to political parties are alien to the proper subjects for their consideration.
He took the same position in his following statement:
I do not regard Mr Coleman’s views-
Mr Coleman gave some tame cat sort of evidence and said he thought he was helping the people who were doing the redistribution in Queensland by giving to his fellow commissioners this political analysis. The Royal Commissioner continued:
I do not regard Mr Coleman’s views about the justification for having recourse to such a document as correct.
That statement shows the insidious influence of this Government over the whole Queensland redistribution. If it was not so scandalous, it would be laughable to think that the Government of Australia can say in here today: ‘Look, something might have gone wrong. There might have been a criminal act but the Prime Minister has no memory of it. ‘ But other Ministers were at the meetings. We have the evidence of Robinson and Withers in the witness box that they had clearly discussed this matter at six or seven meetings over a period of months and that day in and day out they were saying: ‘Look, what are we going to do about this matter? We have obviously to face up to the fact that a telephone call went through to the Commissioners and that as a result of that the name was changed’. It is just not an innocent matter. It is a matter of the Government being guilty of the vilest corruption, using political influence to get the best results possible for a party in Queensland. The Government got those results. It was left to a back bencher- the honourable member for Fadden, who was sacked from the position of Deputy Government Whip some time ago- to raise again the matter of why the truth was subverted. The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) says it was a dishonest redistribution and he was right. It was left to two men on the Government back bench to try to raise this matter.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition ‘s time has expired.
– On 6 May the New South Wales Premier was reported as telling a group of United States businessmen: 1 think we can forget the possibility of a national Labor Government for these two elections, say six or seven years.
After hearing what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) has had to say it is not difficult to see why. The Opposition is totally unable to understand simple facts even when they are presented in the clearest terms. The Leader of the Opposition has disregarded them. I might say that he has been in the Australian Labor Party for too long. It has affected his thinking. He sees everything in the same light as the rest of the Labor Party. They see conspiracies at every corner, cover-ups at every turn. It is part of their political way of life. It is no wonder, knowing their recent history. I will come back to that in a few moments.
The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has set out the key events leading up to the establishment of the Royal Commission. These facts are clear. It is sad that the Leader of the Opposition is unable to grasp what has in fact been put forward by the Prime Minister. To help the Opposition I shall run through the essential facts again. On 2 1 December of last year the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) made certain allegations about the Queensland redistribution. On 17 January the Prime Minister discussed the matter with the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) and the former Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Withers, whose portfolio encompassed the Australian Electoral Office. On 1 8 January the Prime Minister, the former Minister for Administrative Services and the Minister for Finance met the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) in Canberra to discuss the allegations. Following that meeting the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and the Solicitor-General were asked to examine the complaints of those honourable members. On 9 February the law officers reported. They stated that in their opinion the matters complained of neither required nor warranted government action. On 7 April the honourable member for Fadden again referred to his allegations. On the same day the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) tabled the reports from the law officers.
Allegations had been made in the House, the Government had the matter investigated by the most senior law officers of the Crown and the law officers had reported. Their advice was tabled the same day as the allegations were made. The honourable member for Fadden, in his speech on 7 April, referred to some new evidence- some statutory declarations. On 10 April it was decided that this additional material should be submitted to the Attorney-General and SolicitorGeneral for further advice. On 16 April the Attorney-General told the Prime Minister about Senator Withers’ telephone conversations with Mr Pearson, the Chief Electoral Officer. This was the first time the Prime Minister became aware that Senator Withers had played a part in the change of names. The Opposition is now endeavouring to assert that the Prime Minister knew about Senator Withers’ involvement at some earlier time.
No one on this side of the House who knows the Prime Minister has any doubt whatsoever about the Prime Minister’s total integrity and propriety at these meetings. If the Prime Minister had been aware, he would have immediately informed the law officers. It is a nonsense to suggest otherwise. His fundamental concern for propriety has been shown time and time again. The facts of this case show that as soon as the Prime Minister became aware on 16 April immediate steps were taken to ensure that the law officers were asked to take that into account in their report. That was the proper course and that was the course that was taken.
On 23 April there was a meeting at The Lodge of a number of senior Ministers. It was agreed then that a full public inquiry- a royal commission- should be established. The next day the Royal Commission was appointed. The letters patent specifically referred to the change of name of the electorate and details of the telephone conversations between Senator Withers and Mr Pearson and between Mr Pearson and the chairman of the distribution commissioners were made available by the Attorney-General. When the honourable member for Fadden made further allegations on 4 May about uranium the Royal Commissioner’s terms of reference were widened to cover them. Following the evidence given by Senator Withers and Mr Pearson and Senator Withers’ statement on 26 May that he might have misled the Senate, Cabinet decided to have the Royal Commissioner’s terms of reference widened again so that all allegations might be fully heard and determined.
Where is this asserted cover-up? The plain fact is that there is not one. It never existed. It is a myth. It is a figment of the Opposition’s fevered imagination. The truth is that the Opposition is in a fix and it knows it. Its members do not want to work on devising new policies because that is too hard for them. They have not produced a single new policy this year. The Opposition claims that there has been a cover-up. Too right there has been a cover-up! All this year members of the Opposition have been trying to cover up their failure to produce a single constructive idea to put before the Australian people. They have been trying to cover up their total inability to come to grips with all of the basic issues confronting the working men and women of Australia. The Labor Party knows it is in real trouble and so do honourable gentlemen opposite. They do not know what they stand for. The Government is saying that the posturing by the Opposition is a matter of complete and utter hypocrisy.
Let us examine the manner in which the present Government has approached this matter. Throughout all aspects of this matter the Government has consistently sought to get the truth. When allegations were first raised the two most senior law officers of the Crown were asked to investigate. The matter was referred to in the House and their reports were tabled. When further material was brought forward it was again referred to the law officers for their advice. When the Prime Minister became aware of Senator Withers’ conversation with Mr Pearson the law officers were asked to include that in their report. When the report was received the Royal Commission was established and positive steps were taken to ensure that evidence about the telephone calls was put before the Commission so that the facts could come out. When it became apparent that the terms of reference should be widened, this was done. There was no attempt to cover up. At all times in this matter the Government has acted as it should have acted. I believe that the Opposition has learned to its cost that this Government is one of the strongest and most united governments that Australia has had for many years. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) have led the coalition parties to the two most massive electoral victories in Australia ‘s history. I want to put beyond doubt that the coalition team stands squarely behind the Prime Minister and his Ministry.
The tactics of the Opposition in this debate are clear. They are to forget about the real issues confronting Australia and forget about developing alternative policies and to concentrate instead upon the peripheral issues, the trumped up allegations, the smears and the innuendoes. The Opposition recognises, just as the people of Australia recognised last December, that this Government’s policies are succeeding in pulling the country out of the economic quagmire into which the Labor Party dragged it. But members of the Opposition, for their part, want to distract public attention from this Government’s solid record of achievement on the economic front. The Opposition’s approach, of course, is completely negative and it has been shown by the people to be completely negative. That is not surprising given the leadership that the Opposition has at the present time. The Opposition should have learned during its period in government. The truth, of course, is that the Opposition’s leader is a leader in name only and no one would follow him except out of a misguided sense of curiosity.
All honourable members on this side of the House representing the Liberal and National Country parties have been completely appalled by the manner in which the Opposition has sought to distort the findings of the Royal Commission. There has been a royal commission. The findings have been handed down. Honourable members on this side of the House have lost an experienced and most valued colleague. As the Prime Minister has indicated, Senator Withers has a fine record as a Minister. He was an exceptionally able leader in the Senate where his affability and unflappable nature, which are his hallmark, did much to serve the national Parliament. His advice and counsel will be very much missed around the Cabinet table and will be missed by me. At the same time, we are delighted that every single allegation made against the Minister for Finance has been found to be totally without foundation. We welcome him back to the front bench.
The Australian Parliament rightly demands the highest standards in the conduct of its national affairs. Those standards are fundamental to our parliamentary system. The guardianship of the public trust is a responsibility which this Government takes most seriously.
– You wouldn’t put your conduct before a royal commission.
– Those people who scoff, as the honourable member for Newcastle apparently does, and the cynics on the Opposition benches, I believe bring no credit on themselves or, in fact, on this national Parliament. It is a sad commentary on their perverted perception of politics to see them rating the men and women of this country so low. Democracy is founded on publictrust. The Australian Labor Party was cast into its present political backwater because it lost the trust of the people whom it was supposed to represent.
– The newspaper proprietorsFairfax and Murdoch.
– The Government’s stand in relation to this Royal Commission, as the honourable member well knows, has been endorsed very strongly by newspaper and editorial comment throughout the country. This Government and this Prime Minister have shown their basic and fundamental concern for propriety. The actions which the Prime Minister took had the full support of the Liberal and National Country parties. I believe that the Australian public is sick and tired of the Labor Party’s peripheral politics. We reject the distortions, the smears and the innuendoes which have been put forward in this debate. I believe that members of the Australian public outside the Parliament are saying that it is time to get on with the job. The Budget which will be brought down tonight by my colleague the Federal Treasurer (Mr Howard) will represent a further major and most significant step on the path to economic recovery. This Government, in fact, was elected to beat inflation. It was re-elected because it was beating inflation. The Budget will continue that process. This Budget will be a direct response to the mandate which has been given to us in two elections. Honourable members on this side of the House want to get on with the job. We intend to get on with the job and we reject decisively the smears, distortions and innuendoes which the Opposition has sought to put forward.
-This has been a most agonising issue for the Government. We have actually reached this situation on the first day of the Budget session of the Parliament as a result of action that was taken by the Opposition during the period of the first session of the
Parliament. Among the other things that have occurred today, it is nice to see that the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia has been resurrected. This is the first major debate in which he has been allowed to speak since he was doing more tricks with the loopholes in the tax system in Australia than a monkey would do on a yard of rope. We have the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party back in the fray, telling us how he supports his leader. It is absolutely amazing. We can expect to see a bit more of this because honourable members on this side of the House do not expect that the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will be in that position for very much longer.
– There are only six members behind you.
– The honourable member for Brisbane does not have a very good memory, either. I would not say too much if I were he. The Prime Minister of Australia commenced the debate. I will keep my remarks within the confines of the subject matter of the debate. I take the point that you, Mr Speaker, made with our leader about what he had to say. But these words actually appear in the speech made by the Prime Minister of Australia. He stated:
I have absolutely no recollection of the matter being raised in any previous discussion prior to April the 1 4th.
The Prime Minister of Australia is telling us that he is to be forgiven because he cannot remember the matter being discussed in his presence. I remind the Prime Minister that on 27 November 1975 he said: ‘We will maintain Medibank’. Are we to forgive him because bis memory does not serve him correctly and now he forgets about that promise? What absolute nonsense it is for Government members to tell us in the Parliament today that the matter is all finished, that the Royal Commission has cleared the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), has found the former Minister for Administrative Services guilty of impropriety and that that is the end of the matter. As I said, what an agonising event this has been for the Government.
The honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) raised the issue and on three occasions in this Parliament the Government gagged the Opposition when it wanted to debate the matter. As I said previously, this matter was not initiated by the Opposition. It was initiated by the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull). Colleagues of honourable members on the Government side, including the
Minister for Finance, initiated this investigation. But on every occasion that we requested some parliamentary debate on the matter and on every occasion that we wanted this issue to be discussed, in came the heavy boots of the Government with its vast majority. It said that the Parliament could not deal with this matter. Now it comes to light why we could not deal with the matter. It is convenient for the Prime Minister to say that he does not remember. I wish we all had that privilege. If only every member in the House of Representatives could say to his constituents: It might have been a mistake; I am sorry, I do not remember doing it’. I wonder whether the Prime Minister could bestow that privilege on every member of the national Parliament. I wonder whether this will be the guiding light for all Government Ministers when they make a mistake. I wonder whether the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) now does not remember saying to the people of Aurukun and Mornington Island: ‘The Federal Government will step in to save you from the Queensland Government’. Is this going to be the practice? Is this going to be the standard for a government which presumed to take office in 1975 to bring integrity back into government in Australia? What an absolute sham this is. Now we have the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Lynch, after eight months on the sideline as the nineteenth man, coming back into the Parliament to tell us about what he will do and about the people of Australia wanting us to talk about the real issues. This matter has been orchestrated absolutely beautifully by the Government. In reply to questions the Prime Minister said today: ‘I will make a statement. I will not say anything at this stage’. The procedures and the decency of this House demand that the Opposition be given two hours’ notice of any ministerial statement to be made by the Government. But on this occasion no statement is issued and no notice is given. No one is notified of the position. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) does not come near Opposition members to say what will happen. We have the Prime Minister saying, ‘I refuse to answer questions on this matter’. But when honourable members on this side of the House pressurise the Prime Minister to say something about the matter, all of a sudden the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), who recently returned from Manila after making several thousand phone calls to Senator Withers, come into the House with prepared speeches. I ask honourable members: Is it not amazing that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister should have prepared speeches in their pockets on the off-chance that they might have to make speeches about Senator Withers and the Royal Commission into the electoral redistribution in Queensland? Why is it done today? No one has to ask the question twice. There are no prizes for guessing why the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, acting as decently as they always do, have prepared speeches in their hands without giving notification to the Opposition. They are hoping that tomorrow the people of Australia will be talking about the extra 10c that it will cost to buy a packet of cigarettes or about the price of whisky or petrol or whatever else will be done tonight to try to damage the economy even further. They do not want the Royal Commission into the Queensland electoral redistribution mentioned by the public in Australia tomorrow. They do not want this matter to carry on because it threatens the Government more than has any other issue since the Government came to power at the end of 1 975.
The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister say: ‘We have meetings of Ministers on several occasions’. The Ministers they are getting together are those who agree to carry out the directions of the Prime Minister. The Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) is left out, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) is left out, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) is left out. The Prime Minister gets his few friends together to carry out his directions. The meeting of Ministers just adds to the conspiracy charge which is made against this Government. People on the government benches- led by a number of senators- ask what is so serious about Senator Withers ringing the Chief Electoral Officer. It is only that the chief judicial officer in the land says that it is a criminal act. That is what is so serious about it. Trying to influence the electoral commissioners is what is so serious about it. But that is not the only point. The Deputy Prime Minister says: ‘It is not serious because I have just had a chat to our mate in the Country Party in Queensland and we would not have stood against Eric Robinson’. One has to be joking to believe the Country Party. The honourable member for McPherson has been at war with the Country Party for 20 years, but the Deputy Prime Minister expects the national Parliament to believe that sort of claptrap. The Deputy Prime Minister says: ‘It is not serious because we were not going to stand for the seat, irrespective of what it was called’. That is not Queensland politics. The Deputy Prime Minister knows it and certainly the honourable member for McPherson knows it. That is why action was taken.
It is completely unsatisfactory. Who is going to accept that because the Prime Minister has a bad memory everything is clear? These people of such integrity who flew Khemlani out to Australia, went through his briefcases and booked him into the Lakeside Hotel, these people who act with such decency, these people like the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party who tell us now that the Australians want them to get on with the job, do not have answers to the questions. It is not the end of the matter. The Government has brought on this matter today and hopes that it will be submerged as a result of tonight’s Budget. I completely agree with that. The Budget will be of enormous importance to the Australian people, but the Government cannot get out of this matter because it has raised the matter today and because it has orchestrated the matter in such a way.
Let us examine the background briefing given by Senator Withers after his dismissal because it tells us a great deal about this rotten Government. It tells us about the relationships between Ministers and about the sort of trust that honourable members opposite have in this Prime Minister whom they are defending today. Apparently background briefings will tell us what is occurring in the Government; official statements, handouts and parliamentary speeches do not do so. An article headed ‘Senator Withers secret briefing’ states:
In an extraordinarily frank briefing for journalists a day after his sacking, Senator Reginald Withers accused the Prime Minister of having attempted a cover-up over the Queensland redistribution controversy.
Senator Withers also gave a surprising explanation of Mr Fraser’s motives in dumping him from the Ministry- an explanation which had nothing to do with Mr Justice McGregor’s Royal Commission report.
Malcolm sacked me because I stopped him from sacking Phil Lynch,’ Senator Withers told a group of about 20 journalists invited to his Parliament House office on the afternoon of Tuesday, 8 August.
Those journalists who were there accepted that the briefing was on a background basis- that what was said was not to be attributed to Senator Withers.
In order not to be inhibited by such ground rules I did not attend the briefing. One of those who did attend read me his notes afterwards.
The article goes on. That is the briefing given by Senator Withers. What it goes on to say, of course, is that Senator Withers drafted letters about the investigation which should have been held in January but which the Government refused to hold. We still did not know until this article was printed that the Prime Minister had said:
I don’t want to go down this track. We’ll be able to deal with this internally.
I repeat what the Prime Minister said:
I don’t want to go down this track. We’ll be able to deal with this internally.
When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition and I raised this matter time and again in the first few weeks of the Parliament after the matter had been raised by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) the Government refused to deal with it because it was acting on the Prime Minister’s instruction that it would be dealt with internally. The meeting that took place in the Prime Minister’s office was not so much a meeting as an instruction from the Godfather to the honourable member for Fadden that he was not to proceed. The Prime Minister found the honourable member for Fadden guilty without a trial. The honourable member for Fadden raised a complaint about what had happened in Queensland and he was dismissed from his position in this Parliament without a trial.
That is the sort of action that was taken by the Prime Minister to clam up this matter. It was not to get out into the Parliament and it was not to get out into the public. Well, it is out in the public and it is in the Parliament. We have a responsibility to see that it continues to be raised until we have a full explanation. We on this side of the House, together with many people opposite will not accept it. Even some of the people opposite who are not being bribed about going into the Ministry, which is old hat, will not accept it. We will not be bribed on the basis that the Prime Minister cannot remember what happened. Is not that convenient? Is not that beautiful? Can honourable members imagine the Prime Minister of Australia talking to an international forum and saying: ‘I am sorry we went into Vietnam. I forgot we went there. It is terrible. I am sorry I said that we would maintain Medibank. I forgot I said it. I am sorry I said that under the Liberals everybody would have a job. I did not mean to say it; I forgot that I said it’.
Here is the Prime Minister expecting 124 of the most seasoned political people in this country to accept that he does not remember and that clears his name. Sacco and Vanzetti would wish they had the Prime Minister representing them. It is not accepted by this side of the House. This is not the end of the matter. It will not end until we have an explanation from the person who leads this Government as to his role in the cover-up of the electoral redistribution in Queensland, about what he was doing, what he said and what in fact, in truth, he recollects.
– The public could be excused for wondering what on earth it is that the Opposition is trying to do in this debate and what point it is trying to make. It has harped upon the matter of a suggested cover-up when in fact we have had a complete royal commission; a most exhaustive inquiry by an honourable and reputable judge. He heard all the evidence that was available to him or could be sought by him. In listening to Opposition members one could pick out perhaps only one or two matters which they dwelt upon. If, as was said by one honourable member opposite, Senator Withers’ involvement in the change of name of the electorate of McPherson became known only by the action of Mr Pearson in revealing it to the Solicitor-General then all the facts as presented to Parliament and which are Government made sure that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission which it had decided to hold were wide enough to encompass those facts revealed by Mr Pearson and confirmed by Senator Withers. If, as was said by the Opposition, there was political advantage in the change of name then, indeed, that is what the Royal Commissioner found. He found that there was political advantage. It was from that finding of the Royal Commissioner that flowed the finding of impropriety by Senator Withers.
I should like to recapitulate some of the history of this matter and when I have done so it will show the public that there cannot be any substance whatsoever in the allegation of a cover-up. On 18 January at the request of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron), the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) and the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), in company with the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) and Senator Withers, discussed the allegations of the honourable member for Fadden. Having heard those allegations, the Prime Minister was determined to expose all the facts known to him to the Solicitor-General and to the Attorney-General for their report. That report was in two parts. There was a report dated 9 February and, after further discussion of other matters with the honourable member for Fadden, there was another short report dated 1 5 February. In their joint report the SolicitorGeneral and the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) were firm in their conclusion that, on the basis of the accusations made by the honourable member for Fadden against the Minister for Finance and on the basis of the known facts, there was no impropriety on the part of the Minister for Finance. The report of the SolicitorGeneral and the Attorney-General was incorporated in Hansard on 10 April at the request of the honourable member for Port Adelaide so no doubt he has had an opportunity to read it and understand it, aware of the fundamental point that the accusations were being made against the Minister for Finance.
There was then a hiatus and the matter did not arise again until 7 April when the honourable member for Fadden made a statement in this House. The joint report of the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General was tabled that day. In other words, there was immediate disclosure by the Government of what had happened from the time when these allegations against the Minister for Finance first surfaced. On 1 1 April Mr Pearson, upon reading in Hansard the report of the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General, referred his involvement to the SolicitorGeneral. One can understand the anxiety of Mr Pearson in making it known. This was the first time that the matter had come to the knowledge of the Attorney-General who promptly reported it to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister immediately reported it to his senior Ministers because, as the Prime Minister said in his statement, both he and the Attorney-General were concerned about the relevance of that fact to the accusations against the Minister for Finance.
The House will recall that the Prime Minister immediately went to Japan and was there for the week. While he was there he indicated to the Acting Prime Minister that there should be a report for him when he returned. The Prime Minister returned either on late Saturday afternoon or early Sunday, 23 April and that evening called his senior Ministers together to receive the advice of the law officers of the Crown, the SolicitorGeneral and the Attorney-General. That advice was given in a joint letter by the two law officers and I think it would be of advantage to the House if I read that letter. It reads:
Electoral Redistribution of Queensland
We refer to your request for an interim report herein.
We have considered the material which appears in Hansard and certain further matter sent to us by the Honourable the Minister for Finance.
We have written to and received a letter from the Member for Fadden who has neither yet made available to us the Statutory Declaration incorporated into Hansard nor any further declarations.
We have also been recently informed of the existence of further evidence which bears upon our previous report to you.
I emphasise the last paragraph:
It is our view that further investigation is required. The investigation would need to establish the correctness of conflicting allegations and is therefore of a nature we are unable to undertake. Whilst it is our view that the form any investigation should assume is a matter for the Government to determine, we consider that a judicial inquiry would be preferable.
Acting promptly on that report, the Ministers and the Prime Minister decided that a royal commission was the only way to conduct a judical inquiry. Thereupon a royal commission was set up and, upon the advice of the law officers, its terms of reference were deliberately drawn so as to be wide enough to ensure that the evidence of Senator Withers and Mr Pearson would be available to the royal commission. That is a point to be emphasised. It is a point not understood by the Opposition but I am quite sure that it is a point which the public well understands.
As we know, both Mr Pearson and Senator Withers gave evidence, Mr Pearson on 1 5 May and Senator Withers on 22 May. Prior to that there had been an extension of the terms of reference to cover further allegations regarding statements alleged to have been made by the Minister for Finance about uranium. I remind the House that on 1 1 May the Attorney-General wrote to the royal commissioner saying that the Government was willing to extend the terms of reference if the royal commissioner thought at any time that that would be appropriate by reason of any evidence or material which came before him. That is another example of how at all points along this road of events the Government was concerned to see that every opportunity was open to the royal commissioner to have before him all material and evidence bearing upon allegations which, at that time, had been made against the Minister for Finance only. As the Prime Minister’s statement shows, on 26 May Senator Withers answered a question in the Senate concerning a statement he had made on 4 November 1977. On 28 May there was a meeting of Ministers to consider the evidence which had been given by Mr Pearson and Senator Withers and Senator Withers’ statement in the Senate. Resulting from that meeting was a decision to widen further the terms of reference so as to encompass all allegations of illegality or impropriety against any person, whether that person was a Minister of the Crown, a public servant or any other person who might be implicated, so that all allegations could be fully heard and determined. That, I emphasise, is not the action of a government seeking to cover up but the action of a government seeking to expose to the rigour of a royal commission all the known evidence and material, that is, everything known to the Government. I think that needs no repetition. The facts speak for themselves.
If there is one thing that the Opposition needs to remember it is that the currency of the coin of accusation by it is quickly debased by the frequency with which it makes those accusations on baseless grounds. The Opposition may go on day after day, week after week, making its accusations and repeating the same things but always the facts, as disclosed to this Parliament, will be available to show that the accusations are baseless. If that is what the Opposition wishes to do it should not hesitate to do it because the Government can always answer the accusations emphatically, categorically and absolutely.
I think we have already had an indication today, if I heard the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) correctly, of the lengths to which the Opposition is prepared to go in making accusations against not only the Government but anybody. I was disturbed to hear, and I think I heard it correctly, the Leader of the Opposition make a veiled attack on the credibility and the integrity of the royal commissioner, a distinguished Queen’s Counsel at the Sydney Bar and a distinguished judge, when he suggested that His Honour Mr Justice McGregor could be bought.
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, anybody who was in this House at the time knows, as I am sure you do, that Mr Speaker satisfied himself that the Leader of the Opposition did not make any such attack on the royal commissioner.
There is no point of order.
– I say again, having listened to the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) and the honourable member for Port Adelaide: What were they trying to get at? It is a question that we on this side of the House will ask ourselves again and again, a question that the public will ask again and again. Nothing that has been said today has revealed what they are trying to get at. The public could be excused for wondering just what the Opposition thinks it is doing. As I have said, nothing that has been said in this debate has shown any grounds for attacking any of the actions of the Government or of the Prime Minister in particular in instituting the Royal Commission and in twice widening its terms of reference to ensure that all evidence and all material was before the Royal Commissioner and that he was in a position to make all necessary findings against any person as to illegality or impropriety. Once the Royal Commissioner had completed his job and brought down his report and it was made available to the Government, the Opposition does not deny that the Government acted properly on the report. It does not deny that the Government was bound to accept the findings of the Royal Commissioner and to act in the way in which it did, with the consequences which most regrettably had to fall upon Senator Withers.
No one likes to lose such a close and valued colleague. All of us in Government feel that way about our colleague. But nothing that has been said today by the Opposition has shown that either the Government or the Prime Minister acted wrongly in the course that was taken from the moment this matter was brought to their attention, from the moment it became apparent that some kind of inquiry had to be undertaken, firstly at the hands of the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General and subsequently at the hands of the Royal Commissioner.
-In speaking to this matter I want to deal in two ways with the statement made to the House. Firstly, the Opposition is dissatisfied because the statement made to the House by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is a totally inadequate, totally dishonest presentation of the facts of this case, and I will illustrate that substantively later on in my argument. Secondly, there is the matter of the Prime Minister’s behaviour. He was asked question after question during Question Time today and he refused to give any answers to the House. It was only on the initiative of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) that the Prime Minister eventually chose to make a statement. I say that the behaviour and the evasiveness of the Prime Minister during Question Time was typical of his behaviour right throughout this sorry matter.
Let me deal with the statement of the Prime Minister, his own statement, his own record. He informed the House that this matter was first raised on 21 December by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron). It was then a matter for discussion on 17 January, although not by the honourable member for Fadden. The first three Ministers who were involved in considering the political and other implications of this matter were the Prime Minister himself, the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) and the then Minister for Administrative Services (Senator Withers). Obviously at that stage the Prime Minister must have thought that there was some seriousness in the allegations, that it was a matter of concern, because a meeting was then held, not in the office of the Minister for Administrative Services, not in the office of the Minister for Finance, but in the
Prime Minister’s office. As a responsible political leader he called in all the relevant parties because present at that meeting were the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull). One may well ask: Was this an exercise by the Prime Minister in order to glean the truth? Was it an exercise by a political leader trying to produce calm within his own party? Or was it the action of a Prime Minister who was concerned to ensure that none of these allegations saw the light of day?
I ask the House to consider the Prime Minister’s own statement. He called a meeting of all the principal persons concerned. The matter was raised by the honourable member for Fadden, who was then the Deputy Government Whip. To use the Prime Minister’s own words:
Mr Cameron had a lengthy document which he showed me briefly about his allegations. He did not leave a copy with me . . .
Here was a serious allegation which goes ultimately to the whole nature of the electoral structure upon which the parliamentary system depends. Here was a Deputy Whip who had a substantive document and the Prime Minister was trying to get to the truth of the matter. However, in the Prime Minister’s own words, although the honourable member for Fadden had a lengthy document he did not leave a copy of it with the Prime Minister. Is that not an extraordinary state of affairs? Is it not likely that the Prime Minister would have said to the honourable member: Give my a copy of your document. I will have it photostated so that we can explore the detail of it’. Would not the Prime Minister have said that? Of course he would have, but nowhere does that statement appear. What we have is a very glib statement by the Prime Minister that the honourable member for Fadden had a document but the Prime Minister never actually saw the contents of it and the honourable member walked away with it. I will deal with the importance of that later on.
The next relevant date is one that is not mentioned in the statement. It was significant for the honourable member for Fadden because on that date his services as Deputy Government Whip were summarily terminated. Those of us in the Parliament who had been impressed by the vigour of this young Deputy Whip were left pondering. How could it be that such a dutiful servant of the Government could be sacked without as much as a smile from the Prime Minister? There would be some who are cynical enough to suggest that when the honourable member for
Fadden would not back away from his allegations and desist from them the Prime Minister used his ever-trusty knife. Either the honourable member for Fadden had to toe the line in terms of party loyalty or he would lose his job. It was the actions of the honourable member for Fadden that produced this Royal Commission of Inquiry, not the Prime Minister’s love of justice or his desire to see that the truth came out. The inquiry was brought about by the honourable member for Fadden and he has paid dearly for his position. He is even referred to by the Prime Minister in his statement as ‘the present member for Fadden’. Obviously some things are going to happen in the future to that unfortunate gentleman.
Turning again to the Prime Minister’s statement, he refers to ‘the best of his belief. The Prime Minister has these strange lapses of memory. He cannot recall details. Senator Withers was one of the first Ministers who discussed this matter with the Prime Minister at the very first meeting that was held but he cannot recall Senator Withers’ involvement in the matter. I should have thought he would recall a phone call from someone as experienced as Senator Withers, a man who knows how the political machine operates and how the numbers operate. The Prime Minister knows the significance of a phone call to an electoral commissioner. Yet what we are asked to believe is that either Senator Withers forgot to tell the Prime Minister or that, if the Prime Minister was told, he forgot all about it. I do not believe that. No honourable member of this House believes it. I venture to suggest that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, being a man of some integrity and capacity, do not believe it either.
When does the Prime Minister say that he recovered from this temporary amnesia? According to his statement, he believes that the first occasion on which this matter was drawn to his attention was 16 April. Accept that as the Prime Minister’s statement. If that were so and he knew about the extent and the depth of Senator Withers’ involvement, why were the terms of the inquiry so narrowly fixed that in order for the Royal Commissioner to glean the truth of the Withers’ involvement ultimately the terms of the inquiry had to be extended further on 30 May? The Prime Minister glibly says about that: ‘Oh well, we were acting on legal advice’. But it is quite appropriate for a government or a Prime Minister or Minister, if he is acting on legal advice, to table the documents and to make them available. What is so secret about them? If, as we are told, the Prime Minister was acting on the best legal advice available to him, why were the documents not tabled as an integral part of the Prime Minister’s statement? The highest level at which one could put the Prime Minister’s statement on his own terms was that he did know on 16 April but that at that date he was not concerned to make the matter either specifically or generally a term of reference of the inquiry. Why? He says: ‘Because we were really concerned about what Robinson was up to. Although we had known that Withers had been on the telephone, we did not want to give that any undue reference. We were really thinking about Robinson’. I do not believe that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I do not believe that any person who looks objectively at the evidence in this case believes it. That is the best the Government can do in this matter. It is a serious matter and it may well come to the question of the privileges of the Senate.
I turn to the statement which has already been quoted in this House of Mr Oakes, a reputable journalist. Any journalist can misquote a statement or get a fact wrong, but does anybody in this House believe that Mr Oakes would invent a story concerning Senator Withers? Does anybody in this House believe that any accredited member of the Press Gallery would deliberately falsify or invent a story which he said was based on statements that were part of a briefing that went to members of the Press Gallery. Again, I do not believe that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I do not think that you believe it either. Therefore I think the credibility of the Oakes document is established. All the way through it are very interesting dates and facts which, of course, prove conclusively that the Prime Minister has not given all the facts to the House and that his statement is less than adequate, is purposely evasive and is deliberately misleading and dishonest.
What is the Oakes account of Withers’ recollection of these events? First of all, on the factual question of the time, Withers says that there was a record of his having had this conversation with a senior electoral officer and that that had been shown to the Attorney-General as early as 6 January. Again the involvement of the Prime Minister is clearly indicated because what Withers says occurred was that he was going to write a letter to Cameron saying that his allegations were really a matter for police investigation. It was at that point that it was suggested that the Prime Minister had better look at the letters. What is Withers reported to have said? Having shown these to the Prime Minister, whom we are told is an honourable man who wants all the facts to emerge, we are told that the Prime Minister’s reaction was to say: ‘I don’t want to go down this track. Well be able to deal with this internally’. To quote Senator Withers, it was going to be buried.
– Don Cameron wouldn’t cooperate.
– The only person who has been buried to date has been the honourable member for Fadden. Certain Ministers in this House today are now as guilty as the Prime Minister. It is interesting to note that the back bench members who have been involved in this matter have not entered this debate to defend the Prime Minister. The men who are party to this conspiracy to cover up were in there saying: ‘Well, all we have to do is accept the Prime Minister’s word and accept that occasionally he has amnesia ‘. I ask the House to consider why it was that the Prime Minister, on being confronted with a lengthy document from the honourable member for Fadden, did not ask him for a copy of it. Of course, that is dealt with again by Withers, who says that at one stage Mr Fraser had asked to borrow the documents to have them photocopied but Mr Cameron had refused permission. According to Senator Withers, he had said: ‘I know what you’d do. You’d put them through the shredder’.
The House, the Parliament and the people of Australia therefore have available to them two quite alternative views of what took place. One is the view that was peddled in this House today, no matter how inexpertly, by the Prime Minister- amnesia and all- and by a couple of Ministers who did their best to bolster him. But it is a view which, on the face of his documents, simply does not hang together. Then, of course, there are the alternative facts, which certainly have the ring of truth about them because the dates coincide. The alternative Withers statement points to the fact that the dates coincide with those in the statement produced by the Prime Minister. He just believed that it would be covered up. What occurred was simply that as the matter got under way someone had to be buried. First it was the honourable member for Fadden. Then it came to a matter of choice. The Prime Minister, having mishandled the situation, decided that if somebody else had to go it had to be Senator Withers. If the situation is such that Senator Withers has been guilty of impropriety, his guilt is no less than that of his political leader, who was party to these discussions and party to these negotiations and who, on this occasion, has grievously misled the House in an attempt to escape his own culpability. When all the facts emerge it will be shown that the Prime Minister has lied to the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek your indulgence. I know that the agreement was that there would be four speakers from this side of the House and I do not intend to break that agreement. I just want it to be made clear that the Opposition understands that the motion before the chair is that the House take note of the paper. The fact that we are not dividing on this matter in no way suggests that we are happy with the explanation. We will be taking up this subject again at a later time when we hope that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) and the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Donald Cameron) will have an opportunity to join in the debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978.
Ashmore and Carder Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill
Remuneration Tribunals Amendment Bill 1978.
Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1978.
Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Ombudsman Amendment Bill 1978.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal Amendment Bill 1978.
Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Amendment Bill 1978.
Commonwealth Motor Vehicles (Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1978.
Air Accidents (Commonwealth Government Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1978.
Wool Industry Amendment Bill 1978.
Wool Tax Amendment Bill (Nos1 to 5) 1978.
Commonwealth Banks Amendment Bill 1 978.
Primary Industry Bank Amendment Bill 1978.
Housing Assistance Bill 1978.
States and Northern Territory Grants (Bluetongue Virus Control) Bill 1978.
Australian Science and Technology Council Bill 1978.
Ministers of State Amendment Bill 1 978.
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Tasmania Grant (The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company Limited) Amendment Bill 1978.
States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Amendment Bill 1978.
Commonwealth Grants Commission Amendment Bill 1978.
Income Tax (Arrangements with the States) Bill 1 978.
National Health Amendment Bill 1 978.
Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1 978.
Health Insurance Levy Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Hospitals and Health Services Commission (Repeal) Bill 1978.
Trade Union Training Authority Amendment Bill 1978.
Public Service Arbitration Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Industry Stabilization Levy Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Produce Amendment Bill 1 978.
Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment (Federal Court of Australia) Bill 1978.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Estate Duty Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Estate Duty Amendment Bill 1978.
Gin Duty Assessment Amendment Bill 1 978.
Gift Duty Amendment Bill 1978.
International Sugar Agreement Bill 1978.
Loan Amendment Bill 1978.
Environment Protection (Alligator Rivers Region) Bill 1978.
National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Amendment Bill 1978.
Environment Protection (Northern Territory Supreme Court) Bill 1978.
Atomic Energy Amendment Bill 1978.
Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Bill 1978.
States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1978.
States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1978.
Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 1978.
Administrative Changes (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1978.
Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve Amendment Bill 1978.
Ordinances and Regulations (Notification) Bill 1978.
Statutory Rules Publication Amendment Bill 1978.
Seat of Government (Administration) Amendment Bill 1978.
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Amendment Bill 1978.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1977-78.
Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1977-78.
Supply Bill (No. 1)1978-79.
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1 978-79.
States Grants (Urban Public Transport) Bill 1978.
Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2 ) 1 978.
Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1978.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill 1978.
Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1978.
Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1978.
Broadcasting and Television Amend ment Bill 1 978.
Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment (Federal Court of Australia) Bill 1978.
Maritime College Bill 1 978.
Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Aboriginal Councils and Associations Amendment Bill 1978.
Income Tax Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Northern Territory (Self-Government) Bill 1978.
Ashmore and Carrier Islands Acceptance Amendment Bill 1978.
Remuneration Tribunals Amendment Bill 1978.
Lands Acquisition Amendment Bill 1 978.
Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Ombudsman Amendment Bill 1978.
Northern Territory Supreme Court Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal Amendment Bill 1978.
Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Amendment Bill 1978.
Commonwealth Motor Vehicles (Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Amendment Bill 1978.
Air Accidents (Commonwealth Government Liability) Amendment Bill 1978.
Aboriginal Land Flights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1978.
Wool Industry Amendment Bill 1978.
Wool Tax Amendment Bill (Nos 1 to 5) 1978.
Commonwealth Banks Amendment Bill 1978.
Primary Industry Bank Amendment Bill 1978.
Housing Assistance Bill 1 978.
States and Northern Teritory Grants (Bluetongue Virus Control) Bill 1978.
Australian Science and Technology Council Bill 1 978.
Ministers of State Amendment Bill 1978.
Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978.
Tasmania Grant (The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company Limited) Amendment Bill 1978.
States (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Amendment Bill 1978.
Commonwealth Grants Commission Amendment Bill 1978.
Income Tax (Arrangements with the States) Bill 1978.
National Health Amendment Bill 1978.
Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1978.
Health Insurance Levy Assessment Amendment Bill 1978.
Hospitals and Health Services Commission (Repeal) Bill 1978.
Trade Union Training Authority Amendment Bill 1978.
Public Service Arbitration Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Industry Stabilization Levy Amendment Bill 1978.
Dairy Produce Amendment Bill 1978.
– I move:
The Customs TariffProposals I have just tabled, on behalf of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Fife), relate to proposed alterations to the Customs Tariff Act 1966. Proposals Nos 15 to 19 formally place before Parliament, as required by law, tariff changes introduced by Gazette notice during the last recess which implement the Government’s decisions on recommendations made by the Industries Assistance Commission in its reports on metal working machine tools, vices, brassieres, orange juice, domestic refrigerating appliances, et cetera, ball and roller bearings, and hoists, pulley tackle and winches, and the Temporary Assistance Authority in its report on insulators. A comprehensive summary of the changes contained in the Proposals has been prepared and is now being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Proposals to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 5.15 to 8 p.m.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for proposed expenditure announced.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
In doing so, I present the Budget for 1 978-79.
Since the last Budget, the Australian people have overwhelmingly endorsed the Government’s economic policies and objectives.
Tonight I reaffirm those objectives.
First, both for its own sake and as the only real basis for achieving our other objectives, we are determined that Australia will have still lower inflation.
Secondly, and subject to the constraints still upon the economy, we shall pursue higher levels of economic activity and greater job opportunities.
These objectives cannot be achieved without continued fiscal, monetary and wage restraint and an appropriate external policy.
For this reason, the Budget I now deliver further restrains expenditure and reduces the deficit.
It also contains tax increases and announces significant policy decisions on health care financing arrangements and crude oil pricing.
The Australian economy is now responding positively to policies directed to its basic problems.
The economic scene is characterised by declining inflation, moderately expanding demand and activity and a more settled and predictable policy environment.
The great success story of 1977-78 was on the inflation front.
I simply record the facts.
For the year ended June 1976, the rate of inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, was 12.3 per cent; for the year to June 1 978, it had fallen to 7.9 per cent.
Through 1977-78, inflation fell much faster than had been predicted in last year’s Budget.
Reduced inflation has relieved pressures and strains throughout the economy.
A start has been made in reducing interest rates.
Lower inflation has also boosted private sector confidence and spending.
Despite these achievements, 1977-78 was not without its disappointments.
The Budget deficit substantially exceeded the original estimate, largely as a result of an unexpected shortfall in revenue.
However, there was no relaxation of expenditure restraint; in fact, actual outlays for 1977-78 exceeded the Budget estimate by only one-half of one per cent.
Many problems still remain to be solved.
High unemployment persists.
Real wages are still too high and this remains a major cause of the unacceptable levels of unemployment.
The inescapable truth which cannot be too heavily emphasised is that the real cost of labour continues to be out of line with its productivity.
Until this is put right, growth in jobs will be held back and unemployment will be difficult to reduce.
The company profit share is still too low, having changed little in 1977-78.
Externally, world demand and activity are subdued and this has had consequences for our trade account and the overall balance of payments.
Nonetheless, the second half of 1977-78 saw a modest resumption of private capital inflow reflecting in part improved overseas perceptions of the Australian economy and its management.
The maintenance and improvement of these perceptions are crucial to the further recovery of our economy.
In a world of subdued demand and fierce competition for markets, our comparative performance in domestic economic management is of acute and increasing significance.
It will not be sufficient for us merely to hold our own with the average performance of our trading partners.
We must do better.
A tougher and more competitive Australian economy means more investment and more job opportunities.
Against this background, the Government decided that adherence to our basic economic strategy called for a substantial reduction in the Budget deficit from last year’s outcome.
We realised this meant that difficult and unpopular decisions had to be taken.
There was no other way of keeping faith with our commitment to responsible economic management.
To explain the magnitude of this task, let me spell out the background.
The forward estimates of expenditure implied, on the basis of existing tax rates, a deficit to the order of $6,000m.
These estimates normally include new spending proposals, which can be more readily put aside.
Nevertheless, it was a formidable task.
A very significant element of this projection was that the Government faced, for the first time in 20 years, a reduction of revenue in real terms.
We began the Budget process with a stringent and painstaking review of our outlays.
In that process, the prospective growth in outlays was cut to less than one half of that suggested by the forward estimates.
They are now expected to grow by only 7.7 per cent in 1978-79.
This will represent the lowest increase in outlays for ten years.
Some might argue that the Government could have achieved greater restraint in expenditures.
Further savings could indeed have been achieved by an actual cut in the money level of benefits such as pensions and family allowances.
But we were not prepared to place a disproportionately large burden upon the recipients of such benefits.
Having completed its review of outlays, which embraced decisions on health care financing arrangements with both expenditure and revenue implications, the Government faced a deficit in the order of $4,500m.
Such an outcome was utterly unacceptable to the Government; anything approaching it would have squandered the hard won gains against inflation and progress towards economic recovery.
It would have reversed our anti-inflationary policy, delivered a sharp blow to business and consumer confidence and put in jeopardy our external account and exchange rate.
The prospect of further interest rate reductions would have been replaced by the certainty of sharp interest rate increases.
Therefore to achieve our deficit target, it was necessary to raise substantial additional revenue in 1978-79.
Our task was further complicated by the need to avoid the imposition of taxes that would have significant effects on business activity and inflationary expectations.
In the final analysis, the Government decided, as an element of this revenue raising effort, to increase the standard rate of personal income tax as a temporary measure.
Let me be clear. This particular decision is a severe disappointment to a Government which has demonstrated better than any of its predecessors its commitment to tax reduction and reform.
I say now to those who might criticise this decision that the alternatives were far more inequitable and would have been detrimental to economic activity and inflation.
Let those who question it demonstrate that a different mix of tax measures or a significantly higher deficit would have been more conducive to the attainment of our economic objectives.
Alternatively, let them argue that a particular group such as pensioners or families should have borne a greater burden.
I turn now to the details of the Government’s expenditure and revenue decisions.
Total outlays are estimated at $28,870m- an increase of only 7.7 per cent- in 1 978-79.
This follows increases of 11.1 per cent in 1977-78, 10.4 per cent in 1976-77 and 22.5 per cent in 1975-76.
Additional detail to what follows is provided in the accompanying Budget documents and in Ministerial statements.
Net payments to States and local authorities are estimated at $10,5 12m, about 5 per cent more than in 1977-78.
Payments to States and local authorities under the tax-sharing arrangements are estimated to increase by 10.7 per cent and 8.5 per cent, respectively; these funds can be used for whatever purposes the recipients choose.
The Northern Territory will receive a block grant of $280m in 1978-79 following its attainment of self-government on 1 July 1978.
The Government has decided that, from 1978-79, the States’ base amounts under the natural disaster relief arrangements will be doubled and that each State will be required to meet one-quarter of any expenditure in excess of its increased base amount.
In our own spending, the size and cost of the public service will be trimmed back further.
Over the past three years the number of public servants in areas covered by staff ceilings has fallen by 10,650.
The current ceilings imply a further reduction in staff of 2,600, or about 0.8 per cent, during 1978-79; this is after allowing for significant increases in the Department of Social Security to improve services and tighten up existing procedures.
In the public as well as the private sector excessive increases in wages are enforcing- and must continue to enforce- an intensified search for staff economies.
Non-wage administrative expenditures also are being tightly controlled; departments and authorities will be required to exercise the utmost economy and, in some cases, to reduce their activities.
This Budget provides over $8 billion for social security and welfare payments.
We have sought to contain these expenditures while maintaining assistance to the most needy.
Subject to two important modifications, all pensions and benefits subject to indexation will be increased from the first payday in November by 3.4 per cent, the increase in the Consumer Price Index in the first half of 1978.
The standard or single rate of social service pensions and benefits, for example, will rise by $1.75 to $53.20 a week while the combined married rate will rise by $2.90 to $88.70 a week.
The two modifications are:
First, in future pension increases for persons aged over 70 will be subject to an income test. This decision will apply to the November pension increase but will not apply to blind pensioners. I emphasise that present levels of pension for persons aged over 70 are not affected by this decision; they will continue in full and will not be subject to an income test.
Secondly, in future unemployment benefits will be automatically indexed only for recipients with dependants. For recipients without dependants, benefits will be reviewed annually at Budget time. The Government does not propose to increase benefits for these recipients in this Budget.
The Government has also decided that, after the November increase, indexation adjustments to pensions will be made annually each November.
This decision has been taken in the light of the significant reduction in inflation which this Government has achieved since its return to office.
The Government will not subject family allowances for dependent children to a general means test or to taxation.
We have, however, decided that family allowances will be income-tested on the basis of the child ‘s income.
From 1 January 1979, allowances will be paid as at present in respect of each child having an income of $312 or less in 1977-78 but will be reduced at the rate of 25 cents in the dollar on account of any income in excess of $3 12 received by the child.
Parents of children with a separate income above $312 a year will therefore receive a reduced benefit in respect of such children.
Children receiving certain student allowances will cease to be eligible for family allowances but adjustments will be made to the relevant student allowances.
Family allowances, orphan’s pension, handicapped child’s allowance and additional pension or benefit for a child will generally no longer be payable in respect of children who are classed as living abroad on a permanent basis.
The Government believes that maternity allowances have been superseded by health care and family allowance arrangements and has therefore decided to abolish this benefit for births occurring after 3 1 October 1978.
To assist those most in need this Budget in cludes substantially increased provisions for voluntary organisations to provide and maintain facilities for handicapped people and accommodation for aged persons, and for programs of direct assistance to Aboriginals.
Provision is also being made to extend the maximum age for payment of handicapped child’s allowance to handicapped full-time students not in receipt of an invalid pension from 1 6 years to 25 years.
Although the changes made by this Government over the past 21/2 years have achieved significant economies and improvements in the health care arrangements we inherited, the Government believes these arrangements remain complicated and can be further simplified and improved.
We have therefore decided upon several major changes to existing arrangements which, while producing an immediately adverse budgetary effect, are more consistent with our longer-term objectives in this area and remove much of the confusion and complexity from present arrangements.
These changes keep intact our belief that the Government should provide a certain basic but universal health cover for all Australians.
They preserve our existing commitment to a more generous system of cover for pensioners and socially disadvantaged people.
The changes also reflect the Government’s view that, having provided a basic cover, it should be left to the individual to decide whether he or she wishes to take out further insurance and, if so, the type and quality of that further insurance.
The changes, to be effective from 1 November 1978, are: the abolition of the health insurance levy and associated with that the abolition of compulsory private health insurance for non-levy payers; the entitlement of all eligible residents to a basic medical benefit totally funded by the
Commonwealth from general revenue which is the greater of 40 per cent of schedule medical fees or the amount of schedule medical fees less $20 per professional service; and the termination of the Medibank Standard functions of the Health Insurance Commission.
These changes will not disturb existing arrangements whereby all eligible residents without hospital insurance cover are entitled to standard ward accommodation and treatment in public hospitals at no direct cost to them.
The current arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States for hospital costsharing will continue.
Those desiring shared or private ward accom’modation with choice of doctor or private hospital accommodation will be free, as at present, to take out insurance with registered private health funds. Such insurance will be, of course, entirely optional.
The Government is looking at the level of public hospital bed day charges for shared and private ward accommodation in the course of achieving its stated objective of greater rationalisation and efficiency in hospitals- extensive negotiations with the States are already under way.
The 40 per cent/$20 medical benefit, which will be paid by registered private health insurance funds on behalf of the Commonwealth, will leave substantially unchanged the recently announced arrangements relating to Pensioner Health Benefit card-holders or to people identified by their doctors as socially disadvantaged.
Doctors will continue to bulk bill the Commonwealth in respect of Pensioner Health Benefit card-holders on the basis of 85 per cent/$5.
People identified by their doctors as socially disadvantaged will be bulk-billed on the basis of 75 per cent for all services, regardless of cost.
Fuller details of these changes will be provided by the Minister for Health later this evening.
The immediate significance for existing levy payers is that from 1 November 1978 when they cease paying the levy they can choose, if they wish, to make arrangements either through Medibank Private- whose functions will be continued- or a private health insurance fund to secure cover for part or all of the schedule fee not covered by the Commonwealth’s proposals.
For persons with private health insurance the Government expects a significant reduction in health insurance premiums as a result of these measures.
The new measures will add an estimated $138m to Budget outlays in 1978-79 and $305m in a full year; in addition, abolition of the levy will reduce receipts by an estimated $197m in 1 978-79 and $3 16m in a full year.
Finally, these measures can be expected to substract significantly from the Consumer Price Index for the December quarter.
The Budget provides for Commonwealth expenditure of almost $2, 500m on education, 6 per cent more than last year.
Our decisions in this area will maintain current total intakes of students into universities and colleges of advanced education in 1979 and reflect, in a major way, greater support for technical and further education.
In April a Working Party of the Tertiary Education Commission issued a draft report recommending that present arrangements for study leave in universities and colleges of advanced education be tightened up; the Government proposes to take action, effective from 1 January 1979, to that end but will await the Commission’s final report before announcing its decisions.
Advances to be provided under the new three year Commonwealth-State Housing Agreements, together with funds available from rents and sales, will make possible total State Government expenditure on welfare housing of the same order in 1978-79 as in 1977-78.
Under a new three year scheme, grants of $ 14m- an increase of $4m- will be provided to the States for rental assistance to pensioners, including married couples.
The Budget also includes a capital advance of $10m for Defence Service Homes and $20m for Home Savings Grants; these provisions will necessitate some increase in waiting periods for assistance.
I shall say more later about the general availability of finance for housing.
The maintenance of an adequate defence capability remains a high priority for this Government.
Despite stringent budgetary constraints, an amount of $2, 501m has been provided for defence purposes.
This provision implies an increase in spending, in real terms, of about 1 per cent this year.
Expenditure on defence capital equipment is estimated to increase by $40m- or almost 13 per cent-to$355m.
Expenditure on Australia’s overseas aid program, virtually all of it under firm commitments made to developing countries and international aid organisations, is estimated to increase by 8.6 per cent to $455m.
We are committed to contributing to the resettlement of Indo-Chinese refugees; some 10,000 refugees will be re-settled in Australia in 1978-79.
In addition to the refugee program, the Government will fund assisted passages for persons already cleared for passage in 1978-79 and for approved applicants having skills and qualifications which are in short supply in Australia.
In line with the Gal bally Committee recommendations, $6.5 m is provided to increase the scope of post-arrival programs and services for migrants; this includes additional funds for adult and child migrant education, the extension of ethnic radio and $lm for pilot ethnic television transmission.
Last year expenditure on training programs increased by 56 per cent to $120m; a further increase of 44 per cent- to $ 173m- is provided for this year.
In June 1978 more than 1 1 1,000 persons were being trained under Commonwealth assisted training programs.
Experience suggests that the Special Youth Employment Training Program is unduly advantaging younger age groups to the detriment of older age groups.
Against this background, the Government has decided to reduce the maximum training period under the Program from six months to four months, and to reduce the allowance paid to employers from $67 a week per trainee to $45 a week.
Outlays on transport are estimated at $787m and include increased payments for roads, civil aviation services and facilities, and shipping subsidies to Tasmania.
Provision is made also for initial advances under new five year programs to improve urban public transport and to upgrade the national railways network. $60m is provided to meet expected operating losses of the Australian National Railways Commission; we are concerned about these mounting losses and have initiated steps to identify possible solutions.
Full recovery of the costs attributable to airline operations on domestic trunk routes will be achieved within the next two financial years; to this end, attributable revenues from these operations are to be increased by $7. 7m this year.
For general aviation, air navigation charges will be increased by 15 per cent from 1 December 1978.
Light dues levied on shipping will not be increased this year.
In 1978-79, for the first time, the capital program of the Australian Telecommunications Commission is being financed wholly from internal sources and from non-budget borrowings.
Increased provisions are included in this Budget for rural reconstruction and adjustment, wool research and promotion, the control and eradication of cattle diseases, and the underwriting of dairy products. $40m is also included for the continuation of the superphosphate bounty.
The nitrogenous fertilizer subsidy is to be extended for one year from 1 January 1979 but at a reduced rate of $40 a tonne during that period; the cost of this subsidy is estimated at $10m in 1978-79.
The scheme introduced earlier this year to reduce the price of certain petroleum products to consumers in country areas is estimated to cost $40min 1978-79.
Consideration has been given to levying producers to recover a greater share of the costs of providing export inspection services and cattle disease eradication campaigns.
The Government has decided not to increase charges at this stage but will review the situation later in the year in the light of the economic situation of the cattle industry at that time.
The Primary Industry Bank of Australia has now been incorporated and will commence operations shortly.
The Government has decided to offer to assist the Bank by investing with it funds from the Income Equalisation Deposits Trust Account.
The policies of this Government have been of major assistance to Australian manufacturing industry.
We have reduced inflation substantially and started to reduce interest rates- developments critical to industry confidence and prospects.
The benefits to industry of the investment allowance and the trading stock valuation adjustment continue.
Our new export incentives scheme has been announced and this Budget provides a total of $58m by way of direct assistance to exporters, $27m more than last year.
Despite the difficult budgetary position, $24m is being provided for industrial research and development grants in 1978-79; $10m more than last year.
This increase will support important new initiatives and is designed to improve the efficiency and international competitiveness of Australian industry.
In addition, over Sim will be provided to support productivity improvement programs in industry.
A community program- to be known as ‘Project Australia’- and designed to increase awareness of Australian industry’s skills, achievements and potential, will be launched in 1978-79. $l.lm has been allocated for the program; further details will be provided by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
A further $4m will be provided in 1978-79 to expand energy research and development.
The Commonwealth’s share of the costs of developing the Ranger uranium deposits is estimated at $44m in 1978-79; $20m of this will be provided from the Budget, with the Australian Atomic Energy Commission raising the balance through borrowings.
Provision is made for important cultural and recreational activities.
In addition to increased allocations for the National Broadcasting and Television Service, the Australia Council, and the National Gallery, $2. 5m is included as the first instalment of the $10m grant being provided to Queensland for staging the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
In each of the past three financial years the Government has aimed to hold Budget outlays within the original Budget estimates; we achieved that aim in 1975-76 and 1976-77 while the small over-run in 1977-78 was more than accounted for by decisions taken after the Budget to meet unforeseen needs.
In line with our firm commitment to expenditure restraint, the Government again will be aiming to hold total outlays within the Budget estimates in 1978-79.
I turn now to receipts.
As already indicated, the Government has found it necessary- despite the most thorough review of our expenditures- to raise substantial additional revenue in 1978-79.
We have chosen to do this in the most equitable and economically responsible manner possible.
I now detail the tax changes.
Some increases in this area were necessary.
However, in framing our decisions, we were concerned to minimise their impact upon inflation and inflationary expectations as well as their effects on economic activity.
None of the excises, with the exception of those on petroleum products and crude oil, have been increased since 1975; the ‘real’ rate of such duties during this inflationary period has therefore declined.
For each of the proposed changes in excise, commensurate increases in the relevant customs duties will be made, and existing exemptions will continue to apply.
The new rates will be effective as from tonight.
The increase in excise on beer- only the third in twenty years- will be 12.6 cents per litre; this is equivalent to roughly Vh cents on the price of a glass of beer and is estimated to raise about $194m extra in 1978-79 and $222m in a full year.
The rates of excise on potable spirits will be increased so as to raise the general rate to $ 1 8.75 per litre of alcohol, and bar prices by about 10 cents a nip; this is estimated to yield an additional $12lm in 1978-79 and $139m in a full year.
The rate of excise on cigarettes will be increased by $5.39 per kilogram, to $24.75 per kilogram, an increase equivalent to about 10 cents on a packet of 20; commensurate increases will be made in excises on other tobacco products, to yield in all an estimated $120m extra in 1 978-79 and $ 1 36m in a full year.
Details are provided in Statement No. 4 attached.
The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs will introduce legislation later tonight to give effect to these proposals.
We have made no increase in any of the rates of sales tax.
Indeed, we have gone further and have decided to reduce the rate of tax on motor cars and station wagons from 27V4 per cent to the general rate of 15 per cent.
This means that the price of a car now costing some $7000 should be reduced by roughly $530.
The cost to revenue of this change, after allowance for some likely gain in sales, is estimated to be about $155m in 1978-79 and $196m in a full year.
The Government has decided to delay the phasing out of the remaining duty on coal exports.
This duty will now not be abolished until midnight on 30 June 1979.
The Government has decided to introduce a general revenue tax of $10 on adults departing from Australia by sea or air; the tax, which will operate from about mid-September 1978, will be collected both from Australian residents and from overseas visitors when leaving Australia.
The tax is estimated to raise $10m in 1978-79 and $ 1 3m in a full year.
Further details will be given by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs at a later date.
Import quotas have a certain scarcity value and confer on importers who hold them a substantial advantage over those who do notgiving rise, in many cases, to a ‘monopoly’ profit; by contrast, protection provided by the tariff gives rise to increased duty collections rather than increased profits for importers.
The Government has therefore decided to impose, on certain goods subject to tariff quota and import licensing controls, a special additional customs duty of 12 W per cent.
My colleague, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, will be introducing a Bill to amend the Customs Tariff Act later in the evening; this Bill will define the goods which are subject to the additional customs duty.
I would like to point out that it is not intended that these arrangements should have any additional protective effect.
This measure will produce additional revenue of about $65m in 1978-79 and about $75m in a full year.
Since the OPEC countries quadrupled the world price of crude oil in 1973-74, Australians have continued to enjoy artificially low prices for crude oil.
While the rest of the world was facing up to the inescapable fact that the days of cheap energy were over, Australians- even after the imposition in the 1975-76 Budget of a $2 per barrel production levy- were continuing to pay less than half of the world price for Australianproduced crude oil.
Subsidized indigenous oil prices encouraged a wasteful use of a key energy resource and inhibited the adoption of more energy-efficient processes and technologies; in recognition of this the Government moved last year towards a more realistic pricing policy for Australian-produced crude oil.
The move towards world prices for producers of ‘old ‘ oil announced at that time was a gradual one, with correspondingly gradual benefits to conservation and improved exploitation of known reserves.
In 1 978-79 the proportion of local crude oil production sold to refiners at less than world prices would have been about 70 per cent, involving, in effect, a subsidy to petroleum product users of some $800m.
In the light both of the budgetary situation and the desirability of improving energy use and the allocation of resources, the Government has decided that all Australian-produced crude oil should, from tomorrow, be priced to refineries at import parity levels; this will mean that consumers of petroleum products will in future pay prices based on world oil prices.
However, the proceeds of the increased price paid by refineries as a result of this decision will accrue in the first instance to the Government; the price to producers will continue to reflect the arrangements announced last year.
These results will be achieved by, in effect, increasing the present productiion levy on ‘nonparity* oil by an amount that will bring the price of such oil to refiners to import parity levels; this will bring the price to refiners of all domestic production to import parity.
The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs will introduce legislation later tonight to give effect to these proposals; in brief, however, the new arrangements involve the imposition of a production levy at the rate required to bring the price of ‘non-parity’ oil in Bass Strait up to import parity, with variable rebates being allowed to reflect, on the one hand, the maintenance of a net levy of about $3 a barrel on ‘import parity’ oil and, on the other hand, the slight differences between Bass Strait and elsewhere in both import parity prices and non-parity prices.
The net effect of these arrangements will be to increase immediately the production levy on Bass Strait ‘non-parity’ oil from the present rate or $18.90 per kilolitre (about $3 per barrel) to $64.53 per kilolitre (about $10.26 per barrel) for the period ending 31 December 1978; for Barrow Island the net levy on ‘non-parity’ oil will be $6 1 .39 per kilolitre (about $9.76 per barrel).
It is anticipated that this decision will add about Vh. cents per litre to the price of petrol (roughly 16 cents per gallon).
Retail prices for petrol in Australia vary considerably; however, the maximum allowable retail price for premium petrol in Sydney is now 2 1 cents per litre, and even with the increase expected, would remain much lower than the price paid by consumers in most countries comparable to Australia.
For example, during the first quarter of 1978 consumers were paying 49 cents per litre in Italy, 44 cents in France and Japan, and 28 cents in the United Kingdom.
New rates for the standard levy and rebates for the period 1 January to 30 June 1979 will be announced at the appropriate time following the determination of import parity prices for tha* period by the Minister for National Development.
On the basis of existing import parity prices, this increase is estimated to raise additional revenue in 1978-79 of $676m; there will be some offset in excise collections from petroleum products, reflecting the effects of the rise in the prices of such products on the demand for them.
In other respects, the pricing arrangements announced in last year’s Budget will be unchanged.
As then indicated, producers of ‘old’ oil will obtain import parity prices (less the existing levy of $ 1 8.90 per kilolitre) for increasing proportions of production from existing fields, with the proportions specified over the period to 1 980-8 1 and moving to 100 per cent as soon as possible thereafter; only for refiners (and hence consumers) is the inevitable move to world prices being accelerated.
The levy will remain at $ 1 8.90 per kilolitre on import parity’ oil; as the proportion of that oil in total production increases, collections from the new rates of levy will fall.
Those fields currently producing less than 6 million barrels per day, including Moonie, already attract full import parity, and the levy in respect of their total production will remain unchanged.
As announced in last year’s Budget Speech the Government will review, prior to the end of 1980-81, the further progression to be made towards import parity for producers from existing fields.
The increased costs of petroleum products flowing from the change in crude oil policy are estimated to have a direct impact on the December quarter Consumer Price Index of about 0.7 percentage points, with some further indirect effects in later quarters.
As the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission recognised in its judgment arising out of the December quarter 1977 CPI increase, if the increase in the CPI resulting from these oil pricing policies were to flow through into wages, the Government’s policy objective of more restrained energy use would be thwarted.
Accordingly, at the approatpriate time, the Government will be asking the Commission to again discount the CPI for the effects of the oil conservation policy before considering any wage adjustment.
In the same way, the other indirect tax changes I announced earlier tonight have been introduced to maintain responsible fiscal and monetary management; the Government intends that their net effect should fall on purchasers of the goods involved and not, through the wage determination mechanism, upon employers.
It would defeat that intention if the effect which these taxes will have on the CPI- about half a percentage point- were allowed to flow through into wages.
Consequently, the Commonwealth will also be arguing in the appropriate National Wage Case that the CPI should be discounted, for wage adjustment purposes, for the effects of these taxation measures.
As foreshadowed, earlier, the Goverment has decided that as a temporary measure for 1978-79 only, the standard rate of personal income tax will be increased by Ite per cent, from 32 to 33te per cent; there will be corresponding increases, to 47 te per cent and 61te per cent, at higher levels of income.
The relevant legislation will be expressed to terminate at the end of the current financial year.
The full-year gain to revenue from this change is estimated to be $5 70m.
It is intended to adjust pay-as-you-earn instalment deductions from 1 November 1978.
The increase is effective from 1 July, and therefore the extra deduction to be made from a taxpayer’s wages or salary after 1 November will be designed to meet his or her additional tax liability for the whole of 1978-79 and not just for the period after 1 November.
The Ite per cent rate increase for 1978-79 will also be reflected in the calculation of provisional tax.
Even after this change, gross PA YE collections in 1978-79 are estimated to increase by 7.1 per cent compared with 7.8 per cent in 1977-78; total collections from individuals are estimated to increase by 6.7 per cent this year, compared with 9.7 per cent in 1977-78.
This temporary increase should also be seen in the light of the cumulative benefits that individual taxpayers have derived from the tax reforms of this Government.
To illustrate, the cost to revenue of full tax indexation in 1976-77 was $990m; in 1977-78 the cost of full indexation and the rate scale reform was $ 1370m; the cost in 1978-79 of half indexation and rate scale reform, after allowance for the temporary standard rate increase I have just mentioned, will be about $700m.
The Government has decided to amend the law relating to self-assessment of provisional tax so that additional tax will be payable where the estimated income for 1978-79 or any subsequent years turns out to be more than 10 per cent (instead of 20 per cent at present) below the actual income for that year.
This decision reflects the Government’s concern at mounting evidence of deliberate underestimation of taxable income for provisional tax purposes.
This change will not in any way disturb the discretion now available to the Commissioner of Taxation to remit in whole or in part additional tax otherwise payable in the event that reasonable grounds exist for the under-estimation having occurred.
There will be no change to the existing situation where superannuation and other retirement benefits are taxable as to only 5 per cent of the amount of the lump sum benefit.
However, the Government has decided to alter the existing basis for taxing lump sum payments received on retirement or termination of employment for unused annual and long service leave.
At present, with only 5 per cent of lump sum payments received for unused annual and long service leave subject to taxation on retirement, there is an encouragement not to take such leave during the taxpayer’s working life; we believe that the tax system should not have that effect.
After tonight, the whole of lump sum payments for unused annual leave will be taxed in full as ordinary income.
Lump sum payments in respect of unused long service leave (including payments in the nature of long service leave) for qualifying service after tonight will be taxed at the standard rate of tax (33 te per cent this year); however, such payments in respect of long service leave for service prior to tonight will continue to be taxed under the present arrangements.
The changes will not alter the existing rule that payments on death to a spouse or dependants or legal personal representative of a deceased employee in respect of accrued annual leave or accrued long service leave are not subject to taxation.
The change to the taxation of payments for unused annual leave entitlements is estimated to produce a gain to revenue of $70m in1978-79 and $110m in a full year; reflecting the long phasing-in arrangements that are proposed, the change in respect of the taxation of long service leave payments is estimated to result in a revenue gainof$6m in 1978-79.
The contribution of this scheme to home purchase has not been matched by its cost to revenue.
Accordingly, interest on home loans that accrues on or after 1 November 1 978 will no longer be allowable as an income tax deduction; there will be a saving to revenue of $3m in 1978-79 and $3 1 m in a full year.
Commonwealth Post-graduate Awards
Commonwealth awards under the Postgraduate Awards Scheme, which are not means tested, are essentially of an income nature and it is appropriate that they should be taxed like other income.
Accordingly, these awards are to be made assessable income in the hands of the recipient with effect from 1 November 1978 with an estimated gain to revenue of $0.6m in 1978-79 and $ 1 m in a full year.
The Government has also decided to extend the 1976 decision to subject to tax a wide range of social welfare payments; the other kinds of payments now to be subject to tax, as from 1 November 1978, are:
Rehabilitation training allowance
Rehabilitation livingawayfromhome al lowance
Incentive allowance (rehabilitation)
Invalid pension for persons under age pen sion age
Sheltered employment allowance
Repatriation service pension on account of unemployability or pulmonary tuberculosis for persons under age pension age
Tuberculosis allowance for persons under age pension age, and
Tuberculosis housekeeper allowance.
People in receipt of these payments will not be disadvantaged by comparison with other income recipients; almost all of those solely dependent on the benefit will be below the tax threshold; others will become liable for tax only if they have other income above their social welfare payments sufficient to bring them above the tax threshold.
The gain to revenue from this proposal is estimated at $3m in 1978-79 and $5m in a full year.
Rebates for the Maintenance of Overseas Dependants
The present law allows rebates for the maintenance of dependants overseas- a spouse, parents or parents-in-law and invalid relatives.
In many cases, the dependant in question may have never been to, nor have any intention of coming to Australia; in other cases, the provision has led to flagrant abuse.
In the light of this, the Government has decided to withdraw the rebates for overseasresident dependants as from 1 November 1978; for 1978-79, the maximum amount of rebate claimable for each eligible overseas dependant will thus be reduced to one-third of the present amount.
Withdrawal of the rebates will not affect the rebate claimable for a dependent spouse overseas pending early migration to Australia.
The gain to revenue in 1978-79 is estimated to be $8m and for a full year $20m.
In recent months the Government has made a vigorous assault on tax avoidance; this will continue in 1978-79.
The time is long since past when Governments or the community should tolerate the blatant, artificial and contrived means whereby certain sections of the community seek to pay little or no tax to the detriment of the general body of taxpayers and the equity of the tax system.
As a further initiative in this area, the Government has decided upon a number of measures designed to curb avoidance of tax liabilities in cases where cash is paid for various forms of services without deductions for tax.
Full details are provided in a separate statement I have released tonight.
The Government has also decided to make some adjustments to the averaging system for primary producers, so as to confine its benefits more strictly to income derived from primary production; under these new arrangements averaging will still apply to taxable income from primary production, and may also apply to a limited amount of income derived from other sources.
If non-primary production income is $5,000 or less in the income year, averaging will apply to all of it; the allowance of $5,000 will shade out by one dollar for each dollar of non-primary production income in excess of $5,000, thus shading out entirely when non-primary production income reaches $ 10,000.
This change will ensure that persons with minimal interests or activities in primary production are not able to abuse the system to reduce their tax on non-primary production income, and will thereby inhibit the use of tax avoidance schemes based on primary producer status.
Further details are contained in Statement No.
The change, which will apply for 1978-79 and subsequent income years, is estimated to raise $ lm in 1978-79 and $27m in a full year.
Total outlays in 1978-79 are estimated to increase by 7.7 per cent to $28,870m.
Total receipts, after the measures I have outlined, are estimated to increase by 11.0 per cent to $26,057m.
The overall deficit is therefore estimated at $2,8 1 3m, a reduction of $52 1 m on 1 977-78.
After allowance for overseas transactions, the domestic deficit is estimated at $ 1,669m in 1 978-79, some $782m less than in 1 977-78.
In 1977-78 the broadly defined volume of money (M3) expanded by 8 per cent over the course of the year, which was at the lower end of the range projected in last year’s Budget Speech.
The firm control of the monetary aggregates which the Government has put in place since early 1976 has contributed much to the subsequent wind-down in inflation.
The 1978-79 Budget will again contribute to an appropriate monetary environment.
With continuing success against inflation, the Government looks forward to further sustainable reductions in interest rates.
The Government has been careful to ensure that its policy of monetary restraint does not unduly restrict the supply of finance to certain key sectors such as housing.
The policy of monetary restraint will of course strengthen the demand for housing in the longer term through reduced inflation and lower interest rates.
However, the Government has acted decisively with a view to the short term as well.
The banks and building societies are being reminded of the Government’s desire that they lend to homeseekers to the maximum extent.
In addition, to facilitate the provision of housing finance, the regulations relating to savings banks subject to the Banking Act are under urgent review.
To expand savings banks’ capacity to lend for housing in 1978-79, the proportion of savings bank deposits required to be held in public securities and liquid assets will be reduced from 45 to 40 per cent.
As a longer term measure, the present method of controlling the investment of savings banks’ funds is being reviewed with the intention of giving them more flexibility in determining the composition of their assets.
Lending levels will, of course, remain subject to lenders’ own commercial judgments.
These actions should make it easier for homeseekers to obtain finance.
These decisions have been taken within the framework of an overall monetary policy which remains directed at providing adequate funds for sustainable recovery in private sector activity and employment, while continuing to bear down steadily on inflation and inflationary expectations.
In this regard- and despite the acknowledged uncertainties in such projections- I now state that this Budget is consistent with an outlook for financial conditions indicated by growth in the broadly defined volume of money (M3) in the range of 6 to 8 per cent over the course of 1978-79.
Within this monetary projection, the outlook for employment will be affected by the outcome of the wage determination process both within the arbitral tribunals and outside them.
But before I develop this point in more detail, let me say something about the link between jobs and money wage gains.
The sharp increase in labour costs, relative both to the price of output and the costs of other factors of production, which occurred in 1973 and 1 974- and which has not so far been wound back- has encouraged firms to shed as much labour as they can.
They have been replacing workers with machines; replacing full-time staff with part-time; replacing wage and salary earners with selfemployed contract labour; in short, making do with less labour all round.
That is the major reason why employment, especially of wage and salary earners, has hardly been growing at all even while output has been expanding.
This has been to the particular detriment of young people and the unskilled.
For five years now, businesses have been coping as best they can with those excessive labour costs.
Since the wages explosion of 1973 and 1974, there has, it is true, been some closing of the gap between real wages and productivity.
But the partial closure of that gap has been a result of productivity increases, not of real wage reductions.
In accepting this protracted means of closing the gap, we are, as a nation, condemning ourselves to a second-best solution.
A considerably more rapid recovery would be possible- if a greater measure of wage restraint could be obtained.
The Government has been fostering a moderate uplift in economic activity.
However, excessive wages have pushed unemployment to levels that could otherwise have been avoided.
At wage hearing after wage hearing, the Government has sought to demonstrate to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the inescapable inter-dependence of economic recovery and wage restraint.
It is regrettable that the Commission has not paid greater heed to the views the Government has put to it at these hearings.
Its failure to do so has, in our view, been costly to the Australian community both in terms of inflation and unemployment.
We cannot, as a Government, regard this situation as satisfactory.
Within the monetary framework which I outlined earlier, there is a limit to wage increases that can be awarded without throwing even more people out of work.
The Government has limited flexibility in monetary policy, which cannot be assumed to passively adjust so as to accommodate money wage decisions inconsistent with the Government’s objective of continuing to bear down on inflation and encourage economic recovery and sustained growth in employment.
Employers also should not assume that the finance to accommodate excessive wage rises will be readily available.
If wages increase faster than responsible growth in the monetary aggregates permits, there will be inadequate scope for growth in real activity.
If this occurs the result will be lower economic activity and therefore higher unemployment than would otherwise be attainable.
Consistent also with this position, the Government will not allow excessive increases in money wages to undermine its own Budget.
The Commonwealth will, as a major employer, act like any other employer.
If wages rise faster than we have budgeted for, we will respond by effecting offsetting economies through a further critical examination of Budget expenditures. This critical examination will include the number of staff employed.
In so doing, we will be seeking to bring the conduct of our own affairs more into line with conditions prevailing in the private sector.
That will also demonstrate, in the most practical way, the vital need to ensure sensible outcomes in the area of wage determination that will permit employers both to preserve present jobs and to make more new jobs available.
The Government will be advising the Commission along these lines at the next National Wage Case.
As I have just indicated, the outlook for the economy depends heavily on the future course of award wages.
Unfortunately it is not generally recognised that, despite partial indexation, the actual level of real wages has hardly fallen at all in recent years.
Real household disposable incomes rose in both 1976-77 and 1977-78.
Notwithstanding the temporary increase in the standard rate of personal income tax, real household disposable incomes are again expected to rise in 1978-79.
The personal saving ratio is likely to continue to decline and private consumption expenditure can be expected to grow at a healthy pace.
Forward indicators suggest that the buoyant performance of private business investment in 1 977-78 will be sustained in the coming year.
The Government draws considerable satisfaction from this evidence of increasing community confidence in its policies.
While policy has, of course, been looking to the private sector as the source of sustainable growth, total public sector expenditure is again expected to show a real increase in 1978-79, although smaller than last year.
The growth in production is also expected to be strengthened by a turn-around in the stock cycle as stocks begin to rise again during the coming year.
Externally, our export growth will be constrained by the continuing moderate growth of the world economy in 1 978-79.
However, from the point of view of the current account balance and domestic incomes, the sluggishness in export volumes is likely to be offset by a significant improvement in our terms of trade.
The expected build up in stocks domestically will no doubt be mirrored in stronger growth in imports.
On balance, therefore, the external deficit on current account seems likely to continue running at about the rate recorded in the second half of 1977-78, producing some increase for the year as a whole.
Offsetting that, the improvement in the investment climate generally in this country seems likely to lead to a gradual strengthening of the private capital account.
Meanwhile, the Government remains committed to a program of official borrowing overseas to supplement the temporarily depleted levels of private capital inflow and, in the process, to maintain reserves.
Overall, gross non-farm product is projected to grow by around 4 per cent in real terms in 1978-79.
With a return to more normal seasonal conditions there should be a significant recovery in farm product and farm incomes this year.
That would mean stronger growth in total GDP than in the non-farm component.
However, while this growth should be sufficient to ensure an increase in employment, unemployment may well increase somewhat during the year as the labour force continues to grow, unless a better outcome can be achieved on the wages front.
So far as prices are concerned, the indirect tax increases and the move to import parity for domestic crude oil may temporarily slow the deceleration in the broadly-based price deflators.
In terms of the Consumer Price Index, those increases seem likely to be more than offset by the effects of the changes to the financing of health services.
With even reasonably sensible outcomes for wage determination, inflation is expected to be running at an annual rate down towards 5 per cent by mid- 1979.
At no time since its election has this Government pretended that there were quick, easy solutions to Australia’s economic problems.
It has been necessary in this Budget to take difficult decisions to achieve our objectives.
To have done otherwise would have put at risk all that we have achieved to date.
There was no way that this Government would sacrifice economic temperance for shortterm political praise.
In framing all our decisions, we have been guided by a desire to fairly share burdens throughout the Australian community.
This Budget stands for the long term economic stability of Australia.
It is a Budget of reality.
It is a Budget of economic responsibility.
I commend it to Honourable Members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Young) adjourned.
NEC/nec not elsewhere classified nil