31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
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 Mr Anthony, Mr Baume, Mr Bradfield, Mr Cadman, Dr Edwards, Mr FitzPatrick, Dr Klugman, Mr MacKellar and Mr Ruddock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That Item 6469 of the standard Medical Benefits Table is the means by which payment is made for the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every year.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Item 6469 is removed from the standard Medical Benefits Table.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony, Mr Bradfield, Mr Dobie, Dr Edwards, Mr MacKellar and Mr Ian Robinson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to renew for a further term of at least 3 years the States Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act 1974-77, renewed for one year expiring on the 30th June 1 978.
The demand for dwellings has not slackened as the waiting list (all States) of 12,060 single and 4,120 couples as at the 30th June 1 977, showeth.
Your petitioners respectfully draw the attention of the Commonwealth Government to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Aged Persons’ Housing1975 under the Chairmanship of the Rev. K. Seaman (now Governor of South Australia) which recommended additional funds to State housing authorities to meet the demand for low-rental accommodation in the proportion of $4 for $1 with the proviso that the States do not reduce their existing expenditure and
That the Act include married pensioners eligible for supplementary assistance and migrants as specified by the Seaman Report and that particular consideration be paid to the special needs and requirements of the prospective tenants in the location and design of such dwellings.
Furthermore, your petitioners desire to draw the Government’s attention to the. hardship of many pensioner home owners caused by the high cost of maintenance.
The Social Security Annual Report 1976-77 shows that 24.6 per cent, or 283,000 home owning pensioners, have a weekly income in excess of the pension of less than $6 per week.
Your petitioners strongly urge the Commonwealth Government to establish a fund whereby loans can be made to means tested pensioners for the purpose of effecting necessary maintenance to their homes. Such a loan to be at minimal interest rates sufficient to cover administrative costs and to be repaid by the estate upon the death of a single pensioner before probate or upon the death of the surviving spouse in the case of married pensioners or where two pensioners jointly own the dwelling. Administration to be carried out by local government bodies.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bradfield and Dr Edwards.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned members and ex-members of the Citizens Forces of Australia respectfully sheweth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
Your Honourable House take appropriate action to resume the award of the several distinctive Reserve Forces Decorations and Medals for Long Service and Good Conduct to members of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Army Reserve (CMF) and the RAAF Citizens Air force. by Mr N. A. Brown and Mr Roger Johnston.
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:
Your petitioners strongly oppose the removal of No. 6469 from the Medical Rebate list and your petitioners, in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Calder and Dr Klugman.
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: 1.In1943 and1944 two small scale raids were undertaken by Australian and British Commandos on shipping in Singapore Harbour.
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 Connolly and Mr MacKellar.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned members of the Order of the White Cross International, a humanitarian knighthood for the defence and protection of life and residents of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned petitioners are deeply concerned about the continued pollution of the environment and food in general with chemicals designed to destroy certain life forms, pretend to be the colour and flavour of certain fruit and indeed replacing food and beverages by and by with synthetics or semi-synthetics, and that this, our concern, must be the concern of many citizens with a sense of responsibility, since:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Anthony.
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 Dr Cass.
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 NSW.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Member of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australian 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.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of Australia request that:
The six dollar permissable income limit on Unemployment Benefits be raised to the income limits of old age and other pensions.
We feel that the present limit is a direct discouragement for unemployed who may be able to find casual work and so could lead to a lack of work orientation and loss of job skills and self confidence.
The present income allowance for old age pensions of twenty dollars and a reduction of fifty cents for every dollar earnt would be a much more realistic measure in today’s circumstances.
We, your humble petitioners therefore pray your attention, to this anomaly within the social welfare system and look to this situation being rectified.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of 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.
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:
That the Federal Government consider, as a matter of urgency, substantial increases in funds for public schools.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take action to ensure that the educational needs of Australian children are given every consideration. by Mr Ruddock.
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:
We the undersigned put forward this petition against the Treasury’s recommendation to the Federal Government to block wage indexation adjustments for public servants.
We consider the recommendation highly unjust and discriminatory.
Any attempt to implement this recommendation would result in vast industrial unrest within the public service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr West.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. In view of the Minister’s evidence to the McGregor Royal Commission about events in the Prime Minister’s suite on 17 January, and his frequent firm assertion of the correctness of that evidence subsequently, why did he contemplate signing the note to the Prime Minister drafted on or about 8 August? Is it not a fact that whilst the Minister says that the note would add nothing to his testimony, if it were signed it would subtract dramatically from his testimony?
-I would have thought that the information I gave yesterday to the Leader of the Opposition would have been sufficient to avoid his asking this question today. The fact is that the totality of the evidence given by me to that Royal Commission- evidence on oath and evidence given in good faith- has been on the public record now for more than three months for the Leader of the Opposition or anybody else who wishes to read it. Yesterday information was given to the Leader of the Opposition of the circumstances surrounding the preparation of the first draft of a possible note to the Prime Minister on 8 August. I have nothing further to add to that.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the reliability of estimates of the deficit based on alternative Budget approaches?
– It can be taken as quite certain, of course, that the estimates that the Treasurer gave in his Budget are as reliable as the best technical advice available to the Government can possible make them. I believe that the technical expertise available to the Government is of the highest order and of the highest possible standard. Last night an alternative Budget was put to this Parliament and it was suggested that the deficit which would arise from the alternative approach would be $3,650m. I will demonstrate to this House that the deficit in fact would be $4.5 billion or more- maybe approaching $5 billion. The arithmetic of the Leader of the Opposition reveals appalling ignorance. Maybe he got some guidance from a noted financial journalist, as he did once before. It was not of much benefit to the Leader of the Opposition on that occasion. I would have thought that it would have been of some advantage to him to have changed his advisers. If he has changed them he certainly has not changed them for the better.
The claim that forgone revenue of $ 1,960m would be offset by new taxes to raise $ 1,490m in 1 978-79 is fanciful and absurd. It ignores the lags in the tax system. One would not have to be a former Treasurer to be aware of this. Any new member of this House should be well aware of it. The fact that a former Treasurer in this House has shown in his speech that he is totally ignorant of this fact means that he can be ignorant of it only by design. Although details of the proposed changes of the Leader of the Opposition were not given, it would seem that little revenue could be derived in 1978-79 and the Hayden deficit would be $4.5 billion, maybe approaching $5 billion. Let me demonstrate. The Leader of the Opposition claims he would raise $300m from a capital gains tax. How can a capital gains tax be introduced this year and $300m be derived from it? The money would have come in -
– We would have introduced it at the time of the general election. Didn’t that occur to you?
-Oh, he now says that he would have introduced a capital gains tax at the time of the general election. In other words, it would have been part of his election policy, but he was not going to tell the people of Australia. How much can we do about that? I hope that the honourable gentleman will go on interjecting in that way. What about the resources tax? How can a resources tax be introduced now and $150m be collected from it in this financial year? Obviously the money would come in in the next year.
The Leader of the Opposition said that he would not proceed to an import parity price for oil with a fully fledged energy policy, as we are. Instead he would knock off the increased levy so that the price for oil would not reach import parity- he was trying to buy a few votes in that way- when everyone knows that we have to go to import parity. The Leader of the Opposition was then going to collect $340m which he thinks is the additional sum going to the oil companies as a result of decisions made last year. What he needs to understand is that as a result of the additional funds going to the oil companies more money is going into oil search and into drilling, which the Labor Administration in its term of office, with its policies, stifled absolutely in Australia, as it stifled all other development in Australia. I am advised that last year and this year the profits of the oil companies totalled less than $300m. In that circumstance, how can we get $340m out of the oil companies this year when they have not even got the money, especially when 46 per cent of the additional sum that they got as a result of last year’s decision goes in company tax anyway? So, even if they were getting the $340m, the Leader of the Opposition would be proposing to tax that amount to the tune of 46 per cent and then take the $340m- a tax of 146 per cent. The absurdity of the honourable gentleman’s arithmetic is almost beyond belief.
The Leader of the Opposition then came to the investment allowance, which has been so important in helping industry to revitalise itself, to become efficient, effective and competitive in many areas. He has made it perfectly plain that he wants Australian industry to be stifled and to remain uncompetitive compared with imports, uncompetitive on export markets and denied access to the best machinery, equipment and technology. He said that he would get the benefit of $400m by knocking off the investment allowance this year. That means that he would have to knock off the investment allowance retrospectively and deny companies, individuals and corporations the benefits of expenditure they have incurred in good faith as a result of investment decisions made in the long term knowledge of the policy.
One can only assume that the honourable gentleman’s alternative Budget is designed to destroy confidence in this country. Luckily it will have no effect because no veracity will be placed on anything the honourable gentleman may say. What he has done and said is consistent with his knocking of Australia and the Australian economy month after month. In relation to the balance of payments situation, interest rates and getting inflation down, he is negative. He will remain negative and he will reman in opposition.
– Just to prove at least that the Prime Minister knows no more and probably a lot less about economics than I do, I ask a question of him that is supplementary to the one he has just answered. Is it not a fact that the sort of income- $340m or whatever the figure is that he wants to quibble about- going to the oil companies as a result of the change in oil prices would not contribute company income tax until the fiscal year 1979-80 and that the proposal I put forward last night would provide income this financial year? Is it not a fact that the resource tax which I mentioned last night was a firm undertaking in the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party at the last election and, accordingly, could apply for the duration of this year and would have been implemented from the beginning of this calendar year at least? Is it not a fact that, because the Government reneged on its promise at the last election to reduce personal taxes and, in consequence, has substantially increased them, it is not unreasonable for an Opposition to propose in an alternative Budget at this stage some alternative source of revenue which would avoid the imposition of substantial increases in personal tax on income earners in the community and that, accordingly, the introduction of a capital gains tax is entirely appropriate? Finally, how does the Prime Minister justify the imposition of relatively punitive rates of tax on the unused accumulations of long service and annual leave of the average income earner while the Government grants immunity to massive capital gains by the corporate sector?
-The honourable gentleman twists and changes his position one day after the next. I think that the honourable gentleman indicated yesterday that he was taking the base figures of the Budget as his starting point. There was nothing in his speech last night which said that the base starting point would have been different because a Labor
Administration would have introduced this tax from 1 January and that tax from 1 January or 1 February. He indicated that he was taking the base figures of the Budget as his starting point and making adjustments as a result. The adjustments I have indicated are the ones that would have applied. The deficit would be $4.5 billion to $5 billion on the basis of the proposals the honourable gentleman put. I cannot understand -
– Give us some detail.
-The barnyard cannot keep quiet for a moment.
– Give us some facts.
-The facts are that the alternative Budget of the Leader of the Opposition- I am happy to go on saying it all afternoon- would lead to a deficit of $4.5 billion to $5 billion. It would lead to higher inflation, to problems in funding the deficit and to higher interest rates for home owners, small businesses, farmers- for all sections of the Australian community. The honourable gentlemen sitting behind the Leader of the Opposition clearly do not like that very much at all.
The honourable gentleman mentioned the oil levy. Again let me explain the position. The decision announced last year gave additional sums to oil producers to encourage oil search in this country. People will not search for oil in this country if the returns from the search or from existing wells will be markedly below that which they can get in other places. Therefore, the decision was necessary. The additional sum that goes to those companies obviously is subject to company tax of 46 per cent. The honourable gentleman now says that he is going to get from the companies not only that 46 per cent but the total amount that went to them as a result of the decision. In total that comes to 146 per cent. It is plain nonsense. It is ludicrous.
It is time one particular lie was nailed absolutely and completely, and that is that the increase in income tax for a temporary period, for this financial year, is something that undermines the basis of the tax reforms of this Government. It does not do that. If we had been paying tax on the basis of the Hayden scales which were brought in with such trumpeting and such pride by the Leader of the Opposition, in spite of the temporary increase in tax the income tax payers this financial year would be paying $3 billion more in income tax than they will in fact pay. So, the cumulative benefits of tax indexation, coupled with the tax reforms, have left lasting, permanent benefits for all Australian taxpayers.
The fact that we had to impose that increase for this financial year is a classic example of our tax indexation policies working. We always said that tax indexation would force governments to be honest in relation to their taxing policies and that if they wanted more money from the people of Australia they would have to introduce legislation and justify it. We are prepared to do just that. Under the previous circumstances, without tax indexation, it obviously would not have been necessary to increase tax rates, because of the unlegislated increases coming from inflation. Therefore the fact that legislation has to be introduced is a result of tax indexation, and we are fully happy to justify the measure because it is necessary in the overall interests of the Australian economy. The way the Budget has been received and very largely accepted by wide sections of the Australian community indicates that they recognise that the Budget is needed and is necessary in the circumstances of Australia. I can only believe that the space accorded the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in this morning’s media is the extent of the recognition and the importance of his proposed alternative.
-Can the Prime Minister tell the House to what extent the Budget brought down last week is likely to result in bringing the Australian economy back to the mythical economic buoyancy of 1974, a buoyancy which seems to preoccupy the thoughts of the party opposite? Can the Prime Minister explain to the House on what possible grounds 1974 could be regarded as a buoyant economic year?
-The Leader of the Opposition referred to 1974 as a buoyant economic year. Therefore I conducted a little research to try to find out on what possible basis that year could have been regarded as buoyant. He said: ‘Let’s get back to 1974. What a wonderful year; what a pleasant year it was’. Let us remember what happened in 1974. It is perfectly plain that the economy was up the creek. Inflation was 16 per cent and was up to 19.3 per cent in the second half of 1974. We are aiming at present at an inflation rate of 5 per cent. After that we will aim still lower. Unemployment increased more in that year than, I think, in almost any other year in our history. Average weekly earnings went up by 28 per cent, destroying the profitability of Australian industries and Australian farms and adding enormously to the ranks of the unemployed.
Government spending- this is where we see the Labor Party’s innate modesty- went up by a modest 46 per cent in one year. Quite plainly this is the kind of buoyancy to which the Leader of the Opposition wants to return. To do so he would need to buy another couple of printing presses. Pay as you earn receipts were up 43 per cent, ripping it out of the tax payers of Australia. Overdraft rates, bank rates and interest rates went up. If this is the recipe of the Leader of the Opposition for buoyancy and for the kind of economy to which he would like to return, I am quite certain that the Australian people will have none of it, ever.
-I refer the Prime Minister to the following statement of his Attorney-General in the Senate relating to the McGregor Royal Commission:
He- that is, the Royal Commissioner- was restricted by these terms of reference to making findings only about the conduct of Mr Robinson and the distribution commissioners.
I therefore ask the Prime Minister why he approved terms of reference which would not permit any finding- I emphasise the word finding’- about the conduct of Senator Withers when he knew in advance of Senator Withers ‘ involvement with the change of name?
– I think that I answered a question very similar to this yesterday but I am very happy to answer it again. On 23 April Ministers were advised of the phone call and, I think, in broad terms of the results of the phone call. It was very natural, since the allegations that had been made at that time and for some weeks related to the Minister for Finance and to the electoral commissioners, that Ministers’ minds should be focused on that particular matter. But the important thing which has been emphasised in this Parliament and which, I am sure, the Attorney-General has also emphasised, is that the terms of reference as originally provided were drafted in a way which made quite certain that all the facts in relation to this matter did come forward at the Royal Commission. Indeed the Attorney-General himself took very specific action to make quite sure that the facts of the phone call were brought out before the Royal Commission through means of the letters that Senator Withers and Mr Pearson had written and also perhaps a statement in relation to the matter. So the terms of the Royal Commission were never widened, and never needed to be widened in relation to the eliciting of facts.
It was later, when evidence was given before the Royal Commission, that the totality of the circumstances was before Ministers in a wider context. I refer to Mr Pearson’s evidence, Senator Withers’ evidence and also statements that brought the comments in the Senate of 4 November into sharper light. Against that total background it was then believed that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission should be widened to enable the Royal Commission to bring in findings in relation to any person. That, in fact, is what has happened. However, let me emphasise again that the terms of reference as originally drawn were drawn in such a way that all the facts would be elicited. There is one other thing which I think is important and the Attorney-General certainly has drawn attention to this in the Senate. Mr Justice McGregor based his findings not just on the fact of the phone call but on the motive and purpose of the phone call which were revealed, in his judgment through the totality of evidence before the Royal Commission. That is something that was revealed in the royal commission and was not in Ministers’ minds at an earlier time.
-I refer the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to the live sheep dispute and the findings of the Miller report. Did the Miller report find that substantially more jobs are created by the live sheep trade than are lost? Is the Minister aware of Australia’s likely loss of trade if these and associated exports are interrupted? I ask the Minister whether he has read in the Press the following statement by Mr A. Tonkin, the South Australian State Secretary of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union:
The main thrust at this stage is national stoppages at all abattoirs which may be in conjunction with picketing and other forms of action which someone may suggest.
Will the Government take all steps possible to ensure that this valuable trade continues uninterrupted?
-My attention has been drawn to reports such as those which the honourable gentleman indicated. It might be useful if I were to remind the House that last Friday I chaired a meeting in Sydney attended by growers, exporters, representatives of the government departments concerned and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which considered Mr Miller’s report and also the report of the tripartite mission to the Middle East on developing our carcass and package meat trade in that area. The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union was invited to attend that conference but did not do so. I must say that I find that very strange in view of the Miller findings and the findings of the mission. I remind the House that the AMIEU was a member of the tripartite mission. One of the most significant of Mr Miller’s findings, as the honourable gentleman has said, is that the net effect of the live sheep export trade has been to generate greater income and more jobs. The report did point to employment problems in the meat industry, but they were due to broader economic factors and not to the live sheep export trade. The Government for its pan has indicated that it is willing to consider an inquiry into those aspects raised by Mr Miller, after discussion with the industry, provided of course that there are no restrictions on trade. The Miller report was quite specific in relation to any imposition of quotas or ratios on live sheep. It said that the result of that would eventually be not only loss of jobs overall but, specifically, loss of jobs in the meat industry. I therefore find it extraordinary that a union claiming to represent the interests of its members not only rejected a report by a highly respected, impartial expert but also is talking about reimposing bans which will have the effect of losing jobs in that industry.
To sum up, the Government for its part has responded to the Middle East mission by establishing an advisory group to the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation on the development of our carcass trade in the Middle East and by providing more funds to develop that trade. It has indicated that provided there are no restrictions it will consider an inquiry into the employment aspects identified by Mr Miller, which have nothing to do with the live sheep trade. Trade worth hundreds of millions of dollars is involved in this issue. It makes a substantial contribution to our overseas earnings and to building up the meat industry not only in the livestock form but also in the carcass form. It will ensure more jobs and more job security in that industry. I urge rank and file members of the AMIEU to look very closely at the policies being pursued by their leaders because if they continue to pursue them they will lose jobs in their industry.
-I refer to the Prime Minister’s answer to my last question in which he indicated that he has always thought that the terms of reference of the McGregor Royal Commission were wide enough to encompass all the activities of Senator Withers. I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the fact that the judge himself wrote to the Attorney-General on 12 May in the following terms:
It would not be open to me fully or at all to probe any other matter which is not so set out or relevant thereto without proper and similar authority.
Accordingly, I ask: If that was the Prime Minister’s knowledge on 12 May, why was no immediate action taken to extend the terms of reference?
-There was a suggestion in the question which I think was not accurate and related to the facts. The honourable member referred to an assertion which he attributed to me which indicated that I had said that the terms of reference were always wide enough to elicit all the circumstances in relation to Senator Withers. What I said was that the terms of reference were wide enough to elicit all the facts in relation to the matter, but obviously not as to findings. There is a difference between facts and findings. The terms of reference were widened as to findings.
Opposition members interjecting-
-Order! The question was asked in silence; the Prime Minister is entitled to answer it in silence.
– He is aware of it; he just won’t come clean.
-The honourable member, for Blaxland will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw.
-The original terms of reference made it perfectly plain that all the facts could and would be elicited, and the Attorney-General had taken very specific action to make sure that the facts in relation to the phone calls would be elicited. I also point out that at a later point beyond 23 April it was evidence given before the Royal Commission, coupled with our attention being drawn to certain remarks made in another place in November of last year and also, again, I think, in late April or May of last year as a consequence of certain matters that have been set before the Royal Commission, that led the Government in the totality to believe that the terms ought to be widened in relation to findings concerning any person. That was done.
– The judge told you that on 12 May.
-Let me come to that particular matter. The letter from the judge was in response to a letter that the AttorneyGeneral had written to the judge. That also has been public throughout this matter. That letter was written at about the time allegations had been made in relation to uranium. The terms of reference were widened in relation to that and, at the same time, because the Government felt that matters might be alleged or come to notice before the Royal Commission -
– For God’s sake, you knew Withers was crook from the beginning. Stop hedging.
-Senator Withers has a perfect right to resent that statement, as I have a right to resent it.
-I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw that statement.
– But it is true. How can I withdraw it when it is the finding of the Royal Commission? He acted improperly. The Prime Minister knew that from 16 April and obviously he is trying to fabricate a defence for his own conspiracy in this matter. He is behaving dishonestly.
-I have asked the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the statement he made. I repeat that request.
– Which statement is that? I want to be clear on that. We have a Royal Commission finding.
-It is unusual for me to repeat what has been said. The honourable gentleman knows what he said. In this circumstance, but not to create a precedent, I will repeat it. The honourable gentleman said to the Prime Minister by way of interjection: ‘You knew that Senator Withers was crook all the time’. I ask for that statement to be withdrawn. Under the Standing Orders one should not reflect on a member of this chamber. There is no comparable protection to members of another place but as a matter of probity and the dignity of Parliament I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the remark. I cannot force him to do so but I think that as a matter of courtesy to the Parliament he should do so.
– May I be clear on that? I do not have to withdraw it? Is that what you are saying? But you think that I ought to?
-That is what I am saying.
– No, I will not withdraw it. The Royal Commission said he was crook, and he was crook.
-The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
- Mr Speaker, speaking on a point of order, I believe that if the Leader of the Opposition or any other honourable member makes a statement of that kind in relation to a member of this House or in relation to a member of another House he ought to withdraw it. I have no wish to canvass your ruling in relation to the matter. I know that traditionally you have given leniency sometimes to me and also to the Leader of the Opposition, but to leave that statement on the books not withdrawn I believe is not in the best interests of this House. I also believe that it is highly relevant that it was the motive behind the telephone call which led Mr Justice McGregor to come to the finding of impropriety. None of that was known at the time. It came out in evidence before the Royal Commission. I also suggest that the term ‘crook’ is very different from the finding of the Royal Commission and carries connotations which ought not to be let lie.
-I have indicated to the House what I think is the proper course. That course has not been followed. I do not have the power under the Standing Orders to force the remark to be withdrawn. There is no point of order.
- Mr Speaker, on the point of order, I draw your attention to Standing Order 75. There are two particular imputations in the reference made by the Leader of the Opposition. One was to an improper motive of the Prime Minister. That was that he knew of the action by Senator Withers. On a number of occasions in this House the Prime Minister has explained the circumstances and the timing of his knowledge of the telephone call and what was said during that telephone call. Secondly, the Leader of the Opposition has used what, within the terms of Standing Order 75, can be regarded only as offensive words against a member of the other House of this Parliament. I suggest that there is certainly a cause for the honourable gentleman to be required to withdraw not only the imputation against Senator Withers but also the motive that he has imputed against the Prime Minister. I suggest that in both respects the honourable gentleman is not in a position in which he can do other than comply with the request that you put to him.
-I think there is a great deal of substance in what the Leader of the House has said. The facts have been clearly exposed in what has been said in the points of order. I ask the Leader Opposition to withdraw the statement.
– So that I can understand what has happened I ask: Are you now saying that you do have the power?
-No, I have not said that. I have had my attention directed to Standing Order 75, which says:
No member may use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member thereof, against any member of the Judiciary, or against any statute unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal.
The relevant words are those in the first part of it. I have had my attention directed to it and it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that I was in error. I find that under Standing Order 75 I do have the power to require any member to withdraw. I have wrongly stated that I had no power. It is a question of the latitude allowed to Leaders of the Opposition, Prime Ministers and other leaders of parties. The honourable gentleman can lean on the latitude that is allowed or he can, in accordance with the dignity of the House, withdraw at my request.
– It is a pity that you did not discover this yesterday, Mr Speaker, with respect, when I was accused of organising violent demonstrations. You sat there with equanimity. That accusation was untrue and offensive and you did not even -
-I ask the honourable gentleman whether or not he will withdraw.
– Are you going to put the usual processes in operation if I do not? Under duress I obviously will, but if I have a choice I will not.
– Will or will not the honourable gentleman withdraw?
– No, I am not going to if I do not have to.
-I have ruled that I will not take action against the honourable gentleman as Leader of the Opposition. Because of the latitude that is traditionally allowed I will not name him. I ask him, as a matter of the propriety of the House, to withdraw.
– I do not see why I should when the evidence supports what I have asserted.
-I ask the honourable gentleman for the final time whether or not he will withdraw.
– The evidence supports what I have said. No.
-I call the Prime Minister to complete the answer.
-The Leader of the Opposition shows what he is. He is a churlish man; an ungenerous person. He is basically mean of nature because the rules of this House and your leniency in relation to them, Mr Speaker, enable the Leader of the Opposition to get away with a situation in which in the normal course of events, as you have indicated from the chair, you would have taken action against anyone else. Therefore, he has abused his privileges and he has abused his position. He is using the basis of his position -
-Order! I ask the Prime Minister not to canvass my ruling. The facts have been exposed. They speak for themselves.
– I accept that completely. I was not seeking to canvass your ruling at all, Mr Speaker. I was merely drawing attention to some of the consequences of it in terms of the behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition. But let me pass from that, Mr Speaker.
The letter of 12 May from Mr Justice McGregor was written in response to a letter to His Honour from the Attorney-General a day or two before. The honourable gentleman will know that about that time the terms of reference were widened in relation to a matter about uranium- a matter quite extraneous and apart from the redistribution matters. At that time there were also the suggestions of other allegations that could be about. The Government wished every matter to be probed and had taken the view that if matters came before the Royal Commission that might have warranted examination then the Government would be responsive to a suggestion from the Commission that the terms could be widened. Perhaps not surprisingly, His Honour took the view that that was a matter that the Government should judge for itself. In regard to findings in relation to any person, the Government did so judge at the end of that particular month. I am quite certain that all honourable members of the House can only judge in their minds, if they are being fair in relation to these matters, that the actions of the Government were those of a government determined that the facts should be revealed and that the judge should have power to make whatever findings were necessary in relation to those facts.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. It relates to Standing Orders 75 and 76 which deal with the use of offensive words. I think they must be interpreted in accordance with Standing Orders 77 and 78. Standing Order 78 states:
When the attention of the Speaker is drawn to words used he shall determine whether or not they are offensive or disorderly.
From the substance of what you have said, Mr Speaker, you are clearly of the opinion that what was said was definitely offensive. It is totally untrue, because the Commissioner himself said that there was no illegality at all involved, and he went on to describe other circumstances. I ask you to rule in precise terms that the words of the
Leader of the Opposition were both offensive and disorderly.
-The matter has been disposed of, as far as I am concerned.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question. It follows his answer to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in which he indicated that the letter from Mr Justice McGregor led to the expansion of the terms of reference to cover allegations in relation to uranium. Is it not a fact that the terms of reference for the Royal Commission to cover matters associated with discussion or talk about uranium by the Minister for Finance were in fact expanded on 10 May? Is it not a fact that Senator Durack wrote to Mr Justice McGregor on 1 1 May, after the terms of reference had been expanded, and that the letter from Mr Justice McGregor, to which the Prime Minister referred, in fact was on 12 May, well after the date on which the terms of reference were expanded?
-The dates that the honourable gentleman gave are, of course, correct; but the fact assumed in his question is not correct. The fact that he assumed was that the letter from Mr Justice McGregor led to the expansion of the terms of reference in relation to uranium.
– I believe that is what you were saying.
– I think the honourable gentleman should check the record, because what I said was this: There were allegations in relation to uranium. As we know, the terms of reference were widened in relation to that, but the question was not in relation to that particular matter. The Government was concerned at the same time that there might be other allegations around and, if there were, the Government wanted them examined. Therefore, whilst the terms of reference were widened in relation to the specific matter concerning uranium, the letter was written on the 1 1 th, to which there was a response on the 12th, of the content of which honourable members of this House are now aware. These matters stand in plain terms. I do not think there is any mystery about them.
-Is the Minister for Trade and Resources aware of reports that the Japanese Government has decided to replace the present arrangements for imports of chilled beef with a scheme which could more closely regulate this trade? What action is the Government taking to ensure that Australia’s interests in the chilled beef market in Japan are protected?
-Australia has built up a significant chilled meat trade with Japan. Some 25,000 tonnes of this specialty line went to Japan last year, and it is probably the only market for this type of beef. We have been advised that the Government of Japan has recently introduced a new scheme for imported chilled beef. It is doing away with the one touch system and putting more authority with the Livestock Industry Promotion Corporation. I believe it is doing that so that the LIPC can earn more revenue for itself. But we are fearful that it could result in some limitations on the amount of chilled meat going to Japan. I have had discussions in regard to this with Japanese Ministers, particularly Mr Yushiba, the Minister for External Economic Affairs, and have stressed the importance of Australia’s maintaining its chilled meat market. I hope that these comments and requests made to the Japanese will ensure that we will not be deprived of a market that we have developed.
-I ask the Treasurer: How does it come about, if it is the case, that 40 per cent of workers in the building industry do not pay income tax at all, according to the New South Wales President of the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia?
– What a racket!
-How do the rest of us get into it? How did this situation arise, and will the Budget proposals bring it to an end? Furthermore, is there then a case, as the president of that union went on to say, for those employees to obtain higher wages to restore what the president called their real income? What would be the consequences for the economy of higher wage claims to recoup the payment of normal tax which should already have been paid in the first place?
-I thank the honourable member for that question. My attention has been drawn to those remarks, which were attributed to the president of that organisation. I am afraid that I cannot tell the honourable gentleman from my own knowledge whether the assertion is true or false, but one would imagine that the dulyelected president of an organisation would at least have in mind some of the circumstances relating to the organisation which he leads when he makes such a statement. What, of course, the statement is relevant to is a decision that was announced in the Budget, that the Government would be taking a number of steps to curb the incidence of cash payments being used to avoid normal tax liabilities. I think, without putting too strong a word on it, that all honourable members in this House know full well that significant amounts of tax are avoided in this community through the use of cash payments. It occurs in a wide variety of circumstances and to a very significant degree in some sections of the community.
What I did announce in the Budget Speech was that the Government intended bringing down a number of measures to try to reduce the incidence of this. I indicated a couple of specific amendments to the law and also said that we would carry out an examination of a system which operates in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, particularly in relation to the building and other associated industries, whereby the law requires people paying for services in cash to withhold a certain amount on account of tax liabilities, except in cases where the recipients of the payments have had prior exemption from the taxation authorities. I am not in a position at this stage to do more than indicate that the Government intends to investigate this, but I say quite firmly to the House that the Government believes that there is significant tax avoidance in this area. Unlike the Opposition which, through its Leader last night, sought to berate the efforts of this Government insofar as tax avoidance activities are concerned -
– What about closing family trusts?
– The honourable member sat in government for three years and did nothing about tax avoidance. The only taxation changes that got honourable members opposite mildly excited when they were in government were those that were in slavish adherence to their own ideological hang-up about company profitability and people who work a bit harder and earn a bit more money. They did nothing about tax avoidance and are embarrassed because we are doing something about it.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer the Minister to the Government’s approval of iron ore contracts at reduced export prices and tonnages. With the fortunes of the Australian iron ore industry languishing under quantity and price reductions in contract tonnages, I ask the Minister: Why has not the Government stood its ground in the face of pressure from the Japanese steel mills to hold the line on prices, given that the Australian Government had already accepted the need for reduced export tonnages? Do not these new contracts amount to an abrogation of a clear commitment by the Minister, upon his return from Japan some months ago, that iron ore export prices would not be reduced?
– For some considerable time negotiations have been going on between the iron ore producers and the Japanese steel mills relating to the renewal of certain of their contracts. Because of the depressed state of the Japanese steel industry- the lower tonnages being taken and the demands to reduce the price- those negotiations have been conducted under the most difficult circumstances. In fact, I think one can clearly say that it is a buyers’ rather than a sellers’ market. The reason the negotiations have been protracted is that the companies have been struggling to get the best possible price. I have been in conference with some of these companies, demanding that they obtain the best price. The final prices of which they informed me were prices which I did not consider to be fair and reasonable, and I expressed this point of view to the Japanese steel industry and to the Japanese Government. But the negotiations did drag on for a considerable time and in the end I was requested- pleaded with by the iron ore companies and indeed by the Western Australian Government- to have the matter finalised so that they would know exactly where they stood in relation to the future. I suppose that one could take the point of view of not agreeing to the contracts, but I doubt very much whether that would be in the best interests of Australia, particularly in the present oversupply situation for iron ore. It could possibly mean diverting contracts to Brazil rather than to Australia. But I want to make it quite clear that I was not satisfied, nor am I happy, about the price arrangements that were agreed to.
– For the information of honourable members I present the first report of the Parole Board of the Australian Capital Territory together with the text of a statement by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) relating to the report.
Pursuant to section 1 1 of the Commonwealth Police Act 1957 I present the report of the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Police Force for the year ended 30 June 1978
– Pursuant to section 35 of the Student Assistance Act 1 973 I present the report on the operation of that Act in 1 977.
-I draw the attention of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to the fact that yesterday the Deputy Leader of the Opposition indicated to me that he wishes to direct, subject to my indulgence, a question concerning papers which were tabled yesterday by the Minister.
-! seek your indulgence, Mr Speaker, on a matter relating to the McGregor Royal Commission. Yesterday the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) tabled in the House a political analysis of the electoral distribution proposals in respect of the six States. The exhibit, which gave the same analysis of the situation, which was presented to the Royal Commission had on the front of it a letter from the Chief Australian Electoral Officer to the relevant Minister, together with a covering comment to each of the Distribution Commissioners. For example: ‘We are sending a copy of our analysis for each State to the Chairman of the Distribution Commission for each State’. Could the Minister provide the House with the first two pages of the analysis which seem to have been omitted from all the papers tendered yesterday? By way of guidance, Mr Speaker, if you compare the papers in respect of Queensland which were tendered yesterday with the papers presented to the Royal Commission you will notice that the first two pages are missing from the papers tabled yesterday. I ask the Minister whether he will assist us by tabling those pages?
– I was not aware of this when I tabled the papers yesterday. I shall pursue the matter with my colleague in the Senate.
-The honourable member for Grayndler has indicated that he wishes to make a personal explanation.
-Yes, Mr Speaker, but it goes even further than that. Yesterday an accusation was made against me which impugnes my honour and integrity and alleges that I committed a grave impropriety. In answer to a question from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen), the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said:
At the time, there was one allegation running around. The allegation was- I repeat it but I make no charge and give it no support- as I heard it, that the then honourable member for Lang, the honourable member for Grayndler, had got a set of New South Wales electoral maps earlier than he should have.
I did not make the explanation yesterday because I wanted to check the record to make certain that my recollection was not clouded. I now solemnly and sincerely declare that I did not receive, inspect, examine or see any electoral map prior to the date of its general release to all members of the Parliament. I further declare that I make this statement freely, openly and under no duress from any person.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, 1 present the report relating to the following proposed work:
National Acoustics Laboratory and Ultrasonics Institute, Chatswood, New South Wales.
Declared that the report be printed.
-by leave- I wish to inform the House of recent developments regarding Namibia. Honourable members will be aware of Press reports that Australia has been asked to provide a contribution to the proposed United Nations peacekeeping force in Namibia. The precise size and structure of the peacekeeping force- to be known as the United Nations Transition Assistance Group- has yet to be decided by the United Nations. However, informal soundings have been made as to whether Australia might be able to contribute to the force. Similar approaches have also been made to other countries. I would like to make it quite clear that so far no formal approach has been made to Australia; nor, contrary to some Press reports, has Australia made any offer of a contribution to the United Nations.
I am not seeking today to make a definitive statement on all the issues involved in this important question. My statement today should be seen as a preamble to the Government’s detailed consideration of it. I see it as most important that the Parliament and the public have the fullest possible comprehension of this matter and it is with this in mind that I now wish to examine the considerations on both sides- I repeat both sides- of the case.
It is unlikely that Australia will be asked to provide combatant forces, but we could be asked to supply military personnel as part of an integrated logistics element involving a transport and supply unit, a communications unit, and some ancillary staff which would help back-up the main UN contingent. These items have been mentioned to us as possibly coming from Australia. But I would stress again that there has been no formal request. As is normally the case with United Nations peacekeeping operations, a force for Namibia would be set up pursuant to a resolution of the UN Security Council, which would provide it with a specific mandate spelling out its role and charter of operations. The force would be under a commander appointed by and responsible to the United Nations SecretaryGeneral.
It is expected that the Security Council will meet towards the end of this month or the beginning of September to consider a report from the Secretary-General on the proposed operation of the force and to decide on its establishment. The Secretary-General’s report will be heavily influenced by the finding of his Special Representative, Mr Ahtisaari of Finland, who is currently in Namibia to assess the political situation on the ground and the prospects for an orderly transition to independence. As part of his investigation Mr Ahtisaari will investigate in detail aspects of the establishment and practical operations of the proposed peacekeeping force. It will not be until this investigation is concluded and its recommendations adopted by the Security Council that more will be known of the tasks the force will have to perform, the extent and type of units likely to be required, the command arrangements and the difficulties likely to be met in carrying out the UN mandate.
By way of background I should explain that the adoption by the Security Council of the proposals of the five Western members of the Council for a peaceful settlement in Namibia represents the first major success for Western diplomacy in southern Africa. Agreement in principle has been reached with South Africa and the major Namibian nationalist group, the
South West Africa Peoples OrganisationSWAPO on the broad basis of settlement proposals for Namibia, although there remain differences in interpretation. This follows some 15 months of painstaking negotiations. The future of the South African enclave of Walvis Bay, not specifically addressed in the proposals, remains an important obstacle to an internationally acceptable settlement.
In the proposals of the ‘five’, the central task of the UN force would be to ensure that conditions are established to allow an impartial electoral process leading to free and fair elections and independence. During the interim period both South Africa and SWAPO forces will be required progressively to withdraw to camps under UN supervision. The existing South African police will retain primary responsibility for maintaining law and order in accordance with arrangements to be agreed with and supervised by the UN Special Representative. The UN force will be required to assist the police in this role and to ‘guarantee against the possibility of intimidation and interference with the electoral process from whatever quarter’. The UN force would also assume the task of the South African military forces in maintaining border surveillance to prevent infiltration. A civilian component of UNTAG is expected to assist with the administration of the elections. Under the agreed proposals a ceasefire is to be in effect prior to the arrival of the peacekeeping force. It is not intended that the UN would be expected to impose a ceasefire or a settlement but its position could be difficult if the ceasefire initially established were to break down after its arrival.
Over the years, the United Nations’ work in international peacekeeping has become one of the best known and most successful of its activities. There are at present United Nations peacekeeping forces operating in three regionsthe Middle East, Cyprus and Kashmir- and Australians are involved in all three. There is thus already a substantial contribution by Australia to United Nations peacekeeping operations. This has demonstrated our continuing support for the aims and objectives of the United Nations Charter; most importantly, the maintenance of international peace and security. Successive Australian governments have been firmly committed to these aims.
Namibia is a country about the size of NSW and with a population of just under one million people. It is rich in minerals, including uranium. It was for many years administered by South Africa under a mandate granted by the League of Nations, which was changed to a trusteeship when the United Nations superseded the League. South Africa, however, refused to continue the trusteeship mandate, claiming that the territory had been fully integrated with South Africa. In 1966 the United Nations resolved that South Africa’s continuing administration was illegal, a decision upheld by the International Court of Justice. In recent years a continuous but low level guerrilla campaign has been carried on by the Namibian nationalists, led by SWAPO, against the military forces of the South African Administration, numbering some 13,000, and the supporters of South Africa in the territory. This campaign has involved sporadic acts of terrorism, minor sabotage and some border incidents. The level of guerrilla activity has been on a very much lower scale than is currently the case in Rhodesia. In the light of this developing conflict, the five Western members of the Security Council last year instituted talks with all interested parties, including South Africa and SWAPO. These talks were aimed at achieving an early and peaceful transition from colonial status to majority rule and independence, through free elections under UN supervision.
We in Australia have not been used to thinking of Africa as an area of particular concern to us. The primary focus of Australian defence planning is- of necessity- Australia’s own region, although we have wider strategic interests elsewhere. The question therefore arises whether Namibia is an appropriate place for Australia to contemplate a significant military involvement. On the other hand, in an increasingly interdependent world the problems of southern Africa are important and we have consistently supported the need to find peaceful and negotiated solutions to them. Basic questions of human rights and majority rule are involved. Continuing instability, resulting from conflicts which stem from racial inequality, creates the very conditions in which extremist influences can thrive. The only beneficiary of such instability can be forces hostile to the West. It is in the West’s interests for there to be a peaceful settlement in Namibia, the consequence of which would extend far beyond Namibia’s borders. It would not of itself resolve the other problems of southern Africa but it would help to arrest the growing trend towards military solutions.
In Namibia, through an initiative inspired and carried through by the Western powers, and substantially assisted by the presidents of the socalled front line states- Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Botswana- the situation has reached the stage where there is now a real opportunity to reach a satisfactory and internationally acceptable transition to independence and majority rule. It could well be that as a result of elections under UN auspices SWAPO gains power in Namibia. SWAPO, as I have already noted, is the major Namibian nationalist group. It espouses a socialist philosophy and much of its rhetoric is based on marxism. But its program calls for a Western-style parliamentary system, guarantees of civil liberty and an equitable distribution of wealth. It has a maximum of some 4,000 guerrillas at all stages of training and proficiency, of whom some 200 are based in Namibia, with the remainder across the border in Angola and Zambia. SWAPO, like most similar nationalist movements, is divided. There are differences between its internal and external wings and between moderates and those who take a harder line. It is possible that if SWAPO were to split on ideological grounds or, if it seemed likely that it might not win the elections, there could be an upsurge in guerrilla activity.
There can be little doubt that the proposed UN operation will be an extremely difficult and delicate one. The Western proposals contain a number of ambiguities and imprecisions, which could become the subject of contention between the parties themselves or one or other of them and the UN Special Representative. The physical difficulties attendant upon the introduction and establishment of the UN force will be considerable. Even when the force is in place there will remain the risk of a breakdown of the agreement and of disorder and violence. However, the situation the UN force would face in Namibia is one where it would be in the interests of all the parties that the settlement succeed and disorder be avoided. Nevertheless, the possibility of attacks on and casualties for a UN force in such a highly charged political situation cannot be ruled out. An Australian logistic force could be vulnerable to such attacks.
There is also a potential for differences of opinion within the mixed UN force in the highly volatile political environment in which it will be placed. These could adversely affect its operation, especially in any combat situation, and have implications for its security. The visit of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Namibia will no doubt shed additional light on these matters and assist us towards judgments on the sort of role, if any, Australia might be able to play. The effect of an Australian contribution would also need to be considered in the light of our own defence capabilities and the consequences for our military effectiveness if our limited military resources were to be depleted by a decision to contribute a key, if limited, element to a force in Namibia.
The whole question of contributing to a peacekeeping force for Namibia will require the closest examination by the Government. We shall have to consider the value of an Australian contribution to the United Nations effort, and how our own national and foreign policy interests would be served thereby. There could be substantial costs, at a time when our fiscal policies require tight budgetary restraint on defence as well as other areas of government expenditure. There is also the basic question of whether, having regard to the fact that Australia is already contributing to United Nations peacekeeping forces in three other areas, Australia should wish or feel obliged to contribute in Namibia as well. In considering these questions, the Government will of course be in close consultation with the United Nations and other potential contributors. Until further information is available, detailed consideration of all the relevant issues is not possible. For example, before the Government could make a decision it would require further information on such matters as what other countries are likely to contribute, what will be the size and capabilities of their contingents and what would be the likely dangers to the force should one of the parties repudiate the agreement which includes a cease fire. SWAPO has said that it will not observe a cease fire until South African troops are confined to base. South Africa maintains that it will not confine its troops to base until a cease fire is in operation. Some elements within the South African Government are not reconciled to the settlement proposals.
As well we would need to be assured that an Australian contribution would not be openended, and that the task given to the Australian contingent would be within its capabilities. Should there be delay in the electoral program or a deterioration in the general security situation, the UN force may well be required to stay on. Whilst it is always theoretically open to a country to withdraw from a UN force, it is in practice very difficult to do so. This could raise very serious practical difficulties for us. We shall need to examine carefully what other possible options are open to us. For all these reasons, the Government is not in a position to respond to the informal UN soundings at this stage. The Government will, however, keep the matter under the closest review in order to be able to make an early decision should a definite request be received from the United Nations. I shall keep the House informed. I present the following papen
Namibia: Australia’s Contribution to United Nations Peacekeeping Force- Ministerial Statement, 23 August 1978.
Motion (by Mr Killen) proposed:
That the House take note of the statement.
– The Opposition notes what the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) has said. The last part of his statement, where he says that we will be kept informed before the Government makes any decision on this matter, leaves us with some uncertainty. The Opposition insists that it wants more information but it does not want to be told of the Government’s decision until this House has had an opportunity to discuss matters which are of concern to us and to the whole of the Australian community. The issues are quite serious. If requests were carried into effect they would involve the commitment of Australian personnel in areas of danger. In his statement the Minister said that he did not really know what the size of any commitment would be. He further said that there has been no formal approach and, accordingly, he is in no position to make any definitive statement. We accept that position.
We also know that Namibia is situated in a very strategic area. The population of that country, some 850,000, is relatively small. Inevitably problems of racial tensions and white supremacy will occur in areas such as this. It is noted that some 12 per cent of the population is white. They are the more advanced people in that area. It is also noted that they are very fearful of their future and are likely to leave the country at short notice. Then there is the problem of a small nation struggling for independence, having the support and encouragement of well intentioned people but nevertheless facing the fundamental problems faced by many developing countries, of having no real infrastructure in health, housing and education matters and having no political capacity to control in a normal way the usual problems of a small nation.
Closely associated with those problems are the problems of the past. In the first place South Africa claimed it as a territory and controlled it in a dominating way. So there would be hostility from that point of view. Also, within the country there is obviously some tension between the tribal groups. So this is not an easy area in which to venture. In Australia in the past we have made mistakes in our understanding of the main motivation of other countries in matters such as this. Welcome as it is, desirable as it must be and needing all the support we can give it, the proposal of the five western members of the Security Council is to ensure that conditions are established to allow an impartial electoral process leading to free and fair elections and independence. Those are good words and they sound magnificent but they must be put into practice. In 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords the same issue was discussed in Hanoi and Saigon. What was meant by full, free and democratic elections in Vietnam? Nobody in Vietnam, in either the north or the south, at that stage, even though there was a truce, was prepared to agree on what full, free and democratic elections meant. Australia was not invited to participate in the peace discussions even though we had committed our troops to fight in Vietnam, but I would have thought that at that stage any Australian, irrespective of his political persuasions, would have said that ‘full, free and democratic elections’ meant that everybody over a certain age had the right to vote; that they would have some identity with the geographic area in which they lived; that the elected representatives would meet in an assembly; that a constitution would be drawn up providing for elections on a set basis; and that the representatives would select the leader.
I am dwelling on this subject because it became apparent when I was there that whilst this proposal was put forward and welcomed by the people of the north, it was not spelt out in discussions at the Paris Peace Accords except in the ambiguous statement that there should be full, free and democratic elections in Vietnam. The people of the south were not interested in that sort of nonsense at all, to use their expression. They favoured having a president. They wanted President Thieu to remain and not to be subjected to any election. I say to our Minister, who is well intentioned and who said that he would put further information before this House, that we want to know what are the particular proposals that would guarantee a democratic government in Namibia. On what basis is it proposed that the government be elected? To what sort of constitution will they subscribe? We do not want to commit ourselves to something that is only deemed to be an impartial election process. We do not understand the way in which the people of Namibia might see it. I am quite convinced that people in the neighbouring areas, particularly in South Africa, would be keenly interested in seeing what sort of people are elected there. They claim that 70 per cent of those eligible to vote are of a persuasion that might be favourable to South Africa. Nevertheless, as the Minister said, other ideologies exist there, particularly those of the type of the South West African Peoples Organisation, which might adopt a different point of view. The situation has all the seeds of hostility, friction and, of course, danger to our people.
The Australian Labor Party’s policy is very clear, and we adhere to it. It is that our own defence structure should be capable of deployment for maintaining and supervising peace as part of a United Nations force or for carrying out international peace-keeping agreements. The Opposition is concerned to learn from newspaper articles by experienced journalists that the Department of Defence is opposed to any such commitment because we cannot afford it. The nature of our defence structure at the moment is such that we cannot afford to be committed. I am reminded of this by an article by Mr Laurie Oakes, headed ‘Senior men oppose plan to send troops’. According to the article, we should not offer to provide a supply component or a maintenance company. We should not offer a field ambulance. The reasons given for this are basically that we do not have the capacity to do so and that we have to consider the cost. The restrictions and stringency measures contained in the Budget are clear evidence that our defence structure is rather weak, if in that context alone, we cannot subscribe to international arrangements.
– That is simply not true.
-I am not suggesting that we have to do it. I note that the Minister says that it is simply not true. We understand that there is disagreement on this issue between the Government departments, that the Department of Defence holds the view that we ought not to be involved and that the Department of Foreign Affairs holds the view that perhaps we should be playing a role. The Minister did not advise us of that position in his statement. I have no doubt that in the future he will be able to give us information in that regard, rather than limit us to learning what he says just from Press reports.
– I might say that this is a joint statement. I delivered the statement with the endorsement of my colleague.
-That brings me to the next point. I hope that when the Minister again delivers a joint statement he will inform us as to whether there is any disagreement between his Department and the Department of Defence on the basis of involvement. It is thought that there is some disagreement there. My fellow shadow Ministers are of the opinion that there could be support for the attitude of the Department of Defence of not wanting to be involved because it can well affect its obligations in other areas. That is not mentioned in the Minister’s statement. The point that we want to make is that nothing should be done, no commitment, no government decision should be made- until this House is fully informed as to what this is all about. We welcome the fact that the Minister has been dutiful enough to inform the House of what has been not a formal approach but some tentative suggestion. Opinion in this country would be a little divided at the moment. The view would be held that we should help Namibia and there would be the other view as to whether our men should become involved in Africa and as to what such involvement would mean. It is an area which we know does not utilise the democratic processes of which we have had the benefit. I am talking in particular about the problems in South Africa. It would appear nevertheless that if mankind is to have any peace in this world there will have to be goodwill on both sides.
I am mindful of the fact that well-intentioned nations which have been mentioned by the Minister in his statement clearly indicate that there is support from other countries on the basis that this is a chance to get an international settlement without bloodshed. But I am very mindful of the fact that we cannot rely just on words. From the Australian point of view, we do not want to see any Australian endangered. We do not want to see any suggestion at all that we are just entering into the matter on the basis of goodwill, without any understanding of what the matter is about. We are entering an area that no Australian would have tolerated in the past. The issues concerning Walvis Bay leave us a bit uncertain as to how that problem will be solved. It seems to be of great economic benefit to South Africa which is obviously doing very well in utilising the fishing resources. Accordingly, we do not want to see that issue as an unknown or uncertain factor. The area obviously appears to be well within the geographical limits of Namibia. We cannot understand why South Africa is trying to suggest, other than in economic terms that, it ought to have any rights to it.
Those are matters of the past. The history of this area is severe; the future is not one that we can look at with confidence. Nevertheless, our obligation is to try to help. It is on that basis, Mr Speaker, that we would like from the Minister for Foreign Affairs a much stronger statement as to whether we ought to be involved. At this stage we are of the opinion that we should not be in any way making a commitment. I make that point for the reasons that I have already stated. I am not at all certain that what the Minister calls full and free elections ‘, will guarantee peace and quietness when we have that lack of infrastructure which I mentioned earlier.
– Are you saying that we should not make a commitment?
-Yes, I am saying that, and I am asking for a further statement on the basis -
– But you are happy that this is a preliminary statement?
-I am happy with that, but the Minister has raised a number of issues which I think leave us with a lot of uncertainties as to what we are about. We have to have a consensus on this issue. There is no point in our saying that the Government is trying to do something about which we want to argue. The question is what our commitments are to world peace. Let us put it on a basis which can be satisfactorily understood by a parliament and agreed to on a unanimous basis. We are talking about our fellow Australians’ lives- their peace and quietness as well as their safety. Whilst it is deemed by some that we should be involved only from a logistic point of view, others have the attitude that we should not be so limited; if we are to be involved at all we should safeguard our own personnel.
I will come back to the point I was making: The mere expression ‘full, free and impartial electoral processes’ is only words. That should be applied to the practicalities of the situationtribal differences, small population, a background of uncertainty, lack of real infrastructure from the point of view of capacity and the dominating white group about to leave the country because of fears. That all breeds problems for anybody involved in the issue. What should have happened in the past is that South Africa should have co-operated on the basis of allowing these communities to develop. We could point to other examples in the world to illustrate that they could be brought up to the position of independence, and brought up in a peaceful way. To have to do it with soldiers and armaments and by safeguarding rights at the ballot box with a gun is no precedent for success in the area. It is on that basis that the Opposition notes the paper. It notes also the many problems that have yet to be discussed in this Parliament. We are well aware that the Minister himself cannot bring this about until there has been further progress towards a solution of the problem.
It is noted that the South Africans want to have this matter settled by about the end of the year. That seems to be far too early from our point of view. We dc not want to be involved in rushed elections. We would like to know a lot more about the situation. I think that the Minister himself, through his Department, could at least indicate what is meant by democratic elections, the basis upon which they should be conducted, what effect they will have from the point of view of the Constitution, what sort of people will be controlling the country following the elections and how the transition is to be evolved. There is no precedent for it in South Africa at the present time. It is on that basis that the Opposition welcomes this statement. We ask the Government to note our reservations which are made in the interests of Australia.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
- Mr Speaker, may I have your indulgence to correct an answer I gave this afternoon to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden). In referring to evidence given to the Royal Commission I said that my evidence had been on public record for over three months. Whilst the Commission took evidence from 15 May- over three months ago- my own evidence was given very early in June. Therefore my evidence has been on public record for a period approaching three months, not over three months.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Commonwealth Employment Service Bill 1978.
Re-Establishment and Employment Amendment Bill 1978.
-I wish to inform the House of the following changes in membership of senators on the following Joint Committees:
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory
Senator Teague has been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senator Colston has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Senator Archer has been discharged from the Committee.
Joint-Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence
Senators Kilgariff and Martin have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and Senator Sibraa has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Senator Scott has been discharged from the Committee.
Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House
Senator Evans has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Senator Mcintosh has been discharged from the Committee.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The increasing inequality and injustices imposed on average Australians by Fraser Government policies.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-Mr Speaker, Scrooge, that mean Dickens’ character who set out to make life an unnecessary misery, lives again, only he has multiplied. The daddy of all latter-day Scrooges is the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), and the children are those members of the Liberal and National Country parties- most of them but not all of them- who support the wasteful and unnecessary stagnation policies which hit and hurt so severely thousands upon thousands of average Australians. This is nothing new for conservatives. They ruled us in the 1930s too when similar policies were pursued. These things have been happening for 2y. years now in the 1970s. From the time they took over they started slashing government spending. Their policies have not worked. Concentrating alone on policies aimed at bringing down inflation and interest rates- laudable objectives in themselves- will not bring prosperity. We have only to remember the 1930s. Real wages were brought down then too. Inflation was low. Interest rates were minimal. But was there prosperity? Of course there was not. There was stagnation until the parsimonious policies of the Premiers ‘ Plan were changed.
The tragedy is that these depression policies are so wasteful and unnecessary. Unfortunately we have not learned from past mistakes. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) put the alternative to the nation last night. We can only hope that it will be heeded. What is happening under the Liberals and their country cousins is not only wasteful and unnecessary, it is also unjust and unfair and is leading to growing inequalities in our community. We are now not the ‘Lucky Country’; under the Liberals we are the unfair society. The burdens are being placed on ordinary average Australians, not the ‘haves’ who might be able to afford to take the cuts but those who have less, who cannot afford to take those cuts. No wonder many people are very angry. No wonder our society is becoming increasingly divided. No wonder the cry is going up: ‘Let the rich pay’. It is those responsible for our national Government who are causing the divisiveness and the violence.
I shall list in general terms some of the unfair measures that have caused this situation. Firstly the Government is deliberately setting out to create increased unemployment. This is the strategy. It is putting the lid on the economy in order to influence wage and salary earners in their claims- and the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission also. That is the heart of the antiinflation policy. But who does it hurt most? Those who are in the most vulnerable position, those on lower incomes. How have the unemployment figures grown? Let us remind ourselves. In March 1976, a time when Labor Party policies were still applying and when there was a grave international economic crisis, the unemployment figure was 278,000. In March 1978, after two years of Liberal Government, the figure had increased by 132,000 to 410,000. We have to compare the same months because now we are not given unemployment figures in seasonally adjusted terms. The injustice of unemployment falls on those who are most vulnerable, those in this society who have less. This is just one illustration of how the policies of the Liberals are creating this divisive, inequitable society in Australia.
The second example relates to the tax cutsthose promised in the last Budget and which were such a feature of the last election campaign in December 1977. Those cuts dated from 1 February 1978. The benefit of those tax cuts, in the greatest possible measure, went to the haves’, thus increasing the inequalities in our community. This is not only tragic socially but it is also bad economically. To dwell on the economics of it, those who have more tend to save more. Giving more to them means less spending. If one gave money on social grounds to those who have less it would make so much more sense economically as well because they would tend to spend what they receive. It is that sort of spending that we require in order to get the economy going. Just look at one statistic associated with the tax cuts, those blatant promises which now have been cast aside as a result of the most recent policy decisions taken. Forty-three per cent of the total benefit of those 1 February tax cuts went to people in the top 10 per cent of income earners in Australia. In other words, the other 90 per cent of people consequently were worse ofT relatively than the top 10 per cent because of a positive decision taken by the Government in making those tax changes available for the most part to the most wealthy.
The third illustration I give of the more unequal society that is being created relates to the increased taxes which are now the subject of policy and debate elsewhere in this building. In discussing this matter of public importance I am not debating the Budget itself, but I must refer to policy decisions taken by the Government as part of a series to illustrate the point I am making. The tax surcharge of 1 Vic in the dollar will increase the tax burden by 5 per cent in a full year. But as the increased tax will be collected in eight months from 1 November, there will be an 8 per cent increase in weekly tax deductions for those on lower incomes whereas those in higher taxation scales, the middle income people, will have an increase of taxation payments of 3 per cent for the full year or 6 per cent in their weekly payments for eight months. For those in the highest salary range the surcharge will mean a tax increase of 2.5 per cent in a full year or 5 per cent in the eight months. I am hoping to persuade the House that this is another example of inequity, another example of Government policies which are giving more to those who have and less to those who have not. The surcharge will be a greater burden per cent on those with lower incomes than it will for those on higher incomes.
The same sort of thing applies, in this series of policies, to the decision to tax annual leave and long service leave accumulations. The Asprey Committee made a recommendation to government relating to phasing in the taxation liability of people on higher incomes who receive superannuation payments. This recommendation was cast aside. But now, people on lower incomes who accumulate a small capital saving for their retirement, by means of accumulating their annual leave or long service leave entitlements, will find those sums are fully taxed. We remember the policy decision that provided that as from the date of the Budget no longer will only 5 per cent of the total be taxed but the total sum accrued will be included in taxable income. This is another example of helping the ‘haves’ at the expense of the ‘have nots’.
The fourth example I wish to give the House relates to the reduction of community services. This started from the day the Liberals took over. They started to slash government spending. Who benefited most from Medibank, more education, child care centres and better public hospitals? It was those who have less. The provision of these services in a welfare state through public spending is motivated by a desire to reduce inequalities in our community. Those on lower incomes benefit. A characteristic of this Government is its slashing of government spending in order to reduce these community services. This is another example of how greater inequalities result from the sorts of policies which are being pursued by the Fraser Government.
I wish to dwell on Medibank for a while. We will find more and more that the healthy, the strong and the financially able will not take up private health fund subscriptions. They will not become members of private funds; they will be covering their own health costs. We will find more and more that those who join the private funds will be the sick and those who are less financially able to withstand the burden of large health costs. So we will find the subscriptions to health funds increasing and becoming a greater burden on those who are least able to afford to pay. Furthermore, we must bear in mind that those who have higher incomes will have higher taxation deductions and will derive a greater benefit than those who are least able to afford to pay because their marginal medical expenses over the 40 per cent covered by the Government will be tax rebatable. It will mean that the net cost to them of such medical expenses will be less than the cost for those on lower incomes. That is another example of the inequity of this Government’s policies. I must also mention under this heading the lowering of the expenditure on the provision of sewerage services for Australians living in cities and country towns, the lowering of expenditure in the area of urban and regional development, the termination of the Australian Assistance Plan, and the fact that less funds are available for housing, public transport and roads. They are all examples of this Government’s policies creating greater burdens for those who have less than for those who are on higher incomes because it is public expenditure of this sort which is of greater value to those who have less.
The fifth example is the failure of this Government to collect revenue from, for instance, an excess profits tax on companies or what we call a rent resource tax. This was promised in the last Budget but, to use a common expression, the Government parties have gone to water. They have now decided not to go ahead with such a rent resource tax. Who will benefit from this decision? It will be companies like the Utah Corporation, which made a profit of $9 1 m in the half year to 30 June. That is a scandalous amount in view of the great needs that exist in this community. Some of that $91m should be syphoned off in an excess profits tax in order to make available funds to provide services for the ordinary, average Australians who need so much more but who are having benefits taken from them by this Government.
Another area of taxation which has been neglected by the Government and which is worth mentioning in this context was raised last night by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen). Australia is about the last country of its type in the world to have a capital gains tax which is worthy of that name. Many people in our community are accumulating wealth which is not taxed by any means whatsoever. If we in this Parliament care about equity and care about ensuring that the lesser privileged people in our community are to be looked after we should be far more resolute about ensuring that there is a proper capital gains tax.
Time does not permit me to mention in detail in this debate the loss of benefits by ordinary Australians. I refer to the Government’s failure to index family allowances, the removal of the tax deduction claim in respect of home mortgage interest payments and the indexation of pensions only once a year instead of twice a year. All these items come under the heading of burdening those who have less. There is also, of course, the increases in the regressive indirect taxes, such as the charges on beer, cigarettes and petrol. All of these increased charges are a far greater burden on those who have less. Lastly, I would like to mention the lack of Government action to tackle the severe problem of technological change in our community. It is those who are most vulnerable who tend to lose their jobs because of mechanisation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I have been fascinated today by what the Australian Labor Party would put forward in support of the matter that it has proposed as a matter of public importance. Unfortunately the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), for whom I have a considerable deal of respect, has put forward the usual Labor Party policies. The subject proposed for discussion reads:
The increasing inequality and injustices imposed on average Australians by Fraser Government policies.
I feel that it should read: ‘The increasing inequalities and injustices imposed on average Australians during the Labor Party’s reign of 1972 to 1975.’ I will put forward some of the facts on the inequalities which were created in that period. Those inequalities were created by a government that was supposed to be the friend of the working person. They affected the working person. The inflation that was created in that era was detrimental to the economy and greater inequalities were created in that period than in any other period of Australia’s history. Members of the Labor Party often talk about the Depression of the 1930s, but it has no relationship to the economic situation today. The economic situation today is quite different. I hope that the Australian people will never forget what the Labor Government did to destroy the Australian economy between 1972 and 1975.
– How was the world ‘s inflation rate?
– Let us look at the inflation rate. Let us look at what it was prior to 1 972. Let us look back to the time when there was no deficit in Australia and the inflation rate was 4 per cent and the interest rate was 6 per cent. This Government did not destroy that situation. The Labor Government destroyed it. In the years in which this Government has been in office it has been restoring balance to the Australian people and it will continue to do so.
– Who gave us a rate of 2 1 per cent?
– I can reply to the honourable member’s interjections. He has not been a member of this place for very long.
-Order! The honourable member for Parramatta is not free to interject. He is certainly not free to interject when he is not occupying his proper place in the House.
– Might I add that he does look like foreman material in that white suit. The honourable member for Adelaide, apart from going back to the Depression of the 1930s, which bears no relationship to the economic situation of today, raised the old story that this Government has cut government expenditure. We have not cut government expenditure. I can refer the honourable member to pages in the Budget Papers of this year- or last year if I am not permitted to talk about the present Budget- which show quite clearly that in fact the Fraser Government has not cut government expenditure while it has been in power. If the honourable member cares to look at the details in those Budget Papers he will find that government expenditure has been increased, but it has been increased in a controlled fashion. We have not let expenditure get out of control. So it is of no use saying that in some ways cuts in government expenditure have done something terrible to the equality of the Australian people. Then we had the usual bashing of some of the large enterprises and some of the multi-nationals. I know that is a dirty word. The Utah Corporation seems to be a company that commonly comes in for bashing. Without these enterprises and without foreign investment in Australia there would be fewer jobs than there are available today.
The honourable member for Adelaide talks about policies being unjust and unfair and about policies created by this Government leading to inequalities. He is wrong because this Government is a government of the people. This Government is restoring those equalities that existed prior to 1972 and this Government will continue to restore them. We are a government of the people. We are not a government of any particular sector of the community. We believe that the way to restore the Australian economy is to be fair to everyone.
Let us not be too negative and talk only about what the Australian Labor Party Government did between 1972 and 1975. Let us look at some of the facts. The honourable member for Adelaide drew out some of them. I think the most important fact is the inflation rate. I know that honourable members opposite tend to say that this Government is obsessed with the inflation rate and that it should be concentrating on other things. I do not think we are obsessed with the inflation rate. We certainly concentrate on some of the other economic activities which are so essential. But so much depends on the inflation rate. Inflation is the main factor that increases the gap between the rich and the poor. Inflation has the greatest effect on those people who have nothing. It has little effect on those people who have some assets.
Yet during the reign of the Labor Government between 1972 and 1975, the inflation rate increased from just over 4 per cent to almost 17 per cent. Memories tend to be a little short. We tend to forget. That large hike in the inflation rate during that period did much to destroy the Australian people. The people it destroyed were the most disadvantaged in this country. We have achieved much in that regard. The inflation rate, of course, has come down from 17 per cent to the current rate of 7.8 per cent. It is estimated that it will get down to 5 per cent. That will restore equality, help the people who are disadvantaged and close the gap. This Government will continue to do just those things.
Let us look at interest rates. Increases in interest rates follow closely on increases in the inflation rate. Interest rates are very important to those people who want to purchase an item but who do not have enough money. They are important to the young Australian people- in fact, all Australian people- who want to buy a home or a dwelling. They are important to the Australian people who want to purchase such items as refrigerators and motor cars. Interest rates can put the purchase of those items within a person ‘s means or way beyond them. Yet, during the reign of the Labor Government between 1972 and 1975, interest rates went sky high. Disadvantaged people who were placed in the position of purchasing items on hire purchase were paying interest at the rate of 20 per cent. Interest rates on the money market during the reign of the Labor Government reached in excess of 22 per cent, and that sort of situation affects the ordinary person.
We all know that currently interest rates are on the way down. They are on the decline, and they will decline further. People who borrow money from the banks at the moment pay 10.5 per cent interest. Interest rates applicable to hire purchase agreements have decreased. Interest payments on personal loans made through banks have decreased. So, all of these sorts of items are coming more within the means of those people who have to resort to the purchase of capital items by this method. I agree that they should have them and the Government agrees that they should have them. Reducing interest rates is surely one further step in narrowing the gap. The situation will improve even further. Interest rates will continue to come down in the future. Interest rates follow inflation rates. Interest rates follow the rates offered by companies to people who have money to invest. All the signs show clearly that next year interest rates will be down to 8 per cent and 9 per cent. By this means, the prices of consumer goods and capital items will be brought down and these goods will be made more readily available to all people in Australia.
Let us look at taxation. The honourable member for Adelaide dealt with taxation at considerable length. Let us go back to the time when the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) was Treasurer, in 1975. In answer to a question in the House today, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) drew attention to the fact that if the Hayden Budget had persisted through to today the people of Australia would be paying $3 billion. In case some people do not know what a billion dollars is, I should explain that it is $ 1,000m. So the people of Australia would be paying $3,000m. I see the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) in his place. I almost referred to lachs and crores, which is the terminology used in Asia. The honourable member would understand that expression.
Had the policies of the Labor Government continued through to today the Australian people would be paying $3,000m. Yet honourable members opposite trot out what has happened in the last few days. Because of the past mismanagement on the part of the Labor Government it has been necessary temporarily to impose a 1.5 per cent surcharge on tax. The tax reforms that have been introduced by the Fraser Government since 1975 are forgotten. Let me run through some of those tax reforms in detail. The tax reforms we introduced in 1976-77 returned $1 billion to the Australian people. Our tax reforms in 1977-78 returned another $1 billion. The Australian public would be aware of the tax reforms which were instituted from 1 February this year and under which all Australians on an income of less than $3,750 were exempted from paying any tax. These reforms are significant and they are aimed mainly at the low income earners of Australia. So how dare the Opposition bring forward a matter of public importance whose terms state that this Government has caused inequality amongst the Australian people.
Let us consider the legislation we have brought in to counter tax avoidance. That legislation is aimed at those people to whom the Labor Government did not pay any attention when it was in power. It allowed the rich to get away with their tax avoidance schemes. It did nothing about the situation. We did something about it. We have stopped this kind of tax avoidance, and by doing so we are putting money back into consolidated revenue and we are preventing the ordinary people paying excessive rates of tax. Only last November and early this year a considerable amount of legislation which passed through this Parliament drew a lot of comment from the Australian Press. That legislation was aimed at closing the loopholes which allowed people to engage in tax avoidance. We all can recall the publicity about Curran schemes and dividend stripping. This Government took action to stop all those practices, and that action was taken against those people who could best afford to pay tax. So how can the Opposition say that we have introduced measures which disadvantage those in poor circumstances? We do not want to do that.
Let us look at pensions. This subject was mentioned by the honourable member for Adelaide. He mentioned the fact that recently we have taken a decision to adjust pensions only annually. That is unfortunate, and I feel sorry for the pensioners. But the situation is not as bad as it was during the era of the Labor Government, because in that era pensions were not indexed automatically at all. We introduced the legislation which provided that pensions be indexed automatically twice yearly. We return to the pensioners of this country a fair share of the average weekly wage of Australian workers. So we should. Even though we have unfortunately had to take the step of providing for pensions to be increased once annually instead of twice annually, it should be borne in mind that we also have got the inflation rate down to well into the single digit figures. Therefore, twice-yearly increases are not as necessary as they were. Certainly, when inflation was running at almost 1 7 per cent under the Labor Government, twice-yearly increases were necessary. At that time inflation was running at a much higher rate and pensioners could not keep up. If at some time in the future the inflation rate got up to double digit figuresthat is not likely to happen while we are in government- of course, pensioners would deserve to receive an increase on a twice-yearly basis.
In the couple of minutes remaining to me, let us look briefly at unemployment. Great play was made of the unemployment figures. From memory, I think it was said that during the reign of the Fraser Government unemployment has increased by 128,000. What the honourable member for Adelaide does not say is that in one year during the reign of the Labor Government unemployment increased from 100,000 to 275,000. Yet he has the hide to mention our unemployment record. This Government does not want unemployment. The Government is sincerely sorry that many people in Australia today cannot find a job. But we should not be blamed for that situation; we are rectifying it. The blame lies fairly on the shoulders of the Government which was in power between 1972 and 1975.
The current policies of the Labor Party are the most negative I have ever heard. The policies put forward by the Leader of the Opposition are inflationary. They would destroy the confidence of the Australian community. They would destroy investment and lead to further unemployment. Our Government is the government of equality amongst the people. A Labor government, through its policies, would only increase inequality, as happened between 1972 and 1975.
– I do not intend to waste my time on the sterile myths which have again been perpetrated upon us. Every time we have a debate about present economic policy we hear these myths about the policy between 1972 and 1975. I am completely confident that in 1980 the Australian people will make a judgment on this Government’s hollow economic policies and not on the policies of 1972-75. But one point raised by the honourable member for Barton (Mr Bradfield) deserves answer. It was his Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who said in 1975 that in three years he would have so changed this economy that everyone who wanted to work would be given an opportunity to work. Now, three years later in his latest Budget, he admits that unemployment will be worse, twice as bad- three years after he has come to power.
Let us, however, consider this Government’s economic measures. The Prime Minister has said:
This Budget takes its place in the Government’s on-going strategy.
Like most of the Prime Minister’s statements, that is mostly nonsense. I will indicate my reasons for saying that tomorrow when I speak to the Budget. In many ways, this Budget repudiates some of the key elements of the Fraser strategy in the past two years. But it does take its place in the Government’s on-going strategy insofar as this Budget continues the pursuit of inequality in this society. There is no doubt that it is consistent in that pursuit.
First, I think we need to admit that Australia is in no way the egalitarian society that is presented in many myths, particularly those put forward by the conservative parties. As my colleague the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) pointed out last night, the top 10 per cent of families in Australia possess 36.5 per cent of total net worth, whilst at the other end of the scale the lowest 20 per cent of families in Australia possess one per cent of total net worth.
– In respect of what year does that table apply?
-These are the middle 1970s, and they are regarded as fairly conservative figures. Indeed, I am now going to argue that the disparity has even increased. The Government, in its recent policy, has deliberately pursued the perpetuation and enhancement of that kind of division.
One means by which this policy has been effected, and ruthlessly pursued, has been through economic policies which deliberately create unemployment. The Government admits that in this Budget it will create the highest level of unemployment that Australia has seen since the Great Depression. The anticipation in the Budget is that in February 1 979 we will surpass the figure of February 1 978. There can be no doubt that this Government welcomes unemployment, and let us have no wishy-washy sentiment such as we had from the honourable member for Barton that somehow it causes him heartbreak that there are so many unemployed. This Government sees the creation of unemployment as a necessary weapon. Let us not pretend about that: Let us give it credit for that. The Government sees it as a necessary weapon for dealing with the economic problems of this country. Although I do not accept that as an adequate response, or a way of solving this country’s economic problems, I believe that one can argue that position. But what beggars belief is that with half a million unemployed, the Government should be totally devoid of imagination in proposing any ameliorative measures.
Let us say that the Government is right, that the creation of unemployment is necessary to get this country back on an economic footing. The other side of that surely demands from the Government an ameliorative response to the problems of the unemployed in this society. If that is the Government’s policy, as admitted in the Budget, it has a major responsibility to the victims of that policy. But there is a total lack of imagination in the response of this Government to the deep rooted problems of unemployment. If we compare the response to unemployment of the Australian Government with that of every other country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, we see it as without parallel in lack of imagination.
Again, the sole contribution of this Budget to the immediate problem of unemployment is to reduce the total to be spent on unemployment benefits in the next 12 months. Despite the Government’s recognition that unemployment will increase, the Government will reduce the total to be spent on benefits in the next 12 months.
Another contribution of the Budget is to refuse to index the benefits of those without dependants, giving them a weekly income that is half that of the recognised figure for the poverty level. The only increase in the unemployment benefits sphere, if it may be called that, is to be in the money spent on hunting out malingerers. That is the kind of emphasis reflected by this Government in response to the immediate problems of unemployment. What a splendid sense of priorities!
Unemployment is one means whereby the haves have been divided from the have-nots, whereby the structures of inequality in our society have been underwritten. Taxation has been a second means that has been used in the pursuit of this objective. As my colleague the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) has pointed out, the tax cuts of February were totally regressive; that is, the more income one had, the bigger the tax cut one got. The result is that with the surcharge introduced in the present Budget, the average man, with an income of up to about $255 a week, has lost all of the advantage of the tax cuts. Of course, those above that figure, the better-off segments of the population, are still better off under the combination of tax cut and surcharge.
Similarly, the indirect tax rises on beer, spirits and cigarettes, and the duties on petrol, are regressive. They take a much bigger proportion of the smaller income than they do of the larger. Everyone recognises that these types of taxes are regressive. The honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) made the other day what he thought was a clever point: That the last time indirect taxes on beer and cigarettes were increased was in the Hayden Budget of 1 975. But in the 1975 Hayden Budget those indirect taxes were accompanied by the introduction of the rebate system, the most equitable tax change made in this country since the Second World War. We on this side of the House recognise the need to increase taxation in certain fields, and possibly indirect taxes are one source, but we believe that the Budget should balance those with more equitable taxes. What this Budget does is to have regressive indirect taxes accompanied by regressive income tax changes.
Again, I will not dwell on the petty social security measures of the Budget, which the Press of this country has pretty thoroughly amplified; but let me suggest how the inaction of recent years has further disadvantaged the disadvantaged. Despite inflation, the supplementary benefit, the rent allowance, has not been raised since 1974. Despite inflation, the additional benefit for children has remained unaltered since 1975. Despite inflation, the amount which a pensioner can receive and still be entitled to a maximum pension has not been raised since 1972. Despite inflation, the level at which a pensioner ceases to be eligible for the health benefit card has not been raised since 1973. One result of the failure to alter those levels is that an increasing proportion of pensioners is now receiving pensions at a reduced rate. In fact, in the last two years there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of those who receive only the reduced rate. Again, there has been an increasing proportion of old age pensioners without the health benefit card. There has been between 1975 and 1977 an increase of almost 30 per cent in their numbers. That has been as a result of the inaction of this Government.
Finally and briefly, because of the limited time left to me, I want to say a little about one other change, the contortions about Medibank. It is almost impossible for anyone to follow the gymnastics of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on the question of Medibank. But one point can be made, namely, that practically every change made to Medibank has had two underlying purposes. One purpose has been to create two types of medical services in this country: One system for the less well off and another system, with lots of choices and opportunities, for the better off. Secondly, the tax impact of nearly all of the changes in the medical system have been inegalitarian in that they have increasingly moved towards a system under which the same payment is made by people, irrespective of their income, for the same services. That in fact is a redistributive measure against the less well off.
– Since 1975 the objective of the Government has been to steer the Australian economy back on to a course of steady non-inflationary growth. The legacies of the period from 1 972 to 1975, as we all know so well, were escalating inflation, the collapse of private sector confidence in the economy, a wages explosion and mounting unemployment. From the moment of taking office the Government has treated the first of these, inflation, as the prime enemy and has made its defeat the first objective. Of course, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) and his henchman the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) find themselves in a position where their philosophy and the philosophy of their party is at risk in the face of the Government ‘s action to restore the economy of the Australian nation. They find themselves at a disadvantage because no longer can they effectively espouse their directly socialist policies and have the people believe them.
The weapons used by the Government to fight the spiralling inflation, the lack of confidence and the loss of economic solvency have been to restrain government expenditure and to introduce a sensible monetary policy and a disciplined wages policy. As a result of the application of these policies the rate of inflation has been brought down to single digit figures, consumer spending has been steadily increasing and, within the confines of what is possible in the circumstances, business has been picking up. Even in recent days we have noticed the reaction on the stock exchanges. This has so infuriated the Australian Labor Party that it has been directly involved with extreme elements of this country from which, on Monday last, we saw violence in the Sydney Stock Exchange. If one looks at the placards that were used in the demonstration on Monday last one sees that without doubt what the wording of them implied was simply the bitterness, the rancour and the disappointment of the Opposition when it could see the economy coming back to reason in the hands of the present Government. This afternoon the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Adelaide is nothing more or less than a whingeing session against the achievements of the Government in this matter of the nation’s economy.
– Creating inequality.
– The honourable member for Adelaide says that we are creating inequalities. Without doubt the period of complete ravaging of the economy created tremendous inequalities. Without doubt it had an impact which resulted in the loss of employment to thousands of Australians, and honourable members opposite well know it.
– What about the wage increase which you are talking about?
-If we look at the rate of wage increases we find that they have been of the order of 10 per cent ahead of the rate of the inflation spiral. If we look at the cause of that and at the propositions put to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission by this Government in contrast to the approach adopted by the previous Government we get a very complete answer to the question just asked by the honourable member for Bonython.
The truth of the matter is that the course being followed by this Government is the only course which will lead the nation back into a situation where there is equity and justice for the average
Australian. That equity and justice can come only through a situation in which we bring an end to the spiralling costs and bring an end to the ravaging of the economy which has reached the extent where investment is incapable of carrying the needs of the day for expansion, for growth, for productivity and for development which will provide adequate employment. Honourable members opposite well know that this is so, but of course they use the subterfuge of talking about the Scrooges of the present day. The honourable member for Adelaide compared the so-called Scrooges with the people who had the onerous responsibility of solving the problems of the 1930s. Who created the problems of the 1930s? Was it the Scullin Government and people associated with it? The honourable member for Adelaide shakes his head, yet he knows that at that time those people brought this country to a crisis stage which was very similar to the situation we faced at the end of 1975. But then there were elements of a vastly different nature as far as social factors were concerned.
In the post-war period what government introduced the first proposals for unemployment benefits, for protection against the day when there would be difficulties of that sort? It was not a socialist Labor government. What government introduced protection for the monetary system and established a Reserve Bank so that the nation’s solvency at least could be protected against the sorts of moves that were attempted between 1972 and 1975? It was not a socialist Labor government; it was a government of the free enterprise philosophy which for so many years in the past several decades has had the strong and undivided support of the majority of the Australian people, just as the present Government has for those policies which it is now so effectively implementing to salvage this nation from the blatant attack that was made upon it by socialists like the honourable member for Adelaide and the honourable member for Bonython.
This afternoon we find this matter of public importance before the House. It is just one more instrument of propaganda to try to influence people to believe that there is something wrong with the Government’s approach at a time of difficulty and hardship. Of course, it is a time of difficulty and hardship. It is so because of the extreme effect of a deficit in the national coffers of up to something approaching $4,000m. This deficit is not easy to get rid of, but the actions taken last year and this year certainly will go a long way towards that being accomplished. Something else was made patently clear by the honourable member for Adelaide. He used words indicating that he believed that there was a need for the introduction of a capital gains tax, that there was inactivity in the redistribution of wealth. Of course, they were the measures the Labor Party adopted to bring about this destruction which is now a matter of real concern to every Australian and the bane of this Government in rectifying, in the interests of the long term future of the whole of Australia.
Let us look at the facts. The rate of inflation was running at the level of 18 to 19 per cent per annum. This has been brought back to a single digit figure. If we look at the position at the end of the June quarter we find that the consumer price index was down to 2. 1 per cent. It is on this basis that we find that the Government’s policies are in fact working. An assertion has been made that the level of unemployment- I am speaking of unemployment in all sectors of the community, including rural unemployment- is a major problem. Of course it is. But what the people who want to engender fear and concern into the minds of the average Australian fail to recognise is the extent to which since December 1 975 there has been an increase in the number of jobs available.
– That is not true. That is rubbish.
-Of course it is true. If the honourable member were to look at the statistics he would find that job opportunities have increased. The number of people in gainful employment has increased substantially. Of course, there is still the same pool of people who could work if additional work opportunities were available, people who are receiving the unemployment benefit. We should look at the whole spectrum. I hate to think of what the position would have been if the policies that did apply from 1972 to 1975 were still in effect. We would find that the jobless situation would be far, far worse than it is today.
The other implied references in this debate have related to those sections of the community that have experienced very great difficulty in this time of economic disaster. I refer to the rural sector. Of course, we would have liked to have reversed very quickly the effects of the previous Government adopting almost in toto the recommendations contained in the Coombs report. This wrecked many of the facets of effective and viable primary production. Because of the raid on the coffers and the deficit situation, it is not possible to restore all these things quickly and effectively. So the sensible action that the Government is taking is the only course. It is the only course that will rid this country of the piracy that occurred under the Labor Government. It is the policy that will see inflation reduced to about 5 per cent at the end of the current financial year. It is the policy that will bring back viability to the business sector and the primary sector and will provide this nation with the opportunity of getting a sensible wage structure once again and a sensible relationship between productivity, the use of capital and the results that flow from it.
-Order The discussion is concluded.
– I move:
I do not propose to address myself at length to the motion. I just submit it to the chamber. The Budget debate will probably conclude before the next normal sitting on Thursday for private members’ business. So we will probably miss out on only one General Business day. However, in the general compass of speeches on the main Appropriation Bill honourable members are able to express any particular point of view that affects their electorate in the broad and therefore are in no way inhibited from canvassing matters before the Parliament. Moreover, the character of the debate on the Appropriation Bills is such that honourable members are probably more able to use prime listening time, if that is desirable, and certainly more Parliamentary time for general electorate matters than on other occasions. I therefore suggest that the motion should be carried.
-I rise on behalf of Opposition members to record our objections to this taking place. We will not take the matter to a vote. General Business on Thursdays is one of the few occasions on which a private member can bring forward something that has been resting on the Notice Paper for a considerable time. We are now near the end of August. For the whole of this year we have managed to get only three General Business Thursdays behind us. I believe that my objection should be not only on behalf of the Opposition but also on behalf of back bench Government members, who have very few opportunities to display their own ingenuity, innovativeness and ability to bring forward matters in the chamber. Some matters have been resting on the Notice Paper for months. We should not take time away from back bench Government members and Opposition members, even if it involves only one General Business Thursday. It is high time that we gave them more opportunity to bring forward ideas. They can do so from the background of being close to the people. The matters brought to this House by the Executive come mainly from the Public Service which is governing this country.
I remind the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) and all honourable members that all wisdom does not reside in the Executive. There are very few chances, but much wisdom could come forward from other quarters if the opportunity were given. I say to the Leader of the House that this year he ought to take the opportunity to write his way into the history books of this country and into the affection of all democrats by doing something about parliamentary reform and giving back bench members, the private members, more opportunity to bring matters before this House. One of the things we could consider is the means by which back bench members of the British House of Commons bring legislation before the Parliament on a Friday. The Leader of the House in his other capacity as Minister for Primary Industry may not be too popular with the farmers at the moment but at least he could be popular with the democrats in this country if he got on with the job of ensuring parliamentary reform.
I will not detain the House any further other than to say that the Labor Party has taken a decision to do something about parliamentary reform. That will be announced in greater detail in due course. I hope that what is done will be done in a bipartisan way. It is necessary for all of us to do something to bring this institution screaming into the twentieth century rather than let it carry on wasting time, which happens to such a large extent now. I repeat that I record our objections to one General Business Thursday- it probably will be two- being taken from us. It would have been better if the Leader of the House had taken this opportunity to inform us that more time would be given for the private member to bring forward in this place some ideas from the people.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 16 August, on motion by Mr Eric Robinson:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-I open the debate on the Loan Bill 1978 by moving an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill in these terms:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Bill is inadequate because it makes no provision for the under-estimating of the deficit which is likely to follow from the understating of unemployment benefit and health payments, over-estimating of receipts from personal income tax and customs duty, and other inadequacies in the Budget forecasts ‘.
This Bill gives the House an opportunity to study the fiddles with figures that have taken place in this Budget. Those fiddles are rivalled only by what happened in the last Budget. We are all aware that over the last couple of years there has been an amount of window dressing in regard to the deficit. This has happened because the Liberal and National Country parties have taken it unto themselves during the last three years to seek to persuade the Australian people- I must say with some degree of success- that there is something inherently wrong in having a deficit. We all agree that there is something inherently wrong in having a limitless deficit but it is completely misleading to suggest that there is something wrong in having a deficit of modest size at a time of raging unemployment, such as we have in this country at present.
One of the factors that make it very difficult to allow the deficit to reach a size that it should reach in order to stimulate economic activity and reduce unemployment is what is known as businessmen’s expectations’. Businessmen have a habit of looking at the size of the deficit. The reason why they are so misinformed on this subject is that they have been fed wrong information by our political opponents, members of the Liberal and National Country parties. I am glad that the new Treasurer (Mr Howard) made this point himself a few months ago. I am sorry that he did not carry through the courage of his convictions and see to it that there was a more appropriate deficit for the 1978-79 financial year in order to get the country moving and the level of unemployment reduced.
The Opposition has moved this amendment to highlight the misinformation in the community on the deficit, to highlight the fact that the figures relating to the deficit in the last Budget have been fiddled with and to highlight how the same thing is happening on this occasion. Before I get into the details of that, let me remind the House that the purpose of this Bill is to provide legislative authority for the Treasurer to borrow up to $2,000m during 1978-79 to meet the anticipated deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund and to apply the borrowed funds to defence purposes. This measure forms an important element in the borrowing authority needed to finance the estimated overall Budget deficit for this financial year.
Therefore, this Bill authorises borrowing for defence purposes so that expenditure on defence which otherwise would be met from the CRF may instead be met from the Loan Fund. The Bill transfers expenditure from the CRF to the Loan Fund. Because payments from the CRF cannot exceed moneys available to it, this is the normal method of supplementing the CRF from the Loan Fund. I use the term ‘normal method’. In years gone by no opposition was offerred to this transfer, until the present Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), then the shadow Treasurer, used the debate on the Loan Bill in 1975 to mislead the public about this matter. Defence expenditure is used simply because that avoids the necessity to go to the Loan Council. That is the machinery element of this Bill.
The effect of the Bill, as I said earlier, is to transfer up to $2,000m of the 1978-79 expenditure from a fund that is short of cash, namely the CRF, to another fund that is not so short, namely the Loan Fund. But it does not authorise any expenditure on its own. It does not involve a change in monetary policy or in debt management policy. I repeat: It is a machinery measure for legal and accounting reasons. We have always accepted this attitude. However, we object to and reject the attitude adopted by our political opponents when we were in government.
– Is it all capital expenditure, or can it be revenue expenditure?
-The particular defence expenditure which is at the moment in the CFR could be revenue expenditure. Some of it no doubt is of a capital nature which the honourable member, as an accountant, would know would fit the bill for the ammunition and weapons that are purchased particularly from overseas. Indeed it is not just the capital type element that is transferred in this measure. The incorporation of the limit of $2,000m is aimed at creating an impression of responsibility, but the Bill is no more or no less open ended than any of its predecessors in this matter.
With regard to this year’s projected deficit- I say ‘projected’ advisedly, for there is no reason to assume that this year’s estimate will be any more accurate than last year’s estimate; I remind the House that last year’s deficit was 50 per cent greater than the estimate- the Treasurer has left a lot of questions unanswered. Indeed, the estimates used in arriving at the present deficit raise more questions than they answer. They are decidedly suspect because they contain omissions and manipulations aimed at presenting the Government as having ‘fiscal responsibility’ when, in fact, the deficit for this financial year will be substantially greater than the $2,800m forecast. I say this for a number of reasons. The contractionary effect of the overall Budget strategy, the underestimation of various outlays, including unemployment benefits and Medibank payments, and the overestimation of various receipts, including gross pay-as-you-earn receipts and import customs duties, all foreshadow a blowout in this year’s deficit.
I now turn to explaining each of those points in detail. I want the major reasons for concern to be known. I repeat an adjective used by the previous Treasurer, the present Minister for Industry and Commerce, in relation to figures used in estimating last year’s deficit. I believe that it applies to the figures which have resulted in this year’s deficit. I see from the pleasant look on your face, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you are anticipating that I am about to remind you of the word ‘rubbery’. You are quite right. That is an apt adjective which can be applied to many of the figures, as I will show you.
Let me go through the various headings under which I hope I will persuade the House that what I am saying is correct. I refer to the general effect of the contractionary strategy, the underestimation of outlays on unemployment benefits payments, the underestimation of outlays on Medibank payments, the overestimation of receipts from gross PA YE payments, the overestimation of receipts from import customs duty, and the effect of changes to the Budget, the first of which has been notified already. It was indicated to us at Question Time yesterday that no longer will pocket money of news boys- the income they earn from selling papers- affect the amount of family allowance received by their mothers. I refer lastly to the transfers from public sector borrowing to private sector borrowing of certain public utilities. One that comes to mind this year is the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority. I recall a more famous case of a couple of years ago. In order to window dress the deficit on that occasion, Telecom was transferred from being a public sector borrower to being a private sector borrower.
Let us talk about the general effect of the contractionary Budget strategy upon the size of the deficit. The Government has locked itself into a vicious spiral. The Budget strategy has locked the entire nation into a crippling pattern of ever more severe contraction. I am not referring just to the fact that the outlays in this Budget have increased by 7.7 per cent, whereas the receipts from the community add up to an 1 1 per cent increase. There is a difference there of 3.3 per cent. I am referring also to the question of where particular funds are being spent and from where they are being collected. At least the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) will know that some areas of expenditure achieve a far greater multiplier effect and have a far better result in stimulating our economy and creating jobs than do others.
I mentioned earlier, in response to an interjection by the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin), that part of the defence expenditure relates to the purchasing of weapons overseas. Of course that has very little multiplier effect in this country. It does not create many jobs. I can think of only the clerks on the wharves and in the Army who tick off the receipt of these weapons. Expenditure of a similar amount, made for instance in the building and construction industry, has a high multiplier effect.
– There might be the transportation of that equipment to Australia by Qantas.
– I am grateful to the honourable member for telling me how about another two people might be employed in the community. I am sure he will agree that that hardly has a high multiplier effect. He would know that similar expenditure in the building and construction industry would have a far greater multiplier effect and a far more expansionary element to it than that which applies at present.
No one will need to be Einstein to understand the point that I am making. The expenditure in this Budget relates basically and relatively to areas which have very little multiplier effect. The areas which would have a great multiplier effect are among the greatest victims in the Budget. Of course I am referring to the housing industry and the building and construction industry as good examples. We do not need to consider only the contractionary effect of collecting 11 per cent more from the community and spending only 7.7 per cent more in the community. We also must consider the question of where the money is being spent.
In addition, one must consider from where the money is being collected. People who listened to a debate that took place earlier this afternoon would understand the point being made, that basically the increased surcharge on taxation is coming from those who have less, and they are greater spenders than those who have more. So there would be a far greater effect on stimulating the economy if the increased tax imposts were on more wealthy people and did not reduce the spending power of those on lower incomes. The Budget provides that most of the imposts will bc on those who have lower incomes, and that will have a contractionary effect as well. The Opposition believes that even with great optimism there is no way that one could look upon this Budget as being stimulatory.
Also, we believe that there is no way in the world that the estimates of outlays and receipts will arrive at a 4 per cent rate of non-farm growth in the current financial year. That is the figure that is being projected by the Government. It projected the same figure of 4 per cent in the previous financial year and achieved only 2.2 per cent, and most of that was due to productivity and not job creation. Similarly, this year the Government is projecting a growth of 4 per cent, but according to every responsible analysis of the Budget there is no way that that figure would be reached. So that is another factor which shows that it is a contractionary Budget. That will have an enormous effect on the amount that will be collected in receipts as projected and will have an enormous effect on the deficit which is the subject of this debate.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) believes, as he said last night in the major reply to the Budget, that even with great optimism the best estimate for growth this year would be 3 per cent. The Budget estimate is offered in the face of a virtual freeze on government spending in real terms. This can mean only that the Government expects the private sector, representing 75 per cent of the total economy, to provide all the expected growth. In other words, it must grow by about 6 per cent in order to achieve the 4 per cent growth. Last year, real non-farm growth was about 1.8 per cent. Government spending contributed about half of that figure, growing by 3.8 per cent. The private sector grew by about 1 . 1 per cent to contribute its half to the total. Under this Budget it is impossible to see how the private sector can increase its growth rate from 1.1 per cent to 6 per cent. For these reasons a blow-out in the deficit is, in our view, inevitable. The need for increased government spending will become greater at the same time as revenue falls away because of continued recession in the economy.
I turn now to unemployment benefit payments. The Opposition believes that these will be far greater than those projected in the Budget. I remind the House that on the day after the Budget the Treasurer, in his speech to the National Press Club, anticipated a monthly average of 290,000 persons unemployed during the current financial year as against the average of 265,000 recipients of unemployment benefit during the last year. Even if we accept the Treasurer’s assumptions about the numbers of unemployed, there appear to be errors in the Budget estimates of the amount of unemployment benefit payable. Last year the Budget allocation for unemployment benefit was $70 5 m whereas the actual spending was way above this, at $794m. The Government has assumed an increase in the number of recipients of 10 per cent in that extra $25,000, with an inflation adjustment for those with dependants. That should have produced an allocation for the current year of more like $870m, on very conservative assumptions. Instead we find a figure of only $785m included in this Budget, which means that there is an estimate of $85m below reasonable expectations and $10m below last year’s actual outcome. This cannot be sustained and it is another reason why we believe that the deficit will be far greater than anticipated.
Overall the estimated cost involved in the alterations to the health insurance system is estimated to be $62 lm. That is $305m in added Budget outlays and a reduction of $3 16m in receipts because of the abolition of the health insurance levy. There are several reasons why the Government could be expected to have to pay more than the $62 lm extra it has estimated. There is a distinct possibility that many doctors will adopt a broad definition of a ‘low income and socially disadvantaged person’, for whom they can bulk bill. Honourable members will remember that for people coming into that category doctors can bulk bill and get 75 per cent of the agreed fee whereas for the rest of us who do not come into that category they get 40 per cent. To a large extent the definition will depend on whether doctors are prepared to accept the 75 per cent bulk billing for their patients instead of collecting 40 per cent from the Government and hoping that they will get the remaining 60 per cent from the patient.
The basis on which the Government has calculated the cost of bulk billing for low income and socially disadvantaged people is unsure. No doubt it was just an optimistic figure grabbed out of the air. That is how it seems to us. It is also possible that the Government may have underestimated the number of people who choose to gamble and not to carry any form of health insurance and who opt for the universal scheme under which the Government has undertaken to pay 40 per cent of the schedule fee with the patient paying the maximum of $20. Even the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has acknowledged this possibility. Hence there is considerable potential for a blow-out in the area of health expenditure and thus a blow-out of the deficit as it has been given to us.
I turn now to gross pay-as-you-earn tax receipts. The Government has based its estimate of gross PA YE receipts upon the assumption that average weekly earnings will increase by 7.5 per cent during 1978-79. There are good reasons to believe that this rate of growth in earnings overestimates the likely result. In fact a figure closer to a 5.5 per cent increase may be more realistic. Let me explain why I say that. Forecast inflation for this financial year is in the range of 5 per cent to 6 per cent, as the Treasurer has mentioned. Wages are assumed to be indexed by 75 per cent of that indexation figure but this must be related to the rate in the March quarter since this will influence wages in the May-June period. The rate of growth in prices in the year to March would be about 6 per cent, according to Government estimates, which would result in a 4.5 per cent growth of wage rates for the year. However, average earnings may increase somewhat faster than wages due to some increase in overtime. This could be partly offset by the fact that overaward payments generally are not indexed. A generous estimate would be that average weekly earnings might increase at a rate one per cent faster than wages. That is how we arrive at that figure of 5.5 per cent against the 7.5 per cent projected.
Given that the tax multiplier means that the effect upon tax revenue of a one per cent change in income is about a 1 .4 per cent change in tax receipts, the gross PA YE receipts are likely to be 2.8 per cent below those estimates, which is about $320m less than those in the Budget. Other difficulties in these estimates are also evident elsewhere in the Budget Papers. Budget Paper No. 4 shows that average Public Service salaries and allowances are expected to increase by 3.85 per cent during the current financial year. This is only half the rate at which the Government expects average weekly earnings in the community generally to grow. By making such an assumption the Government has been able to under-estimate Budget outlays by as much as $ 100m in relation to Public Service salaries. Last year the Government assumed an increase in Public Service salaries and allowances of 5.6 per cent and in average weekly earnings of 10.5 per cent. In fact these figures turned out to be 8.8 per cent and 9.8 per cent respectively. The only way in which the Treasurer could justify an estimated 3.85 per cent increase in Public Service earnings would be if there was to be less than 50 per cent wage indexation during 1978-79. But if this were to be achieved, the assumptions for average weekly earnings would be much too high and the Government would be facing a short-fall of more than $170m in gross PA YE collections. So whichever way we look at the matter under this heading of gross PA YE receipts, it must indicate a short-fall and thus an addition to the deficit.
The next heading, which I mentioned earlier, was import customs duty. Customs duties are estimated to increase by 29 per cent during the current financial year. Increased duties of 12V4 per cent on goods subject to quotas amount to $65m. Increased customs duties corresponding to increased excise is estimated to yield in relation to spirits, about $66m; in relation to beer, $23m; and in relation to tobacco products, $2m. Excluding these items, the increase in customs duty is 15.4 per cent. A large part of this figure is accounted for by rising import prices. Let us use a figure of 7 per cent as an average OECD figure for inflation, 2.4 per cent in real growth in the Australian economy, some restocking and perhaps some increase in the ratio of dutiable goods to total imports due to the present Government’s protection policies as well as changes in tastes. If those assumptions are reasonable we have to point out that a further sliding devaluation would reduce import duties proportionately, as happened last year. Since deterioration in the balance of payments is expected, further devaluation would result so that estimates of receipts from customs duties on imports are probably highly excessive.
The next heading I mention is family allowances. As we all know, the new provisions relating to the means test on children were to date from 1 January 1979. For the six month period the Government hoped to save about $90m by reducing the family allowance payable to parents of children with a separate income above $312 per annum. Since the Budget announcement various Ministers have announced that this means test would apply only to parents of those children who are involved in trust splitting. To the extent that the $90m saving was based upon 4.3 million children receiving separate incomes greater than $3 12 per annum and generously estimating that there might be only about 500,000 children involved in trust splitting, the actual savings might be closer to $10m than to the $90m which has been forecast. So we have an over-estimate by about $80m of the saving associated with means testing family allowances. I would like before leaving this subject of family allowances to draw attention to the fact that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and other Government spokesmen have said that they did not want this means testing of children’s income to affect people whom they did not have in mind when they drew it up. Some hoodwinking of the public is taking place in this area. There is no doubt that originally the Government intended personal exertion income of newsboys to be included, otherwise we would not have had an estimate of a $90m saving, as we have had.
The other and last point that I would like to mention is the window-dressing of the estimate by pushing some more borrowing into the private sector from the public sector. A Bill will be going through this Parliament- it has already been introduced by the relevant Ministerrelating to the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Supply Authority. I repeat my charge that it is a mere window-dressing. It will impose an extra impost on the consumers of Canberra. They would be able through their Authority to borrow funds far more cheaply through the public sector than by being forced to go separately to the market. I point out to the House that it is a pity that the Government has painted itself into corners in relation to the Budget deficit, wanting to reduce it all the time and leaving the costs to people such as the consumers of electricity in the city of Canberra.
In conclusion, we of the Opposition realise that Budget deficits cannot be limitless. But on the other hand we reject the importance that has been given it by those at present in Government. The faith in a shrinking deficit is totally misplaced. I draw attention to the fact that our Budget deficit as a percentage of gross national product is less than the equivalent percentage of Budget deficit to gross national product in those countries, such as West Germany and Japan, which are successfully operating economies. There is no relationship between high deficits and high rates of inflation. I repeat that although our deficit cannot be limitless, we have to bear in mind the need for the public sector borrowing requirement. It is a pity that the Government has put itself in such a corner. Those are the reasons why I, on behalf of the Opposition, moved the amendment.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I shall not take too much of the time of the House in speaking on this Bill except to make one or two points in relation to it. The Bill is a mechanical one but it raises one or two issues that deserve to be raised. Basically, it enables defence expenditure, which is already included within the Consolidated Revenue Fund, to be transferred to the Loan Fund. The second part of the Bill enables loans to be raised in order to meet the deficit. The Bill indicates that for that purpose the loan shall be of an order not exceeding $2,000m. There are certain valid reasons why expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund cannot be engineered in a Fund which is showing a deficit. Those reasons are not only commonsense but also legal. The debate that is taking place over this Bill will in no way parallel the enormous debate that occurred over similar Bills in 1975. On that occasion the transfers were quite enormous. They gave rise to a very wide-ranging, general economic debate. On this occasion the Bills both in absolute size and proportionately are nothing compared with those introduced in 1975.
There are good reasons why this process- it is an engineering process- is to be done rather early in the Budget debate. They are concerned with the rate of expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. There are one or two points which I would like to raise in relation to these transfers. I hope that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley), who is at the table, assisted by his advisers will be able to help me with them. The point is that the expenditure last year from the Consolidated Revenue Fund was $24,800m. The expenditure this year is proposed to be about $27,700m. That is a substantial increase. The amount which is chargeable to the Loan Fund- that is, defence expenditure- this year is $ 1,903m, the amount which was so chargeable and transferable last year was $ 1,359m. So that amount has also been increased. Yet when we look in Budget Paper No. 4, at table 9 headed Estimated Expenditure from Loan Fund for the year ending 30 June 1979, we see that there is to be a decrease in the expenditure from $4, 100m to $3,700m. So the expenditure is proceeding in the opposite direction. That gives rise to one or two questions which puzzle me in relation to this Bill.
The defence expenditure transfer- if I can use that term- from the Consolidated Revenue Fund is to be increased this year, yet the proposed deficit of the Government, both overall and domestic, will enjoy a substantial decrease. The CRF deficit is going up; the expenditure loan fund funding has to go down. We in politics all appreciate that these are measures appropriate each year. They relate to the rate of expenditure of funds. They demonstrate overall that nothing is as permanent in politics as a temporary expedient. It has to occur each calendar year and each financial year. The simple question I put to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, and to which I hope he can give me an answer, is this: Why is the transfer to the Loan Fund larger than last year despite the smaller deficit? It deserves an answer. It has puzzled me. I have looked through Budget Paper No. 4.I know that the Minister will be writing the question down now and if he cannot respond spontaneously I am sure he will respond a little later after consulting advisers and others. I say seriously that we would respect and expect a response to this question in the Parliament.
This debate on this Bill will enable another matter to be considered seriously and that is the nature of the deficit in Commonwealth accounts. The deficit, both overall and domestic, is clearly the crunch point in Budget flexibility. It has a great deal to do with the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The question which we all want answered is simply this: Can the deficit be funded without inflation? Can it be funded in a non-inflationary way? That is the crucial question of politics. Unless that is answered more refined measures such as public sector borrowing requirements and so on pale into insignificance. Can it be funded in a non-inflationary way? I must say that so far some of those who have proposed increased deficits have not turned their minds precisely to the funding of proposals for increased deficits in a non-inflationary way.
I turn now to the loan, the result of which was announced yesterday. A great deal of pleasure has been taken from the fact that the loan attracted over $700m. Nobody in this House, certainly not the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), would be disappointed with that fact. We are all delighted. But I hope that the significance of that result is not lost. Its significance is that the inflationary expectations in the Australian community are clearly receding. It would be impossible to get a domestic loan contribution of that size were inflationary expectations still with us. There are two facts that enable flexibility to be pursued in loan raising and funding the Budget deficit which were not present before. I believe that indexed bonds would provide the way to a non-inflationary expanded deficit and would enable that deficit to be used for productive purposes within the Australian community. The most productive purposes in terms of the impact multipliers are certain capital works with non-importable goods, as we all know. So there are two points.
– Are you supporting the Budget?
– The Australian Labor Party has never considered non-inflationary funding of the deficit. It is easy to say that a deficit needs to be expanded but one’s mind has to be turned to the way in which it is to be paid for in the year in which it is raised. No member of the Opposition has considered that proposition, and it is important to consider it. There are two reasons why that flexibility can be pursued in today’s circumstances. One is that securities which will mature between now and 30 June next year are a very small proportion of total Commonwealth securities and inscribed stock coming to maturity. I shall read to the House the figures in this regard for the last seven years; in other words, the short term pressure upon the redemption of securities. The figures show the proportion of the securities which come to maturity in the financial year with which that year’s Budget deals. In 1972-73, 7.1 per cent of total securities matured; in 1973-74 the figure was 9.8 per cent; in 1974-75 it was 8.4 per cent and to 30 June 1976- that was in the context of the Labor Budget in 1975- the figure was 12.6 per cent. No wonder there was monetary pressure then. In 1976-77 the figure was 10 per cent; in 1977-78 it will be 1 1.2 percent and in 1978-79 it will be 10.3 per cent. Clearly the figures will decrease in the years subsequent to 30 June next year. So the short term redemption pressures upon loan raisings in Australia are decreasing. That is the first characteristic which enables a government to achieve some flexibility in loan raising.
The second one is the fact that inflation is coming down determinedly- perhaps because of some draconian measures. I suggest that that surety, that assurance of the decline in inflation, can be taken advantage of in respect to the noninflationary funding of a productive Budget deficit. Both those situations ought to be taken advantage of and the easiest way in which to do it is by issuing indexed bonds; that is bonds which have a positive interest rate of 2 to 3 per cent more than the rate of inflation. Tax indexation made government honest with the taxpayer. When the present Opposition was in government it was opposed to tax indexation. Indexed bonds would cause governments to be honest with investors.
– How long did you stick with tax indexation?
– We still have. We are honest enough to tell you when we increase taxes.
-I hesitate to have to remind the Opposition that in September or October 1975 members of their party pursued some quite draconian measures and leaked out of one of its committee meetings all the reasons why tax indexation could not and should not be adopted in Australia. At that time Labor was in government in Australia. When it had authority tax indexation was anathema to the Labor Party and its members ought to be reminded of that fact. I suggest that indexed bonds with positive interest rates in excess of the rate of inflation while inflation is coming down could be used to attract funds to the longer term end of the market. I hope that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, in his response to this debate or perhaps later- I know he is taking a lot of interest- will deal with these matters in detail. It is not appropriate merely to say that indexed bonds mean that we become a hostage to inflation. The situation is precisely the opposite. Indexed bonds enable a determinedly antiinflationary fight to be used for the benefit of all Australians.
Professor Perkins made it clear that raising loan funds for a government need be no more inflationary than raising capital funds for private enterprise. That needs to be stated. With the certain rise in the savings ratio which has been perceived recently there is room to do something in this area. I believe that the opportunity should be grasped and grasped now. In 1911 Lord Keynes- I cannot quote him directly so I shall paraphrase what he said- writing to one of his friends, I think it was Duncan Grant, stated: ‘I have just met some politicians and they are an unbelievably stupid lot.’ I hope that in the response to these suggestions the Department of Finance or the Department of the Treasury, or those who take advice from those departments, will treat them as positive ones and not in the way in which perhaps Lord Keynes in his earlier days might have been wont to treat them.
– It is encouraging to hear the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) embracing so many of the ideas of the Opposition as far as the need for an expansionary economic policy is concerned. As far as his remarks about Lord Keynes are concerned and the politicians with whom Lord Keynes came in contact, I am happy to say that I was not alive in 1 9 1 1 . Unfortunately, some of the honourable members opposite were.
– Do not be unkind.
– The honourable member for Dundas was not.
-I am quite sure that the honourable member for Lilley was not.
-I would not know. Perhaps, Mr Deputy Speaker, you could tell me. The measure we are debating is a direct consequence of the 1978 Budget. It is an attempt to take care of the anticipated consequences flowing from the dishonesty of the Budget documents. Together, this Bill and the Budget documents themselves mark a new low point in Australian politics. Together they confirm that under this Government promises mean nothing, firm commitments mean nothing and solemn undertakings mean nothing. As a result of this Government’s performance people could be excused for never again wanting to trust politicians. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), through his cheating, his dishonesty, his alleged forgetfulness and his downright deceit, has lowered us all in the minds of the people of Australia. Serious as that is it is not nearly as serious as the practice of this Government of fabricating official information and official documents. Now for at least the second year this Government has instructed the bureaucracy to ‘cook the books’ in order to sanctify the Government’s lies. As a result the Budget Papers- once highly valued, once highly regarded and once highly trusted- must now be placed in the same category as prime ministerial promises. The Budget Papers are highly suspect. They are suspect not because the Treasury wants to mislead us but because it has been told by the Government that it must adjust its estimates of outlays and receipts so that they conform with the obsessive fantasies of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Howard) about economic policies.
The particular problem is that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have great difficulty with arithmetic. Not being the sort of people who can move logically from one step to another when faced with the simple exercise of addition, they start at the wrong end. They start with the answer and they try to concoct the components so that they measure up to that answer. The particular answer which the Prime Minister and the Treasurer wanted to end up with was a deficit of below $3 billion. Apparently they decided that a deficit of $2.8 billion was near enough. All the efforts of the Government had to be strained to ensure that whatever else happened the bottom line figure- the deficit figure- did not exceed the magical figure of $3 billion.
The Government has been telling us for years that it is necessary to avoid having large deficits. It is probably worth while to recount the lectures which the Prime Minister used to give us on the question of the ravages of inflation and its effect on tax increases. We all remember that one year the Prime Minister plucked out of the air the idea of tax indexation as a solution to this problem. But, of course, that tax indexation was applied in full for only one year. It then became inconvenient for the Prime Minister. It did not please him to continue with tax indexation. So it has now been dropped or so amended as to be unrecognisable. As far as deficits are concerned the Prime Minister also has found his obsession with low deficits now to be inconvenient. But the transfer cannot be made in the one step. So it has to be pretended that the deficit is not as large as it really is. It will be recalled that a few years ago the Prime Minister portrayed a deficit as being like a bank overdraft in a household budgetsomething which had to be paid back one day or another. That sort of economic nonsense would not have gained him a pass in any economics course that I know of but it was still something which the Prime Minister clung to strenuously. As I say, it has now become inconvenient for the Prime Minister to pursue the objective of having low deficits and little by little he has had to abandon that piece of economic stupidity. Unfortunately he has not been prepared to make a clean breast of it. So we are again embroiled in a subterfuge to try to obscure the reality.
In the 1977-78 Budget the Prime Minister was determined to demonstrate that the deficit then would be lower than the deficit for the year before. We are informed by recently available reports that he told Treasurer Lynch that the deficit should be $2.2 billion and that the then Treasurer, with the assistance of the Treasury, should doctor the estimates to make sure that that objective was achieved and that that was the deficit which appeared in the Budget documents. Treasurer Lynch reportedly objected and the Treasury objected, but in the end they both succumbed. In the event the deficit at the end of that financial year, which the Budget estimated at $2.2 billion, was in fact $3.3 billion. It had blown out by 50 per cent on the official figure which was printed in the once trusted Budget documents. It is now clear that that increase was not unexpected. But in order to please the Prime Minister, in order to enable the bottom line to give the answer which he wanted, the estimates of receipts and outlays had to be doctored. I suppose that, like anybody who first tells a lie and gets away with it, the Government has found it even easier to do it again this year. The Government has again put the Treasury on the rack this year. It has again applied the thumb screws until the Treasury has agreed to concoct the estimates of receipts and outlays so that they again comply with the answer which the Prime Minister sought. He has ensured that the Treasury’s arithmetic complies with the Prime Minister’s distinctive calculus.
This Loan Bill is a necessary consequence of that procedure. It is a way of anticipating the consequences which the Government has refused to acknowledge in the Budget documents. In fact, they have gone to great lengths to obscure them. This Bill is in fact an admission of the lie. My colleague the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) has gone to some length to point out the ways in which the Budget deficit is likely to exceed the anticipated deficit as set out in the official publications. He has mentioned a number of areas in which quite clearly the estimates are wrong. I suggest that the deception falls into three major categories. The first is the estimates relating to the performance of the Australian economy in the forthcoming months. For instance, as the honourable member for Adelaide has said, the Budget estimate is that there will be a 4 per cent growth rate in the nonfarm sector of the community. As the honourable member said- I think quite correctly- even the most optimistic estimates by anyone else put that figure at 3 per cent, not 4 per cent. So we have a fanciful growth rate which automatically distorts the Budget figures. A further example of this deliberately rosy estimate of the projected performance of the economy is in relation to the projected revenue from pay-as-you-earn tax receipts. The Budget estimate of the level of income earning is very difficult indeed to justify. I do not think that the Government really believes for a moment that that rate of increase in earnings will be achieved.
In the area of receipts from customs duty, an assumption is made about exchange rates which, on recent past performance, is very difficult to accept. So we see in those three areas that, as a consequence of making a deliberately rosy projection about the performance of the economy in order to put the best possible face on it, the Government has intruded into the Budget Estimates quite false assumptions.
The second area of deception is that of deliberate deceit. For instance, on any analysis the amount put aside for the payment of the unemployment benefit in the forthcoming year is about $85m less than it should be. That higher figure is based on the Government’s own admission about the increase in unemployment and about the increase in the number of people who will be receiving the unemployment benefit in the forthcoming months. The Government has already agreed that there will be an increase to 290,000 in the average number of people receiving the unemployment benefit. Yet it has reduced the amount of money made available for the payment of that benefit.
We find the same situation in relation to a quite small component of the total Budget. The amount of money set aside for the payment of the superphosphate bounty has in fact been reduced in the Estimates by $2m. That has been done at a time when the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is anticipating a farm-led recovery. That is yet another of these elusive recoveries, following closely on the doomed heels of the consumer-led recovery and the export-led recovery. The superphosphate bounty supposedly will cost the Government $2m less this year than it did last year, even though it will be payable at the time of an alleged farm-led recovery when one would expect that the consumption of superphosphate in fact would rise.
Further in this area of deliberate deceit, the estimates for the payment of Public Service salaries have been deliberately concocted so that the anticipated expenditure on Public Service salaries is reduced by about $ 100m. These are not simple mistakes. These are not matters which are based on unsure assumptions. These are areas in relation to which one can be more or less certain that the amount of expenditure will be far in excess of the estimates- in the case of Public Service salaries, $ 100m more; and in the case of the payment of the unemployment benefit, $85m more. One can be absolutely sure that the amount of expenditure will far exceed the amount of the estimated outlays included in the Budget.
The third category of deception, as far as faulty estimates are concerned, is in the area of incompetence. I point simply to the health scheme. The honourable member for Adelaide went into some detail to explain that in his view and in our view the estimates are way short of the mark and that the amount of money which in fact will be expended on the health scheme. It will be far larger than the amount for which the Government has budgeted. I think that the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman ) has already indicated that he doubts that the scheme will last very long, for the obvious reason that the likely cost of this scheme will far exceed the estimates. The Government probably will have to patch up the scheme some time early next year in order to retrieve the situation to some extent.
Further in the area of incompetence we find the recently announced change to the family allowances proposals. That simple change, made on the run, will add something like $80m to the deficit. That addition will occur because of the Government’s incompetence in recognising the consequences of a stupid policy. When, on a reasonable assessment, we take into account these errors and deceptions- whether they result from quite deliberately and artificially rosy estimates of the performance of the Budget, whether they are the result of deliberate deceit or whether they are the result of incompetence- I think we can be fairly sure that the Budget deficit will exceed at least by $600m the amount which is included in the Budget documents. This will mean that the Budget deficit, far from being the $2.8 billion which is suggested in the Budget, probably will be $3.4 billion at the least. At that rate it will exceed the deficit of last year.
The really puzzling part of all this is that if the Budget deficit does blow out to $3.4 billion that will have consequences for the Government as far as the management of the economy is concerned. One would have expected that with that likelihood the Government would have been honest enough to come out and tell us that that would be the extent of the deficit. One would have expected at least the Treasury to acknowledge that in its documents. But, no; the Government will not admit that, for ideological reasons, for reasons of its own obsessional fantasies about economic policy; and the Treasury will not tell us, because it has been leaned on and has been forced to cook the books in order to disguise this almost certain reality. We will be put in a difficult position in funding that deficit. The points made by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), who preceded me in the debate, will prove to be extraordinarily apt. The Government will not be worrying simply about the funding of a deficit of $2.8 billion; it will be concerned to fund a deficit of approximately $3.4 billion. The consequences for the economy will be so much greater. They will be even more extreme if the Government does not acknowledge that fact here and now.
The lament of all this is that if we are to have a deficit of $3.4 billion, the Opposition would welcome that; but it would welcome such a deficit if as part of that extra expenditure we were getting some sort of expansion and some sort of stimulus to the economy. There seems to be very little point in our deluding ourselves about the size of the deficit and about its consequences for the economy. The situation will be compounded if all this takes place in a haphazard way which does not aim to assist or to stimulate the economy and to help reduce the level of unemployment, which ought to be the chief priority of this Government or of any government faced with unemployment at the monstrous levels at which it stands at the moment.
So, whilst the Prime Minister can pride himself on producing Budget documents which say that the Budget deficit will be no more than $2.8 billion, I do not think he is really fooling anybody. In fact, he will be faced with trying to fund a deficit of $3.4 billion. The sooner he, the rest of the Government and the rest of the community recognise that fact, the better. This Loan Bill reveals the dishonesty of this Budget. It reveals that the Budget deficit will far exceed the amount stated in the Budget Papers. In accepting the Opposition’s amendment, we ought to take account of the consequences of the Prime Minister’s deliberate deceit in relation to the size of the deficit. What we really ought to be doing is calling on the Government to withdraw the Budget and to bring back Budget Estimates which are in fact truthful, which are honest and which are more productive in terms of trying to get this country out of the economic mess into which this Government seems determined to drive it even further.
-The Loan Bill which is before us has been properly canvassed, by both Opposition and Government members, as to its purport. I wish only at the moment to refer to some of the comments made by honourable members opposite, especially the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) who described the Bill as just another example of the fiddling of the figures. If one looks at the 1 1 Budget Papers one could say of the whole aspect of the Budget that in a way it is a fiddle of the figures. The presentation, although made in a conventional way, is in a very old-fashioned format, so that one can take from it certain figures and make certain arguments; but in terms of the amendment that has been moved, particularly as it concerns unemployment and health payments, there is room for a debate on those aspects alone.
Also, I would challenge the statement of the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) that deficits have little relationship to repayment, particularly when as he would realise, he has been a casualty of a government that sought to borrow $4 billion for temporary purposes. If any one thing more than another dismissed that Government it was probably that proposal to borrow $4 billion. People realise that a loan has to be repaid.
In reference to unemployment, I believe that just to come into this House and mention figures and events for political purposes is not good enough. Let us look at our unemployment and try to ascertain what it reflects. I believe that it reflects this generation’s inability to cope with modern technology and mechanisation. Until we come to grips with the reason for unemployment, quite apart from the wage hikes that took place at the beginning of this decade, we will get nowhere. What we need to do in respect of unemployment is to turn youngsters and other unemployed persons to useful pursuits. This might involve a close look at our education system. It might involve the compulsory retraining of people between the ages of 17 years and 23 years, just entering the work force, so that they can be educated to a particular purpose.
I give only one example of the effect of modern technology. The Utah company has quite a lot of abuse directed to it by the Opposition, abuse which I do not believe represents fair criticism. Utah is able to produce its profit and export resources with the aid of a little in excess of 2,000 men. Let us take the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd or the New South Wales underground mines as a comparison and look at the work force they require. Utah provides an example of the way in which we should be trying to cope with the advances of modern technology and mechanisation. It is not just a matter of pump priming, of putting money into the system to pay the unemployed to do meaningless jobs, as was the case with the Regional Employment Development scheme, which was discarded by Labor itself. So let us be frank about unemployment. Let us see the reasons for it, who contributed to it and what we can do about it. It is not good enough for the Opposition to come in here and make just a little bit more political capital out of this aspect.
It has been indicated that in this year’s Budget $80m less is provided than was the case last year. It is my hope that with this Budget, with the reduction in the inflation rate and interest rates, we can put people back into profitable employment. I wish to mention only one aspect of that. If, in certain rural areas, we could get people off unemployment benefits, back into profitable work and in receipt of a better rural income, a saving of $80m might result.
In respect of health payments also, let us look at the long-term effects. We are back to the situation where the individual can make a choice. He or she will not be compelled or forced to join a health scheme. The indications are that medical research will every 5 years double the knowledge available for the treatment of the individual patient. That in itself represents a cost that must be borne, and must be considered in regard to the future. So whilst we have started in this Budget to do that let us look a little further.
The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) mentioned the family allowance. People, ill-informed I believe, are complaining about the means testing of that allowance. I would remind everybody that the family allowance was a substitute for a taxation concession, the dependants’ concession, which was itself means tested with a ceiling.
– No; it was a tax rebate. You got it automatically.
– It was not. It was a taxation deduction which was subject to a means test for the individual child. Already we see Opposition members, by interjection, arguing a situation about which they are very ill-informed. That was a subject of which I wished to make brief mention.
The honourable member for Fremantle says that the thesis that a loan has to be repaid would not gain high marks towards an economic degree. Although that might be true of an economics degree, it does not make sound sense to the taxpayer. Budget statement No. 6 reveals that in this decade, in the space of seven or eight years, the national debt has doubled. Local government authorities in Australia will bear testimony to the fact that debts have to be repaid. They are in the great bind that they are at the moment because their commitment for repayment of principle and interest is so great that there is little left from the annual rates collected with which to do any meaningful work in the current year. The present national debt is some $26.9 billion. This, in itself, is equivalent to one year’s revenue. The way in which one uses a deficit is a matter of judgment and tact. Either one uses it in the way the Labor Government did, by printing money and causing the inflation which was so rife in that period, or one commits a future generation to the repayment of not only the loan but also the interest. I am not suggesting that we should not have deficits, but I believe that we should guard against the other extremecreating such a national debt that it cannot, within a normal period, be repaid. Again, whenever we consider the national debt we should ensure that it is compensated for by some national asset that will have a use for generations to come.
These have been some aspects of the debate that I thought I would like to discuss, so as to turn the arguments of the Opposition back upon it. It has been said that the Bill is a machinery measure, a necessary part of the 1978-79 Budget. I believe in results and feel confident that in the results that will be achieved, if only in the continued reduction of the inflation rate and in the curbing of interest rates, the Budget will be a success.
– With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition would advance the proposition that the House should not divide. We have had an indication that only very few Government members will cross over and we do not want to detain the House.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley) read a third time.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Adermann)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the introduction and passage through all stages without delay of a Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory (Remuneration and Allowances) Bill 1978.
Bill presented by Mr Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move:
I express to the Opposition my appreciation for its assistance in facilitating the passage of this legislation. The purpose of this Bill is to validate payments of salaries and allowances made to members of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly from 1 July 1978 under Determination No. 10 of 1978 by the Remuneration Tribunal. The measure is introduced at the specific request of the Northern Territory and is necessary to remove doubt as to the position of members of the Legislative Assembly. Section 65 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act provides, as a transitional arrangement, for the payment of remuneration and allowances under the relevant determination by the Remuneration Tribunal in force as at 30 June 1978. Although Determination No. 10 of 1978 was made on 19 June 1978, payments made under that Determination had effect from 1 July 1978.
It could be argued, therefore, that section 65 did not authorise the Northern Territory to make the payments prescribed by Determination No. 10 of 1978 and that such payments are illegal. As a consequence of this, the view could be taken that all members of the Legislative Assembly have vacated their offices by virtue of section 21 (2) (e) of the Northern Territory (SelfGovernment) Act. That section provides, among other things, that a member vacates his office if he takes any remuneration or allowance otherwise than in accordance with a Northern Territory law providing for such payments. The object of this Bill is simply to remove all possible doubt as to the validity of payments of remuneration and allowances made to members of the Legislative Assembly since 1 July. I commend the Bill to the House.
– The Opposition has no objection to the objectives of the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory (Remuneration and Allowances) Bill 1978. The Bill makes a straightforward and frank adjustment, unlike some adjustments which have been made retrospectively in some of the State parliaments to safeguard the position of members obtaining other remuneration. This is purely a machinery matter and, of course, does not involve the Government in any extra expense. The Remuneration Tribunal is an honourable mechanism by which we in this House and other senior officials of Australia obtain adjustments in their salaries, emoluments and other benefits. I think it is worth while mentioning at this stage that this is perhaps the only chamber in an Australian Parliament which has a provision under which we can knock back the recommendations of the Remuneration Tribunal. In fact, we have knocked back recommendations. Three times in my time in the Parliament Labor members have declined rises in their salaries. Of course, this year a rise in ministerial salaries was declined. We have no objection to the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
Debate resumed from 17 August, on motion byMrEllicott:
That the message be taken into consideration at the next sitting.
– I move:
That the House concurs in the resolution transmitted in Message No. 103 or the Senate relating to the proposed appointment of a joint select committee to inquire into and report upon the provisions and the operation of the Family Law Act 1975.
The resolution reads as follows:
) A Joint Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon-
the provisions, and the operation, of the Family Law Act 1975, with particular regard to:
the ground of divorce and whether there should be other grounds;
maintenance, property and custody proceedings including:
the bases on which orders may be made in such proceedings; and
the enforcement of orders in such proceedings;
the organisation of the Family Court of Australia and its conduct of proceedings;
the conduct of proceedings by State and Territory courts exercising jurisdiction under the Act;
whether the Family Court should be more open to the public when hearing proceedings, and whether publication of the details of proceedings under the Act should be permitted;
vi ) the services provided by:
the counsellors attached to the Family Courts; and
approved voluntary marriage counselling organisations;
the cost of proceedings under the Act; and
any other matters under the Act referred by the Attorney-General.
The Committee consists of five members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Prime Minister, three members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, three Senators nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and two Senators nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
Every nomination of a member of the Committee be notified in writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Committee elect as Chairman one of the members nominated by the Prime Minister or by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.
The Committee elect a Deputy Chairman who shall perform the duties of the Chairman of the Committee at any time when the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the Committee, and at any time when the Chairman and Deputy Chairman are not present at a meeting of the Committee, the members present shall elect another member to perform the duties of the Chairman at the meeting.
The Committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of 3 or more of its members and to refer to any such sub-committee any of the matters which the Committee is empowered to examine.
The Committee or any sub-committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, to move from place to place and to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament.
Seven members of the Committee constitute aquorum of the Committee, and a majority of the members of a subcommittee constitute a quorum of that sub-committee.
In matters of procedure the Chairman or Deputy Chairman when acting as Chairman have a deliberative vote and, in the event of an equality of voting, have a casting vote, and, in other matters, the Chairman or Deputy Chairman have a deliberative vote only.
10) The Committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources.
The Committee or a sub-committee have power to authorise publication of any evidence given before it and any document presented to it.
The Committee report by 31 December 1979 and any member of the Committee have power to add a protest or dissent to any report.
The foregoing provisions of this Resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders.
14) A Message be sent to the House of Representatives acquainting it of this Resolution and requesting that it concur and take action accordingly.
I note that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) has circulated proposed amendments to the resolution transmitted in Senate Message No. 103. I suggest, therefore, that it may suit the House for the resolution to be divided by clauses in order that separate questions may be put.
-Is it the wish of the House to adopt that practice? There being no objection, I shall allow that course to be followed.
– I say at the outset that Opposition members will have an opportunity to express a personal view on this matter as it is not deemed to be a party matter. I might as well address my remarks to the first clause. I am not aware of the amendments proposed by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). I have not seen them. The question at issue in the first clause is the question of the ground of divorce and whether there should be other grounds. I emphasise again that my colleagues will be able to say what they really think on an individual basis. I make the observation- I think it is appropriate to do so and I think that I have some support- that we should not necessarily be talking about the grounds for divorce at this stage. We have passed the Family Law Act. The emphasis in that Act is on support for the family in the context of the division that follows matrimonial discord. One of the attitudes adopted has been that we should not be emphasising who was to blame; rather that we should try to emphasise the best way of solving the problems of the family following the separation for a period of 12 months.
I do not know whether the grounds for the divorce itself should be included in the terms of reference of the proposed committee. I think that they could well be left out. I do not intend to force a vote on this issue. I will reserve some of my remarks until later and talk about other matters that ought to be considered. The terms of reference should certainly refer to the problem of the delays presently being caused and why they are being caused. I think that if that aspect were examined it would be found that it is not related to the question of guilt; it is related to the inability to agree on the terms of separation of a family with regard to property, maintenance and custody.
– Don’t you think the committee would look at this?
-I think it should. I emphasise that we ought to be looking at improving counselling facilities. I do not think that this point is included in the terms of reference. We ought to be looking at reducing costs. I have referred to the question of delays. The problem is one of excessive legalism at times in determination. There is also the question of whether some proceedings should be open to the public. There is a Family Law Council. It makes recommendations to the Attorney-General. It comprises a number of very representative people in the law. It has made a number of recommendations. More often those recommendations have been ignored rather than adhered to in terms of trying to improve the situation.
The Family Law Bill was initiated in the Senate. It was debated there for a long time. The House of Representatives did not really have a chance to discuss it in the calm way in which a Senate select committee discussed it for such a long time. The debate which took place in the House of Representatives on a non-party basis was quite an intelligent debate. In a short space of time a number of amendments were moved which I think were beneficial. It should not be thought that this measure is the preserve of the Senate, as has been suggested in a recent debate. I know that a committee will be established. I make the point that it might have been more helpful if the committee were to represent equally the Government and the Opposition. We will not move any amendments but we have noted that we will be in a minority of five members as against a majority of eight members on issues which are fundamental to all of us and the people we represent.
I think the terms of reference should have included reference to some of the matters raised by the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi). He has been very concerned about the fact that children are moved overseas to get them out of Australian jurisdiction. Something should be done to prevent that. I understand that an interdepartmental committee was established some months ago to investigate this matter but I think that this matter should be included in the terms of reference with a view to providing some mechanism to prevent children being removed from Australian jurisdiction. The honourable member for Hawker has raised that matter on a number of occasions. I am anxious to have Government members read my remarks in Hansard- that is the best thing to say- to see whether the terms of reference should not be changed in the way I have suggested.
I do not see any point in deliberating on the grounds for divorce. It has been clearly established without any contest that 12 months separation is sufficient. But the problems flowing in all the other directions are enormous. We have had the problems referred to in the cases of Farrelly and Farrelly and Russell and Russell, which have meant that the Commonwealth does not have jurisdiction in a number of areas. It would have been beneficial if the States had conferred jurisdiction on the Commonwealth in respect of those matters. The big issue is that the delays are now running into between 14 months and two years. Something ought to be done about that.
Perhaps people who are other than parliamentarians should be on the committee. Whilst I do not deny the worth of a parliamentarian, I do not know whether we can say unto ourselves that we will have the necessary expertise. Many people will make submissions to the committee on all sorts of grounds. Some will say that there should not be any further extenuation of the circumstances which might contribute to a speedy divorce. That is why I do not think that we ought to be looking at the grounds for divorce.
I am anxious that we concentrate on how we can best solve the problems of the family with less legalism and at the minimum of cost and how we can support the parties in coming to an agreement in advance on the property distribution, the maintenance problems and the welfare of the children. If that can be done- there is plenty of strong evidence to support it- we will go a long way towards helping people. I do not think that it can be done in a closed court of law where there is an adversary combat situation. The terms of reference of the proposed committee should be expanded to provide for conferences to be held before the court hearing. The judges themselves might like to be involved in such conferences. The parties could then discuss the position. When they agreed on all the matters, the legal proceedings would be automatic and axiomatic provided the period of separation was established. We could then get rid of this dreadful problem.
My own electorate is burdened with people with enormous problems, such as the woman in the matrimonial home who is wondering whether she will be able to remain in the home. There is the situation in which a divorce is granted before all the other problems are solved. The most recent Australian Law Journal shows that severe problems have arisen on a number of grounds, the most important of which relates to the number of cases that are outstanding. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 December 1977 states that 1,800 matters are pending.
Any lawyer in practice will tell us that, whilst fault is no longer the issue in divorce, the question of fault has moved into discussions as to guilt when custody, maintenance, property and matters of that nature are dealt with. The parties are back in the same contest position. All practitioners say that, if the parties could be brought together early and could submit in advance what they think ought to be a fair settlement, this would go a long way towards solving the problems. In particular, a pre-trial conference, with counsellors present to advise the parties, would result in a much more amicable arrangement than is reached in this adversary situation.
I have stated what I regard as the criticism of the terms of reference. I have expressed also the disappointment of the Opposition that it has to take only five of the 13 positions on the committee. We thought that we could have been treated on an equal basis on this matter. We thought that the committee could have comprised people who had experience in counselling and in matters relating to welfare and who generally had expertise in practising in this jurisdiction. I recognise that the Family Law Council is much of that mould and has been making submissions. I urge that the question raised by the honourable member for Hawker be considered for inclusion in the terms of reference. I think it is vital. I note that it was the subject of a recommendation by the Family Law Council in respect of other matters. Having said that, I repeat that we will not be opposing the motion but we ask the Government to reconsider some of the matters that we have mentioned.
– As the Minister representing the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) in this House, I would like to say something concerning this resolution. The House has before it a resolution carried by the Senate that a joint select committee of the Parliament be appointed to review the Family Law Act. The Family Law Act has now been in operation for more than 2l/i years, having commenced on 5 January 1976. Honourable members will of course be aware that the Act contains the divorce law of Australia and the law governing maintenance, custody and matrimonial property disputes, and that it superseded the Matrimonial Causes Act.
The Family Law Act was passed after a very lengthy debate in both Houses of Parliament during late 1 974 and the first half of 1 975. Before that, the Bill had been examined by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs as part of its examination of the reference on the then existing divorce law. The previous legislation on the subject- the Matrimonial Causes Act- was the first national law and it consolidated the divorce laws of the States. However, the Family Law Act introduced major changes in the principles governing the laws not only of divorce but also of maintenance, matrimonial property settlements and custody. More importantly, it also established the Family Court of Australia as a specialist court to administer the law, and provided the opportunity for States to establish State family courts.
After such a long debate on the legislation by this Parliament, it may well be asked: What is the need for such a general review of the Act after such a relatively short period since it commenced operation? It was 10 years after the Matrimonial Causes Act commenced that the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs was given the reference on the state of the divorce law. The rough edges of the Family Law Act, it could be said, were ironed out in the two amending Acts passed in 1976. As I mentioned a few moments ago, the Family Law Act marked a conscious change of basic principle in a number of areas of matrimonial law. Even the most convinced supporters of the Act at the time it was before Parliament would acknowledge that the results of at least some of the changes made by the Act could not be predicted with certainty. In fact, there are several instances in which the provisions of the Act have operated rather differently from what was expected. For instance, I think it is fair to say that the Family Law Act aroused wide expectation that the conduct of parties would not be examinable in proceedings under it. While an objective examination of the Act at the time would have disclosed that conduct was not excluded from custody proceedings, it apparently has come as a shock to some parties to custody proceedings that their conduct relevant to their suitability as custodians has been the subject of protracted examination in defended custody proceedings.
On the other hand, I think it is equally fair to say that sceptics of the Family Law Act were confidently predicting that the provisions for counselling, unless at least given the force of compulsion, would prove largely ineffective in preventing bitter disputes or increased family breakdowns. One of the features of the family courts that few deny is the tremendous help counselling has been in the settling of proceedings which might otherwise have become protracted contested cases. I think that the success of counselling has exceeded the expectations of even the strongest supporters of the Family Law Act. No doubt many other examples will be given to the committee, when it is established, of provisions of the Act that have operated differently from predictions or expectations.
The fact that provisions of the Family Law Act have not operated as expected might not, in itself, be sufficient reason for submitting the operation of the Act to a parliamentary committee. However, the Act has continued to be the subject of widespread critical attention by interested groups and individuals. The continued criticism of various aspects of the Act has as much as anything persuaded the Attorney-General and the Government that the community will be satisfied with nothing less than a review such as is proposed in this resolution. It is not conceded that all criticism of the Act has merit. It is quite clear from the tenor of some correspondence received regarding the Act that the writers would be dissatisfied with whatever divorce law prevailed. However, there has been sufficient critical comment which appears to spring from genuine grievance to warrant the setting up of the committee.
Some honourable members may be wondering whether the establishment of the committee is necessary when the Act already provides for a Family Law Council with the stated function of monitoring the operation of the Act. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the valuable work that has been done by the Council since it was established by the then AttorneyGeneral in November 1976. Interested members will be aware that the first annual report of the Council, which was tabled last year, contains a considerable list of useful recommendations for amendment of the Act. Legislation will be introduced shortly to implement some of the recommendations of a technical nature.
However, the Council is, and is intended by the Act to be, a small body of professionals working in fields associated with various aspects of the Act and its administration. They would judge the shortcomings of the Act from their observation of its operation in the course of their professional work, and their recommendations are, as one would only expect, concerned with the more technical aspects of the Act. I do not think that such a body can fairly be expected to know the feelings of the community at large about the Act to the same extent as a committee of parliamentary representatives. Also, I see the work of the proposed joint select committee as complementing, rather than competing with, the work of the Council. I would expect that the committee, when established, would find it helpful to consult the Family Law Council, particularly in relation to recommendations it has already made.
The terms of reference of the proposed committee have been deliberately drawn as widely as possible, so that all aspects of the Act and its administration are intended to be within the charter of the committee. Having listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) expressing some criticism of the width of the terms of reference, I simply re-emphasise that they have been deliberately drawn as widely as possible, so that all aspects of the Act and its administration are intended to be within the charter of the committee. The areas singled out for mention are those that have been the subject of comment in correspondence and in the media.
Let me conclude by paying tribute to the tremendous efforts of the Family Court of Australia and the Family Court of Western Australia since their establishment, in coping with the work of administering the large volume of applications filed under the Act, particularly in its early stages. The latest statistics suggest that the volume of divorce applications under the Act, which dropped from 65,788 in 1976 to 41,698 last year, will drop again slightly this year. I have already mentioned the success of counselling under the Act and this must be attributable, in the case of counselling in the course of proceedings, to the commendable efforts of the Family Court counsellors. I commend equally the tireless efforts of the judges, who have worked hard and effectively and who have won the high respect of members of the profession appearing before them. I feel confident that the committee will not fail to be impressed by the dedication and professionalism shown by the people who make up the Family Court.
The Family Law Act when before the House was the subject of a non-party debate. This resolution proposes the establishment of a joint select committee that is bipartisan and representative of the Parliament as a whole. Honourable members on this side are free to vote on this motion according to their personal views and I hope that the same attitude will be adopted by the Opposition. I commend the motion to the House.
– I intend to speak to clause ( 1 ) of the proposal to establish a joint select committee to inquire into and report on the provisions and operations of the Family Law Act 1975. As has been mentioned already by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner), this Act has operated for some 2lA years. It came into effect and its formal operation commenced on 5 January 1976. 1 was one who, along with many members of this House, took an intense interest in the passage of that Bill. I noted from the debate that took place in another place that it was presumed that, because on the last occasion the parliamentary committee was constituted only of members of the Senate, they had a greater and more intense interest and as a consequence, as Senator Button commented, had a more informed debate. I must question that statement.
I very much welcome this proposal and particularly the fact that the committee will be bipartisan, not only as between the political parties that are represented in the Parliament but also as between the two Houses of Parliament. At a later point I will discuss the actual composition of the committee, but I think it is important to note that the members of the House of Representatives will be involved in this discussion and consideration of the provisions and operation of the Family Law Act. I welcome the terms of reference. They are exceedingly wide. Clause ( 1) (a) says that we are to inquire into and report upon the provisions and operations of the Act. Later on it says that that is not to qualify it but simply to flesh out the nature of matters that might be looked at. Whilst I welcome some guidance, I do not think that this in any way restricts the operations of the committee in looking at the wide operation of the Act and covering the important matters mentioned by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen). I must say that if he looked through my notes for this address he would find some emphasis on a number of views that we have in common.
Specificaly, sub-paragraph (vii) of the resolution says that costs of proceedings under the Act are to be looked at. That was one of the matters mentioned by the honourable member. Delay is another matter that we had in common for discussion. I believe that delay is very much a matter at which this committee ought to look. Subparagraph (iii) deals with the organisation of the Family Court and the conduct of its proceedings. I would have thought that delay was a subject that could be looked at very properly under that heading as well as under the general provisions. Counselling was another matter mentioned by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. Sub-paragraph (vi) mentions the services provided by counsellors attached to the Family Courts and approved voluntary marriage counselling organisations. I do not see why the full role of counselling could not be looked at under those provisions.
Other aspects need to be looked at. I understand that it is proposed to move an amendment later on to this resolution and I indicate my general support for it. Whilst I accept, in general terms, that the committee would have an ability to look at this matter, for the same reason as we have detailed other matters that ought to be looked at I support the general proposition that the committee ought to look at the effects of the Family Law Act on the nature of marriage and the family. I believe it is important when considering an Act that goes under the title of Family Law Act and has such a marked effect upon marriage as an institution and the family, which are very important to our society and which are the basis of our society, that we know the effects of this legislation upon marriage and be prepared to act with courage if we find that it has a detrimental effect. I am not trying to pre-judge that issue. All of us ought to be prepared to look at it because we regard it as being a fundamental question and we want to know if the Act is not operating to support the family structure that we regard as so important.
The Minister mentioned really only two matters as constituting the reasons for a review of this Act at this time. He mentioned specifically the wide expectation that conduct of the parties would not be examinable in proceedings under the Family Law Act. Whilst many people thought that by removing the traditional fault principles under which our Family Law Act had operated previously we might be able to relieve the court from examining the domestic affairs of the parties to a marriage, I was not one who supported that view. I must say that my view has been borne out in part by the very fact that the Minister referred to that wide expectation and indicated that it has not been met.
In the ancillary matters that are looked at by the court many important matters have to be looked at. The nature of the family situation when you are dealing with custody of children becomes an important matter. I do not know how you can remove the pain and suffering that people experience when a marriage breaks down and when children are to be left, at least by one of the parents. I do not know how you can simply say: ‘We are not going to look at these things. They are not going to be consequential upon the breakdown of a marriage.’ The Minister mentioned the success of the counselling provisions. My electorate is served by the Family Court in Parramatta. Those who have looked at the experience of the Parramatta Court have indicated that they regard the counselling that has been undertaken in that court as being admirable and constituting an example that other Family Courts might follow. I think that there is a need to consider whether throughout Australia counselling is being as effective as some of us in the western suburbs of Sydney believe the counselling efforts in Parramatta have proved to be.
I take this opportunity to deal not with the specific legal matters that the Family Law Council has said require review- I draw the attention of honourable members to the reports of the
Family Law Council because I think that they highlight many important dilemmas, some of a legal nature and some of a more practical nature, associated with this legislation- but with some very practical aspects of the legislation that I believe this Committee when it is set up will have to look at. The incidence of delays is one factor that has been mentioned. I would like to relate that specifically to a matter that I raised in a debate on the Family Law Act in this Parliament on a previous occasion, that is the consequence of delay, and the consequence of delay linked with the fact that the dissolution of marriage and the ancillary matters were separated by this Act so that the dissolution could take place at an early date and the ancillary matters could be looked at at a later point in time, instead of being linked to be solved by the Court in one fell swoop. Some people believed that this would be very desirable and would have desirable consequences, and that for all sorts of reasons it would remove much of the pain and suffering arising from the dissolution of marriage. They are the sorts of matters to which I referred earlier in my speech this evening.
The fact of the matter is that the delay is now so long in some of the Family Courts that a situation is emerging where people will be divorced- that is, the marriage will have been dissolved- and all the rights that go with marriage including the right of the widow to bring an action under the Testators Family Maintenance Act can very easily be lost if the procedure in relation to ancillary matters has not been concluded. The fact of the matter is that it is possible for a party to divorce proceedings- say the husband- with some considerable assets to die and for the ancillary matters that might otherwise have to be dealt with to lapse with the death of that party. The wife would thereby not be able to get an order for the handing over of assets or for maintenance, both of which would secure her position, and she would lose because of the dissolution of marriage, the rights that she would have had under the Testators Family Maintenance Act. If there are no delays that problem probably does not arise. But the fact of the matter is that there have been delays and the widows who might have had those rights could have lost them. I do not know of any particular examples of that having occurred to date but I believe that it would be a most undesirable consequence to flow from delay. Even more so, I believe it is one of the undesirable consequences to flow from the separation of these two important actions. I refer to the dissolution of marriage and the completion of all the aspects that ought to be completed in relation to ancillary matters; that is, custody, maintenance and the disposition of property.
In addition, I believe that this Committee will have to look at the reasons for the delay. Some people might imagine that delays occur simply because the courts are dithering, the legal profession is involved and so on. But we have to look at the efforts that have been undertaken by the Government to set up a court structure capable of dealing with the volume of business that is coming before it. There has been the appointment of a very large number of judges. The Family Court is probably the largest court in Australia. It is larger than any of the Supreme Courts, in terms of the number of judges who are part of it. There is the considerable cost of maintaining the Court. Judges do not come cheaply. All their staffs, their tipstaves, the court reporters and the cars that have to pick up the judges and run them to and from court and so on do not come for nothing. The fact of the matter is that we have a very expensive court structure. We have to bear in mind the cost of appointing additional judges. One of the reasons why the Court is bogged down in dealing with ancillary matters is that the courts of petty sessions in the various States which previously assisted in concluding many such matters and which are not such an expensive court structure, have been removed from the system. Parties are entitled as of right to take whatever aspect of their family law matter that they wish to the Family Court. There are no matters that can be divested to the more inferior courts, as the courts of petty sessions are called in the various States.
Some other important questions also have to be looked at. Some of them have been thrown up in papers that have been produced by the Women’s Electoral Lobby, for instance. The subject of whether the courts ought to be open or closed is one example. I know that it is a very vexed question and that people are very concerned about privacy. Whilst privacy can quite clearly be maintained even in an open court structure, I believe that very serious anomalies can arise in the orders that might be made if courts are able to operate in secret. I have had numbers of complaints made to me by parties who believe that they are genuinely aggrieved because people have not been able to come into the courts and listen to the determinations made. They do not want their family affairs broadcast through the Press. I think that sort of publicity in newspapers can be effectively stopped by legislative action. I think the parties who have come to me genuinely believe that the judges would be more conscious of the wider public eye that would be on them when they make their decisions if they were not able to closet themselves with only the parties and their legal advisers.
These are very important questions that I believe this Committee will be endeavouring to resolve. Many matters of this sort are exercising the minds of people in the wider community. I think it is very important that a parliamentary committee will be able to undertake this examination with the son of expert advice that will be available to it. For this reason, subject to the one qualification that I have mentioned in supporting an additional term of reference, I strongly support clause ( 1 ) relating to the appointment of a select committee to examine the Family Law Act.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The Opposition is supporting the creation of this Committee. I hope that in considering it the Parliament whilst accepting the wide terms of reference, will not necessarily get into issues that are so broad that they are not really capable of any short term or even long term solution. The fact is that the Family Law Act has been in operation for more than 2½ years, having commenced on 5 January 1976. The changes that were introduced by that legislation were in many ways quite fundamental and far reaching. They involved new concepts in our law. They involved new legal structures in the creation of the Family Courts. They involved the creation of a specialist court, in the Family Court, to administer the law. They established such a body as the Family Law Council which is a specialist body working in the fields associated with various aspects of the Act and its administration. I suppose that it is true to say that any statute passed by this Parliament which involves new social concepts will ultimately be interpreted by the courts in a way which in many instances could not have been foreseen by the legislators themselves.
High Court decisions in cases like Russell v. Russell and Farrelly v. Farrelly have created new problems in the area of property and maintenance that members of this Parliament, at the time of supporting the implementation of the Family Law Act could not have foreseen or interpreted. The most recent report of the Family Law Council indicates a summary of recommendations which are already with the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack)- and I commend the work that has been done by the Family Law Council. While the courts interpreting this legislation have solved many problems, the solutions which have been produced often have created new challenges and problems which now have to be overcome. I hope that in dealing with those that an all party parliamentary committee will work on the basis that we live in a plural democratic community in which there are some sections that hold, as a result of deeply ingrained religious belief, that no divorce in any circumstances is permissible; others believe that divorce on certain limited grounds is permissible, and there are those citizens who have no religious belief at all. Of course, it is the responsibility of members of this Parliament, acting in the broad, as we do, to endeavour to produce laws which suit not merely the vast majority of our citizens but also, and more purposefully, which solve the real problems that exist in this area of law in Australia. I have not seen the amendment that has been foreshadowed.
– It has been circulated.
– I do not have a copy of it. I add a note of caution about imposing upon any committee of this Parliament tasks which are not capable of a political or social solution. It might be fair enough, in terms of an exercise in political polemic, to ask: What are the effects on the nature of marriage and the family of the operation of the Family Law Act? Posed in those simplistic terms- with all respect to those who have drafted the foreshadowed amendment- I do not know how one with the wisdom of Solomon could make a finding on that matter in view of the pressures on family life in this community.
– Well, investigate it, and if you cannot make a finding do not make a finding.
– I appreciate the honourable gentleman’s motives but I put this to him: As members of parliament we have to understand the difference between divorce and marriage breakdown. Marriage breakdown will continue always, no matter what are the divorce laws or the statistics. For instance, it will occur in societies where there are no divorce laws and it will occur in societies in which there are very lenient divorce laws and where divorce virtually can be purchased. In my view divorce primarily is a symptom of the disease of marriage breakdown which itself is also a symptom of other pressures on the whole institution of marriage and the family which exist in the community. That is the problem that I see in attaching this type of proposed amendment- no matter how worthy the motives might be- to the motion to establish a parliamentary committee that is to deal with what I see as fairly technical problems associated with how we can make the Family Law Act, which was passed by this Parliament, work more effectively for the benefit of our people and solve many of the imposing legal problems which have been produced in the last 2 te years.
I refer the Parliament to Part II of the Family Law Council’s first annual report. It contains some pages covering questions on dissolution and nullity; custody and maintenance of children; third parties and custody; interstate enforcements of custody proceedings; overseas enforcements; the magistrates’ jurisdiction in custody matters; affidavits by children regulations; questions of maintenance and property; powers over property on breakdown of marriage; recission orders; section 79A of the Family Law Act 1975; magistrates’ approval of agreements under section 87 of the Family Law Act; and the vexed question of whether courts and their procedures ought to be open or closed. They are just some of the questions which at the moment have been referred to the AttorneyGeneral and which undoubtedly will come within the purview of this proposed committee. To provide answers to those questions is a substantial task.
To ask this proposed committee also to engage in some sort of analysis of the effects of the Act on the nature of marriage and the family I think would be to refer an area of inquiry which ought not to be properly the purview or responsiblity of the committee. If the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), who is sponsoring the foreshadowed amendments, were to propose the establishment of a parliamentary committee to look at the whole question of the nature of the family in Australian society and the pressures upon it, I would support him. If that is seen as a separate and proper course for inquiry I think it would have some real merit. But I do not see how a committee, which will be hard pressed on a large number of complex legal and social issues, can embark upon a head of inquiry as wide as that which is envisaged in the proposed amendments and come up with a meaningful result.
I turn now to divorce statistics. It is not surprising that in the first year of operation of the provisions of the Family Law Act there was a remarkable and dramatic increase in the number of divorce applications. I suspect that that was due to the fact that a large number of people were waiting on the passage of the legislation in order to effect divorce. But in the last 1 2 months the figures have levelled off and have gone back to a number similar to that for the number of divorces prior to the passing of the Act. Given the complexity of the legal problems that have to be considered, I do not know how the proposed committee, on the basis of 2Vi years’ experience of the operation of an Act which essentially involves an exercise in legal operations- it is a legal concept- can say that that Act has had any effects on the nature of marriage, and if so, what effects.
– Let us look and see whether it has.
– What do we mean by the nature of marriage? Are we talking about a Women’s Weekly view of marriage, a church view of marriage or a civil celebrant’s view of marriage? Civil celebrants have been the subject of some criticism from the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). The nature of marriage really involves questions of polemic which in themselves can involve philosophers.
– It is still called the Family Law Act. You may have forgotten that fact.
– There are many Acts that have -
– It is the title.
– Many Acts have titles. If we were considering a coroners Act and the way in which the coroners court should operate, does that mean that we should ask a committee to deal with fundamental questions of death and life in the hereafter? There is absolutely no end to that polemic. I suggest to the honourable gentleman that we are living in a society in which the rate of change and the nature of our economic system have put the family under tremendous and inordinate pressures. There are many pressures which contribute to the cause of family break-ups but to attach the responsibility of ascertaining the cause of family break-ups to a parliamentary committee that has the responsibility of trying to make more effective what has been an important piece of social legislation, of ironing out the very specific references that have already been referred to the Attorney-General and of producing a piece of legislation which will be relevant to a plural democratic community so that the problems of divorce, maintenance and custody can be resolved in a way which is sensible and rational is to confuse the issue. They are inordinately difficult, complex, legal and social tasks. It seems to me that to add to that the interesting question of the effects on the nature of marriage and the family and to isolate the operations of this Act in terms of that very important question is to confuse the very important question of marriage breakdown with the question of divorce.
It is the issue of marriage breakdown that produces the real question of what sort of divorce legislation we have. To attach this issue to the inquiry, as the proposed amendment does, and to confuse those two issues seems to me to impose an intolerable burden upon a committee which is already faced with awesome tasks. The honourable member for Lilley, who is sponsoring this proposed amendment, is concerned, and quite properly so, with the problems that bedevil and upset the average Australian family right across the board at the present time and he wants an inquiry to be conducted into marriage breakdowns. I think that is legitimate and proper. But to merge these two issues is to pose a question which I do not think can effectively and satisfactorily be answered by the committee. It will impose upon it a burden which it will not be able to discharge and which will occupy time that could be better expended on the real issues before it.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I welcome the inquiry. If I correctly interpret the mood of the House so far it also welcomes the inquiry. The details of the inquiry are clearly set out in paragraph ( 1 ) of the resolution and it is to that paragraph to which we are speaking at this very moment. I take as my point of departure the fact that I propose to move an amendment to clause ( 1 ) which reads in part:
1 ) A Joint Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon-
The purpose of this amendment is to allow the proposed joint committee to investigate the provisions and the operations of the Family Law Act 1975 with particular regard to the ground of divorce and whether there should be other grounds and its effect on the nature of marriage and the family.
I have been fascinated by the argument that the inquiry should be limited and that it should not look in any way at the fact that this law is concerned with the family or marriage. If the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) were to look at the Act and the principles on which the Act operate he would see them crystal clear in section 43. What I am saying is that this proposed inquiry should look at the principles enshrined in the legislation. Section 43 of the Act reads:
The Family Court shall, in the exercise of its jurisdiction under this Act or any other Act, and any other court exercising jurisdiction under this Act shall, in the exercise of that jurisdiction, have regard to-
There are four features set out in that section and I will recite them. They read:
The word ‘marriage’ appears in the Act. So I do not know why the honourable member for Melbourne Ports should be frightened about the committee looking at the nature of marriage. This Act seeks to define the principles according to which the Family Court is going to make its determinations. Section 43 reads:
– Change your amendment to read the ‘institution of marriage’ instead of ‘the nature of marriage’.
– What the honourable member is saying is that we ought to have an investigation into the Act called the Family Law Act but we ought not to look at what the Family Law Act says about the institution of either the family or marriage.
– But your amendment does not talk about the institution of marriage; it talks about the nature of marriage. If you were to change it to ‘the institution of marriage’ I could see some merit in it.
-Perhaps I can find a way to change my amendment.
– We will give you leave.
-I would be delighted to substitute the word ‘institution’ for the word nature ‘, if that is acceptable.
-Does the honourable member seek the leave of the House to alter his amendment?
-I seek the leave of the House to alter my amendment so that the amendment would then read: (ia) its effects on the institution of marriage and the family.
-I do not want to spend too much time going through section 43 of the Act, but I think it is quite important to do so. Section 43 (b) refers to the need to give the widest possible protection and assistance to the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. It goes on to refer to the need to protect the rights of children and to promote their welfare. It also refers to the means available for assisting parties to a marriage to consider reconciliation or the improvement of their relationship to each other and to the children of the marriage. All I am saying, in the simplest of terms, is that we should look at the operations of the Act in relation to the principles which govern its effects and the way in which it operates. I take as my point of departure a statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) on 17 August 1978 in relation to this proposed committee. I refer to paragraphs (6) and (7) of it. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said:
The divorce provisions are the last area needing consideration. Urgent action is needed elsewhere.
He goes on, and this is important, to say:
The terms of reference are, like the Family Law Act itself, excessively legalistic. The inquiry should aim to reduce legalism as much as possible and also to reduce legal costs.
I want to take some of the legalism out of the present provisions in respect of the terms of reference of the inquiry. I thought that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition- this is not going to help him, of course- made a very balanced and valuable statement in that respect. I suggest to the House that this inquiry is in its own way quite incredibly important. Clause (1) of the resolution covers a variety of matters. The three previous speakers have dealt with them. Paragraphs (iii) to (vh) of clause 1 (a) deal respectively with the technical features of the inquiry, the organisation of the Family Court, the conduct of proceedings by the various courts, whether the proceedings in the Family Court should be more open to the public, the services provided by counsellors and the cost of proceedings under the Act. All of those matters are deserving of investigation and should be investigated. Clause 1 (b) refers to any other matters under the Act referred by the Attorney-General.
If the Senate- that august body- or the Attorney-General were to say that we were going to consider the effects on the institution of marriage and so on, I would have liked this House to express its own view on that because if this House expressed the view that it did not want this kind of analysis of the operations of the Act the Attorney-General could hardly make a reference to the committee in opposition to the expressed wish of this House. So, under those circumstances, I suggest that the way in which the House votes upon this amendment is very important indeed. Any Attorney-General- even an Attorney-General in the Senate- would be constrained in opposing the wishes of this House. After all, this is the House in which the government is formed. This is the House which has the responsibility for the financial and economic running of this country. This is the House in which the Prime Minister sits. This is the House in which the Cabinet overwhelmingly operates. So I suggest that it is in this House that the analysis ought to be made and that the amendment ought to be considered.
We know that the family in society is changing, and it is changing at a very rapid rate. It is changing for a variety of external and internal reasons. It is changing in relation to the distribution of income. It is changing in relation to the availability of work for the partners in a marriage. It is changing because society itself is altering its attitude towards the family and marriage. We need to look at the operation of the Family Law Act and to see what relation that Act has to the changes that ostensibly and clearly are occurring in society. But we also say that many of those changes are occurring because of external reasons and because of people’s attitudes. Some of us may be followers of Lysenko and suggest that all attitudes are determined by considerations outside our kin, that our environment governs us altogether. I just do not believe it, even though it is important.
The nature of marriage has changed also for some very basic internal reasons. Mental attitudes have altered very greatly. Commitments in respect of marriage have altered. Commitments in respect of the family have altered. As members of this House we have to deal with broken marriages, separated couples, deserted wives, single mothers and single fathers. We know that attitudes have changed in relation to these matters. We all accept the fact that they have changed. There is no attempt to turn any clock back; it is an attempt to open our minds to what in fact is occurring in society. That is what we want to do. Some of these changes are good, some are bad; some are worthwhile, some are not worthwhile. It is our ultimate duty to look at this Act and to see the ways in which it is operating and to look at its effects on the happiness and the goodwill of the people in the community and of the community itself, both for the present and for the future.
I put forward the amendment I have just moved, conscious of the fact that by doing so everything will not be left to the decision of the Attorney-General. I do not suggest that this House ought to wait merely upon a judgment of the Attorney-General as to what other terms of reference the committee ought to have or ought to accept. There will be matters which come within the purview of the committee and which it cannot solve. Of course, there will be matters which it cannot solve. It will have insufficient wisdom to solve them. It may have insufficient wisdom even to begin investigation of them. But I do not want the committee to be confined, to be cramped and to be forced to say: ‘No, that is not within the narrow legalistic definitions. We are going to keep ourselves away from that kind of investigation’. I want the committee to be untrammelled in its investigations and to be able to move quite widely in its considerations. I hope that the House will give the amendment I have moved appropriate support.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-Much as I respect the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), having listened closely to his remarks in support of the amendment he moved, I cannot help but feel that there is a tone of wanting to turn back the clock. I express the view that clause ( 1 ) (a) (i) of the terms of reference is wide enough in its present form. I put it to the House that parliaments cannot legislate to compel good relationships between people, just as they cannot legislate to compel people to have good memories on all occasions.
I wish to deal more specifically with the problems that have arisen in my own electorate, as well as the hardships and the anguish that I have seen experienced by my constituents, particularly as they relate to Newcastle. My electorate is serviced by the administrative centre of Newcastle. There is an almost total lack of facilities there, and that has caused great difficulty for people. I cannot help but feel also that, in the imposition of fees and in the denial of adequate funding for legal aid, the Government in its own way has injected into its financial priorities the thinking of some of the members of the Government. I remind honourable members of the attitude expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) during the election campaign last year on the release of the report of the Royal Commission into Human Relationships. The statements he made and the claims he made had no basis whatsoever in fact, when one examined the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I see that as being an emphasis in the thinking of the Government and in the manner in which it provides for the implementation and operation of the Family Law Act.
The most distressing thing I have experienced in my electorate is the long delays that people have to suffer under the Family Law Act. In the Newcastle region, even in cases which involve uncomplicated proceedings, there is a minimum delay of five months. There is no permanent registry in the region. There is no court in the region and there has been no promise or indication that at an early date there will be a permanent court or a permanent judge in the Newcastle region. We are talking about a region which has a population in excess of that of the State of Tasmania. We are talking about people who live in a region which suffers from a very high level of unemployment. A great deal of personal distress is flowing from this.
– It is a family court of the State.
– The honourable member says that it is a State matter. I cannot distinguish which it is, and I do not want to concern myself with where the fault lies. The result is that people are suffering. The trauma and the mental distress that people are going through ought to be avoided. I am certain that that was the intention of those who supported the original legislation and those who looked at the matter over a number of years. I am sure that their intention was to remove those disabilities from divorce proceedings. As was mentioned earlier by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding), no matter what the law is, when a marriage breaks down it has broken down and, try as some people may to prevent any further proceedings following that breakdown, it will not change the breakdown in the relationship which has occurred.
Let me return to the situation in Newcastle. The people in the Newcastle region have the alternative of going to Sydney at very considerable expense, facing interminable delays and losing days at work. It involves travelling to Sydney, taking days off work to go to the court, waiting around Sydney and then finding that the case will not be coming on or is to be adjourned again. In those circumstances, the cost is exorbitant. In view of the current state of legal aid, I cite the case of two relatively young invalid pensioners. Their marriage broke down. The divorce has been finalised but the case has been dragging on for months and months, getting on into years, because of a disagreement over property. In this case, the few hundred dollars which the husband has, in addition to the invalid pension, is denying that couple legal aid. They cannot get legal aid to complete their property settlement. The money he has has to be spent on connecting his house to sewerage, under compulsion from the local sewerage authority. So the position is that the matter cannot be settled. The couple cannot regularise their financial relationships and they are faced with a great deal of difficulty.
I refer to another case of a young couple who married in 1974 and separated in mid- 1976. They have no children. The wife went into the marriage with personal debts. She had an old car. The young man, who owned a home, had considerable savings and was well on the way to purchasing another home. In recent times he became unemployed. He is still unemployed. He cannot get the unemployment benefit because, according to the records, he has property. He has an investment but he cannot get at his own money because that is subject to property determination in relation to the former marriage. I am quite sure that what has happened here is that, as a result of smart legal advice, the former wife is using the delay in getting to court as a tool. In effect, what has happened in the Newcastle region is that in property settlements this interminable delay has become a form of blackmail. That matter alone is one that I would very much like the Committee to examine. I would hope that so that something can be done to remove these problems, it would carry out its proceedings as quickly as possible.
The $100 filing fee is now imposed on the basis that in public administration there should be some sort of return to government for the costs involved, but it is a penalty on misery. It denies people in a poorer station in life the opportunity to regularise their relationships, to regain their dignity. It has been put to me that it would be of much greater benefit to the community if, instead of there being a $ 100 filing fee there were some system- the committee might wish to consider this- of penalties in cases of interminable delay or continued refusal on the part of one of the partners of the former marriage to come to some reasonable property settlement. That penalty could be $100 or any figure that was determined. The proceeds of such penalties could then go towards the cost of the administration of the
Act, rather than be taken in the initial stages as a fee.
I know that prior to the passage of the Family Law Act, and when it first came into operation, there were continual outcries at the high rate of divorce, but I think most people now realise that those very high rates experienced in the early years of the Act’s implementation really represented a clearing away of the backlog of marriage breakdowns. Since that backlog has been cleared away there has been a regularisation of relationships and there has been a flattening out of the curve in the rate of divorce.
Moreover, as I note Justice Evatt pointed out in Newcastle a few months ago, there has been a very high remarriage rate. That demonstrates the substance of the claims made by the proponents of the Act, and made in the course of the inquiries undertaken prior to its presentation to this Parliament. As I understand it, in Sydney there are at present waiting to be heard probably 2,500 cases and the rate of settlement is about eight a week. The case of the unemployed person I mentioned is likely to be heard, at the earliest, in April of next year. The young man concerned is in a poor state of health as a result of the trauma he is undergoing. He cannot utilise his assets. He cannot get a job. He wants to put his money into business. He cannot do anything. If we are really concerned about people we ought to have a speedy resolution of these problems. If we think back to the reason for the introduction of the original legislation we will recall that those of us who supported it believed that the cost of divorce, of regularising relationships, would be cheaper; that the heartbreak, the anguish involved in the breakdown of those relationships would be minimised and that there would be an opportunity to restore humanity and dignity to the whole institution of marriage. But I can say from my own experience in my electorate, and as I get feedback from the Newcastle region, that certainly that has not happened in that region to the extent that it ought to have happened.
I am told that there is a large body of opinion in that region which favours reversion to the State courts. Naturally, that is another matter that the committee might examine, but I say in conclusion that I hope that we can have a quick handling of the problem, and that the Goverment will again look at the provision for legal aid, especially in low income cases. What is happening here, as I said earlier, is really discrimination against the poor. It seems to me that those who have the funds to meet the demands of the greedy solicitors, and the industry that is thriving on this business of delay and hardship, can regularise their relationships; those who do not have the money and thus access to legal aid have to live in an irregular and illegal relationship.
-The proposed select committee to inquire into and report upon the Family Law Act will serve a very useful purpose. The Act has been in operation long enough to justify an examination of its operations, to see whether it is fulfilling to the maximum degree its aims and objectives. It is essential that a careful examination of the Act should be made. I do not concede categorically that just because someone says a marriage is breaking down it is going to break down, irrespective of the law. That may be so, but one of the important aspects of the proposed examination of the operation of the Act should be to see whether or not measures which would assist in prevention of the breakdown may be provided therein.
My concern is for the preservation of family life as the cornerstone of society. In our examination of the Family Law Act we should have this basic concept in mind. In listening to the debate I have found that a good deal of it has represented evidence that might be given before the committee when it is brought into being. Any examination of the operation of the Act should view as a matter of utmost importance the need for the preservation of family life. Too many people seem to be hell bent on providing every possible avenue, indeed almost every encouragement, towards the breaking up of family life, with its consequent often tragic disadvantages to the children of the marriage. It is against that background that I propose that the committee should look very carefully into the counselling provisions of the Act.
One aspect of the review of the Act and of its effect on society should be a careful evaluation of the humanitarian aspect of its operation. It may be, and has been, argued that there is a need to dissolve marriages that have reached a stage of irretrievable breakdown. In fact, that is incorporated in the Act, but side by side with that there is also a need to encourage people to get advice on their marriage problems. This gets back to the aspect of the Act to which I referred earlier. We know the stresses and strains that do attach to marriage. The aim should be to give people who have entered into marriage every encouragement to use whatever marriage counselling organisation may be available to them. I strongly recommend that the marriage counselling provisions of the Act, and their effectiveness, should be examined carefully with the object of ascertaining whether any means of preventing the breaking up of marriage over and above what is at present provided, could be added. That is the area in which I wish to concentrate my remarks tonight.
Quite obviously, the humanitarian aspect of the breaking up of marriage, and the effect on any resulting family, is in my opinion the very first aspect of the operations of the Act that should be carefully examined. In this regard, special emphasis should be placed on the philosophy accepted in so many areas, that prevention is better than cure. Indeed, the dissolution of marriage is not a cure in itself, whereas the successful bringing of people again together in marriage does represent a cure. It is that aspect that I emphasise tonight in this debate about an examination of the Family Law Act.
I believe that it is most desirable that the Act should be looked at by the proposed joint select committee and that an examination should be carried out of the services that are provided in those areas under the Act I agree with much of what has been said in this debate tonight. Many aspects of the Act have been discussed and I believe that they should be carefully examined by the proposed committee. My contention, upon which I base my remarks, is that the preservation of family life is important and has a beneficial effect on society as a whole. It is the preservation of family life which gives me most concern. Many people, including myself, believe that the preservation of family life is a very important factor in maintaining a stable society- a society which will give the maximum number of children the advantages that only a normal family life can provide.
I acknowledge quite freely that success in life has been achieved by many people who have suffered disadvantages in many ways, including the disadvantage of not having the benefit of a normal family life. But they are people who overcame the problems they faced. I believe it behoves this Parliament and this society to do all within their power to see that children throughout the nation are given every opportunity to make the success of life that we would all wish them to make.
Very little legislation, if any, cannot be improved. I hope that an examination of this Act will result in an improvement of it. I trust that an examination by the proposed committee will result in correcting the shortcomings that might have been disclosed in aspects of the legislation. As far as I am concerned, particular attention should be paid to the preservation of marriage and family life to the maximum extent possible. I realise that family life and marriage come under increasing pressures in what we call the modern way of life. The modern way of life- or progress, as it is sometimes called- is something about which I have some reservations. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would say that the level of noise in the chamber is not quite as low as it might be.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member for Maranoa is quite right in drawing attention to the excessively high noise level in the House. Every honourable member has a right to be heard in silence. I ask honourable members to respect that right.
– I was about to conclude, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are debating a very serious matter and I believe that we should take seriously any undue interruption or distraction. I regard marriage and family life as one of the very important aspects of community life in this country. I wish the proposed committee well. I hope that it will examine the Family Law Act with the sincerity of purpose which I believe has activated most honourable members who have taken part in this debate. I believe that there is a genuine desire to try to improve the Family Law Act. Many people to whom I have spoken feel that the Act has many defects; that in many respects it does not provide the help and assistance needed to create a better society, as might have been expected of it. So I think that the legislation should be carefully examined.
As I said, I hope that the committee that is to be appointed for this purpose- to examine a very real and important aspect of community lifewill have the success that it deserves. I believe very strongly that unless we preserve the security of family life we will be stepping down from the standards which the pioneers of this country and other people have provided in the past. They adopted a better approach to the necessity to accept some of the problems with which marriage and family life are confronted. We cannot solve all the problems. There will be problems and there will be breakdowns. But the essence of my remarks tonight is that we should examine this matter carefully and determine whether there is anything that this Parliament can do by way of amending the legislation to enable people to preserve marriages, both in their own interests and in the interests of any family which might have resulted from those marriages.
-The hour is late and I shall keep my comments brief tonight. I would like to congratulate the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) for having the initiative to have this study undertaken. Dealing with broken marriages and the splitting up of families is one of the saddest, most heart-rending aspects of the work of a private member of parliament in his electorate. Of course, many of these cases can be related back to the pressures of modern day society. The Family Law Act has been operating now for 2Vi years and I think that most honourable members in the House would agree that many aspects of it have been more than welcome and have worked very well indeed. But I think we have all seen aspects of it that need improving. Therefore, the proposed investigation of the Act should be welcomed by us all.
I seconded the amendments moved by the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns). I go along particularly with the first amendment he moved to clause (1) of the motion which seeks to add the following words as paragraph (ia): its effects on the institution of marriage and the family.
I go back to the days when the Family Law Bill was being debated in this House and in the Senate. I remember the tremendous emphasis that was placed on clause 43 of that Bill, which read:
The Family Court shall, in the exercise of its jurisdiction under this Act or any other Act, and any other court exercising jurisdiction under this Act shall, in the exercise of that jurisdiction, have regard to-
the need to preserve and protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life;
the need to give the widest possible protection and assistance to the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children;
Sub-section (d) of that section of the Act is most salient as far as the amendment is concerned. It reads:
Consequently, it seems to me to be a logical extension to move tonight the amendment to which I referred. It has been interesting to hear some of the points raised by Opposition honourable members during this debate. I was particularly interested in some of the comments of the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) because I think that he pointed out to us the very need to add the words contained in our first amendment. He raised two points which were relevant. The first point, the one that is most relevant in this context and which I believe does need investigation, was the fact that there has proved to be a high remarriage rate. Surely we must be able to see some connection there between some of the aspects of the Family Law Act and the situation that is developing. The second point that he said he hoped would be investigated related to cases of blackmail in some property settlements. That facility might or might not exist. But what pressure does that have on some marriages? I have seen people come into my office and explain to me their situation. It is a situation that could well be regarded to fall into that category. I cite one particular marriage involving a woman from a poor background and a man who was rather well off. The marriage lasted nine days but, of course, the property settlement was rather bitter. That is an aspect which I think should be looked at.
I rather agree with the previous speaker, the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), who claimed that the family unit is the basis of our society. In the past the family unit has been that basis. I believe that to a very large extent it will continue to be the basis of our society. Anything that we can do to protect that institution and to help it to develop will be very much for the betterment of the future of the nation. If there are aspects of the Family Law Act that can contribute to the stabilisation of marriage or that are detracting from it already they should be investigated by this committee. Consequently, I have very much pleasure in seconding this amendment. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) also made some very good points. I do not think anyone would deny the fact that some serious investigations will be made, especially into the areas of maintenance of children. Most of us who have been dealing with broken marriages have seen some terrifying situations developing.
– They are tragic.
– They are tragic situations, as the honourable member for Swan says. The bitterness that is occurring was hopefully to be eliminated with the institution of the Family Law Act. The bitterness has not always come to light and been solved as we all hoped it would be. I hope that honourable members on both sides of the House will realise the seriousness of the stresses and strains that are upon marriages in Australia today and will support us in this amendment. If there is any way that the Family Law Act can assist marriage it should be encouraged. I trust that we will receive the support of honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Short) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 22 August, on motion by Mr Howard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-In dealing with the Appropriation Bill tonight I should like firstly to point up the Government’s failure to live up to its own self-image. The Government has a self-image, even if it does not have such an image in the community, of being a government which reduces personal income tax. It is interesting to note that personal income tax this year will increase by $686m. It is a government which has claimed continuously since it came to power that it will reduce taxation, yet in the three Fraser Budgets taxation receipts have increased by 17 per cent, 9.8 per cent and 1 1 per cent respectively and there has been a total increase of 42.6 per cent. The Government also has a self-image of being opposed to deficits. The deficits of the three Labor Budgets presented in 1973, 1974 and 1975 added up to $6,445m compared with the deficits of the three Fraser Budgets, which total $8,886m. That figure is $2,441m higher. It is admitted now and we all know that the deficit in the current Budget is under-estimated by at least $600m. The Government certainly does not live up to its own self-image.
I shall deal next with the failure of the Government to show equity and justice in the changes it brings about. It is easier in some ways to deal with those changes, before I come to how they affect the family, by referring to the editorial in the Australian Financial Review of 22 August. It attacks the Government for its lack of equity. It states:
Treasurer Howard sought to put the increase in income tax charges in its best possible light by his description of the changes.
The editorial then quotes the Treasurer (Mr Howard) as saying:
The standard rate of personal income tax will be increased by1½ per cent . . . there will be corresponding increases, to 47½ per cent and 61½ per cent, at higher levels of income.
The editorial continues:
Only by having a non-mathematical mind and a truly finely attuned political calculator can it be said that that statement is a true reflection of the situation.
The increase is of the order of 1½ cents in the dollar- not 1½ percent.
At the lower end of the scale this represents an increase of 5 per cent- it will be actually 8 per cent when collected out of the pay-packet because the Government will collect 12 months pay over a period of eight months . . .
At the highest range of income-tax payments the Howard increase is half in percentage terms of that levied on the lowest rung. It is 2.5 per cent and5 per cent for the period after November.
This shift in the burden of equity was neither acknowledged, explained nor justified in the Budget.
Another probably more inflammatory area of equity juggling without explanation occurs in the Howard proposals to tax accumulated leave and long-service leave but not lumpsum payments.
The Asprey inquiry into taxation looked at this very difficult area of tax policy in its report on the taxation system. It pointed to the way in which retiring executives were able to exploit the tax laws by having lump-sum golden handshakes taxed on only 5 per cent of their value.
We have introduced that fact into this House. The editorial continues:
Such executives, the committee pointed out, usually received ‘very large amounts’ from the companies’ superannuation funds and also were often under service contracts.
The committee -
That is the Asprey Committee- recommended the phasing in of a system which led to the taxation of all lump-sum payments.
In the Howard Budget this practice is left untouched. Instead, the Government announced it would tax accumulated holiday leave and accumulated long-service leave.
These two items represent to many in the lower-income groups their only superannuation arrangements. They are all that they can accumulate in the way of a lump-sum payment on severance or retirement.
Their rather tiny lump sums are now to be taxed. Golden handshakes remain protected from the depredations of the Tax Commissioner.
Surely this is completely contrary to any equitable proposition. Then there was the proposition to tax family allowances concerning many children who are worse off than many others. It is interesting to note the newspaper response to the Budget. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has said that everybody supports the Budget. If everybody supports the Budget one would certainly expect the editors of the Sydney Daily Telegraph to support it. That newspaper carried an article headed ‘Prophet of Gloom’. It stated:
In his first Budget, Treasurer John Howard has proved a prophet of gloom.
He has done nothing to inspire the recovery and reconstruction of the Australian economy.
He has done nothing to encourage the Australian people to work harder.
We will not only be paying higher taxes. We will be paying more for almost everything we buy.
It is a mean Budget.
And it is a Budget of broken promises.
An editorial in the same newspaper stated:
It is a mean and heartless Budget.
It reduces in real terms the amount of money to be spent on public schools but gives an increase to private schools.
That is not usually the line of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. The editorial continues:
It is a Budget of broken promises.
The Government has broken its promises to reduce taxation; it has broken its promise to maintain Medibank; it has broken its promise not to phase out the means test.
It will be a long time before the people of Australia forget this.
Let us hope that it will also be a long dme before the editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph forgets this. The Sydney Daily Mirror, from the same stable, had an editorial which was headed ‘A bloody disgrace ‘. It read:
Last night’s Mother Hubbard Budget gives us poor dogs of taxpayers not so much as a bone.
Let alone a chance of pulling the nation out of the economic bog, a job the Government doesn’t appear to be handling with any brilliance.
Look past, if you can, the savagery of Canberra’s assault on your spending power- the higher taxes, the slugs on petrol,, cigarettes and liquor, the dubious conjuring tricks with Medibank- and what sort of a Budget do you find?
The editorial summarises the Budget by saying: It’s a bloody disgrace’. Last Friday the Australian Financial Review had an interesting commentary on the health scheme. If I have time I will deal with it later. The Sydney Sun, from a different stable, yesterday had a large headline: Don’t tax blind- pension plea. The article bitterly attacked the Federal Government’s decision to tax invalid pensions for blind people. The Sydney *Sun, again of yesterday, had an article by Roger Bush. I think it is the exReverend Roger Bush, who must be the greatest hypocrite ever to write for any newspaper. Under the heading: ‘Please, Mr Fraser, lay off the kids’ -
– What have you got against poor old Roger?
-Roger Bush probably would be in good company with the honourable member for St George. I have no doubt that they work together. Even a person such as Roger Bush is not prepared to support this Budget. Brian White, of radio station 2SM, has strongly opposed the Budget. Let us deal now with a group of people who have generally supported this Budget. Today’s Australian Financial Review contains a letter from Mrs Joan Adamson, the National President of the Women’s Action Alliance of Nunawading in Victoria- a very conservative organisation. I seek leave to have the letter incorporated in Hansard. It has been shown previously to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner).
The letter read as follows-
BUDGET AN INTOLERABLE BURDEN ON THE FAMILY
Sir, The Liberal Party has always professed to be a party that recognised the value of the family unit.
On Tuesday, August 15, the Fraser Liberal Government showed in its actions, if not its words, that it no longer recognised the family unit as an important social or economic unit.
In its attempts to balance the nation’s budget, the Government robbed the family budget.
The Government’s action will have the effect of placing extra, and intolerable, financial burdens on many families.
The abolition of the maternity allowance, the decision to tax family allowances for students receiving scholarships, the increases in taxes and in petrol, the cuts in the national school dental scheme, the failure to increase and index family allowances will hit family budgets very hard.
An inevitable by-product of these decisions will be that many more families will need to become dual income families. It is the only way that many families will make ends meet.
In the next few months the Government can expect an influx of married women into the paid work market.
This will mean that there will be even fewer jobs available for school leavers at the end of the year than there would otherwise have been.
Mr Howard’s prediction that unemployment will rise during the next year will almost certainly be proved true.
Figures released earlier this year by the Bureau of Statistics showed that 16.5 per cent of those young people aged 15-19 years were unemployed.
In the next 12 months we can expect that figure to increase until approximately one in every five young people is unemployed.
Yet, while it has robbed the family budget and increased financial pressures on families, the savings the Government will make from its changes in this area are meagre.
The abolition of the maternity allowance saves only $7.2 m (on 1977-78 figures), the cuts in the school dental scheme save S4.9m and the administrative costs of taxing family allowances will be high in relation to the amount to be saved.
And while it has made these changes which adversely affect the family, the Government will still continue to pay a maternity allowance to the Canberra bureaucrats which is worth $2,400 to a woman on $200 a week.
The Government will also provide $32. 3m for institutionalised child care and $1 1.5m for the Family (Divorce) Law Court.
It seems that not only is the Government financially pressuring the family, but that it is also going out of its way to encourage mothers to leave their children and enter the paid workforce.
The Government’s sense of priorities is certainly warped.
This Budget is clearly a direct attack on families and on family life.
It will have an adverse effect on family budgets, on young people seeking jobs and on family life by forcing both parents into the paid workforce and thus splitting families even more than they are now.
History may well record this Budget as being the most anti-family Budget ever brought down by any Australian Government.
Had the Government had a different set of priorities and wanted to help the family unit, then it would have at least maintained the maternity allowance at its 1977-78 level, decided that under no circumstances would it have taxed family allowances and certainly it would have increased and indexed family allowances. (Mrs) Joan Adamson,
National President, Women’s Action Alliance, Nunawading, Vic.
– Let me quote a couple of sentences from that letter. The letter commences:
The Liberal Party has always professed to be a party that recognised the value of the family unit.
On Tuesday, August 15, the Fraser Liberal Government showed in its actions, if not its words, that it no longer recognised the family unit as an important social or economic unit.
The letter continues:
The abolition of the maternity allowance, the decision to tax family allowances for students receiving scholarships, the increases in taxes and in petrol, the cuts in the national school dental scheme, the failure to increase and index family allowances will hit family budgets very hard.
Later on the letter states:
This Budget is clearly a direct attack on families and on family life.
Mrs Adamson concludes by stating:
Had the Government had a different set of priorities and wanted to help the family unit, then it would have at least maintained the maternity allowance at its 1 977-78 level, decided that under no circumstances would it have taxed family allowances and certainly it would have increased and indexed family allowances.
I completely agree with Mrs Adamson at least on this occasion. I have updated a table which I have previously had incorporated in Hansard. It shows the loss to the family taxpayer because of the failure of this Government to index the family allowance. I ask for leave to have this table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– In the table I have compared the cumulative tax rebate which has been lost since the Government abolished the tax rebate which was introduced in the 1975-76 Hayden Budget and the rather small child endowment that was paid under Labor with the amount the taxpayer’s family now obtains. Let me give the example of the family with one child. The tax rebate for that child would now have been $5.16 a week. With the 50c child endowment, that family would have been receiving $5.66 a week. In fact it now receives $3.50 a week. So the family has lot $2. 16 a week. In the case of two children the loss is $3.32 a week; for three children, $4.48 a week; for four children, $5.89 a week; for five children, $6.55 a week; and for six children, $7.46 a week. The table surely shows that this Government has completely failed the families. It has completely failed to help those in greatest need.
In this House we hear a lot of rhetoric about all kinds of groups in the community, such as pensioners and so on. I am not necessarily saying that those groups are not in difficult circumstances, but I feel that members of families with children and a single income who are trying to establish themselves are the worst off group in Australia at present. I just hope that these people will look at the figures and will understand that the Government has failed to index family allowances. The Government, during the last few weeks before the Budget came down, floated alleged proposals- I am afraid that some of our people picked these up- that family allowances for the first child were to be abolished or were to be taxed as part of the mother’s income, and so on. The people were relieved to find that the family allowances continued at the previous level. That is not the issue. I supported the concept of the family allowances replacing the tax rebate back in 1976. It helped those families who were not in a position even to pay tax. But through changing a tax rebate which was indexed to a family allowance which was not, greater and greater amounts of money are being lost by people with families. I hope that many people in this House will have a look at this table and see the net effect of the Government’s action.
Let me conclude by dealing very briefly with a matter with which I dealt to some extent on Budget night last week. I refer to the changes to the medical scheme. When responding to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on that night I admitted that I was surprised at what the Government had done. I was surprised that it was prepared to take $620m out of revenue and contribute it to Medibank. Since then, of course, it has become quite clear that the Government had not thought the proposition through to any great extent. Whilst I still accept that a significant number of people in Australia obviously will be better off financially under the new system- we can call it whatever we like; it is no longer Medibank- a significant number of people will not be benefiting and obviously will be worse off. I refer basically to the low income earners who were levy payers in theory but in fact did not have to pay much of a levy. Therefore they will not save any significant amount by the abolition of the levy but they will lose the benefits of having been levy payers. As levy payers they were entitled to 85 per cent of their medical costs plus their hospital costs. The hospital costs will still be paid for them but the medical costs will be paid to the extent of only 40 per cent.
For those of us with relatively high incomes who were levy payers, the arrangement is a financial improvement. If we decide to take out medical insurance- I think anybody who is relatively well off and takes out medical insurance is being quite silly- it will cost us less than we paid under the old levy. But the people who are at the lower end of the income scale, who were paying only a levy proportionate to their income, will be significantly worse off. One of the interesting side effects of this will be a conflict of interest between the States and the Federal Government as to whether people should join private funds and whether they should go into hospital as public patients.
Let us look at the difference in costs from the Federal and State points of view after 1 November if a patient goes into a doctor of choice ward in a public hospital. The State Government will gain $20 a day per patient because he has to contribute $40 a day. Half of that will be part of the deficit incurred by the State Government. Therefore the Government loses $20 a day if from now on that person goes in as a standard ward patient. Let us look at it from the Federal Government’s point of view. The Federal Government also saves $20 a day but on the other hand it has to pay medical fees for that particular patient. Let us assume that a patient is in hospital as a surgical patient receiving surgical treatment. When he was in as a standard ward patient there was no surgical fee involved and no anaesthetist’s fee involved. When he goes in as a doctor of choice patient a medical fee will bc involved. The Federal Government has undertaken to pay all except $20 per service for that patient.
Let us take, for example, a patient who has an operation such as a hysterectomy, in which an assistant and an anaesthetist are involved. I have calculated the cost of that operation to be about $360. Sixty dollars of that would have to be paid by the patient. The Government then pays $300. In other words, since the Federal Government benefits by only $20 a day by having a patient go in as a doctor of choice patient and contribute $40 a day, that patient has to be in hospital for 15 days before the Government recoups the $300 lost on the surgical operation. Therefore it will generally not be in the interests of the Federal Government, from the point of view of the Treasury or the Department of Finance, for the patient to go in as a doctor of choice patient but it will be in the interests of the State Government for that to happen, because if he goes in as a doctor of choice patient the State Government will save $20 a day or $140 a week. It will be extremely interesting to see how long the present system can continue.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The National Country Party desires to be associated with this, the first Howard Budget, for particular reasons. It is both a Budget of restraint and a Budget of principle. It is good to see that we have on the treasury bench a government that believes in the long-term aims and objectives of Australian society rather than in short-term popularity. Obviously people express a few words of objection when they are asked to make sacrifices. However, the Government has been prepared to ride out the political storm of criticisms because it believes that the future of our country is the main objective for which we as parliamentarians should strive.
It is good to see that the Government has exercised restraint, because restraint means discipline, and unfortunately discipline is disappearing rapidly from the Australian way of life. We have exercised discipline in the amount of money we have expended in providing services. It is interesting to note that the increase in outlays is the smallest for the last three years. The increase is 7.7 per cent compared with 1 1.1 per cent, 10.4 per cent and 22. 5 per cent in the immediately preceding three years. The revenue is up by 1 1 per cent. Obviously we have not gone out to make millions of dollars from the Australian population. We have exercised balance and have come up with a deficit of $2,8 13m. It would be a truism to say that the Howard Budget is a Budget which unswervingly traverses the road of equilibrium- maximum benefits for minimum government interference to the take-home pay packet of all Australian people.
I would not want this occasion to pass without saying on behalf of the National Country Party and on my own behalf, one or two words of tribute to the Hon. Gough Whitlam. This is the first occasion in a Budget debate since I have been a member of this Parliament that Gough Whitlam has not been present. Many words have been spoken about him, some complimentary and some not quite complimentary, but it would be true to say that Gough Whitlam was one of the great orators of his time. It was always a pleasure to listen to him making a speech. Of course, with my political beliefs, I did not share his starting point but I always appreciated him because he was a wordsmith, someone who built logically on the base that he himself was convinced was accurate and precise. It was good to see him and to hear him. He was a man who had a great command of the English language and who appreciated good English. I venture to say that he will find a place in Australian political history.
I suppose his great failing was that he had a grand dream, a grand idea, but it probably faltered because most of his ideas were not practical. My words are not words of destructive criticism; rather they are words of appreciation for the service he rendered to the Australian nation, the Australian Parliament and the people whom he represented. I pay tribute tonight to him and to his wife for the sacrifice they made in pursuit of an ideal. It would be true to say that he spoke with authority and conviction. There certainly was no squeaky voice when he spoke. Compare his speeches with what one might callexercising some charity- the rather constipated prose of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) when he stitched together what he referred to as a mixed bag of comments on the Budget. In Question Time this morning the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) laid to rest once and for all the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Government has been criticised for increasing taxes in certain areas. Let me quote from a speech delivered by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) at the Second National Conference of Labor Economists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane on Friday, 30 June:
The solution to that problem can only lie in public education and an honest approach. We -
He was referring to the Opposition- must tackle the conservative’s ideology head-on and educate wage and salary earners, and their union leaders, not to be dazzled and deluded by tax cuts which will only result in a lower quality of government services, or in them having to pay in the market place for services that were previously provided by the Government -
So on the one hand the Leader of the Opposition is criticising our Government for increasing taxes and on the other hand his Treasurer is saying that the Government has to educate the Australian population to accept greater government taxation so that the Government can decide what type of future Australia should have. In essence we might say that ‘the right hand knoweth not what the left hand wants to do’. I suppose that that type of criticism would lead one to believe that ethics have disappeared from the Australian scene both politically and civilly.
I want to direct one or two words of criticism towards various members of the news media. I believe that they have been recreant to the trust that has been placed in them. Much hardship, much suffering and much trauma was caused to many Australian families by the fear that was stirred up by irresponsible newspaper editors and supporters- of course, they all came from the metropolitan areas- indicating that this or that was not going to be included in the Budget. I believe that it was wrong that old people and people with pressing family responsibilities, should have to be greatly concerned about their future economic activity because some newspaper reporter for cheap notoriety and political gain seeks to print in a newspaper a figment of his or her imagination. It is good to see that that type of infantile behaviour did not spread to the rural Press. Thank heavens we still have a few decent Press reporters in the rural areas of Australia. One could not let this occasion pass without mouthing words of condemnation of those people who caused unnecessary suffering to the old age pensioners, the widows and those who suffer handicaps through any sickness.
There are three areas of great concern in Australian society. They are the areas of unemployment, inflation and in interest rates, and increasing costs, particularly labour costs. I wonder whether those members of the Opposition who seek to speak in this debate really believe that they can cloud the issue by drawing the attention of the Australian people to the present situation. Therefore I want- indeed, one ought to want- to recount some of the happenings and the history of the Labor Administration from 1972 to 1975, to let the Australian people know what a decent life they have at present under the free enterprise government. In 1972 when the Labor Party came to power unemployment in Australia was at the level of 135,700; when it left office in 1 975 it was at the level of 3 1 0,000.
According to the latest figures available the level is 378,000. So the Labor Party can claim to wear the mantle of ‘developers of unemployment in Australia’. When it came to power the inflation rate was of the order of 4.5 per cent; in 1975 it was 14 per cent, and last year it was 7.9 per cent, with confident predictions that it will be down to 5 per cent at the end of this financial year. In effect, the Labor Party could be given the title ‘destroyers of the workers’ wages and destroyers of benefits for the aged and the handicapped’.
In 1972 the Reserve Bank interest rate was 5.5 per cent; it was 9.5 per cent when the Labor Party left office. The Commonwealth Development Bank interest rate in 1972 was 6.25 percent and it was 10.5 per cent when the Labor Party left office. The savings bank interest rate in 1972 was 6.25 per cent; it was 9 per cent to 10 per cent when the Labor Party left office; and at present it is 8.75 per cent to 10 per cent. In 1975 when the Labor Party came to office the trading bank overdraft rate was 7.75 per cent; when it left it was 1 1.5 per cent. One of the first actions of the Fraser Administration was to reduce interest rates to 10.5 per cent. Another title for the Labor Party could be ‘architects for increased costs and hardship for home owners and home buyers, for business and for investment’. The Labor Government presided over the greatest wage escalation we have seen in this country. The average weekly wage rapidly escalated under its stewardship from $104.40 to $175.70. 1 believe that the fuelling that it gave to claims to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has been the cause of huge unemployment and lack of investment in Australian society. We must remember at all times that wages are to be treated not only as income to employees but also as a cost to employers. Wages must be related to productivity and to capacity to pay.
Indicative of how confidence can be restored is the answer given recently by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) to a question without notice in which he indicated that the impulses of confidence are getting through to the Australian community in that the August loan subscriptions were a record. That indicates that if the policies of the Government are sound, confidence- something which is intangible and which cannot be measured or weighed- will flow through. We are in for tough times. We need tough men and tough action, not fairy-floss opposition. We in Australia must remember that as citizens we have both rights and responsibilities. It has been depressing and disconcerting in the last few days to note that people’s emotions have been stirred up unnecessarily by people who consider themselves to be leaders of political parties in Australia.
– Deliberate provocation.
– The honourable member for Murray has expressed their actions far better than I could. He said it was deliberate provocation. It would be appropriate in this debate to pay tribute to people who are often forgotten and neglected. I refer to members of the various police forces all over Australia; one section of the community which knows not the meaning of the word ‘strike’. They are people who protect us and our families. I noticed with great disgust on the television recently three members of the Queensland Police Force surrounded by yelling crowds protesting about what they knew not. They were trying to escort three old women who were about their business of obtaining essential foods necessary for their survival. The policemen sought to protect them so that they could go about their way unmolested. They were attacked by people in this protest rally in the city of Brisbane. In the full glare of the television camera the newspaper reporter said: ‘That policeman has his knee on the face of one of these protesters.’ What utter rot, what utter hypocrisy. Anyone could see that that policeman was deliberately tackled. The tackle was almost good enough for a rugby competition in Australiaand the protester was biting the leg of the policeman. Yet that newspaper reporter was saying that the policeman had his knee on the face of the protester. What a great policeman he was. Any other Australian would have given that protester what he richly deserved.
There is a responsibility on the Government to govern. I hope that during this present session of
Parliament the Federal Government will put muscle into its industrial legislation. It could follow the example of the Government of Queensland. In that State specific legislation will be enacted which will ensure that people working in essential industries are made to provide the services they are employed to provide. The Government has the responsibility of safeguarding the rights of the people. How wrong it is when a handful of men at a power station in Gladstone can virtually cause industry in a State to grind to a standstill because they need tarpaulins to cover their cars. These people do not think how lucky they are to have cars. They cause immense losses of thousands of dollars to innocent dairy farmers. Children have to go to school without having breakfast and much inconvenience is caused in hospitals and old people ’s homes. If that is the type of trade unionist we are developing in Australian society we as a Government have the responsibility to introduce legislation which says in effect that there shall be ‘no strike clauses’ in the awards of people engaged in the provision of essential services. Unless our government is prepared to bite the bullet and take the necessary action we could well be tagged with being a government in name only. These are matters of great importance.
Great free enterprise philosophy is expressed in this Budget. At long last we have restored to the Australian individual the right to plot his own course as far as health costs are concerned. There is universal health cover. The Government is living up to the promise it gave in the election campaign to provide universal health care cover, but we are leaving it to the individual to decide what type of coverage he wants for himself and his family.
– We are making it cheaper.
– As the honourable member for La Trobe rightly said, we are making health insurance cheaper, just as effective and, above all, we are bringing responsibility to the area of health services so far as the Australian economy is concerned. All these things are vital. This action on the part of the Government was necessary to ensure that a man has the right to seek the type of health care that he wants. I hope that in the next decade governments of all political persuasions will come to grips with the problem of man’s place in society. All of us are worried about the growing problem of unemployment. But unless we are prepared to rethink the worker’s role in society that problem will continue. Our basic manpower policies have not changed since the industrial revolution. We can take no pride -
– You can say that again.
– I agree with the honourable member for Cunningham but he and I, as members of this Parliament, can take no pride in that fact. For too long manpower policies have been geared to the last century. I hope that between us we can devise policies by which current technology can be harnessed for the mutual benefit and satisfaction of all Australians. Unfortunately, because of cost factors over which no particular person has all the control, the machine has replaced the man. I conclude my contribution to this debate by touching on rural industry. Rural industry has not been discriminated against in this Budget. An analysis of the Budget Papers -
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This was a horror Budget in every sense of word. The Australian people know it, the Opposition knows it and this Government knows it too. Despite the rhetoric of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) about sharing burdens equally, the Budget deliberately sets out to force low income earners, the aged, family breadwinners and the unemployed to pick up the tab for the Government’s obsession with lowering inflation by reducing government expenditure and the money supply.
The Budget’s excesses are legion. They include the unfair tax surcharge, the regressive rise in indirect taxation, the attack on pensioners by reverting to yearly indexation and the freezing of pensions for those over 70 years in accordance with the general means test on the aged. It attacks the young unemployed by freezing the benefits to below the Henderson poverty level figure for recipients with no dependants. The Government now says that the infamous attempt to tax children’s pocket money by attacking the family allowances of their mothers will be reviewed- no doubt as a result of the massive clamour throughout the land. The Government has broken its promise to maintain wage indexation, to maintain Medibank and to provide jobs for all who want to work. The overview of this Budget was to provide a general deficit of $2813m.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and next Prime Minister of Australia last night outlined our alternative policies. The people of Australia will note that Labor would drop the reprehensible aspects of this rich man’s Budget.
We would reverse the attacks on the age pensioners and the unemployed, drop the discriminatory sales tax increases and the inflationary hike in crude oil prices. Labor’s alternative Budget is a stimulatory document. It would reduce revenue by some $470m and increase spending by $5 50m. There would be an increase in the total deficit of over $ 1000m and a net increase of some $840m. But the important point is that the changes would occur within the domestic economy.
The reduction in revenue would increase consumer spending. The increases in outlay relate to employment creation, such as capital expenditure for housing and construction. It is the type of program that Australia needs. The overall balance of payments situation is highly disturbing. One notes that whereas there was a trade surplus of $839m for 1977-78 there was a deficit of invisibles of $3,250m which means that the current trade account was $2,409m in the red. No wonder the Commonwealth was forced to borrow $ 1,806m in 1977-78 from abroad.
I draw to the attention of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), the man who hounded Labor Ministers on these matters, the fact that this Government is forced to borrow to protect the dollar from the consequences of its ineptitude. Labor would have borrowed to invest in Australia’s development. The Government has no plans to rectify the deteriorating situation regarding net invisibles in the balance of payments situation. It expects the current account deficit in 1978-79- this is clear in the Budget papers- to continue running at about the rate recorded in the second half of 1977-78. This would result in a higher deficit in our balance of trade for 1978-79, according to the Budget papers.
Where are the plans to expand our overseas shipping services and the Australian National Line? Where are the plans for a national insurance company to cover insurance premiums on exports and imports? There are none. These two matters- the handing of freight charges to overseas shipping combines and insurance charges to overseas insurance companies- are the two biggest factors in this deficit section of the balance of payments crisis. The Government rails at the European Economic Community because there is a trade imbalance, in the main caused by invisibles. It also borrows to prop up the dollar. But it stands timid and helpless on these great national matters.
Perhaps the most provocative Budget statements were the Government’s threats to sack its own workers if they do not accept wage cuts. That is what the words of the Treasurer amounted to. There is no evidence to suggest that there is any remaining real ‘wage overhang’, to use the Treasury jargon. The simple fact is that persons on $200 a week have suffered a real wage loss of 8 per cent or $15 a week since December 1975. How low will this Government drive the workers before its anti-inflationary employment creating policies start to work? Of course the workers are entitled to full wage indexation to compensate for the price increases that have already occurred. The Government cannot even get its figures right on the consumer price index increases. The Treasurer says that the CPI figure for 1977-78 registered 7.9 per cent but the Budget Papers say it was 9.5 per cent. The Government now predicts that there will be an inflation rate of 6 per cent for 1978-79. At the same time it opposes any wage increase and urges that there be once yearly hearings of the national wage case. This is simply an undisguised assault on the living standards of the workers.
I turn now to the greatest assault of all in this Budget on economic recovery. I refer to the reduction in expenditure for housing construction. The Housing Industry Association says that only 116,000 new dwellings were commenced last year and that this was the lowest figure in 1 1 years. It is further estimated that there will be a 40,000 shortfall in housing construction during 1978-79. There are 100,000 families awaiting housing commission accommodation in Australia but the completion rate for commission dwellings is currently less than 1 1 ,000 a year. Yet the Government has cut total housing expenditure by $143.6m, including a $74m cut in advances to the State housing commissions and terminating building societies under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) says that this cut will be counteracted by State income from sales and rents and by a reduction of 5 per cent in the proportion of savings bank deposits required to be held by the Reserve Bank. But there is no guarantee that the majority of this money will be used for housing loans. How can the Government give that guarantee?
High interest rates still prevent low and middle income earners from seeking housing loans. Despite the rhetoric of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), bond interest rates have fallen by only 0.5 per cent- from 9.5 per cent to 9 per cent- since December last year. How can a wage earner with a disposable after-tax income of $150 to $160 a week pay $40 or $50 a week rent and still save for a deposit on a housing loan? Assuming he gets a loan and pays $50 a week or so in repayments, how can the family exist on the remaining $ 100 to $ 1 10 a week? No wonder there is a large stock of spec built homes on the market in the midst of this housing crisis. The Government must accept the Opposition’s housing policy about injecting an extra $450m into housing and construction to enable the State housing commissions and the terminating building societies to build homes for rental and sale at lower interest rates.
The Government now has a conglomeration of conflicting proposals that it passes off as a national crude oil policy. Last year we were informed that the proportion of oil per field to be sold at import parity prices would be 10 per cent of production for 1977 and would then rise to 20 per cent, 35 per cent and 50 per cent in 1978, 1979 and 1980 respectively. The Government also imposed a munificent sum of $3 per barrel on this so-called import parity oil. Little wonder the oil companies, including Esso-BHP, were laughing. Naturally they laughed because they gained approximately $340m in windfall profits during 1977. Remember how the Government, after flirting with the idea of imposing a resources rent tax, renounced this idea last month? Now we know why.
In one inflationary swoop, the Government has introduced full import parity for all Australian crude with the extra revenue collected going to the Government. But this decision was based not on the need for conservation of oil resources, not on the necessity to raise finance for oil exploration and so on but on the obsession to reduce the Budget deficit. But has the Government really decided to use windfall oil profits for the benefit of the nation in the long term? Indeed, it has not, for we learn in the Treasurer’s own words that the levy will remain at $18.90 per kilolitre- $3 per barrel- on import parity oil. As the proportion of that oil in total production increases, collections from the new rates of levy will fall. So the oil companies will lose nothing. On the contrary, their windfall profits will increase enormously as the 1977 parity scheme phases into 50 per cent operation. The end result is a highly inflationary price hike in petrol of 2 lc a gallon.
Nothing could illustrate more forcefully the need for a resources rent tax to replace the present shameful exploitation of our precious non-renewable resources. We could replace the present inadequate crude oil levies, and the coal export levy, with a simple resources rent tax introduced at an appropriate threshold as a percentage of capital investment and operating thereafter at a fixed percentage of profits. This would prevent the scandalous situation where the exhorbitant windfall profits of $575m in 1978-79 accruing to ESSO-BHP will rocket to $700m in 1980 and a further astronomical figure when revenues resulting from complete import parity fully accrue to the oil companies. Such a resources tax, replacing the present ill-founded crude oil levies, would mean Australia could impose a fixed price for Australian crude oil at substantially less than import parity. It would ensure that adequate revenues always return to government and that a fair level of profit- say 15 per cent of the total investment- remained with the company. It would provide large sums that could be used for oil exploration, coal liquefaction, the development of natural gas fields and ultimately the development of resources under public ownership.
The Utah Development Corporation has just announced a profit of $91m for the first six months of 1978. In 1977 the Corporation paid $79.3m for coal export levies and declared $ 1 58m after tax profit. Its capital investment was $5 30m. On these figures, if a resource tax at a 15 per cent threshold level and 100 per cent thereafter were to replace the present coal export levy this tax would have yielded $ 157.8m in revenue, and Utah would have retained $79.5m profit after paying company and resources rent tax. Instead of imposing a resources rent tax on the usage and export of our precious natural resources, the Government timidly proposed an extra branch profit tax of 5 per cent of taxable income on companies with overseas parents. Such a tax will raise a mere $8m in extra revenue.
I turn now to the ill thought out changes in the health scheme and the abolition of Medibank Standard. The Government proposes in substitution a 40 per cent payment of schedule fees for all members of the community with a $20 limit being the patient’s responsibility. It is obvious that the Government has broken its promise in regard to maintaining Medibank Standard. Why has it done so? I suggest that it has done so not because of a desire to improve medical services or to improve the health scheme but simply as a means of lowering the consumer price index figure. The Government is prepared to spend an extra $62 lm -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House, I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 7 June 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following table shows the amounts paid to the Services from the profits or surplus funds earned or accrued by ASCO (Column 1), and the balance of those profits or surplus funds retained for the on going of the business (Column
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 23 February 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Particulars of payments made to specific television stations and newspapers are not available. However, most of the advertising was placed with major metropolitan newspapers and metropolitan commercial television stations.
With the type of services provided by Telecom, it is difficult to apportion a part of the very strong growth in business to any one element of its operations. There is clear evidence that the international subscriber dialling campaign and the promotion of cheaper STD rates at night both had significant effects. Overall growth in business was very good.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 March 1978:
Are Canberra public hospitals being required to institute the same economies in their recurrent costs as that being required of the State public hospitals; if so, what are the details and comparisons; if not, why not.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Yes. Since 1 July 1975, the Capital Territory Health Commission has been issued by the Minister with a directive to provide public hospital services under precisely similar conditions and restraints as have been applied in the States.
Staff ceilings which have applied to the whole of the Commonwealth Public Service since January 1976 have equally applied to the two public public hospitals in Canberra. The imposition of staff ceilings on these hospitals predated by some months the imposition of staff ceilings applying to hospitals in the States.
Expenditure by the hospitals conducted by the Capital Territory Health Commission is subject to the scrutiny of the
Department of Finance and the Senate Estimates Committee.
Expenditure by the hospitals conducted by the Capital Territory Health Commission is subject to scrutiny by a Standing Committee in the same way as is the expenditure of hospitals in the States.
wn asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 4 April 1978:
Has the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1 977 been proclaimed; if not, what is the reason and when will it be proclaimed.
– The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act has yet to be proclaimed. I sought the advice of the Administrative Review Council on whether any classes of decisions and, if so, what classes of decisions should be excluded from the Act by regulations made under the Act. It may be recalled that both the Kerr Committee- the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee- and the Ellicott Committeethe Committee of Review of Prerogative Writ Procedureshad expressed a view to the effect that there may be some classes of decisions not appropriate for review by the courts. The Administrative Review Council established a subcommittee to consider the matter. I am informed that the sub-committee has, after a very careful examination, made a report to the Council and that I may soon expect to receive the advice of the Council. It is intended that the Act be proclaimed as soon as the Council’s advice has been considered, the Government has reached a conclusion on what exclusions, if any, should be made and any necessary regulations have been drafted.
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 3 May 1978:
In respect of each telephone exchange in the Electoral Division of Hughes, what is (a) the number of outstanding telephone applications, (b) the waiting period for telephone connection and (c) the program for the installation of new equipment and cabling.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In respect of each exchange area in the Electoral Division of Hughes the situation is as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 4 May 1978:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
Wartime Executions of New Guineans (Question No. 1090)
asked the Minister for Home
Affairs, upon notice, on 9 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1)I assume the question relates to the subject of the trial and execution of 21 indigenes which has been the subject of previous questions by the honourable member.
I am informed by my Department that it is a fact that the Official War Histories make no specific references to the trials and executions of these indigenes for murder, treason and related crimes during the period of administration of the Australian New Guinea Administration Unit during World War II.
As to why the incidents have been unrecorded by historians and other writers of the period, it must be said that some writers have briefly recorded the incidents but not in sufficient detail or with sufficient evidence to enable questions (2) (a) to (i) to be answered. There is, however, some evidence by one personally involved in the events, namely Tom Grahamslaw, Lt Col in ANGAU in his article in the Pacific Islands Monthly of May 1971. Honourable members will know that this and other publications have recently been mentioned in the press, particularly in the Age of 22 May.
As the war histories record many other unfortunate wartime occurrences of a similar nature which took place in New Guinea, I can only assume that objective historians although they have known through verbal accounts and through allusions in files which have remained and are available for research, are not prepared to write history without the necessary supporting evidence.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 9 May 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed by the Director-General of the Australian Archives as follows:
There are entries in the ANGAU War Diary which record that trials were held in some of the areas referred to in the question but the proceedings of these trials are not appended to the ANGAU War Diary. A file (A 2663 506/ 1 /4 ) in the custody of the Australian War Memorial records charges and findings of trials against some indigenous people. No proceedings or transcripts are included in this file, which has been open for public access since 9 January 1975 and has been examined by researchers since that date.
The question cannot be answered conclusively concerning material in the Australian Archives without a very extensive search of an enormous range of material. The search so far conducted by the Archives and other agencies within the limitations imposed by time and resources has located a great number of files of potential relevance. These have been listed and the list will be forwarded to the honourable member. The list is also available for public reference in the Australian Archives search rooms at Parkes.
) Some ANGAU documents are still in existence including the war diaries already referred to. These diaries are open to public access but some individual documents within the diaries have been closed to public access in accordance with Commonwealth Government policy. Checks to date of those documents closed in this manner reveals that none so closed relates in any way to trials of any nature.
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 9 May 1978:
-The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Finance, upon notice, on 10 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 26 May 1978:
-The Attorney-General has provided the following answers to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 26 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 26 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
This is the most recent of many similar questions on the same subject by the honourable member and I must point out that all his questions taken together amount to a request not only to monitor the accuracy of Press reports but to mount a full scale research program involving numerous staff from several departments and much time and money. This type of prolonged research into an issue over 40 years old is best carried out by interested individuals and organisations and such records as have survived the absence of proper archival services are, of course, open for research by the honourable member, historians, societies and members of the public generally.
Statutory Authorities responsible to the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Question No. 1347)
asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 30 May 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Funds for the Australian Tourist Commission are appropriated in the budget:
1977-78 was $3, 100,000.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 1 June 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 2 June 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 2 June 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 June 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Certain airport waste is subject to quarantine and is incinerated under the supervision of the Department of Health at the respective airports. Some combustible recyclable airport waste is used in the burning to achieve fuel economy.
asked the Minister for Special Trade Representations, upon notice, on 2 June 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 6 June 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 June 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The study indicated that the full extent of the surveillance commitment could only be assessed in the light of experience gained in administering the zone. Factors such as the number of foreign fishing vessels granted licences to fish in the Australian Zone and the areas of major foreign fishing activity will all have a bearing on the amount of surveillance needed.
Information gathered during the study will be used in planning the initial surveillance of the 200 mile Australian Fishing Zone when it is established.
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice, on 17 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed by my Department that:
1 ) No. However, provision for this work was sought in the Estimates for the 1978-79 financial year. Those Estimates are still before the Parliament.
See answer to question ( 1 ).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 August 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780823_reps_31_hor110/>.