31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr P. C. Millar) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I have received a return to the writ which Mr Speaker issued on 1 5 August for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Werriwa in the State of New South Wales to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of the Honourable Edward Gough Whitlam. By the endorsement on the writ, it is certified that John Charles Kerin has been elected.
Mr John Charles Kerin was introduced and made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as member for the Division of Werriwa, New South Wales.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned, having great concern at the way in which children are now being used in the production of pornography call upon the Government to introduce immediate legislation:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock and Mr Stewart.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. A petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That withdrawal of government benefits under schedule 6469 for first trimester abortion would discriminate against and disadvantage the least privileged in our society.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, should:
Under no circumstances withdraw government benefit under schedule 6469 for first trimester abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. ‘ by Mr Fry.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That item 6469 of the standard Medical Benefits Table is the means by which payment is made for the slaughter of thousands of unborn babies every year.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government should ensure that Item 6469 is removed from the standard Medical Benefits Table.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
– I wish to inform the House that the Governor-General in Council has today approved the abolition of the Department of the Northern Territory and the transfer of the bulk of its functions to the Department of Home Affairs. As a consequence, the Minister for Home Affairs now has the responsibility for those functions. Honourable members will recall that these arrangements which are reflected in the new administrative arrangements order were foreshadowed as the consequence of the introduction of self-government for the Northern Territory.
-I give notice that on General Business Thursday No. 4, 1 will move:
That this House-
1 ) deplores the number of personal attacks being made on the private affairs and interests of members and their families;
believes that such actions tend to damage the very basis of Parliamentary honour and all honourable members;
endorses the Standing Orders, that any imputation or innuendo reflecting on the personal integrity of a member is highly disorderly, at all times during the proceedings of this House, except only by way of substantive motion; and
invites all members to uphold the reputation of this House and Parliament both at home and overseas.
-Last night whilst in the chair during the adjournment debate I made a comment in the heat of the moment which on hindsight could be interpreted as a reflection on you, Mr Acting Speaker, and on other Deputy Chairmen. I regret the incident and wish to point out that in no way was it my intention so to reflect.
-The Chair acknowledges the statement by the honourable member for Wakefield and is moved to observe that over several Parliaments there has appeared to be a substantial straying from the Standing Orders which govern such matters to such a point where perhaps the Parliament might well consider whether the Standing Orders should be brought into line with the practice of the contemporary Parliament or whether the contemporary Parliament should be brought back to compliance with the Standing Orders. As a matter of practice many matters are raised which clearly are not consistent with the Standing Orders. If the Standing Orders were applied to the framing of questions without notice, particularly by members of the Opposition, it would be quite unreasonable and unfair to them be so restricted, if Ministers when replying to questions without notice took advantage of the licence extended to them to reply to questions in a manner of their own choosing. Following the notice of motion given by the honourable member for Holt and the action of the honourable member for Wakefield, both of which drew attention to the dereliction of this House, it is my hope that honourable members will be of a mind to observe the Standing Orders.
– I direct my question to the Deputy Prime Minister. Now that he has decided to follow Australian Labor Party policy and intervene in resource price negotiations, how will he handle the Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court, who has been consistently undermining this policy both in Australia and abroad? What proof has the Deputy Prime Minister that Sir Charles Court is- to use the Minister’s words- an advocate of the Japanese steel industry? Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe, as Sir Charles Court claims, that Australia will become the laughing stock of the world if it protects the national interest through participation in resource negotiations?
– I shudder to think that any action I am taking at the moment is being interpreted as mimicking those policies which were so disastrous to Australia during the period when Labor was in office. At the moment I am consulting with the industry to decide how best Australia might approach the problems that it has faced this year in negotiating the sale of iron ore to Japan, and there have been problems. Whilst Sir Charles Court might say that these are big companies, that they are of world size and have the capacity to manage and look after themselves, the fact is that all companies are concerned and have found it impossible to cope with the Japanese this year. Sir Charles Court talks of commercial negotiations, but there have been no commercial negotiations this year. The Japanese have stated a price and that is it- the companies have to like it or lump it. I asked the companies to go back to the Japanese and try to renegotiate. They have not succeeded. Because those negotiations were becoming protracted and because I received pleas from the companies and Sir Charles Court that they be finalised, I did sign an agreement enabling the companies to carry on for the term of those contracts. Other contracts will have to be renegotiated towards the end of this year, but before these negotiations start I want to see the Australian industry working as a co-ordinated group.
The producers at the moment are facing a single Japanese buyer; the Japanese steel mills have one representative buying on behalf of all of them. This gives them unusual strength in the negotiations. They have been able to divide the industry, to single the companies out and to create a situation in which the companies have felt compelled to acquiesce to their pressures. But I see no reason why the Japanese are prepared to pay more for ore from Brazil than for ore from Australia. This is why I have been dissatisfied and unhappy with the way negotiations have been carried on.
The Prime Minister yesterday spoke very clearly about the success and strength that we have had in the primary industry area by having co-ordinated policies in the marketing of certain of our Australian rural products. Those orderly marketing arrangements have been introduced by agreement with the producers. I remember that, when I had the responsibility for trying to get the Australian wool industry bodies together to establish a wool marketing commission, there was violent opposition from the Japanese wool buyers and spinners and from interests within Australia which had a philosophical attachment to the view that everything must be done on a purely commercial basis, without any government support or influence whatsoever. I think the introduction of the wool marketing commission and the wool marketing corporation has shown the advantages that can be gained by sectors of an industry getting together. I believe that the same sort of advantages can be obtained for the iron ore producers and the coal mining industry, but it needs to be with their consent and understanding. At the moment these discussions are taking place, and if the outcome of them is that there should be a more co-ordinated approach or more government involvement I do not see the Government holding back if this is in the interests of Australia and the producers concerned. The negotiations that took place this year meant a very substantial reduction in income for the iron ore producers, and naturally for Australia. I would not like to see that situation continue. Therefore, there is a national responsibility on me to consult with the industry to see how the situation can best be handled.
-Has the Prime Minister received an invitation from Premier Hamer to attend a conference on the problems of unemployment? Will the Federal Government take part?
-The Premier of Victoria rang me late yesterday afternoon and asked whether the Commonwealth would be willing to be involved in the conference that he is organising in relation to technology and unemployment. I asked the Premier the nature of the representation that he was hoping to achieve at the conference. He made it plain that it was designed to be a working conference with an input- as is clear from this morning’s newspapers- from management, labour, universities and the different groups within Victoria that can contribute in a constructive way towards solving these problems. Against that background I had no hesitation in agreeing to his suggestion that the Minister for Productivity and his Department should be involved in making a contribution to the conference. In addition to that, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and his Department also may need to be involved, but I think that will depend on matters that have yet to unfold between now and the time when the conference takes place.
As I indicated to this House yesterday, the Department of Productivity in particular- and the Minister, of course- has been very deeply involved since its foundation in discussions relating to productivity and the improvement of technology in certain industries in order to put them on to a more profitable and better basis. I think that Department has much to offer and I hope that the more widely its activities are understood the more widely industry and the trade unions will understand that there are real gains to management, labour and jobs through the development of new technology and productivity improvement in Australia. So the Commonwealth will certainly be involved in the initiative that has been taken by the Premier. Indeed, I believe that his initiative very much complements the activities that the Commonwealth is involved in at present. As has been indicated on earlier occasions, these matters are for discussion at the National Labour Consultative Council, in which the peak employer councils and the peak trade union councils will be involved.
The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has also called State Labour Ministers together, and I would hope that other States might follow the example of the Victorian Premier, so that they can extract from their own resources, within their own States, whatever advice and information are available at a constructive working level and then feed that into the national forums. If they do follow the same path the Commonwealth will certainly co-operate with them at a working level. As I indicated yesterday, it is not possible to point out the total framework within which this matter will be dealt with until we have one or two reports which are not yet available to us. I refer to the report of the Williams inquiry into education and training and the report of Sir John Crawford on structural change. I have no doubt that both reports will provide a very valuable input which will need to involve not only the Commonwealth and its instrumentalities but also the States and, I would certainly believe, employer and employee organisations. So we will be keeping a close watch on these matters to see how they can be handled to best advantage. I can only applaud the initiative that has been taken by the Premier; I think it is a good one. I hope that other States will follow his example, which certainly has the fullest support and co-operation of the Commonwealth.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I refer him to his reply to a recent question to him concerning family trusts, in which he referred to the need to safeguard the interests of one’s children and family. Since business assets and property held in the name of the husband will be able to pass within the family free of federal estate duty, could the Prime Minister explain to this House what other benefit, apart from the minimisation or avoidance of income tax, is provided by a family trust?
-The honourable gentleman is right in drawing attention to one of the benefits of the legislation that we have introduced- an initiative, I might say, that is being followed by certain State Labor governments. I am glad to see that the philosophy behind that initiative of ours is accepted, at least insofar as the States are concerned, on a bipartisan basis. There is no doubt, if we are prepared to face what had been occurring plainly in Australia, that the tax laws of this country- the weight of taxation, the punitive nature of death, estate and gift duties- had caused people in small businesses of many kinds, whether in country towns, in the cities, or on farms, in an effort to hold those businesses together and to leave something to their children, to enter into a degree of complication in their affairs which was providing the only possible avenue of survival, especially in a low income situation which has been typical of many small businesses, whether on farms or otherwise.
The changes to the laws that we have encompassed over recent times would, I think, make quite unnecessary many of the more complicated arrangements which have been entered into quite within the law and, I believe, for a proper purpose. It would’ be a tragedy if the tax laws of this country were so punitive or unreal that small businesses and farms were driven out of business in an unreal way. I believe the honourable gentleman would share with me that concern. I hope that all honourable members would share that concern.
So one of the very real advantages of the changes which we are making and have made to estate and death duties and which have been followed by some States is that many people will not have to worry about those matters to the extent that they have had to worry. I think, therefore, that the honourable gentleman is right in saying that many of the purposes for which trusts might well have been established in the past will not have the same strength as they would have had. I must say that in my own case it was necessary to establish circumstances in which I would not be involved in the management of my own family’s affairs. That was another reason which was quite separate and personal to myself.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. In view of recent Press reports concerning his Department’s recent survey of manufacturing activity, will the Minister inform the House whether activity in the manufacturing sector is, as the Opposition would have us believe, falling away?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for his question because the results of the latest survey of manufacturing activity which has been conducted by the Department of Industry and Commerce and which covers operations in the June quarter and manufacturers’ expectations for the six months to December 1978 support evidence from other sources that activity in the manufacturing sector is certainly picking up. The survey indicated that in the June quarter sales increased by 12 per cent in constant price terms, a higher increase than the normal seasonal pattern. Exports rose, capacity utilisation increased and the level of overtime rose much more than is normal in the June quarter, although overall employment fell by slightly more than the seasonal norm. Orders were up by some 13 per cent, again significantly more than usual for this quarter. Stocks of raw materials during the periods fell whilst those of finished goods stabilised. Looking to the future as indicated by the survey results- I refer to the six months to December 1978- manufacturing industry expects that sales, exports and capacity utilisation will all show further increases.
– Will they employ more people?
– According to expectations, employment will increase although overtime might, at the same time, fall moderately. There will be some further easing in stocks of finished goods, whilst raw material stocks are likely to show a moderate increase. In summary, it is an encouraging report; but, of course, the House will realise that manufacturing industry continues to be not without its difficulties.
-I refer the Prime Minister to his reply to a question yesterday concerning family trusts, in which he indicated that the abolition of such trusts could affect almost two million people. Does the fact that the latest taxation statistics show that there are 131,000 trusts mean that there are more than 15 members on average in each family taking advantage of trusts?
– I have not checked the transcript of yesterday’s proceedings and I did not check the greens of the remarks I made but I think that if the honourable member looks at the transcript carefully he will see that I was mentioning family trusts, private companies and partnerships. I was indicating perfectly plainly that there are up to two million people involved in those arrangements. Many of the purposes of partnerships are interchangeable with the purposes of family trusts. Therefore, if one is criticising one, one needs to criticise the other. That was the point that I was making.
– I hope that my question is re- “ freshing after all the muck that has been slung around this chamber this morning.
-Order! The honourable member will put his question.
– It is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the generally widespread improvement in seasonal conditions around Australia and the fact that with a few notable exceptions very few drought areas still exist, what is the present position with drought bonds? Are they still available and to what degree have they been replaced by income equalisation deposits?
-I think the honourable gentleman is quite correct in that, thank goodness, seasonal conditions are a little better. Even in that part of Australia which he represents cattlemen are now beginning to get smiles on their faces instead of just going along to the bank manager week after week and trying to get enough cash to carry on. There are very real problems, however, in trying to ensure the success of future seasons. I think that in answer to the honourable gentleman’s question the first thing I should say is that I hope that all primary producers realise the enormous benefits that lie in investment in income equalisation deposits. It is a means by which they can set aside income in the same way as, I guess, they set aside feed in good seasons to offset the bad seasons. Through IEDs they can set aside cash and have that cash available when conditions and markets turn against them. Of course, no tax is payable on the amount placed in the income equalisation deposit in the year of deposit.
The honourable gentleman’s question also touched on drought bonds. This was an early form of assistance introduced by the Government for people subject to seasonal fluctuations. Now only 137 people have drought bonds. I believe that some of those bonds, under present circumstances, may well not be withdrawn until about 1985. There are obviously difficulties in the method of withdrawal of drought bonds. Formal declaration of revocation of areas affected by drought is necessary. I believe that there would be considerable advantage in those 137 subscribers transferring their investment to income equalisation deposits. As the investments are confidential, my Department cannot write to those subscribers independently, but I propose to approach the Commissioner of Taxation and ask him to write to them and suggest that they might consider the basis of their investment and perhaps transfer those investments to IEDs. In the event that they do not do so, in future in order to make those drought bonds available it is my intention not to declare generally areas subject to drought or to revoke the drought areas, but rather to make such a declaration only at a time of a specific request from a holder of a drought bond. I conclude by saying that I believe that the best alternative for those people who hold drought bonds would be for them to transfer their investment to IEDs, which offer a far more flexible investment and the general form of which is very much more to the grower’s advantage.
-I think that question is a sorry commentary on the Opposition’s recollection of what was not done in the tax avoidance area while it was in office and what has been done in that area while we have been in office. The truth of the matter is simply that the Opposition, in a substantial measure, failed to do anything about tax avoidance while it was in office. For a party which for years has paraded as the representative of the average wage earner in Australia, its lack of action in the tax avoidance area while it was in government was lamentable. What the Opposition is trying to do now, in response to the numerous steps that this Government has taken and will continue to take over the next two years in respect of tax avoidance, is to raise the issue of family trusts. That matter has been canvassed in question after question over the past few days. Yesterday, in answer to a question from the honourable member for Bonython, I indicated that the Government proposes to take action in all areas of blatant tax avoidance and that there is no question of any area being quarantined or isolated from that consideration.
The honourable gentleman raised the matter of the brandy industry. He is aware of the increases in excise which occurred in the context of the Budget. I believe that all of those increases are defensible. It ought to be recalled that they were the first increases in those charges for a period of three years. He ought to be aware also that, since the last increases occurred in the Hayden Budget, the real value of those increases, through normal inflationary circumstances, has been very significantly eroded.
-Is the Minister for Health aware that two private health funds in Queensland- the Hibernian Medical and Hospital Benefits Fund, Queensland’s third largest fund, and the Ancient Order of Foresters have become insolvent this year? Is the Minister aware that such an event could cause disastrous financial hardship to members of those funds who are in the midst of treatment or care and in some cases these people will be faced with the responsibility of paying medical bills in the four figure category? Will the Minister regard as urgent the seeking of means to ensure that no health fund- including Medibank- will be allowed, prior to corrective action being taken, to reach the stage where it cannot meet its commitments? Finally, when the new universal health scheme commences on 1 November, will people be covered for the Commonwealth benefit if the fund to which they belong finds itself in financial difficulty?
– I am aware that two funds in Queensland have run into some financial difficulties. In fact I am now awaiting a report from the inspector who was appointed by me under the terms of the National Health Act. As soon as that report comes to hand I will take appropriate measures to try to liquidate the fund and accommodate the problems of the contributors to that fund. The second fund in question is also the subject of investigation at present. I have asked my Department to examine ways and means by which funds that encounter difficulties can be wound up in a much more expeditious fashion. The National Health Act was amended in 1976 in order to meet such circumstances, but the provisions of the Act were taken largely from those provisions which apply to the health insurance industry generally. Quite clearly, people who will suffer as a result of the liquidation of health benefit funds need some better assurance than the assurance that they have at present.
I refer now to the arrangements that will apply from 1 November this year. The Commonwealth universal medical benefit will be available to all Australian residents as from that date. In the event of a fund being liquidated after 1 November, every person affected by the closure of that fund will be eligible to receive the Commonwealth benefit. If it can be ascertained that a person is no longer covered by the provisions of the hospital cover under the terms of the private funds, the person will be entitled to receive standard ward accommodation at no cost to him. However, this does not overcome the great problems that have been experienced by private hospitals, by some of the public hospitals and by contributors who have been affected by the closure of these two funds. I am well aware of the problem. I thank the honourable gentleman for his representations in the matter and for his concern on the issue.
– I ask a question of the Treasurer. In continuing its review of mistakes made in the 1978-79 Budget, will the Government now reverse its decision to index pensions once a year instead of twice a year- a proposal which will deny pensioners increases worth $ 100m- and will it abandon the proposal to increase the tax paid on accumulated annual leave and long service leave while the Government allows capital gains in excess of $200,000 to go undisturbed and tax avoidance family trusts immunity?
-Is the Minister for Defence familiar with the formula known as the implicit price deflator? Applying that formula and any other relevant formula, can he say whether defence is continuing to obtain a fair share of available resources?
– The presence in the Speaker’s Gallery today of my old friend the Honourable E. G. Whitlam, the emeritus member for Werriwa, reminds me of the occasion when I was first introduced to the implicit price deflator in relation to defence expenditure. He asked me, I think about this time last year, a question very much akin to the one asked by my friend the honourable member for Diamond Valley. After I gave what I thought was a thoroughly satisfying answer the honourable gentleman approached me. We had a very vigorous but, as one would expect, a highly good mannered exchange of views on the implicit price deflator. He pressed on me the need to get a definition of the implicit price deflator. I got one. It starts with the assurance that the concept of an implicit deflator is very simple. It continues:
The Statistician is able to make estimates in both current and constant price terms of various aggregates that comprise gross domestic product. An implicit deflator is the result of dividing the current price estimates by the constant price estimates in order to arrive at an estimate of how much of the current price increase is due to price movements rather than changes in volume or real terms.
The clarity of that definition is positively breathtaking. My honourable friend and I were as one in expressing astonishment and admiration that such lucidity of expression could rest in the command of one mere mortal. But disappointment and frustration lay ahead. Such was the oneness and the composition of the definition that we were unable to separate the predicate from the subject. As a consequence, our researches had to be discontinued. I think that one of the reasons the honourable gentleman was beckoned towards pursuits in a cloistered atmosphere was that he was determined to contribute something really worth while to economic scholarship. I understand that he is now working on a definition of what is known as the inverse plateau indicator. Where that will take us goodness only knows. I am following him on this occasion out of curiosity.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to a recent report presented to the Victorian State Parliament regarding the 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T herbicides and any possible relationship to congenital abnormality.
That report makes strong criticism of the lack of research facilities at the State level on such matters. Are any steps being taken by the Department of Health for research into and the monitoring of the effects of such chemicals when introduced into common use in the community? If no such facility exists, why not?
– I am aware of the report that was handed to the Minister for Health in Victoria. I have not yet had the opportunity of reading the report. I do not think that my Department has yet had the opportunity of examining the report. However, the honourable member will be aware that the National Health and Medical Research Council on several occasions has examined exhaustively all the available advice that has been presented to it from sources both in this country and overseas. There has not been any indication that either 2,4-D or 2,4,5-T in fact, has caused the abnormalities in childbirth that have been suggested. Of course, this is an area that is completely outside my professional competence.
– You are becomingly modest lately.
– It is a question that needs to be left in the hands of scientific people. I do not think that even the Leader of the Opposition would have the competence to make a scientific judgment as to whether 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T are causing the problems to health which some claim they are: This is a matter that must be left to research scientists both in this country and overseas. It is against that background, of course, that the reports have been prepared by the NHMRC and also by the Victorian Department of Health. However, if there are any recommendations or criticisms of the present methods of arriving at these conslusions I certainly will take them into consideration and ask the Chairman of the NHMRC to report on them.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Health been drawn to an item in the Medical Letter of 2 1 September under the headline ‘Federal Health Department now Favouring Sessional Payments’? The article states:
Federal health officers in negotiations with their State counterparts are reportedly favouring sessional payments for remunerating doctors for services to hospitals. This is a turn about because Mr Hunt has previously supported modified fee-for-service arrangements -
-Order! The honourable member for Isaacs is not entitled to quote from the document. He may make reference to it.
-I will refer to it. Is this report true? Has the Minister’s attitude changed in regard to payments for visiting doctors in hospitals? Is the Minister aware that a cost study known as the ‘pool-mix trial’ was carried out in Victoria by the Victorian Government with the co-operation of his Department and the Victorian branch of the Australian Association of Surgeons? That study compared the cost of sessional payment with fee-for-service payment for surgeons’ services in some Melbourne hospitals. Has the Minister seen the results of the study? Can he confirm that it revealed that the difference in the cost of the two systems was statistically insignificant?
– I thank the honourable member for asking the question. However, I do not give much credibility to the source of his information. I have read the report because he was good enough to provide a copy of it to me. I do not agree in any way with the conclusions reached in the report. The Commonwealth Government has left the negotiation of the terms of remuneration of visiting medical specialists to the State governments themselves, provided they conform to reasonable requirements that the Commonwealth has under the Commonwealth-States hospital cost-sharing agreements. In all circumstances we have provided for flexibility as between the States. For instance in Queensland the State Government’s method of remuneration of visiting specialists in hospitals is by way of sessional payment. It adheres very strongly to that method of payment because it believes it creates a degree of efficiency which would not otherwise exist.
– Isn’t that socialism?
– The honourable member might like to call it socialism. I do not know whether I would define it in that way, but since that is his attitude I will leave him with it. Other States have other methods of paying their doctors. In country areas there is what is called a ‘modified fee-for-service’ arrangement. I know that State governments are in the process of renegotiating some of their contracts with doctors. My officers have been involved in some of the preliminary discussions with the States on this matter. However, we are in no way trying to impose our will upon the State governments in relation to the way in which they pay doctors employed by them. As for the ‘pool-mix’ arrangement as the honourable member calls it, I am well aware that the Victorian Hospitals and Charities Commission entered into an arrangement called a pool-mix system. Do not ask me to define the term, but it is a system of paying doctors on an experimental basis. The Commonwealth Government was not in fact -
– I raise a point of order. Mr Acting Speaker, in the absence of Mr Speaker Ministers are making their replies excessively long. Mr Speaker has consistently instructed that all Ministers should make their replies brief.
-There is no point of order. I call the Minister for Health.
– The pool-mix system was conducted in Victoria without any involvement whatsoever by the Commonwealth Government. I understand that the pilot project terminated on 1 July 1978. So far, the Commission has not made its report on this pilot project available to me or to my Department. Therefore I am not in a position to comment upon it. I would like to refute any suggestion that either my Department or I try to exercise any pressure upon State governments in the way in which they negotiate their contracts with doctors serving public patients in recognised hospitals.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. When will the honourable gentleman provide the Parliament with information regarding Australia’s approach to the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation? Is it a fact, for example, that within the past 14 days groups have been meeting in Vienna discussing enrichment availability, fast breeder reactors, reprocessing, plutonium handling and recycling? Were we represented at those meetings? What have we been saying at those meetings?
– We have been involved deeply in conferences and discussions that have been taking place in Vienna over a period of time. I will not be in a position to report to this Parliament until a final report comes forward. When this report comes forward, the Government will consider what action needs to be taken.
– Can the Minister for Industry and Commerce inform the House of the future export prospects of Australian manufacturing industry? Does the Government recognise the importance of Australian manufacturing industry maintaining a significant export presence? Are some Australian manufacturers achieving success in selling to overseas markets at the present time? Are their costs and hence their competitive positions affected by Australian tariff and import quotas?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for a question of very real substance so far as the manufacturing industry is concerned. The Government has stressed on very many occasions that the future viability of Australia’s manufacturing industry depends in significant measure upon its international competitiveness and its capacity to market effectively its goods and services throughout the world. This is one of the principal reasons why we have significantly upgraded the level of Government support for companies wishing to export.
I refer in particular to the many new initiatives which the Deputy Prime Minister has taken in his capacity as Minister for Trade and Resources- the new export incentive program, the expanded export market development grants scheme, the upgrading of the Trade Commissioner Service, the introduction of the Overseas Projects Corporation and the export consciousness program which I understand my colleague will be announcing in detail some time in the early months of next year. The Government has been encouraged by the significant number of companies which are now moving into new and very competitive markets throughout the world.
I should like to recite to the House some facts that are of some interest even to the business community, which seems unaware of some of these areas of significant success. Glassware now is being exported to West Germany and Japan. Television sets are being sold into one of the most competitive markets of that product in the world, Hong Kong. Automatic door openers now are being marketed in America.
– Horse racing starting stalls- this might be a matter of some interest to the honourable member for Robertson- are being exported to France, Singapore and Hong Kong. Various refrigeration units are being exported world wide. Steel products are going into China. The fact is that a number of areas of the business community are not aware of the significant breakthroughs that are taking place. These examples indicate the very significant potential that lies ahead for Australian manufacturing industry, which, as I have stressed in this House previously, must of course develop in a more outward looking, more specialised and more innovative form. The initiatives taken by the Deputy Prime Minister indicate the Government’s continuing support for Australian manufacturing to get out and to sell abroad and thereby to extend the size of domestic markets.
– Has the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development received a copy of the report of the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority Review Committee regarding Alcoa’s draft environmental impact statement for the Wagerup project? Is it true that this report is critical of Alcoa’s proposal? If he has not yet received a copy of the report, does he propose to seek a copy before formulating his recommendations under the requirements of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act?
– I have not yet received a copy of that report. I expect to receive one in due course.
– I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications whether he has found it necessary to dial a prayer recently.
– I did have a bit of trouble dialling prayers during the Telecom dispute when the telephones were out of order. I was invited by a couple of my colleagues, the honourable member for Dundas and the right honourable member for Lowe, not to dial a prayer but to dial the service Bible Answers to Life’s Problems. Perhaps they have had rather more experience in dialling prayers and such matters than I, but I did dial the number that appears in the front of the Sydney telephone directory inviting people to receive Bible answers to life’s problems. For those honourable members who are interestedthis will be good for the revenue of Telecom- the telephone number, under the area prefix 02, is 569 1000. When that number is dialled this is the message that is received:
Welcome once again to Bible Answers to Life’s Problems and once again I want to speak about elections, and the importance of voting. You hear on the television or see it as well: Wran’s your man. And the many things that are emphasised about the good things that he and his Government have been doing. Well- the pros and cons are for you to consider and very shortly to cast a vote. But I want to say that there is a man who went about doing good, and the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and his Government is the most important thing for your life and my life, and in relation to that man we must also cast a vote.
Later, the message continues :
I want to say at this time of the problem of election and voting, Christ ‘s your man. Vote for the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoy the blessings of his goodness and everlasting life.
So, Neville’s the man; but there was no mention of the gospel of John. The Telecom recording went on to talk about how the emphasis was in the book of Joshua so I read a little further, and I would suggest -
-I rise to a point of order. We have had a display today by the Minister for Defence and now the Minister for Post and Telecommunications making a joke of Question Time. I think this is ridiculous.
-That is not a point of order.
– I think that the gentleman who is giving the message on the Telecom recording would have done well to read a little further into the book of Joshua, which he mentioned, in which chapter 1, verse 7, says:
Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law . . . turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest
– I ask the Treasurer: In view of the already announced numerous amendments to the Budget and the public statement by a Government back bencher that there will be more, will he consider assisting members of this Parliament and the general public to keep up with these amendments and revisions by reissuing the Budget Speech and associated statements in a loose-leaf form so that redundant pages can be easily discarded and revisions more easily inserted?
-I ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether he is aware of a recent Press report that the Chief of the Air Staff, when asked whether women would be allowed to train as pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force, stated: ‘ Do you want me to spend $ 1 m of your money to train a Mirage pilot who will leave in a couple of years?’ Does this indicate Government policy towards women? Is the Minister’s Department doing anything to widen understanding of the expanding opportunities for women in the community?
-I noticed in that report something that disturbed me a little; and that was that the vice-chairman of the committee concerned is alleged to have said: ‘You must be kidding. They are bad enough on the roads’. Of course we know that the vice-chairman of that committee does not come from this side of the House; he comes from the other side of the House. I think the honourable member for Moreton, the Minister for Defence, would agree that a woman some day could become the Minister for Defence, and that women should be given -
– Have you any time in mind?
– I do not want to be the cause of starting another rumour. It is true that the Government has a basic policy of equality of opportunity for women. I hope that the Minister for Defence will take up this question. I am sure that we can envisage women in the Defence Force performing tasks such as those of a pilot, as well as others.
Today, in accordance with the Government’s policy on equality of opportunity for women, in Canberra we opened a shopfront facility for the Office of Women’s Affairs. Its purpose is to give women an opportunity to have a voice in government. That shopfront will enable women not only from Canberra but also from elsewhere in Australia to go to the office to express their views on policies relating to women that the Government is implementing, to make suggestions and to obtain access to documents that have been published by the Government in relation to matters relating to women. It will provide also an opportunity, which I think is important, for members of the staff of the Office of Women’s Affairs to have a relationship with the public so that they do not get out of touch.
– How many more shopfronts are you going to open?
-If this shopfront turns out to be successful, I would hope that in co-ordination and co-operation with the States we might see them opened around the Commonwealth. This office is there and I hope that members of the Parliament will be aware of it, will use it if they wish to do so in order to obtain information and will encourage others to use it.
– Is the Minister for Industry and Commerce aware of the fact that Australia is now receiving less than one per cent of the Japanese tourist trade, which involves a total of some 3.4 million people a year? Has he consulted the Department of Transport on the cause of this situation? Is it caused by the fact that the Japanese Government has not been able to or will not negotiate with Australia for a cheaper air fare between Australia and Tokyo? Is the Minister aware of these facts and will he take action concerning them?
– As I recall, the figures mentioned by the honourable gentleman certainly are correct. I recognise his personal and electorate interest in the question of tourism and the role that he has played on the advisory council on tourism. The facts are as given by the honourable gentleman. I put them in another perspective: Notwithstanding what the honourable gentleman said about the number of persons coming from Japan as a proportion of Japanese travelling abroad, the fact is- as the honourable gentleman, I think, is also aware- that there has been a significant lift in the number of Japanese travelling to Australia for non-business purposes. I think that the figures- I draw very heavily on memory- moved in the course of last year from about 27,000 to around 31,000. That is an increase of some 14 per cent. The point that the honourable gentleman makes, that we are not getting sufficient share of the market, is well understood and accepted by me. It is the subject of discussion at present with the Australian Tourist Commission, and such views as the honourable gentleman may wish to put forward I would be happy to see him put to the General Manager of the Commission, Mr Kevin McDonald. One of the facts of life, of course, is that air fares between Japan and Australia are very expensive.
– Australia-Japan airfares are the most expensive in the world.
– I think the honourable member is quite correct in saying that they are, if not the most expensive, certainly among the more expensive fare schedules in the world. It is a matter for discussion with my colleague the Minister for Transport, who is not in the House today. I take the point that the honourable gentleman made. I support the thrust of his comment and will certainly make sure that representations are made.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of his recent comments on unemployment in Australia, will he be so good as to inform the House of developing trends in the area of employment? What are the likely outcomes of current government examinations of this subject?
– I do not know that I can add very much to what my colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has said already.
– I wish to take a point of order. It was quite obvious that the Prime Minister prolonged Question Time so that he could get this Dorothy Dix question -
-Order! There is no point of order.
– There is a point of order.
-There is no point of order.
– My point of order, Mr Acting Speaker, is that you have been intimidated by the Leader of the House, who approached you to have this question asked.
– Therefore, I think that this whole Question Time has been brought into disrepute.
-Order! The honourable member for Reid is not entitled to reflect on the Chair in that manner. He has no knowledge that that is in fact the case. I rule that there is no point of order and require him to resume his seat. I call the Prime Minister.
– I do not know that I can add much to what my colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has said, and to what I have said also in recent days, concerning the future and the way in which we are handling this particular matter. It is one of concern; it is one of great importance. Let me emphasise that the only way in which unemployment will be overcome in the medium to longer term in this, or in any other, country, is by getting the basic relativities within the economy right- by getting inflation down, by getting interest rates down, by establishing the circumstances in which businesses can prosper. The Government is completely committed to pursuing that task.
I would like to take the opportunity if I couldespecially since in another place apparently somebody was evicted this morning over a certain matter which is not unrelated to what I want to say- to make available to this House the basis for the statements that were used when I indicated last year, as has so far this year been demonstrated to be true, that unemployment would fall from February and continue to fall, although, as I have indicated quite plainly, not by as much as the Government would have wanted or hoped. The basis of that statement was clear from the National Income Forecast Report of October 1977. That report contained the following figures: For the fourth quarter of 1977, 379,000 registered unemployed; for the first quarter of 1978, 369,000; for the second quarter, 353,000; for the third quarter, 330,000; and for the fourth quarter, 3 12,000. That was the factual basis for the forecasts which I made in the course of last year. Of course, one could see confirmation of that, or the other way around–
– Will you table the forecast?
-Not the forecast. I have given adequate information in relation to it.
– We are never assured on your record. We would like to see the document.
- Mr Acting Speaker, the honourable gentleman is doing the same thing again. He talks into the microphone in front of him at Question Time. People in this House often do not understand that that microphone is on. They do not understand that the Leader of the Opposition makes a practice of trying to feed false information into the microphone during Question Time, when Ministers are answering questions.
Opposition members interjecting–
– Order! Honourable members on my left will remain silent. The Prime Minister has the right to be heard in silence.
-He is the leader of the barnyard this morning. The prediction was consistent with the statement in 1977-78 Budget Paper No. 2 on page 35 or page 36, which indicated a moderate downturn during 1978, as product and employment growth gathered momentum. That also was the prediction in the Budget Paper No. 2, as was indicated at the time of the presentation of the Budget last year. Therefore, I think it should be fully plain to honourable gentlemen in this House and in another House, where I understand somebody has been evicted this morning, that that was the factual basis of that statement. Mr Acting Speaker, I ask that further questions be put on the notice paper.
– I ask the Prime Minister to table the forecast. The Reserve Bank of Australia forecast for this year, which was published in the National Times of October last, predicted an unemployment rate of 6 per cent in June of this year, marginally less than the 6.2 per cent which actually occurred.
Government members interjecting -
– The fact is that we are not reassured by anything that the Prime Minister asserts orally.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition is not entitled to address the House in that manner. Question Time has come to a conclusion. He has not the indulgence of the Chair to raise a matter.
– What I have asked is for the Prime Minister to table the document. On his record it is difficult to take anything that he says in this area as credible. We can be reassured if the documentation is presented. The Reserve Bank -
– I wish to take a point of order. The remark of the Leader of the Opposition reflects upon the credit of the Prime Minister. I believe that it contravenes Standing Order 76 and I suggest that he withdraw it.
– Not at all. The Prime Minister’s record does not stand up; that is what I am saying. Let him prove it.
– It is not apparent to the Chair that the reflection referred to challenged the credibility or integrity of the Prime Minister. It was perhaps more related to statements concerning his ministerial responsibilities. Therefore, I do not uphold the point of order.
- Mr Acting Speaker -
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition has not the indulgence of the Chair to introduce business that is not on the paper.
– Well, I have another matter that I wish to raise.
-Does the Leader of the Opposition wish to speak to a point of order?
– No, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which is the main economic series forecast prepared by the Reserve Bank of Australia, as published in the National Times of October last year, showing a forecast rate of unemployment of 6 per cent by June of this yearconsiderably different from what the Prime Minister is referring to.
-Is leave granted?
Government members- No.
-Leave is not granted.
– We just want on the record who says that it is not granted.
Mr HOWARD (BennelongTreasurer)Pursuant to section 37 of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Act 1970, I present the annual report of the Australian Industry Development Corporation for the year ended 30 June 1978.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday, 10 October next, at 2. IS p.m., unless Mr Acting Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day or hour of meeting.
-Order! The honourable member for Holt is perhaps unaware that the question has been put and carried in the affirmative.
– On a point of order. I rose in my place before the question was put. Perhaps you did not see me at the time. If that is so I apologise.
– With your indulgence, Mr Acting Speaker, may I say yes to the honourable gentleman’s question. That might resolve the matter.
That grievances be noted.
– It is a signal honour to represent the people of Werriwa in this place, and I am especially pleased because many of those people are people I represented before. It is a greater honour to follow Edward Gough Whitlam into this Federal Parliament. Gough Whitlam is the most remarkable man that I have ever met. Gough Whitlam is one of the most remarkable men ever in the Australian Labor Party. He was one of the most able and dominant parliamentarians Australia has ever seen. He was surely one of Australia’s most magnificent Prime Ministers. Gough Whitlam was a man not without faults but always a man far greater than any of his detractors, and I name those people in this place as well. Apart from Gough Whitlam ‘s ability, capacity and personality, there were his ideas. He restructured the Australian Labor
Party. He rewrote many of its policies. He focused the Australian Labor Party on the future. He was a man who always stood for social reform and who will always stand for that. He was a man who was proud and made one proud to be an Australian. Edward Gough Whitlam brought the Australian Labor Party into government. He gave hope to a generation of Australian men and women. He pulled us out of Vietnam, he ended conscription, and he gave an Australian imprint to our foreign relations. He changed forever the nature of federal politics in this country, and not even the most conservative government this country has ever seen, the present Government, can ever change that.
Today, Mr Acting Speaker, I want to bring before you the grievance of the people of Werriwa. The. size of the Australian Labor Party vote in the recent by-election is the greatest evidence of that grievance that I could possibly bring forward. Perhaps the sickest moment in my previous membership of this place was in 1975 when I attended a function put on by the Beverley Park Orthopaedic Hospital in my electorate. A Mr Len Evans and Mr Michael Baume, the then candidate for the seat of Macarthur, gained a great deal of hilarity by telling a whole series of anti-Margaret Whitlam jokes. Of course that was the time when the Liberal Party was stigmatising a generation of Australians, blaming the unemployed for unemployment by calling them dole Sludgers. In the by-election in Werriwa there was no need for us to tell antiTamie Fraser jokes. We simply focused on the Budget. We simply focused on the Fraser Government’s tottering credibility. We simply focused on this Government’s cynicism, dishonesty and hypocrisy. We cannot trust Mr Fraser. The people of Werriwa do not trust Mr Fraser, and they gave ample evidence of that in the by-election.
One needs to look at the figures a lot more carefully than they have been looked at so far. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said there was the usual 10 per cent swing back to Labor and that this reflected the fact that necessary tough decisions were taken in the Budget. However, some of those necessary tough decisions have already been reversed by the Government. Was the tax on accrued leave at the level first projected necessary? Was it necessary to means test kids’ incomes? Was it necessary to tax the handicapped? Was it necessary to go on breaking promises to pensioners? Was it necessary to continue breaking so many promises to so many people in this country? Was it necessary to project the sort of equity this Government projects? Was it necessary to give 43 per cent of the benefits of the tax cuts to the top 10 per cent and then nine months later rip those benefits off and give 55 per cent of the people a worse deal than before the cuts? Was it an equity proposition that this Budget brought down no capital gains tax, no tax on excess profits and no action against family trusts and gave an extra $340m to oil companies while trying to tax kids and the handicapped?
Mr Coleman said that the trend in Werriwa had just reverted to the usual one and that there was no signficance in that. Of course Mr Coleman is a rather curious fellow. When he lost the seat of Earlwood by 10 per cent, he said that the drift was back to the Liberals. So he was happy with that result. That was a magnificent result. I spent all day yesterday in the electorate of Wollondilly, a seat that had been held by another leader of the Liberal Party. I predict that Mr Coleman will lose Fuller. The Liberals have lost Earlwood, they will lose Fuller, and there is a big chance that they will lose Wollondilly. The situation in New South Wales is that no Liberal leader can find a seat safe enough for him to hold.
Let us look at some of the swings. The swing was not uniform. In the area that I represented before- perhaps only the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) would understand the significance of this- the Labor vote in the subdivision of Bradbury swung from 37.6 per cent to some 58 per cent, a swing of over 20 per cent. The Campbelltown subdivision, which is the largest subdivision in New South Wales, swung by 19 per cent. The Liberal vote, which in recent years has been as high as 58 per cent there, is now 26.3 per cent. There were two large booths, Airds North and Curran, where the Liberal candidate received less than nine per cent of the vote. The Liberal vote in the Green Valley subdivision was 14.5 per cent. We won six major booths that we had never won before.
Mr Coleman also dignified himself by putting forward the rather shaky rationalisation that the burden of Gough Whitlam had been lifted and that that is why the people had swung back. That is absolute nonsense. Mr Whitlam has always been a very popular man in his own electorate, and the part that Mr Whitlam represented swung least. It was the part that he had not represented for 26 years that swung the most but, even so, we are talking about the area that Mr Whitlam represented as one that has always been very safe. What we need to realise is that if all that area- Cabramatta and Fairfield- had been in the electorate the swing would have resulted in the highest vote that has ever been recorded by the Labor Party in Werriwa.
Green Valley rose from only 73 per cent to 78.9 per cent but it is rather hard to improve on an area that votes between 70 and 80 per cent. Of course, the Liberal candidate lives in a housing commission home in that area and represents it as an alderman. He has a strong personal vote, and he gained 14.5 per cent. I am rather sorry for Mr Sadler. First of all, Mr Baume, the honourable member for Macarthur endorsed him. Then, to add insult to injury, Mr Fraser came along and represented him. Of course, they both told fibs. People cannot trust Fraser. That is what the people of Werriwa have said. The unemployed cannot trust Fraser. In 1975 Mr Fraser said that he would give jobs to all who wanted them. Werriwa is an electorate where the rate of unemployment has trebled. The present Government will not even hold a conference on unemployment. Only Mr Street is prepared to come clean on unemployment. Mr Hamer will hold a conference on unemployment but no one will in this Government will.
– He has an election coming up.
-Well, of course Mr Hamer has allocated some money for the unemployed in Ballarat, strangely enough, because a by-election is coming up there. The pensioners cannot trust this Government. They were told that they would get quarterly rises in their pensions and that those rises would flow through automatically. What has happened? This Government, with a majority of 55 members, had to run to the Governor-General to get an extra early election. It was worried about its security in office, I suppose. But the pensioners now face a situation of having one rise a year and that rise will be back dated by some formula. So they will get an extra $1.75 a week in November of this year to cope with the year’s increase in costs. Of course, probably their rentals will go up $1 in July of the coming year. So that will give them an increase of 75c. Big deal! The pensioners cannot trust Mr Fraser.
The Ingleburn Army camp voted for the Labor Party for the first time ever. The men are sick of going on simulated exercises with outdated equipment and two bullets per man if they are lucky. The Macarthur Development Board, which is the body responsible for jobs in the southern part of Werriwa, was promised in 1975 that continuation of federal funding would be a fact. Of course, it received absolutely nothing this year. The original agreement setting up the
Macarthur Development Board in September 1975 did not involve any State Government funding. It was to be funded by Commonwealth loans right through. Mr Fraser is consistent. When he spoke on the Bill Hayden Budget on 26 August 1975 he said:
We would have suspended the growth centre expenditures and made special economies in the urban rehabilitation and area improvement programs. What is the point of growth centres when there is no growth?
Finally, Mr Fraser has gone to the part of Werriwa that both the honourable member for Macarthur and I previously represented and has seen that there has been growth. There has been 16.8 per cent growth. It is the fastest growing part of Australia at present, but he did not believe that there was any growth. When Senator Carrick came into the electorate in 1975 he said that the Government would continue the funds. The people in Werriwa do not trust Fraser. The housing industry has been hit by this Budget. The builders in Werriwa do not trust Fraser. There has been cynicism, lies and hypocrisy. The people in Werriwa no longer trust even the figures that have been presented in the Budget. The Budget was fiddled. We were told that $90m would be saved on family allowances. Now the Government has gone back on that. The saving will be only $22m now. The people in Werriwa do not trust Fraser.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-First of all, I welcome back the new honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin), one time honourable member for Macarthur, a man for whom on a personal basis I have considerable respect. This morning, I wish to correct a widely-held view in this country that New Zealand agriculture is less subsidised than Australian agriculture and that, therefore, New Zealand agriculture is somehow more efficient and its products are deserving of easy admission to Australia. This view has been promoted by the New Zealanders and has been encouraged by the city media. Before developing this argument, I say that in both countries farmers as exporters suffer by comparison with their counterparts in other countries; that is, they generally receive less government assistance and they suffer greater cost disabilities because of the higher level of protection accorded to manufacturing and tertiary industries than do their counterparts in other countries.
The view that New Zealand farmers are less subsidised has been incorrect for many years. Because the New Zealand Government concentrated on input incentive subsidies rather than price support, New Zealanders were able to say that their products received no direct government price support. Their indirect subsidies for years have amounted in total to far higher levels of assistance than the assistance available to Australian farmers. Those indirect subsidies are too numerous to detail. When delivering the 1978 Budget on 1 June, the New Zealand Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, the Rt Hon. R. D. Muldoon, said:
The Government has altered the thrust of its agricultural policy towards production related measures and away from indiscriminate input subsidies, the sum total of which has been increasing rapidly.
In other words, that dramatic change in New Zealand ‘s policy ended any fiction about its agricultural industry. Before explaining what Mr Muldoon actually said, I should refer to the development of commodity stabilisation schemes in New Zealand in the 1970s. Stabilisation arrangements for dairy products, wool, meat and apples, were either introduced or developed to include price smoothing mechanisms in an endeavour to provide a conservative minimum price and to reduce the degree of year to year price fluctuation. These schemes were declared to be self-financing and, to the New Zealand farmer’s credit, he was more prepared than his Australian counterpart to contribute to the stabilisation fund when prices were high. However, this declaration was more of a hope than a fact. The meat price smoothing scheme is known to be not self-financing in the long term and one of the dairy pools has been in debt to the Reserve Bank by about $70m. The Bank advances money for these stabilisation funds at a one per cent interest rate, with no time scale for repayment. So the difference between loan and grant or subsidy is very fine. I remind honourable members that advances by our Reserve Bank to statutory marketing boards in Australia are made at about a 10 per cent interest rate.
On top of this very elaborate mechanism of stabilisation schemes and the plethora of other government assistance measures for agriculture, the New Zealand Prime Minister has announced a supplementary minimum prices scheme. I quote what he has said:
The Government has decided to establish and underwrite new minimum prices to supplement those set under the stabilisation schemes operated by the Producer Boards.
These prices will be set for two years ahead and will give farmers an assured and realistic base for forward planning. Producer boards will continue to operate their own price support schemes but, where they fall short of the new Government supplementary minimum price, additional payments will be made. These are the key words of the New Zealand Prime Minister:
Deficits incurred in making these supplementary payments will be met by the Government.
So, once and for all, that ends the fiction that New Zealand farmers do not receive direct government subsidy on a production basis. The level of this subsidy could be quite high. For dairy farmers the guaranteed supplementary minimum price introduced by the Government to apply for the next two years- I stress that it is for two years- will be 180c a kilo for butterfat in milk, which is the equivalent of 83c a pound. For wool it will be 205c a kilogram greasy. All the prices for meat are based on live weight. For lamb the guaranteed supplementary minimum price will be 70c a kilo, for mutton it will be 30c a kilo, for cow beef it will be 70c a kilo and for prime ox beef it will be 80c a kilo.
Let us compare this with the situation in Australia. First of all, the level of wages in New Zealand is about two-thirds what it is in Australia. So many of the costs incurred by New Zealand farmers amount to two-thirds of the costs of our farmers. In total, New Zealand farmers are also receiving, since the introduction of the livestock incentive scheme- that is one of the indirect subsidy measures which was introduced a couple of years ago- about $45m to encourage them to increase their livestock production. Also, as I said, the guaranteed supplementary minimum price for dairy farmers will be 83c a pound. If the Australian States reach an agreement or take their share of responsibility for underwriting, Australian dairy farmers will get 80c less than New Zealand farmers; and many of the costs of New Zealand farmers are two-thirds our costs.
In addition, the New Zealand dairy farmer is to receive a $5 a head special grant for every cow he milks- one could go into the other livestock industries to obtain similar examples- and $2 a head for every additional cow put to artificial insemination. The fertiliser subsidy in New Zealand has been increased to $32 a ton, compared with $12 a ton in Australia. The New Zealand farmer also receives a special transport subsidy and application subsidy for the fertiliser that he uses. Assistance schemes to dairy farmers in New Zealand will cost the New Zealand Government about $90m this year. That means many thousands of dollars of actual direct government subsidy support will be given to every dairy farmer in that country. In addition, all livestock producers, including dairy farmers, in New Zealand are being encouraged to increase their production, not to reduce it as in Australia.
Through the new scheme, wool prices in Australia and New Zealand will be roughly comparable, allowing for greasy-clean conversions, comparable wool types, et cetera. The only difference I can see is that the New Zealand Wool Board starts buying in at a higher price than occurs in Australia. That would give the New Zealand producers a slight advantage. With meat, apart from the advantage to the New Zealand producer compared with the Australian producer that I mentioned earlier, New Zealanders have a real advantage in their minimum price scheme. We have no such scheme, which means that in Australia prices at livestock markets can vary by up to 20 per cent week to week. It would be impossible for that to happen in New Zealand.
I have checked last week’s edition of Stock and Land, dated 21 September, for the calculated dressed weight prices for Newmarket. Honourable members should remember that we have to make an allowance for dressed weight compared with live weight. We see that the price of ox beef is 40c a kilogram; for cow beef it is 35c; for lamb it is 36c; and for mutton it is 27c. So from these comparisons it appears that, at least for mutton sold in Victoria, the farmer is getting too little. Mutton is far cheaper in this country than it is in New Zealand. The price for ox beef and cow beef is also cheaper in this country than in New Zealand. That means that in addition, to the reduction in price variation the New Zealand Government will provide guaranteed prices to New Zealand farmers.
I am not being critical of the New Zealand Government for introducing these additional measures to reduce the variability in the income of farmers. I congratulate the New Zealand Government for supporting its farmers better than we do. I commend their farmer organisations for being more constructive and more selfdisciplined in their negotiations with government. I also commend the average New Zealander for his far greater awareness of the importance of and the cost disabilities incurred by agriculture in that country, compared with the abysmal apathy, or envy, or bias held by the average person in this country towards agriculture. The point I want to make is that our two countries are generally the two most efficient and least subsidised of any of the Western nations, but until now the incorrect view has been promoted that of the two countries Australian farmers receive more government assistance, particularly in price support and other input assistance schemes, than their New Zealand counterparts. The new supplementary minimum price scheme introduced in the recent New Zealand Budget ends once and for all that fiction and, with it, any basis for any consumer, media, or government department sympathy for a soft approach to agricultural exports to Australia from New Zealand.
-Firstly I congratulate the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) for his attack on the Fraser and Hamer Governments because of their lack of help for farmers when compared with the policies of the New Zealand and New South Wales Governments. I do not know that much about farming but I do know that the New South Wales Government has been able to give a completely new deal to the dairy farmers of New South Wales by enabling many of them who are a long way from Sydney to have access to the Sydney market for the first time. No wonder the Country Party in New South Wales is panicking because of the influence of the dairy farmers’ votes.
My grievance today deals with two aspects both of which are connected with the health scheme and with the changes which have been announced and which will come into effect on 1 November this year. In passing, I refer to a poster which has been distributed by the Federal Secretary of the Australian Medical Association to all doctors. The Federal Secretary asked that the poster be pinned up in waiting rooms or any other places where it will be seen. The poster asks would be patients to join private health insurance. I make two points on this matter. The poster emphasises that such insurance fills in the gap between the Commonwealth payment and the cost of the service- gap insurance. I also refer to the hypocrisy of the AMA. When we introduced Medibank, the AMA was continually saying that we could not have an efficient or effective health insurance scheme if persons in the community did not have to contribute anything towards the cost of the services they received. Now the AMA is asking people to join private funds for the purposes of gap insurance. The second and much more serious point is that the AMA is asking people who wish to be covered for hospital benefits to take out choice of doctor cover at hospitals. In an appeal to the patient the poster carries the following sentence:
You are more likely to be admitted when you want treatment and less likely to have a long wait.
That statement is wrong. If it were the case the claim ought to be investigated by the appropriate
State or Federal government department. In public hospitals beds are declared standard beds or doctor of choice beds depending on the insurance cover of the patient. Information on insurance is obtained from the patient after he is admitted to hospital. Whether the patient has special cover is not relevant to the admission of the patient. I am not referring to private beds. There are very few in public hospitals. I am referring to doctor of choice beds in standard wards. Standard beds and doctor of choice beds can be adjacent to each other. If a patient is admitted who has the requisite cover the bed will be declared a doctor of choice bed and the doctor will be entitled to charge the patient on a fee for service basis. No possibility should arise of a patient’s gaining quicker admittance into a bed just because he has a particular kind of insurance cover. I hope that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and State Ministers will make it quite clear that that will not occur and that they will take steps, if there are hospitals where this is happening, to insist that the procedure no longer applies. I am not aware of any hospitals where this happens. If I were, I would certainly name them.
The second point I raise- obviously it is connected with the changes- is the closure of Medibank Public. Medibank Public is being abolished. I would like to make four points. Firstly the closure of Medibank will have on adverse effect on people who want to obtain refunds for medical services for which they have paid or for which they wish to obtain cheques to pay their doctors. These people will not be able to go to the branches that now exist in many towns and cities of Australia. The last report of Medibank which I looked at this morning refers to 93 branches. I am quite sure that there are more now. The closure obviously will affect the people who want to collect money and also the businesses in those suburbs. I am sure that many members of this House have made representations to the Minister on behalf of persons in suburbs to obtain Medibank pay offices in particular areas. Obviously the business people like their customers to receive refunds for Medibank payments so that they can spend them in their local area.
My second point on this aspect relates to the sacking of the staff. I will come to that in a minute. My third point relates to access by private funds to non-insured patients. In other words, from 1 November it will be necessary for persons who do not wish to take out any private insurance to register with a private fund to obtain their 40 per cent refund. I know that they can register with Medibank Private, but Medibank
Private is only one of about 100-odd funds. A sufficient number of people will not be aware of that fact. The private funds will have access to these people’s records and will have their names and addresses and will bombard them with literature encouraging them to take out unnecessary- I repeat ‘unnecessary’- health insurance. The funds make their money on unnecessary insurance.
It surely will be unnecessary for most people after 1 November to take out medical insurance. The most that they can be up for is $20 for any medical service. Very few people in the community will want to take out insurance, for which they will probably have to pay $3 a week, to cover them for a maximum of $20. A large proportion of people take out private hospital cover as distinct from doctor of choice cover. I can understand people taking out doctor of choice cover for public hospitals because they may want a particular doctor to look after them. Some 30 per cent of the population in the past has taken out private cover, yet the number of private beds as a proportion of the total beds in the hospital system- I use New South Wales as an example- is about 5 per cent. Therefore 25 people out of 30 who insure for private cover even when they are admitted into hospital do not get private cover. Therefore the insurance premiums are clear profit for the hospital funds. They never have to pay out. Only one sixth of the people who contribute can receive the benefit at any time.
I emphasise that Medibank Public is not being closed in my view because the alternative systems are more effective. It is being closed as punishment for its honesty regarding the abolition of bulk billing. I am not criticising the Minister specifically. I think he tried to be reasonably honest, but was stood over, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who introduced the changes. The Minister was made to say that bulk billing cost extra money, was expensive and led to unnecessary claims. I will quote once more from a letter written on 7 March by Dr Gwynn Howells, the head of the Department of Health, in which he referred to the fact that the Health Insurance Commission, Medibank, strongly favoured the retention of bulk billing. I quote only one paragraph. It reads:
The Commission’s view - that is Medibank ‘s view- is based on the extra administrative cost of restricting bulk billing to pensioners and dependants- estimated by the Commission at $7m per annum- supported by a statistical examination of Medibank claims (described in the report) which showed less services per person where the patient was bulk billed than where the patient claimed on Medibank and received benefit by cash or cheque. The respective ratios are- direct billing 3.12 services in six months per person at risk; other means of payment 3.29 services . . .
That is a rate of 5.2 per cent less for direct billing- bulk billing- than for others. That information was given to the Minister. I am sure that he did not recommend the abolition of bulk billing. However, the Prime Minister recommended the abolition of bulk billing because he was under pressure from the AMA which, after all, had contributed large amounts of money towards his election campaign. It was therefore unpleasant to have Medibank in existence because it could give alternative advice- correct advice- to the Government. The Government therefore has decided to abolish Medibank. Some 2,000 odd people in Medibank risk losing their jobs. I think it is a very retrograde step on the part of the Government. The Government has given some indication over the last three weeks that it will reverse decisions which obviously were irrational in the first instance. I hope that it will add this decision to those decisions and will reverse its decision to close Medibank.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-On 7 October the people of New South Wales will elect a new State government. As a citizen of the oldest State of the Commonwealth of Australia, I make it quite clear that I am gravely concerned about the future economic and social welfare of that State. Time after time the present State Government has produced policies which, in the long term, are directed at ensuring that New South Wales will become the poor aunt of the Australian Federation. The Commonwealth Government through its federalism policies over the last three years has made a very significant step forward in generating sufficient funds for State governments to ensure that they have the degree of independence which we believe sovereign States should have. For example, the estimated share of Federal Taxes for New South Wales this financial year alone is $ 1,457m. That is over 10 per cent more than the amount New South Wales received last year. We all are well aware that the rate of inflation this year is significantly below that figure.
Strangely enough, despite the fact that there has been a significant growth in Federal funding, members of this House have continually been told by State Ministers in New South Wales, parents and citizens federations and other groups in the community that the Commonwealth apparently is not carrying out its responsibilities in regard to education. These statements do not take into account the fact that school buildings outlays in New South Wales in 1976-77 were $80m less than they were in 1975-76 when the Liberal Party was last in power.
– It is a confidence trick.
-As the honourable member for Mitchell says, it is a straight out confidence trick. That is what has been put over the people of New South Wales. How is it that this House, which authorises approximately 11 per cent of all expenditure on education in New South Wales, should be held responsible for the transgressions of the New South Wales Government when last year $80m less was spent on education in the area of capital works in particular than was spent in 1975-76? That is typical of the performance- if one can call it that- of the present State Government. It is, in fact, no more than a ‘do nothing’ government. It is big on talk and low on action.
Let us look at the situation. The economic mismanagement and incompetence in New South Wales will become a matter for national concern if the Labor Government is returned in that State. The New South Wales work force is a classic example. The unemployment rate is now 6. 1 per cent, compared with 4.6 per cent in May 1976. This represents a loss of 38,000 private sector positions, or 6 per cent, in a mere two years of Labor government. At the same time, there has been a magnificent growth in the public sector of 20,000 new positions, created at a cost of $250m. Who pays that $2 50m? The taxpayers of New South Wales and, indirectly, the taxpayers all over Australia pay it.
In the area of housing, for example, the commencements of houses, home units and commercial buildings show a major downward trend over the last two years. In the field of retail sales there has been a reduction of 9 per cent in two years. The increase in the rate of motor vehicle registrations is now lower in New South Wales than in any other State. The population growth for 1977 demonstrates a reduction of 27 per cent compared with Australia’s average. In other words, young people, the very lifeblood of New South Wales, are leaving the State to go elsewhere for opportunities for employment. New investment in 1977 represented only 17 per cent of the Australian total. I draw on information given to this House yesterday by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch). New South Wales today is lagging in last place among the States in the rate of new investment. Which State is in front? Western Australia is in front, with a per capita investment of $4,2 18. As I said, New South Wales is sixth in that category.
In the field of new mining investment there is a similar situation. Again, Western Australia with a good Liberal Government is first. New South Wales is lagging in fourth place. In the area of combined manufacturing and new investment in mining the figures tell the same sad story. Western Australia is first; Queensland is second; Tasmania is third; Victoria is fifth; New South Wales is sixth. South Australia, another Labor State, is fourth. What we are facing is simply this: The people of Australia will find themselves living in a continent where there are two types of State- the rich and the poor. The rich Statesthose which encourage private enterprise and maximum investment, both foreign and domestic and those which have the lowest rate of per capita growth. The former will be the LiberalNational Country Party controlled States. The Labor States- South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales in particular- will be putting their populations in the economic doldrums.
The situation which existed in New South Wales after some 2 1 years of Labor Government in the 1940s and 1950s will be created once again if the people on 7 October make the fundamental mistake of believing in the mirage of a man who has no substance to his policies and who has brought in a State Budget which to this day has not been passed by Parliament. After the election, if he is successful, reasons will be found for bringing forward a new State Budget. Constitutionally, of course, that is permissible and necessary. But are we to believe that there will be any relationship between what was brought down in Parliament a few weeks ago as the New South Wales ostensible Budget for this financial year and the real Budget? That Budget may well have been a figment of the imagination. The Premier knew perfectly well that it would not have to be put to the test of time because it would not be passed by Parliament. He was well aware of this because he knew that he was going to call a State election.
What will we see in the next Budget? Will we see a further increase in charges to those which have taken place in the last two years? It is an untruth for the Labor Party to tell its citizens that it has been a government of restraint and that it has held back increases in taxation. I will indicate now the reality of the position. Since the last Liberal Budget in New South Wales- that for 1975-76- taxpayers in that State have had the following tax increases: Motor vehicle registrations have risen by no less than 25 per cent; payroll tax has increased by 3 1 per cent; stamp duty has increased by 49 per cent; land tax has increased by 31 per cent; tobacco tax has increased by 216 per cent; racing tax has increased by 38 per cent; liquor tax has increased by 60 per cent; and motor dealer tax has increased by 45 per cent. Yet we are told that New South Wales has a government which has held the line, which has demonstrated fiscal responsibility and which has not brought the people of New South Wales any significant increases in costs of living.
– Don’t forget that he put up the price of bread and milk.
-Bread and milk prices went up too. The ordinary man in the street, the ordinary married man with children who has had to face the problems of inflation under the Labor Government and who now is at least seeing over the hill, thanks to the Federal grants policies, has to pay a higher rate of indirect taxation than people in any other State. The matter does not end there. There have been other increased charges. Mining leases went up by 200 per cent. Waterfront charges went up by 20 per cent to 150 per cent. Annual return fees on company annual reports went up by 233 per cent to 900 per cent. But we are told that investment in New South Wales is secure.
The figures I have quoted in this House this morning and the figures quoted yesterday by the Minister for Industry and Commerce demonstrate conclusively that anybody wanting to invest in new companies and expansion in Australia today will not give New South Wales serious consideration. Such people know that to invest in that State is to risk the future of their enterprises. On 7 October the people will vote for two Houses of Parliament for the first time in the history of New South Wales. I believe that they will demonstrate the good sense that they have demonstrated in Federal elections. They will make sure that, whoever governs in the lower House of the New South Wales Parliament, they will have an upper House which can express an independent view and which will take a second look at legislation passed by the Government in the lower House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) has obviously been stirred up, having heard the new member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) relate the exceptional swing to the Australian Labor Party that was in evidence in the Werriwa by-election. Swings of 2 1 per cent against the Liberal-Country Party Government are hardly within living memory. That of course is going to manifest itself throughout New South Wales in the forthcoming election. The honourable member is whistling in the dark. He knows that Neville Wran has spoken for himself and can speak for himself and that indeed the people will be speaking with him when they go to the polls.
I listened to the haranguing of the honourable member and to the distorted figures he quoted. I want to mention just one matter to which he referred. I must not be deterred from the issue about which I wish to speak today. The honourable member has raised the question of education. One has to take only a very cursory look at the Budget Papers to realise that the account given by the honourable member of the education situation represented a distortion of the facts. The facts simply are that in the Budget brought down by this Government expenditure on government schools has been reduced by $ 14.3m to $372m and expenditure on nongovernment schools has gone up by $30.3m to $253m. The regrettable aspect of that is that it is not the poor parochial schools that are receiving the extra money flowing to the private school system but the level 1 schools, the privileged schools.
– I raise a point of order. I claim that the honourable member for Hughes is misrepresenting what I said and is misrepresenting the statistics. He is well aware of the fact that the Karmel report recommendations have already been implemented by this Government.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! That is not a point of order. It is matter for debate.
-I will reciprocate with a point of order and take up the time of someone else during this Grievance Debate. I am very concerned about the failure of this Government to get on with the job of providing a natural disaster insurance scheme. Two and a half years ago announcements were made in this Parliament to the effect that the Government was facing up to this problem. How many years does the Government want in which to do something about the people who have been so grievously affected by natural disasters as to lose their homes? In March 1976 the Government announced that it had agreed in principle to introduce this natural disaster insurance scheme. Indeed a discussion paper was tabled based on a report of the working party which was established to formulate the scheme in consultation with the insurance industry. Nothing has emerged since then except a ministerial Press statement on 8 December 1976. In that statement the then Minister said that the Government’s aim was to see a natural disaster scheme introduced at the earliest practical date.
The need for the scheme has been consistently referred to in the Parliament by a number of members. On many occasions I have raised it on the floor of this House and by way of correspondence to the Minister. The discussion paper indicated that the natural hazards covered by the scheme would enable earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones and related hazards such as landslip and storm surge to be covered. To date Federal governments have been assisting on a one-off basis the most prominent tropical disasters such as floods, cyclones, et cetera. Nobody resents the fact that the Government comes to the rescue when there is a great crisis such as the Darwin cyclone or indeed the flooding of Brisbane. It is not good enough just to have regard for the crises that people experience. When such a crisis is on a large scale hundreds of thousands of people may be affected. In many instances smaller numbers of people are affected and are left to fend for themselves. I have before me a great deal of documentation on this matter. I will not be able to deal with it all by any means. For example I have a letter from a consulting engineering firm which is highly experienced in these matters. The firm is called Golder Associates Pty Ltd. It said:
Through our work we have come into contact with a large number of people in desperate situations because of landslip. Unfortunately, to be caught up in this problem proves to be a major tragedy for many individuals, both financially and psychologically.
The areas in New South Wales which were mentioned and which are affected by this one form of natural disaster are: Illawarra, Wollongong, Stanwell Park and Gerringong area; the Picton, Camden and Moss Vale area behind the Illawarra escarpment where there are geological faults; the Warringah Shire area- that is, the northern beaches of Sydney; and the Gosford and Wyong Shires. At Oxley in Brisbane, there is also an incidence of the problem. Other areas affected in Queensland are the Buderim and Mooloolaba areas and the Tamborine Mountain area and adjacent slopes. This consultant company went on to say that in Sydney between 1972 and 1976 three houses have been completely lost; in Wollongong 13 houses have been completely lost. In the Oxley area of Brisbane five have been lost and in Buderim in Queensland two have been lost. Four houses have been damaged in Sydney, 16 in Wollongong, two in Gosford, three in Brisbane and three in Buderim. The report went on to talk about the failure of building blocks. In Sydney 19 blocks have been affected. In the Wollongong area alone 46 have been affected, 1 1 in Gosford and 1 1 in Buderim in Queensland. The report mentioned many other forms of damage. I have received an interesting table from the company.
In the area that I represent and in neighbouring areas are many examples of people having lost a home in total or in part. At 37 Asquith Street, Austinmer for example the foundations have been cracked and the house is broken in half. The estimated total lost is $10,000. At lot 5 Buttenshaw Drive, Austinmer the house and land have been destroyed. This list that I have from the Wollongong Council which covers some 35 houses goes on to enunciate what really represents human tragedy in the most devastating form. The fact is that there is no compensation- no process by which the seriously affected people can be rehabilitated.
Because the problem is so serious I have in the last couple of weeks received a great mass of representation from organisations in the Illawarra area. For example I have before me a letter on the subject from the President of the South Bulli Miners Lodge, a letter from the Secretary of the Stanwell Park Country Women’s Association pleading for assistance for these people, a letter from the Appin Miners’ Federation signed by its President, a letter from the President of the Stanwell Park Parents and Citizens Association and a letter from the Secretary of the Bulli Miners Lodge. A petition has just arrived with 400 names on it from the Illawarra area calling on this Government to become seriously involved in this matter and to give effect to the promises that were made 2Vi years ago. The matter was the subject of a Press statement with attachments by the Minister. A part of that statement was headed ‘Basic Elements of the Scheme Recommended by the Working Party for Public Comment and Further Technical Development’. I seek leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
BASIC ELEMENTS OF THE SCHEME RECOMMENDED BY THE WORKING PARTY FOR PUBLIC COMMENT AND FURTHER TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT
A pool of general insurers would be established to offer natural disaster cover against selected natural hazards and for specified kinds of property. The pool would directly underwrite risks and would meet all claims from its own resources and from private reinsurance up to a pre-determined amount, when Commonwealth support facilities would be available.
The Commonwealth would not be involved in direct underwriting but would offer reinsurance facilities to the pool up to a specified maximum limit. Reinsurance premiums would be paid by the pool to the Commonwealth. The reinsurance arrangements would be developed in accordance with sound insurance principles but, in the determination of premium rates for such reinsurance, consideration would be given to the possible need to assist in producing reasonable premiums on cover provided to the public. The pool would be expected to take out private reinsurance to cover its liabilities beyond the extent of Commonwealth reinsurance, subject to availability and reasonable cost.
All insurers authorised under the Insurance Act 1973, State Government Insurance Offices, the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme, and other Commonwealth agencies which insure property would be eligible to participate. The Government would seek to ensure maximum participation by insurers. If participation proved to be inadequate, consideration could be given to placing an obligation on insurers to participate.
The Government and the insurance industry would actively encourage maximum participation, on a voluntary basis, by the public in the scheme. However, the Government may need to consider the possibility of using some form of compulsion if experience showed that it was necessary.
The natural hazards covered by the scheme would initially be restricted to earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones and related hazards such as landslide and storm surge.
The scheme would extend initially to all ordinary household property and contents, and to small businesses (urban and rural). In appropriate cases State and local government assets could be covered.
A Premiums Advisory Committee would be established to determine rates of premium and related conditions of cover on a basis to take account of differing risks. All participating insurers would be required to apply these determined premiums and conditions.
Special arrangements would be considered for assistance to be provided to those who, subject to a strict means test, cannot afford to take out natural disaster insurance cover.
As an essential requirement of a successful scheme, Governments would vigorously pursue policies to mitigate the risk of exposure to hazards.
A Commonwealth agency would be established to administer the scheme, particularly the proposed reinsurance arrangements, and to co-ordinate Government activities and to liaise with other organisations involved. g December 1976 Canberra, ACT
-The scheme which is envisaged simply is to encourage private insurance companies to facilitate insurance in respect of these high risk situations. To the extent that a liability will be incurred, the Commonwealth Government will draw up arrangements through the working party appointed for this purpose so that an underwriting process can be introduced. I appeal to the Government to get on with the job of giving effect to this scheme. It is probable that thousands of people throughout Australia have lost their homes and many more may do so in the future. When one takes into account that the existing insurance arrangements are such that people are unable to insure against such occurrences as land slip, earthquake, subsidence and in some cases flooding and even bush fires, it is obviously a serious deficiency.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MartinOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I agree with the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). There is and there should be a certain concern about natural disasters. I have long regarded him as one in this House. In common with many other honourable members, I welcome back the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin), a man whom I have had the pleasure of defeating at two previous elections. I should say that in those election campaigns the honourable member for Werriwa conducted himself with dignity and with integrity. I hope that he continues that pattern of behaviour in this House. I must say that I was disappointed to hear his speech this morning. I say to the honourable member for Werriwa that I agree that politics should be played tough. I play it tough but I never play it dirty. I would hope that the honourable member for Werriwa, on consideration of this morning’s speech, will continue to maintain the outstanding name that he has had in this place and outside it in the past.
I should like to comment briefly on his suggestions about the reasons for his very substantial win in the electorate of Werriwa. I think the honourable member for Werriwa does himself less than justice in pointing out the reasons, as he saw them, for his success in the Campbelltown area in particular. As he pointed out, of course, the previous honourable member for Werriwa was relatively unknown or at least not known favourably- If I can put it that way- in that section of the electorate. As in fact he had not been its member, he was subject to the same sort of unfavourable reaction in Campbelltown and Narellan as indeed he managed to get from the rest of Australia without the special benefit of being a local member. Consequently, of course, when those areas were thrust into Werriwa towards the end of last year in what I regard as an eccentric redistribution, the previous honourable member for Werriwa did not do particularly well in those sub-divisions of Campbelltown and Narellan. Naturally when the current honourable member for Werriwa stood in those areas he was well-known and he was widely respected. As a result, there were very large swings towards him which clearly do not reflect the general swing throughout the rest of the electorate. I think he should recognise that his personal following was real and justifiably so.
I also think it is worthwhile pointing out- the honourable member failed to do this of coursethat the bulk of new housing in the Campbelltown area in the last year or so has been put there by the Housing Commission of New South Wales. Without making any comments about housing commission residents, the facts are that there is a tendency for housing commission areas to be dominantly Labor voter areas. I think we should recognise that the nature of the area is changing very dramatically as the honourable member for Werriwa clearly pointed out. He said that there has been about a 16 per cent growth rate in the Campbelltown area, the great bulk of which has been provided by lower cost housing from the Housing Commission of New South Wales which, of course, has played quite a significant part in changing the electoral patterns in outlying electorates.
My grievance today does relate in fact to electoral patterns and to the situation in New South Wales where I fear many citizens have in the past and may well in the future be deluded by a series of misstatements of the present Premier of New South Wales about the facts of the relationship between New South Wales and the Federal Government. I draw the attention of the House to some official statistics contained in a document headed: ‘Public Authority Finance’ put out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Table 1 refers to the receipts and outlays of State Budgets. Honourable members will be aware of the fact that the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, has continually attacked the present Federal Government and its federalism policy, claiming that it has an unfair and disgraceful impact on State financing. I assure the House and Mr Wran that if he is prepared to look at the facts he will find that what he has been saying had been totally misleading, totally inaccurate and deceptive. I hope that the people of New South Wales are not deceived.
I draw the attention of honourable members to table 1 which shows that, in 1977-78, a total of $8.7 billion was paid by the Commonwealth Government in grants to the States. This amount represents 66 per cent of the State revenue raisings throughout Australia. I compare that with the performance of the Labor Government in 1974-75 which contributed only 63 per cent of the total revenue raisings of the State governments of this nation. In other words, the propaganda being put out by the Labor Party both in New South Wales and this Parliament is untrue and mischievous. In fact federalism and this Government’s approach to the States have meant a significant increase not only in the volume but also in the proportion of State funds being provided by the Federal Government. It is because of that increase in the proportion, because of that increase in the amount that the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Mr Peter Coleman, is capable of making the very real promise that he can reduce Commonwealth income taxes for the residents of New South Wales. Because of that assurance of steady and guaranteed proportions of federal income taxes, because he knows what sort of revenues he will get, and because the record shows that they have increased significantly both in quantity and proportion under this Government as against the decrease that took place under the previous Labor Government and its negative sort of approachthe next Premier of New South Wales, Mr Peter Coleman, has the capacity to carry out his promise to reduce State taxes.
That is why I hope that when honourable members opposite actually come face to face with the statistics, with the reality- I suggest it will be the first time for most of them- they will see that the nonsense they have been spouting in this House and in the hustings in New South Wales is disgraceful and misleading. It follows the total pattern of the campaign in New South Wales. I would hope that people in my electorate, for example, when they are voting on State issues will recognise not only the significant general issues that have been raised, for example, by my colleague the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) but also the high calibre of the candidates who will be standing, for example, in Wollondilly. Mr Peter Reynolds, who is a very able and competent young family man, will be standing against an invalid pensioner representing the Labor Party. I do not know what the Labor Party’s attitude to -
– In view of the reprehensible comment that was just made, I draw your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, to the state of the House. (Quorum formed.)
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. I call the honourable member for Fraser.
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the honourable member for Macarthur be granted an extension of time.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr Martin)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
-Order! It now being past 12.45 p.m., in accordance with Standing Order 106 the debate is interrupted and I put the question:
That grievances be noted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I present the proposed guidelines for official witnesses appearing before parliamentary committees and seek leave to make a statement in relation to the guidelines.
– Presentation of these guidelines was foreshadowed on 8 June by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) in a statement on legislation committees, and by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) the following day in a statement on access to official information. The increasing activities of committees of the Parliament have led to growing requests for the provision of written and oral evidence by official witnesses from government sources. Potential witnesses, particularly those who have had little prior experience of appearing before Parliamentary committees, are uncertain as to their position and the procedures to follow. The Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (RCAGA) reported in the following terms:
Principles and procedures have previously been suggested by a former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, and a former Solicitor-General, Sir Kenneth Bailey, in relation to inquiries by the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances respectively. These proposals have not been formally endorsed by the Houses of Parliament but appear to have been used as Guidelines, (para 5. 1 .3 1 )
The Royal Commission made a number of suggestions in paragraphs 5.1.27 to 5.1.39 of its report. In brief, the Royal Commission recommendations supported Government preparation, for the guidance of officials and for discussion, of a statement of the principles and procedures it would wish to be followed when evidence from official witnesses is sought, and a set of instructions for guidance of officials whose attendance before parliamentary committees might be requested or required. The Royal Commission raised the possibility that the Government, having taken this step, might think it appropriate to move for the establishment of a joint select committee of Parliament to consider and report on the desirability of dealing with the matter by statute. The Government had already asked officials to pursue their examination of this matter. The Government’s views are in general agreement with the main thrust of the Royal Commission recommendations for issue of guidance to officials.
Subsequent to the Royal Commission Report, on 25 March 1977 the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations CAGEO submitted to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) a detailed proposal on the protection of witnesses appearing before parliamentary committees. The Prime Minister advised CAGEO on 2 1 April 1977 that its views would be taken into consideration. The CAGEO submission ranged much more widely than the matters pursued in this statement, proposing legislation covering the whole area of parliamentary witnesses, including witnesses other than official witnesses, and detailed provisions concerning counsel and rules of evidence. It raised fundamental issues concerning the relationship between Parliament and the judiciary, as well as the Executive.
The Government considers that these wider and more controversial issues should not become entangled with the narrower and less controversial issue of limited, non-legislative guidelines for appearances by official witnesses. Some of those issues will be within the terms of reference of the proposed review of parliamentary privilege arising from the report of the Privileges Committee of the House of Representatives presented on 7 April 1978. In the light of the Government’s consideration of these matters, the attached proposed guidelines on what Ministers expect of their departments have been prepared. Before outlining the principles on which the guidelines are based, one particular point should be made. While referring to situations where Ministers might consider claiming privilege, this statement and the guidelines do not attempt to resolve the complex question of ‘deadlocks’ between the Parliament and the Executive on such claims.
The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System, submitted in May 1976, indicated that the Committee found itself unable to offer any clarification of the rules of Crown privilege. Its comments included:
One of the most vexed questions of committee procedure is that of the application of the rules of crown privilege. It is all very well to say that Ministers should give evidence to committees on policy matters, that public servants should give evidence on fact and that matters which are confidential for reasons of security or because they represent the confidential advice of a public servant to his Minister should not be disclosed by public servants. But what questions should or should not be asked or answered will always be one of interpretation . . . (para 299).
The events in the Senate in July 1975 when the Senate attempted to question public servants on certain matters have shown that neither House is likely to overcome the use of crown privilege unless the government is prepared to release the relevant information. This is obviously applicable to committees, (para 302).
Earlier, Senator Ivor Greenwood- at that time the Attorney-General- and Mr R. J. Ellicottthen Solicitor-General- canvassed relevant complexities at some length in ‘Parliamentary Committees: Powers Over and Protection Afforded to Witnesses’ Parliamentary Paper No. 168 of 1972, as did the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges in its report on matters referred by Senate resolution of 17 July 1975, Parliamentary Paper No. 215 of 1975. It is not intended to canvass these issues here, other than to note the reference- in the dissenting report of Senators Greenwood, Webster and Wright to that report of the Senate Committee of Privileges- to the views of Professor Archibald Cox of Harvard University on the United States situations. It states:
He discusses the difficulty of formulating any rule prescribing the occasions when withholding of evidence by the Executive from a demand of the Senate would be appropriate. He accepts the view that the Courts should not have jurisdiction to adjudicate in such matters. He would be content to leave questions of executive privilege vis-a-vis Congress to the ebb and flow of political power (page 1432). He pointed out that Congress has powerful political weapons ( page 47).
The attached guidelines were developed with four major considerations in mind:
The Government sees it as fundamental to the operation of our system of government that government and the committees approach hearings in a spirit of co-operation and with a full recognition of the function each has in that system. Claims of privilege would not, of course, be made by Ministers without substantial cause. These considerations are in harmony with the principles of ministerial responsibility which underlies the relationships of Ministers and officials in their departments, as is the current general practice of committees addressing to Ministers their requests for nomination of official witnesses to appear and for provision of documents. The guidelines are tabled so that they may be considered by all concerned. The Government will review the guidelines in the light of comments on them and experience in their operation. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to have the guidelines incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
PROPOSED GUIDELINES FOR OFFICIAL WITNESSES APPEARING BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES
This statement contains general guidlines it is proposed to apply to the provision of evidence to Parliamentary Committees by officials of departments- paragraph 35 refers specifically to officials in statutory authorities and members of various Government-appointed advisory councils or committees.
Where special provision is made by statute in relation to the giving of evidence before Parliamentary Committees, the provisions of the relevant Act prevail- see paragraphs 32-33.
Paragraph 34 relates to committees that are concerned with administrative aspects of government.
Preliminaries to an Inquiry
. As a matter of practice, arrangements for an official to attend a Committee inquiry in an official capacity, or to provide material to it, are made through the relevant Minister.
A Minister may delegate to the Permanent Head the responsibility of nominating to a Committee the official(s) most appropriate to provide the evidence sought by the Committee from the Department.
The original official statement, and the provision or production of other documentary evidence, will be cleared with the Minister, or upon his direction, by the Permanent Head, before it is submitted.
A request for more time to prepare evidence may be made to the Committee by the Minister (or the department acting on his behalf) if the notice is considered insufficient.
Preparation for Hearings
Witnesses are to prepare themselves thoroughly before hearings including, as appropriate, by consultation with the Minister (and, if required, the Minister representing him in the other House), e.g. on possible claims of privilege or requests for the hearing of evidence in camera.
When the interests of several departments are involved, adequate consultation is to take place in preparing material and making arrangements for witnesses to attend.
In the normal course, Committees should be provided with a written statement on which subsequent oral evidence will be based. In addition, where written questions have been forwarded by the Committee, written replies should also be provided.
In some cases it may be desirable for there to be informal consultation between the Minister and the Chairman of the Committee to consider ways of making available to the
Committee information of a confidential nature which it considers essential to its purposes, without endangering the preservation of essential confidentiality.
Conduct during Hearings
The Government sees the role of an official witness as being to speak to any statement provided to the Committee (see paragraphs 3 and 7) and to provide factual and background material to assist understanding of the issues involved.
The Government does not see it being the role of the official to take policy positions or to answer questions:
seeking his personal views on Government policy
seeking evidence or identification of considerations leading to a Ministerial or Government decision or possible decision, unless those considerations have already been made public or the giving of evidence on them has been approved
which would require the witnesses to advocate or defend Government policy, or canvass the merits of Government (including State or foreign Government) policy or policy options- past, present or future
on matters which could give rise to a claim of privilege (see below).
- The Chairman can be asked to rule out of order questions falling within paragraph 10. If an official witness is directed to answer such a question, he should ask to be allowed to defer his answer until he has discussed the matter with the Minister or Permanent Head.
As an alternative to the approach suggested in paragraph 11, it may be appropriate for the official witness to refer to the written material provided to the Committee and offer, if the Committee wishes, to seek elaboration from the Minister (this would apply to sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of paragraph 10), or to request that his answer to a particular question be reserved for submission in writing.
Questions may arise which an official witness may need to answer because they are within the role of providing factual and background material but which would also have wider implications because they are within an area of public controversy. This points to the need for the witness in his preparation to give thorough consideration to any wider ramifications of the matter under inquiry.
It is important that as questions are answered during hearings, witnesses should take care not to intrude into responsibilities of other departments and agencies (see also paragraph 6 above, which relates to preparation for hearings). Where a question falls within the administration of another department or agency an official witness may request that it be directed to that department or agency or be deferred until that department or agency is consulted.
Claims of Privilege by Ministers
Claims of privilege should only be made by a Minister (normally the responsible Minister), consulting the Prime Minister where necessary.
As far as practicable, the question whether a claim of privilege should be made should be decided before a hearing, so that a certificate by the Minister can be produced.
If an official witness, when giving evidence to a Committee, believes that circumstances have arisen to justify a claim of privilege he should request a postponement of his evidence, or of the relevant pan of his evidence, until the Minister can be consulted. (See also paragraph 8 above. )
It should be noted that privilege can be claimed in respect of oral evidence as well as documents.
Documents-or oral evidence- in respect of which Ministers may wish to consider claiming privilege may include matters which fall within the following categories:
Cabinet (and Cabinet Committee), Executive Council and Loan Council documents and proceedings
communications between officers and Ministers and between Ministers
material the publication of which would be injurious to the national interest, e.g. matters relating to defence, internal security, confidential communications with other countries and with the States
opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown and legal advice to Ministers, departments and Commonwealth Government authorities
communications between officers and between officers and third parties relating to the formulation of policy (0 material which, by statute, is required to be kept secret, e.g. section 1 6 of the Income Tax Assessment Act.
There are documents within the foregoing categories which within themselves may not appear to warrant a claim of privilege but the production of which may affect subsequent claims of privilege. There should in such cases be consultation with the Minister, and where necessary the Prime Minister, as provided in paragraphs 15-17.
In addition to the documents mentioned in paragraph 1 9 there are other documents and there is other oral evidence in respect of which privilege might be claimed, depending on the circumstances. It is not possible to give an exhaustive list, the question in each case being whether the balance of public interest is against disclosure of the material.
The following list will give some indication of the possible nature of the material referred to in paragraph 21, but it is important that each matter be considered in the light of the particular circumstances:
communications between Ministers and third parties
medical, financial and other personal information relating to private citizens and officers, e.g. medical reports, financial returns
material obtained from individuals or corporations in confidence or in circumstances where there is a duty not to disclose it
material which, if disclosed, might injure or substantially embarrass private citizens
information obtained by officers relevant to possible breaches of the law.
Documents that are given one of the usual security ratings as ‘Confidential ‘, ‘Secret’, or ‘Top Secret’ would normally be included under one of the categories in paragraph 19 above. Before producing a document bearing such a classification, an official witness should seek instructions from the Minister. (Note: It does not follow that documents without a formal security classification may not be the subject of a claim of privilege. Nor does it follow that classified documents may not in any circumstances be produced. Each document should be considered on its own merits and, where classified, in consultation with the originator).
In relation to oral evidence, the same considerations apply as to the contents of a classified document and as to information which, while not contained in a document, is of a Confidential, Secret or Top Secret nature.
Evidence in Camera
There may be occasions when a Minister would wish, on a balancing of the public interests involved, to raise with the Chairman the possibility of an official producing documents or giving oral evidence in camera and on the basis that the information be not disclosed or published except with the Minister’s consent.
There will be circumstances where an official witness may have to request that his evidence, or part of his evidence, be heard in camera. These circumstances might include:
cases where, although a claim of privilege could be justified, the Minister considers that the balance of public interest lies in making information available to the Committee on the basis that it be heard in camera and not disclosed or published except with his consent
cases where, while a claim of privilege may not be justified, there are other special considerations justifying the Committee being asked to take the evidence privately, e.g. where a private individual might unfairly be prejudiced by public disclosure, say of a conversation between him and the witness
cases where similar or identical evidence has been previously given in camera to other hearings of the Committee or other Committees of the Parliament and has not been made public.
If an official witness when giving evidence to a Committee believes that circumstances have arisen to justify a request that evidence be heard in camera, he should request the postponement of his evidence, or of the relevant part of his evidence, until his Minister can be consulted and approval obtained.
In the event of an officer being asked by a Committee to give evidence ‘off the record’, he should request a postponement until his Minister can be consulted.
Publication of Evidence
After perusing the record of their evidence official witnesses should suggest any necessary corrections, for incorporation or noting in the published record. Where these affect the substance of the evidence previously given, it may be necessary to seek the agreement of the Committee on the way in which the correction should be made, e.g. by tendering a subsequent statement.
If an official witness believes, after perusing the record, that he has omitted to give some relevant evidence, he should, after consultation with the Minister (or Permanent Head) seek leave of the Committee to lodge a further statement supplementing his earlier evidence or to give further oral evidence.
- An official witness has no authority to consent to the disclosure of publication of evidence given in camera. This is a matter for the Minister, or the Permanent Head acting on his behalf.
The Public Works Committee Act and the Public Accounts Committee Act provide for the summoning of witnesses and raise some special considerations: e.g. in section 23 of the Public Works Committee Act special provision is made in relation to the hearing of evidence in confidential matters.
In these and similar cases the special provisions of the relevant Act take precedence.
Committees Concerned with Administrative Aspects of Government
Where a Parliamentary Committee is one which, by its nature, concentrates on the administrative aspects of government and the subject of the Committee’s inquiry is directed towards the examination of departmental administration and practice it is for the Permanent Head, with the general consent of the relevant Minister, to use his discretion as to the extent to which aspects of these guidelines such as the clearing of written evidence and the selection of witnesses, are to be followed.
Non-departmental Official Witnesses
It is difficult to generalise on the wide range of relationships between Ministers and instrumentalities, advisory councils and committees, etc. As appropriate, suitable arrangements should be made with the Minister concerned.
Sitting suspended from 12.57 to 2.15 p.m.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmith) by leave- The matter under consideration is the Government’s guidelines in respect of witnesses who are to appear before parliamentary committees. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has made a statement and has tabled guidelines which are of some length and of some significance because, if we are to make Parliament effective and strong, it is important that we have strong parliamentary committees. The best way to get strong parliamentary committees is to have the best possible information made available to them, and to guarantee that no question of information being kept back by governments arises. We find it difficult enough in the everyday proceedings of this House to obtain all of the information that we think the public should have. So we welcome the statement and note that it flows from the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. As everybody would be aware, that royal commission was initiated in 1974 by the Labor Government. It was under the chairmanship of Mr H. C. Coombs. Its report is most important and one which needs consideration in a number of areas.
The Minister’s statement does raise some serious and, we would say, possibly contentious questions which we can enumerate as follows: Firstly, public accountability of government in all of” its areas; secondly, freedom of information; thirdly, the rights of public servants; fourthly, Crown privilege; and fifthly, parliamentary privilege. In the statement the Minister referred to the review of parliamentary privilege that is being undertaken by the Privileges Committee. We wish to remind him that parliamentary privilege and Crown privilege are two separate and different things, and that they may well represent conflicting doctrines. They are two separate matters altogether- parliamentary privilege, which basically we can control, as against Crown privilege which, of course, can be the subject of discussion both here and in any court of law. Perhaps an example of this could be provided by the events of” 16 July 1975 when, as honourable members will recall, the Senate decided to call public servants before the Bar of the Senate. I think that was the wrong thing to do from the point of view of the Senate, but in the narrow context of whether public servants should be giving evidence to members of Parliament, I see no reason why there should have been a suggestion at that time that they should be able to claim, as was done, Crown privilege. In other words, I object to what the Senate was misused for on that occasion to beat up an air of scandal and corruption and to use public servants for that purpose. Leaving that aside, I do not think that necessarily, in the normal context of what Parliament means, Crown privilege was the best way of meeting the challenge. As honourable members will recall, most of the information sought by the Senate had been tabled and disclosed in this House:
As far as the guidelines are concerned, we make the point that claims of privilege should be made only by a Minister, or by the production of a certificate from a Minister. We regard that as sensible and to be commended. However, the range of matters which are considered to fall within the concept of privilege- they are enumerated in guideline 19- are very wide indeed, particularly in relation to the proposed freedom of information legislation. For example, it includes Cabinet decisions, any communications between officers and Ministers, legal advice to the Government, and communications between Ministers and third parties. We can well understand that at the time a matter is under consideration by the Government, for example legal advice should be the subject of privilege, but surely after the matter has been determined and the decision made public, the advice also ought to be made public. It is no longer sub judice in terms of being subject to consideration. In view of our commitment to freedom of information, it is our view that Crown privilege should be either abolished or at least seriously redefined.
Honourable members will be aware that the Government has introduced the Freedom of Information Bill, which has been severely and properly criticised by people outside this Parliament, as well as by the Opposition within it. We hope that the Government will reconsider the whole subject of Crown privilege in terms of what may happen to the freedom of information Bill, which has now been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. We are very hopeful that that impartial consideration by the Committee will bring forward a much stronger and better Bill, from the point of view of guaranteeing to the people of Australia that information will be made available to them. The Opposition moved an appropriate motion in the Senate and was pleased to note that the Government accepts it and is referred to that Committee. The ritual stamping of documents with such ratings as confidential, secret, and top secret also needs reconsideration. We hope that this will happen within the freedom of information context.
There could be parliamentary committees to which public servants may wish to give evidence, no doubt in camera, about public service procedures. The Royal Commission into Government Administration was an example of such a committee, although it was not a parliamentary committee. Under the Public Service Act there are a great number of strictures which seriously confine public servants in regard to what they may say about the Government or the Public Service. If we want to improve the performance of the Public Service, as I am sure we all do, the one group to which we should listen very closely is the public servants themselves. It is all very well to invite submissions from the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations, and other public service associations, but there are individual public servants who have views about specialist areas, views which are best brought out by their being able to comment reasonably, freely and openly as to what they think should be the situation. Doing that in front of parliamentarians is the best way for us to make Parliament stronger.
There are in the guidelines certain trivial and almost patronising instructions to public servants such as that contained in guideline 5, that witnesses are to prepare themselves thoroughly. One would have thought that hardly needed to be said. The Minister makes continual reference to ministerial responsibility. This is, of course, a most important concept of parliamentary government but one that is, unfortunately, overworked in a modern context. We believe in the right of the public to be informed about government administration and ministerial responsibilities should be used as an aid to this end, not as a justification for keeping people uninformed.
The Minister has asked for comments. Those are some of the comments that the Opposition wish to make at this stage. We note that it will be some two or three months before the Government finalises its deliberations in this matter and we are very concerned to note that at that stage, perhaps, the freedom of information legislation still will not have been released by the Senate Committee. In the context of what we hope that
Committee will do to the freedom of information legislation, we think that it has a major influence on the guidelines for witnesses. In other words, they should be able to give as much information as possible and only in the strictest circumstances should the question of privilege be used to prevent parliamentary committees from getting information.
-Mr Acting Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government’s failure to make adequate funds available for public housing at a time of pressing social needs and recession in the home building industry.
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-
Mi UREN (Reid) (2.24)-There is a crisis in the building industry. The industry is at a 10-year low, with little prospect of recovery in the near future. Insofar as the State governments’ public welfare housing is concerned, nearly 100,000 families are on the housing commission lists, waiting for homes. Over 28,000 of those are in New South Wales alone. Building tradesmen are out of work and an abundance of building materials is stockpiled; so, there is no shortage of labour or of building materials.
Let me give some other details to illustrate the critical situation that exists today. The production of houses during the June quarter was at the lowest rate since the June quarter of 1 967. This completion rate is substantially below capacity. For example, the Indicative Planning Council for Housing states that the men and material to construct 150,000 homes a year are available. The current completion rate is 1 16,000 homes a year, or 78 per cent of capacity. The number of dwelling approvals in July were the lowest since February 1966. Although recent figures for finance approvals for housing by savings and trading banks show some growth in the number of loans approved for established housing, they show in July this year a fall of 5 per cent in the loan approvals for new housing compared with the figures for July last year. We need to pay attention to loan approvals for new housing to assess the real prospects for the building industry. Already there is a slump in the building industry across the board; so, it is important that we look at the new housing aspect of the industry.
The Commonwealth Budget will further aggravate the situation. All funds allocated for the construction and purchase of housing have been cut by $158m in this year’s Budget. The Budget allocation for the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement has been cut by $77m in money terms alone, without taking into account inflation. The allocation for defence service homes has been cut by $ 10.7m. The allocation for housing in the Territories has been cut by $5.3m. Last year’s allocation to the Homes Savings Grants scheme has been cut by $15m in this Budget. Effectively, there has been a cut of about $50m if the list of people who are waiting to receive the grant is to be reduced this financial year. The Government knew from a Cabinet submission last year that it needed at least $76m to meet all the commitments in applications for this financial year.
Let me illustrate in more detail the Draconian cuts that this Government has inflicted on the welfare housing programs of the State governments. Last year gross advances of funds available for State housing authorities under the
– I thank the House. This shows the callous attitude adopted by this sectional Government- I stress the term ‘sectional Government’. The Government is making these cuts at a time when nearly 100,000 families are waiting for homes. It is extremely doubtful whether 9,000 homes will be constructed by the State housing authorities this year. I point out to the House that 9,000 dwellings is the lowest figure since 1950. That illustrates the seriousness of the situation. The Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement only came into being in 1947 and 9,500 dwellings would be the lowest number of homes built since 1950. 1 stress again that 100,000 family people have their names on the waiting lists of the housing commissions and
Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement were $390m. This year they are $3 16m. That is serious enough, but if we examine the repayments by the States to the Commonwealth of advances we find that last year they totalled $27. 7m and this year they total $30.9m. Last year interest repayments totalled $134m; this year they total $147m. Therefore, net funds available last year were something like $228m. This year the figure is down to $137m. Again, if we take into consideration the amount of money made available for housing in 1974-75, which was the peak year of the Labor Government, the amount of money made available for housing last year, at constant prices, is brought down to $165m and the allocation for this year is brought down to some $92. 8m. This represents a 43 per cent decrease since 1974-75 in the allocation for housing, assessed at constant prices. To permit a better understanding of the cuts, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table, setting out these figures in detail, which I compiled.
The table read as follows-
over 28,000 of these are in New South Wales alone.
The situation in New South Wales is even more critical than that would suggest. Last year gross advances were $128m; this year the advances are to be cut to $ 103.7m. If we deduct the advance repayments and interest repayments the net funds available for 1977-78 were $72.5m. This year the figure is down to $42.4m. Again, if we use the 1974-75 constant prices the allocation last year would be $52.4m and this year it would be reduced to $28m, representing a reduction of 45 per cent on the allocation last year. In 1974-75 the repayments of interest and principal by the New South Wales Government accounted for 30.5 per cent of the total allocation to the State.
In this Budget, the proportion has risen to a massive 59 per cent. Again, to illustrate the situation in more detail, I seek leave to incorporate
in Hansard a table dealing with the figures applicable to New South Wales in particular.
The table read as follows-
– I thank the House. Not only has there been a fall in gross advances, but also the increase in the share of repayments has meant a massive drop in the funds made available to the States. In New South Wales, funds available are down 29 per cent in real terms on the funds made available last year and are down by about 67 per cent on the funds made available in 1974-75. The cutback in funds made available to the New South Wales Housing Commission- I stress this and I hope that the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) will listen to this with some compassion- will mean a reduction of 1,100 dwellings in the number of commencements this year by the New South Wales Housing Commission. In other words, last year the Commission constructed 2,600, which was not a particularly good year, and this year there will be only 1,500 commencements.
If we turn to consider the terminating building societies, to which limited funds have been made available, we see that the allocation for housing in this year’s Budget will mean a cutback from 2,600 last year to 2,300 this year in the number of loans made available. In total these cuts will mean that about 1,230 fewer dwellings will be constructed this year than were constructed last year with public funding through both the New South Wales Housing Commission and the terminating building societies in New South Wales. This has occurred despite the unprecedented step by the New South Wales Government of putting $ 10m of its own loan moneys into housing in an attempt to offset the cuts in the Commonwealth payments for housing. What is most disturbing about these cuts is not only their depressing effect on the home building industry but also the callous disregard that the Commonwealth Government has shown for the 28,000 families in New South Wales now on the New South Wales Housing Commission waiting list.
The case for making funds available for housing through the public sector is a very strong one. I hope that honourable members will listen to this logic. Firstly, the funds spent through the public sector have a very high gearing in terms of the impact they have on the home building industry. Secondly, such spending has immense social benefits because the moneys spent through the public sector help people at the bottom end of the income scale to buy or rent a homesomething which they are denied if they are forced to rely on the private sector. If I have time I will develop that argument in detail. There are ways of making such funds available which place only a minimum amount of strain on the Commonwealth Budget. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) recently outlined a scheme that would give a boost to the home building industry, with much of the stimulus coming through the public sector but at the same time costing the Commonwealth Budget only $107m and that would be spread over two Budget periods. I will not develop these arguments now because they have been well developed by the Leader of the Opposition.
Let me give details of the case for using the public sector to stimulate housing. About 70 per cent of the funds are spent through housing commissions. These funds are used to purchase land, to service land and to construct rental dwellings. The remaining 30 per cent of the funds finds its way to the home builders account. Most of that money is lent through the terminating building societies in the respective States. Fifty-seven per cent of loans through terminating building societies are for new dwellings. I stress that point. Fifty-three per cent of government loans are for new dwellings. These figures suggest that in total about 70 per cent to 75 per cent of funds distributed through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement find their way into the construction of new dwellings. We need to construct new dwellings to get the building industry under way. The bunding industry needs a stimulus. The figure of 70 per cent to 75 per cent is in stark contrast with the figure of 30 per cent of funds lent through the savings banks, 3 1 per cent of funds lent through the permanent building societies and 33 per cent of funds lent through the trading banks which find their way into new housing. That is a drastic difference.
For every dollar spent through the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement, $2.50 would have to be lent through the savings banks to have the same impact on the level of activity in the home building industry. This is one of the reasons why, even if the savings banks made some progress in getting towards the prescribed asset ratio of 40 per cent which was announced by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in the Budget- the rate is still 53 per cent; it will take some time to get it down to 40 per cent- the leakage of loans into established housing reduces the effectiveness of the savings banks to give the necessary stimulus to new housing construction.
We need an immediate stimulus of funds from the Commonwealth to the States both through the construction of new homes by the housing commissions and increased loans through the Home Builders Account and through the terminating building societies. This in turn will stimulate the private housing sector and have a multiplier effect on other associated industries such as those supplying Portland cement, fibrous plaster and related products, asbestos cement sheets and mouldings, bricks and tiles, other earthenware goods, porcelain and terracotta products, glass, sawn timbers, plywood and veneers, other processed wood wall and ceiling boards, aluminium building materials, plastic building materials, et cetera. Additional to these capital expenditure items a number of ancillary industries are involved in supplying furniture and furnishings, light fittings, white goods, cutlery and so on.
An assertion has been made that what is good for housing is good for the Australian economy. I think that has to be stated over and over again.
The Australian economy needs a public housing stimulus now because men are unemployed and much material is unused. The Government’s own indicative planning council says that enough men and material are available to build 1 50,000 homes. Yet, because of the Government policies, we have built only 1 16,000. But above that we must consider an urgent social problem- people are unable to buy homes because they cannot save the necessary deposit. They cannot afford to pay commitments of 25 per cent of their salary. The average cost of land and dwelling in Sydney and Melbourne is about $36,000. A person would have to earn $270 a week to repay a loan of that size at 10 per cent interest rate over 25 years. That disqualifies a large section of our community.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) again suggested the old panacea to solve all of our housing problems- spend, spend, spend. Where do we get the money? Do we get it from taxpayers? Do we increase taxes? This old remedy was tried between 1972 and 1975. It did not work then; it will not work now. I mention at the outset, before trying to explain sensibly what we are doing in the housing field, that I have some doubt about the genuineness of the honourable member for Reid in his suggested support for the private sector of the building industry. He is indicating that he is the champion of the private sector. I refer the House to a statement in the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 June this year. During the New South Wales Labor Party Conference, the honourable member is reported as having said:
Speaking as a person, as a socialist, I would find it immoral to buy a share in a private company that is going to exploit labour. Whenever a company is going to make a profit then it is exploiting labour.
The honourable member is saying on the one hand that he is concerned for the private sector of the building industry and that he wants to see the industry develop and on the other hand he is saying that is is totally opposed to all profit. I ask: How can he give some incentive to the private sector to build houses if it is not allowed to make any profit? Therefore I have some concern about the genuineness of the honourable member’s motives in speaking as he has today and suggesting that he supports the private sector of the building industry.
Let me explain what the Government is doing for housing in Australia and, in particular, public housing. One important decision that we made this year has been overlooked. We initiated the Housing Assistance Act and under it have provided a new Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. The Agreement contains a number of quite important changes from previous agreements and, I suggest, important improvements on previous agreements and especially on the one that existed between 1973 and 1974. The new Agreement gives the States more flexibility to direct welfare funding to those in real need and to those who can best use those funds. It gives the States general flexibility.
It is important to recognise that we are dealing with welfare housing, with public housing. We do not want to direct money to those who are not in need. The problem with previous agreements, and in particular the agreement which existed between 1973 and 1974 and which was supported by the then Labor Administration, was that a significant proportion of money available for welfare housing went to people who did not need it. A lot of the money went to people who had a house, a boat, a large motor vehicle, a beach house, other significant assets and incomes of $400 to $500 a week. Those people exist and have existed for a long time in housing subdivisions around Australia.
– How many?
– A significant number. The changes made to the Agreement were supported by the Labor States. I think that should be recognised. The Labor States in the recent past realised that it was not correct to direct funds provided by the general body of taxpayers to those people who were not in need. It is an important principle in the new CommonwealthState Housing Agreement that money should be directed to those in real need. The money is provided by the taxpayers of this country for those people who are in need; therefore it should not go to the well-to-do in the community.
Three sources of funding are available for public housing in this country: Firstly, Commonwealth advances directed from the Commonwealth; secondly, internally generated funds of State instrumentalities operated under the program; and, thirdly, direct State Government contributions. Under the Commonwealth advance in 1978-79 we will be providing $330m for public housing; some $3 16m of that amount comprises advances under the Agreement I have mentioned. An amount of $ 14m will be provided in grants for rental housing assistance to pensioners. The amount of $3 16m is, in fact, lower than the $390m which was advanced in 1977-78, but the important thing to realise is that that amount is more than offset by the revolving funds which have been produced from advances made by the Commonwealth. That is a fact that I believe has been deliberately ignored by the honourable member for Reid in making his comments on this occasion and on previous occasions. Perhaps, in fairness to him, I should say that he has not appreciated the significance of this point. A substantial amount of additional money over and above the base amount provided by the Commonwealth is available for welfare housing in Australia in the current financial year.
Pensioner housing funds have increased from $ 10m in 1977-78 to $ 14m in 1978-79. That is an increase of 40 per cent. Why was that increase not mentioned? It is a significant increase in the funds being provided to needy pensioners for their housing. That was not mentioned. It is an important fact. In 1974, for example, $5m was provided. We have increased the amount recently from $10m to $14m. The internally generated funds are derived from the rental and sales policies of the housing authorities and surpluses accruing in the revolving funds of the State home builders accounts. As a direct result of the new policies introduced in the Agreement which I have mentioned- an initiative by the present Government- concerning sales, rents and home purchase assistance, these funds will increase considerably.
I shall indicate the estimates that have been provided by the State authorities. These figures must be noted. They are probably conservative figures for sales and rental operations and the surpluses flowing from those operations. Honourable members should look at these figures and note them. They are important. In 1977-78, $79m was the amount provided in this area. In 1978-79 that amount has been increased to $ 1 1 8m. Why was that significant increase not mentioned? The revolving funds, which accrue from advances the Commonwealth has provided for home purchase assistance, have increased from $59m in 1977-78 to $69m in 1978-79. Honourable members should look at the total amounts provided for sales and rental operations and home purchases. In 1977-78 the total amount was $138m. In 1978-79 it is $187m. Therefore, we are looking at an increase of $49m in funds which flow directly from assistance provided by the Commonwealth. That is an increase of 36 percent.
– The honourable member says ‘Baloney’. I suggest that he look at the figures, study them and try to understand the subject. These figures are accurate. They are the estimates provided by the States themselves. The honourable member should check with the States and see what they say.
– Why are they not building more houses?
– I will get to that in a moment. It is difficult to know exactly to what extent the States have contributed to public housing in the past. We believe that in 1977-78 an amount of $23.2m was provided for CSHA purposes. The important thing is- this will answer the honourable member’s question- that, with the increase of 10.8 per cent in general revenue funds under the tax sharing arrangements, States are well placed to increase their efforts in this area.
We do not look just at the base figure. We look also at the matching figure, the revolving funds and the general revenue funds available to the States. We believe that there is clearly an opportunity for the States, if they so desire, to increase the funds flowing to welfare housing in Australia. Under arrangements with the States they will not be formally advising the Commonwealth of the extent of their contributions, but informal advice which has been received suggests that all the funds available will be allocated. It is up to the States to apportion the $130m that they themselves will be contributing by way of matching grants. Some States- for example, Victoriahave indicated that they will be increasing their contribution to public housing in this financial year. In taking into account the funds being provided by the Commonwealth, Victoria has indicated that it will be increasing its contribution to public housing in this financial year. That flies in the face of everything the honourable member for Reid has said so far.
Let me go through a summary of funding for the benefit of honourable members. In 1977-78 the Commonwealth base contribution was $400m. No matching funds were provided by the Commonwealth in 1977-78. Matching funds will be provided in the current financial year. Internally generated funds of $ 138m were available in 1977-78. Other identified State funds, such as those flowing from the CSHA, amounted to $23m. Additional State funded programs in the area of welfare housing amounted to $60m. That was a total of $621m in 1977-78. In 1978-79 there has been an increase in the amount provided. A Commonwealth base contribution of $200m is provided in the current financial year.
The matching fund- a new developmentprovides $ 130m. The internally generated funds are $ 187m. The States will be taking up their full matching allocation in identified State funds of $130m. That makes a total of $647m, which is an increase of $26m on the funds provided and available in the last financial year. Honourable members should analyse those figures. Where is the cutback? It does not exist. The States have an opportunity to provide at least the same level of activity in welfare housing in the current financial year as they provided in the last financial year.
I think it is worth while to compare the approach taken by the present Government with that taken by the present Opposition when it was in government. In 1 956 the then Liberal-Country Party Government introduced a home ownership assistance plan for low income earners through the home builders account. This was to give low income earners an opportunity that did not previously exist to buy their own homes. We as a government want to encourage these low income earners and to give them the opportunity to purchase their own homes. That is why we have written a special provision into the current Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement to encourage the States to allocate more of their funds to home ownership. Previously there was a limit of 30 per cent on funds flowing to home ownership. Now there is no limit; we have taken it away. This indicates the concern we have that people on low incomes should have the opportunity that other people in the community have to purchase their own homes.
We have introduced this Agreement in 1978. It has not been fully recognised by the Opposition as an important advance and reform in this area. It will assist home ownership and will ensure an adequate stock of rental housing. It will gear assistance to need. That is very important. The money available will be directed to those in need so that more people in real need will be assisted this financial year than were assisted last financial year. It is quite wrong of the Opposition to paint deliberately a false picture of the very real support that is being provided by this Government for welfare housing. As I said, the funds available should at least equal those provided by the Commonwealth last year, so long as the States play their part and co-operate in providing welfare housing.
-Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
-The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community ——-….. 0 - j
Development (Mr Groom) finds himself in a particularly invidious position. He is of course the Minister who, along with the previous Minister, has presided over the most savage cutbacks that have been made by the Government in relation to any department. He is a Minister who presides over a department the morale of which is at its absolutely lowest point; a Minister who recognises that successive previous Ministers have not been able, have not been prepared and have not been strong enough to go into Cabinet and maintain real spending in their particular area.
The Minister defends and attempts to gloss over what are undeniably the most savage cutbacks that have occurred within the public housing sector at any time in the post-war period. This year the number of new homes constructed within the public housing sector will reach a point which is as low as it has been since 1950 when public housing contributed over 9,500 units. That was nearly 18 per cent of the units being constructed in that year. This year we are talking about construction at about the same level. Of course that will represent a much more minimal percentage of total housing within this country. The Minister can come into the House and attempt to fiddle the figures. Indeed, one of the specialties of this Government is to say one thing and to do another; to present a situation as if it were one thing when in reality that situation is totally different.
We know what the reality is in relation to welfare housing. We can look at what the trend has been in successive Liberal Budgets. For example, one can go back to the last Hayden Budgetbefore the Liberal Government came into power. That was a moderate Budget, not an expansionary Budget. In that Budget $349m was provided for Advances to the States. In the Lynch Budget the figure went up marginally to $367m. Now in this Budget the figure is down to $290m. If one looks at those figures in real terms, one finds in terms of 1974-75 values that in the Hayden Budget of 1975-76, $307m was provided as Advances to the States, in the second Lynch Budget-1977-78-$265m was provided and in the Howard Budget $ 199m was provided. So the present Budget allocation for the States is down by 25 per cent on the allocation in the last Lynch Budget and is down 35 per cent on the allocation in the Hayden Budget. Those are the relevant figures. They indicate the reality. This Government, at a time of the highest unemployment in the post-war period, is prepared to sacrifice the people who live in public housing, as well as the low income earners who are dependent on that son of housing and who currently are unable to get housing of any reasonable standard in the private sector. We are cutting into the funds allocated for the housing of these people. They cannot get decent housing in the public sector. On the other hand we are cutting into an industry which is of enormous importance in relation to creating employment and which particularly employs a large number of semiskilled and unskilled people who themselves are low income earners. This is happening at a time of increased need rather than reduced need.
At a time of recession I think it can be justifiably argued that in such a crucial area as housing spending ought to be expanded rather than reduced. This is not a matter of advocating profligate spending; it is simply a matter of indicating that we have in this situation a Minister who has not been strong enough, a Minister who has had to bear overwhelming cuts within his Department because he has not been able to stand up to the heat that has been generated. Indeed, at the very time that the pre-Cabinet discussions were taking place he had even to be persuaded to stay in Australia for them. This Minister is a weak Minister and the result is the situation which we have in welfare housing. We see these cutbacks occurring at a time when the need for emergency housing, for example, has never been more overwhelming. This is because the Minister is a weak Minister. He has not been able to protect his Department during a period of cuts and budgetary restraints.
Let us take the issue of emergency housing. Let us refer to the situation in New South Wales. I want to quote from a report which appeared in the Canberra Times of 18 September which quoted the State Chairman of the Shelter organisation of New South Wales in relation to the need for emergency housing within New South Wales. The report states: . . . a recent survey taken by a Sydney tenants’ organisation has shown that . . . 40,000 people- about one per cent of the population of NSW- are in need of emergency accommodation.
The results of the survey, by the organisation called NSW Shelter, also shows that only 40 per cent of those needing emergency accommodation could be housed. . . . Mr Greg Thompson, said the attitudes of the . . . Liberal Parties in providing crisis accommodation was one of the major issues in the State election to be held on 7 October.
He said that although the demand for this type of accommodation was relatively high, it was not receiving sufficient attention from governments. So we have the Shelter organisation in New South Wales talking about what is a vast and overwhelming need for emergency accommodation, 100,000 people around the country are on waiting lists and the Minister is attempting to defend what is a massive reduction in funds for welfare housing. He speaks about the recent Commonwealth-States housing finance agreement as representing some kind of progress in a sense that it will now be possible under the agreement to remove- from housing commission accommodation people who he says are well over and who I would say usually are marginally over the criteria that have traditionally been provided in relation to welfare housing.
I think there is a case for saying that that kind of housing ought to be designed to reach the people who are most in need. We know that the people who are in real need, the people who belong to the 100,000 on waiting lists in the various States of Australia, are currently in tenanted accommodation. We know that a very high percentage of lower income tenants are in fact being driven into poverty because of their situation. We remember that this same Minister, this Minister who is not able to deal with strong people such as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), this Minister who is not able to stand up to the pressure and who cannot stand the heat when he goes into the kitchen, was going to do something in this area. He was going to produce a scheme- the housing allowance voucher experiment. He was going to produce through the scheme funds specifically designed to meet the needs of lower income earners. As late as 13 March he said:
The housing allowance experiment is certainly proceeding. Any suggestion that we intend cancelling the experiment or deliberately delaying its commencement date is absolute nonsense.
That is the Minister who within a few weeks was cancelling the experiment. One could also talk about home savings grants. I asked him a question about that matter. He is very keen on home ownership. What has this government done to home savings grants? It has cut them by $ 15m and we know that there is not a person who is not currently on the waiting list who will get one. That is the scheme that the Minister was telling us was such a great scheme. This Minister is a weak Minister. The sooner that he can be removed from the Ministry, the sooner the people in welfare and public housing will get a reasonable deal in this country.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Let us be sensible; let us be practical: But, above all, let us be honest. In his speech, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom) destroyed the arguments of the Opposition so much so that, as a person of independent view who likes to make up his own mind after listening to the arguments, I would say that he has proved once and for all that there is, unfortunately, no effective parliamentary Federal Opposition at the present time. The Minister impeccably canvassed the whole issue of housing. He did not pull out one single item and try to make a case out of it. He gave a total response to the housing requirements of the Australian people- and well he might. It is all very well to pick out one section in isolation. But honourable members opposite should bear in mind that a recent analysis proved that people in Australia like to have their own little bit of Australia; they like to have their own home. The figures show that in the United States of America 13 per cent of people live in rental housing; nine per cent of Australians live in rental housing. I wonder what stage of political activity we have reached in this country when the Opposition introduces for discussion a matter of public importance which is non-factual, has no basis, no need for urgency and is put up merely for the sake of propaganda. It is no wonder that the Opposition’s total policy is what one might term a complete mess of pottage. When I listened to the inane remarks of the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) I was reminded of Disraeli when he spoke of Gladstone’s Ministers as ‘a range of exhausted volcanoes’. Having contaminated and destroyed by their actions they now have no policy, no direction and, above all, no fire.
Why has there been a recession in the home building industry? If we look back we find that in the years 1973 to 1975- those years of no restraint in Government spending, of not looking to the future and of no indicative planning- the Party in office decided that we would require 207,000 homes a year by 1980 and about 229,000 homes a year by 1985. It did not take any notice of the Borrie report, of the nuclear family, as it is termed, and the fact that families will be smaller. Quite obviously, the building industry built far too many homes and saturated the market. However, it would be wrong to pretend that today’s depressed level of home construction represents today’s real demand. Due to the policies of the Federal Government to contain inflation we stand very high in world eyes. Our efforts to contain inflation have been successful. Our policy of reducing interest rates has helped the economy. Honourable members will remember how interest rates skyrocketed under the Labor Administration.
Honourable members will recall that a reduction of one-half of one per cent per year on a loan of $25,000 over 25 years means a total saving to a home purchaser over the period of the loan of $2,600. That is a real saving for people who have proved beyond doubt that they want to own their homes. It is interesting to note that the gross fixed capital expenditure on private dwellings in the building industry rose to $747m in June 1978 compared with $694m in March- a rise of 7.5 per cent. That indicates that the policies of the Government and the words of the Minister are correct: The Australian people are interested in owning their own homes. We find that funds have been made available for housing, contrary to the views expressed by the two previous Opposition speakers, consistent with the demand for public finance.
The point should be made- it ought to be made and it must be made- that this Government is not a Government that wants to centralise all power in Canberra. We have meaningful co-operation with the States. We believe in federalism. Indicative of that are the new arrangements made under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. It ill-behoves any member of the Opposition to take out figures in isolation and to say that, because fewer dollars were made available in this particular year, the total funding for welfare housing is less than it was in the previous year. The States are required under the legislation which was described by Sir Charles Court, a great Premier- almost as good as the Premier of Queensland- as the best housing agreement that has been made between the Commonwealth and the States. Under that legislation we find that the States, as co-operators in federalism and as sovereign States in their own right, are to contribute in certain circumstances on a dollar-for-dollar basis in the area of welfare housing. That is good. We do not want to centralise power. If the honourable member for Reid takes time off to do his mathematics and adds up the figures, he will find that money is being made available in the welfare housing area for those people who are in need.
We must remember too that the savings banks and the trading banks have made record funds available during the last 12 months. Savings banks made available $2, 140m to June 1978 in order to allow 104,000 home seekers to purchase their own homes. Trading banks made available $87 lm for the purpose of supplying homes to 38,000 Australian people. I am delighted with the thrust of the Budget of the Treasurer (Mr
Howard). He indicated that savings banks would be able to make available more money in the area of housing. I hope that in the months ahead the Treasurer will be able to give serious consideration also to reducing the rate, and giving greater flexibility, consistent with the need to make secure the depositors funds held in various savings banks accounts. Greater flexibility will make more money available. One of the Opposition speakers said that there was growing need for public housing in Australia. I want to correct the misapprehension that is permeating through his mind because we find that in Queensland this is not so. We find that in April 1977 there were 3,200 people in Brisbane seeking public housing. At the present time this figure is 1,200, which is a meaningful reduction. In my own area of Toowoomba, in September 1977, 224 people were seeking public housing and at present the figure is 175. That indicates that the requirements of people in need are being fulfilled. Incidentally, if one lives in Brisbane at the present time and requires public housing on a rental basis one only has to wait four weeks. I think that indicates that so far as the public housing sector in Queensland and in the majority of Australia are concerned the shortfall is being taken up rapidly. It is wrong for the Opposition not to give tangible acknowledgement of that fact.
I compliment the Minister. I throw this back into the teeth of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe), who personally stooped to character assassination of a great Minister. What better type of Minister could we have than this Minister who, in his first year, was able to increase finance from $10m to $ 14m for those grand people, the pathfinders and trail blazers of Australian society, our poor pensioners. I am delighted to be associated with such a humane Minister, a Minister who is concerned about the poor, the needy and the elderly in our society. I congratulate him. We find that in New South Wales, through the initiative of the Minister and with the co-operation of the Treasurer, in this very important area of finance for pensioner dwellings- bearing in mind that this is for single and married pensioners- the sum was increased from last year’s allocation of $4,070,000 to $5,695,000. That is excellent. What an excellent Minister we have who can achieve those wonderful results. I am disappointed with members of a Party which claims to look after the poor and the needy in society because not one word was mentioned about the wonderful contribution that is given under the various aged persons’ homes Acts. We have increased our allocation under the homeless persons assistance legislation from $2,148,000 to $3.8m this year. This will provide assistance to those ‘weary travellers’ who do not know what a home is. The amount allocated for aged persons homes is $29.9m, and for aged or disabled persons $26. lm- up $3.95m. The amount provided for handicapped persons assistance, including finance for capital and recurrent grants, is $52m- up a staggering $14. 13m. We have a wonderful litany of achievements and throw back the stupid criticism, which has been coming from the Opposition.
-(Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The major purpose of this and associated Bills I shall shortly introduce is to give effect to the Government’s income tax proposals announced in my Budget Speech. Before proceeding to the matters dealt with in this Bill I mention one of the Budget proposals to which effect will be given by the Income Tax (Rates) Amendment Bill which I will be introducing shortly. This is the proposal to increase, for this year only, the standard rate of personal income tax by 1 lA percentage points from 32 per cent to 33!& per cent, with corresponding increases to 47!£ per cent and 6 1 ‘A per cent at higher income levels. I mention it now because of its importance and because it has technical and other implications for items in this Bill. As I indicated in my Budget Speech, it is necessary to raise substantial additional revenue for 1978-79 and this is one of the measures chosen to do this in the most equitable and economically responsible manner.
Lump sum retirement payments for unused leave
One of the Budget proposals dealt with in the Bill is the changed basis of assessing lump sums received on retirement for unused annual and long service leave. At present, only 5 per cent of such a lump sum qualifying subject to tax and this can act as something of an encouragement not to take the leave during a taxpayer’s working life. The Government considers that the tax system should not have this effect. Accordingly, the Bill provides that the full amount of any lump sum payment for annual leave that is made on retirement after 15 August 1978- Budget day- is to be taxed. The payments to be taxed in this way will include any bonus or loading relating to the unused leave.
In the Budget Speech I said:
After tonight, the whole of lump sum payments for unused annual leave will be taxed in full as ordinary income.
In certain cases the accrued annual arrangements pay if combined with ordinary income would have pushed the taxpayer into a different tax bracket. To prevent this occurring the Government has decided that unused annual leave payments should be taxed at no more than the standard rate, namely, 33.5 per cent in 1978-79. Whilst the Government’s decision on annual leave will have altered the expectations of some who had accumulated annual leave entitlements at Budget time, it is incorrect to claim, as some have, that the Budget decision is a retrospective change to the law.
Such a change is one which backdates a change to the law and retrospectively alters a previously enjoyed right. The right in question is that of an employee to accumulate annual leave entitlements and to take those entitlements in a lump sum at the rate of tax applicable when the lump sum is paid. This right is maintained. In no case will the decision affect a lump sum payment made before 15 August 1978 although as I have acknowledged it will result in persons who had accumulated annual leave prior to the Budget paying a higher rate of tax when the lump sum is received than they might have anticipated at the time the accumulation took place.
The law regarding the taxation of lump sum payments due to long service leave has been altered. The Bill treats separately entitlements earned before the Budget and since the Budget. These changes apply in cases where payment is made and retirement, or termination, takes effect after 15 August 1978. In the case of entitlements earned up to Budget day, the situation remains the same. Only 5 per cent of the part of the lump sum attributable to the period up to 15 August 1978 is counted as assessable income. On the other hand, the part of a lump sum that is attributable to the period between 15 August 1978 and the date of retirement is to be fully assessable, but the rate is not to exceed the standard rate, namely, 33.5 percent for 1978-79. The limitation on the rate for both annual and long service leave lump sums will overcome any bunching effect that might otherwise have arisen from the inclusion of these amounts in the taxable income of a single year.
The changes will not apply to payments made to a dependant or legal personal representative of a deceased employee. These are to remain free of tax. Pay-as-you-earn deduction at the standard rate of tax will be made from assessable lump sum payments made on or after 1 November 1978.
Averaging for primary producers
In continuation of the Government’s measures to achieve a fairer tax system, the Bill will adjust the averaging system for primary producers so as to confine its benefits more directly to income from primary production. Under the new system, average income will continue to be calculated on the basis of the taxable incomes of the relevant years. It will not be calculated only on the basis of primary production income. Income derived from primary production will continue to qualify for averaging benefits no matter how much other income is derived. Only a limited amount of nonprimary production income may, however, qualify for the benefits for 1978-79 and later years. Non-primary production income up to $5,000 net will continue to qualify, but this amount is to be shaded out by one dollar for each dollar over $5,000 so that non-primary production income of $10,000 or more will not be subject to any averaging benefit.
To achieve this result the Bill adopts the technique of providing a tax rebate for a primary producer whose average income is less than his or her taxable income. Where non-primary production income is $5,000 or less, allowance of the rebate will attain the same result as the present averaging system. In other cases, non-primary production income up to $5,000 will be treated as primary production income and the new averaging benefit will be the part of the amount of the benefit calculated under the present system as bears to that amount the same proportion as primary production income (including the up-to-$5,000 allowance) included in taxable income bears to the whole taxable income.
These changes will reduce the use of tax avoidance schemes based on primary producer status, but retain for genuine primary producers the averaging benefit needed by them to compensate for fluctuating primary production income.
Self-assessment of provisional tax
Some changes to the system of self-assessment of provisional tax are to be effected by this Bill. They are designed to overcome losses of revenue due to the practice of some taxpayers of knowingly under-estimating current year income so as to reduce provisional tax payments. Existing selfassessment provisions may be exploited in this way in the knowledge that the additional tax for which the law makes provision in cases of underestimation will not be payable if the estimate is not less than 80 per cent of the taxable income of either the current or the previous year.
This will be changed for 1978-79 and later years so that additional tax will be payable where the estimated income in respect of which provisional tax is payable- that is, income other than salary or wages- turns out to be more than 10 per cent below the actual income, other than salary or wages, for the year. The Commissioner of Taxation will, as at present, be able to remit the additional tax where an under-estimate is due to circumstances which were not apparent when it was made.
Rebate on concessional expenditures exceeding $1,590
At present, the rate of rebate for certain concessional expenditure in excess of $1,590 on items such as medical and education expenses, life assurance and superannuation, municipal rates, etc., is equal to the standard rate of tax of 32 per cent. As a consequence of the temporary increase in the standard rate for 1 978-79 this rebate rate is to be increased to 331/2 per cent for that year.
Home loan interest
Provisions in the Bill will terminate the housing loan interest deduction with effect from 1 November 1978. Accordingly, the deduction in respect of housing loan interest for the 1978-79 income year will be based on interest accrued up to 31 October 1978 that is paid by 30 June 1979. Employers are being instructed not to give effect to housing loan interest claims in payasyouearn deductions after 1 November.
Commonwealth post-graduate awards
The Bill provides for the withdrawal of the exemption of income derived after 3 1 October 1978 under the Commonwealth post-graduate awards scheme. An associated amendment will provide for living allowances paid under this scheme to be included in the PA YE system as from 1 November 1978.
Rebates for dependants residing overseas
The Bill also provides for the withdrawal- as from 1 November 1978- of rebates for the maintenance of dependants resident overseas. This measure, which is in line with the views expressed in the report of the review of post-arrival programs and services to migrants, was made necessary by the mounting abuse of the existing provisions with substantial costs to revenue. The amendment will not affect rebates for dependants temporarily overseas who continue to be residents of Australia for taxation purposes. Nor will it affect rebates for wives and children awaiting migration to Australia. As the rebate is being discontinued as from 1 November 1978, a partial rebate, equal to one-third of the rebate otherwise allowable on a full-year basis, will be allowed for qualifying dependants who were non-residents in the period up to 3 1 October 1978.
Gifts to World Wildlife Fund Australia
The World Wildlife Fund Australia is to be brought within the gift provisions of the income tax law so that donations of $2 or more to the fund will be tax deductible.
Health insurance levy
As part of the major changes to health care arrangements announced in my Budget Speech the health insurance levy is to be terminated with effect from 1 November 1978. Measures to give effect to this proposal are included in this Bill and in the associated Health Insurance Levy Bill 1978. People who are fully covered by private health insurance or other arrangements during the period 1 July 1 978 to 3 1 October 1 978 will be exempt from the levy for 1978-79. Those who are not so exempt will pay levy on their taxable incomes for the whole of 1978-79, but at a rate equal to one-third of the full year rate of 2.5 per cent and subject to levy ceilings equal to onethird of those that have applied for a full year.
Calculations of 1978-79 provisional tax
Provision is made in the Bill for the amount of the temporary increase of 1 Vi per cent in the standard rate for 1978-79 to be taken into account in calculating provisional tax for that period. The health insurance levy component of provisional tax is to be reduced by two-thirds of the amount payable for 1977-78 so as to reflect the abolition of the levy as from 1 November 1978.
A feature of this Government’s tax policy has been a vigorous assault on tax avoidance practices. As I said in my Budget Speech ‘the time is long since past when governments or the community should tolerate the blatant, artificial and contrived means whereby certain sections of the community seek to pay little or no tax to the detriment of the general body of taxpayers and the equity of the tax system’. The pressure against tax avoidance will be resolutely maintained this financial year. As new forms of tax avoidance are identified, announcements indicating that appropriate legislation is to be introduced will be made and that legislation will be effective from the date of such announcements.
It is impossible to quantify precisely the cost to revenue of tax avoidance schemes and practices. However, there can be little doubt that the actions of this Government in recent months have prevented a loss to revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars. During the past 12 months alone, the Government has introduced or foreshadowed legislation dealing with many tax avoidance practices including the following: The so-called Curran scheme, current year losses, abuse of averaging provisions, dividend stripping, trust stripping, pre-paid rent and interest, abuse of gift provisions, share trading loss schemes, sales tax avoidance practices and schemes involving the abuse of deductions for mortgage payments, trading stock and interest and rent.
The Government believes there is widespread community support for action to curb tax avoidance. Tax avoidance on the scale practised in recent years has been an affront not only to the average wage earner who has little capacity to participate in such schemes but also to numerous high income earners who, having both the capacity and the incentive to participate in such schemes, have consciously chosen not to do so. The warning to those who promote tax avoidance schemes should be clear enough. This Government is determined to clamp down on those schemes as vigorously as possible.
Details of the various measures in the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum that is now being circulated. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill will amend the Income Tax (Rates) Act 1976 which declares the rates of tax payable by individuals and trustees and includes provision for the automatic indexation of these rates in consequence of movements of the consumer price index. The main feature of the Bill is the increase in the standard rate of personal income tax for the 1978-79 financial year from 32 per cent to 331/2 per cent. The general rate of tax applicable to the amount of taxable income from $ 1 6,609 to $33,2 16 will also increase from 46 per cent to 471/2 per cent, while that applicable to taxable income in excess of $33,216 will increase from 60 per cent to 6 11/2 per cent. The increase is a temporary measure and the Bill provides that it will not continue beyond the end of this financial year.
The increase will be reflected in higher payasyouearn deductions as from 1 November 1978. These are to be raised by the amount necessary to collect the full year’s increase in tax in the period between 1 November 1978 and 30 June 1979. Provisional tax for 1978-79 will also be adjusted to include the11/2 per cent rate increase. Other amendments to be effected by the Bill are consequential upon the changes to the averaging provisions proposed in the Bill that I have just introduced. Under the existing averaging provisions, an average rate of tax is declared for application to the taxpayer’s taxable income. Under the new arrangements a taxpayer to whom the averaging provisions apply will be taxed at the ordinary rates of tax. This tax will then be reduced by a rebate equal to the tax saving that would result if the average tax rate were applied to primary production income or income treated as primary production income. Details of the changes proposed by the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum that is being circulated and I do not think it is necessary for me to elaborate further at this stage. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill is an annual measure. Its purpose is to formally impose tax for 1978-79 at the rates declared in the Income Tax (Rates) Act 1976, as proposed to be amended by the Bill I have just introduced. This year the Bill contains a special measure to provide a rebate of tax for 1 978-79 for a limited number of taxpayers who would otherwise have suffered a small detriment arising from the substitution of the standard rate system from 1 February 1978, with half indexation for 1978-79, for the previous personal income tax system, fully indexed.
The great majority of taxpayers are better off under the standard rate system than they would have been under the previous system. However, it was appreciated when the new system was introduced that some taxpayers in a limited income range could suffer a very small disadvantage in 1978-79 and it was announced then, and again by me in June of this year, that a rebate would be provided to avoid this detriment. The rebate will apply in the range of taxable income from $6,601 to $6,978, the maximum being $7. 10 for an income of $6,742. Details of the provisions of the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum which has been made available to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill will impose income tax for 1978-79 on the 1977-78 incomes of companies, and the 1978-79 incomes of superannuation funds, at the rates declared by the Bill. With one exception, the rates declared by the Bill are the same as those declared for 1977-78 and the provisions of the Bill follow the same lines as in earlier years. The only rate change proposed is for superannuation funds which are taxed in accordance with section 121DA of the Assessment Act. These funds, which are broadly in the nature of accumulation trusts, are taxed at a rate equal to the maximum rate of personal tax and, in consequence of the proposed temporary increase of 11/2 per cent in the rates of personal income tax for 1978-79, the rate of tax applicable to the income of these funds is to be increased from 60 per cent to 6 11/2 per cent for the 1 978-79 financial year. Details of provisions of the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
This Bill imposes health insurance levy, at the rate declared in the Bill, on taxable incomes for 1978-79 of individual taxpayers liable to the levy. I announced in my Budget Speech that, under new health care arrangements, the health insurance levy is to cease to apply as from 1 October 1978. Reflecting the fact that the levy is to apply for only one-third of the year, the rate of levy, to apply to taxable income for the whole of the year, is to be 0.833 per cent, that is, one-third of the 2.5 per cent rate which applied for the full 1977-78 year. Consistent with that, the proposed levy ceilings, which limit the amount of levy payable, will be $50 for a single person and $ 100 for a person with dependants, that is, one-third of the ceilings of $150 and $300 respectively which applied in 1977-78.
Under provisions applying in 1977-78, people who were adequately covered by private health insurance or other arrangements for the whole of the year were exempt from the levy. For 1978-79 people will be exempt from the levy if they have adequate private cover for the whole of the period from 1 July 1978 to 31 October 1978. Details of the features of the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill gives effect to the Government’s proposals for social services pensions and benefits for 1978-79. It reflects the Government’s concern that assistance to those in need should be maintained notwithstanding the necessity for restraint in Government expenditure generally. The provisions of the Bill cover the following: Indexation of pensions and benefits; age pensions for persons aged 70 or more; rationalisation of payments for children; family allowances, including handicapped child’s allowance and double orphan’s pension; maternity allowance; and payment of benefits in respect of children living abroad.
Indexation of pensions and benefits
Under the current automatic adjustment provisions of the Social Services Act, the single and married rates of pension, and certain rates of unemployment and sickness benefit, are adjusted in May and November each year in accordance with movements in the consumer price index. The Bill amends these provisions so that pensions and benefits will be adjusted once a year, in November, rather than twice a year as at present. This change has been made in the light of the significant reduction in inflation achieved by this Government. The increase in November of each year will be based on the percentage increase in the CPI over the 12 months ending with the previous June quarter. The first increase under the new arrangements will be in November 1979. The annual automatic adjustment provisions will not extend to the rate of benefit for unemployment beneficiaries without dependants or to the rate of benefit for single unemployment and sickness beneficiaries under 18 years of age. These rates will be reviewed annually in the Budget context.
Under the existing indexation provisions the rates of pensions and benefits will be increased in November of this year in line with the rise in the CPI between the December 1977 and June 1978 quarters. The single rate of age, invalid and widow’s pension, supporting parent’s benefit and unemployment and sickness benefit will rise from $51.45 to $53.20 a week. The combined married rate will rise from $85.80 to $88.70 a week. These increases reflect the full 3.4 per cent increase in the CPI for the first half of 1978. The Bill provides that the increases will be paid to persons aged 70 years or more only if the income test is satisfied. I will cover this in more detail shortly.
Furthermore, there will be no increase in the rate of benefit paid to unemployment beneficiaries aged 18 or more who do not have dependants. They will continue to receive $5 1.45 a week. Similarly, single unemployment and sickness beneficiaries under 18 years of age will continue to receive $36 a week. The new rates of pension and supporting parent’s benefit will come into effect on pay-day 9 November 1978. Increases in the rates of unemployment and sickness benefits will operate in respect of payments due on and after 1 November 1978. The cost of these increases is expected to be $95.3m in 1978-79 and $ 145.7m in a full year.
Age pensions for persons aged 70 or more
The single and married rates of age pension are payable free of the income test in the case of persons who have attained 70 years of age. The single rate is currently $51.45 a week and the combined married rate is $85.80 a week. Additional payments- that is, additional pension for children, guardian’s allowance and supplementary (rent) assistance- are income tested.
As from November 1978, pensions payable to persons aged 70 years or more will remain at their current rates, but the pensioner may qualify for the new indexed rate subject to the income test. Where no increase is payable pensions will continue to be paid at the rate in force since May 1978-that is, $51.45 or $85.80 a week. It is estimated that more than 500,000 pensioners 70 years of age or over will receive the full increase payable in November 1978. Blind pensioners will continue to be paid free of income test. Many pensioners have continued to advise the Department of Social Security of their income for ‘fringe’ benefit purposes. This information, held in the Department’s records, will be used to assess the entitlement, if any, of pensioners to the November 1978 pension increases, without the need for further contact from the pensioners involved.
Pensioners aged 70 years or over who have not advised the Department of their income should do so as soon as possible if they wish to be considered for ah increase. Single pensioners 70 years or over who have income, apart from pension, of between $20 a week and $23.50 a week will receive a partial increase. The corresponding figures for couples receiving the married rate of pension are $34.50 a week and $40.30 a week. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the following table which sets out the rates of pensions which will be payable to pensioners 70 years or over as from 9 November 1978.
The table read as follows-
-It will be noted that, for single persons, any income over $20 a week reduces the increase in pension by only 50c a week for each $ 1 of income over $20. In the case of a married couple the reduction is 25c a week each for every dollar of combined income in excess of $34.50.
Rationalisation of payments for children
Handicapped child’s allowance of $15 a week is payable to parents or guardians in respect of a child under the age of 1 6 years who is cared for at home and who, because of the severity of the handicap, is in need of constant care and attention. Subject to the discretion of the DirectorGeneral, a handicapped child ‘s allowance is also payable, wholly or in part, where a person has the custody, care and control of a substantially handicapped child and, as a consequence of continuing substantial expenditure associated with the child’s disability, the person suffers financial hardship.
The Bill gives effect to the Government’s decision to extend payment of handicapped child ‘s allowance for full-time students aged between 1 6 and 25 years, providing the child is not receiving an invalid pension. Existing provisions allow continuation of payment of handicapped child ‘s allowance for not more than 30 days in the case of severely handicapped children who are temporarily absent from the family home but exclude those who are not severely handicapped. The Bill gives the Director-General discretion to continue handicapped child’s allowance in respect of any child during short absences from the family home.
In order to make provisions regarding children uniform the Government has also decided that the upper age limit of 25 years for payment of family allowance and double orphan’s pension will also apply to payment of additional pension and additional unemployment or sickness benefit for children. It has also decided to preclude payment of family allowance and double orphan’s pension where the child receives an invalid pension. The Bill contains savings provisions which will ensure that current pensioners and beneficiaries are not disadvantaged by these changes.
The Government will continue the new scheme of family allowances which it introduced in 1976. These allowances will not be subject to any income test or to taxation. The Social Services Act provides that family allowance, including double orphan’s pension and handicapped child’s allowance shall be payable in respect of endowment periods as determined by the Director-General. A four-weekly payment cycle applies for each benefit. Payment may be made by cheque or by credit to a bank, building society or credit union account.
The Bill amends the Social Services Act to provide that family allowance be paid in respect of monthly endowment periods rather than the existing four-weekly periods. The new endowment periods will commence on the fifteenth day of a calendar month and end on the fourteenth day of the next month. The rates of family allowances will accordingly be expressed in monthly amounts. However, the total amount paid to parents in a given year will not be less than the total amount now payable. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the following table showing the present weekly rates and proposed monthly rates of family allowances:
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The first monthly endowment period will commence on 15 May 1979, this date being the day immediately following the end of the previous fourweekly endowment period. Thus there will be no lag between the end of the last four-weekly period and the beginning of the first monthly period. Payments on 1 5 May will be at the fourweekly rate and the first payments at the new monthly rates will be on 14 June 1979. The Bill gives effect to the Government’s decision that family allowance will no longer be paid for students receiving Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme allowances or other related Commonwealth education allowances. In order to compensate for the loss of family allowance, the rates of TEAS and other related Commonwealth education allowances are being increased by $5.25 a week.
As the Act stands at present the Department of Social Security has been advised that it is possible for two people to be paid a full family allowance for the same child at the same time. This is clearly not the intention of the legislation. The Bill therefore proposes to remedy this deficiency by giving the Director-General discretion to apportion payments on such basis as he determines where he is satisfied that two persons are each qualified to receive payment in respect of the same child at the same time. For example, where parents living permanently apart have joint custody of, or joint access to, a child.
Maternity allowance is payable under the provisions of the Social Services Act to mothers, irrespective of means, to help meet the expenses associated with the birth of children. There has been no change in the rates of the allowance payable since 1943. Costs associated with confinements are now largely covered by health insurance arrangements. The Bill abolishes this allowance for births occurring on or after 1 November 1978.
Payment of benefits in respect of children living abroad
Provisions in the Social Services Act currently enable family allowance, including handicapped child’s allowance and double orphan’s pension, and additional pension or supporting parent’s benefit or additional unemployment or sickness benefit for children to be paid for a child living abroad. The Government believes it is inappropriate for the Australian taxpayer to contribute to the support of persons who are permanently resident overseas, who have never been resident in Australia and who may never come to Australia. The rates of family allowances and the size of the tax rebates for dependants are set in the light of Australian conditions and, in many cases, would be over-generous having regard to the cost of maintaining a dependant overseas.
In the light of this the Bill provides that such payments will not in future be made for children outside Australia unless: A child is temporarily abroad; a child is living abroad pending migration to Australia within four years after the commencement of the benefit; and in respect of additional pension/benefit a child is living abroad with a person who is himself receiving an Australian pension or benefit overseas. Expenditure on pensions and benefits payable under the Social Services Act is estimated to be $6,602m for 1978-79, which will be an increase of $399m over that paid in 1977-78. 1 commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Adermann, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill provides for amendments to the Repatriation Act and associated Acts to give effect to the Government’s decisions covering: Nominations of persons to Repatriation determining authorities by organisations representing dependants of deceased veterans and exservicewomen; the provision for pulmonary tuberculosis to be dealt with in the same way as other disabilities; automatic adjustment of the main repatriation pensions in accordance with movements in the Consumer Price Index only once a year; the provision of an upper age limit of 25 years for student children undertaking fulltime education, in respect of whom Service pensioners receive additional allowances to their basic Service pensions; the provision for incometestfree pensions to be frozen at their present cash level and additions to income-test-free pensions to become subject to the normal income test as applied to pensioners under 70 years of age; and the removal of references to the sustenance allowance. There are also a number of machinery amendments.
I will now outline to the House the provisions of the Bill. The Government over the years has received representations from organisations representing dependants of deceased veterans and ex-servicewomen that they be able to nominate persons for appointment to the repatriation determining authorities. At present the Repatriation Act provides that only organisations representing returned soldiers may make nominations. The Government believes that, by broadening the class of organisations permitted to make these nominations, repatriation determining authorities will more accurately reflect the composition of persons in the community whose lives are affected by the repatriation system. Organisations currently entitled to nominate persons to the determining authorities will, of course, retain their right of nomination.
This Bill provides for amendment to the provisions dealing with pulmonary tuberculosis. Up to the present, pulmonary tuberculosis has been treated separately from other disabilities under the legislation and those suffering from or who have suffered from the disease have occupied a privileged position in relation to other repatriation beneficiaries. A veteran who has served in a theatre of war and contracts pulmonary tuberculosis, whether as a result of his war service or otherwise, is eligible to receive benefits under the repatriation legislation. Furthermore, a tuberculosis pensioner who is no longer suffering from active tuberculosis is entitled to receive a 100 per cent general rate pension and, as a consequence, free medical and hospital care for all disabilities, irrespective of whether they are war caused or not.
While recognising that pulmonary tuberculosis is a horrible disease and those who suffered from it have had to endure a great deal, the Government is firmly of the view that there is no longer any reason for these people to be in a privileged position, particularly when the disease is no longer active. In future, only Service-related pulmonary tuberculosis will attract a disability pension and the amount of pension paid, as with any other illness or injury, will be determined according to the degree of actual incapacity. Veterans in receipt of benefits for pulmonary tuberculosis at the 100 per cent general rate will not lose their pensions, but will have these pensions frozen from 2 November 1978 at the May 1978 cash level of that rate.
As the recipient of a pension equivalent to 100 per cent of the general rate or greater, a veteran who has or has had TB is entitled to free medical, hospital and ancillary treatment for injuries, ailments or medical conditions irrespective of cause. Treatment covered includes optical, dental and pharmaceutical. A veteran whose pension has been frozen will not be entitled to full free repatriation medical treatment other than for TB and other associated Service-related conditions. However, if he is a 1914 War veteran, an ex-prisoner-of-war or a Service pensioner who qualifies for fringe benefits, he will retain full free medical treatment rights. As with other veterans assessed at less than 100 per cent, and all other Australians, he will be covered for hospital and medical care at a uniform level. The Government will pay 40 per cent of doctors’ schedule fees with a maximum payment by each person of $20 for each service. A doctor may bulk bill for a disadvantaged person so that he will not have to pay out of his own pocket.
If a veteran’s pension entitlement is reassessed at 100 per cent or greater, full restoration of free medical treatment will be made together with reimbursement of all reasonable costs, including medical and hospital insurance costs borne by him from 1 November 1978 and the date of reassessment. Commonwealth medical benefit will be available to those registered with a fund before 1 November 1978 or when they lodge their first claim with a fund. The normal waiting period of 2 months normally applicable to private health funds will be waived when a person lodges his claim between 1 November 1978 and 31 December 1978. The universal Commonwealth medical benefit will be available during any subsequent waiting period. If a person is satisfied with standard hospital care he need not join a fund. If he requires his own doctor in a public or private ward, it will be necessary for him to join a fund
All veterans receiving pensions for pulmonary tuberculosis are to be reviewed to determine the severity of the actual incapacity arising from their pulmonary tuberculosis and other Servicerelated disabilities. If, on the extent of actual incapacity, they are found to be over-assessed, pensions will continue to be paid at the May 1978 cash level- $74.40 per fortnight- until such time as the cash payment for actual incapacity as assessed exceeds this level. Those veterans whose pensions are frozen from 2 November 1978 and who, on subsequent review, are found on actual incapacity to be entitled to a pension at the 100 per cent general rate or higher, are to be entitled to arrears of pension from 2 November and reimbursement of any medical expenses privately incurred from that date. It is considered that the changes provided for in this Bill will have only a minimal impact on future claims made for pension as, in 1977, only 76 disability pensions were granted in respect of pulmonary tuberculosis. Existing service pensions in respect of pulmonary tuberculosis will continue in force, but pulmonary tuberculosis will not be a special qualification for Service pension for which in future veterans will be required to satisfy the normal conditions of age or permanent unemployability
I now turn to other amendments in this Bill which will implement decisions taken by the Government in the context of the 1978-79 Budget. The Repatriation Act, as currently framed, allows for the main disability pensions, namely, the Special Rate- totally and permanently incapacitated- pension, intermediate rate and general rate as well as the war and defence widows’ pensions and Service pensions, to be adjusted automatically in May and November of each year, in accordance with movements in the consumer price index over the prior six months ended 3 1 December and 30 June respectively. In line with proposed changes to pensions paid under the Social Services Act, the main repatriation pensions will now be automatically increased once a year. Increases will apply from the first pension payday in November and will be in line with changes in the consumer price index for the 12 months ending the preceding June quarter.
Provision has been made for the imposition of an upper age limit for the payment of additional pension in respect of student children who are in the care, custody and control of service pensioners. Currently, a service pensioner can receive in addition to the basic Service pension, additional allowances to assist support a student 16 years of age and over undertaking full-time education but no upper age limit is specified.
The absence of such a limit is inconsistent with the upper age limit of 25 years applied in respect of family allowance under the Social Services Act and with the 25 years age limit included in the income tax legislation.
It is the Government’s view that the child of a Service pensioner will have had sufficient time to embark upon and complete his full-time education and attain appropriate qualifications to facilitate entry into a chosen vocation by the time he attains 25 years of age. It is now proposed that an upper disqualifying age limit of 25 years be applied in respect of the additional allowances paid to Service pensioners who are supporting student children. However, allowances already in payment in respect of student children 25 years and over will continue while students are undertaking full-time education.
The Government has decided to make changes in the rules governing the rates of service pension payable in line with changes in social services legislation. I should explain that the Service pension is a social welfare payment, broadly equivalent to the age pension under social services legislation. The basic difference is that Service pensions are paid five years earlier than the age from which age pensions become available to take account of the indefinable and intangible effects of war service which could cause premature ageing and a lessening of ability to earn a living. They are paid five years earlier than the qualifying age for age pensions. In reaching its decision, the Government considered that provisions similar to those applied to social services pensions should apply to persons receiving Service pensions under repatriation legislation.
Under existing repatriation legislation, a Service pension can be paid free of the income test to a person who is permanently blind or who has attained the age of 70 years. The Government has decided to modify the income-test-free provisions for persons aged 70 years and over, except for pensions paid to the permanently blind. Existing pensions will continue to be paid free of the income test at the current rate of $85.80 per fortnight each to a married couple or $102.90 per fortnight to a single pensioner. The November increase in Service pension will not be paid to this group of pensioners unless they qualify under the provisions of the income test currently applicable to persons under 70 years of age. Pensioners on reaching 70 years of age or those over 70 who have not applied for Service pension will automatically qualify for an incometestfree pension but it will be granted at the May 1978 rates or at such higher level as applies to them if they are able to satisfy the existing income test.
The Bill also provided for an amendment to the Repatriation Act consequent upon the Government’s decision to replace sustenance allowance with a more comprehensive loss of earnings allowance. Finally, there are a number of machinery amendments to bring the Act into line with the current drafting practice and to provide for consequential amendments following the removal of special provisions relating to pulmonary tuberculosis. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
– For the information of honourable members I present the Industries Assistance Commission Report on Hosiery, Undergarments and Knitted Sleepwear: Additional Short-Term Assistance.
– I move:
The Customs TariffProposals I have just tabled relate to proposed alterations to the Customs Tariff Act 1966. Proposals No. 24 give effect to the decision by the Government on a recommendation by the Industries Assistance Commission in its report on measuring, checking, precision instruments and apparatus, et cetera that surveillance cameras be dutiable at 15 per cent. The Proposals also contain an administrative change clarifying the classification of coins, having numismatic interest.
Proposals No. 25 implement the Government’s decision on recommendations made by the Industries Assistance Commission in its Report on Hosiery, Undergarments and Knitted Sleepwear: Additional Short Term Assistance. The effect of this decision is to introduce tariff quotas on knitted socks, ankle-socks, sockettes and the like, sleepwear, tights and certain other undergarments.
Proposals No. 26 extend, until 28 February 1979, the existing rate of 65 per cent applying to imports of orange juice pending consideration by the Government of the report by the Industries Assistance Commission on the Australian Citrus Industry. The new duties take effect from tomorrow. A comprehensive summary of the changes contained in the Proposals has been prepared and is now being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Proposals to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill provides for amendments to the National Health Act 1953 to implement two separate decisions taken by the Government. Firstly, provisions in the Bill together with provisions contained in the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978, implement the Government’s changes to the health insurance arrangements to come into effect from 1 November 1978. Secondly, the Bill provides for the expansion of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme to allow dentists to prescribe certain pharmaceutical benefits for the dental treatment of their patients.
In my statement to the House on 15 August 1978 explaining in detail the Government’s changes to the health insurance arrangements, I advised that a Commonwealth medical benefit would be payable to all Australian residents for medical- and some optometrical- expenses incurred. Persons wishing to take out additional medical benefits cover with a registered medical benefits organisation will be free to do so. Further, free standard ward treatment in recognised hospitals will continue to be available, under hospital cost-sharing agreements with the States for persons who do not have hospital benefits insurance with a health insurance organisation.
The principle of universal health insurance cover for all Australian residents remains. All Australians remain covered for the Commonwealth medical benefit and are entitled to standard ward accommodation in recognised hospitals at no cost to them. They will not have their doctor of choice unless they insure for a doctor of choice. However, the Government recognises that people who now are receiving Medibank Standard medical benefits and optometrical benefits at a level of 75 per cent of schedule fees with a maximum gap of $ 10 for each service, will need to insure privately to retain this level of cover after 1 November 1978. There will be little change in the hospital insurance arrangements. The abolition of the subsidy to levy payers for hospital insurance in general will mean a small increase in premiums for the continuation of this type of insurance cover.
Having regard to the above position, the Government has decided to retain the concept of basic medical and hospital insurance tables in the legislation. It is to be a continued condition of registration of medical and hospital benefits organisations that contributors to the organisation be offered benefits in accordance with basic medical and hospital benefit tables. Such tables are defined in clause 3 of the Bill and, in brief, ensure that on the basic medical benefits table persons are able to obtain insurance benefits which, together with their Commonwealth medical benefit entitlement, provide a level of benefits equivalent to the present 75 per cent of the schedule fee with a maximum gap of $10. In relation to the basic hospital insurance, the new basic table retains the existing coverage which organisations must provide under standard hospital benefits tables.
From 1 November 1978 organisations will be permitted to offer a variety of benefit tables, including tables providing deductibles. Such tables are referred to in the Bill as optional hospital or medical benefits tables and are defined in clause 3. These optional medical and hospital benefit tables must conform with basic criteria. For example, an optional medical benefits table must relate to medical benefits for scheduled medical services. Optional hospital benefit tables must provide hospital benefits to cover shared room hospital accommodation and provide nursing home benefits. In addition to these basic criteria, optional tables must comply with guidelines determined by the Minister. Whilst these guidelines will be flexible to allow registered organisations to offer a variety of health benefit packages, the Government still considers it has a responsibility to ensure that such tables offer adequate benefits for reasonable contribution rates, and will take this into account when considering applications from registered organisations. I seek leave of the House to have incorporated in Hansard those guidelines and conditions which will operate from 1 November 1978.
The document read as follows-
Guidelines and Special Conditions
Optional Medical Insurance Tables:
Fund benefits ranging up to 60 per cent of the Schedule fee;
Exclusion from fund benefit of services or groups of services in the Schedule; or
While providing fund benefit coverage for all items in the Schedule exclusion from fund benefit of a specified sum of fund benefit entitlements- up to $500 a year (family) $250 a year (single).
Optional Hospital Insurance Tables:
Exclusion of fund benefits ranging from 1 to 5 days (inclusive) per year;
Exclusion of fund benefits ranging from I to 5 days (inclusive) per period of hospitalisation;
Exclusion per annum of fund benefits of an amount equal to 5 times the amount currently charged to private patients in shared rooms of recognised hospitals (currently totals $200); or
Exclusion of other benefits specified by the hospital insurance organisations.
Registered organisations should frame their rules so that in assessing when the exclusion has been met by the contributor it should regard a family as one unit and total the days or number of services or cost of services or days used by the whole family.
There can be subsidisation between full basic medical or hospital table with other medical or hospital tables providing options and vice versa.
In framing rules for hospital benefit tables which include options, organisations would provide the same level of benefit exclusion for both family and single contributors under that particular table-
Optional tables cannot be constructed so as to exclude the payment of nursing home benefits.
Waiting period for entitlement to nursing home benefits shall not exceed two months.
-I thank the House. Both basic and optional hospital tables will include the provision of nursing home benefits to maintain the new nursing home arrangements introduced by the Government last year. As indicated in my statement of 15 August last, I await with interest the various benefit packages and contribution rates to be offered by organisations once they assess the freedom and flexibility available under the new arrangements.
At present organisations are subject to conditions of registration. Statutory conditions are specified in section 73BA. It is necessary, under the new arrangements, to specify further conditions to which the registration of organisations will be subject after 1 November 1978. In addition to specifying the new conditions, the Bill incorporates them, and the statutory conditions currently contained in section 73 BA, into a Schedule to the Act. I do not propose to explain all the conditions in detail, but would like to mention specifically the following new conditions: The first is included in paragraph (g) of the Schedule which provides that a registered hospital benefits organisation can offer supplementary hospital benefits only to a person who also contributes to a basic or optional hospital benefits table. This condition, together with the condition specified in paragraph (h) of the Schedule, will ensure that registered organisations continue to pay nursing home benefits to nursing home patients who are contributors to the organisation. The second condition I would like to mention concerns waiting periods. This condition is specified in paragraph (n) of the Schedule and provides that organisations shall not apply any waiting periods for persons who insure in a basic or optional benefits table before 1 January 1979.
Clause 9 of the Bill amends provisions relating to hospital benefits reinsurance accounts. From 1 November 1978 registered hospital benefits organisations will be permitted to debit to those accounts hospital benefits for hospital treatment received outside Australia by contributors to the organisations. Recently I have been made aware of action taken to preclude a person from becoming a contributor to an organisation where that person is a patient in an institution. I consider such action to be a direct attempt by an organisation to abrogate its responsibilities to pay nursing home benefits for such patients who are contributors to the organisation- a responsibility which was accepted readily by organisations when the new nursing home arrangements were introduced last year. Accordingly, clause 1 1 introduces a new section 73BFA. This provision enables the Minister to direct an organisation to accept a person as a contributor to a basic table conducted by the organisation where he is satisfied that the person was not accepted as a contributor because the patient was in an institution.
Under the Act a medical benefits organisation is required to offer from the basic medical benefits table, medical benefits and benefits for certain optometrical services and for all other professional services. Representations have been received from organisations and individuals in the community objecting to the requirement that medical benefits be offered for all services, particularly procedures involving abortions. New section 73F, in clause 14 of the Bill, provides for the Minister, upon application by a medical benefits organisation, to grant an exemption to the organisation from paying out of its basic medical benefits table benefits for specified professional services. However, to ensure persons are aware of the exemption, the organisation is required, by virtue of the condition of registration specified in paragraph (s) of the Schedule, to advise contributors and registered persons of the particulars of the exemption and to publish the particulars in a manner satisfactory to the Minister.
Whilst there is at present no legislative requirement, I would expect that registered organisations which obtain exemptions from paying for specific medical services would ensure that arrangements are made for the transfer of dissatisfied contributors to other organisations without penalty. Equally, an organisation offering a table with a specific exemption would be expected to provide that a person wishing to transfer to that organisation from another fund by reason of that exempted item would not have any waiting period applied to comparable tables. In fact I have received some assurances in that regard. For some years, organisations have accepted contributors who are financial transferring from comparable medical benefit entitlements without serving a waiting period. Most organisations have a rule to this effect. I would expect this convention to be followed by the health funds so that persons are not disadvantaged when transferring from one fund to another fund at the same benefits levels.
A significant drawback in the effective analysis of the health insurance system has been, to date, the unavailability of related and adequate information. This question has been raised with representatives of the industry at a meeting of the health insurance advisory committee where the continuing difficulty of maintaining and furnishing proper information has been recognised. The Bill enables proper information to be obtained under a number of provisions. New section 74C, clause 15, provides for the prescription by regulations of certain records to be kept by organisations. New section 74D enables the prescription of information drawn from those records to be furnished to the Director-General of Health. In addition, organisations are required, by the conditions of registration specified in paragraphs ( k) and ( 1 ) of the schedule to maintain membership and other records of contributors and registered persons. They will also be required to furnish returns of the number of persons so enrolled and relevant financial information.
I have already mentioned that this question has been discussed at meetings of the Health Insurance Advisory Committee. I understand that registered organisations are already familiar with the nature of the information to be maintained and furnished and that the provisions in the Bill generally are in accord with the wishes of that committee. The Bill, in clause 18, repeals Divisions lA and 2 of Part III of the Act. These relate to the subsidy paid to registered organisations for persons insured for hospital benefits only and to special account provisions which no longer operate after 30 September 1978. The amendments made by clauses 5 and 6 are consequential upon the repeal of the special account provisions.
As mentioned earlier, the Bill also provides, in clauses 20 to 42, for the expansion of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme to allow dentists to prescribe certain pharmaceutical benefits for the dental treatment of their patients. Under existing State legislation dentists are permitted to prescribe medication for the dental treatment of their patients. However, at present, the National Health Act does not permit dentists to prescribe pharmaceutical benefits, so patients must pay the full cost of medication prescribed by dentists. To obtain the medication at pharmaceutical benefit rates, dentists must refer their patients to medical practitioners who then prescribe the medication. This anomalous situation will be corrected by the Bill.
It is anticipated that this expansion of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme will have very little effect on expenditure. The cost of this proposal under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme will be offset to a large extent by a reduction in medical practitioner fees subsidised through the government financed medical benefits arrangements. The same payment conditions will apply to pharmaceutical benefits prescribed by dentists as those which apply to pharmaceutical benefits prescribed by doctors. That is, pensioners with a pensioner health benefits entitlement card will receive them free of charge, while other patients will pay the normal $2.50 patient contribution.
Finally, the Bill amends the definition of ‘dependant’ in relation to a pensioner to impose an upper age limit of 25 years on student dependent children of pensioners. This amendment ensures that the definition remains in line with corresponding definitions in social security and repatriation legislation. The amendment will maintain uniformity in the operation of the various Acts which provide fringe benefits to pensioners and enable the Government’s policies in relation to pensioners to be applied equally across the board. A savings provision has been included in the amendment to preserve - the entitlement of a person presently qualifying as a dependant of a pensioner who otherwise would cease to be so qualified solely as a result of the amended criteria. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Kingman) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Hunt, and read a first time.
The Bill before the House contains provisions which give effect to the Government ‘s changes to the health insurance arrangements announced by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in the Budget. Honourable members will recall that, in a statement to the House on 15 August 1978, I explained in detail the new arrangements proposed to operate from 1 November of this year. Therefore it is not necessary to address myself to the details of the changes, but to the outline of the legislation before the House.
I would reiterate to honourable members, that the proposals embodied in this legislation, and in other legislation to be considered, arise out of the Government’s continuing review of the costs of health care in Australia. As health insurance has such an important influence on the costs of these services, it is vital that we continue with these reviews. In another forum, we are actively engaged with the States in discussions on the rationalisation and utilisation of hospital services. Since approximately 60 per cent of our total costs are in hospitals, cost containment and efficiency in the use of resources in the hospital sector are vital in any program to arrest the accelerating rate of health costs.
While the 1 October 1976 changes to Medibank, and subsequent amendments to the Health insurance arrangements effected by this Government, have resulted in a significant decline in the rate of acceleration of health costs, this rate of increase continues to be high. The new measures will, in the Government’s view, continue the downward trend in the rate of acceleration of cost rises. The new arrangements which will result in the abolition of the Medibank levy and the reduction of medical insurance premiums will reduce the burden of costs to the individual. At the same time they will simplify the complex arrangements of the existing scheme. The principal provisions of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1978 relate to payment of the new Commonwealth medical benefit.
Under the new arrangements, a Commonwealth medical benefit will be payable for medical and some optometrical expenses incurred by Australian residents. As is the present position concerning the rate of medical benefits, the levels of the new Commonwealth medical benefit will be based on scheduled medical fees. Clause 9 of the Bill provides for the amounts of commonwealth medical benefit to be: Firstly, where the medical expenses relate to services rendered to eligible pensioners or their dependants, 85 per cent of the scheduled fee with a maximum gap of $5 for each service; secondly, where the medical expenses relate to services rendered to a disadvantaged person, who has entered into a direct billing arrangement with his doctor, 75 per cent of the schedule fee; and thirdly, where the medical expenses relate to services rendered to all other Australian residents, 40 per cent of the schedule fee with a maximum gap of $20 paid by the resident for each service.
I have just mentioned direct billing arrangements to apply from 1 November 1978. This aspect of the new arrangements is authorised by clause 1 5 of the Bill, which is a key provision and inserts new sections 20 to 20f. New section 20a provides that direct billing arrangements may only be entered into for services rendered to eligible pensioners and their dependants, or to a person who, in the opinion of the practitioner rendering the service, is a disadvantaged person or a dependant of such a person. Eligible pensioners and their dependants are able to assign their Commonwealth medical benefits to the practitioner rendering the service. While the legislation does not specify that the practitioner shall accept the benefits in full settlement of the expenses involved, I am confident that, in accordance with the policy of the Australian Medical Association, practitioners will continue to waive payment of any payment by the eligible pensioner or his dependant in these circumstances.
In the case of a patient, who is considered by the practitioner rendering the service, as a disadvantaged person, new section 20a provides for an agreement, between the person and the practitioner, where the person assigns his Commonwealth medical benefits to the practitioner. In such circumstances the doctor will accept the benefits in full settlement of the medical expenses involved. The specific direct billing arrangements will not apply to an eligible pensioner, or his dependant, or a disadvantaged person, who is a medically insured person with a medical benefits organisation, for such medical benefits related to schedule medical services.
The amendments effected by clauses 13, 18 and 19 of the Bill also relate to direct billing procedures. These clauses extend the above principles into the approved pathology practitioner arrangements, and into undertakings given by medical practitioners and participating optometrists.
Lengthy consideration has been given to the question of including in the legislation guidelines or definitions relating to disadvantaged persons. I have also discussed the matter with the AMA. On balance I have decided not to specify such guidelines in the legislation. On balance I consider that the relationship between a patient and his practitioner is unique- indeed, quite personal. The term ‘disadvantaged person’ is difficult to define in legal terms, but the specification in the legislation of categories of ‘disadvantaged persons’ could introduce rigid procedures, which could be complex to administer. Such definitions may not be readily adaptable to changes in patients’ circumstances. There is also the possibility that this could lead to interference in the patient-practitioner relationship to which I have just referred. I believe that the spirit of the Government’s proposals in this area is best achieved by leaving the judgment as to whether or not a person is disadvantaged to the practitioner and patient concerned. For the information of honourable members, the new direct billing arrangements could include persons in the following categories: persons on low income including social security unemployment, sickness or special beneficiaries; newly arrived migrants and some other ethnic groups; refugees who are financially disadvantaged; persons who suffer financial misfortune because of substantial medical expenses caused by prolonged or severe illness.
Let me assure honourable members that I have arranged for my Department to watch closely the operation of the new direct billing procedures and to review them after they have been in operation for six months. Where a practitioner classifies a patient as disadvantaged, and bulk bills accordingly, he will be required to accept the 75 per cent Commonwealth benefit in full settlement for his services. I will take appropriate action where it is determined that provisions operating after 1 November 1978 are being breached or abused. Claims for Commonwealth medical benefits under the new arrangements will be paid through two sources.
Firstly, the Commonwealth Department of Health will pay benefits direct to practitioners, for claims made under the new direct billing procedures. Although the practice under current bulk billing procedures is for the practitioner to give the patient a copy of the assignment agreement form, there is no mandatory requirement for the practitioner to provide a copy. This matter has been the subject of representations by the Australian Council of Social Service. The Bill before the House provides that a medical benefit will not be paid, under the new direct billing arrangements, unless a copy of the assignment or agreement form is given to the eligible pensioner or the disadvantaged person.
Secondly, registered medical benefit organisations will pay claims for Commonwealth medical benefits from persons who are contributors to the organisation or who are registered with the organisation for Commonwealth medical benefit purposes only. Advances will be made, by my Department, to registered organisations to enable them to make Commonwealth benefit payments for claims lodged by contributors and registered persons. However, the Health Insurance Commission will continue to pay claims for medical benefits for Medibank standard persons, for services rendered prior to 1 November 1978.
A person may obtain payment of Commonwealth medical benefits, from a registered organisation, without becoming a contributor to the organisation, by registering for Commonwealth medical benefit purposes. This facility will only be available through a medical benefits organisation which has entered into an appropriate agreement with the Minister for Health, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the registration of persons for this purpose. The agreement will cover such matters as: the institution and maintenance by a registered organisation of satisfactory records and procedures; the payment by the organisation of claims for Commonwealth medical benefits; periodical inspection of records by officers of my Department; the payment by the Commonwealth of amounts towards meeting the administrative expenses incurred by an organisation in paying claims for Commonwealth medical benefits.
Most medical benefit organisations have advised my Department of their willingness to enter into agreements to pay Commonwealth medical benefits. The only funds which have not applied are four funds which restrict membership to persons employed in certain corporations. The Bill also contains provisions relating to hospital payments. At present, payments for the operation of hospitals in the Northern Territory are made through my Department. Following the achievement of self-government by the Northern Territory, the Government has decided that future Commonwealth funding of Territory hospitals should be placed on the same basis as that applicable to the States. Accordingly, clause 20 of the Bill enables a hospital cost-sharing agreement to be entered into between the Commonwealth and the Government of the Northern Territory. The agreements between the Commonwealth and the Government of the Northern Territory will be based on the heads of . greement in schedule 2 to the Health Insurance Act, which is similar to existing agreements with the States.
The second matter in the Bill concerning hospital payments is contained in clause 39 which amends heads 7, 8 and 10 of the heads of agreement in schedule 2. These heads provide, principally, for the charging policies specified in the Commonwealth/State hospital cost sharing agreements and, in this context, refer to the term ‘privately insured person’. This term derives its meaning from sub-sections 3 (7), (8) and (8a) of the Health Insurance Act 1973, and relates to a person entitled to both medical and hospital benefits in accordance with standard tables operated by medical and hospital benefits organisations. The effect of a person being deemed to be a ‘privately insured person’ is that such a person is exempt from payment of the health insurance levy. In accordance with the heads of agreement and the agreements with the States, such a person is also excluded from entitlement to free standard ward hospital treatment, unless an agreement provides otherwise.
Since the health insurance levy is to be abolished, the term ‘privately insured person’ is no longer relevant in that context. It is still necessary to exclude, from free standard ward treatment under the Commonwealth-State agreements, persons who are insured for hospital benefits with a hospital benefits organisation. Accordingly, the Bill substitutes a new term, ‘hospital insured person’, in the heads of agreement for the reference to a ‘privately insured person’. This new term is defined in clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill. Formal concurrence by States is being sought to the variation to the hospital costsharing agreements consequential upon the substitution of the term ‘hospital insured person’ in the heads of agreement.
The Bill, in clauses 41 and 42 ensures that current scheduled medical fees will apply, for Commonwealth medical benefit purposes after 1 November 1978 and that outstanding claims for medical benefits received after 1 November 1978 will continue to be paid. The Bill also amends the definition of ‘dependant’, in relation to an eligible pensioner, to impose an upper age limit of 25 years on student dependent children of pensioners. This amendment ensures that the provisions of the Health Insurance Act remain in line with corresponding social security and repatriation legislation to maintain uniformity in the provision of ‘fringe benefits’ to pensioners.
The remaining provisions in the Bill contain amendments consequential upon: the introduction of the new Commonwealth medical benefit; the abolition of the health insurance levy; or the transfer of functions relating to the administration of certain provisions of the Act and payments under the Act, to the Department of Health from the Health Insurance Commission.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Klugman) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 27 September.
Consideration of Legislation Committee report.
– I move:
I remind the House that the Legislation Committee agreed to the Bill without amendment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Mr Groom)- by leaveread a third time.
Debate resumed from 27 September.
Consideration of Legislation Committee report.
– I move:
I also remind the House that the Legislation Committee agreed to the Bill without amendment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Mr Macphee)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 27 September.
Consideration of Legislation Committee report.
– I move:
I again remind the House that the Legislation Committee agreed to the Bill without amendment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Mr Macphee)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 27 September.
Department of Foreign Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $525,985,000.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
Department of Health
Proposed expenditure, $ 1 , 9 1 5,79 1 , 000.
Department of Social Security
Proposed expenditure, $304,604,000.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $352,337,000.
-We have just had about11/2 hours of concentrated legislation dealing with my particular interests of social security, health and veterans’ affairs. It is difficult now to concentrate on the departmental expenditure in these areas. One of the difficulties that arises of course is that much of the expenditure of these departments is related to legislation which has been introduced this afternoon. I do not want to start discussing that legislation because it will be up for discussion, I assume, during the week Parliament resumes in about 12 days time. I would like to refer to some of the continuing problems associated with health expenditure and expenditure on social security items.
I would like to deal firstly with social security payments. One of the significant ones of course is the payment of unemployment benefits to those who are unable to find employment. The most depressing aspect of the unemployment problem to me, having just returned from the United States of America where I spent about a week, is the obvious difficulty and the depressing attitude of almost everybody in Australia as to the future of employment conditions. It is not surprising that we are depressed because when we look at the figures we find that in Australia four years ago at 30 June 1974 civilian employment stood at 4.8 million. At 30 June of this year it stood at 4.714 million, and in fact it has dropped further since then. There has been a decrease of well over 100,000 in the number of jobs in Australia in the last four years. A large number of peopleyoung people, migrants- have come into the labour market. There is no obvious sign of an increase of employment or jobs.
We often compare Australia to the United States. At present Australia and the United States have a similar rate of unemploymentabout 6 per cent. But at the same dates in the United States, civilian employment at 30 June 1974 stood at 82.261 million and at 30 June of this year stood at 95.852 million. There was an increase of nearly 13.6 million jobs in the United States in those four years, compared with a decrease of over 100,000 jobs in the same period in Australia. The number of migrants, as a proportion of the population, entering the United States is of course much smaller at present than it has been in Australia over the last four years. I am not criticising the admission of migrants. I am not one of those who believes that immigration is the cause of unemployment in Australia. All I am saying to the Government is that it is high time that it got down to looking at the problem from a slightly more long term view rather than arguing as to what a particular government department said last year just before the election. It is time the Government came up with some sort of policy to increase jobs in Australia as jobs have been increased in the United States.
The next point I would like to deal with is the question of the family allowance which we have been talking about during the last few weeks. There was criticism of the attempt to means test the family allowance. This is an important matter. I can understand the Government’s original proposition which aimed to exclude from receipt of the family allowance those families in respect of whom a trust had been set up to reduce taxation and therefore benefit the children. The Government has been unable to find some appropriate formula to overcome this situation. I hope that at some stage it will be able to do so. My criticism of the family allowance scheme at present in existence in Australia is that the allowance has not been indexed as the taxation deductions it replaced about three years ago were indexed. Therefore every family containing taxpayers is losing by the transfer to the family allowance scheme. I have prepared a table and seek leave for it to be incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
-The table shows clearly that, because of the Government’s failure to index family allowances, a family with one child, provided there is a taxpayer in the family, loses $2.16 a week; a family with two children loses $3.32 a week; a family with three children loses $4.48 a week and so on. This is a significant loss and I hope that the Government will be forced by public opinion and by the Opposition to index family allowances.
It is ridiculous to have to deal with the question of health costs in the three or four minutes remaining to me, but I would emphasise something that the Minister said only a few minutes ago: That 60 per cent of our health costs originate in institutions. Therefore, it is terribly important to decrease the level of institutional care of Australians.
Let us, in contrast, consider the figures for the United States of America. In that country the number of hospital days per 1,000 persons is approximately 1,000 per annum, or about one day per person. I have not the figures for Australia as a whole, but the figure for Western Australia, which I imagine is no different from any other State in this respect, is 1,543 for every 1,000 persons. Thus, there is in Western Australia a 50 per cent higher hospital utilisation rate than there is, on the average, in the United States. In that country, where pre-paid health plans are available and it is in the financial interest of the doctor to keep persons out of hospital, the number of hospital days per annum per thousand persons covered falls to about 375. I invite honourable members to compare that with the figure of 1,000 where a fee for service is involved and 1 ,500 in Western Australia, which has a mixture of fee for service and salaried services.
– You are right, too.
– I am glad that the Minister agrees with me. He knows that both his Government and ours have considered the matter of prepaid health plans. We were not given a chance to do anything about it, but this Government has now had three years in which to act. I hope that it will take active steps to encourage the introduction of pre-paid health plans. I have just returned from the United States, whose Government has passed special legislation in this area. Before such a scheme is introduced, a sum of $75,000 is paid to the group concerned to enable a feasibility study to be conducted. If the result is positive the Government is prepared to expend up to $200,000 upon a further feasibility study, which will go into great detail, and then to expend up to $ 1 m to take the group to the point where it opens its doors. In the long term the government, and the people as a whole, save a large amount of money.
There are, of course, differences between our system and that in the United States. In that country, in many cases the employer pays the health costs. It is difficult to encourage people to become interested in the cost of health because it is part of the fringe benefits they are granted by their employer. That does not happen in Australia. On the other hand, in the United
States it is easier to enrol people in pre-paid health plans because most participants in health funds belong to a group at their place of employment, rather than contributing individually. Therefore, if the fund can impress upon an employer the advantage of insuring, a large number of people can be brought into it. The Ford motor company of that country has just decided to take up pre-paid health plans. It realised that it was paying more for health insurance than it was paying to US Steel; that in the cost of each motor car there was a $500 content which represented the medical and hospital insurance premiums of the worker.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to speak to the Appropriation Bill and, in the time that is afforded me, I will confine my remarks specifically to the activities of the Department of Social Security. I believe that the Department has grave problems to combat. The care of the sick and the aged, and the protection of the welfare of the needy in the community, is becoming a difficult and extremely complex task. One could argue the political point that during high inflation people on fixed incomes have been adversely affected. The backlash from that has been spelled out over and over again in this House. Admittedly, now that inflation is decreasing we still have a difficult situation, and the unfortunate aspect of high unemployment. Regrettably, when people cannot get jobs there are social implications which flow right back through into the family unit, and thus many people are affected adversely.
The earnest desire of this Government- and I am sure of all Governments- is to ensure that people in need receive fair and adequate treatment. Sometimes that is extremely difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, in our society there are many who do not require assistance but nevertheless derive it although it should be redirected to the needy. We are all aware of the millions of dollars that have been misused as a result of certain social security activities and of how the Government searches out those who abuse the system and thus decrease the benefits that could flow to others who are genuinely in need. I suppose that we will have to live with it, because, unfortunately, everybody is not fair, everybody does not care for his neighbour, everybody does not care for the needy, and it is up to politicians to do a tremendous amount more than merely give lip service, to fight on a political level to endeavour to ensure that some of those who are receiving assistance at the expense of others are sought out in the community and shown for what they really are.
I mentioned last week, that many pensioners live in substandard homes, some of which are structurally inferior and infested with pests and vermin. Those are not my words but are words taken from previous reports on the subject. It is estimated that more than 100,000 persons in Australia are in that difficult situation. Again, it is estimated that more than 24,000 people over the age of 60 are living in houses or flats that are completely beyond repair. I think one can derive from those figures the fact that we have a massive job to do and that continual political arguing will not overcome the problem. I plead once again with people who, for one reason or another, are deriving social welfare benefits unlawfully, to think carefully of those elderly people who are living in what could only be termed shocking conditions. In some cases it can be argued that those conditions are partly their own fault, but in the majority of cases the end situation has been determined by circumstances. I repeat, it could have resulted fom their having reared large families; it could be because of sickness or because of ill luck that they are in such difficult straits today. It is up to every politician in this Parliament to realise their needs and try to meet them.
Again, we are faced with the problems of those who live in nursing homes. It is estimated that approximately 56,000 people live in such institutions. As I mentioned last week, Australia has a greater number of nursing home beds per thousand of population than has any other country. That shows an extraordinary weakness in our civilisation- the fact that we have so many selfish people who just cannot wait to get their elderly relatives into nursing homes. That point, of course, could be argued.
I do not blame the lobbying groups who represent the elderly people. Their publicity machines are permanently primed. They respond with quickness to Press inquiries. They can quickly submit evidence to a government inquiry. They co-operate and know exactly what to do and when to strike at a critical point. I think they realise that the only way they can overcome this massive problem is to fight on a political level- to lobby at every opportunity. My friend, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (Mr Groom), who is at the table, and the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who also is in the chamber, are aware of this situation. Of course, at times they are plagued with political lobbyists; but I think that lobbying is the only way that the real needs and the real problems of the elderly can be drawn to the attention of Ministers. Of course, Ministers receive lobbyists as part of their responsibility.
I think that the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), who unfortunately is not in the chamber today, has indicated already that he supports me on the principle I now outline. Sometimes members are accused of being disloyal to their party; but I think that, in a situation such as this, because of our responsibility to our electorates we have to stick firmly by what we said during difficult election campaigns. In 1975 we said to the pensioners that we would fight for quarterly adjustments to their pensions in line with movements in the consumer price index. Unfortunately, during 1975-76 we paid pension increases on a half-yearly basis. Now, unfortunately, we have made a Cabinet decision to pay pension increases on a yearly basis. Even though it can be argued that because of the drop in the rate of inflation the pension increases are not very large, I know and many other members in this chamber genuinely know that many pensioners require that little extra at certain times and in certain situations. For that very reason, I cannot support my Government on its decision to pay pension increases on a yearly basis.
The honourable member for Denison has indicated already his support for my contention, and possibly other honourable members support me. It is not a matter of being disloyal to my party. I think that the reason that many of us joined the Liberal Party was that it allows its members to say what they believe and to indicate to the Government what is really happening in their electorates. For that very reason I have made my statement nice and strong. It is not a matter of walking across the floor and voting with the Opposition. That is a very simple process, as we have said before. It is simply the fact that when we say something we should try to adhere to it.
The Opposition members could look at themselves in a mirror and say that during the period from 1972 to 1975 they destroyed many pensioners with the high rate of inflation at that time. Pensioners could not get their homes repaired; they could not get their washing machines repaired, et cetera. So the Opposition’s argument about pensioners is a hollow one. I am very sincere in saying that I do not support my Government on its decision to pay pension increases on a yearly basis, because many pensioners require that little extra at certain times. That little bit means so very much to them. In 1975 we said that we would fight for quarterly adjustments to their pensions. Unfortunately, due to Government legislation at the time, we could not do that; we made only half-yearly adjustments. Now we have gone to adjusting them on a yearly basis. I make the point again that I do not agree with that decision.
Also, there should be no means test on increases in pensions paid to pensioners who are over 70 years of age. If a person can live to 70 years of age in this complex world, irrespective of whether he has been able to save and have the advantages of an easy life, for the life of me I cannot understand why his pension increases should be means tested. I believe that anyone who attains the age of 70 years should not have increases in his pension means tested. I pose that proposition to the Government. I hope that my Government understands that I make these points as a matter of principle. When we say something to somebody during an election campaign we cannot go back on what we say. I hope that my Government takes due note of what I have said. Many honourable members, like me, believe in the principle that if we say certain things on a platform we have to adhere to them. In saying these things, a person cannot be accused of being disloyal to his party. In fact, when a member of parliament does this he might be able to change his Party’s attitude and, hopefully, get it in tune with what is happening in the community.
We saw many pensioners here today. They pressed the same point upon me: They said that they did not want to see the Opposition because the Opposition had a wonderful political point to throw back at us. All the sins of the Opposition ‘s years in government are forgotten by it and all of a sudden it realises that pensions are a target that it can attack. It believes that it has something with which to attack that target. I know that the Minister at the table is taking due note of what I am saying. He knows me well enough to know that when I say something I mean it.
-Quite a number of pensioners have spoken to me and a number of other members of the Opposition today. I think that they are getting the message about this Government. Whilst I appreciate a lot of what was said by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), I think that one has to recognise that a strain of dishonesty runs right through this Government. This is apparent when one begins to count and to run through all the promises which were made in 1975, no doubt in good faith, by people campaigning out in the electorates and which were repeated in 1977, again no doubt honestly believed by many of the honest campaigners for the Government. Nevertheless, this Government is marked by duplicity and by treachery in terms of the interests of lower income people. I think that what the honourable member for Franklin said underlined that. It is a view shared not simply by honourable members on this side of the chamber. Honourable members on both sides of the chamber are coming to recognise that the Government is guilty of a great deal of dishonesty.
The discussion of the estimates for government departments provides an opportunity to review the performance of this Government in contrast with its promises. It provides an opportunity also to review the underlying philosophical issues which are involved in this Government’s approach to social security. I want to focus my attention on the Department of Social Security. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden), when he was Minister for Social Security, denned Labor’s aims and commitments as follows: . . to the creation of a society which offers equality of opportunity, security and assistance to those who suffer from special disabilities … we want to create a system of welfare services and benefits which is not class tainted and whose provisions are not stigmatised as charitable concessions to the deserving poor.
I must confess to some difficulties in understanding what the basic aims and goals of the present Government are in the fields of social welfare, health, and related areas. Whilst the rhetoric of the Government sometimes on the surface seems to indicate that its aims are similar to ours, it is clear that the commitment of this Government is to unequalising opportunity, protecting privilege, maximising insecurity and making and reinforcing the historic distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. The record of this Government during a period of nowprolonged recession portrays an incredible insensitivity to the social consequences of Government economic decisions and has been marked by the beginning of the process of running down welfare services, which honourable members will remember was the characteristic trait of the Menzies years, of the 23 years of Liberal rule which preceded the Whitlam Government.
It cannot be stressed often enough in this chamber that in 1972 Australia was one of the poorest served countries in the developed world in terms of access to health, education and welfare services. According to a publication of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development entitled Public Expenditure Trends, published in June this year, in the early 1960s Australia was spending 9.6 per cent of its gross domestic product on public welfare, compared with the average for OECD countries of 13.2 per cent. At that time no other countries, with the exception of Greece and Japan, were spending less on public welfare, which included health, education and social security expenditures. In the early 1970s, despite the so-called ‘extravagance’ of the Labor Government, Australia was spending only 12.8 per cent of its GDP on public welfare expenditures, compared with an OECD average expenditure of 18.8 per cent. Australia continued to be ranked with Japan and Greece at the bottom of the OECD table. Nothing that this Government has done since it came to office is likely to affect this general ranking.
Australians like to be fed the illusion, the myth, that we are a generous society, an egalitarian society, a society in which class does not exist in any significant sense and in which income differentials are minimal. Perhaps it is time that we began to include figures on income distribution in the Budget Papers. For instance, in 1973-74 the bottom 10 per cent of families received only 2.8 per cent of total income, whereas the top 10 per cent received 25.47 per cent of total income. Furthermore, whilst the top 30 per cent received 54.93 per cent of total income, the bottom 70 per cent received only 47.07 per cent of total income. If one looked at a range of social indicators one would see, as was indicated in a study by Lundberg, when he was the Parliamentary Research Fellow, that Australia figures very low in comparison with other developed countries. The reasons for this no doubt are many and varied, but I think it is true that in this society we suffer terribly through ignorance.
Whilst the Labor Government was criticised for the large number of inquiries it set in train, the fact is that in Australia we do not have the continuing program of research and evaluation of public issues and policies which has been a characteristic of so many other developed societies. While the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research has carried out important studies in the field of poverty and social deprivation, the Institute is almost unique in Australia which has had a paucity of centres for applied social research. Furthermore, as the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) pointed out, since the present Government came to power a substantial and even frightening, one would say, reduction has occurred in the amount of statistical tabulation and analysis done, for example, by the Bureau of Statistics. It is known that staff morale in the Bureau is at an extremely low ebb because staff are aware that the effects of government policy are such as to reduce the effectiveness of the Bureau as an information source on a wide range of issues including questions related to household expenditure and income and the distribution of income in Australian society.
It is quite clear that the Budget Papers represent sophisticated nonsense if they do not include reference to indicators of social well-being as well as economic indicators. Indeed the economic indicators are obscure enough and are almost specifically designed to confuse the reader rather than assist in the clarification of the issues. It is clear that if we started to measure our society against some objective indicators we would find that rather than being one of the more egalitarian societies we would be the reverse. Rather than being a society without poverty we have some of the most severe poverty of any country in the developed world. The situation of our Aboriginal population is worse, perhaps, than that of any minority in any country in the developing world. Politicians must take some responsibility, as the honourable member for Franklin recognised, for fostering these illusions. The political system seems to be designed to assist to insulate society from facing the reality of its own condition.
What genuinely poor person would ever recognise the reality of his situation in the Budget Papers or in the estimates for the Department of Social Security? Such documents represent a finely tuned distortion of reality, a jargonish and barely readable summary of what governments imagine they have done or are planning to do.
Governments rarely attempt in any real sense to explain or express what is happening out in the world. Recently we have heard from the Government some comments about the extent of unemployment and the grim prospects for its solution. It seems that the unemployed are no longer responsible for their own situation. It is now due to the international trade cycle and the external forces.
Let us look at the reality of the Government’s treatment of the unemployed as represented in the estimates and in the Budget. It is likely that about 520,000 persons will be unemployed by January 1979. The number of unemployed without dependants, which amounts to 75 per cent of those receiving unemployment benefit, will receive no increase in their benefit which will be left at $51.45 per week. The benefits for those under 18 years will remain at $36 per week. The rate has not changed since 1975. Unemployed youths of 15 years of age will receive no benefit at all. Unemployed people with dependants will have their benefits increased but only once yearly instead of six-monthly as previously. In addition, the allowance for dependants has not increased since November 1975. According to the Australian Council of Social Service the result for all recipients of the unemployment benefit is that the value of the benefit will slip further and further below the poverty line. I ask permission to have incorporated in Hansard a table indicating that fact.
The table read as follows-
– The Government promised in December 1975 ‘that it would be generous to those who can not get a job and want to work. ‘ However, the Government is moving more and more towards a vendetta against the unemployed at the very time that it is recognised that unemployment is not caused by people’s attitudes and values but by structural factors and an international recession. In this context the Director-General of Social Services wants to introduce marked envelopes to ensure that the unemployed either keep in one spot or are knocked off the rolls. The Government is spending through a Social Security secret service nearly $7m to weed out the ‘bludgers’. More likely the Social Security SS is there to endeavour to keep the spending on the meagre unemployment benefit below $ 100m extra. What about the kind of resources that are used to chase tax avoiders?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I want to comment on general health and welfare policies for country people and on some of the things which have been done and on those which remain to be done. I refer in the broadest terms to the welfare aspects of Federal Government assistance as distinct from commodity or industry policy, that is, assistance which attempts to alleviate the day to day problems encountered by country people to a greater degree or to reduce the cost disadvantage of those country people compared with city people. The present Liberal-National Country Party Government which came to power in 1 976 was, I believe, the first Federal Government seriously to address itself to this problem. I have been critical in the past of my own party, the National Country Party, for having too narrow a view of rural assistance which concentrated mainly on industry assistance plus some transport and communication assistance. I acknowledge that much is still to be done in this area and that there is still room for criticism. Generally progress is being made. I am proud of some of the Government’s initiatives which I will detail.
Let me refer to the Australian Labor Party and its attitude in this area. Labor, when in office, reduced- in fact, it virtually abolished- rural industry assistance. It claimed that the massive injection of finance which it was providing for the cities would help country people because of the general criteria of allocation. I believe that the Labor Party was genuine but naive in its belief. It was not aware that general welfare principles would exclude country areas. The country areas are different and have different needs. They require different criteria. I acknowledge that the Labor Government commissioned several reports, particularly the rural health report, which are of value in this area.
The first thing this Government did when it came back into office was to change the criteria for the payment of unemployment benefit in respect of farmers. This was done in May 1976. The Government removed the criteria that a farmer must actually cease to be a farmer or leave the farm to be eligible. The high point of payment of unemployment benefit to farmers was reached in August 1976 when 2,475 farmers were receiving part or full unemployment benefit. They were mainly dairy and fruit farmers. The figure indicates the severe recession within those industries at the time. A year later, in August 1977, 1,104 farmers were receiving unemployment benefit. In March this year the number was 869. I believe that these figures reflect the improved agricultural situation particularly in the two industries to which I have referred.
There are still disadvantages, disabilities and discrimination for farmers in this situation. The income test is very severe. It is not a weekly test, it is an annual test. I have noted some of the problems that farmers are having with the assessments of social security officers. I have been informed that a number of officers have automatically rejected farmers who have applied for unemployment benefit without asking them to undergo an income and work test as required. Some real problems exist with some social security officers who have an ideological opposition to the payment of any benefit to a self-employed person. There is still the problem that many selfemployed people, other than farmers, who are currently unemployed are still completely excluded. This, to me, is an injustice. A high percentage of these live in country areas.
Household support was introduced in 1 977 in part recognition of the need to meet the more specific needs of farmers in financial trouble who were considering leaving agriculture. This has not been a great success. This is partly the fault of the States which administer the scheme and partly the fault of the criteria. I believe the scheme is worth preserving, but it has to be improved. This illustrates the difficulty of tailoring schemes to meet the different requirements of agriculture and country people. Another measure introduced early in the life of the Government was the abolition of the old property and income test, in other words the means test, and the replacement of it by a single income test. Honourable members will recall that a notional 10 per cent return on capital was applied on any property as part of the old means test. This discriminated against small business people in two ways. I remind honourable members that country areas have a very high percentage of small business people such as farmers, store keepers, agents, manufacturers and so forth. These people have a higher percentage of their total assets tied up in capital. Therefore this scheme worked against them. The criteria of 10 per cent was applied even if the business was actually running at a loss. It was an absurd situation and resulted in a far lower percentage of country people being eligible for pensions than justice required. I am glad to say that we corrected the position.
Country people suffer great disadvantages in regard to the availability and cost of health services. The Government has recognised this problem and is doing something about it in two ways. First of all, a number of experiments have been conducted in the provision of health services to country people. From 1 October the isolated patients travel and accommodation scheme will commence. This will reduce the cost burden of country people who require specialist medical attention in a distant city. The criteria is 200 kilometres from the nearest city where a specialist practices. Patients pay only the first $20 of the travel cost. The Government also pays the first $15 of accommodation required. Accommodation and travel costs include those of a parent or another person required to accompany the patient. Telephone and postal services are a tremendous burden to country people because of the quality of the services and the cost involved. Much remains to be done in this area- the majority of the work remains to be done- but I believe that this Government is genuinely trying to reduce these disabilities.
There are problems with the Australian Telecommunications Commission. The first is the high trunk call charges for all people in country areas because of the time and distance charge rate. This is a particular problem to country industries which have to deal with distant capital cities. There is the problem of local call areas which force many people to make a trunk call to contact the nearest business centre. Another problem is the cost of installation and maintenance of telephone lines in rural areas. The speed and frequency of postal services is also a problem. What have we done in relation to Telecom? Labor reduced the free line entitlement to 8 kilometres. We extended it to 12 kilometres. We have further extended it to 16 kilometres. There is also a better annual payment option for those people in distant areas of a maximum of $500 rental instead of the cost of construction which is sometimes $15,000 or $20,000. Experiments are being conducted with radio telephones in isolated areas. Another measure is the substantial reduction in off-peak and weekend trunk calls from 1 September for non-continuous exchanges.
-Order! Which estimate is the honourable member debating?
– I am talking about welfare which I believe comes under the heading of social security. I will wind up on that area and see what you think of the next section of my speech. Other reductions in subscriber trunk dialling charges will also be of considerable value such as the daytime 20 per cent rebate for 50 kilometres to 85 kilometres. These measures have been criticised but I believe that they are of tremendous value. We are thinking not only of the distance to a capital city, but also of the distance between regional centres. I will not try my luck any further in this area although I believe that improvements are being made in a number of other Telecom services.
Another tremendous welfare problem concerns education in country areas. It involves, first of all, the physical ability to attend school. I acknowledge that the Labor Government introduced the isolated children’s assistance scheme for those children who did not have reasonable physical ability to attend a school. We have provided a number of other forms of special assistance such as boarding assistance. The second problem for country children is the limited facilities and opportunities available to them in their subject range and curricula activities. The Government is experimenting with the country education project to help to overcome some of these problems. In regard to tertiary education, the means test for the living away from home allowance which country people require to attend colleges of advanced education or universities does not recognise particular problems of country people.
The fuel freight equalisation scheme and grants to local government are also of tremendous benefit to country people. I believe that the defence service homes scheme in particular comes within the area we are talking about as an example of the special arrangements we have made to provide for the needs of country people. Many problems and disadvantages in this broad aspect of welfare remain- I believe that it is tremendously important to talk about broad aspects of welfare in debates such as this- but I am confident that this Government is the first government since Federation which is genuinely trying to do something for the welfare problems in country areas. Thank you for your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker.
– It is always a pleasure to hear the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) speak in this field. He shows a width of compassion. He does not suffer from the same sort of funnel vision from which so many of his colleagues suffer. He definitely did not suffer from funnel vision with regard to the headings of the Estimates. It gives some hope for him. I do not share his optimism about the Government’s actions in the field of health and welfare services. There is so much more to be done but there is not the incentive to do it.
The honourable member for Murray moves me to remind him that, at the end of November, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners- Victoria Faculty is holding a seminar on the problems of the delivery of health services to rural communities. I know that that seminar requires more than the support of health practitioners in various fields. The College is most anxious for interested citizens from remote areas all over Australia to attend and give their experience. It is conscious that there are many problems with the delivery of rural health care and all its facets. It wants to get people together, not just medically trained people or those trained in nursing, but people who have experienced the problems so that some fruitful recommendations may come out of the seminar.
The honourable member has drawn me away from the theme that I intended to deal with but I think it was worth while making that comment. I turn to the question of our health services and make a passing reference to Medibank. The Government’s health scheme has many of the nuances of the original Labor scheme. There will be a 40 per cent refund to all. It is suggested that standard ward beds in hospitals will still be available. The trouble is that, while I am an open and trusting fellow, I cannot accept that we can trust the Government in this case to guarantee to maintain that level of refund or to maintain the availability of standard ward beds. Does it guarantee that no means test will ever be introduced on those beds? Does it guarantee that it will see that the States will take appropriate steps to ensure an adequate supply of those beds?
I know a little of the history of health insurance. I remember the hospital scheme that the Chifley Government introduced. I remember what happened in 1953 when money was paid to the States for hospital beds, provided a means test was imposed. Uninsured patients had a small amount paid and insured patients received a supplement. Insured patients received the Commonwealth benefit for medical treatment. It seems to me that it will be so simple for this Government to pare back that 40 per cent refund, provide a token payment for all and return to the old days of the 1950s. Those who voluntarily insure will receive an extra premium. There will be a means test on standard ward hospital beds when there are not enough. In other words, a section of the community will be underprivileged.
What has the Government done about these socially-disadvantaged people? It has left the doctors as the arbiters in this area. To me that is a pretty cowardly thing to do. Some doctors will be over generous in applying the means test. If I were doing much general practice, I would be one of those. But others will adopt the sort of dole-bludging slogan that this Government has promoted in the community. They will be unnecessarily hard on the disadvantaged in the community and not give them the assistance that they need. What about the new federalism and the hospital funding in the States? I serve on the Board of a very large community hospital in Victoria, the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. Some months ago, the hospital was examined to set what its staff, establishment should be. For months we have been trying to find out what the numbers would be. The reason we could not find out was that the figure would not be determined until the State Budget was brought down. In fact the staff establishment was to be determined according to the money available. It would not be determined according to the number of beds that were in the institution nor on the quality of patient care that was necessary in the institution. It was to be purely a judgment of dollars and cents. That is not the way to deliver health care. We should deliver health care so that we give quality health care to the patients. That is what I fear these changes in financing have brought about.
The other excellent program that has been allowed to run down is the program for the community health centres. The honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) inherited from me two of these centres in East Preston and West Heidelberg. He knows the difference they have made in the delivery of health care in those areas. That program has run down. It is dead; it is gone. State governments are not interested. In fact, they are trying to strangle it. What is the situation with even the more simple forms of community health centres such as the one that was set up at Whittlesea? I quote from a letter dated 3 1 July addressed to the Hospitals and Charities Commission in Victoria. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) can return to the old business of saying: ‘We give the States the money’. The States will reply: ‘They do not give us enough’ and in the meantime these institutions are not able to function properly. In relation to its situation at 3 1 July the Whittlesea Community Health Centre stated:
Because of the fact that our monthly remittance is currently overdue, we are financially embarrassed. Creditors are outstanding and all concerned with the Centre feel insecure, to say the least.
Commenting on its staff members it went on to say:
They are giving of their very best without the encouragement and support all concerned were led to expect from your Organisation when we initiated this much needed community service.
At that stage the Centre had written requesting a reasonable establishment grant. It has not received a reply. When the representatives of the State body were in contact with the Centre they had been insistent on the expansion of the Centre’s facilities to cover the shire. The people at the Centre agree that that expansion is needed. They need a welfare officer to deal with the welfare cases in that area. Yet they are not getting the assistance from the State body and our Federal Government will wipe its hands of it and say: ‘Under the new federalism policy that is not our responsibility. We do not care how community health services are delivered to these people ‘.
The same thing applies to social security. Even a simple proposal to establish elderly citizens clubs in areas where there is a high number of such citizens is now being choked off. Decisions on State recommendations have been made until the end of 1978-79 and no further recommendations from the States will be considered until the future of the whole program is decided. This means that in the Whittlesea shire in the suburb of Lalor, which my friend the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) knows well, no forward planning can take place because of the complete abdication of this Government in that area.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking to the estimates for health and welfare. At the outset I congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) for introducing what I believe is the best health scheme ever introduced in the Federal Parliament. I think that the majority of Australians would agree with me when I say that the scheme which will operate from 1 November is no doubt the best that has ever been introduced in this national Parliament. The changes to Medibank to be introduced on 1 November will affect various groups in the community in the following way: For the 60 per cent of the population who are currently insured with private health funds for both medical and hospital benefits there will be little change although their medical insurance payments should be lower from 1 November. Individuals can of course elect to take the new Commonwealth medical benefit and standard hospital care if they choose to do so. For a pensioner with a pensioner’s health benefit card who has dependents there will be no change in respect of the present levels of medical and hospital coverage. Pensioners and others who currently have hospital only insurance will be required to pay extra if they wish to continue coverage for shared hospital ward accommodation and retain a doctor of their choice.
There is one point on which I would like to congratulate the Government. That is in relation to the dropping of the imposition of the means test on family allowances and of the income taxing of invalid and Service pensions and rehabilitation and sheltered employment allowances. I ask the Government to correct one error that it made in the Budget- the dropping of the once a year pension adjustment- and to adhere to its policy pledge of writing twice yearly pension adjustments into the legislation. I also ask the Government to drop the imposition of a freeze on the ‘free of means test’ applying to people 70 years of age and over.
One of the major problems which has faced Western governments in recent times has been the rate of increase in the costs of providing health care. Since governments finance a large proportion of health services, they have a responsibility to achieve the best value possible for money spent. I seek leave to have a table incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– Hospitals are by far the most costly component of health care. Total Commonwealth outlay on hospitals represents almost 60 per cent of all Commonwealth expenditure on health services. Over the last few years, however,
Commonwealth Government policies have reduced the annual rate of increase of expenditure on recognised hospitals from 37 per cent in 1974-75 to 15 per cent in 1977-78. 1 seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table setting out the total recognised hospitals expenditure over the last five years.
The table read as follows-
-Between 1963-64 and 1975-76, the average cost per occupied bed day increased, in money terms, by almost 600 per cent. Average weekly earnings over the same period increased by only 329 per cent. Faced with increases of this magnitude, the Government, in consultation with the States and other appropriate bodies, is aiming to develop new arrangements that will reduce the number of public and private hospital beds available to no more than is essential for good care; require long-stay patients in recognised hospitals to contribute towards their accommodation and service as a condition of hospital cost-sharing; classify different types of hospitals in order to set varying levels of charges according to type; require hospitals to satisfy prescribed standards of management, accommodation and service as a condition of cost-sharing, one of the standards being a commitment to an approved program of rationalisation of facilities and services; and introduce some form of direct patient contributions to hospital costs, for example, through a system of utilisation review, whereby patients would be required to pay for unauthorised stays in hospitals.
By international standards Australia has a high number of hospital beds per 1,000 of population, having a figure higher than most European countries, the United States, of America and Canada. Although it is necessary to have some excess bed capacity in hospitals, the bed occupancy rate for Australian hospitals as a whole is about 70 per cent, with approximately 50 per cent of recognised hospitals having average occupancy levels of 60 per cent or lower. This is a clear indication of a surplus of beds. Overseas studies have indicated that the rate of utilisation of hospital beds is related directly to the number of beds available. Further, evidence in Australia suggests a strong link between bed availability and occupancy rates, and operating costs of recognised hospitals.
After being virtually unchanged for the ten preceding years, the number of occupied bed days per 1,000 of population- in public and private hospitals- between 1970 and 1976 increased from 1,556 to 1,626. The number of admissions per 1,000 of population increased from 1972 to 190 over the same period. The gross operating cost per occupied bed was almost $120 per day for 1976-77, about $135 per day for 1977-78 and could approach $150 per day in 1978-79. Thus substantial reductions in total operating costs of hospitals can be achieved by the implementation of a program of reducing the number of available beds as well as occupied bed days. Savings achieved from reductions in hospital utilisation could permit resources to be channelled into less expensive alternatives to institutional care, such as domiciliary care and other community based facilities.
A study in the United Kingdom indicated that the available number of acute hospital beds could be reduced to 2 per 1,000 population with no detrimental effect on the quality of care, provided the less expensive community health services were available. Australia currently has 6.5 beds per 1,000 population, with marked differences between States. This is illustrated in a table which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– In any rationalisation program designed to influence the utilisation of hospitals it is necessary to compare similar hospitals between and within States in order to derive standards for acceptable levels of utilisation. However, any reduction in hospital utilisation must take account of the private hospital sector, which must be fully incorporated in any effective rationalisation program. The private hospital sector is aware of the Government’s intentions in this matter.
Officers of the Department of Health and the Department of Construction are working in conjunction with State authorities and private industry to develop a planning and information system which will rationalise the planning process and lead to greater efficiency and cost savings in the provision of hospital facilities. The growth of sophisticated technological services has contributed to the rising costs of health care. In the United States, it has been estimated that 50 per cent of the increase in costs of hospital care from 1965 to 1974 was directly or indirectly related to medical technology. The Minister for Health at present is considering the report of the Committee on Applications and Costs of Modern Technology in Medical Practice. The Committee was set up to advise on methods of regulating the supply, costs and utilisation of technological services.
-I agree with some of the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns). For example, I join in congratulating the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on at last having the common sense to stop moving away from the original Labor Government Medibank proposal and at last taking a lurch- it may appear to be a slightly intoxicated lurch in view of the previous path he trod in dealing with Medibank- in the right direction, back to the original Labor Government Medibank proposal. This proposal is rather less generous, of course, but fundamentally it is very similar to ours.
I also agree with the remarks made by the honourable member for Isaacs when he discussed the major cost of health care, namely, the cost of hospital treatment. I was very pleased to
agree to his having incorporated in Hansard a number of tables which showed the facts. I draw slightly different conclusions. If hospital beds are there they will be filled. Another sad corollary is that the more doctors we have the more work they will do to ensure that they all earn a living. The answer is not necessarily to close down hospitals, because we still have to worry about whether people who need treatment can get in. To simply not provide funds for hospitals so that they close their doors does not ensure that we guarantee that those who need hospital treatment can get it. Other people may be admitted for other sorts of reasons to do with the way in which doctors handle their patients. We have not yet reached the stage where a patient can go along and say: ‘1 think 1 will have myself admitted to hospital today’. By and large, patients can get into a hospital only if a doctor says that they need to be admitted.
I must grant that the Government and the Minister have shown a glimmer of understanding in this area by suggesting to the medical profession- it must be about two years ago now- that the Minister requires them to institute a system of peer review. This is a technique which will better enable us to control this area of medical expenditure which is uncontrolled at the moment. Are there any concrete results from the money the Government continues to allocate to the Australian Medical Association for the study of peer review? An infinitesimal sum of money in total, I admit, of $100,000 has been allocated over three years. About $63,000 has been spent so far. In June this year the Australian Medical Association Federal Assembly finally adopted an eight-point plan on peer review. This plan involves a very slow-moving approach to the problem, with extensive study programs and trials. Two pilot projects will be undertaken by the AMA in the coming year. One will be at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in New South Wales -
– They are slow learners.
-The other project will be at St Vincent’s Hospital in Victoria. I am glad that the Minister has said that they are slow learners.
That is precisely the point. Such a step could perhaps take the pressure off the AMA- pressure which the Federal Government has been applying by its insistence that the Association do something in the direction of initiating peer review. I trust that the Government and the Minister will require more definitive action than this. The Government will be making a big mistake if it falls for this charade- that is all it is. For how many more years will the AMA be given taxpayers’ money to placate its members? It has not even been effective in informing doctors about the proposals. A recent survey by the Medical Letter showed that a great deal of uncertainty still existed. After two years work by the AMA, at least one-quarter of the doctors surveyed were not aware of what the proposals are. Is this the best we can expect.
Presumably, the Minister hoped that by establishing a system of peer review the Government would get some control over escalating hospital costs; but by giving the program for peer review to the AMA he has effectively forgone his chance for any real savings. This is for two reasons: The AMA will implement a system which does not offend doctors and, hence, will have little real control over costs. If one looks at the evidence, it is quite clear that many doctors will be affected by any peer review proposals, however innocuous, if they are to achieve anything at all. To minimise this political backlash- it will be a political backlash if the AMA has a hand in it- I am confident that the AMA will stall for as long as possible and then move with the smallest steps possible.
Secondly, by awaiting the laborious implementation procedures of the AMA, the Government seems to have forgone its right and ability to move in the public hospitals. These days, in any self-respecting public hospital system, statistics should already be available which could serve as the basis for establishing criteria for admission to hospital, for execution- perhaps that is a slightly unfortunate word- for performance of medical or surgical procedures and for length of stay in hospital. There should also be available procedures which, with only slight modification and extension, could serve as the basis for medical and surgical audit- the assembly of data which will show the efficacy or otherwise of both the medical treatment and the hospital treatment. Many years ago these procedures were implemented in many hospitals, but no government has required that medical and surgical audits be used to help govern the administration of hospitals and the medical procedures undertaken.
I emphasise again that an infinitesimal sum of money has been proposed for this study, but the study is of singular importance. The honourable member for Isaacs pointed out that in some areas adequate medical treatment is provided with a few as two hospital beds per thousand people. He also pointed out that we have more than six beds- I think the figure he gave was six and a half beds- per thousand people. I did not know the figure was that high. The fact is that we indulge in gross over-utilisation and gross overtreatment. Many people suffer unnecessary illness through excessive treatment. I fear that some people die unnecessarily because of excessive treatment. The only way we will control it is by measuring what happens.
I have an acquaintance- I will not go too far into this, because I would hate the doctors concerned to be identified- who once went to work in a leading hospital in one of the major cities of this continent where there was an expert in a particular surgical procedure. This young doctor wanted to learn about the procedure. He was told that the procedure as performed by this specialist was superior to most of the techniques used elsewhere in the country. He wanted to learn about it. He accepted the statement that the technique achieved very good results. He was impressed by what he saw in his initial ward rounds and because he was that way inclined, being a research worker at heart, he said he would like to do a survey and publish these excellent results. The senior surgeon was very flattered and gave his approval for the study to be undertaken. After spending some time going through the records in the hospital, following up patients by using those records and then assembling the data, this young doctor found that in fact the results when compared with overseas studies were disastrous. Doctors remember their successes; they bury their mistakes.
Leading on from that, the next point- the attempt to control the quality of medical carerelates to the expenditure on the community health program. Once again I fear that for the sake of balancing the Budget, or for the sake of goodness knows what, the Minister has been forced off the track. I only hope that some day soon he can get back on it and reassert himself because the community health program would set priorities for the establishment of alternative techniques of health care including, perhaps, a group of doctors and ancillary medical personnel and a range of people and expertise better to provide comprehensive care for patients outside hospitals. That would be far cheaper than putting people into hospitals. However, if we add up the items under this heading, the Government sadly has cut the funding by 20 per cent. Certainly the Minister has said that this is now the responsibility of the States but the reality, as we all know, is that the States will not be able to find the funds to keep the programs developing and, as the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) pointed out, the reality- again sadlywill be that it will grind to a halt and that will only prolong the agony of our excessive health expenditures.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.
-Firstly I congratulate the Government on its very great success in the reduction in the rate of inflation. Undoubtedly the major contributor to poverty in this country in recent years has been the high rate of inflation. That is one of the main findings of the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. With luck the rate of inflation this year is expected to be down to about five per cent. That means that those persons affected by the estimates for the Departments of Health, Social Security and Veterans’ Affairs will have a substantial improvement in their positions compared with their positions over the past few years. I also congratulate the Government on changing some decisions since the introduction of the Budget. I believe that the Government has received credit in the community for having had the courage to admit that in a number of circumstances its decisions were not completely wise. The change is an admission that in a small but very important area of the Budget there has been a need for a reappraisal. I think the Government has obtained considerable credit in the community.
The Health estimates are most important because we are dealing with a new health scheme which I believe is one of the best in the Western world. I am quite convinced that the new proposals will provide Australia at long last with a universal, compassionate and reasonably financially efficient system. It is a good thing that this whole debate in the community is now coming to an end, that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the Cabinet have been able to produce a comprehensive scheme that I believe will work well for many years. All persons in Australia are universally covered for standard ward hospital treatment and for medical treatment and will have to make a maximum patient contribution of only $20 a service or the difference between the 40 per cent benefit and the fee if the scheduled fee is below that amount. I think the Minister deserves congratulations. On an allied matter I also congratulate the Minister on his forward looking views on questions such as domiciliary nursing care and nursing homes policy. There is some way to go yet before we have a perfect system in Australia; however the Government has a continuing emphasis on the need to assist people in their own homes wherever possible to avoid the dislocation to them that is caused by having to go into institutions and to avoid the heavy costs that are involved in institutional treatment.
There are a number of examples in the area that I have the privilege to represent, the electorate of St George, where we have seen the Government’s promises translated into action in respect of health services and nursing homes. I want to refer to a particular matter; that is, an application for a nursing home by the Earlwood Caring Association. Earlwood is the oldest and largest soldier settlement area in the world. It was set up after the First World War and many elderly people live there now. It is in the Municipality of Canterbury which is below the average in respect of nursing homes beds. Most other areas are above the average. In Canterbury the ratio is 43 beds per thousand people. The Earlwood Caring Association, an organisation for which I have the highest respect, has applied for a nursing home.
In the course of the campaign for the coming State election the Australian Labor Party has been saying that the whole issue as to whether there will be a nursing home in Earlwood depends upon federal finance. That is not correct because firstly before an organisation reaches the stage of applying for federal finance there has to be a decision by the Commonwealth-State coordinating committee as to whether there is, on the figures, an entitlement to a nursing home. That is a Commonwealth-State committee and the State Government has an equal responsibility in regard to that committee. I am hopeful that that organisation will join with me in making representations to the Minister. He is a most responsible and reasonable Minister. He has listened to me raise the matter and has promised to come to the electorate at the earliest opportunity to look at the problem there.
We need to isolate Earlwood from the remaining Canterbury area, bearing in mind that that area is below the average in any case, to see whether it is possible for a special arrangement to be made in all the circumstances. That is the proper approach, not to play politics with the old people as the Labor Party is doing in its campaign in Earlwood. We should admit the truth of the situation. The Labor Party has even said in its pamphlets that it supports the application of the Earlwood Caring Association to the Federal Government. Let us have the evidence. The Minister has no memory of any application ever being made by the State Government in respect of this matter, and I know of none either. So let the Labor Party produce the evidence so that we can see whether it is sincere. Let us stop playing politics with the persons who deserve assistance. I call upon all persons concerned to help me in representations to the Minister. Let us hope that it will be possible for the Commonwealth-State committee to see the validity of the claim and provide a nursing home.
The next matter I wish to deal with relates to unemployment. Time does not permit of the opportunity to go into the question in great detail. It is a massive topic. The amount of unemployment benefit that is being provided this year is very large indeed. I want to place on record my firm belief that the Government’s economic policies are the soundest way to reduce the terrible plight for so many people and to ensure thereby that we have a reduction in the estimates of the amount of money for unemployment benefit that has to be paid.
The next matter I wish to deal with is the 100 per cent tuberculosis allowance decision. This has caused much concern amongst ex-service organisations. However, after looking at it very deeply I believe that it is a responsible decision provided that a number of matters are made clear. The two most important matters are: Firstly, it must be fully emphasised that any person who has TB obviously will continue to retain the full allowance. Any person with an accepted disability will receive his entitlement in relation to the accepted disability. Persons who have any gap in their medical treatment will come under the new medical scheme on 1 November- a very good medical scheme. Provided that this scheme is presented to the public properly one would think that the situation would be seen as reasonable. Secondly, if there is to be any change to the rate of nominated pension we must ensure that the 100 per cent TB allowance is still classed as a disability pension to preserve the taxation position of the persons concerned. As to the broad aspects of social security, it is vitally important that the Government maintains compassionate programs for people in need within its budgetary requirements and capacity. We have to ensure that we provide the best value for each dollar that is going to persons.
On the other hand, there are a number of things in the Budget that have caused me deep concern. I would like to think that we can develop a comprehensive policy in the future to overcome the difficulties that are caused to people who both pay tax and are in some way or another means tested because the two factors are an overloading, a provision of a burden that is unfair. This is referable to the decision of the Government to apply a means test for increases to the pension of persons over 70 years of age. I noticed from what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) said today that he was not concerned with that aspect. So presumably the Labor Party agrees with the means test, A comprehensive new policy is required. I commend to the chamber the views that have been expressed here and in other places by government members in relation to finding a new scheme that will take into account the means test and taxation aspects of the pension and provide a full solution.
As another specific, I would like the Government to change the annual indexation of pensions in future Budgets. I do not intend to cross the floor on this issue because the Budget has to be taken as a whole and a massive amount of expenditure is involved. However, the decision is inconsistent with the statements made in 1975, with the statements that I made to the people in the electorate of St George, and even with the real basis on which I believe that pensions should be adjusted in regard to frequency. They should be increased with the same frequency as the national wage is increased. If the national wage is varied, obviously the rate of pension should be varied. The people who receive a pension should be entitled to say that they are in no worse position as regards frequency of increases than are average wage earners. I call upon the Government at the earliest opportunity- that would be in the next Budget- to bring in a measure which provides that pensions be increased with the same frequency with which the national wage is increased.
– And of the same percentage.
– Indeed, I point out that pensioners receive favourable treatment because they do receive, and they will continue to receive, full indexation, and that is most beneficial to them.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I think the catch in what the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) said about varying pensions is that I have never heard him express much enthusiasm about varying wages with any frequency. I get the impression from the speeches that he has made in the Parliament that he does not want wage increases related to movements in the consumer price index. Pensioners can construe from that that he is really saying in different words that he does not want to see pensions increased.
That speech to which we just listened was, in my view, the height of hypocrisy. It is similar to many other speeches made in this House by honourable members opposite. In their electorates they speak along certain lines but in the Parliament they act, as does the Prime Minster (Mr Malcolm Fraser) quite differently. We know the promises that were made by the Prime Minister and the honourable member for St George during the election campaign, and we know the way such promises have been broken in this Budget. The Government has admitted, by reversing some of its socially inequitable Budget decisions, that it has not taken into consideration the effect of those decisions. Indeed, the result of the Werriwa by-election demonstrated to the Government quite clearly that the decisions taken in the Budget were unsupported by the people. The Government has been forced to reverse its attitude because its decisions were ill-conceived and impetuous and in many respects they were inhuman.
The kitchen Cabinet, which is dominated by Mr Fraser, prepared a Budget which ruthlessly disadvantages people who have been legitimately in reciept of social benefits and people who, through ill health or other incapacities, are already disadvantaged. These decisions were taken without regard to the social dislocation and hardship they would cause, without consideration of the advice of experts, without consideration of the problems of administering the changes and without, in some instances, adequate consultation and referral to the responsible Minister. In the area of social security, health and welfare, this socially irresponsible ad hoc decision making is most pronounced. The recent reversal of the decision to tax a wide range of invalid pensions is evidence of this ad hockery. This change of policy occurred only after the Government witnessed the spectacle of the crippled people demonstrating outside Parliament House their preparedness to fight this Government in order to get justice.
Then we had the reversal of the decision to means test family allowances. I think there was a feeling of revulsion right around Australia that income earning children were to be the prey of the Fraser Government. Of course, this revulsion was reflected in the Caucus room of the Liberal Party, and the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr Howard) were forced to change their attitude on this matter. The decision to means test family allowances was in direct contradiction of the assurance given by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). I believe that the recently announced reversal of policy may mark a victory for the Minister for Social Security and will be a very serious setback for the Prime Minister whose credibility is running out at an unprecedented rate. There is no doubt in my mind that it will not be long before honourable members opposite will be looking for another leader.
I shall just summarise the decisions affecting the disadvantaged people in our community. First of all, there is this important question of pensioners which was referred to by the honourable member for St George who preceded me in the discussion. The Government has decided to index pensions according to movements in the consumer price index. But those pensions are to be adjusted only once a year, as against the twice yearly adjustments that have previously been made. What a hypocrisy it is! We have a government that is reducing the incidence of adjustments to pensions, yet we have Government members standing up and saying that they should be increased. Of course, the fact of the matter is that we will have a 3.4 per cent increase in pensions next November to cover increases that started in the first half of 1 978. That is the situation and pensioners will be robbed of $100m as a consequence of this action. It is a very distressing development in Australia.
Another decision affecting disadvantaged people is the failure to index family allowances. The value of family allowances has fallen 27 per cent since 1976. The maternity allowance is another matter affected by these estimates. The Government has decided to abolish the maternity allowance. I remind honourable members that this benefit was introduced 66 years ago, back in 1912, by the Fisher Government. It has withstood two World Wars, a Depression and many other economic crises, but it could not withstand the Fraser Government. After 66 years, during which the mothers of Australia have been receiving the benefit at the rate of $30-odd a week for the purpose of meeting confinement expenses, this Government has contrived a way of depriving the women of Australia of that benefit. What an incredible historymaking epic this is!
Then we find that expenditure in respect of children ‘s services is to be cut by $6m from $7 1 m to $65m. The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) seems to revel in all this sadistic budgetary behaviour. Family planning services, in real terms, are to be cut back, as are the community health programs which are so important to women as they support women’s health centres and refuges. Then there is the expenditure of family allowances. The estimates under that heading for this financial year show an expenditure of $948.2m, which represents a decrease of $89.9m on last year’s expenditure of $l,038m.
So it continues, item after item. Obviously, I will not have time to refer to all these matters. There is even a change in relation to repatriation benefits. That will have the effect of depriving service pensioners of their automatic right to go into repatriation hospitals and receive treatment for disabilities, whether war caused or otherwise. As I glance through this great catalogue of cuts and curtailments in government benefits, I see, for example, that the payment of family allowances abroad is to be discontinued. This seems to me to represent an attack on the migrant community. Page 86 of Budget Paper No. 1 indicates the Government’s decision no longer to pay outside Australia family allowances, orphans’ pensions and handicapped children’s allowances unless the child is temporarily abroad, living abroad pending migration to Australia and living abroad with a person receiving the Australian pension.
But there are so many other things that are objectionable. Grants to eligible organisations under the Aged Persons Hostels Act have been cut, as have grants expressed in real terms, to the Australian Pre-school Association. I suppose what annoys me more than anything else is the vindictiveness of the Government with respect to the unemployed youth of Australia. The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) seems to revel in this particular item of the Budget.
– I have not said a word, Les.
-But you look so happy about it, so placated by it. But how annoying it all is: 221,000 people who receive unemployment benefit and have no dependants will be deprived for the next 12 months of any adjustment to their allowances. Also, there are 68,960 people with dependants and 221,000 who are without dependants. It is a mistake to believe that these are all young people. Many of them are older people who have been forced into redundancy situations and I would like whoever follows me on the Government side to justify making victims of these unfortunate people, whose numbers will undoubtedly grow. The Government has a case to answer.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It gives me, as a member of the Government parties, a great deal of pleasure to be associated with these very important estimates, which are fundamental to the existence of people and closely associated with the preservation of human dignity. I congratulate the three Ministers concerned upon their wonderful achievement, in having been able to obtain increased appropriations in a difficult economic environment. I note with great pleasure that, following the making of certain representations, the Government has seen fit to make further concessions to the needy of our society. We are proud to belong to a government which has its sense of priorities right.
I relate my remarks first to Division 856, Item 1, which is concerned with the blood transfusion service, which was pioneered in this country and is supervised by a wonderful organisation, the Australian Red Cross Society, which is part of the world body. It is interesting to note that this year the amount allocated for transfusion services is to be increased to $6,600,000. It is appropriate to point out that the Australian Red Cross Society is funded, as to 60 per cent, by the States and, as to 5 per cent from its own resources- on 10 per cent of the donations that it receives- and that the Commonwealth Government picks up the remainder of its expenditure. It is appropriate to recite with great pride the wonderful help that has been given to people in the work of the Red Cross, particularly in the area of blood transfusion. I also pay tribute and give praise for their excellent work in providing facilities for people at major hospitals, especially those who have relatives who are in a dangerous condition or who are facing serious operations. Additionally, they have the wonderful facility of bringing peace and contentment to many by tracing relatives and friends who for many years have lost contact with one another. Part of their great work has been performed in association with the Salvation Army- usually they are the first people on the spot both at home and abroad when disasters occur. I pay tribute to the many excellent citizens, in both metropolitan and rural areas of Australia, who take time off from their many and pressing responsibilities to participate in the activities of the Red Cross and the gathering of blood so that the Blood Bank may have sufficient supplies of serum and plasma to cope with even the most pressing exigencies and emergencies. We pay tribute to them as great Australians. May they continue in their work of love, making their contribution to the alleviation of personal hardship and trauma.
I turn now to Division 325, item 6, also relating to the Department of Health, as it concerns the drug problem. I do not want to use my time to debate the deep philosophical issues involved. We will have before us independent legislation which will permit us to discuss the philosophical approach to health. My contribution would be to alert the Australian nation, both young and old, to the various serious problems associated with the abuse of drugs. This has been heightened by recent discoveries, in the States of Queensland and South Australia, of what one might term professional drug farms. The Press has highlighted the financial gain to these people who, in essence, have absolutely no social conscience. Money is their god. They do not care about the havoc they bring to the lives of certain people. I would ask whether our present plans for drug education are appropriate. We need a national strategy covering all areas of drug abuse including, I would emphasise, the abuse of legal drugs. Cases of the over-use and overprescription of legal drugs are not unknown. That aspect is possibly of equal importance to the peddling of illegal drugs.
According to recent revelations there has been an increase in Australia of drug use, drug trafficking and drug growing. It is difficult, with out long coastline totalling 19,200 kilometres, to exercise sufficient surveillance to prevent drugs from entering Australia, but I pose the question: Would it be appropriate for the Government to introduce in the Australian legal system penalties such as operate at present in Singapore? That country has, in the last two years, introduced the death penalty for people who carry significant amounts of drugs. It is interesting to note that since that legislation has been brought in the number of convictions for supplying drugs to young people has increased. In 1974 there were 1 10 arrests; in 1975 there were 2,263 and in 1976 there were 5,700. That indicates surely, that if there is a will there is a way. It would be appropriate to take cognizance of the fact that something must be done before it is too late. It is already late in the day. Let us get on with the job of bringing to justice those who permeate the Australian way of life with the supplying of drugs.
It is interesting to recall that in 1 976 an investigation was carried out in America concerning what was known as the American model. It was found that one importer supplied eight wholesalers, that each wholesaler supplied six retailers; that each retailer supplied six pushers and that each pusher supplied 15 addicts. Obviously, we need professional techniques if we are to break the chain. There are enormous profits in the supplying of drugs. A half ounce of raw heroin costs $5. If it is broken up and adulterated, it sells for about $1,800. One kilogram can supply 25,000 addicts for one day. I ask the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the Government: Are our education programs the best that we can have? Some psychologists and psychiatrists suggest that our programs are doing more harm than good; that they should be abandoned because they only glamorise abuse, and give children, in effect, a menu of drug information. Some psychologists have suggested that the usual practice of spreading drug information at meetings, by having as a speaker a person who has corrected his drug problem get up and say, ‘My life was wrecked. I was no good. I was near death, unhappy and desperate’ is harmful. The message that comes across to the young people, with their inquiring minds is, ‘He is cured; what is the worry? I will give it a go and do what he has done; I will cure myself. The consensus among Australians is that we must have an anti-drug crusade; that we must have as part of that crusade a public awareness campaign.
I would like to touch also on the estimates of the Department of Social Security, which I would relate to the estimates of the Minister for Health in regard to the drug problem, and would refer to the fact that next year is the International Year of the Child. We associate that year with the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations declaration that, ‘Humanity owes to children the best it has to give.’ There are in the world 1.5 billion children who are under 12 years of age. I suggest that 1979 would be an appropriate time for this country, and for the world, to examine its conscience in regard to children.
Are we civilised in our modern society when child bashing is common, when children go cold, hungry and uneducated and when, as the previous speaker stated, children have a future of unemployment? I want to record in Hansard the 10 rights of children. They are: Affection, love and understanding; nutrition and medical care; free education; full opportunities for play and recreation; a name and a nationality; special care if handicapped; to be among the first to receive relief in times of disaster; to learn to be useful members of society and to develop individual abilities; to be raised in a spirit of peace and universal brotherhood; and to enjoy those rights regardless of race, colour, sex or national or social origin.
I make an appeal, not only to government but also to private organisations, to the service clubs and youth organisations, to get very closely associated with the International Year of the Child. Our future depends on the quality of our children. They are our greatest assets. Let us make sure that at all times they are free and they are protected by us. Let the spirit of next year be a spirit of the International Year of the Child 1979.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-This Government in its budgeting is given to- in the immortal words of the ex-Treasurer- rather rubbery estimates. The Government and the Treasury gremlins have had extraordinary difficulty in getting their sums right. For the last financial year, 1977-78, most of the critical estimates- most of the estimates necessary for economic policy making- were extraordinarily inaccurate, extraordinarily rubbery. I want to give some examples of this in order to set the context in which this years’ social security estimates were drawn up.
First of all, last year it was predicted that real non-farm gross domestic product, June on June, would grow by over 4 per cent. In fact, it rose by merely half that figure, 2.2 per cent. In the 1977-78 Budget it was predicted that total employment, May on May, would rise by about 4 per cent. It rose scarcely at all; it rose by 0.4 per cent. The Budget predicted that the balance of payments on current account would strengthen; in fact, it deteriorated by $2,500m. The Budget prediction on unemployment was that there would be little or no change. Of course, the number unemployed actually increased by 6 1 ,000. We are all familiar now with the blowing out of the deficit by over $ 1 ,000m.
This means that we have a Government which is extraordinarily incompetent in its economic predictions. Last year’s predictions, without doubt- it is no longer debatable- were elastic, sloppy and rubbery, and this year’s predictions appear to be little better. The most extraordinary, although not the largest, underestimate occurs in the estimates for the Department of Social Security. I refer to the estimate of expenditure on the unemployment benefit. In 1977-78, $794m was expended on the unemployment benefit. The estimate of expenditure on this item this year is $784m, that is, $ 10m less than for the preceding year.
How can the Government explain a $10m decline in estimated expenditure on the unemployment benefit? Firstly, it is now admitted by all Government spokesmen, even the most optimistic of them, that unemployment will get worse before it gets better; that is, during the course of this year the level of unemployment will be worse than it was last year. For practically every month to date, comparing figures month by month, that has been true. Therefore, in the coming year more people will be entitled to receive the unemployment benefit than were entitled to receive it in the past year. Yet the estimate of expenditure on the unemployment benefit is $ 10m less this year than last year. Secondly, at least for a segment of the unemployed there will be indexation increases. We all know that a great majority of the unemployed will not get increases through indexation; nevertheless, a segment of the unemployed will gain increases through indexation. How then can a decline in estimated expenditure on the unemployment benefit be explained?
Let me, first of all, give due credit to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and/or her Department because she admits that she cannot explain the fudging of the figures. The Department of Social Security is sufficiently honest to say that it cannot explain how that extraordinary figure was produced. Let me prove that statement by referring to that excellent document put out by the Department, namely, the Department’s explanatory notes on estimated expenditure. In those explanatory notes one finds an explanation of every increase and decrease in each estimate, with one exception. For instance, one can look up ‘widow ‘s pensions ‘ and find explanations of an estimated additional cost. One can look up ‘supporting mother’s benefit’ and discover the reasons the Department has set out for increases in that estimate. But when one comes to pages 72 and 73 of this document- that is, the pages dealing with the unemployment benefit- there is a complete silence. It is the only item in the whole of this document for which no explanation is offered. That is because the Department is sufficiently honest with the public- at least with the Parliament- to say: ‘We cannot explain how that extraordinary Budget figure was produced’.
The Treasurer (Mr Howard) is somewhat more ingenious than his senatorial colleague, but on the whole I think it is best to draw a curtain across his confused and rather confusing explanations offered on 1 7 August. I will not go into them in depth; but, briefly. One explanation was that there will be more draconian administration and somehow the administration will be sufficiently draconian to reduce significantly the cost of the unemployment benefit. Secondly, the Treasurer argued that somehow de-indexing would keep the increase down. But, of course, what he has to explain is the decrease in the Budget allocation. I suggest that the estimate of expenditure on the unemployment benefit is a gross underestimate, a completely fudged figure.
Let me suggest how the sum should be done and, I suspect, how it has been done within the Department of Social Security. I suggest that the figure in the Budget underestimates the expenditure by $150m, and that probably is conservative. Let me indicate how that is calculated. Firstly, on the Treasurer’s own figures, the average number of beneficiaries per month will be 290,000, an increase over the number for the previous year of 25,000 beneficiaries per month. This will increase the annual cost by approximately $80m. Secondly, it is admitted that there will be an extra pay-day in 1 978-79 compared with 1977-78 and this will add $30m to the cost. Thirdly, there will be limited indexationtherefore, there will be some increase in the benefit- for that segment of the unemployed with dependants. A conservative estimate of that further cost is $ 15m.
Finally, on the basis of an examination of the figures available for July-August this year, the payments reflect that the Government clearly has underestimated, even with an average of 290,000 a month, the extent of unemployment and therefore the extent of payments. When we allow for this on the basis of the July-August figures, we can add, conservatively, a further $30m to the unemployment benefit bill. If one adds those complete figures together one gets a total underestimate of $ 155m.
Of course, that should not surprise anyone. There should be no surprise in Australia by now at the fact that expenditure on this item has been underestimated by $155m, because that is simply in keeping with the Government’s record in the past two years. In 1976-77 the Government got its estimate of expenditure on the unemployment benefit wrong by $ 1 6 1 m. Last year, 1977-78, the Government got it wrong by $ 1 55m. So I do not think one should be surprised that the estimate will be out by $ 1 55m this year. I think that by now most Australians should realise that we have not only rubbery estimates but also a rather rubbery government.
The second issue to which I want to allude briefly is the matter of research within the Department of Social Security. At the beginning of this session I got from the Department a rather fudged answer about the extent of monitoring and research being done by the Department of Social Security. I think it is clear that within the Department there is a genuine fear that effective research, particularly if it is publicised, will reveal the extent of need and want in this community and that, therefore, increasing demands and pressures will be brought upon the Department. I have talked to officers of the Department who have admitted honestly that one of the fears about research is that it will begin to reveal some of the gaps that exist in the social security area in this nation. Certainly when one looks at research publications one sees that the contribution from the Social Security Department is very small.
In order to deal with the kinds of growing problems which this society is facing, particularly because the problems are changing rather dramatically I refer, for instance, to the demographic change affecting age patterns in this community- radically different policies will be needed in the social security field in the coming years.
What kind of preparation and what kind of research are being done by the Social Security Department to prepare Australia for a very different balance of ages in the 1980s? Many of these questions are being raised. The whole problem of youth unemployment, a problem which seems certain to be with us for some time, requires much fuller research by the Department so that governments and parliaments in this country have answers. There is certainly need for a much greater commitment and development of research facilities within the Department of Social Security.
– I respect the way in which the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) approaches and prepares his speeches. The first point that he made related to the levels of payment of unemployment benefit. To deal with the sorts of comments he made requires a different type of debate. Undoubtedly if we were in the same position as the Senate with its Estimates committees which would enable us to dig more deeply into these aspects in all probability we would come up with a better understanding of the nature of the sorts of figures that he has offered to us tonight. I am not able to vouch for the accuracy of the figures that have been presented nor am I able to vouch for the inaccuracy of the figures that the honourable member for Bonython offered.
I am not one who likes to use the sorts of terms that the Opposition accuses honourable members on this side of the chamber of using. I find them quite offensive. I accept that the broad and large number of people who receive unemployment benefit are eligible to do so. However, I know, as I think other honourable members know, of particular examples which indicate that some savings can be made in the proper administration of welfare services. In the same way we are called upon to admit honestly that in the taxation field there is a need to have an equitable, an appropriate and a tight system of administration. We may find need for reform or find that some schemes enable people to reap advantages. Similarly, where people have been able improperly to receive unemployment benefits, we need to have a system that is capable of catching those people who take advantage of our welfare systems. I do not think that anybody can logically disagree with that, although the very nature of the way in which we approach these matters demands some sensitivity particularly for the people who are in the unfortunate position of having to need welfare payments.
Similarly the thoughtful contribution from the honourable member for Bonython in relation to the area of research is one which I think all honourable members ought to note. We are in a changing world. We will see demographic changes in Australia which will necessitate a much more fundamental review of our welfare systems. Unfortunately the contribution of the honourable member for Bonython to this debate was somewhat unique. It is very easy to come into this place with a shopping list- a series of requests and in some respects itemised needs- to present them, accuse one’s opponents, in this case people like myself, of being callous and heartless, to suggest that we are not interested in the needs of people, to demonstrate, merely by anecdotal evidence, that there is a person with a particular need and therefore develop a class of people who, whether or not they have a need, believe that they are entitled to benefit from a particular program of government. I do not believe that this sort of approach is good enough. I believe that greater regard has to be had to the needs and the aspirations of those who have to pay the welfare benefits- the taxpayers. I think that they demand that we look responsibly at the welfare programs that we undertake in Australia and set about reaching the needy people as distinct from those who are able to get in on the act. Responsible decisions will have to be taken. We cannot go on in the way in which we have by simply expanding programs on the basis of the sort of anecdotal evidence that is given.
I heard the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) tonight arguing about principles in relation to welfare payments, equality of opportunity and need. Nobody would disagree with those sorts of principles. The honourable member went on to refer to principles. He really did not apply the principles but used them as a basis for arguing for a much wider welfare system than the one we have. He accused this Government of breaching the sort of principles about which he spoke. I did not believe that that has been the case. I believe that we have been looking at the nature of the programs themselves and developing the areas of need to a greater extent than previously has been the case. The honourable member for Batman was very critical of the oft-stated view that Australia is one of the most egalitarian societies. I will deal with that matter in the short period that I have available to me. I think that we are one of the most egalitarian societies. I think that there is clear evidence of that. It ought not to be overlooked. The honourable member called for more research and was critical of the extent of the material available.
As a result of the decisions of the Government that was in office for 23 years we saw the development of some of the largest and most voluminous material quantifying poverty in Australia through the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty. That, of course, was an initiative of the McMahon Government through the auspices of a former member of this House, Mr W. C. Wentworth. I would like to refer particularly to the report in the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty dealing with the economic circumstances of the poor. It is a very interesting article in the ‘Consumers and Client Series’ by Dr Podder of the University of New South Wales. The paper examined statistics from a survey of consumer expenditures and finances in the years 1966 to 1968. According to the honourable member for Batman that was one of the worst periods- it was during the 23 years of Liberal government- and one in which we treated our poor in a most harsh and callous way. If the honourable member is to be believed that would have been one of the most disadvantageous periods in which to examine these sorts of matters. It is useful, I think, to examine some of the headings which Dr Podder gives. We can deal with these matters only briefly in a 10- minute speech. He dealt with the ‘Shape of Poverty in Australia’, the ‘Inequality of Income and Wealth’, the ‘Diffusion of Wealth and Debt over Income Ranges’ and ‘Poor People as Consumers’. Essentially he indicated something which I think ought to be looked at in greater depth. He said that it is the total wealth that needs to be looked at when examining poverty and not just the question of income. I acknowledge that there are particularly needy groups of people in the community- Dr Podder referred to them- such as Aborigines and the unemployable as distinct from the unemployed who need to be looked at as unique groups in the community. In the broad areas we need to come to grips with the total situation of the people who are claiming welfare benefits. We need therefore in this area to remove all the highly emotive language and all the value loaded speeches and to look at the nature of the conclusions to which Dr Podder came. Wealth is an important factor. Let us look at one of the conclusions at page 37. Dr Podder had this to say:
With respect to the distribution and redistribution of household incomes, the main finding is that, of the two instruments of redistributing income, namely, income tax and government cash benefits, the latter is far more redistributing than the former. Government cash benefits redistribute income towards greater equality by transferring a substantial amount of income to the families in the very low income ranges. It was found that benefits are given to low income families mostly irrespective of socio-demographic characteristics. We have seen that the degree of inequality of incomes is diminished by the same extent as income tax when imputed rent from owner-occupied houses are added to original family income. This shows disproportionately high home ownership among the families in the lower income ranges.
I think that this is the important factor in relation to the total wealth concept and the people who are poor in our community. The report continued:
The distribution of wealth is found to be much more unequal than the distribution of disposable income. However, the inequality of wealth-holding in Australia seems to be significantly lower than the inequality in the USA and UK.
On pages 52 and 73 of the report the emphasis is on total wealth rather than income. In considering programs as a Government and as a Parliament we have to look at need not with a broad brush approach adding a little to the lot of everybody who happens to be a welfare beneficiary but, as has been done in this Budget, we have to be prepared to look much more conscientiously at the needs of people. Instead of increasing broadly across the range of welfare benefits, we have to develop specific programs to meet those needs.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I was going to concentrate my remarks in this debate on the Department of Veterans’ Affairs but I cannot discuss that matter until I have answered some of the remarks made by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). The honourable member is young. Although he has had a good deal of experience in the Parliament what disturbs me is that he has shown very little compassion in the years that he has been a member of Parliament. He is a conservative man and a pious politician. No matter how long he remains in the Parliament, I do not think that he will ever develop any real compassion for people. He quoted from a report and said that the Government’s feeling about people was of real significance. The sad fact is that if we look at page xi of the report we will find that it was completed in May 1975. Yet the report of the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty was tabled today, three years later. Such is the compassion of this Government of which the honourable member is a supporter.
The honourable member for Dundas seemed to be greatly concerned that people receive unemployment benefit improperly. He stressed that point to some extent. Yet the same man never seems to express any concern about the illegal tax evasion- the legal crookedness- that exists within our community. He is not concerned about those who form family trusts to evade taxation. Nor is he really concerned about cuts in welfare programs. He talked about welfare programs but he did not analyse where there had been cuts in expenditure. In November 1972, under the McMahon Government, the single age pension was 19 per cent of average weekly earnings. During the three years of Labor administration it was lifted from 19 per cent to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. Now it has fallen to about 22 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Government is not only stealing money from the pockets of pensioners but also increasing the pensions ever 12 months instead of every six months as they do now. The Government is stealing from the needy of our community. This pious young gentleman shows no real feeling or compassion at all.
I turn now to the defence service homes scheme which comes within the portfolio of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann). The scheme, which was originally for the benefit of ex-servicemen who had served in both theatres of war, was broadened to include other military personnel. It is a generous scheme in relation to interest repayments. The interest rate for the first $12,000 is 3% per cent. On the remaining $3,000 the interest rate is 714 per cent. The second increase in the amount of the loan was made in the first financial year of the Labor Administration. This Government seems to want to restrict the finance available even under this scheme at a time when the Government’s indicative Planning Council for the Housing Industry recognises that it has sufficient men and material to produce at least 150,000 homes for the people of Australia. This year under this Government’s administration the total number of homes constructed both in the private sector and in the public sector was 1 16,000.
As I said earlier today, at least 100,000 families are on the Housing Commission waiting list. Ex-servicemen are waiting for defence service homes. Prior to this Budget, they had to wait 1 1 months after their application had been accepted. Following the budgetary decisions of this Government they will now have to wait 14 months. Last year $90m was made available under this scheme. This year that amount has been cut back to $78.8m. Because of budgetary restraints, ex-servicemen will have to pay more money to buy a home. I have gone to some lengths to compile a table. I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
– This table indicates that as I said earlier the Labor Government increased the loan from $12,000 to $15,000 in the 1972-73 Budget, the first year of its administration. At that time the average cost of a dwelling and land in New South Wales was $18,733. An ex-serviceman needed only about $3,000 above the loan of $15,000. What is the situation today? The maximum loan still remains at $15,000 even though a person has to wait 14 months to get it. The average cost of a dwelling and land in New South Wales in 1977-78 was $37,913. The loan is not even 50 per cent of that amount. After having borrowed $15,000, a person would have to borrow another $23,000. That is the contribution of this Government to the ex-servicemen of this country. In the 20 years since I have been in this Parliament, I have seen the hypocrisy of members of the Liberal and National Country parties who talk about wearing their badge with pride. What have they done for the exservicemen? They have stolen from them. They have sold out the ex-servicemen as they have sold out so many other people they are supposed to represent.
What was the situation under the Labor administration? In the first year, 1973-74, we increased expenditure to $102m. The following year we increased expenditure to $ 1 30m and in the last year of our administration the total expenditure was $ 122.4m. But what amount is being provided this year? A total of $78. 8m is being made available. I do not know whether the people listening to this debate will read the statistics which are set out in the document I have had incorporated in Hansard. The document exposes completely the hypocrisy of this Government in its aim to assist those exservicemenparticularly the needy- who served this country. The Government could make a real contribution to the community not only by giving the exservicemen what they are entitled to but also by stimulating the building industry thereby getting rid of unemployment so that we can wipe away this scar in which the honourable member for Dundas seems to revel. The Government has the opportunity to take action. The matter is in the Government’s hands. I believe that the defence services homes scheme is a weapon that the Government could use to assist to stimulate the building industry as a whole.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I rise to take part in this Committee discussion of the estimates of the Department of Social Security. In doing so I draw to the attention of the Committee a concern that I have expressed in recent times about the need for governments in this country to have a family policy- a policy that is designed to enable the families of the nation to achieve the objectives that they would like to achieve.
– What are they?
-Someone asks, ‘What are they?’ That is the very point of my plea. We should develop a family policy so that at least in an explicit way government actions strengthen the role that the community wants the family to perform rather than, by design or inadvertence, weaken its capacity to fulfil the role. I believe that as an adjunct to the development of a policy for the Australian family we should institute the preparation of impact statements by government departments so that when they make policy decisions they are required to indicate the way in which they believe those decisions would affect families. All too often we look at the effect of policies and programs on the community at large and on the individual but we often forget that they have an effect upon that small group with whom the great majority of Australians relate most; that is, their family. I am not seeking in this debate tonight to define the very wide range of differing family configurations that might exist within the community. If one looks at the statistics one will see that the great majority of them happen to be families in which there are two parents with dependent children.
– How do you think unemployment affects them?
– The honourable member should have listened to my speech during the Budget debate in which I expressed my concern about unemployment. Of course we should be looking into the question of the impact and effect of unemployment on different families. Some families in Australia today have two incomes whereas others have no incomes because none of the potential members of the work force can get jobs. We may well have to look into that question to ensure that work opportunities are adequately and equitably shared among Australian families- to ensure that each family has a fair opportunity to develop for itself and for its children the opportunities that we would all like them to have. One of the great innovations of the Government was the family allowance. If there had been a family impact statement we may not have been faced with a debate about the effect of certain proposals, which have now been withdrawn, in relation to the so-called ‘newsboy’.
I believe that the payment of family allowances should be continued on a universal basis. If it is not, we place a family with dependent children in a disadvantaged position in comparison with a family that has the same income but no dependent children. As the economy revives the purchasing power of these family allowances should be examined so that they can be maintained. In time we will need to give consideration to increasing the family allowance paid in respect of the first child and in respect of children under the age of six. Many people tend to think that the first child is the least expensive child. We pay the lowest rates of family allowance in respect of the first child. I draw the attention of the Committee to the supplementary report of the National Population Inquiry which was tabled a few months ago. I draw the Committee’s attention to a number of comments in that report. The report stated: . . . the curtailment of expenditure with the addition of a child is striking. The first point to be noted -
This appears in paragraph 5.25- is the precarious financial position of the one adult household with dependent children.
I should say that under our social security system we do make special provisions for families where there are children with a single parent. They do not just receive the family allowance. Those parents- particularly the mothers- are entitled to one form of pension or another. In addition to the basic pension payable to the mother allowances are payable in respect of her children. The Borrie report went on to say: . . . secondly, the addition of a child to a two adult household clearly means a fall in average income- a fall that must be all the more traumatic because of the high expenditure patterns of the two adult households before the event of children.
It said in paragraph 5.27: . . . the household finds itself ‘flush with money’ prior to the start of child bearing. In the many cases income losses and higher expenditure associated with the onset of child bearing are eased again when the children come to school age and the mother can take up employment on a part or full time basis.
The report went on to say: . . . the patterns outlined above do seem to support the case for transfer payments to serve the needs of households during the vital years of family formation.
I draw to the attention of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who in this House represents the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), the need for the Government to look at the total family allowance program and the need as circumstances permit to ask the question whether when we increase those benefits to maintain their real value we should not at the same time make a substantial increase in real value of the payments made in respect of the first child particularly while that first child is in the pre-school age group.
I bring one other point to the attention of the Committee during this debate. The Henderson Royal Commission on Poverty had a number of words to say about the means test. At that time the test included an assessment of capital as well as an assessment of income. Professor Henderson said:
However nowadays this -
He was referring to the inclusion in the means test of an assessment of capital- . . . this practice merely stands in the way of the rational integration of the pension means test with other incometested benefits and with the income tax. Accordingly it should cease.
The Government has taken one step implicit in that statement. It has abolished the means test on capital and it has introduced an income test. But so far it has failed to move in the direction of integrating the means test with the taxation system. We have had from the invalid pensioners in recent days an identification of the sorts of problems to which Professor Henderson referred when he criticised the use by governments of what he described as cumulative income tests. He had this to say:
If a family is eligible for a number of separate payments, each of which tapers away as private income increases, the total reduction in the various benefits can often rise till it nearly wipes out the increase in private income.
The retention rates all too often are far too low. Today the retention rates of many pensioners are lower than the retention rates after tax of the highest income earners in the land. I urge the Government, in its assessment and reexamination of the social welfare system, to get a co-ordinated plan to ensure that retention rates for people on low incomes are increased, that the tax system and the social security system are harmonised, that one department is used to administer the test to be applied, and that the heavy burden placed on low income earners is removed.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In the last few days we have seen several significant backdowns by the Government on the more pernicious social security cuts in the recent Budget. In passing, I refer to the dropping of the iniquitous means testing of family allowances. The Government first moved from the imposition of a $6 threshold to the imposition of a $20 threshold; and then, of course, it scrapped the proposition altogether. It is hard to accept that the original intention was simply to prevent tax avoidance by some people by the use of family trusts into which children’s unearned income is paid. If that was the real reason, why did not the Government just legislate to do that in the first place as part of the Budget, instead of attacking everyone including the lower income earners? When the Government was forced to back off it finally had to miss the people it said it intended to catch in the first place. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) glibly says now that he was wrong. Perhaps the victory of the new honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) last Saturday made the Treasurer admit that he was wrong. We note also that there have been backdowns in other significant areas, particularly with regard to the taxation of some social welfare payments to handicapped persons. I suggest that the cat is well and truly out of the bag.
There ought to be more reviews because there are more pernicious aspects of this Budget that need to be changed. I sincerely hope that there are some back bench members in the Government ranks in this chamber and in the Senate who will show enough care for the ordinary people who are affected by the more vicious sections of the Budget to vote with the Opposition when the vote is taken. I make the suggestion that the reversion to yearly pension adjustments is the first matter that they might consider. As from November the age pension will be $53.20 for a single person and $88.70 for a married couple. If one assumes- this, of course, is a guestimate- an inflation rate of 3.5 per cent for the next six months, it will mean that the single age pensioner will be losing $1.86 a week after next May. That will accumulate to some $50 in total by November next year before they eventually are paid what they should be getting. It is more for the married couple, of course. The loss would amount to $3.10 a week. That would , mean that those pensioners would be robbed of $80 to $90 in six months. I ask the Government very seriously to reconsider this decision.
Similarly reprehensible is the attempt to freeze unemployment benefit for people with no dependants. Going through that same sort of exercise, the lowest rate of unemployment benefitthat paid to the person under 18 years of age- has been frozen at $36 a week. If we apply that 3.5 per cent guesstimated rate of inflation over six months, the Government will knock off another $ 1 .22 a week. Where is the sense of that? Why bother? Why do it? Similarly, the person over 18 years of age, who is in receipt of $5 1.45 a week, will be robbed over 12 months of between $95 and $100. These are the very people who need the money to boost consumer spending, the very people who would have the propensity to spend.
The other Budget proposal that really ought to be changed is the proposal to tax lump sum payments of workers’ accumulated annual and long service leave. As honourable members know, it used to be taxed as to 5 per cent of the total accumulated. There has been some minor backdown by the Government. I note a proposition now to tax such payments at the flat rate of 33.5c in the dollar. Quite frankly, I think that the workers of Australia will say: ‘Thanks for nothing’. They will not thank the Government for making that change, simply because the 33.5c in the dollar applies to people earning less than $ 16,000 a year and the vast majority of the work force earns less than $ 1 6,000 a year and certainly most -
– Seventy per cent.
– As the honourable member for Reid points out, 70 per cent of the work force earns less than $ 1 6,000. 1 have no doubt that that is correct. The important point is that most of the accumulated funds in this area certainly will total less than $16,000 anyway; so they would be taxed at only 33.5c in the dollar. The Government has not given them anything. All this is in complete contrast to the handouts in windfall profits to oil companies under the new import parity scheme, and in complete contrast to the renunciation of a resources tax on the Utah Development Co. and the statement by the Government that it will be satisfied with taxing repatriated earnings of companies such as the Utah company with a branch profits tax of 5 per cent on taxable income rather than what it should be- a resources or rent tax on the exploitation of our precious non-renewable energy reserves.
In the few minutes remaining to me I should like to make some comment on pensions in general and the situation regarding Medibank. The position that has developed in Australia is that approximately 1.3 million age pensioners are paid, according to the Budget, a total of $3.26 billion. Of course, the age pension is only 23.5 per cent of the national average wage. In the long term we need to do much better than that. I doubt very much that we will do much better if we simply stick to the system of paying pensions out of taxation revenue. What I am saying is that we ought now to be seriously considering the implementation of a national superannuation scheme. Whether it is run on traditional investment funded lines or whether it is run on a pay-as you-go principle really is immaterial. The point is that it needs to be done and it must be done. Right now we have a number of existing superannuation schemes which are very good. Commonwealth public servants and State public servants such as teachers, pay about 5 per cent of their income in contributions to superannuation schemes and receive some 70 per cent of their earnings at the time of retirement as benefits.
However, they are- if one can pardon the termthe fat cats of our society. Not many people are lucky enough to be in such a scheme.
I believe that most of the industry and occupational schemes outside the government schemes are inadequate- I have had some experience with them- and that we ought to be devising a two-tier pension scheme where we have a base pension paid out of taxation and then offer an optional second tier to people who do not have the opportunity to be in these government or industry schemes, or to people who are in the worst industry schemes and they think that they could do better by opting out of these schemes and joining a government scheme.
My final points relate to Medibank. The Government has destroyed Medibank standard and contributors must now join a private health fund, be satisfied with a refund of 40 per cent of medical bills, with a $20 patient limit on each bill, and be content with standard hospital treatment. The Government will pay 40 per cent of scheduled doctors’ expenses incurred by people in private funds. The peculiar point about these gyrations and changes in direction within our national health insurance scheme is that the whole structure of private health insurance is to be maintained simply so that people can be covered for the 35 per cent difference between the 40 per cent subsidy and 75 per cent to be returned by the funds.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I would like to thank those honourable members who participated in the debate on this very important area of government expenditure- this very important social area which will account for an expenditure of $10, 850m this financial year. That is an enormous expenditure on the health, social security, and veterans’ affairs areas of the appropriation. One of the great difficulties for any government is trying to ensure that the social welfare allocations go to those in greatest need. If we could be sure that a sum of that magnitude- $ 10,850m- was in fact going to those in greatest need, it would bring about a situation in this country where there was no poverty. Unfortunately, in the distribution of sums of that magnitude it is not infrequently that we find that we do not quite reach the corners of need in the community. I do not say that in criticism of this Government or any other government. The fact is that in social welfare policies the great difficulty has been to identify in some circumstances those people who require assistance and those who require it more than others. In a society where human nature abounds, we find that people have their own definitions of need and that some people regard themselves as being in great need when, in fact, they are jolly well off. The health scheme is a case in point.
I do not suppose that anybody has benefited more from universal health insurance than the providers of health care. One of our great difficulties- and it is a great difficulty that emerges in all Western countries which have universal health insurance- is that in financial terms the providers of health care have probably benefited more than most people in the community from the scheme. However, on behalf of the Government I must refute any suggestion that the Government has been in any way mean in the way in which it has appropriated funds in this Budget. It has been a very difficult Budget to frame because the Government is determined to overcome the inflation plague that has been of great significance to economic management in this country since the Whitlam Government was on the treasury bench. The Government has a real concern and a sense of commitment to people in need and this is demonstrated by the budgetary allocation for the Department of Social Security which has risen to a record $7,009m compared with $6,562m in the previous financial year, an increase of about 6.8 per cent.
In the short time available to me I would like to devote myself to three specific areas that came up in the debate- hospital beds, health maintenance organisations, and, particularly, the peer review that was raised by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). I would like to thank the honourable member for his constructive contribution to the debate because I share with him the view- indeed, the Government shares with him the view- that one of the great needs in the health care area is to achieve a better level of quality in the delivery of health services. Honourable members may recall that in 1 976, on behalf of the Government, I asked the Australian Medical Association and the medical profession to develop forms of professional standards review and suggested to them that unless they could develop those standards within the profession and develop systems similar to those operating in the United States and elsewhere, this Government could introduce mandatory provisions. This is the last thing I would like to see happen because I believe that it would be very hard to legislate for peer review. I believe that this is a desirable objective that must come from within the ranks of the profession itself.
The Government has allocated $100,000 to the medical profession to assist it with seminars and overseas research into systems which are operating, and some progress has been made in this direction. At the general assembly of the Australian Medical Association this year it was decided to proceed immediately with the development of that concept in our hospital system. Today I met representatives of the Australian Surgeons Association which believes that the concept should go beyond this as soon as possible and into private practice. I will be meeting the medical profession as soon a possible to allow it to report progress and hopefully next year we will have some well defined plans to implement as a result of the private projects which are under way at the present time.
The problem of hospital beds was raised by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns). I thank him for a very constructive contribution to this debate which was largely supported, once again, by the honourable member for Maribyrnong. The honourable member for Isaacs talked about the high utilisation of beds and the relatively large number of beds in Australia. At the present time, according to the publication ‘Paying for Health Care’ which was produced by the Hospital and Health Services Commission and tabled in this Parliament, we have 6.5 beds per 1,000 head of population in Australia. Associated with this we have a very high utilisation of beds in certain parts of Australia and also a bad distribution of beds in some regions. What we have to ensure is that we get proper utilisation of those beds. The Government is in the process of meeting the State governments to try to bring about utilisation review in the hospitals. We must question very seriously the extent of admissions to hospitals, the extent of surgery and elective procedures undertaken in hospitals, and the length of time that people stay in hospitals. I acknowledge that this is a tremendous task. It is a political task to come to grips with a problem of” this magnitude but the Government is quite determined to make some progress in this area.
With regard to the health maintenance organisations, the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) reported that recently he had had the privilege of looking at the HMO concept in operation in the United States of America. He will recall, of course, that in 1 976 we amended the National Health Act and the Health Insurance Act to make provision for the establishment of the HMO concept in this country, and discussions have been held on it with the Australian Medical Association. I have encouraged, as far as I can encourage, the State governments to co-operate in the development of this concept in Australia. We have thrown down the gauntlet to the health insurance funds. We have been somewhat disappointed at the response to date. The funds would know that health program grants are available for the development of pilot projects. 1 think that with the new health scheme to come into operation on 1 November, with the universal Commonwealth medical benefit, we could have the type of finance that would be necessary within the universality of that concept to help to seed a health maintenance organisation concept in Australia. Once again I put it to the health insurance industry that it should come forward with positive propositions to develop HMOs in regional areas in this country. I will continue to try to encourage that development in Australia.
I would also like to refer to a couple of other matters that were brought to the attention of the Committee in the course of the debate. The matter of pension indexation was raised by honourable members on both sides of the chamber who expressed concern about the indexation of the age pension as from 1 November. The decision to index pensions annually was taken in the light of the reduction in the rate of inflation already achieved and the anticipated further reduction. With the expectation of a level of inflation of around 5 per cent or less in this financial year it was felt by the Government that the need for a twice yearly indexation was not nearly as pressing as it was when this Government assumed office in 1975 when the inflation rate was well into double figures- about 14 per cent. Twice yearly indexation was introduced when inflation was at that level and it was felt necessary to maintain the purchasing power of pensioners by granting two increases per year. Because of the success that the Government has had in tackling inflation it is not unreasonable to make an adjustment of that nature at this time. I am sure that the pensioners will feel far more secure once we are able to achieve a reduction of the magnitude anticipated.
The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) mentioned the community health program. He accused the Government of having deserted the concept of community health. I refute that allegation. The Government has called upon the State governments to make a dollar for dollar contribution in the light of their improved financial situation resulting from their receiving 40 per cent of income tax collected. All States have now responded indicating that they will match the Commonwealth grant on a $1 for $1 basis. The New South Wales Government was playing it a bit rough for a day or two, but I noticed that even Mr Wran backed down the other day and has decided to match us $ 1 for $ 1 .
– You had better be quick. You have surgery in half an hour.
- Mr Wran has come to the party. The honourable member for Robertson smiles. I am sure he was not smiling when the New South Wales Minister for Health was indicating that the New South Wales Government would not match our expenditure in respect of the community health program. The result of this decision by the New South Wales Minister and the New South Wales Health Commission of course would have been that at least 200 personnel would have been dismissed. Far from abandoning the principles of the community health program the Government has achieved the full co-operation of the State governments on a $ 1 for $ 1 basis. Much of the wastage in the program has been reduced as a result of the new funding arrangements that the Commonwealth has entered into in the last couple of years. When the program was being funded largely by the Commonwealth there was not much desire on the part of the State governments to ensure that the dollars spent in this area were being spent wisely.
I thank the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) for his invitation to visit the suburb of Earlwood in his electorate to look at the problems associated with caring for the aged. He has made representations to me. He has pointed out that there is a lower number of nursing home beds per head of population in that suburb than there is in the rest of that part of Sydney. I accept his invitation and I will discuss the issues with him and local community people to see whether we can persuade the State people and those advising us on the number of beds that should be available in any region that it would be wise to make more beds available in that area. I will not make a decision on this until I have discussed the issues with my State colleague and also have enabled discussions to take place between officers of my Department and the New South Wales Health Commission. I take the point that there could well be a need in that part of Sydney for additional nursing home accommodation. I also give an assurance to the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) that I will convey to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) in due course the views and the suggestions that he has made in regard to the way in which family allowances should be dealt.
I thank all honourable members for their participation in the debate.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $95,907,000.
-The last Labor Budget in 1975-76 brought total spending on Aboriginal affairs to a level proportionate with the percentage of Aborigines in the population- about 1 per cent. The Fraser Government has done its best to erode that situation. In the words of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, in its Statement of Concern prepared for the Catholic bishops of Australia, at page 4 it states:
The economic downturn- affecting the Aboriginal population far more than other groups- has been used to justify the cutting of expenditures and the breaking of election promises.
Not only have funds not been restored since the dramatic cuts of the first Liberal-Country Party Budget but also recently this Government has resorted to trickery and manipulation of the Budget figures to make things appear better for Aborigines than they really are. The Fraser Government’s Aboriginal affairs budgets have been consistently characterised by misspending, underspending and broken promises. In 1976-77 financial year the Department of Aboriginal Affairs budget was underspent by over $ 17m. In 1977-78 election promises were made which Ministers subsequently thought nothing of breaking in the 1978-79 Budget. With this Budget, the Government has shown no hint of a future reversal of its policy of damaging fundingcutbacks in Aboriginal programs. I have referred several times to this Government’s so-called ‘special initiative’ for Aboriginal housing in this Budget. Let me state again that this funding increase is a token response to a crisis in Aboriginal housing that has been created by this Government’s own deliberate and massive cutbacks in housing funds since it has been in office. Funding for this ‘special initiative’ for Aboriginal housing is still 28 per cent lower in real terms than the level of spending in the last Labor Budget. It is still lower this year than in the first Fraser Budget. Grants-in-aid and grants to the States for Aboriginal housing are both still well below the level of those in the last Labor Budget.
Since it has been in office the Government has halved funds available under the Aboriginal Housing and Personal Loans Fund. Curiously, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) has seen fit to increase continually the funds available to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Housing Panel and then suddenly in this Budget to cease funding altogether and to sack the people at less than four days notice after offering them options of one month’s or six months’ notice, depending on their Public Service status. The Minister’s official explanation was -that overhead costs were high and that expert advice will still be available from the Department of Construction and, when necessary, from private architects. The Minister knows that that expertise is not available from the Department of Construction because he is now instructing the people of Aurukun to appoint private architectural consultants, and he has instructed a housing association at Alice Springs to engage the already resident ex-Housing Panel architect in a private capacity. One finds the Minister’s motives behind dismissing the Housing Panel questionable. I hope that his decision was not influenced by the Panel’s repeated warnings to the Minister over his use of the services of Stawell Timber Industries in breach of the Minister’s own departmental regulation 2.3.2.
It is a rarely published fact that under the Community Development Employment Project scheme of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Aborigines in remote areas are actually working for the bare unemployment benefit. There are three extremely disturbing facts about the operation of this scheme. One is that it breaks international law to which Australia is a party. The International Labour Organisation has condemned the situation in which we have placed Aborigines. If they work, they get the dole; if they do not work, the dole payments stop. The second disturbing aspect is the fact that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs endorses Aboriginal people working for under award wages. That is a practice which it rightly condemns in relation to Queensland Aboriginal reserves. The third disturbing aspect is the fact that the unemployment benefit funds are actually coming from the budget of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and not, as they should, from the budget of the Department of Social Security. People involved in the scheme are, therefore, not officially recorded as being unemployed. It is just one more cover up and another example of cooking the real unemployment figures.
In the majority of these cases the Aborigines want to work because they want to earn their social security moneys. However, the Opposition finds it wholly objectionable that, together with the funding cuts already effected in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, unemployment benefit payments should have to come from the scanty funds of that Department and not from the funds of the Department of Social Security. This gives a falsely bloated idea of the dwindling amounts of money paid out in respect of Aborigines.
The moneys currently spent on unemployment benefit payments by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs should be used for the training of Aboriginal people in an occupation that would effectively ensure them of work once training is complete. It would ensure them of work in a higher wage bracket which could help some Aboriginal communities to achieve financial independence, improve public works and amenities and help the country’s economy. This Government has also consistently hampered spending by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission by cuts in funding- in 1976-77 no funds were available to the Commission- by freezing funds and by refusing to approve purchases until it is too late because mining or pastoral companies have bought the land concerned. It is time that this Government, and in particular the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, recognised the importance of ownership of land for the Aboriginal people and did something positive about promoting Aboriginal acquisition of that land instead of increasing the obstacles in their way.
Funding for land acquisition this year is highly inadequate. It is 27 per cent down on the allocation for last year. The Government’s practice of penalising the Commission’s funding allocation each year because of funds that it prevented the Commission from spending in a previous year is hitting at the very heart and life blood of Aboriginal culture. Indeed, it makes a mockery of the Government’s policy on land rights. I shall quote again from the Catholic bishops’ statement which has been praised by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It indicates that land rights are an urgent issue of natural justice. Page 1 1 of the statement reads: . . . mining … in Arnhem Land could be just as destructive . . . and produce the same long-term effects, as the dispossession in the rest of the continent. Even more threatened are . . . communities in Western Australia and Queensland . . . who have neither land rights nor the protection accorded under the Northern Territory Act.
This is to the shame of the slow pace of the Labor Government. But it is to the even greater shame of the present Government which inherited a strong body of land rights law prepared in the Whitlam Government years and which has whittled them away ever since. The Government’s treatment of Aborigines living on reserves in New South Wales is also dishonest. The Minister, when touring through New South Wales this year, expressed his concern publicly about appalling conditions and standards of living. Yet now, even though the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Trust has been informed of what its current financial year allocation is, it has also been informed that it will not actually receive the money until December this year.
If the Minister thought that conditions were bad in June, a return to the same areas in December will show him how fast the situation has worsened as a result of his Cabinet withholding funds. His expressions of concern are made completely vain and empty when I point out that the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Trusts’ operational funds for this year are 45 per cent less than they were last year. His Budget decisions are forcing the Land Trust to increase rental charges in Trust controlled areas without it being able to give its tenants anything in return. As the Minister has implied the majority of Trust homes are badly in need of maintenance. However, funds for broken roofing or piping, peeling walls and rotting timber will not be forthcoming until December.
During the 1977 election campaign, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs promised additional funding of $7m in the 1978-79 financial year for Aboriginal health programs. Yet, on Budget night eight months later, we found that the additional programs worth $7m would merely be started in this financial year with funding of $2.5m, and not the expected $7m. This is a broken promise in an extremely sensitive area. Just one of the many sad victims of this broken promise was a project for a much needed Alcoholic Rehabilitation Centre at Rockhampton- the mother city of Central Queensland- in my electorate. The organisers of this project were encouraged to set up and register a company and had spent money to achieve this end. As late as this month, they were assured by Canberra officers of the Department that $50,000 was available for the Rockhampton centre. In the same month, this offer was suddenly withdrawn with no explanation provided. There has evidently been a brutal Budget bungle or deliberate deceit of disadvantaged people.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In this important discussion of the estimates for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, I take the opportunity of pointing out to the Committee the very positive advances effected in very difficult times by a very competent Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) and by a government that has demonstrated its concern and compassion for the needs and welfare of Aboriginal people. I spoke earlier this evening in the discussion on the estimates for the Department of Social Welfare. I mentioned in the general comments that I made in that area the different needs of Aboriginals and the fact that one cannot apply the normal sorts of criteria for determining the way in which welfare requirements and community development needs of Aboriginal communities can be accommodated.
It is disappointing to me to have to follow the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) when he merely sees the welfare of Aboriginals in terms of the provision of funds and the provision of such funds in greater amounts. I do not deny that there are important needs that cannot be met by funding but I think in this area, as much as in every other area, the Government has to be responsible in the way in which it approaches its allocation of expenditure. There can be no justification for criticism of a department or a Minister simply on the basis that, in relation to the total amount of money allocated for a particular department, a small amount of money is not spent during the year in which it was appropriated. Such money is not just simply frittered away for the purpose of ensuring that the Department can show that it has spent every penny which it has actually received. I have not heard of such an irresponsible approach from any member on either side of the House. The sort of approach that has been offered is simply to spend the money that is allocated so that it appears that the department concerned has some sort of compassion or concern. If it is not possible to spend the money, of course, it would be quite irresponsible to spend it.
Also, he was rather critical of the significant increases in funds made available in this Budget for housing. It ought to be noted that a total of $ 120m has been allocated to the various areas of activity involved. That represents a total increase of $10m over the expenditure for 1977-78, or a most significant increase of 9. 1 per cent. The total appropriation for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is to be $1 15.589m and, of course, additional sums are to be spent in other areas, such as this year through the Northern Territory Government, for the provision to Aboriginal communities of such essential services as water supply and sewerage. Previously, these activities had been funded directly. The underlying theme in the programs for last year, and again for this year, is the preparation for, and the support of, self-mangement by Aboriginals and Aboriginal communities. The proposed expenditure will be made to the greatest degree possible in consultation with the Aboriginal people. That fact ought to be acknowledged. It is an important part of the total program that we are pursuing.
A special effort to assist Aboriginal housing has been made. I do not think that can be quibbled with or criticised in the miserable way that the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) attempted to criticise it. This year an additional $5.24m, representing an increase of 1 5 per cent, is to be spent on housing. Direct grants to Aboriginal housing associations will be up by $3.1m, representing an increase of almost 23 per cent. That involves Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal people spending money for themselves and using the people from their own associations to meet their housing needs. Grants to State housing commissions are up by $lm, or almost 10 per cent. The allocation to Aboriginal hostels is up by $700,000, or 13.2 per cent. An additional $350,000 is to be provided for the Aboriginal Loans Commission, to enable tenants in Aboriginal housing associations to purchase their homes. These are important advances that ought to be recognised. One cannot quarrel with them or be critical of them. They represent meaningful advances at a time when it is most difficult for the Government to find the necessary funds. It is a measure of the Government’s concern and compassion that in this area, where there are needs- acknowledged I believe by all members of the Parliament- there have been such significant increases.
Some criticism was offered by the honourable member for Capricornia of the Government’s decision to abandon the housing panel. Although there have been undoubted contributions made by the panel, in terms of the quality of architectural design, in assisting Aboriginal housing associations to meet their needs, it must be acknowledged that that assistance has been as a result of the capacity and ability of the people who have been employed to provide that supportthe architects that have been employed by the panel- directly in the Aboriginal communities. These have been the people who have brought the consultation that is necessary, and who have enabled the Aboriginal people to participate in designing homes that will meet their needs.
The honourable member for Capricornia was critical of the Government’s decision, which I believe was a proper decision, to retain the services provided in the Aboriginal communities- not the people employed in Canberra but the people on the ground in the communities with the necessary expertise, and whom the Aboriginals had consulted. That point should be acknowledged. The criticism by the honourable member for Capricornia of the decision to retain the architects was quite unfounded. If we look at the very nature of the justification for the panel, it is they who have been making the important contribution, a contribution that will be available to the communities in the future.
I was very disappointed in the criticism by the honourable member for Capricornia of the Community Development Employment program. I would be very interested to read the comments of the International Labour Organisation in that respect. Honourable members opposite who have a copy of them might care to make it available. I would be disappointed if that body had failed to recognise the demands of the Aboriginal communities to participate in this very important program. Those members of this Parliament who have had the opportunity to visit remote Aboriginal communities where unemployment benefits are simply paid to the community, and there are no job opportunities- as there can never be, in view of the nature of the community- have found that to do that without a corresponding form of community development function has been destructive of the morale of the people and of their ability to develop and maintain their community. Members of both the Government Aboriginal Affairs Committee and the House of Representatives Aboriginal Affairs Committee have been to numerous communities which have pleaded for the opportunity to participate in this important program. They have recognised that to have people working in their own community, performing the services and functions that the community needs and using their spare time in a constructive way, can produce benefits that are very worth while and that fulfil an important community role.
I am one of those who believe that this initiative has been so successful that it could well be examined with a view to seeing whether it could have broader application. I do not care what the ILO has to say in this respect. I do not believe that it has any concern for, or knowledge of, the welfare of the Aboriginal people, or for some of the destructive elements that have caused this unique scheme to be developed in consultation with Aboriginals. One should acknowledge that the scheme is in operation in only those Aboriginal communities which have asked for it.
Finally, I commend the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs upon the development of the new training programs which are being funded in this Budget. These new initiatives in the training area will have great potential for the development of Aboriginal people.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
Consideration of Senate’s amendment. Clause 7.
In sub-clause ( I ), leave out: “7.(1) Where an authorized officer-
has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is about to depart from Australia for another country or for an external Territory; and
is not satisfied that any tax payable in respect of the departure of the person has been paid or will be paid before the departure, the authorized officer may take such steps as he considers necessary to ‘, insert: ‘7. ( I ) Where an authorized officer has reasonable grounds for believing-
that a person is about to depart from Australia for another country or for an external Territory; and
b) that any tax payable in respect of the departure of the person has not been paid, and will not be paid, before the departure, the authorized officer may take such steps as are reasonably necessary to’.
– I move:
The Bill has been debated at length this afternoon in the other chamber. The amendment makes more precise the wording of the original Bill, and the Government has agreed to it.
-I will be very brief in my remarks. The Opposition has no objection to this amendment, which I understand was suggested by Senator Evans. He is a brilliant lawyer and has greater skills than we poor humble laymen here in this chamber have. The members of the committee that considered this Bill included quite a number of lawyers, including the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon), who of course is a small debts lawyer; but they did not pick up this matter. We in the Opposition have no objection whatsoever to this amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Apple and Pear Stabilization Amendment Bill 1978.
Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Amendment Bill 1978.
Apple and Pear Stabilization Export Duty Collection Amendment Bill 1978.
Motion (by Mr Viner)- by leave- agreed to:
That Mr Lusher be discharged from attendance on the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and that in his place Mr O’Keefe be appointed a member of the Committee.
Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Proposed expenditure, $95,907,000.
-The opening paragraph of the introduction to the document Aborigines- A Statement of Concern, prepared by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace for the Catholic Bishops of Australia, reads as follows:
The injustices responsible for the present condition of Aborigines in Australia are an urgent, concrete local issue, presenting all of us with a challenge. Our response will be a test of our sincerity, not only as persons but also as Christains; it will effectively test the sincerity of our faith.
We people who are given by our colleagues in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party shadow ministerial responsibilities in the economic area have few opportunities to follow our interests in social welfare. However, the debate on the Estimates does give us an opportunity to show that interest. We may have closer involvement with the economic area, but we are in the Australian Labor Party because we are motivated by a strong wish to reduce inequalities. There is no area in which public programs can do more to reduce inequalities than this field of Aboriginal Affairs.
In particular I rise tonight on this subject to pay tribute to two people and one organisation. One person is an Aboriginal; the other person is a white man who is involved with Aboriginals; and the organisation is an Aboriginal organisation. I am referring to Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Dr Stephen Zorn and the Northern Land Council. All are under attack and all, I believe, deserve support in this Parliament.
– Not by me.
– I identify with them. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs may not. I am going to explain why I identify with them.
– I just said that they had never been under attack by me, and you know it.
– I am sorry; I misheard the Minister’s interjection, which, of course, I should not have taken up.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)-It was quite disorderly.
– It was quite disorderly, but I did mishear it.
- Dr Jenkins, I said that they have not been under attack by me.
-Apparently the Minister was not saying that he did not want to support those people and that organisation but was saying that they had not been under attack by him. I accept that. I am sure that at the same time the Minister will accept that they have been under attack from a lot of people in the white establishment of this country. I hope that his interjection did not mean that he thought it was not proper for me to rise in this Parliament and to make some remarks in their support.
– Not at all. I just wanted to make it clear that they had not been under attack by me.
-That is quite in order with me, if not with you, Dr Jenkins.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I suggest that the honourable member return to addressing the Chair.
– In my small contribution this evening I draw attention mainly to the address to the National Press Club by Dr Stephen Zorn because it received too little coverage, in my view. In that address Dr Zorn outlined the thinking behind the position that the Northern Land Council has advanced during negotiations over the Ranger uranium project. I find much misunderstanding about that position. Therefore
I make no apologies for reading quite a lot of that address into the record of the debates in this chamber. All the time we must remember that the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, under which the Northern Land Council, Dr Stephen Zorn and the Chairman of the Council, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, are forced to work, does not allow Aborigines to withhold consent for uranium mining. I believe that it is important that we should recognise the constraints under which they all have worked. Dr Stephen Zorn made a number of points. He stated:
The first point that one needs to bear in mind is that Aboriginals in the Alligator Rivers uranium province are basically opposed to mining development. They would willingly forgo the promise of large royalty payments if they could be assured that the major uranium mines at Ranger, Jabiluka, and Koongarra would not be built.
He went on to state:
The Aboriginal opposition to major uranium mining projects is not something that has been dreamed up just to add strength to the Northern Land Council’s bargaining position. This opposition was clearly stated by representatives of Northern Territory Aboriginals during the Woodward inquiry on Aboriginal land rights and again during the Fox inquiry on the Ranger project.
I find too much cynicism abroad about the motives of the Northern Land Council, its leaders and its consultants, and I believe that we should make what Dr Stephen Zorn said quite clear. He also said:
I think one needs to look at the specific political position in which Aboriginals have been placed in order to understand why a simple-minded opposition to mining and, in effect, a refusal to negotiate in good faith would have been counterproductive.
I repeat something I said earlier in my remarks by reading further from Dr Zorn’s remarks. He said:
Under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, in the form that was eventually enacted following the change of government in 1975 -
This was not the form desired by the Labor Party; it is the form that was brought in by the Liberal-National Country Party Government at that time-
Aboriginals do not have an absolute right to prevent the development of any proposed mining project. In the case of certain identified projects, notably including Ranger, the Act does not provide for the withholding of consent to mining. If the Land Council, representing the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, refuses to negotiate, or if, in the opinion of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Council is unable to agree on the terms and conditions of a mining agreement, then the Act provides for an arbitration procedure which will enforce a set of terms and conditions on the Council and the land owners.
This is what is hanging over the heads of those who are negotiating on behalf of the Northern Land Council. Dr Zorn continued:
Faced with these legal limitations, and with the firmly expressed intention of the Fraser Government to go forward with uranium mining, the Northern Land Council had little choice but to negotiate for the best possible arrange- < ment . . .
During the course of the negotiations, the Land Council, acting on the advice of the traditional owners of the land, has been pursuing three interrelated objectives.
First, and most important, has been, the objective of protecting the land itself, as much as is ever possible in a mining project . . . because of Aboriginals’ very close identification with the land, the question of environmental protection and the minimising of harmful effects of the mining projects has been one that has been paramount in the Ranger negotiations . . .
The second major objective -
It is well for members of this chamber to remember this point when discussing Aboriginals- in the uranium negotiations has been what might be called social protection, or minimising the destructive influences of large numbers of outsiders coming on to Aboriginal land to build and operate the mines. We are not, 1 think, concerned here with some sort of living museum, in which well meaning white outsiders try to protect a fragile culture and preserve it against change. That is an excessively paternalistic and, quite frankly, racist attitude, which assumes that Aboriginals do not have the capacity to decide for themselves what sort of lives they want to lead. What we are concerned with is giving Aboriginals in the area of the uranium development some small breathing space so that they can in fact decide these issues for themselves.
The Aboriginals have been given a longer breathing space, thankfully, after some very valuable work done by Labor Party members in the Northern Territory and others who realise that a lot of heavy pressure was being put on these people who require time to consider their proposition.
– The Aboriginal people themselves want it; we do not.
-Yes, the Aboriginals with help, but certainly mainly the Aboriginals. I agree with the honourable member for Reid. Dr Zorn went on:
Without some social protection measures, such as limiting the numbers of whites who will be allowed into the region and establishing strict rules on such matters as alcohol control, Aboriginal communities will be totally overrun by new developments.
I have only a moment to mention the third major objective of the traditional Aboriginal land owners and of the Land Council in the nego-. tiations, and that has been to ensure a fair and reasonable financial settlement. If we look at the sort of financial settlements that have been made with the indigenous people in Canada and the United States of America we will find nothing extravagant at all about the settlement that has been temporarily arrived at by Dr Zorn and the Northern Land Council to date.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The allocation for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs totals $95. 8m. The expenditure on Northern Territory Aboriginal affairs programs total $36.4m, a rise of $7.6m. The Northern Territory Government has agreed with the Commonwealth Government that the Northern Territory Government is to undertake the supply of essential services to Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. That is as it should be, considering that the Northern Territory is moving to statehood and that such a large percentage of its citizens are Aborigines. The services include sewerage, power, water, drainage and so on. The Northern Territory Government has allowed $13. 4m for those services. It has also undertaken responsibility for the maintenance of roads, wharves, barge landings and airstrips all of which are essential to Aboriginal communities which in many cases are very removed from the cities and main towns. In some cases the communities can be reached only by air or sea.
The responsibility which the Northern Territory Government has undertaken is a very real one. It involves Yirrkala and its outstations, Elcho Island and its outstations and other places all along the coast. Road maintenance in places such as Docker River is very important. It does not take much rain to put the road out of action. Some of the communities are 300 or 400 miles from the nearest town. I am pleased that the Northern Territory Government has undertaken this responsibility. I congratulate the Commonwealth Government on taking the steps that it has. I believe that in the move to statehood Department of Aboriginal Affairs officers will work on behalf of the Northern Territory departments in the Aboriginal settlements and communities and will discuss the gradual transfer of State-like functions, municipal arrangements and so on. So the communities will gain more experience and get more idea of running their own affairs.
I commend the Government on the introduction of a training scheme, which will cost $969,000, for Aboriginal people. As the Aboriginal people grow up they will learn about the management of their own affairs and their own communities. They are getting some management experience in health and education at the moment. Already there are Aboriginal health assistants, Aboriginal teaching assistants and, in some cases, Aboriginal teachers. I urge the Government to continue with the employment schemes such as those which have been in operation at Bamyili, Elcho Island and, I think, Papunya. The Aborigines are encouraged to work and not to receive social service paymentssit down money as they call it. The feeling runs through many Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal people at places like Ngui or Bathurst Island do not want to sit down and receive this handout money. They do not understand it. It does not do them any good any more than sitting down and receiving money without having to make any effort would do any one else any good. Most Aborigines support these schemes. I think that they have been a success. I would like to see them continue.
The previous speaker said that Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Stephen Zorn and the Northern Land Council were under attack. I do not think that they are under attack from the Government in any way. I think the Government has treated them with moderation. The Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act was passed by this House. It has to be conformed with. Legal processes have to be considered before the mining of uranium can take place. On Stephen Zorn’s advice, the Northern Land Council initialled the uranium agreement. In my opinion the attack comes from various sections of the country. It certainly came from the television program Four Corners which has been mentioned by the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony). The interviewer on that program, Peter Ross, gave Galarrwuy Yunupingu a very hard time. I think he came out of it very well. He said when it was suggested to him that he should have consulted everyone. Section 23 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act states that the Land Council must consult with Aboriginal land owners. Mr Yunupingu imagined that he had considered those land owners when he discussed the matter with the Aborigines of the Alligator Rivers Region. Yet he was pressured by the interviewer who kept trying to trick him into saying that he had not done what he should have done. Incidentally, I noticed that the interviewer did not know the difference between Groote Eylandt where manganese is mined and Gove where bauxite is mined.
I commend the Government and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Viner) for the efforts they are making with regard to some of these new innovations such as the employment scheme and the juvenile training scheme, and the additional money being provided for housing and health schemes.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Bill returned from the Senate without requests.
The Environment- Mrs Mary Whitehouse-Child Care-United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Namibia- Death of Mr
Dai Davies-Proposed Airport in Western Suburbs of Sydney- Lebanon- Inequalities in the Australian Society
Motion (by Mr Viner) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-In 1974, this Parliament passed a most far reaching and thoughtful piece of legislation, the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. In my view it is one of the finest pieces of legislation ever passed by this Parliament. The Bill was hailed by both sides of the House, including members of the present Government, as spelling the end of many years of neglect and disregard by governments for the natural and urban environment of this country. For the first time, the Federal Government was obliged to consider and to take into account the environmental consequences of its decisions. One has only to look at the excellent work of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry and the Fraser Island Inquiry which were established by the Whitlam Labor Government. One has only to look at the public debate which followed their reports to see the importance of this legislation.
But where is the environmental responsibility that the Liberals were so keen to identify with in 1974? Where is the support for the Environment Protection Act which was promised before the last two elections? This Government has breached the terms of the Environment Protection Act on two important occasions. One was the admission of the Concorde SST to Australian airports. The second, more recently, was the recent handover of a prime stretch of Queensland’s coast at Yeppoon to the Japanese tycoon. In both cases the Government announced environmental clearances before a final environmental impact statement had been produced. In both cases members of the public who bothered to comment on the proposals were treated with contempt.
This Government has not seen fit to establish one public environmental inquiry during the 2V4 years that it has been in office. It has ignored the genuine public concern and informed ecological arguments in arriving at decisions regarding the woodchip industry on the New South Wales south coast, the Concorde and, of course, Yeppoon. Now we find that Sir Charles Court has told the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that the Commonwealth must keep out of the West Australian bauxite issue. He said that for the Commonwealth to hold a public inquiry would be the last straw.
Let us look at the proposals of Alcoa of Australia Ltd to expand bauxite mining in the Darling Range. There is no doubt that this project raises very serious environmental questions. It raises questions about the future quality of Perth’s water supply and the link between a high salt intake and high blood pressure in school children. It has the potential to wipe out onequarter of the remaining Jarrah forests in the State which is very poor in forests for recreation and water catchment. It raises questions about the inter-relationship between forest clearing and the spread of die-back disease. Furthermore, bauxite mining already uses huge proportions of the West’s limited energy resources. These are resources which could be used more wisely in other industries in ways which could create greater employment.
All these issues and others have to be examined. Yet Premier Court has chosen to go ahead before environmental studies have been , done. He has refused to release to the public land use reports which are reportedly critical of the project. I challenge the Government to show a little more environmental responsibility than the Western Australian Premier. I challenge this Government to observe the spirit of the environment protection legislation which it was so keen to support in 1974. 1 challenge the Government to establish a public environmental inquiry into the Darling Range bauxite mining proposals. It would be difficult to find another development project in recent times which raised such serious threats to the Australian environment. Not to open up these issues to general public scrutiny would be grossly negligent. It is about time that this Government stopped taking Australia back to the dark ages. We do not want to return to the bulldozer mentality of which this Government was a part for so long. Therefore, I ask the Government to carry out the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act which was so well supported by both sides of the House in 1974.
– I did not want to rise to the bait but, as a Western Australian, I cannot ignore what the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) said. It was absolute piffle. Not one person in Western Australia except a few cranks would agree with him. In Western Australia we are interested in trying to provide the jobs about which Opposition members are always talking. We are interested in trying to improve the economy. That cannot be done if troglodytes like the honourable member for Reid try to stop development. There is no threat whatsoever to the water supplies in Western Australia. That is just nonsense as has been proven scientifically by several investigations. There is no threat at all to the jarrah forests. They will grow just as well in the south as they will grow in the Darling Ranges. Where the honourable member gets this argument from I do not know. I assure this House that there is nobody with any sense in Western Australia who agrees with the honourable member for Reid.
I want to say something about Mrs Mary Whitehouse for whom some of us had the honour to give a luncheon in this building last Tuesday. This lady is in Australia for two reasons connected with the forthcoming Year of the Child which is to be next year. She is promoting the integrated, loving and caring family unit as the soundest place in which to bring up children. She advocates that children should at all times be protected by the family, by society and by law from exploitation. It is an unfortunate reality that she has to emphasise that whilst there are laws against the exploitation of children in the labour market, there are no laws in this country against their exploitation in pornograpic publications. Such exploitation is taking place on a scale that would shock most Australians if they knew about it. She is careful to check her facts, and to my knowledge no one has yet proved her wrong on any question of fact.
I found her to be a most broad minded woman. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could object to the things about which she speaks. I am sure that I speak for all honourable members in this House -I hope so anyway- when I say that it is agreed that a decent family life and legal protection from salacious exploitation are the very least we owe our Australian children. But what do we find? Everywhere the lady has spoken she has been attacked by gangs of homosexuals and lesbian thugs who have shouted insults and thrown things at her and have set out to curtail her freedom to speak on the need to protect our children and their families. These people who would deny Mrs Whitehouse her freedom to speak are, I have no doubt, the very same people who shout loudest about their own rights. By the words they shout and the ideas they reject, these people reveal themselves as noisy protagonists of the permissive society. Yet their permissiveness obviously stops with themselves and their ilk. They are, in fact, the new totalitarians who would ruthlessly suppress every idea but their own.
To cap it all, we have in the Australian National University- the haven of the new socalled intellectual elite- an Australian Labor Party students’ club which has taken time off from its other intellectual stimulations to condemn the lady’s visit as ‘bigoted, illogical, repressive and reactionary’. When did it become ‘bigoted, illogical, repressive and reactionary’ to desire to protect little children from being used in pornography or to desire to promote a loving, caring community of families in this country? These students, God help us, belong to the age group from which will come the parents of tomorrow. What, then, is the future for their children? Do they support for their children the things from which Mrs Whitehouse is trying to protect other children? Surely the decent ALP members in this House can be ashamed of the student club either for its unintelligent foolishness in thoughtlessly condemning something on which it did not bother to get some hard facts; or worse, for its implicit support for the disgusting exploitation that Mrs Whitehouse opposes and its implicit denial of the value of the family as the basic unit of society and the best haven for the growing child.
Mrs Whitehouse seeks to protect the family. Is this bigoted and illogical? I quote from an editorial in the Canberra Times of 24 September. It was a balanced editorial. It read: . . . before suggesting that the family . . . should be allowed to disintegrate, the reformers should have a clear idea of what they want to put in its place. The cost of shoring-up the casualties of a social system in collapse could be much greater than the hypothetical gains sought by those who want to subvert it.
I said much the same thing some months ago. It is to Mrs Whitehouse ‘s credit that she remains dignified and kind in the face of insult. It is to her credit and to her supporters’ credit that they continue their fight for decency.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I draw to the attention of the House a quite serious situation that has arisen in New South Wales because of the obsolescence of the Child Care Act of 1972. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has recently, for the purposes of payment of recurrent subsidies, approved graduates from some child care certificate courses as equivalent to a nurse under section 11(5) of Part III of the Child Care Act of 1972. The courses to which the approval refers are those conducted in North Sydney, Newcastle and Penrith technical colleges. The approval is retrospective to December 1976. Since the approval was given eight other technical colleges have started identical courses. No provision was made in the Act for graduates from these technical colleges to be subsidised. Consequently graduates from North Sydney, Penrith and Newcastle technical colleges are being employed and graduates from the Bankstown, St George and Wollongong technical colleges are being discriminated against. There are a number of other colleges- Armidale, Canberra, Nowra, Taree and Liverpool- which do not have graduates as yet, but which will have graduates next year.
The point is that all of these colleges which provide courses in child care follow the same curriculum and their graduates submit to the same external examinations. Some six months ago the New South Wales Child Care Association requested an amendment of the Act to allow the recurrent subsidy for teachers to be paid to the pre-schools employing graduates from all of these colleges, not just from the three designated in the 1 976 Act. The Department of Social Security says that the situation is under review. Because there is no Federal subsidy graduates already employed at colleges other than the three that I have mentioned- Newcastle, Penrith and North Sydney- are currently being faced with dismissal notices because their employers are not eligible for the recurrent subsidy. In addition, prospective employers already are stressing that graduates must come from these three colleges. Advertisements to this effect have already appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
I point out that one of these colleges, the Wollongong Technical College, is in my electorate of Cunningham. I understand that this year for the first time there will be 17 graduates from the chid care course at that college. They will not be eligible for the subsidy. At the end of this year five long-day care centres in Wollongong will be eligible for the subsidy but, as the Act now stands, in order to pick up the subsidy from the Department of Social Security, they will have to employ graduates from outside the area, that is from North Sydney, Penrith and Newcastle colleges. There is a great deal of resentment over this matter in my electorate and rightly so. I would imagine that in the other areas where these colleges that do not attract the subsidy exist the situation would be the same.
There is a great deal of female unemployment on the South Coast of New South Wales. Failure to act quickly will mean that in my electorate jobs will be lost. Those students completing the child care courses within the Illawarra region will not get jobs in their own area. Particularly at a time of high female unemployment there can be only increasing resentment on the part of those discriminated against. At June 1978, 1,460 young females in the Wollongong District were unemployed. I am aware that the Child Care Act as a whole is under review. I believe that many sections need time consuming, thorough and intensive investigation but at the same time this appropriate amendment could and should be effected as a matter of urgency. I seek the immediate intervention of the Department of Social Security to rectify this gross injustice.
-Never before have I spoken in this House on South Africa or southern Africa; but today is a very important day in respect of that part of the world for one overriding reason: Today the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations is to suggest to the Security Council the nature of the United Nations peacekeeping or supervisory force which is to go into the former territory of South West Africa, the territory of Namibia. That peacekeeping force has been suggested after his delegate, Mr Athissari, toured Namibia for a fortnight- 15 or 16 days- and it is designed to supervise elections and the transition of that nation to independence.
There have been complaints about the size of the force and other matters in relation to it. I want to say something about the size of the force because I am convinced that the force is overlarge in relation to the task which it is to perform. Since World War II in no other area has the United Nations proposed or in fact put in a peacekeeping force comparable in size, in proportion to the number of people it is to serve, with the force it proposes for Namibia. I merely want to go through the historical position. If one goes through the United Nations supervisory organisations one will find that in the Middle East in 1949 the force numbered 6,000, but now it numbers 300. The United Nations observer group in Lebanon in 1958 was a force of 600. The United Nations expeditionary force in the Middle East in 1956 was 6,000. On that occasion there was a full scale war. The United Nations expeditionary force in the Middle East after the October 1 973 war numbered 4,300. In both cases there were active wars involving nations of millions of people. In the United Nations force in Lebanon, following Israel’s raid in June 1978, there were 4,000 troops. It is complicated by some other factors, but again that involved nations with millions of people. The largest effort made, of course, was in relation to the Belgian Congo in the 1960-61 period. The United Nations force comprised 17,500 troops and 2,000 administrative officers and personnel. That applied, as we know, in relation to a country which had a population of 14 million. There were secessionist wars, and there was the Lumumba and Kasavubu conflict. Belgian troops had been put in there and some difficulties occurred with them. But in respect of Namibia it is proposed to put 7,500 troops into an area which has 850,000 to 900,000 people.
I should like to recite one ratio to indicate my point on the question: Is the proposed United Nations force far too large for the number of people to be served? I take the example of the Congo which had the largest force- other than Korea, which was a quite different situationsince World War II. In the Congo one United Nations force member was put in for every 720 people. In respect of Namibia it is to be one for every 113 people. So, I suggest that the Australian Government ought to propose to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that there is a case for a reasonable reduction in the force proposed to go to Namibia. After all, our aim is to achieve a workable and reasonable compromise in that territory. We must remember that this should not be an excuse to put in an over-sized force. If the force is over-sized extra bloodshed will be caused. That extra bloodshed will be caused perhaps more in the going than in the arriving of the respective troops. I am not satisfied, therefore, on the evidence, that 7,500 United Nations troops is a reasonable number. I suggest that it deserves to be reduced. It deserves to be reduced, quite apart from any personal predilections or personal prejudices that may be held by any of the contestants.
– I rise tonight to pay respect to one of the great veterans of the Labor movement who passed away last Monday at the age of 89 years. His name was Dai Davies. During the period 1926 to 1932, he was the General Secretary of the Miners Federation. He was also the first Vice-President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. He was a man I had known for I do not know how many years. He was one of the people who, when I was a young man, gave me a tremendous amount of help. I have not the slightest doubt that but for his help I would not be in this Parliament today. He was probably the man who helped me and taught me more than anybody else did. He lived to a ripe old age, but unfortunately he passed away last Monday.
I could tell many stories about Dai, but possibly one of the best is about the infamous lockout in the 1920s. Dai had to appear before the court. There were two young barristers in the case- one named R. G. Menzies, who was appearing for the mine owners, and the other named H. V. Evatt, who appeared for the Miners Federation. I will not go into the full details of the case, which concerned technical problems dealing with the Federal Executive of that organisation and the Broken Hill miners. Finally, Menzies subpoenaed the minutes of the Federation. Dai had to travel from Sydney to Newcastle to get those minutes and then had to appear in court the next morning. R. G. Menzies opened up to the right page of the minute book and looked up from under his eyebrows, his eyes twinkling, as if to say to Dai Davies: ‘You blighter’. Dai later said: ‘After all that, I was absolutely exhausted, because it took me all night to rewrite those minutes’. That is only one of the many stories I could tell about him. I think this is the appropriate time and appropriate place to pay respect to someone for whom I had a tremendous amount of respect.
While I am on my feet I would like to deal with another matter. All honourable members have heard of the study being made by the Major Airport Needs of Sydney Committee. The proposition, put in simple terms, is that either Mascot airport should be extended or a second international airport should be established. So far the MANS Committee has looked at sites for a second international airport only in the outer western suburbs of Sydney, even though there are many other sites it could look at. I would like to tell the House, because I think it is important that the people should know, that an organisation has been formed in the western suburbs of Sydney. At this point in time it comprises 10 municipal councils- it will comprise 1 1 councils and after that more will be joining- and what we might call community organisations which have been set up specifically to oppose the siting of a second international airport anywhere in the western suburbs of Sydney, be it the north-west, the west or the south-west. The community organisations are SWAAG, the Galston Action Group, the Northern Action Group and the Rossmore Progress Group.
The organisation is moving ahead very well indeed. It gives warning that if this Government endeavours to site that second international airport in the western suburbs of Sydney it will have to fight a pretty powerful organisation. So far only a couple of the councils in the area have not done the job they ought to be doing. We will name them later if it is necessary, so that the people in the area will know which councils they are.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-There are many Lebanese Australian families who are anxious for their relatives in Lebanon and they have every reason to worry. Last night the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) and the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) and I called on the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Sinclair) to try to establish what the present situation is. Not a day passes without a telephone call to these people saying that one of their families has been lost in North Lebanon. As a result of the discussion last night with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister made a statement today before leaving for New South Wales and that statement is of very grave consequence to the families in Lebanon. I would like to draw the attention of the House to the situation.
On all three fronts- North Lebanon, Beirut city itself and South Lebanon- fighting is going on and many civilian casualties have been caused. The problem is that some of the Lebanese are not able even to get away from the fighting and now many thousands of Lebanese are refugees in their own country. With the Army paralysed, the police not operating, a United Nations force operating in South Lebanon and with the situation deteriorating every day, one would think that our Government and our Ministers who appear on the United Nations platforms and visit the major countries of the world, would themselves take part in an endeavour to produce a peace conference amongst the leaders in Lebanon. It is so serious that even the Christians are fighting amongst themselves and the factions of the Chamoun group are now fighting other Christians in North Lebanon.
This Government has every right to call upon the non-aligned nations who make so much noise all over the world about the major powers and what they are and are not doing. It is high time that the non-aligned nations, particularly member nations of the Commonwealth, started to take some proper action in international affairs. Being non-aligned does not mean that a nation can stand back and do nothing. It should act according to its desire for positive neutrality, and positive neutrality means that they should take some action. It is simply useless to say: ‘Leave the Lebanese leaders or the Lebanese factions to fight and quarrel’. The churches in Lebanon also owe a responsiblity to their people, particularly the Maronite bishops and Archbishop Hakimos and others.
It is simply nonsense for the Australian Government or any other government to say that it cannot do anything about the situation in ‘ Lebanon. If there is a will there is a way and I suggest that our Government should seriously and properly set about convening a non-aligned nations’ conference to which the churches and leaders in Lebanon should be invited. It is no use saying that there is not a suitable place in which to hold the conference. After all, Nicosia in Cyprus is not far away. If they do not bring about an end to this confusion in Lebanon it may well ruin all the work that President Carter has done at Camp David; it may completely destroy the tremendous diplomatic effort that has occurred in the last three weeks. I therefore call upon this Government to show international initiative by taking some active step towards convening forthwith a non-aligned nations’ conference, particularly of member nations of the Commonwealth.
– I wish to take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Will you explain to the House what procedures you follow in determining who is to speak in this debate? I ask because the last member to receive the call spoke on Tuesday, 26 September, at 10.42 p.m.
– I believe the point of order deserves an answer. The Chair ought to have a list to go on but I do not have one. Therefore I have been unduly harsh on one or two members who I think have spoken on several occasions. I have done my best to pick up members like the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) and the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) who, I think, have not spoken very often. I have no rule to go by. The Chair cannot be questioned on this but I will certainly try to be fair. ‘
-This afternoon the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) was questioning a proposition which I put to the House earlier about the extent of inequalities within Australian society and the extent to which Australian society might be described as inegalitarian. I want to refer particularly the honourable member for Dundas, and in the process the House, to what I regard as an excellent and informative letter which appeared in the Canberra Times on 27 September. It deals with the question of inequalities, particularly as they relate to immigration. If I wanted to argue that the Australian society was an egalitarian society, one of the basic propositions I would want to put and one of the areas upon which I would want to focus would be the history of migration in the post-war period. I think it is true to say that we have through migration brought to and established in this country an immigrant working class. If one is to speak about inequalities in the Australian society, the Australian immigration policy is one area where one should look to find that we are not as egalitarian as we would like to think we are. This proposition in a real sense transcends the views of political parties. I refer to the letter by Mr M. S. Kim and to the six point he makes in it. First of all, he points out that of the 2,231,921 new settlers who arrived during the period 1959 to 1977, 59 per cent were provided with assisted passages. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which appears in the letter which gives details of these assisted passages.
The table read as follows-
– An examination of the table shows that less than two per cent of Asian settlers and less than 33 per cent of Greek and Italian migrants were assisted while more than 80 per cent of northern or western Europeans coming to this country were assisted. The letter goes on to state:
So, in that sense the procedures are nondiscriminatory. The letter continues:
Those six points are all important points. They all reflect that race and a sense of class is demonstrable within Australia, especially in relation to our immigration policies. This is particularly noticeable to someone who works in an electorate in which there is a heavy concentration of migrants, particularly southern Europeans and more recently Latin Americans, and sees how they are treated in terms of our social security policy in comparison with Anglo-Saxon migrants. I believe that this element of racism which exists within Australian society can be aligned with class which remains one of the fundamental characteristics of Australian society and has been far too little emphasised in the national Parliament.
-Order! It being 1 1 o’clock the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until Tuesday, 10 October next at 2.15 p.m. unless Mr Acting Speaker shall, by telegram or letter addressed to each member of the House, fix an alternative day and hour of meeting.
House adjourned at 1 1 p.m.
The following notices were given:
Mr Nixon to present a Bill for an Act to amend the States Grants (Roads) Act 1977.
Mr Hunt to present a Bill for an Act to amend the Health Insurance Commission Act 1973, and for related purposes.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 29 May 1978:
– The Minister for Administrative Services has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 15 August 1978:
Is it an offence for a public servant not to behave at all times with courtesy to the public and to give prompt attention to all reasonable requirements.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Public Service Regulation 32 (b) provides that every officer shall behave at all times with courtesy to the public, giving prompt attention to all reasonable requirements. Section 55 ( 1 ) of the Public Service Act provides that an officer who commits any breach of the provisions of that Act or the regulations shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable to such punishment as is determined upon under the provisions of section 55.
Public Servants: Employment after Retirement on the Ground of Invalidity (Question No. 1625)
asked the Minister for Finance, upon notice, on 15 August 1978:
Is a public servant invalided out of the Public Service and put in receipt of a superannuation pension, lawfully entitled to accept full-time or part-time employment outside the Public Service.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Yes. The Commissioner for Superannuation has authority to require a person in receipt of an invalidity pension under the Superannuation Act 1976 to provide details of any employment in which he has been engaged. The Commissioner may also require an invalidity pensioner to be medically examined. Failure to comply with such requests may result in suspension of the pension. Where the Commissioner finds a pensioner’s health so restored as to enable the performance of suitable duties (having regard to his employment before retirement) appropriate Commonwealth employment will be sought for the pensioner. If the pensioner unreasonably refuses or fails to accept the offer of such suitable employment, pension may be cancelled.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 16 August 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1 ) The following statistical collections have been discontinued or reduced during the period December 1 975 to date:
It is not possible to say what amounts would have been allocated by the Australian Statistician to each statistical program undertaken by the ABS, had the total amount made available to the ABS been greater.
Disclosure of Contents of Letter Stamped ‘Secret’ (Question No. 2122)
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 1 9 August 1978.
– The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 21 September 1978:
In view of the fact that long-term recipients of Commonwealth compensation have only had their weekly payments adjusted once since 1974, when will adjustments be made to these weekly payments to bring them in line with present wage and salary standards.
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question.
In accordance with the usual practice, the rates of compensation were reviewed in connection with the annual Budget. Although no immediate increases are proposed, the honourable member may be assured that the position of long-term compensation recipients will be kept under close notice.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 September 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1978/19780928_reps_31_hor111/>.