31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate’ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burns, Mr Kevin Cairns, Dr Jenkins, Mr Keith Johnson, Mr Kerin, Mr Lusher, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Morris, Mr Ian Robinson, Mr Sainsbury and Mr West.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully sheweth:
That the provision of payments for abortion through items of the Medical Benefits Schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the levels of a national tragedy, with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed in 1977.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Honourable Members should:
Amend the Medical Benefits Schedule so as to preclude the payment of any benefit for abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Sinclair, Mr Birney, Dr Edwards, Mr Gillard, Mr Lusher, Mr MacKenzie and Mr O’Keefe.
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 Donald Cameron, Mr Garland and Mr Porter.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of Edward R. J. Hall and Co. respectfully showeth:
That current requirements of the Commissioner of Taxation for the lodgement of Income Tax Returns by Registered Tax Agents restricts the trading of such agents to a period of 8 months in any fiscal year. The demands by the Commissioner for lodgement of Income Tax Returns before the 28 February following the tax year is an imposition and a restriction, limiting the trading from twelve to eight months.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the law should be amended to permit any registered tax agent to trade for a full year and lodge Income Tax returns to the close of the respective tax year.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Aldred.
To the Rt Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the present point to point airfares negotiated by the Government are discriminatory to many Australians not living in Sydney or Melbourne and that the level of domestic airfares are not conducive to travel in Australia ‘.
Therefore your Petitioners humbly pray that discriminatory aspects of the new point to point airfares as they relate to citizens not residing in Sydney or Melbourne be eliminated.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrJull.
Broadcasting: Radio Station 3CR Melbourne
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That radio 3CR Melbourne, be made to adhere to the required standards of broadcasting, as laid down for all other radio stations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will enforce the required standard of broadcasting as laid down for all other stations, on community radio 3CR call on Federal Government to legislate against incitement to racial hatred and violence.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrMacphee.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Porter.
Post Office at Biggera Waters, Queensland
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of we the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned, have great concern that the threatened closure of the sub Post Office within the confines of the Biggera Waters Shopping Centre will cause great hardship to pensioners living in the area.
In that most of these people have no transport of their own, and will need to use taxis which they are unable to afford, or will need to use public transport which is unreliable with unsuitable timetables, and so is physically taxing to these pensioners.
In that reduction of postal services in a long-standing and growing area is unfair.
Furthermore, postal business already conducted is larger than some official post offices in the Gold Coast area.
Your humble petitioners humbly pray that the Honourable House will take steps to concur with the wishes of the petitioners and the undersigned in the Biggera Waters area, by eliminating the possibility of closure.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Eric Robinson.
To the Right Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the rate of unemployment is causing concern with a growing number of people in the community and that the community at large and the Government should take urgent steps to lessen the incidence of unemployment particularly unemployed young people.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will introduce Legislation providing for a retirement throughout the workforce in the Commonwealth of Australia for all employees at age sixty years and Commonwealth Government Social Security be available as and from that date.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House calls on the Government to immediately reintroduce the six-monthly indexation of social security and repatriation benefits.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House
1 ) Noting that Japan, the Philippines, Greece, Thailand and Indonesia among other nations, have representation in Taiwan;
And that the Taiwanese representation of many of these countries is supported from public expenditure;
And that the above nations other than Indonesia, each have official diplomatic missions in Peking which do not prevent such representations in Taiwan;
And noting further than ex-ambassadors and consuls staff at least one of these missions in such a way as to allow them to return at the end of their sojourn in Taiwan to normal duties without disadvantage;
Asserts that Australian relations with mainland China should not be interpreted more restrictively than applies to a host of other nations, especially as Australia has been so compliant with the wishes of mainland China in the past and therefore requests that the Australian Goverment immediately open an office or offices in Taiwan to promote a similar range of activities for the benefit of our mutual peoples and to help balance the Australian international current account.
-I ask the Minister for Transport: Did the Government provide a guarantee of$US11m to Ansett Airlines of Australia for the purchase of its tenth Boeing 727-200 aircraft? Is it a fact that Trans- Australia Airlines is financing the purchase of its tenth Boeing 727-200 from its own funds without a Government guarantee? Did the Minister use his extensive powers under the Commonwealth legislation to call up Ansett ‘s financial accounts to verify the need for the Government guarantee and the possible impact upon domestic air fares? Finally, did the Minister agree to finance the Ansett Airlines equipment purchase in the clear knowledge that Ansett Transport Industries was pumping significant earnings into the endangered financier Associated Securities Limited?
-The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is also yes. The answer to the third part of the question is that the matters were taken into account. As far as the last part of the question is concerned, there is no connection between the financial interests that Ansett had in Associated Securities Limited and its activities as an airline. They are completely disassociated in a financial sense, and if the honourable member would like to take a look at Ansett ‘s annual report he would see how that is verified.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Resources whether, in view of the growing importance to Australia of Taiwan as an export market, and the fact that a number of our trading competitors have trade representatives in Taiwan, the Minister will consider establishing there a suitable form of trade representation for Australia.
-The question of trading with Taiwan and recognition of Taiwan is one that this Government has had to consider over the years. In recent years our attitude has been to recognise one China, with its capital in Peking. Trade with the province of Taiwan has been a matter for individual traders themselves to pursue. Before my last trip to the Middle East I asked for a factual report on how other countries that similarly recognised China and had a relationship with Taiwan handled their trade relations. When I have that report I will be in a better position to comment further, but we must recognise that China is a very important market to us and a very significant country. It has been a most important market for our wheat growers for the past 1 8 years. Any action that would jeopardise what is a rapidly growing market, by an indiscretion involving putting a trade office in Taiwan, would have to be considered carefully.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I remind him of his reply yesterday in which he said that Australian interest rates had been adversely affected by rising international rates. I ask: As some major international rates are now four to six points higher than Australian rates, and rising, and as Australia’s money supply is now increasing at a rate of 1 1 per cent annually and will need to be reduced to reach the target rate of six to eight per cent, is the Prime Minister suggesting that Australian interest rates will rise further. If not, is he guaranteeing that there will be no further increase?
– The Treasurer will answer the question.
-The question of the Leader of the Opposition, following the ones that he asked yesterday, fails to take account of one fact: that interest rates in this country are, of course, determined in part by movements of interest rates overseas but are also determined in part, and in very important part, by domestic economic policy. It is simplistic in the extreme to invite this House to believe that just because the Government acknowledges that overseas interest rates are important to the level of our own interest rates, when overseas interest rates are so many percentage points higher than our own it follows that our rates will rise also. A major factor in the level of interest rates is the extent of success of domestic economic policies. The contribution of domestic economic policies followed by this Government over the past three years to the fall in interest rates which the Prime Minister enunciated yesterday ought not to be ignored. I think that the Leader of the Opposition is deliberately doing that.
-My question is also directed to the Treasurer. He will be aware of some recent suggestions that the Government should change its economic policy. I ask: Does the Government intend any alteration to its current economic strategy?
-The short answer to the question is no. I think that one of the more intriguing remarks made about the Government’s economic policy in recent weeks came from the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that I do not do him an injustice; no doubt I will hear from him if he thinks I have. On an AM program recently the Leader of the Opposition expressed the view that there was no reason why there ought not to be better economic conditions in Australia. He believed that there were prospects for greater economic activity and for an uplift in employment in the Australian economy. Generally he saw better times for the Australian economy. Yet, at the same time, the honourable gentleman continues to advocate a significant change in the Government’s economic policy. Let us not underestimate the significance of the difference that exists between what we have been doing over the past three years and the alternative strategy of the Opposition. Let us not be kidded into believing that the Opposition is proposing a fine tuning of the policies followed by this Government. What the Opposition enunciated during debate on the last Budget and what the Opposition has said since is a significant departure from the economic policies that we have followed over the past three years in a most consistent manner. We believe that those policies have contributed, in a major way, to the great number of optimistic signs about the Australian economy which are around at present. This is manifestly not the time to alter that strategy. We believe that the gains that the strategy has given us over the past three years will increase in the months ahead.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of any exploration, drilling, testing or mining proposed for the Great Barrier Reef? If not, will he give an unequivocal denial that there will be any such actions on the Reef and proceed with the declaration of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park?
-Discussions concerning the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are being undertaken at present with the Queensland Government. The Commonwealth’s position is unequivocal: There will not be drilling on the Reef. I am informed that technical advice differs as to what might happen in the environment of the Reef but not on the Reef itself. Quite plainly honourable members will understand that if we are talking about the environment of the Reef but not the Reef itself we have to ask the question: Where does it begin; where does it end? Are we talking about one or two kilometres, 20 kilometres or 50 kilometres?
-The honourable member for Hindmarsh is an expert in the English language. He really ought to participate in writing the Modern Oxford Dictionary.
– You are as bad as Gough.
– I thought we were friends. There is a view that more technical knowledge is required in the areas off the Reef. I do not believe that anyone should set his face against a greater understanding of a scientific or technical problem.
– It is one eco-system.
-Yes, but the question still is a legitimate one. Where does the environment of the Reef begin and where does it end? Even if the matter were put just on that basis scientific analysis would be needed to demonstrate it. But let me give a complete and unequivocal guarantee that this Government would not allow any drilling or any mining that would do anything to damage the Reef. If there were to be any doubt about that, activity would not take place. At the moment I know of no proposals. I will make inquiries to see whether there are any proposals as regards drilling or mining.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. I appreciate that this matter has been considered previously, but I again ask the Minister whether he will give further consideration to dividing his Department into the Department of Transport and the Department of Civil Aviation, as I believe that the advantages in such an action would far outweigh any disadvantages.
– The question should be directed to the Prime Minister. This matter is quite outside my jurisdiction.
-I direct a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources. I refer to his belated recognition yesterday, after some four years, of the value of the Middle East market. In order to give some stability to meat producers in Australia, will the Minister now encourage the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation to enter into long-term contracts and joint projects for the supply, shipping, storage and distribution of meat in Arab States? Further, did the Minister, while in the Middle East, ask any governments there to establish representation in Australia, to improve their knowledge of us and to help our businessmen to travel there, in particular to avoid the delays of some days waiting for visas in Singapore? Finally, would the Minister see any virtue in the Foreign Minister’s visiting the Middle East for this or for any other purpose?
– We have been progressively strengthening our Trade Commissioner Service in the Middle East in the last two years. We have established a trade commissioner post at Kuwait. One will be established at Abu Dhabi within the next six months. There has also been a strengthening of the posts at Bahrain and Jeddah. I must admit that from my own point of view my visit to the Middle East certainly did familiarise me with a tremendous rate of progress in the area and it will certainly reinforce my persuasion with Australian industry that it ought to be concentrating still more in that area.
I point out to the honourable gentleman that probably the most significant remarks that were made to me while I was in the Middle East concerned the disturbance of traders with the prohibition that was placed on the export of live stock from Australia and in particular the sheep dispute. I cannot emphasise enough the amount of damage that did to Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier. In fact, I was taken into one cool room to be shown chilled lamb from New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. My hosts said that they had not sought those markets until the bans were imposed, at which time they recognised that they had to find alternative supplies, from around the world. They were not going to tolerate a situation whereby their supply of lambs was being jeopardised.
– Chilled lamb.
-If there is not a relationship between meat from live sheep and chilled sheep meat, I do not know what there is a relationship between. If they cannot get live sheep then they have to seek other forms of sheep meat. But what these people want is reliable supplies of sheep meat. They want a quantity of live meat and they want a quantity of processed meat. We ought to try to respond to whatever their demand is. I believe that in a period of time the amount of slaughtered meat will increase as the people there become more accustomed to it and have the facilities to handle it. I have invited the Ministers for commerce from the three countries that I visited to come to Australia this year. I believe that all three will come. I think that will be important in establishing better trade relations and better political relations. Problems of visas can be discussed between countries concerned.
There are great opportunities for the livestock industry. I would hope that we can build up trade in live cattle and I would be very disappointed should Australian meat industry employees resist that because it will only be by establishing a taste for meat in that part of the world that ultimately more killed meat will be sold overseas. I am pleased to hear from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that he is conscious of the trading possibilities in the Middle East, but the most important thing of all is to get the unions to cooperate so there are no disruptions to regular trade.
– Is the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs aware of the dramatic success of the Tasmanian devised Commonwealth Employment Service Project ‘Job Search 1979’ and the fact that with three days still to go the target of 1,979 new job notifications has already been well and truly passed? Has the Minister personally seen the scheme in operation? In view of its potential on its own to reduce Tasmania’s unemployment by up to 15 per cent could it and other similar schemes in other States be repeated and expanded?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for his question because I know of his personal keen interest in the success of Job Search. From the figures that he has given to the House in his question, undoubtedly Job Search has been successful in helping the young unemployed in particular and in increasing the number of vacancies which the Commonwealth Employment Service has available to it. I can tell the honourable gentleman that what has been done in Tasmania has also been done in other States by the Commonwealth Employment Service. For example, Jobuary is a campaign in which the honourable member for Kingston has played such a notable part. I visited the bus being used in his electorate for this scheme and I visited the headquarters of Job Search in the electorate of Denison.
In other places in Australia similar kinds of campaigns have been undertaken. In my own state of Western Australia a special youth vacancy drive has been undertaken. In Melbourne, in combination with the Melbourne Herald the Commonwealth Employment Service has been conducting the Yes campaign quite successfully. The Rotary Club of Sydney mounted a special campaign of its own called Target 300, aimed at achieving an additional 300 jobs from amongst its own members and when I was in Sydney about a week ago I spoke to the leader of that campaign, and it has undoubtedly been successful. In Brisbane also a similar campaign is going on in conjunction with the media. I want to pay tribute to the community effort that underlies all these campaigns in which employers have come in on side, as has the staff of my own Department and the Commonwealth Employment Service, and which the media have so readily been prepared to back at little or no cost to themselves. I might also say that the unions have also come into these campaigns. It has been a total community effort directed at obtaining increased vacancies, which of course are the lifeblood of the Commonwealth Employment Service. As I have said, the Service has the people. What we need are the vacancies to give people a job.
– My question, too, is directed to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. It might be a little more difficult to answer. Having regard to the record achievements by this Government in the field of unemployment and the doleful display by the honourable member for Stirling in skirting the issues put to him by my colleague -
-The honourable member will ask his question or I will require him to sit down.
– I must add the next aspect because it is vital to the question. Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Employment Service interviewers receive only one to four days training for their most specialised and important task and that such interviewers may not be particularly suited to this work, as shown by revelations in the Press in recent weeks, since they are chosen by the Public Service Board, and only on the basis of normal Public Service entrance examinations, rather than by the CES itself? In regard to the Minister’s announcement of an inquiry into the Commonwealth Employment Service, can he inform the House of the terms of reference of this inquiry and whether it is to be an independent and outside inquiry or just an inside departmental affair and, therefore, judgment of itselfanother example of this Government’s emulation of Caesar’s principle?
Government members interjecting-
– If honourable members opposite had any respect for the young people who are out of work they would listen to the rest of the question. I understand that Community Youth Support Scheme workers have been covered for accident insurance by the Government to the extent of only $10,000. 1 ask the Minister whether this means that the maximum payout to a participant in the CYSS scheme who is injured in the field will be $ 10,000. If not, just who will be liable in a suit to recover this amount or greater amounts?
– If I can unravel some of the more unintelligent parts of the question I will endeavour to give the honourable member an intelligent answer. As to the last part of the question regarding insurance cover for CYSS workers, this is a matter of concern and is being studied at the present time to see whether some kind of blanket insurance might be available for the CYSS officers in the different regions.
– Why haven ‘t you done anything?
– This matter was brought to my attention when I had a discussion with CYSS officers in Perth about a week ago and it is being looked at.
As to the allegations about discriminatory remarks on cards in the Commonwealth Employment Service offices and lack of training of CES officers, let me immediately direct the attention of the House to a bulletin issued by the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association when the honourable gentleman made an earlier attack upon the CES. The Association immediately rejected the criticism which the honourable member made of staff members of the CES, and I support the ACOA in rejecting that criticism. I think that the honourable member has done a great disservice to members of the CES. I have been to each of the capital cities. I have spoken to officers in the regional offices of the CES and have been to youth job centres, and I must say that I am very impressed with the quality of those officers and the way in which they approach their task. The Norgard report on the review of the Commonwealth Employment Service recommended that greater training be undertaken by officers in the CES. That recommendation was actively pursued by my colleague, the former Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, and I am advised that this year the training program will be accelerated.
As to the alleged discrimination on cards, I point up my criticism of the honourable member’s allegations by indicating that there are 3,600 staff in 218 offices of the CES. In 1977-78 the CES registered 1.9 million people and there were 477,385 job placements made as against 670,893 vacancies registered. In its examination of a random sample made at my request to deal with these allegations, the Service has found that only a minute number of cards could be regarded as expressing some discriminatory remarks. So when one appreciates the volume of business done by the CES I think one can judge the validity of the allegations made by the honourable member.
– Will the Prime Minister advise the House of any new opportunities that he sees for Australian exports? In particular, has the Prime Minister any information available in respect of television sets which recently have been exported from Australia to Hong Kong?
-Major opportunities are opening up for Australian exporters. My colleagues, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources and the Minister for Special Trade Representations, and the Trade Commissioner Service have supported private industry in a very vigorous trade promotion campaign in many different parts of the world over the last two to three years. That, of course, will go on. In particular, opportunities are opening for Australia in Japan, South East Asia, the Middle East and China. For example, over the last three months total exports have exceeded by 17 per cent exports for the previous three months. The growth of imports over the same period was 7 per cent. There is a marked strengthening of manufactured exports.
The Government obviously has introduced a number of programs designed quite specifically to assist exporters but, above all, the major policy of the Government to make Australian industry competitive again by establishing a firm cost base in this country and therefore encouraging greater sales of Australian goods in Australia and overseas is probably the best help that we can provide. In addition, export incentives and other market development programs are a significant help.
I think it is worth noting that in a recent speech the Leader of the Opposition indicated that my applause of Australia’s export possibilities and achievements creates unrealistic expectations and false optimism. I do not believe that that is so. At the moment the honourable gentleman seems to be trying to wear two faces. He does not want to be called ‘Bellyache Bill’ but he does not want to be too optimistic either. Therefore, he is looking both ways at the one time. He came to the conclusion that total sales of television sets had fallen from 144 to five but he ignored the recent sale of 5,000 colour television sets to Hong Kong. I suppose that ignoring certain salient facts is typical of a person who had to quote in his speech the famous phrase of an earlier Labor colleague of his who said ‘Traditionally most of our imports come from overseas ‘.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question following the answer that he has just completed. Is he aware that on Monday I contacted the Department of Trade and Resources and was advised that it was only on that day that the Minister for Trade and Resources had discovered the sales of the television sets to which the Prime Minister alluded? Is he aware that the Trade Department had no official advice of those sales? Is he aware that in the words of the officer to whom I spoke the Trade Department was relying on nothing more than gossip in conveying to me that it believed that the sales had taken place? Is this the best that the Government and the Public Service can do? Does it mean that the Minister is not keeping up to date with his own responsibility? Can the Prime Minister arrange for a better system to be developed so that his Minister will be better informed and the Department better able to advise the public in the future?
-I call the Deputy Prime Minister.
-The Leader of the Opposition made a speech the other day and tried to belittle the Prime Minister for the optimistic remarks he made about manufacturing opportunities. He cited television sales to Hong Kong. I asked the Department to check the figures. The Department informed me that the Leader of the Opposition had been in touch with the Department and had asked for the figures for the past five years. The Department informed the Leader of the Opposition of the official trade figures to the end of 1977-78. Any later figures were unofficial. They were given to the Department in confidence. The Department did not intend to release them. The figures are given in confidence and they are not made public until the end of the year. I asked what the figures were for the sale of television sets. The company concerned advised that they could be made available. They were made available. Five thousand sets have been sold in the last three months. The Prime Minister was absolutely right. Obviously he had been talking with the principals of the company concerned.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Defence been drawn to an article in a weekly publication by Malcolm Booker about Australia’s defences? Has any assessment been made of Mr Booker’s article? If so, with what result?
– My attention has been drawn to an article by Mr Malcolm Booker which appeared in a weekly magazine. I do not wish to be harsh and ungenerous, but it is a long time since I have read an article with so many imbecilities embedded in it. I cull out a few of the more glaring examples of this thoughtfulness and deep research. Mr Booker- he is described as ‘Dr Booker’, but accuracy for this paper apparently does not count for much- writes:
It is dismaying to note that when ordering that new assessment -
That is the new strategic assessment- the Prime Minister excluded the Department of Foreign Affairs.
– That is rubbish.
– As my honourable friend, the Minister for Foreign Affairs says, with his usual elegance of language, that is rubbish. It is completely untrue. Mr Booker turns to headier things and he writes:
It is clear that weapons for a major land war would not be needed.
He is right-
We could dispense therefore with the tanks . . . field artillery and tactical fighter aircraft.
I find myself exposed to mild criticism that we are taking our time making up our minds on what will be the most expensive defence project in the history of this country. But Mr Booker waves all this airily to one side- we just do not need them. He goes on:
The key deterrent weapon of the future is the precision guided cruise missile . .
It so happens that the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II encompass the cruise missile involving the United States of America and the Soviet Union. But Mr Booker says no, Australia must get it. Therefore Australia and all South East Asian countries are to be involved in SALT talks. He does not say how we should get the cruise missile although some months ago he wrote an article saying that for $100m we could get a cruise missile. That would not even pay for lunches. In the article he goes on to write about the Harpoon missile as follows:
It has been tested with an Oberon submarine … It could be made readily available for the Australian submarines. None has yet been ordered.
That is untrue. The order has been placed. But Mr Booker is not too anxious to get the facts. Then he goes on- this is the last quote; I will not weary the House any longer -
– Hear, hear!
– I agree with the honourable member. Mr Booker goes on to write about the
Harpoon being fitted to Fill aircraft. It would be a great weapon, so he says. The Harpoon is a very useful weapon over water but it has one dominating fault over land- it gets lost. I think the sooner Mr Booker gets lost on defence the better.
-I ask the Prime Minister Will he tell the Australian people which Government members are principally responsible for making Harry M. Miller the greatest national political handout beneficiary by promoting him to highly paid Government positions on the board of Qantas Airways Limited, on the Meat and Livestock Corporation and as organiser of the Australia bicentenary celebrations? Is the person appointed to these positions the same Harry M. Miller who was the architect of the disastrous computer ticket crash and the promoter of other equally lost causes?
-Order! It is the practice in this House to put on the Notice Paper questions which reflect on a person. The question will go on the Notice Paper.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Resources. Early in January this year R. W. Miller Holdings Ltd announced that it was pulling out of the Oaky Creek project and that it was hoping to sell its 20 per cent interest in the venture to Houston Oil and Minerals. Will the Minister advise whether representation has been made to transfer this Australian interest in the project? If so, what is the Government’s response to the request?
-From my knowledge of this enterprise, R. W. Miller Holdings Ltd sought to have another Australian partner replace it in the venture. To the best of my knowledge it has been unsuccessful in getting an interested partner. I am very disappointed that it has not succeeded because it is part of our policy to have part Australian involvement in the development of resources. We hope that Australian companies might be interested. I will look at the matter to see whether I can get some more information for the honourable member.
-Did the Minister for Trade and Resources at a recent conference of New South Wales coal producers set a lower parameter of $47 per tonne for sale of southern New South Wales coking coal to Japan? Did Kembla Coke and Coal Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio
Tinto of Australia Ltd, and Peko- Wallsend Ltd indicate to Japanese steel mills that $45.60 per tonne would be acceptable in exchange for a 25 per cent increase in contract tonnages? If so, did this action disadvantage other New South Wales producers who negotiated within the guidelines, such as Bellambi Coal Co. Ltd, in respect of prices and tonnages? Will the Minister indicate that the parameter he originally set will now be maintained?
– In reply to the honourable member for Blaxland yesterday I said I would ask for my Department to have a complete report on the negotiations up to this stage. At this moment I have not received the report.
-I direct to the Minister for Industrial Relations a question concerning the Industrial Relations Bureau and events which occurred in March of last year when Mr Kane, a union member, resigned from his union, dissociated himself from a strike -at a Melbourne City Council depot and subsequently obtained a certificate of conscientious objection from the Industrial Registrar. Have officers of the Industrial Relations Bureau spoken to the Melbourne City Council and the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union and informed them that they will be prosecuted by the Bureau?
– Yes, I am aware that officers of the Industrial Relations Bureau have been in contact with both the Melbourne City Council and the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union. The Acting Director of the Bureau has informed me that he has given instructions to seek summonses in the Federal Court of Australia against both the Melbourne City Council and the AMWSU for offences against certain sections of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The alleged offences, I am informed, are as a result of complaints made by Mr Kane following a dispute last year.
I am not able to give precise details of the summonses to be sought, but I am informed that they have been sought only after a very thorough examination and consideration of the known facts in relation to this issue and all the legal aspects involved. I am able to say that the summonses sought against the Melbourne City Council allege breaches of section 5 of the Act. Section 5 of the Act makes it an offence for an employer to dismiss an employee or injure him in his employment by reason of the circumstance that the employee has refused or failed to join in industrial action or with intent to coerce a person to join in industrial action.
I am further informed that the summonses sought against AMWSU are in relation to section 188 of the Act which prohibits registered organisations from taking various actions specified in the Act associated with an employee’s refusal or failure to join in industrial action.
I emphasise that any decision for the Bureau to take action in this way in pursuance of its responsibilities to ensure observance of the Act is one entirely for the Director to take. Therefore, the position is that I have been informed that the Bureau has sought summonses. It is my understanding that if such summonses are issued the matter will become sub judice. Therefore, I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Defence. Has the Government considered or agreed to a forward capital equipment program of $ 1,400m for the next five years? Does that amount represent a substantial reduction in real terms and equipment terms on the projected amount of $ 1,200m as set out in the Australian Defence Statement 1976? If so, will the Minister inform the House at his earliest convenience of the proposed capital equipment program for the five years which would be included in the $ 1,400m which he is seeking and which, I understand, he has achieved?
– I appreciate that my honourable friend has asked me to table a statement in the House dealing with the proposals because he does refer to a matter of policy and Question Time is quite an inappropriate time to deal with policy matters. I will take an early opportunity in consultation with the Leader of die House to see what can be done to accommodate the honourable gentleman.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Further to the question asked today at Question Time by the honourable member for Lyne, and to the reasons outlined by him, will the Prime Minister give consideration to re-organising the Department of Transport into a Department of Transport and a separate Department of Civil Aviation?
-This matter has been examined on a number of occasions but I believe there are considerable advantages in having a Department of Transport with overriding responsibilities for transport matters. Quite plainly it enables there to be a comprehensive analysis of transport requirements, matters which ought to be brought together. They are brought together under one Department and under one Minister who is eminently capable of handling the lot.
-I call the Minister for Primary Industry.
– The Government has been most concerned at the circumstances of the citrus industry. It was with those in mind that these deferrals were granted, to ensure the continuance of the level of protection that has enabled a very considerable recovery in the industry since the time of the grant of the temporary assistance. The matter is now under examination and an announcement will be made by my colleague and myself before the expiration of this now extended period- which, as the honourable gentleman would know, is the end of March.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Transport. Is he aware of the reports of persons who, having booked holiday package tours to the United States, including stopovers at Hawaii, have since been told by tour operators that the tour stopover has been cut out due to the Government’s new air fares policy? Is this action as a result of the Government’s decisions? If not, will the Minister take steps to prevent such misrepresentations and to prevent consumers from being subject to arbitrary loss of stopovers?
– The complaints by passengers have been drawn to my attention and they are being studied by the Department. It is not true to say that the new fares prohibit stopovers in Hawaii. If the honourable member has individual cases he had better give them to me so that they can be inspected. The fact is that the group inclusive tours to the West Coast are operating right now carrying stopovers. The off peak reduction in these fares is $325 or 42 per cent, which shows something of the significance of the fare savings made by the introduction of this new fare regime. At present, the old fare regime is still in operation in addition to the new fare regime.
In fact, the tour operators can organise the fare construction in either of the two cases. It seems to me that the only way to get to the bottom of the question raised by the honourable member is to look closely at the details, and I will be happy to do so.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a matter which concerns members of the Parliament.
-I call the honourable member for Corio.
-Mr Speaker, you will have seen reports that the Parliamentary Librarian has told certain members of Parliament that, where it is requested, the Prime Minister’s departmental officers have priority use of research and other sections of the Parliamentary Library. I mention specifically Mr Vincent Matthews of his public relations secretariat. Mr Speaker, I ask whether you will consult the President of the Senate, who is the joint head of the Parliamentary Library, in order to ascertain and inform members of this Parliament whether, in fact, any person has priority use of the Library over the members of the Parliament, especially persons who are associated with departments in which very vast resources are available which are not available to members of the Parliament.
-I have not seen any such reports. I am totally unaware of them but I will answer -
- Mr Speaker -
-The honourable member for Melbourne will restrain himself; he will just calm down. I have not seen any reports in relation to what the honourable member for Corio has said. Nobody has priority over a member of the Parliament, be he a member of the House of Representatives or of the Senate. I have not seen the reports. Therefore, I will not regard that reply by me as complete. I will inquire whether any information of the nature indicated by the honourable member for Corio has been given by the Librarian and will report to the House.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
– He may proceed.
-During Question Time the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) claimed that information -
- Mr Speaker, I wish to raise a point of procedure. Should not the presentation of papers be the next item of business?
– As a matter of procedure the Leader of the House is right. I will hear this personal explanation and then proceed immediately to the presentation of papers. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
-During Question Time the Deputy Prime Minister said that information I gave at an export promotion seminar in Canberra on Monday in relation to the export of television sets was wrong. I quickly put the matter into context. I was referring to a statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)- an Address to the Nation as it was entitleddelivered on 12 November 1978. He said:
How many of you know that Australian companies are exporting furniture to Sweden and colour television sets are being exported to the toughest market in the world, to Hong Kong.
The Prime Minister used the present continuing sense. As a result of the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister at the concluding stages of the seminar that, in fact, a large number of colour television sets had been exported to Hong Kong in the preceding three months, I contacted the Department of Trade and Resources. I was advised that the Department had known from general gossip in the trade that a useful order was around. After chasing about, the Department had got to know the details of the order only on that Monday. There had been some talk about actual shipments in the course of the rather vaguely stated ‘preceding three months’. Of course, the ‘preceding three months’ is a period that falls short of the period when the Prime Minister made his statement.
– Pursuant to section 17 of the Meat Research Act 1960 1 present the annual report of the Australian Meat Research Committee for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to section 58 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1 975 I present the annual report of the Administrative Review Council for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to section 33 of the Criminology Research Act 1971 1 present the annual report of the Australian Institute of Criminology for the year ended 30 June 1 978.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report of the Fifth International Trade Law Seminar held in Canberra during June 1978.
Pursuant to section 72 of the Health Commission Ordinance 1975 I present the annual report of the Capital Territory Health Commission for the year ended 30 June 1976.
Pursuant to section 122 of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 I present the annual report of the Commissioner for Employees’ Compensation for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– Pursuant to section 82 of the Repatriation Act 1920, 1 present the annual reports of War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the final report of the Silver Jubilee Commemorative Organisation.
-Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable member wish to make a personal explanation?
– I do.
-He may proceed.
– During the course of an answer given by the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner), he indicated that I had been criticised for statements that were critical of staff of the Commonwealth Employment Service, I would like to read from my Press statement, issued on the day in question, which will clarify the matter. My statement read, in part:
Prejudicial remarks about applicants, and discriminatory employer demands, were often written in pencil so they could be erased if there were queries . . .
MrInnes . . . produced copies of confidential cards verifying the derogatory remarks and discrimination.
Their reform demands include- confidentiality and privacy in interview, standardised assessment guidelines, proper interviewing and assessment training for inter viewing staff, permanent applicant access to cards, and the right to challenge assessments, automatic prosecution of employers who seek to discriminate, removal of CES staff ceilings and staff increases to allow the service to function effectively, and non-intimidation of CES staff who report discrimination or other irregularities.
Now this is the critical part-
The members said they were not being critical’ of CES staff, but of the inadequate training they were given for the job they had to do, and the pressure they were forced to work under because of unrealistic staff ceilings.
It is unrealistic to place these staff ceilings on the CES when there is record unemployment ‘.
I believe that that clarifies the issue and thatthe Minister ought to take care to find out what has been said before making such remarks.
- Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented by the remarks just made by the honourable member for Melbourne (MrInnes).
-Does the honourable member wish to make a personal explanation?
Mr SPEAKERHe may proceed.
– I referred to a statement of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. It was, in fact, an ACOA bulletin issued on 30 January 1979 by Gerard Butler, Industrial Officer of the organisation. It is addressed to all CES members and reads:
As you would be aware, there has been some criticism of the CES in the Press lately. The criticism has included charges of bias and discrimination towards the unemployed by CES officers.
ACOA ‘s Acting Federal Secretary, Stan Imer, released the following media release on Friday, 26 January:
CES Criticism Rejected
Charges of bias and prejudice by CES staff made by two ALP parliamentarians were rejected today by the Administrative and Clerical Officers ‘ Association.
Mr Stan Imer, Acting Federal Secretary of ACOA, said today that the examples given to the media yesterday were obviously stolen by a disenchanted former employee and did not fairly illustrate the care and devotion exercised by most CES officers to alleviate unemployment and distress.
That is all I will quote from what is a more lengthy statement. I believe, therefore, that against the background of the statistics which I gave to the House, concerning the volume of activity in the Commonwealth Employment Service -
MrSPEAKER-The honourable gentleman is now arguing the issue.
– I close on the note that the statements made by Mr Imer, and by me in this House, were well founded.
Mr INNES (Melbourne)-I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable member wish to make a personal explanation?
– I do. .
– He may proceed.
– The statement from which the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) has just read merely compounds the attack that he made on me.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is now arguing the issue.
– All I would say is that the Press statement that I have distributed is available and could be tabled. I think that that takes care of any of the camouflage that the Minister is now putting up to try to get himself out of a very difficult situation.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
– I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable gentleman wish to make a personal explanation?
– I do.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-The Sydney Daily Telegraph alleged this morning that I had asked the Remuneration Tribunal to be allowed to charter a plane from Canberra to my Nowra home. This is untrue and has been wrongly regarded by various radio commentators today as an example of a politician seeking to gain an unreasonable perk of office. The facts were correctly transmitted to the Sydney office of the Daily Telegraph by the author, Mr Costin, but distorted by a sub-editor in that office. I have Mr Costin ‘s original story in front of me. In fact, I do not live in Nowra; Nowra is the location of my electorate office. My request was to be enabled to apply the cost of normal public transport to and from Canberra, which is met by the Government, towards the cost of chartering an aircraft for the 30-minute flight from Canberra to my electorate office instead of taking5½ hours by public transport or 3 hours by driving my own car as I am not entitled to a Commonwealth car for the trip. The distortion in the report is that it alleges I wanted a quick trip home. My request was clearly to enable me to spend more time attending to my constituents in my electorate office rather than sitting behind the wheel of a car or enjoying the delights of the public transport system.
– I have received letters from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and the honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by Standing Order 107, I have selected one matter, that is, that proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, namely:
The failure of the Government to outline and implement a consistent program for sustained non-inflationary economic recovery.
I therefore 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-
– A few weeks ago I said publicly on several occasions that I was optimistic about the prospects of 1979 in that it could and should be a year of sustained economic recovery. I pointed out that there were some early movements in the economy- few, true; weak, also true- nonetheless they were there and capable of being harnessed to sustain economic recovery. But the important qualification was that there would have to be a change of economic policy to achieve that end. I still have that optimism about 1979 and the future because I know what can be done with the Australian economy and I know what the Australian people are capable of achieving even in the face of great discouragement and adversity given the proper encouragement and the right sorts of policies to back them up.
I have to confess that the confidence is rapidly wilting. It is rapidly wilting not just because there is not a change in policy towards the positive direction to which I was alluding but rather because there has been a change in policy away from the direction of encouraging economic recovery. We are at, as the Treasurer (Mr Howard) refers to in that quaint economic jargon he has developed, the ‘policy of the pause’. Interest rates have been increased- a complete reversal of stated policy and objective. So, it is not a reversal; it is a pause in the policy. I presume that if we have a pause in the guaranteed policy of reducing interest rates when in fact they are increasing we also have a pause in the promised program to reduce unemployment even before it has commenced or the guarantee to reduce inflation consistently down to 5 per cent by the end of this fiscal year even though there is clearly an increase in the inflationary rate for the December quarter and the pipeline shows more is coming through.
A suspicious minded person would suggest that the Government once again has set about breaking a range of keys, solemn promises, but I prefer to use the quote of Premier Hamer of Victoria. After all, he belongs to the best clubs in that State and no doubt associates closely with the leading intellects of the Liberal Party. He puts it succinctly but right on target. He said on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s 7 p.m. news on 10 February: ‘This is not a pause; it is a reverse.’ Of course it is a reverse. That is why we are asking the Government to outline and then implement a consistent program for sustained non-inflationary economic recovery. As things stand now, the community is in confusion about the Government’s exact economic objectives and the policies to support those objectives. The market place is in a state of utter disarray. It is not just a matter of being alarmed at the rapidity and the erraticism behind the changes in policy of the Government currently and earlier; it is also the big question marks which are hanging over the economy and what the Government will do in the forthcoming fiscal year.
The implications of government undertakings to forgo revenue collections well in excess of $1,000m in the 1979 Budget are enormous. Where will the Government get the money? We can confidently expect that the Parliament will be littered with a range of broken promises at the time of the next Budget. But not even broken promises- broken promises, for instance, on things like tax indexation or perhaps stock adjustment indexation- will be enough to increase the level of money that the Government will have to raise to offset the revenue collections forgone which it has already undertaken and which fall in the 1979 Budget. It has guaranteed not to extend the so-called temporary tax surcharge. It has guaranteed not to revert to increases in indirect taxes. It has also given undertakings to abolish death and estate duties, to phase out the export levy on coal and on a number of other factors which all raise a very large amount of money. If anyone cares to take the trouble of looking at the Budget Papers and seeing the sources of revenue he will find that only a couple are available which provide large slabs of revenue to a government. One is personal income tax. The Government has guaranteed there will be no further increases. On the Government’s record we could not take that promise on board too well. The Government has ruled out indirect tax charge increases. One would not expect the Government to increase corporate tax by much, although the rate at which profits are booming at present indicates that there would be some room to do something. However it is boiled down and however the Government cares to hack into existing programs it has jammed itself into a difficult corner by its unwise, impulsive commitments in a number of these areas.
What I find most disturbing is what has been reported and what has been said by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the last 24 hours. We have heard reports on tightening of monetary policy and the slump in the housing industry which at present has the worst level of commencements since 1966. But the issue of greatest concern arises from the Prime Minister’s statements yesterday in this Parliament on interest rates. His remarks can have only one implication and that is that interest rates have not hit the ceiling at all; they are on the way up. The Prime Minister said clearly enough yesterday that interest rates in this country are influenced by a number of factors but certainly they are influenced to an important extent by movements overseas. Interest rates overseas are three to four points higher than they are in this country. Money supply is running ahead at about 1 1 per cent annually. The Government gave an undertaking to strike for a target of 6 per cent. That target, of course, is off the scoreboard now. Even if the Government is to try to move in that direction and if it is genuine when it says that our interest rates are influenced by movements in interest rates overseas, it is quite clear that interest rates have not settled and that they are on their way up. The market has indicated it believes that to be the case. What a silly statement for the Prime Minister to make yesterday when the market is in such a restive state. It is on a par with his technique of policies by impulse and blunder, epitomised probably better than in any other instance by his decision to introduce a wages-prices freeze in 1977 and to abort it six weeks later.
Let me move on to some other aspects of government economic management. I refer to the tactic of scapegoatism. It is a refined form of political thuggery with the Prime Minister. It is an effort to blame others for his shortcomings or the Government’s shortcomings. The latest bogyman is now of course the United States and its economy. It is getting the blame for the increases in interest rates already imposed in breach of a solemn pledge to the community. I presume from what the Prime Minister said that there will be further increases. We have seen this sort of scapegoatism tactic used before. Unemployment was blamed on the unions; inflation was blamed on wages and the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and presumably housewives too. But the man speaks with a forked tongue. What he says overseas is completely different from what he says here. In his recent visit to the United States of America, he said in reply to a question on 4 January 1979 at the Economic Club of New York:
I am quite certain that the wage fixing body of the Arbitration Commission would have made the decision it didthe 4 per cent decision- because they believed that the size of that decision would reduce the pressures for wage agreements outside the jurisdiction of the Commission. Indeed, the President of our union movement, Mr Hawke, once the 4 per cent decision was announced, virtually said ‘Look, that’s enough, lay ofl”.
On he goes with encomiums in this direction about the Arbitration Commission, Mr Hawke, the wages system in this country and the industrial movement. Later on in his answer he defends the industrial record of the trade union movement in this country. He compares it more than favourably with the record of countries in the rest of the world, particularly the United States of America. He speaks with a forked tongue. Can we believe the man when he says one thing here and another thing overseas? Can we believe a man who is constantly responsible for breaking promises to the community? This man has a shocking record when it comes to the matter of credibility.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will refer to another member of this House by his correct title. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition is referring to the Prime Minister. I ask him to use that term.
– Let me move on to inflation. He is now blaming the situation on Treasury for making a wrong forecast. But inflation is worse, with an underlying rate of 3.8 per cent for the December quarter if health costs are includednot the 2.3 per cent cited- as a result of a range of unwise policy commitments imposed on the community in the last Budget. It is nonsense for the Government to say that it can get inflation for this year down to 5 per cent or even near 6 per cent. To get it down to 5 per cent would require increases of no more than half a per cent over each of the next two quarters. The fact is that inflation in this country has been jammed at an annual rate of about 8 per cent throughout each quarter of 1978. He equivocates on undertakings he firmly gave to the community on the issue of interest rates. On 2 December, at Chadstone in Melbourne he said:
It is a target that can be and will be achieved.
That is an explicit quote in relation to a firm undertaking that a reduction of 2 per cent in interest rates would be achieved in the next 12 months. He went on to say that he was talking about rates that directly affected people, such as bank lending and home lending rates. To faithfully take up the echo, on 26 November the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) said that he would eat his hat if the promise was not fulfilled in 12 months. Well it has not been fulfilled and, in this important area of monetary policy, the economy is in retreat.
The point I want to raise here is that the Government is losing ground on inflation and it is losing ground on its promise about interest rates. The only area in which it is making real ground is the enormous increase in unemployment. Very simply, what all this amounts to is that unemployment is being worsened through a misdirected policy on the part of the Government in its belief that more unemployment means less inflation and lower interest rates. We are paying the high cost of social and economic dislocation through massive unemployment, in fact the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, and in aggregate terms even worse than the Great Depression, yet the Government is losing its grip on economic policy to bring down interest rates and to control inflation.
The disturbing feature about the high level of unemployment today is very simply that there are so many people- nearly half a million of them- who do not want to be out of work and who are suffering enormous personal distress as a result of this experience imposed on them by this Government. It is quite clear from any analysis of the economy that a lot of those people will be out of work for a very long time, even if the Government does set about a sustained economic recovery program. Accordingly, I would like to remind the House of what the Prime Minister said in 1 974. At that time he said that should unemployment reach or exceed a quarter of a million people then unemployment benefits ought to be lifted to the minimum wage of $120 a week. Well, some principle! Some objective! Since he has been in government he has set about freezing various unemployment benefit payments to a number of people in the community, especially the single.
We are into the fourth year of Fraserism and the shades are about to be pulled down just as they were in 1976. This is the whole point I was trying to make a week or so ago when I said that the opportunity was available, with a change of policies, to bring about sustained economic recovery, to guarantee jobs, to bring about a better atmosphere for business to function in, to bring down inflation and to bring down interest rates. Let me cite some of the indicators for mid to late 1976. The ANZ index for factory production showed a 3 per cent to 4 per cent increase over levels of a year earlier. Non-farm gross domestic product rose by 5 3/4 per cent at annual rates in the second half of 1976 compared with the first half of the year. Retail sales showed a real growth of 5 per cent in the second half of 1976. On and on the indicators go- indicators providing a solid case that economic recovery was under way in late 1 976. But what happened? The Government snuffed out that economic recovery with a tough, contractionary Budget and a tight monetary policy, especially as regards increases in the special reserve deposits and increases in interest rates- all exactly parallel with the sorts of things the Government is doing now.
Let me quickly outline what ought to be done. We need a constructive program which will harness the opportunities that are showing weakly in a few areas to sustain economic recovery. What we are proposing is an alternative program that will contribute 5 per cent growth, 100,000 jobs and reduce inflation by more than 2 per cent. We have fully detailed our commitment on this matter and the way in which these things will be brought about. The elements of it are a capital works program; an incomes subsidy for additions to the work force for employers, the subsidy being equivalent to the unemployment benefit; early voluntary retirement; and cuts in personal indirect taxes. All this would allow us to set up wages guidelines which would preserve real living standards for wage earners instead of reducing them by some $9 a week as the last Budget did. This would cost $ 1,000m in gross or $850m net addition to the deficit. But that is the sort of program that can get this country going again. It will not discriminate against people; it will really create jobs for the community and, for the first time in several years, it will bring about a reduction in unemployment. The program is overdue.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I really do owe the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and all the Opposition economic spokesmen over the past few months a very sincere apology because I have misunderstood them. I have been under the impression that the objection that the Opposition had to the economic policy of this Government was not that it was inconsistent or that the Government had not explained what its economic policy was, but rather that our economic policy was too singleminded; that we were too obsessed with beating inflation; that we were too concerned about the size of the Budget deficit; that in any number of other ways the Government had exhibited single-minded inflexibility so far as economic management was concerned, but really what was required on behalf of the Government was a little more flexibility, a little more adjustment at the margin and all would be well. I have laboured under the misapprehension that that was the Opposition’s real objection to the Government’s economic policy over the past three years. But I now find from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, concluded just a moment ago, that what he really is saying is that the Government’s economic policy is inconsistent and he is calling for us to implement a consistent program for non-inflationary economic recovery.
I put it to the House that whilst the Opposition has made and no doubt will continue to make a variety of charges about this Government’s economic policy, the one that I think is least sustainable is the proposition that this Government, from the time it was elected, has not made very clear to the Australian people its principal economic goals, and furthermore that it has not stuck to those goals during the past three years.
Indeed, it has been the willingness of this Government, the courage of this Government to stick to clearly stated economic goals, that has given to this country the signs of economic recovery, which even the Leader of the Opposition says, albeit with qualifications which I acknowledge, are now emerging in the Australian economy.
So I reject completely the charge of inconsistency. I reject completely the charge of an unwillingness on the part of this Government to set down its economic policy in forthright and succinct terms understandable to the Australian people and to this Parliament. I also reject the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition in talking in this debate about inconsistency in economic management and inconsistency in economic statements, because his own credentials on the question of consistency in economic policy are not terribly good when they are closely examined. We all recall some of the statements that he made in the 1 975 Budget Speech when he was the Treasurer in the Whitlam Government. We all recall his saying just how much inflation contributed to the level of unemployment. We all recall how many statements were made by him and colleagues of his at that time pointing to the importance of wage restraint in getting the rate of inflation down. Yet we find him, as the Leader of the Opposition, advocating policies which are opposed to the sort of position that he was then taking. What consistency is there in that?
The Leader of the Opposition over the past few days and in this debate has lamented the marginal rises in official interest rates which occurred about two weeks ago. He has said that they are bad; he has condemned them. He has sought to draw on remarks made by other people in condemnation of them. Yet he is the very same man who, having lamented those interest rate rises, redeclares his commitment to an alternative economic strategy which would not lead to marginal interest rate rises but would guarantee substantial interest rate increases, not only in official rates, but right across the board because the reality of the alternative economic strategy of the Leader of the Opposition, which was repeated and reaffirmed a moment before he sat down, was a very major increase in the size of the Commonwealth Budget deficit. He knows as well as everybody else in this House the impact of such an alternative economic strategy on interest rates at all levels in this country.
We are not, as I said in Question Time, talking about a fine tuning of the existing economic policy of this Government; we are talking about two stark alternatives. We are talking about an economic strategy on the part of this Government which has put runs on the board, which has given us some gains. It has not solved all of our economic problems and nobody on this side of the House has asserted otherwise, but we are talking about an economic strategy which has unarguably reduced the level of inflation in this country, an economic strategy which has strengthened the fundamentals of the Australian economy, an economic strategy which has made Australian industry more competitive, an economic strategy which has returned confidence to both Australian business and Australian consumers.
On the other hand we are talking about an alternative economic strategy which is not just a slight variation, although on occasions the Leader of the Opposition would pretend that what he is advocating is only a mild stimulation, a selective stimulation, a gentle shifting of emphasis in the Government’s economic policy. He is not suggesting that at all. He is suggesting a fundamentally different approach and the tentative signs of economic recovery which are apparent and which he acknowledges would be lost very quickly if the alternative economic strategy that he advocates were applied.
The Leader of the Opposition talks about our inconsistencies. Let me remind the House of another inconsistency of the Leader of the Opposition. I can remember up until about the middle of last year the Leader of the Opposition was consistently saying that the Australian dollar was overvalued. I think even in late 1977 there was a debate in this House about some statements made by the Leader of the Opposition about the value of the Australian dollar. Yet in the same interview to which I think he referred in his speech dealing with economic prospects in Australia he said that, if anything, the Australian dollar was overvalued. I would like the Leader of the Opposition to make up his mind. I would Uke the Leader of the Opposition to look to his own inconsistencies before he accuses this Government of inconsistency in economic management.
What we need at present in looking at the Aus.tralian economy is a sense of perspective. We ought not to make rash claims about the size of the economic recovery that is occurring in this country. We do not claim that all the economic problems of Australia are behind us. We do not claim for a moment that it is possible to make rash and extravagant predictions about the sort of economic development that is going to occur in this country in the immediate future. What we do say is that the fundamentals of the Australian economy are stronger now than they have been for many years; that the basic causes of our economic difficulties of the past few years have started to be put right. Whatever the extent to which it may be defined to the last decimal point, nobody can argue that there has been a major reduction in the level of inflation. What is really important about inflation, what is really important about interest rates, is the trend over a period of time and the trend in both of those areas has been in a healthy downward direction. Nobody can dispute the achievements of this Government on inflation and the question of where the inflation result might come out over the course of a particular financial year within a range which is noticeably lower than what the rate of inflation was before is a matter of fine tuning and indeed, to a certain extent, nitpicking. It is the question of the trend; it is the question of the extent to which policies have been successful in bringing about changes. Everybody on this side of the House knows that in 1978 we had an inflation rate of 7.8 per cent on a commonly accepted measure and everybody knows and recalls the sorts of inflation rates that prevailed in this country in 1975 when this Government came into office.
So let us preserve a sense of perspective; let us recognise that the fundamentals of the economy have been strengthened; that we have been made more competitive. Not only is there increasing evidence of the competitiveness internationally of our exporters but there are some tentative signs of greater competition amongst our import-competing industries. This is the result not of some accidental occurrence; it is the result of a growing sense in the Australian business community and this is important, that the policies being followed by this Government are the right policies and that if we persist with that strategy, if we maintain the thrust of those policies over the coming years, there are going to continue to be even more improvements. One does not have to look very far to find endorsements of the economic strategy of this Government by leading Australian businessmen, and I make no apology for quoting as authorities leading Australian businessmen. They are not the only authorities on the Australian economy, but I happen to believe that leading Australian businessmen do make a contribution to the Australian economic fabric. I happen to believe that the optimism of leading Australian businessmen is not only important to their own enterprises but also important to the potential job opportunities of the Australian work force. So when I refer to statements made by the Chairman of Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd or the Chief General Manager of the
Bank of New South Wales or others I make no apology for doing so.
– They are doing all right, are they not?
– If the honourable member for Cunningham had any real sense or understanding of the importance of a person who is the chairman of the largest company in Australia, he would realise that to denigrate in any way the success of that company denigrates the fortunes of literally hundreds of thousands of Australian people and any suggestion that the success of a company of that size is not the nation’s success is a complete misunderstanding of some elementary facts of Australian economic life.
So the signs are there. They are not totally unambiguous. I do not deny there are still areas of the Australian economy which we would like to see strengthened. We do not deny or run away from the social and economic consequences of the unemployment level. It is unsatisfactory; we all agree about that. We disagree about the methods that are going to be used to solve the problem. We do not believe that the prescription of the Opposition which was reaffirmed by the Leader of the Opposition today is, in the long term, going to solve the problem better than the prescription which is being followed at present. Examining both the history of the Australian economy or economic experience in comparable economies around the world, we do not believe that the type of policy advocated by the Leader of the Opposition would, at best, provide anything more than a short term reduction in the level of unemployment followed before very long by a revival of inflationary expectations and a consequent increase in the rate of unemployment. I invite anybody who doubts that proposition to examine the recent economic history of the United States and to look at the methods which have been used by governments around the world to cope with the problems of unemployment and inflation. I think that if we were to make an objective examination we would find that those countries which have maintained the defeat of inflation as their principal but not exclusive economic objective not only have produced much stronger economies but also are laying the basis of sustained improvement in the employment area. The unemployment figures in Australia are unsatisfactory and they are the cause of distress not only to those who are unemployed and their families but to all sections of the community. However, the level of our distress ought not to cloud our judgment as to the appropriate solution because if we allow that to occur we will make a mistake; we will delude the unemployed and, worst of all, we might build into the Australian economy the potential for even greater unemployment and lack of confidence than was the case some years ago.
So, in claiming that there are very solid signs of recovery in the Australian economy, I can very quickly point to the strengthening in retail sales which occurred through 1978, the much greater competitiveness of Australian industry, the extremely gratifying improvement in the condition of the Australian rural sector which will make such an enormous contribution to Australia’s exports this year and lead to an improvement in our balance of payments, and the greater disposition of Australian enterprises to invest. There is no better sign of confidence in the future than the willingness of Australian businesses, large and small, to take risks because the ultimate barometer of confidence in the business sector is the willingness of people to take risks. So, we do have undeniable signs of recovery, undeniable signs that the policies followed over the past three years in a consistent and coherent manner have produced results, and an undeniable determination on the part of this Government to stick to that strategy and to build on the gains that undoubtedly have been achieved in that period of time.
-The Treasurer (Mr Howard) boasted that he had the runs on the board but his problem is that he has more unemployment runs on the board than any previous Treasurer in our history. He has 493,000 runs on the board at the present time, and the previous best was 480,000 in the recession of the 1930s. That is the major problem that he has to face. He has so many runs on the board that he is the leading century maker among Australian Treasurers. That is a major problem not only for him but also for his Government, and it is about time this Government started to think about its whole strategy and do something about the fact that it has more runs on the board than any previous government has had.
The Treasurer said that the Government had followed a consistent strategy for noninflationary economic growth. We say that that claim is absolutely absurd. It has followed a strategy all right but it has been a strategy for continued economic recession, not for economic growth, and the Government has not even been consistent in the implementation of that strategy. Why would a government which says that the defeat of inflation is the prime target introduce substantial increases in indirect taxes and crude oil prices in one mammoth blow and thus greatly increase inflation and renew inflation expectations in this country? Is that consistent with the Government’s stated policy? Is it a policy designed to bring about not inflation but economic growth if it continually grinds the country further and further into recession? That is what this Government is doing.
The Government cannot keep on saying that things are getting better and ask us to look at this month’s retail sales figures or at that month’s building supplies figures. It has to look at the overall figures, and they are getting worse. It is about time the Government started facing the realities. The fact is that the economy is much more recessed now than it was three years ago when this Government came into office. Inflation has been reduced- we acknowledge that- from the 12 per cent it was in the year before the Labor Government was taken out of office to 8 per cent in the last year, but it has been reduced at enormous cost. The policy which this Government has followed has been a policy, it is said, of beating inflation first. It is said that that is the prime strategy; we have to get inflation down and once we have done that there will be some spontaneous natural revival of the economy. Now, where is the evidence to support that claim? What evidence do we have anywhere that that is likely to be the result of this Government’s policy, a policy which is forcing the economy further and further into recession? What makes us believe that there will be this spontaneous economic recovery eventually? Is there any evidence that it is happening here? No. As I have said, our economy is much more recessed now, despite a lower level of inflation, than it was three years ago.
Is there any evidence of such a spontaneous economic recovery overseas? No, there is not, despite what the Treasurer said towards the end of his speech. What evidence does he have that in other countries a reduction in the level of inflation has brought about a situation in which there has been a spontaneous natural growth of the economy? In West Germany there has not been, despite the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is reported as saying that Chancellor Schmidt said to him that it takes four years before a reduction in the level of inflation leads to spontaneous economic growth. The fact is that the West German Government has been forced to increase public expenditure substantially in order to try to revive its own economy and get the unemployment figures down. The unemployment rate in West Germany in the last 12 months was 2.4 per cent, with a very low rate of inflation; but it has not brought about spontaneous economic growth.
In fact, if the Treasurer looks at the Economist of 5 August 1978 he will see a report- I am sure that he is aware of its general terms- of the West German Government’s decision to introduce a $US6 billion package to stimulate the economy. The report in the Economist states:
In fact, halfway through the second year in which growth is falling far below brave government predictions, it is an admission that the public sector needs, in a most ungermanic way, to lead the economy up the growth trail.
In other words, the Government has to spend some money to try to get the economy going again because it has been recessed by the processes which have been used to reduce inflation, processes which did not naturally bring about economic recovery. The West German Government has had to implement a policy of stimulating the public sector to try to effect economic recovery. Further on the article states:
So the post-Bonn package is, in effect, an admission that the public sector needs to keep its foot continuously pressed on the accelerator to spark growth.
That is what it is all about. There is no evidence of the success of the basic policy being pursued by this Government, not even in West Germany, where the Prime Minister says he does have some evidence of its success. The evidence does not exist there. In fact, the contrary is the case. The evidence is that when a government recesses the economy to beat inflation it eventually has to increase public expenditure to get economic growth going. The same story is true in Japan. At the present time Japan is battling to achieve its 6 per cent growth rate, and in order to bring that about the Japanese Government has introduced a Budget providing a 20 per cent increase in public works expenditure because it realises that this is the area where there are high multipliers flowing into all sections of the economy and the area which generates economic growth. Low inflation in Japan- 3. 5 per cent in the last 12 months- has not been enough in itself to stimulate economic recovery. The Japanese Government has had to go for a policy of increased government expenditure. It has channelled money into the public works area particularly- a sensible approach- to try to stimulate the economy and get economic growth going again.
So, economic recovery will not just happen spontaneously and normally. We can increase unemployment by another 250,000 or so, or perhaps even get inflation down to 4 per cent, but there are enormous costs involved in doing that; and still it will not bring about spontaneous economic recovery, as the West German and
Japanese examples show. In the United States, as the Treasurer mentioned, the fact is that nine million jobs have been created in the past three years, compared with very few in this country, and a lot of the stimulus for growth there was also due to increased expenditure in the public sector. By way of contrast, in that country there has been a massive job creation program as a result of which, by the middle of last year, some three-quarters of a million people were employed. But the Government ignores all the lessons to be learnt from what has happened in other countries. The reason we will not get spontaneous growth by grinding the economy down and eliminating inflation is that we would just wipe out all expectation that economic recovery will occur.
There is some sort of natural trade cycle. After there has been a certain degree of recession people start to think that things will come good again. They start to make decisions, perhaps on the expectation of some recovery. If the Government continually introduces policies which grind away that optimism, eventually it takes an enormous amount of stimulus by the Government to try to get the economy going again. A substantial stimulus will be needed in this country in various ways as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) has outlined if we are to get economic growth going again. We will not get it by pursuing the present policies and simply by reducing inflation. What we need are policies which reduce inflation and, at the same time, seek to stimulate economic recovery.
The process which the Government is pursuing is utterly irresponsible and inhuman. The economic costs are enormous. For example, for every 100,000 people unemployed there is a loss of $1.15 billion in wages. That is a loss of over $400m in government revenue. Five hundred thousand people are unemployed at present. The loss of income, output and government revenue is enormous. If we had full employment, government revenues would be about $2 billion greater than they will be now. Extra income would be earned and more tax would be paid. The Government does not seem to see the logic in this kind of approach. The severe social costs of unemployment cannot be ignored. Perhaps Government supporters do not have as many unemployed people in their electorates as Labor supporters have. The unemployed people tend to be amongst the unskilled workers, semi-skilled workers and migrants. Members of the Labor Party see more of those people and are more aware of the social costs. Perhaps this is why we feel more strongly about them.
The Government must have regard to the enormous damage it is doing to people in the community. Five hundred thousand people are unemployed. They are not just 500,000 statistics. They are being badly damaged in their whole expectations of the future and in their lifestyles. That is something that has to be borne in mind by this Government. This Government’s policies are based on completely false notions about wages. I draw the attention of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) to the fact that even the Australian Industries Development Association does not support his Government’s policies on wages. In its recent report entitled ‘Understanding Unemployment’ it states that cuts in real wages will not bring about reduced unemployment. The AIDA is a body which is sponsored by major employers in this country. It is taking away from the Government one of the basic features of its economic policy, that is, that we must reduce real wages in order to reduce unemployment. That is false as the AIDA says. The Prime Minister says that for every job created in the Public Service four or five jobs in the private sector are lost. What is the evidence for that statement? What absolute and arrant nonsense it is.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The first thing that must be said about the text of the matter of public importance raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) today is that rarely, if ever, could such a cynical proposal have been put to this House. The Leader of the Opposition has in recent months become known throughout Australia as a master of double think; the man who has done more to talk this nation down and screw its neck than any other person; the man who has become known as the Jeremiah of Australian politics; the man who, for his own political ends, has been prepared to abdicate any respect for his economic expertise or even his economic comprehension; the man who, in recent days, appears to have done an about face on his views about the economy simply because his image makers have advised him that his carping, negative approach to anything designed to improve the Australian economy is losing him credibility in the electorate. How right they are.
Today the Leader of the Opposition accused the Government of failing to outline and implement a consistent economic policy. Yet for three years he has been proclaiming that the Government’s policy is too consistent and that it needs greater flexibility and change. The Leader of the Opposition cannot have it both ways.
Which way does he want it? I will come back to that point later. To its great credit, the Government has pursued a wholly consistent program for economic recovery. It has also implemented that program. We are now reaping the fruits of that consistent and responsible approach in the form of a definite recovery in the Australian economy although, as the Treasurer (Mr Howard) has so rightly pointed out, it would be unwise to be too euphoric just yet.
The Government’s economic policy has had one fundamental premise, that is, that economic growth cannot be restored and growing employment opportunities cannot be created unless inflation is controlled. The Government’s first priority has therefore been and must continue to be to reduce the level of inflation from the annual rate of 15 per cent or higher which was the norm under the Whitlam Labor Government in which the present Leader of the Opposition was Treasurer. The fight against inflation- I emphasise this- is part of the fight against unemployment. It is part of the fight to create jobs and to restore economic growth. Every economically successful country in the Western world has pursued essentially the same basic policy. When they have strayed from that policy they have witnessed a resurgence of inflation and of lost job opportunities. The United States is the latest and most spectacular example of this. Every major international organisation concerned with economic issues has tendered the same advice- the International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the Bank for International Settlements and others.
The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) mentioned Japan and Germany. He referred to their stimulus to economic activity through government spending. What he did not say, however, was that the reason that those countries could undertake such action was that they had had a successful fight against inflation. They were able to increase government expenditure because their inflation rate was about 3 per cent. That is a vastly different situation from the one that faces us. The theme of responsibility along the lines that the Government is approaching in its economic policy has been central to the strategy ever since it took office. The implementation of that strategy has also been consistent. It has involved several basic elements including restraint in the growth of government expenditure to get it back into Une with the basic capacity of the economy to grow and thereby to provide the necessary real resources; an attempt to restrain the rate of growth of real wages to bring them back into Une with the capacity of the economy to pay; and careful control of the rate of growth of the money supply so that excess liquidity does not continue to fuel the fires of inflation as it did throughout Labor’s period in office. In other words, the economic policy pursued by the Government has been entirely consistent throughout its period of office. This has enabled it to implement other policies consistent with its basic objectives.
Without its responsible approach to macroeconomic policies, the Government would not have been able to introduce the wide range of policies which have already been so conducive to economic recovery and which for many years in the future will have beneficial effects on the economy and on all Australians. To name but a few the Government has introduced tax indexation, export incentives, family allowances, automatic indexation of pensions, abolition of estate and gift duties, lowering of Division 7 taxation on private companies, a major improvement in the facilities for migrants and improved social welfare services. Let us look at the economic results of the implementation of this consistent and responsible approach to economic management. Inflation has been cut virtually in half. The reduction of inflation is the Government’s prime objective. It must continue to be pursued because inflation is still too high. Interest rates have fallen, not as much as many would have hoped but they are down on average across the board by between 1 per cent and ‘2 per cent compared with two years ago.
Consumer confidence appears to be returning fairly rapidly. Retail sales figures are highly encouraging. The registration of new motor vehicles has been strengthening. Business investment in new plant and equipment has surged. Major new investment projects are at last starting to move. The mining and minerals industry is showing real signs of renewed growth. Mineral exploration, particularly oil exploration, which is so vital to this country, is growing strongly after having been brought almost to a complete halt through the deliberate policies of the previous Labor Government. Company profitability is again starting to increase, thereby providing the basis for further investment, expansion and creation of job opportunities. The rural sector is growing strongly, thanks not only to a good season- important though that is- but also to an easing of the cost pressures which have, plagued the sector for years.
Unemployment of course is still a major problem, not only an economic problem but, as has been pointed out by other speakers, also a very serious social problem. But we should not let this make us lose sight of the fact that for the first time in several years employment in the private sector is growing once again. Most pleasing of all, this growth is taking place in the manufacturing sector, among others. In the final three months of 1978 employment in manufacturing industry in Australia grew for the first time since 1973. Apart from unemployment there are some other important problem areas. In particular, the balance of payments is a matter of real concern and places important constraints on the Government in some of what would otherwise be policy options. However, even in this difficult area there are signs to indicate some improvement in the months ahead. One of the most significant recent developments is that manufacturers are now looking again at export markets, something they have not been able to do for years because of the inflation induced havoc wrought when Labor was in office.
So much for the carping of the Leader of the Opposition. He is only now grudgingly and for public image reasons beginning to acknowledge that the economy is recovering, that the Jeremiah of the past three years was wrong. What he cannot yet bring himself to admit publicly is that the improvement in the economy and the signs of growing improvement are the direct result of a firm, responsible and consistent approach to economic management by this Government. Indeed, all the Leader of the Opposition can propose as an alternative to the present economic policies is an advocacy of more and more government spending- a discredited approach which has already proved disastrous in Australia as well as in other Western nations. The Leader of the Opposition accused the Government of inconsistency. Let us look for a moment at what the published Press reports of the statements of the Leader of the Opposition indicate about his consistency. On 26 November 1978 in an address to the nation the Leader of the Opposition said:
The decade of the 1980s can be a period of fulfilment, a period of great achievement- but only if we achieve this change in the direction of our economic management immediately.
On 22 January, only a month ago, he made this statement:
The Government can no longer avoid a change in its approach to economic management. There must be an immediate start on a carefully controlled program for economic recovery.
Yet on 17 February 1979 in the New Idea he said:
I am very optimistic for Australia in the 1980s . . There has been too much despair and depression recently.
So we have seen a major switch by the Leader of the Opposition. He is now saying the Government is not consistent. He is now optimistic, or at least he was until today. We do not know where he stands. It is not surprising. He leads a party which is so faction ridden on economic policy as well as other matters that it is impossible for that party to maintain a consistent line. I have no doubt that this situation is not lost on the Australian people.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The discussion is now concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Howard, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to raise the level of the general exemption from pay-roll tax applicable to the Australian Capital Territory. The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) and I announced the proposed increase on 16 November 1978. The exemption is to be raised from $60,000 to $66,000 per annum. The higher level will apply from 1 January 1979, thus providing an exemption for 1978-79 of $63,000 on a fullyear basis. The last increase applied from 1 July 1978 when the exemption was brought up to $60,000 in line with that allowed in New South Wales. New South Wales has since increased its exemption level to $66,000 per annum with effect from 1 January 1979.
The maximum exemption allowable in monthly returns will increase from $5,000 to $5,500 and, in conformity with the existing rules for the phasing out of the maximum annual exemption, will be reduced at the rate of $2 for every $3 by which the wages for the month exceed $5,500. There will be no exemption once the monthly pay-roll reaches $13,750. As a general rule, the new exemption will apply first for the month in which this Bill receives the royal assent. End-of-year adjustments will ensure that the benefits are in all cases back-dated to 1 January 1979. For returns lodged on an annual basis the new exemption will apply from 1 January 1979. From the day on which the provisions of the Bill come into operation an employer paying wages of $ 1 , 2 50 or less a week will not be required to register for pay-roll tax purposes. Explanations of technical aspects of the
Bill are contained in an explanatory memorandum being made available to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Act 1958 in order to widen the definition of ‘dairy produce’ under section 4 of that Act so as to enable the Australian Dairy Corporation to undertake the domestic promotion of all dairy products, including market milk- that is milk sold for human consumption- and fresh milk products. Under the Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Act 1958, the Corporation has been given the charter of promoting the sale of dairy produce in Australia. Dairy produce is defined under section 4 of the Act as being butter and cheese and such other products derived from milk or the constituent parts of milk as are prescribed. The funds for this purpose are derived from a levy on all wholemilk and butterfat imposed under the Dairying Industry Research and Promotion Levy Act 1972.
The Dairying Industry Research and Promotion Levy Act was amended in 1976 to provide for the domestic sales promotion activities of the Corporation to be funded from a levy on all wholemilk produced in Australia; that is milk used for manufacturing purposes, market milk and in the production of fresh milk products, such as table cream and yoghurt. The Corporation has since undertaken the promotion of cream and other fresh milk products on its own account, and the promotion of market milk in conjunction with the respective State milk marketing authorities. There is some doubt, however, as to whether market milk, cream and fresh milk products, such as yoghurt, could under the present definition of ‘dairy produce’ be prescribed for the purposes of the Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Act.
To remove any legal doubts in the Dairy Produce Sales Promotion Act, clause 3 of the Bill redefines ‘dairy produce ‘ to cover all dairy products, including market milk, cream and fresh milk products. Provision has also been made in the Bill to validate any payments made by the
Corporation in respect to the domestic promotion of such products since 1 August 1976 when the levy base was widened to cover all wholemilk produced in Australia. The market for market milk and for fresh milk products is the most profitable outlet for milk in Australia and with the decline in domestic butter consumption it is important to take full advantage of the potential demand for milk and fresh milk products.
The dairy industry should benefit as a whole if the consumption of these products can be stimulated through the promotional activities of the Australian Dairy Corporation in cooperation with the respective State authorities. The opportunity has also been taken to make a number of formal amendments to the Act to bring the wording into line with current drafting practice. I commend the Bill.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to increase the maximum rate of the Commonwealth hen levy from the present $ 1 to $2 per hen per annum. The levy on hens has been the principal feature of the scheme which was devised by the Council of Egg Marketing Authorities of AustraliaCEMAA in 1964 to assist in stabilising the Australian egg industry.
In spite of some comments made at the time of its introduction by a former colleague of ours in this House, a previous honourable member for Wakefield, I recall that he recounted with some glee that most of his constituents found hens roosting in the headers or the trees. He suspected that it was impossible for the hens to be counted and hence impossible for the levy to be paid on them. The scheme has in fact worked. This particular levy proposal is an extension of the scheme which, at that time, he tended to look at with a measure of cynicism.
The CEMAA scheme is basically a States’ scheme. It has been supported by each of the State governments. As the scheme involves a levy it is supported for Constitutional reasons by Commonwealth legislation. The Commonwealth legislation provides at the moment for a maximum hen levy of $ 1 per annum and for the distribution of the levy receipts by means of grants to the States for assistance to the industry. The bulk of the money has been used to offset the losses which the State egg marketing boards have incurred in the disposal of export eggs. In recent years escalating costs of egg production and inflation have resulted in the need for a higher rate of returns to enable producers to carry on.
The hen levy, which has been imposed at the maximum for some years, is now inadequate in relation to the present pricing structure of the egg industry and State egg boards have again been required to impose their own equalisation charges on eggs to meet the higher level of losses on exports. The situation has again been reached where some producers are not sharing equitably in meeting the losses from egg exports and this is placing orderly marketing within the industry under serious threat. Consequently, the CEMAA has sought an increase in the maximum rate of hen levy from $1 to $2 per hen per annum. Clause 3 of the Bill gives effect to this recommendation of CEMAA. It has received the agreement of all State Ministers in the Australian Agricultural Council.
The operative rate of levy within the $2 maximum will be prescribed after considering a recommendation from the CEMAA to provide the finance needed to cover the reimbursement of export losses. An assurance has been received from the CEMAA that after meeting the normal costs of administration and research the levy proceeds would not be used for purposes other than for the equalisation of returns on eggs by the State egg marketing boards. The assurance of CEMAA provides that if any State egg board receives levy reimbursements in excess of its equalisation requirements, the excess money will be returned directly to the producers in the State on a per hen basis.
At present the reimbursement of the levy proceeds is confined to the States for equalisation purposes. Provision has been made, however, in the accompanying Bill, the Poultry Industry Assistance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979, to enable future payments from the Poultry Industry Trust Fund to be made for the assistance of the poultry industry in the Territories as well as in the States. The purpose is to ensure that Territory producers are not disadvantaged vis-a-vis other producers by the proposed increase in the hen levy maximum.
Some producer opposition has been expressed in Tasmania as well as in Northern and Central
Queensland on the grounds that they do not contribute to the egg surplus. The State agricultural Ministers have, however, accepted that it was their responsibility to settle any areas of difficulty in the industry within their States in connection with the increase in the maximum rate of the hen levy. In conjunction with the egg production control legislation which is in operation in all States and the Australian Capital Territory, the amending Commonwealth legislation should ensure the continuing stability of this important Australian primary industry. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill, which is complementary to the Poultry Industry Levy Amendment Bill 1979, provides for payments to be made from the Poultry Industry Trust Fund to assist the poultry industry in the internal Territories of Australia. The Poultry Industry Trust Fund was established under the Poultry Industry Assistance Act 1965 and is financed from the hen levy imposed under the Poultry Industry Levy Act 1965. As explained in my second reading speech on the Poultry Industry Levy Amendment Bill 1 979 reimbursement of the levy proceeds from the Trust Fund is presently confined to the States for equalisation purposes.
Although the Australian Capital Territory does not require levy proceeds for equalisation purposes, provision has been made in clause 5 of the Bill to provide for reimbursement of levy proceeds from the Trust Fund to be made to Australian Capital Territory producers. The purpose is to ensure that Australian Capital Territory producers are not disadvantaged vis-a-vis other producers through the increase proposed in the hen levy maximum in the Poultry Industry Levy Amendment Bill 1979 from the present $1 to $2 per hen per annum. I should say that the intention is, of course, that the Australian Capital Territory producers will not be disadvantaged, but equally they will not be unduly advantaged as distinct from their brethren in the States of the Commonwealth. While Northern Territory producers are at present exempt from the levy a similar provision has been made in clause 3 of the Bill to permit levy reimbursements to be made, if necessary, to producers in the Northern Territory. There are no budgetary implications for the Commonwealth in this Bill as all the moneys are contributed by the egg producers themselves. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr McLeay, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill provides for certain amendments to the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973 consequential upon the passage of the Norfolk Island Bill 1 978. Clause 2 of this Bill provides for the Act to come into effect at the same time as the Norfolk Island Act.
The Remuneration Tribunals Act currently provides for the Remuneration Tribunal to make determinations in respect of an office of member of a legislative assembly of an internal territory and any office in or in connection with such an assembly that can be held only by a member of that assembly. Norfork Island, being an external territory, is accordingly not covered by the Remuneration Tribunal Act as it now stands.
However, clause 66 of the Norfolk Island Bill makes provision for the Remuneration Tribunal to determine remuneration for members of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and has effect subject to the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973. Consequently, to enable the Remuneration Tribunal to cover Norfolk Island it is necessary to amend the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973 and clause 3 of this Bill removes the limitation of that Tribunal’s jurisdiction to only internal territorial legislative assemblies, by specifically including the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Macphee, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Patents Amendment Bill 1979 represents a further new development in the Australian patent system. Its purpose is to bring into operation an optional form of patent protection that has been devised specifically to assist small Australian industries and businesses. It will achieve that by encouraging the inventive activity of Australians in fields that are particularly suited to commercial exploitation by small Australian enterprises. To that extent, therefore, this Bill reflects the continuing commitment of the Government to upgrading Australia’s industrial property laws through a process of reform which we believe will make them more responsive to the economic needs of the nation.
Access by inventors and entrepreneurs to quick, easily obtainable and inexpensive patent protection is the major feature of this measure. The Bill introduces into the existing patent system provision for the statutory protection of patentable inventions by means of the grant of a new short-term patent to be known as a petty patent. The form of this new Australian petty patent system is unique and has no counterpart in other industrial property legislation around the world. The new petty patent will be an additional form of protection to the grant of a patent as traditionally provided for under the present Patents Act. A petty patent will have a minimum term of one year and a maximum of six years, by contrast with the existing patent which has a 16 year term. The existing, traditional patent will in future be known as a ‘standard’ patent.
The technological developments which are most likely to qualify to this new form of petty patent protection are those suited to protection by means of a single patent claim. This means they would normally be inventions which have only one inventive characteristic and which usually consist of only one product. Honourable members will appreciate that the new petty patent system proposed by this Bill is therefore intended to provide a form of protection which will positively encourage innovation in Australian industry plus the creation of small industries based on innovation. The kinds of innovation aimed for will involve the rapid development of inventions which individually have a short commercially-exploitable life, such as household or office accessories, gadgets, small appliances, and so on.
Honourable members will better appreciate the real significance of the changes to our patents system proposed by the Bill if I explain that existing Australian patents law is founded upon principles developed within the British patent system at the time of the introduction of a national patent system in Australia in 1904- almost 75 years ago to the day. Until now, Australia’s patent law had been comprehensively reviewed only twice- in 1937 and in 1952- on both occasions by committees established by the Attorney-General of the day. In the course of these reviews, investigations were confined largely to the legal aspects of patents laws without regard to the underlying economic basis of the patent system which is being recognised here today. Additionally, those early reviews relied heavily on the reports of counterpart reviews of the British patents laws; again without regard to whether the results of those reviews were relevant to the specific needs of the Australian industry. These attitudes have changed with the growing awareness of the economic value of the patents system as a source of technical information. Britain’s patents laws have been amended to accommodate the needs of British industry in its new relationship with the European Economic Community. This Bill similarly recognises that, here in Australia, reform of our industrial property system can provide a significant contribution to improving the productivity of industry.
The existing patents law is based on a system of uniform, relatively long-term protection for inventions. Prior to the grant of a patent, every application is subjected to extensive and lengthy investigations within the Patent Office. The purpose of such precise and drawn-out procedures is to provide patent grants which have a substantial presumption of validity. The system provides certainty, but at the cost of delays and expense. Because of the time required to perform the operations involved- and their complexity- plus the large numbers of patent applications being lodged, the grant of a patent in Australia is subject to extensive delays. Obtaining a patent does involve considerable expense and difficulties for applicants. I hasten to add that Australia is, of course, not the only country facing such problems in its patent system nor are all such problems entirely new. Similar difficulties have led others to a number of solutions including the provision in some countries of a more narrow form of protection generally described as ‘petty patents’ for technically simple developments, which are generally described as ‘utility models’.
To determine whether similar measures might be appropriate to Australian circumstances, the Designs Law Review Committee- the so-called Franki Committee- established in 1970, was authorised under one of its terms of reference to consider
The Franki Committee reported in 1973 recommending the introduction of a petty patent system within the existing patents legislation and that report has been widely circulated. Not all the features of the petty patent system recommended by the Franki Committee received unqualified support from industry in Australia. In view of these divided opinions on an appropriate system among the users, I referred the question to the Industrial Property Advisory Committee for resolution. This Advisory Committee, established last year as an industryoriented body to advise me on questions of industrial property, is itself another example of patents and industrial property law reform I referred to earlier. In considering petty patents the Advisory Committee received submissions from industry; inventors and patent attorney organisations, with only one exception, the recommendations of the Committee are incorporated in this Bill. The Committee’s report to me on this question is available in the Parliamentary Library or my office will supply honourable members who are interested with copies.
Mr Deputy Speaker, having provided that background to the Bill let me go on to a brief explanation of the major features of the petty patent system which it introduces. Obviously, a basic feature is the scope of the technological developments for which petty patent protection can be obtained under the Bill. The existing standard of inventiveness required for an invention to be patentable has not been changed whether for a standard patent or a petty patent. But an important feature of the new petty patent system is that an application for a petty patent will not automatically be subjected to the rigorous examination applied to applications for standard patents. I wish to emphasise that this distinction does not mean that the Commissioner of Patents will be issuing petty patents with a low presumption of validity. In fact, the Bill requires that he should not do so. But it is anticipated that the nature of inventions covered by a petty patent will be in mechanical and electrical areas with perhaps some simple chemical-type inventions. It is therefore expected that it should be relatively easy to have quicker examination of such applications for petty patents. The result of this should be that a petty patent will issue well within one year of lodgment compared to about five years for a standard patent. There will be tangible benefits from this greatly reduced period of examination. A manufacturer or inventor will be able to market or license his petty patent far more expeditiously; secondly, they will have a far higher degree of confidence in such commercial negotiations without the previous long delays; and, finally, the cost involved should generally be reduced by half or perhaps more. As I mentioned, the time now taken to grant letters patent for a standard patent is about five years.
The Bill further expedites the grant of petty patents by the absence of opposition proceedings prior to grant. But, in order to preserve the rights of both competitors and the public, the Bill limits the initial term of a petty patent to 12 months from the date of grant. It makes extension of that term conditional upon the Commissioner being satisfied that there is no ground for refusing to extend the term. To avoid the extension beyond 12 months of the term of petty patents, considered by interested parties to be valid, the Bill has provisions for such persons to notify the Commissioner, during the initial term, of any published matter that affects the validity of a petty patent. To provide petty patent protection which is consistent with the short commerciallyexploitable life of simple inventions, the period of extension of the initial 12 months term of a petty patent is limited to a maximum six years from the date of lodgment of a petty application- that is, an extension of five years. This limited term is a disincentive to unnecessary use of the petty patent system in respect of complex inventions.
Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill will provide a new and optional form of patent protection for Australian industry. The nature of this protection means that it is primarily directed to the many small businesses which are active in commercial innovation. The BUI also allows further choice by permitting an applicant to convert a petty patent application into a standard patent application or vice versa. The Bill also provides that, on the grant of the petty patent, the Patent Office file becomes available for public inspection. This is an important departure from the previous Patent Office practice and will enable interested parties to examine the correspondence between the Patent Office and the applicant.
Another important feature of the Bill, and one which will be of considerable value to applicants for both standard and petty patents is the inclusion of a provision for the lodgment of all patent applications in the State capital cities. This will help many applicants for patents to avoid the delays and expense involved in the present requirement to lodge patent applications at the Patent Office in Canberra. Applicants for trade marks and designs have been able to lodge applications in the State capitals for over 60 years. Inventors will now have the same rights.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will not go further into the procedural aspects of the petty patent system in the Bill. However, it is of considerable practical importance that the new system is capable of immediate use by applicants. In this regard it is important to emphasise that the operation of the new petty patent system will not involve radically new procedures. It will be based on existing expertise and practices in the Patent Office. Business should therefore be able to exploit the full benefits of the system as soon as it is introduced.
I hope it is clear to honourable members from this brief description that this measure is an extremely innovative development in the Australian patent system. The fundamental purpose of the new petty patent system is to encourage the commercial exploitation of inventions which now go largely unexploited or unprotected or both due to deficiencies in existing patent protection. In the past it has been too easily overlooked that the simple kind of inventions involved constitute a big proportion of patentable inventions. They encompass many areas, particularly in consumer-oriented products which collectively have considerable marketing potential. When the number of inventions involved and the extent of their potential use are considered it is clear that our failure in the past to provide adequate protection for such inventions seriously diminished the effectiveness of the patent system. A large part of the inventive effort of Australians has always been directed to such inventions. It follows that the patent system has not been utilising the product of that effort.
An indication of the great contribution which petty patent protection may make is available from the experience of other countries. In West Germany 41,000 applications were lodged in 1976 for petty patents as against approximately 62,000 applications for ordinary patents. In Japan 179,000 applications for petty patents were lodged as against 161,000 applications for ordinary patents. The majority of the world ‘s inventions are in these consumer oriented fields. By way of explanation, I point out that the petty patent system being introduced in this Bill covers the same subject matter as that covered by standard patents. Overseas petty patents have been applied to inventions which are not otherwise patentable. I give that explanation of what otherwise might appear to be a contradiction in referring to the experience of other people while pointing out the unique nature of this legislation.
Because the particular petty patent system of this Bill is unique and has no counterpart in other industrial property legislation in the world, the introduction of the system is to a large degree experimental. In view of its unique character, it is not possible to predict the exact effects which the system will achieve in practice, although its broad impact is clear enough. This factor is well understood and I assure honourable members of my intention that the system will be continuously monitored with a view to making such alterations as from time to time appear necessary to ensure that the basic aim of assisting innovation and productivity in Australia is fulfilled. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Before the debate is adjourned, I understand that the honourable member for Hawker is seeking the indulgence of the Chair to ask the Minister for Productivity a question.
– I shall speak only briefly. The Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) will remember that I made representations to him on behalf of small businessmen in South Australia. They are concerned to have representation on the Industrial Property Advisory Committee. I was late entering the chamber and did not hear the start of the Minister’s second reading speech. Has that representation been considered? Is it intended to incorporate this matter in the provisions of the Bill? Has the Minister considered this course? What is his intention in the matter?
-The Industrial Property Advisory Committee is not itself the subject of legislation. At this stage I see no reason why it need be. The particular representations made to me by the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) were considered by the Committee when it met on Tuesday, which was its first meeting since the honourable member made the representations to me. To be quite frank, I have not heard from the Committee since that meeting but I assure the honourable member that the matter was being considered. I will send him a letter as soon as I hear from the Committee.
– I am much obliged to the Minister for Productivity.
– Before I move for the adjournment of the debate, I remind the Minister for Productivity (Mr Macphee) that it is a matter of courtesy to supply the Opposition with copies of the second reading speech. That was not done on this occasion. I am sure that it was just an oversight.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I assure you that it was an oversight and I apologise to the Opposition.
Debate (on motion by Mr Innes) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Fife, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of the Bill now before the House is to amend the Excise Act 1 90 1 to authorise the introduction of a system under which regular exporters of excisable goods may furnish to the Customs Bureau periodic returns of exports, instead of submitting an export entry on each occasion that excisable goods are exported. The amendments proposed in this Bill represent a further step in the restructuring of the general requirements for exportation which began with changes made in 1977 to the export provisions in the Customs Act 1901.
The system will operate in the same way as that which was introduced to streamline export procedures for goods, other than excisable goods, following amendment of the Customs Act 1 90 1 by the Customs Amendment Act 1 977. The measures contained in the amending Bill will simplify documentation when excisable goods are exported regularly, thereby streamlining export procedures and providing economies for both industry and government. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Ellicott, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the proceeds from commercialisation of activities conducted under the National Fitness Act to be paid into the National Fitness Trust Fund. In particular, the Bill will enable proceeds from the commercialisation of the national ‘Life. Be in it’ program to be paid into that fund. The opportunity has also been taken to revise sections 4 and 5 of the principal Act to bring them into line with current drafting practice for trust accounts, and also to make some formal drafting amendments.
Honourable members will recall that on 9 September 1977 Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers responsible for recreation agreed to co-operate in an Australia- wide active recreation program based on the successful ‘Life. Be in it’ program which had been launched in Victoria with Commonwealth assistance in 1975. As part of this agreement, the Commonwealth Government undertook to allocate $600,000 a year during the three-year period ending on 30 June 1980. The Commonwealth agreed to be responsible for funding the national aspects of the program. These included general co-ordination of the publicity campaign, the negotiation of media coverage, the monitoring and evaluation of the effect of the program and the overall development of the program on a national basis. The States and Territories were to be responsible for co-ordinating local programs and resources, arranging public relations activities, conducting local ‘Life. Be in it’ events and liaising with State and local recreation and sporting bodies.
The ‘Life. Be in it’ philosophy is to encourage Australians to become more active. The campaign stresses the enjoyment and benefit to be gained from recreation. The long term objectives of the campaign are to change Australia’s attitudes and behaviour towards sport, fitness and recreation. The difference between ‘Life. Be in it’ and previous campaigns aimed at improving community fitness levels is that ‘Life. Be in it’ replaces the direct ‘fitness’ approach with an indirect ‘activity’ approach. The message of’Life. Be in it’ is that recreation activity can be shared by all age groups and that recreation is fun. The Life. Be in it’ message is being carried in television advertisements, on calendars and tshirts, and through a wide range of other promotional material. Public demand for such items as posters, stickers, calendars, badges, balloons, leaflets and other promotional material is exceptionally high.
The launching of the ‘Life. Be in it’ program has provided the opportunity for the Government to co-operate closely with commercial organisations which produce ‘Life. Be in it’ products under licence. Assistance from the private sector has taken three forms: A high level of support from the mass media, particularly the television industry; sponsorship of promotional
Life. Be in it’ items; and product licensing arrangements under which manufacturers produced approved material and paid a royalty for the privilege.
It is the extent and success of the operations in the licensing field which have led to a need to introduce this Bill amending the National Fitness Act 1941. Although the income received from royalties is a welcome boost for the ‘Life. Be in it’ program, it is recognised that commercialisation in any form is subservient to the aims and objectives of the campaign. A series of guidelines for sponsorship and product licensing have been developed to ensure that this attitude is retained.
This Bill enables proceeds from the commercial opportunities provided by the ‘Life. Be in it’ program to be returned to the Commonwealth through the National Fitness Trust Fund. I commend the Bill for the consideration of honourable members.
– I note with delight this piece of successful public enterprise.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hurford) adjourned.
Debate resumed from17November.
Consideration of Legislation Committee report.
Amendments made by Legislation Committee.
– by leave- I wish to thank honourable members for the very useful contributions they have made to the debate on this Bill and in particular for their expressions of support for the Bill as a whole. I think all speakers have recognised the importance of this legislation. This was reflected particularly in the deliberations of the House legislation committee. The standard of debate in that committee was high and reflected a deep and serious interest in the importance of parliamentary scrutiny of public spending. I would like to record my appreciation to members from both sides of the House for the constructive and bipartisan way in which the debate has been handled.
Honourable members will recall that on 14 November 1978 the Bill was referred to a House legislation committee for review and report. The committee met on 15 and 17 November 1978 and detailed discussion took place on a number of the clauses in the Bill. In the event, the committee passed 16 amendments. I think it important to note, however, that in passing these amendments the committee indicated that it was not necessarily wedded to the precise words of the amendments and indeed it was understood that I would put their proposals to further study or bring forward further amendments.
In the summer recess I and officers of the Department have given close consideration to the amendments proposed by the committee and, where difficulties have arisen, further detailed discussions have taken place with the sponsors of those amendments in an effort to reach full agreement. I am pleased to say that it appears that a mutually satisfactory position has been reached on all but one amendment.
Of the 16 amendments made by the legislation committee, I am able to accept nine, those numbered 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 1 1 and 16. The remaining seven amendments cause some difficulty, and following discussions with the movers of those motions, it has been agreed that I should either move that they be disagreed to, or in some cases that they be omitted and replaced by a substitute amendment which is in accordance with the spirit of the original amendment.
I intend to move that committee amendments numbered 4 and 8 be disagreed to and replaced with my own amendments, which have been circulated and are numbered 5 and 6 respectively. I also intend to move that committee amendments numbered 2, 12, 13, 14 and 15 be disagreed to. This action has the agreement of the members who sponsored those amendments in the legislation committee. In the case of numbers 2 and 12 it is now acknowledged that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is not precluded, as things stand, from obtaining from departments the names of persons to whom act of grace payments were made or in respect of whom the payment of moneys to the Commonwealth was waived. In relation to numbers 13, 14 and 15, 1 intend to move an amendment, which I foreshadowed iri the legislation committee which expands on the meaning of gross negligence for the purposes of the legislation.
The only committee amendment on which out-of-session discussions did not reach agreement is committee amendment No. 8 which was sponsored by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). That amendment comprehends that where an efficiency audit report reflects adversely on a person the person should be given an opportunity to respond to that criticism and to have his response noted in the report. I have given this amendment sympathetic consideration. But, however desirable it might be, it would not be practicable to follow the processes envisaged. At the outset I mention that it is not the Auditor-General’s practice to comment adversely on individuals. But even if there was an implied criticism the proposed process would require reference of reports to a wide range of individuals and to take into account their comments. My proposed amendment No. 6 would, however, give an organisation that is subject to adverse comment an opportunity to have its views taken into account. This is a more manageable process, consistent with the Government’s intention and consistent with the spirit of the committee ‘s amendment.
I have also circulated some new amendments. These are minor drafting changes or consequential to amendments passed by the committee and accepted by the Governent. I move:
– Does that mean that amendment No. 1 has been dealt with?
-It stands as proposed.
-I refer to the reasons for disagreement which the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has announced to the House and ask whether he could expand a little on his statement that the Joint Committee of Public Accounts is now accepted as having the right to demand this information. As I understand it, there was a divergence of opinion as to whether the Committee did in fact have that right. Honourable members on this side would be pleased to have the Minister’s comments on that aspect.
– It has been ascertained that, clearly, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts does have that right. Firstly, it has the right to examine the ministerial statement which, of course, gives the number of instances and total amounts involved. The Committee, under its own Act, can obtain names and details of persons from relevant departments. So the Committee has available to it the power to obtain all the information that it wishes- both under the Audit Act in regard to the ministerial financial statement, and under its own Act as to specific, individual details of amounts and names.
– This is a very interesting question, which I well remember the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) speaking about at the legislation committee meeting. That committee is one of those established by this Parliament. What I am worried about is this: I feel that, as the Minister has said- although this was not quite understood by those who were forcing the point- these rights are in fact available. But the Minister did say that if information were provided by the AuditorGeneral it would have to be provided in camera. Does that mean that if there has been gross negligence, negligence, or whatever else one calls it under the strange definition that is given in the new proposals, no further action can be taken by the relevant committee to ensure that the Auditor-General will exercise properly the powers he has or will explain why he has not acted? I refer to cases in which there has been gross and culpable negligence and action has not already been taken.
– This provision refers to the ability of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts to obtain information, should it wish to do so, when act of grace payments or waivers have been involved. Originally, members of the Committee were concerned that that information would not be available to them. It has since been clearly established that the information would be available. The Committee has the power to examine the Minister’s financial statement. It can obtain, from not just the Auditor-General but from any other department, information spelling out individual cases and names. The question of disclosure is a matter for the Public Accounts
Committee, which may of course choose to hold its meeting in camera.
– That is not quite the point. I was asking whether the Committee members could refer the matter back to the Auditor-General to make certain that some action was taken in cases where there had been gross negligence or other very unfavourable action. This would apply to cases where nothing had been done up to the date when the Committee members received the information.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Before the Minister proceeds, I alert honourable members to the fact that the procedures that apply to debate here are identical to those which apply in the Committee of the Whole. Each honourable member may speak twice on the question before the House. I call the Minister.
– It is competent for the Public Accounts Committee to refer back to the Auditor-General or to any other department of state. It is of course within the bounds of the rights and responsibilities of the AuditorGeneral as to what action he may take following requests or views expressed by the Committee.
-I was one of those pursuing this matter of act of grace payments with the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). I recognise the point he has made to me that under the proposed changes to the committee ‘s amendments the Auditor-General would not be required to deal with the propriety of act of grace payments in any report he made. That is how I understand the proposed change. I understand that it suits the Auditor-General in the sense that he does not wish to be involved in dealing with the propriety of what may well be payments made for moral or other purposes. This leads me to a certain difficulty. I understand that the Public Accounts Committee will have the right to be advised when it makes a request as to the nature of these payments. I presume that information on those payments will be outlined publicly in a lump sum form. Information will be given which will show that 24 payments totalling X amount of dollars have been made during the year. I presume that that would be the form by which the Public Accounts Committee would be alerted to the fact that such payments had been made.
Given that situation, is there any requirement on the Public Accounts Committee to have a meeting in camera when dealing with a matter of that nature? Is there any capacity for this House to require that the Public Accounts Committee meeting be held in camera? It seems to me that unless there is such a provision the intention to keep these payments confidential will clearly not be met. Frankly I would prefer the information not to be made confidential. I would be quite happy to see the Public Accounts Committee meetings not being held in camera. I believe that the burden of benefit is that the public interest is better served by the payments being made public. Nonetheless I believe it important that the Public Accounts Committee is aware of whatever pressures either the Executive or the requirements of this Bill will make upon its confidentiality.
-Before speaking to the motion that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has just moved I will make a few comments on the procedures being adopted following the legislation committee’s meeting on this Audit Amendment Bill. Chapter 13 (e) of the sessional orders relating to legislation committees states:
If a bill has been amended, the Clerk to the Committee shall prepare a schedule of the amendments made to the bill to accompany the bill, for report to the House by the Chairman of the Committee.
As these committees are, at this stage, bipartisan, I feel that the procedures adopted in discussing a report from the legislation committees should be much more clearly written than they are now. The Opposition was fortunate enough to receive at about 9.30 a.m. in my office a schedule of the amendments circulated by the Clerk of the House. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) received from the Minister for Finance a copy of the comments he was going to make. But the members of the legislation committee who met for two days to discuss these amendments- I think 16 amendments in all were made by the committee- are supposed to debate what is in the Minister’s statement within five or ten minutes of the Minister making his comments.
I think the situation is impossible. It is fortunate that the honourable member for Gellibrand was able to give me and the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) a copy of the notes that had been made available by the Minister. If we had not received those I am afraid we would have been at a great loss in trying to follow the proceedings of the Parliament at the moment. In his statement the Minister said:
I also intend to move that committee amendments Nos 2, 12, 13, 14 and IS be disagreed to. This action has the agreement of the members who sponsored those amendments in the legislation committee.
Let me raise this point. We are dealing with a legislation committee. Those members who sponsored the amendments in the committee do not have the right to reach agreement with the Minister in conferences outside of the committee. The legislation committees seem to me to be a good idea but they will not operate efficiently and correctly unless the members of the committees are taken into confidence prior to the legislation committees meeting to look at a Bill and taken into confidence again after the Government has looked at the amendments suggested by the legislation committees. The thing will finish in a real shemozzle if the Minister is to confer with just some members of the committee rather than the whole committee.
Let me make a constructive suggestion. It relates to Chapter 13 (b) of the sessional orders for the legislation committees which reads:
Any amendment to be proposed to a bill shall be notified to the Clerk to the committee in time for the amendment to be printed and circulated to members of the committee before the amendment is considered.
Any amendments suggested by members of the committees should be circulated. I feel that the Government at that stage should indicate some of its intentions towards the amendments that have been proposed. After a committee has met and either agreed to or disagreed with suggested amendments the Government should again consider those amendments agreed to and again form a legislation committee so that the committee members can see whether their suggestions and amendments that were carried by the committee have been accepted by the Government. If that course were adopted I believe we would have a much more informed debate than we are having today.
I refer now to the motion that is before us. I understand that members of the Public Accounts Committee were told that they did not have the right to get the information referred to. It was not until the matter was raised by the legislation committee when it first met on 15 November 1978 that agreement was reached. On the second day the committee met, 17 November 1978, the Minister said, in his opening remarks, which are recorded at page 25 of the transcript:
To refresh the Committee’s memory about a number of amendments, we agreed to some and others I said we would consider and we could deal with them in Committee of the Whole. It might help if I indicated some of our thinking about them. We will first address ourselves to Mr Connolly’s amendment to clause 12.
The Minister then indicated that the Public Accounts Committee had authority to seek the information and publish it if necessary. What has happened to the advice that was given to the
Public Accounts Committee in the first instance? Was it incorrect advice or did the Chairman and the Deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee misinterpret the advice that was given? I will admit that the Auditor-General does not normally look for this information unless it is given to him. The Committee agreed to an amendment- clause 12, page 11, line 11, to add a further sub-paragraph- in order to get that information published by the Auditor-General because it was believed that the Public Accounts Committee did not have the right to do so. We are talking about freedom of information legislation and in my opinion this is another indication of information being made available. If the Public Accounts Committee can get that information, well and good. Otherwise the Auditor-General should be able to disclose such information if he so desires. Furthermore, I note that the financial statements of each department are supposed to show the number of payments and the amount of each payment but in arguments in the legislation committee it was suggested that the names of the people involved, the suburbs in which they lived and the amounts which they received should be included.
All the legislation committee was seeking in this instance was that information as regards who had payments waived or who had ex gratia payments made to them should be made public. For example, did all my friends get ex gratia payments because I made representations on their behalf, or did all my friends get knocked back while all the friends of some other members received such payment? We simply require this information so that the public may know how these ex gratia payments are made and to whom they are made. Generally, we seek to give the public an idea of why these ex gratia payments and waived payments are made and where they go. On behalf of the Opposition, I say that I am prepared to accept the situation whereby the Public Accounts Committee can get the information and can publish it, thereby satisfying the desires of the members of the legislation committee.
– I think that the matters raised by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) require some comment. I have just now been looking through the transcripts of reports to the Public Accounts Committee given by officials of the Department of Finance with regard to act of grace payments. From what I have read, there appears to be no reason for the Public Accounts Committee to have presumed at that time, that we had any built-in right to seek specific information relating to amounts or names or any particular details with regard to specific act of grace payments. What we were offered then was really little more than what the Parliament as a whole is to be offered, namely, that a statement would be issued by the Minister in accordance with, I think, section 50 of the relevant legislation, giving the amounts concerned. It was also pointed out to us that, in the case of some departmental appropriations, specific appropriations do contain funds for act of grace payments. In other words, such payments are effectively buried in the appropriation and one would be very hard pressed to dig them out.
I was pleased to hear the confirmation by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) that in future the Committee would have the right to expect and would receive the full co-operation of the relevant departments and officers concerned in bringing to the Committee specific information relating to these act of grace payments. But lest there be any confusion on this point, I must say that we initially suggested that the Act be amended actually to put in the words ‘Public Accounts Committee’ in accordance with the decision accepted by the legislation committee to make it a fact of law as distinct from merely the Minister’s interpretation. This would make it virtually impossible for any future Minister to deny the Committee access to this information. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I once again ask the Minister to confirm what I have said, namely, that the Public Accounts Committee would have access to the detailed information on amounts and the names of the people who receive act of grace payments.
– I give the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) my assurance that the advice coming to me is that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that under the Act the Public Accounts Committee can obtain from relevant departments and authorities, details of the number of instances involved, the names of people involved and the amounts involved as distinct from the collective amount and the collective number given in the Minister’s financial statement. As regards the question whether the Public Accounts Committee decides to meet in camera, this would be a matter for that Committee. I think that takes up the point raised by the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume). I give the same assurance to the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) with regard to the information and the capacity of the Public Accounts Committee.
I listened carefully to the comments that the honourable member for Grayndler had to make with regard to having the greatest degree of efficiency and co-operation when dealing with complex, detailed and technical legislation of this type. I will take into account the honourable member’s comments with regard to the need for a greater degree of co-operation. Since, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am certain that the remarks of the honourable member for Grayndler were addressed more importantly to you than to me, I am certain you will also take into account the very useful comments made by the honourable member.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Mr ERIC ROBINSON (McPherson-
Minister for Finance) (5.12)- I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill:
Clause 40, page 23, lines 6-7, omit’, subject to any regulations in force for the purposes of sub-section ( 2 ) ‘.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make sure that the House does understand that this amendment, that is, amendment No. 3 made by the legislation committee, will remove the power to exempt by regulation a Commonwealth organisation from efficiency audits. The Government is prepared to accept that amendment and the amendment that I have just moved is consequential to that amendment. In other words it is designed to get rid of any capacity to avoid, by regulation, the scrutiny of the Parliament.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill:
Clause 40, page 24, lines 28-30, omit ‘unless it is declared by the regulations not to be a public authority of the Commonwealth for the purposes of this Division ‘.
Amendment No. 3 of the legislation committee removed the power to exempt, by regulation, Commonwealth organisations from efficiency audits. The committee did not discuss proposed section 48B which would enable the exemption by regulation of Commonwealth public authorities from efficiency audit. To be consistent with the committee’s amendment to section 48A(2) the power to exempt public authorities from the efficiency auditing provisions should also be removed, and that will be achieved if this amendment is agreed to.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill:
Clause 40, page 24, lines 46-47, omit ‘unless that office or appointment is declared by the regulations to be an office or appointment to which this sub-section does not apply’.
This conforms with the previous amendments which removed the power to exempt by regulations Commonwealth organisations and public authorities from efficiency audits. This amendment, if agreed to, would remove the power to exempt, by regulation, persons holding or performing the duties of certain offices from efficiency audits. This is just a tidying up process of the previous amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
That legislation committee’s amendment No. 4 be disagreed to and the following amendment substituted:
Clause 40, page 26, lines 1 - 16, omit sub-sections (2) and (3) of proposed section 48c, substitute the following sub-sections: “ ‘(2) A Minister may by writing under his hand, or the Parliament may by resolution of both Houses of the Parliament, request the Auditor-General to carry out efficiency audits of all the operations, or of specified operations, of an eligible incorporated company, and, where the Minister or the Parliament does so, the Auditor-General-
may make arrangements with the company for the carrying out by him of efficiency audits of all the operations of the company, or of the operations of the company so specified, as the case requires; and
may, in accordance with arrangements so made, carry out, at such intervals as he thinks fit, an efficiency audit of all or any of the operations of the company to which the arrangement relates.
An arrangement made by the Auditor-General with an eligible incorporated company-
may include provision for the payment of fees by the company to the Commonwealth in respect of the carrying out of efficiency audits of operations of the company to which the arrangement relates; and
may be varied or revoked by the Auditor-General or the company-
in the case of an arrangement made at the request of a Minister- with the approval of a Minister; or
in the case of an arrangement made at the request of the Parliament- with the approval of the Parliament given by resolution of both Houses of the Parliament.”.
The purpose of the legislation committee’s amendment No. 4 was to allow the Parliament in addition to the Minister, to request the AuditorGeneral to carry out an efficiency audit of an eligible incorporated company. The Government accepts the spirit of that amendment. In considering the wording of the committee’s amendment the question arose whether as worded one of the Houses of Parliament could request the Auditor-General to undertake the efficiency audit. Given that the Auditor-General has a fundamental responsibility to the Parliament as a whole I take the view that a resolution from both
Houses of Parliament should be a pre-requisite to any request so made.
The proposed expansion of sub-clause 48C (2) by the inclusion of Houses of Parliament requires a consequential amendment to sub-clause 48C (3) to allow the Houses of Parliament to vary or revoke an arrangement made by the Auditor-General with an incorporated company. In effecting these amendments, the opportunity has been taken to redraft the two sub-sections in question to present them in a more logical sequence.
-The original amendment proposed to new sub-clause 48C (2) was mine. It was designed to do one simple thing and that was to preserve the authority of the Parliament with respect to the Auditor-General. As the Bill was first presented, the authority of the Parliament was not included and that is why the proposition was put that after the words ‘with an arrangement made by him, at the request of a Minister’ in line 4 on page 26, there be inserted the words ‘or the Parliament’. That was to apply to the organisation being subject to the appropriate audit. After discussing it with officers of the Department I agreed that it would be more appropriate to have ‘both Houses of Parliament’. It was originally proposed that a request for an efficiency audit would be by resolution of the Parliament and would be conveyed through the Minister to the Auditor-General. I did not agree with that proposition because that was reinforcing the proposition that the prior relationship concerned was between the Minister and the Auditor-General and of course that is not the way in which the Auditor-General has traditionally worked in our system.
I must say that I was a little disappointed that I learnt of the total redrafting of this proposed clause only this morning and that I learnt of it somewhat by accident. It was after the legislation committee met in November that I discussed the matter with departmental officers. They came and saw me, and I agreed to the proposition that both Houses of Parliament be included. Until this morning I thought that that was, in fact, the proposition to be moved here. Having been quite frank and open with the officers- they would agree with me on that- I was a little disappointed to learn that the whole of sub-section 48C (2) was to be redrafted and that I was to learn of it rather by accident. The legislation committee has been quite open, it has been nonpartisan, and members have opened their minds to one another quite free, I believe, from political bias. It would have been an appropriate accompaniment to that attitude for a redrafting of amendments accepted by the committee to be made known to all of those who were concerned in the legislation committee. Excepting that particular matter, I agree with this proposed amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
This motion needs to be considered in relation to committee amendment No. 8, which proposed that where an efficiency audit report reflects adversely on a person that person should have the opportunity to respond to that criticism and have his response included in the report. This amendment was described in the legislation committee as a natural justice provision, and I am in sympathy with the thought that lay behind it. The fact is, however, that it is not the practice of the Auditor-General to criticise individuals. Rather, any criticism is rightly directed at the department or authority subject to audit.
As the legislation committee’s amendment stands, a report containing adverse criticism of a department or relevant body could reflect implied criticism of a large number of individuals. It would be difficult to ensure that all who felt that they were under some implied criticism had the opportunity of commenting. Further, if all were given the right to comment on a draft audit report and to have their comments included in the final report, there would be significant administrative problems and serious delays. Not only would reports be delayed; they would become extremely lengthy. My amendment would, however, give the department or organisation, that is the relevant body, the right to comment on a proposed report provided that is done within a reasonable time, and its comments taken into account by the Auditor-General in finalising his report. That is the process considered by the Government to be the most appropriate way of meeting the problem. In my view it would overcome the administrative difficulties referred to earlier and yet be consistent with the spirit of the legislation committee’s amendment.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition has some doubts about this amendment. In the legislation committee the Opposition proposed an amendment to clause 40, but it was not agreed to. It proposed that the following sub-section be added following sub-section (9) of proposed section 48f:
A report containing comment reflecting adversely upon the conduct or performance of duties of a Minister, officer, or person liable to be reported upon shall not be published or transmitted to Parliament unless the person the subject of the comment has been afforded a reasonable opportunity to have taken into account and noted in the report his response or a response submitted on his behalf relating to the matters the subject of the comment.
The Government has now decided to amend section 48F by putting in a new sub-section after sub-section (2). That is the amendment that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has circulated. That is to direct the Auditor-General to pass on to a department the report that he proposes to make in which he might suggest that there was inefficiency on the part of somebody in that department. Then that body may reply to the Auditor-General within 28 days. If no reply is received, the proposed report of the AuditorGeneral may then be printed. If a reply is received from the body the comments made in that reply shall be considered by the AuditorGeneral and, if the Auditor-General thinks fit, he may delete something from his report or generally alter it.
The doubt in the mind of the Opposition is about what will happen when the AuditorGeneral’s draft report goes to a body, where in most cases it would be delivered to the permanent head, the permanent head reads the report and realises that the action that the AuditorGeneral is commenting on has been going on since creation. A degree of insufficiency has been existing there for a long time. The permanent head or the officer who perhaps gets that report passed on to him by the permanent head to make comments on may decide that this is something the department itself should have picked up a long time ago but did not. Therefore the body sends back a report to the Auditor-General and says: ‘We have been remiss. We should have checked this inefficiency out a long time ago. We thank you for having brought it to our notice and we will take immediate action to remedy the situation’.
Generally the officers will not be mentioned by name in the Auditor-General’s report, but let us say that it deals with the computer program section of a department. Then it is fairly easy to identify the officers. Will those officers, not named but clearly identified, be given the opportunity see the proposed report of the AuditorGeneral so that they can make some input to the comments that are to be returned to the AuditorGeneral by the body. If there is a likelihood that those officers who have been criticised will not be given an opportunity of seeing the proposed report of the Auditor-General they can be left high and dry. They will not be given the opportunity to say: ‘We were beaten, but I did not lose’, to use a quote. So that the first thing the officers knows about the complaint is when the AuditorGeneral ‘s report actually comes out and is transmitted to Parliament. The Opposition would like to see a provision to safeguard the position of those officers or an assurance that if the proposed report of the Auditor-General goes to the body concerned the officers and/or section that might be under criticism are given directly the opportunity to make their comments on the proposed report.
-The Commonwealth Public Service peak union organisations are very concerned with the particular aspect about which the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) spoke. Very strong representations have been made to the Opposition in regard to this matter, mainly on the point that the rights of the officers are not being protected. As the honourable member for Grayndler pointed out, it could be inefficiency at top level which has caused the adverse comments which are made by the Auditor-General following his efficiency audit. The peak union organisations feel that it is only just that before an officer is blamed for what may appear to be an inefficiency he should have the opportunity to put before the permanent head his view as to what may have activated the inefficiency upon which the Auditor-General is reporting. In the 34 years which I spent in the Commonwealth Public Service I saw cases where an officer could have been blamed as a cover-up by his immediate superior, who was not necessarily the permanent head.
If the Auditor-General does comment adversely to, say, the permanent head of department A and that permanent head passes the comment down to the head of the section concerned, the section head, who may be the one really responsible, may duck-shove the blame on to someone in the lower echelons, and it is that person who eventually gets a kick in the tail. That is why the peak unions are concerned that matters of this nature be reported back to the officers directly involved before a report is made by the permanent head of department A to the Auditor-General, who would then prepare his efficiency report. We are convinced that there is a very strong case for this and that there should be a far greater degree of co-operation, particularly in relation to efficiency audits. Efficiency audits have not yet started officially; no legislation has been passed to allow them to start officially.
I urge the Minister to pass on to the appropriate permanent heads the feelings of the peak organisations, because it is a matter which could cause unnecessary friction at departmental level. In the interests of the good working relationship which we hope exists between governments from both sides and their very dedicated public servants, we want to avoid at all costs any friction which may arise from an adverse report by the Auditor-General.
-The criticism raised by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) is one which I as an excivil servant understand. I think, however, that the proposals put forward by the Government, provided they are followed through with effective and appropriate instructions as to how the legislation is to be carried out by departmental heads and other senior officers, will ensure that officers who are deeply concerned in criticisms raised by the Auditor-General in his efficiency reports on the activities of a specific department or statutory authority are given the opportunity to state their case. I think it is a fair comment to make that most departmental heads jealously guard the public image of their respective authorities or departments and, for that reason, will take up at the highest level the defence of their officers and organisations on all occasions. Nevertheless, this point is worth raising.
I should also like to mention that the Government has accepted that the Expenditure Committee of this House and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts will, in fact, have the joint authority to examine all efficiency audit reports and make their findings known to the Parliament. Whilst we have not yet discussed in detail precisely how this examination will be conducted, I feel sure that my colleagues and I take the view that we should naturally look into these questions in our analysis and be sure that both sides are given a reasonable opportunity to state their case.
-In my earlier comments I said that this amendment had not been adopted by the legislation committee. In fact it was, and it has been amended by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). I just wanted that point corrected in Hansard.
– I listened carefully to the comments made by the two honourable members opposite. As I indicated earlier, one would naturally want to ensure that people were treated in a just manner; but, of course, the Auditor-General does not comment upon individuals. I accept that in comment upon a body or an organisation or department of state there could be implied criticism and that could involve a very large number of people. Therefore, one has to have an administrative organisation which can work, and work effectively. Whilst embracing the attitude adopted by the two honourable members, namely, that we want to give everybody the opportunity to be treated with complete fairness and complete justice, it just would not be administratively possible to allow what could be a tremendous number of people, who may believe, and may believe wrongly, that the implied criticism was directed at them, to make individual representations.
The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) referred particularly to an officer having the opportunity to have his point of view put, rather than having just the head of the department handling any comment.
– What I meant to ask was whether the head of the department would confer with those officers. I am not suggesting that every one of them should put in a separate report.
-I am hardly in a position to give a personal undertaking from the head of every government department, but it would be the view of the Government that a departmental head or the head of any authority should act in such a manner. I believe that the head of any organisation would want to give any officer as much opportunity as possible to make any comment in answer to any criticism or implied criticism, of that particular officer. I take on board the comment of the peak unions and their concern about this matter. I think we have to see how the system works. I give my assurance that I will do all I can to see that it works effectively and with complete and utter fairness.
Amendment agreed to
– I move:
That amendment No. 8 made by the legislation committee be disagreed to.
I have already explained why we cannot support the amendment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-The question now is that clause 40, as further amended, be agreed to.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek your guidance. I want to make a few comments on 48F (6). 48F (6). When can I do that?
-For the benefit of the honourable member for Grayndler and other members, I point out that the House, is considering this report from the legislation committee, will entertain only those amendments of which due notice has been given in accordance with the sessional orders. If a member wishes to speak to an amendment which was made by the legislation committee but which is not being amended here he may do so later, when the Chair puts the question that the Bill as reported and as further amended be agreed to.
Clause 40, as further amended, agreed to.
Motion (by Mr Eric Robinson) agreed to:
That amendment No. 12 made by the legislation committee be disagreed to.
– I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill: Clause 34, page 44, lines 33-39, omit ‘whether, in his opinion, the statements are in agreement with the accounts and records and’, substitute ‘whether the statements are in agreement with the accounts and records and, in his opinion, ‘.
The Auditor-General has drawn attention to the fact that the existing wording of clause 63H (2) of the Bill does not permit the necessary distinction to be drawn between statements of fact and expressions of opinion in reports by the AuditorGeneral to the appropriate Minister. Whether financial statements are in agreement with related accounts and records is a matter of fact and consequently the words ‘in his opinion’ should be repositioned. The amendment is designed to achieve that.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill:
Clause 54, page 46, line 2 1 , omit ‘ , in his opinion, ‘.
This amendment is consequential upon the previous amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 54, as amended, agreed to.
– I move:
That the following amendment be made to the Bill:
In clause 57, after sub-section (2) of proposed section 70aa insert the following sub-section:
For the purposes of this Part, an officer shall be taken to have performed duties in a grossly negligent manner if he has displayed, in the performance of those duties, a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care.’.
This matter was discussed by the legislation committee. These were some differing views. Members of the House legislation committee expressed concern that the words ‘gross negligence’ were not capable of being given legal precision under existing statutes and for that reason the committee made amendments 13, 14, and 15 which are yet to be dealt with. This matter was discussed at some length in the committee and I do not propose to go over the ground again. In an endeavour to clarify the Government’s intention I foreshadowed this amendment in a meeting of the legislation committee. I pointed out that it was not intended that every minor act of negligence or carelessness should be dealt with in the manner set out in these provisions but those of a more serious nature. To accept the committee’s amendment would be to impose administrative problems of a significant kind which could inhibit the smooth running of the service. There are other ways of dealing with minor acts of negligence or carelessness. In my view this amendment will enable Part XIIA of the Act to be administered in a fair and responsible manner.
– I do not agree with the amendment. I desire to speak on it on two occasions. Before I come to the substance of the matter I shall add to what was said by my friend and colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart). I did not get a copy of the proposed amendments circulated by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) until I left the party room this morning. I certainly did not have the great advantage that the honourable member for Grayndler had of reading the statement that would be made by the Minister in the House this evening. I defy anyone, no matter how accustomed he is to looking at audit Bills, how long he has been in the Parliament or what portfolios he has held, to understand properly all the changes that have been made and to make a realistic, sensible and positive contribution to the debate. I hope, as the honourable member for Grayndler hopes, that this does not happen again and that at least we are given proper notice.
I believe that when legislation committees meet the Minister himself should have far greater power to agree to amendments unless he believes that they ought to be referred to his colleagues. This will prevent much delay. I believe that the legislation committees are a remarkably good and long delayed innovation. I have been a member of certain legislative committees. They have made a remarkably good contribution to the correction of legislation and to ensuring that bureaucratic errors both of fact and relating to the public interest are drawn to the attention of the Minister. We have been able to make changes in the interests of the public but not necessarily in the interests of the bureaucrats themselves. I congratulate the Minister for the sensible, prudent and wise way in which he has handled the recommendations that have been made.
I drew up the original amendments. I cleared them with the Minister. One related to clause 22. I prepared a draft and had it approved by the House officials. The amendment cut out the word grossly’. The officials themselves redrafted the various clauses for me. They suggested that the word ‘grossly’ be cut out of clause 57. There are two ways in which we can look at this clause. One is from the point of view of the Public Accounts Committee which has one view. Initially, that view was associated with clause 42 and the right of the Auditor-General to impose a surcharge. The other one, I believe, relates to a much more important matter. The House and the public should have complete access to the details of the expenditure, revenue and loan funds of the Government. We should receive those details each month and in those monthly statements during the year we should also get figures for the end of each month with corresponding figures for the preceding year. Those documents are vitally important. I think that the Minister himself would agree that in modern conditions the deficit is one of the most important factors that has to be looked at in estimating the effectiveness of the Budget and the trend in the economy. If we were deprived of all this information we would be in a hell of a mess. There is no other way of expressing it.
Anything could have happened with respect to the proposals in the Audit Amendment Bill. I am glad that the Minister accepted that. The drafting of the Bill reduced considerably the scope of the rather broad words contained in the existing Act. It did not refer to the loan funds or to the words ‘during the year up to the end of the month’. Those words were left out. It had one other very bad failing. It provided that determinations could be made by the Minister. They would come into force at a prescribed time. This was to be done by regulation. At about that time we had had the unfortunate episode of the green edged letters which were to be sent out to pensioners. They were signed by an officer of the relevant department. They were not approved of or seen by the Minister. The minute was presented in such a way that no one but a genius or someone with heavenly qualities would have been able to understand or put on notice about what was being done. We asked for an amendment. The Crown Law officers on instruction brought along the same type of form as we have today which we built into a table in the Act. But that was not good enough if changes could be made by regulation. I indicated that they could slip through even without the knowledge of the Minister. I could cite other occasions on which much the same has happened and corrections have had to be made. I believe that matters of supreme importance of this kind must go before the House and be approved with the knowledge of members.
It might be known that in relation to the Financial Bill I recommended to the House when we were in Opposition that there should be an affirmative resolution. That is a procedure carried out in the House of Commons. It refers to complex Bills, taxation measures and similar matters. They ought to be considered by a standing parliamentary committee before going to the full Committee on the Whole or the Parliament itself. To the credit of the Crown Law officers, they suggested that in this case we have an affirmative resolution. No longer can changes slip through. They must go through the procedures of the House before becoming regulatory law. There has to be an affirmative resolution after debate in the House and the Senate. The existing procedure ensures that a regulation becomes law and can be rescinded by the Senate or House afterwards.
I come now to the next question that relates to the matters we have under consideration. The Standing Committee was of the opinion that there was a strong tendency in the provisions to give to a public servant a different kind of protection, a privileged position, from that enjoyed by the ordinary member of the public. If there is negligence of any kind in private business negligence is enough on which one can base proceedings of one kind or another. But it was set out in the proposals put to us that there had to be gross negligence on the part of the civil servants a much greater degree of protection- a provision I could not tolerate and would not tolerate. Therefore we argued the matter. I had the initial changes drafted for me. I then discussed the matter with the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). I suggested that after I had proposed my amendments he had better propose one relating to the particular clause that he was arguing about relating to his own committee. I must say that he argued the point very well. He said:
As I said, the historical process leading up to this initial suggested comment by the Auditor-General was his belief that under the existing legislation he has unable to apply surcharge provisions of section 42-
That does not really apply to this case. In any event, the honourable member was wrong when he said that the historical process leading up to it was this initial suggestion of the AuditorGeneral. The fact is that we had been considering the matter for five years under the Wright committee. I believe that there are at least two or three honourable members here who have been members of that committee. The honourable member for Bradfield has not been a member of it. We were very wrapped up in this question of making certain that there was no privileged position for the civil servant. I believe that one of the best contributions to the discussion was that made by the honourable member for Bradfield when he said:
I am still concerned, however, at the use of the term grossly negligent’. I will quote Lord Goddard on the subject. He said:
The use of the expression ‘gross negligence’ is always misleading. Except in the one case when the law relating to manslaughter is being considered, the words ‘gross negligence’ should never be used in connection with any matter to which the common law relates-
Prior to that he said that it could not be used -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired.
– The right honourable member may speak for a second time now.
– The honourable member for Bradfield went on to say that in each case at which we were looking it was best to keep to the word ‘negligence’ alone because the definitions were well known in law. But there are definitions which could meet different sets of circumstances and different sets of offences, negligence or whatever else it might be. This principle is upheld by the superior courts of the world and established for a long time in the present Audit Act. If negligence is committed then in the certain circumstances set out in the legislation certain action could be taken by the Minister or by the Permanent Head. So I expected that that provision would remain. But to my horror when I turned to the documents distributed today by the Minister for Finance I found that the words ‘gross negligence’ were to be used. This was a most astonishing fact: A definition was to be given of the words ‘gross negligence’ to be added to the Bill. In effect this definition is merely one of the definitions of what negligence could mean. I cannot believe that an official, proud of his department and worthy of his salt, could want to turn round and use the words ‘gross negligence’ when he knew that would be contrary to the common law, when he would be using a meaning that was totally unfitted to the words used in plain english. And when he could have left the word ‘negligence’ as one of the meanings to be interpreted when the circumstances required.
I understand that without any consultation with three of my colleagues another colleague agreed to these changes. So far as I am concerned no one had any right to make that agreement. That ought to have been known to the officials because they had consulted me. Also the Auditor-General knew of my great interest in this area and the interest of the former Wright committee. We had fought on this point for five years. We had the wording approved by the Standing Committee as a whole. Then we found at the last moment, without consultation with those involved, that the motion in the name of the Minister was to be moved. I do not blame the Minister. I have to say positively that the way that he has treated us has been with courtesy, consideration and an enormous degree of intelligence. But I believe that at some time or other this matter has to be looked at again.
I hope that the Minister will keep it in hand. When we get an opportunity to correct the matter that he will consult those of us interested in the public welfare and in the Parliament. Interested to ensure that the standards of the public servants are kept high and not lowered. I believe that the standards could be lowered by such a provision. If it becomes public knowledge that there is this difference, a preference, a discrimination as between civil servants and ordinary members of the public it will react against those who in the restructuring of these proposed new sections did not inform the people intimately involved and with a profound knowledge of the matter. We did not know of the Ministers amendments until 11.30 this morning. We were not able to handle the matter properly. I can say no more than: I am sorry that it has happened. I hope that it does not happen again. I hope we get the chance to be able to correct the matter along the lines recommended by the committee.
-The Opposition has looked at this matter very closely. In some ways we quarrel with parts of the proposals and in others we do not. I shall give a brief run down as to what caused the real interest in what is commonly known as the surcharge provisions. It has been set out in the explanations to the original Audit Amendment Bill which were circulated in the Chamber. I quote from the explanations. I think it should be put into the record. The explanations state:
Section 42 (2)-
Of the Audit Act- requires the Auditor-General to surcharge the person responsible for the loss of public moneys or stores or damage to stores caused by the fraud, mistake, default, neglect or error of that person, or for other reasons set out in the Section to be repealed. The Auditor-General ‘s Office has found that, because of difficulties associated with establishing default or neglect it has been almost impossible to invoke the surcharge provisions.
I do not think I am telling any tales out of school when I say that members of the Public Accounts Committee when they found out that it was originally intended to delete the surcharge provisions held up their hands in great horror. The surcharge provisions are one of the only methods left for some penalty to be imposed on careless public servants who have a direct responsibility for the proper management of money or stores or whatever. The surcharge provisions were the only measure by which some retribution- if you like to call it that- or justice could be meted out. But when we questioned the application of the surcharge provisions, as to whether they had ever been applied, we saw that the explanations to the original Bill state:
Recent legal advice indicated that the existence of the surcharge provisions precludes the Government in certain situations from availing itself of common law remedies.
This was just the mere existence of them, not the application of them. In the explanations to the original Bill it is also stated:
The surcharge provisions place a responsibility on the Auditor-General akin to that of a judge without providing proper means for the person surcharged to give evidence in his defence.
Certain actions took their course and the surcharge provisions were reintroduced in amendments to the Bill in a certain fashion.
A large number of members of the legislation committee felt that there was still some deficiency in defining a ‘grossly negligent manner’ which was the wording in the amendments which were put up by the Government. This can be looked at from two points of view. I do not feel that a member of the Commonwealth Public Service should be penalised on every occasion he makes a mistake because, as Shakespeare once said, there is no person who works who does not make a mistake. We have to reach the stage of finding out what is a ‘grossly negligent mistake’.
I think the Government has come up with a definition which the Opposition accepts. I think I can state at this stage that the Opposition accepts that definition. It reserves its position on the matter to see how it is applied in the future by the permanent head of various departments. It is another case about which the peak public service unions would be very concerned if there were any thought that a type of rough justice were handed out. This would only cause unnecessary friction within a department. I commend to the Minister that, in the early stages of the application of these provisions, a certain amount of discretion be used so that a type of rough justice is not handed out and so that unnecessary friction can be minimised. Generally speaking, the Opposition at this stage agrees with the definition of a ‘grossly negligent manner’ which has now been inserted in the Bill by the Government. The Opposition reserves its future position in order to find out how it actually works in practice.
-The area of surcharging is probably one of the most contentious elements in this legislation. As has been pointed out, because of difficulties in applying the Act effectively, amendments were suggested to overcome this difficulty. It is difficult to determine in many administration areas whether gross negligence has occurred and it is often hard to determine the blame of the individual concerned. Because of the hierarchical structure of the Service, in most cases responsibility is usually shared. When one is faced with the problem, one has to decide, exactly who shared that responsibility and to what extent it has shared and what degree of responsibility. I agree entirely with the comments made by the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) that this area has yet to be tested in terms of this new legislative definition. The House, naturally will be watching it with some interest.
I should like to make some comments in regard to earlier suggestions made by the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William
McMahon) with regard to my particular involvement in this amendment. The fact of the matter is I along with ex-Senator Wright attended a number of discussions over a period of some three years with officers and Ministers responsible for this particular Act.
– I said five.
-I have been here for less than five years. Nevertheless, I attended those meetings as a representative of the Public Accounts Committee and I was cognisant of the problems involved. The difficulty that we face as a Parliament when we go into a legislation committee and wish to make amendments is to find somebody who is technically competent to take an idea and to put it into words which meet the requirements of the situation. I must say that in this case I received no direct assistance whatsoever from the Attorney-General’s Department. Officers of this Parliament did their best to help me. Officers of the Parliamentary Library legal research section helped me. On balance, I think it is fair to say that as a private member I did not get the degree of support that I think is necessary. I am sure that my colleagues would agree in terms of amendments that they might wish to make in future. The three amendments that I propose were supported by the majority of members of the legislation committee. They were very similar to concepts contained in the Public Service Act. It was my view- and my colleagues shared it- that there was considerable logic in having the same concepts developed in two pieces of legislation relevant to the administration of the Public Service.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was making some observations about the difficulties which private members have in making satisfactory amendments before committees of .this House when we do not appear to have adequate back-up support in the drafting of those amendments. I think the difficulty we are facing with regard to clause 57 is a case in point. The amendments I drew up were based on the belief and on the premise that there was good logic in trying to establish a set of words which would overcome the difficulty of using the concept of ‘grossly negligent’ and at the same time linking the provisions of the Public Service Act and the Audit Act insofar as both pieces of legislation related to the Public Service.
The words which were developed for me were subsequently included and passed by the committee. Subsequent to that I sought legal advice from Mr Justice Meares who is the legal adviser to the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. He was of the view that the problem as put forward in our amendment was going much too far and that the concept of ‘grossly negligent’ could be utilised in this Act in the manner put forward in the amendment by the Government. Nevertheless, I think it must be drawn to the attention of the House that the concept of ‘grossly negligent’, in these circumstances, must be read in the context of the normal test applied under common law in the case of negligence, that is, a deliberate, serious disregard of reasonable standards of care.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) gave generally the Opposition’s outlook on this clause. The amendment that was accepted by the committee has been circulated. The right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) have spoken on it. The Opposition is desirous of making absolutely certain that no officer in the Public Service can be charged with gross negligence when gross negligence is very difficult to interpret. We do not want to allow any officer to be in the situation after an efficiency audit of being compelled to pay back some amount to government because of some action for which he or she was not entirely responsible.
The Opposition is inclined to think that the amendment moved by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) makes it reasonably certain that it will be only in extreme cases that an officer will be charged. The amendment states: an officer shall be taken to perform duties in a grossly negligent manner if he has displayed, in the performance of those duties, a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care.
Not being a lawyer, I cannot say for certain but I believe I could have a fair deal of fun in interpreting ‘a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care’ should the occasion arise. In the Public Service Act the words that are used generally apply to disciplinary action for misconduct. In this case it is disciplinary action that will mean that the officer or officers concerned may have to pay- out of their own pockets- a sum or sums back to the Commonwealth Government. If the sum is a large one it will mean that that person and his or her family perhaps will be driven into bankruptcy. Certainly the Opposition does not uphold inefficiency in the Public Service or inefficiency in private industry, but at the same time we need to be very careful to see that we do not have something in an Act which will allow any person in the
Public Service, for one reason or another, to have the opportunity to say that they will charge an officer with gross negligence.
Even if that officer is proved innocent there is still that mark that will appear; there is still the worry of the case that would be heard. Therefore, the Opposition believes that this amendment as it is before us now would give or appear to give sufficient safeguards to the officers in the service so that they will not find themselves in the situation where they are surcharged because of having done something in the course of their work that could be regarded as inefficient or perhaps careless but not such as could be interpreted as a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care. The Opposition is prepared to allow this portion of the Bill to be altered on the basis of the amendment of the Minister.
-The concept of negligence- certainly professional negligence- is one that I do not think should be ignored when looking at the requirements of an Act relating to public servants in the sense that many public servants are receiving remuneration not unlike the rewards achieved by professional people. To that extent I submit that as rewards tend to be high in the Public Service so should the requirements as to the avoidance of negligence be high. The protection of the public should be the key concern of this House and there should be no diminution in the requirements of performance within the Public Service as against those requirements in the private sector. When people are in positions of trust they have certain standards to meet. When they are members of professions they have certain standards to meet and in fact can be sued for professional negligence in many areas.
To that extent I have a residual concern that the amendment moved by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), which restores the word ‘grossly’, establishes a situation which to my mind differentiates the degree of negligence that is needed before one is obliged to stand by one’s actions in the Public Service as against one’s actions in the private sector. To that extent I have serious reservations about the degree to which the public interest is being protected by the insertion of the word ‘grossly’ before the word ‘negligent’. I am reminded of the fact that when professional negligence cases come up one does not see the word ‘grossly’ involved in those matters.
I am not certain what the new requirements are going to be in the corporation sector. There may well be a case for making certain that any degree of disregard of reasonable standards of care in the corporate sector should result in appropriate penalties. The failure of the corporate sector in many instances to be held responsible for disregard of reasonable standards of care -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! I ask the honourable members on the front bench on my left to subdue their voices.
– Thank you. In other words, the fact that lapses in normal standards of professional or business conduct have not been successfully pursued in the courts probably suggests the law needs improving rather than that the concept should be diminished. To that extent I would ask the Minister to consider very seriously this matter in the hope that any suggestions that the Public Service- particularly senior officers receiving very substantial salaries- should be receiving any advantage in terms of protection as against the private sector will be avoided.
I ask the Minister seriously consider omitting from his amendments the word ‘grossly’ and the words ‘deliberate or serious’. The concept to my mind should be that an officer shall be taken to have performed duties in a negligent manner if he has displayed in the performance of those duties a disregard of reasonable standards of care. It seems to me to be very seriously limiting the extent to which the public interest can be protected if it has to be established that a person’s actions are deliberate or serious. It seems to me that someone who is indolent and who does not have the dedication of most members of the Public Service- I stress that point- possibly could avoid any requirement of responsibility for his actions if we limit the opportunity for recovery to the word ‘grossly’. I am speaking about someone who is grossly negligent. In fact, I seek the Minister’s assurance that there is no intention to diminish the requirements of the Public Service in this area as against the widespread and evident requirements of various members of the public sector. I think that such a differentiation would be unreasonable. I repeat that I have serious reservations about this clause.
– After listening to my colleague, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) who spoke in the debate this evening, I wish to return to what I said before. I want to put this point very strongly to the House: I find it extremely difficult to believe that the honourable member could have agreed to changes without some discussion with me.
Order! The right honourable member for Lowe spoke for an extended period which, in fact, took up the two 10-minute periods normally available to him. If the House is amenable to granting leave to the right honourable gentleman to make further remarks, I will consider the proposal. Is leave granted?
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I think that you might have given me guidance on that matter before I spoke rather than trying to terminate my speech now. However, I thank the House for its indulgence. I took up this matter with the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) alone to ensure that there was the closest co-operation between the representative of the Government, those honourable members who belonged to the Wright committee and those honourable members who had all agreed to the amendment which was put before the legislation Committee and which was agreed to by it. At that time no-one else was involved in this matter. But I did warn the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) that he did not have any amendments before the committee and that he ought to place some before it. When he did so, we arranged that he should take priority, that he should have an opportunity to speak and to move his amendment. I want to make this point clearly now. During the preparation of new section 70AB ( 1 ) the honourable member proposed an amendment as follows: . . omit ‘or by performing any of his duties in a grossly negligent manner’, substitute ‘by his inefficiency or imcompetence for reasons or causes within his own control or by his negligence or carelessness . . .
The amendment was almost exactly the same as that which I had put before the legislation committee. I moved an amendment because I believe that in the case of the Public Service there ought to be at least as high an obligation- I believe, a higher obligation- to the nation as there is in the case of someone who is self-employed or who is in private industry. The public servant has security of tenure. He usually has promotion opportunities. He receives a very good salary. I am sure that the cases in which these provisions would need to apply would be few and far between. We are entitled to expect not only the very highest of ideals but also the very highest performance. That is the point that I wanted to make and I want to keep on making it. I shall quote what was actually said by the honourable member for Bradfield in support of the reason given by him for moving his amendment. He quoted Lord Goddard who said:
The use of the expression ‘gross negligence’ is always misleading.
The quotation went on to give one example where the use of the words ‘gross negligence’ was justifiable and proper. I do not know whether subsequently the honourable member talked to some legal counsel. I did not hear him say to whom he spoke. But I ask the honourable member this: Has he ever been in a Ministry or held the Treasury portfolio? I wonder whether he ever knew the provisions of the Audit Act backwards? If so, I think that it would be wise of him to tell us. I am amazed when I read the words that have been spoken on this subject. I am fascinated that anything like this should happen. A description is given of the conditions under which a person might be subject to some sort of rebuke or other kind of action by the permanent head of his department. It is as follows:
He shall be taken to have performed duties in a grossly negligent manner if he has displayed in the performance of those duties a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care.
That is part and parcel of one of the definitions of acting in a negligent manner or of the word negligent’. Can anyone of the officials who love the english language tell me that they want to so bastardise the meaning of those words that they are prepared to write into the legislation a definition that really cannot apply to the words used? The word ‘grossly’ is used in association with the word ‘negligent’. This is one of the definitions of the word ‘negligent’ that have been taken for the purposes of the Act.
– Have you had any legal training?
Sir WILLIAM McMAHON I was a partner in the greatest firm of lawyers in Australia. I profess occasionally that I must have got there through the wings. Yes, I was a graduate of the university of -
– Oh, my God!
-Would the honourable member like me to go further and give him my other qualifications? I do not have enough to talk about. I have told honourable members my position. I go further and state that I, along with some of my colleagues, were members of the Wright committee. One of my colleagues who was on that committee has spoken already in the debate. I hoped that one of my other colleagues who is from Queensland might have spoken in the debate also. I well remember the debate that took place when we argued about this question. The honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) said certain things. I shall quote from page 33 of the
Hansard report of the legislation committee of 17 November 1978. The honourable member said:
The word ‘grossly’ worries me a little, even though it is to be interpreted as a deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care.
After explanations were given to the honourable member he said:
I am still puzzled.
After listening to the honourable member for Lilley and the honourable gentleman from Bradfield, I am more convinced than ever that what we asked the Minister to agree to and what was agreed to at that time was right and proper. I believe that the exhibition of talent by members of the Parliament should be compared with the exhibition of lack of talent by the members of the Public Service who were present and who were supposed to be able to advise honourable members. Therefore, I have to take this matter very seriously. I think that I have made my point clearly enough. I do not like seeing the Queen’s English treated in the shabby and shoddy way that it is treated in this legislation. I do not like to feel that we are appearing to give- it may possibly be the position in reality- a specially privileged position to members of the Civil Service. I do not think there would have been any industrial relations backlash if that amendment had been introduced. The members of the Public Service would have accepted it in their stride. There is more to this legislation than meets the eye. I think that there is a tendency for members of the Public Service to want to show that they are part of a superior group. I do not believe that they are. I believe that the superior organisation ought to be the Parliament. It is up to the Parliament to decide what is right rather than to have opinions changed without discussion with the relevant people and without their full knowledge of what was occurring when a subsequent amendment was made.
– Hear, hear!
– I thank the honourable member for his interjection. I wish I had heard the honourable member at whom I am looking say ‘Hear, hear!’ I would have sat down with a great degree of pleasure. In any event, I sit down with a great degree of pleasure because to have brought the honourable member into the chamber to listen to my speech is, I believe, a triumph for me.
-I think the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon) and the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) have forgotten that the
Commonwealth Public Service Act contains many penal provisions which permit the permanent head of a department to take action against an officer who is inefficient; which allow the Public Service Board, on the recommendation of the permanent head, to retire an officer who is shown to be grossly inefficient or cannot do the job for which he was appointed. The Commonwealth public servant is not in a privileged position, as has been made out by the right honourable member for Lowe and the honourable member for Macarthur. There are many people in other parts of the community who do enjoy a privileged position- and who are dealing not with public service money but with the people’s money.
– Is not taxpayers’ money people’s money?
– They are dealing in most cases with little people’s money- as we have seen in some of the crashes recently of various companies whose names I will not mention. I repeat, there are already adequate provisions in the Commonwealth Public Service Act to allow action to be taken against officers who do not do their job efficiently. One big penalty is that they stay put in their job and are not promoted. The right honourable member for Lowe and the honourable member for Macarthur may not be aware of it, but in the Third Division of the Commonwealth Public Service all promotion is on efficiency, not seniority. That, in itself, offers a sufficient inducement to officers to perform to the best of their ability. If they show their proficiency they are promoted. You could not have a greater incentive for people to perform efficiently than for the carrot, if I may call it that, of future progression, to be held before them. In addition, as I remind the right honourable member for Lowe and the honourable member for Macarthur, there are other penal provisions in the Act whereby an officer may be charged and fined for a misdemeanour, though not one in the category to which we are referring here.
The Opposition does not quarrel with this proposition of the Government. We believe that it will prevent capricious actions by a permanent head, in whose realm the power now resides to impose a penalty. It takes that power out of the hands of the Auditor-General and puts it in the hands of the permanent head of the department. By defining ‘grossly negligent manner’ the capricious element is removed. It will make for good staff morale within the department, so that an officer may go about his job knowing that a permanent head who might have a snout on him will not be in a position to deal with him capriciously and perhaps fine him an inordinate amount of money, which could put him into bankruptcy and ruin his whole family.
– I shall not repeat the arguments that were offered on behalf of the Government before the sitting was suspended for dinner. I want simply to express my regret that we did not have an opportunity for further discussion of this matter. I agree with the comment made by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) earlier that we may be able to improve the process of legislation committee consideration if, after that consideration there can be discussion of matters by committee members and officials, a further meeting of minds to streamline decisions and reduce the time spent by the Parliament when the matter comes before it once again.
The Government has considered this matter on a number of occasions, and earlier I gave our arguments concerning it. I have listened carefully to what my friend the right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon) has said. I know that he has strong views on this matter. He has put them to me on more than one occasion today and he has certainly put them to the legislation committee.
I assure the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) that there is no intention on the part of the Government or of anyone in the Public Service to permit any diminution of public service standards. We all know that negligence occurs everywhere. It occurs in private enterprise and there are ways of handling it there, through formal and informal reprimands and formal and informal rebukes. Such action is, of course, taken also in the Commonwealth Public Service. The Government believes that this is the best way to approach the matter. We will have to see how it works out but we ought in future to be able to avoid the difficulties which occur only because there has been a lack of communication between people on a matter on which views are firmly held.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
That amendment No. 13 made by the legislation committee be disagreed to.
This impinges on the very matter that we have been discussing.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That amendment No. 14 made by the legislation committee be disagreed to.
This concerns the same matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That amendment No. IS made by the legislation committee be disagreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 57, as further amended, agreed to.
– I move:
That the Bill as reported, and as further amended, be agreed to.
-I wish to raise a matter that was raised in the legislation committee discussions on the Bill. I refer to an amendment moved by the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) to proposed new clause 48F, as follows:
After proposed sub-section (6) insert the following sub-section: “ ‘(6a) Notwithstanding anything in sub-section (6) the Auditor-General shall transmit signed copies of the report to each House of the Parliament as expeditiously as possible and no later than he furnishes copies of the report to the parties mentioned in sub-section ( 8). “.
Discussion occurred as to the wording of that section. The intention behind the honourable member’s amendment was to make certain that when the Auditor-General produced an efficiency audit report the Parliament should get it as a matter of course. During the discussion, the honourable member for Casey (Mr Falconer) said:
I give notice that in the report stage I will move an amendment and I will consult Mr Willis and the Minister about an appropriate number of days to state in it.
The Chairman, who was Mr Giles, said as reported at page 20 of the Hansard record:
We have other amendments on it still to come. I think the best method- if I might patch up the argument- would be for Mr Willis perhaps to withdraw his amendment and redraft it, with or without the co-operation of the Government, and introduce it at the report stage. I think that would be the easiest way out of that one.
Proposed sub-section (6), after which the honourable member’s amendment was to be inserted, states, in referring to the AuditorGeneral, the following:
That sub-section gives the Auditor-General the right to choose. The honourable member for Gellibrand, and Opposition members generally, thought that a provision should be written into the Act requiring that the Auditor-General, after preparing a report- other than a restricted report- should transmit it to the Parliament as soon as possible. The implied promise in the proceedings of the legislation committee was that this matter would be looked at. I ask the Minister whether the matter has been looked at. If so, is it intended to have the Auditor-General transmit efficiency audit reports to Parliament as soon as possible after he has made them so that both Houses of Parliament will know of them about the same time as the head of a department or body to whom the report has to go? After all, it is the Parliament that is supposed to scrutinise the efficiency of the Public Service. If these reports of the Auditor-General are to be transmitted to Parliament, generally when the Auditor-General decides, this Parliament is missing out on the role it should be playing. I ask the Minister to answer the questions that I posed earlier.
– I give the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Stewart) my assurance that the efficiency audit reports will be transmitted to Parliament as expeditiously as possible. The matter has been discussed. The Auditor-General will be very happy to cooperate to make certain that the Houses of Parliament are advised of reports and get copies of reports as quickly and as expeditiously as is possible.
Bill, as reported and as further amended, agreed to.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Eric Robinson) read a third time.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leaveproposed:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Prospect moving forthwith a motion concerning six-monthly indexation of social security and repatriation benefits of which he has given notice for the next sitting.
A notice of motion becomes effective only when it appears on the Notice Paper.
Is this matter on the Notice Paper?
-The motion is not on the Notice Paper. This motion seeks to suspend the Standing Orders to permit the admission of the matter for debate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That this House calls on the Government to immediately reintroduce six-monthly indexation of social security and repatriation benefits.
I do not think that all that much needs to be said. We debated this matter in October last year. Most of the arguments that apply now applied then. However, I will put later in my speech one argument which arises out of the consumer price index for the December quarter. The pensioners and social security beneficiaries of Australia must by now be convinced that talk is indeed cheap. Prior to the 1975 and 1977 elections we heard a great deal from the Liberal Party and in particular from its leader that the Government would continue indexing pensions on a sixmonthly basis. We are again witnessing cheap talk from a number of Liberal back benchers who have been making noises and protesting against the recent changes which have made indexation annual rather than six-monthly. It is interesting that they protested against these changes but did not vote against them when they were debated in the House on 12 October. Not surprisingly our pensioners cannot afford this cheap rhetoric: They want action, not grandstanding.
On 12 October last year this House made the pretence of debating amendments to the Repatriation and Social Security Acts. The Bills were steamrolled through the House and the rational debate demanded by the complex amendments was virtually gagged. The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) did not vote against the change to annual indexation: We on this side of the House did vote against these changes. Despite the importance of these amendments to the living standards of hundreds of thousands of Australians the so-called rebels did not join us. Instead of rebelling they slunk out of the Chamber. The hollow grandstanding of the honourable members for Franklin, Denison and Isaacs- I repeat those names- has become even more embarrassing now that the honourable member for Franklin has decided- if this is the word- not even to introduce a Bill seeking to reintroduce half-yearly indexation. One might be less cynical had these members actually voted against those clauses of the Bill proposing the changes to which they objected. This could have been done without opposing the entire Bill. The rest of the Liberal and National Country Party members strongly supported the reduction in pensions as their contribution to the fight against inflation.
The honourable member for Franklin said that he intended to present a Bill seeking to reintroduce six-monthly indexation of pensions. He has not done so. I remember his words of last October when he said that it would be easy to cross the floor and vote with the Opposition. He said: ‘There is nothing to it’. However, he decided that pensioners, veterans and the unemployed are not really important enough for such a gesture. Let me refer to an interview in the Australian which is one of many that he has given during the last few weeks. The article in the Australian, while referring to the honourable member for Franklin, states:
A direct quote from the honourable member then appears:
I spoke to some of them and they visibly trembled . . . They are so scared of the Prime Minister and what he might do to them ‘.
The interview continues:
As some of us walked out in protest, one member was leaving the Chamber to go to the lavatory. When he realised that his action could have been misconstrued as part of ours he got frightened.’
The honourable member went to Mr Fraser to tell him quite clearly that he had absolutely nothing to do with them; that he was just going to the toilet. Apparently members on the Government side have to get permission to go to the lavatory. So much for the honourable member for Franklin!
The Government abolished six-monthly indexation to save $4m on war pensions and $27m on social security benefits. Yet it is spending close to $30m on new VIP aircraft and associated work to make the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm
Fraser) more comfortable. The Government is spending more on one individual than it is saving by the abolition of half-yearly indexation. On the Prime Minister’s own definition he has reintroduced politics into pensions. Making political footballs out of the two million men, women and children directly or indirectly dependent upon social security payments is less than cheap. It is an expression of disgust by the Government for those people who cannot afford the luxury of family trusts. Talk is obviously the cheapest electoral gimmick.
The reintroduction of six-monthly indexation for these beneficiaries is all the more urgent. Here I come to the point I made earlier- the change since 12 October. This may persuade some honourable members opposite to change their minds. The reintroduction of six-monthly indexation is all the more urgent given the recent high increase in the CPI and the fact that civilian and repatriation pensioners did not benefit by the 1.5 per cent reduction in the CPI due to changes in health insurance arrangements introduced on 1 November last year. Pensioners did not have to take out private insurance or pay a levy before 1 November last year. Therefore they did not benefit from the 1.5 per cent reduction in the consumer price index due to the health insurance changes. The net result of that, of course, is that the loss of comparative purchasing power to the pensioner is not the 2.3 per cent of the CPI increase, but 3.8 per cent, in a single quarter. For the single pensioner this amounts to over $2 a week and in the case of a married couple it amounts to $3.40 a week for just one quarter- the December quarter. Yet they will not be compensated for this increase until November 1979, by which time they will of course be much worse off because there will have been other increases in the cost of living.
The increases of the December quarter were not taken into account on 15 November 1978. On 15 November 1978 a pensioner couple was already $3.40 worse off but they will not be compensated for this until the first pension payment in November 1979, nearly 12 months later. But as yet they have not been compensated for the previous quarter, the September quarter, because the September quarter was not included in the updating of their pension in November 1978. They were only compensated until the June quarter of 1978 so that by the time they get their next increase, that is, in November 1979, 16 months will have elapsed in which there have been very significant increases in their cost of living.
– Well why didn’t you give them automatic indexation?
– We gave them six-monthly indexation. We gave it to them every time but this Government did not give it to them. This is a loss which cannot be and should not be sustained by the most vulnerable sections of our community. Why should the brunt of the Prime Minister’s remedies for inflation be borne by the most vulnerable to inflation’s effects? I hope that constituents around Australia remember the promises contained in the 1975 and 1977 Liberal Party election leaflets. In 1976 the present Minister for National Development (Mr Newman), who was at that time Minister for Repatriation, had this to say on behalf of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle):
The Government has given a commitment to protect social security pensions from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting pension levels each six months according to movements in the CPI.
The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), understandably concerned about retaining his electorate, said:
We are keeping meticulously to the promise to continue adjusting the benefit every six months.
Where was the honourable member for St George on 12 October last year? How will he be voting tonight? But the best quotation is that from the Prime Minister himself. On 9 September 1974, when of course he was still in Opposition, he suggested that as the number of jobless rose so should unemployment benefits. He argued that the Government should pay the unemployed a minimum wage- at the present time this would amount to $120 a week- if the number of unemployed reached 250,000. It has now reached double that figure- 500,000. However, the Prime Minister now does not even intend to provide half-yearly indexation of the benefits of the aged, the unemployed or the veterans. Anyone who votes against this motion today is voting to place and to keep many decent Australian citizens below the poverty line, the line defined as that level of income necessary for the basic requirement for food and shelter.
-The honourable member for Barton says ‘Rubbish! ‘. He does not even understand how the indexation of pensions works at present. It is depressing that he is a member of this House and I sincerely hope that he will not be one for very much longer. When this Government reintroduced the means test for pensioners over the age of 70 years -
– Incomes test.
– It was the means test. Indexation does not apply at all.
– It does.
– It does not apply at all for those whose income exceeds the means test.
– There is no means test. It is income-tested.
-No. There is obviously a means test. It is an income test which is based on the means of the people who are in receipt of these benefits. They do not receive any sixmonthly indexation of their pensions. I am pleased to see that the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) has admitted that he opposes six-monthly indexation of pensions.
– How do you infer that?
– Because of the way in which the honourable member voted previously, because of the way in which he is going to vote tonight and because of the interjections he has just made. In less than an hour the honourable member will have a chance to show us how he feels about the matter. He will probably go away to the lavatory. That would be the sort of thing that he would do. He is probably the one who went to the lavatory last time so he could have a bob each way.
– A what each way?
-A bob each way. He could then tell the Prime Minister that he was in the lavatory at the time the vote was counted and he could tell the pensioners in his electorate that he abstained from voting. I would not be surprised if he were back in the lavatory again tonight.
Social security beneficiaries are slipping further and further below the poverty line. Where will this assault on Australian living standards end? The replacement of half-yearly indexation with annual indexation has been joined by other cutbacks such as the reintroduction of the means test for aged pensioners over 70. Pensioners in particular cannot sustain any further loss in purchasing power. Those who have no extra income and who are in rented accommodation have had no increase in supplementary assistance since 1975.
With regard to our veterans, this Government is also full of promises, but empty of responsibility. The Opposition is occasionally referred to as anti-defence or anti-returned soldier. But let us look at the facts. Between 1972 and 1975 more benefits were granted to our returned servicemen and women than for many years previously. The story over the last two years has proved a terrible shock to many veterans who had a tendency to support the other side of politics- that of honourable members opposite. Even the family allowance has not been indexed. Making an allowance for child endowment and for the tax rebate which Labor introduced in 1975 and which were effective from the beginning of that financial year, in real terms, a family is worse off now as against 1975 by between $2.16 a week in the case of a family with one dependent child and $7.46 a week in the case of a family with six dependent children. I put it to the House that it is unfair and cruel to raise the hopes of the pensioners and other social security and repatriation beneficiaries in this country. If enough Government members are concerned about this injustice, then let them clearly indicate their concern in the vote on this motion. If they do not do so, then pensioners will know that only a change of government will restore the value of their pensions.
Whatever the views of Government members, as members of this House, may be- they may believe that by abolishing six-monthly indexation they are carrying out a great fight against inflation and are doing a great thing for this country, even though somebody else has to bear the burden- I put one proposition to them. It was told to the Senate this afternoon by the Minister for Social Security and it has been claimed in Press reports that it was told to Government members by the Prime Minister at their joint party meeting, that no matter what this House decides on this particular matter, the Government will not go ahead with six-monthly indexation, that no money will be provided. As one of those parliamentarians who at least in theory believe that we should have some say in the running of this country, I find it extremely depressing that people, no matter what their basic view on this issue, can accept that proposition from their Prime Minister or from their Cabinet. Government supporters talk a lot about their membership of a free party and being free to do all sorts of thing, but they cannot even make decisions in their party room. They are told by their Prime Minister that no matter what their decision is, the money will not be made available. So it does not matter what they believe, it does not matter what decision they come to, the Prime Minister has made up his mind that there is not going to be any money made available and they can pass as many resolutions as they like.
The honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) often talks about the privileges of parliamentarians. Surely he must have a view on this proposition. Surely he believes that there ought to be some responsibility on the part of members of this House and of members of the Senate, if they pass a motion indicating to the Government that certain things should or should not be done, to ensure that the Government is obliged to try to carry out those wishes as far as possible. But to pre-empt the proposition in the first instance by saying that no matter what this House decides, no matter what the Government party meeting decides, no matter what the Senate decides, the Government will not give in on this issue, seems to me to be a complete contravention and contradiction of the responsibility of Cabinet to the two Houses of Parliament.
Mr Deputy Speaker, this debate will bring a moment of truth for some members of this House. The pensions indexation provision of last year’s Budget was a direct calculated fraud. It meant reneging on a promise made less than a year earlier. It meant a deliberate slashing of the living standards of those Australians whose living standards were already lowest. It meant the sacrifice of principle for the sake of political expediency. It was one of the most cynical measures in a Budget notable for its contempt of the people who had so recently trusted this Government to the point of voting for it. All these things were known to the members of the Government parties; yet they would do nothing about them. Until recently they have been united in the silence of conspirators- more afraid of their dictatorial leader than of the retribution of their constituents. Now, some of them profess a deep concern for the pensioners who have been robbed and cheated by the abolition of halfyearly adjustments. Here is their chance to demonstrate their good faith. How, in conscience, could any member of this House oppose what we are suggesting? How could any member here deny that the Government’s measure has made life even harsher for hundreds of thousands of Australia’s least privileged citizens? The realities are undeniable. They challenge the conscience of every member and we shall soon see how that challenge is met. I hope no member of this House sentences himself to leave the chamber carrying the brand of a hypocrite.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. The first issue that is before us in considering the non-indexation of pensions is, the fundamental question of the credibility of the Government, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the spokesmen of the Liberal Party. One does not have a great deal of difficulty finding the words in terms of what this Government has said and what its spokesmen have said from the very beginning when the Liberal and National Country Parties went to the election of 1975 through to the Budget that we have just seen passed and even now after the Budget we have the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) saying quite clearly that the Government’s commitment to the indexation of pensions was unconditional. She said in the Senate:
The policy itself and the introduction of that policy into legislation made no qualifications. A subsequent Government decision this Budget has changed the approach to increasing pensions but at the time the policy was announced or legislation was enacted there was no qualification on it.
There is no equivocation there, nor was there any equivocation before that Budget was framed. Repeatedly various Government spokesmen, members of the other side of the House, gave a commitment to Australia’s two million pensioners that they could depend on getting their pension increases along with the movements in the consumer price index on a six-monthly basis. The Government gave that commitment and people heard it, they understood it and they believed it, and in two elections they voted on that basis. Despite those sentiments this Government has ratted on the pensioners of Australia and that is what this debate is about. It is about a government which has ratted on the pensioners of this country.
The second issue that is important, and it is important in the context of various debates that we had right through last year and the debate that we had yesterday, is that the only way that this Government and the only way that the Prime Minister within this Government can ever deal with a debate in this House is to go back and say: Well, have a look at the Labor Party’s record’. Well let us have a look at the Labor Party’s record in relation to pensions. The facts are that between 1972 and 1975 pensions increased under Labor by 93.75 per cent. That is almost double compared to a 50 per cent increase in the CPI and a 64 per cent increase in average weekly earnings. During the period 1975 to 1978, a period in which this Government has been in power, pensions have increased by 37 per cent. However the CPI has increased by 38 per cent and average weekly earnings by 32 per cent. That is, under Labor in relation to the CPI the position of pensioners improved by almost 50 per cent, whereas under this Government the position of pensioners even before we look at what is going to happen in the next year with the renewal of inflation has in fact relatively deteriorated. That point can be made about the whole history of Liberal governments in the postwar period. We hear from the other side a great deal about the Whitlam Government, but we do not hear about the successive governments in the postwar period which, in fact, created the situation where it was necessary for a government, in any sense of fairness and justice to the pensioners of this country, to award the kinds of massive increases that occurred during Labor’s terms in office. One makes no apologies for that.
One can go on to say that one does not need an expensive public relations campaign, one does not need to put on extra staff in the Prime Minister ‘s office to get the message through to pensioners across Australia just what has happened in terms of the non-indexation of pensions. I want to quote from PM of 12 February the remarks of Mrs Ellis, who is the president of the Combined Pensioners Association. I think this puts in a very matter of fact kind of way what the Government is doing and how it is understood by pensioners not only in the safe Labor electorates or in the marginal electorates where Liberal members are getting nervous but also right across Australia. Huw Evans said:
You mention that it is a hit in the bread basket, as you put it, just how hard does it hit pensioners.
Mrs Ellis said:
Well everybody goes down to the shops to buy goods over the counter and what it means is from next May pensioners, single pensioners, will have about $2.30 less in the pay packet which they should have, and when you go down to buy your goods you have got to have the money, and the thing is, the married couples about $3.80 a week, that’s what they’re losing by the scrapping of the twice yearly pension increases and that’s a considerable amount of money and … at least 90 per cent of all aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, even though they may have some other income, depend on social security cash benefits for survival and that’s the nitty gritty of the whole thing.
Huw Evans went on to ask how she felt about the fact that people were going to get their sixmonthly increases through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and Mrs Ellis said:
Oh well we ‘re not feeling- we ‘re j just feeling about it that a pledge has been broken. It was written into the legislation and it was anticipated it would be carried out, it was said it would be carried out and then suddenly it is wiped out and as far as the workers getting it twice yearly, well certainly we should have it twice yearly too and only on the basis of a pledge that was made and of the need, of making it twice yearly.
I think when Mrs Ellis talks about what it is like to live without that kind of marginal increase and when she talks about what it is like to feel betrayed, she is not simply speaking as someone at the head of some large organisation but I think she is echoing what pensioners around Australia are feeling.
When I spoke in the debate on the Social Services Bill last October I said that that particular Bill and the amendments it encompassed marked the point where the failure of the
Government’s economic strategy begins seriously to affect its capacity to maintain active programs which will guarantee the security of people dependent on Government assistance. The cost of the Government’s strategy, as the member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) pointed out this morning, are now being felt. Our society cannot afford to have at least three-quarters of a million people not producing and face a fiscal crisis. This Government is confronted with just such a crisis. All that rubbish about Labor getting the country into hock, the single-minded obsession of the Prime Minister with depressing wages and endeavouring to reduce inflation at whatever the cost, the huge transfers involved to enable strong industries to make higher and higher profits while displacing workers, the millions going over to mining companies that have reduced employment while increasing thenprofits, the elimination of every vestige of wealth taxes, and here we are still in hock, and we find that the pensioners of this country cannot even get the kind of justice that they were promised and repromised over a period of three years.
One has to admire the courage of those members on the other side of the House who do in a sense stand up against Government strategy particularly in relation to the situation of pensioners, but the fact is that they are caught in a party which has more people on Mr Fraser ‘s side than on their side. Too many people on the Government side have no feeling for what a couple of dollars means to a battler and to a pensioner. They have no sense of the incredible effect which, for example, the massive increases in food prices in the December quarter have on the pensioner or on people who have to decide on how many days of the week they might eat meat, when on not one of those days win it be steak. They have no sense of what it means to miss out on a show, a drink in a pub or a holiday at the beach. They have no feeling for the people on low incomes who have supported kids at school and often have battled to give them what they thought would be a good start, only to see them unemployed.
In 1971 the Prime Minister said that we had had generations of Australians who had not known what it meant to live in a rugged society. Our difficulty at the moment, and it is a difficulty of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), is that we have a Prime Minister who also has never known what it means and who, on the whole, surrounds himself with people who again do not know what it means. It is that which the pensioners in my electorate and in other
Labor electorates know about the Prime Minister. He is not and never will be, one of them, and in no sense will he ever understand what that which he sees as a small amount of money can mean to people on marginal incomes. In saying all this I do not want to suggest that there are not people of empathy on both sides of the House or that we do not have people of conscience here. The reality is that we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, caught up in this isolated and classbound institution, making decisions with little feeling for their impact on people. The honourable member for Franklin, in his last speech on the issue, said that he was, and always would be, a member of the Liberal Party. I °.uy to him -
Order! The level of conversation in the chamber is far too high. I am surprised that the honourable members on my left seem so uninterested in the remarks of their colleague.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a brutal act by the -
-Order! The honourable member for Robertson should know better than to seek the call while the Chair is addressing the chamber. I ask honourable gentlemen on my left, particularly those who have been engaged in vigorous conversation, to have more regard for the remarks of their colleague.
-The honourable member for Franklin was pointing out that he has always been, and always will be, a member of the Liberal Party. I point out to the House that if one looks at the history of social security legislation and payments in the post-war period one has to come to the conclusion that it is a party which historically has depressed the incomes of people who are dependent on the Government for support and which historically has sought to maintain wages at a low level. Essentially, the issue before us is not one of individual conscience, although one hopes that enough honourable members will have sufficient sympathy with the people on lower incomes and with pensioners to vote for this motion. Nevertheless, putting that aside, one has to recognise that in a sense the Government has made not only this decision but a whole complex of decisions which are increasing and multiplying the inequities which exist in our society. The trend since this Government came to power has been to erode benefits, and as long as it remains in power that will continue to be the trend.
As the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) suggested, increasingly around
Australia people who are as directly aware of the impact of Government policy as they are aware of what this particular issue is about also will be aware that this Government and the parties behind it are not to be trusted, because whatever it says in the context of an election campaign, whatever guarantees its Ministers give either inside or outside the House and whatever the words of this Government may be, we know that inevitably its deeds are in the direction of this particular decision, that is, to reduce people’s benefits, to increase inequities and to create a situation where people are literally forced below the poverty line. I commend the motion to the House.
– This motion has nothing to do with pensioners; it has nothing to do with indexation; but it has everything to do with the running of the economy. This motion has been raised largely to embarrass one of our colleagues, the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck), who, with our colleague, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman), has been associated with an announcement which gave vent to a concern shared by every member of our joint parties that is, the level of benefit flowing to pensioners. In this motion, however, there is no call for us to demonstrate our concern for pensioners because what the honourable gentlemen on the other side of the House are putting to us tonight is not whether pensions should be indexed but whether there should be another Budget. We recall that they gave us three Budgets, in 1973, 1974 and 1975. Would anybody in his right mind give the Australian Labor Party another chance to introduce a Budget? The circumstances of those three years and the consequences for persons on fixed incomes and for pensioners were such that they were denied the capability of surviving in a society where inflation rose to near record levels. Of course, what happened was that the Labor Party lost all common sense when determining the amount of money which a government could spend. The Labor Government thought that it was its money. But it was not its money; it was the taxpayers’ money. What it was trying to do was take away from the pensioners and other persons on fixed incomes the opportunities and rights which persons should receive from a government which runs the economy properly.
This motion is only a political gimmick. No-one in his right mind would doubt the sincerity of the concern for pensioners of anybody on this side of the House. Our record since 1975 demonstrably has been one of providing increased benefits to all persons on fixed incomes including pensioners, whether age or invalid pensioners, who are affected detrimentally by the inflation and unemployment in which the Labor Government took such delight. That really is what this motion is all about. I do not believe that there is any point in this House for one moment thinking that if we were to accept this motion and introduce a new Budget to accommodate the requirements of this motion the pensioners would be better off. Of course they would not be better off because we would be spending more money and increasing the rate of inflation. I wonder how many honourable gentlemen opposite realise that at the rate of inflation which they attained during their years in office- when they did not have automatic indexation and when they said that they introduced as a matter of government decision six-monthly indexation when the rate of inflation was 17 per cent- the pensioners were a lot worse off arithmetically then they are with 12-monthly indexation at the present level of inflation which, as a result of our budgetary strategies and our economic policies is down to j lust a little over 7 per cent.
There is no doubt that the character of the inflation problem was the reason that this country so nearly came to its knees under a Treasurer who is now the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, that is what it is all about. Indexation grew out of inflation. Inflation was the genesis, the cause, of indexation. It was essential that the Labor Government had a means by which it could reduce the impact on the whole of the community- on the wage earners as well as those on fixed incomes- of the decisions it took. The Labor Government overspent through its inflationary policies. It decided that it would throw to the wolves the attitudes of responsibility for which this country had been renowned for so long. Indexation was introduced as a means to try to give people some chance to keep up with the costs as they continued to escalate.
Our budgetary policies have reduced the level of inflation and added to the value of the benefits that have been paid significantly to persons on fixed incomes. There has been a suggestion that in quantitative terms and in real terms pensioners are worse off. What utter nonsense. It is one of the attributes of our side of the House that we have a genuine concern for the disadvantaged. We have demonstrated it in practice and policies. Our budgets have pursued a tactic which has brought to everybody in the community a significant advantage.
The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) has said: ‘I will gain a political advantage if I move a motion tonight. I will embarrass a couple of members on the other side of the House. ‘ The Labor Party has already shown how embarrassed it is in Tasmania. How many members of the House of Representatives does the Labor Party have from Tasmania? Why has the honourable member for Prospect moved this motion? He has done so because the Labor Party has no Tasmanian members. Honourable members opposite have said: ‘We are all sweetness and light. We have great big hearts. We have no common sense as far as economics is concerned, it is true, but we will move this motion which will embarrass the members of the House of Representatives from Tasmania.’ That is utter nonsense. Every honourable member on this side of the House believed that automatic indexation was essential. It was because we believed that automatic indexation was necessary that we introduced it. I trust that no member of the House and no member of the Labor Party forgets that it was the ALP which voted against full automatic indexation of pensions. That is the party whose members have said: ‘Tut, tut. We ought to have indexation every six months.’ The fact that they voted against full automatic indexation demonstrates, perhaps more than anything else, where their real concern is.
The Labor Party has no prerogative of concern on humanity. That party constituted the most profligate government that this country has ever had. Inflation was the genesis of indexation. Indexation is certainly necessary when inflation runs at the level it did in those days. Because of our budgetary policies it has been significantly reduced. The whole product of the Budget itself, of course, has been to reduce government expenditure, the number of Commonwealth civil servants and the deficit. The product of this motion is to add to the deficit. It will not significantly improve the circumstances of the pensioner. We are committed to ensuring that the real value of pensions paid in the Australian community continues to increase. Pensions are increased automatically not only because of the level of benefit paid to the pensioner but also because the level of cost increases in our community is significantly lower as a result of the cost benefits that have flowed from reducing inflation, reducing the proportion of income which the Government takes, reducing taxation and generally getting the Australian community back into a position in which private enterprise and the individual have some chance once again. There is no doubt that deficits and unemployment were the only growth factors in the days of Labor budgets. Pity help us if, as a result of a motion in this House, our Budget is changed and we go back to that sort of growth.
It is interesting to note that the honourable member for Franklin has not introduced a private member’s Bill. He has said responsibly that he would like to see six-monthly indexation reintroduced. So, I believe, would at least 90 per cent of members on the Country Party and Liberal Party benches. However, what we prefer to see are real benefits flowing to the pensioner. A new budget containing six-monthly indexation with all the products of an added deficit which would flow would have a consequential impact on the level of inflation. That would destroy any real benefits of Australian pensioners. Demonstrable benefits have flowed to pensioners since we have been in government. There is no doubt that a great deal has been done. There has been a 37.3 per cent increase in pensions since 1975. Over that period pensions have risen at a rate greater than average weekly earnings have risen. They have risen by less than 34 per cent.
In November 1975 the single rate pension was $38.75. Today it is $53.20. Inflation has been halved. Pensioners have received an added benefit and the advantage that there is no longer the same escalation in costs. The level of income allowable for entitlement to pensions has been increased from $97.50 a week in November 1975 to $122.90 in August 1978. Over 500 new selfcontained hostel and nursing projects have been commenced providing 15,000 beds in the three years since we returned to government. Last financial year 609 approved premises received a personal care subsidy which provided for 16, 166 aged people who need special attention or who are 80 years of age or above. This subsidy amounted to $ 12.6m, an increase of $1.5m over 1 976-77. These areas demonstrate the concern of the Liberal and Country parties for individuals, pensioners and the aged in our community. Four hundred senior citizens centre projects have been funded between 1976 and 1979 to a value of $28.5m. These projects range from large capital approvals to build new centres to minor items of equipment for existing centres.
Total expenditure on home care services, housekeeping, gardening, and home repairs has increased from $5. 7m in the last year of the Labor Government’s term to $ 10.4m this year, a rise of 82.5 per cent. Total subsidies for meals on wheels increased by 30 per cent over the last three years to an estimated $2.3m last year. The sharp reduction in inflation and the continued demonstration in each of the sensitive areas of benefit, from family allowance on, indicates this
Government’s concern in a practical way through a budget introduced responsibly which we believe provides a far greater net benefit to the persons about whom the Labor Party pretends to be concerned than any motion to introduce a new budget.
There are a couple of other facts and figures which I know the Labor Party does not like. The rabble of Labor Party members in the House clearly demonstrate the level of their intellect and concern. The number of pensioners has nearly doubled since the day when the Labor Party came to office. Not only have their numbers gone up but also the rate of benefit payable to those people has gone up. We are debating a motion that has been moved with a great deal of blarney by the honourable member for Prospect. He is wearing his heart on his sleeve. That is reminiscent of others of yesteryear in his party. The Labor Party has demonstrated no real concern for the disadvantaged. I would hope that we all share a concern that adequate funds be provided by the Government from the taxpayers’ resources for pensioners and others who are disadvantaged. This motion will not achieve that end. It Will not help any pensioner in the Australian community. Its purpose is to introduce a new budget but no new budget will advantage the pensioners of Australia.
-I take a point of order. The right honourable member for Lowe is trying to stand over the honourable member for Chifley.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
-It is terribly important to realise several facts. Firstly, we have demonstrably added to the net take home pay of every pensioner in the Australian community. We will continue to do so. In circumstances of high inflation, frequent indexation adjustments are essential. In circumstances of low inflation I believe that the measures we have introduced can be justified. I am sure that every member in the House endorses a more frequent application of indexation when the level of inflation justifies it. This is purely a political ploy to embarrass a couple of honourable members of this House. In no way will it possibly contribute to improving the situation of Australian pensioners. I therefore say that the Government cannot accept this sort of a half-baked new budget proposal halfway through a year when the Budget, which my colleague the Treasurer (Mr Howard) introduced, demonstrably has proved to be so effective and successful. Even the Leader of the Opposition is beginning to acknowledge that our economic programs are a success.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The Minister’s time has expired.
-This is obviously the end of the charade, the end of the farce that has lasted a few weeks within the Government parties. Instead of seeing the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) speaking on this matter, whom did we see? We saw the Leader of the House, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), the Government’s enforcer, the Frank Nitti of the National Country Party, the honourable member for New England. He is aided and abetted of course by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch). We on this side of the House since the last election have never seen the Government so much in disarray as this evening. The Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party has been strong arming the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). The right honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon) has been doing the same, running between the two. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) has nearly turned purple up the back of the chamber. We have never seen so much pressure being applied to honourable members in this area.
The Government brought the debate on. Who was the first speaker in this debate? It was not the honourable member for Franklin, the man who was going to introduce his own legislation. He is not in the debate. The Minister for Primary Industry has spoken. What has he ever had to do with social security which ever benefited anybody? He has more in common with Harry M. Miller than he has with pensioners in this country.
– I was Minister for four years.
– The Minister is the man who presided over pensioners receiving 18 per cent of average weekly earnings. He is the Minister who brought in 50c and $1.50 increases under Prime Minister McMahon.
– You were not here. You were still at school, little boy.
– I was here in those days to watch him. The Minister was the most heartless Minister for Social Services that this country ever had. The only successful revolt with any kind of humanitarianism in it that he ever led was the revolt on the pensioners’ funeral benefit. And who led that? It was the Minister for Primary Industry.
– The body snatcher.
– That is right, the body snatcher, the man with the room full of gold teeth. He led the debate on that matter. That was his only contribution to it. So, he should not stand up in this place and talk about pensioners. He was part of the sorry brigade before 1972 that kept pensioners in this country impoverished.
What do we see tonight? Not a genuine debate. The Opposition moved this motion; the Government has facilitated it. It has not gagged it. A notice of motion was given on this matter. The Government brought on the debate because it was acutely embarrassed. We believe that the honourable member for Franklin has been under pressure all day by members of his party. I do not wonder why. The truth is that the Government parties have broken another major election promise. They slashed the living standards of those Australians who are least able to afford the impact of rising costs, the people in the lowest economic levels of the community.
Another clear promise of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has been blatantly broken. He said that he would maintain the value of pensions. He did for about a year and then of course the Government parties moved away from the twice-yearly indexation of pensions. He is the Prime Minister who brought pensions back into politics. During the three years of Labor Government the principle of the relationship of fixation of pensions to average weekly earnings was clearly established. When Labor came to power in 1972, pensions represented 18 per cent of average weekly earnings. In the three years of Labor government they were fixed at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. That was the objective of the Labor Government. It stuck to its promise and continued to index pensions twice yearly to represent 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It took the Prime Minister to come to power to break that automatic adjustment, to bring pensions back into politics. Of course this was all in the interests of the mean Budget deficit, the obsession with the Budget deficit. Let us see how much pensioners are disadvantaged by the latest increases. The December quarter consumer price index increase of 2.3 per cent of course will not be passed on yet. The next pension increase will be at the end of November of this year.
– That is assuming that they get the lot.
– That is assuming that they get the lot. The 1.5 per cent decrease in the CPI because of the reduction in health costs was passed on to the rest of the community but was not passed on to pensioners. Last year’s national wage increase of 4 per cent will not be passed on. The next national wage increase, which will be about 2Vi per cent, will not be passed on. That is, a 10.3 per cent increase will not be passed on until at least, November 1979, the earliest possible date. That represents about $9 a week for a married pensioner couple and $5.30 a week for a single pensioner. That is the kind of injustice which honourable members opposite are inflicting upon the people in the community least able to afford the impact of that action.
What a poor contrast that is to the payment of pension equal to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, or 50 per cent for a married couple, when Labor left office. But the Minister for Primary Industry has the contempt to point the bone at the Australian Labor Party when he presided over 50c increases in the couple of years when he was Minister for Social Services. It is the lowest possible political act cynically to score off pensioners. This measure has been introduced by the Liberal Party to raise the expectations of pensioners and then to dash them. It might seem a trifle to honourable members opposite or something that is all in the sport of politics but of course it damages the pensioners.
In my electorate last week I went to a meeting of 200 pensioners. They were saying: ‘Go down and support Mr Goodluck’. That is the message members of the Opposition got. We gave him two days to introduce his Bill. There was no sign of him yesterday when the Speaker called for notices. He was not even in the House. Today he was in the House but did not give notice of his motion. Notice was given by my colleague, the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). All that the honourable member for Franklin has done has been cynically to score off his own colleagues. Every person in politics knows that a member of a government can get publicity by scoring off his colleagues, by saying that he will change something when he knows he has no chance of changing it.
On 12 October last year, when proposals were put forward by the Opposition to give effect to the twice-yearly indexation of pensions the honourable members for Franklin, Denison and Isaacs and the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) all voted against those amendments. There was no attempt by them to restore the twice-yearly indexation of pensions. Yet the honourable member for Franklin tries to raise this issue, knowing full well that he will not have the support of the Government parties, to score off his colleagues cynically at the expense of people who may believe him, the pensioners in this community, He is referred to as a Tasmanian devil. We know where his stripe is.
– A big yellow one.
– That is right, a big yellow one. We know where it is. The truth is that when it comes to the crunch he is more like the Scarlet Pimpernel. He is never around to do the things that he promises. Now, with the facilitation of this debate, the moment of truth has come and we will see just where he stands. The people of his State- I go there frequently- have been misled often by this man. They have had the wool pulled over their eyes believing the things that he says in Tasmania. When he comes here it is a different story. He is then cajoled by the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman), the man who now sits next to him, trying to pressure him once again. He is another Minister who made a clear commitment in the last election campaign that there would be twice-yearly indexation of pensions. Government Ministers cannot be believed. This is the most dishonourable government in Australian history. It can never be believed. There is no such thing as a sacrosanct promise under the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) or any of his Ministers, or indeed the backbench of the Government parties.
Now is the chance for the Government to show its bona fides. We will know once and for all whether the Fraser Government is prepared to give justice to pensioners with the restoration of twice annual adjustments to pensions. We will see whether the mouth from the south, the honourable member for Denison, or the honourable member for Franklin or their colleagues will stand up to support the Opposition in support of this measure. Again the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and the Government Whip pressure members on that side of the House in a disgraceful show of cynicism in this Parliament. Now the time has come when the test should be made and we should hear from the honourable member for Franklin or the honourable member for Denison where they stand on this issue. We will know once and for all whether they are the phoneys that we on this side of the House believe them to be.
-Last night a senator made a statement in the other House that I was not going to introduce the Bill. That was an untruth and he knew it. Today, quite cynically a matter of urgency was raised in the other House. To my dismay, the Opposition decided to give notice of a motion similar to the Bill that it knew I was genuinely trying to introduce.
Opposition members interjecting-
-I only wish that pensioners of Australian could hear tonight just exactly what you fellows are like. You continually say: Come over and vote with us’. But you never come over here and vote with us. That is quite obvious and well known.
Opposition members interjecting-
– Give him a go.
-I do not need a go from them. I can answer them quite clearly, because I am going to tell the truth and that will hurt the Opposition. The Opposition knows that I am genuine about it and that I tried. I had every intention of introducing that Bill tomorrow, Thursday. Members of the Opposition are probably right. I have hurt my colleagues and for that I am very sorry, particularly after hearing the cynical remarks today. For example, an Opposition senator introduced this matter into the Senate. The first thing he did was to start to run down Bruce Goodluck. He thought that that was the best attack. He said that I did this, I did that and so on. All of a sudden there was a complete realisation that you were not interested in the pensioners but you were interested only in destroying Bruce Goodluck. You wanted his blood. You will get his blood tonight. I will vote with you and I hope that you will be very satisfied that you have got me over there, away from my colleagues.
I know that I have made mistakes and my colleagues know that. I know that sometimes I am impetuous and I jump into certain arenas which I probably should not do. But I always try to tell the truth, not like you fellows. You have used a decent-
– Dry your eyes.
-I do not need to dry my eyes. That is very easy to answer and a very stupid remark.
– I take a point of order. I have been a member for quite a long time. The point of order I want to take is that I have been a member for 30 years and I have never heard a member be so disrespectful to members of this House by continually referring to them as ‘you fellows’. We are honourable members and I think that the honourable member should be pulled up. I know that he is excited but he at least ought to have some manners.
-I call the honourable member for Franklin.
-I concede to the honourable gentlemen because I have a fair bit of respect for him. I will try to address the gentlemen opposite in the correct way. I am sorry for not having done so. What honourable members opposite tried to do today was to push me into the ground, but I think their action will rebound on them. I think that people will start to realise the situation. I have got the Bill in front of me and I will tear it up tonight.
– Tear it up.
-I will tear it up and throw it on the floor because it is worthless now. The Opposition has tried to outsmart me and I think that it has outsmarted itself because we will get the half-yearly indexation. It might take a while but we will get it. I know that my colleagues will support it. I have started to realise that being the Prime Minister of this country is a difficult job.
– I take a point of order. I draw the attention of the House and of you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to Standing Order 55.1 believe that it is proper that when an honourable member is speaking under great difficulty then the larrikins of the House should not try to prevent him from speaking.
– Sit down. You did not stop interjections.
– You shut up.
– I have shown more guts in this House than you have shown anywhere in your lifetime.
-Order! The right honourable member for Lowe will quickly come to his point of order.
– I ask that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, appeal to the Opposition to listen to the honourable gentleman who is speaking and give him the opportunity to say what he thinks and what his conscience dictates he should do. They are behaving in an abominable fashion. I ask you to do this, Mr Deputy Speaker.
-Order! The right honourable member for Lowe has certainly drawn attention through his point of order to the lamentable behaviour in the House this evening. The level of noise has been so excessive that we have had situations where members on one side of the House or the other have been completely disrespectful to their own colleagues who were addressing the House. It would seem that the House is intent not so much on debate as on donnybrook. The Chair has the authority through the Standing Orders to deal with honourable members who so offend. The Chair would much prefer that honourable members demonstrate a responsibility towards themselves in this House and not require the Chair to act.
– It is not my intention to inflame the House. I got up to put my point of view sincerely -
– You phoney.
– You have had your turn today. The Opposition had its turn in the Senate and here tonight. The Opposition has made some very disrespectful remarks about me. I can take that. I will give a little bit more before I finish. I think the Opposition has outplayed its hand today. It tried to take this matter out of my hands. It thought that it would be smart and outsmart me and outsmart my colleagues. But I think it will rebound because I think that the pensioners -
– You are a phoney.
– You made a statement a little while ago that 200 pensioners said: ‘I hope you support Bruce Goodluck’, but you tried to crucify Bruce Goodluck today. The Opposition tried to ruin me; it tried to press me into the ground. It did it in the Senate and it decided to do it here tonight. But it has rebounded. It will not go over in Tasmania. I can tell the Opposition that now. The pensioners in Tasmania will understand that I have been genuine. I have been under some attack from my colleagues, but I forgive them and I will forget about that because we are going to work towards the common goal. Of course, all government make mistakes, and I am afraid that my Government made a mistake. I have made that point several times. The Opposition has used the pensioners -
– You have.
-Probably. I will use the words in a simple way to try to overcome the problem for the Opposition. The Opposition has used the pensioners to try to ruin me and a few of my colleagues, but it has rebounded. Tonight I hope that my colleagues will remember that we have to fight to try to persuade the Government, Cabinet and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to change their decision. We have to change the decision ourselves. We should not be subjected to the political ridicule to which we have been subjected tonight. I should not be subjected to what I have been subjected to in the last three or four weeks. I probably deserve it, but it should now be forgotten. We have to get on with the job and hopefully we can overcome the problems faced by pensioners.
I should like to indicate that my colleague the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) has stuck by me rigidly. He probably knows that I have made a few cardinal errors along the way. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) also has stuck by me. Other honourable members possibly would have stood by me, but they probably disagreed with my strategy. For that, I am very sorry. Tonight, we have not debated the pensioner issue. We have not debated the pensioner of Australia. This has just been a political exercise, as were the debates on the funeral benefits and apples. The senator to whom I referred earlier said tonight that I had backed down on certain things. I have never backed down. The Opposition has used me because it knows damn well that I am sincere. It has used me as a political cannon ball to suit its own aspirations, to try to gain a seat in Tamania. It wants to try to get its own member into the electorate of Franklin. I challenge Senator Wriedt. He said that I should stand as an Independent. He has been elected by his party. I challenge him to stand for the seat of Franklin in the House of Representatives. Take that challenge to him and see how he goes. He would not have the- I will not use the word I was going to use. That is Senator Wriedt for you. I will not use the word I was going to use.
– Tell us what you did in October. Why did you not vote against the Bill in October?
-Order! I call the honourable member for Melbourne to order.
– When has the honourable member for Melbourne ever voted against his party? In the years 1972 to 1975 when the Whitlam Government made some very bad decisions, did any of you fellows cross the floor and vote with the Opposition? No. You used your precious little Caucus to preserve yourselves because you have not got the fortitude to come out into the open and make decisions for yourselves. It would be easy for us to be governed by a caucus, but we are not. That is the reason we joined the Liberal Party. We have the opportunity to stand up here in this House of Representatives and speak our minds, as I am doing tonight. Do not honourable members on my side of the House agree with me? That is the reason we joined the Liberal Party. The Opposition is governed by its Caucus. Of course, I have been ruined tonight. There is the stupid looking BUI. Take the Bill. It means nothing now because the Opposition has ruined it politically. Members of the Opposition are the ones who have let down the pensioners tonight- not me and not my colleagues. We will get there. I hope that my colleagues will fight on and that we will get the halfyearly indexation of pensions which we started out to get.
-Until tonight I had considerable respect for the position taken by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck). However, I think after the speech we have just heard and the performance that has just been given it is difficult to retain that respect. If the honourable member for Franklin believes that what we are doing tonight is simply a political ploy then he can stay on that side of the House tonight and introduce his Bill tomorrow. Further, as a sign of the sincerity and conviction of our position, whatever he does tonight, we will support his measure tomorrow because we are consistent in our opposition to this decision in the Budget. He has his opportunity. If he really believes in his cause and believes that tonight is simply a political stunt then let him stay on that side of the House tonight. If that is the reason for doing so, then tomorrow let him introduce the Bill that he believes in and we will continue to support it. As my colleagues have said, the issue tonight is, firstly, the credibility of the Government. Secondly, however, it is the credibility of each member on the Government benches who followed the Ministry into a campaign last year in which certain pledges were made. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is a test of the compassion, the sense of social equity of each member of the Government benches. We heard the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) tonight talking about how this paltry $2 7m- that is all that is involved this year, this paltry $27m- was somehow going to threaten inflation in this country. The Government has already got a deficit of $2, 800m and is likely to have a deficit of $3,500m. We have listened tonight to the Minister saying that $27m would set off an inflationary spiral. Let us look at the facts of what your leaders said when they went to the people in December 1977, and I quote from the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser):
We have taken politics out of pension increases by linking them automatically with the Consumer Price Index.
That is not quite sufficient; with this Prime Minister you have to watch every tiny word. But the implication was clear, a commitment to pension increases by linking them automatically with the consumer price index. If that was not clear enough, those words echo an even clearer commitment made by the Prime Minister in the same year in which he said:
We are committed to take politics out of pension increases by giving automatic increases in line with price rises twice a year.
That was an unequivocal commitment given in March 1977. Those words in March 1977 echoed again in December 1 977. As I have said before in this House, the problem with any pledges made by this Prime Minister is that they are rather like the statements of ‘shonky’, second hand car dealers. If the Prime Minister is not good enough- I do not believe he is any longer good enough to be trusted by the Australian people- I have greater respect for Senator Guilfoyle because that lady has usually kept her pledges. This is an advertisement which she gave in the election of December 1977, and I quote her words:
We believe that to maintain the purchasing power of pensions and benefits is important. We said that we would do that and we’ve done it and I believe that this is one of the things that has been most thankfully received by those people who do receive them. I’ve had lots of people say to me ‘you’ve given us dignity because you don’t argue about our rises every six months’.
That was an advertisement, a pledge given. Surely the people of Australia were entitled to expect with statements in the policy speech, with echoes of the Prime Minister’s own statement, with statements from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), that pensioners would continue, at least in the immediate future, to be given pension rises twice yearly. You do not have to take my words about them; your own people interpreted those words in the way that I am interpreting them tonight. The honourable member for Franklin said on 27 September
Those are the points we are making tonight. The Government said pensions were being taken out of politics and committed itself to twice yearly indexation. Here you have your own people understanding those pledges and those commitments in the way that most Australians understood them.
Let us take the member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) where he said:
I frankly do not think it is worth breaking a promise to nearly a million pensioners for a mere $ 1 5m.
It is rather interesting about the honourable member for Denison. I am not sure what the figure would be when he would break a promise, but at least for $15m he was not prepared to break a promise. Then the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) even more clearly said:
In 1975 the Liberal-Country Party coalition campaigned on the basis of automatic and instantaneous indexation of all pensions . . . The words ‘automatic’ and ‘instantaneous ‘ could have left no misimpression in the minds of the community.
He went on to say that he did not believe that that impression had been changed in the 1978 election.
Despite these pledges and despite what appeared by implication to be an unequivocal commitment, in the very next Budget after they were made we had this removal of twice yearly indexation- the very first Budget after these pledges were made, and for relatively paltry savings. This is a critical point. In this year you save $27m. True it is that in a full year you will save up to $60m. Yet $27m for over a million people is an enourmous spread across the community. As I said before, the Government has a Budget deficit of about $3, 000m. The $27m in that $3,000m would in no way affect the inflation situation of this country.
Then we had the Minister coming in tonight in that marvellous performance of irrelevant rhetoric in which he said that you cannot accept a Budget half way through the year, plucked out of the air. But how are you going to pay for your VIP jets- by money plucked out of the air. Something like $20m will be plucked out of the airnot in the Budget- during this year. Yet you are not prepared to pluck $27m out of the air for something like a million Australians.
What is the excuse for this paltry saving. The excuse given in the Budget was somehow that your achievement against inflation justified your action. If you read the speech of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) he said that the decision has been taken in the light of the significant reduction in inflation which the Government has achieved since its return to office. All right, there has been an achievement in the inflation field, but there is nothing at all in the history of twice-yearly adjustments to justify the claim that somehow it is related to inflation or to inflation gains. In fact the Minister for Social Security denied in the Senate last September that it was related to inflation. There is nothing in the history of the whole indexation of pensions to justify it being tied to inflation.
Again, there was much boasting about what you had achieved in inflation during the 1977 election. In fact it was the main theme that the Government talked about- its achievement in inflation. But in all those speeches there was never one suggestion that its achievements in inflation would justify annual indexation. The Government talked constantly about indexation but never mentioned once that its achievement there would justify reducing the indexation of pensions to once yearly in the very next Budget. Again, if we take this inflation matter, it is clear now that inflation will be rather static for the coming year; there is not going to be a reduction, it is going to remain at roughly the same level on all the indices we have.
-It is half.
-But it is much the same as last year when you were indexing the pension twice yearly. That is the point we are trying to make tonight- not remarks way back to 1972 and 1975.
Finally, and most importantly, the fundamental fact of this Budget decision is that it further reduces the real value of the pension. Pensioners will trail increasingly behind the cost of living adjustments. They were something like four months behind in the past but they will be a much longer period behind as a result of these changes.
I believe that there are many honourable members on the Government side of the House who, on this issue, are honourable men. As has been noted by my colleagues, in the debates on this issue four honourable members opposite deliberately abstained from voting. It is rumoured in the Press that there are many more honourable men in the Liberal Party- men who are concerned about the plight of the pensioners and who are concerned about back bench disquiet over broken pledges. If honourable members opposite are really concerned, they are faced with a decision of principle tonight. There is no doubt that the pledges given by leaders of the Liberal Party in the 1977 Federal election campaign have been broken by the Government’s decision. Therefore, if they are honourable men they will insist on the maintenance of the pledges that they followed in the election.
In addition, it is a mean and paltry decision, a decision which, whatever the exigencies of the economy and whatever difficulties we may be in, cannot be justified. The Government cannot justify the saving of $27m in terms of the inflationary situation of the Australian economy. It is a mean and paltry decision which, if Government members are honourable men, they will reject. Finally, it is a measure of great social inequity because honourable members opposite transfer the burden of fighting inflation to among the weakest and poorest sections of the community. If honourable members opposite have any social compassion, if they are honourable men in that sense, they too will support the motion moved tonight.
-I submit to the House that it should reject the principle that we ought to decide budgetary matters by way of private members’ Bills or motions moved by private members in this House. I suggest that it would be a totally unacceptable principle for stable government in this country to have government expenditure increased by way of personal initiatives taken in this House by private members. We all have many issues of concern. They involve matters on which we receive representations from our electors and to which we give a greater or lesser degree of priority. If each of us were to move motions or introduce private members’ Bills in this House designed to increase expenditure- I doubt that many of us would put forward Bills designed to reduce expenditure or to raise the taxes needed to provide for increased expenditure- the possibility of pursuing any coherent economic policy would be completely negated.
We all have many ideas that we want to put forward. We put them forward in the context of budgetary considerations by the Government, through the Government members’ committees, of which we on this side of the House are all members, in representations to Ministers and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and in discussions in the party room. But, once a Budget is decided upon by a government and has been debated and passed in this House and the other place, I believe that it is the responsibility of the government to carry out that Budget. I cannot support the proposition that individual members of this House should be able to introduce private members’ Bills which have the effect of increasing government expenditure.
I imagine that I could make myself a very popular fellow with many businessmen in my electorate if I introduced a Bill to reduce or to abolish sales tax. I would receive great applause. But I doubt that I would introduce a Bill to reduce expenditure in other areas to compensate for that loss of revenue. That precisely is the problems in private members putting forward private members’ Bills which have the effect of increasing government expenditure or reducing the revenue necessary to meet the Government’s commitments. On that principle, the procedure being suggested is not one that can be supported.
Let us look at some of the other factors that have been raised in this debate. It is quite misleading to consider the indexation of pensions separate from the levels of inflation in Australia, as spokesmen of the Australian Labor Party have attempted to do in this debate. As the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) said earlier in this debate, annual indexation of pensions, together with the low inflation levels being achieved by this Government, Will protect the value of pensions more than the high inflation of the Whitlam years of office and twice-yearly pension indexation. By bringing inflation down and by indexing pensions annually we provide greater protection for pensioners than twiceyearly indexation which was necessitated by the exorbitant levels of inflation brought about by the Whitlam Government’s policies. Certainly, with Labor-type inflation rates pensions would have to be indexed frequently. But this would not be an indication of any greater concern on the part of the Australian Labor Party; it would be an indication of its mismanagement of the economy which made those more frequent increases in pensions necessary.
What is the position of the pensioner who has a small additional income in the way of fixed interest securities? The Government’s commitment to fighting inflation is of great value to that person. In the three years of the Labor Government the consumer price index rose by SO per cent. In other words, the fixed income received by a pensioner was halved in real terms. Let us look at some of the developments that the Government has had to face through changes in the nature of our population and in social security commitments. In June 1968, 1000 workers in Australia were supporting 176 pensioners, including supporting parent beneficiaries. In June last year, 1000 workers in the work force were supporting 276 pensioners and other social security beneficiaries. Through the increase in eligibility for various social security pensions which has taken place over a period and because of the change in the age structure of the population, there has been an enormous increase in the commitment by government to social security pensioners. That is a factor that must be borne in mind when we look at the budgetary implications
Let us look also at the sheer increase in the number of age pensioners in that same period. In June 1968 there were more than 682,000 age pensioners in Australia
– That figure has doubled.
-Yes, the figure has doubled since then. In June 1978 there were 1,264,000 age pensioners. So we have seen a doubling of the age pensioner population in this country. That indicates the increasing commitment which governments have accepted for pension payments in this country.
I turn again to the total Budget outlay on social security. In the current Budget, it amounts to more than $8,000m, which represents about 28 per cent of estimated total Budget outlays for this year. That is a very considerable commitment. Commonwealth expenditure on health and welfare has increased from $1.4 billion in 1967-68 to $10.2 billion in 1977-78. That is a sevenfold rise in 10 years. In the current financial year, 1978-79, expenditure on health and welfare is expected to rise to $10.9 billion- almost $800 for every man, woman and child in Australia. So this Government is meeting a very substantial commitment for the health and welfare of the Australian people and, in particular, for the aged population of Australia. In a year of budgetary restraint- this year- the welfare budget rose by 7 per cent. So, let that fact give the he to those honourable members who claim that this Government is responsible for substantial cutbacks in social security benefits and welfare expenditure generally
I repeat that in a year of budgetary restraint there has been an increase of 7 per cent in the total welfare budget. About two million people, or roughly 15 per cent of the Australian population, receive the bulk of their income from the social security system. When we take into account 1.2 million age pensioners, over 250,000 invalid pensioners and all the other categories of social security beneficiaries, we have about two million people, or 15 per cent of the Australian population, receiving the bulk of their income from the social security system. In addition, of course, there are millions of mothers who qualify for family allowances.
In outlining the substantial commitment of the Government to assist age pensioners and other categories of social security beneficiaries, I draw attention to the total effect if each of us were to put forward a private member’s BUI which would increase expenditure, whether on pensions, on the extension of fringe benefits to categories of pensioners who now do not qualify, on the extension of eligibility for certain benefits, such as domiciliary nursing care- which, because of a particular institution would aid greatly a number of people in my electorate- or a number of other benefits, such as taxation concessions, which we would all like to introduce for various categories of people in our community. Where would it end? It is all very well to say that the proposal before us involves an expenditure of only $2 7m. The total effect of all of these other measures which individual members would feel constrained to put forward, if but one measure were successfully considered in this place, would be such that the implications for a stable budgetary policy would be quite horrendous. It would be just impossible for any government to pursue in a consistent fashion a budgetary package designed to tackle the economic problems of the country.
Indeed, in some respects, that is the kind of problem that emerged for the former Labor Government, made up as it is of people who are now on the Opposition benches. We recall that from time to time we would hear, by way of inspired leaks from the Labor caucus, that various members would advance motions to increase expenditure on various matters or extend benefits or concessions to various categories of people. Although each may have been laudable and supportable in themselves, the effect was that not one of the three Labor Treasurers that the Government had in those three years was able to pursue any sort of consistent budgetary policy, or maintain the integrity of a Budget. Expenditure burgeoned and the opportunity to raise revenue to meet that increased expenditure was lessened by the resistance from various power blocs in the caucus which sought, in the short term, to benefit their constituents by proposals which, in the medium and long term resulted in disastrous budgetary policies which had horrendous effects on this country’s economic development. That type of attitude to a Budget is one that we do not want to encourage. It would operate to the great disadvantage of this country.
I want now to comment on some of the remarks that have been made from time to time about so-called cutbacks by this Government in the provision of social security and welfare benefits. People criticise so-called cutbacks but do not look at the areas where substantial developments in, and extensions of, benefits have been introduced, I refer for instance to the fact that the single rate age pension has been increased from $38.75 a week, in November 1975 to $53.20 as from 1 November last. Again in 1976, this Government replaced the former complex means test by an easily understandable income test. This advance had the effect of increasing pension entitlement for people holding assets which produced a relatively low rate of return. There were certainly many people in my electorate who benefited as a result.
Moreover, for the three year period 1976-79 more than 500 new self-contained hostel and nursing projects, providing some 15,000 beds, have been approved under the Government’s program of accommodation for aged people. That program will be extended to include a fourth year, 1979-80.
Also, in 1977-78 a personal care subsidy was approved, in respect of some 609 premises, for more than 16,000 aged people who needed special attention or who were 80 years or more. The subsidy last year totalled $12. 6m, an increase over that for 1 976-77 of $ 1 .5m. Moreover, between 1976 and 1979 some 400 senior citizen centre projects, of a total value of $28.5m, have been funded. These ranged from large capital approvals for new centres to minor items of equipment for existing centres.
Again there has been an expansion of total expenditure on home care services for the aged, from $5.7m in 1975-76 to an estimated $ 10.4m in 1978-79. Total subsidies for Meals-on- Wheels have increased over the last three years by 30 per cent. Also, I would emphasise yet again, the sharp reduction over the last three years in inflation levels has helped to protect the savings and fixed incomes of many elderly people.
In 1977, the Social Services Act was amended to remove provisions which prevented a married woman from qualifying for sickness benefit on the same basis as a married man. Hitherto it has been alleged that that Act discriminated against women. Finally, in 1976 this Liberal-National Country Party Government introduced legislation which guaranteed, for the first time since 1942, automatic indexation of pensions and benefits. That automatic feature is still in force. Because we have been successful in reducing the rate of inflation we have been able to provide much more real and long-lasting protection of the value of pensions than was possible, under the Labor Government, with its high rate of inflation.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The House should be clear as to the motion of the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). It is:
That this House calls on the Government to reintroduce immediately six-monthly indexation of social security and repatriation benefits.
The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and I came to the Parliament at the same time, in 1975. He said tonight, when he threw the Bill down, that he would not introduce it. I say to the honourable member that the opportunity will be provided tomorrow morning to reintroduce the Bill that he has just thrown away. If he does that I believe that he will be respected on both sides of the chamber on that issue. I put that challenge to the honourable member because I think that he is a sincere type of person.
– The Bill has been stolen; it has gone.
– The honourable member for Franklin, in common with the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) said over the Christmas and New Year period that he was willing to bring in such a measure and fight it through his Party. He is entitled to do that and I respect him for it. At this stage I think he has made many members of this House begin to think. Certainly he has worried his own Liberal-National Country Party Government. It has come to the stage where tomorrow possibly a million pensioners will be reading and discussing the Hansard report of this debate. For them it involves an increase of $2.60 a week at a total cost of approximately $27m in the six-month period and $5 4m or $5 6m in the 12-month period.
– There is nothing in the Standing Orders to stop him moving it tomorrow, if he so wishes.
– The honourable member for Chifley is correct. We will give him that opportunity. He is doing the same as I amasking him to reconsider.
We are discussing the expenditure of $2 7m. It involves a matter of conscience about which the Liberal-National Country Party coalition should be thinking tonight. Will they, in June or July of this year, be willing to accept a wage rise? It makes one think. I have my notes in front of me but I am changing my style because waiting for a couple of hours to speak and listening to the debate has made me think: Will they accept their wage rise? At every opportunity I have agreed to fight for the underdog. Approximately 27 per cent of my electorate or 74,000 persons, are pensioners. In that respect I am in the same position as that of the honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for Franklin, who must have such considerations in the back of their minds. I have voted consistently since 1975. It is up to us. It is a big issue. We must ask: How could we accept a wage rise? How could LiberalNational Country Party members in view of what they are doing to the pensioners accept a wage rise.
-What about the Labor Party?
– The Labor Party is all right. I have been consistent in my views on wage indexation and pensioners. How honourable members opposite will vote tonight will be on their conscience. At this stage the indication is that the honourable member for Franklin, the honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) will cross the floor. That is the feeling I am receiving. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil), from what he has said in Parliament in the last 12 months, must also come across. He has many pensioners in his electorate. It is a conscience vote. The pensioners will remember what happens. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will purchase two VIP jets- and rightly so, I suppose, for security reasons- at a cost of $17m and $20m. A quarter of a million dollars will be needed to carry out extensions to Canberra airport. Why could not we do away with that proposal for 12 months? Why could the Government not say that it will put it in another package and wait until the 1979 Budget? The Government will not do so.
The people of Australia will say to us that we are hypocrites. The honourable member for Franklin in his wisdom has made us think. This will be the downfall of the Liberal-National Country Party Government. It has been going bad for three years. This will be the point that will show that it has no brains or political nouse What member would miss $2.60 or $3 a week that the pensioners would receive? None of us would. The pensioners would miss it. In my own area the pensioners are paying $45 or $50 for a room or flat. They still have to buy groceries from the corner store. They receive no indexation or wage rises. They have no extra coming in at all. They will receive a small increase probably in 12 months’ time from the 1979 Budget. The Government is telling the pensioners that they should not worry and that the half-yearly indexation will be invoked in 12 months time. This is part of the injustice. I will keep on saying it because I mean it: How can we accept a wage rise when honourable members opposite will not give the pensioners an increase of $2.60 or $3.00 a week?
– That is your problem.
– As the honourable member said, it is our problem. It is the problem of honourable members opposite. They are against giving the rise. The honourable member for Franklin should resubmit this Bill. He is entitled to do so. It will give the opportunity for the Government to get off the hook. Members opposite as politicians should be worried about the people in their electorates. They should come up to members opposite after the vote is taken tonight and denounce them. I have here a petition. I hope that no member of the Liberal Party or National Country Party will present a similar one tomorrow. If any member presents a petition of this type tomorrow he will be a hypocrite. It might be handy to refer to the petition. It is authorised by the Australian Pensioners Federation whose National President is Mr Alan Wilson. The National Honorary Secretary is Mrs Irene Ellis and the National Honorary Treasurer is Mrs S. Walker! The petition reads:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1 978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate ‘ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
That was an election promise by the Prime Minister. The petition continues:
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
Restore twice-yearly pension payments in the autumn session.
Raise pensions and unemployed benefits above the poverty level to 30 per cent of AWE.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray.
Other members will have similar petitions tomorrow. If any honourable member opposite presents such a petition he will show himself to be a hypocrite. They should tell the pensioners who have been lobbying in Parliament House today and who have lobbyed because of the last Budget and this Budget that they do not agree to a rise for pensioners. Honourable members opposite should tell the truth. They have been saying the opposite. They say that they agree with the proposal but that the Cabinet will not agree. The caucus of the Liberal and National Country Party is the same as ours. It has stood over two Tasmanians and one Victorian tonight. It has stood over them because its members are frightened to buck the system.
How does anyone get anything out of the Liberal-National Country Party Government? How would honourable members opposite know what it is like to battle? They attack the unions and the pensioners. They attack people who need money. They attack the Aboriginals and any person who is trying to make a decent living. They attack the family. They are hypocritical. They have said many times that they believe in the family; yet no encouragement is given for a family person at all in Australia today. Members of the National Country Party are the greatest hypocrites of the lot. They worry about their cattle more than they worry about people. They have sold out to the multinationals. They should not talk. There are so few of them. They have sold everything they believed in, right down the drain.
– What do you think about the Prime Minister? What do the people in your electorate think about the Prime Minister?
– The Prime Minister would not get a vote in my electorate. A challenge was made by the honourable member for Franklin today that Senator Ken Wriedt should stand for the seat of Franklin. I would like to see the Prime Minister give away his seat and see how he would go in the electorate of Sydney. I put that challenge. The honourable member for Franklin does not understand. Honourable members opposite do not understand what the people are about. They were born in ivory towers. They were born with money. All they have to do is live with money and make deals with moneyed people. They would not know what it is all about not to have enough money to pay their medical bills. They would not have any idea how hard it is to pay children’s school fees and to dress them correctly. They would not know how dedicated are the pensioners in the electorate of Sydney. They have the main meal of the day in a welfare centre. They then go back to the room in which they live. They are dedicated. These are the people who went to war and who fought for us. These are the people who obtained the conditions which we have today. What are honourable members opposite doing about it? The pensioners are being sacrificed.
I state again that the honourable member for Franklin has made us think. He does not have the numbers tonight. It appears that three honourable members will cross the floor. The Bill that he prepared in November 1978 has been ready for all these months. The Prime Minister must have known. The Ministers have known. The honourable member for Franklin has been embarrassing us for a couple of months. I thought that he was right. Pensioners in my own electorate said that the honourable member for Franklin had a lot of guts. They said that he would buck the Government, cross the floor and be an Independent member from Tasmania. I give him credit for that. He has to stick to his principle. How can he go back into his party room after taking this action? I respect him. We both entered Parliament at the same time. I say for the benefit of members of the National Country Party and the Liberal Party: Think. Members of the Liberal and National Country parties cannot accept a wage rise if the pensioners do not get an extra $2.60 a week.
Motion (by Mr Young) negatived:
That the question be now put.
– It will take only a few minutes for me to put clearly and quite unequivocally my position with respect to this motion. It was somewhat amusing to hear the previous speaker, the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Les McMahon) and other Labor members talking about the lack of fortitude on the part of members on this side of the House as far as crossing the floor was concerned. I invite honourable members opposite to cast their minds back to the last time that a member of the Australian Labor Party crossed the floor of this House.
Before stating my position, I must condemn, censure and castigate the Labor Party for its cynical, hypocritical and totally deceitful approach to this motion and its deliberate and malicious attempts to denegrate and to revile my colleague the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck).
-Order! The honourable gentleman will moderatehis language.
– My colleague is both sincere and genuine and is one of the most decent persons ever to have held a seat in this Federal Parliament. Unlike the Labor Party, the Liberal Party is a party of humanity and it is a party of conscience. We members of the Liberal Party are not caucused; we are not intellectually imprisoned by the socialist doctrinaire machine; we are not intimidated by the threat of the death warrant of political expulsion or the withdrawal of endorsement. Our Constitution is clear and explicit. It gives to each and every member of the Liberal Party the right not only to hold an opinion but also to speak freely. Each member assesses his own situation and each member makes his own judgment on the material before him. I am not suggesting that my judgment is better or worse than the judgment of any other member of the Liberal Party. But each member of our Party, unlike honourable members opposite, respects his colleague’s right to hold and to express conscientious beliefs.
I have carefully searched my own conscience with respect to this matter and I find, much to my regret I should add, that I cannot vote against the spirit of the motion, notwithstanding its malolevent and malicious political authors. They are to be condemned for their cynicism, for their deceit and for their hypocrisy. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that a commitment was given. I believe that the cause of those who are sought to be helped by this motion is a just cause and that their need is great. Without favour or ill-will, without rancour and without any recrimination, I believe that I must state and I now do state my conscientiously held position on this matter. I believe that the Government of which I am so proud to be a member- and heaven help Australia if its government ever falls into the hands of those opposite- should review its decision not to index pensions half-yearly. I support automatic and instant indexation of social security benefits and pensions and veterans’ pensions and benefits. From that position, from the point of view of my own conscience, I am afraid that I cannot budge one inch, and I will not.
Motion (by Mr Hodges) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question put-
That the motion (Dr Klugman’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. ( Mr Speaker-Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden)
Question so resolved in the negative.
-Yesterday an article appeared in the Melbourne Herald over the signature of one Peter Costigan and alleged that there is a conflict between the House of Representatives and the Senate on the Parliament House courtyards. During the summer recess renovations to the House of Representatives courtyard were undertaken. The deteriorating state of both courtyards was raised in the Joint
House Committee during the last period of sittings by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown). One of the problems has been that for some time maintaining the lawn in reasonable condition under the poplars has been very difficult; yet the Committee was determined that these historic trees must be preserved. It decided that landscaping experts should consider ways to make the courtyards more attractive and useable by senators, members and all other persons working in Parliament House.
The work undertaken so far in the Speaker’s courtyard represents the first stage only. Planting of Australian native shrubs will be completed during the winter recess and more garden seating provided. Members of the Joint House Committee were concerned that both courtyards should be renovated along similar lines, and accordingly provision of funds is being sought in next year’s Estimates for work in the President’s courtyard to make that courtyard similar to the Speaker’s courtyard. I can do nothing about the writer’s lack of taste evidenced in the article but I can inform him of the facts. It is remarkable that he did not check the truth of his allegations before writing the article.
-Order! It being after 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to raise a matter in the House tonight and I have to inform the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) of the matter so he can listen in his room and take appropriate action. The Minister has now arrived and I thank him for attending. I wish to read into Hansard a letter from a constituent of mine who lives at Revesby. It reads:
Further to our conversation of 14 September regarding my parents, Sarokhan Malla my father and Halima my mother coming to Australia to take up residence. When we originally made application for them to come from Lebanon the War had just begun. The approval had been given for my parents-
I might add that they are both aged- but not for my two sisters, Kadya Malla who is a Dental Student 2 1 years and Maria Malla who is 1 9 years and a school student. The Immigration Department asked us to find Kadya a position to come to, but unfortunately we have been unsuccessful in obtaining a job for her and the situation has become quite impossible for my family in Lebanon. Their home has been bombed and they now live in the rubble of the house and there is no school for Maria. I therefore would like them to join my husband and family here in Australia and live with us at Revesby, until my brother Josef who made the original application can find a home for them.
Please consider their application again, as I am terribly worried for their safety and my parents cannot leave two young girls in a war on their own.
On 3 October 1 978 1 wrote a letter to the Minister in the following terms making reference to the representations of Mr Malla and quoting the particular reference numbers which I have given to the Minister’s secretary:
In a letter dated 6 September, 197S to the Regional Director, Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Sydney, Mr Malla sought a review of both decisions.
They are the decisions not to allow these two young people to come to Australia with their aged parents. The letter continues:
I am informed that approval was given for the migration of the mother and father of the two girls, but naturally they are unwilling to do this and leave their two children in Lebanon.
In view of the family re-union policy of the Government, and as a matter of humanity, it is requested that consideration be given to allowing the two (2) girls to come to Australia with their parents.
I attached a copy of that letter and said that a review of the previous unsuccessful application would be appreciated. I did get an early acknowledgment from the Minister dated 12 October saying he would be calling for a report as soon as possible and would contact me again. On 31 October 1978 I had a phone call from an officer of the Parliamentary Liaison Office of the Department of Ethnic Affairs Branch of the Department in Sydney saying he was unaware at that stage that I had written to the Minister but that on the facts available to him and without a work guarantee he would not be recommending admission of the two children to Australia and he would be reporting this to the central office in view of my representations to the Minister.
I am asking the Minister to do something as an act of Christian charity. These poor people are Moslems. They are living in the rubble of other people’s homes. They are living in very straitened circumstances. The war in Lebanon is still going on and looks like going on for a considerable length of time. I have been assured by Mr Josef Malla who is one of my constituents, that he has already given guarantees saying that the children will be no charge on the Commonwealth if they are allowed to come here with their aged parents. He is prepared to keep to that guarantee. I ask the Minister as an act of Christian charity and for humanitarian reasons please to give further consideration to this matter because it is amost five months since my first letter and the war is still going on and these people are still suffering grave disadvantages.
-This evening I wish to draw the attention of the House to the detrimental impact which centralised bureaucratic decision-making can have on local areas. The Southern Vales wine region in my electorate of Kingston is an area with tremendous tourist potential. With a shift in consumer preference from red to white wines, this red wine producing area also needs maximum opportunity to market its first class product. Accordingly, some time ago it was proposed to erect signs guiding tourists in the area. There was a joint meeting of wine makers in the district, the five local councils, the South Australian Tourist Bureau, the State Planning Authority and the State Highways Department, and this meeting agreed to the erection of some signs. Subsequently these signs proved inadequate to fulfil the needs of the area effectively. Hence, pressure developed in the area for the erection of additional signs. A further meeting was convened between the local councils of the southern metropolitan region and the wine producers and agreement was reached for the erection of additional signs on the basis that these signs would be designed by the council authorities and paid for by the wineries. The signs subsequently produced were brown in colour and contained the name of the winery concerned and the Souther Vales Wine Bushing Festival logo which highlights a major tourist attraction of the district. This design blends aesthetically with the local environment.
I regard this design as most attractive; certainly it provides most necessary and worthwhile assistance for visitors to the district. The signs have received high praise from many visitors to the area, but the State Highways Department, from its concrete and glass tower miles away in central Adelaide, has decided that it knows better than the local councils, wine makers and tourists. It claims that the signs do not comply with Highways Department regulations and are nothing more than advertising. The Department further claims that the previously existing signs are sufficient to serve the area and has decreed that the new signs must be taken down, notwithstanding the careful consideration of both design and need by the local government authorities.
Within the Southern Vales region’s 64 square miles there are some 30 wineries and, because many of these are difficult to find, the signs are essential. The local councils realise this and will not remove the signs. In fact, they are meeting this evening to reinforce their support of the continued existence of the new signs. This headinthesand attitude by a State Government bureaucracy is, therefore, causing major conflict. Instead of facilitating the economic development of the regions through tourism and the marketing of wine products, with resulting employment benefits, the Highways Department is stifling the area’s potential. I believe that the Department should cease this unnecessary centralist interference in local matters and let this worthwhile initiative survive, to the benefit of all who live in the Southern Vales region.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following notice was given:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 February 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19790221_reps_31_hor113/>.