31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable 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 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.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Aldred, Mr N. A Brown, Mr Burns, Mr Falconer, Mr Kerin, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Morris, Mr Peacock, Mr Ruddock, Mr Simon and Mr Stewart.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That 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 Government will so amend the Medical Benefits Schedule as to preclude (he payment of any benefit for abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Falconer, Mr Charles Jones, Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Peacock, Mr Ruddock, Mr Sainsbury and Mr Shipton.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships and its Recommendations:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Parliament will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will implement such measures to maintain the Commissioners ‘ ‘ belief in the right and integrity of the individual to make free choices in the context of human relationships, and to have access to the knowledge and skills which give such a free choice meaning ‘.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr N. A. Brown and Mr Roger Johnston.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of Turner, Manens and Allen 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 28th 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 agents 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 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 Bourchier.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The undersigned citizens of Australia humbly pray that you reject the motion to be moved by Stephen Lusher MHR which proposes:
To remove items from the standard medical benefits table which currently permit medical benefits for abortion and
To cease the funding of medical benefits schemes through which claims for termination of pregnancies can be made.
Your petitioners humbly pray that you support:
A woman ‘s right to choose
Abortion as a claimable item under all health benefits schemes.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Keith Johnson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. This humble petition of undersigned Christian citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Roger Johnston.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That recipients of Supporting Parents Benefit are discriminated against compared to widows and divorcees who have the care of dependent children.
The main area for concern is their ineligibility for issue of the Pensioners Health Benefit Card. This card enables recipients and their children to receive free medical care, pharmaceutical benefits and optometrical benefits which are a vital necessity to the well-being of these families. The lack of this entitlement can cause extreme financial hardship and suffering from lack of necessary treatment and medication.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that in this International Year of the Child all Australian children be considered an equal pan of this country’s wealth and that the Health Act be amended so that Pensioners Health Benefit Cards can be issued to those receiving Supporting Parents Benefit. We believe this to be an essential step to ensuring that all children in this country achieve their potential stature as human beings.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Barry Jones.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we 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 MacKellar.
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. by Mr Shipton.
– I ask the Minister for Post and Telecommunications: Were telephone accounts to the amount of $20,000 submitted for telephones used by Mr Harry M. Miller at his home in Sydney, his office in William Street, Sydney, and his property at Manilla, New South Wales, for a six-monthly period ending November 1978? Will the Minister ascertain whether those accounts have been paid? If so, were they in fact paid by the Department of Administrative Services?
– Because I have no personal knowledge of these matters, I ask that the question be placed on notice. An answer will be provided as soon as possible.
- Mr Speaker, do I understand -
-Is the honourable gentleman taking a point of order?
– Yes, on a point of order, Mr Speaker.
-He may proceed.
– My point of order is that the Minister has been vague in his answer. I do not understand whether I am required now to put the question on notice or whether the Minister has taken the question as being on notice and will furnish me with a reply.
-I understood the Minister to say that he would treat the question as being on notice.
– I refer the Prime Minister to a statement made by President Carter of the United States this week in which it appears that he may be taking a new line on his country’s commitment to overseas friends. In view of this speech, I ask the Prime Minister whether the ANZUS treaty can be regarded as still having the strength and security which a credible defence policy for Australia demands?
– I can give the honourable gentleman a categoric yes in answer to his question. I have not yet read the full text of President Carter’s speech made in Atlanta earlier this week. From advice that I have received it is quite clear that there has been no change in the United States attitude towards its relationship with Australia. That is fully in accord with any personal conversation that I have had with the President. It is fully in accord with communications between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his counterpart in the United States. It ought to be noted, I think, that the ANZUS treaty was emphasised in a very particular way last year because even though discussions were going on between the Soviet Union and the United States about lowering force levels in the Indian Ocean- I have indicated that I hope those discussions can be resumed- a major ANZUS exercise involving significant United States and Australian forces took place off the coast of Western Australia in the Indian Ocean. That quite plainly was meant to demonstrate that, irrespective of arrangements that might be made, the ANZUS commitment was not going to be modified or limited. It applies in its totality. There is no change.
-Is the Minister for Primary Industry able to inform the House when he will make his statement of exoneration to the House in respect of matters which are currently the subject of investigation by the New South Wales Commissioner of Corporate Affairs?
-I believe that the honourable gentleman once again is trying to canvass matters which, as I have explained on other occasions, are not matters for public interest or public concern. I have said that in due course I will make a statement to the House. That I will do. It will not be a statement of exoneration. It will be a statement which will relate peculiarly to matters that are the province of people who are not in the public arena but are involved in particular private companies. The circumstances of the companies are not a matter of public interest. I strongly contest that any of the intrusions that have been made into the affair are justified.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to the Minister’s speech to the Automotive Chamber of Commerce in Sydney on 30 October last year when he announced that the Federal Government was considering a four-point package of measures in an effort to resolve the distribution and marketing problems confronting the petroleum marketing industry. Can the Minister indicate what views and submissions the Government has received from the State governments and all sections of the petroleum industry since the proposals were announced? Secondly, can he say when the Government will be in a position to make a decision on the proposal?
– I am able to say that following the exposure of a set of proposals late last year the Prime Minister wrote to each State Premier forwarding details of the proposals and seeking the views of the various State governments. Unfortunately, at this point the Prime Minister has not heard from all the States. I have asked the Prime Minister to write again, reminding the Premiers that their response is required urgently by the Commonwealth Government. At the present time the Consul-General for Australia in New York, Sir Robert Cotton, in company with officials of my Department is conducting a survey of similar schemes operating in the United States.
Honourable members will be aware that some States in the United States have already legislated along similar lines to the proposals that are now being considered for Australia. I have asked Sir Robert Cotton to speak with representatives of the oil industry, including the retailing part of that industry, and with Government officials in the United States to ascertain how these schemes are operating. I must emphasise that the Government is concerned to ensure that the interests of the consumer are protected and at the same time that the small retailer in Australia has his position strengthened in the oil retailing industry. I am not able to indicate precisely when the Government will be in a position to take a final decision regarding the proposals that have been exposed now for some months, but I indicate that we are anxious to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.
As soon as Sir Robert Cotton has reported and as soon as the Premiers have indicated their position to the Commonwealth, I will report to the Government and, if necessary, arrange meetings with State Ministers who are responsible for petroleum matters within the States. I give an unqualified assurance that the Government regards this matter as important and urgent and will proceed as quickly as possible.
– Is the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs aware that during April 1978 two small tanker ships, the Botany Trader and the Botany Trust, which carry vegetable oils, arrived in Sydney from the Philippines and unloaded certain items of furniture without customs clearances and without the knowledge of the customs authorities? Is it a fact that the importer of the furniture had arranged the shipment through the shipping companies and their agents with a deliberate intention of avoiding the payment of customs duty? What action was taken against the person and the shipping agents concerned? Was customs duty paid? What penalties were imposed for the non-payment of customs? Is the Minister prepared to table the documents concerned with this case?
– I am aware of the incident to which the honourable member has referred in his question. The matter has been subject to intensive investigation by my Department and legal proceedings will be taken. In the circumstances I do not propose to add anything further at this stage.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Transport. Can he inform the House of the cost of vehicle emission controls to the motor industry? As reports indicate substantial increases in fuel consumption as a result of vehicle emission controls with a little significant benefit to air quality, will the Minister ensure a thorough evaluation of the present standards before long term measures are implemented?
– The cost of emission controls is causing fairly serious concern throughout the community. There have been representations to me by a great number of members of this Parliament on this subject. It is very difficult to estimate accurately the cost of emission controls but the estimates that have been made have put the figure at somewhere between $80m and $ 100m. That is the annual cost for 1978. Quite clearly emission controls are very expensive.
What we are not sure about at this time is whether, on the other side of the coin, we are making proper gains that ought to be made having regard to the total level of the costs. Because of the uncertainties on the emission controls, there have been a number of investigations into them and some of these investigations are still under way. The Australian Transport Advisory Council made up of Commonwealth and State Ministers for Transport is meeting in Canberra on Friday. I have written to the State Ministers for Transport putting to them the Commonwealth view that the third stage of ADR 27A ought to be postponed while these investigations take place. I hope that ultimately we will come up with a better system of vehicle emission control so that the public health gain is what is required when measured against the total cost of the emission control program.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister and refer him to an interview he gave to Business Week, which is contained in the 12 February issue of that journal, in which he claimed:
Our inflation rate is now below that of the US and below the average of the OECD countries.
In view of the fact that the latest trends in consumer prices in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that in the six months to December consumer prices increased by 7.9 per cent in the United States of America, at annual rates, by 7.2 per cent in the total OECD countries and by 8.7 per cent in Australia, will he correct the misleading impression he gave to that reputable journal?
-The Treasurer will answer this question.
-The date of the interview, as I recollect it from the Leader of the Opposition ‘s question, was prior to the receipt of the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. I think the sixmonthly figures cited by the Leader of the Opposition are broadly correct. Equally, it is true that that same batch of figures shows Australia’s inflation rate, on a 12-monthly basis, as being below the average of OECD countries. But I think the important point to note in these matters, as I indicated in the debate on the economy yesterday, is the trend over a period of time. Of course, over the last three years Australia has gone from a very bad position when compared to other OECD countries to a much more favourable position. I think that is the point that the community is more likely to understand and appreciate.
– I refer the Treasurer to the article appearing today on the front page of the Australian Financial Review suggesting that the call-up of statutory reserve deposits by the Reserve Bank of Australia, which was announced yesterday, will lead to new interest rate increases. I ask: Can the Treasurer give the House an indication of the extent to which this call-up of 1 per cent will affect interest rates and lending by the banks?
– The announcement made by the Reserve Bank of Australia yesterday ought to be seen in proper context. With respect to the author of the article referred to by the honourable member, I believe he has given a misleading interpretation of both the context and the consequences of the announcement. As honourable members will know, the role of the Reserve Bank as a central bank is to act throughout the year on liquidity matters and, as far as possible, to even out liquidity. Everybody knows that at various times of the year there is more money in the system than at other times of the year. The Reserve Bank uses the statutory reserve deposits as an instrument to regulate the money flow. Honourable members ought to know that the increased call-up announced last night was made against the background of an extremely liquid position, a situation in which the liquid and government securities ratio of the banks was around 27 per cent against the required 18 per cent and that the SRD ratio was lifted to only 5.5 per cent, by comparison, for example, with an SRD ratio of some 10 per cent in May 1977. If people draw the sons of conclusions that were drawn in the article and the sorts of conclusions that apparently have been drawn by the honourable member for Gellibrand about the context of this announcement they completely misunderstand the situation. This is a liquidity management decision by the Reserve Bank. It is no more likely to affect the level of interest rates than other statutory reserve deposit calls made by the Reserve Bank at times when liquidity in the system has been very high. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks there have been some very silly statements made about interest rates. When I announced the terms of the marginal increases in the Commonwealth bond rate about two and a half weeks ago I explained the background of that situation. I also pointed out the significance of developments in interest rates overseas. I stressed the importance of domestic economic policy in regard to interest rates. I also made the comment that the rises in interest rates were marginal and that it was not my expectation- that was my view then and it remains my view- that those rises would affect the level of interest rates charged on housing loans. I think it is very interesting that the day after that announcement was made the view that I expressed was echoed by the Treasurer of New South Wales, Mr Renshaw, who was quoted as saying:
Banks and building society interest rates were unlikely to be pushed up by the rise in Commonwealth securities. The rise the Government has secured is only fractional.
That is what Mr Renshaw, I think making a responsible statement, said immediately after my announcement, but the intriguing thing is what another personality on the New South Wales political scene, the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, had to say two weeks later. A report on what he said states:
A rise in home loan interest rates is on the cards,’ the Premier Mr Wran said. Mr Wran said the Prime Minister now appeared to be confirming earlier indications of a rise in interest rates.
What earlier indications? The earlier indication out of New South Wales from the Treasurer of New South Wales was a sober, responsible interpretation. He put in context the rise in the Commonwealth bond rate. He echoed the view that I had expressed. He was responding in a very responsible fashion. So the New South Wales Premier and Treasurer ought to make up their minds where they stand and what their view is. Mr Wran knows that he has powers and responsibilities in the interest rate area. Is he in disagreement with his Treasurer? Does he believe, as Mr Renshaw believes, as this Government believes, that the rise in Commonwealth bond rate was only a fractional one and it was not our expectation that it would affect the level of home loans? I think it is time that a number of spokesmen for the Australian Labor Party, both in New South Wales and in this House, put in perspective the development in interest rates over the past few weeks and stopped trying to create unnecessary apprehension in the Australian community about the level of interest rates which affect individuals in the community.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Industrial Relations. I refer the Minister to the prosecution by the Industrial Relations Bureau against the Melbourne City Council and the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union under sections 5 and 188 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I also refer to the fact that this relates to a strike action that took place on 1 March 1978 in respect of a Mr Kane who agreed with the strike action at that time but who some three weeks later obtained a certificate of conscientious objection.
As the Minister will recall that the provisions in question were the subject of keen debate in this House and that one of the matters raised was the constitutional validity of these provisions because they seemed to be outside the terms of conciliation and arbitration, I ask what advice he has ever received from the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General or the Attorney-General’s Department that the legislation is within Commonwealth power. Will he table that advice and also indicate what other advice he has received as to the constitutional validity of this legislation?
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition clearly has not studied the answer I gave to a question on this matter yesterday, because in that answer I said that any decision by the Industrial Relations Bureau to pursue its statutory functions in the way that it has decided to pursue them is a matter for the Director alone. I also said that after full and thorough investigation of all aspects, including the legal aspects, the Director and the Bureau decided to take the action they have taken.
-Is the Minister for Trade and Resources aware that the Seamen’s Union of Australia, in support of one side of the ideological war in Vietnam, has placed bans on Chinese ships which load iron ore at the ports of Dampier and Port Hedland in Western Australia? Is he aware that those bans have so far been responsible for a loss in trade of approximately 150,000 tonnes of iron ore? WU1 this action by the Seamen’s Union seriously affect Australia’s reputation as a stable supplier of raw materials, and will it lead to a loss of contracts?
– I am aware of these bans, and I think they are reprehensible. I cannot think of anything that is doing greater damage to our national interest than a handful of louts taking upon themselves what should be Australia’s national policy in relation to trade with the People’s Republic of China. It is all right for people to have their ideological beliefs. We are a country, fortunately, where people can express them; but if, by industrial action, people inflict on others their beliefs on Australia’s trading relations with other countries, then they do great damage to our national interests. China has become an extremely important trading country for Australia. In the last 10 years our trade with China has increased from $20m to $580m. For the iron ore industry, which has had to survive on very low prices during the current period, it is important to make the maximum sales possible. China has become our second largest market for iron ore, importing about 6.8 million tonnes last year. We are hoping that the market will grow still more, but if there is to be this continual disruption and discrimination against China because somebody does not like its involvement in the Vietnam war all I can say is that those people are doing great harm to a great Australian industry, to the nation as a whole and to our relationship with China.
-I preface my question to the Minister for Administrative Services by drawing his attention to page 24 of what is described as the final report of the Silver Jubilee Commemorative Organisation, tabled in Parliament yesterday, at which the Chairman, Mr Harry M. Miller, states:
The Silver Jubilee Organisation raised in excess of $100,000 for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee appeal for young Australians.
Has this money in fact been paid to the jubilee appeal? Indeed, is the appeal fund in fact pressing for payment? What other funds were raised by the activities mentioned in the report? Will the Minister ascertain from Mr Miller what has been done with such moneys?
– I will treat this question also as being on notice and will obtain the information for the honourable gentleman as soon as possible.
– I wonder whether it would be appropriate, since the honourable member for Prospect has raised the question of fees and payments to Mr Miller, to answer the question which the honourable member for Melbourne directed to my colleague the Minister for Post and Telecommunications.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
– I just happened to have this information; I thought that it might come up this morning. It is not directly related to what the honourable member for Prospect has asked. No expenditure related to Mr Miller’s new post has been included in that for the 1977-78 period. Expenditure on facilities provided for Mr Miller, brought to account during the period 1 July 1978 to 31 December 1978- six months of last yearexcluding the costs of facilities referred to in the October meeting of the Estimates committees, and associated with the July meeting of the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris, totalled $46,300.
-Was the telephone bill $20,000 of that?
– No. That is why I am very pleased to have the opportunity to put the record straight. Staff salaries amounted to $18,545.40. Rental of office premises amounted to $20,827. Office facilities, which included telephones, stationery and incidentals, amounted to $5,222.12, and official travel and transport totalled $1,704. 16.
– Did you check on those?
-Very carefully. The total, therefore, is $46,298.68.
– What date was it?
– I have given the honourable member the date- the six months from July to December of last year. My Department meets only the cost of facilities which have been continued. Within the context of the arrangements, normal administrative processes, including certification where applicable, are applied by my Department to those expenditures. Mr Miller has received no salary whatsoever.
-Could the Minister for National Development advise the House whether the current disruption in Iran’s oil supplies will have any impact on the price and supply of oil to Australia? If there is any shortfall, from which source will it be made up?
– Developments in Iran have had quite wide impacts on international supplies of crude oil and products to the world. The Government has been concerned about the position. We have been very fortunate in being able to keep in close contact with the International Energy Agency. Although we are not members we have received regular reports from the Agency on the international situation. Let me refer to the Australian situation. I met executives of all the oil companies in Australia a week or so ago and they agreed with the Government’s assessment that there is no immediate concern about Australian supplies of crude oil or products. I think that is the outlook for about the next six months. Beyond that time frame it is very difficult to tell. It will depend on what happens in Iran. It will depend on when stable conditions are established again, when the oilfields can be made to start producing again and what will be the attitude of the new government to exports. I suppose we will also have to take into account what other oil exporting nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, will do in making up any shortfall.
Let me summarise what we are doing in Australia to keep abreast of the situation, to monitor what is happening in supplies and to make sure that we are aware of any problems that occur. I have instituted the Oil Industry Supply Committee which will meet next Tuesday under the chairmanship of a senior officer from my Department. As for the international situation, we will have representatives at a meeting of the International Energy Agency which will take place next week. The Agency will be discussing in detail the situation as it now sees it in the Middle East.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Housing and Construction. Have housing commencements- for the December quarter slumped to the lowest level since the March quarter of 1966? Were the December figures 3 per cent lower than the preceding quarter and 9.4 per cent lower than the December quarter 1977? What will be done to redress this alarming trend? In particular, what assistance will be given to help young couples who are seeking their first home?
-I thank the honourable member for Hughes for giving me the chance to say a word or two about the present housing situation in Australia. The honourable member does not interpret the current situation at all accurately. The prospects for recovery in the housing industry in Australia have increased quite dramatically in recent times. Most forecasters and commentators recognise that fact. Let me make one or two comments on the financial situation. There has been a very large increase in the volume of funds flowing to housing in the last few months. For example, there was a 4 per cent increase in the total number of loans made by banks and building societies in the December quarter of last year. Those figures were released quite recently. The total volume of money is up by something like 1 1 per cent. The total volume of funds was the highest for any quarter since March 1976. 1 think that point is worth noting. A record $24m was lent by banks around Australia in November last year. In the five month period between July and November last year the banks increased their lending by 17 per cent. So, record amounts of money were flowing from these lending institutions to housing in the months I have mentioned.
Most people recognise that the best thing the Federal Government can do for housing is to ensure that conditions are right for funds to be increased for housing and that there should be a good flow of funds to housing. As the finance situation is very buoyant we anticipate that these trends will continue. There is no doubt that finance is not a constraint to activity in the housing industry in Australia. The Government has created a very good climate indeed for increased activity in this industry.
As well as the increased funds, there are now lower interest rates. As the honourable member would recognise, interest rates on housing loans have been reduced by an average of one per cent in the last 12 months. There has also been a moderation in the increase in the cost of building materials. At one stage this cost was running at well over 20 per cent per annum but by the calendar year 1978 the increase in the cost of materials was down to below six per cent. I think that the House and the honourable member who asked the question should recognise that fact and perhaps give some credit for it.
Furthermore, there is a critical issue as to the question of preference. It would appear that at the moment people prefer to buy established houses and not new houses. That is a matter of some concern to the industry itself. Of course the Government cannot force people to buy new houses, and it is not something that the Government would want to do.
-Order! I ask the Minister to draw his answer to a close.
– Yes, Mr Speaker. New houses will gradually become more competitive with established houses and we would anticipate a steady improvement in housing activity in this country.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. Is the long standing arrangement whereby the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank of Australia provides finance to cover the first advance to wheat growers now being altered? Is part of the total amount now being required from commercial sources at higher interest rates or is the 12-month repayment period being reduced? If so, who is responsible for this major alteration to the existing procedure? Is the Minister aware that this alteration is contrary to the extended special credit arrangements now available to our major wheat exporting competitors?
– As the honourable member for Murray would be aware, part of the really good news on the rural scene in Australia this year has been the spectacular wheat harvest and the consequent revisions upward over the past few months of the likely tonnages and, as a consequence, the size of the first advance. The Government well understands the enormous contribution which the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank has made to the Australian wheat industry over many years. Any suggestion that the rural credits facility will not remain an inegral part of the financing of advance payments and so forth for the Australian wheat industry is unfounded. Indeed so is any suggestion- and certainly such a suggestion has not come before me- of any shortening of the repayment period involved as regards rural credit advances.
As the honourable gentleman knows, specific decisions made by governments about the size and so forth of the first advance take place not only against the background of the importance of the rural credits faculty to the wheat industry, but also against the background of monetary policy considerations. But I can assure the honourable gentleman that any suggestions of major changes and major revamping and any suggestion that the rural credits facility will not remain an integral part of the whole financing arrangements of the wheat industry are quite misplaced and misleading.
– I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether he can say what were the costs to the Australian taxpayer of the appearance of the honourable member for Fadden, the honourable member for the Gold Coast- I mean McPherson- and Senator Withers at the recent McGregor royal commission of enquiry into allegations of electoral boundary rigging. Can the Minister say what was the anticipated cost saved in not calling the Prime Minister before the commission?
– I regret to inform the honourable gentleman that I do not have the figures at my fingertips, but I will ascertain the information from the Attorney-General and let the honourable member have the details. Of course it was up to the royal commission itself whether the Prime Minister would be called as a witness.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether he is in a position to advise the House about resignations of professional officers from the Services, and whether he has had reports about morale and the concern of these officers regarding the future of the career concept within the armed Services.
– I am grateful to the honourable gentleman for his question and I take this opportunity to thank him for the very long, sustained and sympathetic interest that he has taken in the armed Services. I noticed in one newspaper today a report referring to what was described as an upsurge in the resignation rate’. In fact, the opposite is the case and I hope that some perspective will be given to this matter. The resignation rate in 1974-75 was of the order of 5.4 per cent, and in the next year it increased to 6.2 per cent. The year following- that is, the year that the present Government assumed office- it fell to 4.5 per cent, and last year it was of the order of 4.9 per cent. So, there is every indication that it has flattened out at between 4.5 per cent and 4.9 per cent. The resignation rate is not increasing- I repeat, it is not increasing- and I trust that the House will give some perspective to this matter by taking into consideration the fact that in 1977 the resignation rate in Divisions 1, 2 and 3 of the Public Service was of the order of 7 per cent.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister and refer him to public reports that Mt Isa Mines Ltd has exerted pressure on him to prevent the inclusion of sacred Aboriginal grounds on the National Heritage register. The Prime Minister will also be aware of increasing pressure from mining companies to water down measures for environmental protection and the preservation of the Australian heritage. In view of his strong action to protect Fraser Islandaction which included repudiation of contractual arrangements- will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government will preserve the integrity of the National Heritage register.
-Some of the implications and assumptions in the honourable gentleman’s question are quite inaccurate but there is no point in recounting them because we get used to hearing them. However it ought to be said, I think, and I am glad that the honourable gentleman drew it to my attention, that this Government’s support for the environment is unparalleled. He referred to a particular case which emphasised that point in very plain terms. The principles of the Heritage Commission are of great importance to Australia and this Government will maintain those principles to the fullest; but at the same time there are some elements of the Heritage Commission Act, as originally passed, which do come into conflict with other Acts and which could even stand in the way of matters which have been under full environmental examination. For example, there was a possibility of one point of conflict as a result of the Heritage Commission Act involving matters that had been the subject of Mr Justice Fox’s environmental reports and it does not seem to make much sense to have the possibility of conflict of that kind. So the Heritage Commission Act is under review but the principles behind the Heritage Commission will certainly be maintained to the fullest by this Government.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Is the Minister aware that the screw of forced metric conversion is being continually tightened upon the nation, and that industry, and the vast majority of Australians over 25 years old are having tremendous difficulty coping with and understanding terms and measurements? Will the Government please give consideration to deliberately slowing down the forced conversion rate and calling a halt to the introduction of supplementary State government legislation which is, in effect, forcing the use of only metric and the total exclusion of many imperial measurements, thus causing metric muddle?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for that question. I do not at this stage want to become involved in a dialogue as to the substance of the issues raised by him but I recognise the points that he has brought forward. Certainly a number of representations have been made to the Government. The metric conversion program is currently subject to review. When that process has been completed and decisions are available, the honourable gentleman and the Australian public will be informed.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affiairs. I refer to two recent steps by him with respect to youth unemployment: Firstly, the scheme for young people to work for nothing on voluntary projects supervised by service clubs; and, secondly, for an intake of young people into the Commonwealth Public Service to gain work experience only to be sacked. Have Commonwealth Employment Service officers been provided with instructions or been advised of the mechanics of these schemes? Has the CES been supplied with additional staff to cope with these and other schemes? How many young people are now working with supervision by clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Apex, Jaycees, Soroptimists, et cetera? How are young people being selected for Public Service jobs?
– When I announced the Government’s decision in principle to introduce a voluntary youth community service scheme, I pointed out that consultation would continue on as wide a spectrum as possible throughout the community with all the organisations that we would expect to sponsor vacancies for voluntary work by the young unemployed, as well as State governments and local government. A special task force under the chairmanship of my Department has been very active since that announcement and particularly over the last month in that consultative process. I expect a report to come to me in about the middle of March. I will then decide whether further consultation is required or whether I can put the matter straight to the Government. That is the stage which the examination of the voluntary scheme has reached.
I inform the honourable gentleman that the proposal to provide work experience training for 1,000 young people within the Commonwealth Public Service is being examined now by officers of my Department and the Public Service. We see no difficulty in making those thousand vacancies available. I also inform the honourable gentleman that the proposal with respect to the Australian Public Service is no different to what is being done, for example, by the Wran Government in New South Wales. We have made the Special Youth Employment Training Program available to State governments with the very favourable result that the New South Wales Government will be providing vacancies for 1,500 young people to be trained within the New South Wales Public Service from Commonwealth funds.
I inform the House that the Victorian Government has likewise taken advantage of the Commonwealth’s initiative. Only recently I gave approval to the Victorian Premier for 500 training positions to be financed by the Commonwealth in addition to the 1,000 positions that the Victorian Government has already been provided funds for. I can only applaud Mr Hamer and Mr Wran for taking up the opportunity which the Commonwealth has provided. I regret to inform my colleagues from Tasmania that the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Lowe, for some reason unknown to me refuses to take advantage of the Commonwealth’s offer in the same way as Mr Wran and Mr Hamer have done. I implore my Tasmanian colleagues to impress upon Mr Lowe the availability of this ready finance from the Commonwealth for the young unemployed of Tasmania
-Has the Minister for Health noticed growing discontent in New South Wales psychiatric and geriatric hospitals? Is the Minister aware of the recent statements by the New South Wales Minister for Health? Are the cutbacks in New South Wales psychiatric and geriatric hospitals due to Commonwealth financial cuts and influence?
– The answer to the honourable member’s last question is no. The cuts that are taking place or the proposed cuts that may take place in New South Wales psychiatric hospitals and geriatric hospitals have nothing to do with the Commonwealth whatsoever. The New South Wales Minister for Health is becoming very adept at passing the buck. I hope he is as efficient at administering his portfolio as he is at blaming the Federal Government for every action that raises some difficulty in his own State. The New South Wales Government, rightly, is undertaking a review of the services in that State in accordance with a statement made by the New South Wales Premier. I was shocked to see an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning which on the one hand attempted to set out the facts of the actions of the New South Wales Government in regard to proposed cut backs in State services but on the other hand attempted to push all the union activity towards the Commonwealth Government.
We have had officers talking to the New South Wales Government about rationalisation of pub.lic hospital services, cost containment, efficiency and hospital productivity. The officials have reported to the Commonwealth Government but the Commonwealth Government has not taken a position on that report. Before we would propose to give consideration to that report we would want to talk to the State Governments at ministerial level. We are not moving to force upon the State governments proposals that are going to cause unnecessary hardship in the health area. But naturally we are concerned about the ever escalating costs in the public hospital sector. Where efficiencies can be implemented we hope that this would be done by co-operation rather than by force. I reject the New South Wales Minister’s blame for the difficulty that he finds himself in with the unions in New South Wales over rationalisation proposals for the New South Wales Government’s psychiatric and geriatric homes. I think it is up to the Minister to face up to his responsibilities in talking with the unions concerned and other people who may be concerned as a result of the New South Wales Government’s rationalisation proposals.
-Mr Speaker, I raise a matter of privilege.
-I call the honourable member for Hindmarsh.
-On the face of it there appears to have been a falsification of yesterday’s Hansard. I refer to page 219 where remarks made by the honourable member for Franklin, Mr Goodluck, are recorded. Among other things appear the following two sentences:
There is a stupid looking fool. He can pick up the Bill.
I made a note of what was said at the time, as I often do. My note accords with what was published in the Press. I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald, which is one of only two newspapers that I have looked at this morning. It states:
There ‘s your stupid looking Bill; you can ha ve it.
This change goes far beyond a grammatical correction or a correction of an error in figures that were supplied. It is a correction that amounts to a falsification, if my recollection and the Press impression of what was said is correct. I therefore ask you, Sir, as a first step to examine the greens ‘, to listen to the tape recording and to ask for a report from the Principal Parliamentary Reporter to see which officer of Hansard was responsible for the falsification. If it was not an officer of Hansard, can you, Mr Speaker, find out what other person was responsible and report to the Parliament?
-The matter does not amount to one of privilege. The question of the Hansard record is for final determination by me, as Presiding Officer. I will check the report as published compared to the record as taken as evidenced by the tape and by the shorthand writer’s transcript to make sure that the Hansard record does accord with what was said.
– Pursuant to section 49 of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation Act 1979. 1 present the report of the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation for the period 1 December 1977 to 30 June 1978.
– For the information of honourable members, I present a statistical review of livestock and meat industries compiled by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation for the year ended 30 June.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the resolutions of the eighth meeting of the Australian Fisheries Council held in Canberra on 10 November 1978.
– Pursuant to section 9 of the Coal Research Assistance Act 1977, I present the annual report on the operation of this Act for the year ended 30 June 1978.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the report of the Decentralisation Advisory Board for the period 12 December 1977 to 30 June 1978.
-! seek your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker to make a personal explanation and to correct the Hansard report.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-Last year in the debate on the Diplomatic and Consular Missions Bill 1978 page 3131 of the Hansard record has me correctly referring to the disasters that took place in Yugoslavia under the Ustasha regime at a place called Mostar. A point of order was taken and then I continued saying- this was in relation to Mostar but it is not related in the Hansard as it now appears- that some 70,000 Serbs lost their lives. The Hansard record shows that during the administration of the Pavelic regime 70,000 Serbs lost their lives. In fact, I wish to have it noted now that I acknowledge that at least one million Serbs lost their lives.
The correct relation to what my notes say would be this: Mostar is not an exceptional case or even the only case in the province of BosniaHerzegovina. In the Ustasha concentration camp alone in that province, 70,000 Serbs, Jews and other non-Croats died. It has been drawn to my attention that the Serbian community feels that I did not appreciate the circumstances. Accordingly, I would like that noted.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I refer to a report in one of the Melbourne dailies, the Age, of today’s date. I understand that it is a daily of fairly low circulation. Page 13 of that newspaper refers to a notice of motion I gave in the Parliament yesterday in relation to Taiwan. The sixth paragraph of that article written by Tony Walker had this to day:
The Cairns proposal virtually amounts to the resumption of formal relations.
That is, with Taiwan. That is a misrepresentation because the notice of motion I gave yesterday made four points to which I will refer very quickly. My notice of motion made it clear that I accept that there should be Australian representation in Peking! It made it clear that that did not suggest that Australia should be excluded from appropriate representation in Taiwan, as occurred with a host of other nations. The notice of motion then quoted a host of other nations which had representation in Peking and other than formal diplomatic representation in Taiwan. The last few lines of my notice of motion- I would have thought that the journalist would have read them- had this to say: . . and therefore requests that the Australian Government immediately open an office or offices in Taiwan to promote a similar range of activities for the benefit of our mutual people . . .
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
-If the honourable gentleman wishes to make a personal explanation he may proceed.
-As reported at page 213 of yesterday’s Hansard, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said:
The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) has said-
Then he alleged certain things which are put in inverted commas, implying I had actually said them. I am sure that if the Minister looks at them he will see that he did not mean that I used those particular words. I quote the words:
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.
I am sure the Minister did not suggest I used those particular words, though he may have implied that I had that view. There are similar items which I shall not draw to your attention, Mr Speaker. In the same paragraph the Minister said:
I trust 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.
In fact, Hansard of 14 October 1976, at page 1860, shows that this amendment to the motion for the second reading of a social services Bill was moved by the honourable member for Oxley (MrHayden):
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: while not opposing the Bill, the House deplores the inequities which arise from the Government ‘s failure to-
carry out its election promise to legislate for immediate and automatic increases in pensions and benefits in line with the Consumer Price Index;
index dependants’ allowances to meet increases in the cost of living;
increase the supplementary benefit;
provide for the automatic adjustment of unemployment and sickness benefits for those under 18 years of age, and,
protect the incomes of those pensioners adversely affected by provisions in this legislation’.
No vote was taken on the amendment or on the Bill which introduced automatic indexation rather than six-monthly indexation of pensions. In no possible way could one suggest that the ALP voted against the Bill as introduced.
– by leave- Significant changes have occurred in the world in recent months. The United States and China have established full diplomatic relations. This is a welcome move that will assist the United States to pursue a more fully developed policy in Asia. United States policy has in the past been inhibited by a lack of formal recognition. Now that this hurdle has been overcome the possibilities for more constructive and forward looking relationships in Asia and the Pacific have been expanded.
However, events in Indo-China, Iran, Afghanistan, and many parts of Africa, demonstrate the volatility of the present international situation. These new areas of tension contain the potential for wider conflicts, and the possibility of the direct involvement of the great powers. The Government has for some time identified the position in Indo-China as deteriorating and potentially dangerous. There is no satisfaction in knowing that events have proved us right.
Before the fighting between Vietnam and China we made known our concern to a number of governments about the dangers inherent in the situation. In my discussions with President Carter in January and Prime Minister Desai later that month, we spoke about the situation in Indo-China and about the need to exercise an influence in reducing the tensions there. Subsequently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr
Peacock) and myself conveyed our concern to heads of both aligned and non-aligned nations in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. We sought then, and still seek to contribute to restraining the actions of the protagonists, and to relieve tension in the area. Although China has indicated that it will act with prudence, there must no underestimation of the serious danger posed to our region and to the world by the present conflict between China and Vietnam.
Australia has a vital interest in China and Vietnam swiftly and peacefully settling their differences. We have called and call on Vietnam to withdraw its forces from Kampuchea, and on China to withdraw its forces from Vietnam. We have already asked the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to use its special relationship with Vietnam to bring about a cease-fire and withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Kampuchea. Pol Pot’s regime horrified the world but Vietnam ‘s invasion of Kampuchea cannot be condoned because of that. The Australian Government cannot accept the use of force for the settlement of disputes, whatever their cause. No one can be certain of the course that the conflict in Indo-China will take. It is our earnest hope however that every opportunity will be taken to halt the fighting and settle the matter peacefully.
The disturbances in Iran, the instability in the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan, also have important implications for Australia. Iran, a country of major international signficance because of its energy resources and geopolitical position has undergone a violent upheaval. A new government has now been installed. Western governments have made clear their wish for continued good relations with Iran and their hope that after a period of great difficulty and uncertainty for the Iranian people and the region, stability and security will now return. We cannot be sure whether this will be so. This changing political and strategic situation affects a number of important Western and regional interests. Supplies of energy are involved, as are our lines of communication with major oil producing regions. Trade routes could be affected.
In addition to these new sources of concern, other long-standing international difficulties remain unresolved. At the last Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, it was hoped that Zimbabwe would be seated as a newly independent nation at the next Commonwealth meeting to be held at Lusaka. We would have warmly welcomed that, but now we know it will not occur. We still hope that there will be a peaceful transition to majority rule in Zimbabwe, but the longer this is delayed the more difficult it will be.
In South Africa, tensions continue. In Namibia, the transition to independence on a peaceful basis depends very much on the supervision of that country’s elections for its first government by a generally acceptable international force. As I announced, this Government has decided that it will offer a contribution to the United Nations peace-keeping force for Namibia. Southern Africa is a region of considerable strategic importance to Australia- indeed to the entire free world. We ought to do what we reasonably can to promote conditions there which will bring about stability and security. The Western initiative on Namibia offers the opportunity for this. A successful conclusion to the problem of Namibia should give renewed hope that other African problems can be resolved by reasonable means.
The changes in the world have led the Government to call as a matter of urgency for a full assessment of how recent events affect Australia’s strategic position. It is important to obtain such an assessment if we are to make sure that our defence forces are adequate to cope with the problems ahead. The assessment will provide the basis for the Government’s decisions on the type and capacity of Australia’s defence force. It is imperative that Australia assess the consequences of the changes in the world situation for itself and its Western and regional partners.
I inform honourable members that in view of recent events and in anticipation of the outcome of that review, the Government has already taken decisions involving a greater rate of defence expenditure than involved in the last Budget. I should also note that in the past three years greater emphasis has been given to purchases of new defence equipment. Over this period orders have been placed for a number of major items of defence equipment, including three guided missile frigates- FFGs- which are to enter service progressively from 1981; construction in Australia of the 6,000-tonne amphibious heavy-lift ship, HMAS Tobruk; construction in Australia of 14 patrol boats; twelve C130H Hercules medium transport aircraft, which have already entered service; modification of four F111C aircraft to provide a reconnaissance capability; two P3C long range maritime patrol aircraft; 1,200 additional light general service trucks to improve mobility.
Estimated defence expenditure on capital equipment for the armed Services this financial year is 12.9 per cent of the defence outlays, compared with expenditure of only 4.8 per cent in 1975. Current planning is for increased expenditure on capital equipment items to enhance the capability and effectiveness of the defence forces. While this has placed pressure on the other areas of the defence infrastructure and spending the proposed acquisitions will enhance the operational effectiveness of the defence forces.
In the kind of world we are living in, it is all the more important for nations of goodwill, which have learnt the art of compromise through thenown democratic processes, which are committed to consensus and reconciliation rather than confrontation, to carry those principles into international affairs. We share this commitment to moderation with India, which speaks for moderation as a founder and leader of the non-aligned movement. By speaking for moderation from our aligned and non-aligned positions the cause of peace and co-operation will be strengthened. Prime Minister Desai and I agreed during my visit to India that further developing the relations between our two countries and working together more closely than in the past will help in creating an atmosphere conducive to co-operation rather than confrontation among nations. If we are to have a passion in international affairs, let that passion be for moderation. I have only sketched in outline the disturbing changes which have taken place- indeed, not all of them even thenand the danger they hold. Early in the session, the Foreign Minister will be making a major statement which will deal at some length with the international situation and the Government’s actions in response to it. The statement will provide the House with a full opportunity for debate on these most important issues.
Against the sombre background in international affairs, I now want to turn to the situation in Australia. The Government has over the past three years pursued relentlessly a policy aimed at restoring Australia to a position of economic strength. Such strength is important if we are to play an effective role in our region and in world councils, if we are to meet Australia’s aspirations, if we are to have the resources to provide effective aid to those in need, and enhance the well-being of all Australians. A strong and prosperous Australian economy is vital if we are to achieve the goals we share as Australians. There is a growing and justifiable mood of optimism about Australia’s economic prospects. After three years of firm and steady economic management inflation has been reduced, employment is showing the first signs of recovery, the money supply has been brought under control, Commonwealth Government spending has been curbed, interest rates have been lowered, business and consumer confidence is stronger.
I believe that 1979 is the year in which the fruits of our policies will become clearly apparent, a year in which the economy will take a further step forward on the road of recovery. However, despite our success in reducing inflation, it must come down further. Although there are now signs that employment trends are changing for the better, the level of unemployment remains a matter of gravest concern to this Government, in particular the level of unemployment among the young people of Australia. But there is no easy way out, no simple solution to the problems of unemployment. By strengthening the foundations of our economy, this Government is taking the most realistic, effective and concerned approach towards providing more jobs for Australians. It is the most concerned approach because we are prepared to stay with policies that we know will be effective over the medium to longer term rather than pursue policies which might offer some immediate transitory relief building in greater disaster for the future.
There are increasing grounds for optimism. The signs of economic progress can be seen in many areas. Official forecasts indicate that the growth in gross domestic product in 1978-79 will be stronger than for some years. Production strengthened in the December quarter and business surveys predict that this will continue in 1979. Consumer demand is encouraging, with the high level of retail sales in December reflecting a mood of growing confidence. Private investment is growing strongly. Investment in plant and machinery is much above last years level. Private non-dwelling investment grew by almost six per cent in real terms in the year ending with the September quarter 1978, the latest period for which final figures are availabe. The outlook for housing, as my colleague, the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom), indicated this morning, is showing signs of improvement. Private dwelling approvals were up by almost 13 per cent in the December quarter, and for several months the rate of lending for housing has been high.
The year 1978-79 will be one of much improved prosperity for the rural sector. The gross value of wheat production for the current wheat crop is $l,900m, compared with $925m for the 1977-78 crop. With the wheat crop almost completely harvested, Australian Wheat Board receivals should exceed 17 million tonnes.
This is over 20 per cent more than the previous record set in 1968-69, and double last year’s figure. World prices for beef have increased strongly over the past year and are expected to remain at high levels. Beef exports to our major markets are expected to rise in 1979. This is a welcome relief for the industry, which had been through some disastrous years because of drought and low prices and despite the recent upturn, beef auction prices to this point have not increased as much over a period of years as the consumer price index. For the wool industry, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics forecasts a 9 per cent rise in sale proceeds for 1978-79. The Bureau also expects that the returns from grain crops will increase greatly and that the value of sheep and lamb slaughterings will rise by 18 per cent. Overall, farm incomes are expected to increase by at least 80 per cent on their 1977-78 levels, but this is admittedly from a low base. These higher incomes will allow many farmers- to repay debts, update capital equipment and make farm improvements which have been impossible in the lean years. All Australians will benefit from the rural sector’s increased demand for goods and services.
During the last election campaign I said that Australia was ready to go with $6,0D0m worth of investment. Since then, as the latest Bureau of Statistics surveys indicate, an estimated $3.4 billion was spent on investment in mining and manufacturing in 1978 alone, 33 per cent up on the previous year. In addition to that, the latest survey of industry and commerce shows that right now investment projects around Australia totalling $7.5 billion are either ready to go or in their final feasibility stages. To aid investment, we have approved $1.8 billion of infrastructure financing for projects selected by the States. The projects which the infrastructure is intended to support will involve expenditure totalling many times this amount. For example, the projects associated with the $75m infrastructure financing of the Hay Point coal loader will total over $600m and infrastructure financing of $41m will assist the $700m Worsley alumina project. Arrangements of finance for a number of these proposals are already at an advanced stage. We would expect New South Wales to be in a position to make an announcement about the Eraring electricity project financing quite soon. Arrangements for finance from overseas sources for the next stage of the massive Loy Yang electricity project in Victoria, a project in which substantial progress has already been made, are also well advanced. Considerable progress has been made in securing overseas financing for a number of other projects which were approved. The States’ willingness to support these projects demonstrates the confidence that State governments, regardless of the political complexion, have in Australia’s economic future under this Government’s policies.
It was quite plain that that was so from the statements made by Premiers at the conclusion of that most successful Loan Council meeting.
There is a resurgence of investment in large scale resource development projects in Australia. New capital investment in mining was 75 per cent higher in the year to September, and the latest Australian Mining Industry Council survey showed that larger mining companies expect to increase their investment by a further 32 per cent in 1979. Compare this with the stifling of development between 1972 and 1975. By contrast, as at December 1978 the estimated capital cost of mineral projects firmly committed or in the final feasibility stage was $4,000m. This figure does not include the North West Shelf which is now being proved up in a $50m feasibility study. It does include the following recently announced projects: The Gladstone aluminium smelter - $500; the Alcoa alumina project- $200m; the Ranger uranium project- $300m. I should also add that quite apart from this total of $4,000m, the Premier of New South Wales has said that Alumax will go ahead with a $500m aluminium smelter at Newcastle.
The ever-growing list of exciting new projects shows how investors respond to stable, responsible economic management, and a Government which faces up to economic realities. The oil industry’s response to our policies is a prime example of the success of our approach. Our measures encourage the search for oil, and equally importantly, encourage the efficient development and use of our existing reserves. Impetus has been given to the oil industry by our crude oil pricing policies and taxation and investment incentives. As a result, Australia’s oil reserves have been upgraded by some 600 million to 700 million barrels, approximately a further three-year supply at current consumption levels. The acceleration of oil exploration activity will continue into 1979. Industry estimates that between 83 and 143 exploration wells will be drilled this year. Achievement of even the lower end of that scale would be the best result for seven years, repairing the damage, the halt, that the Labor administration brought in this field of development. Esso Australia Ltd and Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd alone are committed to investing over $ 1 billion in exploration and development over the next five years as a result of the Government’s policies. Overall, by 1985, it is estimated that about 30 per cent of Australia’s crude oil production will be derived from oil fields which have become viable as a consequence of our oil and gas policies. This revival of” exploration activity is of vital importance if we are to maintain a satisfactory level of self-sufficiency in oil into the 1980s and beyond. Political disturbances in Iran are not expected to affect significantly the availability of petroleum products in Australia, as again my colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony), indicated this morning, over the first half of 1979. The outlook beyond that is uncertain, a fact which must remind us of the added security that accompanies a high level of selfsufficiency and the necessity for this Government’s oil policies.
The renewed confidence in Australia as a sound place to invest is not only limited to investment in resources. In recent weeks major new investments in other areas have been announced. ICI Australia Ltd has announced that it will construct a $500m petrochemical complex in Victoria and a $400m ethylene plant at Botany Bay. General Motors-Holden’s Ltd is planning a new $2 10m engine complex based in Victoria, and its proposal is being examined at the present time. Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd has announced that it will construct a $160m newsprint plant at Albury-Wodonga. Manufacturing industry is participating in the revival of economic activity in Australia and the Metal Trades Industry Association has just undertaken a survey which indicates the most optimistic outlook for its members and the best terms for trade and profitability over the coming months for many, many years.
Because of renewed confidence in manufacturing industry, we have seen the first tentative signs of growth in manufacturing employment in five years. The reduction in inflation arising from our economic policies has dramatically improved the competitiveness of Australian firms. Australia is now more competitive than at any time over the last seven years. In the December quarter, manufactured exports were 29 per cent higher than for the previous December quarter. In Australia, order books are filling up. BHP’s recent profit announcement reflects in part a much better performance for its steel sales within Australia. Our manufacturers are showing an increasing ability to compete against imports.
Australia’s external trade position is improving. The reduction of inflation arising from our firm economic policies has dramatically improved Australia’s international competitiveness. Contracts are being written for products, and in markets that would have seemed beyond reach only a few years ago. Total exports were 17 per cent higher in the three months ended January 1979 than in the previous three months, while the growth in imports was only seven per cent. The improvement in our exports has been reflected in a strengthening in the trade account. Australia still faces difficulties with the European Economic Community and there is a continuing need to negotiate for better access, but we do have better and more secure access to Japan. Our markets in Korea are growing. This year we have achieved the best access ever to the United States of America for our meat exports, and we are approaching the end of the bilateral negotiations for long term access to the American market. We are diversifying our markets. Australians are penetrating the new and important markets emerging in China, South East Asia, and the Middle East, and the trade drive conducted by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Resources, and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) and the trade missions that have left Australia for overseas are making rewarding progress for Australia. My colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, has recently returned from a most exciting trade mission to the Middle East which holds out great prospects for more trade between that area and Australia. Australian exporters are being encouraged by a package of Government measures, but ultimately it is the containment of inflation that provides the best stimulus for exporters, the best incentive to take advantage of the market access which has been won.
The many signs of economic progress will encourage all Australians. But I emphasise that much remains to be done. We must consolidate the gains that have been won. In so doing there is no room for taking easy options, for relenting in the pursuit of policies which, however difficult they may be in the short run, are in the end the only policies that can keep us on the road to full prosperity and higher employment. In particular we must defeat inflation. The trend on this front can be clearly seen. In 1978 inflation was 7.8 per cent, compared with 9.3 per cent in the previous year. By comparison, the consumer price index reached 17.5 per cent over the year to March 1975 under different kinds of policies. The result for 1978 would have been better but for two significant factors: The Government’s necessary and far-sighted move to establish world parity pricing for oil; and the increases in food, particularly beef prices, which are reviving large sectors of a rural industry that has been depressed for many years. Given these two factors, the fall in inflation from 9.3 per cent in 1977 to 7.8 per cent in 1978 is a very significant success indeed. The Government’s success in winding back inflation has been a precondition for the substantial progress in reducing interest rates. Long term bond rates have fallen by about 1 .4 per cent since interest rate reductions began some 18 months ago. In 1978 housing rates fell by one per cent. This is most significant progress, especially since while our interest rates fell over 1978, United States rates were rising by up to 4 per cent, those in the United Kingdom by up to 5 per cent. This progress reflects the strengthening confidence in Australia’s economic policies and in the Australian dollar.
Over the last two or three months we have seen some encouraging signs of increasing employment. These are tentative early signs but they all point in the same direction. Civilian employment has risen in each of the five months to November 1978, the first time this has occurred for five years. In October and November 1978 employment in manufacturing increased- the largest increase over these two months for five years. Overtime has risen each month for the last seven months to the highest level since 1974. Similarly, the trend for new vacancies notified to the Commonwealth Employment Service shows a more heartening picture. These encouraging signs reflect the results of our policies and the increasing competitiveness of Australian industry. It is one of the anomalies in the current situation that despite the level of unemployment many employers maintain they cannot get enough labour. In this situation the Government has adopted wide-ranging policies to help the unemployed and particularly the young unemployed, who are sometimes unable to take advantage of job opportunities when they are available. More than 400,000 people have been helped by such Government programs over the past three years and we are reviewing training, retraining and relocation schemes to ensure that they are as efficient and effective as they can possibly be.
To build on the emerging signs of improvement on the employment front, we must continue to bear down on inflation and there must also be wage restraint. The Government remains concerned about the magnitude of wage increases granted by the Arbitration Commission, but we believe that the move to six-monthly national wage hearings is an important step in the right direction. We welcome statements such as that made by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The trade union movement has, he says, ‘A responsibility in respect of those who are not in the work force’. This recognition holds out real prospects for the constructive, cooperative approach as between Government, trade unions and industry, which is fundamental to a real and lasting increase in employment opportunities. It is also necessary for manufacturers to be restrained in the prices that they establish. As production improves, manufacturers will have higher throughput and lower unit costs and an opportunity, therefore, to contain price rises.
It should be noted that the Prices Justification Tribunal has a continuing capacity to inquire into, and keep under surveillance, prices in specific areas and the Act still provides that companies can be required to notify price rises for 12 months following a public inquiry by the Tribunal.
I have pointed to a number of areas where the economy is moving forward. Whilst we must treat these signs with caution, the optimism in our industries, the resurgence of investment and development in mining and manufacturing, the revitalised position of Australia’s great rural industries, some rising commodity prices, the signs of new trends in employment and the balance of trade, give Australia firm grounds for confidence. After three years of steady policies directed at overcoming inflation and rebuilding the economy of this nation, the signs of progress are clear. Australia is on the right course and we are going to stay on that course. I present the following papen
That the House take note of the paper.
I also seek leave of the House to move a motion to enable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) to speak for a period not exceeding 30 minutes.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders to be suspended as would prevent the honourable Leader of the Opposition speaking for a period not exceeding 30 minutes.
– The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm
Fraser) no doubt regards his statement as the tour de force of the session. A more candid observer would describe it as the tour de farce. We have heard it all before and it is even less believable now. There is one purpose for this statement and one purpose alone. It is designed to stiffen the backbone of a wilting back bench on the Government side. The Prime Minister, as much as anyone on the back bench of the Government, is worried about the consistently low rating of the Government in public opinion polls and the devastating setbacks it has had in every election in this country, whether by-election or State election.
The Prime Minister commences by raising the issue of foreign affairs, invoking the name of Prime Minister Desai and the aspirations of India. No doubt he does this to try to attract some respectability for his well-known cold war understanding of international relations. What is a shame is that he does not share the enthusiasm of Prime Minister Desai for worthwile objectives designed to enhance the security of people and of mankind. For instance, the Prime Minister’s tardy regard for India’s commitment to a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean, or the ASEAN countries’ commitment to a zone of peace, friendship and neutrality in South East Asia is one of the major disappointments for all peace-loving, concerned people in this country.
But the point he does refer to, which is of concern to all people in this country, relates to the conflict in the Indo-China peninsula. There is no room for anyone to barrack any of the participants in this conflict. I find it impossible to establish beyond any reasonable doubt in my mind who is right and who is wrong, Vietnam or China. I am satisfied that they are both wrong. They blame one another but the fact is that if we do not take an even-handed and objective approach to this, the prospects of escalation getting out of hand are too chilling and daunting to contemplate. What I am really saying is that there is a need for even-handedness. It is a matter of the greatest regret, therefore, that the Prime Minister of this country- not by happy choice as far as I am concerned- should embark on the initial discussion of this subject in a very biased way, clearly committing himself to one of the participants in the conflict.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 19 February said:
The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, was muted in his criticism yesterday of China’s attack on Vietnam, claiming that it was the direct result of Vietnam ‘s earlier invasion of Kampuchea.
It went on-
In fact, Mr Fraser spent more time referring to Vietnam in his statements yesterday than he did to China.
That is unfortunate. It is prejudicial. I regret it and I hope that we will not see a relapse into that sort of behaviour.
What I did find disappointing in the Prime Minister’s statement, however, was that, having raised these important foreign policy issues, he did not canvass in any way at all their implications. I put to one side the very disturbing prospects which could arise if the escalation of the conflict between China and Vietnam were to get out of hand. Of more immediate concern, in the hope that this conflict can be settled, are the implications for the near future for the South East Asian region and for our relations with that region. It is fairly obvious that tension, a sense of instability, even insecurity, has rippled through the Asian countries as a result of Vietnam’s occupying Kampuchea. Vietnam is regarded as militarily the most powerful country in the area and, clearly, as prospectively the most powerful industrial nation of the South and South East Asian region. Accordingly, the medium to longer term prospects of this conflict are a cause of great interest, if not concern, to ASEAN countries.
One of the results that will flow from this conflict is that China, I expect, will be playing a far greater role among ASEAN countries as a sort of counterpoise to what is expected to be greater Soviet influence in the South East Asian region. I believe that unless a satisfactory conclusion can be arranged in relation to this conflict, and quickly, we will see an escalation of Soviet presence in the Indo-China peninsula area. We may even see Cam Ranh Bay provided as a Soviet naval base, something she has sought for a very long time. So it is in our interest to try to prevent this escalation- putting to one side the conflict- of major power presence. The escalation of major power presence will, of course, lead to an escalation of super-power presence, the most undesirable trend that one could imagine.
I have said before, and I repeat, that I believe the best way in which we can establish secure, long-term stability in the Indo-China peninsula is by providing aid for the peaceful reconstruction of” Vietnam and encouraging Western countries to provide generous aid for that purposenot so generous, of course, that Vietnam can establish herself as a supremely powerful industrial, and accordingly military, country in the area- so that she can feel more secure and confident in the future. It flows from this that it is highly desirable that she would be encouraged, as should the ASEAN countries, to become involved in commercial relations in her region.
What I am putting, essentially, is that present policies will have the effect of the Soviet hermetically sealing off Vietnam. That, I believe, is the last thing that we want.
Let me move on to defence, a matter always of great concern to the Prime Minister who was, after all, Minister for Defence in an earlier Liberal-Country Party Government and before that Minister for the Army. He ought to be aware that under his Prime Ministership the defence policy has become a policy of attrition. In 1975 the Liberal-National Country Party pledged that it would ‘move to restore defence expenditures, in particular defence equipment expenditures, to appropriate and realistic levels ‘. Following that, on 25 May 1976 the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) announced a $ 12,000m five-year defence program. He said that it was of the amount needed to give the country a credible defence policy’. Before the program even got away it was falling apart at the seams. We now have a defence system which is thoroughly disabled. The Prime Minister likes to suggest to the House today that in fact the Government is trying to rectify the situation; that there has been an impressive improvement in capital expenditure for new equipment. That is true, but the undertakings were entered into by the previous Labor Government. It is true that capital expenditure fell to 4.8 per cent of total defence outlays under the previous Labor Government. That is because of cutbacks for which the Prime Minister, when Minister for Defence in an earlier LiberalCountry Party government, was responsible. The 12.9 per cent capital expenditure of total defence outlays this year is a result of orders initiated under the previous Labor Government.
Let me run through the capital equipment items about which the Prime Minister was talking. Of the three guided missile destroyers mentioned, two were announced by Labor and one in haste by the Prime Minister before the last election. Construction of the Tobruk was announced by Labor. The purchase of 12 Hercules aircraft was announced by Labor. Modification of the FI 1 1Cs was certainly announced by the present Minister for Defence. The purchase of two PC3 Orion aircraft was announced by Labor. In summary, these capital equipment decisions were all announced by Labor Ministers Barnard and Morrison except for one FFG and the FI 1 1 reconnaissance capability aircraft. In relation to the FI 1 1 we ought to note the statement of the present Minister for Defence when in Opposition in October 1975. He said that a Liberal-National Country Party government would ‘investigate how best to provide the FI 1 1 with much needed in-flight fuelling capacity and stand-off weapon capability’. All that has been achieved in three and a little more years is the provision of reconnaissance pods. The Minister has fallen well short of the promise.
Let us look at the five-year defence plan that the Minister for Defence outlined. Let us look at what was really achieved under the inspiring leadership of the Prime Minister who has always asserted his premier concern to be the need for adequate defence of this country. We must bear in mind that the Minister said that the amount he outlined was necessary to have a credible defence policy. The program was falling apart at the seams before it had even been put together. In the first year, 1976-77, spending in real terms was down $42m on the stipulated level. Next year it was down $282m. The next year it was $430m below the credible defence policy that the Government had outlined. The total was down in 1978 prices by over $900m. So much for a credible defence policy; so much for the concern of the Government on this issue! Expenditure on new capital equipment is $350m to $410m down on the White Paper commitment for what was a minimum credible defence policy for this country.
We understand that there will be an uplift in the level of expenditure available for defence. We understand that the new five-year defence program will amount to $ 14,000m. Let us inflate the $12,000m five-year defence program of 1976 according to the gross national expenditure deflator. We find that the $ 12,000m referred to in 1976 is worth $ 15,600m today- some $ 1,600m more than is now being proposed for a new program. The amount is notably smaller than was outlined in 1976. What do we conclude? The amount proposed in 1976 was the minimum for a credible defence policy. We must now have, under the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), an incredible defence policy. Of course, it is incredible. The serious deficiencies which are eroding the capacity of our defence forces are beyond belief. I speak not only in a general sense and from the analyses which one can carry out from resources available to anyone in this Parliament but also from the personal experience of having the largest air force base in Australia- Amberley- in my electorate. There is widespread dissension against and hostility towards the Government not for any political reason but because of the way in which the capacity of the armed Services to operate has been hobbled. I ask honourable members to contrast that with the self-indulgence of the Prime Minister who is spending $14m on two
Boeing 707 aircraft. Honourable members opposite might say that this is trivial. ‘Trivial’! This expenditure would increase the operational functions of the armed Services by some 10 per cent on average at a time when they cannot fire guns often enough, undertake exercises often enough, steam their ships frequently enough or fly as often as they ought to maintain their efficiency.
The final point I want to make on this issue is that the craven way in which this Government is handling defence is creating extremely difficult fiscal problems for this country. If a decision is not made soon about the future of the Melbourne and the tactical fighter force replacement we will have an enormously burdensome fiscal trap confronting our balance of payments. We are looking at a situation- talking now about the future of the economy of this country- in which I do not believe we can expect the large inflows of foreign investment that we have seen in the past. There are a number of reasons for that such as the uncertainty of domestic economic policies and the uncertainty of the international economic situation. Our balance of payments at the current account level is bleeding badly at present. The implications of that simply for defence purposes are that we cannot afford the enormous outlays that loom immediately ahead of us- not in 10 years time but immediately- for decisions which should be no longer deferred. The Parliament deserves an outline exactly how the Government intends to pay for these programs and exactly how it will provide adequate defence for this country in the future. We live in times of increasing instability, according to the Prime Minister. I frankly believe that he overdraws the bow. But, if he honestly believes that, he ought to explain these important points. That is enough on that issue. Time is short. I assure the House that the Opposition will be raising this issue frequently from now on.
I want to move, however, on to some of the economic matters referred to by the Prime Minister. Let me enumerate the three main issues in this country. They are the Prime Minister’s credibility, the deficiencies of his economic management and his harsh neglect of glaring social needs in this community. Does anyone dispute now that the Prime Minister is totally bereft of any credibility with the Australian public? We should look at what he said on interest rates and look at what he did. We should look at what has happened over the last 48 hours. Quite clearly the Government is seeking to rig the money market to avoid further increases in interest rates. It is a simple principle of economics that if we try to ration cash by restricting the volume available we will push up its price. The price will go up not in the official sector but elsewhere in the market, and the official sector, given the thrust of government economic policy at present, will be forced to follow. That arises because of the wrong direction Government policies are taking. Because of that wrong direction we will witness the result I have outlined.
Does the Prime Minister have any credibility when he says his Government is a low tax Government and then proceeds, as soon as he is elected, to increase taxes by over eight per cent for 90 per cent of taxpayers? Can he be believed when he says that he is concerned about families? Today the average family- a man, wife and two children- on average weekly earnings is $9 a week worse off, before tax, than in 1975. If we allow for all of the increases in indirect charges that families have to bear, as a result of the last Budget especially, they are even worse off again. No family in this country believes that it is better off as a result of three and a bit years of Fraserism. Any housewife in the supermarket will say that she is far worse off and can buy fewer commodities as a result of three and a bit years experience under this Government.
What a gall to suggest to this House that one of the problems of unemployment is that people do not want work when literally more than 1,000 people have queued up not at one point but at several points throughout Australia in recent months looking for jobs. I wish that the Prime Minister was successful in dealing with inflation, interest rates and a lot of other things. If he was, we would suffer much less unemployment. His belief is that more unemployment means fewer problems elsewhere. But what I cannot understand is why the Prime Minister, having imposed the enormous costs, both socially and economically, on the community of more unemployment, then sets about a series of policies that aggravate inflation and lose the gains that have been made. Let us not be under any misapprehension of the level of cost borne by the community this year as a result of the Government’s policies. Lost production alone will be of the order of $8,000m- a direct consequence of government policies.
The Prime Minister, a little later in his statement, is bubbling with optimism about the prospects of new capital expenditure. It so happens- bad luck for him I expect, though happily for the purposes of what I want to illustratethat today the Australian Bureau of Statistics released information on new capital expenditure by private enterprises in Australia. Bearing in mind the Prime Minister’s bubbling optimism, let us look at what the statistical report shows. It shows that expected new capital expenditure for the six months ending June 1979 is $4,063.9m while for the six months ending last year it was $4,240.9m. So where is that bubbling optimism now? Where is the evidence of this increased confidence being displayed by business? The man cannot be believed. If there were an aristocracy of liars, he would be a crown prince.
Let us look at the long list of dishonoured promises to the community. The Prime Minister said in his policy speech in 1975:
We have a comprehensive strategy to restore prosperity . . .
In a speech to the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce in June 1 976, he said:
In his speech to Parliament in September 1 977 he said:
We have given high priority to programs for relieving unemployment, especially for the young . . .
In an electorate broadcast in October 1977 he said:
Australia today is back on the road to economic health.
I wonder how he established that? In a policy speech during the 1977 election campaign he said:
Our nation is on the move. We are ready to stride into a new era of prosperity . . .
Then a joint statement issued in January 1978 by the present Treasurer (Mr Howard) and the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), who has the good grace to be in the chamber, contains these words:
I guess by that they mean the half a million unemployed, or near enough to it, that we saw recorded in the official statistics a few weeks ago. Finally, the Prime Minister said during his electorate talk in March 1 978: . . this year promises significant progress in the Australian economy . . .
We all know what has happened. The listeners to this parliamentary broadcast know what has happened. The community knows what has happened, but he still has the gall to come into this chamber and say the same thing again. I quote from the Prime Minister’s statement today:
I believe that 1979 is the year in which the fruits of our policies will become clearly apparent, a year in which the economy will take a further step on the road of recovery.
He is unbelievable because his integrity is too sullied to be accepted. He seems to believe, like Alice through the looking glass, that if one says something three times it will be believed.
Where are we going? According to the Prime Minister we are going to go well, but he has been saying that for more than three years. As I mentioned earlier, the latest movements in monetary policy certainly do not betoken any expansion in the economy. They are designed to cut back the level of activity. I think it rather strange that on the one hand the Prime Minister can extol the advantages of improvements in the farm sector while concurrently having the monetary policy squeezing in on the economy.
Can this man not handle prosperity? Is he too incompetent to handle economic recovery? Well, perhaps he is. He would certainly seem to misunderstand completely economic forces which flow from policy decisions made by the Government, when he undertakes a totally unwise policy like world parity pricing for domestic oil production. We do not disagree with the principle but rather with the timing. There are costs and disadvantages in any undertaking and they have to be weighed up. But the disadvantages of aggravated inflation as a cost far outweigh any benefits for the present and for some time to come. Accordingly, it was an unwise decision to proceed with world parity pricing of domestic oil production.
Look what it has done to the farmers. In two years the costs of the average sugar producer in Queensland have increased by $950 while the costs of the Western Australian wheat farmer have increased by $1,200. It imposes a heavy cost on the export sector of the economy about which the Prime Minister says he is so concerned and which he wants to promote. It disadvantages the import substitution sectors in manufacturing. It represents a 40 per cent increase in the price of oil domestically produced. It forces down wages and it forces up unemployment.
Let me enumerate the clear disadvantages it imposes on the economy. Enumerated in a paper presented to the Australian Agricultural Economics Society and prepared by members of the IMPACT project staff which, as honourable members know is associated with the Industries Assistance Commission, is what will happen within a one to two year period as a result of world parity pricing of oil. The paper states that there will be a contraction in aggregate employment of 0.8 per cent, that is, some 50,000 people, and in employment of rural workers of 2.8 per cent. There will be a contraction in gross national product of 0.5 per cent, which amounts to some $500m and which is an indirect cost that ought to be calculated when considering this matter. There will be a contraction in aggregate exports of 2.4 per cent, including contractions in exports of all but one of the agricultural export commodities. This is weakening our balance of payments, undermining rural industry and disadvantaging export manufacturing. There will be an expansion of aggregate imports of 0.6 per cent; an increase in consumer prices of 2.1 per cent; contractions in the outputs of export oriented agricultural industries of about 0.9 per cent to 1.8 per cent and contractions in the incomes of export oriented farm industries of 6 per cent to 8 per cent in real terms. Very simply, the significant feature of this is, as the National Energy Advisory Council has pointed out, that in spite of the enormous direct and indirect costs which are going to be borne by the community as a result of world import parity pricing for domestic oil production, the increase in the available reserves is going to be marginal, in fact much less than the community will have to bear by way of cost. I do not want to go into the complexities of the economic principles involved in this matter, but a number of things have to be weighed up and on this basis it is evident that this is not the wisest decision that could have been taken, especially at present, when inflation is aggravated as a result of this sort of policy.
There is one other matter that I want to raise in relation to the world parity pricing of domestic oil production. It is now known generally, I believe, that as a result of the movement to world parity pricing this year, some $340m additional income will be generated for domestic oil producers. Next year that amount will increase by over $100m at the expense of revenue. That is being paid for by Australian motorists. Where that money is being used for exploration in Australia, one would not quibble, I expect, in that restricted area of consideration, but one has every right to quibble if there is any evidence that any of this money, especially amounts of a substantial order, is being taken out of the country to undertake oil exploration- and I have very firm grounds for suspecting that it is being taken out. It is my intention to raise this matter again at a later stage in the proceedings of the Parliament.
But I want to return to some of the economic matters. I want to encourage the Prime Minister to get a clear and constructive focus on economic management and to stop seeking to establish scapegoats in the community for his own shortcomings and to stop abusing and confronting the rest of the community. What has to be recognised in Australia today is that there is more to be achieved through a united effort than will be achieved if a community is divided. Again I notice that in the Prime Minister’s speech today he returned to his attack on wages: Wages are too high and profits are too low. Of course the argument is based on national accounts statistics. I argue, as do many economists, that those statistics are misleading. At a time of low productive output when the productive capacity of industry is well under-utilised, fixed overhead costs per employee engaged are high. With a pick up in economic output, increased production can take place in industrial establishments without necessarily an increase in the fixed costs per employee or an increase much below the increase in income which arises. The consequence of that is that profits move ahead more rapidly than do the costs which industry has to bear. .
If we look at the argument on wage overhang we find that the Government is on dubious ground. The Australian Industries Development Association in its recent report entitled ‘Understanding Unemployment’ had this to day at page 18:
If we look at what has happened to our competitiveness internationally, we find that by a series of stealthy devaluations the Australian dollar has been devalued by more than 22 per cent, and that the wages factor is not a disadvantaging factor on the export market.
In fact, because of stealthy devaluation, the opportunity for developing Australian exports has been improved but again at considerable cost because a devaluation means very simply that the Government has discreetly gone about restructuring the Australian economy with a sledge hammer. Devaluation means massive disadvantage to Australian manufacturing industry which is producing for domestic consumption. It means very simply that the work force in those industries is retrenched as a result of the devaluation, that wages are depressed, and that the general level of activity in that part of the economy is set back. Why do we not have a more honest approach to the restructuring of the Australian economy, one which outlines what the Government is seeking to achieve for this country- a sort of blueprint for the progressive development of the economy into the 1980s and well beyond? It is only in that way that we will get community respect for government.
It is this attack on wages which is irritating. I recognise the need for clear and consistent wages policy guidelines, but they must be guidelines which are based upon a sense of equity and justice, and that is what we do not get from the present Government. It has disadvantaged wage earners enormously. The people who’ are bearing the brunt of disadvantage and sacrifice in this community represent the great mass of people who are least equipped to bear that sort of imposed sacrifice. Having talked about wage earners in one context, let me now talk about them in the context of sacrifice, privilege, advantage and profits. I mentioned before that the national accounts figures tend to be misleading, and they certainly are. Look how profits are booming at the present time. The profit made by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd in six months was $ 160.7m, an increase of something like 50 per cent. The Bank of New South Wales increased its profit by 37 per cent in a year; Associate Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd by 53 per cent; Burns Philp & Co. Ltd by 46 per cent; Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd by 22 per cent; the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd by 23 per cent in six months; and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd by 40 per cent in a year. What is the Prime Minister about? He is about more unemployment; he is about imposing sacrifices on people; and he is about cutting back on important welfare programs and neglecting many areas of need.
It is appalling that we have such a high level of relative poverty in this community and nothing being done about it by the Prime Minister when in other areas of the economy privilege and advantage are being propped up, as I have just revealed in the profit figures which are available from the daily newspapers. What we need is a program for economic recovery that will work, one which will create 100,000 jobs by generating at least 5 per cent economic growth, and one which will bring down inflation by at least 2 per cent a year instead of aggravating all those things. That is what we have been suggesting and we will continue to do so.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bradfield) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the consideration of General Business Notices Nos. 1 and 2 continuing until 3 o’clock p.m.
– I move:
This is not a definitive motion which is seeking action or an assertion by the House. It is a motion which seeks to have the House carry out an investigation into a matter which has been a political football for as long as I have been a member of Parliament and probably for as long as the Parliament has existed. It is an area in which the major consideration usually has been what is in it for the governing party or, where the Opposition is opposing or proposing, what is in it politically. As everyone in this House knows, and it is often repeated, Australia is a country comprised substantially of two or three segments. There are very sizable urban populations which have the benefits of most of the services but often not at the levels or in the form which they desire them. Nevertheless, they receive most of the services which any community reasonably expects. Obviously our opinions would differ on the way in which those services are provided and on the priorities given, and where State governments are involved there also would be differences in the competence of those governments to deliver. But, generally, the major urban communities are relatively well serviced with faculties and community back-up support. That level of service was advanced considerably during the three years of the Labor Government. It has regressed somewhat since.
There is a second segment of the population living in provincial cities and in the closer settled rural areas and it too has reasonable access to facilities, although its access is not as good. There is yet another segment of the population- a very large slice of the country- but it is not necessarily to be designated ‘outback’ because people can be quite isolated in areas not so far away from the major population centres, especially if they lack the financial and physical capacity to move about freely, and do not have the wherewithal to afford motor cars, public transport and all the other facilities. This is a large section of the community which is disadvantaged and it is disadvantaged in many ways. It does not have general access to community faculties, health facilities, education facilities and basic advice facilities which are readily available to other sections of the community. We as a nation have not advanced sufficiently to provide them with even reasonable access to information on what governments do and do not provide.
One of the great problems in our community is that when governments decide to do something they badly advise the people who deliver the services or the people who can recommend where the delivery of those services should be. It is only in recent years, for instance, that this Parliament decided that its members who represent large electorates ought to have some faculties in addition to those enjoyed by members in closely settled areas in order to move about their electorates and have contact with their electors. Members of parliament do not necessarily deliver government services or carry out any sort of education program, and they should not be expected to do so but the total lack of that sort of facility does exist and will continue to exist unless some new approach is taken.
The proposal is for a parliamentary committee to inquire into the best means of providing some assistance. I say advisedly and from the Opposition side that it is not possible for any government, no matter what is its will, to provide equality of opportunity or equality of access. That is a physical and financial impossibility and I think that all members of this House would acknowledge it. A parliamentary committee has advantages which do not exist with other forms of inquiry. Firstly, a parliamentary committee, being an all party committee, is likely to come up with solutions which are not only possible within the political spectrum but also deliverable by governments.
Admittedly, parliamentary committees may come up with a little more than the Treasurer may like. Nevertheless, they are likely to be solutions which are practical in the political delivery context. Interdepartmental committees and commissions, especially when they are asked to examine matters which have emotional and political content, regularly come up with decisions which embarrass the Government to whom they are presented. This is possibly because their reports are factual but, nevertheless, because they have no application to the political possibilities involved they can be thrown out. Good or bad recommendations could be included in a report but because of some highlighted segment in the report it may be unacceptable to a government or a political party.
We might remember what happened to the Vernon report on the economy in the early 1960s. It was a very substantial document but it was thrown out completely because it was politically unacceptable to the Prime Minister of the day. We might also take account of what happened to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships whose report was a very substantial document. It involved thousands of hours of work by well-qualified and competent people. On one or two recommendations out of several hundred, that report has been totally destroyed because it was politically unacceptable. I am proposing that in this case we look at the best means of delivery of assistance in these areas. I do not personally think that tax concessions are necessarily the way to provide assistance. I am not sure that ad hoc measures to bring about a solution to the particular need of a pressure group or a very vocal group are necessarily the best way to provide services. Some people have better access to the media, are better lobbyists and, in general, can exert great pressure which is often well in excess of the priority of that segment in the community.
I think any committee would have to look at the effects of general implementation of a government policy, necessary as it may be, when that general implementation has regional or sectional benefit and creates increased costs or difficulties that ought not to be incurred by other sections of the community. I use one example. Emission controls on motor vehicles are needed only in the inner urban areas of Melbourne and Sydney. However, they are applied generally because it would be a practical impossibility to have other than uniform emission controls on vehicles. Persons who operate motor vehicles in non-urban areas, even domestic local transport operators, consume fuel at a rate far in excess of that which is necessary in the area in which they operate. They incur additional costs which are passed on throughout their community, not because of any need in their area for emission control, not because it is of general benefit to the community in which they operate but because a problem which is localised to possibly 10 square miles of the Australian continent- it is not much more at this stage- is solved by a general application of legislation over the whole nation, possibly for sound reasons.
It is difficult to imagine how solutions to some of these problems can be arrived at but at least assistance can be given. The problem of a rural child with some ability to a low income parent seeking to fulfil the child’s educational capabilities is an example of extreme hardship. A child in an area with proximity to academic institutions, a fully equipped primary school, a high school with the necessary course structure and equipment, is able to be educated in an orderly manner without disruption to family life. Of more consequence is the problem of a rural child competing with others in a tertiary institution. The child who has to live away from home will almost certainly have to undertake some form of extra curricula activity to increase his income. The tertiary allowance guidelines take no cognisance of a child living away from home except that the means test is extended upwards slightly. They do not allow the full amount- it is fairly low in any case- to be paid at a higher level of income.
Any person in this House who considers that it is a reasonable economic proposition for a family with an income between $8,000 and $9,000 a year with a reducing level of assistance to maintain a child, possibly several thousands miles away from home, is either a fool or has never tried to keep a person aged 20 years or 2 1 years in reasonable circumstances. The child may not be disadvantaged because he is living away from home. It would depend on his application and his ability to study. However, he is disadvantaged by the hours he is forced to spend on additional workloads outside his studies which other children can spend in study and revision. I am not saying that the additional work will not benefit the child but he is disadvantaged when compared with his fellow students.
A broad range of assistance is provided in various areas. It is nowhere near as broad as I had thought before I started looking at what is actually provided. Very little assistance is planned or comprehensive. For instance, in the medical field there is a patient’s travelling allowance. There are some decentralised pathology services. There is assistance to the Flying Doctor networks where they operate. There is no serious attempt to provide a national medical or dental service which will, on a regular basis, move into isolated areas where the normal medical services, even of a doctor, do not exist. In the education area- I realise that this is often a State problem- we have not seriously sought to tackle the problems of a different form and structure of education for children living in remote areas.
I made the point previously that I do not necessarily see tax concessions as a solution to the problem. There should be some other form of assistance which may or may not be taxable but which takes account of the incomes of the people concerned. Tax concessions have the effect that they benefit those on higher incomes more than those on lower incomes. More importantly, they are of no benefit to those on the lowest incomes who do not pay tax.
Obviously zone allowances are one means which a committee should look at. How they are granted is also something which the committee should examine. I think that, if any assistance is to be given to people in disadvantaged circumstances living outside the capital cities, that assistance has to be delivered on the basis that it benefits in fact the people who are resident in those areas and not other people- as many forms of assistance do- and that it will provide some compensation for the lack of services normally provided by governments at government cost and the penalties which are applied in those areas.
I go back to fuel and the emission controls which I mentioned. They are a glaring example of a disadvantage applied to a section of the community for less than satisfactory reasons. I think it is reasonable to say that the changes in the crude oil excise and the charging arrangements for crude oil were undertaken for specific government purposes. They were said to be to encourage oil exploration. The result of those changes- we can argue the merits of them- is to disadvantage disproportionately those people whose cost structures are affected by the cost of fuel oil to an extent greater than those of the average person in the community. The further one is from the capital cities- fuel equalisation taken into consideration or otherwise- the higher one’s transport costs will be and the more they are likely to be affected by the cost of fuel for the provision of transport. They are just a basic cost item which has a multiplier effect according to the distance which one has to convey goods. Government policies in this area are not invoked for general social purposes but, ostensibly, to bring about a desired set of circumstances in the minerals area. But the cost is borne disproportionately in relation to the distance which goods have to be transported and the need to provide basic transport. Telephones are another area in which there is a disproportionate charge.
Another point I want’ to make is that no one should take any notice at all of the basic statistics on family incomes and family expenditures relevant to these types of items. The figures of the Commonwealth Statistician for average expenditures of families in remote areas show that they spend less on petrol and telephones than people in urban areas. There is a simple explanation for that: Fewer people in rural areas have telephones; therefore the number of telephones related to the average incomes is considerably lower. Fuel costs in remote areas in many cases are borne not on a private basis but on a business, commercial basis. The figures given by the
Statistician I think are misleading- not deliberately so. They may well be accurate but one must apply oneself to the circumstances in which the costs are incurred. In the metropolitan areas of Australia I would think that the telephone per house figure is getting close to 70 per cent I doubt whether it is 30 per cent in the non urban areas and, in the total population of non urban areas, it is likely to be nearer to 20 per cent. The figures are divided to arrive at an average which has no relationship whatsoever to the true position. A similar situation exists with fuel costs.
I believe that the House should adopt the motion. It involves a subject matter in which this Parliament should interest itself and seek to bring about determinations. It is an area in which political motivation and ability to apply pressure has had more force over the whole period of parliamentary government than the practical application of solutions. Committees other than of the Parliament are unlikely to bring down solutions which are acceptable to governments or acceptable politically. The Parliament really is the only body which properly could carry out such an inquiry and bring down recommendations with a chance of acceptance.
– (Hon. Ian Robinson)- Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.
– It is very pleasing indeed to see the honourable member from the Opposition, the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes), display a healthy understanding of the problems of people in remote areas. It is pleasing indeed that he touched on many of the problems of which we who represent more remote and rural areas are aware. I certainly hope that the honourable member will cooperate with the Government when we are implementing the various schemes of assistance to these people. This Government has a good record of helping non-metropolitan and rural people. We have implemented a great list of items of assistance over recent years. These programs of assistance in fact are very beneficial to the areas concerned and the people living in those areas.
To generalise, for a start we have the programs of freight equalisation, fuel subsidisation, lower telephone charges which were implemented last year and personal income tax sharing with local governments. Of course the assistance to local government in these areas has been massive. Also there are the growth centres programs, decentralisation development programs and road grants. One could go on. Of course underlying all this assistance to these remote areas is the Government action on the rate of increase of inflation. That has been singularly the most beneficial assistance to people living in remote areas. Governments must of necessity budget to expend funds on these programs of assistance so the Government must have control over the programs and over those expenditures.
I believe that the motion which proposes the setting up of a committee of inquiry would in fact only delay the assistance available to those areas and would in fact effectively prevent the Government assisting growth areas under decentralisation programs until that inquiry wound up. We know just how parliamentary committees work. They go on and on. They find themselves in a permanent job and a permanent position. In this Government we want to get to the core of the problem and solve it immediately so that there is not a massive delay entailed waiting for a report of a committee of inquiry. That is one of the essential reasons why I oppose the setting up of this parliamentary committee of inquiry. But again I say that many of the points made by the honourable member for Corio highlight the problems as we see and know them. It is healthy that the honourable member for Corio is aware of these. I am sure that given the continued thrust of the present Government’s policies in this area and the continuance of the decentralisation development programs we will see some substantial upgrading of the facilities in those areas.
Under the present Australian way of life people move out to the remote areas as of choice. It is a free economy. People have freedom of choice to go to live there. They go there mostly for economic reasons- to earn their living because there are jobs there or because they want to establish farms or some industry. Governments, recognising that people have the freedom of choice to move to these areas, of course have an obligation for social reasons to implement policies that will establish and maintain certain national values concerning the quality of life. For economic reasons the Government has chosen to implement regional development policies which will enhance national development objectives. Recently we have seen a substantial number of grants, a substantial amount of assistance with long term employment possibilities, under the decentralisation grant program. This is a result of the fact that in 1977 the Decentralisation Advisory Board was established to make recommendations to the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) on the suitability of development projects for assistance under the
Commonwealth decentralisation development program.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was saying that the Decentralisation Advisory Board was established in December 1977 to make recommendations to the Minister for National Development on the suitability of development projects for assistance under the Commonwealth decentralisation development program. This is one of the more important programs that this Government carries out. It has been of immense value to various remote localities throughout Australia. The Board recommends the provision of capital funds for specific projects. Funds are usually advanced by way of loans but grants are also possible.
For the reason that we already have machinery set up to advise the Minister and to advise the Government on the need for special assistance for people living in remote areas and special assistance for those industries and people in nonmetropolitan areas, I believe the setting up of a select committee as proposed by the honourable member for Corio would have the effect of delaying any government action in this area. It would have the effect of cutting off assistance now made available to those people because it would be necessary to wait for that committee to carry out lengthy investigations and to present reports. Of course, we all know what happens with standing committees generally. They tend to find themselves in a semi-permanent position and tend to look for something to keep themselves occupied. It might be many years indeed before such a committee reported. In the meantime, there is a desperate need to assist the people in remote areas. There is a desperate need to establish industries in non-metropolitan areas and in fact to assist the people who have chosen already to go and live in those areas.
It was heartening indeed to hear the speech of the honourable member for Corio who is well aware of the problems of people living in remote areas. He seems to have a good grasp of the problems associated with living in nonmetropolitan areas. I congratulate him for the research that he has done in that area. This brings me to several items of assistance that presently ought to be looked at closely. Many people choose to live in metropolitan cities. They are not going to be encouraged to move out to isolated areas. We will not get this massive regional growth that we all desire. For instance, in a survey conducted of at least 30 per cent of factories in the Sydney area, the people working in those factories, gave their reasons for not wanting to leave the inner Sydney area. In descending order of importance they were: Access to friends and families, access to education, natural environment, social and recreational facilities, cultural facilities, community facilities, suitable housing and the big city atmosphere. We are going to be stuck with the big city atmosphere for a long while- for as long as we are going to be here in Australia. We are also going to be stuck with the fact that people who live in the more remote areas lack facilities.
Of course, at the present time we have taxation zone rebates which previously were zone allowances. In my opinion, these are completely inadequate. They have not been altered since 1958, other than to change them from an allowance to a rebate in the 1975 Budget. Since 1958 they have not been upgrated in dollar terms. I believe that that is completely unrealistic. The zone boundaries are based on a mythical 26th parallel for most parts of Australia and that bears no relationship to the development, the remoteness or the hardships of the people. Firstly, in my opinion, we ought to do away with geographic boundaries. We ought to establish a list of disadvantages and a list of people who would be available to receive a disadvantage rebate or a zone rebate if they lived in East Gippsland, southern Tasmania or in the north-west of Western Australia. The level of that rebate would be judged in accordance with the disadvantages suffered in those areas.
I believe that system would remove any constitutional doubt as to the validity of zone allowances or zone rebates. It would also give the Government the opportunity to identify immediately the areas of disadvantage and make a conscious decision whether to spend money by underwriting the lack of facilities, hardships and disadvantages or whether in fact to continue to forgo the tax at a given level within that area. It would put a certain amount of pressure on governments to equalise the standard of living throughout Australia. If that were coupled with the decentralisation development program in attracting and helping industries to establish in remote areas it would go a long way indeed towards removing some of the anomalies of which the honourable member for Corio spoke.
He spoke at length about the anomalies that arise in all of the allowances and means of assistance, whether they be isolated children’s assistance, the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme allowance or other forms of assistance available to a great multitude of people in various areas and for various reasons. It is obvious that welfare payments of this nature must be coupled to a means test of some order so that the people who really need the assistance in fact really get the assistance. If there was no means test applied then a lot of people who really did not need the assistance would be able to get it. That would penalise those who did need it, because a lot less money would be available for them. The Government would find itself in a bind in having so much of its finances pre-committed in this area and it would find that such a scheme would be completely impractical to implement.
Another area which was touched on and which I would like to mention very briefly concerns subsidised housing in remote areas. It is known that section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act allows the Commissioner of Taxation to assess for taxation purposes subsidised housing or low rental housing in remote areas. There is no question that there is a need for section 26E of the Income Tax Assessment Act in order to prevent abuses, mostly by well off people, very rich people, business executives, company executives and these sorts of people. So, there is a need for section 26E. It caters for a whole multitude of unearned income, not only subsidised housing. Early last year, the Commissioner of Taxation began to implement section 26E in a manner in which it was never intended. Several members of the coalition parties took immediate action in this area, both in Queensland and in Western Australia. We were able to subject that section to a government review, and we successfully prevented the Commissioner of Taxation from issuing assessments under that section. I understand that the matter is presently under discussion at Cabinet level. I am confident that fairness will prevail in this area.
Those people who live in remote areas and who are fearful of receiving assessments under section 26E of that Act will in fact be dealt with equitably and fairly, in line with proposals that have been made by me and other honourable members on this side of the House. In fact, I have been given a categoric assurance by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that if necessary the legislation will be amended in this area if the Commissioner of Taxation persists in implementing this section in a manner in which it was never intended. Much more could be said on that matter, but I will not elaborate at this juncture.
I come back to the motion before the House. The honourable member for Corio moved that a select committee be set up to investigate all of these anomalous areas of assistance, all of the difficulties which people find themselves in when they live in non-metropolitan areas. I believe that the setting up of such a committee would only delay government action in that area. It could effectively bog down the investigatory processes which the present Government has set up and would prevent much needed assistance going out to those people who need it so much. They do not want to wait until any select committee or any other committee carries out investigations. These people need the assistance now. I believe this Government has a good track record of providing such assistance. It has intentions of continuing to provide it and to expand that assistance where it is needed, particularly the remoter areas of Australia.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) (2.25)-I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) that a select committee be established to determine and make recommendations for the optimum cost efficient method of compensating people for the additional costs incurred from residence in nonmetropolitan areas. I would expect such a select committee to determine and make recommendations in respect of additional costs incurred from residence in the whole non-metropolitan area as outlined by the honourable member for Corio.
However, my concern is based mainly on my knowledge of the additional cost incurred because of residence in rural and remote areas. In outlining some of those costs it seems to me that we have a responsibility to provide country people with better access to a large range of services normally available only to people in urban areas. If we are unable to provide those services and amenities we should provide some form of compensation. However, it is not enough merely to make these kinds of statements; some reply has to be given to some of the claims made by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Cotter). In his opening remarks he said that he did not agree with setting up further committees because the Government believes in identifying a problem and rectifying it. I think that claim is incorrect on two counts. I refer the honourable member to the Australian of 3 October 1978 under the heading:
To govern, first form a committee.
To one reading this report it is clearly indicated that the Government does believe in setting up committees. The article reads:
The formation recently of a special committee of senior Ministers to oversee the industrial relations policy once again illustrated the Government’s belief in the adage that two (or more) heads are better than one.
Then the article goes on to outline the number of committees that have been formed:
Australia also has a system of inter-government committees, made up of federal and State ministers and officials with common areas of responsibility.
These groups, covering areas like transport, health, education, legal affairs and housing, meet regularly to ensure continued liaison between the different spheres of government.
Apan from creating a mountain of paper work, government by committee represents a significant drain on the national purse.
Then it goes on to set out the various committees. I claim that that indicates clearly that the Government does believe in setting up committees.
The other part of the claim is that the Government believes in identifying a problem and rectifying it. I hope to be able to produce some evidence to show that the Government does not rectify the problems, that in fact the Government has shown long delays in many areas in even attacking the problems. I agree with the view put forward by the honourable members for Corio and Kalgoorlie that the zone allowance was first introduced with some of these main aims that the member for Corio put before the House, namely, to encourage amenities and services to remote areas and to pay some form of compensation to those people living in the remote areas. In addition to this, we have a responsibility to ensure that urban centres of the nation develop in balance with the environmental capacity of the regions where they are located. We have some kind of responsibility to provide alternative lifestyles for the population. We can only do this by providing equity and justice to people living in all areas.
If proper assistance were available in nonmetropolitan areas it would have the effect of reducing the growth pressure on major cities. I believe this is of national importance because it will allow finance used in providing unplanned extensions of cities’ amenities, such as transport, housing, et cetera, to be used in more gainful areas, in a way that would be of greater gain to the nation and more equitable to the individual taxpayers.
Members of this House with country electorates know that the locations of amenties and services are more convenient for some people than they are for other people and that the quality is better in some areas than in other areas. Additionally- I think this is an important issuethe way they are financed is far from equitable. Where governments do not provide services and amenities in remote areas people tend to pull together to provide the facilities at great expense to themselves. I am thinking of pre-schools, kindergartens, hostels and these types of things. It is an injustice that people who live in remote areas should have to finance these things when in the metropolitan areas they are financed by the Government.
How many times do we hear from people with country electorates about people making a comparison between the amenities and services in their area and those provided in Canberra. I would say that each country member, even if he does not get these comparisons every day, would be confronted with them at least once a week. Of course the comparison is made also of the cost involved to and tax level paid by the people living in these remote areas. This Government has to stand up to the fact that people living in these remote areas are often people who have been big producers in the rural industry but who, through droughts, failure of markets or something’ to that effect- perhaps they have been miners or rural workers- have retired to live in that area. They have already paid their share of tax comparable with- if not in some cases higher than- that paid by people living in metropolitan areas. It is an injustice that they should be denied the amenities and services for which they have paid their taxes and which are provided in the metropolitan area.
It is to the national benefit that many of these retired farmers, miners, rural workers and other people do remain close to where they have lived most of their lives with their families and friends. If they moved into the metropolitan area- an already overcrowded area- they would compete for work with those already living there. They would compete for housing and, in the case of those who have retired with some finance, they would compete with the young married couples for the scarce city building land. Therefore, it is of advantage to the nation to encourage these people to remain in non-metropolitan areas. But I believe the encouragement should be given in the right way. This is where I differ with the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. He has already pointed out many areas where he thinks some adjustment should be made. The honourable member for Corio has already pointed out other areas. There could be many conflicting views on this. A select committee should be set up. I concede the point made by the honourable member, namely, that the deliberations of these committees are too drawn out and that they take too long to present their recommendations. Just because this has happened in the past, it is no reason why we should not have a committee to investigate these matters and bring down a recommendation in a specified time.
I believe that it is wrong to deny rural areas the amenities and services given to urban areas. In buoyant economic times the people in the rural sector have accepted that they must provide their own amenities and services. We all know that this has happened. It must be admitted that in times of need during those buoyant periods many rural people could afford to transport their families to other centres that could deliver the required services. But it should be remembered also that, when they had to use their own finances to reach these services, they were already provided in metropolitan areas at the taxpayers’ expense. Country people pay their taxes and they too should be entitled to have these faculties available. But very few of them have these facilities today due to the dramatic downturn in the rural economy. Many services and amenities are now out of the reach of people who live in country areas. Of course, this is particularly so in the field of communicationtelevision and radio. Many families who are denied these amenities, particularly those with sons and daughters of employable age, are forced to migrate to the urban areas.
I believe that today an uncertainty and lack of confidence exists which has never before been encountered in country areas. There are many problems which confront the country people. A good many of these problems stem from the mismanagement of this Government or the refusal of the Government to take notice of the complaints and real problems of people and do something about them. I do not want to be diverted for too long but let me instance a few of these problems. The crippling brandy excise hike is causing hostility and confusion in the grape growing areas. Thousands of tons of grapes are rotting on the vines. The citrus growers also have problems. This is another area in which some action on the reports of committees is long overdue. The citrus growers are waiting on a government decision on the Industry Assistance Commission’s recommendation in respect of tariffs on imported citrus juices. The growers are at the stage where they do not know whether to reinvest in their orchards or to prepare themselves for bankruptcy. This is the kind of thing that is happening in country areas. The huge fuel price hike also is causing many problems.
One problem that concerns me personally is the treatment of the people living in country areas following the recent redistribution of electoral boundaries. I think it would be wrong to say that the Government has not done anything about this matter because it has. But, unfortunately, when the Government provides one benefit it seems to take another two away. I refer to the extra allowance which was given to members from country electorates. It allotted us extra money and extra use of charter aircraft. But in my case, the Government also removed one electorate office. There were two electorate offices previously. One has been closed and two staff members have been dismissed. A distance of 700 kilometres separates the two offices. The people in that area are not receiving the proper attention that they should receive from their federal member because the second office is no longer operating. These are the types of difficulties for which people should be compensated and about which the Government should take some action. It has only recently been brought to my notice that there has been a cutback in the number of provincial newspapers supplied to honourable members in Parliament House. Honourable members who represent big electorates need to receive provincial newspapers from several areas because of the different industries in their electorates. However, we are allowed to receive only two newspapers. This is the type of help that is needed by people in country areas. People should be compensated for the things they do not have. I ask the Parliament to support the motion before it.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired. The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’, against say ‘no M think the noes have it.
– Because of the time factor the Opposition will not seek a division. But we are disappointed that the Government has chosen not to accept the motion.
-The remarks of the honourable member for Corio are noted.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I move:
The Opposition is disturbed that a vital public area is being sold out to the greedy interests of private capital. This is disturbing for two reasons. Firstly, postal and telecommunications services are essential national services which, by their nature ought to and must remain under public control. I will show that that control is slowly being eroded by deliberate Government policy. Secondly, Government acquiescence to private capital incursion into this field maintains the Government’s position as the lackey of private capital at the expense of the Australian people. It maintains the sell out of the Australian taxpayers to the minority interests of the Liberal Party’s powerful friends in the board rooms in Australia and around the world. Further, it maintains the narrow based philosophy of that party and this Government to the private enterprise system and exposes the anti-egalitarian nature of that philosophy. I contend also that these policies support the Government’s main encomic thrust which also competes against the people’s interest. It provides massive profits for the private sector but increases unemployment and directly attacks the hard won wages, conditions and standards of the public industry workers.
An area where the Government could readily provide thousands of extra jobs in a profitable industry is retarded by Government policy. The dual effects of public enterprise profit areas entering private hands and the erosion of wages and conditions in the industry must please the Government. I am certain that the Government and its friends must recognise that in an economic climate of massive unemployment the atmosphere is ripe for destroying the privileges won by workers through years of struggle in their own organisations. It is the aim of this Government to crush the workers ‘ organisations in order to increase profits and by jettisoning successful public sector areas into the hands of the private sector it assists this aim. Both Australia Post and Telecom Australia operate under Acts which give them autonomy in their areas of operation as common carriers. It is proper and essential that this be so. The postal and telecommunications industries should remain under public control. They must not be allowed to fall by default or by design into the hands of those minority interests whose sole concern is profit, not service, and for whom the national interest means nothing other than their right to profiteer.
The Act stipulates that these common carrier domains must not be duplicated. However, I am sure that we are all aware of the inroads into the private letter and telegram business being made unimpeded by private enterprise. For instance, courier messenger services could be seen to be in direct competition with Australia Post’s telegram service. An Australian Labor Party government would investigate these practices and, if as I suspect, they break the law, it would outlaw them. If it is found that the courier messenger service has a role to play alongside the telegram service, we would maintain the public sector autonomy in the service by conducting it through Australia Post’s own courier service. However, that sort of action would not suit this Government. After all, the business involved in the courier service is a major national transporter with close ties to the Liberal Party and the Government. It is a case of the Government’s friends being allowed to erode a national service for private profiteering- the very movement of capital that this Government supports and encourages. Yet the Australia Post telegram service is already facing enough problems of survival without direct competition overtly or covertly supported by Government policy.
The Opposition deplores the moves by this Government which threaten public autonomy in other areas. The dispute here in Canberra last year over the Canberra-Bombala mail run was over private inroads into Australia Post autonomy. Right at this moment Australia Post is throwing business away by allowing the National Roads and Motorists Association to employ a private contractor to sort and deliver to suburban post offices the massive quantity of journals which it produces. It is courting industrial action by removing work from its employee’s hands. Australia Post encourages bodies such as the NRMA to take this course by its marketing approach to large scale mailings. Telecom is no better. It is allowing private firms partially to install new telephone wiring systems, sometimes with shoddy results. Telecom is apparently letting private contracts for cable repairs as well.
These ill-conceived transfers of lucrative areas of public enterprise to private capital serves the Government’s purposes in three ways. First, it transfers capital into private hands, to a few Government friends. Secondly, each inroad into the public sector prepares the way for future inroads into bigger, better and more profitable areas. Thirdly, the encroachment of private capital into these areas erodes the wages and conditions won over many years of struggle by workers in the industry. Private capital can undercut Australia Post costs in these areas by undercutting wages and conditions. Private contractors pay less; they give less. Overtime, special breaks and so on are all eroded by the private contractors, who abrogate the accepted principles of reasonable employment, although let me hasten to add that I consider all employment under the profit system exploitative and therefore probably ‘unreasonable’. The attitude of private contractors is well known.
Ironically, many Australia Post services are under threat from technological developments which are transferring Australia Post business to Telecom. We have a situation where one commission grows fatter at the expense of the other. I believe the respective profitability and viability of the Australian Postal Commission and the Australian Telecommunications Commission must be reviewed. However, this is not the specific subject matter of this motion, except that Telecom’s ever enlarging profits must be tempting the Government to seek ways of transferring Telecom autonomy to the private sector. I also believe the staff levels in Telecom are designed to reduce service and perpetuate the myth that public enterprise is less efficient. The Government will be hard pressed to show that Telecom is less efficient. The Government and Telecom will argue there are no staff limits on Telecom but it is convenient that the Australian Telecommunications Commission should hold staff levels at numbers that conform to Government thinking. There are more ways of killing a cat than stuffing butter down its neck. The Commission must be allowed to employ as many workers as its market forces demand for prompt and efficient service. Indeed, it is being restricted from operating in broader areas which would allow employment increases. Private companies provide many services and millions of dollars of equipment which could be produced and provided from Telecom’s own workshops. Telecom is leaving the whole range of business-oriented intercom and telephone systems to private enterprise. It even operates advice and sales offices which effectively service these private areas. I know of cases where Telecom has referred inquiries to private companies when Telecom itself provides the same equipment and services. Rather than allow these lucrative areas to remain in private hands without even token public competition, the Government ought to be investigating whether the private companies are in breach of the Telecommunications Act provisions making Telecom the common carrier. A Labor Government would certainly investigate this.
There is no doubt that the private sector gazes longingly at the massive Telecom profit announcements. From the viewpoint of the few powerful capitalists who control this country, and from the viewpoint of their puppets in the
Government, that profit ought to be transferred to the major private international communications giants and to a few leading Australian companies. The most invidious development in this direction is the telecommunications satellite, which would open the way for private encroachment into the traditional public autonomy. This fear is fanned by the major recommendations of the government task force on a national communications satellite system. Although the recommendations do not go so far as suggesting a national telecommunications satellite should be privately owned, it does recommend a separate commission, which would slash Telecom profits and even force Telecom to rent at high cost the facilities for services it now provides at profit through the terrestrial system. It is our opinion that this move away from Telecom is the beginning of private inroads into telecommunications control. A letter accompanying the Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd submission which precipitated the task force- a letter written by that company’s chairman, Mr Kerry Packer- said that Telecom’s autonomy must be challenged. That, I suggest, sums up Mr Packer’s position. It is well known.
The very origins of the task force suggest ulterior motives. Telecom, through its predecessor, began an in depth study into a communications satellite in 1972, and completed the study in November 1977. It concluded it was not economically possible to justify the satellite. The finding has been repeated in the minority dissenting statement of the Department of Finance in the task force report. On 15 August 1977 Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd presented its submission to the Government supporting a satellite system. The report was prepared for Packer by Donald Bond, an American employed by the United States giant, Radio Corporation of America. Bond had been involved in the installation of a satellite in Alaska. It would have seemed logical for the Government to pass the submission to the Telecom inquiry, which did not bring down its findings until three months after the Bond submission was presented. Yet, just 38 days after receiving Packer’s statement, the Government announced a separate task force and gave it just six months to report.
I contend that the devastating points I have made are clearly spelt out in the attitude of the Government to the matter. The task force was a set-up job to serve private interests once again. That is reflected in the report, which is full of uncertainties and unknowns. Yet Australia commits itself to an expense as high as $500m, on some estimates, for dubious immediate benefits.
In saying this I am not saying that ultimately a satellite system will not benefit Australia, but I am saying that much independent research is required before an underutilised terrestrial system is written off at massive expense. The effects on employment, for instance, must be studied fully.
The report plays into private hands by suggesting that the laws which supposedly, and only supposedly, restrict private monopoly control of the electronic media ought to be eased so that people such as Packer can freely compete for the country television station licences which will become available through the satellite. It plays even more into private hands by recommending that ground stations under the satellite would be privately owned. This is a major step on wresting telecommunications control away from public ownership and control. It is a major threat to government employees, and a major threat to the nation as a whole, but a major benefit to international giants such as International Business Machines. Internationally, IBM has been facing growing pressure in its traditional data-computer marketplace. It has recognised it must not only market central processors and peripherals, but also control the total solution to customers’ communications needs. It needs access, on its terms, to communications links between computers, allowing input and dissemination of information through peripherals and enabling central processors to talk to each other. It needs satellites to provide alternative data links as free as possible from the traditional operators. Its submission made this clear; it must benefit only companies such as IBM. The report accommodated it! That recommendation alone will reap millions for IBM at public cost both in real terms and in the loss of vital public control over the communications system.
In order to accommodate its friends the Government would write off a $6,000m system which now operates at public profit. Under the task force recommendations Telecom would be reduced to servicing the low-profit or non-profit areas. It would plummet to the level where this Government believes public enterprise ought to be, with public transport and other services which are left with autonomy in the nonlucrative areas, while private capital competes in the lucrative markets.
The Opposition believes that private enterprise glares hungrily at Telecom’s profit and at the few profit areas remaining to Australia Post. It is shameful that when unemployment is a major national crisis a profitable public enterprise should be restrained from reaching its employment potential, simply so that international profiteers can operate with the Government’s blessing. We believe that this Government is deliberately fostering policies designed to transfer those profits to the private sector, ultimately leaving the public sector to operate at a loss in the non-profit areas that private capital does not want. That loss will represent a direct public subsidy of private capital and, in that it is the very philosophy of this Government, the practice must stand condemned. The Government has an obligation to the people of this country to ensure that the principles that are embodied in the proposition now before the House are investigated and that the autonomy of both the Postal Commission and Telecom Australia is maintained as it ought to be, and as envisaged in the Act at present.
-Is there a seconder of the motion?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak at a later stage.
-When I awoke this morning and opened the window of my hotel it was a nice sunny day in Canberra. I picked up the morning paper and saw a glaring headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, ‘$84m profit to Telecom’. I thought I was at peace with the world until I heard the last speech, by the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). Such a load of left-wing ideological claptrap I have never had the misfortune to sit through before in this House. Really, one wonders what precisely was behind the motion. I am afraid that it embodies just so many points that are blatantly wrong. The majority of the speech was dedicated to the future introduction of satellites in the Australian system. It is perfectly clear that at the moment absolutely no decision has been made on the introduction of a domestic satellite. Surely, quite a deal of public debate is still ensuing and it must be a situation in respect of which the Government must consider, before going ahead, every possible fact available to it. We have international obligations and international discussions must be held before any real decision can be made on the future of domestic satellites. Unfortunately, so much of the future is dependent upon technological advances and changes.
I was interested to hear the honourable member for Melbourne talking about the situation regarding telegrams. This is a public enterprise and, quite frankly, I would be very interested to take the honourable member to a few selected areas in my electorate, and have him ask the people exactly what their telegram service is like. It is almost non-existent. Where it is you cannot get it between 5 p.m. on Friday and 9 o’clock on Monday morning anyway. Obviously, in some area as a result of this lack of service from Telecom, a need has developed for private operators to come in. The ideological situation notwithstanding, Telecom, even though set up by a Labor Government as an independent commission, has itself made this decision, and there has been a need for somebody else to come in. We are going to see even greater changes in the years to come.
In France at the moment a device that will be available in all homes is being developed, one which offers an instant photo message service. Apparently it will be produced quite cheaply. It will be available to anyone who wants it. Anyone will be able to send high speed messages to any home in any part of the country. This will eliminate the need for some of these services that have been mentioned. I suppose it is sad that in some of the unskilled areas we will see the dropping out of this particular type of labour but, as we have already seen in the case of Telecom, there has also been a great increase in the number of skilled people moving into such areas.
We also had the honourable member for Melbourne talking about the situation of the messenger services, something else that has sprung up. I wish to make it perfectly clear that the Australia Post courier service is certainly into that business in a very big way and is proving quite lucrative. Australia Post is getting out there and promoting it in a very real commercial sense, in a real commercial world. Obviously it is delivering the goods because it is doing quite well. If this situation is to develop, that is well and good. Honourable members can talk to Jim Kennedy, who was head of the Postal Commission and who had so much to do with setting this up. He saw the need to go out and compete against private enterprise. He did so and that part of the Australia Post operation is profitable; it is doing quite well. Nobody has ever denied that mail services are the prerogative of government. In fact world-wide, government is responsible for delivering mail. There has not really been any inroad in this particular area.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The time allotted for consideration of General Business Notices Nos. 1 and 2 has expired. The honourable member for Bowman will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, 1 present the report relating to the following proposed work:
Workshop, amenities building and services at Garden Island Dockyard, New South Wales.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-Mr Speaker has received letters from both the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) and the honourable member for Indi (Mr Ewen Cameron) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House today. As required by Standing Order 107, Mr Speaker has selected one matter, that proposed by the honourable member for Shortland, namely:
The alarming growth in Government expenditure on ministerial travel.
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-
-This Government’s expenditure of almost $30m over the next three years on the purchase and operation of two Boeing 707 jetliners- veritable flying hotels- to transport the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his ministry on their regular jaunts abroad is in stark contrast to the miserable $ 1 expenditure per unemployed person to be provided this year for youth training in the Commonwealth Public Service. The purchase of the Boeings is an abuse of public responsibility. The contempt that this Government and the Prime Minister hold for the needs of the low to middle-income families of our nation is illustrated by the order of their financial priorities. As a result of its mismanagement of the economy and its increasing incompetence and divisiveness, recorded unemployment has reached an all-time record of almost half a million persons. As a result of its current budgetary measures, pensioners have been robbed of $27m by the denial of their six-monthly cost of living adjustment this year. As a result of the abolition of Medibank, sick low-income persons have been reduced to begging for medical treatment under the officially undefined classification of disadvantage persons ‘.
As a result of the low priority accorded the defence services by this Government, naval steaming time has had to be reduced, 20 of the Army’s tanks are being mothballed, 20 per cent of the armoured vehicles on issue are being withdrawn and ammunition supplies are being cut. The Fraser Government’s reason for all this is lack of funds. Yet on the very day that the defence service cuts were announced the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) was able to announce also the Government’s purchase of two Boeing 707 jetliners for use by the Prime Minister and his Ministry in what can only be described in kind terms as global gallivanting.
As well, it is clear that unlimited funds from unspecified votes are available to pay for the increasingly frequent international safaris of the Fraser Ministry. Whilst expenditure on overseas travel by the Whitlam Ministry was shown in gross terms, under the figures produced by this Government it is impossible to find the true cost to Australian taxpayers of ministerial travel. I have no doubt that when the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) replies he will use the same inflated and padded figures that have been trotted out on earlier occasions in respect of travel by Prime Minister Whitlam and members of his ministry. But I challenge the Minister to produce to the Parliament in respect of each of the Fraser ministries, figures of the full cost of travel overseas- for each Minister and his associated staff. I am not referring to the personal staff of Ministers. I mean the associated staff, the back-up staff, the cost of whose travel under this Government’s method of accounting has been tucked away in departmental estimates. Even in the Senate Estimates committees, where probing of departmental accounting is possible, the information has not been supplied. It is impossible now for anybody, under this Government’s accounting methods, to find the true cost.
In addition, formal questions on notice have been asked in the Parliament of each Minister, seeking a full accounting of the costs of overseas travel by each Minister, his staff and those associated with his visit. That information has been refused, and the rejection by the Minister for Transport of my challenge to table the full information is clearly a rebuttal of any claim that he might make in respect of the Whitlam Ministry.
Let me examine the information that is available on the cost of the safaris of this Government. Let us examine the frequency, the style and the purpose of those trips. The Budget Papers for the current year show that for the Department of Administrative Services $800,000 is to be provided for ministerial travel. For the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet $ 1 .6m is provided for VIP travel. That figure, obviously, does not take into account the expenses associated with the purchase of these two flying hotels. No mention was made of it in the Budget Papers. The Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) has since confirmed that the money will come from a yet to be defined special vote. To that $1.6m we can add the $I4.5m for the 707s to which the Government confesses. There is considerable dispute about how much more it will cost for the 707s if sound and engine modifications are necessary. I note that the Minister for Transport is smiling. I am hopeful he will provide specifics.
Let us consider the Government’s own figure of $ 14.5m which it will provide from special funds not allocated in the Budget. Take the figure given by Senator Townley, a Government member in another place. The figures are not mine; they are not figures put forward by the Opposition. Senator Townley, I think responsibly, has ascribed an operating cost of $3,000 per hour to the 707s. On the figures of operation given by the Minister for Defence, which are 700 hours per year, the cost per aircraft will be $2.1m per year or $4.2m for both aircraft. How often will they be used? They will be used for less than two hours a day. They will be standing there ready for when the Prime Minister wants to go out on a tiger hunt or on a fishing trip to Slave Lake or elsewhere. The planes will be there on standbythey will be there at the ready, costing $4.2m a year. This brings the total to $2 1 . 1 m.
Let us look to the other morass where the real costs of travel associated with ministerial trips have been hidden or buried- the travel votes of the various departments. If we look through the Budget Papers and examine those votes we find an almost astronomical total of $93. 8m on travel subsistence within Australia by all departments. Out of that figure an amount is used for overseas travel. The Government refuses to provide the amount used for specific trips. In fact it has refused to answer any questions on overseas travel. Those two figures for domestic and overseas travel total $1 14.9m. Honourable members can decide how much is for travel overseas. The figure of $4.5m for modifications to the Boeings does not take into account the infrastructure costs and the additional stewards who have to be employed. The VIP squadron is looking for 12 stewards. I will refer later to how the Prime Minister likes to be catered for. Twelve stewards are being sought to provide the sizzling fillet steaks which the Prime Minister so much likes when he flies. We do not take into account the $220,000 which will be needed for works at Canberra airport. We do not take into account the other things about which we have not been told. The Government has refused requests from its own members- not from the Opposition- to provide and table the papers between the Royal Australian Air Force and the Government on the purchase of the 707s.
It must be remembered that the 707s are only stage one of the Government’s much publicised program of $40m to re-equip the VIP fleet. Again, the figures are from the Government’s own report. Those figures are not ours. The purchase of the Boeings is crazy and immoral and a dishonest decision. This Government has embarked on the same aura of secrecy as did an earlier conservative government in respect of VIP aircraft. The decision is based allegedly on two reasons. The first is security. Let me stress, however, that no recommendation to government from any quarter has advised that it should purchase Boeing 707s. Again I challenge the Minister to table that advice if any has since been obtained or manufactured. But there has been no advice or recommendation to expend public funds on buying international jetliners to fly around the Fraser caravanserai. The Fraser caravan would probably be a better description. Let us turn again to the Government members. Ex-Senator Wood again let the cat out of the bag. He said in the Senate last year that again the red herring of security was being used to try to justify irresponsible public expenditure. Last May the Minister for Defence told the Parliament that the present BAC Ills were unsuitable for long international flights. But it appears that they are safe enough for the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony). He managed to get to the Middle East and back. Apparently there are degrees of safeness and suitability on the Government’s side. The Deputy Prime Minister exploded by his trip the claim that the BAC Ills were unsuitable for long international nights. Let me again use the words of a Government member. Senator Townley labelled the Boeing purchase as contrary to common sense. I have no doubt that the mass of Australians agree with that comment. The expenditure is contrary to common sense and unjustifiable. The Prime Minister himself told the House of Representatives in March 1976 that ‘the argument that Qantas cannot provide adequate security for a Prime Minister is a specious argument and false’. I note that the Prime Minister’s latest escapades were all by commercial nights too and not by VIP aircraft.
In reality we are seeing an indulgence of the Prime Minister’s obsession for luxury aircraft and frequent travel. It is an indulgence he obviously enjoys. His Press Secretary David Barnett told the Melbourne Herald in August last year that when Mr Fraser flies he flies in comfort with hot meals and drinks on hand served by uniformed Air Force stewards and stewardesses. The article continued:
A typical meal in flight for him would be seafood cocktail, fillet steak, salad, strawberries and cream -
Even the Minister for Transport would enjoy that- chee’se and biscuits, coffee and an occasional cigar.
Mr Barnett went on to say that flying does not bother the Prime Minister. He said:
Unless the Prime Minister looked out of the window he probably would not know he was flying.
I am sure that he would not know he was flying if he was flying around the world in a 707 flying hotel. Since the conservatives seized government in 1975 there have been almost 60 ministerial trips. On average almost every 20 days a Minister flits out of this country. In just over three years the Prime Minister has had 16 jaunts abroad- on average a trip every 10 weeks. He embarks on an international safari at Australian taxpayers’ expense. This is a man, I remind the House, who said that Australia did not want a tourist for a Prime Minister. Like it or not, fellow Australians, we have a 10- weekly tourist for a Prime Minister, a tourist we cannot afford and a tourist we cannot afford to indulge. We know of the style of travel of Ministers abroad, especially the Prime Minister. We know of the $65,000 hotel bill in New York and the $50,000 hotel bill in Paris. We have seen the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch), rapped by the Minister for Defence for using VIP flights to excess. We have been through all that.
I want to emphasise the last two trips of the Prime Minister. We can understand that the Prime Minister, having suffered the rigours, crises and sackings of last year’s parliament and the substantial decline of his support felt that he should get away from it all and forget it. Where more appropriate than Runaway Bay in far off Jamaica? A mini-summit in the sun, as the Press over there called it. It was conveniently arranged by a Prime Minister who was described in a yet unrefuted foreign affairs document in this country as incredibly inept and of having arranged the conference for selfish domestic purposes. The Prime Minister spent a few days at Runaway Bay and then went off to Florida for the fishing. We remember that last year it was Slave Lake. It appears that there are no fish in Australia. The trip was a junket. No sooner had the Prime Minister returned to Australia that he was off to India for the tiger hunt and the dazzling mirrored ceiling of Udaipur with the love swing at the foot of the bed. Can honourable members imagine it all? While the Prime Minister hunted tigers deep in India half a million Australians hunted jobs, half a million Australians went without. Let me describe to the House a very precise report which appeared in the Newcastle Herald and which was provided by Australian Associated Press. It is entitled ‘PM stranded on tiger hunt’. It states:
The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser and his party were stranded in tiger country in Northern India today - and so it goes on. It then states:
Tigers eluded Mr Fraser during his much publicised photographic hunt in the national park, named after one of India’s most famous tiger shooters …
Mrs Fraser is claiming a sighting.
I’m sure I caught a glimpse of one but it was not really clear, ‘she said.
No one could substantiate the claim but Malcolm was very sceptical about it. The article continuer
Mr Fraser seemed rather sceptical.
Mrs Fraser did find a recent tiger kill, the leg of a small deer and some fresh blood, on one of the jungle tracks.
The rain started soon after the elephant ride and continued for most of the night.
Those are the priorities of this Government, the priorities of sending Prime Ministers abroad at 10-weekly and 20-day intervals, with unlimited funds from unspecified sources. Let me contrast that with this plaintiff letter from a constituent who says she is an ordinary housewife in ordinary circumstances. She says:
We pay enough tax already. Maybe expenses don ‘t worry Tammie Fraser, but they certainly worry me and thousands of other women like me.
That sums up the attitude of the Australian people. The alarming growth in public expenditure on ministerial travel and junkets abroad cannot be tolerated by this nation. The Government’s priorities are all wrong. The situation is immoral. There has to be an end of this kind of priority that keeps half a million Australians out of work and sends Ministers abroad every 20 days.
– The style of the Opposition in this Parliament is best demonstrated by the speech we have just heard from the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris). Here is the world facing tremendous international problems, here is Australia in a part of the world that is being torn by wars in Vietnam, problems involving the overrunning of Kampuchea, problems as regards oil exploration and possible loss of oil supplies from Iran and problems in the Middle East, not to mention the trading initiatives of this Government, about which the Opposition has said nothing and an economy about which the Opposition can make no proposals at all, yet we are served up a speech by the Opposition that is nothing more than scuttle-butt rumour and hearsay. The fact is that last year the Opposition spent its time on personal attacks on Ministers. Indeed it was mainly the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) who during most of the year did most of the scandalising. But he seems to have moved to one side today to let a lesser known member of the Opposition have a go. Well, the lesser known member of the Opposition has failed dismally, as I will prove with all the statistics that are possible. They demonstrate the sober style of travel of the Fraser Government, compared with that of the former Government of which the honourable member was a supporter.
The reason for the Labor Party bringing forward this discussion of matter of public importance today is that it is bereft of policy contributions on any subject of sense in this place. A look at last year’s record of proceedings will show the scandal mongering and scuttle-butting that went on from members of the Opposition. Can anyone remember one positive or constructive proposal that came forward from a member of the Opposition on a matter of public importance in this House in the whole of last year? They cannot because the Opposition spent the whole time doing exactly what the honourable member for Shortland has just been doing- scandalising and scuttle-butting trying to cause trouble and trying to cause mischief. The fact is that in the final analysis, all the statistics, no matter how one might like to deliver them, no matter how one might like to present them, show that the excesses of the Whitlam years were far grander than the caravanserai that the honourable member tried to attribute to the Fraser Government. In three years of government the Whitlam Government outspent, outmanned and outtravelled by 10 times the Fraser Government. The Whitlam style of government shamed the caravanersai of Marco Polo, and that is a fact.
Let us look at the terms of the matter of public importance which is before us today and try to get it into perspective. It reads:
The alarming growth in Government expenditure on ministerial travel.
In bringing forward this matter, what does the honourable member for Shortland do? He tries to make a case about there being increased expenditure on travel during the three years that we have been in government. Let us go back to what happened in the three years in which his government, led by Gough Whitlam, was in power. I recognise, as I guess all members of parliament recognise, that there are demands made on Ministers and on Prime Ministers to travel overseas. They have to attend meetings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and its agencies, and Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings on trade negotiations and the South Pacific Forum. There also have to be exchanges of ministerial visits. It was just as valid for the Whitlam Government to travel for those sorts of reasons as it is for this Government. I am not saying anything new. I said the same thing in this House when I was standing on the other side of the chamber complaining about the excesses of the Whitlam Government. At that time I said:
In this speech I propose to take up the matter I raised with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) at question time this morning, that is, his proposed trip overseas.
This is the important part:
That is, Mr Whitlam- asserted in his answer that I was saying that a Prime Minister should not travel overseas. I assert quite differently. I assert quite positively that it is proper for the Prime Minister of Australia to travel overseas and to undertake those functions that are necessary in the national need and for the national good of Australia.
That remark is just as true today as it was then. When I spoke from the other side of the House I recognised the need for the Prime Minister and his Ministers to travel overseas. What I questioned at the time was not so much the travel as the style of travel. Yet the honourable member for Shortland tries to compare the sober style of travel of the present Prime Minister and his Ministers with the grandiose travel of Mr Whitlam and his Ministers- and it cannot be done. Perhaps the best example of the grandiose style of travel of the former Prime Minister was that he said in this House about buying a new car. What did he say then? He said: ‘I will have the best car in the world’. So he got the best car. He purchased the most expensive Mercedes Benz there was. So let us compare that with the style of the present Prime Minister who stood in this House and admitted that he had brought a Holden. That just about describes as accurately as possible the difference between the styles of the two Prime Ministers and their travel. We all remember the great caravanserai that the previous Prime Minister took to China. He took more than 50 people. He even took his Canberra car driver. I was told that he was the bag carrier and water boy and that that was the purpose of his being on the tour.
The honourable member for Shortland mentioned the purchase of two Boeing 707s. Let us recall for a moment the chartering of the Boeing 707 by the previous Prime Minister. He pushed out people who had booked seats to Europe over a Christmas period so that he could fly in luxury in a chartered 707. The honourable member for Shortland tries to make something of the fact that for security reasons we have been forced to buy the 707s. But I will come back to that later. Let us look at the time when the previous Prime Minister simply dismissed the thousands of people who had made their bookings to fly overseas in that 707.
The honourable member for Shortland also talked about our Prime Minister having a break for one day’s fishing or going on a tiger hunt or something of that nature. Let us look at that famous trip in the 707. Mr Whitlam flew to London and had 86 hours there. He kept the plane there the whole time because, as I said and as recorded in the Hansard on 28 November 1974, he wanted to fly to Ireland one day to have a drink with Vince. I am sure all honourable members remember the close relationship between the ex-Prime Minister and former Senator Gair. After that Mr Whitlam travelled into Catania. This is what he called the first of the socalled weekend breaks that he took. At least that is what he said to me in answer to a question I had asked earlier in the day on 28 November 1974. He went from Catania to Malta and then on to Androvida. He arrived in Androvida on a Tuesday, but he still described that as part of the weekend. So the weekends of the previous Prime Minister were somewhat longer and somewhat more exotic than the mere few hours that our Prime Minister takes on an overseas trip.
But the previous Prime Minister did not stop at that. We all remember his famous visit to Heraklion to visit the ruins there. So while Australia was crumbling into ruins he was visiting the exotic ruins of Heraklion in Greece. But there is a lot more to it than that and it shames me to have it recorded in Hansard. Yet the honourable member for Shortland tries to make something out of our Prime Minister’s trip overseas.
We have bought two 707s and I am pleased that we have done so. I will give the reasons why. The honourable member for Shortland, at the beginning of his speech, claimed that the planes cost $30m, but during his speech, when trying to get a more accurate assessment of the cost, he said that they cost $14m. The fact is that the international climate has changed. The threat of terrorist attacks on heads of State in other countries has increased significantly. The threat of hijacking in other countries has increased significantly. Any travelling Prime Minister causes difficulties when in other countries because the host country has to spend a great deal more on providing security and this in turn causes difficulties for the travelling public. I understand that members of the Press who travelled with the Prime Minister on a recent visit claim that the disruption to the normal traveller was not fair and that it is time Australia grew up and protected its Prime Minister properly by the provision of VIP travel.
The honourable member for Shortland complains that we have not had any advice on travel security. Let me remind him of the report of Sir Robert Mark, a report that was available for everybody to read. Sir Robert Mark was a former head of Scotland Yard, so it was no lightweight making the report. There were no guesses of any sort; a cold assessment of the facts was made by Sir Robert Mark. In his report he concluded:
In a country so dependent on air travel internally and externally the use of VIP aircraft which subtract attractive targets from the mainstream of passengers has much to commend it as a counter terrorist measure.
What more does the honourable member for Shortland want than those words from somebody as famous as Sir Robert Mark, an expert. No greater expert exists on matters of this nature and I am proud and delighted that we have finally taken the decision to buy the two Boeing 707 aircraft. They are highly desirable and highly necessary. In addition to that report we had our own internal security advice which backed up exactly what was said by Sir Robert Mark. When we got that advice we looked at the possibility of chartering a Boeing 707 aircraft, but Qantas Airways Limited intended disposing of the last of its Boeing 707 aircraft and buying Boeing 747 aircraft. Because it was disposing of the Boeing 707 aircraft we had either to buy them or be without them, so we took the opportunity to buy them. Those Boeing 707 aircraft will be used only in a minor respect for VIP travel. They will be based at Richmond air base, not at Fairbairn where they might stand around doing nothing. They will be based at Richmond air base and will be used by the Royal Australian Air Force for a variety of purposes, such as the carriage of passengers and goods to Butterworth, for which purpose the Air Force is now chartering Boeing 707 aircraft. The Air Force now will have its own aircraft with which to do that.
The honourable member for Shortland claims that there has been an escalation in overseas travel. Let us look at 1978, the most significant of the three years of the Fraser Government. I have never known a year of such international activity on the trade and foreign affairs fronts. The Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) was forced to spend most of the year out of Australia. That information is in the statistics that the honourable member quoted and I will come back to that again in a minute. In addition, the. Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) has been negotiating with countries around the world. Australia has advanced significantly because of those two visits.
I suppose that very few Ministers for Foreign Affairs have the high level links with governments around the world that our Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) has and that has been achieved because he has been able to call on overseas leaders and get to know them and, as a result, when he is back in Canberra he can contact these people by telephone. The Prime Minister also has been extraordinarily busy meeting presidents and Prime Ministers of countries. Would anybody in this House seriously deny the value of those visits? Of course not. The House is quiet at such a proposition and so it should be. These visits have paid off, and paid off significantly.
Let me now come to the truth of the matter. Despite all that Government activity, the fact is that the cost of overseas visits in the three years of the Fraser Government- three years that have been positive, constructive and successful- was $2. 14m, allowing for consumer price index adjustments, compared with $5. 13m spent by the Whitlam Government on overseas travel in its three years in office. The previous Government spent more than twice as much. In case that statistic does not satisfy the honourable member for Shortland let me quote another. The Whitlam Government in its three years made 130 visits overseas, while in the same period the Fraser Government made 109 visits. So when those figures are put into perspective and we recognise the value of the work done in the international arena by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers we can see that this matter of public importance should fall to the ground.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The discussion is concluded.
– by leave- I move:
That paragraphs (3) and (6) of the resolution of appointment of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs be omitted and the following paragraphs substituted:
(1) That paragraphs (2) and (5) of the resolution of appointment of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory be omitted and the following paragraphs substituted:
That sub-paragraph (1) (b) and paragraphs (3) and (6) of the resolution of appointment of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation be omitted and the following substituted:
That paragraphs (2) and (5) of the resolution of appointment of the Standing Committee on Expenditure be omitted and the following paragraphs substituted:
(1) That paragraphs (2) and (4) of the resolution of appointment of the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act be omitted and the following paragraphs substituted:
( 1) That paragraphs (2) and (5) of the resolution of appointment of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence be omitted and the following paragraphs substituted:
(1) That sub-paragraph (4) (c) of the resolution of appointment of the Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House be omitted and the following sub-paragraph substituted:
*(c) 6 Members of the House of Representatives, 3 nominated by either the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House or the Government Whip and 3 nominated by either the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or the Opposition Whip, and’.
That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of this resolution and requesting its concurrence.
This motion embodies notices Nos. 1 to 8, Government Business, appearing on the Notice Paper. It is basically only a procedural motion. The whole concept is to ensure that there will be a ready facility for appointment of members to the committees mentioned in the motion. As honourable gentlemen know, at the moment there are really only two people, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who are able to make appointments to our various parliamentary committees. It is felt that there are obvious advantages in increasing the number of people who can make such appointments and this motion, therefore, provides for appointment by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, or the Government Whip and, in the instance of the Opposition, by the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition or the Opposition Whip. In the case of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation, it is necessary to amend existing paragraph 1 (b) (i) to reflect changes in ministerial arrangements which occurred last December. I commend this motion to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) saw fit to make a statement to Parliament on the present international and domestic situations as he saw them. It was a remarkable statement. This is the third sitting day of this Parliament and, bearing in mind the very significant events that are taking place throughout Indo-China, one might have thought that we would have had a statement on the international situation when we resumed on Tuesday. Instead, it is today that we are debating this statement which encompasses some nine pages. I was of the opinion that the Prime Minister was going to tell the nation -
– I rise on a point of order. I do not wish to interrupt the speech but wish to raise a matter of procedure. The motion for the adjournment of this debate was moved by an honourable member on the Government side. That honourable member should have been the next one called.
-I think that is a fair point. I stood up because I got the call.
-I call the honourable member for Barton. The honourable member could have been a little quicker on his feet.
-I was on my feet, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sorry for the confusion. It is my pleasure to follow the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who this morning outlined the current international situation. It is one which is of concern to all. However, the goods news is that he spoke of the growing justifiable mood of optimism about Australia’s economic prospects, and it is the domestic economic prospects to which I want to address myself. Regardless of what is said by some members of the Opposition, Australia is and has been for some months now getting into a situation which is the envy of many countries. It was difficult to sit here and listen to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) make a speech that was entirely negative. It was a speech which contained no suggestions. I was surprised when he suggested that devaluation has greatly disadvantaged Australian industry when, in fact, it has done just the reverse. Devaluation and the method used to value the Australian dollar today have improved Australia’s efficiency when compared with her trading partners throughout the world. I listened intently to his speech. There was not a positive suggestion in it. The only thing he suggested which could be taken up was that we should have a blueprint for the economy to take us into the 1980s. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition could suggest anything that would help in designing that blueprint.
We have exciting news ahead. It is just starting to emerge. I am sorry to bring up the old story of inflation. I know that most politicians bring it up. They remind people how inflation is now down to a manageable level of about 8 per cent from its level of about 17 per cent when the previous Government was in office. However, I must mention it because so much goes into the inflation package. A low inflation rate means low interest rates and more investment. Investment leads to job opportunities. A manageable rate of inflation and the investment that will follow will provide job opportunities for the people of Australia today and in the future. We all know of and are sorry about the social problem of unemployment. Many Australians who want to work are out of work. I will say more about that issue later.
Let us talk about the interest rates that flow from a low inflation rate. Interest rates have come down. People will well remember that savings bank lending rates have come down. The people of Australia will also be aware that savings bank loans are earmarked for housing. Lending rates to business have come down. Only recently the bank overdraft rate dropped from 10 1/2 per cent to 10 per cent. There has been a decline over the years in the Government’s borrowing rate. All these factors lead to prosperity and investment. The Prime Minister discussed investment at length in his speech. He referred to the intended investment programs of ICI Australia Ltd and General Motors-Holden’s Ltd. We have read recently about the increased profits of Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, Australia’s largest company. The inflow of overseas capital has averaged about $2 50m a month for the last 12 months. This shows the confidence which overseas investors have in Australia today.
I know that some Opposition members despise the word ‘profit’. They cannot see the wood for the trees. Company profits mean prosperity to all the people of Australia. Profits do not remain with companies. The Government receives from companies taxes which provide pensions for the people of Australia. I cannot help remembering the words of the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) who spoke about his objection to the Australian Telecommunications Commission going into private enterprise. He does not realise that taxation of profits made in the private sector pays his salary, my salary and the salary of all members of Parliament. Yet some members of the Opposition think that profit is a dirty word. Their salaries and their living depend on it. Company profits mean prosperity. They increase government revenue. They reduce unemployment. They have a revolving economic effect. These factors are interrelated with a stable inflation rate. That is why this Government is continuing its policy of lowering inflation. So much depends on it, particularly jobs.
I now turn to some of the other economic indicators. It has been well reported that retail sales increased in December. Do honourable members know what that increase in retail sales means? It means that the retailers will have to reorder from the manufacturers creating job opportunities once again. This is reflected in the latest Commonwealth Employment Service figures. Job vacancies have increased. People should not view these indicators in isolation. They should look a little beyond. Most of them mean more jobs. The latest statistics- the Prime Minister alluded to this in his speech- indicate that the overtime rate has been going up for the last six or seven months. That is a forerunner to more job opportunities. When the overtime rate reaches a certain level, the next step is to employ more people.
It has been said that the construction industry is in decline. I think that statement needs some clarification. The construction industry is no longer the important economic indicator that it used to be. In Australia today most people have dwellings. There is not the same need for them as there used to be. It is estimated that the need for dwellings is down by 25,000 units per annum. The construction industry, of course, cannot maintain the growth rate it has maintained since World War II. After World War II there was an unlimited market. The construction industry was able to build all the dwellings it wanted to build; there was a demand for them. That situation no longer exists. Certainly people will want to move from one dwelling to another. They want to change. But there are limitations on the number of new dwellings required. The construction of new dwellings is not longer an important economic indicator. To prove that people who need dwellings still have the money to buy them, I invite honourable members to look at the figures for alterations and additions to dwellings. There has certainly been no decline in those figures.
There has been a turnaround in the rural industries. Thankfully, a lift in rural output has become evident over the last six months. This will be reflected in Australia ‘s economic outlook particularly in 1979-80. I do not think that people have yet fully realised the boost that the turnaround in the rural industries will provide to the domestic economy and the effect it will have on Australia’s gross domestic product, the industrialised cities and jobs. People engaged in the rural community will have increased incomes. They need them; they are long overdue. That money will be spent on plant, ploughs, trucks, engines- things that come from the manufacturing sector. Wheat sales have been good. We have all heard about them. Almost every sector of the rural community is stable or better than stable. I cannot recall such a situation previously. The outlook is good in the wheat, beef and wool industries. The demands for other grains is good. Fifty-four per cent of Australia’s total exports come from the rural sector. Therefore, a boost to that sector means a lot to the ordinary people. People often look at various figures produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I want to refer to household disposable income. Sometimes one hears people in the streets saying that it is harder to live today; they do not have enough money. I think we will always say that because we are always selfish. But the fact today is that people have far more money and the Australian people are far more affluent than they have ever been. But the point is that we have more goods put at our disposal that we want to buy. We now have washing machines, colour television sets, boats, caravans and such things. The last figures of disposable household income that I have are for the September quarter 1978. They show a massive increase over the figures for the previous quarters. The Australian people are affluent and they are starting to benefit from the policies of this Government.
I now mention briefly employment, not unemployment. We have the situation in which many job opportunities exist; yet we appear to have a deficiency. Perhaps that goes back to our education system that is not educating our young people to suit the jobs available. Honourable members would be well aware of the list of acceptable occupations for the purpose of immigration. It is a summary of the types of jobs that are always available in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed and it almost makes me cry when I look down this list to see that the same jobs are always on the listcoppersmiths, blacksmiths, machinists, motor mechanics and panel beaters. In fact I think over 400 occupations are listed. Yet at the same time we have unemployment. Something is wrong. Something is wrong with our education system. Employers will not take on apprentices. The apprentices of today will be the tradesmen of tomorrow. There is tremendous scope for tradesmen.
The other day I had the opportunity of putting to the Government that apprentices in government schemes should be exempt from staff ceilings. I think it is wrong that the intake of apprentices by the Government is affected by staff ceilings. I should like this Government to exempt apprentices from staff ceilings so that the Government could at least do its part and take on more apprentices. The statistics of employment in other industries reflect the growing affluence of Australian people. Employment in community services, which comes from affluence, has increased by almost 142,000 people in four years. Employment in public administration and defence has increased by 30,000 people and employment in the entertainment and recreation field has gone up. There is a movement because of the demands of the Australian people in these fields. A study of those figures shows the affluence of the Australian people coming through.
Many roads can be taken to economic recovery because recovery can be achieved in countless ways. But whatever results from such action, whatever the achievements are, we will still be talking of economic recovery. There is no perfect economy and there never can be. What can be achieved is a continuing improvement in living standards for the majority of Australian people. Although this goal has been and will continue to be achieved the inbuilt greed that we all have will rarely allow acknowledgements of such achievements. But those achievements are there. Those achievements have been made by this Government and those achievements will continue to be made and will be shared amongst the Australian people.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– From the Opposition’s point of view this is a most unsatisfactory statement to be made at this time in this House in respect of both the international situation and the domestic situation. The statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) this morning is of some nine pages. From reading the first few pages one would have thought that we would really deal with the international situation, how it has developed and what solutions we can offer- even though we are rather insignificant in the area of arms and massive armed forces- and what contribution we can make towards world peace. While I welcome the fact that we are to have a wide ranging debate on all issues, both international and domestic, I find this a very incredible statement indeed. It is not until the fourth paragraph of the opening part of the statement that the Government says that it has ‘identified the position in Indo-China as deteriorating and potentially dangerous’. We all know, and the Australian people know, that it is far more than that; it is afire. The issue is: What contribution has this Government ever made towards the situation? After some three or four pages we come to this very enlightened statement:
Early in the session, the Foreign Minister will be making a major statement which will deal at some length with the international situation and the Government’s action.
The last five pages of this statement look like an apology for past misdeeds and a suggestion that perhaps the economic efforts made by the Fraser Government entitle it to be re-elected at an election which of course we know will not be held until the end of 1980. I say to the Parliament, from a bipartisan position, that the Australian people are very concerned as to what this
Government is doing both internationally and domestically. Gallup polls are not wrong. When the Prime Minister’s popularity sinks to 35 per cent it is a true indication of what the Australian people think of the Government. This Government has not been performing, nor does this statement indicate that it will perform. Later, in the short period of time available to me, I will endeavour to bring out some of the issues that the Opposition finds incredible.
One of the most amazing things not referred to in the statement is what the Government has done in respect of Vietnam. I could refer back, but I do not want to be dragged down to the issue of how Australia got involved in Vietnam. But anybody who has been there, to Saigon and Hanoi, would know that the real issue in Vietnam was the problem of what aid could be given to that country torn by war. The most significant decision made by this Government in recent days was to cut off all aid to Vietnam. The Australian Government was the only government to stop aid to Vietnam. Did this help the Vietnamese people? Will it solve any of the problems? This Government is now in a position in which it has taken sides in this international dispute. We knew it would develop because of the ideologies, the tensions and the national claims of the disputants all striving for power in their own camps. We recognise that, but surely the Government should not put itself in a position of being isolated to one side. Where is its ability now to mediate as an impartial or uninvolved participant?
We already have a very sorry history of being involved in Vietnam. Australia was one of the few countries which was involved and which conscripted its youth to go there to a hopeless war. The Vietnamese people are mindful of the damage done to them. An excellent article appeared in relation to the United States involvement. We are not attacking the United States. The article states that the United States has found it impossible to address its mind to aid for Vietnam. Has that not pushed the Vietnamese into the arms of the Soviet Union? Does that not lead us into the position that there could be bases in Cam Ranh Bay because there is nowhere else for these people to turn? Is not the history of Vietnam that the Vietnamese were seeking aid from all over the world? Australia at least offered and participated in providing aid at that stage. Why is this statement not addressed to the fact that we discontinued aid and to the solutions to the problems? Unless we can beg the participants, mighty as they are, to stop this war it could escalate over all of us, not only in direct terms but also in indirect terms with the flight of refugees. This is what is worrying the Australian people today. Where is the leadership in this Government?
It is not much good to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) carpeting the unfortunate ambassadors here like a military general parading these people up and down to berate them with messages. They could well say to him: ‘Were you not one of those who encouraged warfare in Vietnam?’ He got himself elevated to the position of captain but he did not bother to go to Vietnam himself. Let us be honest about our involvement in this situation. We have a sorry, tragic record in Vietnam because of the past misdeeds of the Government. A statement has been made today which virtually says: ‘Well, a lot of serious events are occurring in the world. We know that the situation is very inflammatory indeed’. Nobody wants to sponsor the butcher who was in Kampuchea. Some two million people were slaughtered there. These are the sorts of things that could happen. I think honourable members can understand the Vietnamese taking issue on that alone. We could not get involved. We can deplore the situation. We feel sorry for the Chinese people who have got involved in a diplomatic position which means that they are obliged to help Kampuchea. I think that is the problem.
Let us identify the problems at the present time. If we could have helped Vietnam to return to a viable economy after that dreadful war it would have been the proper thing to do. We attempted to do that My criticism now is that we desisted from helping Vietnam immediately. We were the only nation to do so. Further, we have put ourselves in the position of siding with one of the groups involved in that dispute. Has this helped the Australian nation? I submit that it has not. Is this Government able to identify what it did back in the 1960s? It fought elections on the basis of the domino theory, the downward thrust of China. It does seem that these dominoes are rearing up again and are falling backwards. We have to identify the situation and we have to identify what has gone wrong with the Government’s strategy. This Government works on the basis of impulse. The United States quite fairly and properly wishes to have normal relations with China and because of that, the Australian Government says: ‘That is the smart thing for us to do.’
Let us place on record what the Labor Government did. It recognised China and established diplomatic relations. It recognised Vietnam, both North and South, and established relations with that country. The Labor Government had good diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. In other words, we could talk right across the board and fearlessly indicate to them what we saw the situation to be. That cannot be done by this Government which is a government of fear, bluff, words and nothing else. In his statement the Prime Minister virtually said: ‘Even though we know that the international situation is deteriorating, just be patient, just wait. Some time in the future the Foreign Minister will see fit to make a statement on the issue’. The Opposition’s view is that we should not have taken sides. We should have continued aid to Vietnam and we should be trying to mediate with any worthwhile ally on the basis of achieving world peace. The message has been made clear: When the whales play the squid gets crushed. We have reached the position where mighty powers have developed nuclear weapons and are involved in an area of tension. Yet this Government has done nothing but indicate that a statement will be made.
A statement has been presented and one is obliged to address one’s mind to that particular statement. Before doing so, let me reiterate the problems. We have not made any progress in the international situation. I will highlight some of those problems. We have had an attitude of obstruction or arms control in trying to solve the problems of the Indian Ocean. The Government feels it would be better politically to create a sense of tension. We have a fixation with alignments, particularly the espousal in 1976 of a treaty between Australia, Japan, China and the United States. The Australian Government has failed to maintain a balance in relations with the Soviet Union on the one hand and China on the other hand. It has made a strong effort to isolate Vietnam and it has helped to drive it straight towards the Soviet Union. We have seen shoddy treatment of member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations at all levels, whether dealing on a political or trade basis.
This Government attempts to grandstand on every issue. A competitive relationship exists between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) on every issue. One obviously wants the other’s job. That is a problem we face at the present time. It is time this Government adopted a bipartisan attitude, found out what is happening in the world and decided what can be done. Having addressed my remarks to what the Opposition believes is wrong with the whole issue, I now turn to some of the domestic issues. The Prime Minister is anxious that we address our minds to these domestic issues. I repeat that two-thirds of his speech were devoted to the great improvement that has been made in the strength of the economy. This Government has created record unemployment. I cannot see that the Government can take any credit for that. Half a million people are unemployed. This Government has broken promises on full wage indexation, Medibank and on maintaining the living standards of Australians.
The Government talks about what it is doing to assist the unemployed. If one goes to the Commonwealth Employment Office in my electorate one finds that, because of the staff levels intruded on the CES by this Government, the officers say: We have no chance to assist the unemployed to gain employment. We are too busy filling in and helping the unemployed receive their unemployment relief. We do not have time to do anything else’. Is this the way the Government sees the situation? Not only do we have the official unemployment but also statistics which show that in addition to the half a million people officially unemployed another quarter of a million people according to a survey would love to enter the work force but cannot do so because they cannot get a job. So, three-quarters of a million Australians are unable to do anything about getting a job.
Is this success from the point of view of getting the economy working and keeping down inflation? If honourable members ignore the dishonest figure juggling exercise with the health cost component of the consumer price index they find that the consumer price index rose by 9 per cent in the year ended December 1 978 compared with 7.5 per cent in the year ended September 1978. We have to face the problem that inflation is not being reduced. We then have another factor of the money supply. The Budget was going to allow a growth of 6 per cent to 8 per cent but it is now 10 per cent to 1 1 per cent. There will be further restrictions such as credit squeezes. There is no doubt about that. There will be an increase in interest rates. Honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister said -
-The honourable member for Moore can laugh. Let us see whether it happens. On 12 January, $195m of trading bank liquid assets were frozen. Yesterday’s call was for another $200m. Let us examine this socalled boost to the economy. The Government says that there is a high level of retail sales. If honourable members opposite go to David Jones Pty Ltd and ask that company what it thinks about the trading situation it will say: ‘Yes,
December was a good month. It was Christmas. But look at the other months. A comparison shows that sales are down right across the board’.
The Government should talk to manufacturers in Albury, Wodonga, Bathurst, Bendigo or anywhere it likes. They will tell you that 24 factories are about to close. The honourable member for Moore is a great free trader and it would not worry him, but the unemployment aspect of this question worries a lot of people. It ought to worry the Hamer Government. That rotten and bereft government, in terms of integrity, is now suggesting that it can be re-elected.
It is espousing all sorts of phoney issues, not the least of which I referred to this morning concerning the Industrial Relations Bureau. The Industrial Relations Bureau is issuing a summons against the Australian Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union because of some gentleman who has a conscientious objection. That gentleman had a conscientious objection on 22 March but was a member of the union and agreed to go on strike on 1 March. When I asked the Minister today the legal basis of the constitutional validity of this matter he said that it had nothing to do with him. He said that the Director of the Industrial Relations Bureau would understand the legal situation. That is rubbish. It is not open to an officer appointed to administer legislation to determine whether that legislation is constitutionally valid. But it is a good idea for Hamer to have a diversion.
In the limited time available to me to speak to this statement I should like to ask where there are any positive issues. Suddenly we have found that Australia has excellent prospects of trade in the Middle East. This was announced yesterday for the first time. Oil revenues have been going there for five years. Why did this Government not do something about an overseas trading corporation? It could have done something, for example, the same as the Lamb Marketing Board of Western Australia which has established good relations overseas. This Government has failed. Why has it not encouraged long term contracts in the beef industry? The Government should not just leave us with a statement in this House that things will be good in America. Let me make it very clear. The Carter administration is anxious to obtain a counter cyclical veto, if it needs to, once America’s herd builds up- as it will within the next two years. What is going to happen to our producers then? In the short time that is available to me, it is impossible to deal with all the issues that the Prime Minister took more than half an hour to deal with. I say, in a summary of the situation, that quite clearly the statement is an abject failure. It is an indictment of the Government, whether we consider what it says of the international scene in relation to Vietnam and the problems of war or on the domestic scene in relation to unemployment, inflation, the manufacturing bases or the trading prospects. It is for that reason that we would want to see more of these statements made, more opportunities to debate them and more understanding of where Australia is going. Let this Government demonstrate a by-partisan attitude. Let it show some leadership and we will co-operate. But we cannot co-operate -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable members time has expired.
– I wish to discuss one aspect of the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), namely, its economic aspect. When Labor came to power in December 1972, it inherited a relatively sound economy. Inflation measured for the 12 months to December 1972 was 4.5 per cent. Unemployment, seasonally adjusted, was 1.78 per cent. When Labor left office three years later, inflation was 14 per cent for the year and higher for a shorter period, and unemployment was at 4.8 1 per cent seasonally adjusted. Labor tried to blame overseas events for the disaster which struck Australia. We were, however, largely insulated from the effects of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries oil price hike; overseas markets, initially at least when the Labor Party took office, were buoyant. In fact, our inflation and our unemployment were substantially home grown.
Labor would have been more credible if it had not said that Australia imported inflation but instead said that Australia imported some very bad habits which were prevalent in other countries, particularly the English speaking countries of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. These bad habits were: Slack control of the money supply, profligate public sector expenditure and intemperate wage rates. Labor deliberately encouraged all three bad habits. Public sector expenditure rose from 32.7 per cent to 37.8 per cent of gross domestic product during the time it was in office. Real growth in the money supply was absolutely unprecedented. Wages, led by the Public Service and encouraged by the Government of the day, took off, so that in 1974 they rose by no less than 28 per cent in real terms.
In attempting to defend the indefensible, Labor might have made three valid points in partial mitigation of its stewardship. Labor inherited three difficult conditions. First, it inherited a money supply that was already starting to blow out, a trend that it unfortunately exacerbated greatly. Secondly, it inherited public expectations that a better life was to be had merely for the asking and without effort or payment. It reinforced that state of mind and had consciously fostered it before it came into office. Thirdly, Labor inherited a badly structured industry either protected by high tariffs or suffering the burden of the cost of protecting uncompetitive brother industries. This artificially weakened industry, as a result, was in a much weaker position to withstand increases in wages and taxes. Labor did attempt, albeit in a somewhat heavy handed manner, to tackle this problem and for its pains received some ill-directed criticism from ourselves.
It takes much longer to build a house than to pull it down and so it takes longer to build an economy than to damage one. It is also more difficult and it is taking this Government longer to lift the Australian economy than it took the Labor Party to destroy it- or to seriously damage it, to be fair. Nonetheless, to use the words of the Treasurer (Mr Howard), there are many runs on the board. Inflation as measured by the CPI is at 7.8 per cent for the past year. I ask anyone to compare that with inflation running at the level it was when we took office. It was admittedly 2.3 per cent for the most recent quarter but the underlying rate of inflation is a good deal lower than that 2.3 per cent. One ought to bear in mind that there was a contribution to that 2.3 per cent of 0.7 per cent by the food sector mainly brought about by a rise in beef prices, a sector which is traditionally unstable and is not much of a reflection of underlying rates. There was also a 0.8 per cent contribution from the item ‘motor vehicle operation’. That was almost entirely as a result of an increase in oil prices intended- as it certainly will- to bring about a saving of fuel and the greater development of domestic fuel sources.
Several of the activity indicators look a great deal better than they have looked for a very long time. Mining and manufacturing is up by 23 per cent in real terms. Resources mining is up by 70 per cent in real terms. The minimum oil exploration estimated is an additional 83 wells. I invite honourable members to compare that with almost nothing under Labor. Non-dwelling investment is up 6 per cent in real terms. Private dwelling approvals are up 13 per cent. Rural production is up dramatically. I admit that in that area we have had a good season. The rainfall has been kind. Nonetheless, any realistic assessment of those figures will show that it was not entirely due to the good season but was also a result of considerable expanded acreage and production.
The Prime Minister spoke confidently of ICI Australia Ltd’s new developments and significantly he spoke of General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd proposals to build a new $2 10m engine complex based in Victoria. This proposal gives Australia an opportunity to make a significant start towards turning our over protected and highly uncompetitive car industry- which is at present such a heavy burden on the rest of the Australian economy- into an outward-looking efficient industry. The long term benefits could be enormous. Civilian employment has risen.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) said when speaking on the ABC AM radio program:
There is absolutely no reason, though, why we should not be seeing a pick-up in the level of economic activity, reductions in unemployment, marked reductions in interest rates, as promised by the Government.
I thank him for that. It was a generous statement. I question, though, that reductions in unemployment must necessarily follow an increase in activity. That could be a serious weakness in the Australian economy and it is certainly a situation that must be squarely faced.
Professor Max Corden of the Australian National University in a paper published recently, having discussed various proposals advanced by various interests to reduce unemployment levels, said: the central issue of the need for wage restraint cannot be avoided. It is not sufficient to point to the fact that real wages have not increased much in a period of prolonged recession. Probably real wages of some pans of the workforce, notably of teenagers and young adults, would have to fall if an impact on the unemployment problem were to be made. If the tax cuts or the employment subsidy solution were tried post-tax real wages should not rise even when profits rise and unemployment is reduced. This is a harder requirement than holding real wages at a time of recession. If the Government co-operates by ensuring an expansion of nominal demand, by possibly providing some employment subsidies, and by trying various measures to improve the productivity of labour, will the forces in the labour market allow the unemployed- however potentially productive- to obtain employment? Progress in this field may require a genuine partnership between an imaginative Government and cooperative trade unions in which the safely employed citizens of Australia- especially in their capacity as organised employees- are willing to make sacrifices for the minority who are unemployed or whose employment is less secure.
We need to face the real possibility that as our economy moves ahead, as the Leader of the Opposition and most economic commentators are now saying that it will, organised labour will be so strong that it will cream off that growth in product to the persons who are presently employed and thereby reduce the real opportunity that is presented to reduce unemployment and put the unemployed into work. That is what Treasurer Crean was talking about when he said that one man’s pay rise is another man’s job. Submissions to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission tend to be based on the sort of popular Keynesian model in which the economy can be stimulated, demand increased and employment increased without increased costs. That would assume that the Phillips curve is flat. I think it is more realistic to look at a situation in which the Phillips curve is nearly vertical. In fact, anything that increases inflation is likely to have in the quite short run adverse effects on employment. The Australian economy has been through a period of very serious inflation. For very good reason, the people who make the decisions in the Australian economy are frightened of inflation. If we attempt to stimulate the Australian economy by increasing the money supply, an increase in inflation will occur.
Just as importantly, there will immediately be an increase in inflationary expectation because the Australian people have seen what that sort of behaviour has done in the past. It will dampen investment decisions and activity and it will do so quite quickly. It is very likely that the extra demand created by the increased money supply would be more than offset by the demand destroyed by a loss of confidence. So we are at some point on the Phillips curve where the curve is roughly vertical or even slightly sloping back. Money limitation is not a real option. The overseas advice that is offered to Australia by organisations like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reinforces that view. Yesterday an honourable member cited Germany as an example and suggested that it was possible to stimulate the Australian economy because Germany had stimulated its economy. Australia faces a balance of payments constraint that is not faced by Germany. The OECD made a very clear distinction between the very few countries like Germany and other countries like Australia that have this balance of payments constraint. The Organisation made it clear that we ought not follow that path.
The trade unions have very considerable monopoly powers. It is important that a better understanding be engendered in the union movement, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, and in the minds of the members of the public generally. It is important that we do not grasp unreal policies, pretending that there is a solution to the unemployment problem that will not involve some pain for some people. If we do not face reality we will not succeed.
-The honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) always makes a reasonable speech and I think he can be described fairly as a reasonable man. Nevertheless, his speech is an apologia for the Government’s failures in contrast with the stark reality of the political and economic failure that has taken place under the Fraser Government. It is not remarkable that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a state of the nation address in the House today. The Government has done very poorly over the parliamentary recess since the Parliament last met. The debate today is largely an exercise in self-justification at a time when the Government has no parliamentary business to transact other than to jawbone the Opposition.
Let us put the backdrop to the Prime Minister’s speech into perspective. The main purpose of this Government- its whole reason for beingwas to reduce inflation. The December consumer price index rose by 2.3 per cent. Without the health insurance changes, the increase would have been 3.8 per cent. That means that over the year the inflation rate increase would have been in the 10 per cent range. If we were to do what the Government did when it was in Opposition and when the Australian Labor Party was in government and multiply the percentage increase for one quarter by four to obtain an annual inflation rate, it would have been 15 per cent without taking into account the health changes in the December quarter. In reality the inflation rate in Australia is still running at around 9 per cent, with half a million people out of work. All this has been necessary for a 3 per cent drop in the inflation rate since Mr Fraser came to power.
Interest rates represent another broken promise and another betrayal of the Australian public by this Prime Minister. In the election campaign in December 1977 he said that in 1978 interest rates would fall by 2 per cent. The reality is that they have dropped by one-half of one per cent and they are now rising. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) pointed out a few minutes ago, today the Reserve Bank of Australia called up trading banks’ statutory reserve deposits to reduce the money supply and liquidity. Of course, like all commodities when they are in scarce supply, the price goes up and the price of money through interest rates will rise throughout this year when the money supply tightens up as an expressed result of Government policy.
Mr Fraser talks about how poorly the Labor Party performed in government. Let me repeat for his benefit, although he is not in the House at the moment, the number of bankruptcies which shows the measure of the Government’s success under his prime ministership. In 1977-78 there were 3,134 bankruptcies in contrast with the three years of the Labor Government when they averaged 1,800, So there was a 70 per cent increase in bankruptcies under the Fraser Government. Of course, I have not mentioned the more spectacular bankruptcies like the liquidation of Associated Securities Ltd with the knights no longer in shining armour. I refer to Sir Reginald Ansett, Sir Cecil Looker and Sir Henry Bolte, the great managers of this country. These men who form the backbone of the establishment were caught with their pants down with a $350m crash, not just a $lm crash. Harry Miller has been beaten around the ears for two weeks for the failing Computicket with $lm involved. The $3 50m crash of ASL received one day of reporting in the newspapers. The Australian Financial Review in an editorial disgracefully excused the role of these three men as non-executive directors. That is the kind of treatment the members of the Australian public are used to receiving from the people who manage this country, quiet and competent managers in the Liberal Party uniform, the pinstripe suit, who get on with the job. These people generally get on with the job of using people’s money, often unwisely, and escaping the consequences. It is a disgrace that a company like Ansett Transport Industries can walk away from a major commercial failure like that and leave small shareholders and unsecured debenture holders in the lurch. The role of Sir Reginald Ansett and his co-directors should be investigated by the New South Wales Government because ASL is incorporated in New South Wales. We on this side of the House will be looking to the New South Wales Government to proceed in its investigation of ASL and the background of this massive commercial failure.
Now let me get on to this question of inflation again. Within three years it was to be fixed by Mr Fraser; yet we have had bankruptcies and 250,000 more people are out of work as a result of the Fraser Government’s policies. His Government has doubled the number of people unemployed in the period it has been in office and now, of course, unemployment is at a record Australian level of half a million.
In the Prime Minister’s speech, apart from the rhetoric, the justification for his Government’s policies centred around minerals and energy. He believes that everything will swing around minerals and energy. We on the Opposition side of the House believe that these industries have an important place in Australia and have contributed significantly to Australia’s prosperity; but, of course, all does not start and end with them alone. We see major distortions in the figures the Prime Minister mentioned. He mentioned what he has done for the oil industry and how good world parity pricing is. World parity pricing for new discoveries was not fixed by the Fraser Government; it was fixed by the Labor Government in 1975. But the Government has put a levy of old oil, the oil produced by West Australian Pty Ltd, Esso-BHP and the operators at Moonie, but particularly Bass Strait oil, to bring the price to import parity overnight. The result of the express policy to raise $ 1,100m for the Government is that the price of petrol has gone up 60 per cent in one year to $ 1 . 10 or $ 1 . 1 3, depending on where one lives in this country.
The Labor Government was beaten around the ears by members of the National Country Party and the Liberal Party for taking off the 2c or 3c adjustment under the old petrol price equalisation scheme. Where are the bleating lobby groups from primary industry that we used to hear so much about now when the price of a gallon of petrol is going up by 60 per cent all for the Budget deficit and to give an increase to the oil producers in this country.
Mr Fraser says all the things which have happened in new exploration have been a result of his oil pricing policy. Of course, there is a clear distinction to be made between an increase to the producers under the 1977 incremental policy, which presently has Esso-BHP on 26 per cent of import parity, and the greedy levy which the Government put on to take Australian crude oil to import parity overnight, collecting $ 1,100m for the Budget deficit on the way through. It is Mr Fraser’s obsession with the Budget deficit which brought this measure on and, of course, it must make all export industries, particularly rural industries, less competitive. It is a slug to everybody who drives a motor car in the cities or wherever he may be. The Bass Strait fields which Esso-BHP intends to develop- West Kingfish, Cobia, Fortescue, Flounder and East Kingfishare all feasible at a return which is a fraction of import parity. They could have been developed and will be developed under the 1977 policy without resort to this new levy which the Government put on under the guise of an energy policy. Of course, it has nothing to do with energy. It is to do with Mr Fraser’s Budget deficit a nd his efforts to raise $ 1 ,000m.
The Prime Minister fantasises and distorts oil drilling figures. He says how successful he has been in getting new exploration in this country. He says that the number of exploration wells drilled this year will be between 83 and 143. The Australian Petroleum Exploration Association, which is the industry group covering the oil industry, assesses the number at 81. It does not talk about 143. Like the Prime Minister’s interest rate promise, his figuring is another piece of fantasy. In fact, the Australian Mining Industry Council estimates that expenditure on exploration will fall from $144m in 1977 to $1 15m in the current financial year, a drop of 20 per cent. So 8 1 wells will be drilled this year, of which only 39 will be off-shore. The off-shore wells are the ones which seem to be the most prospective.
Last year only 52 wells were drilled. Admittedly that was more than the year before, but only 20 of them were off-shore wells. This is the great success about which the Prime Minister talks. Contrast it with what has happened in Canada, a comparable country. In 1977 we drilled about 30 wells; Canada drilled 2,800 wells. In 1978 we drilled 52 wells, and the Canadians drilled 3,200 wells. God, surely the Prime Minister cannot boast about that as a record. The question all revolves around the fact that the Government gave incremental increases to the oil producers without a quid pro quo on exploration, and the exploration has just not taken place. So the Prime Minister is only talking about figures.
He believes he can fool most of the people most of the time, but, of course, in the end he gets found out. The result is that petrol prices have gone up 60 per cent and he has gained $ 1,000m for revenue and the public can just go and eat its hat. That is the cynical view he takes. By being locked into import parity we will suffer as the Iranian crisis pushes up the oil price set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. This price will feed into Australian prices and will flow through the consumer price index, through wage indexation and back into inflation. So the Prime Minister’s policy will damage the economy through a contraction in the gross domestic product, employment and aggregate exports. It will increase the average price of domestically produced oil products by 40 per cent.
Let me deal with the Prime Minister’s minerals promises. He talked about $4,000m worth of projects. We on this side of the House assess the projects at about $3,650m. There is not so much difference in that, but in the election campaign the Prime Minister talked about $6,000m and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) talked about $ 14,000m worth of mineral projects. When we analyse the things which are going and the things which are not we see that about $7 14m will be spent in the current financial year and about $7 14m in the following financial year. A figure of $700m is significant but hardly the kind of figure which will drag us back into prosperity. It does not even really rank with manufacturing. That much at least will be spent on manufacturing industry over the period.
The Prime Minister, of course, does not mention the fact that mining of the coking coal deposit at Hail Creek and Nebo in Queensland will not be starting. Under a cloud in Western Australia are the Alwest project and the iron ore mines of Goldsworthy, Area C, Marandoo and Deepdale. These are all in his mix. The honourable member for Moore knows as well as I do that, given the fact that there is about 20 million tonnes of excess capacity in the Pilbara this year with the Hammersley concentrator and the Mount Newman concentrator coming on line, these projects are further down the line. Of course, the Prime Minister never mentions this. He thinks he can fool everybody and traffic in half truths.
He never mentions the North West Shelf, and this is the one thing in which he ought to be interested. During the recess he had two disastrous trips overseas. The first was to the United States of America. After he had been there for a week we heard about nothing but a cheese quota. He ought to have been talking about selling North West Shelf gas. Instead of going to Japan he went to India and spent half his time on a sightseeing tour of India. In fact, the thing he should be doing most is trying to sell liquid natural gas so that the feasibility study on the North West Shelf can be completed. But he did not turn his hand to gas or to anything of national importance. He was mucking around with the cheese quota and beef prices because he thought it might bolster the value of sales on his own farm. It is still the farmer in him predominating. He does not get down to real markets such as those in the Middle East mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been talking about the Middle East for years. Mr Anthony came back from there yesterday and all of a sudden he has discovered the Middle East as a market.
What is wrong with the Government putting our relationship with Japan back together and trying to get a more prosperous basis? Instead of that the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon) is turning his back on the Association of South East Asian Nations with his air fare policy, Mr Anthony is having a running gun battle with the steel companies of Japan and the relationship with Japan is constantly under pressure. Where is Mr Fraser going? He is going to aggrandise himself with Jimmy Carter and Helmut Schmidt. It is beyond me why our Prime Minister feels he must get the imprimatur of President Jimmy Carter, who has an economic policy in contradistinction to the Australian Government’s policy. President Carter has an expansionary policy but Mr Fraser believes he must have his imprimatur of a non-expansionary policy. Of course, the Prime Minister wants to aggrandise himself. He sees himself as a world statesman and does not realise that he is the Prime Minister of a country with a population of between 13 million and 14 million Europeans at the bottom end of Asia. He ought to be looking to markets in Asia. Instead of that he is still in the northern hemisphere doing the same things Bob Menzies was doing 15 years ago.
No matter where one looks, this Government has no creditability in its trade or domestic policy. It is a disastrous government and it is about time the people of Australia started to look at the record. We have had three years of deprivation, cuts in government services and high unemployment. We have half a million Australians, mostly young people, out of work. Interest rates are rising again- all this for a 3 per cent drop in inflation- and we have no guarantee that it will be even that by the end of this year. So much for the record of this Prime Minister. If Government supporters are going to stick to that economic record all we on this side of the House can say, speaking politically, is that we hope they stick right with it. If they do, by the end of 1980 they will go back into Opposition as fast as they came to government, but probably the transition will not be as bloody.
-The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was quite right to draw to the attention of the people of Australia the great changes that had taken place overseas, in particular the recognition by the United States of America of China, and the problems in Iran and in parts of Africa. These events will most certainly affect Australia in the very near future. The Prime Minister and the Government are to be congratulated on asking China to withdraw from Vietnam and the Vietnamese to withdraw from
Kampuchea. These events have great significance for countries throughout the world and in particular will have an effect on Australia. The honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) drew attention to the fact that in 1972 the Labor Government took over from us an economy that was sound. That statement was quite true. After three years Labor left office with a huge national deficit and with confidence in the economy run down. The confidence of the people had deteriorated absolutely and throughout Australia there was confusion generally. It is a great pity to hear Opposition members, in this debate as in all others, serving as prophets of gloom and using extraordinary figures to portray a situation which does not really exist in this country.
The Government has reduced inflation to a reasonable level and the money supply has been brought under control. Interest rates have been reduced. As one travels the length and breadth of this country one finds confidence in the business sector. Indeed one can look forward in 1979 to improved business prospects generally. When confidence is completely restored the unemployment situation will improve. The unemployment situation cannot improve until business conditions improve and confidence is . restored throughout the nation. Business conditions have improved considerably. For those who are interested, I quote from the headlines of a number of financial reports in the Press:
Turnaround puts CRA back on the keel.
Lyell loses but mine deficit cut.
We all recall the debates that took place here on the granting of assistance by the Government to the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd. Now that company is trading on a profitable basis. Another headline states:
Bougainville set for $57m profit.
Also, North Broken Hill Ltd has had a 77 per cent increase in profit. The headlines continue:
Rothmans lifts market share; profit up 43 per cent.
Lend Lease sees $ 17m profit.
Dalgety Australia Ltd, a firm that has been showing trading losses and has been in great trouble, is now out of. the red and showing profits. I could go on to quote many more examples which indicate clearly that the economy of Australia is on the improve and that, in turn, undoubtedly unemployment will be reduced. Consumer demand is improving across the board. The activities of manufacturing firms are beginning to pick up. Their order books are full. At the end of last year stocks held by the manufacturing, trading and mechanical firms were down. Now they are ordering up; their requirements are being filled. All of these factors point to a considerable improvement.
Our great primary industries are picking up. We have just seen a record wheat harvest of 17 million tonnes. Unfortunately, we are experiencing problems in storing it and getting it to the seaboard so that it may earn export income. I believe that increased wheat storage facilities must be provided at country sidings because, over the years, in answer to the great demand throughout the world, we will be growing more wheat. It is a pity that the union movement involved in the loading of ships at Newcastle and Sydney does not realise the serious situation that eventuates when we cannot ship our grain to overseas purchasers on time.
There has been a complete reversal in the price obtained for Australian beef, which we are selling in huge quantities to the United States of America, Korea, Japan, the Middle East and other parts of the world. Our primary producers- not before time- are now trading on a profitable basis. Indeed, it is expected that this year farm incomes will increase by 80 per cent. The Government must take some credit for this. It has a very active export program under the Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) and the Ministers concerned with the marketing of our primary produce generally. We can look forward to having a prosperous farming community. What does this mean? It means that activity in the manufacturing industries will pick up very quickly. Farmers will want new headers, new combines, new ploughs and other new machinery. The effects will flow on to the manufacturing concerns in the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and elsewhere.
Similarly, our minerals industry is in a solid state. We are marketing record quantities of coal to Japan, Korea and even Great Britain. We are exporting iron ore and many other minerals, including copper and zinc. Activity has picked up in this field also and the effects of that must flow on to benefit the economy of Australia.
Employment is improving. One of the great problems with the employment of young people in this country is their commencing wage of $70 to $80 a week. That represents a fairly high cost to the employer. He or his executive has to devote much of his time to the training of these young people. It is a great pity that there is such a high commencing salary. If there were not there would be a big improvement in the youth employment situation.
The Government’s policy on the oil industry is certainly bearing fruit. A moment ago I heard the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) ask: What has it done to the price of fuel in this country? The price of motor spirit in Australia is still the cheapest in the world, by a long way. It was my pleasure recently to visit China and Japan. In China petrol costs $1.50 a gallon; in Japan it costs more than $2 a gallon. In other parts of the world the price is higher still; so Australian motor spirit prices are comparable with any. As a matter of fact, I think they are the cheapest in the world. We know just what a disaster Labor’s policy was for the oil industry. We must, however, give consideration to assisting primary producers with the cost of fuel for grain production. Our primary producers compete with America, Canada and other countries on the world market for wheat sales. Our farmers are competing against countries which have fuel costs considerably lower than ours. It was pleasing to hear the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) in answer to a question in the House this week saying that this matter is being reviewed. I hope that our farmers get some consideration in a way which will enable them to compete with farmers in other parts of the world. It will help the economy of this nation in the long run.
There is tremendous renewed confidence in Australia. I think the Prime Minister in his speech mentioned the figures for investments in Australia by various companies. ICI Australia Ltd has announced plans for a $500m petrochemical plant for Victoria. This company would not be investing this money if it did not think the economy of this nation was sound. The company is to build a $400m ethylene plant at Botany Bay in Sydney. This is further evidence of confidence. General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd will spend $200m in Victoria on an engine plant. General Motors is a world wide organisation and it has faith in Australia. It would not have invested such an amount perhaps two years ago but it can now see that the economy is on the improve and can see that it is making a sound investment. Austraiian Newsprint Mills Ltd is to make a $160m investment in the Albury-Wodonga area. It will be of tremendous advantage to Australia. The company would not be making such a great investment in the area if it felt something was wrong with our economy.
I mentioned a few moments ago that it was a pleasure to be a member of a delegation to China and Japan. We talked with the Chinese trade people. There is no doubt that in the years that lie ahead we will have considerable trade with
China. Unfortunately there is an imbalance of trade with that area. China purchases $5 87m worth of our products; we purchase, in return, $11 lm. The imbalance could be made up with the importation of oil from China. Unfortunately the quality of oil which the Chinese have in great quantities is such that our refineries would have to spend billions of dollars to take out wax and other impurities. Nevertheless, it is something that could be looked at. China has 900 million people all of whom have to be fed. Great opportunities must exist for markets in many products. This is something that we must not forget. We must keep our eyes on that market. The Japanese and Americans are there in their hundreds seeking opportunities for trade.
The delegation also visited Japan- a very affluent country with a good economy. The people are well clothed and well fed. We talked trade. I was particularly interested in beef. Mr Ota, who is the President of the Livestock Purchasing Corporation in that country and the man responsible for the purchase of Australian meat, indicated to me that the Japanese would be purchasing increased quantities of Australian beef. Honourable members may ask why. The Japanese housewives know that Australian beef is of good quality and is cheap. I noticed in a supermarket in Tokyo last Monday week that Japanese beef was being sold at $A24 per lb. The increased business with Japan will help the Australian economy. I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement to the nation.
-In this state of the nation debate it seems to me to be appropriate to talk about the economic policies of the Fraser Government. After all, we are beginning the second parliamentary year of the second Fraser Government. As we look over the three years and three months since that eventful and conspiratorial day on 1 1 November 1975, 1 think most Australians would concede that they share a sense of sadness, dissillusionment and bitter disappointment. A real feeling of disappointment pervades the Australian community at this time. We have had a period of broken promises. It has been a time of turning back the clock. It is a period to be known as the lost years or the barren years. It is a period that has been void of real direction. It is a period when the lucky country suddenly threw up the lost generation of unemployed- the unfulfilled youth- in this land of opportunity.
The fact is that Australian politics in that three years and three months have lost all credibility. Firstly, let us look at the program of devolution, as it was called- the undoing of the great initiatives of the Labor Government. There were so many great initiatives that one could use up too much time referring to them all. Medibank has been mutilated. The Australian Assistance Plan has been savagely curtailed. Growth centres as a concept have been substantially abandoned. Something similar has happened to the National Estate program where expenditure has been sharply reduced. The national sewerage program has been totally abolished. The Australian Housing Corporation has been made innocuous. We have seen the means testing of legal aid. Land commissions have ceased to exist in most States in Australia. The child care program has gone. It can only be a time of sadness for those Australians who realise that after years of neglect and indifference it was appropriate for the Labor Government to set a non-materialistic course for a time in Australia and to bring real values to bear.
Let us look back over these broken promises. A lot of people think that the motto of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is ‘Life was not meant to be easy’ I think we could say that his motto could well be ‘Promises were not meant to be kept’. Again one could spend a lot of time going through this cavalcade of broken promises. I will not have time to do that by any means, but let me mention some of the classical quotes of the 1975 election campaign like ‘we will maintain Medibank’, ‘the Government will support wage indexation’ and ‘we will work positively in cooperation with the trade unions’. We have had a succession of disasters and serious confrontation in respect of the Trade Practices Act and that inquitous section 45D, and the newly established Industrial Relations Bureau which was meant really to antagonise the trade union movement of this country. The example’s go on and on. In regard to economic affairs the Prime Minister said: ‘Economies can and will be made in government spending without disrupting essential programs for which contracts have already been let’.
Essential programs have gone down the drain on a thousand fronts. Staff ceilings have been imposed in the Public Service. A feeling of fear has developed in the Public Service of this country. Certainly there is an attitude of inhibition. Then we had the promise about Aboriginal affairs and the promise that there would be no reduction in expenditure. Aboriginal affairs programs were dropped by $24m. Worst affected were the areas of health, housing and legal aid. There are broken promises on taxation and a host of other things.
The Prime Minister gave emphasis to rural affairs and said that we would have a bank that would provide long-term loans up to 30 years at concessional rates of interest. Yet the new bank has failed to do that. It is providing loans on regular banking terms. The Primary Industry Bank, as it is now called, will charge 10V4 per cent interest on loans up to $ 100,000 exactly the same as the Commonwealth Development Bank. As I look through this policy speech I note especially the promises about small businesses. Let me quote from the Prime Minister’s 1977 election campaign policy speech when he said:
Times have been difficult for Australia’s thousands of small businessmen. We have helped small business with our tax concessions on trading stock, with the investment allowance and our personal tax cuts, and we will make more finance available to small business through the Commonwealth Development Bank and the AIDC.
So there is the Prime Minister ‘s commitment. But what do we find in regard to the bankruptcy situation of small business, the measurement of the progress of small business in Australia? I quote from a report on the operation of the Bankruptcy Act 1966. The report states in part:
The number of proceedings in the year covered by this report, namely 3,134, represents the highest number recorded in one year, and an increase of 42.71 per cent from the number recorded during the previous year, namely 2, 1 96.
So the report goes on.
The consumer price index is regarded in this country and in other parts of the world as a measurement of the degree of inflation prevailing in the country. We know that it was the most holy objective, the sacred cow, of this Government to get inflation down. So many things were made secondary and subservient to that objective. It did not matter whether people were unemployed; it did not matter whether Government services were cut: Inflation was to come down. The single mindedness of the Prime Minister and the corporate attitude of his Cabinet reflected that emphasis. Nothing else mattered. Yet we find that as at February 1979 in comparison with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries Australia was not such a nation of achievement so far as improving the inflationary scene was concerned. In fact the inflation rate for the December quarter, as represented by the consumer price index increase, was 2.3 per cent. That of course means that Australia has an inflation rate of between 7 per cent and 8 per cent. But of course we know that that is not the real rate of inflation because many costs of services and goods are not properly reflected in the measurement process. Nor are the costs of government charges properly reflected in those measurements. So the real inflation rate is higher than the tables tend to indicate.
However obviously Australia ‘s inflation rate is high in comparison with that prevailing in the rest of the world. On the OECD scale, Australia is shown as having an inflation rate of 7.9 per cent compared with 3.8 per cent for Japan, a country which is buoyant and moving into technological fields and expanding its trade and its external and domestic economic affairs. In Austria the inflation rate is 3.6 per cent; Belgium, 4.5 per cent; Luxumberg, 3.1 per cent; the Netherlands, 4.1 per cent and Switzerland, 1.1 per cent. Yet here is Australia with an inflation rate of 7.9 per cent. But reducing the inflation rate was the principle objective of the Fraser Government.
Our inflation rate symbolises the economic failures of the Government. I suppose that, if anything symbolises this situation and brings the failure of the Government’s economic policies into sharp relief, it is the unemployment scene. The latest unemployment figures available show that there is an unprecedented high rate of people unemployed- 493,516, of whom 341,877 are on unemployment benefits. That is a rise of nearly 31,000 on the figures for the previous month. The Government had to make provision in its Budget for $965m for unemployment benefit payments. We recently discovered that expenditure on unemployment benefits in this country is running close to $100m a month. Yet this Government- this free enterprise Government, this private enterprise Governmentseems to lack the ability, the drive or the imagination to contrive some other way of using that $100m or more as it soon will be to get young Australians back into a work situation. We should be able to say that there will be an innovation, a new Australian employment authority for young people and a national apprenticeship and training authority. We should be able to say that we will take any young person who is capable of and is willing to work and ensure that he or she gets proper training through the employment opportunities that are available in the Public Service and in the private sector. After that of course we should be giving a guarantee as regards their housing needs so that the lending authorities can lend them money. We could then get this so-called lazy, indolent country back on the march again. We are supposed to be a government with a capacity in that regard.
I see the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) at the table at present. I remind him that during Question Time this morning figures from the Australian Statistician were cited in respect of the downturn in housing commencements. It was revealed that, as at the December quarter, housing commencements were the lowest since the March quarter 1966. The figures show that the number or houses commenced was 3.7 per cent lower than the September quarter figure and 9.4 per cent lower than the December quarter of 1 977. We know that the construction force of this country is dissipating. In fact, between November 1976 and November 1977, 10,000 jobs were lost in the construction industry and another 7,800 jobs were lost between November 1977 and November 1978. So, one could say that there has been a reduction of 10,000 in the construction work force of this country every year since this Government has been in office. I fail to accept that as a reasonable proposition.
Of course the scapegoats for the Government are the unemployed. There are many other scapegoats. We discussed one category of them yesterday- the pensioners- those people who have been deprived of an increase in their pension in line with rises in the consumer price index. We know that the Government’s emphasis on getting down inflation has been a misplaced emphasis. Its emphasis has been on dissipating large amounts of money in respect of investment allowances and depreciation allowances, all designed to give an incentive to manufacturers to help stimulate industry. Yet the fundamentals of the whole situation are that nobody is going to go out and make more motor cars or more refrigerators or build more houses or anything else unless there is a solvent and buoyant clientele waiting at the end of the line to buy the commodity. So we find this assault on the pensioners, the low income earners in the community and the exservicemen of this country who have also been affected in many ways, but which time will not allow me to elaborate on. We saw the slashing of the community health program by $ 15.5m. We saw migrants assailed in so many ways. Then of course there was the attack on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission because it dared to give some semblance of equity and justice in regard to the national wage case. In abbreviated form, the major points of justification for the decision made by the Commission were:
It was really saying to the Government: ‘We have no alternative but to give this meagre increase, inadequate as it is in all the circumstances. The decision of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is simply a sequel to this tirade of intimidatory abuse from this great gaggle of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister himself and including the Treasurer (Mr Howard), the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street), the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) and the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). Such abuse is designed to make the ordinary people the scapegoats for this Government’s misguided economic policies. As we look over this whole scene, whether it is in regard to the sell-out of Australia with this great intake of overseas investment that will have the effect of repatriating massive dividends overseas, whatever test we apply after these three years and three months of Fraserism, we can only say that this Government is a dismal failure and that the people have lost confidence in it. In looking at the state of the nation we can say that it is time that the Fraser Government packed its bags. It has broken every promise that it has ever made. I think that the Australian people are looking for the first opportunity to redress this miserable situation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– One of the things that has characterised the Hayden Australian Labor Party is its persistence in trying to talk down the economy, in casting gloom across the nation and in trying to display the Government as incompetent, impassionate and inhuman in its approach to the management of the affairs of the Australian people. This afternoon I want to dispel completely any such ridiculous accusations and to discredit the Labor Party for trying to talk down the economy and the confidence of this nation when there is every justification for doing just the opposite.
There has been talk about welfare, of people on low incomes, and of pensioners. However, let me remind the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) that in the last December quarter the pension was 24. 1 per cent of the average weekly income, the highest level it has ever been in Australia’s history and certainly far higher than it was during the period that the
Labor Party was in office. But that is an irrelevant feature of this important debate. We can justify our actions in the welfare area even though we have had to try to constrain public expenditure where possible, and we have been able to strike a healthy balance between meeting the needs of the people and, at the same time, trying to stabilise the economy after the chaotic period when Labor was in office from 1972 to 1975.
On Monday night this week I appeared on Nationwide television program to speak about Australia’s export performance. On that program Richard Carleton, the interviewer, also had Mr Hanness Chairman of Hanimex Corporation Ltd, a world-famous Australian company producing photographic and electrical equipment which it sells all around the world. Unfortunately, Mr Hanness has taken most of his operations off-shore and has established manufacturing enterprises in many countries. In the course of that interview, when asked why he had done this, he said that it was the policies of the Government of the early 1970s- I must say that his good manners prevented him mentioning that it was the Labor Government- as well as the inflation, the rapid increase in wages, the loss of export incentives, the abolition of the depreciation allowance, the 25 per cent acrosstheboard tariff cut, the appreciation of the Australian dollar, and the instability which prevented industry in this country from making investment decisions and planning accordingly. Every one of those things occurred when Labor came into office in 1972. When we look back at the damage that was done during that period we realise why it has taken us a few years to bring back stability to this country.
The statement made today by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is clear vindication of the policies we have embarked upon. They are succeeding and this is being recognised by people who were our severest critics. Today we are seeing renewed confidence, people wanting to get into production and wanting to export goods overseas, and this is something we have not seen for a number of years. I am pleased to see that even the Premier of New South Wales has said that the statistical indicators do point to sure moves ahead. I hoped that statements made earlier this year by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) reflecting the remarks of the Premier of New South Wales about there being greater optimism would have been repeated in his speech today. However, I am afraid that he quickly reverted to the usual gloom and disaster that is so characteristic of him. I would be very surprised if he is the sort of man Australia wants to lead it because the one thing that Australia needs today is a bit of enthusiasm and encouragement, and that is what this statement was all about. It showed the bright side instead of the gloomy aspects featured by those who are almost hoping for the worst.
Employment, of course, is not as good as we would like it to be but the causes are clear. We have had to try to recover from the effects of high inflation rates. Wages are still excessively high and until the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission recognises the need for a greater degree of moderation in the decisions it brings down, it will be hard to keep inflation down to the sorts of levels that give people the confidence they need to employ more people. The bitter experience of 1974-75 demonstrates that the spending of more and more money will not solve the unemployment problem; it merely generates the pressures that cause greater unemployment. If we compare some of the indicators as they were when we took office with what they are today we will see that inflation has dropped from 17 per cent to 7.8 per cent. That is now below the average for countries comprising the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The result of the December quarter was a disappointment and a setback, but it did not represent any fundamental weakness in our policies. Without taking into account certain essential once-only Budget measures, the underlying rate of inflation for the December quarter was 1.9 per cent and that rate, or even the full rate of 2.3 per cent, is much envied by many other countries.
Investment is picking up strongly. The Australian Mining Industry Council estimates that investment in the mining industry in 1978 rose by 72 per cent and that in 1979 it will rise a further 32 per cent. Company profits also are improving. Just reflect on the recent results announced in the newspapers by Amatil Ltd, the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney Ltd, Comalco Ltd, Bougainville Copper Ltd, and Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd. Of course, the Labor Party will criticise profit as something that is almost illegal, but profit is the whole basis of confidence. Confidence is where investment comes from, and with investment come employment opportunities, and that is what we are all about.
There has been a long overdue resurgence in our rural industries. Wool prices have risen sharply. Our wheat harvest will be a record one, and the long term contract just completed with China for Vh million tonnes of wheat over the next three years is further evidence of the healthy situation that is developing within the rural industry. In addition, prices and the demand for beef exports have improved significantly. Allowing for inflation, farm income is set to rise by 66 per cent this year and Australians have come to appreciate once again just how important the rural sector is in the overall economic growth and health of the economy.
That other foundation of our economy, mining, is also experiencing strong recovery. Our major companies will increase their earnings markedly this year following substantial rises in copper prices, record lead prices, continued high prices for tin and firming rates for aluminium, zinc and cobalt. This in turn is reinforcing the intention of companies to step up their investment spending in Australia, demonstrating their confidence in the stability that is now being produced by lower inflation.
Led by the strong performance of wool, wheat, beef and the improvement in mineral prices, our January trade surplus in seasonally adjusted terms was the best for 13 months. Exports are now growing at a significantly faster rate than imports. In recent years Australia has fallen behind in the export race. The Government is determined to restore our position. Only this week, I was responsible for implementing the ‘Export Now’ campaign to try to make people more aware that if this country is to continue to improve its living standards and general well-being it must earn its way in the world by selling more goods and services. I appreciate that this is a bipartisan attitude. I am appreciative of the support from the trade union movement and the Labor Party in at least participating in what I believe to be a matter of great national importance; that is to try to engender a greater awareness of and respect for the exporting industries of this nation.
Growing consumer confidence has been reflected by the recent retail sales figures. In December they increased by 4.4 per cent in seasonally adjusted terms, the highest monthly increase on record. Housing purchases are also picking up. In December approvals to build new private dwellings rose by 6 per cent while the level of bank and building society loans for housing has never been higher. Only yesterday I had discussions with the Metal Trades Industry Association. It gave me details of a major survey which indicated that employment in the metal trades industry was increasing. Of the 178 companies surveyed, one-third said that employment had increased since last December. These factors ensure that we will leave the 1970s in a strong position to take full advantage of the opportunities and challenges facing us in the last 20 years of this century- a position we could not have contemplated three years ago when we inherited such a mess from the Australian Labor Party.
The underlying factors determining prosperity have been set on the right course. Inflation is down; investment has picked up; company profits are improving; our rural and mining industries are leading a resurgence in exports; and in the economy generally there is strong evidence of growing consumer confidence. The way back to full-time job opportunities for all those who seek them can be found only by getting these factors back into proper balance. I have been greatly encouraged by announcements in recent weeks such as the decision by ICI Australia Ltd, to spend $900m on expansion in Victoria and New South Wales; the intention of General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd to spend $2 10m on a new engine plant; the $20m contract recently signed by a Melbourne company to supply prefabricated motel units to China; the $18m expansion to the Brisbane refinery by the Ampol company; and the possibility that the PekoWallsend smelter at Tennant Creek will be re-opened.
These companies, by committing themselves to these projects are showing in a very positive way that they believe in our policies and that they feel secure in making these big decisions. Those are just some of them. The Prime Minister mentioned a host of others in his statement to the nation today. What is quite clear is that our poh.cies are working. There must be no complacency and no change in the attitudes we have taken. To get back on to the expenditure hike that the Labor Party is proposing would boost inflation and undermine the very sound and healthy state of the Australian economy today.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a statement today on the state of the nation. It dealt mostly with the economy. The economy is of vital importance to the people of this country. But today we are faced with an international crisis on a par with the Cuban crisis of 1962. The gravity of this crisis demands our attention now. I believe that the attitude of the Government to date has been appalling. The China- Vietnam conflict can threaten millions of lives not only in this region but also in other parts of the world. The Prime Minister has spoken of the volatility of the international situation. He has spoken of the need for Australia to exercise an influence in reducing global tensions, especially in. our region. No one in this House would disagree with that statement as far as it goes. But the statement made today by the Prime Minister of Australia at a very critical time of dangerous conflict between major countries in our region does not go far enough.
The reality behind the rhetoric is that Australia has to date gone too far in this conflict. Australia’s position has been too crude, too rash, too dangerous and too uncaring. The Fraser Government has not shown prudence in the course of the present conflict. The Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon governments did not show prudence in the historical period that led up to the present conflict. Those governments did not understand the human suffering to which they contributed in the past. The Fraser Government does not understand the suffering of the people of China, the people of Vietnam and the people of Kampuchea today. It does not understand the potential human suffering of the people of our region and of the world if the present conflict escalates to a global nuclear war.
It is important to examine the worsening state of the Australian economy under the Fraser Government. We should not be distracted from the increasing hardships being forced on to the low and middle income earners and the unemployed by the deliberate policies of this Government. But at this critical time we need to examine the deterioration of international relations in our region. We need to face up to the human suffering that is now occurring and is likely to occur. The major threat to peace underpins anything else that we might try to achieve. It is necessary for me to say now, before going into detail, that the Australian Government’s recent statements and actions concerning the crisis in Indo-China have been mere echoes of the statements made by the United States Government. The nature of Australia’s overtures to the present Chinese leadership have been motivated by opportunism in the search of lucrative markets for the big private corporations.
It is necessary for me to say, because this Government does not reveal it, that the nature of Australia’s economic relations with the countries in our region largely determines the shape of the Australian economy. The companies in Australia which can grow big enough at the expense of the smaller firms to specialise their production for export in tandem with the same big companies operating in other countries in our regional production Une are, in a way, responsible for our present economic crisis. Most of those companies are foreign controlled. Many are transnational companies. Many introduce labour displacing and labour degrading technology. Many pollute our environment. Many send a large bulk of their profits overseas. Many manipulate our tariff walls and engage in transfer pricing arrangements with their subsidiaries in other countries. Many play off workers in one country against workers in another country. We have to realise that it is not just Australia which trades with Singapore or the Philippines. It is IBM which trades with IBM, Unilever which trades with Unilever and General Motors which trades with General Motors while the worker in Singapore, the Philippines and Australia compete with each other.
The problem of unemployment, the worsening balance of payments and the increasing polarisation in our society are caught in the nature of corporate industrial development in our region. As many of those corporations are owned in America, Britain, Japan and West Germany the future of Australia’s economic development is largely determined overseas. Australia’s changing economic structure then is not irrelevant to the Australian Government’s support of the foreign and defence policies of the United States which itself represents the interests of big American corporations in the region. It is in this light that we need to examine the role that the Australian Government has played in relation to events in Indo-China. I am concerned that the complexity of the issues surrounding the recent conflicts in Vietnam and Kampuchea have not been properly addressed in this House. I am concerned that lines will be too crudely drawn without an adequate grasp of the history of the conflicts. I am concerned that the Prime Minister’s statement about those conflicts in this House has been empty.
We need to recall the enormous struggles of the Chinese people over many years against occupying foreign exploiting nations and their struggles over many years to feed their massive population, develop mass literacy and progress towards industrial and agricultural development. They have made great achievements. Of course we should give praise to the Chinese people. I have had a long friendship with the people of China. I visited China in 1960 and in 1976. 1 saw at first hand the tremendous gains the people had made in that country. But now I must say that I am disturbed at the recent developments under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. We need to recall the enormous struggles of the Vietnamese people over many years first against
France, then Japan, then France again and then of course later the United States and our own Australian troops. We need to be reminded of the massive destruction brought on that country’s cultivated land, its factories, schools and bridges in a 30-year struggle that occurred there.
Let me be more specific. In North Vietnam the six largest cities were bombed and there was terrible destruction in that country. In the south, apart from the enormous loss of human lives there were one and a half million war casualties, more than 800,000 children left as orphans, half a million invalids, 500,000 prostitutes- whom the United States forces helped to create- and 3 million people illiterate. The Vietnamese have suffered over the 30 years of wars. Even since 1975 the recent monsoons have inundated the main rice production areas of the Mekong Delta. The task of re-uniting the war based economy in the north with the shell of a neo-colony in the south is immense.
South Vietnam was largely dependent on American economic aid. Most of this aid came in the form of consumer goods. As a result the standard of living of the upper and middle classes in the southern cities was far higher than that normally found in most underdeveloped countries, especially those at war. In 1975 all American aid ceased. Vietnam was left with a problem of supporting the southern population previously dependent on enormous economic aid from the United States and imported consumer goods. The ability of the Vietnam Government to absorb those problems is limited by the lack of assistance it received from other countries except of course the Soviet Union and some socialist countries. France, Sweden and Japan were the main contributors from the Western world. No other countries gave any substantial aid. Australia withdrew its reconstruction aid as some petty rebuke over Kampuchea. For all the huge sums spent by the United States in the war against the Vietnamese people- it was spending $35,000m a year on war- the United States has not met its commitments in peace. It has given no economic assistance to the reconstruction and reparation of that country in spite of President Nixon’s commitment in his letter to Premier Pham Van Dong to make $6,000m reparation available.
Vietnam has been driven into a position in which it has to rely more and more on the Soviet camp for its economic aid. As honourable members know Vietnam was driven to join the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance to maintain economic aid and at the same time to maintain its independence. It also joined the International Bank. Even though the Americans tried to stop any aid going to Vietnam, against the American protests, Vietnam was given $90m from the International Bank. This situation locks Vietnam into an international relationship it does not necessarily want and restricts its ability to remain independent. Current levels of assistance are insufficient to allow Vietnam properly to cope with its problems.
I am not saying any of this to condone or support the role of Vietnam in the recent events in Kampuchea. I am clearly of the view that every nation has the right to determine its own affairs by its people internally and should not receive external pressures of military forces. I am saying this merely to point out how Vietnam’s options have been gradually shut off. Australia’s action in withdrawing aid closed off another door for the Vietnamese. Such an action effectively serves to aggravate the already explosive situation.
I believe that Vietnam is striving to remain a genuinely independent nation. That is what it fought for over 30 years. We should not act with this level of stupidity to drive Vietnam away from that independent position. It could become the Yugoslavia of Asia if it were given enlightened support of the people of the Western world. But now I fear for the future of the Vietnamese people. Vietnam has been excluded from integration into the world’s financial system and forced into Comecon. It had no option but to sign a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. We have some evidence of the sharpening of the differences within the Vietnamese leadership as the links with the Soviet Union are bound tighter and tighter. If that happens it is because of our own acts of stupidity in the past. I am asking rational people in Australia’s interests to see that Vietnam remains an independent country and that we do not drive it into any bloc. We should do our utmost in this direction. The antagonisms during 1978 deepened as the links of struggle were drawn across the rivalries of the Chinese and the Russians. In July Vietnam openly broke with Peking and accused the Chinese of stirring up trouble amongst the ethnic Chinese in Vietnam. Antagonism in Kampuchea, and in the Vietnam border dispute, again was blamed on the Chinese. Conflicts on the China-Vietnam border again were stirred up over many questions, over the indigenous Chinese people in Vietnam whom we call the Hua people. The conflicts in Indo-China are complex. They are dangerous. We can only hinder a resolution if we isolate the countries genuinely striving for independence. Our role is to support an independent Vietnam and an independent Kampuchea. We should put our principles, we should put the welfare of the people in our region ahead of the demands of corporate trade.
I believe that we should take five major steps: Firstly, we should call for an immediate withdrawal of all Chinese forces from Vietnam and call on United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to avoid any action or statement that could provoke a further escalation or inhibit the resolution of the conflict. Secondly, we should call for the demilitarisation of the Vietnam-China border under international supervision. Thirdly, we should propose that the independence and sovereignty of Kampuchea should be guaranteed by international agreement and that the Kampuchean people be left to resolve their internal problems free of interference from China, Vietnam or any other outside forces. Fourthly, we should support the Vietnamese Government’s proposals for the resolution of all Indo-China border disputes by internationally supervised negotiations. Fifthly, we should restore reconstruction aid to Vietnam on a more adequate scale and undertake similar aid programs to Kampuchea and Laos.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Since this statement was made to the Parliament by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) earlier today, we have heard a tirade of personal abuse and criticism against him and against this Government which by adopting the correct economic approach to put this country back on its feet, has done more for Australia in the last three years, than most people imagined could be done. I think that is is very important to note that the tirade, issuing from honourable members on the opposite side of this chamber, came from members of an Australian Labor Party government which in three years- from 1972 to 1975 - presided over the greatest disaster this country has suffered.
Let us compare the situation when the Australian Labor Party came into office in 1972 with the situation faced in 1975 and early 1976 by the Fraser coalition Government when it was elected to office. The Labor Government inherited a very strong economy, a very slight inflation rate and a very small number of unemployed. It then proceeded to destroy a very happy country- a country whose prosperity had been built up over the years, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, by a lot of dedication and hard work. Labor deliberately fuelled inflation to destroy the savings of old people, the pensioners of our society and the disadvantaged people of Australia. The Labor Government deliberately set out to destroy the savings accumulated by those people who had worked hard for many years. It attacked the family unit. It did not want to see certain aspects of the family unit continue in our society. It created unrest. It created a degree of dissension amongst certain elements in our society. Most of all, it started a gigantic attack on the very heart of our society, the free enterprise system.
It continued that attack for the three years it was in power. In the last three years in opposition it has maintained that vitriolic attack on a group of people who have done so much to build Australia. Members of the Labor Party do not understand that unless a profit is made taxes cannot be imposed. The Labor Government bloated the public sector to the extent that even people who had been supporters of that party all their lives left the party. They no longer are involved with that organisation. It was an example of socialism gone mad. The Australian people realised what they had done wrong in the elections of 1972 and 1974. In December 1975, the people of Australia elected, with the biggest majority ever, the first Fraser Ministry. The first Fraser Government came into being. We inherited an economic mess and an economy in disaster. We had to make some extremely difficult decisions. We had to cut Government expansion in areas where we thought money was being wasted. We had to take pensioners and those people who are disadvantaged in our society out of the political football arena. We had to attack inflation. That became our first priority.
I should like to compare the value of the household dollar and the inflation rate at the time of the Labor Government with what has happened under this Government. In December 1972, the inflation rate was 4.5 per cent. Under Labor’s mismanagement, inflation reached a peak of 1 7.6 per cent. We have just entered 1 979. The figures available show that 1978 was a highly successful year; that the rate of inflation was 7.9 per cent. At the time the Labor Party came into government in December 1972 the inflation rate for home costs was 7.5 per cent. Under the expertise that that particular organisation- that socialist party, the Labor Party- gave to Australia, that figure rose to 23.2 per cent. The home cost spiral for 1978 under the Fraser Government administration was 5.9 per cent. Farm costs are another aspect which I think is important. In December 1972 the rate of inflation in farm costs was 7.5 per cent. Under Labor, that reached an all time high of 3 1 .9 per cent. We can reflect on the situation that last year that figure dropped dramatically to 7.4 per cent.
As we enter 1979, the second year of the second Fraser Ministry, we can look to the future. I think it is worth while to point out that one of the most important elements that is facing Australia is the degree of technological change with which we have to live. It took 10 years- between 1950 and 1960- for man to double his knowledge. Today, we are increasing our knowledge by 100 per cent every 2Vi years. Within a few years we will be increasing our knowledge by 100 per cent every three months.
In the main, this development has been brought about by what has happened in a number of very important and specific areas. In 1947 we had the dramatic development of the discovery of the transistor. The transistor was replaced in the early 1960 by a little unit called the microelectronic chip. On the tip of one’s finger, which is about the size of a microelectronic chip, one can fit about 100,000 transistors. The unit which would be about 4 inches by 6 inches by 8 inches in size can store some millions of units of electronic impulses. A similar storage unit a few years ago would have been a very large piece of equipment. In 1960, there were no sales of microelectronic chips in the world. This year sales of microelectronic chips will be worth $3 billion. It is estimated that, by the year 1985, sales will total $5 billion and by 1990 the figure will be about $10 billion. What does this mean to our society? If we take a very simple example and compare the degree of technology and advancement that we have achieved now in our society with the progress of the Wright Brothers, it means that the Wright Brothers would have been on the moon a week after they first started to fly.
I am pleased to note that there are some people in the Labor Party who realise that technology is not a bad thing, but rather is something of which we should not be afraid. We should grasp the technological advancements that man is making in these areas and utilise that to the benefit of all Australians. I should like to refer to some of the statements that have been made recently by Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and Mr Neil Batt, the newly elected President of the Australian Labor Party at a seminar on computers. They took a very different approach to that taken by some members of the Labor Party who reside in Canberra and who are members of the Opposition.
We are now facing a situation in this country where a positive export program has been adopted. As a result of this program I believe that Australian goods once more will spread across the face of this earth. I happened to be involved in a particular export program for a number of years until 1973 when the then government of the day, the Labor Party, decided to change around the whole export program because it said that Australian industries did not need the degree of assistance which was rendered to it at that particular time. I and a number of other people who had been exporting for a number of years had built up a degree of expertise. We employed a number of staff and enjoyed good communications with a number of people throughout the South Pacific area. After the Labor Government came into office we could no longer afford to continue to export Australian goods. Allied with what we then faced in the next few years with huge increases in wage costs, we found ourselves in a situation where it became no longer economically viable to export Australian goods.
I am pleased to see that in 1979 Labor leaders and trade unionists in this country are heeding the call of the people who will be their future employers. The business community of this country has been saying for some time that an increase in one man’s wages is another man’s job. Quite frankly, I am delighted to find that a number of people are starting to realise just exactly how true that statement is. We have a greater degree of company confidence than we have experienced previously. I note with interest some of the headings which appear in today’s Australian. I will name only a few of them. When one reads the financial sections of newspapers and one reads about the future of our country which is so important, one realises that confidence is starting to reappear because of increased profits. Some of these headings are: ‘Sims converts big loss to $2m profit’; ‘Wool broker doubles dividend, Winchcombe Carson Ltd’; ‘Acmil tops $6m in tough half; ‘Car parts group in strong recovery’. The Borg- Warner group in Australia is back in a profitable situation. That is just from the Australian newspaper of today’s date.
I refer to yesterday’s Brisbane Courier-Mail. Some of the headings are as follows: ‘Dividend rise by Perpetual’; ‘Union Carbide jumps after strong second’; .C - — Ltd increased net profit by 15.5 per cent’; ‘Santos in big leap. Santos Ltd more than doubled net profit from $2,379,000 to $4,788,000’; ‘RTV has solid lift. Rockhampton Television Ltd posted strong gains in revenue in the six months to December 31 1978’; ‘Big recovery by LNC. LNC Industries Ltd has added strength to its first quarter earnings recovery with a 77.2 per cent jump in net profit for the December half year period! ‘. That is the sort of thing that will build Australia. That is the sort of thing from which a government can gain revenue. By gaining revenue from those people, we come to the first stage, which is profit, and the second stage, which is employment. The increase in the last few months in the amount of increased productivity and in the amount of increased overtime being utilised by organisations has been quite dramatic, and as that lead time increases there will be a flow on then to employment. I am delighted to be associated with a particular statement brought down by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) today which gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we, as a government, have achieved, what we have done right, to look at the areas in a very positive manner to ensure that we continue those policies and at the same time express an involved degree of concern which we have had for some time on the unemployment problem.
Recently we heard some tirades, and yesterday I involved myself with the Minister concerned on a matter of public importance. However, the programs that this Government has brought down and utilised in the last three years were well chosen programs with expenditure of some $200m to assist into jobs over 400,000 people. At the same time we have a problem. As we have seen only recently in some newspaper articles there is still a problem- the Prime Minister referred to this today- in that there are people from various sections of the business community who are still saying that they cannot get people to work for them in jobs that they have vacant. I believe we should adopt a bipartisan approach. If people stopped playing politics with unemployment- I believe this Government has been very fair in its approach- and expressed a genuine approach for those people, and if the Opposition could take a very positive approach, many of the people who are not playing the game in that area could be assisted into a positive approach in relation to employment.
I believe there are a number of people in this country who at present would very much like to become involved in a job but who in some cases do not know how to go about it. A number of my colleagues and I on many occasions have spent hours out and about to ensure that we do get the type of communication which is necessary to get people into jobs. At this stage may I praise those people who are involved in the Community
Youth Support Scheme in my federal division of Brisbane. They are working in conjunction with the Commonwealth Employment Service. Unlike members of the Opposition who have seen fit to criticise the Commonwealth Employment Service, I take a very positive approach and compliment the Commonwealth Employment Service which has worked so ably and which has achieved so much in conjunction with my Community Youth Support Scheme people. They have achieved a very significant increase in the number of people who have obtained jobs in the 1978, 1977 and 1976 years. I look forward to a very positive and successful year. I want to see our inflation rate decreases even further, and I believe it will.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-On Wednesday, 21 February last, the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) asked me whether the Parliamentary Librarian had 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. He asked me to inform the House whether in fact any person had priority use of the Library over a member of Parliament. I gave an immediate reply stating that no person not a member or a senator could have priority over a member or senator. I have investigated the matter fully and have been advised that no such statement has ever been made to any member of Parliament by the Parliamentary Librarian. The rules of access to the resources of the Parliamentary Library have been laid down by the Presiding Officers and there can be no question of anybody other than senators and members or authorised persons acting on their behalf having access to the Library’s services.
I believe that the question arose out of a comment in a political newsletter relating to Mr Vincent Matthews. Mr Matthews is entitled to use the Library when acting on behalf and at the specific direction of a member.
-In addressing the Chair after Question Time today, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) questioned the accuracy of the Hansard report of a speech made by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) last night on a motion by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) concerning social security and repatriation benefits. Near the end of the speech of the honourable member for Franklin the Hansard report, at page 2 1 9, read:
There is a stupid looking fool. He can pick up the Bill.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh stated that a report of this part of the speech in the Sydney Morning Herald read:
There is your stupid looking Bill. You can have it.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh believed and said that he had taken a note at the time, that the Sydney Morning Herald report was correct.
I required the Principal Parliamentary Reporter to inquire into this matter and he has found that neither the Hansard report nor the Sydney Morning Herald report is completely correct. Honourable members will be aware that there was a considerable amount of noise in the chamber at the time and it is apparent that this has prevented both the Hansard and the Sydney Morning Herald reporters from hearing the honourable member for Franklin and the honourable member for Hindmarsh clearly. The Hansard reporter believed that the honourable member had said:
There is a stupid looking fool. He can pick up the Bill.
He reported him accordingly. That is what happened in Hansard. The copy was checked by a supervisor who, upon listening to a recording of the speech, also believed that the honourable member for Franklin had used the word ‘fool’ not ‘Bill’
After the matter had been raised by the honourable member for Hindmarsh this morning I required the Principal Parliamentary Reporter to examine the matter again. He listened to the recording further, several times, and it was checked by several senior members of the Hansard staff; all of whom considered that the word in question sounded more like ‘fool’ than Bill’. However, the Principal Parliamentary Reporter and his Deputy, upon listening to a master recording, agreed that the word used would have been ‘Bill’. The words actually used in the two sentences, as can be verified from a tape recording, were:
There is the stupid looking Bill. Take the Bill.
I am satisfied this is as near as possible as one can get to the words that were actually used. I have therefore directed the Principal Parliamentary Reporter to incorporate those words in the weekly edition of Hansard in place of those words now appearing.
The Principal Parliamentary Reporter has asked me to express his regret and that of his staff. I have told them that there is no need to express regret and that the House will understand that in the circumstances it was the House which, by its noise, prevented Hansard from properly recording the words.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
-I wish to address my remarks to that part of the speech delivered today by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) which referred to the economy. The basic message of this part of the Prime Minister’s speech was that there was cause for optimism, that things were getting better and that economic recovery was in sight. What an arrogant, unrepentant statement it really was. It contained no acknowledgement of failure. Reading the speech, one would never have known that this was the speech of a Prime Minister who has taken the country to the level at which there are half a million registered unemployed people. The statement contained no suggestion that he presided over an enormous intensification of economic recession. Rather, it contained this note of enormous optimism that things will get better and that economic recovery is with us.
I would like to quote the Prime Minister’s exact words on that point. He said:
There is a growing and justifiable mood of optimism about Australia ‘s economic prospects.
That is an utterly unreal statement to make when one looks at what the people in our country are feeling at the present time. The Bulletin of 13 February contained an article headed ‘The outlook is grim, most Australians think’. I will quote from the first paragraph of that article which states:
Of 19 nations surveyed by the international Gallup Poll, Australians are the most pessimistic regarding unemployment and industrial relations in 1979. Overall Australians are not expecting a better year this year. These are highlights of a world-wide ‘end of year survey’ conducted at the end of 1978.
The article then lists tables which deal with various topics such as unemployment, the difficulties ahead, and whether people expect things to get better in various countries around the world. Only 34 per cent of Australians expected that 1979 would be a better year as opposed to 57 per cent a year earlier. When questioned on unemployment, 70 per cent of
Australians expected more unemployment in 1979 compared to only 57 per cent who thought a year earlier that there would be more unemployment in the ensuing year. Of the 14 or 15 countries listed, the people of Australia were the most pessimistic about unemployment in 1979. That is what the people of Australia think about the prospects for this year. Under the heading of difficulties ahead’, the tables show that 58 per cent of Australians expect a year of economic difficulty. Only the people of France and the United States of America are more pessimistic. Just in terms of whether the Prime Minister is making comments which fit in with the mood of the electorate, it is quite clear that he is not.
Of course, it could be argued that nevertheless the Prime Minister is right and the people are wrong, that the Prime Minister’s assessments of what will happen in 1979 are really on the ball. Certainly, it would be good news for the whole nation if what he was saying were right, if economic recovery were about to occur. The basic question all of us in this nation must ask ourselves is: Can we believe the Prime Minister? The answer to that question must be a resounding no for two basic reasons: Firstly, this Prime Minister’s credibility has been totally shattered by a whole array of broken promises and false forecasts in the three and a bit years that he has been the Prime Minister of this country. I will allude quickly to some of the basic promises that have been broken and to some of the forecasts which have been proved to be untrue. In 1975, the basic promise was ‘jobs for all who want to work’. Instead, the Prime Minister has presided over a Government under which there have been increases in unemployment totalling 230,000 since he made that promise. ‘Unemployment to fall after February 1978 and keep falling’ was another promise. In fact, it has increased by 61,000. Within a couple of months of being in government the Prime Minister broke the promise made about support for wage indexation. We were told also that the Government would retain Medibank. We all know what has happened to that scheme. It has been demolished in all but name. We were also promised that there would be twice yearly adjustments of pensions. We all know what happened in respect of that promise. Only last night Government members reiterated their breach of promise in regard to this matter. The Government also stated that it would reduce interest rates by two per cent in twelve months from the time of the last election. In fact, we know that interest rates fell by only one per cent and the possibility is that they may now increase.
Certainly, there will be no reductions in interest rates in the near future.
There was also the fundamental promise at the last election to reduce taxes. We all know what happened in respect of that promise. It lasted for a few months and then we had an increase in taxes. We are all paying now one and a half cents in the dollar in the form of a tax surcharge. When this Prime Minister says that economic recovery is now getting under way, gives us this basic promise again, we must have grave doubts about it. Indeed, we must have grave doubts about anything he says, particularly in respect of economic recovery. Government members, and the Prime Minister in particular, have been saying that economic recovery was under way ever since they have been in office. They have been telling us that economic recovery is about to get under way when, in fact, we have seen the economy sinking deeper and deeper into recession. It is real Alice in Wonderland stuff.
Let me quote from the Budget Speech the then Treasurer, the present Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) delivered in 1976 when he introduced his first Budget. He said on 17 August 1976:
Recovery is now getting under way. The private sector is growing again and confidence is gradually returning.
These are the same words we are hearing now from the Prime Minister today two and a half years later and it still has not happened. What reason do we have to believe that economic recovery is any more likely to occur now than it was after those words were spoken by the then Treasurer in 1976. Of course, to be fair to the then Treasurer I must point out that he placed one rider on those comments about recovery. He said:
Restoring the economy is certain to be a protracted task. Before the election we said that it would take a full three year term.
The Government has had a full three year term and more and we have not seen any economic recovery. In my view, we are not likely to see any in the near future either. The Government and the Prime Minister in particular have no credibility in this area. In view of their record, an appropriate approach to take to any promise or forecast they make is to believe it when you see it. That is the view that the Australian people should take to this Government on its past record.
Another reason we cannot believe the Prime Minister and what he says today is that the facts do not support him. The facts and the indicators he has looked at simply do not support the attitude that he is now taking. Certainly there are some tentative, scattered, ambiguous signs of economic recovery. But overall, they do not amount to anything which justifies the kind of statements being made by the Prime Minister in respect of the certainty or guarantee of economic recovery. Retail sales are one indicator that the Prime Minister cited. He claimed that there had been a 4.4 per cent increase in retail sales in the month of December and that that was a sign of economic recovery. If we look at the figures for the December quarter and compare them to those for the September quarter, we see that there had been a real fall in retail sales. The Australian Government Statistician has warned that in respect of retail sales figures it is dangerous to take the figures for one month as an indicator. So there we have one indicator, a key one used by the Prime Minister, which is clearly mighty ambiguous, to put it at best.
The Prime Minister claimed that housing and building approvals- private dwelling approvals- have increased substantially in the December quarter. They certainly have increased, but at the same time building commencements have fallen. The level of building approvals was the same as it was a year ago and below the level of two years ago. Building commencements in the December quarter fell by 3.7 per cent and were at their lowest level since mid- 1976. The Prime Minister says that private investment is growing strongly but today’s statistics on new capital expenditure by private enterprise do not support that claim. They show that new capital expenditure in the first six months of 1979- that which is expected- will be 4.3 per cent below that of the last six months in money terms. In real terms, the increase will be greater. Where is this great evidence of confidence by private industry in respect of private investment expectations? It is just not there.
The Prime Minister says that manufacturing employment has commenced to grow. But all he can point to is a rise of 9,200 positions or a 0.8 per cent increase in the number of persons employed in manufacturing industry between September and November. This is utterly insignificant compared to what has happened since he has been in office. Since the Government headed by the Prime Minister has been in office, between January 1976 and November 1978- the period for which the latest figures are availablethe total number of employed wage and salary earners has decreased by 2,700. In private enterprise, the figure has reduced 78,600 and in manufacturing it has decreased by 78,000.
Therefore, the figures to which the Prime Minister points are extraordinarily insignificant compared to what has happened while his Government has been in office.
The Prime Minister has stated that Australia ‘s external trade position is improving. But the comparison between the first seven months of 1978-79- the current financial year- and the same period last year shows that our external trading position has declined dramatically. Exports for the seven months to January 1979 were 8.9 per cent up on the same period for the previous year but imports were up 19.6 per cent. So the balance of trade fell alarmingly from a positive balance of $638m to only $4m in that one year. That has meant that we had almost a doubling of the deficit on current account in that period. How can the Prime Minister point to these figures in any way and say that they indicate some sort of improvement on external account. The improvement is just not there.
The Prime Minister said that this figure is a positive indicator that inflation is falling, but there has not been any improvement on the inflation front for the past year. For the last four quarters the figures have been around 8 per cent, just above or just below. There has been no improvement and there is likely to be no improvement in the near future either because of the increase in food prices- a 2 per cent increase was announced today for the month of January- and the fact that this Government has stupidly and ridiculously locked Australia into a crude oil policy which prices all Australian produced oil at import parity. With import parity prices skyrocketing, with a 14 per cent increase guaranteed for this year and further increases almost certain because of what has happened in Iran, higher prices will feed into the Australian economy and be a mighty inflationary factor in the current calendar year. So inflation will not be something the Prime Minister will be able to point to as a positive factor either.
Apart from all these figures, the Prime Minister ignored the unfavourable indicators. He did not talk about vehicle sales. In December 1978 they were 7 per cent below the December figure for 1977 despite the fact that the last Budget contained a cut in sales tax to stimulate sales of motor vehicles. That does not seem to be working. He totally ignored the September quarter national accounts, the last figures available, which showed that gross non-farm product fell by 0.1 per cent over the previous quarter. There has been a reduction in gross non-farm product; yet we are supposed to be getting a 4 per cent increase in output this financial year. On those figures it certainly will not happen.
The Prime Minister ignored also factors now acting to retract economic growth. He totally ignored the fact that his policies will ensure that in the second half of this financial year things will be much less favourable than they were in the first half. The income tax surcharge is one of those factors. It is taking $560m off Australian taxpayers as from last November. That will diminish their purchasing power, reduce demand and make it less possible for us to get economic growth and economic recovery. Let me also mention the current tightening of credit. The money supply has been increasing faster than the Government budgeted for so the Government is now putting the squeeze on. We have had two calls to statutory reserve deposits in the past month and a half and the trading banks have been told that they have to tighten their lending to people because the Government wants to restrict the rate of increase in the money supply.
Both the credit factors and the taxation policies are acting to reduce and contract demand and therefore, prevent any economic recovery from occurring in the near future. The Government will snuff out any chance of the economic recovery which may have occurred, to some degree, had such policies not been implemented. This Government has not been able to achieve economic recovery because of the whole policy stance it has adopted. The policy stance of this Government has been one which has been characterised by the term ‘inflation first’; that is, we have to get inflation down first, grind the economy down with recessionary tactics, in the belief that that will bring about some spontaneous economic recovery. Well, will it? This has not happened overseas in countries such as Germany and Japan, where inflation has been reduced to 2 or 3 per cent. There the governments had to act to stimulate the economy by increasing public expenditure. It is not likely to happen here either.
What is happening is that we are paying enormous prices for the reduction in inflation. There has been a 230,000 increase in unemployment for a reduction in inflation of 4 per cent- from 12 per cent in the last 12 months of the Labor Government to 8 per cent in the last 12 months of this Government. That is what has occurred as a result of the Government’s policies. If the Government persists with that policy approach then presumably another 250,000 people will be put out of work in the next couple of years to reduce inflation by another 4 per cent. But we must ask ourselves whether these sorts of policies are the appropriate policies. Of course, they are not. Most Australians would overwhelmingly reject them now. They can see how hopeless and bad they are. They can see that they give no prospect of economic recovery, as the polls show. They are not likely to give economic recovery while the Government refuses to stimulate the economy.
Policies which are designed to stimulate the economy but which are not inflationary are available to the Government. They are the ones advocated by the current Opposition. The policies we have advocated involve stimulating the economy through increased government expenditure to some degree and reductions in taxation. Those policies would also enable us to reduce inflation, particularly by cutting indirect taxes, which through the wage indexation system, would have a further round of deflationary effects. These kinds of policies are the kinds of policies which this Government should be adopting. If it did, it could achieve economic recovery.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Killen) adjourned.
– by leave- I wish to inform the House that the Government has today decided to introduce export facilitation measures into the motor vehicle plan and that the minimum elements of an export facilitation scheme have been determined. As a consequence of this decision, General Motors-Holden’s Ltd will now proceed with its proposed new 4-cylinder engine complex in Victoria. Construction of this worldscale plant will involve expenditure of some $2 10m. Benefits of the project will include increased employment, lower costs to consumers, and a positive contribution towards the long term stability of the Australian automotive industry. The new plant is scheduled to produce 240,000 engines annually and, accounting for seasonal fluctuations, this will require a capacity of 300,000. About two-thirds of the plant’s output will be available for export to affiliated General Motors plants overseas, mainly to Europe.
In the last 12 months the Government has become convinced of the need for the Australian motor vehicle industry to become better integrated with the world industry and so enhance its longer term viability and competitiveness. This need became apparent from discussions which took place last year with industry representatives in Australia as well as from meetings which I had with leading motor industry figures overseas. These consultations were designed to explore industry thinking, both in Australia and overseas, as to likely trends in the 1980s and to provide a basis for early formulation of motor vehicle policy to apply after 1984, when the present arrangements were scheduled to expire.
It became apparent during 1978, however, that developments in the international motor vehicle scene were moving with such rapidity, in particular the world car concept, that investigation into the question of export facilitation needed to be accelerated and intensified. At the same time some of the vehicle builders put specific proposals to the Government for export facilitation measures in the present motor vehicle plan and these have been under examination. While these investigations were proceeding, GMH raised with Government its proposals to establish a world scale 4-cylinder engine plant and participate in the General Motors Corporation’s world car program. The ability of GMH to take advantage of the opportunity to enter into large scale engine exports was subject to the incorporation of export facilitation measures in the plan.
It is clear that the GMH proposal has been considered with the benefit of substantial prior examination of the broad issues within the Government, and discussions with interested parties at ministerial level over the past 12 months. Against this background the Government has decided on the following four elements of an export facilitation scheme. Firstly, provision is to be made in the motor vehicle manufacturing plan for export credits to be available to offset plan imports on a dollar for dollar basis, thereby generating additional by-law entitlements. Secondly, an effective scheme is to operate on and from 1 March, 1982. Thirdly, additional Plan by-law entitlements arising from export credits are to be available, on a dollarfordollar basis, to the extent of five local content percentage points in 1982, with subsequent increases to be determined after inquiry by the Industries Assistance Commission. Fourthly, the Government’s passenger motor vehicle assistance arrangements applying after 1 984 will provide no less favourable assistance to facilitate exports than is provided by the export credit provisions which are introduced into the current Motor Vehicle Plan.
These minimum elements have been determined following detailed consideration of the proposals originally put forward by GMH. Those proposals would have required of the Government that a scheme be introduced, starting on 1 January 1981, with no limit on export credits. In its consideration of the proposal, and in discussions with GMH, the Government has been concerned to ensure that this important development opportunity is not lost to Australia and that, at the same time, the interests of all sectors of the industry are taken into account. I might say that these discussions have resulted in considerable changes being made to the proposal originally put to the Government.
With regard to the latter consideration, we are, of course, very much aware of concerns expressed by specialist component suppliers and I point out that they will have a further opportunity to fully present their views through the Industries Assistance Commission inquiry process. In the course of the next few weeks a reference will be sent to the Industries Assistance Commission seeking-
A number of important details of the scheme remain to be resolved, for example: Whether both Plan participants and component manufacturers should participate in the scheme; whether any part of the level of exports achieved prior to introduction of the scheme should be eligible to earn export credits; the extent of product coverage, both of exports and imports; and subsequent increases in by-law entitlement arising from export credits beyond the five per cent local content percentage points in 1982.
Decisions on these significant matters will clearly affect the nature and timing of the impact of the scheme on various companies and sectors within the automotive industry. Vehicle builders, component suppliers, trade unions and other interested parties will have a full opportunity to express their views on these issues at the IAC’s inquiry before decisions are taken by the Government.
The Government has not taken lightly its decisions to make a change in the present Motor Vehicle Plan. There is, however, a fundamental difference between introducing a change which is desirable and necessary in the national interest as against changes designed to relieve individual companies of their commitments under the Plan.
The Government, for its part, is convinced that, given the small domestic market for motor vehicles in Australia, the only real and effective way that the industry can improve its cost structure is through closer integration with the world industry and, of course, the export opportunities that this will provide. International developments involving the production of world cars are providing major export opportunities which Australia cannot afford to let slip and which must be grasped now. Greater integration with the world industry will lead over time to changes in the pattern of component production in Australia, particularly in the direction of increased specialisation and could lead to a reduction in the range of components presently produced. I believe that this will be necessary if the industry as a whole is to develop along sound lines in the future. A viable component sector cannot be maintained in the longer term if the products of the vehicle builders are to become increasingly uncompetitive.
The Government is well aware that in some quarters there is concern about the possible employment consequences of this action. It has given very careful consideration to this particular aspect, especially in view of the reductions in overall employment levels that, on the best advice available, can be expected in future years in any case, as new technologies and the need to contain production costs lead to greater concentration on capital-intensive activities. The Government is convinced, however, that the measures that it has now determined will result in greater work security for more employees than would otherwise be the case. Employment prospects in the automotive industry are directly linked to its health and viability; the more uncompetitive the industry and its products become, the more its ability to employ is jeopardised.
– You have no evidence for that statement.
– If the honourable gentleman who continues to interject knows anything about the automotive industry -
– I know more than you do.
– And well he ought, because I understand that there is a major company directly represented in his electorate. He might do some solid research to provide the thinking that clearly he needs at the present time.
– I rise on a point of order. The Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) says that I should do some research. His Department cannot provide backup figures for his own statements.
-There is no point of order. I call the Minister.
– It is a confidence trick. He went to Detroit and was sold out by General Motors.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! I ask the honourable member for Corio to remain silent.
– The Government’s initiatives will enhance the industry’s ability to offer more secure employment prospects for its work force and I commend this statement to the House. I present the following paper:
Motor Vehicle Plan- Ministerial Statement, 22 February 1979.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hayden) adjourned.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
– I present the sixth report of the Publications Committee.
Report- by leave- adopted.
– I would not like it to be thought that charity was lacking altogether in political conflict. Therefore, I would seek to sum up the speech of my friend the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). Since he spoke the debate has been interrupted by, may I say, two agreeable punctuations, the contributions of my honourable friend from Macquarie (Mr Gillard) and that of my ministerial colleague. As I listened to the honourable member for Gellibrand- and here comes the summation- one could sum up his speech by saying that, in his view, the country is going to the dogs. I think that would be a fair summation of my honourable friend’s speech. If that were the case I would have thought that there would be some obligation upon the honourable gentleman to explain why it is that in Australia today there exist, for example in the one field of mineral exploration and exploitation, firm commitments for expenditures totalling some $4,000m.
– A mere bagatelle.
– The honourable member for Robertson says: ‘A mere bagatelle’. Does he not illustrate splendidly the sense of profligacy of the Labor Party. The Labor Party considers $4000m a mere bagatelle. ICI Australia Ltd and General Motors-Holden’s Ltd have announced plans for further expansion. We have also been told of the alumina project at Gladstone, the Alcoa alumina project and the Ranger uranium project. It seems to me, as I look upon the Labor Party- what is left of it- that there is some division whether it should go ahead, stop or retreat. Some 143 oil exploration wells are to be drilled this year. I would not have thought that that was lively evidence that the country is going to the dogs.
We have heard no lamentation from my friend, the distinguished Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran about New South Wales going to the dogs. I thought his last election campaign was waged on a statement of confidencegrowing confidence, great confidence, continuing confidence. I would have thought that at least the honourable member for Gellibrand would have paid some heed to what his distinguished leader had to say about the Australian economy. Only a few days ago the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) said, albeit in a rather muted way: Things are improving’. Which version are we to take tonight? Should we accept the version of the Leader of the Opposition or that of the honourable member for Gellibrand? Exports were up 1 7 per cent in the three months to January 1979 over the previous three months.
The honourable member for Gellibrand said that he turned to the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to talk about the economy. I would have thought, speaking for myself, that the last thing in the world the Labor Party would have spoken about was the economy. Members of the Labor Party in their three years in office distinguished themselves in the political history of Australia as a collection of runaways. I do not say that with any heat at all. There was runaway inflation and runaway expenditure. They also ran away from responsibility. They said: ‘Never mind the cost. Get the printing presses going, boys; that is all you need. ‘ At the time when the Labor Party went out of office the consumer price index for the last yearand let not this country forget it- was of the order of 17.5 percent.
I have come to give some illustration of the lively sense of fiscal responsibility of the Labor Party. In 1973-74 the deficit was a mere $292m. Then came the Labor Party’s Budget of 1974-75 with an estimated deficit of $5 70m. What happened? The Labor Party managed to bump the deficit up to $2,567m. That is odds of five to one- even more grand odds than Ladbroke would give me. Then we had the Budget of the now Leader of the Opposition. He estimated his deficit at $2,798m. Before the Labor Party was nudged from office- I put that as gently as I can- the deficit was $3,586m and was heading hell bent for $4,500m. I only hope that the honourable member for Gellibrand and his colleagues, and in particular the Leader of the Opposition, never take to turf tipping because they will impoverish us all.
I did not intend to participate in this debate at all but the Prime Minister during the course of his speech made what I thought were some very quiet, considered and non-contentious remarks on the matter of defence. Shorn of polemics there was nothing in it at all. It drew from the Leader of the Opposition what I can only describe as being an impossibly choleric display. He did not like it all. Really and truly, the moaning of it! The world has not heard such moaning since Emperor Hadrian said farewell to his soulpallid, cheerless and forlorn. I thought to myself that if that is to be the form, if the Leader of the Opposition is to talk about defence in that way, I should say something about it. I thought his speech was not merely ungenerous but dashed with massive accuracy! I do not know who prepared the part of his speech on defence for him, but, if I may, let me use an old homely expression: If the person who did the research did it for me I would give him one right up the bracket.
The major complaint of the honourable gentleman is that there has been some departure from the White Paper. I have already admitted that. There is nothing remarkable about that at all. I made that admission in this House in October last year and I subsequently added to it. My honourable friend found it convenient this afternoon to ignore what appeared in the White Paper of November 1976- some years ago. After I had mentioned the commitment of $12,000m-odd over a period of five years, I used these words:
These broad provisional allocations are subject to review and adjustment according to actual timing of project developments, Budget considerations and the circumstances prevailing at the time that major decisions need to be taken.
The honourable gentleman was saying to the House and to the country this afternoon that of all the departments of State in existence the Department of Defence can be considered in isolation. I say to the honourable gentleman that that is not real life and that, if the policies of the Labor Party had been pursued, the country’s economy would have been ruined and the prospects for sound defence planning would have been ruined with that ruination. There is no getting away from that.
I seek to remind the honourable gentleman who has aroused himself from torpor of what I had to say in October 1978. It is highly relevant. I said:
Two points are central to what I have to say today about the Defence appropriation . . .
Firstly, notwithstanding an overall Budget strategy calling for the most stringent economies throughout the public sector provision has been made for a defence outlay larger than any achieved since we withdrew from Vietnam.
The honourable gentleman did not produce one scrap of evidence to disturb that. I continued:
There was a crucial question to be addressed this year in framing the Defence budget, and it was this: Could we defer some of the defence development provisionally proposed for 1978-79, without there being a serious effect on the security which the defence program is designed to afford to the nation now and in the future? If we could, the nation would benefit in terms of the fight against inflation, of economic recovery and of international financial confidence.
The Government committed itself to precisely that program and, I would say, to the benefit of the nation and to the benefit of defence planning. If inflation had continued unabated at that rate, it would have made the whole vision of sensible defence planning absolutely one of tatters.
The honourable gentleman in his speech this afternoon became, I thought, heavily political. I began on a note of charity. I eschew politics. It upsets me no end. I was surprised when the honourable gentleman this afternoon thrust himself with a willingness into political conflict. I thought: How sad. That is not his usual form. But what took over the honourable gentleman this afternoon was his imagination. I have noted over a long period that he has a lively imagination. I thought he give it full rein this afternoon. His imagination took control of him. I would refer this statement, among others. Wanting to give a touch of verisimilitude to his observations about defence, he said this:
I speak not only in a general sense and from the analyses which one can carry out from resources available to anyone in this Parliament but also from the personal experience of having the largest air force base in Australia- Amberley- in my electorate. There is widespread dissension against and hostility towards the Government, not for any political reason . . .
The honourable member talks about hostility towards the Government. It so happens that at the last general election some 735 people voted at the Amberley polling booth and my honourable friend managed to get only 2 1 8 of the votes. I strongly suspect that he got at least 200 of them out of sympathy.
He then delivered a catalogue of most extraordinary statements. As my time has almost run out I will run through them quickly. I do not want to lacerate my honourable friend because I really am fond of him, but I do think he made some statements this afternoon that deserve putting into proper perspective. He said that the purchase of two guided missiles was announced by Labor. That is perfectly true, but there is a world of difference between announcing something and doing something about it. After all, were we not told in 1972 that inflation would be cured? The Labor Government did not merely ignore inflation; it managed to knock it up to 17.5 per cent. Some achievement! The purchase was announced in April 1974, but the order was placed by this Government in February 1976. The honourable gentleman also said that the construction of the Tobruk was announced by Labor. Well yes, it was announced by Labor in 1975 but the order was placed by this Government in 1977. The purchase of 12 Hercules aircraft was announced by Labor in 1975, but nothing was done about it. The order was placed by this Government in 1976. Referring to two ronnaissance aircraft, the honourable member said that the purchase was announced by Labor. That is quite untrue. It was announced by this Government in November 1976 and the order was placed promptly in the same month. Nothing, he said, has been done about the FI 1 1 in three and a little more years. That is quite incorrect.
So one could go on, point after point. But the point I am trying to make to the House is that the speech given by the honourable gentleman this afternoon in the field of defence was grossly inaccurate and grossly disconcerting to all responsible-minded Australians. I should have thought that in the matter of defence, the honourable gentleman would be better advised leaving the activities of the Australian Labor Party to the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) because he at least has taken the bother to inform himself as to the accuracy of the major issues.
-There was a time when the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) was a hard act to follow. It was a bit like coming on after a nude Raquel Welch. But these days it is quite different: It is more like following an aging matinee idol. He does not spoil a good story by sticking to the facts. He had a shot at the Australian Labor Party about deficits. I would remind the Minister for Defence that in the three years in which Labor was in office the deficits totalled $6.6 billion. If this Government manages to stick to its predictions for this financial year it will manage to top that figure, with $8.8 billion. As I said, the Minister forgot to mention that in his speech.
The Minister also criticised the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) for attacking this Government over its defence policies. I do not know whether the Minister was fortunate enough to see the program on northern defence the other night, but if he was able to see it he will recall the two tired old DC3s defending Australia. There was Biggies and Rockfist Rogan holding out hope of defending the north of Australia. I do not honestly know how the Minister had the gall to stand up in this chamber and defend his Government’s defence policy because after the program the other night, he must have been severely embarrassed. The last person in this House whom I would want to see embarrassed is my learned friend and colleague, the Minister for Defence, because despite his incompetence as a Minister, he is still the most popular member on the other side of the House.
One of the things that has been interesting in this debate has been the fact that we on this side of the House have been accused of playing politics. I am sure that listeners to this parliamentary broadcast and the nation as a whole would be absolutely appalled if the Labor Party were to be political about a statement that covers almost every political issue in the nation today, not to mention the world wide situation! Anyone who has any doubts about the fact that we are political- and we are not apologising for thatmight care to go through Hansard from 1973 to 1975 and read the speeches made two or three weeks after we were elected to office. In fact I can recall one member- I think it was the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett)getting up in this chamber and making the first speech in the Address-in-Reply debate and after 23 years of Liberal-Nationl Country Party government, spending 25 minutes abusing us for the state of the roads and the telephones in his electorate. That sort of denigration of the Labor Government never stopped right throughout the three years it was in office. Honourable members opposite were content to talk down the economy and to create fears in the minds of the Australian people, and in particular in the minds of the Australian employers and employees. They did so non-stop. One of the worst offenders was the Minister who made the statement this afternoon, the former Treasurer, the present Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch). Government members now have the gall to suggest that we on this side of the House should not criticise this Government for any of the things it is doing as regards employment, interest rates, pensions and so on because that is not playing the game; that is being political. Well I have news for them: This is a game called politics and we are going to tell the Australian people the facts and let them judge for themselves who is fit to govern.
However, I would like to get off politics and say that there were some matters in the statement on which there would be some agreement in the House. I think I speak for most people in this country today when I say that we are all desperately concerned about the situation that prevails in South East Asia and that we are appalled at the behaviour of all the parties who have been so outspoken in their demand for peace and the peaceful ways of solving things. First of all we have the country of Kampuchea whose record of treatment of its own people has been nothing short of appalling. If the reports coming out of Kampuchea are accurate, then the murdering of millions of its people puts it in the same category as Nazi Germany and the worst excesses of prewar Russia. Vietnam’s attack cannot be condoned. Finally there is China’s attack upon Vietnam. I have not heard the latest news, but it appears imminent that Russia will attack China. So we have the greatest threat to world peace and I do not know what we in Australia can do about it. I doubt very much that any of us seriously believe that Australia can influence the situation greatly. We can just hope and pray that somehow or other they will come to their senses before we are all thrown into another horrific war.
I now wish to comment on the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) concerning Namibia. I must say that I was pleased to hear that we are sending troops in the United Nations peace keeping force. In the context of southern Africa, I think it is very important that there is a peaceful transference of power and that the United Nations elections go ahead smoothly. I have just returned from 3lA weeks in South
Africa. As many honourable members on the other side of the House will know, some years ago I was an outspoken opponent and I still am an outspoken opponent, of the apartheid policy. I successfully opposed, as did a number of other people, the cricket tours in the early 1970s. I am hopeful that if there is a peaceful transfer of power in Namibia it might change the attitude of white South Africans towards their present apartheid policy. I will speak on that matter in greater detail at some later date when I hope to tell the House of some of the experiences and discussions I have had with leaders from all shades of politics, but at the moment I would just like to say that I think it is terribly important to have peace in that part of the world and for the new government, when it comes to power in Namibia, to be a moderate and democratic government which will allow various points of view and racial groups to integrate in a democratic society. If chaos does occur I. believe it will only harden further the attitude of white South Africans towards their present disastrous policies, if that is possible.
I turn now to the economic matters mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech. Having listed all the great successes of the Government, he said:
There is a growing and justifiable mood of optimism about Australia ‘s economic prospects.
I think that could be re-phrased to read that there is a growing and justifiable mood of confusion about Australia’s economic prospects’. The Prime Minister listed the good things that were happening and one of the things he mentioned was that the December retail figures showed a significant upturn. I hope that the Prime Minister is right but, having had considerable experience in the retail area, I must say that I was surprised at these figures when they were released, not because I was not hoping that they would be good but because I had been in contact with a number of people in the industry and every one of them to whom I spoke over a period of many weeks told me that his figures for the last quarter last year were down as were the figures of the big retail stores with the one exception upon which I will enlarge later. They said that, generally speaking, it had been a very poor and disappointing quarter.
We must then ask ourselves why it is that these figures came out so attractively. It is possible that they may have been revised downwards, as has happened previously, but I suspect that the real reason for the figures being up is that the major retail stores, upon finding that their figures were so depressingly down, decided to have large clearance sales prior to Christmas. If that is the case they may well have achieved a record turnover at a significant loss but they cannot go on doing that sort of thing for very long. This is my own assessment of the situation although I understand that a number of articles in the financial papers have suggested that if the figures are accurate they are very deceptive for the reasons I have just given. The situation is confusing because a few days ago we received news that there were record December quarter approvals for the housing industry but then a couple of days later we were told that it was the worst completed quarter since 1966. 1 noticed in the statement released at the time that the Department of Housing officials were said to be puzzled. Everyone is puzzled. What is happening in the housing industry? Approvals are booming and completions are down. Is it because plans are being approved by councils but finance is not being approved by banks? I do not know the answer but I must say that it is reasonable for people to be confused about what is happening when there are two such conflicting reports on a very vital industry. I am sure we would all agree that without a prosperous, thriving and growing housing industry there is very little likelihood of a significant upturn in other quarters.
We had inflation figures quoted today to indicate how successful the Government has been. Of course, when we were in government there was a great trick that used to be played by the media and the Government. If the increase in the consumer price index for the quarter had been 2.5 per cent and the accumulated increase in the consumer price index for the other three-quarters 8 per cent, it was said that the inflation rate was 10.5 per cent. However, if the figure had been 5 per cent the inflation rate was not said to be 13 per cent. The quarterly figure was multiplied by four to give an inflation rate of 20 per cent. That is the sort of juggling with statistics that has reduced the Government’s credibility to zero, but the Government is doing it again now. I believe that the inflation rate is 7.8 per cent, but if we used the mathematics which were used when we were in government, the inflation rate would be 9.2 per cent. Honourable members opposite should not talk to us about playing politics because we suffered this tactic being used by them non-stop throughout the whole three years we were in government.
The next question is: What level will inflation reach? There is a lot of evidence to show that inflation will certainly not decrease over the next 12 months and, though I hope that it does not, it may go even higher. My colleague and the Shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for
Gellibrand (Mr Willis), outlined a number of reasons in support of this contention. He referred to the oil crisis, beef prices and so on. I have noted how the Government takes credit for the bumper wheat crop and the beef prices. I have been here for nearly 10 years and find it marvellous that when there is a drought or when there are deflated prices overseas it is never the fault of the Liberal and Country Parties. When the rural sector is crook it is because of drought, world supply and demand and so on. However, when things are good, it seems that the Liberal and Country Parties are responsible for the rain or for the sun, and that they created the new boom in meat prices. The Government wants it both ways. When things are good it wants the credit, but when things are bad it wants to blame world economic conditions. It is absolutely priceless.
Of course, one would think that we were in the middle of a boom to listen to the Prime Minister, but there is one figure which puts the lie to the claim about the Government’s economic policies and that is that after 3V4 years of Fraserism we have nearly half a million people unemployed. The most disgraceful inference to be drawn from this speech by the Prime Minister was that some people were out of work through their own fault. If the Government and the Government members are going to continue making these statements they ought to produce evidence in support of them. The Government has juggled the figures and done away with seasonal adjustments of figures together with a whole range of things, but the fact is that there are half a million people in Australia or, to be more accurate, 493,000 out of work.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in his statement today referred to the level of resources investment in Australia and the improved primary production outlook. I might add, for the benefit of the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) who has just spoken, that he did not claim the credit for that. Nevertheless, he pointed out the facts. Much of the resource investment and primary production in Australia occurs in northern Australia, that part of the continent that lies north of the Tropic of Capricorn. That part of Australia comprises 40 per cent of the land mass of Australia yet, at the time of the 1976 census, it had less than 6 per cent of the population of Australia. It is a vast, largely underpopulated mass of country. Yet it has rapidly become an area of immense economic significance for Australia.
Let me dwell for a few moments on some of the things which are happening and which will happen in northern Australia. The mineral resources of the area are immense. Black coal comes from the Bowen Basin which is north of the Tropic of Capricorn in Queensland. Uranium is mined at Mary Kathleen in Queensland. Bauxite comes from Weipa in Queensland and Gove in the Northern Territory. Mt Isa in north-west Queensland is one of the world’s biggest copper producers. Tennant Creek looks as though it will gear up again on copper. Lead, zinc and silver also are mined at Mt Isa. There is a very large nickel refinery near Townsville that takes nickel from Greenvale in northern Queensland. Iron ore comes from the vast resources of the Hamersley region in north-western Australia. These vast deposits are now being worked and are producing for the benefit of Australia Unmined deposits are even greater. There is still more black coal in northern Queensland. There is natural gas and oil in the North West Shelf in Western Australia. The oil shale in Queensland could one day prove to be of immense benefit. Vast deposits of uranium are yet to be explored and tapped in Queensland and the Northern Territory. There is phosphate rock. Aluminium, of course, will become a great growth industry for the benefit of all Australians. The bauxite will come largely from Queensland and Western Australia. Iron ore is still not by any means fully developed or even tapped. It will prove to be considerably more important in Western Australia as the years go by.
I am not trying to load a speech such as this with statistics but Queensland ports in 1975-76 handled, in dollar value terms, just under 12 per cent of Australia’s exports. Added to that, the export income generated by Western Australia in almost four years since 1975-76 from its enormous iron ore deposits obviously means that the value of exports from northern Australia is much greater than 12 per cent of Australia’s processed total exports. That is the mineral side of the story. There is also the primary production side of the story which is extremely significant. Thirty-one per cent of beef production in Australia is carried out north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Nearly all of it is exported. Nearly three-quarters of Australia ‘s sugar is grown north of the Tropic of Capricorn in Queensland and 75 per cent to 78 per cent of Australia’s sugar is exported. Australia’s financial axis might well be the Sydney-Melbourne Une but, increasingly, greater economic importance is attaching to northern
Australia. The Australian community and the Commonwealth Government must become more aware of that economic importance. They must become more aware of the wealth generated for the benefit of all Australians and the need for governments to ensure that the quickening pace of development is maintained and, if possible, hastened.
Let us relate the growth in northern Australia to growth in numbers of people rather than minerals and primary production. I cite as an example my own city of Townsville. Over the past five to seven years that city has grown more rapidly than the growth centre of AlburyWodonga. That growth has occurred without massive financial assistance. Townsville now has a population of 105,000. It is the centre of a great decentralised part of Australia. Over time the Commonwealth Government has certainly taken initiatives of considerable benefit not just to northern Australia but to all the remote parts of Australia. It does us well to remember some of them. It seems easy to forget the fact that over the last few years there has been steady and very useful development of costly telecommunications servicing remote parts of Australia. In more recent years charges for telephone calls have been reduced significantly to the benefit of people living in remote parts of Australia, particularly northern Australia where the greatest distances have to be covered. The present Government has re-introduced the fuel price freight subsidy scheme which is working to the particular benefit of the vast empty areas of northern Australia. We have the expectation, the promise, that in the life of the present Parliament that scheme will be further implemented so as to subsidise completely the freight component in the retail price of petroleum products in remote parts of Australia. Bounties for phosphate and nitrogenous fertilisers continue under the present Government. These are of great assistance to the remoter primary production areas of the country. Northern Australia certainly benefits.
The present Government has introduced the Primary Industry Bank of Australia and extended the lending charter of the Development Bank. A further initiative of the present Government, which some Labor spokesmen during the 1977 election campaign said would be abolished, is the Decentralisation Advisory Board and the loans available from that source. The worth of that program should not be underestimated. For example, I can foreshadow that there are three enterprises in Townsville which have benefited or wil shortly benefit from that scheme to the tune of just over $300,000 with the expectation that the additional funding for industry development will employ about 30 extra people initially with growth prospects beyond that and multiplier effects in the community generally.
Given the economic importance to Australia of northern Australia we must recognise that mammoth problems remain. They are problems which the Government would do well to consider, not just for the benefit of northern Australia but for the benefit of all Australia. Transport is a continuing problem. Obviously long distances mean high freight costs. There may not be a great deal that can easily be done about that. If people live in those areas I suppose that they have to suffer some of the disadvantages. But the internal cost of air fares is a continuing canker. It is all very well to talk about reducing the cost of internal air fares for adding on to cheaper international air fares. What about giving some advantage to the longer haulage distances of normal domestic flights? We should forget about overseas flights and tourism. The reduction of transport costs is important to the continued economic development of the remote areas.
Roads are a continuing problem. For example, the Hightway No. 1 in north Queensland is in parts little better than a goat track. This year again, because of floods, roads have been cut for days by creeks which have flooded.
– Even weeks. Something has to be done about those roads, not just because they are needed in a particular area but because they are a vital part of the communication and transport network of the nation. They are necessary for the continued economic development of an area which is becoming increasingly more significant to Australia. It is time for a fresh look at the whole situation. The Burdekin Dam is another project which the State Government has now proposed to the Commonwealth Government for development. It might be said that this project is parochial but that is not so. The Burdekin Dam will possibly be the biggest single water storage in Australia. As a result of building that water storage Australia will develop greatly. Most, if not all, of that additional development sparked off by that water resource would be for export purposes, as the rest of the developments of the north are for export purposes.
The sugar industry bears some reference. Over the past 12 months we had the problem of trying to achieve a fair increase in the domestic retail price of sugar. That fair increase still has not been achieved. If the continuing confidence in and development of a string of towns along the north Queensland coast is to be maintained, it is urgent to give consideration to a fair and just domestic price increase for sugar.
I believe that the Commonwealth Government must take more care and have more consideration of its profile in the area of northern Australia. Townsville perhaps has benefited more than most other areas in that regard because Townsville has become a significant regional centre for Commonwealth departments dealing with taxation, employment, social security and other responsibilities. Nevertheless the Commonwealth profile has to be seen throughout the whole of northern Australia in a demonstrable fashion. One such way for this of course has been the construction of the new Commonwealth building for public servants in Townsville which, as I have described to this House in another speech, could be done on a lease and leaseback arrangement.
I return to one of the problems I mentioned earlier, that is, coastal surveillance of the north. I applaud the Government for the tremendous advances made in northern surveillance over the last 12 months. But we have a vast area of coastline there. It is a big country with too few people and there is much more yet that needs to be done in the area of northern surveillance. I shall continue to urge the Government to proceed with upgrading surveillance resources in the area with all possible speed. All that I have been talking about in relating the mammoth problems still remaining in northern Australia has not been on simplistic parochial lines; rather I have sought to highlight to this House the importance of the vast under-populated northern part of Australia to Australia as a whole.
I have also sought to highlight that many of the initiatives of this Government have been extremely useful and beneficial indeed. I have sought to highlight that northern Australia ‘s continuing capacity to earn foreign exchange now depends on the health and livelihood of northern Australia, to the benefit of the whole of Australia. I have sought to highlight that the welfare of Australia as a whole and Australia’s capacity to care for the social and welfare needs of her people increasingly will depend on the economic prosperity of northern Australia. Hence I make the point that there is a need for the Government perhaps to take a fresh look at northern Australia and, in view of its importance to the whole of Australia, to consider anew what further Government action is needed to promote its continued development.
– It is unusual at this time for the Parliament to be debating a statement such as it is now debating. It is very much an Address-in-Reply debate without the Governor-General having participated. That, for this Parliament, may be a benefit. I say that without any disrespect to the present GovernorGeneral. In a wide ranging, highly political and substantially inaccurate speech, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has sought to convey to the people of Australia an impression which I think it is at least doubtful that anyone privately would accept as having great relevance to existing conditions. The Prime Minister has set out the Government’s positions on foreign affairs, the Government’s assertions on defence and the economy and, as has been the case on almost every major occasion when the Prime Minister has spoken on these matters, he has told the nation that recovery is just around the corner.
All the evidence was that recovery had started in the first half of 1976. Despite the Prime Minister’s assertions- if one picks figures which are unrelated and applies them- the rate of inflation in the last quarter of the Labor Government was 2.4 per cent, based on official figures. The rate in the first quarter of the term of the present Government and every quarter since has been higher than that. The current figure is higher than that which was stated by the Prime Minister today. He does have problems with accuracy and he certainly has problems remembering what he said in the past. We had an instance of that in the Parliament in the last few days.
In the 1977 election campaign, he gave undertakings relating to taxation, pensions and interest rates- all very significant to most Australians. Despite his equivocation now, the Party which he led during that election campaign had no equivocation about what the Prime Minister was saying and what he meant. Every Australian will remember the statements repeated time and time again. He said: ‘We are the only Party that can reduce interest rates by 2 per cent’. Why would a home buyer not believe the Prime Minister at that stage? Two years had not been quite long enough to be alert to him. In view of the benefits which such a reduction of interest rates would mean for home purchasers- especially with the deposit gap and second mortgages involvedwhy would young couples or older couples spending a disproportionate amount of their incomes on meeting interest repayments not support the Government?
This is not a matter to be passed off by the Prime Minister saying: ‘Well, they misunderstood me’. The people did not misunderstand; they were deliberately misled. Equivocation at a later stage is no excuse. The promise was that his party was the only party that could reduce interest rates by 2 per cent. There was a promise to reduce income tax. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money was appropriated to the Liberal Party’s campaign in the 1977 election in order to fund the answering of telephone inquiries to taxation officials on the request of Liberal Party television advertisements which said: ‘Ring this number and we will tell you how much your tax reduction will be’. There was no equivocation. The advertisements said: ‘We will tell you’. Another advertisement showed a handful of $5 bills. The bills in the advertisement added up to $70; a damned lie it added up to in actual fact. The Prime Minister’s state of the nation message is not much better than those advertisements.
– Cut it out, Gordon.
-If I were the honourable member, I would be worried too. A person who stands for election on promises which are not met and which he does nothing to meet is as bad as the person who originally makes the false promises. Every honourable member opposite on every occasion during his election campaign repeated the policies of his Party, especially the most attractive parts, the parts which have now been repudiated by the Government.
– The policies never changed.
-A11 I can say is that the honourable gentleman has not had a look at his tax slip. He has certainly not seen the tax slips of any of the persons in his electorate whose incomes are relatively the same in total but whose take home pay is less because the Government’s tax changes have resulted in those people having less income after the tax has come out. It is an inverted sense of morality, to say the least.
– When did you have an interest in reducing tax?
– I did not seek election on a false promise. The other proposition of the Government- one which was plagiarised in the first place- is now a matter of public controversy because of the activities and possibly the consciences of one or two honourable members opposite, belated nevertheless. In the 1975 election campaign, it was stated that the Government would take pensions out of politics. The Government said that it would adjust pensions twice yearly in accordance with the movements in the consumer price index. In 1976 that election promise was fulfilled. It was legislated for and in the 1977 election campaign the promise was repeated. If the honourable member for EdenMonaro wants to see Liberal Party literature repeating that promise I am sure that people in his electorate have such literature in their archives and are waiting to present it to him at some stage. The facts are that the Government made a promise. At the first Budget following that promise it repudiated it. Pensioners are the least able in the community to defend themselves economically against sudden changes in their circumstances. They are the least able in the community to recover losses which are imposed on them by circumstances which are outside their control.
The Labor Party during its three years in office adjusted pensions twice yearly every year. It increased the rate of the age pension both in real and actual terms by 90 per cent for a married couple. In the three years prior to that we had a stop-start pension situation. At Christmas 1970 there was a campaign not unlike the present campaign in Australia because the Government had refused to adjust pensions at all. That was in 1 970 which is not long ago.
– When was that?
-For the benefit of the honourable member for Hotham, on my first night in this Parliament the right honourable Sir William McMahon, as he is now, read the Budget with the galleries of this House packed with pensioners waiting to find out whether they would get an increase of 2c, 3c or 4c from a benevolent Government. After spending money in all sorts of areas the right honourable gentleman who was then Treasurer, with the greatest sympathy for the pensioners present and for pensioners throughout Australia, said to the Parliament: ‘I have to announce that there are not sufficient funds to adjust pensions upward this year’. The pensioners received nothing. That happened on the first night I was a member of Parliament. It was not until after 1973 and the advent of the Labor Government that pensions became adjusted regularly and adjusted to a realistic proportion of the budgetary expenditure of the Government. They were not increased by enough but were increased by a damn sight more than they had been increased by other governments.
The Prime Minister’s message about the state of the nation is the message of a Prime Minister who is unable to go before the Australian people and honestly tell the facts. He blames other people regularly. He consistently shirks responsibility. The people would at least respect him if he went before them and said straight out: ‘The predictions which we made, the assessments which our experts made and the advice given by our advisers were wrong. Therefore, we cannot carry out those policies which we intended to cany out’. The Prime Minister said that he did not say those things. They are on the public record and are printed in black and white. They are available to anyone who can read and, despite the Government’s attacks on education, most Australians can read.
I should like to refer to another area. The Prime Minister made considerable comments about defence. This area concerns me because it is my responsibility on behalf of the Opposition. There are two areas on which I want to touch briefly at this stage. The Prime Minister made a statement relating to expenditure on capital equipment in 1 975. It was not a correct statement of fact. Nevertheless, the figure to which he referred concerning new capital equipment applied for the 1974-75 financial year. The Prime Minister said that the figure applied to new capital equipment for 1975. It is only a minor matter, but it is about in line with the Prime Minister’s usual accuracy. The facts are that between 1972 and 1975 capital expenditure in the defence area was low. It was low because during the period the Prime Minister was Minister for Defence, during the latter period of a previous LiberalNational Country Party Government in 1970 to 1972, a very low commitment to new capital equipment was made, with the result that the deliveries which had to be paid for did not fall due in that three-year period. In fact, the first major increase for capital costs- because of deliveriestook place in 1976, and they have been increasing since then because of the ordering and the procurement proposals which were inititated during the period Mr Barnard and Mr Morrison were Ministers for Defence. In fact, in the 1977-78 capital equipment purchases for defence, $220m worth of capital equipment purchases were in fact ordered prior to the present Government coming to office.
The fact is that one does not go to a supermarket to buy defence equipment. The procurement process takes a long time, as does the examination of the equipment. After the equipment is ordered it takes a long time before it is delivered. It takes a very long time for large commitments to come through in actual budgetary terms. The reflection is on the Prime Minister for his failure during the period he was Minister for Defence to maintain Australia’s capital purchasing program of defence materiels. That sag has in fact occurred again. In the five-year program announced in October 1976, expenditure was to be $ 1,200m. The program is now two years behind. Even if the $ 1,400m project is adopted it will represent in the next five years- and in the total seven-year period- a drop in real terms in capital equipment purchases of more than 10 per cent on the figure announced in 1976. 1 do not think the Prime Minister should be quite so cocky about that. I think that the matter is more serious than plucking a couple of irrelevant figures out of the air in order to justify his own failings in this area.
The other matter with which I want to deal briefly is the commitment of troops to Namibia. The Opposition does not oppose that commitment. That was said in this House when the announcement was made.
– Does it support it?
-The Opposition supported the proposition, but there have been reports- I think they are accurate reports- that there was opposition to the commitment by the Department of Defence. If so, I think it is important that the reasons for that opposition are made known to us, especially if those reasons have to do with the security or the capacity of the defence forces to carry out their likely functions in Australia and if their capabilities are in any way reduced by that commitment, or if the forces themselves are in any way likely to be placed in danger because of the structure of the force which is being committed. In both instances, I believe the Parliament is entitled to know why the defence establishment and, I presume, the Minister of Defence (Mr Killen) are concerned about this commitment. The commitment was made on a foreign affairs basis and was decided by Cabinet. I do not dispute Cabinet’s right to do that. But it is a commitment of the part of the defence forces. If the Department of Defence is concerned that that commitment will in some way affect its capabilities to perform the tasks for which it is responsible then I think the Parliament is entitled to know to what extent and under what circumstances the Government has decided that those risks are worth while. I think Parliament is entitled to know what the risks are and what arguments were put forward by the Department of Defence for not sending the force. I think just to get up and say ‘We are sending a force’, without telling the Parliament the real background, is wrong. I believe the Australian people are adult enough to be told things of this nature. The Government obviously has decided to send forces after considering the risks and the justifications. I believe that the Parliament and the people of Australia are entitled also to know the arguments advanced against the commitment, especially if those arguments relate to Australia ‘s security.
– It is depressing to come into this House and to listen to a continual barrage of complaints from the Opposition about the state of the economy, the unemployment level and about everything members opposite perceive to be wrong with this nation. It would be so much better if political requirements did not push them into a situation where they are obliged for some curious reason to be perpetual and continual knockers of this country. The facts, of course, do not sustain that knocking. It seems to me that there is a very real need for a statement like the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), which clearly sets out the realities of the situation, to be presented to the people of Australia so that the perpetual knocking will not serve to discourage Australians so that they will not invest, that they will not seek jobs and that they will not endeavour to get this country doing the things of which it is capable. The style of knocking is evident from the member for Corio (Mr Scholes) who has just resumed his seat. The perpetual cry that this Government undertook to take politics out of pensions and failed to do so as an allegation is clear nonsense. Pensions are still indexed automatically. They may not be indexed as frequently as pensioners and, for example, I would like to see, but the fact is that they are still indexed automatically. Every year pensioners do not have to depend upon political whim as they did under the previous Administration; they do not have to depend upon political whim to see what kind of rise they get; they get an automatic rise related to the full increase in the cost of living.
I remind members opposite that this is more than the workers of this nation get because they only receive what the Arbitration Commission judges they should receive in respect of indexation. In recent years the workers have not received full indexation. The pensioners of this nation receive full indexation. If that is not taking politics out of pensions then I would be interested to know what is. But no doubt in their enthusiasm to make pensioners into political footballs members opposite seek to return to the good old days when they could wave a pensioner around in order to score a political point. It is a despicable tactic. Even more to the point is the clear and indisputable fact that a pensioner is better off with annual, automatic indexation when the inflation rate is below 8 per cent than he was with half-yearly indexation when the inflation rate was up around Labor’s 17 per cent.
The mathematics are indisputable, but perhaps there is a genius opposite who can invent a few figures. It is within the general capacity of the Opposition to lie with statistics. The facts are that it can be proved by anyone who has even half a calculator that pensioners were worse off under Labor’s rapid and massive inflation rate when they got half-yearly adjustments. Pensions were not indexed then; they depended on the whim of the Government. Pensioners did not get much when they were not needed for an election but they got a lot when there was an election coming up.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman)Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member for Chifley is continually interrupting. He knows when he sits in this seat how difficult it is to allow a debate to flow and to give everybody a fair hearing. I would ask him to allow the honourable member for Macarthur a fair hearing.
– The simple fact, which I recognise the Labor Party would find very unpalatable, is that half-yearly adjustments, as was the Labor Party’s style, were massively more disadvantageous to pensioners than annual indexation when there is a low inflation rate. Loud voices, loud bellowing, loud mooing from across the way in a bovine manner does not diminish the reality of what I am saying -
– I have a point of order. The honourable member is being quite abusive to this side of the House about bovine and mooing and so on. If he would only answer a question -
-Order! Has the honourable member a point of order?
– These are questions regarding Patrick Partners-
-There is no substances to the point of order. I would suggest to the honourable member for Chifley, as a Deputy Chairman of Committees, that he knows what is a point of order. I would suggest that he does not raise frivolous points of order.
– That was not frivolous. I know points of order only too well and as a member of this House, when sitting in the House, I have the right to raise points of order. That remark was objectionable to me.
-The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I ask that it be withdrawn. It is objectionable to me.
-What is the remark?
– His remarks about bovine and all that.
-There is nothing objectionable in that remark. It is the normal practice of the House to allow those sorts of remarks to be made. The honourable member knows that as a Deputy Chairman of Committees and he should adapt himself and accept it.
– I will withdraw the word ‘bovine ‘. I have a high regard for cows.
-Order! Whilst I do not object to the word ‘bovine’ I do object to the word ‘coward’. I would ask the member to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw the word ‘cows’. I will use ‘my four-footed uddered friends’.
-I am informed that you said ‘cows’, not ‘coward’. You do not need to withdraw the word ‘ cows ‘.
– Then I restore the word ‘cows ‘. I may say that in my electorate I have many cows with more intelligence than the intelligence indicated by the behaviour opposite tonight.
I now discuss the question of employment that was raised by the Prime Minister. Continually we hear from the other side the word ‘unemployment’. It is extraordinary that no mention is made of the word ‘employment ‘ when the Opposition takes its allegedly fair, objective and reasonable view of what is happening in this economy. The Opposition’s obsession with knocking what is happening prevents it from seeing the reality, which is that there are 152,700 more people at work now in Australia than there were when Labor lost office in November 1975.
– How many?
-The figure is 152,700 as a result of the Government’s determined and sensible policy to restore the employment situation in Australia. The only reason unemployment has gone up and has gone up by 131,000 in that period is because of the substantial increase in the work force. This is a significant difference from what happened under Labor. When unemployment trebled in one year under Labor it was not simply because the number of people in the work force went up, it was because the number of jobs that were available went down. Under this Government the 283,000 people who have come into the work force have not been faced with a reduced number of jobs; on the contrary, Labor’s policy has been changed. There have been 152,700 more jobs available to them, leaving only 131,000 people who have newly come into the work force looking for jobs
Everyone recognises that that is unfortunate. We need to get more jobs for these new people who are looking for jobs but the fact is that there has been a dramatic improvement- that the Labor Party is not prepared to concede- in the number of people at work in Australia. We hear only about record unemployment from opposite. Let us hear about record employment. In this country there have never been as many people at work as there are now. We do not hear from the Opposition that there have been five consecutive months of improvement in employment in factories in Australia. We do not hear that overtime payments have been rushing ahead, have been consistently rising for the last seven months; we do not hear anything that is good. All that we hear is knocking, continual and offensive knocking, of what is happening in this nation.
In mentioning one of the main reasons why the work force has increased so much and why unemployment has gone up by 131,000, let us remind everyone that when Labor lost office in November 1975 there were 310,000 people unemployed. We do not hear the Labor Party offering up any great words of concern for the people whose jobs it lost for them; we do not hear great concern about the policies which the Labor Party introduced in those days which meant that thousands of people coming into the work force not only had to fight for the few jobs that were there but there were fewer jobs for them to fill. These policies have been reversed. The Australian people should recognise what this Government is doing about the serious question of unemployment. I admit that the expansion in the number of jobs available has not been fast enough to absorb all the new people coming into the work force. Who are these new people coming into the force? I am afraid we have a serious problem in this respect.
The participation rate- the number of Australians who want to work these days- is far more than ever before. About 62 per cent of the population now wants to work. That is particularly the case because so many married women feel they still have a lot to contribute and would like to be involved in working. I do not suggest that they should be criticised. All I want to do is point out the consequences of those personal decisions. They are that there has been a substantial increase in the number of young women finding it difficult to get jobs because those increasing numbers of jobs are being filled by married women. The facts are clear and certainly in my electorate a very interesting situation has developed. One imagines that Wollongong would be one of the worst unemployment areas in Australia. But in January unemployment in Wollongong actually fell compared to the unemployment level in the previous January. In the whole Wollongong district, which would include Warilla, unemployment actually fell in January. If this is not an indication of an improvement in the economy, I do not know what is. In Nowra in my electorate unemployment fell in January. The number of school leavers looking for jobs in January this year was about 25 per cent lower than the number of unemployed school leavers still looking for jobs in the previous year. Certainly, my electorate is a great one. Perhaps because it is such a good electorate it appears to have these -
– It is well represented, too.
– I thank the honourable member for his very perspicacious comment. The facts are that in many areas of New South Wales, and I imagine in other States, there are clear indications of improvement. The unemployment level actually fell in January compared with the level in January of the previous year. The whole thrust of what I am trying to say is that the only way to resolve the unemployment problem is to increase employment. That is exactly what this Government’s policies are doing.
For example, in Campbelltown, which I used to represent- unfortunately it is now part of the electorate of Werriwa- unemployment certainly increased a little and so it should in view of the massive increase in the population. But the fact is that the Commonwealth Employment Service office in Campbelltown placed 162 people in jobs in January compared with only 80 people in the previous January. This trend is evident in all the figures. In the four CES offices I have mentioned there was a reduction in unemployment of 566 males and an increase in unemployment of 376 females. This is where the problem will he in the future. There will not be an unemployment problem for males- because I believe that our policies are resolving the difficulties that existed in heavy industry. We are encouraging the expansion of industry. However, I believe that there are problems which we need to face in respect of unemployed women. The problems have emerged largely from the desire of so many women to participate in the work force. I will concede that at present our policies are not coping with that problem. But overall we are improving the employment situation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to raise a point of order. I understand that the Government wants to announce the resignation of a senior Cabinet Minister.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order. It is not the concern of the Chair.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Prime Minister from making a statement forthwith about the reported resignation of the Minister for Finance and the reason for that resignation.
It is necessary to move this motion tonight because the precincts of the Parliament are ablaze with rumours that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has resigned. The media is reporting this, particularly the radio and television media. It is further asserted that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is refusing to this point to accept that resignation. The basis of the reports is that the Minister has tendered his resignation on the ground that he can no longer serve -
– What the Leader of the Opposition is saying is obviously based on rumour. I move:
That the Leader of the Opposition be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I second the motion. The nation has been told this evening that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has resigned. This Parliament should be told the reason.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– What is happening to this Parliament? Why can it not get information? What are you afraid of?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! The House will come to order. I understand that the Leader of the House has moved that the question be now put.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the Deputy Leader of the Opposition be not further heard.
– The motion moved was that the question be now put, and it was out of order. The debate can continue. The nation is entided to know what has happened tonight. The Parliament is being denied.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to rule on the point of order.
– Has the Minister resigned or not?
– I ask the honourable member for Robertson to remain silent. The House will come to order. The Leader of the House erroneously moved that the question be now put. He has corrected himself and to be consistent with Standing Orders he has now moved that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition be not further heard. I will now put that question.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. This whole question can be resolved by the Minister saying yea or nay.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle is engaging in a frivolous point of order. I now put the question: ‘That the Deputy Leader of the Opposition be not further heard ‘.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put:
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Minister for Finance from making a statement about his reported resignation.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the honourable member for Blaxland be not further heard.
The House divided. (The Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I second the motion. The Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has an obligation to explain to the Parliament -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the honourable member for Gellibrand be not further heard.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member for Gellibrand will resume his seat.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the negative.
– I shall resume the debate on the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) concerning the state of the nation.
– Shall I move that the question be now put?
– We are debating the Prime Minister’s statement. The Minister for Primary Industry would be better advised sorting out his family company’s affairs rather than jumping up and down in this House moving the gag. It is very important that in this nation some regard should be paid by the Government to the principles and traditions of the Westminster system. There are certain basic factors in that system. One is that the Executive- the prime arm of governmenttakes the House into its confidence and deals with it frankly at all times. What has been taking place in this House for the last 20 minutes is not merely an abnegation of the traditions and a denial of the practices; it is a disgrace to this Parliament and to the people of Australia.
– I rise on a point of order. Would the honourable member for Melbourne Ports care to explain to the House the deal he made with the communist Left in Victoria which enabled him to get his seat when he got kicked out of the Parliament in Victoria.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! I caution the honourable member for Cunningham and the honourable member for Bendigo against such extravagant behaviour. If they persist I shall have to deal with them.
– The Prime Minister, in his statement, canvassed a wide range of issues which included the Government’s economic strategy, its attitude towards inflation and an important statement on foreign policy. The Prime Minister finished on the resounding note that not only does his Government have the confidence of the people of Australia but also that he of course has the confidence of all of his members. The behaviour of members opposite indicates the paramount truth of the rumour that is circulating around this House at the moment. It has nothing to do with what a great performance the Prime Minister gave and what a great speech he made. The one thing which is being discussed in Parliament at present and which will go into the headlines of the media is that a Minister of this Government has resigned. I am told by a prominent member of the Liberal Party that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has resigned.
-Order! The honourable member for Melbourne Ports will resume his seat for a moment. The level of conversation is far too high. The honourable member has the right to address the House in silence. I ask all other honourable members to remain silent.
– The Minister for Finance has resigned. No reason has been given, other than the speculative statement that he can no longer accept the dictatorial leadership of the Prime Minister. I do not know whether that is true. For all I know there might have been other pressures on the Minister for Finance. It has been suggested that internal factors might be operating in Queensland. I do not know whether that is true. I know what is true. If the Minister for Finance who is placed in this situation believes in the principles of this Parliament I will yield my right to speak to him so that he can make a clear and forthright statement to this House. I will do so now if he desires.
It is important that Ministers of the Crown do not come and go. Does anybody believe that in the middle of last night the Minister for Finance woke up with sweat falling off his brow and said: I do not like the way the Prime Minister behaves in Cabinet. I cannot really stand the attitude of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I am worried about employment. My goodness, what will I do? I think I will have to resign; yes, that is what I will do. I will go in and tell the Prime Minister that he is big, strong and brave but I can no longer serve under him. Here is my resignation’? Does anybody seriously believe that? Does anybody believe that, after looking at the history of this Government? The history of the Government shows that there has not been a Minister who has resigned of his own accord. Every Minister who has left the Ministry has had to be scraped of the front bench by the Prime Minister ‘s knife. That is the history of this Government.
Let us look at the facts. In 1976 the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications resigned after being charged with bribery during the 1975 election campaign. In 1977 the then Treasurer resigned after allegations of his involvement in a shonky land deal. I admit that in that case the honourable gentleman received a partial resurrection on the basis of a set of documents which have never been made public. This House was asked to accept an incredible set of standards. On that occasion the Treasurer went to his accountant and said: ‘ Will you prepare a list of my affairs and give them to my solicitor?’ The solicitor said: Thank you very much for all of the work you have given us in the past’.
-Order! The honourable gentleman is having some difficulty convincing me that his remarks are relevant to the question before the House. The House is debating a ministerial statement. The honourable member, with some reasonable latitude, is required to confine his remarks to the question before the House.
– I have done that, sir. I remind the House that in his statement today the Prime Minister, with all the earnestness with which we have learnt to love him said:
In the kind of world we are living in, it is all the more important for nations of good will -
I think that includes us- which have learnt the art of compromise through their own democratic processes . . .
It is those democratic processes and the art of compromise to which I am merely addressing my comments. The Prime Minister went on to say:
We on this side of the House are asking whether there was confrontation between the Minister for Finance and the Prime Minister or did the Minister for Finance, who is now the subject of substantial public speculation on the basis of his resignation, find himself involved in the Prime Minister’s concept of democratic processes. He did not really have the avenues of consensus and reconciliation available to him and certainly did not have the Prime Minister’s art of compromise. Therefore I ask: Was the knife planted, or did the Minister go of his own volition? When we look at the history of the Fraser Government we find that democratic processes do not fare very well at the hands of the Government.
As I pointed out, the former Treasurer received a partial resurrection on the basis of a set of standards which would be laughed out of any other Parliament in the Westminster system. Then came Senator Sheil, who must have been amongst the most short-lived Ministers of all time. He was sacked for outspoken apartheid attitudes. The former Minister for Administrative Services, a man who I much admire but I am bound to say because time is limited, was sacked for his part in manipulating electorates. Next the then Attorney-General resigned. At least the House was informed by the Attorney-General, as he then was, that he had resigned on a point of principle. One is entitled to ask what has happened when the Minister for Finance has resigned after a speech by the Prime Minister in which he elucidated his economic principles, his financial attitudes and his attitudes on a wide range of questions.
Surely it is legitimate to ask the Minister for Finance why he has resigned. I have already offered to sit down the minute he wants to speak. It is as simple as that. The Minister for Finance seems reluctant to move from the seat from which we are told he has resigned. If he has not resigned he ought to simply stand up and say so. If he has resigned the House and the people are entitled to know. If the Minister for Finance has resigned he can no longer associate himself with the economic policies of this Government. It is as simple as that. Every member of this House knows that there is incredible division within this Government in terms of its economic philosophy.
– What utter nonsense.
– There are the true blue supporters of the Prime Minister. It does not matter what he says, they will lick his boots in a servile way on the basis of possibly getting a promotion. There is no better exponent of that than the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier). I fully concede that this Government has a few loyal supporters, but one is entitled to point out that on an issue where the -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The remarks of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports are offensive to me. I did not lick anybody’s boots as he did with the communist Left in Victoria. That enabled him to change a safe State seat to a Federal seat. He is nothing but a Left Wing puppet.
-Order! The House will come to order. The Chair has previously cautioned certain members as to their behaviour. In this situation, notwithstanding the fact that the honourable member for Bendigo is under warning, I am prepared to allow that the term used by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports may have been sufficiently provocative to excuse the honourable member in part for his interruption. I call the honourable member for Melbourne Ports.
– Last night we had three members on the Government side say that because they had committed themselves to an electoral promise which the Prime Minister now disowns, they were prepared to cross the floor of the House to stand by the promises that they made to the electorate. The House is entitled to know whether it is a fact that the Minister for Finance is sick and tired of having his submissions on economic policy in Cabinet, his counterviews to the false economic philosophies of the Prime Minister, over-ridden and over-borne by a Prime Minister who does not heed any advice and who rejects his own electoral promises- a Prime Minister who can make a promise to the electorate in December and in June of the next year disavow it as if he never made it. The fact of the matter is this: This House is entitled to know, and the people of Australia are entitled to know, when a senior Minister resigns, whether it is just a personal act of folly or whether it is because the Prime Minister has found a set of circumstances which are so reprehensible that he can no longer have that Minister in his Cabinet and has therefore had to ask that Minister for his resignation. Is this not a suggestion that will undoubtedly be made? Or is it, as we on this side of the House believe, that this Government’s economic philosophies are so much in tatters that there are senior Ministers who, whatever the promises, whatever the favours, whatever the inducements -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to Standing Order 85 which states:
The Speaker, or the Chairman, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee to the conduct of a Member, who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments, or of the arguments used by other members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech:
In the circumstances, Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to direct the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to conclude his speech.
-Order! The Chair will determine the form of direction. I do not uphold the point of order. I call the honourable member for Melbourne Ports.
– I simply ask this: What is the state of the nation when the Minister for Finance resigns and will not say what he has done, when all the Ministers run for cover and the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) spends all his time trying to gag the Parliament? What is the state of the nation? If the Minister for Finance has resigned, surely the nation is entitled to be told: Well, at least here is a situation whereby there is one Minister who will no longer be over-borne, who will no longer be dictated to and who will no longer go along with an economic philosophy that is bringing untold misery to countless thousands of young and old Australians who are unemployed; a Minister who will no longer accept an economic philosophy that is dragging this nation into ruin as a result of the overweening ego and malevolence of the Prime Minister.
-We have heard a remarkably irrelevant speech from the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding). We are, I understand, debating the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) earlier today. Some of the points made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports might be of marginal importance to the nation. It seems to me that as we are living in a very dangerous age and in a very dangerous international situation what the honourable member was saying had some relevance, but it was the small stuff. Today the Prime Minister spoke on three major subjects. He talked about -
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable member for Leichhardt has said that the speech of the honourable member for Melbourne Ports was irrelevant. That in fact is a reflection on the Chair which ruled on a number of occasions that the speech was relevant. Mr Deputy Speaker, nothing could be more relevant to an economic statement on the state of the nation than the resignation of the Minister for Finance.
– If in fact the honourable member for Leichhardt made that statement, I was denied the opportunity of hearing it because of the excessive noise made by honourable members on my left. In any event, I do not consider the remarks of the honourable member for Leichhardt inconsistent with the Standing Orders. I call the honourable member for Leichhardt.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. There has been a lot of talk today about the economy. But no one has seen fit to talk very much about the tremendous happenings around the world in the last two weeks, their great import to Australia, and their effect on Australia and on the security of this nation.
– They couldn’t care less.
-No, honourable members opposite could not care less. They have never cared about the security of this nation.
I would like to speak about the defence of the nation. Recent events have shown the impossibility of forecasting into the internatonal scene. I have been involved in this field of foreign affairs and defence since 1942. 1 have been involved in a great number of interesting events, many of them the results of optimistic and disastrously wrong assessments made by politicians. I see the Prime Minister entering the chamber. I am reminded of Chamberlain coming in and waving his paper, saying: ‘Peace in our time ‘.
Opposition members- Oh!
-Order!The House will come to order. The honourable member for Leichhardt has the right to be heard in silence and I ask all honourable gentlemen to accord him that entitlement.
-In 1972 members of the then Government, the present Opposition, said that there was no threat to Australia for 1 5 years. I hope that those words are ashes in their mouths today. The situation in Iran is one of the most momentous things that has happened since the Second World War. It has put the free world in very great danger. The possibility of wider conflict in Asia and South East Asia must make us all pause and think about the importance of the situation. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- Mr Deputy Speaker, I inform the House that the honourable Eric Robinson, Minister for Finance, has submitted to me his resignation from the Ministry. I have accepted Mr Robinson’s resignation with very great regret. I shall be proposing to His Excellency the Governor-General tomorrow that Mr Robinson’s resignation be accepted and that the honourable John Howard be sworn in as Minister for Finance in addition to his portfolio as Treasurer. I shall give consideration in due course to a permanent appointment of Minister for Finance.
– by leave- The resignation of the Minister for Finance is a damaging expression of no confidence in the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It is well known about the Parliament that the Minister for Finance has resigned because of the overbearing manner of the Prime Minister in conducting the affairs of Cabinet. More than that, it is well known that the Minister for Finance has resigned because the Prime Minister takes it upon himself not to heed the wise advice -
Resignation of the Minister for Finance
Order! It being 10.30 p.m. I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I rise on a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition was speaking by leave of the House. Such leave is in the same category, except more difficult to obtain, as the suspension of Standing Orders and to gag the Leader of the Opposition on the pretext of applying the standing order which was suspended by leave is in fact a denial of the leave which was granted to him. I ask -
– You know the rules.
– I do, yes. That is the problem.
-There is no point of order. The question is that the House do now adjourn. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
-The resignation of the Minister for Finance -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– You are dingoes.
– I rise on a point of order. The honourable member for Sydney called the Government members dingoes. I find that objectionable. They are not dingoes; they are mongrel dogs.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will withdraw that unparliamentary expression. He has been in this House long enough to know that he must withdraw such a remark.
– I object to the honourable member calling them dingoes.
– I ask the honourable member for Newcastle to withdraw that unparliamentary expression.
– I withdraw it.
– I rise on a point of order. As I understand it, one of the practices of this House is that when the motion for the adjournment is moved time is allowed honourable members in which to raise matters of concern. Usually half an hour is allowed. Is it within the conventions and practices of this Parliament for the Leader of the House simply to get up and move the gag without any explanation being given to the House? Is he frightened and embarrassed by what the Leader of the Opposition is going to say or is he just engaging in an abuse of numbers? Is it appropriate and proper that the conventions should be so lightly treated by the Leader of the House in order to silence the Leader of the Opposition? If the Leader of the House wants to move the gag could he not give the House a reason?
– I do not uphold the point of order. The question before the House is that the question be now put.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.46 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 1 1 October 1978:
What were the:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am informed by my Department that:
1 ) Sales tax paid or payable in respect of sales of sporting goods is not recorded separately. However, based on the information available, it is estimated that the amount payable in respect of sales of equipment for gymnastics, athletics, sport and outdoor games (including arms and ammunition but excluding boats, bicycles and other sporting or recreational vehicles), is about $30m per annum. However, the only income tax received from totalisator administrations comes from tax imposed on grants made by the totalisator administrations to the racing clubs. This would be included in the total amount at about $800,000 payable in respect of the 1975-76 income year by non-profit organisations classified as ‘entertainment, sport and recreation’, many of which are not racing clubs.
2 ) During its present term of office the Government has made the following contributions to sport:
Note: It should be noted that no Government assistance program to sport existed during 1976-77. Funds provided to national sporting associations for international competition in Australia, as outlined above, represented the honoring of commitments made under the previous Government’s Sports Assistance Program.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 12 October 1978:
Will he give an unqualified assurance that radioactive waste from Maralinga will not be temporarily or permanently stored at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Lucas Heights, NSW.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 8 November 1978:
Has the British technical assessment team which visited Australia in connection with the nuclear material at Maralinga reported to the Government; if so, (a) what advice has been received in relation to the plutonium and /or other radioactive material buried at Maralinga, (b) what options for the long term safe disposal of the plutonium and/or other radioactive material are under consideration and (c) what is the projected cost of each of the options under consideration.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The British technical assessment team made a joint report with Australian experts on the nuclear material at Maralinga:
Radioactive material at Maralinga is securely and safely contained.
Repatriation to the United Kingdom has been the only option under consideration; and
Australian costs are expected to be of the order of $100,000.
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 9 November 1 978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 9 November 1978:
Has his Department or senior departmental officers expressed the view that to leave the material buried at Maralinga which may contain potentially recoverable plutonium in its present state and location is not an acceptable option; if so, what are the reasons for this view.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Under Australia’s obligations to the IAEA, Australia would be required to place any plutonium which was determined to be practicably recoverable on its inventory of safeguardable material and maintain acceptable controls. If the material were to remain in Australia, Maralinga would not be a suitable location to enable these responsibilities to be adequately discharged. Secondly, given the widespread dissemination of knowledge about the location and potential recoverability of the material, it could at its present site become a potential risk to public safety in the future. I announced on II January 1979 that this plutonium is to be repatriated to the United Kingdom.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 9 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Operation Brum bie, Final Report, October 1967, and Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) Report No. 0-16/68, January 1968.
(a) Both, (b) The latter.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 9 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Examination by Australian officials of available material revealed minor discrepancies and internal inconsistencies in relation to:
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Storage of Plutonium at Maralinga (Question No. 2829)
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Storage of Plutonium at Maralinga (Question No. 2830)
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: ( 1 ), (2) and (3) The IAEA was informed on 23 December 1976 by the Australian Embassy in Vienna of the possibility that potentially recoverable nuclear material might be present at or near the former British nuclear weapon test sites at Maralinga and advised that this possibility was to be investigated.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5) Yes. I am advised that preliminary data are available from the radiation survey conducted last October by the Australian Radiation Laboratory on behalf of the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC). These indicate that the immediate vicinities of the ground zeros on Alpha and Trimouille Islands represent the highest radioactive contamination of the Islands.
Radiation levels within a few metres of the ground zeros were measured to be 3.7 millirem per hour and 2.0 millirem per hour respectively. The limits of annual radiation exposure recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council and identical to the recommendation of the International Commission on Radiological Protection are S000 millirem per year for radiation workers and SOO millirem per year for members of the public. Radioactive decay will continue to reduce the radiation levels at the Islands, but for the immediate future it would be undesirable for members of the public to spend more than a few hundred hours in any one year within the immediate vicinities of the ground zeros.
Further measures will be considered upon receipt of the AIRAC report. In the meantime the Monte Bello Islands remain a prohibited area, and permission to visit them must be sought from the Naval Officer Commanding, Western Australia.
Storage of Plutonium at Maralinga (Question No. 2832)
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 16 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member ‘s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 2 1 November 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 22 November 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Government, along with the views of all major ex-service organisations, during the Budget deliberations each year.
Repatriation disability pensions, associated allowances and fringe benefits are not subject to taxation. Fringe benefits include the provision of free medical treatment to pensioners in receipt of the 100 per cent General Rate pension and above, 1914-18 War veterans and former prisoners of war. In addition, disability pensioners may be entitled to service pensions with only SO per cent of pension being considered for income-test purposes.
Section 52 of the Repatriation Act 1920 provides that a pension shall be absolutely inalienable.
Payment of Repatriation Pensions to British and Allied Ex-servicemen (Question No. 2966)
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 22 November 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice, on 22 November 1 978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Use of Asbestos in Schools (Question No. 2987)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 23 November 1978:
-The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
The use of asbestos for this purpose varied from State to State. It was not used in Queensland, Tasmanian and Northern Territory government schools, and its use in South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory was very limited. In all cases, schools have been thoroughly inspected, and remedial action has been undertaken on a priority basis. Some fifty schools are involved.
Relatively few non-government schools were built from 1955-65, and the health risk from asbestos insulation is consequently low. Some non-government systemic authorities, aware of potential problems, have sought the advice of health authorities in specific cases.
Apprentices (Question No.: HI)
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 23 November 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) 1973-5; 1974-3; 1975-4; 1976-2; 1977-3; 1978-3.
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 24 November 1978:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 February 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19790222_reps_31_hor113/>.