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 Cadman, Dr Edwards, Mr Martin and Mr Scholes.
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 plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilize whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire;
That weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act;
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr N. A. Brown, Mr Drummond and Mr Howe.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Cadman.
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 decision of the Australian Government to depart from its 1975 election promise, a promise re-affirmed during the 1977 election campaign, that pensions would be increased twice-yearly in line with increases in the CPI, will seriously add to the economic burdens now borne by those citizens who are wholly or mainly dependent on their pensions.
Your petitioners are impelled by this fact to call upon the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to review the abovementioned decision, and to determine:
That pensions will be increased twice yearly in line with rises in the CPI as promised by the Prime Minister in1975 policy speech.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Kevin Cairns.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That because 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’‘beliefin the right and intregrity 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 Holding.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth- that, having concern at the persistent poaching and polluting of Australian waters by Taiwanese fishing boats, we call on the government to:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will request the Government to take action to deter Taiwanese fishing boats from fishing in Australian waters.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Humphreys.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That, because increased fees at nursing homes throughout Australia are forcing patients to either draw heavily from their savings to meet fees above their aged pension, or leave their homes for alternative accommodation, we urge that the government:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will request the Government to review the Commonwealth’s contribution to the standard Nursing Home fee and undertake further reviews on a quarterly basis.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Humphreys.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
-I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That this House expresses its grave concern and regret that Queensland is approaching the status of a one party state, that members of the Parliament have been denied basic democratic rights in accordance with Westminster principles of parliamentary democracy and that Queensland Opposition members have been denied balanced facilities, resources and speaking time, and accordingly the House should initiate action designed to established a Bill of Rights describing and protecting basic political and human rights of all Australians -
- Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Listening to the notice of motion of the honourable member for Griffith, it seems to me that it canvasses matters beyond the constitutional responsibility of this Parliament. There are problems in accepting motions in this Parliament that, in fact, relate to the responsibility of a State. I would suggest that the motion in its form and in the way it is expressed goes well beyond the responsibility of this Parliament. I therefore wonder whether it should be accepted at all as a matter to go on the Notice Paper.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. The proposal being put forward by the honourable member for Griffith is that there ought to be a Bill of Rights which describes and protects fundamental human and political rights in this country and that the range of protection should extend beyond merely the Federal sphere. It is an arguable proposition whether that is constitutional. There is a strong body of opinion, as you would know, Mr Speaker, as an eminent practising lawyer, which argues that under the external powers of the Constitution there is authority available to the Federal Government to enact such a Bill of Rights. Mr
Speaker, you will recall that in about 1974,I believe it was, the former Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, did introduce legislation.
– The honourable gentleman is going beyond the point of order.
– In summary, it is consistent with the line of argument that I am putting to you for this sort of matter to be brought before the Federal Parliament. It may be arguable consitutionally, but that is not for us to decide here when a proposition is being put as a notice of motion.
– I will allow the honourable gentleman to proceed with this notice of motion, but I indicate to him that he ought to put his motion in terms of a proposition and not in terms of facts supporting the proposition.
-My notice of motion continues: including a clear description of the proper principles and functions of our parliamentary system, both State and Federal.
The motion is to be seconded by the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham).
– Did the Treasurer tell the Parliament on 15 August 1978 that an income tax surcharge would be ‘ a temporary measure for 1978-79 only’? Does that commitment still stand?
-The answer to the first pan of the honourable gentleman’s question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is thatI invite the honourable gentleman to stay around for a few hours.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Trade and Resources. The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of the concern in the bush about rapidly rising fuel costs and the effect these will have on returns to farmers who sell on the overseas market. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that farmers should receive additional concessions on their fuel? If so, does he believe that such action is possible at present?
– I have expressed concern on a number of occasions about the competitive position of Australian farmers as against their counterparts in other parts of the world. Where governments give concessions to their farmers for the price of fuel, naturally it makes it more difficult for our farmers to compete with them. This matter has been looked at by the Trade Development Council which has come forward with a report which I have only just received. The report, which is being studied by my Department, confirms that Australian farmers do pay a higher price for fuel than do their competitors. Of course this causes concern. What we must understand is that the world is rapidly approaching the greatest and most significant transition in its history and that in this modern technological age, which is based on an oil economy, it will have to move to some alternative forms of energy. In the meantime we have to try to ensure that our existing reserves of oil are extended for as long as possible. Oil. is a wasting resource. Therefore, Australia must do all that is possible to encourage exploration. We must look at all possible means of conserving the oil that we have available and we must intensify our efforts to look for alternative forms of fuel and energy.
The difficulty today is that we must try to reconcile the difficulties which the Government has in making its oil last for as long as possible with our endeavours to meet some of the competing needs within the economy. The whole oil pricing situation is having a most profound effect on various countries in their domestic oil pricing arrangements. I have had discussions on this subject with Ministers in other countries, and recently I spoke about it with the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Bergland, in Washington/He expressed great concern for American farmers because of the increasing oil prices in America. He could see no way other than accepting the realisation that oil prices would have to increase. While the whole of the world pricing arrangement is in a state of flux it is extremely difficult for the government of any country to know how to give preferred or preferential pricing arrangements to special sections of the community. I think all of us have to recognise that the most critical thing for Australia, which has a large mechanised agricultural industry, is to see that we have adequate supplies to keep the industry going. We have to realise that other countries around the world will be facing the same pricing problems as Australia faces.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, in answer to a question on 1 March 1979 about whether the income tax surcharge was still a temporary measure for 1978-79 only, he told this Parliament:
Quite plainly, that commitment stands.
Does it still stand?
-As has already been suggested by the Treasurer, if the honourable member likes to stay around for a few hours he will no doubt be wiser.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Are many cases awaiting hearing in the Family Courts in the various States? If so, what is the time delay in having contested, uncontested and custody applications heard? If there is an undue delay, is it the intention to appoint more Family Court judges? If many cases are awaiting decision, is it an indication of an urgent need to have more marriage counselling, both before and after marriage, stressing the importance and sanctity of marriage?
– The honourable gentleman has asked a series of questions which require detailed answers. I will refer the questions to the Attorney-General and provide the detail to the honourable member. However, I can indicate to the honourable member some of the circumstances that now apply and the measures that are being taken by the Attorney-General in this field. I am advised that the latest statistics prepared by the Family Court show that at the end of April 1979 just over 5,300 cases in the defended lists in all registries were awaiting hearing. The statistics vary from a high of approximately 1,800 cases in Melbourne to a low of 5 1 cases in Launceston.
The honourable member would have noted that I referred to the defended lists. It is a fact that the majority of dissolution cases are undefended and are dealt with at the first hearing. The delay, where it does occur, is in defended cases and ancillary matters. The Attorney-General has said on several occasions that simply appointing more Family Court judges will not deal with the situation. He is reviewing the staffing situation in the courts to see what can be done to speed up the hearing of cases.
The honourable gentleman asked whether or not there was a need for more marriage counselling. I understand that that matter will be the subject of inquiry by the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act. I think the honourable member can be well satisfied that the AttorneyGeneral is taking whatever steps are necessary to see that cases before the Family Court are speedily dealt with or otherwise is inquiring into the situation to see what might be done.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether on 12 September 1978 he told the Parliament:
No one can doubt that this Government has a powerful commitment to lower tax.
Does that commitment still stand?
-This Government has very substantially reduced tax over its period in office. We have said on many occasions -
– Oh, come off it!
-Members of the Australian Labor Party cannot take it when they have facts pushed down their throats. In this year alone, in spite of the surcharge, taxpayers are paying $3 billion less in tax than they would have if the much vaunted tax scales introduced by the Leader of the Opposition still applied. The Leader of the Opposition, who falsely and with the utmost hypocrisy pretends to support low income people, put a punitive 45c in the dollar tax rate on people with incomes as low as $10,000 a year. That was 45c in the dollar for every person with an income over $10,000. That was a punitive rate. Even under the surcharge arrangements, that same person is paying a marginal rate that is at least 10c in the dollar less than that and 10c in the dollar less than that right up to $16,000 or $17,000. That indicates quite plainly that the taxes operating at this moment, at the levels operating at this moment, are very much lower than those that operated during the period of office of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party speaks with the greatest possible hypocrisy on this issue.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Now that the environmental studies in relation to the new Brisbane airport development have been concluded and circulated, at what time will physical construction begin? Will construction be completed on schedule? Will initial earthworks be under way before the end of the year? Will the Minister respond to the excellent suggestion by the Prime Minister that notice boards and signs be erected around the airport so that the people of Brisbane will be aware of the timetable of the work?
– I certainly would like to take up the suggestion made by the Prime Minister that signs be put up setting out the timetable for the construction of the Brisbane airport. Let me say also that a proposed timetable will be laid down which I am sure the Brisbane people will appreciate and approve. Once the environmental studies are out of the way the earthworks will be ready to commence in 1980. There will be significant work on the grounds, I can assure the honourable member, by December 1980, to say the least.
-I ask the Prime Minister whether he said in Melbourne on 27 November 1975:
In the next Budget we will make the first major move towards adoption of the stock valuation provisions of the Mathews report. We will introduce the report in full over three years.
Was that promise honoured?
-Fifty per cent of the stock valuation provisions of that report have been introduced. I think it ought to be stated again that the Australian Labor Party is a party of high taxation. It has made that very plain time and time again.
Opposition members interjecting-
-Order! I ask the right honourable gentleman to resume his seat.
– Does the Church of England have a confessional?
-Order! The honourable member for Port Adelaide will remain silent. I draw the attention of honourable members on my left to the fact that this is the national Parliament. A question has been asked of the Prime Minister and the right honourable gentleman is answering the question.
– He has only to say yes or no.
-I warn the honourable member for Port Adelaide. I ask honourable members on my left to allow the answer to the question to be heard in silence. I call the Prime Minister.
-The Australian Labor Party is a high tax party, and always has been.
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. My point of order is- I accept your ruling of a moment ago that this is the national Parliament and the Prime Minister should be heard in silence -
-The honourable gentleman will make his point of order immediately or resume his seat.
– I come to my point of order immediately, Mr Speaker, and it is that the Prime Minister, having in mind that this is the national Parliament, should cut out the humbug and the actions that show him as the larrikin he is.
-The honourable gentleman will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw.
-There is no point of order. I ask the honourable member for Newcastle not to persist with interruptions to the proceedings of the House. I call the Prime Minister.
-The Australian Labor Party is and always has been a high tax party. A short while ago, the honourable member for Gellibrand said that one of the problems with this Government staying in power for too long would be that people would get used to lower taxes and there would be great difficulty in the Australian Labor Party ever persuading the people of Australia to accept the levels of taxes that would be necessary to finance a Labor government’s mad and irresponsible programs. This is why the Labor Party resents so bitterly the reduction in taxation that we have been able to encompass. I have made it quite plain that when the Leader of the Opposition was Treasurer, he introduced much-vaunted tax scales- tax scales of a kind which provided that a person on $10,000 a year then moved into the 45c in the dollar tax bracket. That was very plainly a punitive rate. It was very plainly a rate that did a great deal to destroy incentive, initiative and the willingness to work overtime. That was the Australian Labor Party’s rate. Even under the surcharge, taxpayers on that level of income and those on an income approaching $17,000 are paying a rate that is more than 10c in the dollar less than the rate that Mr Hayden himself introduced.
We have only to look at other factors in relation to the Australian Labor Party. Commonwealth outlays increased in 1973-74 by 20 per cent. The next year they increased by 46 per cent. The next year they increased by nearly 23 per cent. Even then, the tax rate that the Labor Party introduced could not keep up with its voracious demands for funds. Taxes went up year after year because of inflation and because people were forced onto higher tax scales. We indicated that, if we needed to change the tax rates to collect more revenue, we would establish circumstances in which we had to legislate to do just that. That is what we did at the time of the last Budget. We are happy and prepared to defend whatever actions we take in relation to these matters. This Government’s record is a record of lower tax and reducing tax. At the same time, its record of responsibility in budget management is unparalleled. The Labor Party has no record of any kind.
-Has the attention of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs been drawn to reports of an elderly German couple whose daughter is visiting them at present and who is now reported to be facing a deportation order? Is any such deportation order in existence? What application has been made to the Minister or his Department for this person to stay in Australia?
– My attention was drawn this morning to a newspaper report concerning the daughter of a German couple who are resident in Australia. The daughter and her young son arrived as visitors to Australia, I think in July last year. Shortly after arrival, the daughter was brought to my Department to speak to some social welfare workers in the Department in relation to continued entry in Australia. At that stage no application for continued entry was made to my Department. As you would understand, Mr Speaker, the policy in relation to change of status in Australia was announced in June of last year. Under that policy the young lady and her son were not eligible for change of status. The case then lapsed. No more was heard of the young lady until this year when again an approach was made. Again, the advice was given that the change of status was not available. However, no deportation order has been served. As I said, the case has come to my attention only this morning. There was an indication that the elderly couple would be approaching their member of Parliament. I am not quite sure whether that has occurred. Their member of Parliament is you, Mr Speaker. As far as I am aware, I have not received any representations on the case from you or your office.
-The honourable member for Casey used to be my private secretary!
– The situation in a nutshell is this: A great number of people who come to Australia each year as visitors seek to change their position in Australia and acquire resident status. The Government has had to take action in relation to this matter but, on all occasions, it has looked at each case on an individual basis. The case referred to by the honourable member has now been brought to my attention. I emphasise that no deportation order has been signed. On the facts as outlined to me at the moment, there is a good case for compassion to be exercised. I will be making a decision on the case later today.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he told the Parliament on 12 September 1978 that:
Inflation at an annual rate of 5 per cent is within our reach by mid 1979 . . . It will go on falling under the policies of this Government.
Is that still the case?
-The policies of this Government will continue to bear down on inflation. Honourable members well know that many events have occurred since the time mentioned by the honourable member for Batman. Inflation under the Australian Labor Party went up to 1 9 per cent in one six-monthly period.
Opposition members interjecting-
– It is quite obvious from the hilarity with which the Labor Party members greet their own record- 19 per cent in one six-monthly period- that they think it is a matter of no account and that their policies would once again push inflation to 19 per cent or even higher. If the Labor Party were in power -
-Order! I ask the Prime Minister to resume his seat. I have already asked honourable members on my left to allow the answers to be heard in silence. I would like honourable members to co-operate with me and to remain silent. The question was heard in silence and, likewise, the answer should be heard in silence.
-The Australian Labor Party achieved an inflation rate of 19 per cent in one six-monthly period and the hilarity with which its members greet that remark indicates that they think it is a matter of no consequence and that it is a record which no doubt they would want to beat if they had another opportunity. But they will not get that opportunity because this Government has established a record of financial responsibility which is essential if there is to be investment, if there is to be growth and if there is to be development. The Australian Labor Party killed investment. It killed development. It stopped exploration for the great mineral resources. It stopped oil search in Australia at the very time when there was a great oil crisis around the world. It did this as a result of its rapacious and irresponsible policies. In 1972-73 the increase in income tax was 8.5 per cent. In the first Labor year it was 34 per cent, in the second Labor year it was 40 per cent, in the third Labor year it was 20 per cent, and in this year, for the first time for a decade and maybe for much longer than that- the records I have go back only 10 years- the taxes collected throughout this year will represent a reduction in real terms over the taxes collected from the people of Australia in the preceding year because the tax increase will be less than the increase in the level of inflation. That represents in a very clear way the record of this Government in reducing the burden of income tax on the people of Australia. The Australian Labor Party members have never had any financial responsibility. They destroyed development in this country and at the same time they were the tax bandits. The irresponsibility of their policies is equalled only by their behaviour in this House.
-Is the Treasurer aware of fullpage advertisements appearing in the Australian Financial Review and other national newspapers advertising tax avoidance schemes? Is this causing considerable concern to the Treasury and also placing an added burden on the average taxpayer? What steps is the Government taking to stop those tax avoidance schemes being implemented?
– Not much.
-Members of the Opposition have the temerity to interject that the Government has not done much in this area. The honourable member for Paterson asks me whether my attention has been drawn to these advertisements. My attention is regularly drawn to these advertisements and the contents of these advertisements are of course very carefully perused and studied by the Taxation Office and by the Treasury. I think that many honourable members- I hope on both sides of the House but certainly on this side- are concerned about the blatant forms of advertising of many tax avoidance schemes. However, I would have to say to the honourable member that notwithstanding my own very strong revulsion at the widespread advertising of tax avoidance schemes, I do have some conceptual difficulty with the proposition that if in a strict sense it is legal to do something it also ought to be legal to advertise it. I know the honourable member may find many exceptions to that general rule but in all honesty I would have to say to him that I do find some difficultly with the proposition that the Government should declare illegal the advertising of practices which of themselves are not illegal under the provisions of the law. I think the honourable gentleman is well aware of what this Government has done over the past two years to restore the basic equity of the taxation system through reducing levels of tax avoidance.
-What about family trusts?
-We have done things in the taxation area that the Labor Government was not prepared to do -
-Order! The Treasurer will resume his seat. The honourable member for Chifley has continually interjected this morning. I ask him to cease.
– If I had the time I think a very interesting research project would be to find out how many questions on tax avoidance the honourable member for Chifley asked the three Labor Treasurers when the Whitlam Government was in office. I think it would be a fascinating research project. I think one would find the answer would be deafening silence because the fact of the matter is that in attitudes to inflation, attitudes to taxation levels and attitudes to taxation avoidance, the honourable member for Chifley represents the high water mark of the hypocrisy of the Labor Party.
-Order! The Treasurer will withdraw the term he used in relation to the honourable member for Chifley.
- Mr Speaker, in deference -
– I rise on a point of order. There is a rule for this side of the chamber and there is a rule for that side of the chamber.
-The honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat.
– In compliance with your request, Mr Speaker, I withdraw the remark I used about the honourable member for Chifley.
-I ask the Prime Minister whether on 13 March 1977 he stated: ‘We are committed to take politics out of pension increases by giving automatic increases in line with price rises twice a year’. Does that statement still hold?
– It was this Government that introduced indexation of pensions. It is this Government that has led us to the situation in which the pensioners of Australia are receiving a higher percentage of average weekly earnings than ever before.
-Order! The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. On two occasions already I have asked for co-operation on my left. I insist on that co-operation. I insist that the House listen to the answer in silence. I ask honourable gentlemen on my left to remain silent.
– It might be too much to hope that the chatterbox on your left, Mr Speaker, can contain himself. The figures that I have been given by the Minister for Social Security indicate quite plainly that Australia’s pensioners now gain a higher percentage of average weekly earnings than they have had on other occasions. That is largely as a result of the policy of full indexation of pensions introduced by this Government. That policy remains.
– My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. In view of the administrative cost of at least $10 in processing and forwarding a single letter to a pensioner advising him or her of pension variations of as little as 5c per week, and in view of the petty and annoying character of such letters, will the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Social Security, investigate the feasibility of in future applying and notifying only pension increases or reductions which are in excess of $ 1 per fortnight?
– The proposition advanced by the honourable member appears to be a very practical and reasonable one. I will convey the question to my colleague the Minister for Social Security. I am sure that she will be very happy to investigate the proposition.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Did he say at Chadstone shopping centre in Melbourne on 3 December 1977 that a reduction of 2 per cent in interest rates in the next 12 months ‘can and will be achieved ‘? Was that promise honoured?
-This matter has been debated many times in this House. What I said was that there could be reductions of up to 2 per cent in some important interest rates. That was the fact of the statement. The statement was not in any sense a guarantee of what would happen. As we well know, interest rates in Australia came down very markedly last year as a result of this Government’s policies, despite the fact that interest rates were rising throughout the year in the United Kingdom and the United States of America creating a problem of relativities between Australian interest rates and interest rates in those two countries.. Quite plainly, those factors have an influence on what it is possible to achieve in Australia.
-As the Prime Minister has been going so well today, I direct my question to him. Has the Prime Minister seen recent statements, including statements from the Opposition, advocating indiscriminately higher levels of government expenditure, and particularly has he seen the statement of the honourable member for Port Adelaide advocating abandonment of staff ceilings in the Public Service? Are those promises consistent with lower levels of taxation?
-Those promises are consistent only with much higher levels of taxation. It is worth noting that the general level of Commonwealth employment is about 10,000 fewer than the peak achieved by the previous Administration. It is very nearly 60,000 fewer than would have been the case had the recruiting scale which operated during the Labor period continued over the last three and a half years. Under those circumstances, it is very plain that, as I indicated earlier today, the Labor Party is the party of big spending and higher and higher taxes. In June 1978 the honourable member for Gellibrand said to a Labor economists conference:
If Labor does not gain office next election then, by 1983, when we could next hope to gain office, we would face a mammoth task in rebuilding the public sector- and maybe an equally mammoth task in convincing the electorate that it should pay a higher level of tax to enable us to do so.
– Who said that?
-The honourable member for Gellibrand.
– He is the shadow Treasurer.
-He is the shadow Treasurer. He is the person who indicates the real policies of the Australian Labor Party. I emphasise again that the Labor Party was a party of high tax. It introduced a 45c in the dollar tax scale to operate from $10,000 and a 55c in the dollar tax scale to operate from $16,000. Under our reforms, and even with the surcharge, 3316c in the dollar is paid on incomes up to nearly $17,000- infinitely lower than the tax . rates imposed by Labor.
-The policies of this Government are making Australian industry profitable again after it had been decimated in the Labor years. We should never forget that the Australian Labor Party is the creator of unemployment. It created 200,000 unemployed in one year alone. That is a record that will hang around its neck until it goes to the grave. As a result of the policies of this Government, employees in the private sector have been increasing for the last eight months, and it is the first time that has happened for many years. Australian industries are again able to get a larger share of the domestic market. They are also able to move into export markets in a way that they have not been able to do for a very long time as a direct result of Labor policies.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. The Minister will be aware that there are many people in Australia living an alternative community-type lifestyle. The Minister will be further aware that the principle of any responsible government is to direct assistance to the most needy in our community. Will the Minister give a firm assurance that the people who, by choice, live an alternative lifestyle do not receive unemployment benefits at the expense of others in the community who are more deserving?
-I thank the honourable gentleman for the question. It follows a question that was asked of me the other day by the honourable member for Macquarie touching on very much the same subject. I think that the honourable member for Franklin has put his finger right on the policy area which is concerning this Government. If people choose to follow a life style from which they do not derive -
– They wouldn’t do it if there were jobs around, you billy goat.
-I will not warn the honourable member for Port Adelaide again. The honourable member will remain silent.
– I was saying that if people by choice seek to follow a life style from which they do not and cannot derive an income they should not expect the taxpayers of this country to provide them with that income. It is an area that is already covered by the existing guidelines in the application of the work test that if people voluntarily go to a place where there is no employment they should not be able to receive unemployment benefit. I know of the honourable gentleman’s interest in the needy ones in the community. To the extent that people who do not want to work but expect to get an income from the taxpayers do get that income, they deny to governments the opportunity to provide to those who are in need. I am gratified that this is accepted and has been publicly accepted by the Leader of the Opposition. I quoted the other day in this House some of what he said to a recent Labor economists conference. Might I quote again, to conclude my answer, what he said on this subject:
While research into these areas- that is alternative life styles- should be encouraged, I reject completely the notion that it should have a priority call on the public purse.
As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition agrees with the Government and disagrees with a prominent member of the Labor Party.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he stated on 8 September 1974: ‘As unemployment rises so too should unemployment benefits increase. This proposal rests on the principle that as it becomes harder to get work so too should the compensation for those out of work be increased. I believe that principle to be valid’. Does the Prime Minister still believe that principle to be valid?
-That proposal, I believe, was not a practical one advanced in Opposition. I note that the Australian Labor Party at the time rejected it.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade and Resources. Can the Minister indicate to the House what the implications for Australia might be of the recently released International Energy Agency coal paper?
– There has been a meeting in Paris of members of the International Energy Agency, which included my colleague the Minister for National Development, concerning oil pricing and the use of coal as an alternative to oil. They brought forward a paper on the key role of coal. As a result of that paper there has been a commitment made by IEA members that they will endeavour to convert oil-burning electric power stations to coal-fired power stations and that any new stations to be erected are to be coalfired ones.
Australia is very pleased to be part of this commitment and to accept an undertaking by the IEA that it will consult member countries in relation to the development of coal resources.
The paper also indicates from studies that have been made that Australian coal exports needed by the year 2000 could be of the order of 200 million tonnes per annum. This is an increase from some 30 million tonnes per annum at the moment. This will mean that there will have to be a very heavy commitment on infrastructure and transport facilities to meet this undertaking. But I think it does hold out the prospects of very significant development of Australia’s coal resources and the prospects also of much greater benefits for the Australian community as a whole. We do have a very valuable energy resource and it is pleasing to see that the other member countries of the IEA are happy to work in conjunction with us in developing this great resource.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. I ask whether he stated in Melbourne on 21 November 1977: ‘We have restored integrity in Government’.
-That has not only been stated; it has been achieved. I think that the honourable gentleman forgets what he said when he was in government. I think that the honourable gentleman forgets what he sought to do when he was Treasurer of the Commonwealth. I think that the honourable gentleman forgets that he was party to the greatest deception that anyone in this Parliament has attempted to perpetrate. I think that the honourable gentleman forgets that as Treasurer he deliberately sought to compel the trading banks of this nation to finance the affairs of his Government illegally, without power, against the Constitution and in a way which assuredly would have destroyed democracy in Australia.
Many people have forgotten that it was this Leader of the Opposition, who was then Treasurer, who conceived the idea to force the trading banks to pay for that Government’s policies. It was that Treasurer who sought to go to the trading banks of Australia to have them use the funds of their depositors to pay for the affairs of government. Because the Parliament had blocked supply, that Government would not pursue the honourable course. It would not go to the people; it would not have an election. Therefore, it sought to break the Parliament and destroy Australian democracy. It is worth noting that a most distinguished jurist, Lord Hailsham, has indicated that the then Leader of the Party got off very lightly- he had only been rejected by his Party, after being rejected by the people of Australia in two elections- for an earlier English monarch who pursued exactly the same course lost his head. I think that is what the Leader of the Opposition has done.
-I ask the Prime Minister whether he recalls saying in recent times that the Australian Labor Party is a party of high tax and financial irresponsibility. Is he still of that opinion?
-The Australian Labor Party is a party of total irresponsibility. I am afraid that, on its record, the Australian Labor Party is still a party of very high taxation. It is a party of very high expenditure. No doubt the honourable member for Kalgoorlie was not in the House when I indicated earlier today what the honourable member for Gellibrand had said when he indicated that:
If Labor does not gain office next election then by 1983, when we could next hope to gain office, we would face a mammoth task in rebuilding the public sector and it may be an equally mammoth task in convincing the electorate that it should pay a higher level of tax to enable us to do so.
That indicates very plainly that the Australian Labor Party is a party of very high tax. We have only to look at the way taxes and expenditure rose in the time of the Labor Government. Income taxes went up 40 per cent in one year and expenditure went up 46 per cent in one year. This year, we have brought ourselves to a situation where, even with the surcharge taken into account, we are collecting less funds from the individual taxpayers of Australia in real terms than we did last year. The Liberal Party is a party of low tax. It is a party of tax reform -
– And broken promises.
-And it will continue to remain so. The Leader of the Opposition is constitutionally incapable of being other than a chatterbox. He will remain a chatterbox until the end of time. It is also worth remembering that under the tax scales introduced by the Labor Government there was a marginal rate scale which indicated that someone earning $10,000 would pay 45c in the dollar. No doubt the honourable gentleman was not in the House when I indicated that earlier. I would not like the honourable gentleman to miss what has been said about the Labor Party and the high tax rates. The Labor Government introduced a 55c in the dollar rate at a $16,000 income level. Under our proposals a person earning that salary is still on the standard rate plus the surcharge. Because we have extended the tax threshold, 500,000 people are now paying no tax, whereas under Labor, the champion of the poor, they would have been taxed. That again indicates -
-Order! The right honourable gentleman will resume his seat. It is perfectly obvious that honourable members on my left are refusing to co-operate. I rather suspect that some of them would like to be disciplined, but I think it would be wrong to discipline them when they are deliberately courting it. Therefore, I ask honourable members on my left to act responsibly as members of the national Parliament.
-The Labor Party is the doubled-over Party. Under Labor outlays doubled, taxes doubled, unemployment doubled, and the deficit went up fivefold. Let me repeat the last point which I made. Under our Government, because of the tax reforms we have introduced, half a million people are not paying tax whereas under the rate scales introduced by the Labor Party they would have been paying tax. That indicates our concern for those who are less well off in the Australian community. I suggest that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.
– I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister has just ended Question Time ahead of time.
-There is no point of order. The honourable gentleman will resume his seat.
-I present the annual report of the Department of the Parliamentary Library for the calendar year 1978. This is the first report of the Library to be presented to the Parliament in recent times. I am sure that honourable members will welcome the opportunity to examine in some detail the operations of a department which is providing a most important service to them. For the information of honourable members I will have incorporated in Hansard a statement made by Mr President, as Chairman of the Library Committee, in tabling the report in the Senate.
The statement read as follows-
Soon after the first Parliament met in 1 90 1 a Library Committee was set up and ever since then the development of Parliament and the growth of the information resources available to it have steadily progressed. With the separation of the functions now performed by the National Library of Australia, a new era in the history of the Parliamentary Library commenced in the late 1960s. The formation of the Legislative Research Service marked an important advance and led to the present situation where we have ‘an intellectual resource centre ‘ which is among the best of its kind in the world.
The recent election of the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Harold Weir, to the Parliamentary Library’s Section of the International Federation of Library Associations, is an indication of the high regard in which this Parliamentary Library is held by information scientists, research specialists and librarians overseas.
The 1978 Annual Report records the 77th year of the Li’brary’s service to Parliament and includes material on the background and organisation of the various services provided through the Library.
Overall there has been a steady increase in the demand for the Library’s services and during 1978 it was agreed that the time had come for a complete review of its structure and organisation in relation to the changing information needs of Parliament, lt was not possible to proceed immediately with the review of the enure Department in a single operation but the Parliamentary Librarian, with the concurrence of the Presiding Officers, is progressively carrying out a study of each branch and section of the organisation.
That review is relevant to a study of the information needs and resources of the Parliament as a whole which is in the hands of the five Heads of the Parliamentary Departments. On the instructions of the Presiding Officers and with advice from the Public Service Board, an enquiry is to be made into Parliament’s needs for computer facilities.
Two important changes have become very evident in the Library’s services during 1978. On the one hand there has been a marked swing towards the demand for current information. Senators and Members are most interested in news summaries, press clippings and, more recently, in the teleprinter based services which have been introduced on a trial basis in what is now known as ‘The Dateline Service’. The first widescale use of this service in a parliamentary session was commenced this year but the necessary facilities were acquired and set up during the 1978 period. .
The second notable change has been in the supply of audio and audio-visual recordings and transcripts. The Library is now equipped with modern videotape and audiotape cassette services and fast copying capacity and this service is meeting a need which has been clearly demonstrated.
At its meeting in October last, the Joint Standing Committee on the Parliamentary Library decided that the time had come for drawing up a properly authorised statement of the policy to be applied in developing the Library’s resources during the remainder of this century. For the first time, at least since the National Library of Australia achieved a separate corporate existence, there is now a written statement which defines the subject areas in which the Library’s collections will be built up. Bearing in mind the considerable resources of the National Library which are available for the needs of Parliament, it has been decided that the Parliamentary Library will concentrate on acquiring authoritative, factually accurate and responsible works related to the information requirements of Senators and Members in relation to their parliamentary duties. Special attention will be given to the acquisition of material needed to support the subject specialists who work in the Legislative Research Service and attempts will be made to select major current contributions in those specified areas, particularly works relating to Australian conditions. There will, of course, be a continued limited supply of material to provide for recreational and general interest reading.
An extensive Reference Collection will be maintained and expanded to include general and subject encyclopaedias, directories, dictionaries, indexing and abstracting journals, and bibliographical guides and literature surveys in approved subject areas. Here again, emphasis will be placed on the provision of a good coverage in the areas of Australian politics and political parties, Australian history and literature, and current biography.
Particular attention will be paid to the development of special collections in fields relevant to Parliament. These include:
a ) parliamentary procedures and precedents and parliament as an institution with particular reference to the Westminster system;
the history of the Commonwealth Parliament since Federation, including biographies and photographs of all Senators and Members;
works by Australian federal politicians, especially first editions inscribed by authors;
classical works in political science, especially those contributing to the present form of parliamentary democracy in Australia.
Honourable Members know only too well the amount of information to which they are subjected in the course of their parliamentary duties. While this seems excessive it is only symbolic of the tremendous amount of data now available and of the tasks of official information services in selecting, storing, retrieving and delivering it as, when and where required. In recent times there has also been a great increase in the complexity of current issues and in the speed with which information must be assimilated and disseminated. These changes mean that library and information services such as those of this Parliament are faced with demands for digests, summaries, analyses and objective selection to provide relief from ‘information overload ‘ and give essential information in the most concise and relevant form. An example of this service which gained ready acceptability during 1978 was the issue of ‘Bills Digests’. These digests are not parliamentary papers in the official sense and they do not deal with legal issues or repeat the substance of Ministers’ Second Reading Speeches but they provide a readily accessible reference tool.
The ‘Rules of Access’ limit the number of clients to whom the Library’s services are available but the 1978 records make it clear that with the greater number of personal assistants and research officers employed on parliamentary duties for Senators and Members there has been a considerable increase in the demands made on the Library’s resources. The provision of extra staff in the Library and Research Services is often regarded as the simple solution to that problem, but 1 would remind Honourable Members that there are limitations on space here and in the parliamentary annex and additional staff inevitably means increases in support services and supplies. The Presiding Officers are aware of this situation but it is a difficult issue which is being carefully studied.
During 1978 a number of Sub-committees of the Library Committee were set up to deal with particular issues. One of the very important activities of a Sub-committee concerns technical advances and their application to the Library. It has been the policy of the Library to keep abreast of information about technology but to exercise caution in recommending its implementation. This caution has been justified by the limited number of clients for whom the Library’s services are provided, the high cost of equipment involved and the speed with which advances are being made in reducing equipment size, increasing its storage capacity and its range of operations. A close watch is also being kept on computerbased information networks and long range plans are under consideration for advances in this area. Before the end of the present calendar year it is expected that visual display units will be available in this building for on-line access to at least one important data base.
I am sure that honourable Members will agree with me when I say that it is important for Parliament to have under its own control such a valuable resource facility as that offered by the Department of the Parliamentary Library. 1 am sure they would wish me also to express appreciation of the dedication and high standard of work performance of the officers employed there.
This is a time of rapid change and that change is particularly reflected in information services. The report now before the House shows some ways in which attempts are being made to meet those changes and to plan for future improvements.
Pursuant to section 147 of the Defence Act 1903,I present the report of the Royal Military College of Australia for the period 1 February 1 978 to 3 1 January 1 979.
-I claim to have been misrepresented and wish to make a personal explanation.
– The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-During Question Time the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) twice purported to quote comments made by me in respect of taxation at an Australian Labor Party Conference last year. What the Prime Minister neglected to say, as I have pointed out several times before in this Parliament, is that I went on to say that taxation ought to be increased in areas where it is not being applied at the present time. I went on to advocate such taxes as a tax on personal capital and on resource rent, taxes on the super profits of mining companies, and I referred to tax avoidance measures and so on. The Prime Minister totally misrepresented the thrust of what I was saying by not referring to that part of the speech.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Prices Justification Amendment Bill 1979.
Norfolk Island Bill 1979.
Remuneration Tribunals Amendment Bill 1979.
– by leave- I move:
I have two brief comments to make in addition to moving that motion. The first is that the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) suggested that Question Time ended prematurely today. I would like to incorporate in Hansard a notice received by me from the Clerk of the House which suggests that the time for finishing Question Time today was 1 1.21 a.m. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in fact sat down at 1 1.22 a.m. I seek leave for it to be incorporated in Hansard.
The notice read as follows:
– The second point that I wish to make is that the House, as honourable gentlemen know, is expected to rise shortly for the winter recess. The Government is anxious that the maximum possible time should be available to honourable members to debate issues which are before us. We are suggesting that the House resume on Monday instead of its customary Tuesday commencement and that on Tuesday instead of commencing in the afternoon, it commence in the morning. In addition to those extra times I expect the House will be sitting for part of the following week- probably the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Notice of that will be given in due course.
-The Opposition has no objection to the motion moved by the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) concerning the sittings on Monday and Tuesday, but we think that by now the Government should have in mind exactly when the Parliament is going to rise for the winter recess. The Parliament has before it perhaps the most serious legislation of this session. I refer to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill and associated Bills. They have taken over 23 hours of debate in the Senate. I suggest that they will take a quite long time to go through the House of Representatives. I put on notice the fact that the Opposition will not rush through these Bills. They are far too important to the Parliament and to the people of Australia. It need not be suggested by the Government that we should rush these Bills through in the last day or two of the session so that Parliament can rise.
If the Government were competent it should be able to tell us now when Parliament will rise. If the Government were competent it would withdraw the ASIO Bill and associated Bills and bring them back in the Budget session. There is no doubt that if the Parliament is to rise the week after next there will not be sufficient time to give proper debate to these Bills. The Government will have to guillotine them. These Bills are far too serious for the Government to suggest that we will sit into the early hours of the morning in order that they may be rushed through so that the Parliament may get up as planned. This announcement by the Leader of the House is another expression of the gross imcompetence of the administration of this Government.
-Parliament goes through this operation every so often. It is of enormous inconvenience to everybody associated with the Parliament when arrangements are made at such late notice. It is not just honourable members who are concerned; we have to consider the staff, the arrangements of the airline system and everything else. I suggest to the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) that it might not be too late in the day- after all, the Parliament is only 79 years old- for us to start to examine the operations of the Parliament in a thorough way and to arrive at some conclusion as to the actual hours and days of meeting which are necessary to carry out the business of the Parliament. Perhaps it may be appropriate at this stage to have a general conference of the standing orders committees of both Houses of Parliament to undertake a work study on what the Parliament is about.
In the 24 years or so since I was elected to Parliament, it has almost always happened that nobody has been able to predict the end of the session. Perhaps that is fair enough. Over the last eight or 10 years it has been almost consistent behaviour to make new arrangements to try to fit things in at the last moment. This is totally inadequate for debating and handling the business of the nation. We will not get any solution unless we are prepared to fake some time off to sit down and examine the arrangements. It seems to me that we just cannot fit the business of this Parliament into the 70-odd days it meets each year. We ought not to try to do so. We ought to be able to adjust the program so that we can condense 100 to 120 days sitting into some 20 to 25 weeks during the year and we all know what we are on about. We should get on with it. I make this suggestion to the Leader of the House who may be able to listen and to talk to us. There is no point talking to the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) because he makes more errors than the Leader of the House. We should have a meeting of members from both Houses of Parliament to try to come to some real solution to this problem.
-The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has raised this positive point a number of times. I believe we already have machinery in the House that would help immensely in allowing major Bills to be debated at greater length. I refer to our legislation committees. At present we are forwarding Bills to these committees for discussion after they have been through the second reading stage. I think all of us would agree that many Bills are what we call minor machinery Bills. Surely they could be forwarded to a legislation committee after the second reading stage so that the legislation committee could be sitting at the same time as the House. The legislation committee could handle a number of these Bills. They could then be brought back to the House for a vote, if necessary. We would then have much more time to debate major Bills at the second reading stage and at the Committee stage or to debate statements by Ministers. I am sure the nation would benefit from such debates.
– I want briefly to draw to the attention of the House the hypocrisy of honourable members opposite when they suggest that their performance in government might have been different from the requirements to get legislation through this House and that the performance of their colleagues in other parliaments would in some way be better than our performance in this place. If we in this House emulated the performance of the New South Wales Government in using guillotines and gags to put through important legislation such as the amendments to the Evidence Act, legislation dealing with the administration of legal aid and a series of other Bills in the dying hours of the Parliament, we would be rightly criticised. But in this chamber, in a very responsible way we have extended already the time in which Parliament will sit so that legislation can be considered over an appropriate period, with full discussion.
I think that the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) deserves to be commended for the program that he has advanced for the completion of business. Notwithstanding the program of honourable members opposite, I am sure that consideration could be given to going on even further if it is thought to be necessary. But if the House were to sit beyond the period it has been scheduled to sit, I am sure that those honourable members opposite who do have commitments which would take them away when this period of sitting is complete would be the first to be crying privately about their own personal inconvenience.
Mr DAWKINS (Fremantle) < 1 1.34)- I contest some of the remarks of the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). The point is that nobody on this side of the House would want to see the Parliament sitting for a shorter period. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) and the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) simply spoke to the organisation of the business of this House. If the honourable member for Dundas were to look back at the period 1972 to 1975, he would find that the amount of legislation dealt with in that period was more than twice the amount of legislation with which we are now having to deal. The Labor Government passed twice as many measures as this Government has passed.
Nobody objects to this Parliament doing its job. What we object to is fiddling around twiddling our thumbs for the first few weeks of a session waiting for the Government to produce legislation. What we are saying is that if this Government has anything sensible to debate, we are prepared to sit here for the whole year. What we do object to, however, is the Government’s wasting the time of this Parliament, then right at the end of the sessional period introducing something crucial and vital for debate. Right at the end the program is reorganised so that everything is spirited through in the dead of night when nobody is aware of it.
– You are wasting time.
– I am not wasting time. It is important to refute the inaccuracies of the honourable member for Dundas. As long as the Government has sensible things for us to debate, we are prepared to sit here and debate them. But we are not prepared to have the work of this Parliament mucked around by this incompetent Government.
-It seems unfortunate that a discussion which started off in a sensible way should have ended up with the sort of nonsense we have just heard. It may well be that the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) has in fact been twiddling his thumbs. I think it would have been a good idea if he had pulled his finger out and participated in the debates that have taken place in this House. I agree with him that to a large extent the nonsense we have heard from honourable members opposite has been a waste of time. Nonetheless, it is part of the democratic process to provide the Opposition with the opportunity to debate issues. Unfortunately that right was not presented by the Labor Government to the Government parties when they were in opposition.
The Labor Government achieved its great rate of legislative progress by use of the guillotine, the gag, and the refusal to allow proper debate on the majority of vitally important Bills. It is appalling to hear a member of the Opposition boast about the way the Labor Government forced legislation through this House without proper discussion. I regret that the honourable member should have interposed in the debate as he did.
– I do not want to delay the House because I know that we are taking up the time set aside for General Business. But I say to the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) that this is not a matter of tit-for-tat. There is no doubt about it that from time to time when the Australian Labor Party was in government, it guillotined legislation through the House. It is a matter of government. All we are asking for is a rational discussion. Through you, Mr Speaker, I say to the Leader of the House that there are pieces of legislation and ministerial statements on the Notice Paper which will take time to debate. In particular, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Bill will take some time to debate in this House and therefore a lengthy period will have to be set aside for debate.
The ministerial statement on defence review has not been debated in depth at all. Certainly a great deal of time would be needed to debate it. The structural adjustment paper, commonly known as the Crawford report, is probably the most important paper on manufacturing industry to be brought before this House. It will have an enormous impact on the future employment of the Australian work force. If the House were to go into recess without a lengthy debate on that very important paper, it would be a travesty of justice. I know that the Leader of the House has a timetable problem, but as pointed out by the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young), who is Opposition manager of business, there is room for criticism. What I am concerned about is that the House will go into recess without discussing these very important matters.
– I too support the concept of endeavouring to have a rational debate on the question before the House at the moment, and to that extent I support the remarks of the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). But I think that if we are to have a rational discussion the point that should be made is that in terms of organising Government Business, there has been a consistent lack of names put forward by the Opposition of Opposition members who wish to speak on Bills coming before the Parliament. Not only do members of the Opposition absent themselves from the chamber, but they also do not put their names on the speakers list, or else that speakers list is not conveyed to the Government Whip in order to allow him to arrange the business of the House. That is a matter of great inconvenience because many Government members wish to speak on Bills that come forward for debate. But when we cannot get Opposition spokesmen to participate in those debates, naturally the debate lapses.
This situation was brought to a head last evening in the debate on the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement Bill). Government members were prepared to debate numerous clauses of the Bill in the Committee stage but when the debate had concluded, there were not enough Opposition members present in the chamber for the Opposition to call a division on the matter. The Opposition did not call for a division simply because it was so ashamed of the number of members it would be able to muster to attend the division. I started by saying that we ought to talk about this in a rational way. I close on the same note. If the affairs of this House are to be conducted rationally, it is necessary for the Opposition to play its part.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Riverina) ( 1 1.39)- I know that the time of this House is valuable, but I cannot let the misleading statement that the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) has just made go unchallenged. Mr Speaker, you would know that time and time again we on this side of the House have asked to put our name on the speakers’ list, but we have not been able to rise to speak because the Government will allow only two speakers from each side of the House.
The honourable member for La Trobe spoke about the number of Opposition members present in the House. If we take the percentage of members on this side of the House present in the chamber and the percentage of those on the other side, it is obvious that the Labor Party wins hands down. If we were to have a count right now, we would see the small number of Government members present. Yesterday during an important debate no members from the other side of the House were in the chamber. These things should be pointed out. We cannot let the honourable member for La Trobe get away with so many untruths.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That this House is of the opinion that:
1 ) the Land Commission program as it operates in New South Wales and South Australia is an effective method of attacking speculation in urban land, preventing land booms re-emerging as interest rates fall and encouraging good and just planning through the provision of land for home seekers at a fair price, and
the dealings in land currently under investigation in Victoria and other transactions in land carried on in secret by people holding high office lead to the unjust profiteering which public intervention in the urban land market through adequately supported Land Commissions can prevent.
Nine years ago, on 19 March 1970, in this House- it appears on page 637 of Hansard of that day- I called upon the Commonwealth Government to co-operate with the State and local government authorities to defeat land speculators and usurers who were exploiting young people seeking homes. Under Liberal and National Country Party governments at the Federal and State levels the corrupt exploitation of home seekers by land speculators and usurers has increased rather than abated over the last nine years. The whole orientation of Libera] and National Country Party governments is to encourage the spivs and speculators to promote an unrestrained system that allows the greedy to make money out of the hardship of others. That is the logic of free enterprise and free trade. That is the logic of the system they promote and support with the force of law- the freedom to exploit. I repeat what I said in 1970 about what the exploiters of the people of Australia were doing by way of inflating land prices. I said:
Now they are the greatest financial corporations in Australia backed by the great free enterprise banks, all of whose directors and managers appear prominently in Who ‘s Who’ and the New Year honours list.
The sad, sick situation is that these people are given the Queen’s honours for exploiting. Shareholders invest their money and speculate in property. They allow people to go into debt for many years- 15 years, 20 years and even more by having to pay usurers rate of interest. That is the level of the great burden involved. I said in 1970 and I repeat it now, for the lesson, that most land transactions were financed by three major corporations- the Australian Guarantee Corporation Limited, Associated Securities Limited and the Finance Corporation of Australia. The first was largely owned in 1969 by the Bank of New South Wales Ltd with 42.9 per cent of shares. Now, because the business was lucrative, the bank has increased its shares to 76.6 per cent. The second corporation was largely owned in 1969 by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the British Wagon Co. which held 30 per cent of shares and the South Pacific Insurance Group which held 8 per cent of shares. In 1976 the Bank of Scotland sold its major stake in Associated Securities Limited to Ansett Airlines of Australia which gained 48.4 per cent of shares. Of course, we all know of the position in relation to that corporation. We know of the prominent people involved in it. Men such as the former Premier of Victoria, Sir Henry Bolte, were involved. That indicates the sickness of the whole system.
On 8 February 1979 ASL went into receivership as a result of the troubles associated with its property investments. The Finance Corporation of Australia, wholly owned by the Bank of Adelaide Ltd in 1969 and 1979, ran into difficulties through its property investment. It was bought out, together with the Bank of Adelaide, by the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. Since 1970 two of those three major property speculators have had their fingers burnt. But so are the little people having their fingers burnt. What concerns me now is who will bear the cost of the speculators’ greed. What worries me is not just the tragic legacy that they have left in terms of distorted urban areas and inflated land prices; it is that the few big financial institutions in this country with immense economic power, amassed from the working people, are restructuring their operations in a way that profits the few and further exploits the many across the board.
We have to take a hard look at the financial institutions which are the cornerstone of the present economy. We have to see the changes taking place in their operations and the effects that their investment decisions will have on the future development of the Australian economy and society in the context of the global changes occurring at the hands of the international financiers. Eight of the top 10 enterprises in Australia, ranked by assets, are financial institutions controlling assets totalling $54,455m. That is twice the total Budget revenue of the Federal Government. The Government of the land is supposed to have the power to determine issues. It is impossible to know who really owns and controls these massive funds. The Australian New Zealand Banking Group that took over the Bank of Adelaide is foreign controlled. Its top 20 shareholders include Barclay’s Bank International Ltd- 5.7 per cent- and the Bank of Scotland through various nominee companies.
The extent of nominee shareholders in the finance sector clouds our ability to understand the degree of interlocking between the banks themselves, other financial institutions, mining corporations and other enterprises.
The National Bank has among its top 10 shareholders five nominee companies of other banks which hold 20 per cent of the issued capital. The directors of the Australian New Zealand Bank are represented across a wide diversity of firms, including EZ Industries, Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd, the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd, Elder Smith Goldsborough Mort Ltd, L. M. Ericsson Pty Ltd, Volvo Australia Pty Ltd, Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd, Berger Paints Pty Ltd and Dalgety Australia Ltd. In the non-bank financial institutions foreign ownership of the finance companies was 48.3 per cent in 1973. Foreign ownership of general insurance business was 46 per cent and foreign ownership of life insurance business was 37 per cent. Already foreign investment has great control of this country. It was said that there are two ways in which a country can be conquered. One is by military means and the other is by economic means. Clearly, this country is being conquered by economic means every day. Mr Deputy Speaker, in Queensland, the State in which you live, 85 per cent of the minerals are foreign owned and controlled. Day by day the sad situation worsens.
Over the past nine years the composition of the finance sector has changed, with the fastest rate of growth occurring in the finance companies, merchant banks, building societies and credit unions. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard two tables showing the size of the relative shifts and the amount of capital held by the five largest finance companies.
The tables read as follows-
– I thank the House. We are now seeing attempts to restructure the finance sector to allow even more foreign penetration and a shift of funds to serve the needs of industry. The call is out to reduce funds available for housing and to set government authorities loose on the private finance market in competition with the private companies which are largely integrated into the patterns of ownership and control of the financial institutions. The result will be that the needs of the people in housing and other services will be neglected while the companies syphon off the funds for their private activities. The barrier will be let down to allow foreign capital to achieve even higher levels of control over the direction of the Australian economy. It is in that context that we have to examine the power of the finance companies, the largest five of which account for 46 per cent of total finance company capital. Apart from those finance companies which have suffered as a result of their property speculation, the big five are operating very profitably. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table prepared by the Parliamentary Research Service showing the porportion of assets and profitability contributed by these five finance companies to their parent banks.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. The table shows that whilst the Australian Guarantee Corporation held only 10 per cent of the total assets of the Bank of New South Wales it contributed 32.5 per cent of the Bank’s profits in 1978. The picture is the same in respect of the financial institution offshoots of every bank or fringe banking institutions as we now call them. Every bank except the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is in a similar situation. The figures in this table reflect the experience of the young borrower who approaches the Commercial Bank of Australia Ltd and is told to go to General Credits Ltd where instead of paying bank rates of interest at about 10½ per cent an interest rate of between 14 per cent and 20 per cent is imposed.
At the more general level the situation in the community at the moment is that the banks and building societies have heavily pruned their lending to home buyers except those with large savings accrued over a long period. A manager of a Commonwealth Bank in the western suburbs of Sydney told me that the present restrictions are the most severe for the last 40 years. The majority of people are being forced to go to corporations such as Citicorp Australia Ltd and other finance companies to hock themselves for 15 years or more on high interest payments. In spite of the official figures that suggest high rates of housing loan approvals from banks and building societies, the reality is that it is a relative affluent few who can obtain funds from those sources to buy homes that cost about $50,000 and upwards. The average cost of a home in Sydney is now $47,700. There are a hundred thousand families on the waiting list for public housing who cannot afford 20 per cent yearly increases in private rents and who either have to join the 60,000 or more people permanently living in mobile or makeshift homes or seek finance on the high interest rate market and shackle themselves to the drudgery, burden and pressure of paying high interest over a period of 1 5 to 20 years. It is no wonder there is so much nervous tension among a lot of people in our community.
The escalating house and land prices are in part a result of these kinds of operations. They are a consequence of usury. They are also a result of the deliberate policies of this Government that has cut back on the provision of public housing, a Government that has savagely cut total public housing spending in the 1977-78 Budget by $42m and by a further $143m in 1978-79. That represents a total cut of 30 per cent over two years compared with the 1976-77 spending levels. It represents an irresponsible neglect of urgent social needs. In the forthcoming Budget, we will see a further reduction in spending on housing particularly in the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement in which only last year there was a cut of $70m but in real terms it was much more. The finance companies that are growing rapidly are largely those that have kept out of real estate and have been moving into leasing and consumer durables finance. But the finance companies that did speculate in land have left their mark. As a result of the activities of land speculators, planning authorities in each State have found it extremely difficult to plan for desirable patterns of growth. They have been unable to prevent urban sprawl and to limit the amount of high rise office space, 25 per cent of which is unused in the over-centralised central business districts of Sydney and Melbourne. The plans drawn up by the authorities have been abused by the property speculators seeking a fast buck. The patterns of property investment have influenced the planners’ decisions. The standard of living of the people who live in our cities has been doubly damaged, firstly, by inflated land prices and, secondly, by improperly planned cities. The people not only pay through the nose to the usurers but also suffer congested and inadequately serviced living environments. Now that land speculation is no longer the fortune maker, the financial institutions are turning to encourage and profit from the capital and energy intensive industries that will further destroy the physical environment, restrict the supply of jobs and create further hardships for the majority of people.
The direction in which the Government is prepared to allow the economy to move, powered bythe restructuring of the financial institutions, is against the interests of the majority of people in Australia. It will particularly intensify the problems in our cities. What was required in 1970- and what Labor in government began to implement from 1972 to 1975- is direct public intervention in the supply of jobs, housing and land. If the interests of people on low and middle incomes are to be served, direct and aggressive government intervention, aimed at providing for the needs of the people, is required. It is required urgently more and more every day. As Minister for Urban and Regional Development between 1972 and 1975,I, on behalf of the then Federal Labor Government, sought to establish in cooperation with the States, land commissions that could effectively operate to stabilise land prices, to plan the use of residential and industrial land and to preserve areas of land that required our protection because they were part of our national heritage. In government we set out to try to look after the sentative environment that was being destroyed by the bulldozer mentality. Our position was based on the philosophy expressed in the 1973 report of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Tenures. The Chairman of that Committee was Mr Justice Else-Mitchell. Another prominent member fo the Commission was Professor Russell Mathews, a great public servant- a great servant of Australia. Another member was Mr Dusseldorp, a major private enterprise, rational and progressive businessman in this country. That Commission said:
Land is a finite resource to be used for the benefit of the community rather than an object of speculative individual interest . . . Because development rights ensue from government action, it is the community generally and not individual land holders who should reap the benefits accruing from such rights.
Are hot those words so true and correct? In 1970 I said:
This crisis, this chaos, this law of the jungle, this exploitation of the many by the few can and must be solved by planning.
We warned them of the consequences of speculation and we gave notice that as a government we would intervene in the supply of land and in control over the use and pricing of land. I now say to those finance companies, and other speculators which may shift their attention to the making of profits at the expense of the Australian people through investment in uranium mining, aluminium smelters and other hazardous industries that will affect the future of our cities and the way of life of our people; you will get your fingers burned again. We will intervene in the supply of those resources that belong to the Australian people. Why was it that the Finance Corporation of Australia- which is now in financial difficulties- a wholly owned finance arm of the Bank of Adelaide, speculated in land in every State of Australia except South Australia? It was because the operations of the South Australian Land Commission, which was set up by the South Australian Labor Government in cooperation with the Federal Labor Government, did not allow room for such speculation. Why was it that FCA was not able to go on leading the country astray with over-valued estimates of its property assets? It was because the New South Wales Government refused to allow it a prospectus. There are many other apects I would like to mention but time does not permit, but already the sick story of the Finance Corporation of Australia Ltd and that of Associated Securities Ltd has been told in detail. Government intervention in co-operation with the States, local government and the private sector is needed to develop and set up land commissions as statutory authorities to make sure that land is brought to the people a t a fair price.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is there a seconder to the motion?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.
-We have just listened to a speech by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) which has confirmed my worst fears, and I am sure the worst fears of all members on this side of the chamber, about his approach. I believe that all Australians should read his speech because from it they will see that he is anti-business, anti-jobs for all, and is probably the worst centralist and socialist among the Australian Labor Party members in this chamber. It is my guess that the Opposition speaker to follow him will not be far behind him in this respect. Let me take up a couple of points which he made in relation to those who have been involved. He did not speak to the motion at all but talked about big business and those who are supposedly in high places- those in the banking institutions, financial institutions and generally in high business circles. He scorned them for the fact that those people are often included in the Queen’s honours list. I suggest that he had his tongue at its vitriolic best in his speech today.
The people whom he is supposed to protect, the so-called little people, suffered more in the three years between 1972 and 1975 when he and his colleagues were in government than they are ever likely to suffer under any free enterprise Liberal-National Country Party Government. He ought to hang his head in shame because the Labor Government and he wrought havoc on Australians in those three years through, for example, a high rate of inflation. When Labor took office in 1972 inflation was running at about four per cent, but when it went out of office inflation was raging at about 1 7 per cent. There was high unemployment and a wages explosion. As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) stated in answer to a question this morning at Question Time, unemployment in this country rose by 200,000 under the Labor Government. This set the trend for the increase in unemployment that we have seen in the last two or three years. It was the wages explosion of 1974-75 that created a grea t deal of that high unemployment.
The honourable member for Reid also attacked profitability. Let me state quite categorically that profit is not a dirty word, as is made out by the Opposition. The development that has taken place in this country over the last two or three decades would not have taken place if we had not had the introduction of overseas capital. Let us look at the operations of Mt Isa Mines Ltd in the early 1920s. At that time it could not obtain sufficient risk capital in this country to get that wonderful operation under way. The same thing applies to so many other mining developments about which the honourable member has spoken so disparagingly this morning. I suggest to him that he ought not to criticise big business that has come to this country, and helped to develop it and provide so much affluence for all Australians and so many jobs in which the honourable member says he is interested.
I want to look briefly at the draft policy of the Australian Labor Party dated April 1 979 to point out a few factors. This is the policy that concerns urban and regional development. I suggest that right throughout this policy, quite contrary to the approach of the Labor Government in 1972, it talks about co-operation with the States and local government. The document reads:
A Labor Government will . . . work closely with the States in developing co-operative arrangements for devising urban and regional policies to tackle the problems of the 1980s.
Under the heading ‘National Urban Strategy’, the document states:
In co-operation with the States, develop and implement a national urban and regional development strategy . . .
The document continues:
I suggest that with all this so called co-operation that the Labor Party now sees fit to include in its policies, the States will not be hoodwinked. The Labor Party is just as socialist and centralist as it has ever been. It is not encouraging home ownership and free enterprise. I suggest to the House that the Labor Party is the same wolf that we saw led by one E. G. Whitlam between 1972 and 1 975 except that it is now attired in sheep ‘s clothing. The leopard does not change its spots. In this case the Labor Party is the same leopard that we saw in the dreadful years 1 972 to 1 975.
I turn now to the Labor Party’s urban policies in the document where it states:
In co-operation with the States, intervene in the land market to ensure that the supply of land is adequate to meet demand and that land for urban development passes through public ownership as it is converted from rural to urban use; -
– You are very good on the cliches today, John. A rolling stone gathers no moss. A stitch in time saves nine. As long as you have your health, I always say.
– The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) may well interject because on the front of this policy document there is a letter dated 4 April 1979 signed by him and the honourable member for Reid, so he obviously is very much a party to this policy. The document continues:
I suggest that this is the greatest centralist and socialist document we have ever seen in this Parliament. It just goes to point up, as I said a little earlier, that the Labor Party is the same wolf only it is now in sheep’s clothing. It confirms our worst fears about the Labor Party’s urban policy and, indeed, all its policies.
I want to make a few more points in relation to the motion before the House and to look at the Commission’s unfair competition. The honourable member for Reid was a great advocate of land commissions in this country. It was during Labor’s administration from 1972 to 1975 that loans were made available to the States. A total of $1 13.6m was made available in loans and $ 10.9m in grants to four States, namely New
South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. On a State by State basis South Australia received a little more than 50 per cent of this figure. The honourable member for Reid who has just returned to the House ought to realise that he has forced growth centres and his regionalism policy on this country. I use the word forced’ quite advisedly because basically I am not against the concept of growth centres or the concept of regionalism. However, I am against it when it is adopted in a forced sense, as he tried to do it so distrastrously in those three years between 1972 and 1975.
The financial agreements relating to these programs which commenced during the period of the Labor Administration call for ongoing financial assistance up to and including 1977-78. The present Government has honoured these legal obligations. The bulk of the funds were made available to the States as loans to be repaid over a term of 30 years. This was done at bond rate interest. Where could any private developer in this country obtain funds over that period of time at bond rate interest which, for practical purposes, let us say would be about 10 per cent? The Labor Government also had built into the agreements that interest would be deferred for a period of 10 years. They are supposed to be competitive with the private enterprise area. At December 1978 the interest bills of the respective States were as follows: South Australia, $ 17.3m; Victoria, $6.9m; Western Australia, $5.9m; and New South Wales, $4.7m. The functions of the land commissions and the urban land councils, as they are known in some States, are concerned essentially with the acquisition and development of land on the fringes of Australia’s major metropolitan areas for urban and associated purposes. At 30 June 1978 the following approximate areas of land had been acquired for urban development: In South Australia, 5,000 hectares; in Victoria, 660 hectares; in Western Australia, 5,100 hectares; and in New South Wales, 1,600 hectares. I suggest that this acquisition of land demonstrates just what a poor business manager the Labor Government was. Some of the State governments came into these agreements, and one cannot blame them in view of the attractive terms on which the money was offered. If we consider the land boom and crash that took place in the early 1970s, we find that from 1972 to 1975 the Labor Government led and exacerbated the land boom. The very thing that the honourable member for Reid has claimed he was trying to avoid, in actual fact he was responsible for. Over $ 100m was poured into land commissions throughout this nation.
– What Government was in power?
-The Whitlam Government of 1972 to 1975, and there has been no change in the attitude of the Labor Opposition to land councils and land commissions. I repeat that the Commonwealth Government of the day, the Labor Government, was responsible for creating the land boom and forced the resultant crash, which affected so many people. As evidence of that, the New South Wales Commission has taken action to write down the value of land acquired in 1975. The 1977-78 report of the Land Commission states:
With undeveloped land held for 12 months or longer a provision for decrease in value of $3. 3m has been made where historical cost (including capitalised interest and holding charges) exceed current market value as determined by the Valuer-General.
Given the level of housing demand, the New South Wales Land Commission considered it prudent to make a provision of that order. It will be surprising if similar adjustments are not made by the responsible authorities in the other States.
I want to deal now with the position of the land commissions and land councils in the four States I have mentioned, vis-a-vis private sector development and point up the unfair competition that exists. Land has been sold at artificially low prices because it is subsidised from the public purse, and I hope that the honourable member for Reid is listening to this. There has been a subsidy from the public purse to enable land commissions to sell land at slightly lower prices. Most of my comments are directed to the South Australian scene, which is your home State, Mr Deputy Speaker, because that is the first area that took up the Commonwealth Government’s offer in 1973. They could not do it on a smaller experimental basis; they had to go the whole hog and spend massive amounts of money in four States. That money could well have been spent on other services, services that the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) and the honourable member for Reid purport to be so important to the little people.
If the public purse subsidy figure were taken into consideration, allotment prices would be well above those developed by the private sector. I think that is a well established fact. For instance, the private sector developers borrow money at rates ranging from 12 per cent to 1 8 per cent- not at the 10 per cent at which the land commissions were allowed to borrow over a period of 30 years, with interest deferred for 10 years, all now capitalised. The private sector developers pay interest immediately. As I have said, it cannot be deferred and capitalised, as is the case with the land councils. Often the private sector developers are delayed by local authorities whereas the land councils get preferential treatment. That situation is quite well established, particularly in South Australia. The private sector developers are all subject to land tax; the land councils are not. An article in the Australian Financial Review states:
We could be faced with payments of $300 to $400 a block, and that payment goes on to the price of the land the following year when it is sold, one of the developers noted.
So the private developers face payments of anything up to $400 per block per year for land tax while the land commissions do not have to pay anything. I suggest to the House that it is for those very reasons that the private developer in some instances- I emphasise that- cannot match the figure for which the land commissions sell their land.
Let me get back to the point that it is an unfair trading and development situation. The honourable member for Reid knows only too well that it is government subsidy- subsidy from the public purse- that has enabled the land commissions to trade as favourably as they do. I suggest that the establishment of the land commissions was a debacle, a debacle for which the honourable member for Reid is responsible.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Mr UREN (Reid)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a persona] explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. The honourable member for Petrie said that I had forced the States into accepting growth centres. That statement is completely false. In each case, when decisions were made they were made in a spirit of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth. In fact, the Monarto initiative was taken well before we came into government in December 1972. The decision in relation to Bathurst-Orange was made by the Askin Government at least a year before the election of our Administration in December 1972. In regard to Albury-Wodonga, Mr Hamer had talked about a growth centre in Wodonga for many years before we came to office and we worked in co-operation with the Victorian Government. It is interesting to note that in both New South Wales and Victoria we were working with conservative governments. As far as I am concerned, I refute the statement that anything was forced. I refute the statement that I was a centralist. I was an anti-centralist. I was in favour of decentralisation because I was an anti-centralist.
-Order! I think that the honourable member has made his point. Is there a third point?
-I wish to make only one other point. The honourable member’s statement that we gave a subsidy to the land commissions again is completely false. The land commissions received 30-year loans at the long-term Commonwealth bond rate, but for the first 10 years payment of interest was deferred. However, the interest accumulated and had to be paid by the State governments.
Mr HODGES (Petrie)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I did not claim that the honourable member for Reid had forced the State governments into accepting growth centres. Indeed, that would be impossible. What I did say was that the honourable member for Reid was in favour of a forced growth centre policy. Those are two distinctly different things.
– I should make the position clear.
-Order! I do not think I will allow any more personal explanations. The honourable member for Reid will resume his seat.
-i have never forced -
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will resume his seat. The debate will continue. If at the end of the debate he still thinks he has been misrepresented I will listen to him.
– I have been in this House for a long while -
-Order! The honourable member for Reid will resume his seat. He is out of order.
– It is unfortunate that the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) did not devote himself to the central issues raised by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren). He did not take seriously the issue that I think ought to concern every Australian. Increasingly in the 1970s we have had the involvement of finance capital in directing resources into land programs that are not designed to make the most efficient use, the best use, the most equitable use of the land resources available in this country. There has been a great deal of speculation and thousands of people have invested money and lost it. Even more seriously, there has been an enormous change in the pattern of land ownership in this country to the point where thousands of young families are unable to achieve home ownership. This Government, which places so much emphasis on home ownership, is in fact allowing finance and capital markets to operate in such a way that that goal is being denied to more and more Australians. The honourable member for Petrie might have addressed himself to that kind of issue. Indeed, one can reflect that he is chairman of a committee which reported 12 months ago to this House on the way the Government might coordinate investment and capital development to the overall benefit of the environment. That report has not as yet been responded to by the Government; it still lies around unanswered. One increasingly believes that the honourable member for Petrie, who is very much on about big words, is not on about taking stands if he thinks that strong Government departments might be against what he wants to do. He is not interested in the kind of conflict which is absolutely essential if one is to wrest control of Australian cities and urban development away from interests which are certainly not inimical to the well-being of the Australian people.
Over an extended period of time, the Labor Party has placed tremendous emphasis on the issue of spatial or locational equity. People, irrespective of where they live in Australia, have a right to expect reasonable access to the full range of community services. However, within the capitalist system, there is an inbuilt tendency towards private affluence co-existing with public squalor, the privatisation of the profits associated with the investment of capital and the socialising of the losses. Labor in government sought to tackle a range of problems that were the inheritance of the previous 23 years of Liberal Government rule. When people reflect on what Labor attempted to do when in power, I sometimes wonder what they might think if we went back and talked about the 23 years that preceded those three years of a Labor Government and the enormous backlog in problems, particularly problems affecting Australian cities that were attempted to be tackled, I believe, in a serious manner, particularly in the urban area through the then Minister and his Department.
In 1972 land prices were rising sharply, public transport was run down to the point of breakdown, suburban housing in every major city of Australia was without sewerage. Inner city areas were either suffering from urban blight and decay or they were experiencing the early stage of gentrification where the potential capital gains of recycling older established houses were becoming increasingly obvious to the speculators and where above all Australia was facing a future without an effective public transport system at a time in which the oil price crisis was appearing as a signal that the time of the automobile as the principal form of urban transport was coming to at least the beginning of the end.
During the 1980s all of these problems will be, to a greater or lesser extent, in existence. However, they will be intensified because of the problems inherent in unplanned cities which have been profligate in the use of land, which have been and will become even more expensive to service and which because of the uniform low densities and the extreme over-concentration of office and service facilities will be, as they are now, highly energy intensive in character at a time when energy will be much more expensive. It is difficult to imagine how there could have been created cities which would require more movement for almost all types of activities. It is impossible for people in the Australian city to avoid travel- car travel often- for almost every and any activity in which they choose to indulge, even down to the purchase of a bottle of milk.
The effects of this dispersion of the social structure of cities has to be seen as serious with the fragmentation of people’s lives resulting in the almost complete loss of any sense of local or community identity and the separation of people’s lives into many segments of activity which provide little if any real basis for integration and collective purpose and which involve enormous external costs, particularly in relation to transport. Lacking in this country almost any sense or capacity to anticipate the future, we have allowed the 1960s and 1970s- particularly the late 1960s and early 1970s- to be a period of intense speculation in land and property dealings the net result of which is that we now have intensified the problems which have always been characteristic of Australian cities. The chronical of land dealings on the part of the subsidiaries of old and respected banks has been outlined to some extent by the honourable member for Reid. The new finance companies and the various shonky operators who were identified in the Victorian Government inquiry into land dealings is now well known. Governments were, in various situations, ripped off- the Victorian Government for example, to the tune of $4m. Speculation by finance capital, which had been fair game in the mining industry resulting in massive losses of funds for small shareholders in the late 1960s moved finally, in the early 1970s, into land dealings, with the result that the price of the suburban block increased by more than 100 percent in the period 1969 to 1973 in major Australian capitals.
Major capital gains were made and were substantially untaxed. More seriously, a change was wrought in the pattern of new home ownership with thousands of young couples seeing the land and house package moving further and further out of reach. When the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) talks about Melbourne being the home ownership capital of the world, he is just not talking sense. Since the mid-1960s home ownership in this country has been decreasing at the same rate that finance company speculation has been moving into the land dealing area forcing up the prices of land.
This last in a series of great land booms in Australia in the early 1970s ought to have been vigorously resisted by every government in Australia concerned about the health of our economy. Funds were now moving out of the manufacturing area, which was itself moving deeper and deeper into a state of crisis. Unfortunately this was not to be the case. Liberal governments fought vigorously the so-called socialisation measure of the Federal Labor Government, resulting in lost opportunities to stabilise the price of land and direct the course of urban development along rational lines. Prominent politicians in various States, such as the Premier of Queensland, and many leading figures in the Victorian Cabinet, sought to facilitate, if not to benefit from, land speculation to assist speculators who had got in over thenheads. Even the shadow Treasurer of the then Federal Liberal opposition sought to achieve substantial gains from property transactions in Victoria and on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
If there ever was an area of government policy in which there ought to be bipartisan commitment in a capital importing country such as Australia, it is with respect to the need to control land speculation. The great sufferers, as I have suggested, are not simply the new home buyers, the young families of this nation, but also industry, which was forced to pay higher and higher prices for industrial land in less and less convenient locations but which was unable to get from the financial sector the funds necessary for the replacement of aging capital equipment and machinery. The end result is that we now have the Government providing $ 1,000m a year to industry in the form of investment allowances, taxation concessions and subsidies, while land commissions and urban services have been cut back if not completely abolished.
We are indeed, in this country, facing a fiscal crisis in which there are limitations of the funds . to ensure that people are able to live in a reasonable standard of housing in good locations with access to the full range of urban services and, as well, to provide to industry subsidies on that kind of scale. In politics, we have to make choices. I believe that the honourable member for Petrie indicated where he was going to make his choice and in whose favour it would be. If he has to make a choice, his choice is in favour of the speculators, his choice is in favour of the property dealings, his choice is in favour of the crooks that have been ripping off the Australian people over the last decade. He is not voting in favour of the employment of the overwhelming majority of Australians. He is not voting in favour of getting people back into the working situation. He is not voting at all in favour of home ownership, in which he is not seriously interested apart from repeating the rhetoric in this House.
There have been numerous examples in Victoria of Liberal governments being involved almost directly within the process that I have just been describing. Ministers of the Crown have been prepared to overrule established planning practice in the interests of political parties, overruling, if necessary, government policy. With respect to developments at Sunbury, Melton and Packenham, the Gowans inquiry documented the payment of hundred of thousands of dollars to middle men who were offering no real contribution.
-As it is now two hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate is interrupted.
Motion (by Mr Eric Robinson) agreed to:
That the time for the discussion of General Business, Notices, be extended until 12.4S p.m.
– For example, the proposed T. & G. Insurance Group development at Mount Ridley in 1977 was given the go ahead by the Victorian Government within months of its being made clear that the Merri Creek Corridor was not, according to government policy, a preferred development area. However, quite clearly the events publicised in Victoria are but the tip of the iceberg in Australia. Across this nation, people intent on making fast money were able to make substantial profits, and sometimes substantial losses, trading in the susceptibilities of politicians and other people in authority to a deal. Major established banks such as the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and the Bank of Adelaide got into serious financial difficulties because of the speculative activities of their subsidiaries and required rescuing through one way or another by the money of other people.
The Australian Labor Party has consistently put the position that people should not be able to make money from the transfer by public authorities of land from one use to another, that the increment which arises when land is zoned from rural to residential or from residential to commercial or industrial ought to belong to the community as a whole and not be placed in the hands of speculators. This principle remains sound, as demonstrated by the experience of the land commissions in New South Wales and particularly in South Australia where there has been a long and bipartisan history of the Government’s involving itself within the land sector. When the honourable member for Petrie votes against land commissions, he is arguing against Sir Thomas Playford, against the history of responsible government in South Australia and against people of his party and political persuasion. What honourable members have talked about in this debate is not an idle matter. It affects the well being of the families of this nation. What we have seen over periods of the Liberal Party being in office is a resistance by governments to intervene not only in terms of direct processing of land through land commissions but also in the intervention in the direction of the investment of capital so that land is assembled and so that capital is organised in such a way that people in suburban communities of this nation get a fair deal.
In the 1 980s, with the coming energy crisis and energy price crisis, increasingly the kind of pattern in Australian cities will be seen to be catastrophic in terms of servicing costs. Already that crisis is highly apparent in California. The state government of California is moving in a myriad of ways to do something about that crisis. One sees no sign of the Liberal Government in Canberra, of the various State governments around this nation, of the honourable Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), or of the member for Petrie concerning themselves with that crisis or taking any action. If one believes that there ought to be people living in decent communities, owning their own homes and having access to services, then some of that capital that has been wasted has to be transferred back into the hands of people who want to get their own home, who want to work and who want to live in decent communities with access to the full range of services. That will become increasingly costly. It will be impossible if the Government does not do something about it.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Graham) adjourned.
– I move:
That this House, having regard to the requirements or Australian Federalism that States should, within the total economic program, be responsible Tor their own affairs and that the effects of Commonwealth policies should fall as fairly as possible on the various States, requests the Commonwealth to-
1 ) monitor closely the economic experience of the States so that they share fairly the experiences of strong economic growth as well as economic restraint;
examine closely the effects of the four periods of economic restraint since World War II;
consider and make available the effects of all forms of Commonwealth intervention, including tariffs, quotas, bounties and price support systems on the economies of those States, and
ensure that these are discussed quantitatively at the next Premiers’ Conference and Loan Council so that domestic economic experience in the States reflects their respective values of output.
My motion concerns the non-political matter of federalism. It is about the living standards which are enjoyed in the various States, related to the value of production that those States contribute to Australia. There are two principles of federalism in this country. The first is that there should be a distribution of responsibility from the central government to the States. That has been done through tax systems. The second principle is one which is still not adequately attended to; that is, the principle of horizontal equity, that there should be a fair distribution of the benefits and of the burdens of the development of this country. I suggest that my motion has particular application to the Premiers Conference which is due to commence late in June this year. The gravamen of what I have to say is included in paragraph (3) of the motion. We suggest that at the Premiers Conference this year, all forms of Commonwealth intervention in the economies of the States should be discussed and quantified. Of course, I am referring to tariffs, quotas, bounties and price support systems. These should be discussed and quantified by the Premiers at the Premiers Conference and the Loan Council meeting in 1979.
Why do I do that? There is an old saying, for a little man as against a big man: ‘I can run as fast as I can for me as you can run for you’. Translated, it simply means that everybody ought to have a reward appropriate to their effort. Within the Australian federal system that should apply to States as well as to persons. I am concerned with the people in the various States. What is disturbing to me is that when one looks at the levels of income for households and for people in the States over the last 30 years, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have consistently fared worse. In fact, Queensland and Western Australia have been the lowest or second lowest in terms of household income for 26 of the last 30 years. Occasionally they have crept up to third lowest. Tasmania shared the position with those two States. Yet, in terms of real contribution to wealth in Australia, those States deserve far more than they get. What are some of the transfers that occur and which are not measured? They are very important and I will illustrate them quickly. It might be debated in this House that those States should not get more than they deserve because they do not contribute so much to Australia. That is not true.
The most difficult income to be earned in Australia is export income. For the eight months to February 1979 the export income generated from, for example, Queensland and Western Australia- they are easier to measure than Tasmania- was $1,140 per person. For the rest of the country the level of export income generated was $464 per person. The reward for generating that export income- which touches Australia’s international current account, the most difficult economic variable that we have- is to have the lowest standards of living in those States that generate the real wealth for this country. Why is that so? The reason for it is quite inescapable and it ought to be faced. Effectively, through the Commonwealth system there are sweetmeats handed out under the table, through tariffs, quotas, bounties and price support systems which militate very largely against those States.
Before I begin to quantify those, I will give an example of what should happen. Honourable members know that the outlying parts of Australia are the most quickly developing parts of the country. They are the parts that are generating the real wealth. If one were to ask what that means in terms of the standards of living for the people there, it is simply this: Queensland will come to an equality with the rest of Australia in terms of its own living standards, on the present progression, in the year 2065. Western Australia will be a little quicker; it will come to equality with the rest of Australia in terms of living standards in the year 2030. One might then ask when they will come to an inequality with New South Wales and Victoria. Queensland will do that in about the year 2090. Western Australia will be a little quicker; it will do it in the year 2055. The equality is not reflected in the standards of living of the States that are the quickly developing parts of this country, that are generating the real income and have an increasing proportion of export income.
Why is it not? I will go through the tariff system firstly. The estimate was made four years ago that the tariff system in Australia was responsible for the effective distribution of about $4,500m worth of resources. In other words, it was equivalent to a cheque for that amount of money paid to the tariff protected industries in Australia. I take as an example the Ford Motor Co. Pty Ltd in Melbourne. That tariff protection is worth $160m to Sir Brian Inglis of the Ford Motor Company. It is worth $70m or $80m to the Chrysler-Mitsubishi company in South Australia.
Let me go through what is the distribution of those resources as between the States. These are not measured and they are never discussed. They are never quantified. There are $4,500m worth of resources. In 1973-74, New South Wales received $ 1,300m of that sum; Victoria received between $ 1,700m and $ 1,800m; Queensland was paid $300m; South Australia received $800m; Western Australia’s share was $250m; and Tasmania received $150m. In other words, of the $4,500m which is effectively distributed by those means, the three outlying States between them receive one-sixth of the total. Those States contain 26 per cent to 27 per cent of the population of Australia. They produce up to half the export income of Australia. They get one-sixth of the amount of the basic method whereby households are preserved in employment and whereby people are able to obtain jobs. I want to see that that distribution is known, that it is not hidden, that it is discussed and that it legitimately becomes part of the Federal system.
I will now give another example with respect to bounties because it is quite important. There are 12 Acts which effectively distribute bounties in Australia- two rural ones and another 10 that distribute bounties to industry covering a range of equipment from agricultural tractors to rotary cultivators. There are 14,500 people who are assisted in employment because of the operation of the bounty system. I will detail the distribution of those benefits. Victoria has 3,500 people who are assisted in employment; New South Wales has over 4,000 people; South Australia has between 3,000 and 4,000 people; Western Australia has 800-odd; and Queensland has 120 people who are assisted by means of the bounty system, including the rural bounties. I merely say this: The significance of that distribution of benefit and of real wealth ought to be measured in this country. After all, a bedsitting bounty has been given to an industry - where each person and each entrepreneur has been assisted to the extent of about $21,000 a person a year. That is fair enough; I accept it. But why should some people have a lower standard of living, suffer greater unemployment and receive nothing merely because they happen to reside in States with industries which are themselves not protected or assisted? In the very little time left for me, I want to say that tariffs, bounties, quotas and the attractions of the investment system ought to be made known at a Premiers Conference. Until they are known and are discussed, we are not talking about the distribution of the real benefits of the Federal system within Australia. They ought to be quantified and they ought to be calculated. I mention the new system to help General Motors-Holden’s Ltd with respect to the export industry. If a protected company like General Motors-Holden’s Ltd is able to export some engines, it receives a bilateral trade advantage. Let us not argue about that. But why should that proposition be confined only to protected industries that happen to export a little? What about other export industries? For example, were that advantage to be given to Comalco Ltd with the installation of its smelter in Gladstone, which earns export income for Australia, that smelter could be built for $40m to $50m less. The same happened at Botany in respect of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. The same happened in Adelaide with respect to the Chrysler-Mitsubishi company. I am suggesting very seriously to the House that at this year’s Premiers’ Conference these matters should be discussed. They should not be ignored. They should not be swept under the table. The abiding principle of federalism is this- I will finish on this point, Mr Deputy Speaker -
-Order! The honourable member does not need to finish -
– . . . the benefits ought to be distributed fairly and they are not at the present moment.
– He should obey Standing Orders.
-Order! The honourable member for Lilley did not obey the order of the Chair. I remind him that next time he will be dealt with. The time allocated for precedence to General Business has expired. The debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next sitting.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to declare any sections of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-Mr Deputy Speaker, in the House on Tuesday the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) asked the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) the following question:
Will the Prime Minister give a clear and unequivocal statement of the Government ‘s position in respect of oil drilling on or near the Great Barrier Reef?
The honourable member for McMillan was particularly precise in the question that he asked. He emphasised the phrase ‘on or near the Great Barrier Reef, because of the confusion that has surrounded the Prime Minister’s replies to questions concerning exploration, drilling or mining on the Great Barrier Reef. The first part of his reply was replay of an answer which he gave to a question that I asked on 2 1 February of this year. The Prime Minister stated that he would not permit drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. But, when it comes to the question of near the Great Barrier Reef, he prefers to answer that part of the question by giving us a bland assurance that he will not permit any drilling that will damage the Great Barrier Reef. Like so many of the Prime Minister’s assurances, it is valueless. It is simply not possible for him to permit drilling near the Great Barrier Reef and for him to give assurances that there will be no possibility of damage. Who does he think he is- an Antipodean King Canute? There was a title that once fell on a previous member of this House who was known as His Oiliness’. It appears that that title has passed on to the Prime Minister. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial of 9 April -
-The honourable member may not reflect on the Prime Minister or any other honourable member of the House in that way, and I warn him.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Sydney Morning Herald editorial of 9 April 1979 points out the Prime Minister’s reticence to give a straight answer. It is an excellent piece of journalism and states the case succinctly.
– It is a pretty lengthy document.
– I want to quote part of that editorial as the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) indicated that he does not want to let me incorporate it in Hansard.
– I did not say that at all. I said it was a lengthy document.
– I ask leave to have that editorial incorporated in Hansard.
The editorial read as follows-
Mr FRASER is being too vague about the Government’s policy regarding oil drilling near the Great Barrier Reef. He has ruled out any drilling on the reef itself However, he will not give the same assurance about the waters near the reef. Indeed the Government gives the impression that it wishes to keep this possibility alive. Already this year, Mr Fraser has had four opportunities in the House of Representatives- in response to urgency motions from the Opposition on the matter- to say exactly where the Government stands on the issue. Each time the Government’s attitude has been expressed in ambiguous fashion; the Government is against drilling on the reef, non-committal about off-reef drilling, and gives ‘complete and unequivocal guarantees’ that it will not allow any drilling that would damage the reef.
The trouble with this formula is that it could allow drilling in the waters near the reef. The 2,500 reefs stretch along 1 ,900 km of coastline and cover an area of 272,000 sq km. This area cannot be realistically separated, as Mr Fraser seems to suggest, into reefs and water. The two are intimately connected in a complex ecological system. Drilling near the reefs is just as dangerous to this system as drilling on them. For this reason Mr Fraser ‘s guarantees look less copper-bottomed than they might at first glance. Moreover, the concern over their ambiguity is reinforced by the Government’s failure to proceed with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, agreed to by all the parties, which will forbid the recovery of minerals from the reef and its waters.
The context of the Government’s procrastination is ominous. It is no secret that the Queensland Government wants to regain control of what were once State territorial waters. While pressing for this, the Queensland Minister for Mines, Mr Camm, has argued strongly about the need to drill for oil in the waters between the reef and the mainland. ‘The search for oil in Australia,’ he said, ‘must soon extend to the offshore areas of Queensland.’ Mr Fraser ‘s vagueness leaves open the possibility of a deal between his Administration and the Queensland Government to allow drilling. The irony is that all the preliminary tests indicate that it is unlikely that large quantities of oil will be found. Exploration carried out before the Royal Commission was established in 1970 produced two dry wells and only thin sections of tertiary sediments.
However, the question of what quantities of oil- if anymight be extracted from, the waters near the reefs is a superfluous one. There should be no compromise on the issue. Even the remotest possibility of destruction of part of the largest and most complex system of coral reefs on this ‘ planet should be rejected. The reefs belong to the nation and to future generations. The interests of mining groups in Queensland should be ignored. What is needed now is an immediate announcement that the Great Barrier Reef will be declared a national marine park.
– Marine scientists who have worked on the Great Barrier Reef for years tell us that there is no way of knowing what would happen if a massive oil spill or blow-out occurred on the Great Barrier Reef. The only possible way of finding out would be to spill millions of barrels of oil on the Great Barrier Reef. Is the Prime Minister suggesting that sort of scientific research? I do not think I need to repeat just what a fantastic masterpiece of nature the Great Barrier Reef is. The very fact that the Prime Minister is so slick- if that is the appropriate word- in his answer to the question illustrates that he -
-I think the honourable member ought to withdraw that remark. In my view it is a reflection on any member of the House to say ‘slick’. Will the honourable member withdraw?
– If you regard that as offensive,, I shall withdraw it, Mr Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that it illustrates that the Prime Minister is aware how much value Australians place on the Great Barrier Reef. We do not, as a nation; have . a particularly impressive record in protecting our environment. Australians will fight as they have never fought before to save the Great Barrier Reef from the destruction now posed by these ecological piranhas, of the Queensland Govern-, merit and the Australian Oil Exploration Association which, in fact, is more American than it is Australian. Let me make it clear that our oppo- .sition has nothing to do with the fact that those involved are American. I happen to have a greatrespect for many American companies. If the. , lessees were Australian, British, Japanese or. Calathumpian, we would oppose them.
For the record, I will detail the four companies which have leases on the Great Barrier Reef. ‘ Lease Nos. Q4P, Q5P, Q7P and Q8P, are held . by the Australian Gulf Oil Company. Lease No:’ Q10P is held by Texaco Overseas Oil Company and California Associated Oil Company. Lease; No. Q11P is held by Gulf Interstate Overseas-; Ltd. That has been recently taken over by Offshore Oil NL. Only the last mentioned company is Australian owned. A recent public” opinion poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald indicated the depth of opposition to any form of drilling on the reef. The Sydney Morning Herald poll showed that 66 per cent of people were opposed to drilling on or near the reef and that 31 per cent were in favour. A gallup poll asking the slightly different question whether people favoured exploration on the reef elicited a 54 per cent opposition with 39 per cent in favour. Interestingly, the strongest opposition has come from Queensland where opposition ranged from 74 per cent in the Herald poll to 69 per cent in the gallup poll.
The deceit, deviousness and dishonesty of the Government on this fundamental issue now covers a span of over four years. It is just not acceptable to the House or to the nation for the Prime Minister to keep on reiterating that he will not permit drilling ‘on’ the Great Barrier Reef and to follow up with his assurances that he will not allow damage to the reef. I repeat what I have said over and over again- the only way to ensure that there will not be any damage to the Great Barrier Reef, or even any possibility of damage, is to declare the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Act prohibits drilling or mining in a marine park. The Act defines the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as the Great Barrier Reef region and is set out in the Schedule attached to the Act. I seek leave to have that Schedule incorporated in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
SCHEDULE 1 Section 10
Schedule to the Principal Act
Schedule Section 3
The area the boundary of which-
commences at the point that, at low water, is the northernmost extremity of Cape York Peninsula Queensland;
runs thence easterly along the geodesic to the intersection of parallel of Latitude 10°4 1 ‘ South with meridian of Longitude 145° 00’ East;
runs thence southerly along that meridian to its intersection by the parallel of Latitude 1 3° 00’ South;
runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 15° 00’ South Longitude 146° 00’ East;
runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 17° 30’ South Longitude 147° 00’ East;
runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 21° 00’ South Longitude 152° 55’ East;
runs thence south-easterly along the geodesic to a point of Latitude 24° 30’ South Longitude 154° 00’ East;
runs thence westerly along the parallel of Latitude 24° 30’ South to its intersection by the coastline of Queensland at low water; and
) runs thence generally northerly along that coastline at low water to the point of commencement.
Sections 3(1) (definitions of ‘Australian coastal sea’ and ‘Great Barrier Reef Region’), 4 ( 1 ), 5 ( I ) (e) and (h), 8(1) (b), 22 (6), 34 (2), 36 (2), 37 (8), 38 ( 1 ), 42 (2), 47 ( 1 ) and (9), 59, 63 ( 1 ) and 66 (6), (7) and (8).
-The only weakness in the Schedule relates to the northern boundaries where a line was drawn arbitrarily across the tip of Cape York and excludes that section of the Great Barrier Reef extending into the Torres Strait region between Australia and New Guinea. This was due to the confusion that existed at the time over the drawing of boundaries between Australia and New Guinea. That has now been finalised, and in my view the Act should be amended to extend the boundaries of the region to include the area of the Torres Strait now excluded.
It ought to be obvious to even the most unscientific amongst us that one part of the Great Barrier Reef region or ecosystem cannot be explored, drilled or mined without this having an effect on other parts. The complex system of marine flora and fauna and micro-organisms that make up the ecosystem are interrelated and interdependent. We simply do not know what would happen if oil drilling were permitted on the Great Barrier Reef. These are not my words; these are the words of the most eminent marine scientists in Australia. The Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, Dr Bunt, in evidence to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation when asked what would happen if an accident like the Amoco Cadiz ever occurred on the Queensland coastline, had this to say:
Under the worst circumstances, if you take the most intense spill statistics, that we have in our experience and transfer that to a reef situation, then we could very calmly say that one would not be just deeply concerned but horrified at the likely consequences.
On 12 May 1979 Dr Bunt was quoted in the Townsville Daily Bulletin as having said when asked to gauge the effect of drilling on the reef that there was insufficient knowledge about the reef for its proper management. He continued:
The view of a large number of scientists is that we lack knowledge. We don’t know how the living organisms on the reef and the individual reefs themselves respond to the environment in which they live ‘.
Sir Maurice Yonge, a fellow of Edinburgh University, a former professor of Zoology at Bristol and Glasgow universities, and a man who is reputed to know the reef better than anyone else, had this to say:
The Great Barrier Reef is the most important and biggest reef structure in the world. It is a very elaborate and complicated ecological system. No-one can predict what would be the results on the Reef of a major oil spillage. The possibilities are that the whole reef could be killed or that sections of it could be seriously damaged for many years. The damage to one reef near an oil spillage would affect the whole reef system because of the biological inter-connection. °
Sir Maurice who led the first major biological study of the reef by the Royal Society in 1 92 8 said that the Great Barrier Reef was irreplaceable as a source of study for marine biologists. He pointed out that past development on the. Queensland coast had already done extensive damage to the reef and that oil spills in waters around Britain and France had shown how ‘serious the effects could be. In refuting some of the absurdities put forward by the Oil Drillers Association, Dr Frank Talbot, the Director of Environmental Studies at Macquarie University, a former director of the Australian Museum and a man who has studied the reef for over 15 years was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday 15 May as follows-
The Great Barrier Reef is the most complex ecological system in the world. Larvae float for scores, perhaps even hundreds of miles between the islands. An oil spillage on one reef could affect the whole system.
One could go on all afternoon quoting scientists, who are specialists in reef studies, on the dangers of drilling for oil in the Great Barrier Reef.
There is only one way in which the Prime Minister will satisfy the nation regarding the preservation of the Great Barrier Reef from the oil drilling vultures. He should declare the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. That and that alone will ensure that there is no drilling for oil on the reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act was passed in 1975 by the Whitlam Government. Soon after the Fraser Government came to power and in the nearly four years that it has been in office not one inch of the park has been declared. The Government has been delaying the proclamation of the first section of the reef- the Capricornia and Bunker Reefs- until enough doubt and uncertainty can be created so as to allow it to renew the oil drilling leases which have been suspended for eight years.
The Minister for Trade and Resources (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) made a submission to Cabinet in October 1977 that there should be oil drilling in the Capricornia channel. The details of their submission were made public and the resulting outcry caused it to be shelved. The Minister for National Development decided to promote renewal of oil drilling leases again. In his letter to the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) on 5 January 1979- he wanted the application for partial renewal of two permits- Q4P and Q5P- to be processed before the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was proclaimed. These two permits overlap the proposed boundaries of the Capricornia section.
His second letter to the Minister for Science and the Environment dated 22 January 1 979 was a bit less forthright. He stated that the Queensland Government and the oil companies had no objection to the proposed proclamation provided that the permittee is agreeable and only areas which the permittee proposes to relinquish are included in the park. The Minister implied that the park may be declared but of course the oil companies with their wide knowledge of the region will decide on its boundaries. If the Fraser Government had prepared the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act it would have appointed Gulf Oil to administer and declare the marine park. As well as secretly crusading for the rights of the oil companies to drill the reef, the Federal Government has been concocting another scheme by which it will give the reef to the Queensland Government which will allow drilling.
The Queensland Government’s record of pro>tecting the environment is a national disgrace. The most outrageous statement I have ever heard came from the Queensland Minister for Mines, Mr Camm, who, when asked how desperate Australia was for oil replied:
We’re not desperate for oil, but we are desperate for our reputation as far as mining in Queensland is concerned. We want to keep faith with companies which the Commonwealth has encouraged to come to Australia to assist in the development of our major resources.
In other words, Mr Camm is more concerned with keeping faith with American oil companies than he is with keeping faith with the Australian people. In 1 975 the High Court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth Government having jurisdiction over the territorial waters. Yet in June 1979 at the Premiers Conference the Prime Minister offered to give the States the jurisdiction over the three-mile territorial sea.
Since then the Minister for Science and the Environment has been declaring that the park could not be proclaimed until borders and other relevant aspects of the Sea and Submerged Lands Act had been resolved. The Federal Government intends to hand over all or part of the reef to Queensland. This was the subject of the meeting of 17 May betwen Queensland and Federal government Ministers in which they discussed joint control of the reef. The Queensland Ministers are more concerned with their reputations with overseas mining companies rather than with the damage they can cause to one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. This action is even more incredible when one realises that three quarters of Queensland are opposed to the drilling. Not the least of this concern undoubtedly relates to the vast number of small and medium size tourist businesses that depend for their prosperity on the Great Barrier Reef. I have repeated many times my view that the day is not far distant when North Queensland will be the tourist gateway to Australia. If there is one part of Australia that the rest of the world knows about it is the reef. Ultimately we will have an international airport in Townsville. When we can fly people directly into North Queensland from overseas the Great Barrier Reef will be our prominent attraction for international tourists. Can anybody imagine what would happen to the tourist industry in that area if a massive oil blowout occurred along the Queensland coast?
The Federal Government is trying to play the role of the upholder of the environment yet it is instigating moves to allow drilling on the Great Barrier Reef, be it Queensland or Commonwealth territory. Last year and again this year I warned the Government that if it persisted in allowing exploration, drilling or mining off the Great Barrier Reef region, it would have the greatest environmental battle in Australia’s history on their hands. It has ignored that warning. It is proceeding through obfuscation, deceit, dishonesty, trickery and every other means at its disposal to place Australia’s greatest natural asset at risk. The battle has now begun. When it is over and finally won by those seeking to save the reef, it will be the Government’s body that lies bloodied on the battlefield.
Sitting suspended from 1.1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I intend to ignore the personal abuse and sarcasm sprinkled throughout the speech by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). Rather, I will try to determine whether he made any genuine points which require comment and I will answer or refute them. Firstly, he seemed to say that the Government has not given any clear assurance that the Great Barrier Reef will not be harmed by oil drilling. Secondly, he said that the Australian Labor Party is and was totally opposed to oil drilling in the region of the reef. He did not use those exact words but that was the import of what he said. Thirdly, he seemed to attempt to suggest that the Government has not been sufficiently active to ensure the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Fourthly, he seemed to say that the Government should rush ahead, declare the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and totally ignore the complex constitutional issues involved and any rights and interests that the Queensland Government might have in the matter. There is absolutely no substance or truth in any of the allegations which the honourable member made. I shall deal with them in order.
The first issue concerns the Government’s assurance on oil drilling. The House is well aware of the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and a number of other Ministers have given clear assurances many times that theovernment will not allow any activity to take place on the reef or in the region of the reef which would cause harm to it. I will read to the House the answer that the Prime Minister gave to the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) when he asked a question this week. Giving a further assurance, the Prime Minister said:
I have already made it clear to the House that the Government will not permit any drilling on the Great Barrier Reef or any drilling or mining which could damage the reef. That is a categoric and absolute guarantee.
I do not know what form of assurance the honourable member wants from the Government but I believe-and I think that any rightminded honourable member would believe, that that assurance is very clear. We will allow no action which might in any sense cause harm to the reef. Nothing could be clearer than that.
The second issue involves the Australian Labor Party’s policy. This is a very interesting subject of which the House needs to take note. I refer to a comment made by Senator Wriedt in the other place in a debate on 8 May this year about the possibility of oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. He said:
The Labor Party was -
I stress the word ‘ was’- and is opposed to oil drilling in the Barrier Reef area.
I have done a little research and I have come across Press statement No. 504 made by Mr Whitlam on 23 May 1975 when he was Prime Minister. Again, the House should take careful note of these words. He said:
The Government agreed with the stand of the Chairman of the Commissions on the principal term of reference ( No. 3 ) that no drilling should be permitted in the area of the Reef until such time as reliable scientific information is available on the effects of oil on the Reef and its organisms.
That certainly was not an indication that at that time the then Labor Government -
– What has that got to do with it?
– The honourable member asks: What has that got to do with it?’ I will explain that in a moment. The then Labor Government certainly was not totally opposed to oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. The inference from that statement by the then Prime Minister is that he was saying: ‘All right, we need to do some research. Once that research is completed we might well go ahead with mining and oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. I do not know whether the honourable member for Robertson, in opposition, has suddenly done a turnaround and developed some concern for this subject which he did not have when his party was in government. Did he ask any questions on the subject? Did he raise any matters of public importance at that time? What is the policy of the Australian Labor Party now? Is the Labor Party saying that there is to be no drilling or mining in the region?
-What about drilling or mining outside the region? What is its policy in that respect? I do not know whether the honourable member has any answer to that question. It is interesting to note that there are a number of reefs outside the region of the Great Barrier Reef such as the Osprey Reef, the Bougainville Reef, the Holmes Reef, the Flinders Reefs, the Willis Group, the Lihou Reef, Lihou Cays and the Marion Reef. These are all reefs outside the region. I mention them only to indicate the complexity of the matter. The Opposition appears to be saying that it wants nothing to occur within the region but that it will be okay to mine and drill outside the region. That seems to be the inference to be drawn from what honourable members opposite are saying. I think that they need to look carefully at their policies. There is a good deal of hypocrisy in what they are saying. On 8 May Senator Wriedt said that the Labor Party’s policy has always been that it is opposed to mining and drilling for oil in the reef. The fact is that that was not the ALP policy. There are a number of uncertainties about what its policy is.
I restate to the House that this Government has a genuine and real concern for and interest in the Great Barrier Reef. We recognise it as probably the greatest natural asset we have in Australia. We want to preserve and protect it. We will not allow it to be harmed. That is what we have been saying for many months. I do not know when honourable members opposite will understand and appreciate what we have been saying. The suggestion is that we have done very little to protect the reef in the time we have been in government. I remind honourable members of the actions we have taken which reflect our concern for this great natural treasure.
I will list a number of things which we have done as a government. In September 1976 we appointed the members of the Great Barrier Reef Consultatitive Committee pursuant to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. During 1977-78 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was established at its permanent headquarters in Townsville by the present Government. That Authority has met frequently to consider matters relating to the protection of the Barrier Reef. The staff and consultants of the Authority have been involved in wide-ranging studies relating to the Barrier Reef, its protection and preservation. For example, the Authority held a major workshop in April 1978 to review the state of knowledge about the resources and utilisation of the Barrier Reef extending north from Lizard Island. I had the good fortune to perform the opening ceremony and attend part of that workshop. It certainly was a very valuable exercise and a great deal was learned. The Authority made funds available to assist the Bureau of Mineral Resources in a basic program of biological research into the evolution and structure of the reefs of the Capricornia area. A survey of recreational usage of the Barrier Reef was completed in November 1977. All these things were sponsored by the present Government. A bibliography of literature relating to the Barrier Reef was completed in April 1978.
– You say: ‘Terriffic’. It is very valuable, and has been recognised as such by the scientists who do have concern for the reef. It lists approximately 5,000 books, technical papers, popular articles, charts and films. The first phase of a major field program of physical survey and biological reconnaissance of the reefs of the Capricornia and Bunker groups was carried out by the Survey Branch of the Department of Administrative Services between April and June 1978. 1 could mention other actions which have been taken by the Government. All of those actions have clear purposes, and they are to ensure the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and to see how it can be best cared for, to understand its ecology properly, to provide for sensitive yet sensible management of the reef.
This is a joint exercise. It always has been a joint exercise, and that was made clear in the terms of the original legislation brought in by the previous Government. The whole exercise has been a joint one with the Queensland Government. For example, the three-man authority was established with one nominee from the Queensland Government being appointed. Initially Sir Charles Barton was Queensland’s representative. He was succeeded by Mr Schubert. The processes of research and development of management techniques and methods have been undertaken in association with the State Government. I must say that there has been excellent support and co-operation from the State Government of Queensland. The Consultative Committee is again a joint exercise. It is a Commonwealth-State advisory body. So it is not a question of simply walking over Queensland; as the honourable member for Robertson suggests, or telling Queensland what to do. It is a joint exercise and that is the only way it can be effectively undertaken.
The joint nature of these arrangements is underpinned by the constitutional questions which are now being discussed by the AttorneyGeneral, Senator Durack, and with the Queensland Ministers. Questions concerning jurisdiction over the seas and submerged lands are particularly complex issues. The House knows that discussions are currently taking place between the various States and the Commonwealth following decisions that were reached at Premiers Conferences. So this is a complex matter and it would have been quite inappropriate to have declared the Park before a satisfactory framework had been developed for arrangements involving both the Commonwealth and the Queensland governments. It is irresponsible to suggest that the Government should ignore all these complexities- the scientific and constitutional issues- and press ahead to declare the marine park. Consistent with these considerations the Prime Minister, in a letter to my colleague the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) on 19 December 1978, said:
In all the circumstances I suggest that action in relation to the proposed proclamation be deferred until the outcome of the proposed discussions with Queensland is known.
These discussions, as I have said, are now under way. The Commonwealth has been very active in proceeding towards the creation of plans for management and the declaration of this marine park. I believe the Government has acted very responsibly in this issue. It is a complex issue. It is not a simple one at all. All of our actions have had but one. aim and that has been to keep and to protect the Great Barrier Reef for the enjoyment and pleasure of all Australians. In all of these steps that I have mentioned today the paramount consideration has in fact been to preserve and to protect this region. The assurances that have been given by the Government, by the Prime Minister, by the Deputy Prime Minister, by me when I was the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, by Senator Webster and by others involved, have been very explicit and unequivocal. I believe that Opposition members have been inconsistent. They are now adopting scare mongering tactics. I believe that the purpose of those tactics simply is to score political points out of this issue. As I have said, we are concerned about the Great Barrier Reef. We want to see it protected and preserved. We will do all in our power to ensure that it is protected and preserved.
-The discussion is concluded.
-Order! I would like to draw the attention of honourable members to the presence in the Gallery of the Deputy Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament and some of his parliamentary colleagues. I am sure that honourable members would wish me to extend a warm welcome to them.
Honourable members; Hear, hear!
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill and five further Bills I will introduce shortly propose amendments to various taxation laws to abolish the Valuation Boards, to transfer the functions of those boards to the Taxation Boards of Review and to enable particular duties of the Chairman of the Valuation Boards to be performed by a member or secretary of a Taxation Board of Review. The principal Bill is the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill which proposes amendments to the Taxation Administration Act, under which the Valuation Boards are established, to abolish the boards. With the abolition of Commonwealth estate and gift duties on and from 1 July this year, the primary task of the Valuation Boards to determine disputes about property valuations made by the Commissioner of Taxation for the purposes of estate and gift duty assessments will gradually disappear. It is proposed that the functions previously carried out by the Valuation Boards be transferred to the Taxation Boards of Review. The Boards of Review are established under the Income Tax Assessment Act and review decisions of the Commissioner of Taxation under the income tax law and other Commonwealth taxing laws. These boards, which already have experience in determining valuation matters in income tax matters and under the stamp duty laws of the Australian Capital Territory, at present deal with matters other than questions of valuation that arise under the estate duty and gift duty laws. A person who is dissatisfied with the decision of a Board of Review has a right of appeal to a Supreme Court and that right will remain.
The Chairman of the Valuation Boards has an additional statutory function in relation to income tax, estate duty and pay-roll tax, and that is to inquire into and report on the financial position of persons who seek to be released from payment where exaction of the full amount of tax or duty would entail serious hardship. A Relief Board consisting of the Commissioner of Taxation, the Secretary to the Department of Finance and the Comptroller-General of Customs, or their substitutes, then determines, on the basis of the report, whether this release should be granted. The function of reporting on the financial position of persons applying for relief is to be transferred to the Taxation Boards of Review to be dealt with, as the Chairman of the Board of Review concerned decides, by either himself, another member of the Board or the Secretary to the Board. The Relief Board will continue to make the decision concerning release from tax or duty. I should explain that, at the present time, the position of Chairman of the Valuation Boards is vacant, the last occupant having reached retiring age and retired several weeks ago. Members of a board are part time appointees, generally professional valuers or accountants, who receive a fee for each sitting of a board they attend. Details of the amendments are contained in an explanatory memorandum that has been circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Cohen) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Mackellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill proposes consequential amendments to the Estate Duty Assessment Act arising from the proposed abolition of the Valuation Boards by the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill just introduced. An explanation of the purpose of the Bill, which is part of a package of six Bills, was given in my second reading speech on the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill and is more fully dealt with in the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill also proposes consequential amendments to the Gift Duty Assessment Act arising from the proposed abolition of the valuation boards. An explanation of the purpose of the Bill was given in my second reading speech on the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill and is more fully dealt with in the explanatory memorandum that is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill will amend the Income Tax Assessment Act in consequence of the proposed abolition of the valuation boards by the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill. As I indicated in speaking on the first of this group of Bills, the present amendments are concerned with the establishment of the financial position of taxpayers who apply to the Relief Board for release from payment of income tax. They are explained more fully in the explanatory memorandum that is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill proposes amendments to the Payroll Tax Assessment Act, which remains in effect only for the purpose of collecting payroll tax that became due prior to the transfer of payroll tax to the States. It also is consequential on the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill introduced a little while ago. The Bill is more fully explained in the explanatory memorandum that is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill which proposes amendments to the Payroll Tax (Territories) Assessment Act is the last of the measures that arise from the proposed abolition of the valuation boards by the Taxation Administration Amendment Bill. The Bill is more fully dealt with in the explanatory memorandum that is being circulated to honourable members and I commend it to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
Bill presented -by Mr Viner, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of the Bill now before the House is to enact the Excise Tariff alterations moved in the House on 27 February and 4 April 1979 by Excise Tariffproposals Nos 1, 2 and 3. The first alteration increased the excise duty on naturally occurring liquefied gas to $13 per kilolitre. This follows the announcement by the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) on a package of measures designed to encourage the use of liquefied petroleum gas as an alternative energy source. The second alteration follows determination by the Minister for National Development of new import parity prices for the period 1 January to 30 June 1979 in accordance with the Government’s decision that all Australian produced crude oil should be priced to refineries at import parity levels. The third alteration is complementary to alterations to the Customs Tariff Act 1966 contained in the Customs Tariff Amendment Act 1 979. A new item has been inserted in the Excise Tariff Act 1921 to provide for the duty free entry of goods, other than alcohol or tobacco, that are, at the time they are entered for home consumption, owned by certain authorities or bodies established for a purpose of the Commonwealth by or under an Act of the Commonwealth. This is an interim measure pending examination by the Government of which, if any, such authorities should receive exemption from customs or excise duties. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Everingham) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 23 May, on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Hurford had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Government stands condemned for continuing to pursue a restrictive fiscal policy which has (a) greatly increased unemployment; (b) restricted economic growth; (c) failed to control inflation; (d) reduced living standards of the great majority of the Australian population; (e) severely restricted important government programs, and (f) increased inequality and poverty in the community, and accordingly calls on the Government to produce a budget for the next financial year which implements an alternative program designed to promote employment, living standards and equity’.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Before the debate resumes on this Bill, I remind the House it has been agreed that a general debate be allowed covering this Bill and Supply Bill (No. 2) 1979-80.
-I support these Supply Bills. I wish to speak on an item which constitutes a growing commitment on our public resources, that is, the refugee problem. It is a subject of great national and international importance but it is one which is very seldom debated in this House. I support totally the refugee policy of the Government and believe that the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) has handled this sensitive issue in a proper, positive and compassionate manner. I regret very much that he has not enjoyed the support he should expect from some State Ministers, State members of Parliament, members of this Parliament, many responsible community organisations and many members of the public.
Much of the criticism has been ill-informed. It has ignored Australia’s international obligations and has played on many deep-seated fears and prejudices within the body of public opinion. In Western Australia, for example, a Minister has publicly stated that the Government had lost all control over the refugee situation. This kind of comment of course is more particularly directed at the ‘boat people’. This kind of comment certainly is counter-productive to the good intentions of the Government and it totally ignores the true perspective of the problem. It is estimated that, since the end of the Vietnam war, some 600,000 refugees, mainly of Chinese descent, have fled to neighbouring South East Asian countries. It is very difficult to estimate the figure, but somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 refugees have perished while seeking refuge. As at May 1979, Australia had accepted a total of 20,000 refugees out of this 600,000. On a per capita basis that is an admirable record for Australia, but as part of the total problem it is not, and should not be seen as, an excessive acceptance of someone else’s responsibility. Of that total intake, only just over 2,000 are boat people. Despite the publicity given to the boat people arriving this year, their total number amounts to no more than one week’s intake of refugees through normal channels as part of the Government’s official refugee program. To say that the situation is out of hand is, therefore, quite irresponsible.
I hope that the Government will continue its present policy which is based on the orderly movement of refugees through established camps under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The policy, and I support it, is to provide for a controlled intake of 10,500 refugees per annum up to the end of 1979-80, by which time some 32,000 refugees will have been accepted. This intake represents better than one refugee for every 800 people in our population. It is the equivalent of only one month’s outflow of refugees from Vietnam, and I think the public of Australia should view the problem in that perspective. I can appreciate the concern expressed by many migrants who see the refugee intake as being in direct competition with their own efforts through the proper channels to bring members of their families from overseas to live in Australia. To them I say simply that the refugee program is quite separate and distinct from the family reunion migration program and is a response to an international problem. It is a response we should make, not only because we have committed ourselves to certain official international obligations but also because the very nature of this horrendous situation demands a spontaneous and humanitarian response.
The Minister has made it quite clear that there should be no suggestion that more refugees means fewer official immigrants. In fact, the Government has broadened its family reunion categories since the refugee problem became obvious. I appreciate that the whole refugee question is a very sensitive one. I agree also that there is a limit to our capacity to absorb people from overseas. But at present we have a responsibly managed and balanced intake which admits families for reunion with persons already in Australia, refugees, and persons whose skills can make a positive contribution to the economic development of this country. However, I submit that the limit to our capacity has not been reached, and until it is reached it is absolutely essential for public attitudes to be responsible and supportive of the Government in its efforts, in conjunction with other nations, to provide an internationally acceptable solution to this international problem.
I say that for a number of reasons. Firstly, quite apart from the compelling humanitarian problems, Australia is one of 77 countries which have become parties to an international convention on the status of refugees and has therefore taken on certain obligations to assist refugees. We have long been a refuge for displaced persons. For example, in 1938 Australia agreed to accept refugees from Europe, and 7,500 refugees from Germany and Austria arrived in Australia in the 12 months to the middle of 1939. From 1939 to 1978 Australia accepted 325,000 refugees, including substantial numbers of Poles, Yugoslavs, Hungarians, citizens of the Baltic States, and people from many other corners of the world. We all know of the very worthwhile contribution these people have made to Australia’s post-war economic and social development. What I am saying is that the refugee problem is not a new one. We have had it for a long while. We must also realise that we are not confronted with an ad hoc isolated short-term problem. In my opinion, we are dealing with a force of history. After all, the refugee problem is not confined to Indo-China. It is a global problem requiring a global response, and in the last 12 months or so Australia has accepted refugees from some 60 countries. There are about 12 million refugees in the world today- nearly equal to the Australian population- the great bulk of whom are seeking refuge from totalitarian regimes which ostensibly have sought to liberate their citizens. That gives some idea of the magnitude of the problem.
The second point I make is that the present Indo-Chinese problem, which is of great concern to Australia, is getting worse and not better. At the end of April 1979 the number of refugees in transit camps was approaching 300,000. At the end of last year the number was some 200,000. That sort of increase is expected to continue at a quite alarming rate. My third point is that these refugees are located in transit camps in countries with a very limited absorptive capacity which can offer them only a precarious existence, and I should like to quote some very recent figures to illustrate that point. In Thailand there are 160,000 refugees, including some 14,000 Laotians, 15,000 Kampucheans and 5,000 Vietnamese. These are all refugees who have crossed borders, and so island transit camps are not going to relieve the situation in Thailand, which is the major country of first refuge. The figure of 160,000 does not include the tens of thousands of Kampucheans who have crossed into Thailand in the last few days before the thrust of Vietnamese soldiers. There are also 65,000 refugees in Malaysia and 25,000 in Hong Kong. Indonesia has approximately 15,000 refugees, and in recent months the rate of increase there has been quite alarming. There are 4,000 refugees in the Philippines, and smaller numbers located elsewhere.
These countries, and they are the major countries of first refuge, are all characterised by low per capita incomes, over-population, a lack of space, and a relative scarcity of natural resources. They will therefore look, in my opinion quite reasonably, to Australia and other Western nations which do not have such constraints to accept their obligations to assist in the resettlement of these people. Even if the outflow were to cease immediately, and there is no sign that that will be the case, we know that it would still take another two years to resettle the refugees already in camps in this area of the world, assuming that existing promises of resettlement were repeated. We know that the outflow is not stopping, and we can expect that the rate of exodus from Vietnam and other Indo-Chinese countries will expand more rapidly in the future, on present indications.
The fourth point I make is that the Vietnamese Government continues to encourage the exodus. The assurances given this month by Hanoi that it was concerned to lessen the difficulties caused for other countries in the region in my opinion should be viewed with scepticism. I am advised that new evidence obtained over the past week indicates that bribery and corruption still exist in Vietnam. Money is still changing hands, with officials encouraging and organising the departure of large numbers of refugees. 1 would therefore be very wary of accepting grand statements of intent from Hanoi. The fifth comment I make is that conditions in Vietnam and other IndoChinese countries continue to be so appalling since the so-called liberation that many of its citizens are prepare to risk their lives in leaving the country. I hope that we will not, for the purposes of international diplomacy, seek to understate the conditions in these countries, thereby making it more difficult for the public to accept the bona fides of the refugees. I for one certainly will not be constrained from speaking out against the regime in Vietnam.
Overwhelmingly, the oppressive policies of the current governments in Indo-China are given as the main reason for escape. Most refugees have suffered discrimination or persecution. The ethnic Chinese continue to be persecuted, and that trend has increased since the Chinese invasion of Vietnam earlier this year. The confiscation of private property since March 1978 is also a contributing factor, and at least three million South Vietnamese are reported to have been dispossessed of their property and their means of livelihood over this period. The compulsory reeducation and relocation in the new economic zones of large sections of the population is having devastating effects. The mortality rates in these areas are quite horrific. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are reported to be in prisons and concentration camps. It is interesting to note that ethnic Vietnamese now form a significant part of the exodus, by comparison with ethnic Chinese, as they realise that the intent of the regime in Vietnam is not one of massive benevolence. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the people of these countries are facing starvation. I think it is an indictment of conditions in Vietnam that some boat people who have been placed in gaol in Darwin because there is some doubt about their refugee status have written to friends in Vietnam telling them how much better conditions are in Australia. Obviously our gaols offer a far better environment than that available in Vietnamese society. Perhaps that is also a reflection on our gaols.
The sixth point I would like to make is that the development of callous public attitudes to the refugee problem may well cause governments to adopt callous official attitudes to the refugees which, in the long term, will have a negative influence on efforts to seek an international solution to the problem. Recent events in Malaysia and Vietnam itself indicate that several boatloads of refugees have been allowed to perish as a result of official action or deliberate inaction. I can also refer, of course, to the well-known activities of the Thai pirates who have been devastating the seas of this region over the past year. Although no accurate details are available, it is estimated that as many as 50 per cent of those refugees seeking to leave Vietnam have perished while escaping. Estimates range from 100,000 to 250,000 men, women and children dying while seeking refuge. This mass genocide continues to take place and yet the peoples of many receiving countries continue to advocate that their, countries turn their backs on them and make them the responsibility of some unnamed nation. Hundreds of thousands of people- including women and children- are dying and drowning at sea. Yet many would have us adopt policies which would amount to these people being treated as no better than expendable livestock.
Those who have advised me that we should mine the coastline of Western Australia, tow the boats out to sea- these are suggestions that are made- and adopt other such draconian measures might as well advise me to line these people up against the wall and shoot them because that is what it amounts to. These attitudes do not assist the government in its attempt to resolve the refugee problem at an international level. Indeed, it could be positively harmful to the delicate state of our relationships with countries of the region. Unless we show a positive and tolerant attitude to the major problems of this area, we may well find that in the not too distant future, when pressures of population on resources become intolerable in South East Asia, that our right to exist in peace and prosperity will be seriously challenged.
We must therefore continue to meet our international obligations and, at the same time, continue to seek solutions at an international level by supporting, for example, the concept of an island processing centre provided by Indonesia and administered by the UNHCR; by placing pressure on the source countries of Indo-China to have a more compassionate and understanding approach to this problem and, hopefully, to remove the causes of this mass exodus; and finally, by persuading other governments to make greater efforts in offering refuge and resettlement to refugees.
As I said earlier, this is a global problem requiring a global response. In the democratic world this will require more tolerant attitudes than are presently obvious. At the present time the burden is being shared by too few countries. The United States, which has already taken 200,000 Indo-Chinese refugees, will be taking another 7,000 per month at least until the end of 1980. France is taking 15,000 per annum. Australia will continue to take 10,500 per annum until the middle of next year. We may well have to continue our obligations beyond that time frame and with larger numbers. But other nations should be doing more. New Zealand is taking only 900 refugees per annum. In my view we must continue to press the major countries of Western Europe, South America and Japan to accept an obligation to meet this problem in a more constructive way than is presently the case. I would also hope that this Parliament could adopt a bipartisan attitude to the problem. In my view the Opposition needs a more responsible refugee policy. It is not sufficient to argue that conditional economic aid to Vietnam is the only way to stem the refugee tide. The current repression in Vietnam, which is causing so many people to leave, is based on political, ideological and racial grounds. It is not primarily a function of the national economy.
– What are you doing about it? Do you want us to tell you what to do?
– I would like you to try to support the policy we have undertaken. In addition, one should ask why so many State and Federal Labor members of Parliament are so quiet on this issue. After all, it was the Labor Government in 1973 which ratified the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. This gave official status to its humanitarian obligations to refugees. Yet many honourable members opposite are not prepared to stand up and responsibly support the Government’s policy on refugees. Where are those people in Australia and in overseas countries, such as the Scandinavian countries who exerted such pressures to bring the Vietnam War to an end in order that reunification would liberate and improve the conditions of the Vietnamese. These people are strangely quiet when it comes to supporting a policy which promises to give refuge to the many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who they had said would benefit from the cessation of hostilities but who now risk their lives to escape from the place. In my view, if old political divisions remain and continue to dominate public attitudes on this question, it will not only cause further hardship and death to thousands of refugees, but also it will certainly seriously undermine our strategic position in a corner of the world which is of great significance to the future of Australia. - I support these Supply Bills and I reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I support these Bills in the knowledge that our financial commitment in this refugee area may well have to expand substantially in the immediate future to meet what looks like becoming one of the most serious human problems of this century.
– I regret that I did not have any warning that the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) was about to give the House some advice on the question of refugee policy, so I have not had an opportunity to look at the issues involved in any detail. I think the House ought to understand the tragic situation in Vietnam, the tragic situation with respect to refugees- and there is no one on this side of the House who does not see what has happened in relation to the refugee problem as a tragic outcome. Nevertheless, one has to recognise that that situation is a direct result of the policies that were pursued by Liberal governments throughout the 1960s. It is a direct result of the inseparable identification between the LiberalNational Party and American interests and policy in Vietnam. The tens of billions of dollars that were expended by the United States in the most inhumane war in modern history has resulted in an extremely tragic situation, not simply for refugees who are leaving Vietnam but also for that country.
If one were in charge of affairs in Vietnam one would have no other choice, given the attitudes of the American Government and the lack of response to the requests by Vietnam for assistance for reconstruction on the kind of scale that is necessary, than to see the situation that exists there as directly the responsibility of the American Government and of the LiberalNational Party Governments in Australia. Through their policies they have helped to create the tragedy that is Vietnam today. I think the House needs to recognise that. It is all very well for the honourable member for Perth to come in and speak with all this charity and concern, with all this feeling which he has displayed about the people who have left Vietnam. The reality is that those people and their situation, tragic as it is, is very much something that can be laid at the door of Australian Governments and particularly of Liberal-National Party governments which involved themselves in the most inhumane war in my understanding of modern history. It is that kind of piety that this House can do without.
In relation to the Labor Party seeking to achieve a bipartisan position in relation to refugees, I think, on the whole, there has been very little difference. I think the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) who is listening to this debate would say that there is, in fact, very little difference in what the shadow Minister for Immigration has been saying about the way the Australian Government ought to respond to refugees and what the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) himself has been saying. The Labor Party is no less lacking in compassion with respect to refugees than is the Government. But I believe, with respect, that the Labor Party has had a much more profound understanding of what would occur in Vietnam, what did occur in Vietnam and what the consequences are for that country, The decision of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to withdraw what peripheral and limited aid was made available by the Australian Government because of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia I think indicates just how superficial and how limited the appreciation of this Government is of the complexities of the relationships that have existed within Indo-China over a long period of time.
I want to take this opportunity to endeavour to raise some of the underlying or basic issues which face this nation in terms of economic policy. As helpful as lectures may be- honourable members have been receiving several lectures during adjournment debates- to uninitiated economists, they do not assist this House to come to grips with the basic issues that face Western nations during a current world wide economic crisis. It was one thing for the Government in the first flush of victory in 1976 to claim that essentially the problems that faced this nation and the wider world were problems of economic management. The reality is that it has now been shown that we are facing a crisis throughout the whole of the Western world. That is what the Labor Party said in 1974; it is what it says now. This excludes the rest of the world, which can be classified, as the Government would see it, as ossifying under tyrannical socialist rule or as part of the Third World, which the Government tends to expect to be in a situation of perpetual crisis anyway.
However, the reality is that there are no Western nations- with the possible exception of Sweden and Austria, which after all have the most socialist governments in the Western world- that are not currently afflicted with mass unemployment and continually high rates of inflation. Rather than being the success story that the Prime Minister likes to suggest it is, this nation is in the middle of the inflation table in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development groups, and it will be dropping down the table, or moving up the table, whichever is worse, as time goes on during this year. It is rather worse off than most OECD countries in terms of unemployment. The policies of this Government have not worked, but neither have the policies pursued by almost every other government in the so-called Western world. Clearly, the problems we face are not simply problems of economic management. They are not problems of techniques, and honourable members do not need lectures on techniques. They are problems which go deeper and which require fundamental consideration about basic social and political philosophy.
It is difficult to be realistic, as we are often enjoined to be, when it seems that all one is surrounded with at present time, in economic terms, is uncertainty. Having a Prime Minister with the image of strength but the substance of stubborn adherance to long outdated philosophies will be of no assistance to this country. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out on Tuesday, it will lead to his embracing totally contradictory positions- a free trader in Asia and a heavy and unrepentant protectionist at home. The fact is that much of the rhetoric which is practised by the Government bears no particular relationship to any analysis of contemporary capitalism. In these days of large international combines and df large and powerful nation states, there is no such thing as free trade and open markets. One way or another there will inevitably be marketing agreements. They may be agreements between large multinational combines or they may be agreements between states. But, one way or another they are attempts to control markets and, implicitly, prices and decision-making processes.
The causes of the crisis go much deeper than rhetoric about free trade and free competition might suggest. I believe we need to look much more seriously at the commitment of Western capitalism to growth as being solely on the basis of seeking additional profits rather than in any real sense as having its aim and purpose in meeting real human needs. I believe it can be argued that we in the West faced a crisis of overproduction, followed by a long period of booming investment in which it seemed that there was only one way to go- to grow bigger and better, to form larger and larger combines and to transcend any boundary, whether it be local, State, national or international, in search of larger and larger markets and, more importantly, larger and larger profits. It is this period of growth which is coming to a halt, if not an end.
The factors are many and varied. The United States, the leader of the Western capitalism growth stakes, was profoundly wounded by the Vietnam war, in which billions of dollars were absorbed in destroying a country which had won its independence in 1 94S and was forced to fight for another 30 years to secure that independence from European and American interests, not Vietnamese interests, as is so often asserted. The oil crisis of 1973 followed the recognition by the Middle Eastern powers that they could not go on subsidising a Western and Japanese economic miracle forever, given the fact that for many of these countries oil was their only major asset and bargaining tool. There was a steady shift of large scale American capital from the eastern seaboard to the south and west of the United States. It then shifted off-shore and there were massive investments into the so-called developing world of the Pacific basin. The post- Vietnam emphasis on the Pacific basin mentioned by the Prime
Minister in his remarks on Tuesday represented a new strategy for economic imperialism on the part of the United States and Japan. That was based on an economic alliance with conservative, if not reactionary, and repressive East and South East Asian governments and was formed for the purpose of moving more and more American and Japanese industry into new locations in the capital of the East and South East Asian region.
This shift of direction of investment, necessary for Japan because of the very success of her economy, has begun to have serious effects for the United States, where there is a steady loss of jobs not so much because of innovative technology but because, of the alliance between American and Japanese capital and technical know-how, and cheap labour assisted by generous programs of support to encourage export oriented industries, very often designed to penetrate the American, European and Australian markets, where higher profits might be earned. It is this immense economic and political power of the large corporation which challenges any. government to form an effective policy. It is about time that this House received from the Government a little honesty about some of these decisions that are made and some honesty about the problems that are faced by any government in making economic decisions in the face of some of these new economic realities about which I have been speaking.
Investment decisions are increasingly made at points quite remote from the areas where people affected are located. For example, it is clear thai the world car decision was made not by General Motors-Holden’s Ltd in Australia but by the General Motors Corporation in Detroit. In easily accepting that decision, the Government was acquiescing to this reality. Despite the critical importance of this decision to thousands of workers directly and indirectly affected and despite its importance to the Australian economy, the decision to support the world car concept was made without any proper public analysis prior to the decision being made because Detroit said that a decision had to be made by a certain date, and that was it. The Australian Council of Trade Unions might ask for the facts in relation to employment. It was not going to get those facts from this Government because it does not have those facts. It did not know what the employment impact of that kind of decision would be.
Increasingly this will be the pattern because Australian industry has become subject to the control of interests that have no interest or feeling for the people in this country. They have only a feeling and loyalty for the profit motive. We are facing a situation where there is not a section of Australian industry which is not increasingly coming under foreign ownership and control. As the process of consolidation and the mergers have taken place and as industry has grown in Australia so, inexorably, foreign ownership and control have accompanied this process. This means we are now facing a situation where, in key industries, there is a handful of producers dominating the market. In many cases more than half of the top firms are controlled by foreign corporations. This is so in many key industries. It is true of the automobile and chemical industries, and it is true of large sections of the metal industry. However, the extent of foreign ownership is not limited to manufacturing industry. It extends to each sector of Australian industry and commerce. Of course, it is highest in the profitable mining industry, where 60 per cent of the industry is owned and controlled overseas. The figure is 85 per cent in Queensland. It extends also to the tertiary sector where increasingly, as was suggested before the suspension of sittings for lunch, finance and fringe banking institutions are coming under foreign control.
One would have to say that on the whole the commanding heights of Australian industry are no longer within Australian hands. The difficulty is that we are confronting a critical situation where, as a nation, we have to reassess national priorities. The reality is that at a time of mass unemployment capital has been dramatically moving out of manufacturing industries thus creating overwhelming unemployment in those industries. These industries have been crucially important in the development of Australia in the post-war period. Unfortunately, they no longer happen to be the most profitable areas. Capital is mobile, it moves where bigger profits can be made. So we have the exploitation, particularly at the moment, of Australian energy resources as if there were no energy crisis in the whole damn world. What do we do? We are shipping out our coal, we are shipping out our natural gas, we are shipping out bauxite which is very largely energy and we are shipping them out at enormous profits for companies in a situation which we do not control. We do not control massive reserves, compared with Western Europe, the Soviet Union or the United States of America.
We need to discuss this matter very seriously. We just may not have a national interest in what might be described as the most rapid development of our energy resources. Capital does have an interest in making the largest returns and the largest profits. It is capital that is determining those kinds of decisions, not governments, despite Doug Anthony’s attempts to achieve guidelines. The money is not available. It is not available for investment in jobs because our resources, our scarce capital, is increasingly being used to produce cheap energy to export overseas to an increasingly energy hungry world. Let us look at that proposition. In an energy hungry world, we are selling those resources not to the developing countries, not to the countries that have not yet established industrial bases, but we are exporting those resources more and more rapidly simply to reinforce the power of the United States, Japan and the western European countries, and a few islands of very antidemocratic regimes. This Government seeks to ignore the fact that South Korea is a little more than a dictatorship; that Singapore is a country in which real democracy has not existed for a very long time. But we will support those countries in terms of industrial development because we know that they are compliant states that fit in to the United States specific base and strategy. This great concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands is subject to less and less democratic control.
What effective control have the workers or the shareholders over the investment decisions which are made by their companies? Let us take the example of the Bank of Adelaide. There was no opportunity there for the shareholders to be involved in a decision whereby another major bank with substantial foreign equity took over the Bank of Adelaide and destroyed an institution extremely important to the South Australian economy at a time when that economy is facing extreme difficulties. Along with that situation which I have been describing, of the concentration of increasing foreign ownership and control of Australian industry, what do we have? We have the Government moving more and more to support industry. It does not say that. It talks about how industry has to become more and more self-supporting and more and more to stand on its own. What do we find in practice? We find that hundreds of millions of dollars, almost $ 1,000m, is spent on investment allowances and taxation subsidies going into Australian industry which is inevitably going to the largest firms and going essentially to foreign interests that have plenty of capital overseas. The Government is not prepared to put it into this country, into the manufacturing industry, because it has no interest in the development of this country;
Those are some of the realities that we are going to have to deal with if we are going to be serious in this country about economic policy. We are going to have to deal with those sorts of questions and not simply talk about economic management, as if somehow there is a miraculous set of techniques, there are certain ways that we can get our hands on a few levers and in some way the economy can be put in shape. This country is in serious trouble and it is in serious trouble because the Government has no sense of what economic reality is all about in the international scene which we face.
The final point I want to address myself to is the insensitivity of this Government in terms of the effects of its policy on people within this nation.- The Government should understand, I believe, the extreme suffering that has been caused by its recessionary economic strategy. Unemployment benefits paid in this country for young people and adults- they are paid to a great many people because there are a great many people unemployed- are amongst the lowest paid by any country in .the Western world. Those benefits are designed to get people out of a crisis in a few weeks, whereas increasingly the average length of time that people are unemployed is between six and eight months.
– Who is going to pay for all this?
– The honourable member for Franklin, who is out of his place and who is interjecting over there, can say as much as he likes about getting people out of these alternative communities in which they live. There is nothing more certain than the fact that this Government is not creating anything alternative about this society unless it is creating another depression. It is creating circumstances in which decent young people who want to make a contribution to this community are not being allowed to make that contribution because there is a government in power with Fascist tendencies that supports industry with thousands of millions of dollars, but will not support the needs of those kids of this nation. This Government sent the last generation to Vietnam. It is putting this generation of young people of this nation into the dole queues in a way that we have not seen for 40 years. I believe the Government is to be condemned. It lacks any sense of compassion. It lacks any feeling for young people, for aged people or for the people whom it wants to retire early- people whom it wants to retire early in this country on the kinds of pensions and benefits that are being paid. That is absolutely absurd.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The debate on the Supply Bill provides an opportunity for me to draw attention to a practice of the Commissioner of Taxation which should be given some scrutiny. I intend to make some remarks about this practice later in my speech. However, it would be remiss of me to overlook the opportunity of a debate on a Supply Bill to make some comments on the economic and related problems that are presently facing Australia. I want to take a few minutes to look at some of those problems. There is no doubt, when we look at the major economic indicator, that is the inflation rate, that there has been a substantial improvement since the present Government came into office. When one looks at the other economic indicators, one finds substantial improvements. However, there are still very severe economic problems facing this country. The major area, of course, is that of unemployment. Unemployment in Australia, we all concede, is high. It is too high. We should ask the basic question, insofar as we are able to answer it ourselves, why is this so?
The real answer, I believe, is unpalatable to many people, but it is still the real answer. It is now too expensive for employers to employ people in the same numbers in which they could be employed in the past. It is equally unpalatable to many people, but equally true, that employers will employ and will increase their number of employees when it is productive and profitable to do so. That is an unpalatable fact, but it is true. We have lost sight of this truth. I believe that when we return to this truth and when we have a sensible wages policy that will flow from an appreciation of that truth, which is unpalatable to many people, then we will have a substantial improvement in the employment position in Australia. We will not have it until we come back to an appreciation of that basic principle and until we have a wages policy that flows from it.
The Australian Labor Party’s answer to the problem is no answer at all. The Government says: ‘Put people on the government payroll, hand out subsidies to employers so that they will take more employees on and increase government expenditure so that people will have to be employed’. That will not work, just as it has not worked in other countries that have tried that sort of solution. All that it means is that the productive people in the community will pay more through their income tax to support what will be an increasingly unproductive system. There are no short cuts like those proposed by the Labor Party. We must appreciate that that is so.
In addition to the simple truth that I have put forward, there is, of course, another obstacle to the expansion of business and commerce. If the expansion took place it would increase the number of employment opportunities in Australia. That obstacle of course- it is almost a cliche these days to say so- is the taxation, system. It is equally true to say that the taxation system is still a major obstacle to the expansion opportunities in Australia. I read recently in the Economist a statement about the British taxation system. Because that system has, in so many areas, a remarkable parallel to the Australian tax situation, I think it would do us well to consider what the Economist has said about taxation. It stated:
The case for raising the British income tax threshhold and reducing the confiscatory top marginal tax rates is now overwhelming. The British pattern of taxation, with its distortions, its complex jungle of permissible avoidances allowances and reliefs, deadens individual effort and enterprise; it lures the best brains into taking congenial jobs in academic life or the civil service instead of making or selling things; it is complicated and costly to collect; it encourages a mushrooming alternative economy in which honest taxpayers are derided as fools, and the others either get away with it or emigrate.
There are many parallels, of course, between that statement and the present Australian taxation system. It is equally true in Australia as it is in Britain that the rates of taxation and the way in which the taxation system has been implemented, and is implemented, does, to use the words of the Economist ‘deaden effort and incentive. ‘ Of course, the inexorable system goes on. As the taxation system saps the spirit of individual effort, initiative, self-help, self-reliance and the incentive to expand and go into business and thereby create job opportunities we all come to rely on governments and what governments can do. Eventually we get into the psychological situation where we are just too reliant on governments and what governments can do. What is the result of that? The result is that once again productive people in the economy are taxed more to support an increasingly unproductive system.
The present Government has taken enormous steps, I believe, in reforming the taxation system not only in relation to the overall amount of tax which is received but also by a number of other very significant improvements. We should not forget the enormous progress which the Government has made in this area. The Government at the same time, has embarked on, I believe, a commendable assault on the more blatant tax avoidance methods that have been adopted over the last few years.
There are, however, other areas where the tax system can be reformed. I mention just three of them. The first concerns division 7 taxation as it is known. I have never yet seen a sustained and logical defence of division 7 taxation. I really think it is time that the whole system is repealed. If it is repealed more money will be kept back in private companies. This will be used not, of course, for sitting on but for expansion. If we are concerned about unemployment this is one area to which we can direct funds for the creation of employment opportunities.
The second reform that the Government can introduce is to allow for depreciation on industrial buildings. This reform, like the preceding one, was- as I am sure all honourable members know- put forward in a submission by the Metal Trades Industry Association recently. I commend that body for putting forward, amongst others, those two taxation reforms. The third reform which is long overdue is a complete redrawing of the Act. It could be made much more simple and it could certainly be made clearer. I venture to suggest that the result of the Acts being redrawn would be beneficial to the Government’s operations in this field. They are just some basic matters that arise concerning the present economic situation. I think that we should get back to the basic understanding of what creates employment and find ways to improve the employment situation.
I turn now to a particular practice of the Commissioner of Taxation. As I said earlier, attention should be drawn to it. It raises the very vexed question of the discretion which the Commissioner has and the methods by which he exercises his discretion. The matter arises from the provisions of section 67A of the Income Tax Assessment Act. That section allows a taxation deduction for expenditure paid on the discharge of a mortgage. Several highly artificial schemes were promoted during 1978 - I do not defend them; I merely make the simple statement of fact that a number of schemes were promoted in 1 978- to take advantage of that deduction which is allowed under section 67a. The common feature of the schemes was that a taxpayer borrowed money and gave some security to the lender for the loan. Borrowed moneys were then utilised in earning assessable income for the taxpayer who then arranged for the lender to release the security in consideration for payment of a substantial amount, usually an amount equal to one-half of the amount borrowed. A deduction under section 67a was claimed by the taxpayer for the amount paid to secure the release or discharge of the mortgage given by him as security for the repayment of the money which he had borrowed. Afterwards the taxpayer would be released from his obligation to repay the principal sum in consideration of the taxpayers paying some amount less than the principal sum, say, one-half of the principal sum.
The Commissioner obtained information from taxpayers regarding those participants in the schemes who were seeking to take advantage of the provisions of section 67a. He obtained that information from the promoters of the schemes. Having discovered who were the participants in those schemes- again I say I am not defending the scheme- the Commissioner notified each taxpayer who participated in a scheme that he was required within 14 days to lodge his return for the year ended 30 June 1 978. This was done notwithstanding the previous practice of the Commissioner to give generous extensions of time for lodgment of returns and notwithstanding, as I understand it, that the Commissioner may have already given those persons an extension of time within which to lodge their returns. The Commissioner prosecuted some of those who did not lodge a return within the time required by his notice and assessed substantial additional tax for failure to lodge a return within the time required by his notice. Again, this is contrary to the usual practice of the Commissioner to be somewhat lenient in relation to trivial omissions to comply with notices requiring lodgment of returns within a specified time.
In assessing a person who participated in the schemes, the Commissioner disallowed any claim for a deduction under section 67A. I have already explained how that worked. The Commissioner also assessed taxpayers who participated in the schemes to additional tax at 50 per cent of the amount of tax which the taxpayer attempted to avoid by claiming the deduction under section 67A. It is very difficult to see how this assessment of additional tax could possibly be justified, though doubtless the Commissioner, when challenged, would claim that the taxpayer participating in the scheme included in his return as a deduction, for expenditure incurred by him an amount in excess of the expenditure actually incurred by him. It appears the Commissioner is imposing the additional tax in an attempt to deter taxpayers from entering into tax avoidance schemes in the future. I suggest that that is not the role of the Commissioner of Taxation.
The imposition of additional tax in similar circumstances was recently discussed by Mr Justice Smith of the Supreme Court of Western
Australia in a case called Cyprus Mines Corporation and the Federal Commissioner of Taxation. Mr Justice Smith held that the Commissioner was incorrect in imposing additional tax under section 226 on the facts of the case before him. The judge held that the part of the section dealing with overstating deductions applies only where a taxpayer includes as a deduction expenditure which is not incurred or overstates the amount claimed as a deduction. He held that it has no operation where the sum claimed by the taxpayer to be deductible is in fact expended, but there is a dispute as to whether the expenditure as a matter of law gives rise to an allowable deduction within the provisions of the Act. Although this is a technical subject, as I have said, it raises this very vexed issue of the discretion of the Commissioner of Taxation and how he exercises that discretion. This is one case where I believe that that discretion has not been exercised properly.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker, and for only a few minutes, may I take your mind back to this afternoon when in the debate on this Bill the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) made a very significant address on the issue of Vietnamese refugees. The raving lunatic who followed him in the debate was extremely critical of the speech made by the honourable member for Perth on that subject.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The words used by the honourable member for Diamond Valley are unparliamentary and, I am sure, offensive to the honourable member concerned. I ask that you request the honourable member for Diamond Valley to withdraw that remark.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) The honourable member for Diamond Valley will withdraw those remarks.
-Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker. The words used by the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) were very extreme. I think any reasonable observer would agree that he used very extreme language in his reply to the honourable member for Perth. I merely want to put on record the fact that the Labor Party when in office had the opportunity to face up to the reality of Vietnamese refugees. That opportunity arose towards the end of the Vietnam war when the Labor Government was faced with the issue of whether we would allow to come to Australia Vietnamese refugees who, until the end of the war, had in fact worked for the Australian Government. The issue was whether we would allow them to come here. The
Prime Minister at the time, Mr Whitlam, adopted a quite hostile attitude towards allowing those unfortunate people to come to Australia. He said, and it is as well that we remember this, that we do not want Asian ‘Baits’ in Australia. We must remember that at that time the Labor Party had an opportunity to deal with the vexed problem of Vietnamese refugees and that its response to allowing those unfortunate people to seek a new life in Australia was completely hostile.
-The purpose of Supply Bills (No. 1 ) and (No. 2 ) 1 979-80 is to provide an interim appropriation of $4,061m and $754m respectively for the provision of government services during the period 1 July 1979 to 30 November 1979. Each Bill includes an amount of $ 100m by way of Advance to the Minister for Finance under the usual conditions. I am sorry that the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) is not in the chamber at the moment as these are his Bills and he is responsible for the passage of them through the House.
This debate provides an opportunity for a wide ranging discussion on matters relating to public affairs. I support the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) which reads:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: whilst not opposing the Bill, the House is of the opinion that the Government stands condemned for continuing to pursue a restrictive fiscal policy which has (a) greatly increased unemployment; (b) restricted economic growth; (c) failed to control inflation; (d) reduced living standards of the great majority of the Australian population; (e) severely restricted important government programs, and (f) increased inequality and poverty in the community, and accordingly calls on the Government to produce a budget for the next financial year which implements an alternative program designed to promote employment, living standards and equity’.
Over the past week we have witnessed an extraordinary exercise in political gymnastics and deception by the Fraser Government over its consideration of the sale to private enterprise of the Australian people’s domestic airline, TransAustralia Airlines. In the midst of a discussion on this matter I was asked by a citizen whether I wanted to buy shares in TAA. My response was that I already own TAA, as I do in common with all other Australians. Senator Rae of another place attracted notoriety as the proposer of the idea, when in fact the man who first revealed that the sale was under consideration and who has maintained a stoney silence since is the Minister for Finance who is absent from the chamber.
Let me recap the recent events of the TAA issue. I quote from a Parliamentary Library transcript of the Australian Broadcasting Commission program, PM, of 1 5 May which reads:
Huw Evans:- ‘The Federal Government is to consider selling Trans-Australia Airlines. The proposal has been put forward by Senator Peter Rae who is Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations’.
At no stage in the broadcast interview did Senator Rae refute or qualify the statement that the Government was to consider selling TAA. In fact, in answer to a question from the interviewer, Peter Cave, asking how far these proposals had advanced, Senator Peter Rae replied:
I think probably they’re at the commencement stage but I’ve had a tremendous amount of encouragement from people within the Government parties. They’re indicating to me that at any time that matter comes for debate or for a vote that they U be supporting me.
The next day, with typical bumble-footedness, the Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), in his accident-prone style tumbled into the discussion. When questioned about the sale of TAA, he told Huw Evans of the ABC’s program:
All I know about this question is the fact that Senator Rae’s Committee has recommended that the Government should look at the disposal of a number of statutory corporations and businesses owned by the Government and TAA is one of them.
He went on to say that there had been no informal discussions on the sale between Ministers and said:
Let me make the further point that as a result of Senator Rae’s paper, of course the Government will now have to look at the question of the ownership of TAA.
The next day, he admitted that his statement of the previous day had been incorrect. Following the wide impression that had been gained that the Senate Committee on Finance and Government Operations had recommended the consideration of the sale of TAA, last Tuesday Senator Rae told the Senate, as recorded at page 1 9 1 8 of the Senate Hansard of 72 May 1 979: 1 confirm what Senator McClelland has said, that is, that at no time has the Committee suggested the sale of TransAustralia Airlines. I also confirm that I have not suggested in any way that the Committee has made such a recommendation.
Why then did the Minister for Transport state that such a recommendation had been made? I will return to that point later. Earlier in the same day the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Carrick, had said:
As far as I am aware, there is no suggestion at all that there is any consideration by the Federal Government of any contemplation to sell TAA or any other such authority. Let me put that at rest.
I believe that an informal discussion, in which the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) participated, was held some weeks ago on the possible sale of TAA. That informal discussion explains the apparently strange statement of the Minister for Transport, later retracted, and the stoney silence of the Minister for Finance.
But let us go back to the beginning.
– It is a good airline.
– As the honourable member for Canberra said, TAA is a good airline. On 23 April 1979 the Newcastle Morning Herald, in an article entitled ‘TAA sale under review: Robinson ‘, had this to say:
The Federal Government was considering the possibility of selling some of its statutory authorities to private enterprise, the Minister for Finance, Mr Robinson, told the council yesterday.
That council was the Federal Liberal Council which met in Perth. The article continued:
He had been asked about moves to sell such authorities, particularly TAA. He said the matter was under review.
Mr Robinson said that if the Government decided to relinquish any statutory authorities to the private sector, the move could result in a lessening of demand on Government spending.
That is a nonsense because TAA does not draw on the Budget and any disposal of TAA would not affect government expenditure. Accordingly, on 8 May I placed on notice Question No. 3850. Without going through the literal text of it, I asked the Minister for Finance whether his attention had been drawn to the report and whether there was any substance to the report. Further, I asked him whether the sale of TAA and other statutory authorities would result in a lessening demand on government spending and, if so, what the reduction would be and in respect of which authorities. To date I have had no answer. There has been no claim that the report was inaccurate. We all remember the strident protestations of the Minister for Finance in respect of boundary rigging and the inquiry by a royal commission into the Queensland electoral redistribution. We all remember how forceful the Minister for Finance was on that matter. I am quite satisfied that if the newspaper report which, I understand, came from Australian Associated Press, was incorrect, the report would have been denied by the Minister long before this and by now I would have had a reply to my question on notice. He has had 3 1 days in which to reply and he has not said a word. The Minister for Transport first denied knowledge of the issue.
He said that the Senate committee recommended it. Then he said that he was wrong. Senator Carrick said last Tuesday that there was no consideration of the sale of TAA or any other authority. Who is telling the truth? Is it Senator Rae, the Minister for Transport in his first version, the Minister for Transport in his second, revised version, the Minister for Finance in the newspaper report and in his statement to the Federal Liberal Council in Perth, or Senator Carrick? What is the truth?
Five weeks ago there was a raid in the share market on TAA’s partner in the two-airlines agreement, Ansett Airlines of Australia. Similarly, there is a proposal before the Government to amalgamate TAA and Qantas Airways Ltd from December 1980. From the background to these two points there is no doubt that this is an attempt by the cronies and friends of the Government, to try to jump in on TAA- the people’s own property, a successful and efficient airline- and, in some way, head off any move that the Government may make to amalgamate TAA and Qantas. What has to be stressed is that aviation services are critical to our country. TAA pioneered many of the services. In association with its partner, Ansett, under the two-airlines agreement it has developed many of the services. I am not talking about present policy. That is the historial position. TAA should not be up for grabs, backroom deals or snide conferences by the Government or any associates of the Government. The responsibility is now before the Minister for Finance who is absent from this debate. He is the critical figure in this issue. He has to come clean. I challenge him to make a clear and unequivocal statement that Trans-Australia Airlines is not being considered for sale. If the Government wants to reduce its expenditure it can do it in other areas.
– Which areas?
– I will come to them in a moment. The honourable member should be patient. I want the Minister to explain also to Parliament and the nation how he proposes to reduce government expenditure by selling off TAA. The honourable member for Moore wants to know how to reduce expenditure. The Government should sell off its second international airline. It should not proceed with expenditure on the flying hotels, the VIP squadron of Boeing 707s. Let us deal with that airlinethe one with which the people are concernedthe wanton extravagance of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his indulgence in buying two flying hotels. I warned the Government earlier this year of the national scandal it was creating by spending $40m on a VIP reequipment program. It is now a national scandal, so much so that it erupted in a bitter dog fight and fracas in the Government Party room yesterday. The squandering of tens of millions of dollars to pander to the Prime Minister’s penchant for fast aeroplanes, luxury limousines and exclusive aerial chefs evidences the obscene expenditure priorities of this Government. The Australian taxpayer just cannot afford the extravagances of this Government, nor can it afford a Prime Minister with these tastes. I urge honourable members opposite with some sense to join Senator Townley, take a hold of themselves and put an end to this wanton extravagance.
Yesterday, a Canberra Times article by Frank Cranston, a respected correspondent, exposed the Government’s deceit about the true cost of the Prime Minister’s flying hotels. That article mentioned a figure of $30m. I have made my own inquiries. There is no doubt in my mind that if the Government is to modify those aircraft to meet civilian noise standards the cost of that modification will be at least $30m and probably well in excess of that figure. More likely it will be $40m. That issue did not stir the backbenchers yesterday. I refer to the article in the Australian yesterday. It was headed ‘Dogfight over VIP Boeings’. Senator Townley, the one man on the Government side of the chamber in the other place with some rationality and sense of responsibility, who is not concerned about expanding unemployment but is concerned about saving money and responsible expenditure, was pilloried and accused of disloyalty by those who sit opposite. The Melbourne Age of today’s date contains an article headed ‘backbench plea to alter VIP rules’. What is the mass of back benchers complaining about? They are not complaining about this extravagance. They are screaming because they cannot also use the VIP planes. They are claiming that they were left behind in Perth. It is not fair for the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) to fly off and leave them behind. Here is the responsibility and arrogance of these people who want to cut out unemployment benefit, cut back on pensions, abolish indexation but make available unlimited money for flying hotels and VIP flights for backbenchers.
The Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) on the other hand has been very wise. He has stayed right out of it. The unfortunate Minister for Transport yesterday tumbled into the debate. He had to carry the can for the Prime Minister and try to defend the indefensible. There is no way that the Australian people can be convinced that this kind of expenditure is justified. Honourable members opposite know as well as we on this side of the chamber know that there is no proper responsible justification for the Government’s squandering and extravagance. I neglected to mention earlier a point in respect of the Minister for Transport’s silence on the disposal of TAA. He told a PM program that he did not know anything about it. He denied any knowledge of the sale of TAA. I had written to him on 2 May in respect of the article about Mr Robinson which appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald. The Minister for Transport replied to me in writing on 14 May before he spoke on the PM program. He said:
I acknowledge receipt of your recent letter concerning the future of TAA.
As soon as I have had an opportunity to examine the matter I wilt write to you again.
Yours sincerely, PETER NIXON
The Minister knew about the article. He wrote to me about it. When he was asked about it on PM he did not know. The next day he said that he was wrong. I add those remarks to what I said earlier in respect of the disposal of TAA. The use of the Advance to the Minister for Finance to pay Qantas an initial amount of $10. 2m for the flying hotels was an abuse of that Advance and a breach of the conventions governing the use of the Advance to the Minister for Finance. I refer to the 173rd report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts concerning expenditure from the Advance to the Minister for Finance. Paragraph 1 . 1 8 of that report is headed ‘ Conventions relating to the Advances’. It states:
The Advance appropriations … do not require that calls should only be made on the Advances in urgent or special circumstances. Parliament has therefore left the use of the Advances to the judgment of the Minister for Finance.
That is the stoney one. The report continues:
Because the advances are, in essence, a contingency fund for unforseen expenditure and limited as to amount, steps are taken to guard against departments regarding them as a conveniently available source of finance which lessens the need for the best possible estimating.
Paragraph 1 . 1 9 of the report states:
Judgments involving political considerations are a matter for the Minister for Finance- in consultation, as he may wish, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers.
The real reason for the use of the Advance is not that the purchase of the Boeing flying hotels was an unforseen circumstance; it was a political judgment designed to head off a Senate backbench revolt within Government ranks and to prevent the Parliament debating that item of expenditure and voting upon it separately. Yesterday’s Government party room dog fight is proof of Government dissension on the issue. Senator Townley said on a Four Corners program the other night words to the effect that the Boeings would prove to be an albatross around the Government’s neck. That is absolutely true. I ask that the Parliament be given the opportunity to debate and vote separately on any further expenditure on these two aircraft. It should have been given that opportunity in relation to the previous expenditure. I repeat that the Advance to the Minister for Finance is not to be squandered on the Government’s extravagances. A few weeks ago we saw in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) a 30 per cent jump in expenditure on ministerial travel and VIP expenses. Under divisions 140 (4) and 504 of Supply Bill (No. 1 ) relating to Ministerial travel abroad and VIP transport, there is an increase of $189,000 over last year’s expenditure. The amount has now reached almost $1m. The precise figure is $969,000. That is an increase of 24 per cent on last year’s expenditure. Tonight we will hear a statement from the Treasurer (Mr Howard) announcing increased income taxes to pay for this kind of extravagance. There has to be a stop to it.
The last matter I want to mention in this debate is the responsibility of departments to provide accurate information to the Parliament. In the few minutes remaining to me in this debate I want to refer to question No. 3313 which I directed to the Minister for Transport upon notice. It relates to the purchase of ultra large fire tenders or what I describe as ‘Yankee’ Walter fire trucks. I asked about the cost of them, the cost of repairs and the out of service period.I will deal only with part (3 ) of the question. I asked:
Where is each fire truck located and for what period has each truck been out of service due to breakdowns et cetera since the trucks came into operation.
The key words are ‘out of service’. I used them in the general sense, that is, when the vehicles were not available and when they were not able to be used in the normal course of fire duties. The answer states that the only out of service times recorded were 17 hours 59 minutes at Brisbane, 5 hours 9 minutes at Adelaide, 105 hours 27 minutes at Darwin and 44 minutes at Mount Isa. The facts are that in every case the period a truck was out of service was much longer. In departmental jargon ‘out of service’ means when a unit is not on the fire line. The facts are that units were out for 13 days at Brisbane, for eight days at Adelaide and for 45 days at Melbourne. In Canberra the unit has not even come into service, even though I had been told that it had been commissioned for service in February. Units were out for 96 days in Hobart, 95 days in Launceston, 1 1 days in Darwin, 86 days in Mount Isa, 67 days in Coolangatta and 45 days in Sydney. Since the purchase of those vehicles at a cost of $ 1.35m there have been 13 modifications to the equipment.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Debates on Supply Bills give honourable members the opportunity to speak on the economy and to make some input to Budget considerations by the Government. I think it is helpful to the House to reflect on the recommendations in the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure entitled the Parliament and Public Expenditure’. The report made two relevant recommendations. The first recommendation was to the effect that the report be debated in the House in the 1979 autumn sittings. That debate has not yet taken place and it is doubtful whether it will take place. The fourth recommendation is that a time be set aside early in the autumn sittings of the House for debate on expenditure patterns and priorities. (Quorum formed).
I am obliged to the Opposition for calling for a quorum. Not many members of the Opposition have come into the chamber. This is unfortunate because this is a debate from which they could learn a few things. For those honourable members who are here let us start with the basic economic lessons. These debates on Supply Bills provide the opportunity for private members to put forward those proportions which they feel could contribute to Budget considerations. I think this is important for the elected representatives not only on the Government side but also on the Opposition side. So far what we have heard from Opposition members might be described as economics of convenience. The policies which they have espoused to this stage have been put forward in the realisation that Opposition members will never have to wait around to see whether they prove to be feasible. For instance, the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) spoke about the proposed purchase of two Boeings for the VIP fleet but he omitted to say what a Labor government would do about it. There was no need for him to do so because on its past performance Labor would not be in office for a long time. The same thing applies in respect of some of the policies which were outlined by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr
Hurford), who last night opened for the Opposition in this debate. It is plain that the policies espoused by the Opposition as Budget inputsand this applies to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) particularly- will not be put to the test because they know very well that they will never be called upon to account for what they have said. Their promises are just words in the wind.
In a debate of this type there is an opportunity for me on behalf of my electorate to mention some of the things that I feel my constituents would regard as important. I speak on behalf of an electorate which has a fair productivity. I think the electorate of Dawson could be considered to be one of the most productive in the Commonwealth.
– Seven per cent of the nation’s exports come from my electorate. I do not know whether any other electorate in Australia can match that performance. I think that my constituents would expect their elected representative to make some input to Budget considerations. We in the north of Queensland or Queenslanders generally, are often accused of being conservative. I like to think that we are more realistic than possibily some people from the other States. In this atmosphere of realism I get the very distinct impression that the average person in the electorate of Dawson or anywhere else in Queensland would say that taxes are too high. That is fair comment. People have been saying that for a long time. I think it is fair to say that perhaps Commonwealth expenditure also is at an exceedingly high level. The third item that people often complain about is that there are too many people avoiding their tax responsibilities. It is in respect of these three areas that I want to discuss the Budget.
First of all, I will deal with the claim that taxes are too high. Before I became a member of parliament I was a public accountant and I know that the cry of taxes being too high goes back to the 1 950s. It is not a new complaint by taxpayers. It is just that today we see more Press reports and hear comment on high taxes than on any other subject. It does not follow that taxes today should be compared with taxes applied in earlier years.
For many years Australian taxpayers have been hit rather hard because of inflation and this has pushed them into higher tax brackets. This had cut their earnings and boosted the tax flow to Canberra. The Australian Labor Party knows a fair bit about that. That situation was not acceptable to the coalition Government. So within months of gaining office the present Government acted decisively by introducing tax indexation. Incomes were automatically protected against tax increases caused by inflation. This Government introduced what has been described as the most significant tax reform in Australian history. Yet when the Labor Party was in power it had the opportunity to index taxation but it did not opt for it. This Government has cut the tax rates and introduced a new and simplified three-tier tax scale. Now, for the first time in 10 years, the personal income tax collected by a Federal Government will fall in real terms. The Government’s tax reforms have made sure that taxpayers today pay less than they would be paying had the Labor Party remained in office. Even allowing for the impact of the 1.5 per cent surcharge, taxpayers are still paying considerably less tax then they would be paying had the so-called Hayden tax scales still applied. I think we could have expected that.
The facts are quite clear. I give as an example a taxpayer with a spouse and dependant child and with a average weekly earnings of $220. Under the 1975 Budget tax scales of the then Treasurer, Mr Hayden, in January of that year the taxpayer would have been paying $49.85 per week tax. Under this Government he will be paying $40.85 per week tax on the same wage, and that includes the tax surcharge. The taxpayer on average weekly earnings is $9 a week better off because of this Government’s tax reforms.
Despite what has been said by the Opposition, the Government’s tax reforms benefit taxpayers at all levels of income, low and high. A non levy taxpayer with dependent spouse, earning $100 a week was paying $7.85 tax per week in January 1976. Now the same taxpayer on $100 per week pays no tax. The same taxpayer, earning $150 per week in January 1 976, was paying $25.60 per week in tax. Now he pays $ 1 6.30 per week. That taxpayer who might have been earning $300 in January 1976 was paying $91.70 in tax. Now he pays only $68.95. The significance of this Government’s tax policies and economic strategy is highlighted by these comparisons and by remembering the tax grab made during the high inflation period of the last Federal Labor Government. In 1972-73, the Labor Government collected $4,089 billion in income tax from all Australians. In 1974-75 the Labor tax grab rose to $7,714 billion. This represents an 89 per cent increase in taxation collected by the previous Government in two years, or 44 per cent in real terms. Yet the Opposition talks glibly about tax increases without realising the implications of its own schemes. Unfortunately, members of the Press take this to heart and highlight what they consider to be the relevant Press comments of the day or the emotional issues, without looking at the facts. The amount of tax paid by the average taxpayer throughout Australia has been considerably reduced. The figures prove it applies to all levels.
I am not saying that the tax base is too low or it is considered to be at a reasonable level, but I think we must look at what happened in the past and at our present position. The only way we can increase revenue to the Commonwealth now is by an improvement in economic growth that will automically gather momentum and mean more income at the same rates to the coffers of the Treasury, or by increasing taxation. I do not think anybody would deny they would be the only two avenues open to the Government.
The second aspect is that of expenditure. It has been too high. I believe there is room for consideration in any debate on a potential budget- as the Expenditure Committee foresaw- to talk in terms of the expenditure of the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, in the past we have been in a situation of agreeing to Parkinson’s law where the Government sets its expenditure then tries to collect income to cover it by raising taxes. Unfortunately, that is an unhealthy situation, particularly where the input is from the public servants and the bureaucracy and not from the elected members. I think the average citizen recognises and realises that there could be less expenditure. Unfortunately the hopes and aspirations of the people out in the field, whilst they see there should be less, are such that they always want more. Recently, the Treasurer said- it was reported in the Bulletin of this week- that higher expenditure can be met only with higher taxation; there is no alternative to it
This Parliament is not the Santa Claus as far as the welfare and health systems of Australia are concerned. We have no money of our own to give. Parliament is the custodian of the money that the Government collects. So there is a very close relationship between taxation on the one hand and welfare on the other hand. In the last few years the Government has been put into a straight jacket situation due to the welfare schemes put forward by the Labor Government at a time when the expectations of the people to receive more were very readily grasped. It is all very well to introduce a program and to get credit for it, but it is Dickens’ own job to take that program away from the people when there has been an expectation for its continuation. The years from 1972 to 1975 give an ample demonstration of that situation. There is also tax indexation, pension indexation and a form of indexation which the States and local governments will expect to receive from any year’s collections. The last form of indexation is that of wages.
I can remember a former Labor Treasurer, Mr Crean, saying on many occasions in this House: If you index everything, have you indexed anything?’ I am inclined to agree with that. When one looks at those four types of indexation, one sees the tremendous pressure they bring to bear on any Government before it is able to plan and proceed with its own budgetary figures. I have extracted figures for four programs as far as the expectations for 1978-79 Budget were concerned. The Government expected to receive in taxation from every source, direct and indirect, $23,769m to which was added interest, rent, et cetera. Then there was the expected expenditure of $28,869m. Let us break that down to the basic dollar collected and spent by the Commonwealth. On education the Government spent 10.5c of that dollar. That disregards the fact that the States are the primary custodians of our children ‘s education throughout the nation. The figure for health is 12.3c in the dollar. Again, the States have responsibility for health. With social security the figure rises to 33.7c in the dollar. The States and Territories receive 27.6c in the dollar. Adding those four expendable items- there are no items of an asset nature that would accumulate for future generations- the total is 84.1c in the dollar. As I said, State and local government receives 27.6c in the dollar; yet they are the ones who continually ask for more.
Under our federalism system we were giving additional funds to the States. I can prove that by using certain figures, which I can substantiate, for my own State of Queensland, where between 1975-76, the last year in which the Labor Government had an input into the Budget, and the 1977-78 year the income from the Commonwealth to the Queensland State Treasury increased by 36.6 per cent. The State ‘s other revenue from tax increased by only 27.4 per cent. These funds are going to the States and to local government but not with the responsibility that they demand. Under our federalism policy the amount given to the States and local government in 1975-76 was $4,436m. In 1 978-79 the amount reached $6,557m, an increase of $2, 122m or a total increase of 47.8 1 per cent.
My contribution to a Budget debate would be this: Perhaps we should look at the federalism policy and implement it properly. We should ask the States, in return for the extra finance that they have received, which is quite considerable, to take over the responsibility for many of the areas in which there is duplication. I have mentioned education and health. I add transport, particularly roads. There is no recognition by any State that these funds have been increased. Yet the kickbacks as far as the Commonwealth are concerned have been massive whenever the States want to get out of their own budgetary situation. The Public Service figures amply show that in the three years we have been in government our figures have increased by 2,000 between 1975 and 1978. These are figures I obtained from the Library. Yet in every State the increases have been rather massive. While the Commonwealth has been called upon to act responsibly, the States have not. I suggest we could start on the long term project under the federalism scheme of transferring the actual services that are supplied jointly at present back to the States because they have the funds to do it. Education, health, transport, housing and similar matters could be looked at realistically.
It has been said that in a situation like the one I have just espoused, one has to bite the bullet. The political realities of biting bullets in these days of three-year terms is that governments are left with gaps in their teeth. This could well have political ramifications. If the gaps are so severe, a government that tries to act responsibly might not get popular support at the next election. It is unfortunate that any government has to make promises to the electorate under the constraint of a three-year term. It is not the master of its own destiny. If the Press were to put that point to the nation, rather than the devious policies of the Opposition in relation to employment and other matters perhaps those policies would be found wanting. If this realisation got through to the people, any government could act more responsibly by looking at things realistically as they came along. If we looked at it honestly, we could tell the people that if they want the services that they have had in the past the results will be greater deficits, greater inflation, the printing of more money and the raising of more loans which our grandchildren will have to pay for without any services being provided. Finally, the result would be higher taxation. As some people are fond of saying, unless we bite the bullet, under the constraints of a three-year term governments of any persuasion are going to go further into the morass.
The last point I wish to make is that too many people are avoiding their proper responsibilities. This morning during Question Time Labor members were challenged to present their record on tax avoidance measures. Of course, they have no such record. During Labor’s three-year term of office tax avoidance increased considerably. As far as this Government’s record is concerned, we have gone so far and we can go a lot further, not so much in relation to tax minimisation but in relation to blatant tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes. I believe that tax minimisation on such things as trusts and slit income should be examined so that we could legislate more effectively to provide equity to all Australian families and taxpayers. I know that the Treasurer has constantly brought before this House measures to stop blatant tax avoidance as such schemes have come to his notice. Thus the Commonwealth has available to it many millions of dollars that would otherwise have been lost by it.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In the time available to me today, I want to raise several matters of great public concern. They relate to the Government’s lack of foresight and initiative in relation to an energy policy and the implications of that lack of vision for the fate of the Great Barrier Reef. It gives me pleasure to see at the table the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom), who might be able to answer a few of the questions I propose to raise. I wish to deal also with matters relating to the Government’s failure to provide adequate security and surveillance against Taiwanese poaching in our northern waters. Finally, I wish to raise the question of the Government’s miserable and heartless penny-pinching social security policy, observing only the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit of the Social Security Act, thus penalising and victimising the weak, the aged, the crippled, and even the spastics.
I will deal firstly with what has been happening lately in and around the Great Barrier Reef. By now, most members should be aware that Taiwanese fishing fleets have taken to poaching, polluting and plundering the Great Barrier Reef with a passion. The scale and frequency of the Taiwanese invasion and the indisputable evidence of Taiwanese mother ships suggests that there is a clear conspiracy, a deliberate and concerted effort to pilfer clams, which is prohibited by the laws of this Parliament. If these Taiwanese fishing boats carried arms, there is no doubt that, in view of the size of the armada that has descended upon the Great Barrier Reef in recent months, Australia would probably be compelled to declare a state of war. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to work in conjunction with his fellow Ministers and to investigate whether the boats operate with a mother ship or with an air base on a neighbouring island. It is inconceivable that each of these small boats would carry its enormous and expensive stolen cargo all the way back to Taiwan. Obviously a better organised operation is going on. A trip on one of these slow chug boats would be a trip on a slow boat to China.
I am on record as having advocated nothing less than the sternest measures to discourage this feverish plundering. Last week the tide of public opinion finally reached the courts, where in my opinion Taiwanese fishermen have in the past got off lightly for their continued breaches of either the Fisheries Act or the Continental Shelf (Living Natural Resources) Act. The Magistrate in Cairns, Mr B. J. Scanlan, in response to an increasingly hostile and indignant public, committed Taiwanese fishermen to gaol. I regret that he had to make an example of members of the crew, who are paying the price for the indiscretions and excesses of their captains, the owners of the boats, and the company men who are responsible for sending these young fishermen and their captains into Australian waters to pollute and plunder the Great Barrier Reef. However, as I said in a statement released last week, we ought to draw comparison with the sort of justice meted out to some Australians in Asia. At the same time as the captain of the Hae Weng Sheng was getting his crew ready for an allexpensespaid jet trip to Taiwan, an Australian, Steven Byford of Adelaide, was being released from a Malaysian gaol where he had languished for 18 months waiting to stand trial on drug charges. When his case came up, the Malaysian magistrate found him innocent of the charge.
I firmly believe that in case of premeditated poaching a glaring example must be made of offenders if the Taiwanese are to be deterred effectively. I was glad to note that in sentencing the most recent offenders Mr Scanlan said exactly what I have been saying for some weeks. Once we begin picking up second and third offenders, someone has to throw the book at them, particularly when they have begun to pollute the Great Barrier Reef by scuttling their boats, a practice which has occurred lately. Apparently scuttling constitutes a cash sale under the terms of their insurance policies and they can receive redemption. The cost to the Australian taxpayer of cleaning up the oil spills created by scuttling the boats has been enormous.
I turn now to another menace with which the Great Barrier Reef has been plagued lately, a menace even more insidous than the Taiwanese fishermen. The spectre of a catastrophic oil blowout and spill loomed larger last week after a meeting in Sydney of Queensland and Federal Ministers. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard that section of the 1977-78 report of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which deals with oil drilling.
The document read as follows-
OIL AND THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
The issue of drilling for oil on the Great Barrier Reef received much discussion in the media during 1977-78. The Authority recommended at a meeting in July 1977 that the results of research on the effects of oil on coral reefs should be available before any decision is reached on whether or not to permit exploratory drilling.
Media discussion on the oil drilling question continued, and on 8 May 1978 two members of the Authority made a strong and unambiguous stand on the issue. In their press release, Dr J. T. Baker and Sir Charles Barton reaffirmed the Authority’s view that adequate research needs to be conducted before any decision on oil drilling can be made. This view is in accordance with the view of the Chairman of the joint Commonwealth-Queensland Royal Commissions’ Report into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the area of the Great Barrier Reef. Sir Gordon Wallace, the Chairman of the Royal Commissions, had considered that drilling in the Great Barrier Reef should be postponed.
The members considered that drilling should only be permitted in the light of full scientific knowledge of all the effects of oil pollution on the delicately balanced ecosystems of the Reef. Research should encompass oil’s direct and indirect effects, both short and long term, on corals and other marine life.
The threat to the Great Barrier Reef from oil is not limited to proposed oil drilling activities. Of more immediate concern are the risks associated with the passage of oil tankers and other shipping through the region. The Authority is seeking a co-ordinating role in the development of research into this potential problem as well as monitoring research by other organisations.
– I thank the House. The intention of both governments is now clear, despite the verbal dexterity of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). By handing over to the Queensland Government the three-mile offshore territorial waters, as the Prime Minister will do within the next three months, he is virtually handing the Gulf Oil Company the mining rights to the Great Barrier Reef on a gold platter. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is day by day looking more like something that might have been rather than something that will be. Some indication of the indication of the Goverfment’s downgrading of the Marine Park Authority can be gained by looking at an exercise undertaken by the Department of Science and the Environment to recruit an A grade journalist to be attached to the Authority. Some 74 applications were received for the job and interviews were held in Canberra, Brisbane and Townsville. The applicants were flown hither and thither for interviews at great government expense, I suggest. I take this opportunity to inform those journalists that they can look elsewhere for employment. I understand that the Authority is no longer offering the job.
Another indication of the Government’s plan for the Authority came two weeks ago with the announcement of Mr Henry Higgs as the Authority’s permanent chairman. I should remind honourable members of the concern I raised in this chamber last year during the debate on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 1978. The Bill lowered the qualifications necessary for the appointment of a permanent chairman to the Authority as set out in the original Act. In my research of that amendment Bill I discovered great uneasiness amongst organisations in the community, including the Australian Conservation Foundation. They expressed concern about the vague purposes given for the amendment and the suspicious behaviour of the then Minister. On 2 1 September last year I said in this House:
It has been brought to my attention that the Government in fact has decided on who is to be permanent chairman of the Authority. If the Government has someone in mind for the Chairmanship, if by legislation it is going to tailor requirements for that position to its anonymous nominee for the chairmanship- that is, setting the qualifications to suit the man rather than setting the man to suit the qualifications- let the Government show its hand. If it refuses to do this, conservationists are liable to suspect that the Government is fiddling the requirements of the job in order to instal a permanent chairman who may or may not be acceptable to the conservationists and to the Australian Conservation Foundation but who may be acceptable to this Government and the Government of . . . Queensland.
Such a man has now been installed as Chairman of the Marine Park Authority. Mr Henry Higgs’ appointment proved how right he was in making that statement last year. May I point out that Mr Henry Higgs, while acting Chairman of the Authority for 12 months, was also Director of the Department of the Environment. In the legislation committee, established to review the Bill following the third reading debate, I asked the Minister straight out whether the Government was lowering the qualifications because it wanted to appoint someone qualified in marine biology but on side with the Government’s position on drilling the reef. The then Minister said:
I assure the Committee that we have no particular person in mind.
Subsequent events have shown that the Minister either was excessively misinformed of the facts or, I suspect, handled the truth a little carelessly. The present Minister should answer publicly how diligently the Government sought out a well qualified chairman and how many applications were turned down in favour of Mr Higgs.
Returning to the speech I made on 21 September last year I explained the importance of the position of the permanent chairman by saying:
The stance of the . . . Authority and its chairman is of enormous consequence to Mr Bjelke-Petersen if he is to get his way in respect of ‘oil rigging the reef.
The findings of the Royal Commission into Petroleum Drilling in the area of the Great Barrier Reef were inconclusive. The Chairman of the royal commission, Sir Gordon Wallace, found that drilling, preferably, should be postponed while the other two commissioners thought drilling permissible in certain areas. Obviously, educated opinion is divided on whether drilling should take place. Just as obviously, it matters greatly to the Premier of Queensland on which side of the fence the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority stands.
The numbers on the Authority are critical. One of the two part time members of the Authority is elected by the Queensland Government. At present that member is Mr S. Schubert, the Coordinator General of Queensland. I suggest he is a man with as much knowledge of marine biology as the present Prime Minister has of poverty. The other part time member is Dr J. Baker, a man eminently qualified for his position on the Authority. Remaining member of the Authority, the permanent Chairman who casts the deciding vote, is now Mr Henry Higgs, a munitions expert, not a marine biologist, and former principal of the Woomera Rocket Range, an engineer who, in the past, has not exhibited much support for the conservationists. Just the other day in an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio Mr Higgs let the world know of his knowledge of the reef when he said:
The reef is 2,000 miles long and there is a lot of water in between.
The qualifications stated above suggest that he should not sit on the Authority as permanent Chairman. Sending Mr Henry Higgs to the Barrier Reef is like sending Brutus to Caesar’s funeral. He will go, not to praise or preserve the reef but to bury it.
Yet another indication of the fate of the Marine Park is given by the Authority itself in its own reports. In the report for 1976-77, the Authority said: lt is anticipated that ultimately the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park will include the entire reef and adjacent waters in one park extending from Lady Elliott Island (just north of Fraser Island ) to the tip of Cape York.
In the 1977-78 report, however, we find the Authority evidently less optimistic. It said in that report:
The majority of the Great Barrier Reef region will probably, in the long term, be proclaimed as a Marine Park.
The difference in outlook between the two reports is obvious. May I suggest that the Park Authority’s report for the current year should be inscribed ‘RIP’, rest in peace. The submission for the first portion of the reef, known as the Capricornia section has been gathering dust on the Minister’s desk since March 1977. The Queensland Premier has written to the Prime Minister informing him bluntly that his Government will not even discuss the Marine Park until the issue of handing over to Queensland control of the three-mile territorial waters is decided. Once the Queensland Premier gets that threemile ring of confidence around every island and along the entire length of the Queensland coast, the Barrier Reef will end up looking like a long piece of Swiss cheese. It should be noted that there will be plenty of holes in that map where the Premier can erect his oil rigs. I give notice to the Prime Minister and to his Government that there is no way that this manoeuvre will not be challenged in the High Court. It is unsound and unconstitutional and the Government’s own advisers have told it so.
Finally, I would like to relate a story I was told by the parents of a young spastic quadriplegic last week. I was contacted by the parents of Tony Freeman, a spastic quadriplegic. His parents told me that his invalid pension had been reduced by the Department of Social Security. And by how much had they reduced it? By only 50c a week. Now, why should the Department bother two age pensioners who have cared for their spasticson for the last 25 years to tell them that Tony cannot have 50c a week. The Department did not bother to tell them why. Following my representations it was disclosed that Tony’s parents, John and Yvonne, had placed $920 in a building society account in Tony’s name. That saving was yielding the princely sum of $77 a year in interest. Because the Government’s means test for supplementary assistance or rent allowance is only $1 a week, or $52 a year, Tony’s income from that interest was over the means test limit by $25 a year or 50c a week. Fifty cents a week certainly does not seem like too much when compared with the $15m the Prime Minister will spend on the VIP aircraft this year and probably another $15m next year to have the engines silenced. Accordingly, the Department ripped that 50c a week off Tony. No explanation was tendered. Now, the 50c a week is not the issue. As Tony’s mother told me, it is the principle that smells in this matter. These people have scrimped and saved. They have sacrificed a great deal for their spastic son over the last 25 years. If that boy had been placed in an institution for the last 25 years, he would not have had the sort of attention, love and affection and it would have cost the taxpayer approximately $ lm to give him only very basic care.
Tony is bedridden. He cannot walk or talk. He cannot feed or clothe himself. His sole pleasure is looking at the toys his parents have pinned to the ceiling over his cot. I know John and Yvonne Freeman, and I know that they will never surrender Tony to an institution. They have told me that for years they have had to fight State and Federal departments to get even a pittance for Tony’s care. They told me about the struggle they had to get proper oxygen equipment for Tony after he almost died from lack of oxygen. I know that they are grateful to the union movement for providing their son with that equipment. Obviously the pension is inadequate for someone with Tony’s needs and condition.
The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has been unable to see me this week to discuss the matter of Tony Freeman and all those other cripples and chronic invalid pensioners who have contacted my office in the last few days. I have already informed her office that I believe that, at the very least, the Government should introduce a new grade of invalid pension for these chronic invalids. These people cannot earn income over their pension and the only way they have of supplementing the huge cost that is required for their proper care is to receive supplementary assistance. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether $5 a week is too much for Tony Freeman. Is it too much for his parents who have shouldered the burden of their spastic quadriplegic son for these past 25 years? The 50c a week the Government is saving by persecuting Tony Freeman and his pensioner parents will not make much of an impact on the deficit. Fifty cents a week does not seem such a great price to pay for the sacrifice, the love and the attention that Tony’s parents have given him.
– The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) raised a couple of issues and asked me to comment on them. I will take this opportunity to do so. The honourable member is under some misapprehension about the appointment of the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. In fact he has been appointed under section 1 5 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act as the acting full-time chairman, not under section 10 of the Act as a permanent chairman of the body. I wish to read from some advice I have received from the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) concering the qualifications of Mr Higgs. His advice states:
The newly appointed Chairman of the Marine Park Authority has many qualifications which fit him to perform the duties of his office. He has been at the centre of the Public Service involvement in the implementation of successive government’s policies in relation to the environment. In 197 1 Mr Higgs was appointed as First Assistant Secretary in charge of the newly created Office of Environment in the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. The Office of Environment subsequently became the core element for the Department of the Environment and Conservation formed in December 1972 with Mr Higgs as acting Secretary. Following his appointment as Deputy Secretary in June 1974 Mr Higgs was responsible for oversighting preparation of environment protection legislation and the formulation and implementation of Federal environmental policies in relation to both national and international activities. He was Vice-Chairman of the OECD Environment Committee from 1974-76. Mr Higgs has held the position of Director of Environment with the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development, and with the Department of Science and the Environment since March 1978. From March 1978 to April 1979 he also was acting Chairman of the Authority on a part time basis. In the circumstances, the fact that he does not have specific academic qualifications in marine biology does not seem significant.
-The Supply Bills that the House is debating are to seek interim appropriations for ordinary annual services of the Government for the period 1 July 1979 to 30 November 1979. In his very short second reading speech on these Bills the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) was very careful to point out that he in no way anticipated what amounts might be included for any particular service in the coming 1979-80 Budget. One can look at supply and appropriation Budgets in two very definite ways. One can look at them as an economic measure that somehow sets out to right the wrongs and ills in the economy and to direct the economy in certain ways. There is a lot that can be done economically within a Budget to influence an economy. Of course, at the same time a Budget once a year does not necessarily determine exactly what the shape of the economy will be for the ensuing year because there are many measures that a government can introduce through a year.
The second way in which one can look at a Budget is that any government move with respect to funding relates to whether the government is keeping its political promises to the people- how it is performing in terms of what it went to the people with before it was elected to office and how it is meeting those responsibilities and promises, and the expectations of the people who elected it. I think we must say, in terms of the period of turmoil in Australia’s recent political history and the Budgets that the present Government has introduced, that the Government has fallen down and must be criticised in the most trenchant terms, both economically and politically, for the Budgets and economic measures it has introduced. These Bills this afternoon are an anti-climax, particularly as honourable members are within a couple of hours of witnessing the turmoil of yet another twist in Government tactics on the economy. Honourable members will see which promise the Government will break tonight, in addition to the long list of lies, broken promises and shattered expectations that the Government is now trying glibly to sell to the Australian public.
It is also understood that tonight Medibank, which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) promised to preserve, will be changed again and the whole question of health insurance will undergo yet another bout of surgery. The Prime Minister has shown himself to be the master of the disposable promise over the last three and a half years, the master of avoiding responsible, legitimate and important questions, and the master of the jettisonable principle. If one takes notice of what the Press says, the Government is now composed of the ‘Fraser gang’ the ‘razor gang’ and the ‘desperates’.
This afternoon I wish to speak particularly about the effect of the Government’s policies on my electorate of Werriwa. I wish to speak about the effects of those broken promises on ordinary people. I wish to speak about the disillusionment of people with the government of the country. I will never forget the actions of those key people who were in opposition for the period 1972-75 but who now find themselves in ministerial positions. They are the people who would have said anything to bring down the Government, including using the deliberate strategy of the destruction of business confidence in this country. Those who thought- and still think- that they were born to rule thought it was all a bit of fun in those days. Therefore, it was only a logical step to deny supply to the Government of the day, to destabilise Australian policy and to smear a generation of young Australians as dole bludgers.
These people thought that this was okay; it was okay to make promises that they knew they could not keep.
These people thought it was okay to lie in advertisements about the Labor Government, and that it was okay and a bit of fun to blame the Whitlam Government- more particularly Mr Whitlam himself- for world inflation and say that all the problems in the Australian economy stemmed from Mr Whitlam. It does not matter where one looks- whether the promise was lower taxes, lower inflation, lower interest rates, the preservation of the value of pensions, wage indexation or the introduction and maintenance of tax and stock value indexation- all these things were to be done but have not been done. There were to be jobs for all who wanted them. Unemployment benefits were to be increased as unemployment went up, if it went up. The Public Service was not going to be slashed, Medibank was to be maintained and essential health, social welfare and education programs were to be preserved. So we go on through the promises. .
Of course, there were specific promises in the 1975 election campaign that related to my then electorate of Macarthur. In October-November 1975 the Government shadow spokesman promised that the funding to the Macarthur growth centre would not cease. What has happened? It has ceased totally. There are now scores of people in hardship because the Government has no funds and is not prepared to provide any funds to people who thought in all honesty and good faith that they could sell their land, and made arrangements to do so. Of course, after 1975 there were another two years of broken promises, broken expectations, and the Government prevailed on the compliant GovernorGeneral to give it an extra three years. So in the 1977 election campaign there were more lies, more distortions and more promises were made that the Government knew it could not keep. To the credit of the Government the term ‘dole bludging’ and the campaign against the unemployed did not emerge then as a major tactical strategy. Mr Whitlam was trotted out as the bogy-man once more. It is now Vh years since the Governor-General acted on behalf of the establishment of the present Liberal Government in this country. I do not think the Government can blame for ever one man for all our ills. As 3Vi years have passed there is little sense now in harping back to the Whitlam Government.
The most savage effects of the Government’s policies have been on the unemployed. Even the figures have been twisted. We do not know what the true figures are. Seasonal figures are no longer supplied. We have three sets of figures which are designed to confuse. We do not know what the levels of hidden unemployment are. The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) this week announced that a survey found there was 63,000 hidden unemployed. The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic Research believes that there is something like 800,000 people unemployed in this country. The official figures are something like 436,000. We do not know what figure to believe. What I believe is that even if we can never get at the figures, a massive number of people are unemployed. There is no sense in fiddling with figures or raising these spectres of dole bludging, work tests or whatever.
It is alarming that this whole idea of dole bludgers now permeates the back benches of the Liberal Party in this House. It is unfortunate- I almost find it unbelievable- that many Government back benchers believe that to attack the unemployed for unemployment is somehow a sensible and positive policy. The Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr Lynch) says that the unemployment benefits are too high. The benefit for a married man is something like $51.45 a week. The Minister quite happily accepts his $62 a night travelling expenses when he is out of his home base. Yet he says that $51.45 is too high for a married man. The honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) says that no one under 25 years of age should be paid unemployment benefits. The Government has conducted various examinations of the whole structure of the Commonwealth Employment Service. Yet it ignores what the Myers and Norgard reports say on the work test. If anyone wants to see how the work test is applied he ought to come to my electorate. Something like 68 people are chasing every available job in that electorate. I cannot see the sense, quite frankly, in putting those 68 available people through a work test for that one job. Of course, that question does not arise because the work test, except in rare cases, is not applied. There is no sense in trying to put round pegs into round holes when we have those figures to deal with.
My electorate is an electorate of young people and unfortunately it is now becoming a welfare electorate. There is no sense haranguing the unemployed in that electorate. Over 50 per cent of the unemployed are young people under 21 years of age. Why harangue just a handful of people? I quote from a letter by David Scott, the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Lawrence:
The Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs observes that there is some suspicion in the community that ‘ bludging’ is rampant. Yet, it is exactly the sort of public statements Mr Viner has made, and the gratuitous inquiry into the ‘worktest’ that is to follow which reinforces community myths and prejudices about the integrity of the unemployed.
Social Security figures show that annual prosecutions for dole’ offences have never amounted to more than half of one per cent of all claimants. Despite erratic and inadequate notification of rights to claimants, coupled with an appeals body that lacks independence and may have its decisions reversed by the Director-General of Social Security, more than 50 per cent of those unemployment beneficiaries who appeal against termination of benefit are found to have been unjustly penalised. lt is difficult to see how the Government could make eligibility criteria for unemployment benefit more strict than is already the case. On two earlier occasions it revamped the relevant policy guidelines and instituted new stringency measures to limit eligibility for unemployment benefit. Later, it also commissioned the Myers Report into the administration of unemployment benefit. But, as Myers notes, ‘further tightening (of the work test) is not really practicable in the absence of vacancies against which to test people.’ Currently, there are 483,5 16 unemployed registrants as against 24,929 vacancies registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service, so what is the value of haranguing a handful of malingerers to the factory gate when there are tens of thousands desperate for work and a proper income?
Where are the government policies to introduce properly paid job creation schemes, to raise unemployment benefit levels above the austere poverty line, to index pensions and benefits quarterly, to expand significantly labor research and planning so as to help avert the growing crisis of unemployment?
Whether by design or default, the Government has again diverted attention from the serious problem of unemployment on to the emotional issue of the ‘genuineness’ of worker motivation. But at a time when nearly half a million Australians are languishing out of work on impoverishing incomes it is for the Government to demonstrate its genuine concern for them through the initiation of policies that will alleviate rather than aggravate their plight.
That sums up the views of the Labor Opposition in this House as nothing else does. We are the ones in the electorates where unemployment is the highest. The figures show a ratio of some 24,000 vacancies for some 483,000 people. It is high in electorates represented by the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) and myself. We are the ones who have to deal day to day with these problems. We are the ones who have to explain things to people who come to our offices confused, wanting to know why the Government is keeping up this attack on socalled dole bludgers. They cannot get jobs. In my electorate there are people who have had five weeks work in the last year, and that is over three jobs. They work for a week, they get put off and they find it takes six weeks to get another job. So why are they going to accept casual jobs for a week? There are other people who get jobs for three or four months and when they come to the end of the year they find they have to pay tax, not just on the pay-as-you-earn amount of income that they received, but on the whole lot. They have to include the unemployment benefit. So in a subsequent period they have to pay back taxation liability out of the miserly amount they receive for unemployment benefit. I could go through case after case of young people trying to better themselves.
One man who came to my office the other day had left school with the Higher School Certificate in December 1977 and had a job for two weeks. He then lost it. He is an Italian boy. He had some problems filling out the unemployment benefit form and he did not answer one question, so he did not get any unemployment benefit until April or May. He then did three weeks work before he was put off again. Again he did not fill the form out. No one told him he had filled the form out wrongly, so he did not get the unemployment benefit until August or September. Eventually he got another job. Now he is doing a spray painting and panel beating course at the Liverpool Technical College. He is not eligible for unemployment benefit and he is not even eligible for the $20 a week student allowance because he is not classified as a school leaver. I can give many other instances of that.
Let us look at the statistics of an electorate like Werriwa. Werriwa has the highest number of A class widow pensioners in New South Wales. Classes B and C are well above average. It has the third highest number of female supporting parents and the highest number of male supporting parents in New South Wales. It is the fourth highest with respect to the number of people on unemployment benefits. It is the second highest electorate in New South Wales with respect to people receiving family allowance. That simply reflects that Werriwa is an electorate of very young people. Let us look at the figures. These are the figures that reflect the disillusionment with the promise and the statements of the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr Malcolm Fraser: We will give jobs to all those that need them’. For only three months since December 1975 has the rate of unemployment in the Liverpool Commonwealth Employment Service district not increased on the rate for the corresponding month the previous year. The absolute level has doubled to something like 6,000 unemployed in that CES district. In Campbelltown the other major Commonwealth Employment Service district in my electorate the unemployment figure has doubled also. In only two or three months where has the unemployment figure not been higher- than for the corresponding month the previous year. In other words, for August,
January, or whatever month one likes to nominate, the current year figure is far higher than the figure a year before.
It is fair enough to say that we have to get the economy right; we have to fight inflation first. I would not expect that anyone would understand the Government’s policies in these areas, but it is quite another thing to keep unemployment benefits of $36 a week for young people. It is yet another thing to engage in an attack upon these young people and to perpetuate this nonsense about dole bludgers. It is quite agonising for some of these people to hear what the Government is saying about them when they are doing everything possible to explain and rectify their situation. We have all sorts of Mickey Mouse schemes. We have the Community Youth Support Scheme which gives some companionship- I guess that is about all- to a handful of people and provides a few grotty little houses around the electorate. Some community youth support schemes do an excellent job due to the people supervising them. Others do very little. I am not here to criticise the schemes one way or another, but my objection to them is that they may somehow convince the community that the Government is doing something about unemployment when we all know that that is absolute nonsense.
In December last year the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) announced another two little schemes that would do something about unemployment. One was to take some 1,000 people into the Public Service. 1 understand that has been implemented. The other was some crazy scheme whereby service clubs would on community type projects, induce young people to work for nothing other than the unemployment benefit. That did not get off the ground. The reasons why it did not get off the ground are quite self-evident. I would like to know how that sort of scheme would work in an electorate like Werriwa. I wonder how the spread of service clubs or community organisations in the area could properly administrate and implement such an idea. There is one Lions Club in all of Green Valley. How the heck will 19 or 20 members of that Lions Club administrate a scheme involving 1,500 young people? There are two or three Rotary Clubs in all of the Werriwa electorate. How will they handle the problem with something like 8,000 unemployed in the electorate?
This House must recognise that the problems of the economy are large and that no government has all the answers. I think it is fair enough for any government to put the fight against inflation first and seriously and honestly to bring down Budgets that it hopes will do something about the economy and eventually in the long run enable the unemployed to get jobs. I hope that is this Government’s ambition. But for God’s sake in the interim the Government should not keep up this constant smear on people out of work and label them forever as dole bludgers.
– It will come as no surprise that I reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). The amendment condemns the Government for continuing to pursue a restrictive fiscal policy. I have not heard a $3 billion deficit referred to as a restrictive fiscal policy since the former member for Lalor left this House. I thought Jim Cairns rode again. His policies did not do any good. Yesterday evening honourable members opposite had some enjoyment accusing me and others of a hard line approach. It may be that we are espousing a hard line approach. They said that they were going to drag the speeches we had just made around our electorates. If I had some viewpoint that for some strange reason I thought I ought to keep from my electorate I would hardly include it in a speech in the Parliament. The Opposition will not have much opportunity to inform my electorate about my speeches because I intend to do so myself.
I have certainly advocated some views that in the short term might be regarded as unpopular. I certainly have put views to this Parliament and to my electorate that are not shared by everybody. Almost any view that is worth putting has to be in that class. There is not much use merely mouthing points of view with which no one would ever quarrel. The Opposition does my electors a grave disservice if it believes that they would regard my taking them into my confidence as some reprehensible behaviour. My electors may certainly disagree with views I have expressed, but I am certain that they would agree with Edmund Burke that it is my responsibility to express those views. While they may quarrel with me on the issue, I do not for one minute believe they will hold my expression of economic views, or any other views for that matter, as being reprehensible. I suspect that the Opposition, if it is to pursue its efforts will probably become bored with the exercise without costing me one vote.
The views I have been expressing relate to public sector expenditure and to the deficit in particular. It is necessary that the deficit come down. I will explain why. The deficit can come down in only two ways; either by cutting public sector expenditure or by increasing taxes. There is no other way. Either of those courses is unpopular. The consequences pf not taking either course ought to be a great deal more unpopular. Because so many of my constituents have children and want an Australia that is strong, safe and has a stable economy they will listen to arguments that say that the deficit ought to come down in the interests of Australia’s future.
The public sector deficit has grown alarmingly in this country. In the 1971-72 fiscal year it was $660m. In 1 974-75 it was $3,472m. In 1 978-79 it had grown to $5,604m. So much for the restrictive fiscal policy of the honourable member for Adelaide. Deficits, because they must to a very large extent be financed from public sector borrowings, are cumulative. The problem created for the economy by one deficit adds to the problems created by previous deficits. At this stage 6.47 per cent of Commonwealth Budget outlays are tied up by debt service. That very substantial Budget commitment of course itself adds to the size of the current deficit.
We cannot divorce deficits from their effect on the whole economy. It is not good sense to say that it is only a matter of financing deficits because financing deficits, in itself, creates very serious problems. If central government runs a deficit it will have effects upon the money supply, the balance of payments, wage demands and public confidence within Australia and overseas. The domestic deficit is about 5 per cent of the money supply measured in the broader M3 terms. But that is not the end of it. The deficit is financed by the sale of government bonds and treasury notes to the public. Because these are quite liquid they add to the inflationary impact of money. Thus, even if the deficit is entirely financed, it adds directly to effective money supply and hence to inflation.
Money may not be the whole cause of inflation. But there are few economists in the world today who would argue that inflation was not to some extent affected by money supply. Almost no economist would argue that a blowout in the money supply would not cause inflation. So, that deficit must be financed. The sale of government paper to the non-bank sector must limit the amount of new borrowing that can be raised by the employment creating private sector. The very sale of those additional bonds will force up interest rates. If the Government does not offer a high enough interest rate for its paper, it will not be sold and the excess expenditure from the Budget will be left loose in the economy with inevitable inflationary effects.
Some of the deficit may leak overseas. I think it was Professor Corden who said that a massive Budget deficit or Keynesian stimulus must result inevitably in a massive devaluation. Leakage overseas is no way to finance a deficit. Initially it causes investment that would be placed within our country to be placed elsewhere, which is hardly helpful. It forces our exchange rate down and, to the extent that it forces our exchange rate down, it is fed into Australian inflation in quite short time as the price for imported goods rises. The uncertainty of” the exchange rate has obvious adverse effects for both the exporting sector and the import competing sector as they do not know what their competitive prices will be and they do not know how quickly inflation will affect their costs.
Australia has attempted to minimise the downward pressure on the Australian dollar by borrowings overseas. This is sound policy so long as it is not intended that fiscal deficits be continued indefinitely into the future, thereby maintaining a continuing pressure on the Australian dollar because quite clearly one cannot go on borrowing from overseas indefinitely. One might ponder the difficulties that Great Britain faced in a like situation. Running a tight fiscal policy and hence a relatively easy monetary policy does not have the same effect as running a very loose fiscal policy with big deficits and the inevitable tight monetary policy. A tight monetary policy has the effect of limiting the formation of capital. It certainly changes the mix between consumption and investment. It diverts Australian resources from our future wealth, our economic growth, towards immediate consumption.
A loose fiscal policy would be seen as an opportunity to increase wages. People would believe that the Government was prepared to accommodate wage increase so that therefore wage increase would not have an adverse effect on employment. But what would then happen is that such an increase would feed into inflation and the effect upon employment would simply be delayed. Wages in this country are determined in such a way that if the Government is seen to be not managing its own affairs it is very likely that increased wage levels will be struck and as a result there will be increased unemployment.
In response to the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerrin), those of us who are advocating what last night was described as a hard line, are not in any way attacking the unemployed. What we are saying is that the employed will have to make some room for the unemployed within the total wages paid within the community and that, if there is to be an increase in employment, those who are already in jobs will have to make some sacrifice. That is what we are saying.
– Bob Hawke said that, too.
– Yes. As has been pointed out by my friend, the honourable member for Perth, that is also the view of the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Bob Hawke. It is a responsible view and one which I share.
Finally, I should like to deal with the deficit’s effect upon confidence. One cannot fool all the people all the time. If they see the Australian Government deficit blow out, they will realise that there will be pressure on the Australian dollar. Overseas money that would have been invested in Australia will be invested elsewhere and we will lose investment opportunity. People within Australia will see that there is likely to be an increase in inflation. Once again investment will become more and more short term. New job opportunities will not be created. In fact there will be much less opportunity for economic recovery unless the Commonwealth Government controls its own expenditure and balances its own books. For the four reasons I have outlined, the Budget deficit becomes a barrier to economic recovery. The deficit is effectively cumulative and, as each year goes by, it will become more and more difficult to tackle the problem. The sooner the problem is tackled and the more firmly it is tackled, the better. My views are not masochistic, but merely responsible.
– I should hope not.
– I intend to go on putting them. I thank the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) for his encouragement. I recommend those views to the House.
-In speaking to these Supply Bills, I attack the Government for its lack of an energy policy. The world energy outlook is an enormously complex issue, which, regrettably, is being compounded day by day. The complexity is due to a combination of” technical, political, environmental and economic uncertainties.
The recent situation in Iran illustrates just how fragile are the assumptions upon which energy projections are based. The political crisis in Iran led to a cessation in oil supplies from a nation which last year produced 10 per cent of the world’s oil supply. The subsequent shortages have pushed up oil prices, changing the whole economic base on which energy resource decisions are made. Just yesterday, Algeria put up the price of its best light crude oil to $2 1 a barrel. Prior to late 1973, in this country best light crude oil was a little over $2 a barrel. There are technical limits to the outputs of some oil producers. Countries such as Saudi Arabia are reluctant, for political as well as economic reasons, to increase their output to offset the loss of Iranian oil production. In addition, oil is a seasonal product with peak demand in the northern winter- an extra complication in making accurate projections, particularly in Canada and the United States.
The crisis in Iran has inevitably affected decisions about other energy resources such as coal and uranium. The United States, Japan and Western Europe are now likely to expand their coal programs to reduce dependence on oil more quickly than would have been expected before the crisis.
– They might have to switch to uranium.
– Yes, I think they might. While the crisis in Iran graphically shows some of the hazards in predicting the energy outlook, there are other complexities which could affect the situation. The degree of co-operation that can be achieved between all countries in tackling energy problems will decide how successful we are in solving energy supply problems. Australia, for example, is a country short of oil but relatively well off in other energy resources. Other countries have their own particular needs, advantages or problems. Oil supplies will depend on how successfully and quickly the world can change to alternative sources of energy, limited of course by the fact that at this stage there is virtually no alternative to liquid hydrocarbons for private transport. Breakthroughs in technology will change the energy supply equation in years to come. Success in finding a cheap coal to oil conversion process, greater recovery of oil from existing reserves- at the moment we get only about 25 per cent- and improvements in deep sea and polar exploration are some key areas where technological developments could decide whether we find sufficient oil supplies to last to the end of the century.
The world energy equation depends on a multitude of factors outside the control of any one country, including Australia. Within the next decade world oil supplies will fall behind demand and this is likely to remain the case for some time, if not indefinitely. In Australia we have to design energy policies in the context of the world situation and with the constitutional limitations of the Australian Government well in mind. I suggest that our ability as a small nation to compete with the European Economic Community, Japan and the United States for oil when supplies are tight is questionable. The Government needs to give serious consideration to this problem. It ought to consider whether negotiations with oil producers at government to government level are necessary to secure oil supplies in the long term and ensure adequate diversity of supplies. Japan has been forced into that situation. It can no longer rely on negotiations by multinational oil companies.
Australia’s ability to identify energy problems and provide solutions is greatly restricted by the lack of authority and co-ordination of its energy management. Regrettably, the authority for energy matters, as in the United States and the EEC, is dispersed over more than a score of agencies and commissions. It is unfortunate that some States have taken unilateral decisions on energy matters that provide some parochial advantage at the expense of the national interest. It will be a national tragedy if private investment decisions on petrochemical plants, such as the decision taken during the recent Victorian State election campaign, result in Cooper Basin liquids being flared while $200m worth of feed stocks are unnecessarily imported from overseas every year. It should be obvious, even to this Government, that government intervention in such major energy decisions is essential if the long term national interest is to be protected. It should also be obvious that energy export decisions in the interests of one State are not necessarily in the interests of the nation as a whole. The time has come when the Government ought to consider holding a referendum to gain constitutional power over resource-energy decisions. The Federal Government cannot escape the fact that energy decisions taken by States inevitably affect federal responsibility.
– Like Santos.
– Exactly. I do not disagree with that comment at all. In particular, the economic backwash of energy decisions cannot be avoided by the Commonwealth. No government in this situation can allow private enterprise to manipulate an energy resource for no reason other than to maximise its profits. That will no longer be the ball game in any country in the world. The Commonwealth has a responsibility for the level of foreign investment and ultimately for securing energy supply, and for any government to government negotiations which may be necessary if this is to be achieved. A particular problem for the Federal Government will be the increasing cost of imported oil and its impact on the balance of payments. Current estimates are that the cost of imported fuels will rise from about $l,000m this year to $3,000m in 1985. Obviously, the States do not have the same incentive as the Federal Government to minimise fuel costs.
The injection of large doses of Arab money into this country became a sensitive issue in 1 975. The Government chooses to ignore that now. It was then and still is a matter which ought to be understood. The implications are important. Plans need to be made to meet possible contingencies. For example, not only is the United States faced with a high import bill to which the recent drop in the United States dollar can in some measure be attributable, but also this high capital outflow has given rise to an equally high capital inflow of Arab origin which must be taken into account in any assessment of that country’s short or long term economic situation. This high reinvestment of Arab money in foreign assets reached a staggering $155, 000m in 1977, of which $ 120,000m was dollar dominated. Return on Saudi Arabian oil investment in the United States reached an equally staggering $38,000m in 1976. Because of the range of investment, the economic effects of this in the United States are enormous. Admittedly, to date investment competence has been the order of the day but the contingency must surely be considered that an exporting country or countries may exploit two lethal mechanisms- an importing country’s dependence on oil and the threat to manipulate investments to win support for economic strategic or political reasons.
We ought to acknowledge that as our import bill escalates do does our vulnerability. Obviously, we can also expect some degree of Arab investment. We ought to remember and reflect upon the fact that it was not very long ago that the collapse of the United Kingdom pound was partly triggered by the withdrawal of Nigerian oil money. Whilst the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries remains reasonably intact, production and distribution internationally are, to some extent, secure. However, if demand outstrips supply as predicted, and if OPEC splits apart and prices are left to the market place or market forces, which is the term which my friend opposite loves to use- it underpins his whole philosophy- we will be playing in an entirely different ball park which will require a new set of rules. The honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) would not want that to happen. If it eventuates, as a small nation we will be but small fish forced to fight for our survival with the large sharks for what is left of a dwindling resource. Clearly, we ought to make plans to meet this situation.
Events internationally have for a long time been warning thoughtful governments of just how critical the situation is. For example, most, if not all, of the increasing number of claims involving territorial boundary disputes can be sheeted home to the scramble to obtain and control reserves of vital energy resources. I cite as examples the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Another example is the carve-up of Angola, or the enclave of Cabinda, where the West made a deplorable mess. The Gulf oil company had more political awareness than the United States. Further examples are the North Sea, the Aegean between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, the Falkland Islands and last, but not least, the renewed interest in Antarctica. In addition to the powerful economic arguments in favour of federal control over all energy decisions there is the fact that energy resources are not distributed uniformly over the Australian continent. There is likely to be an increasing need in the future for energy resources to cross State borders. Our natural gas is already transported from the most energy poor State, South Australia, to New South Wales which has large coal reserves. It is likely in the future that natural gas from the North West Shelf will be required for the eastern State markets, particularly if the Government continues to downgrade exploration for gas. Decisions on these questions will best be taken from a national point of view.
If the political problems of energy management are stripped away, the energy problem in Australia is relatively easy to define. Our main energy goal should be to maximise selfsufficiency in oil for the foreseeable future. This can be achieved by a combination of increased exploration, conservation, research and development of coal to oil conversion as a fall-back position and other similar technology. I suggest to the Government that inter-fuel substitution ought to be made a matter of priority. There is enormous scope in each of these areas for progress to be made if only the Government can co-ordinate the attack on the problems and provide sufficient funding and other incentives. So far, the Government has made only a few ad hoc decisions in these areas. It has yet to specify any targets which its energy policies should achieve. It has not stipulated one target.
Many other countries have outlined detailed energy programs with specific objectives in mind. For example, Canada released an energy strategy over three years ago which sets specific targets for energy growth rates, self-sufficiency, research and development and Canadian ownership. The strategy also outlines specific policies to achieve these targets with an appropriate timetable for implementation. The other important thing under the Canadian Government strategy is that it also includes a mandatory reporting system for the energy industries to ensure that a reasonable share of the cash flow is used for exploration and development. There ought to be a mandatory system in this country.
The Canadian approach highlights the main deficiency in Australian energy policy, that is, the fact that regrettably in this country there is no policy or plan. Oil companies, external committees and State governments have had much more say in the development of Australian energy policies than this Federal Parliament. In fact, there has not been one study into any aspect of energy policy which has involved members of this Parliament. Any policies coming from the Government are presented to the Parliament as a fait accompli. It is quite incongruous that parliamentary committees examine all major aspects of government such as foreign affairs, defence, environment, immigration, public works and expenditure, yet there has been no inquiry into energy by any committee of this Parliament. The only one that I can recall is a Sub-Committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of which I was a member and which inquired into the situation in the Middle East. Never at any time has a sub-committee or a committee of this Parliament inquired into the most critical question that is facing this countryenergy. Perhaps the Government is afraid that its members might suffer from shock- and some of them, I suggest, members of that Sub-committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, did- if they are exposed to the energy situation facing this country and the neglect, if you like, by their Government in preparing for that situation. There is a critical need for a joint select committee on energy to be set up immediately.
In addition to parliamentary scrutiny there is also the need to set up a commission with the power to monitor world trends in both minerals and fuels and to collect commercial statistics and data at a national and international level to enable precise evaluation and forecasting. I asked the responsible Minister a month ago whether in fact there was any mechanism by which the Government could obtain this information. I was told that there was no such mechanism within the Government. No government can afford to plan its fuel and energy structure on untried, unproven alternative sources of technology. The cost of governmental ignorance in these areas will prove an enormous burden to Australian taxpayers in the years to come. I suggest that unless funds are now made available to inquire into the aspect of technology and research we, along with the West, will face a severe shortage of materials and those materials that are available will be at steeply escalated prices. Areas in which such research funds are vital include the exploration and exploitation of the seabed, deep buried mineral deposits, methods to process low grade and conventional ores, reducing the energy requirements of current processes and the use of alternative materials.
The most frightening aspect of Australian energy problems, present or future, has been the incredible tardiness of this Government to respond to them. When bodies such as the Royal Commission on Petroleum have provided detailed studies of energy problems and suggested appropriate solutions the Government has not been able to turn those recommendations into any sense of reality. It seems that Australia will have to suffer a disastrous period of oil depletion before the Government will sweep away the impediments to necessary action. It is pointless for the Government to outline broad energy policies unless it is able to develop the fine print of those policies. It is unrealistic to expect that rapid progress is possible without a commensurate increase in staff and resources to cope with the added responsibility of better energy planning. It will also be necessary for the Government to assert its authority over the States and the energy corporations. Unless the Government is prepared to make a national energy policy its top priority and back it up with action, we will soon find ourselves plunged into exactly the same disastrous position as other energydependent countries. Even at this late stage there is still time for the Government to ensure that Australia need not fear the energy crisis which threatens to become a common occurrence for the remainder of this century, but it will have to do a lot better than produce a document that might as well have been written by oil companies in board rooms. I conclude my speech by quoting a very telling extract from a worthwhile publication called Real Wealth of Nations, written by S. J. Eyre. We all ought to reflect upon it. It reads:
Humanity now seems to be moving into a stage where resource exploration of a sporadic and unplanned nature, though of a kind that was viable in the past, will no longer be so.
Formerly well-endowed nations had sufficient elbow room to evade the extreme punishment of resource mismanagement; the evidence indicates that the future will not be so kind.
Debate (on motion by Mr Kevin Cairns) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
This Bill relates to provisions in the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act which apply to television sets, radios and sound equipment such as record players and tape players, and to records, tape recordings and parts and accessories for equipment of these kinds. Sales tax at the rate of 2 71/2 per cent is payable on television and radio receivers, record players, tape recorders, tape players and various combinations of those appliances specified in items in the Second Schedule to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act. Tax at that rate is also payable on records, tape recordings of music or other entertainment material and on parts, accessories and other specified classes of goods associated with television, radio and sound equipment.
Due to changes resulting from technological advances over the years and to new terminology, doubts have been raised about the application of the 271/2 per cent rate to certain television, radio and sound appliances or components which are used in combination or association to provide television or radio reception or sound reproduction. The Bill will re-express the relevant provisions to remove any such doubts. It will ensure that tax at the rate of 271/2 per cent is payable on appliances or components that, either alone or in association with each other, are used primarily or principally for the reception of television or radio programs, the reproduction of sound from records, tapes or wires, the recording of sound on tapes or wires or for any two or more of those functions. Included among the appliances which will be specifically taxed at 271/2 per cent are clock radios but radio transceivers will continue to bear tax at the rate of 1 5 per cent.
Special provisions are included in the Bill to cater for goods which contain television, radio or sound equipment but which also have other functional uses. An article in this category will be taxed at 271/2 per cent if the value of the television, radio or sound equipment is more than one half of the value of the complete article. An example of such an article might be a piece of furniture which has a section designed for use as a cocktail cabinet and which also includes built in record and cassette player equipment. The article would be taxable at 271/2 per cent if the value of the record and cassette player components made up more than half the value of the complete article. The tax on records and on sound tape recordings will remain unchanged at 271/2 per cent. That rate will continue to apply also to parts and accessories for television, radio and sound equipment at present taxed at 271/2 per cent; and to envelopes, stands, cabinets and other goods for the storage of records. Furthermore, the rate of tax on cassette racks and holders and other goods used for storage of tape recordings will be brought into line with the 271/2 per cent rate levied on storage equipment for records.
In accordance with long-standing practice with sales tax measures of this kind, the Bill will be effective from tomorrow, 25 May 1979. Details of the various provisions in the Bill are contained in an explanatory memorandum which is being circulated to honourable members. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Jenkins) adjourned.
-This afternoon’s debate has been a fascinating one, especially when one listens to the Opposition. There appears to have been a delightful air of expectation among Opposition members. It pervaded almost every one of their speeches between 2 o’clock and now, a little after 5.30 p.m. But I would expect them to be careful. If they think their expectations about taxation may be fulfilled, I remind them of the experience of the Irish obstetrician who was so full of expectations he made his appointments 1 6 months ahead. So there can be many a slip ‘twixt cut and lip and a slip elsewhere. I hope the Opposition bears that in mind. Some of the speeches had their own flavour. One honourable member sounded like the barker for Jimmy Sharman’s troupe. I thought he was going to totally overcome us with noise instead of sense. I am pleased he did not. I want to say one or two things on taxation. I am going to speak for 10 minutes.
– Oh! Have an extension.
– The honourable member will just have to hide his acute disappointment. Many charges have been made in this House and elsewhere in respect of taxation. The charge has been that the Government is a high taxation government. I would like to read a couple of enervating sentences and ask honourable members to guess who was responsible for them. They are as follows:
The challenge to traditional democratic socialism has been expressed in a number of deeply dispiriting doctrines. One example is the rapid spread of philosophies based on lower taxes and smaller government. ‘ Fraserism ‘ was one of the earliest expressions of these philosophies. Although Mr Fraser ‘s practice has been rather erratic this sort of approach strikes directly at the conventional democratic socialist notion that equality and equity can only be assured by a stronger public sector.
Can anybody in the House indicate what critic of taxation said that? They are straight words from the F. E. Chamberlain lecture delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) in Perth on 29 March 1979. When the Government is accused of imposing higher taxation, I request that the House remember that criticism that is directed at this Government because it might be one that acknowledges that the Government’s policy is one of smaller government and lower taxes. Whether capital gains taxes are justified or not, I hope nobody falls for the piece of nonsense that they can make up the difference in terms of taxation. I am not that opposed to capital gains tax but it cannot make up the difference that the Opposition would claim for it.
I want to refer to a few remarks made earlier today about the distribution of bounties in Australia and the distribution between States of Commonwealth of intervention in the economics of States. This is no criticism of any particular government. Ten industrial bounties apply in Australia. They are the agricultural tractors bounty, the automatic data processing equipment bounty, the bed sheeting bounty, the book bounty, the commercial motor vehicles bounty, the metal working machine tools bounty, the polyester cotton yarn bounty, the paper bounty, the rotary cultivators bounty and the dental alloys bounty. It is always worth looking at the benefits of those bounties distributed amongst the States. They have been designed to keep 14,200 people in employment. Of that number, 1 12 reside in my own State of Queensland. Western Australia draws support for the magnificent total of 875 people. Through the paper bounty, Tasmania has support for a little over 1,000 people. I think that illustrates very clearly the distortion that occurs between the States in terms of the distribution of Commonwealth intervention in the economy of this country. The outlying States are paying and are paying very dearly.
A number of statements have been made about custom tariff amendments. Amendments are proposed in respect of eight industries, from certain paper and paper boards to work trucks and certain mobile machines et cetera. Involved are effective subsidies of $ 130m to $140m. The distribution of the effects of those subsidies is quite important. Seventy per cent of that $ 130m to $140m goes to two States of Australia. Why begrudge them that? I say good luck to them. They are very fortunate. They are very fortunate also in that 80,000 people are assisted by the 10 bounties to which I referred. However, the rest of Australia gets very little out of the bounties, out of the total tariff and quota distribution and out of the more recent amendments to tariff and quota proposals. Therefore I suggest that those quantities and the distribution of effective resources be discussed at the Premiers Conference on 28 and 29 June. It is important that they be discussed. An amount of $4,500m is involved in tariffs and quotas. I have just nominated about $90 m worth of bounties. There are other monetary measures. We want discussed the effects of all these upon the States of the Commonwealth and therefore the effects on the people in the various States.
There is one piece of evidence which I think is very important. Nobody can deny that during the late 1 9th century and 20th century the western States of the United States were the quickly developing ones. In this country the outlying States, Western Australia and Queensland in particular, are the more quickly developing parts of this Commonwealth. We all accept that and it is to the advantage of this nation. Why is that quicker development and greater contribution to the national wealth not reflected in an appropriate increase in standards of living in those States? That is an important question to ask.
– It has only been of recent origin.
-It is not of recent origin; it is of older origin. I hope the honourable member does not attempt to play politics. This issue cuts across all kinds of governments. It has gone on for a long time. The reason is simply that the major forms of economic intervention by the Commonwealth in Australian society are unmeasured. We want them measured. We want them known and taken into account. I am delighted that the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins) has interjected, but the very proposition I am stating is not one that can be countenanced if one has a centralist philosophy as to the development of Australia. I invite the honourable member to speak to those people of his party who come from Victoria, South Australia or New South Wales. They are the heart of his party. They would not agree to look at any of these things, because some of the advantages which the first two States have might be reduced. They may have to distribute some of the benefits that they have been able to obtain from the rest of Australia. I am asking that the essential horizontal equity part of the federalist principle be discussed at the Premiers Conference. I hope that that request is taken on board and that the Premiers are able to discuss the matter on 28 and 29 June. Mr Deputy Speaker, it was suggested that I should speak for 10 minutes, and that time has elapsed.
-I join in the closing stages of this debate on the Supply Bills to make a few points. I must say that I agree entirely with the amendment that has been moved by my colleague the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). Nothing that honourable members opposite have said during the debate has caused me to change that point of view. It seems that Government members wish to wave the stick that big government is no good and has to be reduced. On the other hand, it is obvious that they have imposed the dead hand of small government on the Australian economy and, what is worse in human terms, on the Australian people. Their continued restrictive fiscal policy has produced nothing but harm to our community. In the last few days, and other speakers have commented on this, we have had the picture of one Government member suggesting that there should be no social security benefits for unemployed persons under 25 years of age. He failed to indicate how the 5,000 unemployed in his own electorate could be employed in the 123 jobs that are available in the area.
That suggestion reflects the fact that at the moment Government members are bashing several groups. They are youth bashers, they are Public Service bashers, they are pensioner bashers. They talk about the youth programs designed to cater for unemployed youth. I am sorry that they take the emotional dole bludger attitude because there is a section of youth unemployment that is not due to government fiscal policy. It is a chronic problem that has developed over a number of years because of technological change, and the Government’s very restrictive fiscal policy. Its use of slogans when discussing this area is hiding the very real problem that members on both sides of the House will have to face. On 22 March I asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) the following question on notice:
I do not intend to go through all the statistics, but I think we should look at the reply I received from the Minister on 22 May. He pointed out the changes to the Special Youth Employment Training Program, which forms part of the National Employment and Training scheme, came into effect on 22 January 1979, and that in January the number in training under NEAT, excluding the SYETP, was 7,5 15, and with 15,278 under the SYETP, the total was 22,793. For February the comparative figures were 8,199, 10,138 and 18,337, and for March they were 9,085, 8,223 and 1 7,308. The peak was in August 1978, when the figure for NEAT, excluding the SYETP, was 13,345, and with 39,319 for SYETP, the total was 52,664. One can see from that that, because of the guidelines and the more restrictive attitude taken by this Government, the number of young people able to use the programs has been reduced by two-thirds at a time when youth unemployment is one of the problems causing great concern in the community. There is a further factor to consider when dealing with youth programs. For example, I understand that in our tertiary institutions new enrolments this year are down by some 15 per cent on previous years. This means that that 15 per cent, who normally would have entered tertiary institutions, have entered the work force. Because they have attained a higher degree of training, they have probably taken jobs that would have gone to those with less training, who have been pushed further into the pool of young unemployed. That is one of the reasons why there has been an increase in youth unemployment. There is a strong need, particularly in areas such as mine, for the promotion of programs for training the young unemployed.
In addition, the social cost of unemployment is being ignored. A number of members would have noted the statement made last week by the
Governor of South Australia when addressing a forum on unemployment held in Mount Gambier. Many of us would agree with the criticism offered by that gentleman that, in order to avoid having to feel concerned about the more than 4,000 unemployed and their families, Australians have given credence to and perpetuated the dole bludger myth. That is to the great shame of the Government and the community. There is no doubt that many politicians in this House have been actively involved in promoting that point of view. Further, the Governor pointed out that in Australia there has been an increase in suicides, mental illness and crime as a result of unemployment. Objective studies have shown quite clearly that unemployment is a factor in that increase. It is also a factor in the increasing crime rate in the community, with the consequent social cost in terms of waste. I am surprised that neither the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Short) nor the honourable member for Holt (Mr Yates) got to their feet when the Victorian Mental Health Authority published the results of a survey it conducted in Ballarat and Dandenong which indicated the connection between unemployment and attempted suicides. There is a social cost involved in that, as well as a cost to law enforcement agencies, health services and so on. But no one worries about it.
Those in stable employment are encouraged to develop a sense of guilt about the unemployed, but many adopt an apathetic ‘Haul up the ladder, I’m all right Jack’ attitude. They excuse themselves by saying that if the economy is to recover there has to be a large pool of unemployment. We on this side of the House cannot accept that sort of rationalisation, that sort of restrictive policy on the nation’s economy. We believe that the restrictions that have been imposed have gone too far. There are many other areas of social cost at which one can look. The other day one of my colleagues asked a question about the Meals on Wheels subsidy and indicated that something like 30c of the $2 cost came from the Federal Government. A laudatory statement was made about what a wonderful scheme it is. I do not want to detract from the value of that scheme but it does hide the failure of the community and the failure of the Government to look at the problems of the aged, elderly and ill in our community. For decades there have been waiting lists of three or four years for such elderly and disabled people, whether they be for government institutions, private institutions, equity housing or whatever. There has been no improvement. We agree with the suggestion that such people benefit from being able to be kept in the home or the family environment. But there is no doubt that for their physical well-being and their mental well-being there is a high percentage who do need appropriate institutional treatment which is just not available. The cost is not only to those individuals but to their families as well. That has been restricted by this Government. We have seen this Government remove even the regular twice-yearly adjustment of pensions that might give these people some help.
There are many other areas that I would like to touch on in this debate on the Supply Bills. One matter I mention is the dead hand of this Government with its restrictive fiscal policy on the social consciousness, on the development of this community and on the use of our resources. We should get back to having pride in developing this country, a country where people did not rationalise their feelings of guilt about the suffering of their fellow men and try solutions to assist them. But I suppose I could be said to be a masochist. I will finish my speech at this time, sit down and allow the question to be put. In that way we will all be able to undergo the horrors that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) will subject us to at 8 o’clock.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 10 May, on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Staley) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
The purpose of this statement is to announce a number of decisions the Government has made on its expenditure for 1 979-80 on personal taxation and certain other revenue matters. It is being made now because it is necessary that measures should be in place by 1 July 1979 to achieve the maximum possible expenditure reduction. On the revenue side, the need for certain decisions has been dictated by the expiration of legislation on 30 June.
No more difficult task faces a Government than that of exercising continued restraint over its own spending. No Australian Government in the post-war period has pursued expenditure restraint with such zeal and success as has this Government. We have maintained this course as a fundamental article of faith and will continue to do so. This Government inherited a situation in which its predecessor had increased Commonwealth spending by a staggering and irresponsible figure of 1 15 per cent over the 3 years it held office.
During our term of office, we have achieved a remarkable degree of expenditure restraint and discipline. This has been achieved despite many unavoidable expenditure demands. A combination of factors, including substantial demographic movements and changing community attitudes, has progressively increased the proportion of social security pensioners and beneficiaries in the population. Comparatively high unemployment has added to the Government’s social welfare bill. Our concern to increase defence preparedness has also meant a higher rate of spending in this area.
Nonetheless, this year the Government is keeping the growth in expenditure on the Commonwealth side to approximately 8.5 per centthe lowest increase in a decade. As a result of our control of Government spending, the size of the deficit as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product has been reduced from 5 per cent in 1975-76 to about Vh per cent this year. This is the first Australian Government since Federation to bring ‘ about a sustained reduction in the number of its own employees.
When, however, the initial forward estimates on the basis of existing policy for the forthcoming financial year were presented to the Government some time ago, it was apparent that the Government faced a major budgetary problem in 1 979-80. At that time the deficit in prospect on the basis of existing policy was in the order of $4,600m.
An Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet was established and this committee undertook an intensive examination of expenditure proposals submitted by Ministers. As a result of this process, a number of major expenditurecutting decisions were recommended to Cabinet and subsequently endorsed. The details of some of these decisions will underline the stringency of the restraint the Government has imposed on its own expenditures.
The national health bill currently accounts for approximately 10 per cent of total Budget spending. The Government has decided upon a number of measures in this area to contain overall costs of health care and to reduce Government expenditure. These measures are in keeping with our general philosophy of concentrating government help on the needy and ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently. They will be outlined in detail by my colleague the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), but in brief the main items are as follows:
At present the Commonwealth meets 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs of public hospitals, but does not carry responsibility for the management of these hospitals. For some time we have been concerned about rapidly escalating costs in the hospitals area. Expenditure on hospitals accounts for 60 per cent of total Federal expenditure on health services. This concern has been highlighted by the recent South Australian Public Accounts Committee Report, which found evidence of gross inefficiency in the operation of public hospitals in that State. The average cost per public hospital bed in Australia is now around $150 a day. Factors behind this high cost are the excessive number of hospital beds- in many hospitals only about 70 per cent of the available beds are being used- and inefficiencies generally within the system.
Clearly, if the community’s outlays on health care are to be contained the operation of hospitals must be critically examined. Accordingly, we have decided to establish an urgent inquiry into hospital efficiency and administration. Given the responsibilities of State Governments in the operation and management of public hospitals and bearing in mind the continued escalation of costs despite Commonwealth-State initiatives to contain cost, this inquiry is essential. We look forward to the co-operation of State Governments in carrying out this inquiry. The prospective increase in Commonwealth and State outlays on hospital net operating costs in 1979-80 was over $200m or 10 per cent. This escalation makes the proposed inquiry all the more essential. Against the background of documented inefficiency within the public hospital system and as an interim step in containing hospital expenditures the Commonwealth will seek to hold its own payments for hospital operating costs to 1978-79 levels pending the report of the proposed inquiry.
Hospital charges and payments
Public hospital charges for patients with hospital insurance were last increased in October 1976. Even at that time the charges covered only a small percentage of the total costs of hospital treatment and, since then, those costs have risen sharply. We have decided to seek the agreement of the States to an increase in public hospital inpatient charges from 1 September 1979. In the case of a shared room the increase sought will be from $40 to $50 a day and, in the case of a private room, it will be up from $60 to $75 a day. These increases will reduce Commonwealth outlays on hospitals by $31m in 1979-80. There will be a similar saving by the states. I should emphasise that it is not within the Commonwealth’s power to increase public hospital charges to more realistic levels. We are seeking increases in charges to $50 and $75 a day- amounts which are substantially below costs- because this is the level which State Governments have indicated they will support. On the information available to us some States are unwilling to increase charges beyond this level.
At present the Commonwealth subsidises the medical expenses of the general public to the extent of 40 per cent of schedule fees, subject to a maximum patient contribution of $20. In addition, the Commonwealth makes generous provision against medical outlays for pensioners with pensioner health benefit cards and for people identified by doctors as socially disadvantaged. Arrangements for pensioners and socially disadvantaged people will not be changed. While accepting the need to continue to protect pensioners and the socially disadvantaged the Government has decided that subsidies to others for everyday medical expenditures should be significantly reduced.
From 1 September the Commonwealth arrangements for the general population will be changed so that for each professional service the Commonwealth will meet the full amount by which the schedule fee for that service exceeds $20. Items where the schedule fee is below $20 will not attract any Commonwealth benefit. The reduction in Commonwealth outlays from this measure will be about $150m in 1979-80 and $2 10m in a full year.
I wish to emphasise that the Government has maintained universal health protection in that pensioners and the socially disadvantaged continue to be fully protected; the general population is protected against large and potentially crippling outlays on medical services by the Government commitment to meet the full amount by which the schedule fee for any service exceeds $20; and uninsured patients will continue to be entitled to standard ward treatment in public hospitals, when treated by doctors engaged by the hospitals, at no cost to them.
Education is another large block of expenditure which has come under close attention. With enrolments in universities and colleges of advanced education stabilising and total enrolments in schools beginning to decline it is possible now to moderate the flow of resources- and especially additional capital resources- into these areas. There has been the most careful assessment of education programs.
The Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) will shortly issue detailed guidelines for the programs of the education commissions in 1980. These will show that programs have been more rigorously pruned than on any previous occasion. They will also show that the Government has continued to give high priority to Technical and Further Education Institutions.
Favourable rural conditions afford an opportunity to scale down some programs of Commonwealth assistance to primary producers in 1979-80. We have decided to provide $5m under the Commonwealth extension services grant program in 1 979-80 compared with an estimated $10m in 1978-79; and a significant reduction in funds under the rural adjustment scheme to $ 1 8.7m in 1 979-80, from $4 1 m in 1 978-79.
Steps will also be taken to recover a greater proportion of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in providing cattle disease eradication and export inspection services. To this end, the disease eradication component of the livestock slaughter levy will be increased from $ 1 per head to $3 per head from 1 July; and arrangements, effective from 1 July, will be made to recover, in respect of meat, wool, and grains, approximately 50 per cent in total of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in providing export inspection services for those commodities. These measures are estimated to yield additional revenue of over $30m in 1979-80.
Based on consideration of an Industries Assistance Commission report the Government announced in 1976 that the nitrogenous fertilisers subsidy would be phased out. The Government had decided to continue the subsidy in 1980 but at the reduced rate of $20 per tonne. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) will be announcing further details, where appropriate, after consultations with the States.
The Government has decided to limit grants under the urban public transport program to $40m- the same money level as in 1978-79- and to defer the $15m ‘needs’ component for a further year. Road grants in 1979-80 will be held to the same real level as in the current year.
I also mention here two other decisions which we have taken to help contain Government spending; the Ministers responsible will provide further details in separate statements. These decisions are: Firstly, to introduce a value limit on homes, including land, which qualify for a home savings grant. The limit will be set at $35,000 for a full grant, reducing to zero at $40,000 and will apply to persons who contract to buy or build a home after today. This will reduce expenditure by about $5m in 1979-80; and secondly, to exclude certain goods- including most meats, tallow, wood chips and certain hides and skinsfrom the coverage of the export expansion grants scheme with effect from 1 July 1979. The rapid increase in exports of these products largely reflects marketing arrangements, and, especially in the case of meat, world demand. It is not appropriate or necessary to pay increased grants in these circumstances, and the saving involved is estimated at $40m in 1 980-8 1 .
Against the severity of these cuts there will be attempts to frighten people receiving Commonwealth social security pensions and benefits and repatriation payments. These payments will be maintained by the Government. The fearmongers should be ignored. It should be clear, however, that the Government is determined that unemployment benefits will not be paid to those who are not genuinely seeking work.
The Government’s attitude to expenditure restraint will be firmly in evidence in its approach at the forthcoming Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting. The Government, on taking office acted quickly to introduce the present revenue sharing arrangements. These allow for a considerable increase in the funds available to the States which they can spend at their own discretion and without centralist interference. In fact, in 1979-80 the States’ tax sharing entitlements are presently projected to increase by as much as 14 per cent. In these circumstances it must be expected that much of the burden of overall restraint will necessarily fall on other specific purpose payments to the states. Some such decisions have been announced tonight and this approach will be maintained. The decisions I have announced tonight best indicate the difficult decisions we have had to make in our determination to restrain expenditure. As I noted earlier, the Government will be continuing its stringent examination of expenditures between now and the Budget.
Whilst very considerable progress was made in improving the prospective budgetary position for 1979-80, it did not alter the fact that if the Government were to obtain a responsible budgetary outcome in that year, it would be necessary to raise substantial additional amounts of revenue. This inevitably meant a critical examination of tax indexation and rates of personal income tax. If this were not done the Government faced the prospect of an unaceptably high budget deficit, a deficit which would not bear down with sufficient force on inflation. This would jeopardise the economic recovery which is now under way. It would lead inevitably to renewed inflationary pressures with a consequent impact on business confidence and abandonment of investment. It would create further unemployment. For these reasons the Government has found it necessary to take certain revenue decisions.
Honourable members will be aware that under existing taxation legislation, the increase of 1.5c in the standard rate of taxation imposed in last year’s Budget will expire on 30 June 1 979. Under the same legislation, full indexation of personal taxation will be restored with effect from 1 July 1979. 1 do not for one moment disguise the fact that the l.Sc increase imposed in the last Budget was expressed to be temporary. That was the intention at the time its was imposed. That was the expectation properly entertained by the Government at the time. Nor do I disguise the fact that this Government has both promised and legislated for the restoration of full personal tax indexation with effect from 1 July 1979.
However, economic responsiblity now dictates that the Government cannot allow this legislation to take its course. If the present terms of legislation regarding the surcharge and tax indexation were to take effect on 1 July 1979, personal tax collections in 1979-80 would have been reduced by more than $1 100m. It is simply not possible for the Government to sustain the full amount of reductions of this order in its revenue in 1979-80 and at the same time retain budgetary responsibility. The Government has thus decided to present to Parliament legislation which will have the effect of extending until 30 November 1979, or such earlier date as may be proclaimed, the existing pay-as-you-earn tax instalment deductions. This means that on 1 July, there will now be no alteration in the take home pay of wage and salary earners on account of either tax indexation or changes in the rates of personal income tax.
The. effect of the decision 1 have just announced will be to maintain the present rate of deductions under the PAYE system. As the surcharge was imposed at the higher rate of 34.57c so as to collect the full amount of $560m between 1 November 1978 and 30 June 1979, the yield if that rate of deduction were maintained for a full year would be approximately $980m. Consequently, during the period of up to five months in the first part of 1979-80 additional tax at the rate of approximately $1 10m a month will be collected from PAYE deductions. This monthly amount of course also takes account of the saving to revenue of full tax indexation not applying in that period. During this period there will be no increase in the PAYE deductions now applying. Nor will there be any decrease.
The rates of personal income tax to apply for the income year 1979-80 as a whole together with the Government’s decision regarding tax indexation arrangements for that same year will be announced in the Budget to be presented on 21 August 1979. 1 inform the House that in the event that full indexation is found to be practicable when the Budget decision is taken the indexation factor to be used in adjusting both the ranges of income to which particular rates of tax would apply and the concessional rebates would be 6.5 per cent. That factor has been derived as follows. In accordance with the terms of the relevant legislation, the Government proposes that the increase in the consumer price index of 7.9 per cent for the year ended March 1979 of the effects of devaluation by 0.2 percentage points on account of the effects of devaluation in the December quarter 1976, and 1.0 percentage point for the net increases in indirect taxes announced in the last two Budgets. The rises in excise and customs duties and the crude oil levy in the 1977-78 and 1978-79 Budgets will be offset by an upward adjustment in respect of the reduction in sales tax on motor vehicles in the 1978- 79 Budget.
The Government has also decided that the indexation factor should be adjusted to take account of the two steps which were taken on 17 April 1977 and 1 July 1978 to phase in the adoption of import parity pricing for local production of ‘old’ oil. These steps represented a policy aimed at improving the allocation of resources in relation to crude oil exploration, production and consumption, and it would therefore be quite inappropriate to take action, through the tax indexation mechanism, to offset their effects on consumption. The legislation to be introduced will provide authority for this adjustment, which will reduce the factor by a further 0.2 percentage points, making a total reduction of 1.4 percentage points. The net result is the factor of 6.5 per cent to which I earlier referred.
I must emphasise that there is no prospect of the Government’s being able to announce in the Budget both the removal in full of the surcharge and implementation of full indexation for the 1979- 80 income year. We could have taken a final decision now about indexation and the surcharge, but we would have done so with incomplete knowledge about the total budgetary situation. A sensible decision, one which would achieve the right budgetary result, could be taken only on the basis of firmer figures. The final revenue estimates for next year’s Budget cannot be made until closer to presentation of that Budget and in the light of the final revenue outcome for the current financial year. Significant areas of uncertainty will remain for some time. A major alteration of the revenue estimates, for example, between now and the Budget could fundamentally alter the basis on which our decisions had been taken.
Against this background, it would not have been responsible for the Government to have taken a final decision as to the levels of personal tax and tax indexation in the absence of the most accurate and up-to-date advice on likely revenue for 1979-80. It would have been foolish of the Government to have closed off any of the options available to it in advance of the Budget. Notwithstanding these decisions the benefits of three years of tax reductions and reform under this Government are still available. In 1978-79 personal taxpayers will pay $3,000m less tax than they would have done under the Hayden scales. Even with the current tax surcharge an individual on average weekly earnings is about $ 10 a week better off, and has been better off each year since the Government’s first reforms.
Some 90 per cent of taxpayers now pay tax at no more than the standard rate. Under the Labor tax scales a worker earning just above $ 10,000 would have been subject to a marginal rate of 45c in the dollar. Even with the surcharge in operation in 1978-79 such a worker has paid tax at a marginal rate, which is over 10c in the dollar less and would continue to do so even after earning an additional $6,000. It is expected that revenue from personal tax collections will actually fall in real terms during the current financial year. This will be the first time that such a fall has occurred in the past 10 years. Since 1975-76 because we have raised the minimum tax threshold from $2,5 19 to $3,893 up to 500,000 individuals on lower incomes no longer have to pay personal income tax. At all levels of income the total income tax payable in 1978-79 will be less than that paid in 1977-78 despite the existence of the tax surcharge.
The need to raise additional revenue in 1979-80 extends beyond the personal tax area. I therefore announce the following additional revenue measures:
I recently made a statement to the House about the deductions claimed in 1977-78 income year returns for alleged ‘losses’ arising out of participation in tax avoidance schemes against which the Government has, since the beginning of 1978, taken action. I noted then that some $452m in tax was involved in claims to carry forward these losses for deduction against income of later years. The Government has concluded that it cannot allow claims for carry forward of these quite fictitious paper ‘losses’ to succeed either to avoid or to defer payment of tax otherwise payable.
In the view of the Government, it would be quite intolerable to compel the community generally to shoulder a heavier tax burden so that relatively small numbers claiming under these losses should benefit. No one with any sense of fairness could possibly countenance such a situation. We shall not allow this to occur and we propose to legislate accordingly. Further details are provided in a separate statement that I have released tonight.
The Government has decided that as from 1 July 1979 it will increase the existing $3 a barrel levy on so-called ‘import parity’ oil by an amount equal to the increase that will by then have occurred in the import parity price since 3 1 December 1978. Essentially this measure will provide a self-adjusting mechanism for setting the levy on ‘import parity’ oil so that the public revenue- rather than producers- secures the gains which result from Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries-induced price increases. The price of petrol to consumers will not be affected by these levy arrangements. On the basis of already announced price increases by OPEC the increased revenue in 1979-80 is estimated to be some $ 1 66m. Any further OPEC price increases will generate additional revenues.
Under these arrangements, producers of ‘import parity’ oil will receive returns in the range $9.59-$ 10.52 a barrel, that is, returns in line with those received immediately prior to 1 January 1979. Overall returns to producers from the larger fields will increase as the proportion of import parity’ oil increases under the phasing arrangements. The implications of these new levy arrangements on small producers and marginal fields will be kept under review. The levy arrangements I now announce will not apply to new oil ‘ for which producers will receive full import parity prices free of levy. The incentive to oil search will therefore be maintained.
I also have to say that, because of the difficulty of the budgetary situation, and the essential requirement to bring down the deficit, the Government is unable to proceed with the planned lifting of the coal export levy on 30 June 1979. The retention of this levy will add approximately $100m to otherwise estimated revenue in 1979-80. 1 am unable to give any commitment as to the future abolition of this levy.
The Government has decided to terminate the trading stock valuation adjustment concession. It was introduced at an exceptional time of very high inflation when businesses faced severe liquidity problems. Since then business liquidity has improved significantly.
There is evidence that many businesses, taking the view that the stock valuation adjustment was an outright tax concession have applied benefits from it to increasing reported profits. At the same time this concession was not available to a significant section of the business community. It does involve a considerable cost to the Budget. Against this background, the Government has concluded that the stock valuation adjustment should be withdrawn. This will have effect from the commencement of the 1979-80 income year. The first major revenue gains from withdrawal will be experienced in 1980-81 and are expected to be about $300m.
Finally, I mention some further matters. The Ministers concerned will issue further details on them. They are:
It is proposed to increase licence fees levied on radio communication equipment, other than that used for essential purposes, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act with effect from 1 July so as to yield an additional $6m revenue in 1979-80;
Passport fees are to be increased by $5 to $25. This increase is estimated to yield an additional $2.25m in 1979-80; and
It is intended to impose from 1 July 1979 an ad valorem revenue customs duty of 2 percent on most goods currently imported free of duty where international trade commitments and understandings permit. This measure is estimated to yield about $80m revenue in 1979-80.
I remind the house of what I said earlier- that the decisions I am announcing today do not in any sense represent the totality of the 1 979-80 Budget. In particular, all areas of expenditure in respect of which decisions have not been announced in this statement will be the subject of further close scrutiny in the final run-up to the Budget. In the course of that scrutiny, the Government will be seeking to make further significant savings. The more successful we can be in that regard, the less will be the need to seek increased revenue in the Budget proper.
In all of this, the Government will, of course, be taking into account the need to maintain the climate of recovery in economic activity which has been evident throughout the current financial year. Central to achieving that is the need to confront and beat back the recent resurgence in inflation and in inflationary expectations. The decisions which I have now put before the house are a further clear demonstration of the Government’s recognition of that need.
There are already clear signs that the policies that the Government has been following over the past three years are working. Notwithstanding the renewed build-up of inflationary pressures, the rate of inflation has been reduced from 16.7 per cent in 1975 to 8.2 per cent in the year to March 1979. Economic activity overall is gathering strength and growth in real domestic product in 1978-79 should easily exceed our expectation last August of ‘something over 4 per cent’. There have been improvements in the labour market. Civilian employment statistics show that employment has risen by over 56,200 in the nine months to March, the majority of the increase being in the private sector. On the external front, the trade and current accounts have been gathering strength and so, very recently, has private capital inflow.
Business investment has also been growing strongly and several recent surveys of business conditions have foreshadowed greater activity and improved prospects for the remainder of the year. There are many recent company announcements which show that investment projects are coming to fruition and that the corporate sector is having a welcome return to confidence in Australia’s long term economic potential. These very tangible gains have taken time to achieve. It is important that they are not lost through inappropriate policies.
Our own commitment to containing the size of the Budget deficit remains undiminished. The message contained in this statement needs to be clearly understood in all sectors of the community. Let me, in addition, express the hope that both employers and trade unions, in their approach to wages and related issues and industrial arbitral authorities in their determinations will accept the call for restraint which it embodies.
The widespread push towards higher wages is a development of particular concern. For that reason a heavy responsibility rests upon the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in approaching its decision in the current national wage case. It is imperative that the Commission should not jeopardise continued recovery by awarding another increase in award wages at this time.
For the Government’s part, it is our hope that these decisions announced tonight will provide a firm basis on which to construct the 1979-80 Budget and on which to further the gains already achieved from pursuit of our economic policies. I present the following paper:
Government expenditure, personal taxation and revenue 1 979-80-Ministerial Statement, 24 May 1 979.
I commend the statement to the House.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leaveproposed:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) speaking for a period not exceeding 36 minutes.
-The honourable gentleman is not contributing to the debate. He will resume his seat.
-. . . but imposing this time limit is without precedent.
-The honourable member for Wills will resume his seat.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Fraserism comes with a high cost. We are paying for it again. Tonight the price tag is $ 1,300m and the Australian community will have to pay that out of its pocket. Nearly $ 1,000m of that amount is through extra revenue charges. But it is not the final instalment. On the words of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) tonight, it does not represent the totality of charges and program cuts that the Government has in mind. The essential elements of Fraserism are unrelieved confusion, a breathtaking display of economic illiteracy and a resounding repudiation of solemn promises.
The path of the Fraser Government is paved with broken promises. Tonight we saw more of them. We saw the retention not the abolition, of the coal export levy and the abolition of the stock valuation adjustment system, not the increase to full stock valuation adjustment as was promised for the forthcoming Budget. Tax indexation is frozen at the present low level while the tax surcharge is retained. They were the four key areas where the Government’s credibility was hanging in the balance, but it has fallen apart again. The failure to implement full tax indexation and the failure to abolish the tax surcharge will cost the average income earner in Australia $6.50 a week. The cost of Fraserism is high. It is about $ 1,300m. Fraserism is based on policies which will bleed the economy of this country to death. After three and a half years and nearly four Budgets, the Fraser Government still cannot get economic management right. The nation is now confronted by money supply out of hand, interest rates rising, inflation taking off again, unemployment continuing its remorseless rise, higher taxes and charges; and the country in hock to overseas money lenders to the tune of $4,000m.
Today is a day of infamy for the Government. There is no room for pride in what it has done. The economy is in a mess because of the foolishness of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) always in pursuit of fresh fields of economic folly. Tonight, the nation pays a high price because the Government has acted too late. It should have moved to control the money supply last year, not in the last few weeks. It should have avoided the inflationary impact of the massive increases in petrol prices that it imposed in the last Budget. The price of petrol has been doubled in three short years by the policies of the Fraser Government. That, among other Government actions, has had significant inflationary effects on the economy. Promises impulsively made with a high cost which inevitably had to be met in the forthcoming year airily entered into by the Prime Minister are the genesis of the nation’s present economic disorder. These are the major ingredients of the worrying mess that the economy is now in. It is in that mess because of the Prime Minister’s frequent, impulsive and foolish intervention in economic management. Tonight the mess is increased, the confusion added to.
Last August we had a Budget to run for 12 months. Much less than that, we have another Budget which is to run for six months. Before that runs out of its time we will have another Budget in August. The fiscal cycles are confused. We have amateurs in charge of the economy. This will inject massive uncertainty and insecurity into the business sector of the community and households throughout Australia, undermining and eroding the functioning of the economy. There can be no excuse on the part of the Government that it is a suddenly discovered situation that it is in serious fiscal trouble. It has been warned often enough. Many sources in the economy have been warning it. I have warned it regularly. At the National Press Club on 15 March I said:
Because of Mr Fraser’s undisciplined, unsystematic method of economic decision making, he has publicly undertaken commitments which will cost some $ 1,700m in the next Budget . . . Even allowing generous offset gains from increased tax payments by farmers, reduction in the cost of investment allowance, and an increase in company tax receipts because of last year’s improved profitability, the revenue shortfall that arises because of Mr Fraser’s promises is of the order of $ 1 ,000m.
That statement was rubbished in the Parliament by the Prime Minister. He ruled it out of court as a possibility. I made that statement in March, only a couple of months ago. That indicates how much the Government knows about economic management. A little earlier at a business seminar in Sydney conducted by McCann-Erickson I gave a similar warning. In case that is thought to be too recent, I remind the House that, on 21 November 1 978, 1 asked a question in the Parliament. I asked the Treasurer:
Does the Government intend to terminate the present income tax surcharge from 1 July next year? If so, would this mean a loss to revenue in 1979-80 of about $600m? Will another $100m be transferred from public revenue to oil producers because of oil pricing policies? Is it a fact that other government proposals such as the abolition of the coal export levy and the abolition of gift and estate duties will further reduce revenue, making a total reduction to revenue of about $800m? How does the Government propose to offset these shortfalls other than by resort to some broadly based indirect tax?
The Budget had scarcely been passed by the House of Representatives when that problem became obvious. The Treasurer rejected the proposition that already the whole strategy of the Budget was in disarray. The fact is that the Government of this country is in the hands of a bunch of amateurs. The cost is too high. Australians ought not be required to bear it. More than that it is the inequity, the unfairness, the total injustice of the way in which the cost burden is distributed by Fraser economics that we reject totally. Tonight is a night of abject dishonour for the Government. On page 17 of the statement that the Treasurer circulated we read:
I must, however, emphasise that there is no prospect of the Government being able to announce in the Budget both the removal in full of the surcharge and implementation of full indexation for the 1 979-80 income year.
How can people believe a Government that says that? How can people believe a Government headed by a Prime Minister like the present one who is constantly breaking promises? Only two months ago in this House both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were reassuring the community that their commitment to abolition of the surcharge, its termination from 1 July, was inviolable. They said that it would be fully met. Yet, two months later we have a thorough repudiation of this very important promise. What will happen on 30 November? We are told that we will get one or the other- perhaps- of either full tax indexation and retention of some form of tax surcharge or abolition of the tax surcharge but, presumably, also abolition of any benefits from tax indexation. Clearly, we will not get both. Clearly, the repudiation of the Government’s promise on this matter is total and irreversible. This is the sort of uncertainty that undermines confidence in the community. Let us refer to some of the gems of the Government in this statement. The Treasurer said:
During this period there will be no increase in the PAYE deductions now applying, nor will there be any decrease.
That is rather generous of him. It is on a par with the statement of the Prime Minister in the Parliament yesterday. He said: . . the policy of the Government is the policy of the Government and that happens to be the policy that is applied at the moment.
– No longer operative.
-Let us be fair to the Prime Minister. After all, there is so much less to him than meets the eye. This Government is the highest tax government in the history of this country with perhaps the exception of war time periods. The total tax revenue as a proportion of national income with the exception of war time periods is the highest that it has ever been. The decisions tonight will ensure that it goes even higher. Let us eliminate completely the nonsense that income earners have had the benefits of tax reform under this Government. The average income earner is $8.50 a week worse off before tax in real terms than he was in 1975. He will be worse off again as a result of the decisions announced tonight, taken in conjunction with further measures which will be necessary in the next Budget. There has been no relief for families. Family allowances are $2 a week less in real terms than they were in 1975. This country is the victim of confused economic planners. For goodness sake, how can an economic manager come before the Parliament, speak to the nation and say in relation to the very near future what the Treasurer has said? He said:
How do Government members run the economic affairs of this country? Do they take a stab in the dark? Do they toss a coin hoping it comes down the right way or they ask the last taxi driver who drove them home in the early hours of the morning from the Canberra Club? Whatever they do, it is not the appropriate way to be running the affairs of this country. On page 17 of the statement the Treasurer said:
A sensible decision, one which would achieve the right budgetary result, could only be taken on the basis of firmer figures.
For God ‘s sake, is this the way that the affairs of this country will be run- on hunches, guesses underlaid, overlaid and thoroughly torn apart by uncertainty and indecision on the part of the Government? On page 14 of the statement, in relation to the imposition of the tax surcharge the Treasurer said:
That was the intention at the time it was imposed. That was the expectation properly entertained . . .
That was last August. In November, without any of the resources of the Treasury or the other Government departments behind me, I was able to point out to the Government that it was already in serious trouble in holding its budgetary policy together. It is not only in that area that we find this sort of slap-dash approach to the management of the affairs of this country by a bunch of amateurs. There have been two substantial alterations to the health insurance arrangements in 12 months- at the time of the last Budget and again tonight. About 12 months ago the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) said:
Until an improved data base becomes available, the Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance system.
So the Government is making major adjustments without a worthwhile data base. That symbolises the whole deficiency of economic management and the general administration of the affairs of this country by the present Government. It does not know; it will take a punt; it will take a guess; it will take a risk with the livelihood and security of the people of this country and just hope that it works out right.
Tonight the Fraser Government has announced not the implementation of a full trading stock valuation adjustment but its total abolition, and at a most inappropriate time. The whole purpose of the trading stock valuation adjustment is to provide cash flow for businesses in difficult inflationary circumstances. Inflation is taking off again. It is not going down; it is not even stabilised. It is taking off again. It is a most inappropriate time to be terminating that sort of benefit. Similarly, the coal export levy must be the cause of red faces in the Government. After all, it was the source of considerable criticism of the Labor Party when it was in government. We introduced it when we were in office- without any apology- to fund programs to benefit the community; to fund them from revenue derived from wealthy mineral development corporations which export most of their products. The coalition parties rejected this proposition. They said it destroys initiative, resourcefulness, the proper reward for enterprise. Yet tonight they are preserving a key socialist principle introduced by an earlier socialist government.
The government opposes the proposition that there ought to be a levy on domestic oil producers’ windfall additions to profits. Honourable members are aware that as a result of the petrol pricing policies of the Government which have increased petrol prices enormously- doubled them in three years and aggravated inflationdomestic petrol producers have derived enormous additional profit. For instance, this year the windfall addition to profits is of the order of $300m. Next year it will be more than $400m. We have argued that it is being provided at the expense of Australian motorists and the money ought to be reinvested in the community for the benefit of the people iri the community. There can be no justification for the enormous addition to the profits of domestic oil producers coming from this source. That has been ridiculed as a proposition, but tonight we find that in a modified form it will operate from December. Although it is the wrong base at least the principle has been endorsed by the Government. This Government does not know whether it is coming or going. It keeps tripping over itself. It cannot maintain any consistent administration of the affairs of the country.
The coalition government self proclaimed as dedicated to the rural sector, has thumped the rural sector in no uncertain way tonight. Expenditure on extension services and the rural adjustment scheme has been cut by 55 per cent. But the discrimination does not stop there. It is not just anti-rural, anti-farmer in what it has done; it is anti the community. It is particularly discriminatory against the sick in the community. As a result of these proposals which conceivably are not the end of what the Government will do in this area, the sick, the disabled in Australia, will pay $380m extra because they have ill health. That is the sort of penalty that a conservative government imposes on those in the community with ill health. This is completely foolish economics. It is foolish economics because it is so seriously inflationary. As a result the consumer price index will increase by between VA per cent and Vi per cent. The effects of this stupidity will be imposed on the public because the Government will argue that any wage indexation adjustment will have to be discounted because of the excessiveness of these punitive measures. The cost of living will go up for members of the community. Their spending power will go down. Their living standard will be eroded by this because it will add about $4 a week in increased health insurance costs which the people will have to bear. On top of that it is a threat to jobs. About 18,000 jobs will be lost in hospitals throughout Australia because of these proposals.
Let me move to another proposition, that there should be a 2 per cent customs duty imposed on a range of items which at present are not subject to this sort of charge. That will add to inflation, but more significantly it underscores the inconsistency, the dissembling of the Prime Minister, the essential ingredient of Fraserism- mendacity. We heard in this Parliament on Tuesday night a lecture, a homily, from the Prime Minister that while he was overseas at the United Nations Conference on Trade and DevelopmentUNCTAD V-at Manila he outlined a freer trade policy for the benefit of developing countries. Yesterday, according to newspaper reports, Australian representatives at UNCTAD V put forward propositions for reduced protection. Tonight we have a proposition from the Fraser Government to increase protection. These people on the Government side hang themselves with their own words. They choke themselves with their own lies. You cannot run a country that way.
Let me look at the budgetary significance of these economic measures. The increased revenue impost and the cuts to existing programs are of the order of $ 1,300m in their cost- a total cost that will have to be borne by the community. The Treasurer has made it clear that forward estimates established a deficit of about $4, 600m. So the measures tonight reduce that deficit, but it is still about $3,300m, which is as high as it has been at any time since the Fraser Government has been in office. No real progress is reflected from the proposals which are before the House tonight. So there will have to be further cuts. Perhaps it will be in the area of education, which has been flagged in the Treasurer’s speech. Taxes will have to be jacked up further. Who are the people who will have to bear the brunt of further sacrifices? It will be the people who have been conventionally identified by the Fraser Government as the ones who should have to bear sacrifices- those who are least able to bear that sort of cost, the pensioners. Pensioners, who because they are now denied one of the twice yearly indexation adjustments to their pensions, will by the time of the next adjustment to pensions be about $2.20 a week below what they should be getting on the standard rate and about $3.70 a week below what they should be getting on the married couple rate. By November a single pensioner will have become $60 worse off and a married couple $100 worse off because of the imposition of Fraser economics, the discrimination, the disadvantage, the exploitation, the injustice, the total unacceptability of such objectional measures. Programs for children, mothers, home makers -
– What did you do in 1975? What was your program?
-The Picture Show Man would be much more interesting to the honourable member. I believe he is going to one of the late screenings tonight. The programs for invalids and Aboriginals have been reduced by $33m in real terms since 1975. The inequity of it all was reflected today with crass indifference by the Government. Six Bills were brought into the Parliament to terminate various forms of capital taxes. The termination of gift duties, for instance, will inflame the whole tax avoidance industry into greater efforts for easier success. The six Bills involve some $100m of revenue forgone and benefit relatively few people in the community. For instance, in the case of estate duty, 6 per cent of the total number of estates- only 750 of them- pay 55 per cent of the total amount of estate duty, and we are talking of estates with a value in excess of $200,000. Because these sorts of things have been done, because the Prime Minister has made a number of other commitments involving costs that have to be met by the rest of the community, taxes go up for the average income earner. Householders and families are discriminated against. Because the abolition of the tax surcharge is not to take place, because full indexation is not to be implemented, the average income earner supporting a spouse and children is to be $6.50 a week worse off than he should have been. That is the cost of the dishonesty of the Fraser Government. So $340 a year is the price of the broken promise of the Fraser Government.
We heard in the course of the statement optimism about the deficit and how much advance has been made. In three years under Labor the total deficit was $6,445m. For the last three years the deficit, including the present deficit, will be $9,273m, or $3,000m more over the three-year period than applied when we were in office, and that in spite of the obvious Budget fiddles which in the corporate sector would have landed an accountant in gaol. What is the economic impact of these proposals, especially when they are taken in conjunction with the telegraphed intentions of the Government for the forthcoming Budget? We can look towards 1979-80 with no sense of optimism, no sense of security or encouragement at all. These economic measures indicate that we are going into 1979-80 with contractionary economic measures. The measures will also be inflationary, as is reflected by increased health insurance costs. There will be higher levels of unemployment, which is already at record levels. These proposals are anti-wage earner, they are anti-householder, they are anti-farmer, and they are anti-family.
Nobody can claim that the Prime Minister has not had enough time to honour his promises to the Australian people. Nobody could reasonably argue that he has not had a fair go. With the exception of the late Sir Robert Menzies, this Prime Minister has now been in office longer than any other Prime Minister since the end of World War II, 34 years ago. The Fraser Government has served for longer than the Whitlam Government, the McMahon Government, the Gorton Government, the Holt Government and the Chifley Government. It is now in its fourth year of office. The litany of dishonoured pledges served up tonight by the Treasurer is the first instalment of its fourth Budget. This Prime Minister and this Government have had more than enough time to keep their many promises and commitments to the people. After all, it was the Prime Minister who in 1975 promised that his Government would achieve economic prosperity in one parliamentary term of three years. The deadline expired six months ago. It is now just another broken promise, along with the Prime Minister’s promise of jobs for all Australians, his promises to keep Medibank, to bring down interest rates, to reduce inflation to 5 per cent next month, to get rid of waste and extravagance, and to govern with integrity and honesty in the interests of all Australians. Inflation is rising again, as are interest rates, and in absolute numbers unemployment has reached the worst levels ever in the history of this country.
Tonight, with that sort of record behind him, the Prime Minister had to send his Treasurer into this House to announce that, after three and a half years in office, his Government will have to rip another $ 1,300m from the pockets of the Australian people. So much for the word of the Prime Minister. He cannot be believed any more than he can be trusted. Since November last year I have said repeatedly that, because of his own behaviour, the Prime Minister would either have to raise taxes or break promises in this year’s Budget. I have also said that there was no other way out. Tonight the Prime Minister has achieved the double. He has done both. For all his talk, the Fraser Government is the highest tax government in our history. This financial year the Government budgeted for total tax revenue of almost $24,000m. That is $7,000m more than I as Treasurer budgeted for in the Labor Government ‘s last Budget three and a half years ago. The Fraser Government has increased tax revenue by 40 per cent- 40 per cent in three yearsand yet it still cannot keep its promises and it still has to increase taxes and charges even more.
I repeat: Apart from the wartime government, the Fraser Government is the highest tax government in our history. It takes more in all taxes, both direct and indirect, than any other government since Federation at the turn of the century. Now this Prime Minister is increasing taxes again to pay for his Government’s incompetence. His policies have not worked. They cannot work and they will not work. What we have heard tonight from the Treasurer proves that. This Government is damned by its own admission. This Prime Minister is condemned out of the mouth of his Treasurer. The Australian people have had enough.
– In congratulating my friend on his imagination, I move:
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr MacKellar, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of this Bill is to put into effect three of the decisions affecting income tax that the Treasurer (Mr Howard) announced, and explained at some length, earlier tonight.
Trading Stock Valuation Adjustment
A major feature of the Bill is a provision to terminate the trading stock valuation adjustment with effect from the commencement of the 1979-80 income year. Reasons for this action were given in the Treasurer’s statement. As firms entitled to the TSVA deduction will pay tax in 1979-80 on the basis of 1978-79 incomes, the continued availability of the deduction for the 1978- 79 income year will benefit them in 1979- 80.
PA YE deductions from salaries and wages
Reflecting our present decisions, the Bill contains legislation which will specifically authorise the continued application of existing rates of pay-as-you-earn deductions from salaries and wages until 30 November 1979, or such earlier date by which decisions arising out of the 1979-80 Budget might be implemented. It would not be profitable to go over all the ground the Treasurer covered in his earlier statement, but I do wish to stress certain matters.
The major point is that the most appropriate time to make a responsible and informed decision about income tax rates for 1979-80 is at the traditional time when the coming Budget is being finalised. At that stage, the outcome of revenue and expenditures for 1978-79 will be known, and the outlook for 1979-80 can be more accurately gauged. Yet it is already clear that it would be imprudent to allow the substantial drop in income tax revenue that would occur from 1 July 1979 if things were allowed to take their course from the present law.
The Government has accordingly decided to continue the present level of PAYE deductions from salaries and wages beyond 30 June 1979 until the decision about personal tax rates for 1979-80 as a whole, to be announced in the Budget Speech, can be implemented- but no later than 30 November 1979. It is not necessary that there be any corresponding holding action in relation to 1979-80 provisional tax. That tax is not payable before 3 1 March 1980.
Tax Indexation Factor
The Bill will also amend the provisions of the income tax law that fix the factor by which the income ranges in the personal income tax rate scale, and concessional rebates, are indexed. Under the present law, in determining the indexation factor for a year, the increase in the average level of the consumer price index for the 12 months ended the previous 31 March over its average level in the preceding year is taken as a basis. This may then be adjusted to exclude the effects on the consumer price index of certain matters, the main one of which is indirect taxes.
The Government has decided that the indexation factor should be adjusted to take account of the first two steps which were taken on 17 August 1977 and 1 July 1978 to phase in the adoption of import parity pricing for locally produced crude oil. These steps represented a policy aimed at improving the allocation of resources in relation to crude oil exploration, production and consumption, and it would therefore be quite inappropriate to take action, through the tax indexation mechanism, to offset their effects on consumption. The Bill proposes to amend the law to permit this adjustment. An explanatory memorandum explaining the technical features of the
Bill is being made available to honourable members.
Finally, I note that the matter of denying the carry-forward of paper losses arising from involvement in tax avoidance schemes which the Treasurer also announced earlier this evening is not included in the Bill, but will be brought before the Parliament in legislative form in the Budget sittings. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.
-by leave- The Treasurer (Mr Howard) has briefly outlined certain measures which the Government has decided to take in the health sphere. I will now amplify those measures and the reasons for their implementation.
With health costs accounting for nearly 8 per cent of the gross domestic product, compared with less than 6 per cent six years ago, it has not been possible for the Government to ignore the significance of those costs in budgetary strategy. Although in the past 31h years the Government has made real and tangible progress in reducing markedly the rate of acceleration of increase in the nation’s health expenditure, costs are still far too high. Indeed, the latest estimates of total health expenditure show that the rate of increase last financial year over 1976-77 was down to about 10.7 per cent. This compares with an increase of 14.1 per cent in 1976-77 over the previous year, and a massive 35 per cent growth the year before that.
But I emphasise again that, acceptable and encouraging as the latest figures are, they are still not good enough. No government of a country the size of Australia relishes a national health bill of around $8 billion- for that is what the nation as a whole is facing in the current financial year. Such a cost is particularly unacceptable at a time when the Government and the nation are faced with a continuing situation of economic difficulties, when- as the Treasurer has pointed out- the over-riding, all-important task is to come to grips with that situation. And so I ask honourable members to view these changes in the light of the Government’s overall budgetary strategy. They are a vital component of that strategy. Put in another way, the Commonwealth simply cannot afford to continue subsidising health costs at the present rate if the Budget deficit is to be kept at an acceptable level. But- I emphasise this strongly- the Government is certainly not abdicating its essential responsibilities. It will continue to give emphasis to the importance of less costly non-institutional care.
In addition, while reducing its level of direct subsidy towards the costs of medical careexcept for pensioners and the disadvantaged- it is making a real attempt to control health expenditure in the most costly of health spheres, hospital care. Subject to the co-operation of the States in the achievement of these objectives, the Government will continue its support for less costly non-institutional health care alternatives and preventive health programs, including the community health and school dental programs and it is launching a boldly innovative program aimed at improving the general level of the nation’s health. Thus, while we are reducing the level of Government subsidy to individuals who are able to pay for medical costs, we are encouraging and sponsoring measures which will not only contain future cost escalation but also should lead to better health standards for the people.
Inquiry into Hospitals
Perhaps the single most important measure announced tonight, at least in terms of potential cost saving in the not too distant future, has been the Government’s plan to establish a national inquiry to examine the efficiency and administration of hospitals throughout Australia. It is a well known and disturbing fact that some 60 per cent of Commonwealth expenditure on health services is absorbed by hospital services. Everyone involved in health care- and that includes the State governments- agrees that hospitals are disproportionately costly and that something ought to be done about it. This Government is doing something about it. The proposal to establish an inquiry is a positive first step towards establishing financial sanity in the hospital sphere.
Although the rate of growth in hospital costs has been slowed under the hospital cost-sharing agreements which the Fraser Government renegotiated with the States, actual costs have continued to rise. For example, in 1976-77- the first full year of operation of the agreements- the Commonwealth’s contribution was $873m. For the current financial year, it is estimated that the Commonwealth’s contribution will be $ 1,067m, an increase of some 22 per cent in the two-year period. The purpose of an inquiry would be to identify the factors behind existing rates of growth in public hospital expenditures, and ways in which those growth rates might be reduced.
Evidence points to an oversupply of hospital beds in Australia, compared with other countries. In addition, there is a mal-distribution of beds. The oversupply situation is reflected in the average bed occupancy rate in our hospitals. In Australia there is an average bed occupancy rate of only 68 per cent. An inquiry would look at these issues. The recent report of the South Australian Public Accounts Committee into the financial management of the hospital system in that State produced some disturbing information, particularly on the financial affairs of some South Australian hospitals.
– It is a matter of general concern for the community that it must get the best value possible in terms of health care for each dollar spent.
– What happens in the Australian Capital Territory?
– Therefore, there is a real necessity for this complete review of the hospital system, which will include the Australian Capital Territory. The Government will be discussing the inquiry with the States. We will commence the inquiry as soon as possible. An early report to the Government would be desirable in view of the expiry of most of the hospital cost-sharing agreements in mid- 1980.
No doubt the inquiry will find much useful information in the booklet entitled ‘Report on Rationalisation of Hospital Facilities and Services, and on Proposed New Charges- A Discussion Paper’. I take this opportunity to table a copy of that report. It has been prepared by a committee of Commonwealth officials following a series of meetings with the States to examine measures to improve hospital productivity, efficiency and cost containment. I circulated the discussion paper to the State and Northern Territory Health Ministers on 2 March this year as a basis for further discussion. I emphasise that the recommendations have not been endorsed by the Commonwealth Government but the discussion paper has been endorsed as such. During the inquiry, the Government would wish that its contribution to operating costs of public hospitals for the 1 979-80 financial year be held at the 1 978-79 levels. I recognise that this constraint may have wide-spread effects on some States’ hospital systems. Early discussion between the Commonwealth and the States will look at this aspect. The Commonwealth will be seeking the participation and co-operation of the States to ensure that an inquiry will be fully successful in making recommendations to improve the efficiency of the hospital system.
In association with this matter, the Government has decided that the existing in-patient charges in recognised hospitals of $40 a day and $60 a day, for shared and private rooms respectively, should be be increased to $50 a day and $75 a day from 1 September 1979. The State Health Ministers in February 1978 agreed in principle that charges should be increased to these levels, and we are now seeking early formal confirmation from the States of their agreement to the new charges from 1 September this year. It should be pointed out that the average cost of a hospital bed in Australia today is around $150 a day. Six years ago the cost was about $41 a day, while in 1976, when the present bed charges of $40 and $60 were introduced, the average cost was about $120 a day. As at present all Australian residents will continue to be eligible for standard ward hospital accomodation, with treatment by doctors engaged by the hospital, at no cost to themselves. Of course, all residents will continue to be able to insure themselves for shared or private room accommodation in public hospitals, or for private hospital accommodation, and to be treated by a doctor of their choice. Detailed discussions on all the matters outlined, including the proposed hospital charges, will be held at a special conference to which I will invite all State Health Ministers in about two weeks’ time.
I turn now to the changes in respect of medical benefits, and the introduction on 1 September this year of a universal medical guarantee in relation to doctors’ fees over $20 for each schedule service. The basic features of the new measure can be summarised as follows:
A guarantee against higher-cost items of medical services will be available to all.
While the patient will be responsible for medical costs up to $20 for each schedule service, the Commonwealth will meet all except $20 of Medical Benefits Schedule fees above $20.
Pensioners with health benefits cards will continue to be eligible to receive a benefit of 85 per cent of the schedule fee for each medical service with a maximum payment by the patient of $5 for any one service where the schedule fee is charged.
People classified by their doctors as disadvantaged will continue to be eligible to have their medical accounts bulk-billed.
– I might say that this scheme is working extremely well. These people will be bulk-billed at 75 per cent of the schedule fee. They will not be asked to make any direct payment. The law, of course, as it is presently written and will remain as such will ensure that the doctor who bulk-bills will not be able to obtain any direct payment from the patient in that category.
The changes, of course, apply also in respect of optometrical services which are encompassed in the health insurance scheme. Thus, while achieving a substantial saving in budgetary terms, the Government nevertheless is still guaranteeing universal protection against higher-cost items of medical service. In the light of the tight budgetary situation, and the fact that health costs have to be met by one means or another, and in view of the wish of the majority of Australians to exercise freedom of choice in health care, the Government believes the proposals to be realistic and inescapable.
Effect on Health Insurance Contribution Rates
From 1 September this year, the Government will require health insurance funds to maintain the current level of benefit in the basic medical table- that is, 75 per cent of the schedule fee, with a maximum payment by the patient of $10 for each service where the schedule fee is charged. Quite obviously, contribution rates for this basic table will rise. Such increases will vary between States and individual funds, but departmental estimates- and I emphasise that they are only estimates- indicate that rises could be of the order of between $ 1.50 a week and $2.50 a week, depending on the States. Those sums would relate to weekly family contributions to the basic medical table. If funds maintain the current level of benefit for supplementary tables- that is, up to 100 per cent benefits- contribution rates for those tables will, of course, increase also.
In respect of the proposed new hospital inpatient charges, hospital insurance contribution rates also would need to rise for both basic and supplementary tables. Again, the extent of the increases would vary between States and funds. However, the basic weekly family table contribution rates for hospital cover are estimatedand against I emphasise only estimated- to rise by amounts ranging from between 65c to about 90c, and for supplementary tables by from 90c to about $1.20 a week. The medical benefits changes mean that those who elect to remain uninsured will pay the full cost out of their own pockets where the schedule fee is $20 or less.
The best advice I can give such people is that they should weigh up their personal circumstances carefully and decide whether it is in their best financial interest to remain uninsured or to take out medical insurance with a private fund. No doubt, the funds will be quickly assessing the new position and making early announcement of their revised rates; so, individuals will be able to decide their best course of action. Arrangements will be made so that the two month waiting period for benefits normally applied to basic medical tables operated by health insurance funds will be waived between 1 September and 3 1 October this year, to enable people who enrol in that period to receive benefits immediately.
It is inevitable that the measures that I have outlined will attract criticism. Certainly many people will be affected by them, although I would emphasise that pensioners and those classified as disadvantaged by doctors, will not be affected. I would remind the critics again of the budgetary reasons behind our decisions, and remind them too that the Commonwealth Government will provide a universal guarantee against medical items with a schedule fee of more than $20. Our approach in all these matters is consistent with the philosophy I have so frequently expressed, that is, that health costs must be met by the community by one means or another, either by the payment of taxes, levies or premiums, through direct payments, or by a combination of these means. The community cannot escape the bill.
During the 1977-78 financial year, the Commonwealth spent an estimated $2,682 million on health, an expenditure of about $189 for every man, woman and child. This was in addition to the $124 a person spent by States and local government while $191 a person was provided by private and individual sources. This is a massive total of $504 for every person in this country. But, as I said earlier, while the community is now moving to reduce its expenditure, we are not abdicating our essential responsibility. I would remind critics too of the real financial contribution that the Government is making toward health costs in so many other spheres- for instance, the Community Health Program and School Dental Scheme. I would mention too our real contribution to medical research and to research in many spheres of health care delivery through my Department’s research and development grants, our continuing assistance to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, and the Home Nursing Subsidy Scheme, our substantial annual grants For family planning and drug education.
Another major contribution is being made through the Isolated Patients’ Travel and Accommodation Assistance Scheme, which is proving of real value to outback dwellers in need of specialist medical treatment. In this regard, I am pleased to be able to announce that a number of anomolies in the scheme identified in a recent review are to be rectified. In brief, the present requirement to obtain prior approval before the patient travels is to removed. Residents of certain off-shore islands are to be exempted from the rule which prohibits assistance to people living less than 200 kilometers from a specialist and the definition of non-isolated areas is to be changed. Escorts will be automatically approved for children under 17 years travelling for treatment, instead of under 14 years as at present.
Tonight I wish to announce an exciting new Commonwealth initiative which will commence in the new financial year- the national health promotion program for which the Government will be allocating an initial $500,000. I think honourable members generally will be aware that in spite of Australia’s huge national expenditure on the provision and delivery of health care services, the overall health of Australians is not improving. A significant contributing factor to this situation has, I believe, been the widespread acceptance by the community of unhealthy lifestyles and the diseases they cause. I am pleased to say, however, that there is an emerging recognition of the association of these behavioural patterns with ill health, and of the fact that to a large extent such ill health can be prevented by personal effort. There are some hopeful signs that the community is now ready to accept such a change, and it is against this background that the Government has agreed to place increasing emphasis on health promotion, as opposed to the more traditional ‘curative’ emphasis.
The $500,000 will be used to develop a broadbased health promotion program which will portray health as a valuable asset to be preserved by each individual. It will emphasise both selfreliance and co-operation with others in improving health status; it will illustrate how health status can be improved, and disease and injury avoided; and it will demonstrate that health promotion relates to life-style behavioural patterns. It will seek to motivate health practitioners, management, unions, education authorities, community organisations and community leaders to participate in the program and promulgate its objectives.
This initiative, I believe, represents the most challenging, and potentially one of the most important, contributions to health care in the history of Australia. It signposts the new direction in which this Government believes we should be heading, with the focus changing from cure to prevention. It is my sincere hope that honourable members on both sides of the House will give their support to the program. As I stated earlier, such a measure must lead not only to better health for every Australian but also, as a consequence, to the eventual containment- and even perhaps a reduction in real terms- of rising health costs. And that, surely, must be a common objective for every Australian. The Government, in making these changes to health insurance and in tackling the mounting costs of hospital administration, is also giving a new emphasis to cheaper non-institutional health care alternatives and preventive health. I commend the changes to the House. I present the following papers:
Health care costs- Ministerial Statement, 24 May 1 979.
Hospital facilities and services- Report on rationalisation and on proposed new charges- A discussion paper, dated November 1978.
Motion ( by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the papers.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Prospect speaking for a period not exceeding 23 minutes.
– I must say that I feel sorry for the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who had to introduce this statement tonight, even though he did put in about six pages of padding with the bad news to make up a total of 1 1 pages. When the last lot of changes were announced in the Budget last August, the Minister was told about them four or five days before they were introduced and was told that they were insisted on by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). This time the Minister did not get that much notice because he was overseas. It is depressing for the Minister. It only emphasises what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) pointed out earlier, that this Government is completely incompetent. We have a reasonably efficient and certainly knowledgeable Department of Health. We have the facilities and we have the individuals who know what it is all about. Yet this Government makes decisions, ignoring all that available information.
This is the fifth very major change to health insurance in three years. As I have said before, instability has become the curse of the Australian health insurance system. There is a complete and continuing process of change. Nobody knows what is going on; the Minister is not aware of what is happening. On 24 May 1978- exactly one year ago- the Minister stated in this House:
Until an improved data base becomes available, the Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance system.
At the time the House was debating a paper on paying for health care. Very significant changes were announced less than three months from that day. In August of last year the Minister introduced the changes which we are knocking over again today. It is not seven months since the changes were introduced, on 1 November, and now the Government is again introducing changes. It will be seven months tomorrow week since these changes were brought into operation. The Minister for Health is continuously giving advice, but one cannot come to any intelligent decisions as to what course the payment and funding of the Australian health system should take without giving it a chance to work, without seeing how many people want to do this and what effect it has to pay 40 per cent and the first $20. The Minister does not get a chance. This Government does not give him a chance to do any of those sorts of things. I think it is quite ridiculous. This is the ninth occasion on which the House is amending the National Health Act and the seventh occasion on which it has amended the Health Insurance Act in about 2% years. This is a ridiculous way of dealing with health insurance. In his statement the Minister states:
Perhaps the single most important measure announced tonight, at least in terms of potential cost-saving in the nottoodistant future, has been the Government’s plan to establish a national inquiry to examine the efficiency and administration of hospitals throughout Australia.
I might agree with him, if it is a reasonable inquiry. But I am sure it will not in any way influence this Government’s decision. That is the depressing thing. This Government- I exempt the Minister from this pejorative statement- will make decisions on the running of hospitals, in regard to how much money to be given to hospitals and what proportion of the total health budget should be given to hospitals, irrespective of the decisions of that inquiry. All the previous inquiries have been ignored. Today the Minister tabled a report on the Rationalisation of Hospital Facilities and Services and of Proposed New Charges- A Discussion Paper. Why is the Government so scared? I will also criticise the Minister. Why is he so scared of having discussion? It is a discussion paper; it is called a discussion paper. Yet, I obtained it about a month ago with a covering letter dated 20 April which the Minister had written. It was personally written to Mr Bruce J. McDonald, M.P., Deputy Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales. It is endorsed ‘personal and confidential’. He enclosed a copy of this discussion paper and states:
I thought it was necessary to give the States some time to comment on a report on hospital rationalisation and services which I forwarded to all Health Ministers throughout the Commonwealth. I enclose a copy of that report for your very confidential examination and consideration. The State Ministers have had copies of this report for at least six weeks, and it is to their credit that the report has not been leaked to the media.
A discussion paper should not be leaked to anybody. What is the point of having a discussion paper? Later in the same letter to the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of New South Wales the Minister states:
Although I have sent you a copy of the Report on Rationalisation of Hospital Facilities and Services and on Proposed New Charges, I must ask you to treat this document as a highly confidential one, and I would be very disappointed if the document was, in fact leaked to the press. It would not hurt the NSW Government; it would only do us damage.
I hope it does, but I do not really see that it will do anybody any damage because it is a fairly rational discussion paper.
-The reason for that was that we wanted to give State Ministers a chance to respond before it became a public document. Once it became public we could have had a public discussion on it.
– Why did the Minister say: ‘It would not hurt the New South Wales Government; it would only do us damage’? It does not hurt anybody to have an intelligent and rational discussion. Why can we not have an intelligent discussion as to the pros and cons as to what can be done about it? As I said earlier, what is the point of having that sort of an inquiry if the Minister or the Government is going to ignore the report of that inquiry and ignore the result of that inquiry.
The Minister today quite clearly threatened the States. He talked about the expiry of the hospital cost sharing agreement in 1980. He is obviously telling the States that they have to toe the line, otherwise there might not be any money for them at all. I suppose the Commonwealth Government can refuse to contribute any money to the States for their hospital system, but what is the point of threatening them on that basis? Surely the whole point of this report is to come to some intelligent agreement with the States as to how some money can be saved and so on.
I do not want to go into a discussion on this report because since it was tabled tonight I hope time will be made available to discuss it at a later stage. In my other capacity as the shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I draw the attention of people to the proposals to reduce the number of occupied-bed days in repatriation hospitals. The proposition is that they be reduced to the same number as in recognised hospitals, that is, by at least 12 per cent over the next four years. We are talking about a reduction in bed days from this year’s estimated figure of 870,000 to 766,000. That is a drop of 104,000 over the next four years. I think that one of the important points to remember- I do not expect the Minister necessarily to have thought of it, but one would have hoped that the people who prepared the report would have thought of it- is that the estimate from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and from other people who are interested in veterans’ affairs is that the usage of hospital beds by repatriation patients will go up. They are reaching an age when people spend more time in hospital. The Second World War veterans are now reaching ages of 55 plus. Obviously a much larger amount of their time is likely to be spent in hospital. I hope that the Returned Services League and similar organisations will take a fairly aggressive stance with the Minister on this particular point. I seem to remember that there was a previous report from the Department of Veterans Affairs which suggested that the peak of usage of the health and hospital facilities of the Department would be about 1990. So the Minister will be lucky if he can keep the occupied bed days in repatriation hospitals at 1 ,870 for the next 10 years, let alone achieve a very significant reduction.
Just before I come to the actual proposals, I would like to make one further point. In introducing these changes and other changes tonight, the Treasurer (Mr Howard) made the following statement:
There are already clear signs that the policies that the Government have been following over the last three years are working.
Yet one of the main points he was talking about tonight was the health insurance system. There have been, as I have said earlier, nine changes to the National Health Act. There have been five very significant and major changes to the health insurance system since this Government came into office. How can the Treasurer have the hide to come into this House and say that the policies the Government has been following over the past three years are working? If they are working, why keep on changing them? It just seems pointless. It almost seems superfluous to emphasise that the Minister and the Minister’s advisers in repeated statements to this House and the Australian people in general who are interested in the payment for health care have repeatedly said- other organisations have talked about itthat we need more data; that we need more facts; that we need to allow things to go on for a little longer in a particular way before we can change them. Towards the end of last year when we were debating changes, the Australian Medical Association said, amongst other things:
The debate is catalysed by irregular but frequent changes to health financing arrangements by the Commonwealth Government of the time, sometimes for reasons of community health and welfare and sometimes to help balance the books. It’s time we sat back and had a calmer look at what’s going on.
I am sure that deep down the Minister agrees with the AMA. I agree with the Minister that somewhere or other we have all got to pay for the costs of health care. Let us at least spend it on health care. It is paid for either by the Government or by individuals via health funds, or directly. There are significant extra costs every time the system is changed. There has to be a new public relations campaign telling people what to do. It is all right for John Galway. I do not know how much influence he has in the Government parties. It is certainly in his interests and it is in the interests of many of the media to have these changes because they get the advertisements and they get paid for running them. It is surely not in the interests of the Australian population which has to pay for them. I am sure that even the voluntary funds would be much happier if the Government left them alone. I am not a great friend of the funds, but I am sure they would be much happier if the Government gave them a go and said to them: ‘Let us try to work this out. It is going to be in for the next 18 months or the next two years at least. We will have a look and see what happens’. The appendix to the paper on health care which the Minister tabled in this House said, amongst other things:
A3.1 There is very little analysis available in Australia or elsewhere, to tell us what possible effects different health insurance proposals would have on costs, on our usage of health care, on the available supply of beds and doctors or on our ‘health’. Thus the first gap is a detailed analysis of each proposal to enable policymakers to make informed choices. They should know: how those arrangements increase or decrease the use of different services or the quality of the services provided; and how the use of these services ultimately affects ‘health ‘.
A3.2 We do not have any comprehensive data to tell us what is the ‘best’ type of health insurance system, and the best’ possible method of paying doctors, and the ‘best’ method of financing hospitals and other community health services. A health insurance project would seek and analyse the needed data on all three aspects.
The facts are not available; yet the Minister is changing the whole set-up here today for the purpose of saving $200m in the operation of the health insurance scheme. I come back to the specific results of the measures proposed tonight, when they come into force on 1 September of this year. The change will increase the number of persons ignoring early symptoms, when treatment may be relatively cheap. It will increase medical insurance costs for those still covered and it will generally increase the consumer price index when inflation is already increasing rapidly. Those are the three points that are quite significant The reason why it will increase the number of persons ignoring early symptoms when treatment may be relatively cheap is that we are no longer contributing anything. When I say ‘we’ I mean the Commonwealth Government is not. The Commonwealth Government will no longer contribute funds from taxation revenue to those who are seeking relatively cheap advice from general practitioners.
Many relatively poor people, or people who are not really poor but who may not be terribly keen on spending money which they will not get back, will ignore the early symptoms of respiratory diseases in their children. If children have asthma- I suppose that is one of the commonest respiratory illnesses- or some other recurrent respiratory illness, it will be ignored. Because the mother will not be able to get a refund on her doctor’s fees or a significant subsidy from the Government in one form or another, she will say that it is not worth while paying $9 if the child only has a cough. If there is a delay before treatment is sought we will certainly have a significantly greater number of children with bronchiectasis, et cetera.
The long term costs to the community are quite significant. They probably cancel out the savings that will be obtained in the first instance. The consumer price index in the last December quarter would have increased by 3.8 per cent, giving an annual rate of 15.2 per cent, but for the Government’s decision to subsidise medical costs. The Government is always terribly keen on tossing annual rates of inflation around. We would have had an annual inflation rate of 15.2 per cent calculated on the December quarter of 1 978 if it had not been for the Government ‘s decision to subsidise medical costs from 1 November last year. That may or may not have been an intelligent decision.
The withdraw of the subsidy plus the increase in charges for doctor of choice and private hospital beds will increase the living costs for most people. It will increase the consumer price index by about 1.5 per cent. This will be multiplied and passed on in wage and salary rises. The cost of other services and goods will increase. Whatever benefits were obtained by the action of last November will be reversed. We also have to consider the human cost involved.
The increased cost of medical insurance will be $2.50 per week according to the Minister, and he does not like to guarantee the figure. Hospital insurance rates will rise by about $1, $1.20 or $1.30 a week. This amounts to a total increase of nearly $4 a week for those taking out insurance. That is a huge amount of money. I still have reservations about people taking ‘advantage’ of that sort of medical insurance. I am sure most people will be better off not taking any medical insurance. I agree with the Minister that people have to look at all the aspects and make thenown decisions.
There has been a fair bit of hospital knocking lately. Suddenly everybody is keen to knock hospitals. I am looking forward to next Friday week, when the Minister has agreed to meet a deputation of people who work in Sydney hospitals. The deputation will be led by Ray Cook, the Secretary of the Health and Research Employees Association in New South Wales. A reduction of $200m in the Commonwealth’s contribution to hospitals will mean the loss of about 18,000 jobs. That is a hell of a lot of jobs. We are already dealing with peak unemployment when we compare a particular month this year with the same month in another year. I have been assured by the State Minister for Health in New South Wales that the proposed reduction there will amount to $63m and that this will lead to a loss of about 5,000 jobs in that State.
– There is no figure decided on yet
– But the Minister was talking about $200m tonight. It appears that the Minister has, in effect, decided on a figure. I hope he has not. It may be that I and some other people the Minister will be meeting next Friday will be able to pursuade him.
– I will be talking to the State Health Ministers about it.
-I sincerely hope that he will. It is one of the difficulties. There is probably a wastage of money in hospitals. Let us face it, at the present time there is a very high labour content in expenditure on hospitals. Some money will be saved in the long run by employing people. If those sorts of jobs are eliminated the people cannot get other occupations. They finish up on the dole and that, in turn, decreases the amount of money that is spent in the Australian community. This still causes more unemployment. Over the last few years many people have been knocking hospitals. It has been an easy way to talk about things.
– They are not sacred citadels though.
-No, I agree that they are not sacred citadels. I have often criticised hospitals because they, in many cases, exist as a sort of private workshop for the medical profession to make a lot of money by using the facilities and funds provided by the State. At the same time, we have to look at the people who are working in those hospitals. I am sure the Minister himself, being a member for a country area, is aware that in many country towns the hospital is quite a significant economic factor. A significant number of people work in these hospitals. The hospitals provide other secondary employment by buying things in the town. We should not just eliminate all those hospitals. Maybe we should convert some of the hospitals, as I think it is suggested in the paper, into institutions which, in effect, are nursing homes. We should look after the people who are working in those institutions. We should not fall for the easy way out and criticise hospitals and say: ‘Well, too much money is spent on hospitals; we will spend money in community health areas’.
I support community health expenditure. I think in the long run it will save the community money, but it is not certain as yet. We have to be careful we are not ‘snowed’, if that is the right word, by people who are much better at presenting a case than the relatively unskilled people working in hospitals. We should ensure that we do not just finish up transferring jobs from relatively unskilled people to what are often relatively well off middle class people working in community health such as doctors’ wives. My wife worked in such a place so I am qualified to make that sort of statement. These people are prepared to go back to work and offer their services and become part of the caring profession. I think they do an excellent job. Do not let us kid ourselves that the people involved in defending community health and involved in criticising hospitals have not got an axe to grind. I think as politicians we should be aware that when people are lobbying us there is a reason for it. They will always say they are doing it for their patients if they are involved in the caring profession. If they are lawyers, they say they are doing it for their clients. If they are politicians, they say they ar doing it for their constituents. We also know their attitude will be coloured by the benefits that are involved as far as they themselves are concerned. I appeal to the Minister to look at this before he starts putting the knife into the money available for the public hospital system in Australia.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. (Debate (on motion by Mr Falconer) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 10 May, on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill, I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Wheat Industry Stabilization (Reimbursement of Borrowing Costs) Bill 1979 as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-The Opposition does not oppose the Bills although we express serious concern about the Government’s actions particularly in respect to the way that these Bills came about, the way that the Government acted with regard to the wheat industry and the Australian Wheat Board and the consequent worry that that caused to many wheat growers. I think we need to reflect a little on tonight’s statement by the Treasurer (Mr Howard). I think it is pretty fair to say that that statement is indicative of the economic turmoil in which the Government is. Attempts to blame the past Labor Government for every economic ill are no longer credible. Attempts to talk the economy into a desirable shape obviously do not work any more. Attempts to blind the public to the reality of the economic bind we are in just are not working. When the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) says that interest rates will drop by 2 per cent and they do not because they cannot, the public perceives these things.
The Bills with which we are dealing reflect, in effect, some of the desire by the Government for economic events to happen when quite clearly they cannot. Getting back to the statement of tonight, again there is a lot of room for debate. I well remember the debate in 1973-74 when the Labor Government implemented some of these measures, particularly the Livestock Slaughter Levy Bill. At that time the then Opposition, the present Government, raised the most trenchant criticisms and objections to what we were doing. But the fact is that the key economic parameters no longer respond to the wistful jawboning of the Prime Minister or the Treasurer. The Bills before the House are directly related to the Government’s inability to contain the growth in the money supply within the Government’s target set some eight or nine months ago, that is, at the time of the last Budget. The Bills relate back to about the January/February/March period of this year. Even in October/November last year, when the 1978-79 Budget introduced in August was passed by this Parliament, the money supply was quite obviously out of kilter. What we have here is a little bit of ad hockery that it might not have been possible to avoid, but which certainly could have been acted upon sooner, but for the Government’s own past rhetoric. It certainly could have been handled in a less messy fashion.
The Labor Party’s spokesman on primary industry, Senator Peter Walsh, first alerted the nation to the fact that in the early part of this year the Australian Wheat Board had suspended first advance payments to growers. His comments were either pooh-poohed or ignored by the Press, various rural observers, the Government and the Australian Wheat Board. For two months earlier this year the Government failed to respond to statements and questions on the matter. Yet it was clear by December last year that we were headed for a record wheat harvest and that the usual funding arrangements- a limit of some $800m in the account in the Reserve
Bank- would not meet the first advance payment that had been set. In early November last year the wheat harvest was under-estimated by about 6 million tonnes. Consequently, some $400m more than the amount estimated was needed to fund the wheatgrowers’ first advance. In December the Bureau of Agricultural Economics publication on trends forecast wheat production at 17.5 million tonnes. But the Government dithered until March before taking action. Deliveries finally amounted to about 18 million tonnes. It is interesting to note that the production is about one million tonnes more than deliveries.
As I have said, by December of last year it was clear that we were headed for a record wheat harvest. But yet again the Government would neither confirm nor deny what it was going to do even though it knew that it had clear powers to direct the Australian Wheat Board to raise funds outside the regular Reserve Bank arrangements. Perhaps it was reticent because of its guilt about its statements when in Opposition. I refer in particular to the time when Senator Wriedt, as Minister for Agriculture, issued a directive to the Australian Wheat Board under the terms of section 1 8 ( 1 ) of the relevant Act. In October 1973, Senator Wriedt, as Minister for Agriculture, directed the Australian Wheat Board to stand by the three-year agreement it had made in 1971 to sell wheat on terms to Egypt. Of course, this action evoked a cacophony of abuse. The present Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) said at that time:
It will be quite intolerable if the Wheat Board’s commercial judgment is to be overridden by the Government’s political desires . . . The Wheat Industry Stabilization Act should be amended to prevent the Federal Government from dictating policy to the Wheat Board.
The then Opposition spokesman on primary industry, the present Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street), described the instruction as an abuse of power, an example of the then Government’s authoritarian iron fist which opened the danger of governments appointing only ‘yes men’ to marketing boards. Where are the voices of dissent now? At that time a lot of people had to swallow their pride, but they did not issue some of the ridiculous statements which greeted us in 1973. For example, the present Australian Wheat Board Chairman, Sir Leslie Price, described the directive of Senator Wriedt as ‘the first step to nationalising the industry’ which would place the wheat stabilisation plan in jeopardy. Perhaps it was those sorts of statements by the then Opposition, the present Government, that makes the Government a bit reticent in asking the Australian Wheat Board to do what it clearly wanted it to do.
After the Board ran out of money and suspended payments to growers in January this year, Cabinet instructed the Reserve Bank to advance the Board sufficient funds. Almost immediately it put pressure on the Board to transfer the Reserve Bank debt to the trading banks. Prior to a meeting with the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), the Board decided not to oblige the Government. But the Minister managed to make the Board see the wisdom of the Government’s desires. He talked to the Board about printing money, inflation and so on. The Board agreed voluntarily to borrow $155m. The Board members, who had been pushed over rather easily I should think, evidently got a roasting from their State affiliates. Consequently, when the Government requested the Board to transfer another $300m, the Board refused. It was not going to be the scapegoat for the Government’s or the Prime Minister’s interest rate follies. It has to be understood that it was the Government- the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or whomever in the Government one may wish to apportion blame to- not the Australian Wheat Board that was responsible for losing control of the money supply.
I think that the problem goes back to the Prime Minister’s irresponsible guarantee in 1977 that interest rates would fall by 2 per cent. Even more irresponsibly, in November 1978 he decreed that the bond rate would come down, at a time when all the market forces were pushing it up. The money market has been in turmoil ever since. On 27 April this year the Board announced that the Government would have to instruct it formally to transfer another $300m. As the Minister said, under section 18 ( 1 ) of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act, the Board could do this. The Board’s decision was proper. The proper governmental response would have been to issue the instruction, but as I have said, perhaps the Government was reticent because of its former rhetoric. On 28 April, the Treasurer said that the Board would have to comply. But the Minister for Primary Industry, who alone had the power to instruct the Board, did nothing. He dodged the issue by saying that the Reserve Bank was discussing the matter with the Board. In the absence of any other knowledge it appears that more accurately the Minister was discussing it with the Chairman of the Board. On 2 May in answer to a question in Parliament, the Treasurer admitted that the Reserve Bank could not instruct the Board and the Minister for Primary Industry admitted that he had not instructed the Board. In other words, a stalemate existed.
In my view, the Minister for Primary Industry was punting on the Board caving in and complying with government policy without being formally instructed to do so. The Minister’s judgment about the Board’s weakness was sound. On 3 May, the Treasurer stated that the Board had agreed to the Reserve Bank’s request. The Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sir Leslie Price, made a similar statement. It appeared to many outside observers that the Chairman, in isolation, had decided to oblige the Minister who had appointed him and the party which had knighted him and present the Board with a fait accompli. As I understand it, no Board meeting was held but evidently Board members were canvassed and the majority agreed to reverse the decision made at a formal meeting held one week earlier. I think the circumstances of the Board’s action are a little extraordinary, but I do not think we should make too much of it. The fact that sensible decisions were not taken by government at the right time and the fact that the Government delayed and dithered represented a messy piece of government.
In the week after the Board’s decision to go along with the Government, the Minister for Primary Industry answered a question in Parliament which further damaged the Government’s credibility. On 8 May he admitted that in effect the Board had suspended first advance payments between 23 January and 2 February. This pulled the rug from under the Board’s General Manager who had gone to great lengths to give the opposite impression. Indeed, he had explicitly denied to at least one prominent financial journalist that payments had been suspended. Part of the cover-up strategy was a story put out on the bush grapevine that the cause of any apparent delays was computer breakdown. I think that this was rather a messy sort of an excuse. As I said, I think the Government caused it. We would not like to see it happen again. If again we have a bumper harvest, the Government has constraints in the money supply, the Reserve Bank arrangements are not sufficient and it is known for weeks if not months that there will be a problem, the Government, the Wheat Board, the wheat growers, the Reserve Bank and the Treasury should be able to get together without going through this messy sort of process. Not all the facts are known about this matter. I am reticent to make heavier statements about it. We would not like to see this happen again. Many of us would dearly like to know what truly happened.
The Government has introduced two Bills to accommodate what has transpired. It will subsidise the amount involved in the Wheat Board’s having to borrow on the open market. The Wheat Industry Stabilization (Reimbursement of Borrowing Costs) Bill authorises a Commonwealth subsidy for the higher interest rates which the Wheat Board will have to pay for that portion of its overdraft transferred from the Reserve Bank to private noteholders. The second Bill, the Wheat Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill simply amends the parent Act to accommodate the change. The Minister for Primary Industry denies the existence of a new subsidy. The Opposition concedes that in a sense he is correct. The Wheat Board finance has always been subsidised, to a degree, with Reserve Bank credit below commercial rates. This Bill makes obvious what has always applied. The Bill is a product of the Government’s decision to lean on the Wheat Board to issue commercial Bills in order to rein in the money supply.
These Bills give the House a chance to debate the next five-year wheat plan which will be the seventh plan. Given the Industries Assistance Commission’s report on wheat stabilisation in the next wheat plan, to some extent the debate on its findings has been varied. There has not been much debate on the report, particularly with respect to the vexed question of domestic marketing. The IAC plugged for free internal trading. The view which the Bureau of Agricultural Economics put before the IAC was in support of the Commission’s findings. The Bureau, in putting forward its ideas on the next wheat plan, suggested that in addition to free internal trading there should be a minimum delivery price system for all wheat delivered to the Australian Wheat Board. This minimum delivery price was to be set as a percentage as high as possible of the expected pool realisation. One of the important functions of the minimum delivery price was to set a floor price and prices generally for private trading in wheat on the domestic market. Further research and study carried out in preparing this report on the grain marketing system to the AGRO conference did not result in a revision of the Bureau ‘s view regarding the domestic market.
The role of the Australian Wheat Board as the sole trader in marketing wheat destined for use in feeding livestock in Australia is highly questionable, particularly if a minimum delivery price system is introduced. In years when production levels are high, enforcing delivery of feed wheat to the bulk handling system is costly and inefficient. Even the monitoring of the prices at which all sales are made is of doubtful value to the industry. This is a case that can and has been argued by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. It has also been argued by the Industries Assistance Commission and various individuals. By and large, I think that the Opposition would still support the veiw that the more traditional system which we are used to and which we understand should prevail. The views of the IAC and the BAE are purely economic. The point that I am making is that there should have been a lot more debate in the community. Because Mr Colin Mann, the President of the Australian Wheatgrowers’ Federation, spoke to a seminar in Orange recently, we now know to a large degree the shape and form of the next five-year plan. It is not yet certain but I think we can say that the following proposals have been clearly formulated and agreed to by the industry, the Wheat Board and the Government. The Australian Wheat Board is to be the sole authority for the export marketing of wheat, flour and certain wheaten products. I do not think that anyone disagrees with this. But the Australian Wheat Board is also to have sole control of sales of wheat on the domestic market.
It becomes a little academic to talk about the IAC view, the BAE view and the views of certain individuals but I think that there should be a lot more debate. No doubt when the final plan is introduced into this House, that will be the time for the debate to occur. A guaranteed minimum delivery price will be introduced to take the place of the present first advance. The GMDP is to be set at 95 per cent of the average of the past, present and anticipated future pool return. The Commonwealth will guarantee growers this net pool return. From the GMDP, growers will have deducted their individual rail freight, bulk handling costs, refinance fund tax and wheat reserve levy. Any deficiency between the final net pool return and the GMDP will be met by the Commonwealth when the pool is finalised. I do not think that I need to go into any more detail about what Mr Mann said to that conference except to point out that, if the GMDP is agreed to, it will have a propensity in a high crop year to run us into exactly the same trouble which the Government got into this time. The Opposition does not oppose these Bills, but it hopes that the messy procedure which occurred, the doubts in growers’ minds and the allegations of a cover-up do not occur again.
-Why members of the Labor Party always seek to turn any Bill dealing with primary industry which is introduced into this House into a drama always amazes me. The honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Kerin) reminds me of a mixture of a Hitchcock plot and the final episode of Blue Hills. Members of the Labor Party will simply not accept that on such problems as are concerning us now our Government is prepared to consult with grower organisations and to seek a solution that suits the organisations, the Government and the community at large. The two Bills before the House are excellent examples of that. The last wheat harvest saw a record crop of 18 million tonnes produced in Australia. It was primarily brought about by favourable climatic conditions which produced exceptionally high yields. There were, of course, other factors such as the introduction and use over the past few seasons of new varieties of wheat, particularly the semi-dwarf varieties such as condor and egret and the harder variety, songlen
It is interesting to note that the record crop produced last season came from a stable area of 9 million to 10 million hectares of wheat. The crop produced has given a tremendous boost to the agricultural sector and rural life after many years of depressed prices and poor seasonal conditions. This huge crop means in both production and value terms that there is a great potential to reinforce our national economy with increased export earnings. However, there is also the potential- this was recognised by the Government and the Australian wheat industry- to disrupt the national economy with the inflationary impact of surplus funds. It is in this light that the need for this legislation was seen.
Two Bills are currently before us: The Wheat Industry Stabilization (Reimbursement of Borrowing Costs) Bill and the Wheat Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill. Basically, the first Bill is to provide for the reimbursement to the Australian Wheat Board for the costs incurred by it in making certain commercial borrowings to assist in financing the first advance payment. The Government announced before harvest this season the level of the first advance payable to wheat growers on the delivery of their grain to the respective State bulk handling authorities. For the 1978-79 season the Government set a first advance payment of $75 a tonne. This was an increase of $9 a tonne above the previous season’s level and was a record wheat payment to the industry. Traditionally, the Government makes arrangements with the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank of Australia to provide the Wheat Board with the funds necessary to cover the first advance payments funded by the Board within the statutory 12 months applicable to borrowing for seasonal finance purposes, and these have been guaranteed by the Commonwealth.
– I raise a point of order. Due to the great babble from the Labor Party members who obviously are not interested in primary industry, we are having much difficulty in hearing this most important and excellent speech dealing with one of our great primary industries.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member is reflecting on the Chair. There is no point of order. He will resume his seat.
– I raise a point of order. There are only about four Government members present in the Parliament listening to this very important debate to which the honourable member for Darling Downs has just referred.
-Order! There is no point of order.
– I appreciate the attention being given to my address tonight but I believe that this would be an appropriate time to ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Macphee, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979 now before the House proposes amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1966. The Bill introduces tariff changes foreshadowed by the honourable the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in his speech this evening in relation to the imposition of an ad valorem revenue customs duty of 2 per cent on most goods currently imported free of customs duty, including those under Customs By-law items 19 and 25. The 2 per cent revenue customs duty will operate on and from 1 July 1979. Most duty free imports not covered by the following exceptions will be subject to the revenue duty. These exceptions are being made because of international trade commitments and other trade reasons. These exceptions will include goods of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea or developing country origin and goods covered by rates bound under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Crude and enriched petroleum oil also will be exempt as it is further manufactured into products which are then subject to excise duties.
Certain goods which enter duty free under Schedule 2 of the Customs Tariff Act also will be exempt. For example, motor vehicle components will continue to enter duty free without the imposition of the 2 per cent ad valorem revenue customs duty because of Government commitments in the context of the Motor Vehicle Plan, and the need to avoid disruption to manufacturers’ arrangements under this Plan. ‘Non-commercial’ goods such as outside packages, re-imports, Government purchases et cetera will also be exempt, along with teaching aids, goods used in research programs in tertiary institutions, samples and other goods where the administrative costs of collecting the revenue duty would probably outweigh the revenue collected. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Morris) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.24 p.m. until 2.15 p.m., Monday, 28 May 1979.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 8 March 1 979:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Quarantine precautions at airports against the introduction of foot and mouth disease (FMD) apply generally in relation to aircraft, passengers and goods from all countries in which FMD is endemic and countries which, by virtue of considerations such as geographic location, are regarded as at risk’ from the disease. Accordingly, no change in airport quarantine procedures is required where outbreaks occur in any country falling into either of these categories. Outbreaks of FMD over recent years have all occurred in countries in one or other of these categories.
Chief Quarantine Officers (Animals) in each State are routinely advised of changes in disease status of overseas countries. Should an outbreak be reported in a country now regarded as disease free, airport quarantine officers in each State and the Bureau of Customs would be advised and procedures amended accordingly.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 27 March 1979:
Which synthetic chemicals or other substances presently in use in Australia are being investigated as a possible cause of birth defects, genetic disorders, cancer or other diseases amongst exposed populations by (a) the National Health and Medical Research Council, (b) the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Health and Safety Administration or Food and Drug Administration and (c) any Australian university or medical institution.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (a), (b) and (c) There are approximately four million known chemicals and of these, over 6,000 are in common use. Hence, it is impossible to individually evaluate their carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic potential. Nevertheless, many of these chemicals have been evaluated and are subject to continuing review as further information becomes available.
No comprehensive list has been prepared of the synthetic chemicals or other substances presently in use in Australia, and that have been or are being investigated here or in the U.S.A. Preparation of such a list would be a mammoth task and would involve direct approaches to all Australian universities and medical institutions as well as to the United States authorities.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (N.H. and M.R.C.) establishes special committees or working parties to evaluate appropriate scientific literature when special problems arise. Such committees as the Pesticides and Agricultural Chemical Subcommittee, Poisons Schedule (Standing) Committee, Food Science and Technology Subcommittee and the Occupational Carcinogens Subcommittee have been established over recent years and have all been conscious of the carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects of chemicals. Accordingly, as part of their membership they have experienced toxicologists who critically review all submissions for the use of food additives, pesticides and poisons coming before them. No submission is approved until it has been established that little or no risk exists.
In addition to its special committees, the N.H. and M.R.C. supports research projects that can lead to the detection of occupational carcinogens, effects of drugs on genetic material and the role of genetics in human disease.
The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee through its Congenital Abnormalities Subcommittee also has responsibility for assessing carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic risks associated with therapeutic agents.
Carcinogenic substances are usually not detected in human exposure situations but in animal experimentation and this presents many problems of extrapolation to the human situation. There is the prime difficulty of identifying mutagens and carcinogens particularly as a mutagen is not necessarily a carcinogen.
Ultimately the main problem may not be whether a substance is mutagenic or carcinogenic but having identified it, to discover where, how and in what quantity it is being used.
Joint Review of the Australian Development Assistance Bureau (Question No. 3572)
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 28 March 1979:
Board regarding the Joint Review Committee’s report as soon as possible.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Public Service Board has informed me:
At a meeting on 18 October 1978 officers of the Public Service Board agreed to provide staff associations with greater background information on the report of the Joint Review of the Australian Development Assistance Bureau. As it was an internal working document for management the Board considered that the report as such could not be released in full, but that a good deal of information would be made available to the staff associations concerned. This additional information covered the background to the review, terms of reference and other instructions to the team, a Development Training Memorandum issued to staff to inform them of the implications of the implementation of the new training principles and functional statements, organisation charts and duty statements for the proposed organisation.
) At a meeting on 30 January 1 979, the staff associations were advised that while the Public Service Board could not agree to a general request for details on each of the hundreds of positions affected by the review, additional information would be provided where specific organisation, classification or other problems were indicated. The two staff associations subsequently wrote to the Public Service Board on a number of issues. These representations were considered by the Board and a detailed response was provided to the associations.
At this point it is not intended that additional information will be provided as it is believed that the staff concerned and staff associations have been fully informed on the outcome of the review.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 28 March 1979:
Who are the members of the Oil Industry Supply Committee, what are their institutional affiliations, and on what basis were these members selected.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Oil Industry Supply and Shipping Committee is industry sponsored and comprises representatives of all oil marketing and refining companies in Australia. Its purpose is to minimise logistics problems in the intrastate and interstate movement of crude oil and petroleum products. There are no Government representatives on this Committee.
There is also an Oil Supplies Advisory Committee which was recently established to advise the Government following the disruption to supplies caused by the Iran crisis. Membership is drawn from the Oil Industry Supply and Shipping Committee referred to above together with officers of the Department of National Development. It is meeting regularly under the Chairmanship of a senior officer of the Department.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 5 April 1 979:
What volume of ( a) crude oil, ( b) crude oil used for motor spirit production and (c) motor spirit, was imported during 1977-78 by (i) Shell Australia Ltd, (ii) Mobil Oil Australia
Ltd, (iii),Esso Australia Ltd, (iv) Caltex Oil (Australia) Pty. Ltd, (v) British Petroleum Co. of Australia Ltd, (vi) Total Holdings (Australia) Pty Ltd, (vii) H. C. Sleigh Ltd, (viii) Ampol Petroleum Limited, (ix) Amoco Australia Pry Ltd., and (x) each of their related companies.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Details of imports of petroleum and petroleum products by individual companies are confidential.
asked the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 5 April 1979:
From which countries of origin and in what volume was (a) crude oil and (b) motor spirit, imported by (i) Shell Australia Ltd, (ii) Mobil Oil Australia Ltd, (iii) Esso Australia Ltd, (iv) Caltex Oil (Australia) Pty Ltd, ( v) British Petroleum Co. of Australia Ltd, (vi) Total Holdings (Australia) Pty Ltd, (vii) H. C. Sleigh Ltd, (viii) Ampol Petroleum Ltd, (ix) Amoco Australia Pty Ltd and (x) each of their related companies, during 1977-78.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
See answer to Question No. 3663.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
When does the Government intend to implement its 1977 election promise regarding its intention to increase the benefits for domiciliary nursing care to $4 a day and to reduce the age limits for the receipt of such benefits.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It was hoped that it might have been possible to introduce the measures referred to in the context of the 1978-79 Budget. However, this was not possible because of the economic circumstances then prevailing and which dictated budgetary restraint. The need for restraint has continued. I can advise, however, that the proposals will be considered in the forthcoming Budget context.
asked the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Department of Science and the Environment: Polls and Surveys (Question No. 3767)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice:
– The Minister for Science and the Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, upon notice, on 2 May:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 2 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) 1-4 August 1 978 inclusive.
asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 8 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 8 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question, as at 8 May 1979, is as follows:
The honourable member may be interested to compare my use of Kirribilli House with that of the former Prime Minister. In the period 1 January 1976 to 31 October 1978 1 occupied Kirribilli House on 44 nights. I am informed that during a similar period from 1 January 1973 to 31 October 1975 the then Prime Minister occupied Kirribilli House on 336 nights.
The nights of 12, 13and 16February 1978.
asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice, on 9 May 1 979:
Is any of the equipment necessary for the conversion of automotive petrol engines to LPG included in the motor vehicle local content plan if offered as original equipment; if not, have any manufacturers of vehicles or LPG equipment applied for inclusion?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Yes. All original equipment components are included in the motor vehicle manufacturing plan.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 10 May 1979:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
My Department’s records indicate that there has been no change in the proprietorship of the above homes during the period referred to in the question.
Commonwealth Medical Benefits Payments
-On 21 March 1979 (Hansard, pages 1012 and 1013), Dr Klugman requested information from me concerning medical benefits paid by the Department of Health firstly on the basis of 40 per cent of the Schedule fee with a maximum patient contribution of $20, and secondly in relation to socially disadvantaged patients at a refund level of 75 per cent flat. Table 1 below shows payments to registered medical benefits organisations by the Department of Health of advances and reimbursements to 31 March 1979 in respect of Commonwealth medical benefits payable by those organisations on behalf of the Commonwealth since 1 November 1978.
Table 2 below is based upon statistics provided by the registered medical benefits organisations as an acquittance of advances made by the Commonwealth to them for medical benefits.
These statistics should be regarded as being in the nature of preliminary figures because:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19790524_reps_31_hor114/>.