31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. Sir Billy Snedden) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council has not been democratically elected by the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is not representative of the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is a discriminatory and sexist imposition on Australian women as Australian men do not have a National Men’s Advisory Council imposed on them.
Your petitioners therefore pray that the National Women’s Advisory Council be abolished to ensure that Australian women have equal opportunity with Australian men of having issues of concern to them considered, debated and voted on by their Parliamentary representatives without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative “Advisory Council”.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Aldred, Mr Baillieu, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Falconer, Mr Malcolm Fraser, Mr Howe, Mr Keith Johnson, Mr McVeigh, Mr Martyr, Mr Nixon and Mr Yates.
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:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament will reform income tax laws to allow the joint income of husband and wife to be equally divided between them for taxation purposes.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jacobi and Mr Wilson.
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 a grave threat to the life of refugees from the various States of Indo-China arises from the policies of the Government of Vietnam.
That, as a result of these policies, many thousands of refugees are fleeing their homes and risking starvation and drowning. Because of the failure of the rich nations of the world to provide more than token assistance, the resources of the nations of first refuge, especially Malaysia and Thailand, are being stretched beyond reasonable limits.
As a wealthy nation within the region most affected, Australia is able to play a major pan in the rescue as well as resettlement of these refugees.
It should be possible for Australia to: establish and maintain on the Australian mainland basic transit camps for the housing and processing of 200,000 refugees each year; mobilise the Defence Force to search for, rescue and transport to Australia those refugees who have been able to leave the Indo-China States; accept the offer of those church groups which propose to resettle some thousands of refugees in Australia.
The adoption of such a humane policy would have a marked effect on Australia ‘s standing within the region.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Scholes and Mr Yates.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of Parliament assembled in the House of Representatives, Canberra. The humble petition of the undersigned members of organisations listed below and citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the thorough nationwide investigations by the Working Party highlighted the need to establish the National Women ‘s Advisory Council.
That we believe the Council consistently and democratically demonstrates its wide representation of the interests of all Australian women, as shown by the Draft Plan of Action for the 1980 National Conference to be held in Canberra in preparation for Australia’s participation in the United Nations Decade for Women World Conference in Denmark, July 1980.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament will continue its support of the National Women ‘s Advisory Council and its recommendations.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Baillieu.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully showeth:
That Dover and Southport residents be charged the local telephone call rate for calls to Hobart as planned for other southern districts in the community access 80 program.
That we strongly deny that Dover and Southport residents are adequately serviced by centres south of Hobart.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that residents of Dover and Southport, Tasmania, be charged the local telephone call rate for calls to Hobart.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Goodluck.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament assembled. The petition of certain citizens respectfully showeth:
Their support for and endorsement of the National Women’s Advisory Council. We call on the government to continue to maintain the National Women’s Advisory Council and increase Federal Government support for its activities.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Martin.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that:
We, the undersigned, wish to voice our protest against the mining and use of uranium, and to voice our disapproval of Prime Minister Fraser’s policy on uranium, and pray that immediate steps be taken to abandon the mining and use of uranium.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Uren.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of Australia in Parliament assembled. The petition of certain teachers of NSW respectfully showeth:
Teaching is a mobile profession requiring teachers to move from school to school during their working lives. Country service is a requirement for permanent teachers. It is unreasonable and often impossible for teachers to provide their own accommodation in many areas of the State. Thus it is necessary for the employer to do so.
A country posting is often viewed as placing a teacher in a position of professional, economic and social disadvantage and inconvenience relative to his/her metropolitan counterpart. The provision of adequate housing, with some subsidy, provides some compensation.
In order that the Teaching Service may provide public education equally for all children in New South Wales many teachers are compelled, as a condition of employment, to dwell in such housing. Many other teachers are required to use such housing as there is no alternative housing available. Thus there is no freedom of choice.
The teaching profession as a whole recognises the disadvantages faced by country teachers and generally advocates a measure of compensation. Teachers and their representative organizations strongly advocate subsidised housing for their country colleagues.
The difficulties often encountered in adequately staffing country schools, especially very remote ones, is well known. Experienced and well qualified teachers are difficult to attract. Any disincentive such as taxation on subsidised housing, can only be to the detriment of country children.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable house amend the Income Tax Assessment Act to take into account such differential conditions when applying Section 26(e) of the Act.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Hayden.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, of the Australian Parliament assembled. The petition of certain citizens of New South Wales respectfully showeth:
Dismay at the reduction in the total expenditure on education proposed for 1 980 and in particular to Government schools.
Government school bear the burden of these cuts, 1 1.2 per cent while non-Government schools will receive an increase of 3.4 per cent.
We call on the Government to again examine the proposals as set out in the guidelines for Education expenditure 1980 and to immediately restore and increase substantially in real terms the allocation of funds for education expenditure in 1980 to Government schools.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Sir William McMahon.
– I inform the House that we have present in the gallery this afternoon the Honourable Dr J. D. M. Ferrari, O.B.E., Minister for Economic Development, Planning and Housing, and the Honourable K. St Ange, Minister of Agriculture, in the Government of the Seychelles. On behalf of the House I extend a warm welcome to our distinguished visitors.
– Hear, hear!
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he recalls saying in an electorate broadcast on 4 December 1977- and I quote him exactly:
Mr Hayden challenges the Government’s expectations of a two per cent reduction in interest rates over the next 12 months.
Mr Hayden says it cannot be done.
Will the Prime Minister now admit that he was wrong and I was right?
-The Leader of the Opposition once again raises the question of predictions that were properly made by the Prime Minister against a background of economic circumstances that existed in November 1977. 1 repeat what I said last week: They were predictions about the development of interest rates properly made on the basis of advice then available against the background of economic circumstances that then prevailed.
Of course, when the Leader of the Opposition had a role in the economic management of this country his solution to the interest rate issue was very simple. He pretended that it would go away. He pretended that governments could finance deficits simply by printing large quantities of money. Apparently that is what the Leader of the Opposition would have this Government do. By implication he criticises the very modest adjustments to official interest rates that I announced over the weekend. I have made it plain in the past- the Leader of the Opposition knows it, everybody on this side of the House knows it, and everybody on the other side of the House ought to know it- that if we are to conduct a responsible monetary policy it is necessary on occasions to see interest rates rise.
-Is the Minister for Transport aware of a booklet or a publication called Practical Data Research in which it is stated that the average Australian, Japanese and European cars we are forced to drive, with motors designed before pollution was thought of, and loaded with the most obscene, inefficient, petrol guzzling, performance robbing, technically ludicrous, scientifically obsolete and politically convenient excuse for emission control, would insult the mental capacity of a retarded ape?
-Order! The honourable gentleman will now ask his question.
– Will the Minister please call for a report on this booklet? What is the situation with emission controls in Australia today? I believe -
-Order! The honourable gentleman will not make a statement.
– I certainly will call for a report on this rather fascinating booklet that the honourable member for Franklin has in his possession. I must say that I am rather amused by the extravagant language that is part of it. I must express my concern that some organisations are suggesting that motorists tamper with the emission control systems of motor vehicles. Nevertheless, the question raises some fundamental questions about emission standards and controls. Australian Design Rule 27A has improved air quality since its implementation in 1976, but has resulted in an increased consumption of fuel. To an extent there have been technological developments both here and overseas that have improved fuel consumption over time. There is no doubt that the implementation of the third stage of ADR 27A would involve a significant fuel penalty.
It has been against that background that the Committee on Motor Vehicle Emissions, which is the product of the Australian Transport Advisory Council, has been looking at other ways and means of achieving two objectives: Firstly, to reduce the lead content in the environment, and, secondly, to improve the fuel economy of motor vehicles. The Committee submitted a report to the Australian Transport Advisory Council at its recent meeting. The general view was that COMVE should continue its investigations and report to the next meeting of ATAC, which is to be held in February next year. By that time it hopes to have cleared all the technical issues associated with the recommendations it has made.
Clearly this Government and all the State governments would be interested in any proposal that was practical and feasible and did two things: Firstly, reduced the pollution content in the environment; and, secondly, improved the fuel consumption of motor vehicles. It is along those lines that technical officials in Australia are directing their attention. I will call for a report on the booklet. There may be a lot more substance in it than the material that the honourable gentleman read out.
– Did the Treasurer say, as was reported in the Canberra Times of 25 August last year, that he would not support Federal Government action to curb liquefied petroleum gas prices? Does this mean that the Treasurer opposes the Government’s decision, announced on 24 January this year, to subsidise the price of some LPG sales? Did the Treasurer also say that the price of LPG, like the price of oil, was something that ought to rise? Is the ex-refinery price of LPG now $265 per tonne in most of Australia? Is this almost four times what it was when the Fraser Government came to office? Does the Treasurer believe that the price should continue to rise? If so, by how much?
– I do recall answering in Victoria some questions in the context of statements that had been made about the liquefied petroleum gas issue by either the Victorian Premier or the Victorian Treasurer. I do not recall precisely, because it was some months ago, what the question was or the answer that was given. It could well have been along the lines that the honourable member for Fremantle mentions. Of course I support decisions of the Government. I have nothing further to say on the LPG issue.
– Has the Prime Minister seen reports of a recent speech by the West German Chancellor and Social Democrat leader on the significance of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Has the Prime Minister details of that speech which he can convey to the House ?
-The West German Chancellor did make a major speech on foreign policy and on relations between West Germany and the United States, indeed Europe and the United States. He also included some significant comments in relation to West Germany’s attitude to the Olympic Games. Honourable members might well be interested in a West German assessment, as given by the Chancellor. He made it perfectly plain when he said:
The task is to obtain the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from that country.
That is, Afghanistan-
The task is to restore the balance in that region. We must prevent it being upset again elsewhere with grave or even graver consequences.
He went on to speak of a: close exchange of views by telephone and in writing with President Carter who emphasised in his last letter to me-
That is, to the Chancellor - the importance of a complementary approach by the Western allies . . .
At the same time, we must not succumb to the illusion that the present crisis is only a matter of today or tomorrow. The intervention in Afghanistan is an event with far-reaching global repercussions.
He spoke of a need to develop: a constructive concept for tackling the central problem of the crisis . . . continuing Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.
– Are they going to boycott the Olympic Games?
– I will come to their attitude to the Olympic Games in just a moment. He went on also to talk about a concerted European or Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development approach on trade which Germany would support, but wanted a concerted approach, supported by other nations, before embarking upon that course.
Then, in relation to the Olympic Games, he said:
The Federal Government still holds the view that it is up to the Soviet Union to create the conditions which will enable teams from all countries to participate in the Games. At present those conditions do not or not yet exist.
He went on:
According to the rules of the International Olympic Committee, the National Olympics Commitees have time until the end of May to enter for the Games. I-
That is, the Chancellor- assume that the European and American position- will have merged into one by that date at the latest. For the rest, I do not wish to encourage any wishful thinking with regard to the 1980 Games.
When that is put alongside the statements by Herr Genscher in relation to the Olympic Games I think that what West Germany’s attitude is going to end up being begins to emerge very clearly.
-I ask the Treasurer whether on the Willesee at Seven program on 8 January of this year in relation to oil price and oil tax increases which occurred on 1 January he said:
No I don’t think it is up to the Arabs . . . and I don’t think it was a conscious decision on the part of the Australian Government.
I further ask the Treasurer: Did the Government increase the price of oil and, therefore, petrol as from 1 January? Did this decision mean an increase in tax of $400m over the current six months? If the Government was not responsible for this tax increase, who does the Treasurer say is to blame?
– Yes, I did say on the Willesee at Seven program on 8 January that the price of crude oil in Australia was not put up by the Arabs, but that it resulted from a conscious decision of the Australian Government to apply the market price of light Arabian crude oil to the price of Australian indigenous crude oil. I invite the honourable gentleman to look fully at the context of the question that was asked of me. I remember it very clearly and I remember very clearly the answer that I gave. There can be no argument that I rejected the proposition that our prices are dictated by decisions of Arabian governments. They result from conscious decisions by the Australian Government to pass on world price increases. We have chosen the lowest of the recognised international prices to apply in respect of Australian crude. Consequences arise in terms of the revenue, so far as rises in the price of oil are concerned. Once again, those consequences result from deliberate decisions of the Commonwealth Government. I do not run away from that fact. We apply a crude oil levy and, as a consequence of that crude oil levy, additional revenue accrues to the Government which is used either for the expenditure of the Government or in other ways. I do not think there is any ambiguity about the Government’s position on that matter. At no stage has the Government sought to argue that these decisions are made by people other than the members of the Government themselves.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Trade and Resources. Simply, what are the implications of current world sugar prices for the Australian sugar industry?
– The recent increase in the price of sugar does have implications for the Australian industry. The International Sugar Agreement which we entered into three years ago provides certain disciplines on the industry to try to get a balance between supply and demand. During the period of very low prices, when the international price was running at about $180 a tonne or 7 to 8c per lb, there was a need to restrict production and also to accumulate stockpiles of sugar according to our obligations. In recent times the price increased quite dramatically. It went up to almost $600 a tonne in February and has now come back to about $460 a tonne, but even with that range all restraints under the International Sugar Agreement have been suspended. There are no requirements to hold stocks of sugar. These can all be allowed on to the international market. Indeed, there are no restrictions on production of sugar as the Agreement stands at the moment.
Of course, accumulating these stockpiles at the very low prices of 7c or 8c per lb and now selling them off at something like 21c per lb has been quite a bonanza for the Australian sugar industry. The sale of stocks alone will mean about $80m, which is quite a windfall for people in the industry. At the time when it was being put in stock they were wondering whether they were ever going to be able to sell it. A meeting of the International Sugar Council will be held shortly in London and it will be looking at the mechanisms of the International Sugar Agreement and questions relating to the price and also the quota entitlements of countries. Australia’s outstanding performance in recent times and its response to the present market demand should put it in a very strong position to be able to argue its case that if there are to be increased entitlements in the future we are certainly deserving of consideration.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Is it a fact that the Prices Justification Tribunal prices refinery produced liquefied petroleum gas at export parity, in line with Government pricing policy? Has this policy resulted in a trebling in the ex-refinery price of LPG from $83 per tonne to $252 per tonne since it was implemented in January last year? Has this policy increased the refiners’ sales revenue from LPG by about $76m per annum? Why has the Government seen fit to continue with this LPG pricing policy when it gives such large windfall revenues to oil companies at the expense of high prices for motorists, domestic users and many industrial consumers?
– I covered the first questions posed by the honourable member in an answer in the House last week. The answer to the other question, as indicated by my colleague the Minister for National Development and Energy, is that the Government has these matters under consideration.
-Can the Minister for Home Affairs advise of progress made towards the organisation of alternative international competition to the Moscow Olympics? Will the Government provide support for athletes who compete in any alternative games? Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position in relation to Australian athletes who decide to go to the Moscow Olympics?
-Consistent with the Government’s previous statements, steps are being taken to organise alternative games in other parts of the world. That is consistent with the belief that I have expressed from time to time that if the international situation remains as it is at the moment there will be an effective boycott of the Olympic Games. A key to that, of course, is the attitude of West Germany. It is my belief on information that I have, and it is confirmed by what the Prime Minister read from the Chancellor’s speech today, that West Germany will follow the attitude of the United States. Once that happens, it will put in place an effective boycott of the Olympic Games. I think that honourable members on both sides of the House need to understand that, so that we can pursue a policy together which will involve our athletes later in this year being able to engage in international competition at a top level in other parts of the world. Consultations are going on at the moment with a view to arranging suitable alternative sites. Whether they will be scattered around a number of countries or will be in, say, four or five cities around the world is yet to be determined. I hope that at an early date some decision will be able to be announced in relation to that.
As to the participation of our athletes, the Government has already indicated that it will be prepared, at the relevant time, to discuss with them the provision of funds to enable them to go to those alternative games. So far as participation of Australian athletes in the Olympic Games is concerned, the Prime Minister over the weekend again indicated something that I had already indicated and that he had already indicated; namely, that it is not the intention of the Government to use the methods of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in relation to the attendance of our athletes at the Olympic Games. If the Australian Olympic Federation decides at the relevant time that Australian athletes will go to the Olympic Games, that is a matter for it. So be it. The athletes will not go with the blessing of the Government in the current international situation, but the Government will not use methods such as those involved in refusing passports.
-I ask the Treasurer whether he said on Willessee at Seven on 8 January in relation to the oil tax increase as from 1 January:
We’ve made a conscious decision that because the extra $450m represents (a) tax increase . . . that we believe it ought to go back by way of taxation relief in other areas.
In which areas will taxes be reduced as a result of the increased oil tax? When will these other tax reductions take effect? How much of the oil tax will be returned to the public by way of other tax cuts?
– Since it has become so popular, I have obtained a copy of the transcript of my interview with Mr Willesee on 8 January. What the honourable gentleman said is correct. I did give an answer to the effect of what he quoted. I invite the honourable gentleman to exercise just a little patience on that subject. The position will be made quite clear to the House, as indeed it should be.
- Mr Speaker, I seek your indulgence to add to an answer that I gave to a question asked by the honourable member for Scullin in respect of the same interview. It concerned the response of the Government to what had been done in terms of raising the price of oil by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard pages 7 and 8 of the transcript, which give the full context of the question and the answer to which reference has been made. It is quite clear from that context that, as I said in my earlier answer, I disputed the proposition that the price of Australian oil is set by the Arabs. It is also quite clear that I maintained then, as I do now, that the price of Australian crude oil was set by a conscious decision of the Australian Government. According to the transcript, it is true that I used the words:
That comment is clearly out of phase with the context of the exchange between Mr Willesee and me. It arose either from a transcription error or, alternatively, from a slip of the tongue on my part. If one looks at the full transcript of the exchange there can be no doubt about my attitude, which I expressed in answer to the honourable gentleman ‘s question.
-Is leave granted for the incorporation of pages 7 and 8 of the transcript?
The document read as follows-
WILLESEE AT SEVEN 8.1.80
WILLESEE: make these decisions for us. Now at what stage do we just say willy nilly, world parity pricing is terrific, let the Arabs make these Governmental decisions for us and when do we say no, it’s a fair price for the oil producers and the Government in Australia has raised an excessive amount of taxes, let’s govern it ourselves.
Mr HOWARD: The question of whether taxes are excessive, you can’t look at one tax in isolation from the overall level of taxation and the overall level of taxation in Australia is not excessive by world standards. There will always be debate in Australia as to whether it’s fair to raise money through personal taxes or through indirect means. Many people believe that personal taxation in this country is high enough and that there should be a better balance between personal tax and indirect tax.
WILLESEE: Yes, but I want to keep you on this point on the morality of taxation. I mean . . .
Mr HOWARD: Well I was trying to address my mind to that.
WILLESEE: When you are going to the people in an election campaign this year and somebody asks you will there be an increase in taxation in the next few months, will you say it ‘sup to the Arabs?
Mr HOWARD: No I don’t think it is up to the Arabs . . .
WILLESEE: It was last month.
Mr HOWARD: . . . And I don’t think it was a conscious decision on the part of the Australian Government. It was announced by Senator Carrick that the price of domestic crude oil was going to go up by a certain figure. Now we have decided as an instrument of policy that we will price Australian crude oil according to the price of light Arabian crude oil set by Saudi Arabia. Now we can choose to abandon that policy, we’re not told by the Arabs, it really is . . .
WILLESEE: We have been in the last couple of years.
Mr HOWARD: . . . it is quite improper, we haven’t been told by them, we have decided as an instrument of policy, conservation policy, a wise conservation policy to follow the world price.
WILLESEE: But the world price is . . .
Mr HOWARD: Well the world price as I said a moment ago, in the sense of what could be obtained on a spot market for exports of Australian crude oil is indeed considerably higher than $24 a barrel.
WILLESEE: Well I mean our next taxation increase could be decided by Colonel Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Mr HOWARD: No, I don’t think that’s correct at all. The question of whether . . .
WILLESEE: If enough of those . . .
Mr HOWARD: Yes, but I think with great respect Mr Willesee you ‘re ignoring the fact that the Australian Government, if it decided to not to follow an increase in the world price then it has the capacity to do that but there are consequences that follow . . .
WILLESEE: You see, that’s exactly the point Mr Howard that I’m trying to get to. We’ve already had several capricious oil price rises where the Saudi Arabians and the more responsible members of OPEC have tried to keep the lid on oil prices. But Gaddafi and other rebels have pushed it up and forced OPEC to follow.
Mr HOWARD: But we haven’t followed their prices, we ‘ve followed the more responsible people that you ‘ve just mentioned, Saudi Arabia, that’s the market that we’ve always used. We’ve made a conscious decision that because the extra four hundred and forty million dollars represents tax increase, now I make no bones about that, it does, you’re quite right to say it does, that we believe it ought to go back by way of taxation relief in other areas. Now there ‘s nothing deceitful about that . . .
WILLESEE: Could that be seen by voters as a little bit too late?
-Has the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs seen advertisements for professional staff which have been placed in Australian newspapers by Woodside Petroleum Development Pty Ltd? Can the Minister inform the House of the employment opportunities to be provided by the North West Shelf development? What measures has the Government taken to meet the shortage of skilled labour which is now becoming evident because of large developmental projects around Australia?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for his question, particularly because the North West Shelf project development will occur within his electorate. I have no doubt that it will help the honourable member at the time of the elections to be held some time this year. The honourable member and other members of this House ought to be conscious of the tremendous impact of developments of that magnitude upon employment in Australia. The peak construction force, in 1983, is expected to be 7,000 people. The permanent operational force will be 700 people. At a meeting the other day the Metal Trades Industry Association advised me that it believed that the multiplier effect of project development is in the range of 10 to 12 for every job directly created.
The honourable member referred to advertisements for professional personnel which have already been placed by Woodside Petroleum Development Pty Ltd. In fact, that company is calling for 1 80 positions for engineers, inspectors and estimators to be filled within the next few months. It has done that in clear anticipation of contracts being entered into and in order to meet its target dates for delivery of gas in Western Australia in 1984 and to Japan in 1986. Those positions are at the threshold of project development, at the very early stages of planning and design. It is merely the tip of the iceberg of what will be required to meet the employment demand.
Because of that, I joined with my Western Australian counterpart to embark upon a special trade training program for at least 1,100 key tradesmen. That will be at a cost to the Commonwealth of some $1.5m in the first year. In addition to that generally, to try to meet the demand for skilled tradesmen around Australia, a number of improvements have been made to our Commonwealth Rebate for Apprentice Fulltime Training subsidy scheme for the engagement of apprentices. I mention only the most significant one at the moment; that is, a $ 1,000 cash bonus for every additional apprentice taken on by employers around Australia. I certainly hope that employers will take advantage of that very generous offer by the Commonwealth.
Mr Martin having addressed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development and Energy-
-Order! The question is asking for an opinion from the Minister. Question Time is for the purpose of eliciting factual answers and not for the announcement of opinions or of Government policy.
- Mr Speaker, may I speak to the point which you are making?
-I will hear the honourable gentleman.
– I have carefully worded this question so that it does not ask for an opinion as such. I am asking for factual information.
-I heard it as asking for an opinion. The question is out of order.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Resources seen Press reports of forecasts by leading American bankers that Australia could be the world’s leading aluminium renner by the end of the decade? Can the Minister tell the House how well based these forecasts are?
- Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. Having regard to your previous ruling, is this question not seeking an opinion from the Minister in respect of a forecast? Should it not be similarly ruled by you to be out of order?
-No, it is not out of order.
– I take a point of order. Mr Speaker, in the previous question the Minister was asked to what level the price of petrol could be lifted before the Australian motorist, to quote the words of the honourable member for Banks, jacked up; that is, to give a judgment on what in his opinion would be that limit. In this question the Minister is asked whether the forecasts are validly based; that is, whether in his opinion they are such. I suggest to you that it would be massive inconsistency for you to rule the former question out of order and to allow this question as being in order.
-I suggest that the honourable gentleman consult Hansard when it appears and see whether there are differences between the questions as I see them.
-I am prepared to give both facts and opinion in answering this question. There is one thing of which Australia can be very proud; that is, the attention its development of resources is getting from around the world. We are entering a very exciting phase of development in this country, thanks to the policies that are being followed by this Government in bringing about a climate of confidence for people who want to invest in our resources. People want to invest in aluminium because we have vast resources of bauxite, because we have now developed a large alumina industry and because we have a policy of generating most of our electricity from coal, which makes our electricity costs very attractive compared with those in other countries.
I saw today the report that the Chase Manhattan Bank had forecast that we could have a production capacity of two million tonnes of aluminium a year by 1990. I would not like to go beyond 1985 in forecasting what that capacity might be. I do want to say that until the end of last year we had a capacity of 280,000 tonnes of aluminium. Due to the decisions that have been taken in the course of the past 12 months, we do know quite accurately that with the development of new smelters we will have a capacity of 1.2 million tonnes of aluminium by 1985, which will make this country one of the major aluminium producers in the world. The value of that part of production which is exported will be about $1.2 billion.
– Who controls that throughout the world?
– Whom do we hear from the Opposition harping about development? I would have thought that development was welcome when there are employment difficulties in this country. I would have thought that it was welcome to convert raw materials into processed materials and get the added value on world markets. This niggardly sneering attitude that I hear from members of the Australian Labor Party does no good for them. It is certainly not the policy that is being followed by this Government. We want to see investment, particularly in the processing of raw materials. We have entered into negotiations with Japan and the State governments to do everything possible to bring all efforts together to process as much raw material as possible in this country. Our policies are working. Every Australian ought to be proud of the fact that the rest of the world now looks with envy at what is going on in this country.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Did the Prices Justification Tribunal approve price rises in January for liquefied petroleum gas which were higher than those sought by several companies? Is this unnecessarily high price for LPG a result of the Government’s policy that LPG must be priced at export parity? Does the Government’s export parity pricing policy mean that many LPG users are paying a higher price than necessary and that oil companies are obliged to charge the same price for LPG? Does the Minister regard the enforced uniform high prices as an example of prices being determined by market forces?
-The Government has explained the principles involved in the parity pricing policy on many occasions. I would have thought that the honourable member would have understood those principles by now. They are based on the export parity price as determined by the world market. I indicated that in response to a question in this House last week, which was referred to earlier today. I also mention to the honourable member that some consideration is going on as to the effects of parity pricing. In due course he will get the response of the Government to the present situation, which is a response to what has happened since the price rise in January, to which the honourable member has referred and which was a direct result of the increase in the world price of oil and of liquefied petroleum gas which had taken place internationally.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment. As this is the first question he has received since his appointment, could all honourable members congratulate the Minister on a very well deserved appointment.
– Hear, hear!
– My question relates to strong representations which I made to his predecessor in support of a proposal to relocate the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s Division of Fisheries and Oceanography from its present headquarters at Cronulla, New South Wales, to Hobart, Tasmania. Is the proposed relocation currently under study by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Committee on the Location of Australian Government Employees? If the whole Division were transferred, would it involve the relocation of some 185 personnel and could there be an ultimate expansion to 230 persons? Lastly, would such a transfer be in accordance with the Government’s policy for decentralisation and in conformity with my representations and the broad recommendations of the Callaghan Report?
-I thank the honourable member for Denison for his kind words. The honourable member has made his views on this subject known to me with the usual force, precision and clarity with which he presents his case both for his electorate and for Tasmania. This question has been considered by the Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, which has made a recommendation to the Committee on the Location of Australian Government Employees. Once that Committee has considered this recommendation, it will be considered by the Government, which will make a decision.
– I thank the honourable member for reminding me in the first sentence of his question of matters to which I referred no more than five minutes ago. I can add to the answers I have already given on this matter only that the Government has it under consideration. I expect that in due course an announcement will be made that will satisfy the honourable member’s question.
Mr Burr proceeding to address a question to the Minister for Education-
-Order! The Minister is not responsible for any resolutions made at a Labor Party conference.
-My question is directed to the Treasurer and follows an answer given by the Deputy Prime Minister in which he referred to the low cost of coal in Australia. I ask the Treasurer whether the Treasury in its Economic Paper No. 5, issued last year, said:
Many electricity authorities obtain coal supplies at prices well below world parity . . . Where such special arrangements exist, it is desirable that tariffs be set as if world parity prices were paid either by the authorities themselves or by incorporating a royalty at the required rate into the pricing structure.
Does that mean that the Treasury is proposing higher electricity charges for all Australian consumers, both domestic and industrial? Is that also the Government’s view?
– From my recollection, the Treasury submission to which the honourable member for Burke refers did contain such an argument. It was a departmental submission made to a Senate inquiry. I simply make it clear to the honourable gentleman that it is not Government policy to propose what he has referred to.
Mr Burr having addressed a question to the Minister for Education-
– You lose one, you win one. I uphold the point of order.
-My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer to the Treasurer’s logic whereby he says that the rate of growth in the money supply is closely correlated to the rate of inflation necessitating, as he sees it, a rise in interest rates. Is the Treasurer aware that Professor Hendry, Professor of Econometrics at the London School of Economics, has found an even higher level of correlation between the rate of inflation and the level of dysentery and also the level of cumulative rainfall? Assuming that the Government does not intend to control dysentery or the rainfall, what action does the Government intend to take to reduce interest rates?
-The correlation of which I have spoken in the House and in my statement at the weekend announcing increases in the level of certain official interest rates is the effect that a slack monetary policy has on the rate of inflation of any country. That is the correlation, and that is the correlation that the Leader of the Opposition, when he was part of the former Government, did not appear to understand. There is the correlation that people do not understand if they argue that one can have low interest rates and also bring about effective control of the money supply. The fact is that we have found it necessary to bring about some increase in the level of interest rates if we are to achieve our monetary policy objectives.
All of these things ought to be seen in perspective. There is a question of degree, and it would not have escaped the attention of the honourable gentleman that the increase in the prime lending rate in the United States since July 1 979 has been about 5 percentage points. The comparable increase in Australia is around one per cent or even less. What I say to the honourable gentleman and to all other members of the House is simply this: We can have lower interest rates in this country over a sustained period only if we are successful in our pursuit of our anti-inflationary objectives. If we had not allowed some adjustment of official interest rates to occur in the Australian economy, we would have put at risk our objective of controlling the money supply and in turn this would have underwritten a further increase in the level of inflation. That may have been a suitable economic prescription for the Opposition when it was last in government- and clearly it was because it financed its large deficits through printing money- but I make it very plain to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that it is not our economic prescription.
-Will the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs kindly tell the House how many Australian citizens are now in Afghanistan, working for government or for the United Nations or for the Food and Agriculture Organisation? What instructions has his Department issued to Australian nationals in Afghanistan at present?
– I regret that I am not in a position to advise the honourable member precisely as to the number of Australians, under whatever guise, who presently -
– Well, make something up.
-No. I am not like that. I differ from the honourable member. I am not in a position to give the honourable member for Holt a precise answer but I certainly will take his question on notice and give him an answer just as soon as I can.
-I ask the Minister for Transport: Is it a fact that Ansett Airlines of Australia has lodged an application for a 3 per cent increase in domestic air fares? Has Ansett Airlines also sought approval for further increases of 3 per cent each quarter in domestic air fares? Is it a fact also that Trans-Australia Airlines has not sought an increase in air fares? Do the Ansett applications for fare increases and their nature indicate a need by the company to generate fresh liquidity following its disastrous losses in Associated Securities Ltd and the inflated prices paid for Ansett Transport Industries Ltd shares recently? Finally, will the Minister give an assurance that air travellers will not be forced to meet the costs of non-airline activities by Ansett Transport Industries Ltd per medium of unjustified air fare increases?
– Under the provisions of the twoairline agreement there is a rationalisation requirement for the two airlines to discuss fare increase applications before submitting them to the Department of Transport. I have heard that such discussions have taken place recently. To my knowledge, no formal application for a fare increase has been submitted to me as Minister.
– I inform the House of the death of Mr Francis John Davis, C.M.G., O.B.E., a former member of this House, whose death occurred on 28 February. The death of Mr Davis on 28 February was made known to me only today. Mr Davis represented the division of Deakin from 1949 to 1966 and will be well remembered by many honourable members currently serving in the House. As a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased I invite honourable members to rise in their places.
– I thank the House.
– Pursuant to Section 5 of the Parliament Act 1974 I present proposals for the erection of a bus shelter in Kings Avenue and the erection of three lighting masts on the ramps leading to Kings Avenue Bridge. I intend to give notice of a motion seeking the approval of the House to the proposals under the terms of the Act.
-Mr Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented and seek to make a personal explanation.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
– There are two matters in which I have been misrepresented. The first is in the Hansard of last Thursday. During a speech by the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) an interjection is attributed to me in the following terms:
That fixes illiteracy, doesn’t it?
This interjection followed a reference made by the honourable member for Hunter to a number of Soviet persons having lost their lives during World War I and World War II. I did not use those words. In fairness to Hansard, let me say that one of the Hansard reporters saw me after the speech and asked me whether I had made an interjection. I confirmed that I had interjected after the honourable member for Hunter had stated:
I want to place something on the record for which many people in the world admire the Soviet Union.
How many did they kill last week?
I did not say that I had made the other interjection and I did not make that other interjection.
Secondly, in Column 8 of the Sydney Morning Herald of last Saturday those words about illiteracy were attributed to me. Again I claim to have been misrepresented. I did not use those words and the report in the Sydney Morning Herald, as far as it relates to me, is in error.
– I wish to raise a matter of privilege. Before we accept the explanation given by the honourable member I ask, Mr Speaker, whether you would follow the normal course of having the tapes examined to see whether, in fact, the newspaper correctly or incorrectly reported him. It is the normal practice and, for his sake, I think it ought to be followed, because some people do not believe him.
-Order! The honourable member for Hindmarsh will withdraw that comment.
– Yes, of course I do. It is not true.
-The honourable member for Hindmarsh will withdraw without qualification.
– I did. I said: ‘It is not true’. No one disbelieves him.
-The honourable gentleman has served for longer than anybody else in the House other than the right honourable member for Lowe. I do not expect the honourable member to give to other members example of that kind; but, because he is the father of the House, I will pass over it. The suggestion was made by the honourable member that I should listen to the tape. I shall do so, but whether I will be able to identify the voice as that of any particular member I do not know.
-Mr Speaker, I endeavoured to attract your attention earlier to mention that I wished to follow the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) in relation to his personal explanation. I am sorry that I did not have time to speak to you before he rose. However, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I may have some information that will help you, Mr Speaker.
-The honourable gentleman may proceed.
-I certainly made the interjection. I make no bones about saying that. I regret the construction that has been placed upon what I said by some members.
– As I understand the position, the honourable member for Dundas has indicated that an interjection that was attributed to the honourable member for St George in Hansard and in a newspaper report was made not by the honourable member but by himself.
-Yes. I am indicating that it was made by me.
-I ask the Chair to consider a matter which is of interest to all the House, namely, the Notices of Motion which we give to the House and which are printed in the Notice Paper. Notice of Motion No. 1 18 in the Notice Paper for 4 March, submitted by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) last Thursday, made a direct reference to the representative of another country in Canberra. It referred directly to the Soviet Ambassador in terms with which I may well agree, but I wonder whether they should appear on the Notice Paper. I refer to the words ‘for his arrogant and contemptuous attitude’. Mr Speaker, you will be aware that at page 428 of Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice we are advised not to make any opprobrious reflections on sovereigns, rulers or countries in amity with the sovereign, or their representatives in this country. I am in thorough sympathy with the feelings of the honourable member for Denison.
– He should withdraw it.
– If the honourable member will allow me to explain, it will be helpful. Whereas I am in full sympathy with his views I wonder whether it is appropriate to place those views on the Notice Paper and whether the precedent in this case would not give rise to other honourable members seeking to censure ambassadors who had presented their letters of credence to the Governor-General. For example, if the honourable member, in his motion, had urged the Government to ask for the Ambassador’s withdrawal or return to the country from which he came that would be one thing, but in giving Notice of a Motion asking the House to censure a member of the diplomatic service I wonder whether we are getting ourselves into some problems. At page 429 Erskine May reminds members that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language. Last week, the editors of the national papers -
-The honourable gentleman will not argue his case. The question that he raises is as to whether or not the motion is in order, is it?
-Yes. I do not think there is any need for me to elaborate on it much further except to say that the dignity of the House may or may not be involved in a motion that is worded in this way although, of course, we are in great sympathy with the feelings of the honourable member for Denison.
-In relation to the matter raised by the honourable member for Holt, as I heard the notice being delivered, I reflected on it. Since then I have had the opportunity to give it closer examination. I have come to the conclusion that the notice I will leave stand. I will leave it stand because it is not my wish to interfere in the structure of a motion by an honourable member. I have given notice to the House and have ruled a number of times that I will only accept a proposition as a motion and not the facts upon which the proposition will be based. The notice is in proposition form. It does, in fact, use language which might be regarded as intemperate- perhaps better language could have been selected- nevertheless, I have decided to let it stand. As to the element of censure to which the honourable gentleman referred, that is a matter within the hands of the House itself and the House will decide that matter.
-Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to General Business Notice No. 1. In deference to your consistent ruling that notices should not contain matters of argument I would suggest that there is no request for the House to take any action in that notice at all. It is a statement of argument without any resolution involved and, therefore, is out of order.
– On reading the notice again, I think it is a proposition and that the House is capable of responding yes or no to that proposition.
– Who would say yes to that?
-The honourable member for Wills may. I do not know how the honourable member for Wills would respond to the proposition, but it certainly is a proposition.
– I would have a couple of bob on how he would respond.
-The honourable member for Corio may have a couple of bob to bet but I wish to indicate to the honourable member for Corio that such interjections are unfitting from a former Speaker of the House.
– by leave- The Expenditure Committee’s Report, which was tabled in the House on 3 April 1979, raises issues concerning the Budget and Budget formulation processes which must be of considerable interest and relevance to each of us. It is the product of examination by the Committee of a considerable volume of complex information presented in hearings and written submissions. I express the Government’s appreciation of the Committee’s work on this complex and difficult subject. The report has been carefully considered by us and has given impetus to a thorough examination by the Government of public expenditure formulation procedures. The Government is sympathetic to the ideas behind a number of the views expressed in the report. The Committee stresses the need for longer-term considerations to be taken into account in the framing of the Budget, suggests economic debates in the House could usefully focus more on expenditure patterns and priorities and points out that there is some room for improvement in the availability of expenditure information to the Parliament. We accept these views. The Government is also conscious of- and shares- the concern of all members to maintain the proper role of Parliament. Over recent years we have strengthened the ability of Parliament, particularly this House, to scrutinise expenditure matters. The establishment of the Expenditure Committee itself shows that.
Paramount among the issues raised by the Committee’s report is the relationship between Parliament and the Executive Government in the formulation of Budgets. This relationship lies at the very heart of our system of government. Parliament has the right to reject Budgets and the Executive stands or falls on that decision. However, it is the Executive’s prerogative to formulate and present Budgets to the Parliament. The report devotes considerable attention to this relationship. While it specifically acknowledges the realities of our system, much of its thrust is to seek to alter that relationship so as to give the Parliament more influence in the actual formulation of Budgets. The Government does not suggest this relationship is immutable; the relationship is an evolving one and no-one can say at a given point of time that it is exactly as it should remain forever. At the same time, we need to look at these matters in a real world context. Some of the Committee’s recommendations which seem reasonable in principle present very real practical difficulties. I will be more specific in a moment but, first, let me repeat that we appreciate the force of a number of the Committee’s underlying objectives and believe that we can go some way towards meeting them.
I can deal with two of the Committee’s recommendations relatively quickly. The first recommendation concerns debate on the Committee’s report itself. I can inform the House that the Government will agree to set aside time during these autumn sittings for a debate on the Committee’s report if that accords with members’ wishes. Recommendation 6 deals with the Estimates of the Parliamentary departments. The Government has acknowledged the special character of parliamentary Estimates. I agreed to the amalgamation of some appropriation items for administrative expenses in the 1979-80 Appropriation Act (No. 1). The effect is to permit the Presiding Officers a degree of flexibility in the management of these particular funds. Government proposals on special arrangements for the formulation and examination of Parliament’s own estimates, involving personal consultation between the Presiding Officers and the Leaders of the two Houses on matters which cannot otherwise be agreed, have been conveyed to the Presiding Officers and accepted for the purposes of the 1980-81 Estimates exercise. They havethat is, the Presiding Officers- made it clear that they see this agreement as a step towards full recognition that Parliament ought to be free to develop and manage its own finances.
The other recommendations of the Standing Committee can be grouped into two broad categories. The first group, Recommendations 2 to 5, concern Parliament’s influence in the formative stages of the Budget. Recommendation 2 proposes that Parliament should give special consideration to the need for further development of the forward estimates system to enable a shift to occur from annual Budgets to integrated expenditure plans as the main framework for expenditure decision-making. Following this theme, Recommendation 3 calls on the Government to make an early statement setting out, first, its decisions on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration concerning forward estimates, and, second, the role of the forward estimates as now seen by the Government and plans for their development.
Let me assure honourable members that we agree with the Committee that there is an undoubted need to take longer-term considerations into account in framing annual Budgets. No sensible person could take exception to that. The Government’s present budgetary procedures do, of course, already take longer-term implications of expenditure proposals into account- not only through the use of forward estimates in the Budget process but also through a number of rolling program arrangements, planning guidelines, commitment control procedures and the like. But the important issue in this area is the degree to which Budgets themselves, as distinct from the policies underlying them, should be longer-term in nature: That is whether expenditure plans or projections should actually be made in detail for a number of years ahead- and published, as the Budget itself is. While we recognise that advance planning in certain areas is important if programs are to be conducted effectively and may assist in tailoring expenditures to Government priorities, significant and often unpredictable changes in circumstances will inevitably occur. These, together with the consequent changes in priorities, must of necessity constrain the use of forward estimates for planning Government expenditures as a whole and in detail. This is quite apart from the practical problems involved.
At the outset, therefore, I should make it clear that the Government believes that there would not be advantage in adopting the specific measures proposed by the Expenditure Committee or indeed those proposed earlier by the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration relating to integrated expenditure plans. Let me take the Royal Commission recommendations first. The present forward estimates are intended to provide a framework to aid Ministers to consider priorities and reach decisions broadly within the traditional budgetary cycle. On the other hand the Royal Commission’s proposals were an integral part of its much broader proposals for devolution of responsibility. They placed greater emphasis on long term planning objectives, as distinct from economic stabilisation objectives, involved the establishment of guidelines or ‘target’ allocations for the purpose of preparing forward estimates, and provided for specific Government endorsement of second and third year estimates with a consequent need to create new ministerial and official arrangements.
The foward estimates system has evolved a good deal over the period since the Royal Commission produced its report. In the Government’s view the system now in operation provides a framework within which Ministers can assess expenditure priorities and pursue control measures in a reasonably orderly fashion, and meets a number of purposes the Royal Commission sought. A number of the recommendations of the Royal Commission for ‘upgrading’ the forward estimates of expenditure are now clearly reflected in the present arrangements. In particular they are now integrated into the Budget procedures proper and there is now much greater ministerial involvement in forward estimates processes. At the same time, however, the Government sees many practical difficulties in the Royal Commission’s other proposals. We believe the Royal Commission underestimated the complexities of decision making processes in ever-changing circumstances and the weight to be given to broad economic policy considerations vis-a-vis demands for stability in funds for particular programs.
I want to elaborate a little further on these matters and at the same time deal with the alternative suggestion made by the Expenditure Committee in its fifth recommendation for the publication of projections of expenditures based on existing policies for two future years. As the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration stated:
This is because Budget decisions are taken when they are needed, not necessarily long in advance. And it is only close to the time when decisions are needed that they can be taken realistically and with the greatest precision. Projections or estimates of what the components of the Budget will be in some future year, in circumstances as yet unknown and unconsidered by Ministers, can only be imprecise and to a degree unrealistic. The Government has, of course, like any responsible body, broader priorities which extend beyond, and even well beyond, the current budgetary period. But the important point here is that these priorities are necessarily broad ones. The Government must be prepared and able to adapt and modify them in detail to meet changing circumstances as they emerge.
An argument put forward for the provision of detailed longer term estimates is that they would inform others of the likely course of Government decisions over the three years ahead. But that is what they cannot do. It is, I suggest, asking altogether too much of Ministers and departments for them to be pretending to forecast just what expenditure levels or expenditure mix will be appropriate three years ahead, when revenues may have changed dramatically, the economy may be in a quite different state, and the relative needs for action in particular areas may have completely altered. It is a difficult enought task to lay out the general direction of a safe course through unknown waters, without the distractions of having to plot that course in detail in areas as yet out of sight and then defend any departure from that unrealistically detailed chart. Published future expenditure figures several years ahead- whether they are called forward estimates, expenditure plans or projectionscould, through their very existence, lead to rigidity in expenditures and trauma in trying to alter expenditure patterns because of the implicit commitments particular groups read into the figures no matter how they are qualified. There is a dilemma here. One can attempt to honour apparent commitments but only at the expense of significant loss of Budget flexibility- perhaps even to the point of irresponsibility. Alternatively if one adopts the responsible course of adjusting expenditures in the light of changed circumstances there will be accusations of presenting misleading information and of broken promises.
In short, we do not consider it appropriate or practical to convert the present forward estimates into a comprehensive expenditure planning mechanism or, given the uncertainties involved, that it would be helpful to provide detailed published projections for years ahead. At the same time, the Government does intend to continue to develop the forward estimates in ways designed to improve their usefulness for its own internal decision-making processes. We have set in train a study to explore ways of providing for Cabinet up to date estimates for future years at key stages in the Budget formulation process.
The Government will also examine means of providing more information to Parliament which is relevant to the consideration of longer term expenditure patterns and priorities. In particular, we have in mind information on longer term commitments or programs approved by the Government and, where appropriate, information such as projections of school enrolments, age pensioners and the like which throw light on major expenditure programs. This information could be provided by supplementing existing data in the Budget Statements or in other ways such as the Ministerial statements made periodically on spending plans, for example in the fields of defence and Education Commission programs.
I turn now to Recommendation 4 in which the Committee proposes the introduction of an annual debate on expenditure patterns and priorities in the autumn sittings. The Committee states its purpose as being:
To allow the House an opportunity to influence Executive thinking in the crucial pre-Budget period.
The Government agrees that it would be desirable if more attention were devoted in parliamentary debates on public spending to overall expenditure patterns and priorities. We do, however, question whether the autumn sittings are the most appropriate time for such a debate. In its thinking on this question the Government has noted that Parliament already allocates significant time for debates on Budget and related Estimates. The Government also notes that documentation presented during the Budget sittings provides the most up to date and detailed expenditure data available at any stage during the year. Furthermore, Ministers and departments prepare and submit their forward estimates before the autumn sittings. We believe that it would be more fruitful and more practical to think about restructuring the existing Budget debates so as to allow more time to be given to the consideration of expenditure patterns and priorities which the Committee seeks. The Government is willing to participate in facilitating such a change.
The last two recommendations of the Committee, No. 7 and No. 8, relate to Parliament’s capacity to evaluate government expenditure on programs and activities. In the Committee’s view the budgetary information presently available to Parliament is biased towards inputs. The Committee wishes to see a greater orientation towards the presentation of ‘program’ data in the form of program statements from departments. The Government recognises that there would be benefits, both to itself and to the Parliament, from the provision of information designed to facilitate assessments of program performance and the discussion of expenditure priorities in a more meaningful way. A considerable amount of program or functional-type information is already available in Budget Statement No. 3, in which actual and estimated Budget outlays are subdivided into some hundreds of items, grouped under major functional and subfunctional headings.
This Statement brings together all Budget outlays, but does not show the individual departmental components of the functionally classified items. Yet the Parliament’s scutiny of proposed expenditures must necessarily, of course, be conducted in terms of the areas for which Ministers individually have responsibility. The Government therefore proposes to provide some additional information to assist the Parliament’s examination of the 1980-81 Estimates, in the form of a statement which lists together all expenditure for which each Minister is responsible, classified according to function or program as in Budget Statement No. 3. 1 believe that this information, which will be made available prior to the debate on the Budget Estimates, will be helpful to the Parliament and the community, and will go a long way towards meeting the particular need identified by the Committee in this area. The Government also recognises the force of the arguments calling for additional and more detailed data concerning specific programs, their objectives and costs. It must be appreciated, however, that significant costs are involved in producing and continually updating such information for the large number of programs which are financed from the Commonwealth Budget. Nor is it a straightforward or simple task to define programs and specify objectives in a consistent fashion, consistency being a prerequisite if the data are to serve their purpose in any assessment of expenditure priorities.
After consideration, the Government has decided that work is to be commenced on the development of program statements. I would expect that, as the Expenditure Committee itself recognised, such development will be a gradual process. As a first step, the Department of Finance will prepare guidelines for departments on this project with a view to maintaining consistency and comparability of presentation. Subsequent work on major programs will proceed initially in those departments which already have experience with the development of program data and will be undertaken in consultation with the Department of Finance. Attention could also be directed to those areas of expenditure which are subject to inquiry by parliamentary committees. I believe that this approach will help to contain costs and avoid the pitfalls which could well confront an immediate across-the-board exercise. It will allow an assessment of the effectiveness of program statements in facilitating program evaluation by the Parliament. Such program information might appropriately be published in departmental annual reports and tabled, where possible, in time for the debate on the Budget Estimates. The expenditure Committee will be informed of progress in this exercise.
Finally, Recommendation 8 calls for a paper that outlines the advantages and disadvantages of changing the annual Appropriation Bills to a program format. I am arranging for preparation of such a paper for information of honourable members. In conclusion I again thank the members of the Committee for their work on this report. The Government has been concerned to respond constructively to the thrust of the Committee ‘s recommendations; where we have seen major problems the Government has tried to move in the direction advocated by the Committee but by means which do not create practical difficulties. I present the following paper.
Motion (by Mr Groom) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-The Government’s response to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure is, in the view of the Opposition, unduly delayed and shockingly weak, disappointing and inexcusable. Those people who have framed and condoned this response are, I assert, opponents of the Parliament. They are people who want to lead a cosy life in executive government, free of proper checks and balances which this Parliament should be applying to them.
I am opening this debate because, sadly, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) who is the Opposition’s shadow Minister in this area, is unable to be in the Parliament due to the bereavement of a close member of his family. Although I am presenting the initial view of the Opposition, I have been informed that this debate will continue tomorrow, with two speakers from each side, and I believe that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), who is the Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, will be with us then and will be able to take up the statement of the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson). I hope he will go to bat for the Committee by showing just how disappointing this statement is. I know that the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr John Brown), who is Vice-Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, is ready and willing to take up the cudgels right now, but we will wait until the Chairman of the Committee has made his contribution.
I have said that the Government’s response is unduly delayed. I believe that the Minister could well have tabled a report such as this a lot earlier. Let me remind the House that the report of the Expenditure Committee was brought down as long ago as February 1979. It is a slim report containing eight recommendations. It was presented clearly, with good argument supporting the proposals, and a response within six months was certainly possible. The Government promised initially that a response would be given within six months. More than that, it is the negativism of the response which is so disappointing and so inexcusable.
Amongst the conciliatory phrases in the statement is a complete rejection of most of the Expenditure Committee’s recommendations. I congratulate the Committee on most of its recommendations. I point out that it is an all-party committee. In fact, the majority of its members come from the coalition parties which make up this Government. For this reason, the rigidity of the Cabinet, the Executive Government, in failing to accept the need for such evolutionary changes as the Committee articulated in its report- these included changes in public sector management which are well overdue- is even more surprising and disappointing.
I wish to set the background for my remarks by quoting from a work of Professor Gordon Reid, who is the present Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia and who I believe is the foremost authority on the Parliament. He is a former Serjeant-at-Arms of this Parliament. He is a former professor of politics at the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide and the University of Western Australia, which positions he held before becoming Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Australia. I refer to an essay which he wrote when he won the George Watson Essay Prize in 1979. It was quoted in this year’s JanuaryFebruary issue of Quadrant. It is a very recent publication. I shall quote parts of it. Professor Gordon Reid wrote:
The relative decline in the significance of Parliament has been evident for many years. The reasons are complex but they relate mainly to the Parliament’s lack of supporters (particularly in Canberra) and the lack of people or groups in Australia who will work towards its rehabilitation.
It is with conviction, therefore, that I say that the response from the Government to the Expenditure Committee’s report has indeed been prepared by opponents of this Parliament, not by people who are prepared to support it. Further on in his essay, Professor Reid wrote: . . following the Westminister style of government, both houses grant important priorities in debate and decision-making to Executive Ministers of State. The outcome has been that the more numerous of the two housesthe House of Representatives- has become the captive of the Executive Government of the day and is now a sadly repressed and debilitated parliamentary chamber.
Those are strong words, but they can be substantiated. They are substantiated in this George Watson prize winning essay of Professor Gordon Reid. Later on in the same article, when dealing with the subject of expenditure control, he pointed out:
Since 1970/71 the Senate has been bearing most of the burden of providing a parliamentary oversight of Executive Departments via its seven Standing Committees. The House of Representatives has some committees for enquiry but it has directed its efforts into some specific policy areas . . .
He then listed those areas. He continued: . . The House is experimenting with a new Standing Committee, of twelve members, on Expenditure, but its task is enormous; it says ‘there is sufficient work- for several parliamentary committees’; its secretariat is limited in size and status; and it complains of obstruction from the Public Service Board. In general, it is barely scratching the surface. There is a Joint Public Accounts Commitee, but having its Chairman appointed by the party in government, and thus differing from its counterparts in Westminister and Ottowa, it is imprisoned in its own routine and now declares that ‘It is doubtful whether in its present form it can meet current responsibilities ‘.
They are just some sentences from this essay by Professor Reid pointing out the weakness of this Parliament and particularly of the House of Representatives. In summary there is another quotation which I will give to complete the background to this most unfortunate report. Professor Gordon Reid says:
By stripping our rank and file politicians of continuing responsibility in Parliament, particularly in the House of Representatives, the proceedings have degenerated into a continuous and elementary election campaign.
It is time we did more than that. We on this side of the Parliament have our own parliamentary reform committee to seek ways and means of making sure that this is more than just an election chamber. Although that is a proper function of it, it should go further and be a proper check and balance of Executive Government. If we are to receive, as we have today, the sort of stonewalling from Executive Government that is represented in this statement of the Minister, we have a big fight on our hands; but the fight will be waged.
The coalition Government that governs us now came to office claiming to represent the forces of efficient management; yet the proposals which have been rejected are the essence of effective management. Let me examine the Expenditure Committee’s proposals in turn and comment on the Government’s responses to the recommendations. Proposal No. 1 was that the report be debated in the autumn sittings in 1979, a year ago. We are now back to the delay in getting this Government’s response. The failure to go along with that recommendation of the Expenditure Committee is a symbol of the neglect of Parliament by the present Government.
The second and third recommendations are for the introduction of forward planning of public expenditure. These proposals are simple good sense. All of us have to think ahead, to use foresight, to achieve our objectives. Mr Deputy Speaker, you will recognise that if one wants to learn a profession one has to go through a number of years of training.. If one wants to buy a house one has to save for the deposit for some time. The situation is similar for governments committed to full employment- if they are committed to full employment, and there is doubt about the present Government- and for a government which is committed to ensuring that everyone in the community has adequate housing, effective health services, efficient public transport and so on. Such a government should plan programs ahead, spread over a number of years, and should not make decisions on an ad hoc basis at the last moment.
Companies are aware of this. It would be irresponsible if, for instance, Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd invested $200m in a new blast furnace without making estimates of demand for steel over the next 10 years. Yet that is all that the Expenditure Committee is asking for in planning ahead properly in government, and that is what has been rejected by the present Government in the report that the Minister has just read to us. Thinking ahead needs rigorous thinking and a certain amount of discipline. Just as this has been applied in other countries where forward estimates are published, it is right and proper that this should be done in this country so that there is that necessary rigorous thinking and that discipline. We should look for such reasonableness from government, as I have suggested, in this thinking ahead. The Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration recommended that approach and the bipartisan Expenditure Committee recommended it, as I indicated earlier and as the Minister indicated in his statement. But the Government has rejected the modest and sensible proposals of those various groups. The Opposition condemns the Government for that rejection.
I have already mentioned that the idea of setting up expenditure priorities some years in advance and of designing programs to implement them is in use in many industrialised market countries such as ours. The idea is not new and has been found to work elsewhere. I have visited countries such as the Netherlands where it is applied with great success and where government can carry out its important tasks with far more success than where decisions are made on an ad hoc basis. The setting of minimum expenditure guidelines is not inconsistent with flexibility. Stabilisation policies should be a matter of changes to taxation as well as to expenditure. Plans can be prepared which leave room for flexibility. Public sector planning would increase the efficiency of public sector management and reduce uncertainty for the private sector. It is a matter of responsible management. The rejection of the Committee ‘s proposals retards the development of efficient public administration in Australia, and that decision shows that the coalition Government is concerned more with doctrine than with the effectiveness with which public funds are used.
Recommendation No. 4 is that the Budget priorities be debated by Parliament in the autumn sittings. In some ways this is the most important proposal. It is about increasing control by Parliament over the Budget preparation process. I do not believe that the excuses which the Minister gives in his statement can be sustained. Of course, some decisions have been made by the Government at that stage, but we all know that the final decisions are not made until early July. That is the time when the thinking of parliamentarians outside of the Executive Government should be given some publicity and honourable members should be allowed to give voice to them in this Parliament so that some influence can be applied to government thinking. The setting of priorities for the Budget is the central task of Budget preparation. I know that this normally takes place in the period from February to April, but the final decisions are not made until July. The Government’s failure to accept this recommendation is another signal of its disregard for the parliamentary process.
The sixth recommendation involves increasing the control by the two Houses over their own business. I note from the Minister’s statement that, whilst some changes have been made for this year, the Presiding Officers regard them only asa step towards full recognition that Parliament ought to be free to develop and manage its own finances’. It is again disappointing that more progress has not been made since the Expenditure Committee report was tabled last February, over a year ago.
The only recommendations which the Minister reports as having been broadly accepted are Nos 7 and 8. They are about the provision of more information about programs. This acceptance is warmly welcomed and my colleagues and I look forward to receiving this information; but it is a very small mercy that we have bestowed upon us by this Executive Government at this time. It may be important in itself, but it is not so important as the other recommendations which have been rejected.
I repeat my criticisms. Firstly, it is inherent in what the Minister has said to us that there is a neglect of efficient management processes in the Government’s approach. Secondly, there is a neglect of the Parliament itself. I hope that, arising out of this debate, which will be continued tomorrow, the Government will think again; that we will have forward estimates; and that in this Parliament during the autumn sittings we will have debates on Budget priorities so that this House of Representatives will be more than just a rubber stamp for Executive Government.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 1 980.
Amendments Incorporation Amendment Bill 1 980.
Statutory Rules Publication Amendment Bill 1980.
-by leave-I present the report of the Australian Branch Delegation to the 25th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, held in Wellington, New Zealand, in November-December 1979.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I have much pleasure in presenting this report and in making a short statement in relation to it. The conference was attended by some 163 delegates and observers representing 86 branches, 18 members and six former members of the Association’s Executive
Committee, 32 secretaries to the delegation, two representatives of the Society of ClerksattheTable, including our own Mr Blake who did an excellent job, as usual, two representatives from the Association Internationale des Parlementaires de Langue Francaise and seven members of the Headquarters Secretariat. That is the statistical report and the figures of that conference. Behind that, of course, was the gathering together of individuals. I know that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will appreciate the thought that I have in saying that I do believe these Commonwealth Parliamentary Conferences are even more important than Prime Ministers Conferences. At these conferences the individuals, the bapkbenchers, meet and talk together and discuss matters relating to the progress of the parliaments and to the future of our parliamentary democracy.
A great deal has been said- it was even mentioned here today- about Executive control, about the part that the backbenchers have to play, and about the resistance that they have to present against domination by Executive. I think that as we are living in this twentieth century there is perhaps a danger, because of circumstances, pressures and factors that have appeared in recent years that were not here previously, that the Executive takes more control and makes more and more decisions. Might I say in relation to this- this is not a criticism of the media because I appreciate also the fact that there is only limited space available in our newspapers, television stations and radios- there is a tendency for the media to publish what is said by Ministers, somebody in the Executive or one of the shadow Ministers of the Opposition, and not to give the same attention to what is said by a backbencher. I am sure that all of us have experienced the situation where we have made speeches very similar to speeches made by the front bench- I am not sure whether I should say better or worse- but what has been said by the backbencher has not been given the publicity because the Minister or the person who leads for the Opposition is naturally the person who is speaking for the Government or for the Opposition in that regard. These are things to which we have to give some attention.
I would like to say that I have been highly critical of the United Kingdom for its action in entering into the European Economic Community. I started at a conference that we held previously in Kuala Lumpur an opposition of this entry by the British. I believe that this is one of the things that have been detrimental for the United Kingdom, for our Commonwealth and, as I have said, even for the Western world. I believe that the time has come when the United Kingdom should leave the European Economic Community. I have said this at the various conferences. It is not something that I have put forward only now. As I say, I do believe that at this point of time we should give more attention to the conferences such as this where the backbenchers get together and have the opportunity to discuss matters and to talk matters over one with the other. The fact that we travel around the country where the conference is held, which enables us to mix and meet with people outside the conference atmosphere as well as at the conference itself, is of tremendous importance.
If one looks at the items for discussion at the conference I think one would again realise the value of a conference such as this. For example, one of the matters under discussion of a panel was drug trafficking. Others were the population growth and economic assistance to developing countries; international terrorism- a very important factor in this time in our history; the functions and responsibilities of members of parliament, parliament, the Executive and the civil service; freedom of the individual, human rights and the authority of government and the parliamentary democracy. Another matter under discussion was the energy crisis. All of these are of vital importance not only to the Commonwealth countries but also, of course, to us in our trading and association with the other countries. I believe, as I have said, this was a very important conference.
We have already expressed our appreciation of the Headquarters Secretariat of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Speaker and members of the New Zealand Parliament and their officers. In the conclusion of my acknowledgments I wish to record my appreciation of the co-operation and assistance of my parliamentary colleagues of the delegation during what must be regarded as one of the most responsible and productive CPA conferences ever. I thank the delegates from each of the Australian States for their co-operation and friendship during the conference. They are not only words or just a paragraph to put into the report. I have had an association with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association over many years. I believe quite sincerely that this was one of the best delegations that has gone from Australia to any one of these conferences. The deputy leader of the delegation was the honourable member for Hunter, Mr Ben James. I value his contribution. All of the delegates acted as an Australian delegation and we presented the point of view and thought of Australia. I believe that it was one of the best conferences that I have ever attended. I certainly appreciate the privilege that was given to me to lead a delegation that I believe made a contribution to the conference and to the future progress and development of Australia.
-by leave-I wholeheartedly endorse the remarks of the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock), the distinguished leader of the Australian delegation to the 1979 Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in New Zealand. Of course, his vast experience and association with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association makes him always a successful leader of these delegations. He distinguished himself with the same unity of purpose with which he united the delegation to Jamaica a few years ago. He excelled even to greater heights with the unity, goodwill and harmony that he promoted among the Australian delegation in New Zealand. It is true that the conference promoted a great deal of interest, goodwill and furtherance of unity between the Commonwealth of Nations particularly in reference to the important debates that were referred to by the honourable member for Lyne.
We did all regret that there was a pall of shadow thrown over the conference by the unfortunate air crash of an Air New Zealand aeroplane, which we all recall. We are all in deep sympathy with the relatives of the victims of that plane crash down over Antarctica. I also wish to place on record, to the credit of the host branch, New Zealand, that it could not be faulted in the manner in which it handled the welfare of all delegates, their relatives, observers and friends. I got to know the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) much more closely. Not only did he prove to be a distinguished and successful delegate in the conference room but also did he stand out like a beacon as our social representative. When many of us were showing some degree of tiredness, he participated in the social activities of the conference. We were proud to be able to lean on his shoulders because he never seemed to run out of energy. I enjoyed being at the conference. We tried, as a body of people from different political parties, to uphold the dignity of this Parliament and to promote the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
-I seek leave to make a statement.
– A short statement.
-I am deeply hurt at the suggestion that it ought to be short. It might have to be short but it ought not to be. I suppose one of the advantages of these sorts of delegations is that one suddenly finds that one’s political opponents are human after all when one meets them in situations such as this and lives with them. I say that with respect particularly to my two colleagues, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns) and the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock). As to my colleague the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), I have had a long and close personal association with him.
I rise to try to get the House to take solid steps towards strengthening our parliamentary representation at conferences such as the 25th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. First of all, this Parliament has a cachet which most other parliaments around the world lack. Amongst the Commonwealth parliamentary groups, it is much closer to being democratic, not so much in the way it is run but in its general structure and aspirations, than are most of the others. Australia is a significant contributor to international forums of this sort. I hope we will always maintain and strengthen the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and perhaps assist some of the smaller Pacific communities to the east of us to participate.
Parliamentary government is under attack throughout the world. As Mr Speaker said earlier, we lose some and we win some. I hope we have gained a new parliament as a result of the election in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. I think we have; we can only hope we have. As far as Australia is concerned, I think we sometimes neglect the opportunities presented by conferences such as this. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is one in which Australia has a fairly large representation because the States are also present. However, the InterParliamentary Union is one forum in which I think we are entitled to 12 or 13 delegates but usually send only eight, and I believe we ought to expand that representation. Some of my colleagues and I have attended sessions of the United Nations, and at the United Nations General Assembly, No. 33 in 1978, we got the parliamentary members together and established a parliamentary group.
There is a searching around the world for a new world order in which the parliament must play its part. The Parliament of Europe is a great and historic demonstration of the fact that human affairs can go forward in co-operation. The election of the Parliament of Europe by direct election was a historic event. After all, Europeans have been more the troublemakers of the world than almost anybody else. One of the problems with an association such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is that people come home from the meetings and say: It was all useless. We did not pass any resolutions of any particular moment. ‘ I think it is a European concept that if people meet they have to make a decision about something instead of communing and establishing a rapport.
I would like to see Australia taking steps towards establishing a community in the South Pacific, perhaps a parliament of the South Pacific, to deliberate upon those matters which are of moment to us. If a directly elected Parliament of Europe can be established, that concept can be established almost anywhere. I raise this question this afternoon hoping that it will flow on through the minds of my colleagues in both Houses. The matter was raised with me by a significant member of the New Zealand Parliament and was considered by others to be a practical operation. I put it to the members of this Parliament that we should take up the idea that the world must come to a new order, that we must change the way in which the international order operates, and the direct representation of the people at these deliberations is the way to do that. If it is a courtesy that I have been allowed the privilege of speaking in this Parliament on this subject after all these years, to those who offered that courtesy I pay my respects. I hope only that we will change the way in which we run this place so that there can be more deliberations on subjects such as this.
-Mr Speaker has received a letter from the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government’s policies to prevent a rise in interest rates and the damaging effect a rise will have on low and middle income earners repaying home loans and on an unstable housing industry.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-For the past two and a half years, the Opposition has been drawing attention to the severe housing problems across Australia, particularly in our major capital cities. We have been warning that, unless the Government broadens its housing programs, many people will suffer great hardship. We have been asking this Government what it intends to do to guarantee security of housing in Australia for the 100,000 people who are homeless, for the 250,000 people who are living in mobile or temporary dwellings, and for the 75,000 families on the housing commission lists, some of whom have been waiting for three and a half years for housing. We have been asking the Government what programs it has to contain the rate of inflation in land and housing prices, which in Sydney have been increasing at around $1,000 a month. We have pointed out that this Government has allowed public housing commencements to fall to a record low- in 1978-79 to less than half the number of dwelling commencements of 1 974-75. We have explained that this decline is a direct result of the cutback in Federal Government outlays on public housing. This amount has fallen from 3.9 per cent in 1974-75 to 1.1 per cent in 1978-79.
We have explained that the Government’s home savings grant for homes costing less than $40,000 is irrelevant to the vast majority of first home buyers in Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Perth. We have explained that in the fiscal year 1978-79 only 1 19,000 new dwellings were commenced in Australia when the industry has a capacity of 135,000, which means that the home building industry is operating at 12 per cent below its capacity. If we look at the State of Victoria in particular, the figure is even lower than
that. We can now show that housing loan approvals fell consistently in the last three months of 1979 to their lowest level since 1977. We can show that building approvals have also fallen, and that the price index on materials used in house building has risen to its highest level in six years. Clearly, there is a housing crisis in Australia which is aggravated by the policies of this Government. With increased interest rates, this will cause chaotic conditions both to the individual wanting to buy a home and to the building industry. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard three tables showing these disturbing trends.
The tables read as follows-
-I thank the House. To all this the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) has consistently replied that the role of the Federal Government- as he sees it, as the Treasurer (Mr Howard) sees it and as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) sees it- is to reduce Government intervention in the housing market and to provide stable economic conditions, a stable inflation rate, stable money supply, and stable interest rates. That is what they contend, yet inflation is at double figures again and is rising. The money supply has broken well loose of the Government’s target of
10 per cent. The Government has a monetarist’s obsession with tight money supply and has squeezed the public sector out of hand. Clearly, the Government has failed in its narrow economic policies. In pursuit of its money supply target, interest rates are now beginning to be pushed up. Let us look at the statement made by the Prime Minister on 27 November, during the 1977 election campaign:
I am confident with my Government’s policies continuing that falls in important interest rates could add up to a total of 2 percent within 12 months.
I say to this House and to this country that that was a politically foolish and economically irresponsible statement of the worst type. It represents another broken election promise. The Prime Minister said that building society lending rates and bank overdraft rates affect thousands of Australians. He said that an increase in interest rates on home loans would mean that the cost of owning a home would go up and job opportunities would be lost, and that it would send the home building industry into a downspin. That is what the Prime Minister said in 1977. What is the position now? The whole of the housing industry now, before interest rates go up, is in a sluggish position. Housing costs will rise to such an extent that it will drive home ownership out of the reach of the majority of Australians. This Government has no policies to prevent the housing building industry from going into a downspin. It has no policies with which to protect the thousands of Australians who will get hurt.
Let us examine the record of this Government. Since the end of 1977 when the Prime Minister promised this 2 per cent reduction in interest rates, the long term bond rate has risen from 9.5 per cent to 1 1.2 per cent- a rise of 1.7 per cent. Last Friday, the Reserve Bank of Australia auctioned six year bonds at 1 1.2 per cent. That rate was the highest it has ever been, but I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it will go much higher. There is no sign that interest rates have peaked yet. I think that they will rise at least by another 0.4 per cent or 0.5 per cent. I am giving only a conservative estimate when I make that statement. This week, the Loan Council approved an increase of 0.8 percentage points on semi-Government borrowings. In November 1977, when the Prime Minister promised a reduction, the interest rate for securities of less than 10 years was 10 per cent. In March 1980 it is 1 1.6 per cent. Over the same period, the rate for longer term securities has risen from 10.3 per cent to 1 1.7 per cent.
In the past few weeks, most overdraft rates have increased by 0.5 per cent while the interest rate on Australian savings bonds has also increased by 0.5 per cent. The interest rate on Australian savings bonds is now 9.75 per cent. This will bring enormous pressure to bear on the permanent building societies to meet their money market targets. The Treasurer has told us that it was necessary to increase the semigovernment rates so that the electricity authorities could get enough money for their capital works programs. Of course we know the real attitude of certain electricity authorities to supplying electricity. They supply electricity to the aluminium companies, particularly those in Gladstone, Queensland, at 0.5c per kilowatt hour while domestic consumers pay about 2.3c and more per kilowatt hour. Further, under these present conditions, local government bodies will find it increasingly difficult to raise sufficient funds for essential community services.
The Treasurer has told us that the increase in interest rates was necessary because of the rise in overseas interest rates. But this Government is guilty of a basic misjudgment about trends in overseas interest rates. The Government failed to read the signs in November 1979 when the minimum lending rate in Britain jumped from 14 per cent to 17 per cent. The Government also has failed to anticipate correctly the trend in the United States rate which so dominates the international money and capital markets. United States interest rates went up from 1 3 Vi per cent in early October 1979 to hover around 15 per cent to 1514 per cent. Instead of the policies of the monetarists working and the interest rates coming down as the Australian Government’s financial wizards expected, United States interest rates took off again, to 16 te per cent last week and 16% per cent this week; and we do not know what they will go to in the future. As a further symptom of the crisis in the capital market the yields on United States long term securities earlier this month went through the roof. Now, big corporations like Conzinc Riotinto of Australia, Utah, International Business Machines Ltd and General Motors-Holden’s Ltd are able to protect themselves in the world financial markets. Those corporations deal in larger amounts than even the Australian Government. This Government has played politics with interest rates. It took a gamble and it lost. But it is not CRA and IBM which will pay the price. It is one thing for them to get caught up in the world financial market; it is another for the moderate income family, living in Campbelltown in Sydney or in Broadmeadows in Melbourne and paying off their homes, to be forced into the same market. Yet it is the moderate income family that has to pay the price of this Government’s bad gamble. The Government should come clean with the Parliament on this question. Because the Government has delayed adjustment to overseas trends for too long; because it has made a great error of judgment; because it has played politics with interest rates, the necessary corrective measures will have to be made more drastic now than they would have been some five months ago. The burden on the ordinary family in
Australia will be even heavier; it will be sharper and more drastic. I ask the Government how it intends to cushion the blow to the low and middle income earners in Australia from the impact of rising interest rates. The rise in interest rates will affect those people paying off their home loans and it will particularly affect those people trying to get a loan to buy their first home. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing the monthly repayments for different housing loan interest rates.
The table read as follows-
-I thank the House. For a family with a bank loan of $30,000 the monthly repayment over 25 years at an interest rate of 10.5 per cent is $283. If the interest rate increases by 0.5 per cent the monthly repayment will be $294. That means an increase of $ 1 1 a month, that is, if the interest rate goes up by only one-half per cent. In order to qualify for a $30,000 loan from a building society to buy a new house and land package at the bottom end of the market in Sydney’s outer western suburbs or in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, a young family would have to have an annual income of at least $15,000. The deposit gap for the average family is made even greater. Their chance of buying a home is even more remote.
We face a situation whereby the Government may push up the lending rate of banks and building societies even more than half a per cent because, as I said before, I do not believe that interest rates have peaked in this country yet. If building society interest rates go up to 1 2 per cent then only families on incomes of over $16,000 may be eligible for a $30,000 loan. Monthly repayments, which would be something like $316, would be increased by about $33 a month. At that rate, only one in 10 people in our community will be able to afford to buy a new home. This Government has failed to develop programs to cushion the people against these effects. In contrast, the Labor Party has announced a comprehensive package of housing programs to attack the housing problem on a broad front. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an outline of the main points of Labor’s broad housing program.
The document read as follows-
LABOR’S HOUSING POLICY
Labor’s housing policy is based on the assumption that everybody has the right to shelter sufficient for them to live with security, dignity and comfort.
Labor believes that people should be free to choose to either buy or rent their accommodation.
It recognises that in the present economic situation many families can only be helped to achieve reasonable housing when a significant part of the stock is in public ownership.
Labor recognises that measures designed to make better use of the existing housing stock must be taken.
Labor recognises that special measures must be taken to slow down the rate of inflation in land and housing prices.
It also recognises that there is a need to discourage financial institutions from making speculative investment in property- particularly land for residential development and Central Business Districts- because it is a major inflationary pressure in the economy, making it difficult for working people to purchase their own home.
Basic family housing policies
Labor will introduce a Family Home Ownership Plan. Under this scheme the Government will make available a Family Home Ownership Grant of $3,000 to eligible first home buyers. It will be paid over the first four years of loan repayment with the first year payment of $ 1 , 200; the second year $900; the third year $600; and the fourth year $300. The Grant can be used to increase borrowings or reduce repayments. It will allow for the average income earner additional borrowings of $11,330 from a savings bank and $9,750 from a building society.
The Grant will be made available to single income first home buyers with an income up to $16,000 in the year prior to application, while for first home buyers with a dual income the limit will be $24,000. To qualify for the Grant applicants will be expected to have saved at least $3,000 with a recognised home lending institution over a period of at least 12 months. Arrangements will be made to enable Grant payments to be made direct to the lending institution on behalf of the home buyers. The Home Savings Grant will be continued for those who prefer to receive a $2,000 lump sum payment in preference to the Family Home Ownership Grant. All previous HSG commitments will be honoured.
Labor will introduce a Home Improvement Program in co-operation with State and Local Government. Owner occupiers will be eligible for a loan up to $3,000 with a repayment period of five years. Loans will be made for home improvements such as hot water (including solar), heating, insulation (to economise on energy), plumbing (including inside toilets). The loans will be available to single income families with an income up to $12,000 and for dual income families with an income up to $16,000. The interest rate will be in line with Savings Bank home loans. In the first year $7.5m will be provided for the establishment of a revolving fund.
Labor will increase public housing funds by $80m per annum for the construction of new housing as well as for the selective purchase of existing dwellings in inner city areas. Labor will abolish the system ofmarket related rents’ and, with the co-operation of the States, will seek to introduce an averaged ‘ cost-rent system. Subsidy provisions will be made for tenants in need so that no public housing rent exceeds 20 per cent of household income. These measures will be implemented through a renegotiated Commonwealth State Housing Agreement.
Supplementary housing policies
Labor will establish an earmarked revolving fund to improve the housing of the rural population. The Rural Housing Improvement Fund Scheme will be developed in collaboration with the States.
Labor will re-establish the Australian Housing Corporation which will- administer the Defence Services Homes Scheme with the objective of eliminating backlog; establish a second mortgage market; introduce deposit insurance schemes to provide security for people investing in building societies; introduce deferred repayment mortgages; and develop and finance cost-rent housing associations and co-operatives.
Labor will increase the supply of land at reasonable prices in appropriate locations in cities where land price inflation remains excessive. Labor will conduct a review of the operation of the Land Commissions to ensure their effectiveness.
Labor will enlist the co-operation of the States in measures to reform and speed up the conveyancing system.
Labor will sponsor the development of energy efficient housing for the different regions of the nation. Labor will establish a program to educate builders and home owners about ways in which energy savings can be made by using modern design and materials. Funds will be made available for research into energy efficient housing designs and materials.
-I thank the House. One part of this program is a new, superior scheme to help first home buyers. Labor’s family home ownership scheme provides a grant of $3,000 to an approved home buyer within a reasonable means test to raise an additional loan of around $ 10,000 from a bank or building society at no extra cost to themselves. This scheme helps them to bridge the widening deposit gap and to get their feet on the first rung of the home ownership ladder. It can save many from having to go to finance companies that charge exorbitant interest rates, sometimes in excess of 16 per cent. Labor’s scheme could also be used by families to reduce their payments over the first four years when the burden is heaviest on the family budget. Labor’s program is essential now especially in Sydney and Melbourne where the housing crisis is the most drastic of any part of Australia. The situation varies from State to State but in Sydney and Melbourne it is the most critical, followed by Perth and Darwin. With any rise in interest rates Labor’s program will be even more necessary if we are to avoid home ownership becoming the preserve of only a small group of people in this country.
Labor’s housing program is broader than just support for home ownership. Labor will provide an additional $80m for an expansion of public rental housing. This expansion will be provided by the construction of new dwellings and by the spot purchasing of existing dwellings and their inclusion in the public housing stock. That initiative is essential if people are to have security of accommodation. This Government has let housing go back and back. There is no easy way to stimulate the housing industry; its resuscitation can only be gradual. Next to unemployment housing in Australia is the most serious social problem. We need a government to take positive action to make housing available to the needy. If it does not, the situation will become more serious. Even without an increase in interest rates it is now in a tragic condition.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Once again the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) made an emotional speech containing many inaccuracies and making many omissions. He spoke of a crisis in the housing industry when the fact is that in 1979 there was an increase of 10.9 per cent in the number of commencements of houses around Australia. He mentioned the figure of 1 19,000. In fact there were 126,391 commencements in Australia in the 1979 calendar year. He referred to a crisis in public housing, when waiting lists are now shorter than they were in 1975 when his party was in office. He fails to open his eyes to the facts. The fact is that home ownership rates have increased since this Government has been in office. Access to housing has improved. Certainly I agree that there are still problems but the Government is approaching and attacking those problems in a constructive way.
On 2 March the Treasurer (Mr Howard) announced the introduction of a new series of Australian Savings Bonds, series 16, which will carry an interest rate of 9.75 per cent, an increase of 0.5 per cent over the rate for ASB series 15. That decision followed a thorough review by the Government of the monetary situation and the economy generally. The past few months have been steep rises in interest rates in major countries abroad. Australia cannot be viewed in isolation from the international situation. On the international scene there are major influences which affect the position in Australia. In addition, signs have recently emerged that unless action is taken by the Government the monetary outcome for the year could exceed that regarded as appropriate to the Government’s economic objectives. As has been stressed by the Treasurer in recent weeks, the Government regards effective monetary control as fundamental to its antiinflationary goals. Excessive monetary growth would be unacceptable to the Government as it would fuel inflation and inflationary expectations. When we are talking about housing and access to housing nothing is more important than effective control over inflation.
I want to refer to the main theme of the Opposition ‘s matter of public importance- the relationship between interest rates on housing loans and access to home ownership. With respect, the attitude of the Opposition is totally inconsistent, illogical and shallow. The Government’s policy towards interest rates on housing loans is clear and firm, and always has been. These rates should be as low as possible to encourage home ownership across all groups in the community. Indeed, it is the policy of the Government that all housing costs should be as low as possible. Interest rates are but one of a whole range of different housing costs.
It is important that housing interest rates are not seen just in terms of the rates charged on mortgages. Low mortage rates are not of wide benefit unless lending institutions have sufficient funds to lend home buyers. Those institutions will not have adequate funds unless they provide an attractive investment package to potential depositors. The major housing finance institutions are not islands in the financial system. They must compete for deposits with an increasingly wide range of alternative investment choices. That is what it is all about. It is a competitive business and there are two sides to the ledger. After all, in Australia we have a housing finance sector which is predominately based on private enterprise and market competition. The private housing finance institutions have a record of which all Government members are proud and of which Australia generally should be proud. Over the years they have mobilised funds and have helped millions of Australians into home ownership.
This situation is one with which the Opposition cannot come to terms. It would wish to replace this well proven system with a new monolithic bureaucracy with further Government controls. The Opposition cannot appreciate the virtues of private enterprise in meeting the housing needs of the bulk of the nation. It expresses concern about access to home ownership for low to moderate income earners. Of course, this Government shares that concern, and its record clearly shows it. However, there is not much point in having very low interest rates on housing loans if this results in less money being made available for lending. In this son of situation lending institutions invariably have to ration funds by tight management of the size of loans to each new borrower. Thus, intending borrowers need to find much higher deposits if they are to become home owners. So typically the group which suffers most in that sort of situation, where there is a tightness in the availability of finance, comprises the low to moderate income earners. A large deposit gap results. People have to find much more money to get into home ownership. Often that is an insurmountable barrier to many families wanting to own their own home.
Would the Opposition seriously expect the Australian public to believe that its track record in government would improve so dramatically that it could ensure ample housing loans at bargain basement interest rates? I think not. The Opposition’s credibility gap in economic matters is well known to the Australian public. The gap stands wider than the massive gaps which would result between house prices and available loan sizes if the Opposition’s policies were put into effect.
The Government’s outstanding record in management of the housing sector stands in stark contrast to the economic irrationality of the Australian Labor Party. The honourable member for Reid would do well to look at the poor performance of his party on interest rates when in government. The Labor Party is a party of high interest rates. In 1974 it took us for the first time into double digits. Therefore, I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table which shows Australian interest rate movements between 1972 and 1979.
The table read as follows-
-That table shows that in the March quarter of 1972, we had a rate of 8. 14 per cent. It went up to 9.46 per cent by the March quarter of 1974. In 1974 there was a sudden jump from 9.46 per cent in the March quarter to 1 1.57 per cent in the June quarter. The rate then went up and up. We had a jump of well over 3 per cent in interest rates during the period when the Labor Party was in office. That was a tragic situation for many home buyers. Month after month they received notices from their bank or their building society that their interest rates were going up and that, therefore, their instalments were going up. That had a dramatic effect on home buyers and on the house building industry. We saw booms and busts during that period. It was a period of great instability. It would be a wise thing for the honourable member for Reid and other honourable members opposite to look back at their own poor record in this area. They would then appreciate why there is such a credibility gap in the minds of the Australian public when Labor spokesmen speak about inflation rates, about housing and in particular about interest rates.
I want to refer briefly to some of the things that this Government is doing in housing. The Government’s policies are recognised as sound policies. It does not have the same approach as that of the Labor Party. The Labor Party recently announced its policy for the next election, and the only real difference in that policy is that it would spend much more of the taxpayers’ hardearned money. It is the old story of spend, spend, spend. That is Labor’s answer. It is never an acceptable answer. The policies of the Australian Labor Party between 1972 and 1975 were not effective. We saw then that spending vast sums of the taxpayers’ money was a simple but not an effective answer; indeed, not an answer in any sense. The problems are not so easily overcome and the policies announced recently by the Labor Party fail to attack the real issues in housing in Australia today.
This Government’s policies have been responsible policies. They are clearly those of a government that is concerned to provide adequate and affordable housing for Australian families. More than 90 per cent of our households satisfy their housing needs in the private market. That is an important fact that people should realise. There tends in the minds of many people to be a concentration on Budget outlays, on government spending. In fact, most Australians satisfy their needs in the private market. They go out in the normal way and borrow some money from a bank, building society or other lending institution and repay their debt in that way. Most people are not dependent upon government expenditure. That private market has served Australians well and will continue to do so. The Government’s policies are intended to encourage and strengthen that private market. I know that the honourable member for Reid does not have the same interest in the private sector. He is concerned that companies might make profits. He is on record as saying that he is opposed to profit. Therefore, I cannot see how he can be seen to be, as he pretends to be, a champion for the house building industry. His statement as to profit making is on the record. It has been reported in newspapers and if he does not agree with me he should put the record straight by making a personal explanation in this House.
This Government believes in the private sector, in the private market. It offers no threats of intervention such as have come from the other side of the House. The Government would not establish larger bureaucracies to deal with the housing problem. We would not re-establish the Australian Housing Corporation, as the Labor Party has said it would do, for the purpose of further intervening in the housing market. We have no intention of establishing land commissions which deprive the industry of ordinary private market forces which would improve opportunities for people to buy houses and would keep house prices down. The recently announced Australian Labor Party housing policy demonstrates a fundamental difference in approach to housing between the Government and the Opposition. The Opposition’s housing policies threaten to undermine the private sector, to replace efficiency with a larger bureaucracy and to undo the major achievements of this Government, particularly in the public housing area. Such intervention by the Whitlam Labor Government proved massively costly and completely ineffective.
The present Government believes in home ownership. One of its major goals in housing is to increase the opportunity for ordinary Australians, low income families, to get a house of their own. That is what it is all about and that is what our policies are all about. The Government has other housing goals also, of course. There are people who do require, and depend upon, public housing. I refer to people who are in the private rental area. Things are being done for them also. Australians like to own their own home. Therefore, we want to increase their opportunity to get a home of their own. They enjoy the ordinary freedom of adapting their dwelling to suit their own needs and those of their families. They like the security of having a home of their own. The Government has been very successful in pursuing that goal. One need look only at recent official figures. An Australian Bureau of Statistics survey showed that about 73 per cent of Australian households own or are purchasing their home.
The Government will continue its responsible economic policies and housing assistance measures, which have proved so effective in helping home buyers, especially young home buyers. The key to this is to ensure an adequate supply of housing finance. When housing finance is readily available there is a far better chance that the marginal home buyer will get the loan that he needs to purchase a dwelling. Adequate supply of housing finance also makes for a smoothly operating housing market and a healthy housing industry. The Government recognises the key role of the private housing finance sector in the achievement of national housing objectives. The Opposition would want governments to control interest rates in order to force them down. The Australian Labor Party, of course, did not do that when it was in office. In fact, it would be a foolish approach. It would dry up private funds. People would not be able to borrow as they can at present. That, in turn, would reduce access to housing. The Government’s policies in the housing area have been highly successful. Our policies are sound and are recognised by most responsible commentators, by the Housing Industry Association, master builders and other industry bodies as such. It is recognised that they improve access to housing.
Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Mr UREN (Reid)-Mr Deputy Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-Does the honourable member wish to make a personal explanation.
-It is customary for members to approach the Chair beforehand.
-I regret that I did not do so, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom) made three statements that I wish to refute briefly. First of all he said that I falsified the figures as to housing commencements. In citing the figure of 1 19,000 commencements I referred to the financial year 1978-79. In an attempt to distort those figures the Minister used the term ‘calendar year 1979’.
Anybody who checks the facts will find that there were 119,000 commencements in 1978-79.
– I gave the more recent figures.
-I do not care whether they are the recent figures or not. I was giving the figures for the 1978-79 financial year. If the Minister had done his homework he would have known that they were correct. I wish that his bureaucrats in the corner would instruct him a little more wisely. Secondly, the Minister said that I had stated that I did not believe in the making of profits. I have never made such a claim. I believe that the housing problem must be attacked on a broad front. Therefore, the private sector must play an important role. Under the capitalist system it cannot continue to operate without making a profit. I wish to correct that distortion. Thirdly, I have made it perfectly clear that home ownership is part of the Australian Labor Party’s policy and that we support it. In fact, as can be seen, the first point of our policy deals with a broad program of home ownership. People with a single income of up to $ 16,000 a year would be able to participate in our private housing program. At present, under the Government’s program, most people are disqualified.
-During the last year we have witnessed an inflation rate of some 10 per cent. One might well ask, if we saw an inflation rate of 10 per cent in 1979 what will we see in 1980, as this Government follows its present misguided policies? One thing is certain. While the inflation rate continues at its present level, interest rates will rise. I wish at the outset to make the point that it is not the wages of Australian workers that is the main contributory element in this exorbitant inflation rate; rather it is the oil pricing policy of the present Government and rising food prices.
Let me take one or two moments to examine the parameters of the present oil pricing policy. It is divided into two sections- old oil and new oil. I intend to restrict my comments in regard to rising inflation and interest rates to the effects of the old oil pricing policy. The essentials of the Government’s policy in regard to old oil are to charge $24.77 a barrel for oil that costs 94c a barrel to produce. On 35 per cent of Austraiian old oil production the proceeds, less $3 a barrel, accumulates to the oil company. All of the other 65 per cent, less $2.33 a barrel, goes to the Government. The astronomical income that is derived from this so-called import parity pricing policy on crude oil is indicated by the fact that Esso-BHP from its Bass Strait oil will receive in 1979-80 some $470m, and the Government will receive some $2.45 billion. The oil companies and the Government have received a lot of revenue from this policy. But I must ask: What about the inflationary costs? The price of petrol has risen from 1 6c a litre in 1 977 to 34.5c a litre undiscounted in 1980 which is a 1 15 per cent increase. Is it little wonder that inflation is rocketing under this Government with a consequential pressure on interest rates?
I turn now to the effects of the last Budget. Honourable members might remember that the last Budget was labelled as a deflationary one. It cut the domestic deficit by $ 1,383m to $875m. Inherent in that cut were very severe cuts in capital expenditure. I instance the cut in Federal revenue relating to the States for public housing. This was pegged at $260m, a 7 per cent cut in monetary terms on the 1 978-79 figure, but a real 80 per cent cut in what was available to the States in 1974. The present dilemma of this Government goes back to the last Budget where it cut the deficit- there is no question about thatand severely exacerbated inflation as a result of its oil policies. So the Government achieved the worst of both worlds: It created inflation; interest rates have risen and unemployment has become further entrenched. The level of unemployment is almost 500,000 with a hidden unemployment figure of about 300,000. The Government has been caught in a web of its own economic mismanagement. The result of all these factors- the $l,400m-odd cut in the domestic deficit which, as I have said, was achieved mainly by cuts in capital expenditure, and the $2.5 billion revenue collection from oil pricing policies- is demands for tax cuts. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) has made certain promises that raised the level of speculation and expectation in the community as to what it is to get and how the oil money will be returned to it. All sorts of measures have been kited. They have included increases in the family allowances, perhaps full or half tax indexation, income splitting perhaps for single income earners and increases in spouses allowance. All of those measures have been mentioned in the Press.
I refer the House to a paragraph from the Ken Davidson column in yesterday’s Age which reads:
If the private capital inflow is small or even negative in February, and if the Government postpones the tax cut, it is probable that the present yields on Government securities will be sufficient to hold down the money supply growth to the targeted figure of not more than 10 per cent.
What Davidson is really saying is that if the Government goes ahead with its tax cuts and we do see increased capital inflow the money supply will exceed the 10 per cent budgetary target and we can expect higher and higher interest rates. So the Government is caught between its promises of tax cuts and its endorsement of increased capital inflow which we surely will see as a result of all of the development projects for which the Government is so fond of taking the credit. I mention the North West Shelf development, the expansion in coal mining, the proposed increase in steaming coal exports and also the proposed increase in our aluminium smelting capacity. In the Australian Financial Review it is reported that Australia can expect over $17 billion worth of investment in aluminium smelters and alumina refineries between now and 1990. To that can be added the capital expenditure for power stations. If we develop aluminium smelters to the point of $4 billion to $5 billion worth of capital expenditure by 1985 2,000 megawatts of” extra electricity will be required. This is the sort of capital expenditure at which we are looking.
So two things are certain: There will be vociferous demand for tax cuts and, if the Government pursues its present course, capital inflow into Australia- will increase. If this Government has to choose between tax cuts plus increased capital inflow and lower interest rates, I believe that it will choose the tax cuts as electoral carrots and it will continue to encourage exorbitant capital inflow. That, in my view, is what the Government will do. This will make it certain that the already high interest rates in Australia will continue to rise.
Let us see what the effect of its policy has been. The long term bond rate has risen from 9.5 per cent to 1 1.2 per cent over three years, in which time the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) promised a 2 per cent reduction. Interest rates on semi-government borrowings were increased by 0.8 per cent in the last few days to 1 1.6 per cent and, in the United States, interest rates are even higher at 16.75 per cent. The economists in the United States are saying that, now that President Carter has thrown his fight against inflation out of the window in the wake of the projected increases in arms expenditure as a result of the over-reaction to the events in Afghanistan we can see a further increase in inflation rates in the United States as well.
What effect then will these developments have on Australian homebuilding interest rates? We predict that interest on bank and building society home loans will go up by 0.5 per cent in the next few days possibly to 1 1 per cent. What will the limit be? What are we prepared to accept? Will it be 1 1½ per cent, 12 per cent, 13 per cent, 14 per cent or whatever- perhaps even as high, eventually, as the United States rate at present? What will the effect of this be on the average wage earner, the worker and his family who aspire to. own their own home? An average wage earner on only $ 1,030-odd a month at present faces costs of $42,000 to $50,000 in Sydney for land and a new home. His eligibility for a loan is limited to repayments equal to one-quarter of what he earns. So, if he saves $12,000, he will need at least $30,000 and that loan would require a repayment of at least $294 a month. That would make the average wage plug on $238 per week completely unable to acquire a new home.
I conclude by saying that this Government is persecuting the homeless, the inadequately housed, the young home seekers and under this Government all these people have no chance of owning their own home.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Opposition today has endeavoured to encourage a lack of certainty and create a lack of confidence in the whole of the Australian housing and building industry. It has sought to encourage the fears and difficulties of home buyers. This is a current and popular technique with the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) in a series of statements over the years has sought to discourage people and to destroy their confidence.
To set the matter in context, we need to examine just where Australia is in the world situation because inflation is world wide. A comparison of similar countries shows that inflation in the United Kingdom is running at around 17.4 per cent. In Italy the level is 16.9 per cent. Inflation in New Zealand is high. It is 12.6 per cent in the United States of America and in Australia 10 per cent. Again, the United Kingdom leads with respect to interest rates with a rate of 15 per cent. The figure in Italy is 15 per cent. Interest rates in the United States are at 1 3.5 per cent. Australia is at the bottom with similar countries such as the Netherlands and France with interest rates at about 10 to 11 per cent. Our petrol prices compare most favourably with those in the rest of the world.
Petrol prices are highest in France at 74c a litre. A litre of petrol in Italy costs 74c. Petrol in Japan costs 64c a litre. In New Zealand it is 38c a litre and 33.5c a litre in Australia. That puts in context the ability of the Australian Government to manage the economy of this country and to give to its people the best opportunities that it can provide. This applies not only to the general management of the economy and the encouragement of employment and better opportunities but to the housing industry in particular. We have heard prophecies of gloom and doom from honourable members opposite and particularly from the Leader of the Opposition. From time to time, whenever there is a prospect for a change in interest rates or a change relationship of the Australian currency with international currency, up he bobs two or three days before a crisis and encourages people to lose confidence. I do not think that is a role of a responsible Opposition.
I deplore the way in which the Opposition has conducted itself in these matters. In fact a similar matter of public importance was listed on the Daily Program for debate last week, before any changes had taken place in interest rates. It was a technique used by the Opposition to break confidence and to encourage a change to higher interest rates before they were due and, in fact, before the Government had fully considered these matters. No one could really endorse such an irresponsible attitude. The objective of the Government is to maintain interest rates at the lowest possible level. Those are the instructions that the Government has issued time and time again to lending institutions and to the Reserve Bank of Australia.
It is also very important, I believe, to have a sufficient flow of funds so that the rates offered to investors encourages them to invest in banks, building societies and other institutions to allow those institutions to have sufficient funds to lend to home buyers. It is no good having an artificially low interest rate if there are no funds available for those instrumentalities to lend to potential home buyers. I think it is important to compare the record of this Government with that of the previous Labor Government. In 1 972 we saw interest rates at a level of 8 per cent. By 1 974 they had risen to 11.73 per cent, a massive increase that caused great difficulty and turmoil to the Australian home buyer and to all people purchasing things which they had to borrow money to buy. It does not matter whether it is in relation to a loan for a person to buy a motor car, a semigovernment institution requiring loans or a person wishing to purchase a home; those sorts of changes to the Australian economy are disastrous.
What this Government has done is to reduce interest rates gradually and carefully to maintain a responsible attitude to the economy. It has used its skills of management and its understanding of the needs of people so that stability and certainty has continued. I reject completely the suggestion of this matter under discussion that the housing industry in Australia is unstable at the moment. Building societies, banks and all sorts of institutions have been saying consistently that they have never lent money at higher levels. I refer the House to a statement presented by Mr Ron Cameron, Director of the Australian Bankers Association Research Directorate. He said on 7 February:
Banks approved a record $3,777 million in housing loans to individual borrowers throughout Australia during 1979.
It was a massive increase and 12 per cent higher than the previous record in Australia established in 1978. If we look at the statements issued last week by the leading building societies throughout Australia, whether they be in Queensland, Victoria or New South Wales, we see that the executive directors and the leaders in those institutions said that at that stage they had a good flow of funds but they would have to consider their position if there were a change in interest rates. Well there has been a change in interest rates. To maintain that flow of funds and to maintain a service to those people who wish to build their own homes the institutions have had to make that change. That is a sensible adjustment; one that no government likes to make, but a responsible, sure and steady adjustment completely in line with adjustments that have taken place from time to time over the period of this Government’s term of office.
I would like to point out that the state of the dwelling construction industry in Australia today has never been better. Statistics for the calendar year 1979 provide that evidence. The total number of housing loans approved by banks and permanent building societies rose by 9.2 per cent over the figures for 1978. Total dwelling approvals increased by 13.7 per cent in the same calendar year and total dwelling commencements increased by 10.9 per cent in that year. That is an indication of the Government’s record and the Government’s ability in this area, through careful management, to provide finance in a sensible way to home buyers.
I refer the House once more to some of the decisions of the previous Labor Government. For example, in New South Wales within a period of 15 months from mid- 1974 we saw the work of the housing construction industry halved. In Queensland from late 1973 the activity in that industry was also halved within 18 months. Continuity of production of homes should be in response to the continuity of demand. These two things are related. This Government has proved that it has the capacity to understand those demands. Gone are the days of the previous Labor Government when we had the responsible Minister saying that we must have a quick boost in housing finance. Such a statement was made by him in September 1974. The situation was stop-go. There was a sudden shot in the arm, the brakes were put on and there was a sudden increase in interest rates. All these sorts of changes could not be understood and could not be followed. This ended in a disastrous result for the building industry.
I refer the House briefly to the claims made by the Opposition for its new housing policy. I am distressed that the Australian Labor Party, which abolished the Homes Savings Grants Scheme in 1974, now claims that its policy would improve it. I do not know whether it would improve it because it seems to me that the demands the policy would make on the financial institutions, which are already lending at record levels, would mean that they would have to find an additional $400m to $500m per annum. To me that is not responsible. There is no capacity for the market or the industry to take up the policy promoted by the Australian Labor Party. What is needed if we are going to see real cost savings in the industry is a continuation of the Government’s policy and an implementation of the findings of the cost of the housing inquiry. The activities of the New South Wales Government, its decisions on the use of the subcontract system and the use of paid employees, day labour and things like that have to be abandoned if real savings are to be made in the housing industry. In conclusion, I indicate that the control of inflation and of the money supply and the sensible management of the economy are important factors.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Debate resumed from 20 September 1979, on motion by Mr Adermann:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have your indulgence to suggest that the House have a general debate covering this Bill and the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1 980 as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate.
Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the two measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-The second of the two Bills before the House, the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill 1980, would normally come within the responsibility of my colleague the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis). It authorises the raising and expenditure of some $3m to fund credit facilities for soldier settlers under the War Service Land Settlement Scheme. It is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose this Bill. The other Bill before the House is the Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 1979. This Bill seeks to amend the Defence Service Homes Act. The purpose of the Bill, as is stated by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) in his second reading speech, is to give effect to the recommendations made by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure in relation to the Defence Service Homes Scheme. The Bill is disappointing not only to members of the Opposition but also to members of the Standing Committee who put so much hard work into the inquiry and who took their jobs so seriously. Most of their recommendations have been either rejected or diluted.
The Bill shows this Government’s lack of understanding of and lack of concern for the severe problems facing people in need of housing in any field. Earlier today, when speaking in the debate on a matter of public importance, I dealt with across the board programs for housing and particularly with what increased interest rates will do to the housing sector. Viewing the matter historically, I suppose one can say that at least increased interest rates will not affect the defence service home loans. The interest rate on the defence service home loans has been held at something like 3% per cent ever since its inception and the volume of money available has increased. The amount of the maximum loan available was $9,000 when Labor came to power. Probably my colleague, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), will give more details about that. Labor came into Government in December 1972. In the 1973 Budget we lifted the amount of the loan from $9,000 to, I think, $12,000. If I am wrong the Minister will correct me. Later we increased it by a further $3,000, making the total amount available $15,000. The additional $3,000 was made available at 7W per cent interest.
From the point of view of interest rates, this loan is probably the most generous available.
The sad thing is that the cost of housing and land has increased. In the old days Government members used to wear their Returned Services League badges with pride. There are not many of those people left now. They would make out that they were the great benefactors in relation to repatriation benefits and war service homes, that they were the men who stood for the defence of the nation and so forth. Government members are a bunch of phonies as a whole. That is the situation. The defence service homes loan of $15,000-the first $12,000 repayable at 3*4 per cent and the remaining $3,000 repayable at 7Vi per cent- has been pegged since it was first made available. As honourable members know, housing costs have grown astronomically over the last five or six years. But the Minister has done nothing. In fact, the volume of money available has decreased but I will deal with that matter a little later. As an amendment to the motion: That The Bill be now read a second time ‘, I move:
I will deal with the latter parts of the motion at a later time. Let us recall the situation in 1974-75 when Labor was in government. We made the most money available in this area. At that time there was a squeeze on the private housing sector. In that period we were able substantially to develop the Defence Service Homes Scheme as we were able to upgrade the availability of public housing. The Labor Government provided $130m for defence service homes. This Government has allocated approximately $78.5m for 1979-80 for this purpose. This represents a drastic reduction both in money terms and in real terms. Under the Labor Government the number of loans provided under the Scheme in 1974-75 was 9,385. In 1 978-79, the last financial year, the number of loans dropped to 5,365. That represents a drop of 43 per cent. This year the number of loans will be even fewer. One effect of this decline has been the extension of the waiting period for loans by eligible applicants from 11 months to 14 months.
As I said earlier, the Defence Service Homes Scheme provides a maximum loan of $ 1 5,000 repayable over 32 years, the first $12,000 being at 3W per cent and the remaining $3,000 at 714 per cent. The size of the loan was determined in 1974-75. At that time the scheme could provide 60 per cent of the value of an average block of land and a house, which value in 1974-75 was $25,456. I am citing the figures released by the Australian Housing Corporation, as it then was. Today it is virtually impossible to find a new dwelling and land package in the Sydney metropolitan area at a price of less than $42,000. Let us look at the situation Australia-wide. I think that in some cases a block of land and a dwelling can be purchased for as little as $35,000 in Adelaide, but the average price across Australia for such a package is about $39,000. A $15,000 loan now provides about 40 per cent of the value of a house and land package. I might say that I am talking about the bottom end of the market. I am not talking about the average cost of housing. The price of housing has been rising dramatically, especially in metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne. The median price- that is the price which is obtained by subtracting the figure at the bottom end of the market from that at the top end of the market- of established housing is over $60,000 in Sydney and $50,000 in Melbourne. We can see that this $15,000 loan does not go very far.
Surely it should be a priority that an amendment be made to the Defence Service Homes Act which gives attention to the adequacy of the loan relative to the conditions in the housing market. Again I prod ex-servicemen, whether they served in the Vietnam War or in the Second World War, to start getting off their tails and doing something about prodding the Government which they support. The Government’s policies are phoney. The talk of Government members is cheap but they make very little contribution. We have had a de-‘ bate in this House on the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee. The Committee members made a real contribution. They included Frank Stewart, the former honourable member for Grayndler, who I think was ViceChairman of the Committee. I think the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) was Chairman of the Committee at that time. They made a great contribution to the debate. The honourable member for Lilley is a former Minister for Housing. I think he administered the Defence Service Homes Act. Frank Stewart, as an ex-serviceman, was always a great supporter of ex-servicemen’s rights.
A criticism from that Committee was that there should be no application fee paid by those who received a grant. This Government, with its penny-pinching attitude, has imposed a $75 loan application fee. Of course, I do not need to express again what I think of this administrative charge of the Public Service which was never charged in the past and which should not be charged now. The effect of the charge will be to discourage those most in need from making an application. There are already enough restrictions. A $15,000 loan does not go too far. As I said earlier, it is about 40 per cent of the cost of an average home across the country. This Government has also extended from three years to six years the period of service necessary for a serving serviceman to qualify for a loan. But there are additional provisos. We have previously had arguments about some people in the Navy being disqualified and other Army personnel getting their applications approved. Ordinary Service personnel now have to contract for a further three years, making their qualifying period nine years as against six years for officers. That represents a blatant discrimination against those who most need access to defence service home loans.
The Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill effectively undermines the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme, which has been entirely self-supporting since its inception. When the level of reserves in the Trust Account rises, the premiums are reduced so that the home purchasers and the borrowers gain the benefit. The Defence Service Homes Corporation has sought to ensure that all dwellings are adequately insured by revising the cover annually. I recall that during the Brisbane floods the Defence Service Homes Corporation really met its commitments under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme, but some of the private insurance companies were much more reluctant and very hesitant about meeting their commitments. It is to the credit of the Defence Service Homes Corporation that it met its commitments to the point of complete co-operation with those exservicemen who had their homes insured through the Scheme. That is to be commended and I would think that that principle of cooperation could be continued.
In the past the Defence Service Homes Corporation has acted responsibly, efficiently and equitably as a public authority. I have no doubt that it would do so in future. There is no reason why its ability to co-ordinate properly the insurance of defence service homes should be undermined. There is no reason why this area of activity should be opened up as a market for the private insurance companies. But we know, of course, that this Government really encourages the corporate sector. The Government makes out that it really represents the small businessman, but in fact more and more it represents the corporate sector. It represents the wealthy sector. This is coming through more every day, and people will have a better understanding of that situation. There is a need for a more fundamental review of the Defence Service Homes Scheme than the present amendments allow. Our amendment to the second reading motion calls for the withdrawal of this Bill and for its redrafting to improve the operations of the Defence Service Homes Scheme.
The last point I want to dwell on is the third aspect of our amendment; that is, a governmentbacked guarantee so that mortgage loans can be acquired at reasonable rates. I have pointed out that in 1974-75 the $15,000 would have represented about 60 per cent of the cost of a house at the bottom end of the market. Now it represents only 40 per cent. The people who are acquiring a home are being forced more and more to pay exorbitant interest rates because they are having to take a second mortgage. I believe that we can meet this situation in two ways. The Government can guarantee a loan, probably through the Commonwealth Bank, at a reasonable interest rate; and I do not think people should have to pay more than the ruling rate of about 9.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent varying among the banks. Alternatively, people can get a guaranteed loan through the permanent building societies at an interest rate of 1 1.5 per cent. They should not be pushed into high interest rates. Another problem is that these people have to repay their loans over a much shorter period and, therefore, their repayments are at a much higher rate in the early years of repayment. First of all, we should examine the Australian Housing Corporation legislation which we introduced in the 1974-75 financial year. In 1975-76 the first allocation of funds for the functioning of the Australian Housing Corporation was made. Of course, at that time the Australian Housing Corporation had within its responsibility the assets, the mortgages and the administration of the Defence Service Homes Scheme.
It would be the intention of a Labor government to reintroduce the Australian Housing Corporation. The functions of the Defence Service Homes Corporation would be transferred from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to the Australian Housing Corporation. We would introduce through the Australian Housing Corporation, not only for ex-servicemen but also for other people in need of housing, government guaranteed mortgage loans at reasonable interest rates. Some of them would involve deferred mortgage repayments and others would be second mortgage schemes, but one of the major factors in these government-backed guarantee loans would be that they would be geared as much as possible to the life of the loan. We are looking at the repayment of defence service home loans over a 32-year period. They may not be geared to that extent, but the normal loans are geared to about a 25-year period, and I believe that normally the second mortgage should be geared to that period.
I think this is what those ex-servicemen on the Government side should be pressing for. They should be supporting the Opposition’s amendment because ex-servicemen’s organisations have asked us to give a guarantee in this regard. That is one of the things we should be trying for. In this field we have to deal with the whole housing sector; we cannot deal with one sector in isolation. As I said in an earlier debate, about 1 19,000 dwellings were constructed in the financial year 1978-79. The Indicative Planning Council, in looking at the overall level, believes that the industry can construct 135,000 dwellings across the board without any inflationary pressures. So when we are trying to wipe away the backlog and to put more money into defence service homes, we have to look at an overall package for the whole housing sector.
In my view, many people in defence service homes are really facing hardship. I certainly have a great deal of sympathy for those applicants, but I believe that other people who do not come within the Defence Service Homes Scheme have grave problems as well, as I pointed out in the earlier debate on the rise in interest rates. The crying need is in the public housing sector. I gave the figures that within our community there are something like 100,000 homeless people; about 250,000 people are living in temporary dwellings and caravan parks; and 75,000 families are registered on housing commission lists. Some of those people have to wait for up to Vh years for a house. We have to look much more thoroughly at the amendment which is now before the House. I believe that the Bill should be withdrawn and the Government should introduce a much more positive piece of legislation. I hope that the House will support the Opposition’s amendment.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
-There are two main purposes of the Defence Service Homes
Amendment Bill. Firstly, its purpose is to introduce freedom of choice for beneficiaries in the selection of a house insurer and revision of the long title of the Defence Service Homes Act and, secondly, to remove from the Act a number of restrictive lending conditions. I cannot see any reason at all why the last speaker, the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), should move an amendment that in effect would deprive the House of the opportunity to pass this Bill which provides two sensible and reasonable benefits for ex-servicemen. The Bill is one which I would have thought would be welcomed by the Opposition. There should be no argument about the ex-servicemen themselves having the opportunity to choose whichever insurance they wish. The other matters contained in the Bill really are matters of form.
The amendment is, unfortunately, misconceived. It appears to be based upon a desire to politicise this debate. I have always taken the view that debates on ex-service matters ought, as far as possible, to be above the level of party politics. It was most disturbing to hear the honourable member for Reid describe the attitude of Government members towards these points as being phony. I can assure the honourable member that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann), who is at the table, is acknowledged as an extremely conscientious Minister having the interests of the exservicemen and women of this country very much at heart and that the Government has a very proud record of assistance to ex-servicemen. If there are areas where we can further assist exservicemen then, of course, we have a commitment to consult in detail with the Returned Services League executive and with the executives of other organisations to ensure that we are continually informed of those matters which the exservicemen and women of this country would like to see developed.
The Bill amends the Defence Service Homes Act. I think it is most important to recapitulate the terms and conditions of defence service home loans so we understand the basis on which we are working. At present a loan of up to $ 15,000 may be made available to assist eligible applicants. An interest rate of 3.75 per cent per annum is applicable on a loan of up to $12,000 and a rate of 7.25 per cent applies to any amount of loan in excess of $12,000. Instalments on a loan of $15,000 over a usual term of 32 years are $73.82 a month. There is a small application fee involved. This provides, therefore, a significant advantage to ex-servicemen and enables them to make up for a number of the ladders of life that they often lose through service in the forces. There are many sacrifices that ex-servicemen and women have made in their time. They have at times lost opportunities for progression in the ordinary ways that the community would require. They often have to change from one house to another in the course of duty and it is difficult at times to establish a permanent home. As well as facing dangers and hardships in their careers, they may have had dislocation of their family by moving from one house to the other. There is often difficulty in having their children educated without disruption.
Therefore, it is appropriate that the Government should provide a system of ex-service home loans to acknowledge the sacrifices that our exservicemen and women have made. I would agree that the level needs to be increased. I do not think anyone would argue that a level which was set some years ago is now as adequate as it was then. It is most important to remember that the primary way in which this Government has sought to assist the whole of the Australian community, as well as ex-servicemen, has been by its sound and sensible economic policies. There is no point in simply increasing limits if we are to be faced with runaway inflation of the type that beset this country in the years from 1 973 to 1 975. When this Government came into office in late 1975 it found on its hands an indescribable economic mess. We had massive unemployment that had grown overnight. In the space of one year unemployment increased by more than 100 per cent. Inflation was running at about 1 7.6 per cent at the time of the 1975 election, and the deficit was massive. The Government had to ensure that the first priority was economic stability. We did achieve economic stability over the next few years.
The fear that beset Australia in 1975 is no longer present. The economic situation certainly requires continuous improvement. We are underway with a sustained- I believe sustainable- economic recovery that still has some way to go. During the last months of 1975 many people in this country were getting desperate. The economic situation appeared to be one of a black hole, a bottomless pit, into which Australia was falling. The Government was faced with reining in a massive deficit, with trying to attack an inflation rate which was out of hand and which was gnawing at our economic vitals, and a number of areas had to come under close and careful scrutiny. Nonetheless, despite the need for expenditure restraint, I think it is very much to the credit of the Government and successive Ministers for Veterans ‘ Affairs, including the present Minister, that the area of veterans’ conditions has received a very high priority from this Government.
The last speaker said that members on this side of the House should be doing more to increase the amount of the defence service loans. Again I would agree with him, but one must consider what was done in last year’s Budget. It is a very simple fact that the RSL and a number of other ex-service organisations approached the Government last year- in particular they saw the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and also the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)- and put forward a number of important matters that they wished to see instituted. One of those which I remember well was a request for an increase in the level of the fringe benefits entitlement because that has a tremendous impact upon ex-servicemen in particular. Another was related to the six-monthly indexation of pensions. The RSL put a number of other high priority matters to the Government for attention, and certainly the Government did everything possible to meet those requests. The Minister achieved what at one stage we thought might not be possible, and met nearly all of the requests listed by the RSL and other organisations. I believe he has attained very great acclaim throughout Australia for what he has achieved.
I have no doubt that the Minister has already commenced a similar process of consultation this year and that, as usual, the Government will meet with the RSL President and executive and with the presidents and executives of other organisations for discussions. I would support them in a claim for an increase in the amount of the Defence Service Homes loan, and I have no doubt that the Minister will be very sympathetic. I believe that the Government will be sympathetic, but these are budgetary decisions and it will be necessary for the claims to be considered in the entire Budget context. I am confident that the Government will see its way clear to granting at least some increase in the amount. One can then ask by what amount the loan should be increased. In my opinion, the most beneficial course would be to increase the amount by about $10,000 and to allocate sufficient funds either to eliminate or to reduce significantly the waiting period. In all the circumstances, $25,000 would seem to be a reasonable minimum amount for the loan. However, if that is not possible, I am sure that the Government will consider favourably a scheme whereby it might be possible for the general lending institutions to be provided with additional funds which they could make available to make up the difference. The exservicemen to whom I have spoken are concerned mostly about obtaining a loan. Of course, the interest rate is very important, and no one would suggest that the rate of 3.75 per cent for the first $12,000 should change. I hope that the 7.25 per cent thereafter can be maintained, but in general discussions it appears that, provided the rate for the first $ 12,000 is retained, the most important priority thereafter is for ex-servicemen to be able to obtain, one way or another, an additional loan so that they have a more realistic opportunity to obtain a house.
When the honourable member for Reid refers to figures which he alleges show that under this Government there has been a reduction in the number of loans by comparison with 1974 and 1 975, those figures must really be kept in context. Certainly more loans were granted in 1 974 and 1 975 than were granted last year, but three factors have to be borne in mind. Firstly, a significant number of young men who had recently completed service in Vietnam were applying for loans, and 1974 and 1975 would have been a peak period for applications. I expect that, since that time, the number of applications would have returned to a normal level. The second point to bear in mind is the age factor. We are three or four years on from 1974 and 1975, and there would have been a progressive taking up of loans by those who were entitled in former years. It is a quite usual practice for those persons who did not take up the loan at the outset to take it up later in life. Progressively, that bank of applicants is coming forward; loans are being provided; and, presumably, the bank is slowly reducing.
The third element to bear in mind is that the Labor Party- one hopes from good motives; in fact, I do not question its motives- brought in a scheme whereby any person who had served in the forces for three years was entitled to a Defence Service Homes loan. This resulted in a vast increase in the number of applicants, and obviously that could not go on at the same level without coming under scrutiny. The Government looked at the matter carefully, sought the advice of the RSL and other ex-service organisations, and came to the conclusion that ex-servicemen themselves took the view that the meaning of the Defence Service Homes Scheme was being severely diluted by the provision of such a benefit to any member of the Services who had served for such a short time as three years in peacetime without having been on active service. The Government therefore decided that it would be appropriate and in the spirit of a war services homes scheme to extend the period of eligibility for those who had not served on active service. As from 17 August 1977, a person must have completed six years effective full time service in the forces and entered into a commitment to render further service in order to become eligible for a Defence Service Homes loan, if he has not served on active service in accordance with the usual eligibility provisions. To an extent, that has restricted the number of applicants, but in a way which in general has met with community approval. It has been received favourably by the ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen of Australia and has restored to a great extent the original meaning of the scheme. Those factors must be borne in mind when the Government is criticised on raw figures. The criticism simply does not hold up. This Government has a very fine record of assisting ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen through the Defence Service Homes Scheme.
There is one other matter to which I would like to draw attention, and I refer to the report of the Expenditure Committee of this Parliament. That Committee put a great deal of time and effort into considering this scheme, and I believe it is worth considering its suggestion for an optional arrangement for a grant based on capitalisation of the interest subsidy in certain circumstances. I have made this statement in the House before, and I reiterate an obvious interest in the matter, having been an ex-serviceman. I think it is fair that one consider this proposition in times of increased deposit gaps. It may be that the exserviceman on assessing his affairs, would more usefully apply a capitalised grant to obtaining a home by using the grant to bridge the deposit gap. For some servicemen, this may be a better way of assisting them to obtain a home than a straight out Defence Service Homes loan. Even on the 1974 figures, unfortunately the loan provided only 60 per cent of the cost of an average home. If the matter were put in the alternative, which I believe was one of the recommendations of that Committee, it ought not to cost the Government any extra revenue, at least over time. If I remember correctly, the Committee took the view that, actuarially, this form of capitalisation would not involve as much cost over a long period because there would be immediate payments at a certain level and there would not be the future commitment to make loans at the subsidised interest rate, which is obviously a cost to revenue. So, I put to the Minister the proposition that the Expenditure Committee’s views on a scheme of capitalisation be considered, and I urge that it of course be considered in the light of options. It would have to be optional. The exservicemen would have to be given the option of choosing which way he wished to take up his benefit.
The other thing I urge upon the Minister is something which I have mentioned previously in the House and that is, the need to diversify the administration of the scheme once the basic entitlement has been settled. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Defence Service Homes Corporation do a very good job but there is reason to believe that once the Corporation has determined initial entitlement it might be simpler, and it might involve a saving to revenue, if banks and building societies were empowered to carry out the administration of the scheme thereafter. The person entitled, the exserviceman, would go to the building society or the bank taking with him an authorisation from the Corporation and would enter into a loan with the bank or building society which would be drawing upon money provided by the Government under a special budgetary heading. I understand that the service fee of one per cent could be charged which would be half that of the ordinary post office charge. I suggest to the Minister that that matter be considered. I commend the Government for its work. I support the Bill and reject the amendment. I look forward to the Government’s further initiatives in the interests of ex-servicemen in this coming Budget.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Defence Service Homes Amendment Bill 1979 can hardly be regarded as world shattering legislation. When one thinks of the nature of the problems besetting Australia at present it is remarkable that this matter can get such priority in the early part of this parliamentary session. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) is always regarded as an apologist for the Government. He represents a swinging seat and he is notorious for the fact that he always personally favours policies which the Government rejects. Here he is, of course, advocating reforms to the Defence Service Homes Scheme in the face of the situation where this Government has been allowing the Scheme to run down at a disgraceful rate.
This legislation, to demonstrate once again its importance, was introduced on 20 September 1979. Of course it seeks to implement but one of the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee affecting defence service homes, as has been pointed out. But it has not been pointed out with sufficient clarity that the matter which is the principal substance of this Bill is the most infinitesimal recommendation that was made by the Expenditure Committee. Anything that involved benefit to ex-servicemen or indeed serving members of the forces has been denied. Some very worthwhile recommendations were made by that Expenditure Committee which comprises members from both sides of the Parliament. But the Government is picking the eyes out of the recommendations. This Bill will simply have the effect, in the long term, of weakening yet another government instrumentality. Government members have this unrelenting antipathy to anything public. They believe that the public as individuals are all right but if they are put together in a corporate way and cause their affairs to be run on their behalf and by themselves in effect through some functionaries whom we tend to call public servants or bureaucrats, then this is something which Government members must incessantly set out to defame, deplore and disparage.
There happens to be a lot of merit in the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme which I think has prevailed since the inception of the Defence Service Homes Scheme more than 50 years ago. The honourable member for St George claims to have an interest in the welfare of exservicemen. I know that the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) demonstrates that kind of interest and has done so over a long period. Each of them, in all truth and fairness, would tell this Parliament that ex-servicemen who have insured through the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme regard it as a highly virtuous and beneficial arrangement. They do not disparage it and they have no enthusiasm about putting something in its place. Let me warn ex-servicemen and servicemen and anybody else who is interested in the Defence Service Homes Scheme that in the long term this legislation will have the effect of undermining the beneficial arrangements under which servicemen and ex-servicemen can now effect their insurance of a defence service home. That is the first matter I wish to raise.
I will not have time to follow up the nonsense the honourable member for St George spoke in respect of what the Labor Government was supposed to have done or not done. Of course it is an absurdity. The whole package deal is absolutely ridiculous. Government members contend that when we were in government there was something wrong because we had deficits, yet this Government has a bigger deficit. They say that when we were in government there was something wrong with the rates of unemployment, yet under this Government the rate of unemployment is much higher. They say that under our Government there was something wrong with the rates of inflation, yet under this Government inflation is surging to near record levels and accelerating at a momentous pace. This will shortly have the effect of causing home buyers, including ex-servicemen, all around this country to be paying great additional amounts in their liquidation of home loans. So that contention is hardly worth the talking time. Everybody knows that the honourable member’s contentions just cannot be sustained.
What this matter is all about of course is the business of making it optional for ex-servicemen to get their insurance elsewhere. Attention has been drawn by the Committee to the fact that at present the arrangements are in breach of the Trade Practices Act. The committee says that if the Corporation were a bank or building society this tied insurance arrangement could constitute an exclusive dealing arrangement under section 47 of the Trade Practices Act. So the contention goes on. I will come back to that matter in a short time but for the moment, let me just say that that Expenditure Committee has been the subject of a number of newspaper reports. I have one such report with me. It is from the Australian Financial Review of ‘27 November 1978 which is headlined ‘Government rejects bulk of report on defence service homes’. I shall read a paragraph or two of the article:
The Government has rejected all of the major recommendations of the Parliamentary Expenditure Committee’s report on the Defence Service Home Scheme- much to the ire of its own backbench.
The honourable member for St George did not give expression to the dissatisfaction on the Government side about this legislation. Perhaps the honourable member for North Sydney will do so. The article continues:
Just some months after the Fraser Government won power in 197S, the Prime Minister, with much fanfare, announced the establishment of this watchdog committee . . .
The article then goes on to spell out the various issues. There is another article in the Canberra Times of 6 April 1979. It is headed ‘Response over homes scheme “disappointing” ‘ and states:
A Parliamentary committee was disappointed and disturbed by the Government’s response to its recommendations . . .
It then goes on to say:
The then-Acting Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mr McLeay, had rejected three major recommendations . . .
The first was for an optional cash grant to eliminate a range of grants and avoid both the cost of bridging finance to people eligible for loans and the cost of administrative expenses to the taxpayer.
A second proposal has also been rejected. This article refers to the rejection of a recommendation on the installation of computers for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs- a cost saving recommendation. One wonders why the Minister is so discriminatory in his selection of such commitments. However, I will not have time to go on in that vein.
Mention has been made of the record of the former Labor Government compared with that of the Government that prevails in respect of the Defence Service Homes Scheme generally. Let me refer to those matters, especially the record of the Labor Government in the period 1972-75. Labor extended eligibility to include a person who was on continuous full time service as a member of the Defence Force on or after 7 December 1972, and who had compared three years effective full time service. People who served as accredited representatives of a welfare organisation were brought into the scheme. Here I refer to Australian Comforts Fund personnel and Salvation Army personnel and the like. The honourable member for St George nods his head. If he had been here longer he would have known that over the years, over decades, amendments have been moved by the Opposition to try to give effect to this scheme, at the request of exservicemen ‘s organisations. The Labor Government actually did that.
Since 1976, the Liberal-Country Party Government’s record shows that that eligibility has not been expanded; it has been restricted. The qualification period for defence service homes has changed from three years, as it was under Labor, to nine years. There is a need to complete six years continuous full time service and to undertake a commitment to render further service.
The Labor Government looked at the question of discrimination against single people and eliminated such discrimination. In the scheme the Labor Government made it possible for single men and widows, with the necessary qualifying periods of service, to receive assistance. In 1973 single and widowed females were granted assistance. The Labor Government increased the maximum loan from $9,000 to $12,000 and then from $12,000 to $15,000. Since that date there has been no increase. In 1974-75, under the Labor Government, the maximum loan covered 58.3 per cent of the average cost throughout Australia of a house for which a loan was required. The maximum loan now covers 38.1 per cent of the average price of a house throughout Australia. The value of assistance has dropped from 58.3 per cent under Labor to 38; 1 per cent under the present Government. Let me repeat that there has been no increase in the maximum loan despite inflation, which since 1975 has pushed up the housing index of the consumer price index by 42.5 per cent to December 1 979. 1 doubt whether the honourable gentlemen can draw much consolation from that account of the Government’s record.
The Labor Government did not ask people to pay an application fee. Of course, recently an application fee of $75 has been introduced in respect of a first loan, and a fee of $50 has been introduced for an additional loan.
– What on earth is that for?
-The honourable member asks: ‘What is it for?’ The honourable member for Wills would need to ask somebody other than me to get an answer to that question. There was practically no waiting period for defence service homes during the term of the Labor Government except in the latter period. It was then introduced because the eligibility criteria had been widened. Now it is the order of the day. The waiting period has been extended from 1 1 months to 14 months. Yet the number of applicants in the last year under this Government numbered only 7,030. It is a very dramatic fall and I will show that in a moment or two.
Three years of peacetime service could be counted as qualifying service under Labor’s provisions. Eligibility was extended to national service personnel. We liberalised the loan criteria in every way. Since that time no initiative has been taken to liberalise that criteria further. We allowed the balance of the existing loan to be made available for the acquisition of another property in special circumstances where, for example, the applicant was compelled to move from his present defence service home through circumstances beyond his control.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting I had indicated to the House the indifferent and negative performance of the Government under the Defence Service Homes Scheme compared with the positive policies that had been pursued when Labor was last in office. A laissez-faire, status quo approach to the scheme has been adopted and no worthwhile reform has been enacted since Labor went out of office. I had enunciated in tabular form the comparative performance of the Australian Labor
Party on the one hand and the Liberal-National Country Party on the other. History speaks for itself in this regard.
I had also pointed out that one of Labor’s enactments allowed the balance of the existing loan to be made available for the acquisition of another property when a person who had a defence service home had to move from one area to another for reasons beyond his or her control, including, for instance, those relating to health and, certainly, employment. Contemporaneously, people’s employment has the characteristic of mobility. People are often required to move. That is often a requirement of the Public Service itself. It is absurd that in such a situation one should lose one’s defence service home. One should be able to use the balance of one’s loan in another location. Not only did Labor initiate that provision but also I, as the then Minister, can claim to have administered it in a liberal and compassionate way. I happen to like the Minister at the table, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann), but I am quite critical of him because of the stringencies imposed upon the program by the Government’s financial policies. He is unable now to give effect to that provision.
In fact, I have in my hand right now details of a case which has been the subject of representations by me to the Minister. The ex-serviceman concerned spent nine years in the Royal Australian Navy and qualified by virtue of* his service in Vietnam. He obtained a war service home and served for five years in the police force of the Australian Capital Territory. He sustained a spinal injury during his service in the police force in Canberra and was discharged from the force. An eminent medical practitioner, a professor, told him that it was inevitable, in consideration of his health, that he should move from the cold climate of Canberra to a warmer climate. Accordingly, he has come to my electorate in Sydney and lives at Engadine. If that man cannot qualify to transfer his loan, I would say no one can. This policy, which remains on the statute book is, in terms of practicality, in ghost form only. I believe that that betrays a total lack of compassion and consideration and is characteristic of the Government’s indifferent attitude. I would like the honourable member for St George, who preceded me, to account for such an approach.
The time left to me is racing by. In respect of the proposal to have regard to section 47 of the Trade Practices Act the Government can approach the problem in a different way. Trie Government says: ‘We have a Defence Service
Homes Insurance Scheme’. Under that scheme all insurees must insure, to the replacement value of their properties, under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme. After that they are free to take any additional insurance that they wish. That has been the case until now. The Bill will make it possible for such people to dispense with the need to take out, under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme, insurance equal to the replacement value of the home. That will have the effect of weakening the scheme. There is an economy of scale. The number of people involved has helped to make the scheme solvent and buoyant and in every way a good thing for ex-servicemen. Now, by a process of dissipation, of destruction, the ex-serviceman is to be sent off to the wealthy insurance companies and it will be found that the benefits that they have derived till now will be diminished.
I remind the Government that provision for exemption is made under the Trade Practices Act. In fact, that has been done on quite a scale under tied arrangements between the banana growers and the Banana Growers Federation of New South Wales. That is a case in point. Upon ministerial direction, action under the Trade Practices Act has been deferred until further notice. There was direct intervention by the Minister concerned in that case in respect of the operations of the Act.
A more recent case concerned the publishers of newspapers and newsagents. They have been exempted from the provisions of the Act. If the Minister is to act responsibly on behalf of people who are covered by the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme he should take the view that when there is established benefit to the constituents there is a fair case for the existing provisions remaining. Many precedents can be invoked in this instance. They are to be found, in terms of regulations if not Acts, in regard to the egg industry, the sugar industry, the citrus industry, the dried fruit industry, the banana industry and equally to the cherry industry, the cotton industry and the vegetables and canned fruit industries. The Government is doing the wrong thing. It has not a commendable record in regard to defence service homes.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Minister at the table, the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs (Mr Adermann), is to be applauded for his efforts to update the Defence Service Homes Act. Having listened to some of the speakers from the Opposition side I would point out, in a spirit of honesty rather than one of destructive criticism, that it was a Labor Government which introduced the waiting period for defence forces homes loans. Honourable members opposite cannot get away from that. Those of us who were then in Opposition disagreed with that policy. Nevertheless, it was introduced. Now unfortunately, because of budgetary restrictions, the Government has found it necessary to continue the policy that Labor introduced when in office. The Minister has done an excellent job, in a most difficult economic climate, in having money made available in this vital and important area.
The reason for presenting this legislation was outlined aptly by the Minister in his second reading speech. It is appropriate to remind the House that some of the changes in the legislation were made at the request of the Expenditure Committee, which drew the attention of the Minister and the Parliament to what it believed were a couple of anomalies. The first had regard to the title of the Bill. That is not usually of great importance but, in matters of statutory interpretation, where there is a doubt regarding a clause or section clarification concerning meaning is sought by reference to the title. As the Minister has indicated, the title will now be more appropriate, and will more aptly point out the people who are entitled to a defence service homes loan. They will include not only people who have served in the forces but also such people as the Salvation Army, merchant seamen, canteen officers, the staff of naval ships and people engaged in certain civil aviation activities for the Royal Australian Air Force.
Having mentioned those people, I think that in a free ranging debate like this the Minister deserves congratulations for including this wide range of people in those who are eligible for a loan. Far too many people take for granted the efforts of people such as those in the Salvation Army. I refer to those silent angels who are always present in time of need and who were up at the front in the various wartime activities. Consequently, in order to satisfy the requests of the Expenditure Committee and to make the legislation more meaningful and appropriate the title of the Bill has been amended to indicate the class of people who are entitled to the loan.
– The Labor Government did that; it wasn’t the Minister.
-I take on board the point that the honourable member makes. He has had a pretty fair hearing. The point I make is that the
Minister, acting on a suggestion from the Expenditure Committee, deemed it appropriate to spell out in the long title of the Bill the aims, objectives and aspirations of the Bill. It is true that the provisions were included by Labor, but it did not specify in the long title of the Bill the people to whom the legislation referred. There is a difference and I regret that the honourable gentleman who was a good Minister in the Labor Government -
– Yes, he was a good Minister. I regret that he cannot appreciate the significance of or the difference in what the Minister has done. The other point to which the Expenditure Committee drew the attention of the House was the need to change the rules relating to insurance. Under the present system, it was mandatory for a person who had obtained a loan to insure that loan with the Defence Service Homes Corporation.
– So he ought to. At least he wouldn ‘t be ripped off.
– It is a matter whether one subscribes to the free enterprise system or the ideals of socialism. We on this side of the House are firmly committed to the free enterprise system. It appears to us that free enterprise offers all the advantages and scope and also its rates are very competitive. We are disinclined to accept the proposition of mandatory controls and the denial of the right of the individual to do as he sees fit. One faces some difficulty when one comes into a debate such as this in this House. We debated only last week and I understand will debate later this evening the Human Rights Commission Bill and the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill. Tonight Opposition speaker after Opposition speaker will get up to repeat ad nauseam the fact that people are entitled to basic rights and the freedom of choice. Yet when we include that type of provision in our legislation they say that it is not right. I have some difficulty in understanding the plurality of thinking and the mix up in logical assertions of these people who on one day say something and on the same day or the next day argue the direct opposite.
We on this side of the House like to give people the freedom of choice. We subscribe to basic civil liberties. We just do not mouth meaningless words and platitudes. We like to promise certain things and we always fulfil our promises. The individual has the freedom to choose. He, therefore, can go out into the market place and can do one of two things: He can accept an insurance policy whose rates he believes are the most appropriate or he can accept a substantially lower rate. The policy may offer certain advantages and it may exclude certain things that he wants included in his own particular policy. I would hope that the Minister may, in his deliberations in the future, be able to give some consideration to allowing the Defence Service Homes Corporation to insure the contents of buildings. At the present time, the Corporation can insure the building but is not allowed to insure the contents.
It seems to me to be an eminently feasible proposition to advance a scheme involving a total insurance package. If a person wants to insure, with one company, all his buildings and their contents he should be allowed to do this. I hope that the Minister, as time goes on, will be able to give people the choice of insuring their contents also with the Corporation. That would be highly desirable. Mixups are avoided. It would allow people to have the advantage of doing less bookwork and knowing where things stand. A person is always free to continue to insure with the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme even when he is out of debt. It is interesting to note that the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme has 200,000 clients. Total premium income last year was $8m and pay out claims totalled $3. 2m. Quite obviously, the scheme is a sound one, well administered by officers who know what insurance is all about and who are determined to give service. In this era, too many people are wont to criticise the Public Service, but praise for a job well done should be given. On the one hand, the person to whom the praise is given is helped and, on the other hand, a spirit of generosity is developed in the person who gives the praise.
I pay tribute to officers of the scheme in Queensland who, when a storm disaster recently hit Toowoomba, were up there the day after. They were most pleasant and only too pleased to assist in any way possible. The total payout for only a small disaster was in the order of $500,000. The public servants on that occasion do deserve the congratulations of all the people with whom they were associated. I thank them and would be most pleased if the Minister would convey to the officers of his Department in Brisbane the deep and grateful thanks of all those people in Toowoomba who were assisted in a most meaningful and significant way by his officers.
We talk about the $8m that was collected and the payout of $3.2m. This scheme is a selfcontained one. The various States have to pay a fire brigade levy. Unfortunately in my own State of Queensland that fire brigade levy is at a fairly high rate. Sound business practice is adopted in that certain sums of money are allocated to the re-insurance premium pool. In this modern day and age when disasters can strike overnight it is most necessary to have a buildup in the reserves so that if a payout is necessary adequate reserves are available to meet the payout.
I think it is appropriate to remind the House that, in the year 1974-75, the highest claims expenditure in any one financial year occurred. The sum was $3. 5m. The payout included $ 1 .6m arising from damage caused by Cyclone Wanda in 1973-74 and $500,000 for Cyclone Tracey in December 1974. The comparison of rates charged by the Defence Service Homes Corporation with other insurance charges would indicate that they are quite economical and attractive. In Queensland, for all dwellings, the cost of a premium for a cover of $30,000 was $59.95. The cost on brick and brick-veneer buildings on a typical insurance company premium for the city of Brisbane is $95 for $30,000. In north Queensland where cyclones and heavy thunderstorms are more prevalent the cost for a cover of $30,000 increases to $120. 1 give those figures to indicate that this scheme is most worthwhile and responsible. Judging by the payout and services given in the instances that I quoted the Corporation has been able to stand up to tough competition and to deliver the goods.
The Minister has updated certain parts of the scheme. One must congratulate him on making the scheme more easily administered. To change legislation takes a long, long time. The Minister, by laying papers on the table in the Parliament, can make the Scheme easier to administer and make it easier for people to gain its advantages. All of us, of course, appreciate the standing of the people in the community who have shown an interest in this matter. Particularly, we understand the thrust of the objectives of the Returned Services League of Australia. That organisation has two top priorities, as I understand it. The first is to see the amount of the loan increased and the second is to have the waiting time for loans reduced. None of us disagrees with this. But, as the Minister explained in his second reading speech, and as other people have indicated in their speeches, economic conditions necessitate a waiting list and also that the amount not be increased from the present maximum of $ 15,000.
Of course this Bill will give meaningful relief to many people. Unfortunately, under the previous Labor Government, interest rates increased dramatically to the highest level on record. People are still feeling the effects of that.
The loan limit was increased from $12,000 to $15,000 by the Australian Labor Party when in Government. The amount of $12,000 attracts an interest rate of 3.75 per cent and the balance up to $ 1 5,000 attracts a rate of 7.25 per cent, which gives an overall average of 4.5 per cent. So we can be proud of what has been achieved. We can congratulate the Minister on updating the Scheme in line with the 1980s. It is appropriate to remind everyone that many of the extras such as flood damage which are not included in ordinary insurance policies are covered under this insurance scheme. That was very important at the time of the floods in Brisbane. When many private people who were insured with private insurance companies went to collect their insurance payments they found that they were not covered for flood damage. This is an automatic cover under this Scheme. So it is a good scheme and we can be very proud of it indeed.
The other point that is most deserving of comment is that the ratio between the amount that can be lent and the value of the property has been changed. All of us know of instances when the maximum loan could not be obtained because of the percentage ruling in operation at that time. This legislation will overcome such problems. I support the legislation and congratulate the Minister on a most worthwhile endeavour in an area which requires sensitivity and a great deal of thought. This legislation affects many people. It is good to see that now there are not as many applications outstanding as there were previously. There has been a mammoth injection of funds by the present Government in this area-in 1976-77, $22m and in 1977-78, $22m. This is another instance of this Government matching its promises with deeds.
– I want to say just a few words in closing the debate. Some things have been said that ought to be refuted. It was interesting to hear the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson). They were speaking on the Defence Service Homes Scheme but said very little about the important amendments that are contained in this Bill. It was also interesting to hear them talking, and screaming, about the right of choice that we are giving to our veterans in the matter of insuring their defence service homes. We reject out of hand the amendment moved by the Opposition because it does not make sense. The Opposition’s amendment states: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for:
This scheme does not need strengthening; it is a financially sound scheme. It has operated since the commencement of the Defence Service Homes Scheme back in 1919. At the time of the latest annual report for the year ended 30 June 1979, total assets exceeded $7.5m. As at 30 June 1979 just on 200,000 homes were insured under the Scheme. As the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) said-
– What is their value?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr MillarOrder! I ask the honourable member for Prospect to remain silent.
– It sounds a bit like Labor House at Breakfast Creek in Brisbane, Mr Deputy Speaker, with the feds trying to get in and the State members trying to keep them out. We can understand their little problem. Just on 200,000 homes were insured under the Scheme and of those, 23,000 belonged to people who were under no obligation to insure with the Defence Service Homes Corporation. They had repaid their loans but they continued the insurance by free choice. It is a good scheme. The prophesies of doom that we have heard from the other side seem to presuppose that there is something wrong with the Scheme and that there is going to be some great general exodus from the Scheme. What we are saying is that we are giving freedom of choice. We expect that the Scheme will be sustained. We believe that it is every person’s right to have a freedom of choice. This right seems to be a right that the Opposition seems to want to deny not only in this area but in every area because that is its philosophy and policy. It knows what is good for the people of the country and nobody ought to have a choice and nobody ought to be able to make up his own mind!
The Opposition’s criticism was very hollow. I concede that the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren), who was a Minister in the previous Labor Government, was a good Minister. He said that under Labor there was none of the waiting period problem- just a little bit of it. But it was the Labor Government which extended the Scheme- we are not criticising that- and then realised that it could not finance the Scheme as it thought it could and it introduced the waiting period of 1 1 months. That is fact. The Opposition said that the attitude of the Government towards veterans and repatriation was phoney. That allegation does not stand up with the facts.
In the whole area of repatriation, not just a narrow part of it, since this Government came to office it has made mammoth improvements in many areas of repatriation. Of course there has to be restraint. Of course there are things we would like to do that every government would like to do. But this Government has turned its attention very effectively to applying massive funds to the areas of greatest need and greatest distress. That has been accepted by veterans’ organisations throughout this country.
I believe that the amendment that has been moved by the Opposition has been moved with tongue in cheek. Opposition members spoke just for the sake of speaking. The Government rejects the amendment. I am pleased that we are able to give veterans this right of choice of insurance. I am pleased also that we have remedied some of the silly requirements which were in the legislation in the past, which honourable members opposite did not see fit to mention. We have now removed some of those things. We do not require satisfaction of all the stringent conditions that were there in the past; all we require is that the home be adequate security. That is an important amendment to the Bill too.
This Bill has been welcomed by veterans ‘ organisations. Other matters that were raised will be considered, and must be considered, in the Budget deliberations. Honourable members from both sides did speak about the report of the Expenditure Committee. The Government gave its response to the report at the end of last year. I do not need to amplify the Government’s response now. Its response in regard to the defence service homes insurance scheme is here. It is tangible; it is included in this amendment Bill. I commend it to the House and reject the amendment moved by the Opposition.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to make just a few pertinent observations on the question of insurance upon which the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) can perhaps comment. In his closing remarks the Minister used a cliche, if I might term his observations in that way, by referring to freedom of choice. It is a term which is used widely in the market place. I ought to warn all ex-servicemen who have defence service homes that their memories ought not fail them. At the time of the disastrous
Brisbane flood the only people in the whole of Brisbane who could obtain any redress at all were those who were covered by the War Service Homes Insurance Scheme. Nobody else in Queensland was covered.
I make the following observation to the Minister: Freedom of choice ought to be reciprocal. I understand the position of the insurance companies and the reasons they do not provide flood cover, but I ask: Is there any freedom of choice for a person who is insured with the Defence Service Homes Corporation for automatic coverage for flood if he opts out of the Scheme and exercises his right to take private insurance? I shall advance the answer. The answer is no. So that leaves the ex-serviceman with what choice? This is particularly relevant in Queensland because of the repetition of floods. There is the possibility of another disastrous flood occurring in the western districts of Adelaide. There are thousands of war service homes beneficiaries in that area. I suggest that they look at the matter very carefully. They will find that if they seek private insurance they will have no coverage for flood damage unless some agreement is reached between the private insurer and the people who own war service homes. I doubt that private industry will extend that cover.
I think the Minister ought to be honest in his advice. It is not a question of freedom of choice; there is no freedom of choice. The person who is covered under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme at the moment is covered totally inclusive of flood damage. If he seeks outside insurance he has no choice because there is no outside coverage for flood unless he wants to take out additional insurance for it in which case he will have to pay an additional heavy premium. I had to do that in Adelaide. A person insured with the Defence Service Homes Corporation receives that cover automatically. Am I right in assuming that if he stays within the Scheme he will continue to be covered for flood damage but if he opts out of the Scheme he will not be covered? Ths point I put to the Minister and which I reiterate is this: At the moment if the individual is given the freedom of choice and takes out private insurance he loses coverage for flood damage. I should like to know from the Minister whether my observations are correct or whether his are correct.
-The honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) should be congratulated for bringing the attention of the Committee to this very important matter. It is quite possible that there has been a serious omission on the part of the Government in its thinking about this amending Bill. The Opposition is drawing attention to provisions contained in clause 9 of the amending legislation affecting the insuring of dwellings and houses. The situation is that up to this time- probably for 50 years- with the endorsement of successive governments under the leadership of such people as Menzies, Holt, Gorton and, up to now, even Fraser, and certainly with the endorsement of Labor governments also, it has been regarded as sufficient for people with defence service homes, or war service homes as they used to be called, to insure with the Defence Service Homes Corporation. Now the proposal is to provide the option of insuring privately.
Of course, people could always take out supplementary insurance but what has been fundamental up to now can be described in these terms: The Scheme is an indemnity scheme with the amount of insurance being based on the market value of the improvements. There is no provision for replacement cost insurance. It is a tied scheme inasmuch as insurance under the Scheme is compulsory for all purchasers and borrowers. Generally the risks insured against under the Scheme are comparable with the risks covered by other insurers, with one important exception: Cover is provided against flood upon the payment of a special premium. There is a premium loading under the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to make this cover possible.
As the honourable member for Hawker has contended, during the 1974 Brisbane floods quite a bit of publicity was given to the fact that all those people who were fortunate enough to be covered under the War Service Homes Insurance Scheme, as I think it was then calledsubsequently it became the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme- in a very short space of time received a pay-out from the insurance company. In fact, some 900 claims were met almost instantaneously. The value of those claims was in the vicinity- I am talking from memory and in round figures- of $240,000. I have at my disposal at present correspondence and letters to editors which speculated as to how the Defence Service Homes Corporation could have acted so promptly in all the circumstances, having regard to its balances and the like. A Mr Stavaley seemed to be acting on behalf of the insurance corporations. At that time he was trying to expose the Defence Homes Scheme. It was a quite buoyant, solvent, sensible, rational and reasonable thing to do. As the honourable member for Hawker has said, the private companies with which people will now be able to insure in most cases, if not all cases, do not provide insurance cover for floods. My advice is to the effect that at one time the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme was deficient because it did not cover the cost of replacing glass due to accidental breakage. That deficiency was redressed. Then there were problems about electrical damage to equipment. I think that when fire or the like resulted that situation was redressed also.
I do not think the situation has changed from the time that I last looked seriously at these matters. The situation was to this effect: The Defence Service Homes Scheme covered people effectively for flood, for depredation by borers and white ants and for damage by sonic boom. In respect of those matters it was the only effective insurance provided in the country. I think the honourable member for Hawker has raised a very sensible point. Apparently we are now to give people the option of insuring with another company, with private enterprise. But we have established that private insurers have already admitted to this Government their nonpreparedness to cover people in respect of a number of natural phenomena. I see that the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) is in the chamber. His area is affected by land slips and by subsidence, as is mine. The insurance companies have indicated their disinterest in participating in effective insurance against land slips and subsidence, against floods and against a number of other things which could probably be termed acts of God. They cannot be insured against unless they are underwritten by the Commonwealth Government.
In the face of that this Government has declined steadfastly to do anything about covering people affected by natural disasters, including floods. From what I can see, under these provisions the Government is prepared to turn the people occupying defence service homes from the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme to an insurance arrangement administered by theprivate sector which is inept and ineffective and which could cause servicemen and exservicemen to be in a very parlous situation if they are affected not only by flood but also by the other matters I have mentioned. I believe this matter needs very careful consideration by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann). If he does not have his reply cut and dried, I do not think it is a matter of personal pride. We are not putting it to him on that basis because we know that he has the interests of ex-servicemen at heart, as do other honourable members opposite. I look particularly at the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham), who is very sincere in his enduring interest in these matters.
I say to the Minister that this matter might stand further consideration. He may like to adjourn the debate. But for heavens sake, let us not put at risk those ex-servicemen or even servicemen who can qualify under this Scheme. They will be enticed into other insurance schemes. As the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) said, they will be told that there are more attractive things, that they can insure the fixtures and furnishings in a house as a package deal, and so on. But if their homes are affected by sonic booms, by floods, by white ants or by borers they will find that they are left holding the baby. I believe that the Minister ought to make certain that he acts in a way which will ensure that no person who has a defence service home can be put at risk in any way by a weakening of the Scheme which has operated for more than 50 years.
– Opposition speakers in this debate seem to have forgotten one very important thing- that freedom of choice in this matter was recommended by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure on which the Opposition was represented. Now it seems rather interesting to hear members of the Opposition taking this line. Of course, the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme is there and will stay there. It will still offer the same sort of premiums and cover that it has offered to veterans. It is a good and competitive scheme. Opposition members seem to be speaking as though we are dismantling the Scheme or as though we are trying to turf the veterans out. That is not the position at all. We believe that they will make their own judgments on these things. We are not dismantling the Scheme. If they want to opt out, it will not be because they are forced out but because it is their choice. Of course, there are conditions on which they can go to other insurers. I made that clear in the second reading speech. I think it is worth while mentioning again that the speech stated: . . subject to the Corporation retaining the normal rights of a mortgagee. It will be necessary Tor the home to be insured adequately with an insurer authorised under the Insurance Act 1973 and for the insurer to enter into an agreement of a kind that would protect the Corporation’s interests notwithstanding any breach of policy conditions by the mortgagor.
I hope Opposition speakers read that.
That is important to this amendment and to what I am saying. The Defence Service Homes
Insurance Scheme will be available to veterans and I do not expect a mass exodus from it. We are bringing in something that the Expenditure Committee, on which the Opposition was represented, has asked for. We think it is sensible. The reasons for it were given by speakers from both sides of the chamber and are understood. I believe that what has been said by the Opposition is a tale of doom. It is a veiled allegation that somehow we are dismantling the Insurance Scheme. We are not.
– I put this question to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann): Do I take it that all the contingencies that are currently covered by the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme are to continue?
– I am very happy to get the concurrence of the Minister that there will be no change to that Scheme. My second question is whether the Expenditure Committee, in its examination, made an assessment of the difference between the cost of premiums for the contingency insurance coverage extended by the Defence Service Homes Corporation to its recipients and the cost of premiums if these people have to insure with private enterprise? I think there is an obligation on the Minister and on the Defence Service Homes Corporation, if it is the Government’s intention to extend freedom of choice to mortgagees, to advise them that the difference between the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme and private schemes is that under the private schemes there will be many areas in which they will have no coverage for contingencies, and that if they want that coverage they should get at least the advice of a broker as to whether it is cheaper to stay in the Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme or to go to private companies. If that advice is given to recipients, there is no doubt at all that the 23,000 mortgagees and the 200,000 mortgagees to whom reference has been made will stay within the Scheme. What I get annoyed about is the question of choice. When a person insures his home he insures it for the maximum contingency; he wants the maximum coverage. He will not get it if he opts out of this Scheme and goes to the private sector. That is not an option or a choice; he is denied it.
-I would like to bring the acid point very sharply back to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann). We do not need any diffusion about it at all. If he is saying that the Defence Service
Homes Insurance Scheme is such that every person with a defence service home will be required to take out adequate insurance, in the circumstances which have been outlined he must also be saying that his amending legislation is innocuous and inoperative. He is proposing that it should now be possible for people to take out insurance with private companies; yet at the same time he is saying that the Scheme will make certain that everybody is effectively insured.
– Don’t you want the human rights debate to come on, Les?
-I will not take the honourable member’s disinterest in exservicemen’s matters as any disincentive for me to raise this point on behalf of concerned people. I ask the Minister this simple question: If private insurers will not insure against flood, will he make certain that no defence service home owner will be permitted to take that private insurance in lieu of insurance under the scheme currently conducted by and on behalf of the Government, which does provide effective coverage against flood? If he is saying that a mortgagee has to be covered for flood, does this mean that nobody can be insured by a private company?
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann)- by leaveread a third time.
Consideration resumed from 2 1 February, on motion by Mr Howard;
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Adermann) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 February, on motion by Mr Viner:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr Lionel Bowen had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to provide for:
1 ) specific adoption in judicially enforceable form of the rights specified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights along the lines of the Human Rights Bill 1973;
application to the laws and practices of the States, and
expanded powers and functions for the Human Rights Commission, including effective means of enforcing its recommendations’.
Before the debate on this Bill is resumed, I remind the House that it has been agreed that a general debate be allowed covering this Bill and the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 1 979.
-Over the last couple of weeks we have been talking a lot in this House about human rights and more particularly the lack of concern for human rights in many parts of the world, not only far away in places like Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, but also the point has been raised particularly by members on this side, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) and others, about the lack of concern or respect for human rights in countries much closer to our borders. Although it is right that we should make these observations, there are some who feel- I am one of them- that we also need to take into account the situation in our own country. We like to think that we are a fair and open democratic society, but in fact, even enshrined in our laws there is discrimination against some people. It has been mentioned by others that for many years Aborigines have been badly treated in many parts of the country. Until not so very long ago they were not even counted in the census. They were non-people.
I do not want to go over that again, but I would like to deal with another aspect of discrimination which affects another group of people, the immigrants- people who have come to this country. Yet despite the fact that they feel they have become part of the society- they live here, work here, have children here, pay taxes, et cetera- they are deprived of some rights by virtue of the fact that they are immigrants. People come to Australia from the Bahamas,
Bangladesh, Canada, Cyprus, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mauritius, Malta, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Uganda- in fact, from 32 countries around the world. They are not all Anglo-Saxon, as one can judge from the names that I have read out. Those people come into this country as immigrants by virtue of the fact that they are British subjects because they have either come from the United Kingdom or they were born in countries that were once part of the British Empire. After six months they are entitled to vote together with every other Australian in this country, in elections. The people who do not come from those countries but who come with the same concern, to join in and build in this country, taking part in its life and activities, are not able to vote unless and until they become citizens; and they cannot do that until they have been here for three years.
Let me put the situation graphically. Greek persons who come from Cyprus, after six months in Australia, can vote. They can get a job permanently in the Public Service. They can be employed as public servants. A brother of a person, a Greek coming to Australia from Greece, is unable to do so until he has lived here for three years and has become an Australian citizen. That is discrimination. I see no difference between the Greek from Cyprus and the Greek from Greece. It should, to us, be irrelevant that Cyprus was once a colony of the United Kingdom.
If one looks at not just the voting rights but some of the other Acts that relate to newcomers to this country, for example the Australian Citizenship Act, one finds things like this: The Minister has absolute discretion as to whether an application for naturalisation is approved. One person can decide to grant or not to grant citizenship to someone who has been here, who has worked, paid his or her taxes and so on. Moreover, the Minister may refuse any application without giving reason. Finally, there is no right of appeal against the Minister’s decision. Surely that is a dramatic example of deprivation of people’s rights. Simply because one was not born in the United Kingdom or what was once a colony, in a way one has almost no rights, lt is entirely left to the discretion of the Minister as to whether a person shall become a citizen.
The Public Service Act states that a person is not eligible for appointment to the Public Service unless he is a British subject. Why should that be so? Of course, it is interesting to note that whilst we decline to give non-British immigrants the right to vote or the right to be elected to be a member of the Parliament, after one year, a mere year, we force them to be covered by the National Service Act; in other words, they can be conscripted. They can be sent off to fight and perhaps to die. For many years we were able to conscript and send young people of 18 to fight and die, but we did not allow them a say in whether they should or should not do so. We did not allow them a say in how the country should be governed. I think that is wrong. It is a denial of human rights to that very significant section of the Australian community. How about this one for a quite ridiculous and arbitrary discrimination! The Marriage Act states: . . a marriage shall not be solemnised . . . unless notice in writing … has been received by the marriage officer -
Here is the discrimination:
In other words, notice has to be given seven days before the marriage if a person is British: in any other case- no later than the fourteenth day . . .
For goodness sake, why that difference? It just seems incredible, but there it is- discrimination enshrined in our legislation. One could go on through a whole ream of Federal and State Acts which show stark cases of discrimination against people, a denial of human rights.
What is it that the two Bills we are discussing seek to do? The human rights that are encompassed in these Bills in essence are those recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For a start, why do we not include in the Bill ratification of that Covenant, as was the case with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination? When the Labor Party in power passed its Racial Discrimination Act in 1975, it included as part of that Act the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Why cannot the same be done in this Bill so that, when it is passed and becomes an Act, we will automatically have ratified the Covenant? Incidentally, as a point of interest to those who find this intriguing, Australia became a signatory to that Covenant only when Labor came to office at the end of 1972, seven years after the Covenant had been adopted by the United Nations. I ask: How many more years are we to have to wait? Will it be until the next Labor Government? With a bit of luck, that will be later this year. But if the Liberals persist in power, sadly, who knows how long it will be? Judging from the comments from the Government side both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, it is quite clear that this legislation is totally ineffectual in achieving its stated objectives.
Before I deal with the deficiencies of the legislation, I point out that many people have suggested that because of those deficiencies and because we cannot come up with a perfect form of words, perhaps there is no point in doing anything about it and we should rely on people’s good sense and gradually increasing enlightenment in the community. That sounds lovely, but it is a case for maintaining the power of those who have power. Discrimination usually- in fact invariably- acts against people who do not have power. Those who can afford to say: ‘Let us leave it to time. It will gradually improve ‘, are usually those who have the power now, and of course want to hang on to it. Discrimination only increases their power and their rights as against those of the weak and deprived, those who are discriminated against who do not have power. In discussing the need for legislation, Senator Missen said:
I believe that what is fundamental is that it is no good relying on common law to defend and promote civil rights, human rights, in this country- one might say in any country. Nor do the people in Great Britain, the originators of the common law, these days consider that the common law is adequate. Undoubtedly, for hundreds of years- more particularly, in the past 100 years-legislation has been needed to ensure the protection of human rights in the democratic countries. Action through the courts, through common law, has proved, time and time again, to be inadequate.
I agree, but what does the Government intend to do?
Let us look at what will happen in respect of racial discrimination. Last year, at the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, the Australian Government submitted a report on the state of play in this country. It made the point that Australia is vigorously combatting racial discrimination and enunciated a number of principles. Let me quote some of them:
Marvellous! The Labor Government did that. The report continued:
We did that also. We established the Commissioner for Community Relations, Al Grassby, and he has been trying actively to do just that. Another point raised in the Liberal Government’s report stated:
That is where we are up to. That is what we ought to be doing but, quite contrary to that, this
Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill will destroy even the limited functions of the Commissioner for Community Relations.
To illustrate what I mean, I will mention some of the points raised by Senator Missen. He and a lot of other people, including the Australian Council of Churches, Amnesty International, and other groups in the community have pointed out that as a result of this legislation the Commissioner for Community Relations in essence will finish up as a mere messenger boy. He will not even have any staff. He has a difficult enough time now trying to get information, trying to get out into the community and pursue complaints that are made. But now he is going to lose all his staff, which will go into the Human Rights Commission. He will then be given some support, if he is lucky.
As to his functions in the area of trying to help people understand- the sorts of things many people on the Government side protest that we cannot legislate for- we have to depend on an awakening in the community, an increasing awareness of the need, a conscience-raising exercise, if you like. That is one of the things that the Commissioner for Community Relations is empowered to do now, but this legislation will take that right away from him. He will not be able to promote the understanding and acceptance of and compliance with the Act. He will not be able to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship amongst racial and ethnic groups. That is going to be the job of the Commission, not of the Commissioner for Community Relations. One could go on with the complaints which, in essence, emasculate the Commissioner for Community Relations.
Let me revert now to the Human Rights Commission. When we look at some of the specific clauses of the Bill, we find that the Commission will be able to report on action which should be taken by the Australian Government to comply with provisions of the covenant or any other relevant international instrument- a worthy objective, I should have thought- only when requested by the Minister. So, we are setting up a Commission, presumably to look after this sort of thing, but it is allowed to act in the field of international relations and the degree to which we conform with our international obligations only if asked by the Minister. This legislation does not allow the Commission to investigate breaches of human rights under State legislation. That is an absolutely nonsense condition because the reality is that most people live, work and function in the States. They are covered by State laws, not by Federal laws, in relation to the sorts of things hat may give rise to complaints about breaches taking place within the law, or even outside the law. They will be in areas where it is State legislation that is relevant, not Commonwealth legislation. The estimate given by Senator Missen and confirmed by others is that perhaps 95 per cent of breaches will take place under State laws, yet they are all excluded by virtue of the way this legislation is drafted.
The legislation also suggests that the Commissioner does not have to hold an inquiry into a complaint if the person complaining cannot demonstrate sufficient interest. The sad thing about this is that in many cases people who are suffering are often not in a position necessarily to be fully aware of their rights. If anything is going to be done, it is going to depend on someone else- a church group, a public interest group, or some individual who is not personally and directly involved but feels concern and wishes to make a complaint. However, by virtue of not being able to establish that he has what I understand is called locus standi, he will not be able to press the case. In dealing with human relations, that seems a ridiculous clause to put into the legislation. One could go on. Perhaps the most constructive thing to quote would be the reference to the Commission being empowered to delegate its powers to State authorities. This would enable, for example, the Commissioner for Community Relations to be bypassed. Imagine that situation in the case of, say, Aborigines in Queensland. To make my point, let me quote the words of an Aboriginal, a member of the Liberal Party and a Liberal senator, Senator Bonner. He says this:
Let me give a classic example. The help of the Commissioner for Community Relations was sought some time ago by members of an Aboriginal group in north Queensland who wanted to purchase a large cattle property . . . The Premier of Queensland and his Ministers were able to prevent that from happening purely and simply on the ground that the people involved were Aborigines. When the Commissioner tried to intervene . . . neither the Ministers nor the Premier would entertain the idea of even talking with the Commissioner … in the first place to arbitrate, conciliate or bring the parties together.
So the whole thing is a lot of nonsense. There are other points that I could raise but I will not deal with them at this stage because I think that others have made those points over and over again. This legislation provides no power for anyone really to do anything. It is basically just window dressing. I again quote Senator Bonner because I think that he makes the point in a very telling way. He said:
I feel that the Government, if it is not prepared to accept its responsibilities and to carry out in full the provisions of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is just whistling in the dark.
He went on:
If this Government is to establish the necessary machinery to enforce the human rights of people in our nation, it must be, I believe, forthright and incorporate the very spirit of the International Covenant, and not merely enact some milk-sop legislation as we see now which pays only lip service to the principles.
That really is what is happening. In fact, to me, this whole debate is almost a cynical exercise, and I am not now reflecting on the individuals who have taken part in it. I think that members on both sides of the House have indicated the inadequacies of the legislation. But the point is that those observations will not get anywhere. I think this is a very good example of the ineffectual nature of this Parliament and a good argument for reform of the parliamentary procedures because what has happened is that the Government has introduced this legislation readydrafted. If you like, it has staked its reputation on that legislation so it is now unable to back down. I think this is a very good example of an issue which is basically non-party political. It is an example of how the Government should have indicated its intention to legislate and introduced that legislation to the House, not in the form of drafted legislation but in the form of a proposal which should then have been referred to a committee. We could still do that. We could still refer it to a committee of the Parliament where both sides are represented and where these sorts of issues that have been raised in the debate could be examined before the Government committed itself to definitive legislation. Then the Government could take into account the comments and draft the legislation accordingly and not lose face. But sadly, of course, we all know that this debate is really an absolute waste of time. A number of members on the Liberal Party side know that the legislation is inadequate. They obviously agree with all that the Opposition has been saying and agree with the spirit of our amendment but feel that because they are unable to oppose their Government, because that would signify loss of face and involve political ridicule, they cannot honestly vote the way they feel they should.
-(Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– In taking part in this debate I want to tell the House of an experience I had not so very long ago. When I say ‘not so very long ago’, I mean only a few minutes ago when somebody from the organisation known as the Right to Life phoned me to press upon me her point of view as to why we should support the amendment.
– Which amendment?
Mr CLYDE CAMERON That is the point. Which amendment? I was not sure what the socalled Simon amendment meant so I thought I would ask this woman whether she was in favour of that amendment because, if she were, I would be against that too. She told me that she thought that they were both very good amendments. If that is true, it is a case of Tweedledee and Tweedledum and I will certainly oppose both of the amendments. But in the course of my conversation with this lady, I said to her: ‘It strikes me that your only concern is to bring millions of babies into the world without doing anything at all to see that they get the right to work, the right to eat, the right to live a decent existence and the right to be educated’. She said: ‘Well, we can’t do everything at once. Our main aim is to get the babies in here first and look at the economic circumstances that follow afterwards ‘. To me, that is a ridiculous situation and one which I cannot tolerate.
As I said in a previous debate, I have the greatest sympathy for those people who honestly believe that the life of a human being begins at the very point of conception. If they believe that, they have every right - moreover, an obligation- to press that point as hard as they can. But I said to this lady: ‘Look, I believe that life probably begins before the point of conception because here you have this dear little male sperm wriggling its way up through the uterus longing for nourishment and the ovum is the only thing that will nourish that little sperm and turn it into a human being. But you allow your uterus to be blocked with some contraceptive device or you look up the calendar and decide that you will have intercourse only at times when you know you are sterile and that this little sperm will be denied the opportunity of getting the nourishment needed to make it a human being’. It is as simple as that. People who believe, as these people pretend they believe, in the right to life, have no right to engage in contraception of any kind, not even the rhythm method, if they are fair dinkum. But this lady does not seem to see much wrong, even with that. She said ‘Our principal aim is to get the children born’ and then trust to luck, in effect, is what she was saying, as to whether they get enough to eat after they are born; whether they get the right to work after they are born. When I told her that in my view they ought to be fighting the evil effects of the multinational corporations, she said: ‘What are they?’ She had never heard of a multinational corporation. I explained to her that multinational corporations were the things that were misusing technology -
– Gang rape.
-The honourable member for Melbourne says: ‘Gang rape’. I do not know what he means by that. But this lady did not seem to understand that the multinational corporations were making it utterly impossible for people, once born, to have the right to work or to live a decent existence. She said: Economics have nothing to do with it. We are not concerned about economics or a person’s economic rights’. If she had not hung up on me I would have explained to her that in China today the Government is realising that there is a limit to the world’s resources, that we cannot go on having 17.5 million births a year without ultimately using up the whole of the earth’s resources.
– A thousand million at the moment.
-There are 1,000 million of them now and in 1949 there were only 520 million. We have to be sensible about this. In China today, the Government has been forced, by economic circumstances to limit the size of families to one child per family. The day is fast approaching when the whole world’s population has to be reduced because we cannot go on exploiting and misusing -
– Why don ‘t you knock a few off? Is that what you are suggesting?
– I do not agree with the honourable member’s methods. I think it would be entirely wrong to knock a few off. That is the Malthusian theory that so many people on the honourable member’s side of the House seem to believe to be correct: Have the babies as fast as you like and then we will have a war every generation to kill off the excess population because that in fact is the will of the Creator- that we have wars for no other reason than to kill off the surplus population. We reject that theory because just as we say that life is sacred at every point, we also say that it is even more sacred after it is born. In case what I have said so far has not made the position clear I would like it known that I am totally opposed to a Parliament of men sitting here looking sanctimonious about the whole business, telling women that they have to become incubators; that men are entitled to spend their passion over the body of a woman and then say: ‘It is up to you to look after yourself. You ought to have my baby and I am going to nick off and leave you to it’. They see nothing wrong with this. This woman said: ‘We are doing wonderful things looking after children when they are born. We have homes for unmarried mothers. We have all sorts of places where young babies can be looked after in creches -
-And orphanages. We have all those things. We are doing a marvellous job but do not ask us to worry about the economic responsibility of the Government or the people yet. We cannot do it all at once’. In case the position might not be understood by these good people who were talking to me all I have to say is that they have not changed me one little bit. In fact, the more they try to intimidate me, which is what they do, and the more they threaten to publicise my views, all I will say, as I said to this lady, is: ‘If you will publicise my views I am prepared to make a contribution towards the cost as I want my views published ‘. I am satisfied that there are more women in favour of my attitude to life than there are women against it. I am after the votes of the women in my electorate. I want the votes of the women. If we men sitting here, looking sanctimonious about the whole business, kid ourselves that there are any votes from the women in this we have another thing coming. This is not the position. There are no votes from the women or the men. I hope that both amendments are defeated and that is where I shall be registering my vote.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, with your indulgence, the arrangements with the Opposition were for the speakers on either side to conclude with the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). Since the honourable member for Maribyrnong spoke the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) has spoken and yet another honourable member of the Opposition seeks to speak. If I might be allowed -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, with due respect I got the call to follow the previous speaker.
-(Hon. Ian Robinson)- Order! The Minister has sought indulgence, which I have granted. He has almost concluded and I would like to hear his last few words.
– This was the arrangement with the Opposition for the speakers list. The House knows that a number of amendments have been circulated by the Opposition and by private members. In respect of the proposed amendments by private members there will be a free vote for honourable members. It is the desire of the Government to conclude the second reading debate now so that we may get on to the amendments this evening. I would ask the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) to consider the position of the Opposition in the light of the arrangements that have been made. If he proceeds I will be obliged to have the question put.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner) has put his point of view that arrangements have been made. My party Whip has been given a speakers list and my name appears on that list. There has been no indication to me that there would be a gag or that there were any arrangements. I intend to proceed to speak. I know that there is another honourable member who wishes to speak. If the Government wants to gag us that is its prerogative. The Government has gagged us many times in this debate.
– In this debate? No, not in this debate.
– Not only in this debate but in many others. At first I was reluctant to enter this debate on human rights.
Motion (by Mr Viner) put:
That the question be now put.
A division having been called for and the bells being rung-
– Why do you tell lies? Why do you tell direct lies about making arrangements when no arrangements were made?
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask for the statements made by the honourable member for Reid to be withdrawn. He knows that they are unparliamentary.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Hon. Ian Robinson)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Mr VINER (Stirling-Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs)- Mr Deputy Speaker, just before the division I asked you to direct the honourable member for Reid (Mr Uren) to withdraw. You did so, but regrettably the honourable member did not withdraw.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Lionel Bowen’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Hon. Ian Robinson)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 3 (Interpretation).
– With your indulgence, and for the benefit of honourable members, might I just explain what the procedure will be in the handling of proposed amendments to clause 3.
– Order! The Committee will remain silent.
– The Opposition has an amendment to clause 3 which it is proposed will be put and debated. After that amendment has been dealt with, notices have been given of two amendments to be moved, one by the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) and the other by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon). As I understand it, the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Swan having been debated will be first put. I should inform also the House that the Government considers, because of the subject matter of the amendment to be moved by the honourable member for Swan, that there should be a free or conscience vote on that amendment. Likewise, if we reach that point a free or conscience vote should occur on the amendment by the honourable member for McMillan. I think that should explain to honourable members what the pattern of the debate will be on clause 3.
– I rise to ask a question. Does the Minister intend the House to have the freedom in the time permitted to debate this free or conscience vote? I ask that question in the light of the fact that the gag was just moved. Does the Minister intend to allow free flowing debate until the debate runs out, or is he going to gag after a certain amount of time. If so, what amount of time will it be?
– The intention, because it will be a free vote, is to give the freest possible debate on the amendment to be moved by the honourable member for Swan. It will be a matter of judgment how long that debate is allowed to go. I can assure the honourable member that it will be as free a debate as the circumstances and proceedings of the House will pe rmit.
– I rise on a point of order. The Leader of the House put certain propositions to you. My point of order is that the running of the chamber at the Committee stage is not a matter for the Leader of the House, irrespective of how worthy he may or may not be. Any ruling which has to be made how these matters are going to be determined and which amendment is put first is your prerogative. I take exception, if I may, to the Leader of the House attempting to stand over you as Chairman of Committees to tell you what you should do.
-Order! I think the honourable member for Banks has made his point. The procedures of the Committee will be strictly adhered to and the Leader of the House was given the indulgence of the Chair to explain the position from his point of view. It does not, in any respect, commit the Chair to do other than to uphold the Standing Orders which apply to the procedures of the Committee.
– I rise on a further point of order. Will you inform the House of the order in which it is your intention to put the amendments to be moved by the honourable member for Swan or the honourable member for McMillan?
– In response to the honourable member for Banks, if it facilitates the thinking of honourable members on this matter the Chair is prepared to disclose at this point that it feels itself bound to call the honourable member for Swan as the member who first circulated the amendment.
– I take a point of order. I seek clarification on the ruling which you have just given. As I understand the position, if the amendment of the honourable member for Swan were put and passed, it would mean that the amendment which is to be moved in my name could not then be put. On the other hand, if the amendment which I have circulated were put and carried it would not then debar the honourable member for Swan from putting his amendment. In those circumstances, I put to you that equity would be satisfied if my amendment were put first because the honourable member for Swan would not then be debarred from subsequently putting his amendment. The converse argument is that if the honourable member for Swan put his amendment and it was passed I would be debarred from putting the amendment circulated in my name.
– The Chair is alert to the significance of what the honourable member for McMillan has to say, but this is a matter for arrangement or resolution within the Committee itself and it does not come within the province of the Chair to determine the course of business which might be arranged from other sources.
– I rise on a point of order. I refer to the practice on other occasions. The Chairman of Committees might recall that on the occasion of the debate on the Lusher motion we found a device which essentially encompassed the procedure which the honourable member for McMillan has just intimated might be preferable. I put to you, Sir, that if you put the broader motion being submitted by the honourable member for McMillan, its passage would not then preclude the subsequent consideration of the motion by the honourable member for Swan. The reverse, I suggest, would not be so, if the motion by the honourable member for Swan were to be presented first. I would suggest that there might be a sufficient body of opinion to that effect within the chamber to allow that procedure to take place.
– The Chair agrees with the right honourable member’s assessment of the situation but would not presume, on its own initiative, to suggest that course of action unless it became abundantly clear that it was the unanimous wish of the House to adopt that course of action.
– I propose:
That the motion moved by the honourable member for McMillan be considered by this House first and that subsequently the House deliberate on the motion to be moved by the honourable member for Swan.
– The honourable member would require leave to attend to that matter. At this stage of the proceedings the question is that clause 3 be agreed to. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has the call to put an amendment. We might attend to the suggestions at a later stage of the proceedings.
The clause which the Opposition is suggesting be omitted gives away the whole of the Government’s case because this Bill merely says that all human rights as far as this Government is concerned will be those that relate to the law of the Territory and the only territory we have other than the Northern Territory is the Australian Capital Territory. Despite the obligation under article 50 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that where there is a federation these matters should be enforceable in all States, we have a Bill with provisions which are not enforceable. Even though not enforceable, the provisions are the subject of inquiry or examination only in respect of laws that apply in the Australian Capital Territory.
Despite all the suggestions of a big debate later this evening, what we are basically talking about is an examination of the laws in the Australian Capital Territory. This Bill relates to an international covenant. Australia is on the International Commission of Human Rights. We have an obligation to guarantee that rights of people will be the same throughout Australia in accordance with the International Covenant. Therefore, the Covenant must apply to all of the States as well as the Territories. That is why the Opposition has moved its amendment. The amendment seeks to delete paragraph (b) of clause 3 and to substitute the following words:
by or on behalf of a State or Territory or an authority of a State or Territory; or
This amendment seeks to apply to the States the International Covenant which relates to human rights. Human rights are the rights of everybody in Australia. Rights are very important, as we outlined in the debate on the second reading. If this legislation is to be meaningful legislation we have to make it apply to the whole of Australia, not just to the Australian Capital Territory. Honourable members will notice that an amendment to be moved later seeks to make the legislation enforceable to make it meaningful. Because this Bill is so weak and so ineffective, the Opposition proposes to move amendment No. 10 to give a citizen a right of enforcement of his rights. The Opposition’s suggestion that this Bill should be withdrawn to provide for application to the States and a judicially enforceable remedy has been rejected. We have neither of those things. We are trying to improve the Bill by moving these amendments.
The Opposition’s first amendment seeks to make the International Covenant obligations applicable to the States. Why should we not do that? Under the laws of Queensland the rights of Aborigines are really being infringed. The Bjelke-Petersen Government in Queensland denies Aborigines their rights in accordance with the International Covenant, and this Government is doing nothing about it. In Western Australia the Court Government denies the right of assembly in accordance with the International Covenant and this Government is doing nothing about it.
What we have here is a cosmetic piece of legislation which purports to say that we are going to enforce the Covenant, whereas, in fact all we are going to do is suggest that there be a Human Rights Commission which will make a report or examination and submit that report or examination to the Minister who can throw it under the table. It will count for nothing. On that basis we say that there are plenty of rights being infringed in Australia at present. The words of the Covenant contrast with what has happened in Queensland and Western Australia in relation to the infringement of the right of assembly, the right to demonstrate and, certainly, the right to vote on an equal suffrage basis. All of those rights have been infringed. We have the power under the external affairs power so to legislate. Because Australia is a party to the Human Rights Commission we have an obligation to guarantee that the Covenant applies to all States within the federation. That is contained in Article 50 of the International Covenant. Yet this legislation falls down in the very first part of the BUI, the definition clause stating where this law will apply.
We want to guarantee that the Government has some semblance of respectability. To talk about how important amendments are going to be later in the evening when they do not apply to the States is utterly ridiculous. They have no importance at all if the laws are not to be applicable to the States because, as I said, that is where human rights are being infringed. We can be deprived of our voting rights, our liberty and natural justice because of State laws but this Bill does nothing about it. Because of the Premiers Conference of, I think 1 976 there was a sell-out to the Premiers, particularly of Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. They were assured that the Commonwealth Government would not intrude into this area affecting the States. BjelkePetersen said: ‘1 do not want any Federal people snooping around Queensland’. Those were the words he used.
Tragically for the people of Australia we have a government here with federal powers which is not prepared to use them. It says that because there are objections from the Premiers of the States I have mentioned it will not dare legislate in that field. It means that people will not be able to enforce their rights. As an Opposition, our task is again to move the amendments that were moved in the Senate. I might add that the debate in the Senate went on for a long while. The Bill was also the subject of a special Senate committee report. We were hopeful that some of those so-called small ‘1’ liberals in the Senate would at least agree to some of the propositions. I regret that even the Australian Democrats did not find time to vote on important issues.
We have a ridiculous situation. If the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) were challenged in the United Nations as to the sort of legislation that Australia has produced on human rights and he produced this document he would be laughed out of the General Assembly. The Assembly would say that it is contrary to the obligations which we have under the Covenant. The Government has the power to legislate. It brought in a Bill which is going to apply only to one Territory- not to any of the States- and which will not be enforceable. There has been a complete sell-out to the States on human rights. It is an abdication of power and a despicable one at that.
It is very important to set an example particularly in a nation in the region in which we live. We say to people of other nations: ‘You ought to have democratic human rights, and justice. You should not be incarcerated without a trial.’ In this region some 250 million people do not have these rights. Some have been under detention for 1 7 years without a trial and many of the people ruling are never going to be the subject of a ballot box test. Is it not important that we at least try to teach the lesson here? We will not be taken credibly, either nationally or internationally, unless we comply with the obligations of that International Covenant and make this legislation applicable to the States.
It is for those reasons that the Opposition moved the amendment during the debate on the second reading. It was tragically defeated by the Government using its numbers. It is a bit late now to talk about conscience votes when honourable members opposite already have the attitude that these laws will not apply to the States. There is still a chance to try to improve this Bill in this, the Committee stage. We therefore have moved that these laws should be enforceable. That will be the subject of an amendment to be moved later. This amendment seeks to apply the legislation to all of the States so that we can guarantee that something will be done about human rights.
– I wish to join the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) in supporting the amendment he has proposed. Sadly, I think that the excitement in the chamber at the moment is a sorry reflection on us all. We are here and we are interested because soon we will be debating an issue of conscience on the question, in essence, of abortion. Is there no conscience involved in depriving people of their rights when they are alive and well after they have been born? Is there no conscience involved in the way an Aborigine is mistreated in some States, or is he less than a foetus and therefore we do not need a vote of conscience? I put it that way because so many honourable members on the Government side have objected to this Bill because it is ineffectual; it will be useless. They have objected because it will not apply to the States. Where is the cry for a conscience vote? A deafening silence strikes us all. What is wrong with honourable members opposite? Many senators on both sides of the Senate have quoted the material prepared by Senator Missen and the material put into Hansard by Senator Bonner and others to support our case.
Honourable members on the Government side have indicated gravest concerns about the effect of this legislation. In fact, it is lack of effect about which they should be concerned. It will not relate to the States, for example. I will leave the rest for the moment. Where is the cry of honourable members opposite for a conscience vote? Their cynicism appals me. They become excited and demand a conscience vote on the question of a foetus. How about the case of the living where there is no argument about whether an individual is alive because he is out of the uterus? We will be a laughing stock over this legislation, and members opposite know it. It is ineffectual, it is meaningless, it pretends to comply with the Covenant on which it is supposed to have been based. The Government has put the argument, I am told, that we could not bind the States, but that argument was not accepted by the United Nations. After all, that body sees Australia as one country. It is not interested in our parochialism.
Do honourable members opposite reaDy suggest sincerely that by passing this legislation we will fool our neighbours when in fact this legislation will be meaningless? Are they not going to laugh in our faces when we then protest about their denial of human rights? Of course, we should denounce denials of human rights wherever they occur, but how hypocritical we are when this legislation does not give our Human Rights Commission the power to do anything about the human rights of, say, the Aborigines in Queensland or Western Australia. The Government, the Liberal Party, had a brawl with BjelkePetersen, the Premier of Queensland, over land rights not so long ago. It was not the Labor Party. Of course we were threatened when in government we wanted to do things, but the actual crisis arose with the present Government. It accepted assurances. It acted on the assurances and then the Queensland Government moved in and cut the ground from under it. It is doing nothing about the situation in this legislation. All I can say to honourable members opposite is: Shame on the lot of them.
-The amendment moved by the Opposition in this place was also moved in the other place. The Government, through the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), advised the Senate that it was not acceptable to the Government. Likewise, it is unacceptable as moved in this House. The reason is that the Government recognises the fact that the Australian political structure is a Federal political structure. The States have rights under the Constitution to pass laws in a variety of fields which affect or impinge upon human rights in one way or the other. The Government considers it appropriate within a Federal system that as a first step at least in this field of establishing a Human Rights Commission the legislation should apply only to Commonwealth laws and to the laws of Commonwealth territories.
However, at the same time we will continue to work in the closest co-operation with all of the States, as we have done in the preparation of this legislation. In that way we recognise the existence of the Australian Federation and work in the spirit of co-operative federalism which has been a hallmark of this Government. Through that co-operation we have instituted across common fields a great many initiatives which are already seeing their way into the statute book. One such initiative is this piece of legislation; another is the National Companies and Securities Commission legislation. The securities legislation has already been introduced into this House. Another product of co-operative federalism is our proposed off-shore legislation. A package of Bills concerned with that matter will be introduced and passed by this Parliament, we expect, during this session.
So this Human Rights Commission Bill is no different from that other legislation which I have mentioned. They are all the product of the spirit of co-operative federalism. Therefore we see it as inappropriate that the Opposition’s amendment, which seeks to extend the power of the Human Rights Commission to the States at this stage in its life, should be accepted. This is the stand that was taken in the Senate and it is the stand we take in this House. That is not to deny in any way the interest of this Government in human rights throughout Australia. We will continue where the occasion requires to press as hard as we can the case of those whom we judge to be having their human rights either infringed or inhibited.
– I wish to reply to the remarks of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs (Mr Viner). He said that the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) rejected a similar amendment in the Senate. That he did, but that makes none the less valid the proposition that we should consider it here. The point I want to make to members of the Parliament is that we cannot divide human rights. They are not divisible. We cannot say: ‘Well, that is a Federal matter as regards an individual’s rights ‘ or, ‘That is a State matter’. Let us consider how silly the situation will be. When Aborigines in Queensland want to exercise their rights, which they are entitled to do, they will not be able to do so because in Queensland State laws intrude over and above
Federal laws. But an Aborigine in the Australian Capital Territory can perhaps have something done about a matter. That is the situation we are getting into. We are getting into the situation in which we can perhaps talk about our rights, but they will not be much good because there will be no chance to enforce them, unless the person concerned lives in the Australian Capital Territory. If he lives in Queensland, where the Aborigines live, those rights cannot be enforced. Bjelke-Petersen is left to decide such a person’s fate. So if a person lives on a reserve in Queensland he can be removed and he can have all sorts of other privileges of liberty taken away from him.
I refer to the question of equal suffrage. Residents of Queensland will not have equal suffrage because of the maldistribution of electoral suffrage there. Those are just some examples of what could happen. I would like the Minister to tell me what Article 50 of the International Covenant means when it states:
The provisions of the present Covenant shall extend to all parts of federal States without any limitations or exceptions.
The Opposition rejects the explanation given by the Government.
– I wish to make a brief comment in response to the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen). The first thing I wish to say is that he is obviously not aware of the fact that a number of other Western parliaments have accepted the International Covenant and have ratified it, but with reservation. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition looks at clause 5 of the Bill, he will see that there is a clear and definite reservation with respect to Article 50 of the Covenant.
The second point that I make in opposition to the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that it flows from the presumption that government in Canberra has the power to legislate with respect to the States. That basically is the centralist view of the Labor Party. It is not the view of this Government. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition’s argument is correct, why does he not suggest that the Human Rights Commission have the power to investigate local government by-laws and regulations? If the Opposition is correct in relation to its amendment it surprises me that it stops short in respect of the third tier of government. The short point is that the philosophical difference between the Government and the Opposition on this issue is clear cut: If we believe in a Federal system of government we will give to the States the right to legislate on matters which are State responsibilities; if we believe, as honourable members on the other side of the House believe, in centralist government, then we will support the Opposition’s amendment.
That the paragraph proposed to be omitted (Mr Lionel Bowen’s amendment) stand pan of the clause.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Leave not granted.
– I seek leave to move two amendments together.
Leave not granted.
– I move:
First of all, I thank the Government for giving those of us interested in this matter a free vote. Secondly, I express thanks to the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon) for speaking to me about his amendments. I have to say that I am sorry, but I feel that mine are better. Therefore, I feel compelled to go on with them. The purpose of the first amendment is to define the human rights of every human life, not from birth but from conception; and, secondly, to include in this Human Rights Commission Bill specific protection for those human rights. The right to life of every innocent person is the central base on which is built the whole of our Western civilisation. If any innocent person, however insignificant that person may be, is done to death his death denies the absolute value of every human life. If we reduce the life of every person to merely relative importance and if we force lives to compete for position on someone’s personal scale of values, we deny all the rights that any of us expect to have. However good our values might be, the integrity and the rights of every human person are reduced to someone’s personal opinion. When that happens man is no longer free. He has become a pawn in a game in which only the powerful call the moves. This has happened in Australia. Here unfortunately the value of each human life from its conception is no longer absolute but is subject to the actions of those who can exercise their power against the weak.
In a discussion of this nature some basic facts are beyond dispute. The first and most fundamental is that human life begins at conception. As I have said previously, the conception of little Louise Brown in a test tube banishes once and for all any doubts that may have lingered about that fact. The second is that the life in the womb before birth is the same as that of the person who will be born. It is a part of life which we all went through and is the same life which all of us now enjoy at a different stage. That life is small, dependent and physically and mentally still developing, but perfectly designed for the stage of life it is leading. It is totally innocent of any crime. That little life in the womb is defenceless against the might and power of the outside world.
Last weekend there were marches of women against the revolting crime of rape. They described rape as not about sex but about men exercising power against women. They may be right, but many of those women would support the killing of unborn life, ignoring the unpleasant fact that in doing so they are supporting the gross exercise of the ultimate power of life or death against the most helpless of human beings, the unborn. Babies cannot march to defend their rights. The third fact is that the traditional protection given to unborn life in years when its wonder and growth were hardly understood has been so eroded in Australia that it is virtually non-existent. In fact, the more certain is our knowledge that life in the womb is human life the more determined we seem to deny it the protection of law and permit it to be killed. This is a devastating paradox, one we must come to grips with and one that this amendment is trying to put right. That is why I moved this amendment.
The fourth fact is that this Parliament and pervious parliaments, State and Federal, have allowed and even encouraged this erosion of the law’s protection of innocent life. We are even paying for it. In this amendment we have a chance to make a fresh start which will cost the Government and this Parliament nothing except the will to recognise the inalienable right of every innocent person to life from its beginning. This is a supremely proper ethical role, consonant with the dignity of the national Parliament and one it should not flinch from. Human rights legislation which does not specify this right is worse than meaningless. It is dangerous and unacceptable, for it grants human rights only to those whom it considers should have them and makes the right to life a matter of personal opinion. Should this amendment be carried, the activities of the Right to Life organisations and other interest groups might possibly be directed at the various State parliaments and governments, for it is at the State level that there are very bad interpretations of the laws that permit unborn babies to be denied their right to life.
Until now I think I have kept my remarks as clear of the motion as I possibly can because certain facts have been stated. These facts, I think, are quite clear. I have heard people around this place say that they have not had enough time to consider these amendments. I would suggest that everyone in this Parliament whom I know- I think I know everyone- has certainly got enough intelligence to be able to digest what my amendments mean. I think it was quite clear on Thursday night when I foreshadowed these amendments what they meant. I think it is clear to everybody in this chamber what they do mean. I ask those who have followed the lead that has been given before to do the same as they have done previously. I submit that my amendments are superior to anything that has been offered by the honourable member for McMillan. Indeed, if I did not I would be supporting him. I think his amendment is perhaps a useful fall-back position for those who do not want to climb the mountain, but that is all it is. I submit that my amendment is far superior to his.
– You just lost my vote.
– I did not expect the honourable member’s vote. I think I would be optimistic if I did. The important facts that have been stated are clear enough for everybody to understand. One of the great problems that we have in this country, I feel, is that we have inherited a legacy which was left us by Adolf Hitler. It is true that Hitler has gone. He lost the war, but he did not lose the battle. If members think that the master race theory died with Hitler, they should read the weekend newspapers. There was in one newspaper an article concerning sterilisation of the unfit, and in another an article on the breeding of master intellects. What place is there in this type of thinking for anyone who is handicapped or for the unborn? Even in the Women’s Weekly of 27 February a Dr Wright drew attention not only to the easy way of killing the unborn but also of killing the handicapped. He said that it is cheaper to do that sort of thing. I may be oversummarising what he had to say, but that is the sort of theory that is present in this community.
If the Human Rights Bill means anything it means protecting life from the time of conception. There may be argument about that. I do not want to go into fine detail, but my amendment is of finer detail than the amendment of the honourable member for McMillan or anybody else. Conception is the time when life commences. Honourable members know it does. The test tube baby proves it. I think we have no alternative but to protect life from conception. If we fail to do this the human rights legislation will be absolutely meaningless and every man in this chamber will have lost an opportunity to give life the protection that its very nature deserves. We all have an intrinsic right to life. That is plain in the Covenant. We have an intrinsic right to life, but it does not demonstrate or say anywhere what that life means. I want to protect the whole of life, not just the big people, but every human being. Honourable members know it and I know it. Life commences at conception. Life is in the womb and life must be protected. That is the purpose of my amendment.
– I will almost certainly vote against the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr). I will do so because I think it is totally confused with the purpose of the Human Rights Commission Bill that is now before the chamber. If we look at the second reading speech that was made to this chamber we will see that the United Nations adopted an International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1 966 and it came into force in 1976. To date 59 countries have become parties to that Covenant. They have accepted the Covenant as it stands without any attempt at changing the internal law of the country which is proceeding towards ratification. The legislation, and the Human Rights Commission established under it, will help Australia to discharge the obligations it will assume under the Covenant. Now we have this amendment that has been moved in a most peculiar way, because what it attempts to do is to amend an International Covenant so that it will affect the internal law of this country. It will change the law, probably dramatically, because no one can tell what the interpretation is likely to be. Against that background I could never contemplate that we should in any way approve of this step. We do not know what the consequences could be. It could be quite contrary to the law that exists in the States or in the Australian Capital Territory. No one would know what would happen. Therefore, I have to object to the amendment.
Much more importantly than that, there is a procedure that is normally followed when matters like this are presented to the House. The member concerned takes it to the party room or to the Prime Minister and states his objectives and the purpose he wants to achieve. That has not been done. The party room has been neglected. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has been neglected. The opinions of one man are now being brought before us. It is obvious that there is confusion. We can see another amendment about to be moved and then other amendments will be moved on top of that. For that reason I must state in positive terms that I will vote against this amendment.
– I am opposed to the amendment. I hope I can explain in clear terms why I am opposed to it and why I would seek the support of members in voting against the amendment of the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) to this clause. The clause seeks to redefine an international covenant, as the honourable member for Lowe (Sir William McMahon) has mentioned. I would raise the question of whether there is constitutional basis which would give this Parliament the right to amend an international covenant unilaterally which would have the effect of being law in this country. I think that the terms of the Constitution and the foreign affairs power which was granted under section 5 1 to this Parliament does not give us the right to pass an amendment of this type. Therefore, we should reject it on that ground alone. The second point I would make refers to the terms of the amendment which seek to redefine the preamble and a number of articles in the International Covenant by inserting the words ‘from conception’ which would have the effect of giving the Human Rights Commission a directive in the way it should interpret what is a human life.
– Order! It being 10.30 p.m. I shall report progress.
-I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following notice was given:
Erection of a bus shelter in Kings Avenue.
Erection of 3 lighting masts on the ramps leading to Kings Avenue Bridge.
The following papers were deemed to have been presented on 4 March 1980, pursuant to statute:
Crimes (Biological Weapons) Act- RegulationsStatutory Rules 1980, No. 32.
Defence Act-Determination- 1980- No. I -Submarine Service Allowance.
Defence Amendment Act- Interim DeterminationStatutory Rules 1980, No. 30.
Navigation Act- Report by the Minister of cases in which the power of the Governor-General has been exercised under section 422A during 1979.
Seat of Government (Administration) ActOrdinances 1 980-
No. 2- Flammable Liquids (Amendment).
No. 3- First Offenders (Women) (Repeal).
Student Assistance Act-Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980, No. 29.
Trade Practices Act- Regulations- Statutory Rules 1980, No. 31.
House adjourned at 10.31 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 6 November 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (l)Yes. (2a) The following properties have been entered in the Register of the National Estate:
New South Wales- The former Parramatta Post Office Building, Sydney.
South Australia- The Adelaide Powder Magazine; The former Gawler Post Office Building, Adelaide.
Western Australia- The Facade old Government Printing Office, Perth.
Tasmania- The Three Hummock Island Mutton Bird Reserve which includes the Radio Telephone station and airstrips; The Johnstone and Wilmot Building, Launceston; Advance Stores (former Ordnance Stores), Castray Esplanade, Battery Point; former Baptists Tabernacle Building, Launceston; and The Depot (remnants of old Penitentiary), Launceston. (2b) The following properties and areas have been proposed for entry in the Register
New South Wales- The Terrace buildings in Erskine Street, Sydney.
South Australia- Electra House, Adelaide; and North Adelaide Exchange.
Tasmania- Tasman Peninsula (Sorell and Tasman Municipalities)- Telecom establishments on the Peninsula are:
Nubeena Country Automatic Telephone Exchange
Koonya Radio Telephone Exchange
Taranna Telephone Technicians Station
Premaydena Country Automatic Exchange.
The following properties will continue in their present use and normal cyclical maintenance will be undertaken:
New South Wales- The former Post Office, Parramatta, now used as a business office.
South Australia- The former Gawler Post Office, now used as Post-Tel Institute Clubrooms; Electra House, Adelaide, used as a Telecom Museum and North Adelaide Exchange.
Western Australia- Old Government Printing Office, Perth, used for office accommodation.
Tasmania- Telecom installations on Three Hummock Island and the Tasman Peninsula; Castray Esplanade Stores will continue as a Museum Storage Depot and office accommodation; former Baptists Tabernacle as Post-Tel Institute rooms and Telecom Line Depot.
The following properties have been listed for disposal with the Department of Administrative Services. Telecom will undertake such maintenance work on them as is necessary to protect the public.
New South Wales- The Erskine Street properties acquired in 1 973 for the extension of the Kent Telephone Exchange.
South Australia- The Adelaide Powder Magazine acquired in 1 959 as a country installation depot.
Tasmania- The Johnstone and Wilmot Building, Hoban, is being considered for disposal but no formal action has yet been taken. Necessary maintenance work to protect the public will be undertaken.
The buildings in use at present by Telecom receive appropriate and adequate maintenance. Those buildings listed for disposal or being considered for disposal are being maintained pending disposal. It is considered, therefore, that no amendment to the Telecommunications Act is necessary.
Airbus Aircraft (Question No. 5107)
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 20 November 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (l)and(2)Yes.
No changes are foreseen to the navigation aids at Adelaide as it already has standard aids which are in use at all capitals. The airlines should ensure that any aircraft they may buy are fitted to use these standard aids.
Modifications will be required to ticketing and baggage claim areas at an approximate cost of around $250,000 per airline for these facilities.
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 1 November 1 979:
Will he update the information provided in answer to Question No. 3313 (Hansard, 3 April 1979, page 1464).
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Unit currently located at Adelaide, commissioned 17.11.78; unit currently located at Brisbane, commissioned 5.10.78; unit currently located at Canberra, commissioned 29.6.79; unit currently located at Coolangatta, commissioned 30.11.78; unit currently located at Darwin, commissioned 6.12.78; unit currently located at Hoban, commissioned 29.12.78; unit currently located at Launceston, commissioned 12.1.79: unit currently located at Melbourne, commissioned 22.11.78; unit currently located at Mr Isa, commissioned 14.12.78; unit currently located at Sydney, commissioned 21.1 1.78; unit currently located at Adelaide, commissioned 30.11.79; unit currently located at Alice Springs, commissioned 16.10.79; unit currently located at Avalon, not yet commissioned; unit currently located at Brisbane, commissioned 13.10.79; unit currently located at Brisbane, commissioned 12.1 1.79; unit currently located at Coolangatta, commissioned 18.10.79.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice, on 22 November 1979:
-The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
At the request of the Victorian Government, Department of Aboriginal Affairs officers in October 1977 informed the Trust of the current initiatives of the Victorian Land Conservation Council for the Corangamite study area. Officers advised the Trust on a number of occasions through to May 1978 to make a land rights submission to the State Government. The Trust did not respond to these suggestions, maintaining that Aboriginals of the area should not have to apply for rights to their own land.
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice, on 22 November 1979:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Information requested by the honourable member is not held in a form that would enable this question to be answered without extensive deployment of staff resources. I do not consider the request justifies the diversion of such resources from other essential duties.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
Following the 1979 scare in connection with disease in pigs in Tasmania, is he able to state the feasibility of introducing a testing laboratory to Australia in the near future.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Work on the construction of a national high security laboratory for animal diseases has been underway since 1 978, following planning and development work which commenced during the previous decade.
The Government has given high priority to construction of this facility (known as the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory), sited at Geelong, Victoria.
Since construction commenced, the building program has been accelerated twice in order to have the laboratory operational as quickly as possible.
It is now anticipated that construction will be completed in early 1 983, at an estimated cost of $95m. The laboratory will then progressively be brought into full operation over the next 1 2 to 1 5 months, as staged proving of the security of the building is completed.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
Is it a fact that premiums paid to life insurance companies for hospital and medical insurance policies are allowable as tax deductions.
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
No. Such premiums are not allowable deductions. Nor do they qualify as expenditure in respect of which concessional rebates may be allowed.
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 26 February 1980:
-The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 March 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1980/19800304_reps_31_hor117/>.